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A blog the history of Spain for ex-pats and others.

Uneasy lies the head.
22 August 2020 @ 06:00

The Abbasids had taken control of all the Muslim lands along the southern shores of Mediterranean by 750, creating thousands of homeless Umayyad refugees. In a generous gesture, the Fihrid family welcomed them and allowed them to settle in al-Andalus. These were the sons and grandsons of Caliphs, and had a more valid claim to al-Andalus than the Fihrids. The ingrate newcomers aligned themselves with the disenchanted lords under Fihrid rule and rose up against them.

In 756 the Umayyad prince Abd al-Rahman I overthrew the Fihrid family and established himself as Emir of Córdoba. He held the title for thirty years, despite his rule being constantly challenged by the al-Fihri family and the Abbasid Caliph. It was Abd al-Rahman I who ordered the conversion of the Visigoth church in Córdoba into a mosque and laid plans for further construction and enlargement. The mosque was considerably extended by his successors over the next hundred years to become the Great Mosque of Córdoba that we know today.

When he died in 822 his son became Emir of Córdoba as Abd al-Rahman II. His reign was far from peaceful, and from the first day, King Alfonso II of Asturias began a campaign against the new emir that lasted 23 years. After many costly battles, he finally halted the advance of Alfonso by building the citadel of Murcia and populating it with loyal Arabs. He had to do the same at Mérida in 835 to hold down a revolt there. In 837 he suppressed an uprising of Christians and Jews in Toledo using the same measures.

As if this was not enough to contend with, in 844 he had to fight off an invasion by Vikings, who had taken the harbour at Cádiz (though not the fortress), and marched on to take Seville. He only managed to drive them back when they were at the gates of Córdoba. From then on, he had to strengthen his navy and patrol the entire west coast of Iberia to counter the Vikings, who continued making raids through the straits and as far as the Balearics. They also attacked North Arica, and he was obliged to protect his assets there, too.

Under Muslim rule, Christians could retain their churches and property on condition of paying a tribute (jizya) for every parish, cathedral, and monastery. But the ruling Arabs were not without compassion. The Christians and Jews found themselves beneficiaries of a society that supported the old and infirm, as well as the blind, crippled and those forced to live on the streets begging. The Jews had suffered persecution under the Visigoths for centuries, and now they were free to worship as they wished, sharing equal rights with the Christians. Many of the Christians converted to Islam simply to avoid paying the jiya.

But there were a few caveats to Muslim rule that the Christians were unhappy with. They and the Jews had to abstain from any public displays of their faith in the presence of Muslims, as such an act was considered blasphemy under Islamic law and punishable by death. They were also forbidden to actively try to convert Muslims to another faith. The unrest of the Christians erupted into civil disobedience in early 851. The emir at first ordered the arrest and detention of the clerical leadership of the local Christian community.

When the riots had subsided later in the year, the clergy were released. One of the bishops initially imprisoned by al-Rahman was called Eulogius, and during his imprisonment he read the bible to the other Christian prisoners to maintain morale. After their release, the persecution of Christians was renewed, causing many of them to leave and travel north to the Christian kingdoms of León, Navarra and Aragon.

For a while things remained quiet, but several months later there was a new wave of protests, and the emir turned to the Christian leaders as the ones most capable of controlling their own community. Instead of imprisoning them, he ordered them to convene a synod in Córdoba to review the matter and develop some strategy for dealing with the dissidents internally. He gave the bishops a choice: Christians could stop the public dissent or face harassment, loss of jobs, and economic hardship. He issued a decree by which the Christians were forbidden to seek martyrdom in fighting Islam. Unfortunately, the dissenters had drawn attention to themselves, and the Christian persecution escalated, as did Christian resentment and resistance. Finally, al-Rahman II ordered the first of a series of executions for sedition.

The old emir died in 852, but his son al Rahman III intensified the pressure on the Christians to conform. Tension escalated when the King of Asturias died and was replaced by his son, Ordoño, who, after he had put down a rebellion by the Basques, had to face an attack on his southern borders by al-Rhaman. Ordoño defeated the Moors, but in subsequent battles was beaten back. He offered support for the rebels in Toledo, which led to further defeats at the hands of the Moors. Finally, he encouraged the Christian settlement of the buffer zone, the “Tierra de Nadie,” which brought the Christian border closer to Toledo, the stronghold of the Muladi (Muslims of ethnic Iberian origin) and Mozarabs (Christians living in the Muslim controlled areas.)

To deal with this encroachment into his territory, al-Rahman dispatched troops under the command of his brother, el-Hakam. In the summer of 853, they met the rebel army near Andújar, but were led into an ambush and defeated. Initially the rebels were elated because they had captured many weapons and valuable baggage which el-Hakam’s troops dropped when they fled.  Even though they had won a victory, the rebels knew that sooner or later they would face the full might of the emir’s army. Later that year, al-Rahman sent a stronger force, which met the combined forces of Asturia and the rebels of Toledo near the rio Guazalete. The battle was horrific even by the standards of the time. Twenty thousand rebels were killed, and in triumph, the soldiers of the emir cut off the heads of the fallen and piled them on the battlefield to deter others.

Meanwhile, in Córdoba, the unrest of the Christians was still causing problems for the emir. Forty eight people had been executed in Córdoba up to the year 857, most of whom were monks. Distrust of the Christians prompted the emir to remove all Christian officials from their palace appointments. Eulogius was still there and was working with the remaining Christians. It was during this period that he is believed to have been the first person to translate parts of the Quran into a language other than Arabic. He had been selected to be Archbishop of Toledo, but before he could take up his new post, events overtook him with disastrous consequences. 

A young Muslim girl called Leocritia had converted to Christianity against the wishes of her parents. She came from a noble Muslim family and she begged Eulogius to hide her amongst his friends. For a while she was concealed in safety, but eventually she was discovered, and both Eulogius and Leocritia were arrested and sentenced to death. Eulogius was beheaded on March 11, 857 and Leocritia, four days later on March 15, 857. All 48 of the people that successive emirs had executed were canonised by the Catholic Church.

The execution of Eulogius. Photo: Biblioteca de Córdoba.

Al-Rahman III now had to contend with betrayal from his own Arabic people. A powerful Muladi overlord formed an alliance with the Arista family of the Kingdom of Navarre and rebelled, proclaiming himself "The third King of Spain" (after al-Rahman III and Ordoño I of Asturias). A rebel Umayyad officer, Ibn Marwan, also rose up against the emir who, unable to quash the revolt, allowed him to found the free city of Badajoz, in what is now the Spanish region of Extremadura in 875.

The rule of the Arab emirs had brought many benefits, but to gain power they had trampled on the Berbers and the Visigoths. Al-Rahman III had encouraged and supported the arts and under his reign and those before him, the Caliphate of Córdoba had become a centre of learning. Córdoba overtook Constantinople as the largest, most prosperous city in Europe, and its fame spread throughout the medieval world. But while al-Rahman III was building the Shining City outside Córdoba, others were plotting his downfall. The man who would be greatest challenge to his rule was hiding in Morocco after narrowly escaping execution for murder.

Like 3


William Morrissey said:
29 August 2020 @ 06:02

I have often wondered living in Sabinillas what % of Andalusians have Arab blood , any ballpark figures ,having worked in Libya ,who were beautiful people , I see.marked resemblances daily

animate said:
29 August 2020 @ 11:00

I think that would be a difficult thing to ascertain. Tracing your family history, which considering the fluidity of the times, forced conversions,expulsions, reconquest and then the inquisition, would stike me as nearly impossible. However, genetic testing could possibly tell you about your direct ancestors, but a national record of percentages would, I think be a waste of time. So many races have fought for Spain's soil that it would be a fair mix of all humanity.

Jo said:
29 August 2020 @ 11:11

Always interesting, history that we don't know.

marelison said:
29 August 2020 @ 11:28

Very interesting, thank you

Mar Elison

George said:
29 August 2020 @ 12:52

Very interesting, I look forward to my weekly Spanish history lesson.

animate said:
29 August 2020 @ 15:14

Thank you, Jo. History is at your fingertips, you just have to look for the real people amongst the dust of centuries, and books are the only way to find them.

animate said:
29 August 2020 @ 15:14

Thank you, Jo. History is at your fingertips, you just have to look for the real people amongst the dust of centuries, and books are the only way to find them.

animate said:
29 August 2020 @ 15:18

Thank you George, my pleasure.

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