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Medieval and Byzantine History Medieval and Byzantine History Forum - Period of History between classical antiquity and modern times, roughly the 5th through 16th Centuries


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Old April 26th, 2012, 03:55 PM   #1

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What was life in Spain like while the Moors ruled?


The reports of harmony between Jews, Muslims and Christians, along with prosperity indicate that all was well. But, there must have been more to this period. I'm hoping members who are more familiar with this will share some details.
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Old April 26th, 2012, 03:56 PM   #2

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Prepare for the great convivencia debate
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Old April 26th, 2012, 09:27 PM   #3

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I dont want to be rude Jake, but there are a fair few threads on this subject.

However here goes:

You can't generalise. There is no single entity of 'Moors'. In the case of Spain the word 'Moor' (moro, muselman or saraceno are used in Spanish) just means muslim/heathen and all 3 words are interchangeable depending who is writing. 'Moor' in English has a different meaning deriving from Mauritania and you wouldn't believe how confused that makes people on here!! Leads to locked threads and untold insults (all that 'skin colour of the moors' nonsense)!!

Invaders were arabs, berbers and yemenis and they brought all sorts of mercenary soldiers with them over the years, like slavs. Further invaders were the Almoravids and Almohads from south Morocco (roughly). Some 'Moors' were old Visigothic landlords converted to Islam to keep their possessions. Many of the people just followed the trend of their masters and converted to the going religion, Islam, because although there was a often a certain tolerance, you paid more tax as a non-believer, and in some cases had to cross the street etc to make way for a true believer. What a lot of people call 'tolerance' means that they didn't mostly kill them, chuck them out or force conversion, but not 21st-century joyous PC tolerance!

Try and conceive that this was a period of 700 years, a hell of a time. There were good rulers, bad rulers, cruel rulers, benevolent rulers, mad rulers. There were periods of the caliphate, periods of many dozens of little independent kingdoms, civil wars, rebellions, wars between muslim states, wars with muslim/christian against muslim/christian. Tremendous racial, class and family rivalries throughout the period. Periods of prosperity and periods of dire need. The last 250 years or so the Kingdom of Granada was actually a tributary state of Castilla. Although they were often at war.

If the periods of rule by 'Spanish' muslims might be held as 'tolerant', the (long) dominations by the fanatical Almoravid and Almohad invaders were far from it. A sort of precursor to the christian fanaticism that reflected it years later.

Funny thing is the Almoravids got corrupted by those nice old Spanish muslims they came to 'save' and conquer, and ended up just like them, so the Almohads arose to combat their 'decadence'!

But you can never say "Moors came to Spain, did this that and the other, and were driven out". Which is unfortunately how some people see it!!

Many of the moriscos driven out in the 'purges' of the 16th and early 17th centuries were descended originally from local Hispano-Roman converts, finding themselves living in a muslim state and going with the flow!! Many of the people that drove them out were 'invaders', non-Spanish christian crusaders. Funny old world.

Last edited by johnincornwall; April 26th, 2012 at 09:34 PM.
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Old April 26th, 2012, 09:35 PM   #4

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Thanks for your answer, John. By the way, I did do a search on the topic before posting the question. Perhaps this is embedded in other threads, but nothing quite like it came up.

Still, the next book I read will be about Spanish history.
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Old April 26th, 2012, 10:17 PM   #5

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in The Insight Guide to Spain, it says:

The Muslim invasion ended the cultural, linguistic and religious unity that the Visigoths had tried to achieve on the peninsula. Yet Mulim values did not flourish exclusively during the years of their occupation.

While Muslims took Seville, Toledo, and Zaragoz, Visigothic nobles regrouped in the mountains of Asurias, in the same region where 700 years earlier hardy mountaineers had held off Roman legions for 10 yeqrsm Pelayo's small Christian force confronted a more oowerful invading army, though fired uo by their zeal for the new religion of Mohammed, the Muslims could not prise Oelayo's men from their mountain stronghold and the Christians achieved victiry at Covadonga in 722. This triumph marked the start of the Reconquista - the Reconquest of Spain - and assumed symbolic proportions: the Chriwtians regarded the victory as proof that God had not abandoned his people after all.

Unlike the Romans, who established a link with a strong centralized government outside the peninsula, the Muslim invaders were only nominally the subjects of the Caliphate of Damascus, a distant overlord. The conquerers fought each other for power and control, dividing up the booty.

These early years of Muslim rule were characterised by rebellion and frequent in-fighting among the individual kingdoms. Moreover, Spain became the nesting ground for new converts to Islam coming over from North Africa. The Berbers for instance came over from Mauritania and after a generation of being treated like second class citizens by the Arab nobles, rose up against them. After years of internecine fighting, a new Muslim governor redivided the conquered lands. The Berbers were given territory in the Duero River valley but, after years of famine, many returned to North Africa.

Meanwhile Pelayo, followed by his son Favilia, set about creating a powerful Christian kingdom in the north. Later under King Alfonso, the Asturians occupied Galicia to the west and Cantabria to the east: under Alfonso II they moved their capital to Oviedo, where the Asturians tried to restore the institution of the Visigoth monarchy.

In the meantime the Basques, usually intent on maintaining independence, were willing to form alliances with fellow Christians. Such manoeuveringe had one aim, to expel the Muslims and restore Christianity. When Charlemagne took control of Pamploma and Catalonia in the late 8th century, he set up the Spanish March, a buffer zone to keep Muslims out. They had no choice but to build their base in the south, in the area now known as Andalusia.

In 756, Abd-al-Rahman I, an Umayyad prince, came to power in Cordoba and established an emirate aligned withm but independent of, the main seat of power in Damascus. He oroclaimed himself Emir of an-Andulas (the Muslim name for Spain) and his ascendancy marked the dawning of the most important and advanced civilization of the Middle Ages.

Cordoba was at the heart of this Golden Age: it became one of the largest, wealthiest and most cultured cities in the world. At its height in the mid 10th century, Cordoba's population had swelled to more than 300,000 and there were well over 800 mosques to serve the religious needs of this predominantly Muslim population. As the Muslims performed daily ablutions as part of their religious obligations, some 700 public baths dotted the city.

The caliohs of Cordoba supported all aspects of learning. during the reign of al-Hakem II the city library was established and soon held 250,000 volumes. Greek texts, which the Arabs had come across in their triumphant march across the Middle East, were also introduced to Europe.

Poets too, were highly regarded. They also served a political function similar to that of television commentators today, the bloodthirsty ak-Mansur was reputedly surrounded by 30 to 40 poets when he marched off to battle. Poetry was written in Castilian, Galician, and Hebrew, but the most powerful verses were written in Arabic.
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Old April 26th, 2012, 10:49 PM   #6

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on the Jews in Spain in this period, the Insight Guide says:

Savagely persecuted by the Visigoths, the Jews were held in high esteem by Muslim invaders, for their role in bringing the invasion about, Generally speaking, they were protected by both kings and nobles formwhom they worked in administrative postsl. Jews were valued as merchants, ambassadors and emissaries and were taken into the confidencd of Muslim and Christian rulers when their own people could not be trusted.

Because of their honesty, many Jews were used as tax collectors, igniting the hatred of the labouring classes. With the arrival of the Almohads and the Almoravids, fanatical converts to Islam who came from North Africa, the Jews were either expelled to Christian lands or murdered.

Jews fared particularly well under the Caliphate of Cordoba. Mamionides, the great Jewish philosopher and author of the Guide to the Perplexed, was born in Cordoba and lived there until forced to flee to Egypt during the Alhomad invasion. the Talmudic school of Cordoba attracted Jewish thinkers from all over Europe.

Jews were also held in high esteem in the Christian kingdoms, they held positions as royak treasurers and physicians, and the Catholic Monarchs came to depend on their Jewish subjects for financial and medical advice. Alfonso 10 (1252-84) the 'Wise King' if Castile and the founder of the University of Salamanca, created a school of translation in Toledo where Christian, Jewish, and Islamic scholars worked together. The Bible, the Talmud, the Cabala and the Koran were all translated into Spanish at the king's behest.
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Old April 27th, 2012, 12:46 PM   #7

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Thanks Louise, but I reckon the old Insight guide has fallen for the dreaded 'generalisation'! Which is fine for the very general guide but not for the full picture of history. having said that obviously you have to read one hell of a lot of books to get a fuller picture, so it's a good place to start!

Disagree slightly with the bit about Charlemagne. As I recall after the disastrous expedition to Zaragoza, which ended in ignominious retreat after the people who invited him in to take Zaragoza and Barcelona were ousted in the meantime - ending in the massacre of Roland and the rearguard in the pass near Roncesvalles - he dismantled Pamplona on the way out.

To protect the remote parts of his Empire from the Caliphate of Cordoba he created the Spanish March, which was basically just the top half of Aragon, around Jaca etc, eventually turning one day into the full blown Kingdom of Aragon. I think this was a purely defensive measure and I cant think of any reason why the muslims would want their capital further north.
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Old April 30th, 2012, 10:44 AM   #8
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It wasn't total harmony between religions, but better than what happened after the reconquista was completed and everyone was forced to convert to Catholicism or flee the country. Presumably the Muslim percentage increased the longer Muslim rule lasted.
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Old April 30th, 2012, 06:29 PM   #9

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Louise C View Post
Because of their honesty, many Jews were used as tax collectors, igniting the hatred of the labouring classes. With the arrival of the Almohads and the Almoravids, fanatical converts to Islam who came from North Africa, the Jews were either expelled to Christian lands or murdered.

Jews fared particularly well under the Caliphate of Cordoba. Mamionides, the great Jewish philosopher and author of the Guide to the Perplexed, was born in Cordoba and lived there until forced to flee to Egypt during the Alhomad invasion. the Talmudic school of Cordoba attracted Jewish thinkers from all over Europe.
This summary is a bit simplistic. The Almoravid regime no doubt hit Andalusian Jews with exorbitant taxes. But Jewish culture in Spain, between 1086-1147 CE, flourished for the most part. Maimonides left for Morocco and then Egypt because the incoming Almohad were seen as particularly hostile towards the Jews. How hostile, I'm not quite sure, but that's when they began leaving in droves.
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Old April 30th, 2012, 07:17 PM   #10
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Click the image to open in full size.

By the way daaang johnincornwall and Louise C., nice post.

All that I've ever read (that wasn't a general monography with titles such as ''Muslim Spain 711-1492'') was a Variorum compilation of some specialist of Aragon in the thirteen century. There was an article that talked about King Jaime I's conquest of Valencia in 1238. It analysed multiples contracts and other documents in Valencia before and after the conquest. According to my memory, there were a lot of baths, caravenserails, mosques and other buildings. Maybe this has something to do in Valencia's commercial rebirth after the Black Death? I couldn't say, and since this has nothing to with Romans we won't be getting any graphs anytime soon.
One thing is clear though, King Jaime probably saw the economic potential of Valencia, because the multi-religious peasants were left on their lands, even if some of the urban crême de la crême were forced to leave.
This is a single event, and in no way could it be considered as representative. But I believe that there can be no satisfactory answer to the question ''how was life in spain during muslim domination'' because there are no such thing as the ''muslim'' domination. We can't talk about ''muslims under christian rule'' until the late centralized and strong crowns of Spain (Aragon and Castille) that have the power to issue orders like massive deportations and exiles. Before that, the power is contained into numerous different autorities, that posses their own cultural identity, to some degree.
So to answer such a big question, you must turn to more specific events before turning your attention to think of big structured conclusion.

Last edited by BrowniesRule; April 30th, 2012 at 07:44 PM.
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