Monthly Archives: March 2011

Who Were the Moors Anyway? (Part II)

[The Alhambra]

The Alhambra in Granada.
Photo courtesy Juan Carlos Guijarro Moreno through this Creative Commons license. Esta obra está bajo una licencia de Creative Commons.

When we left the medieval Iberian Peninsula last week in Part I of this three-part series, it was around the year 1000 and al-Mansur, who for all practical purposes ruled al-Andalus, had been raiding the northern Christian kingdoms.

Today, we begin after al-Mansur’s death in 1002. Al-Mansur’s son succeeded him in ruling through the puppet caliph Hisham II. But the son soon died, and Al-Andalus passed into yet another period of civil war and rebellions, at least in part because al-Mansur had upset the previous balance of power and brought in soldiers who weren’t part of Andalusi society.

Out of the chaos that ensued came smaller regional states ruled by emirs whom historians have dubbed the taifa or party kings. (The “party” part means “factions” rather than “fiesta,” but a number of the important taifa rulers actually did party in the wine, women and poetry sense of the word.)

In some places, the new rulers had been Berber generals. In others, they were already lord of the area. Some were regional administrators—often slaves or freedmen—who seized power during the decades of civil war.

The taifa states fought amongst themselves, and the larger took over the smaller. By the 1050s, there were six primary states—Sevilla, Granada, Badajóz, Toledo, Valencia and Zaragoza—and some remaining smaller states.

As would happen later among the city-states of Italy, the taifa states’ jostling for position didn’t only involve warfare. They also tried to outdo each other culturally, building mosques and palaces and competing to attract the best poets and scholars.

Abd al-Rahman III and some of the other Umayyad rulers had also patronized the arts and sciences. However, the taifa period was probably the most culturally and intellectually fertile in Andalusi history, as Muslim and Jewish poets and scholars created important works of poetry, philosophy and science.

Three Faiths in al-Andalus

We don’t know a lot about everyday relations between Muslims and Mozarabs (Christians living under Muslim rule) in the cities during this period—or really, any other period.

Sometimes the Mozarabs lived in their own areas of the city, and sometimes not. What does seem certain is that people of the two faiths frequently came into contact with each other. They traded together, and a man of one religion might work for someone of the other. Apparently, some richer Muslims were also in the habit of stopping by Christian monasteries for a drink of the wine that was forbidden them under Islam.

We know even less about the countryside. Meager evidence suggests that some—possibly very large—areas were inhabited by Christians who never converted and may have resented Muslim rule.

Jewish communities were usually found in cities. In general, they seem to have been large and well-off, and during the eleventh century several of their members rose to prominent positions in state governance.

Samuel ibn Naghrila is probably the best-known of these. He helped Badis, the ruler of Granada, attain that lofty position, and in practice was the first minister, commanding troops and running the city until he died in 1056. He was also a respected rabbi and poet.

His son, who succeeded him to the post, was killed in a pogrom against the Jewish community in Granada. This outburst of violence was a tragic but isolated incident. Like the Mozarabs, Jews had limited rights but weren’t usually subjected to violence—although some criticized rulers like Badis for putting Jews in a position of authority over Muslims, which violated Islamic law. But for the most part, Jewish culture flourished during the eleventh century.

Al-Andalus and the Christian Kingdoms

During the tenth century, al-Andalus had been much stronger than the Christian kingdoms to the north.

That balance of power reversed during the Andalusi civil war and the rise of the taifa states. Christian armies now raided al-Andalus. Over the course of the century, the raids turned into tribute-gathering missions as the taifa rulers paid the northern kings parias—basically protection money.

As in the Umayyad period, alliances weren’t necessarily along religious lines. A Christian king might ally with another Christian ruler against one of the taifa kingdoms—or he might just as easily ally with a taifa ruler against one of the other Christian kings.

Individual adventurers, such as the Christian soldier, diplomat and courtier Rodrigo Díaz (El Cid) and the Muslim poet and courtier Ibn Ammar, acquired their own taifa states.

The Christian kingdoms took over some previously Muslim areas, and competed with each other for the taifa tributes. The more successful they were, the richer they grew.

And the richer they grew, the more they attracted the attention of the rest of Europe, particularly neighbouring France.

The Almoravids

And then Alfonso VI of León captured Toledo, the former Visigothic capital and an important city in its own right.

The taifa kings panicked. Mu’tamid, the ruler of Sevilla, led them in asking for help from the Almoravids, a fundamentalist Islamic sect that had recently risen to power in North Africa. According to the story, Mu’tamid said he “would rather be a camel-driver in Morocco than a swineherd in Castilla.” (For Muslims, pigs are unclean.)

The ascetic Almoravid leaders despised the taifa rulers for the poetry and decadence of their courts, the “impurity” of their religion, and their tendency to ally with the northern kings. But they despised the northern kings even more because they were Christians daring to exact tribute from Muslims.

In 1086, led by Yusuf ibn Tashfin, they crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and defeated Alfonso.

Then Yusuf turned on the taifa rulers because they didn’t support him sufficiently in additional campaigns against the Christian kingdoms. He exiled several of them to North Africa, and took over himself.

Al-Andalus was united again, but this time as a colony under governors that the Almoravid emir sent from Marrakesh.

Fundamentalists in the North and the South

Within al-Andalus, Muslim-Christian relations deteriorated under the fundamentalist Almoravids.

Relations between al-Andalus and the Christian kingdoms also went downhill. The northern Christians, already upset about the loss of important revenue from tributes since the Almoravids took over, became even more anti-Muslim after the Almoravids exiled a number of Christians to Morocco in retaliation for a Christian raid.

The Christian kingdoms were always anti-Islamic—at least in their rhetoric (as, of course, Muslim rhetoric was anti-Christian)—and to some extent the Reconquista may have developed soon after the Muslim conquest of Spain (it’s a subject that historians debate a lot). But at the same time, the Christians adapted to the Muslim presence over the centuries of Andalusi strength.

Anti-Islamic attitudes intensified during the first half of the twelfth century. To some extent this was likely a result of Almoravid anti-Christian policies. But historian Richard Fletcher argues that the serious French influence on the Spanish Christians may have propelled them even more strongly toward intolerance.

During the second half of the eleventh century, they Spanish kingdoms developed close links to Spain. Their families intermarried with French nobility, and some of them developed close ties with the monastic order of Cluny. And of course, in the same century the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela ceased to be primarily a local affair, and drew large numbers of French pilgrims.

For French aristocratic warriors, inspired by the Chanson de Roland (a seriously romanticized account of an earlier fight against the Moors), going to Spain to fight Muslims meant following a path already blazed by the revered Charlemagne.

The idea of a holy war had been part of Christianity for a long time, but the idea that individuals gained merit by fighting “infidels” developed in the eleventh century. In 1123, the Iberian Peninsula became an official crusade zone.

Not coincidentally, the twelfth century seems to be when Santiago Matamoros (St. James the Moor-Slayer) makes his first appearance—at least in the written sources that have come down to us.

One example is the “Diploma of Ramiro I,” a forged document from about the middle of the century. It claims to have been written after a battle at Clavijo in 844, where St. James himself appeared to lead Christian troops to a resounding victory over Moorish armies. In gratitude, the document continues, Ramiro I decreed that all of Christian Spain must make an annual donation to the cathedral, which should also receive a share of any booty taken from the Moors.

Being a forgery, the document isn’t helpful in learning about the ninth century, but as Fletcher points out, it does tell us what at least some influential Christians in the twelfth century believed, or at least wanted others to believe: that St. James championed the Christian struggle against the Muslims.

But at the same time, it’s important to remember that Muslim and Christian attitudes toward each other didn’t change all at once. At least one rebel Muslim noble worked with the Christians to oppose the Almoravids, and a Catalan baron named Reverter, after being captured by the Almoravids, became a mercenary who worked for them. Of his two sons who appear in the historical record, one continued his father’s work for the Muslims, and the other went back to Spain to fight under his father’s former master.

The Almohads

Al-Andalus did not fare well under Almoravid rule. While Almoravid leaders were devout, the regular soldiers weren’t. Not only did they fail to take back much of the land the taifa kingdoms had lost to the Christians, but they indulged in forbidden luxuries, looted, persecuted Christian and Jewish minorities, and fought amongst themselves.

Al-Andalus fell apart again after the death of Yusuf’s son and successor in 1145, with more rebellions and civil war, and a second batch of taifa states. The Christian kings took advantage of the chaos to advance into Muslim territory.

In the meantime, a new sect, the Almohads, was challenging Almoravid rule back in North Africa.

And Ibn Qasi, the leader of a new Sufi sect in al-Andalus, invited the Almohads to help him take Sevilla. The Almohads came, but soon the two groups had a falling-out. The Almohads had Ibn Qasi assassinated, and remained in Spain.

By the final quarter of the twelfth century, the Almohads ruled all of Muslim Spain, and pushed back the Christian kings, who were too busy quarrelling amongst themselves to mount a common defence.

Alliances at this time still weren’t primarily dependant on religion. Take King Alfonso VII of Castilla, for example. At one point, one of his borders was under attack by the neighbouring kingdom of León (whose king was a close relative of Alfonso’s), who had invited the Almohads to join them. The Muslim troops were commanded by Pedro Fernández, an important Castilian nobleman who had argued with King Alfonso the year before, and left Castilla to work for the Almohads.

At the same time, Christian troops from Navarra were attacking Castilla’s other border, after the Almohads had encouraged border disputes between the two kingdoms.

It was, when it comes down to it, not an atypical Iberian situation. The Christian and Muslim participants may well have hated each other’s beliefs, but at a practical level, local rivalries came first.

* * *

Thanks for indulging me in my Spanish history fixation. I said last week that this would be the final installment, but I seem to require a Part III. (If I leave out all detail, it gets rather boring—at least to me.)

Much of this information comes from Richard Fletcher’s wonderful Moorish Spain, and some of the information on Santiago Matamoros is from St. James’s Catapult, by the same author. Thomas F. Glick’s Islamic and Christian Spain in the Early Middle Ages is another fascinating read.

I’ve also started to read Reconquest and Crusade in Medieval Spain by Joseph F. O’Callaghan, who isn’t as cautious as Fletcher is about assigning religious motives to pre-twelfth-century warfare on the Iberian Peninsula.

Do keep in mind that a lot of the interpretations—especially when it comes to the interplay between religions—are hotly debated among historians.

Next week: the final installment (really) of this three-part series will address the impact of al-Andalus on Christian Europe and of course the Reconquista.

Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 3:14 pm
Comments Off on Who Were the Moors Anyway? (Part II)

The Same Road Twice

[Puddles on the Chemin de Saint-Jacques]

On the Chemin du Puy, after Arthez-de-Béarn

I’ve heard—and read—the advice: don’t expect your second pilgrimage, whether it’s on the same route or a different one, to be like your first.

I may be getting ahead of myself here, since I haven’t actually set out on my second pilgrimage yet, but it seems to me what no one mentions is that there’s at least one way the second can be even better than the first.

The first time around, everything is new and many parts are wonderful. The second journey, even if it’s on a different route, might never feel completely new. But, in addition to having its own amazing moments (as I’m sure mine will), it brings back memories of that past pilgrimage.

For me, anyway, there can be something almost magical about connecting with the past, whether it’s my own history or much older worlds. And just preparing for my upcoming Vía de la Plata journey brings back so many memories of my walk along the Chemin du Puy and the Camino Francés.

These aren’t the one-off I’ll-never-forgets that I wrote about the other week.

They’re little things that happened over and over; feelings and experiences I didn’t appreciate at the time. I’d forgotten all about them, in fact, until I started going through the motions—and they really are motions—of pilgrimage all over again.

There are the calluses that developed on my fingers from pulling my bootlaces tight—and are starting to reappear.

There’s the huge difference a small adjustment makes to the feel of my pack on my back.

There’s going to the store and holding one object in each hand, closing my eyes sometimes as I attempt to detect a minuscule difference in weight.

Trying out my backpack with all my gear the other day brought back every morning on the Camino at once—putting the light objects at the bottom and the heavy ones against my back. And then deciding what should go on top: a sweater on a cold day; sunscreen on a hot one; rain gear if it’s pouring or the clouds look particularly grey.

I haven’t walked more than an hour and a half with my pack this time round, so I haven’t yet experienced total exhaustion. But I like to think that even in that I’ll find a bit of magic. It’ll bring back those afternoons on the Chemin du Puy when my feet ached and my backpack felt like I’d loaded it with rocks and I was sure I’d spend the rest of my life in France because I certainly was never going to move again.

And I’ll think: Oh yeah, I remember now, this is how it feels.

And I’ll know that I kept going once and can do it once again.

Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 10:05 am
, ,

This Week in Pilgrimage: The Final (For Now) Edition

[Eau potable on the Chemin du Puy]

Photo of the Week
This looks rather spring-y, but I actually took it in late summer, in Rochegude on the Chemin du Puy.

-it’s april(yes,april;my darling)it’s spring!
—e. e. cummings

Okay, so it’s not April. And it’s not actually spring here, either. The only leaves on the trees are dead ones from last year and there’s no sign of the season’s other harbingers: road construction crews and robins.

But it’s coming. It felt positively warm on Wednesday, without even a hint of winter chill.

Apparently if I hit just the right pace, I can keep up with spring all the way from Sevilla to Santiago. Though since I have no intention of walking thirty kilometres per day (just over twenty is more my style), summer is likely to just barely beat me to Galicia.

As of next week I’m going to be scaling down to two posts per week, with no weekly summary. I just don’t have time: I have approximately one million (give or take a few hundred thousand) things to do before I leave in less than a month (!).

But I will still post interesting links to the Pilgrim Roads Facebook page and will try to do more on Twitter, so please do join me there.

The usual disclaimer: I’ve done the best I can to ensure accuracy, but a lot of this information comes from Spanish sites and my Spanish is a long way from perfect.

  • The Roman Vía de la Plata is going to be unburied and restored where it passes through Aldeanueva del Camino in the province of Cáceres. Once the project begins, it’ll take about fourteen months to finish.
  • The first guidebook to the Camino de Inviero was recently published. Apparently there’s a serious lack of signage and albergues on the route. .
  • Representatives of seven municipalities in the province of Málaga recently visited Galicia. They hope to import some of the Camino Francés infrastructure to their branch of the Camino Mozárabe.
  • An old pilgrim hospital (lodging house) in Undués de Lerda on the Camino Aragonés is going to be restored and converted into an albergue and museum.
  • The board of directors of Abraham’s Path/Masar Ibrahim al Khalil is currently walking the entire Palestinian section of the route. You can follow along (they have tons of wonderful photos) on their blog and/or Facebook.
  • The Camino Documentary is holding a benefit in San Francisco on March 14, and is looking for pilgrims in that area to help out.
  • Robert Ward (author of All the Good Pilgrims) has started blogging about his reconnaissance trip along the Via Francigena. He wasn’t actually walking—he hopes to do that later this year—but he has some great stories. You can also keep track of what he’s up to on his brand new Facebook page.
  • The Confraternity of Pilgrims to Jerusalem, which meets on Facebook, has been busy lately. If you’re thinking about a walking trip to Jerusalem, it’s a great place to learn more about the trip.
  • Five municipalities in Castilla y León are asking for a million euros to improve the Camino in their area in a number of ways in order to attract more tourists. .
  • Two Spanish journalists recently walked the Camino Francés with a donkey. The story is in Spanish, but you can get the gist of it through an on-line translator. There’s even a blog, written from the donkey’s perspective.

Ultreïa, everyone, and I hope you all have wonderful weekends!

Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 4:37 pm
, , , ,
Comments Off on This Week in Pilgrimage: The Final (For Now) Edition

Who Were the Moors Anyway? (Part I)

[Great Mosque of Córdoba]

The former Great Mosque of Córdoba, now the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption.
Photo courtesy Nathan Wong through this Creative Commons license.

My sister Celena, who kindly agreed to read this post even after she realized how long it is, gave it the following ringing endorsement: “History’s got a bad rap, but people will probably find this interesting if anyone actually reads it.”

* * *

If you read a lot about the Camino de Santiago, at some point you’re going to come across references to the Moors—Muslims of Arab and Berber origin who ruled much of the Iberian Peninsula in medieval times.

There’s the Camino del Norte, which is said to have developed when Muslim raids made the Camino Francés too dangerous. There’s the Camino Mozárabe from Granada, named after the Mozarabs (Christians who lived in Moorish Spain, or al-Andalus). There are various legends related to battles between Christian and Muslim armies. And then, of course, there’s Santiago Matamoros, or Saint James the Moor-Slayer, whose image decorates many Camino churches.

So who were the Moors, and what were they doing in Spain? It’s a long but fascinating story. Just sit back, relax, and join me on a journey back to the Iberian Peninsula in the year 711.

The Invasion

At the beginning of 711, most of the peninsula was ruled by the Visigoths, a Germanic tribe that had been Romanized and become Christian before arriving in Spain. They were busy fighting a civil war because some noblemen opposed the new king.

At the same time, Muslims in North Africa were casting covetous glances across the Strait of Gibraltar. Throughout much of its history, Southern Spain has been more closely linked with Africa than with the rest of Spain, because the mountains that divide the peninsula are more of a barrier than is the narrow strait. Thus, Spain was a logical next target for the Muslim armies that had recently conquered, and at least nominally converted, the African Berbers.

An army of Berber tribesmen under Arab leadership swept into Spain in 711. Within a decade, the Muslims had killed the Visigothic king and taken over most of the peninsula.

Parts of the conquest were bloody, but others were relatively peaceful. Many local noblemen signed treaties with the Muslims that would allow the lords to continue ruling their lands as long as they paid tribute to their new rulers. By 720, all the regions previously under Visigothic rule were controlled by Muslims.

Living Together

Any look at the medieval history of the Iberian Peninsula is complicated by the fact that the history is incredibly political today.

For more than seven centuries, Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together in medieval Iberia. Some scholars and others see this as a period of convivencia, a term that means “living together.”

As anyone who’s lived with another person knows, living together is not all sweetness and light, but convivencia advocates tend to see it that way. They emphasize the positive relationships between people of different faiths—which certainly did exist—and downplay things like religiously-motivated massacres and religious intolerance—which are also easy to find in the historical record. Al-Andalus, they say, proves that harmonious relations between the three great monotheistic religions are possible.

There’s a lot we don’t know about the first few centuries of al-Andalus, because of a lack of surviving documents from that period. We do know that Christians and Jews were allowed to keep their faiths, because by Muslim tradition they were considered dhimmi, or Peoples of the Book.

But we also know there were religiously motivated conflicts—although the extent to which the conflicts were based on religious beliefs is debatable.

The Beginning of the Reconquista?

And this brings us to the other tradition of medieval Iberian history: the Spanish nationalist myth.

Originally, the Muslim conquest reached as far as the Asturias region in northern Spain (as well as far into Septimania, or Southern France). Muslim troops soon withdrew from the Asturias, and their departure was linked in some way to a local rebellion led by a Christian nobleman called Pelagius (also known as Pelayo).

According to the Spanish nationalist myth, the uprising was the first blow struck against the Moors in the Christian Reconquista (Reconquest) of Spain.

In reality, it seems the uprising was quite small. There’s even a possibility it didn’t cause the Muslim troops to leave, but rather was triggered by their departure. The Muslims seem to have deliberately left the area, which was so different from their desert homelands.

But whatever the reasons for the Muslim departure, that small enclave of Christians in the Asturias attracted other Christians who fled from al-Andalus, and it eventually became the kingdom of Castilla y León.

The Umayyad Dynasty

Back in al-Andalus, the Muslims weren’t particularly worried about the Christians in the Asturias. They were too busy fighting each other. The Berbers, whom the Arabs had only recently conquered and converted, were treated as second-class citizens by the minority Arabs. A revolt in the Maghrib (North Africa) spread to al-Andalus, where Berbers were particularly incensed at having been given the worst lands. Civil war swept through the land.

Meanwhile, in the Muslim capital of Damascus, the ruling Umayyad dynasty was facing similar problems. More recent converts, upset at being subordinate to the Arabs, rebelled, slaughtering the Umayyads and bringing in the Abbasid dynasty.

One Umayyad escaped and fled to al-Andalus, a far-flung corner of the Muslim world, and in 756 established his capital in Córdoba. At first, this Umayyad, Abd al-Rahman I, and the followers he brought from Damascas made up just one of many Andalusi factions. But by the time of his death thirty-two years later, he’d brought much of al-Andalus under his control.

His successors, the Umayyad emirs, maintained a tenuous hold over the peninsula. They managed to rule a land fractured by ethnic and religious differences by, historian Roger Collins argues, making the disunity into a strength. They cynically but intelligently played adjacent racial or religious groups off one another, to check the ambitions of each group. In some cases, rebel leaders couldn’t stage an effective rebellion because their potential supporters were too busy feuding with their neighbours.

But between rebellions, revolts, bandits and Viking raids, the Umayyad emirs sometimes lost control of vast stretches of territory. Abd-Allah, who ruled from 888 to 912, had the worst of it. At times he didn’t rule anywhere beyond the city of Córdoba.

And rulers in the developing Christian kingdoms took advantage of Umayyad weakness.

Pelagius’s nephew Alfonso I and his own son Fruela I ravaged a large stretch of land between their Asturian kingdom and the area the Muslims controlled more firmly. They forced its inhabitants to move north to the Asturias and Galicia.

For several hundred years thereafter, the peninsula was made up of Muslim-controlled lands in the south, lands under Christian control in the north, and a fluctuating no-man’s-land between them, the tierras despobladas.

Christians in al-Andalus

A number of Christians emigrated northward around the time of the conquest and for centuries afterward, but a much larger number stayed in the south.

Many—although certainly not all—appear to have converted to Islam. This was not, it would seem, because of any overt pressure (Muslim rulers weren’t allowed to tax other Muslims to the extent they could tax non-Muslims, so they relied on the dhimmi for revenue) or even strong religious convictions. Rather it seems likely the conversions came about as the result of intermarriage, and the social pressure that probably followed the conversion of prominent local families. Conversion also meant fewer taxes, and—at least in cities—more job opportunities.

Some Christian converts, like the Berbers, may have rebelled against their second-class status as non-Arab Muslims. The series of revolts known as the muwallad revolts (converts were called muwallads) seem to have been led by men from convert families. But it’s not actually clear if they revolted because of their treatment as converts, or because they wanted more independence and, during the times when emirs were losing control, thought they could get it.

Not all Christians converted, and in fact a mid-ninth-century martyrdom movement in Córdoba encouraged Christians to publicly condemn Islam and suffer the penalty—death. But at the same time, other prominent Christians encouraged moderation among their followers.

The Umayyad emirate became a caliphate and reached what many consider its peak under Abd al-Rahman III, who ruled from 912 to 961. Because of the emirs’ habit of taking Christian slaves as concubines and marrying Christian princesses, Abd al-Rahman III was genetically three-fourths Hispano-Basque, and is said to have dyed his reddish hair black to look more like an Arab.

Muslim Raids on Christian Lands

Among his many other activities, Abd al-Rahman III led raids on the Christian lands to the north. These were usually successful, but the caliph stopped leading his armies himself after suffering a serious defeat to a Leonese army.

Abd al-Rahman’s raids don’t seem to have been motivated by religion. He certainly wasn’t an intolerant man: he sent the Christian bishop Recemund on diplomatic missions, and the Jewish physician Hasdai ibn Shaprut became one of his chief advisors.

One major motivation behind his raids on the Christian kingdoms (including his relatives, as his mother had been a Navarran princess) may have been partly motivated by keeping an eye on his marcher (border) lords, who were inclined to be rebellious.

And there were strong financial motives as well. Like other European rulers at the time, Abd al-Rahman could replenish his coffers by looting and taking captives. Both Christians and Muslims sold captives of lesser rank as slaves, and high-ranking captives were ransomed to their families. Generally captives were only killed by one side or another if they considered their opponents to have broken the conventions of war.

The Muslims had the upper hand during this period, and could have expanded into Christian territories by settling the lands they raided, but they don’t seem to have been interested in conquering the north.

Later, al-Mansur (known as Almanzor to the Christians), who controlled Abd al-Rahman’s grandson, the puppet caliph Hisham II, escalated the raids.

His raids are often cast in a starkly Muslim versus Christian light. The reality, insofar as historians have been able to read between the lines, may have been somewhat different.

Al-Mansur’s most notorious raid was on Santiago de Compostela in 997, when his troops sacked the city, destroyed the cathedral, and stole its bells.

The event is often seen as an example of the religious basis of his raids, but while that may be partially true, it’s a lot more complicated than that.

It’s true that al-Mansur’s many raids attracted volunteers who were interested in jihad, or holy war—in much the same way, as historian Richard Fletcher notes, that Christian knights several centuries later would spend a few years on crusade. In Islamic countries, Spain was informally referred to as Dar Djihad, the Land of Jihad.

Al-Mansur himself made a show of extreme piety and portrayed his raids as jihad, but it’s hard to be sure how much of that was sincere.

He used large numbers of Christian mercenaries in his armies, something he probably wouldn’t have done if he were an extreme religious fundamentalist. He allied himself with disaffected noblemen from the northern kingdoms who—as was common at the time—made their alliances based on politics, not religion. Without guidance from these noblemen, al-Mansur wouldn’t have found his way to Santiago in the first place. The Christians received their share of booty for their trouble, and don’t appear to have suffered any severe moral qualms about their participation in the raid.

Also, while al-Mansur destroyed the cathedral, he didn’t touch the remains said to belong to St. James—a surprising omission, as Collins points out, if he were truly a religious fanatic.

There’s no question that al-Mansur’s raids were many and bloody, and the Christians had good reason to believe he’d bargained with the devil and to rejoice at his death.

But Fletcher argues that al-Mansur’s raids, while framed as jihad to keep religious leaders happy, were more like Abd al-Rahman’s earlier raids for wealth than like religious warfare.

Al-Mansur had a lot of expenses. He had to keep his supporters happy, and pay off his enemies. He built both a huge palace complex outside Córdoba for himself and his family, and an expensive extension to the city’s Great Mosque. He increased his popularity among the citizenry through tax cuts, and enlarged his armies because of political developments in Africa. He needed some serious money.

Monasteries acted in some ways like medieval banks, where the local nobility would deposit gold and other valuables.

And so, if asked why he really plundered monasteries, al-Mansur might well have given the same answer Willie Sutton gave when asked why he robbed banks.

“Because that’s where the money is.”

* * *

The information here largely comes from Moorish Spain by Richard Fletcher (a wonderful, very readable book) and Early Medieval Spain: Unity in Diversity, 400-1000 by Roger Collins (it’s more academic, but if you ever wondered about how the Visigoths fit into Spanish history, this one’s for you). If you know something about the history already and want to read excerpts from some original sources, Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources, edited by Olivia Remie Constable, is a fascinating read.

Be sure to come back next week for the riveting conclusion to “Who Were the Moors Anyway?” It will address such scintillating topics as the rise and fall of the party kings (who really did have a good time when they weren’t being conquered and exiled), the invention of Santiago Matamoros, and whether the Reconquista was actually just a conquista with good PR.

Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 10:48 am
, ,