(EUROPE: 501 to 1000 CE – continued)
Hispania, around 560 CE (Wikipedia Commons, with cities added). The Cantabrians, in the far north, are a Celtic people. Toledo is the center of Visigoth rule.
King Leovigildo, in Madrid
The Mosque at Córdoba
Visigoths had expanded into the Iberian Peninsula in the 400s – called Hispania by the Romans. The Visigothic king ruled in name at least all of Hispania 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 centuries before, as far back at least as the first century, following trade routes. In Hispania were jews whose labors had made possible for themselves and their families a comfortable life.
From 511–526, Visigoths and Ostrogoths were reunited under Theodoric the Great, ruling from Ravenna in Italy. The center of Visigothic rule shifted first to Barcelona, on the coast in the northeast of Hispania. Then Visigoth rule shifted inland to Toledo. (See map on the right). It has been claimed that Toledo was founded by Jewish colonists – a claim that historians cannot substantiate.
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, now represented by Constantinople. In 551 a usurper, Athahagild, invited help from the emperor at Constantinople, Justinian, and Athanagild was crowned king in 554. He recognized Justinian's rule in the far south of Hispania. But the Byzantine Empire had problems that made its presence there short lived.
Athangild died peacefully in 567 followed by the usual anarchy concerning a successor. His brother, Liuvigild, won the contest, and he copied some of the pomp and ceremony of Byzantine rule. Liuvilgild 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.
In 589, Liuvigild's successor, Reccared (r. 586-601), converted his subjects to Catholicism. 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. The Jews had been enjoying some freedom under Visigoth rule, but his now changed. Christian leaders saw evil if beliefs that rivaled their Christianity. Judaism was a feared contaminant that might spread to their fellow Christians. Jews were ordered to become baptized as Christians, and persecutions of Jews began.
Visigoth rulers had much to fear from their fellow Christians. Among the Christians were power struggles, assassinations, usurpations and civil wars, Christians killing Christians, with local bishops maintaining some political power, which passed to local warlords and great landholders.
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 in the far north, where people would flee from Muslim rule. And what had been called Hispania was now called al-Andalus.
Muslim rule brought a new tolerance to Hispania. The Muslim conqueror, Tarik ibn Zeyad, 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 and that all that would be required of them would be to pay a small tax. Christianity and Judaism were not viewed as a threat to Islam the way that Christians feared Judaic contamination. Muslims, recognized Jews and Christians as people like they: "People of the Book" – meaning scripture.
In the coming decades, Muslim cavalry made raids into Gaul (France). The Muslims were interested primarily in booty and were weakened by squabbles. Their raiding was defeated by forces led by Charles Martel, with some Western scholars in the 1900s to see this as saving Christian civilization.
In Hispania conflict erupted between the Berbers and Arabs accompanied by a Berber rebellion in what today is Morocco. Abd ar-Rahman (Abdurrahman ibn Muawiyah) entered al-Andalus in 756 with what has been described as about 750 Berber horsemen. Being part Arab and part Berber (or Moor, as Berbers were also called), Rahman was better able to unite the local Berbers and Arabs. He became a warlord -- officially an emir – at the city of Córdoba, and from there 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 óroads 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.
Conversion to Islam proceeded at a steadily increasing pace, starting with the Visigoth aristocracy, as it offered an escape from the limitations and humiliations of their diminished status. Christians and Muslims mingled more closely. There were intermarriages and a deterioration of the Catholic Church in Hispania.
But tradition interfered with a perfect toleration. For example, a Muslim insisted that his two step children become Muslim. His children's persistent refusal ended with their beheading. That was on October 21, 840. 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 such. 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 al-Andalus.
In the 10th century, power in Córdoba stayed within Rahman's family, passing to Abd-ar-Rahman III, who reigned from from 912 to 961. He expanded his rule, bringing a new united to al-Andalus. In 929, he joined in the defiance of Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad and declared himself Islam's caliph. This made three caliphs, Rahman III, a caliph in Cairo and the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad.
The fame of Córdoba penetrated even distant Germany: the Saxon nun Hroswitha, famous in the last half of the tenth century for her Latin poems and dramas, called it the Jewel of the World.
Córdoba received embassies from Constantinople, various rulers in Germany, Italy and France. It gained skilled migrants from other lands of Muslims, and Rahman III had a passion for building. With a well-disciplined army – perhaps the finest in the world, writes Dozy, he had the peace necessary for it.
Rahman III furthered Córdoba's grandeur, helped by the stability that had been achieved, the tolerance that was a part of that stability and by his having secured peace with the Christian kingdoms on his border in the north of the Iberian 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. Cordoba's great library held over 600,000 manuscripts. Cordoba 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. The physician, scientist, and surgeon Abu al-Qasim (Abulcasis) was active in al-Hakam's court.
During his reign, Rahman III expanded Córdoba's mosque, one of the more splendid of Islam's structures. His army repelled the Norman attacks of 966 and 971, defeated the Fatimids of northern Morocco in 974, and maintained his supremacy in the Christian states of Navarre, Castile and Leon in the north.
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