(EUROPE: 501 to 1000 CE – continued)

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EUROPE: 501 to 1000 CE (4 of 10)

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Spain from the 6th to 10th Century

map of Hispania, around the year 560

Hispania, 530-70. The Cantabrians, in the far north, are a Celtic people. Toledo was the center of Visigoth rule.

Visigoths had expanded into the Iberian Peninsula in the 400s – called Hispania by the Romans. A Visigothic king ruled all of Hispania, at least nominally, except for small areas in the north populated by Basques and the Suevi kingdom in the west – the Suevi a Germanic people who had invaded Hispania during the previous century. There were Jews in Hispania, many of whom had arrived as far back at least as the first century, following trade routes. It has been claimed that Toledo was founded by Jewish colonists – a claim that historians cannot substantiate.

In the early 500s, the center of Visigothic rule shifted from Barcelona (on the coast in the northeast of Hispania) inland to Toledo. (See map on the right). The king of the Visigoths from 549 was Agila, whose rule was limited to his fellow Visigoths while many others he considered to be his subjects continued to see themselves as belonging to Imperial Rome, represented by Constantinople. In 551 a usurper, Athahagild, invited help from Constantinople's Emperor Justinian I, and in 554 Athanagild was crowned king. He recognized Justinian's rule in the far south of Hispania, a rule that was short lived.

Athangild died peacefully in 567 followed by the usual successor conflict. His brother, Liuvigild, won the contest, and he copied some of the pomp and ceremony of Byzantine rule. Liuvigild conquered the Suevi kingdom, and in the south he took the city of Merida, in Lusitania, away from the Catholic bishop and demanded that his trinity-believing subjects convert to the branch of Christianity to which the Visigoths were adhering: Arianism.

Muslim Invasion

In 589, Liuvigild's successor, Reccared (r. 586-601), sought political unity by renouncing his Arianism and accepting Catholicism, thus assuring an alliance with Constantinople. Most Visigoth nobles and ecclesiastics went along with Reccared, especially those near the king at the city of Toledo. But there was resistance and unrest. Warlords and great landholders assumed wide discretionary powers. Family feuds went unchecked. Jews had been enjoying some freedom under Visigoth rule, but now Christians saw Judaism as an evil contaminant that might spread to fellow Christians. Jews were ordered to become baptized as Christians, and persecutions of Jews began.


King Liuvigild in Madrid

In the early 700s, what began as disorganized raids by Muslims turned into an invasion of Hispania by a roughly estimated 7,000 Berbers and 300 Arabs. Conquest was made easy by the political disunity among the Christians and by people, including Jews, welcoming the Muslims as liberators, with some joining the conqueror's armies. By 718, in a conquest of little bloodshed, the Muslims took control of all of Hispania except for the mountain area of Asturia along much of the peninsula's north, where people fled from Muslim rule.

Around the year 722 in the mountainous north, a small army led by the Visigothic nobleman, Pelagius, who had rebelled against paying taxes to the Muslims, defeated a Muslim army – the Battle of Covadonga. Pelagius established a Christian principality in Asturia. The small town of León joined the new kingdom. It was a former Roman city with surviving Roman walls and had been a bishopric. It is said to have given a measure of legitimacy to the Asturian monarchs who sought to lead a unified church in Iberia against the Muslims.

What had been called Hispania the Muslims called al-Andalus. Muslim rule brought a new tolerance to Hispania. The Muslim conqueror, Tarik ibn Ziyad, described himself as a man of generosity and clemency and as neither covetous nor cruel. He asked those he conquered to give up their horses and arms and told them they could leave if they preferred or, if they remained, they could follow their own faith and customs and have their own courts. All that would be required of them, he said, would be a small tax. Christianity and Judaism were not viewed as a threat to Islam the way that Christians feared Judaic contamination. Christians and Jews were viewed by Muslims as people like they: "People of the Book" (scripture).

In the coming decades, Muslim cavalry made raids from Hispania into Gaul (France). This was more violence for the sake of booty that was terror for local people in Gaul – nothing that contributed to Muslims winning hearts and minds. The raiding was defeated by forces led by Charles Martel, with some Western scholars in the 1900s to exaggerate by describing Martel as having saved Christian civilization.

Berber Rebellion and the Rahman Dynasty

In the early 740s conflict erupted between Arabs and the Berbers who had invaded from North Africa. The revolt began in Tanja (Tangier) in 740 – a revolt that would lead to the Umayyad caliphate in Damascus losing control over much of North Africa and Hispania. It had been encouraged by Kharijite puritan preachers critical of Umayyad rule. Organized Berber rebels defeated armies sent by the Damascus caliphate, and news of success by the Berber armies gave rise to a general Berber uprising in Hispania.

With a following of about 750 Berber horsemen, Abd ar-Rahman, who was an Umayyad prince, part Arab and part Berber, entered Hispania in the year 756 from North Africa. Rahman was able to unite Berbers and Arabs, and he became a warlord -- officially an emir – at the city of Córdoba, and from there in the late 750s he expanded his power. He continued the religious tolerance of the Muslim rulers, and he took advantage of the skills of the local craftsmen among the Jews and Christians, who remained a majority in al-Andalus. Rahman improved roads and had aqueducts constructed or improved. He was inspired by the great Mosque his family, the Umayyads, had built at Damascus, and around the year 786 he had a new mosque constructed on the site that had been the Visigoth cathedral of St Vincent.

Mosque at Cordoba

The Mosque at Córdoba

Conversion to Islam proceeded at a steady pace, including the Visigoth aristocracy, concerned with their status in what was now a Muslim-ruled society. Christians and Muslims mingled more closely. There were intermarriages and a deterioration of the Catholic Church.

But problems remained. For example in 840 a Muslim insisted that his two step-children become Muslim, and his children's persistent refusal ended with their beheading (on October 21). In the 900s various Christians were killed, one a bishop who insulted Muhammad the Prophet after expressing the opinion common among bishops that Muhammad was a false prophet, a lying imposter and a dissolute adulterer. And there is a report of 200 monks of Cardena being massacred by Muslim soldiers in 934. But intermarriage, friendly mingling and conversions to Islam continued, with Muslims said to begin to outnumber Christians.

In the 10th century, power in Córdoba stayed within Rahman's family, passing to Abd-ar-Rahman III, who reigned from 912. He expanded his rule, bringing a new united to al-Andalus (Spain). In 929, he joined in defying the caliphate in Baghdad and declared himself Islam's caliph. With a caliph in Cairo and the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad he became the third caliph.

Córdoba Caliphate

Caliphate of Córdoba in the year 1000. León, Castile, Navarra are ruled by Catholic monarchs. Barcelona is ruled by a feudal lord descended from one of Charlemagne's knights.

With a well-disciplined army – perhaps the finest in the world, Rahman III secured peace with the Christian kingdoms in the north of the peninsula. Agriculture was advanced by the construction of irrigation works, and economic development was encouraged by widening streets and building market places. He amassed a library with 400,000 books, sending agents to accumulate books from Muslim areas in the east. Muslims, Christians and Jews were building a unique, integrated culture. Christians adopted Arabic as their language, and Jews mixed in the cities economic and social life.

Cordoba's reputation brought people to the city, more trade and an influx of goods. Córdoba became the largest and most cultural city in Europe and a city that rivaled the two great cities of the Middle East: Baghdad and Cairo. The city of Córdoba became the intellectual center of Europe. Students came from elsewhere in Europe to be taught by Arab, Christian, and Jewish scholars. Manuscripts accumulated in the city's library. Córdoba became famous for its philosophy, with translated works of Greek writers and philosophers. It would be from Córdoba that Christendom would acquire its knowledge of ancient works, including the works of Aristotle and achievements in medicine, mathematics and astronomy.

Rahman III expanded Córdoba's mosque, one of the more splendid of Islam's structures. He died in 1961 around the age 70 and was succeeded by his son, Al-Hakam II.

Al-Hakam secured peace with the Catholic kingdoms in the peninsula's north and made use of this peace by building irrigation works that advance his state agriculturally, and his program of widening streets and building market places improved the economy.

Al-Hakam's army repelled Norman attacks in 966 and 971 and defeated the Fatimids of northern Morocco in 974.

Al-Hakam was decidedly homosexual. He was known to have openly kept a male harem. Wikipedia reports that to produce an heir a concubine was dressed as a boy and given the masculine name of Jafar.

Christian Kingdoms in the North

By the 900s, the Christian princes of Asturias had shifted their capital to the city of León, and a neighboring area held in vassal to León had emerged, to be known as Castile, named because of castles in the region. Castile was divided politically among various people called counts. The In 931 it was unified after one of the counts, Fernán González, rose in rebellion against León, allowing rule to be inherited by his family rather than appointed by León.

Navarre, another kingdom in the mountainous northwest, one that bordered the Kingdom of France, had a beginning, more or less, with a military victory by people called Vascones, believed to be ancestors of the Basques. The battle was against a section of Charlemagne's army in the year 778, the Battle of Roncevaux Pass, high in the Pyrenees mountains. In the oral tradition, the French would romanticize and falsify the battle, describing it as a major conflict between Christians and Muslims, the saving of Christian civilization from Islam.


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