Al-Andalus


AL-ANDALUS

The Arabic name (the west) for Moslem Iberia.   For its history, see UMMAYAD SPAIN, TAIFA STATES, ALMORAVID SPAIN, ALMOHAD SPAIN and GRANADA.   This article will deal with the various peoples that composed Moslem Iberia.

The most important, though not the most numerous, of those who conquered most of Spain in the second decade of the 8th century were Arabs, the elite of the Islamic world. They settled in the south in the valley of the Guadalquivir and further north in the plains of the valley of the Ebro.

Polski: Imperium almohadzkie po 1212r.

Polski: Imperium almohadzkie po 1212r. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They were joined in the 740s by a fresh influx of Arabs, who belonged to an army that had been recruited in Syria to fight the Caliph’s enemies in North Africa.   This particular army had been badly defeated in 741 and had retreated to the sea at Ceuta.   They sought refuge in Spain but were refused by the authorities until widespread Berber rebellion led to a change of mind, whereupon the Syrians were shipped over to help suppress the revolt.   They later settled, group by group, in places scattered through southern Iberia.

The Arab world was split between two great tribal groups, Yemen and Qays/Mudar.   This had caused little trouble in the early years as most of the Arabs belonged to the Yemen grouping but the Syrians belonged to the Qays.   The result was mid-century turmoil in Moslem Spain, which Abd al-Rahman, an Umayyad who had survived the slaughter of his family, was able to exploit to establish himself in power in Spain in 756.

The more numerous of the conquerors of Spain were the Berbers, the people of northern Africa.   The army that had landed in 711 was Berber, with a Berber commander, though it was soon followed by the army of the Arab governor of northwest Africa.   In the share out of the spoils the Berbers got the poorer land of the southern meseta in Extremadura and New Castile (though doubtless there were many Berbers for whom the life of transhumant shepherds and herdsmen was an acceptable continuation of life at home).   How far the Berbers settled beyond the central mountains – in the northern meseta and in Galicia – is not clear;  Galicia itself must have seemed miserably damp to them.   Whatever the extent of their northern settlement, it ended with the revolt of 741, caused by their resentment against the Arabs.   The Berber numbers were then much reduced and could not have sustained widespread settlement in the north.   The Christian Kingdom of Asturias took advantage of the changed circumstances to campaign in the lands either side of the River Duero, with the result that a vast frontier region of depopulated towns lay between Asturias and the Moslem Amirate that emerged under Umayyad leadership in 756. The Berbers became the people of the Lower and Middle March, which defended the richer lands of Moslem Iberia against attack and also served as the base for attack upon the Christian lands by raiding-parties and, every so often, large armies.

The later 10th century saw the arrival of more Berbers in Spain.   These came to serve in the armies of the great minister, al-Mansur, during whose time destructive assaults on the Christian lands became part and parcel of normal life.   These Berbers lived much closer to the centre of power, and after the deaths of al-Mansur in 1002 and his able eldest son in 1008, the tensions between them and the settled landed and commercial establishments in al-Andalus erupted into a violence that made the Caliphate the tool of factions and in the end destroyed it and the unity of Moslem Spain.   Several Berber chieftains became the rulers of petty states clustered in the hills and mountains that lie to the south and east of the valley of the River Guadalquivir.

To return to earlier Al-Andalus.   Among the political elite were natives of the peninsula, for not every noble in the Visigothic Kingdom had died or fled.   Some of them accepted the new order, changed their faith to Islam and remained powerful.   These were the muwallads.   One of the most powerful families until the early 10th century was the Banu Qasim, muwallads descended from a noble called Cassius.   Tudela, on the Ebro above Zaragoza, was their base;  at times they ruled in Zaragoza itself, one of the most important cities of Spain.   A major figure in southern Iberia of muwallad descent was Ibn Hafsun, the brigand chieftain who greatly bothered the Umayyad Amirs of the late 9th/early 10th centuries from his various bases (the chief was Bobastro) in the region of the southern mountains.   So too in eastern Spain was ibn Mardanish, known to the Spanish Christians as el Rey Lobo – King Wolf.   He defied the Almohads from the late 1140s until his death in 1172.

Many of the Christians remained Christians. Islam tolerated both Christians and Jews, though there were restraints upon them:  the conversion of Moslems from their faith was beyond the pale, for example.    Both paid taxes from which Moslems were exempt.  Gradually Christians converted for self-interest, like the muwallad nobles, or for genuine religious reasons, but there still remained many Christians in al-Andalus at the end of the 11th century.   By then the times were changing.   Moslem Spain was no longer top-dog;  the  Christian states were resurgent;  to rescue the Moslem princes of Spain the harsh and puritanical Almoravids were called in;  when they succumbed to pleasure the ardently faithful Almohads displaced them in the mid-12th century.   The numbers of Christians declined in such a dangerous political and fervent religious atmosphere.

Other Christians, at least in their origins, had been brought into Spain over the centuries.   These were slaves, who had lost their freedom through defeat or raids.   There was a thriving slave trade;  in the middle of the 10th century, for example, merchants from Verdun (why Verdun, one wonders?) organised the export of slaves from eastern Europe.   Thus many of the slaves were Slavs.   The Amir al-Hakem I, who died in 822, used them for his palace guard and subsequent Amirs and Caliphs built up a regular army.   The slaves, freedmen and hired men in the army and administration of the Umayyad

Caliphate became an important element in society and there were considerable tensions between them and the Berber tribesmen recruited from North Africa by al-Mansur.   As the Caliphate became the plaything of factions and then fizzled out, the leaders of the slaves and freemen came to dominate much of the Levante for most of the 11th century.

In 1085 Alfonso VI of Castile and Leon took the city of Toledo;  in 1086, after some of the petty Moslem rulers had appealed for his help, Yusuf ibn Tashfin, the Almoravid ruler of Morocco, crossed over the narrow seas for the first of several expeditions.   He and his Almoravid heirs and their Almohad successors were the principal powers in Moslem Spain from then until Almohad unity was destroyed in the mid-1220s.   They campaigned in and ruled over southern Spain because it was necessary, but Morocco remained their home.

In 1224 rival Caliphs appeared among the Almohads, who thereupon quickly lost their grip upon Spain. The Spanish Moslems were left to fend for themselves, but the Christian advance could not be contained.   Granada, the last surviving Moslem Kingdom, was usually sustained between the 1260s and 1340 by the Marinid Sultans of Morocco but after the defeat of the Sultan in the Battle of the Salado in 1340 no Moroccan ruler intervened in Spain again.   Granada was on its own, sustained partly by its own merits, largely by Castile’s problems, until in 1492 the last remnant of al-Andalus disappeared.

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