Definitions

mesta

mesta

mesta, association of Spanish sheep farmers, formed to regulate sheep raising and to prevent cultivation of pastureland. Its date of origin is uncertain, but by 1273 Alfonso X of Castile formally recognized its long-established privileges, which were confirmed and extended by his successors. The mesta gradually escaped local jurisdiction and came under direct supervision of the crown. It prospered, especially in the 15th and 16th cent., by exporting wool from its highly prized Merino sheep. The mesta yielded large revenues to the crown, but its monopoly of large areas of land exhausted the soil and contributed to the economic decline of Spain by preventing intensive agriculture. Attacked by reforming ministers in the 18th cent., it was not abolished until 1837.
The Mesta (Spanish Honrado Concejo de la Mesta, Honored Council of the Mesta) was a powerful association of sheep holders in the medieval Kingdom of Castile.

The sheep were transhumant, migrating from the pastures of Extremadura and Andalusia to Castile and back according to the season.

The no-mans-land (up to 100km across) between Christian Spain and Moorish-occupied Spain was too insecure for arable farming and was only exploited by shepherds. When the land was reconquered by the Spanish, farmers began to settle and disputes with pastoralists were common. The Mesta can be regarded as the first, and most powerful, agricultural union in mediaeval Europe.

The exportation of merino wool enriched the Mesta members (nobility and church orders) who had acquired ranches during the process of Reconquista.

The kings of Castile conceded many privileges to the Mesta. Even today, herds of sheep may be transported by rail, but the cañadas (traditional rights-of-ways for sheep) are legally protected "forever" from occupation and barring.

Some Madrid streets are still part of the cañada system, and there are groups that organize sheep transportation across the modern city as a reminder of old farming.

Etymology

The word comes from Latin animalia mixta ("mixed animals"), beasts without a known owner. The coming together of animals to attribute them became a meeting of shepherds. When the council was established, it was also called mesta.

The word mustang comes from mesteño or mestengo ("a mesta [i.e. ownerless] beast").

Mesta is also a medieval village in Chios, a Greek island in the northern Aegean.

References

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