Spain History - Moor Period - Part I - Emirates (711-756)

The term Moors refers to all Muslims whether of Berber or Arab origin and is a derivative from the Latin word mauri, a word used by Romans referring to the tribes living in Mauritania. In 710 the ruling General Musa in Damascus sent a small force of 400 soldiers to investigate the south of the Peninsular and landed at Tarifa. They reported back that they had found wealth and beautiful women. This strong combination gained the support of Achila and the son of ex-King Witiza, together with Julian Governor of Septum, Musa instructed a force of 10,000 men to invade under the able leadership of Traiq ibn-Ziyad. King Roderick was caught unprepared and was in the north of his Kingdom at that time. He rushed south with an army composed of different supporters and some of questionable loyalty. The two armies fought a battle near to the Guadalquivir River at Rio Barbate and some of royal army changed allegiance during the fighting. The King escaped only to die shortly after leaving the Peninsular open to conquest by the Moors. By the winter of 711 Tariq and his army had made their headquarters in Toledo and by 715 they became the masters of most of the Peninsular.

In the following year Musa himself led another army to take on the remainder of the Visigoths at Mérida. The Visigoths were beaten and fled north to the Asturias. The land Hispania now belonged to the Moors who then renamed it as Al-Andulas and belonging to the Arab Empire based in Damascus. The Moors found their conquest of such a large territory to be relatively easy and it is believed that they met with considerable support from the inhabitants, particularly the Jews and their vast slave population originating from Roman times. Based on tradition the Moors supposedly were expected to fill their sacks with loot and leave. General Musa returning to Damascus with 30,000 Peninsular virgins and many treasures including a jewelled table belonging to King Solomon, reported that his victory had been made much easier by the effeminacy of the princes. His son by Muslim custom married the widow of King Roderick and appointed himself governor of Al-Andulas. The new Caliph in Damascus took exception and shortly the son's head was sent to Damascus as an example to any over-ambitious man.

The Moors also suffered from considerable in-fighting amongst the various tribes of which their army was composed. Two leading tribes Yemenites and the Kaishers crushed a Berber rebellion and then promptly turned on each other. Another problem for the Moors was the appearance on the scene of Count Pelayo an Austurian bandit leader of men including surviving Visigoths. After several years of hard fighting Pelayo was reduced to about fifty men when he successfully defeated a small Moorish army sent to seek him out. This act at Covadonga made him a folklore hero overnight. His daughter married a local chief Alfonso who was to later become the first King of Austuria. This King was to reign for 18 years and at his death in 757 his Kingdom occupied one quarter of the Peninsular. Towards the end of the same century the Austurians and the Galicians joined to become one Kingdom. Even to this day the King of Spain bears also the important title of the King of Austuria.

In 756 a Syrian Prince by the name of Abd-ar-Rahman fled Damascus to land eventually at Almuñecar and raised a local supporting army. Within the short space of a year he was established in Córdoba as the first leader of the independent Emirate of Al-Andulas. Abd-ar-Rahman I ruled for 32 years with a personal army of 40,000 men and was quick to show unmerciful force to any threats. The area which including Seville to Malaga under his strong leadership prospered and grew powerful both in trade and culture. Towns and hamlets were fortified and many buildings were constructed including the remarkable Córdoba Mosque which was started in 785.

In 777 the Caliph in Damascus convinced King Charlemagne to send an army headed by his nephew Roland into the Peninsular. They failed to take Zaragoza so decided to plunder Pamplona instead. In the battle of Roncesvalles they were defeated but not by the Moors as fable would have us believe but by the Basques who were compensating for the earlier rape of Pamplona. The reign of the house of Abd-ar-Rahman I (756-788) was to last for some three centuries. Some rulers were recorded as cruel and ruthless whilst others in comparisons appeared virtually saintly. They all had to deal with uprisings or invasions. The army of Emperor Charlemagne was successfully stopped at Saragossa in 777 but he returned to capture Cátalunia by 811. In 817 the region of Cátalunia becomes an independent State in the Carolingian Empire and in 851 the State of Aragón was also declared. In 844 the Vikings started attacking the western coast of the Peninsular moving constantly southwards until they reached Seville. Here they were put to flight but only after two weeks period of murder and rape. By the reign of Abd-ar-Rahman II (822-852), the Emirate was powerful and rich with a standard of living unsurpassed in those times. He owned a rich jewelled belt with a long history that eventually passed through the hands of famous fighter El Cid and later Queen Isabel, the latter having to sell it later to partially pay for the conquest of Granada. The ruler was a cultured man and encouraged all forms of art, particularly poetry and philosophy. He is reported to have imported Persian women to entertain at his court and they sung in high falsetto voices as they danced - a possible fore-runner to flamenco. Córdoba grew to a city of several hundred thousands and it was recorded as having hundreds of mosques and public baths, libraries, paved and lighted streets, even indoor plumbing. His reign was also occupied with dealing with invading armies, as King Alfonso of Aragón made an attempt to take León, whilst the Franks tried to conquer Cátalunia. The Christians and Jews had to be crushed in 837 when they revolted in Toledo.

During all this time the Moors had interbred with the inhabitants as they had brought no women with them. This helped considerably in the local administration and a blending of cultures was achieved to a certain level, never completely as the Moors were proud of their inheritance and when necessary even dyed their hair black so as to hide a possible question in their blood line. The Moors were responsible of introducing fine glasswork, glazed tiles (azulejos), silk weaving and other fine crafts. The country in religion was divided in three, Muslim, Christian and Jews. The later probably was the race that enjoyed the most liberal expansion under the Moorish rule. They were unfettered in being allowed to develop their philosophy, craftsmen and financial skills. It is possible that at this stage in history that there developed in the peninsular the concept that social position became linked to a positive commitment to a religious faith.

A Moor army under Muhammad I attacked the Christian forced in Galicia, León and Navarre from 852 to 861 in the north in an effort to stem the advance of the Christian faith. Later, in the reign of Abd-ar-Rahman III (912 - 961), when he was at the peak of this power in 929 he turned his Emirate into a Caliphate. His reign was also marked by rebel problems and at one time, on his very doorstep near to Málaga, a certain Umar-ibn-Hafsun ruled an area for four decades before he and his sons were slain. As the success of this ruler became even respected by foreign powers outside the Peninsular he set about creating buildings of magnitude to reflect his power. He built the incredible Palace of Medina Ashara outside Córdoba and enlarged the Great Mosque with its 800 supporting pillars to its present size which was completed in 1118. This sumptuous Palace with interior walls created from fountains, and 6,000 women in the harem, was described by a contemporary poet as being a concubine in the arms of a black eunuch. As the new ruler Al-Mansur (1009-1010) declined to use it and the Palace fell into disrepair and was later destroyed in 1010 by warring Berbers. In 910 the state of Al-Andulus covered over half of the Peninsular with another large part as an autonomous Moor region governed from Zaragoza. However, it was only to take some 50 years for the eventual decline of this Caliphate and by 1031 it had become a number of small independent and fragile kingdoms.


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