A History of Aragon and Catalonia: The Muslim Conquest. Books.book Aragon in English. Spain.

A History of Aragon and Catalonia: The Muslim Conquest. Books. book History Aragon Aragon

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The Muslim Conquest

[16] Its importance. The invasions of Spain and Southern France. The settlement. Charlemagne's expedition. Frankish influence. Formation of the Spanish mark. Social conditions under Muslim rule.

The Muslim conquest, which may be considered as the commencement in Spanish history of the period known as the Middle Ages, was an event of vast importance not only to Spain but to Western Europe at large. Preceding centuries had seen the collapse of the Roman Empire under the pressure of migratory movements from the north; the rapid spread of Islam transformed conditions in the east and south. The Mediterranean ceased to be the medium for the interchange of Roman and Hellenic culture; this once Roman sea became a frontier-line in dispute between two civilizations. From Toledo to the Taurus an Asiatic culture was advancing upon Europe at a time when the old union imposed by imperial Christianity had broken down; the separation between Eastern and Western Churches had been accompanied by an inevitable difference between political ideals; the East continued to regard the Christian Church as subordinate, even in matters of dogma, to the imperial authority; the West was beginning to regard pope and emperor as allied and co-ordinate forces; the Hellenic and the Germanic empires were thus pursuing divergent paths. Islam, however, admirably fitted as it was for a conquering creed, proved in the event incompetent to maintain its ground. The fanaticism which had united a number of obscure Arab tribes, previously divided by local feuds and distinguished by the practice of degraded forms of Judaism and Christianity, was conjoined with a spirit of toleration for the religions of conquered peoples, at any rate in the form preached by Mahomet. In no other way could Islam have maintained its [17] dominion over peoples so diverse and beliefs so divergent as those entertained by Zoroastians, Berbers, Brahmins and Christians. The belief that a Muslim conquest implied the extermination of the conquered infidels is a mistake. But this toleration which allowed subject-races to practise their own religions, was also a cause of internal dissension; the liberty with which the founder's tenets were interpreted and the comparison of them with systems of thought encountered in alien civilizations, were activities which did not make for unity of creed, and Spanish Islam was doctrinally no less fissiparous than European Protestantism at a later date. Moreover, the political structure of the Empire was incoherent and a change of dynasty or even of policy at Bagdad was not necessarily followed by the obedience or agreement of distant emirs and walis. There was the further tendency to degeneration under settled conditions of life; Islam was most vigorous as a militant power; of its instability in peace, Spain can provide examples enough. On the other hand there were certain powerful bonds of union. Mecca was universally venerated as the religious centre of the faith, and the obligation of pilgrimage to it stimulated the interchange of ideas and produced effects upon the Muslim world analogous to those of the crusades upon Latin Christianity. The sacred text of the Koran, continually studied with meticulous devotion, established one language as the official means of communication. The avidity with which the Arabs assimilated the cultural achievements and the intellectual discoveries of other nations was no less remarkable than the rapidity and completeness with which new ideas were disseminated from end to end of their empire, and this process was facilitated by the possession of a common official language. The intellectual life of Bagdad was thus reproduced at Córdoba and Hellenic thought returned to Europe in the process. Spain was the point where two civilizations thus came into conflict and fusion; hence the importance of the Muslim invasion transcended the limits of the Spanish peninsula.

The beginnings of the Muslim conquest have been surrounded with legend. So catastrophic an overthrow was unaccountable to later generations, and the new nation formed by adversity among the mountainous regions of the [18] North ascribed the collapse of the Visigoths as much to Roderic's disregard of tradition and prophecy as to the treachery of Count Julian. That this Count, the Governor of Ceuta, conspired with the disaffected Bishop of Seville and with the sons of Witiza whom Roderic had deprived of the succession to the throne, is a proceeding characteristic of the times nor is the invitation to a common enemy out of key with the rest of the picture. But the royal amour with the fair La Cava, the enchanted tower and its guardians and other similar details, are more in the style of Amadís de Gaula than of sober history. The fact is undoubted that in 709 an Arab chieftain, Tarif, whether invited by Count Julian or not, crossed from Africa with some five hundred marauders, landed at the spot where the town of Tarifa preserves his name, conducted a successful foray and returned to Africa with news of the defenceless condition and wealth of the country. In 711, one Musa, the Vali or Governor of Mauretania Tingitana, gave his consent to another expedition, which was led by Tarik, whose name survives in Gibraltar, Gebel Tarik, the hill of Tarik; he made the crossing twice, the second time in 712 to bring reinforcements. After scattering, the enemy, he marched northward in three columns, captured Toledo and was censured for his precipitation by Musa, who had hurried over from Africa in his anxiety to be there before the booty was exhausted; most of his compatriots felt the same anxiety, and successive waves of invaders crossed the straits in any craft that would hold them. The following years were a period of confusion and disorder; marauding troops scoured the country, while Musa and his lieutenants continued their northward advance. In no quarter did they meet with any serious opposition, except Mérida, which resisted for two years. If cities closed their gates, they did so merely with the hope of securing favourable terms of surrender; the governing classes fled and the lower classes were indifferent, slaves and criminals were freed, Jews no longer feared their persecutors. To speak of the invasion as a conquest is to misrepresent the course of events; for the conquered, it was a social revolution; for the conquerors, it was a gigantic freebooting expedition crowned with surprising success; religion in the first instance was not the motive impelling the invaders; they came for loot.

[19] Musa and Tarik had proclaimed the sovereignty of the Caliph as they advanced and that potentate cut short their victorious careers when they had advanced nearly to the Pyrenees; they had apparently quarrelled upon the division of the spoil and were summoned to Damascus to give an account of their actions. Musa's son, Abdelaziz, was left in command; he had had fighting enough, settled in Córdoba, and is said to have married the widow of Roderic, thus repeating the story of the Goth Ataulf and the fair Placidia. Musa found no welcome at Damascus; he was disgraced and punished; nor did Abdelaziz long maintain his court at Córdoba; suspected of aiming at independence of the caliph, he was assassinated. His successor, Al-Horr, was ordered to organize the conquered territory and to continue the war -- in other words, to provide adequate rewards for his followers and to send more booty to Damascus. Such parts of Spain as the Muslims had occupied had been already stripped of plunder; but the north-eastern part of the peninsula had not been seriously ravaged and the Muslim hordes had not yet crossed the Pyrenees; fugitives from Southern Spain had also carried some wealth into those districts. Al-Horr, therefore, crossed the mountain barrier and invaded Septimania in 719. This expedition was the beginning of a series of campaigns into Southern France led by successive emirs, who met with a stronger resistance than they had encountered anywhere in Spain. Al-Sama, the successor of Al-Horr, attacked Toulouse in 721, but was defeated and killed by Duke Eudon, who succeeded in raising the siege of the town with an army from Aquitaine. Other emirs attempted to secure a footing in the South of France, and in spite of the great defeat inflicted upon the Muslims by Charles Martel at Poitiers in 732, they retained possession of Septimania, until their domestic quarrels forced them to relax their hold about 740, when the Berber immigrants who had entered Spain in such numbers as to form the majority of the Muslim population, revolted against the domination of the Arabs properly so-called. But it was not until 759 that Pippin the Short, who had succeeded Charles Martel as King of the Franks, was able to drive the Muslims out of Septimania.

Al-Horr and his successors could represent themselves as the emissaries of an organized government, that of the Caliph [20] at Damascus, the link between them being the government in Africa; as a matter of fact, the political connection between Africa and Damascus was loose and that between Africa and Spain was not much closer. The several Muslim tribes and nations were often at variance among themselves, and though they admitted a nominal suzerainty on the part of Damascus, the only real bond of union was their religious faith and their belief in the brotherhood of all true believers. This faith, as has been said, was not the motive cause for their invasion of Spain. Tarik's expedition was a marauding raid which had succeeded beyond the wildest expectation, and the settlement in Spain was constantly disturbed by rivalries and factions fostered in Africa and often stimulated by the Berber priests. Berbers, Syrians, Egyptians and Arabs all required satisfaction, which was eventually secured to some extent by settling the various tribes in the districts which most nearly resembled their native environment; the Egyptians received Murcia, where they might practise the art of agriculture; mountainous districts and pastures were found for the men of Palestine and the hill tribes of Morocco; the Yemenite tribes were settled in the Seville district, and the ruling Syrians of Damascus occupied Granada. In the hands of these latter the government remained; but it was not until the tenth century that the civilization vaguely known as Moorish was firmly established and that its cultural achievements became possible.

Under the new government the subject-population was well treated and was certainly better off than it had been under the nobles who had fled for refuge to the mountains of the north. Apart from some sporadic outbreaks of persecution, provoked in part by the Christians themselves, the religion, the rights and even the property of the Spanish population were respected; Christians retained their churches and were able to celebrate daily mass under the eyes of the Muslim authorities; living among Muslims, they were known as Mozárabes or Mozarabs, and the Mozarabic ritual which they continued from Gothic times was not replaced by the Roman ritual until 1071, and is still continued in chapels of the cathedrals of Toledo and Salamanca; the only burden upon them was a small annual poll-tax. The slave who professed the Muslim faith secured his freedom, but the [21] new government showed no anxiety to proselytize. Such Christians as accepted Muhammedanism formed the class known as renegados or muladíes. The Jews, who had perhaps suggested and had certainly welcomed the invasion, were not only tolerated but were distinguished by the special consideration of the new rulers. These took one-fifth of the land for themselves and distributed the rest among their adherents; the government holding was allotted to Spanish cultivators who paid rent on the metayer system: the large estates were thus broken up and agriculture was improved in consequence.

For the first forty years after the Muslim invasion, some twenty emirs held the power in Spain with varying success, under the Ommeyad dynasty of caliphs at Damascus. This dynasty was overthrown in 750 by the Abbassids and the capital was removed to Bagdad, where it remained until the Muhammedan Empire was broken up by the Mongols in 1258. The repercussion of these disturbances was felt among the outlying provinces of the Muslim Empire, and North Africa either refused to recognize the Abbassids or declared itself independent. Abd ar-Rahman (755-788), a member of the Ommeyad family, escaped from the general overthrow of the dynasty, and made his way to North Africa, where he attempted to establish an independent state. When he found his difficulties insurmountable, like Hannibal or Sertorius, he turned to Spain, gained sufficient help to fit out a small expedition, and landed at the mouth of the Guadalquivir in 755. Dissensions among the emirs of the peninsula provided his opportunity, and by 758 he was able to declare himself independent of the Abbassid Caliph. He reigned at Córdoba for thirty-two years, during which time he laid the foundations of the Moorish Empire in Spain. While he was consolidating his power, the Franks were able to make some advance in the north-east, and one Suleiman, the Governor of Gerona and Barcelona, was obliged to offer his submission to Pippin, who was, however, prevented by other calls upon his energies from pushing his advantage further in this region.

The general situation in the old province of Tarraconensis at this period is not clear. While Al-Horr and his successors were invading Septimania, it is obvious that they must have [22] had possession of the modern Catalonia, through which their passage lay. After the victory of Charles Martel, no doubt incursions were made by the Frankish forces. While civil war was being waged in Andalucía between the Muslim leaders, Zaragoza became the centre of gravity in the northeast. Yusuf, who was elected Governor of Spain in 747, entrusted the governorship of the town to Sumail, a chieftain who had risen to eminence as the leader of several petty tribes in opposition to the Yemenites and whose influence was greater than his own. Sumail was aware that Yusuf wished to get rid of him, but the importance of the post and the opportunity which it afforded for harassing the Yemenites who occupied the district induced him to accept it in 750. Three years later he was besieged by a coalition of his enemies, but the arrival in Spain of Abd er-Rahman and his rise to power put an end to civil war in this region and transferred it to the south. Abd er-Rahman's success in establishing himself as the independent caliph of Córdoba by no means brought peace to Spain. Not only was he harassed by chieftains holding commissions from the Abbassid caliph, who refused to recognize an Ommeyad ruler of Spain, but the ruthless treachery and the vindictive cruelty of his career stirred up continual conspiracies and confederacies among his own subjects.

One of these became the occasion of Charlemagne's famous expedition in 778, the disastrous retreat from which provided the subject-matter for the Chanson de Roland, Three malcontent chiefs, Al-Arabi, Governor of Barcelona, Yusuf's son-in-law, Abd er-Rahman ibn Habib, and Yusuf's son, Abu 'l-Aswad, were inspired with such animosity against the Caliph of Córdoba that they were prepared to accept the help of a Christian king to secure his overthrow. They visited Charlemagne at Paderborn where he was holding the Diet, and proposed an alliance with him against the Emir of Córdoba. The immediate problem before the Emperor was the attitude of the Saxons; they had recently submitted to his dominion and were prepared to accept Christianity; their most formidable leader, Wittekind, had been driven into exile. Feeling therefore that his hands were free, Charlemagne undertook to co-operate. It was agreed that he should cross the Pyrenees with an army, while Al-Arabi [23] would raise the country north of the Ebro and acknowledge Charlemagne's sovereignty. The other two were to distract the attention of Abd er-Rahman by raising the Abbassid standard and advancing from the south. If this ingenious strategy was ever proposed, which some historians deny, it miscarried hopelessly; the movements were not synchronized, the leaders quarrelled among themselves, and when Charlemagne entered Spain, the only allies upon whom he could count were Al-Arabi and his associates in the north, such as Abu Thaur, the Governor of Huesca, and Galindo, the Christian Count of the Cerdagne. Charlemagne advanced as far as Zaragoza, when he was recalled by tidings of a Saxon revolt of the most serious kind; Wittekind had returned, and the absence of the Frankish army had enabled him to ravage the country as far as Cologne. Charlemagne marched by the valley of Roncevalles, where the Basques, the enemies of the Franks, lay in ambush; they allowed the main body to pass, but attacked and defeated the rear-guard, plundered the baggage train and dispersed; Roland, one of the commanders of the rear-guard, perished with his troops. Abd er-Rahman was then able in 780 to conquer Zaragoza, to defeat the Basques and to reduce the Count of the Cerdagne to subjection, thanks to the energy of a Saxon chieftain of whose name he had never heard. The Chanson de Roland is wholly inspired by the crusading spirit of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and does not reflect either the historical facts or the prevailing temper of the eighth century. That Charlemagne, who is represented as the champion of Christianity, was in league with the unbelievers, as were Galiano and other Christians, are inconvenient facts which are not mentioned in the poem and were probably unknown to the composer of it. The Reconquista, the process of driving the Arab invaders out of Spain, was not in its early stages a religious crusade; the early struggles were political in character, waged by nobles and ecciesiastics for self-preservation, for the recovery of territory or of prestige. Hence, as will be seen, Muslim and Christian are found acting in alliance upon occasion and intermarriage is not uncommon.

Charlemagne's expedition impressed the Arab governors of the north-eastern towns with the idea that the Frankish monarch was a power to whom they could turn, should they [24] happen to be at variance with their own authorities. Thus, in the course of the next few years, Barcelona, Gerona and Huesca appear to have acknowledged and rejected Frankish supremacy. The Franks in course of time came to regard this part of Spain as a Frankish mark, the maintenance of which was important for the security of the Empire. Louis, Charlemagne's son, is said to have spent some time in the district, when he assumed the government of Aquitania and Septimania and received an Arab embassy at Toulouse in 790. The peace then concluded was broken in the following year by the successor of Abd er-Rahman, Hisham or Hixem, a fanatic who proclaimed a religious war against the Christians, and the frontier at both ends of the Pyrenees was continually disturbed. Charlemagne was occupied with the Saxons and Louis was engaged in supporting his brother in Italy; the Muslims seized the opportunity of devastating Catalonia and in 793 a marauding raid was pushed up to the walls of Narbonne and Carcassonne, and Gerona was lost to the Franks. Hisham's successor, Al-Hakam, was hampered at the outset of his reign by the necessity of suppressing conspiracies against his rule; the conspirators applied to the Franks for help, who thus obtained an opportunity of recovering the lost ground. An expedition was sent in 797 and Gerona was regained, while the Arab governors of Barcelona, Huesca and Lérida submitted to Louis. Al-Hakam drove out the Franks and re-established his supremacy as far as the Pyrenees, but Louis returned with a larger force, captured Barcelona in 801, and placed Count Bera or Bara in it as governor. In the next year he captured Tarragona and ravaged the country to the walls of Tortosa. Some years of warfare followed with varying success to either side; in 812 Al-Hakam made peace and about the time of Charlemagne's death the Franks were in occupation of the coast-line as far as Tortosa and of the plain as far as Huesca; they also held the southern slope of the Pyrenees. Here various Visigothic nobles were able to establish themselves in independence of the Arabs under the protection of the Frankish Empire which attached increasing importance to the security of the Spanish mark. When Louis divided his empire among his sons in 817, Septimania was separated from Aquitaine and the Duchy of Toulouse and entrusted to Lothair with the Spanish [25] mark, which included the Basque frontier, as well as the counties of Jaca and Ribagorza and the Mediterranean sea-front. This arrangement continued until 865 when Charles the Bald divided the mark into Septimania proper with Narbonne as its capital, and the County of Barcelona which became independent about 877 under Count Wifred or Wilfred the Hairy.

During this period, the Beni-Kasim, a renegade Visigothic family, had succeeded in establishing themselves in Zaragoza and in founding a kingdom entirely independent of the Emir of Córdoba. Huesca and Tudela formed part of this kingdom which dominated most of the north-east plain. Its most able ruler, Musa II, maintained his independence against both Franks and Arabs. Independence apart, the Beni-Kasim had no definite policy; they fought against the Count of Barcelona, against the Christians of Castile and the Arabs of Córdoba, and their alliances were as varied as their hostilities; they lent support to the renegades of Toledo, Muslim subjects of Visigothic origin, who forced the Emir of Córdoba to recognize their independence in 873, under payment of an annual tribute. Musa styled himself "the third King of Spain," and was respected or feared by all his neighbours: Charles the Bald was willing to send him presents. On his death in 862, the Emir of Córdoba overpowered this kingdom, but was soon driven out by the Beni-Kasim in alliance with Alfonso III of Leon, who had even entrusted them with the education of his son Ordoño. This was not the only movement of the kind. In Andalusia and Extremadura malcontent leaders had succeeded in establishing governments independent of Córdoba, where political and religious dissension had seriously weakened the central power. These separatist tendencies were checked by Abd er-Rahman III, who came to the throne in 912.

Conditions in such parts of north-eastern Spain as came under Muslim rule did not differ materially from those which prevailed in the south or west, except for the fact that population was more scattered and migration more frequent. Catalonia especially was a land of passage for those who fled to Southern France before the Muslim invaders or returned in the wake of Frankish armies. Those inhabitants who remained in continuous occupation were probably better [26] off than they had been under Visigothic rule. The invaders were not generally concerned with the conversion of the inhabitants to Muhammedanism, although the fanaticism of individual leaders might vary upon this point. The principle was that those who did not accept Islam had to pay a special tax to the conquerors, in addition to the tribute imposed upon their district. Conversion thus meant pecuniary loss to the conqueror and this and other military reasons guaranteed a large measure of religious toleration to the Christian subjects, the Mozárabes, who retained possession of their churches or were allowed to build new ones. Cases occurred when Muslims and Christians used the same edifice for religious purposes. Christian bishops were maintained, church councils were held, though the Caliph claimed the right of nominating bishops and convoking councils, and visits to and from foreign prelates were perfectly possible. Moreover, the attention of Muslim theologians and religious leaders was distracted from the Christians by their own quarrels and disputations upon dogmatic questions; separatist schools of religious thought often assumed the importance of sects, while the ruling classes and especially the Arabs were indifferent or frankly sceptical. Nor was the process of conquest necessarily cruel or sanguinary; the campaign against the north-eastern districts in 714 is said to have been one of devastation and terror, but such a case was exceptional. Tribute and taxation could be paid in produce; the conquerors took one-fifth of the land as State property, this was let out to native Gothic cultivators who paid one-third of the annual produce; the land of such nobles as submitted without resistance was left to them on payment of an annual tribute. Land was provided for Muslim leaders and soldiers by confiscating the property of the Gothic owners who resisted or fled. Their serfs continued to work on the land and paid one-third or one-fifth of the produce to the new owners; thus the serfs were better off than they had been under Gothic rule and the latifundia were broken up and brought under cultivation. Slaves also were better treated, and could obtain liberation by conversion to Muhammedanism. The Jews, in particular, gained many advantages from the change of rulers; they were no longer exposed to the risk of persecution and found many [27] opportunities for developing their capacity for finance and administration.

Intermarriage between Muslims and the conquered inhabitants was frequent in all classes of society; though Muslim law did not require the conversion of a Christian wife, voluntary conversions were not infrequent. Almanzor married a daughter of Sancho II of Navarre, and the lady is said to have embraced Muhammedanism with the approval of her family. Christians could and did hold positions of trust in Muslim courts with no compulsion to become renegades; Christian troops appeared in Muslim armies; Christian kings formed alliance with Muslim emirs. In short, during the early stages of the Muslim occupation, hostilities were due to economic and political, not to religious causes, a fact which was obscured by later chroniclers who regarded such toleration as disgraceful infidelity and were anxious to invest the Reconquest with the character of a crusade at the earliest possible date. This continual intercourse naturally had its effect upon both the Christian and Muslim elements in the population; nor must it be forgotten that the Muslim-population was itself of a heterogeneous character. Even among the Arab nucleus, the aristocrats among the invaders, tribal differences were often a disruptive force; for them and the Berbers, Egyptians, Yemenites and other races in Spain there was no common language; by degrees a lingua franca came into use, which differed considerably from pure Arabic, the official language of the conquerors, and included numerous Latin terms borrowed from the native population. The general effect of Muslim influence upon Spanish civilization was not apparent until a later date; in any case, that influence was comparatively weak in the north-east part of Spain. Zaragoza was certainly a Muslim centre, but the chief Muslim architectural achievement, the palace or aljafería, was built in the period of Muslim decadence and the botanists and philosophers who flourished there were overshadowed by the greater names in the southern centres. Aragon and Catalonia were never out of touch with Southern France and its more congenial civilization, while such districts as might have been directly affected by Muslim influence were but thinly populated.

This work was originally published by Methuan Publishing Ltd. in 1933.
Pagination of the original edition is indicated set off in brackets, as in [19].



Ample your information on Aragon

If you want to extend your information on Aragon you can begin crossing another interesting route is the Mudejar, Patrimony of the Humanity, also you can extend your cultural knowledge on Aragon examining its municipal and institutional heraldry without forgetting, of course, some of its emblematics figures as Saint George Pattern of Aragon also book of Aragon.

Also Aragon enjoys a diverse and varied Nature where passing by plants, animals or landscapes we can arrive at a fantastic bestiario that lives in its monuments.

The information will not be complete without a stroll by its three provinces: Zaragoza, Teruel and Huesca and his shines, with shutdown in some of its spectacular landscapes like Ordesa, the Moncayo or by opposition the Ebro.

Also you can dedicarte to the intangible ones: from the legend compilation that also does to universal Aragon you can persecute the presence of del Santo Grial in Aragon.



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