1. Caliphs and Emirs

It was at first the Moors, not the Arabs, who conquered Spain. Tariq was a Berber, and his army had 7000 Berbers to 300 Arabs. His name is embedded in the rock at whose foot his forces landed; the Moors came to call it Gebel al-Tariq, the Mountain of Tariq, which Europe compressed into Gibraltar. Tariq had been sent to Spain by Musa ibn Nusayr, Arab governor of North Africa. In 712 Musa crossed with 10,000 Arabs and 8000 Moors; besieged and captured Seville and Merida; rebuked Tariq for exceeding orders, struck him with a whip, and cast him into prison. The Caliph Walid recalled Musa and freed Tariq, who resumed his conquests. Musa had appointed his son Abd al-Aziz governor of Seville; Suleiman, Walid’s brother, suspected Abd al-Aziz of plotting to make himself independent sovereign of Spain, and despatched assassins to kill him. The head was brought to Suleiman, now caliph, at Damascus; he sent for Musa, who asked: “Grant me his head, that I may close his eyes.” Within a year Musa died of grief.28 We may believe that the story is only a bloody legend.

The victors treated the conquered leniently, confiscated the lands only of those who had actively resisted, exacted no greater tax than had been levied by the Visigothic kings, and gave to religious worship a freedom rare in Spain. Having established their position in the peninsula, the Moslems scaled the Pyrenees and entered Gaul, intent upon making Europe a province of Damascus. Between Tours and Poitiers, a thousand miles north of Gibraltar, they were met by the united forces of Eudes, Duke of Aquitaine, and Charles, Duke of Austrasia. After seven days of fighting, the Moslems were defeated in one of the most crucial battles of history (732); again the faith of countless millions was determined by the chances of war. Thenceforth Charles was Carolus Martellus, or Martel, Charles the Hammer. In 735 the Moslems tried again, and captured Arles; in 737 they took Avignon, and ravaged the valley of the Rhone to Lyons. In 759 Pepin the Short finally expelled them from the south of France; but their forty years of circulation there may have influenced Languedoc’s unusual tolerance of diverse faiths, its colorful gaiety, its flair for songs of unpermitted love.

The caliphs of Damascus undervalued Spain; till 756 it was merely “the district of Andalusia,” and was governed from Qairwan. But in 755 a romantic figure landed in Spain, armed only with royal blood, and destined to establish a dynasty that would rival in wealth and glory the caliphs of Baghdad. When, in 750, the triumphant Abbasids ordered all princes of the Umayyad family slain, Abd-er-Rahman, grandson of the Caliph Hisham, was the only Umayyad who escaped. Hunted from village to village, he swam the broad Euphrates, crossed into Palestine, Egypt and Africa, and finally reached Morocco. News of the Abbasid revolution had intensified the factional rivalry of Arabs, Syrians, Persians, and Moors in Spain; an Arab group loyal to the Umayyads, fearing that the Abbasid caliph might question their titles to lands given them by Umayyad governors, invited Abd-er-Rahman to join and lead them. He came, and was made emir of Cordova (756). He defeated an army commissioned by the Caliph al-Mansur to unseat him, and sent the head of its general to be hung before a palace in Mecca.

Perhaps it was these events that saved Europe from worshiping Mohammed: Moslem Spain, weakened with civil war and deprived of external aid, ceased to conquer, and withdrew even from northern Spain. From the ninth to the eleventh century the peninsula was divided into Moslem and Christian by a line running from Coimbra through Saragossa and along the Ebro River. The Moslem south, finally pacified by Abd-er-Rahman I and his successors, blossomed into riches, poetry, and art. Abd-er-Rahman II (822–52) enjoyed the fruits of this prosperity. Amid border wars with the Christians, rebellions among his subjects, and Norman raids on his coasts, he found time to beautify Cordova with palaces and mosques, rewarded poets handsomely, and forgave offenders with an amiable lenience that may have shared in producing the social disorder that followed his reign.

Abd-er-Rahman III (912–61) is the culminating figure of this Umayyad dynasty in Spain. Coming to power at twenty-one, he found “Andaluz” torn by racial faction, religious animosity, sporadic brigandage, and the efforts of Seville and Toledo to establish their independence of Cordova. Though a man of refinement, famous for generosity and courtesy, he laid a firm hand upon the situation, quelled the rebellious cities, and subdued the Arab aristocrats who wished, like their French contemporaries, to enjoy a feudal sovereignty on their rich estates. He invited to his councils men of diverse faiths, adjusted his alliances to maintain a balance of power among his neighbors and his enemies, and administered the government with Napoleonic industry and attention to detail. He planned the campaigns of his generals, often took the field in person, repulsed the invasions of Sancho of Navarre, captured and destroyed Sancho’s capital, and discouraged further Christian forays during his reign. In 929, knowing himself as powerful as any ruler of his time, and realizing that the caliph of Baghdad had become a puppet of Turkish guards, he assumed the caliphal title—Commander of the Faithful and Defender of the Faith. When he died he left behind him, in his own handwriting, a modest estimate of human life:

I have now reigned above fifty [Mohammedan] years in victory or peace…. Riches and honors, powers and pleasures, have waited on my call; nor does any earthly blessing appear to have been wanting to my felicity. In this situation I have diligently numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness which have fallen to my lot. They amount to fourteen. O man! place not thy confidence in this present world!29

His son Hakam II (961–76) profited wisely from this half century of unhappy competence. Secure from external danger and internal revolt, he gave himself to the adornment of Cordova and other cities; built mosques, colleges, hospitals, markets, public baths, and asylums for the poor;30 made the University of Cordova the greatest educational institution of his time; and helped hundreds of poets, artists, and savants. The Moslem historian al-Maqqari writes:

The Caliph Hakam surpassed every one of his predecessors in love of literature and the sciences, which he himself cultivated and fostered … he converted Andaluz into a great market whereto the literary productions of every clime were immediately brought for sale. He employed agents to collect books for him in distant countries, and remitted to them large sums of money, until the number of books thus conveyed to Andaluz exceeded all calculation. He would likewise send gifts of money to celebrated authors in the East, to encourage the publication of works, or to obtain the first copies of them. In this way, knowing that Abu’l Faraj of Isfahan had written a work entitled Kitab ul-Aghani, he sent him 1000 dinars of pure gold ($4750), upon which the author forwarded him a copy of this work, even before it had appeared in Iraq.31

While the scholar-caliph attended to the amenities of life, he left the administration of the government, even the guidance of national policy, to his able Jewish prime minister Hasdai ibn Shaprut, and the leadership of his armies to a brilliant and unscrupulous general who, under the name of Almanzor, was to provide material for many a Christian drama or romance. His real name was Muhammad ibn Abi Amir. He came of an old Arab family with more genealogy than means; he earned a living by writing petitions for persons who wished to address the caliph; became a clerk in the office of the chief qadi or attorney general; and in 967, at the age of twenty-six, was appointed to manage the property of al-Hakam’s eldest son, another Abd-er-Rahman. He ingratiated himself with the lad’s mother, Queen Subh, charmed her with courtesies and compliments, and impressed her with his tireless ability; soon he was managing her property as well as her son’s; and within a year he was named master of the mint. He now became so generous to his friends that rivals accused him of malversation. Al-Hakam summoned him to clear his account; knowing that he could not, Ibn Abi Amir asked a rich friend to advance him the deficit; so armed, he went to the palace, faced his accusers, and carried the matter off so triumphantly that the Caliph appointed him concurrently to several lucrative posts. When Hakam died, Ibn Abi Amir secured the succession to Hakam’s son Hisham II (976–1009;—1010–13) by personally directing the murder of a rival claimant. A week later he was made vizier.32

Hisham II was a weakling, altogether incapable of rule; from 978 to 1002 Ibn Ali was caliph in all but name. His enemies charged him, quite rightly, with loving philosophy more than the Moslem faith; to silence them he invited the orthodox theologians to weed out from al-Hakam’s great library, and burn, all volumes that in any way impugned the Sunni creed; and by this act of dastardly vandalism he earned a useful reputation for piety. At the same time he drew the intellectual classes to his support by secretly protecting the philosophers, welcoming men of letters at his court, and housing there a bevy of poets who drew stipends from the treasury, followed his campaigns, and sang his victories. He built a new town, Zahira, cast of Cordova, for his palace and administrative offices, while the young Caliph, carefully trained to absorption in theology, remained almost a neglected prisoner in the ancient royal residence. To consolidate his position, Ibn Abi Amir reorganized the army mainly with Berber and Christian mercenaries, who, hostile to the Arabs, felt no obligations to the state, but rewarded with personal loyalty his liberality and tact. When the Christian state of Leon aided a domestic rebellion against him, he destroyed the rebels, severely defeated the Leonese, and returned in triumph to his capital; thereafter he assumed the surname of al-Mansur, “the victorious.” Plots against him were numerous, but he circumvented them with pervasive espionage and judicious assassination. His son Abdallah joined one of the conspiracies, was detected, and was beheaded. Like Sulla, al-Mansur never left a favor unrewarded, nor an injury unavenged.

The people forgave his crimes because he effectively suppressed other criminals, and secured an impartial provision of justice for rich and poor; never had life or property been so safe in Cordova. Men could not help admire his persistence, intelligence, and courage. One day, while holding court, he felt a pain in his leg; he sent for a physician, who advised cautery; with no interruption to the session, al-Mansur allowed his flesh to be burned without giving any sign of discomfort; “the assembly,” says al-Maqqari, “perceived nothing until they smelled the burnt flesh.”33 As a further aid to popularity, he enlarged the mosque of Cordova with the labor of Christian captives, and himself wielded pick and shovel, trowel and saw. Having learned that statesmen who organize successful wars, just or unjust, are exalted by both contemporaries and posterity, he renewed the war with Leon, captured and razed its capital, and massacred the population. Nearly every spring he sallied forth on a new campaign against the infidel north, and never returned without victory. In 997 he took and destroyed the city of Santiago de Compostela, leveled to the ground its famous shrine to St. James, and made Christian captives carry the gates and bells of the church on their shoulders in his triumphal entry into Cordova.34 (In later years the bells would be returned to Compostela on the backs of Moslem prisoners of war.)

Though sovereign in fact of Moslem Spain, al-Mansur was not content; he longed to be sovereign in name, and to found a dynasty. In 991 he resigned his office to his eighteen-year-old son Abd-al-Malik, added the names sayid (lord) and malik karim (noble king) to his other titles, and ruled with absolute power. He had wished to die on the battlefield, and, prepared for this consummation, he took his burial shroud with him on his campaigns. In 1002, aged 61, he invaded Castile, captured cities, destroyed monasteries, ravaged fields. On the homeward march he fell ill; refusing medical attendance, he called for his son, and told him that death would come within two days. When Abd-al-Malik wept al-Mansur said: “This is a sign that the Empire will soon decay.”35A generation later the Cordovan caliphate collapsed.

The history of Moorish Spain after al-Mansur is a chaos of brief reigns, assassinations, racial strife, and class war. The Berbers, scorned and impoverished in the realm that their arms had won, and relegated to the arid plains of Estremadura or the cold mountains of Leon, periodically revolted against the ruling Arab aristocracy. The exploited workers of the towns hated their employers, and changed them spasmodically with murderous insurrection. All classes united in one hatred—of that Amirid family, the heirs of al-Mansur, which, under his son, almost monopolized the offices of government and the perquisites of power. In 1008 Abd-al-Malik died, and was succeeded as prime minister by his brother Abd-er-Rahman Shandjul. Shandjul drank wine in public, and had a kind word for sin; he preferred to carouse rather than to govern; in 1009 he was deposed by a revolution in which nearly all factions joined. The revolutionary masses got out of hand, plundered the Amirid palaces at Zahira, and burned them to the ground. In 1012 the Berbers captured and pillaged Cordova, slew half the population, exiled the rest, and made Cordova a Berber capital. So briefly does a Christian historian recount the French Revolution of Islamic Spain.

But the ardor that destroys is seldom mated with the patience that builds. Under Berber rule disorder, brigandage, and unemployment mounted; cities subject to Cordova seceded and withheld tribute, and even the owners of great estates made themselves sovereign on their lands. Gradually the surviving Cordovans recovered; in 1023 they expelled the Berbers from the capital, and gave the throne to Abd-er-Rahman V. Seeing no advantage in a return to the old regime, the proletariat of Cordova captured the royal palace, and proclaimed one of their leaders, Muhammad al-Mustakfi, as caliph (1023). Muhammad appointed a weaver as his prime minister. The weaver was assassinated, the proletarian Caliph was poisoned, and in 1027 a union of upper and middle classes elevated Hisham III. Four years later the army took its turn, killed Hisham’s prime minister, and demanded Hisham’s abdication. A council of leading citizens, perceiving that competition for the throne was making government impossible, abolished the Spanish caliphate, and replaced it with a council of state. Ibn Jahwar was chosen first consul, and ruled the new republic with justice and wisdom.

But it was too late. The political authority and cultural leadership had been irrevocably destroyed. Scholarship and poetry, frightened by civil war, had fled from the “Gem of the World” to the courts of Toledo, Granada, and Seville. Moslem Spain disintegrated into twenty-three taifas or city-states, too busy with intrigue and strife to stop the gradual absorption of Mohammedan by Christian Spain. Granada prospered under the able ministry (1038–73) of Rabbi Samuel Halevi, known to the Arabs as Ismail ibn Naghdela. Toledo declared its independence of Cordova in 1035, and fifty years later submitted to Christian rule.

Seville succeeded to the glory of Cordova. Some thought it fairer than that capital; people loved it for its gardens, palm trees, and roses, and a gaiety always ready with music, dance, and song. Anticipating the fall of Cordova, it made itself indepedent in 1023. Its chief justice, Abu’l Qasim Muhammad, found a mat-maker resembling Hisham II, hailed him as Caliph, housed and guided him, and persuaded Valencia, Tortosa, even Cordova, to recognize him; by this simple device the subtle jurist founded the brief Abbadid dynasty. When he died (1042), his son Abbad al-Mutadid succeeded him, ruled Seville with skill and cruelty for twenty-seven years, and extended his power till half of Moslem Spain paid him tribute. His son al-Mutamid (1068–91), at the age of twenty-six, inherited his realm, but neither his ambition nor his cruelty. Al-Mutamid was the greatest poet of Moslem Spain. He preferred the company of poets and musicians to that of politicians and generals, and rewarded his able rivals in poetry with unenvious hand; he thought it not too much to give a thousand ducats ($2,290) for an epigram.36 He liked Ibn Ammar’s poetry, and made him vizier. He heard a girl slave, Rumaykiyya, improvise excellent verses; he bought her, married her, and loved her passionately till his death, while not neglecting the other beauties of his harem. Rumaykiyya filled the palace with her laughter, and drew her lord into a spiral of gaiety; theologians blamed her for her husband’s coolness to religion, and the near emptiness of the city’s mosques. Nevertheless al-Mutamid could rule as well as love and sing. When Toledo attacked Cordova, and Cordova asked his aid, he sent troops who saved the city from Toledo and made it subject to Seville. The poet-king stood for a precarious generation at the head of a civilization as brilliant as Baghdad’s under Harun, as Cordova’s under al-Mansur.

2. Civilization in Moorish Spain

“Never was Andalusia so mildly, justly, and wisely governed as by her Arab conquerors.”37 It is the judgment of a great Christian Orientalist, whose enthusiasm may require some discounting of his praise; but after due deductions his verdict stands. The emirs and caliphs of Spain were as cruel as Machiavelli thought necessary to the stability of a government; sometimes they were barbarously and callously cruel, as when Mutadid grew flowers in the skulls of his dead foes, or as when the poetic Mutamid hacked to pieces the lifelong friend who had at last betrayed and insulted him.38 Against these stray instances al-Maqqari gives a hundred examples of the justice, liberality, and refinement of the Umayyad rulers of Spain.39 They compare favorably with the Greek emperors of their time; and they were certainly an improvement upon the illiberal Visigothic regime that had preceded them. Their management of public affairs was the most competent in the Western world of that age. Laws were rational and humane, and were administered by a well-organized judiciary. For the most part the conquered, in their internal affairs, were governed by their own laws and their own officials.40 Towns were well policed; markets, weights and measures were effectively supervised. A regular census recorded population and property. Taxation was reasonable compared with the imposts of Rome or Byzantium. The revenues of the Cordovan caliphate under Abd-er-Rahman III reached 12,045,000 gold dinars ($57,213,750)—probably more than the united governmental revenues of Latin Christendom;41 but these receipts were due not so much to high taxes as to well-governed and progressive agriculture, industry, and trade.42

The Arab conquest was a transient boon to the native peasantry. The overgrown estates of the Visigothic nobles were broken up, and the serfs became proprietors.43 But the forces that in these centuries were making for feudalism operated in Spain too, though better resisted than in France; the Arab leaders in their turn accumulated large tracts, and farmed them with tenants verging on serfdom. Slaves were slightly better treated by the Moors * than by their former owners;44 and the slaves of non-Moslems could free themselves merely by professing Islam. The Arabs for the most part left the actual work of agriculture to the conquered; however, they used the latest manuals of agronomy, and under their direction agricultural science developed in Spain far in advance of Christian Europe.45 The leisurely oxen, hitherto universally used in Spain for plowing or draft, were largely replaced by the mule, the ass, and the horse. Stock breeding of Spanish with Arab strains produced the “noble steed” of the Arab horseman and the Spanish caballero.Moslem Spain brought from Asia, and taught to Christian Europe, the culture of rice, buckwheat, sugar cane, pomegranates, cotton, spinach, asparagus, silk, bananas, cherries, oranges, lemons, quinces, grapefruit, peaches, dates, figs, strawberries, ginger, myrrh.46The cultivation of the vine was a major industry among the Moors, whose religion forbade wine. Market gardens, olive groves, and fruit orchards made some areas of Spain—notably around Cordova, Granada, and Valencia—“garden spots of the world.” The island of Majorca, won by the Moors in the eighth century, became under their husbandry a paradise of fruits and flowers, dominated by the date palm that later gave its name to the capital.

The mines of Spain enriched the Moors with gold, silver, tin, copper, iron, lead, alum, sulphur, mercury. Coral was gathered along Andalusia’s shores; pearls were fished along the Catalonian coasts; rubies were mined at Baja and Malaga. Metallurgy was well developed; Murcia was famous for its iron and brass works, Toledo for its swords, Cordova for shields. Handicraft industry flourished. Cordova made “Cordovan” leather for the “cordwainers” (cordobanes) of Europe. There were 13,000 weavers in Cordova alone; Moorish carpets, cushions, silk curtains, shawls, divans found eager buyers everywhere. According to al-Maqqari,48 Ibn Firnas of Cordova, in the ninth century, invented spectacles, complex chronometers, and a flying machine. A merchant fleet of over a thousand ships carried the products of Spain to Africa and Asia; and vessels from a hundred ports crowded the harbors of Barcelona, Almeria, Cartagena, Valencia, Malaga, Cadiz, and Seville. A regular postal service was maintained for the government. The official coinage of gold dinars, silver dirhems, and copper fals preserved a relative stability in comparison with the currencies of contemporary Latin Christendom; but these Moorish coins, too, gradually deteriorated in weight, purity, and purchasing power.

Economic exploitation proceeded here as elsewhere. Arabs who had extensive estates, and merchants who squeezed producer and consumer alike, absorbed the wealth of the land. For the most part the rich lived in country villas, and left the cities to a proletarian population of Berbers, “Renegades” (Christian converts to Mohammedanism), “Mozarabs” (non-Moslems accepting Moslem ways and Arabic speech), and a sprinkling of palace eunuchs, Slav officers and guardsmen, and household slaves. The Cordovan caliphs, feeling themselves unable to end exploitation without discouraging enterprise, compromised by devoting a quarter of their land income to the relief of the poor.49

The desperate faith of the indigent gave a subtle power to the faqihs or theologians of the law. Innovations in creed or morals were so abhorred by the populace that heresy and speculation usually hid their heads in obscurity of place or speech; philosophy was silenced, or professed the most respectable conclusions. Apostasy from Islam was punishable with death. Cordovan caliphs themselves were often men of liberal views, but they suspected the Egyptian Fatimid caliphs of using wandering scholars as spies, and occasionally they joined the faqihs in persecuting independent thought. On the other hand the Moorish authorities gave freedom of worship to all non-Moslem faiths. The Jews, harshly hounded by the Visigoths, had helped the Moslem conquest of Spain; they lived now—until the twelfth century—in peace with the conquerors, developed wealth and learning, and sometimes rose to high place in the government. Christians faced greater obstacles to political preferment, but many succeeded nevertheless. Christian males, like all males, were subject to compulsory circumcision as a measure of national hygiene; otherwise they were ruled by their own Visigothic-Roman law, administered by magistrates of their own choosing.50 In return for exemption from military service, free and able Christian males paid a land tax, normally forty-eight dirhems ($24.00) per year for the rich, twenty-four for the middle classes, twelve for manual workers.51 Christians and Moslems intermarried freely; now and then they joined in celebrating a Christian or Moslem holyday, or used the same building as church and mosque.52 Some Christians, conforming to the custom of the country, established harems, or practiced pederasty.53 Clerics and laymen from Christian Europe came in safety and freedom to Cordova, Toledo, or Seville as students, visitors, or travelers. One Christian complained of the results in terms that recall ancient Hebrew criticism of Hellenizing Jews:

My fellow Christians delight in the poems and romances of the Arabs; they study the works of Mohammedan theologians and philosophers, not to refute them, but to acquire a correct and elegant Arabic style…. Alas! the young Christians who are most conspicuous for their talent have no knowledge of any literature or language save the Arabic; they read and study with avidity Arabic books; they amass whole libraries of them at great cost; they everywhere sing the praises of Arabic lore.54

We may judge the attractiveness of Islam to Christians from a letter of 1311, which gives the Mohammedan population of Granada at that time as 200,000, of whom all but 500 were descendants of Christians converted to Islam.55 Christians frequently expressed their preference of Moslem to Christian rule.56

But there was another side to the picture, and it darkened with time. Though Christians were free, the Church was not. Most of her landed property had been confiscated by a decree affecting all active resisters to the conquest; many churches had been destroyed, and new ones were prohibited.57 The Moslem emirs inherited from the Visigoth kings the right to appoint and depose bishops, even to summon ecclesiastical councils. The emirs sold bishoprics to the highest bidder, though he might be a skeptic or a libertine. Christian priests were liable to abuse by Moslems in the streets. Moslem theologians commented freely on what seemed to them absurdities in Christian theology, but it was dangerous for Christians to reply in kind.

Under such tense relations a minor incident could lead to a major tragedy. A pretty girl of Cordova, known to us only as Flora, was the child of a mixed marriage. When her Mohammedan father died she resolved to become a Christian. She fled from her brother’s guardianship to a Christian home, was caught and beaten by him, persisted in apostasy, and was turned over to a Moslem court. The qadi, who might have condemned her to death, ordered her flogged. She escaped again to a Christian home, and there met a young priest, Eulogius, who conceived for her a passionate spiritual attachment. While she hid in a convent another priest, Perfectus, achieved martyrdom by telling some Moslems what he thought of Mohammed; they had promised not to betray him, but the vigor of his exposition so shocked them that they denounced him to the authorities. Perfectus might have saved himself by a retraction; instead he repeated to the judge his conviction that Mohammed was “the servant of Satan.” The judge remanded him to jail for some months, hoping for a change of mood; none came; and Perfectus was condemned to death. He marched to the scaffold cursing the Prophet as “an impostor, an adulterer, a child of hell.” The Moslems gloated over his decapitation, the Christians of Cordova buried him with pomp as a saint (850).58

His death inflamed the theological hatred of both sides. A group of Christian “Zealots” formed, led by Eulogius; they were determined to denounce Mohammed publicly, and to accept martyrdom joyfully as a promise of paradise. Isaac, a Cordovan monk, went to the qadi and professed a desire for conversion; but when the judge, well pleased, began to expound Mohammedanism, the monk interrupted him: “Your Prophet,” he said, “has lied and deceived you. May he be accursed, who has dragged so many wretches with him down to hell!” The qadi reproved him, and asked had he been drinking; the monk replied: “I am in my right mind. Condemnme to death.” The qadi had him imprisoned, but asked permission of Abd-er-Rahman II to dismiss him as insane; the Caliph, incensed by the splendor of Perfectus’ funeral, ordered the monk to be executed. Two days later Sancho, a Frank soldier of the palace guard, publicly denounced Mohammed; he was beheaded. On the following Sunday six monks appeared before the qadi, cursed Mohammed, and asked for not death only, but “your sharpest tortures”; they were beheaded. A priest, a deacon, and a monk followed their example. The Zealots rejoiced, but many Christians—priests as well as laymen—condemned this lust for martyrdom. “The Sultan,” they said to the Zealots, “allows us to exercise our religion, and does not oppress us; why, then, this fanatical zeal?”59 A council of Christian bishops, summoned by Abd-er-Rahman, reproved the Zealots, and threatened action against them if they continued the agitation. Eulogius denounced the council as cowards.

Meanwhile Flora, her ardor raised by the Zealot movement, left her convent, and with another girl, Mary, went before the qadi; they both assured him that Mohammed was “an adulterer, an impostor, and a villain,” and that Mohammedanism was “an invention of the Devil.” The qadi committed them to jail. The entreaties of their friends had inclined them to retract when Eulogius prevailed upon them to accept martyrdom. They were beheaded (851), and Eulogius, much encouraged, called for new martyrs. Priests, monks, and women marched to the court, denounced Mohammed, and obtained decapitation (852). Eulogius himself earned martyrdom seven years later. After his death the movement subsided. We hear of two cases of martyrdom between 859 and 983, and none thereafter under Moslem rule in Spain.60

Among the Moslems religious ardor declined as wealth grew. Despite the rigor of Moslem law, a wave of skepticism rose in the eleventh century. Not only did the mild heresies of the Mutazilites finally enter Spain; a sect arose that declared all religions false, and laughed at commandments, prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, and alms. Another group, under the name of “Universal Religion,” deprecated all dogmas, and pled for a purely ethical religion. Some were agnostics: the doctrines of religion, they said, “may or may not be true; we neither affirm nor deny them, we simply cannot tell; but our consciences will not allow us to accept doctrines whose truth cannot be demonstrated.”61 The theologians fought back with vigor; when disaster came to Spanish Islam in the eleventh century they pointed to irreligion as its cause; and when for a time Islam prospered again, it was under rulers who once more rooted their power in religious belief, and restricted the controversy between religion and philosophy to the privacy and amusement of their courts.

Despite the philosophers, gleaming cupolas and gilded minarets marked the thousand cities or towns that made Moslem Spain in the tenth century the most urban country in Europe, probably in the world. Cordova under al-Mansur was a civilized city, second only to Baghdad and Constantinople. Here, says al-Maqqari, were 200,077 houses, 60,300 palaces, 600 mosques, and 700 public baths;62 the statistics are slightly Oriental. Visitors marveled at the wealth of the upper classes, and at what seemed to them an extraordinary general prosperity; every family could afford a donkey; only beggars could not ride. Streets were paved, had raised sidewalks, and were lighted at night; one could travel for ten miles by the light of street lamps, and along an uninterrupted series of buildings.63 Over the quiet Guadalquivir Arab engineers threw a great stone bridge of seventeen arches, each fifty spans in width. One of the earliest undertakings of Abd-er-Rahman I was an aqueduct that brought to Cordova an abundance of fresh water for homes, gardens, fountains, and baths. The city was famous for its pleasure gardens and promenades.

Abd-er-Rahman I, lonesome for his boyhood haunts, planted in Cordova a great garden like that of the villa in which he had spent his boyhood near Damascus, and built in it his “Palace of the Rissafah.” Later caliphs added other structures, to which Moslem fancy gave florid names: Palace of the Flowers … of the Lovers … of Contentment… of the Diadem. Cordova, like later Seville, had its Alcazar (al-qasr, castle, from the Latin castrum), a combination of palace and fortress. Moslem historians describe these mansions as equaling in luxury and beauty those of Nero’s Rome: majestic portals, marble columns, mosaic floors, gilded ceilings, and such refined decoration as only Moslem art could give. The palaces of the royal family, the lords and magnates of land and trade, lined for miles the banks of the stately stream. A concubine of Abd-er-Rahman III left him a large fortune; he proposed to spend it ransoming such of his soldiers as had been captured in war; proud searchers claimed they could find none; whereupon the Caliph’s favorite wife, Zahra, proposed that he build a suburb and palace to commemorate her name. For twenty-five years (936–61) 10,000 workmen and 1500 beasts toiled to realize her dream. The royal palace of al-Zahra that rose three miles southwest of Cordova was lavishly designed and equipped; 1200 marble columns sustained it; its harem could accommodate 6000 women; its hall of audience had ceiling and walls of marble and gold, eight doors inlaid with ebony, ivory, and precious stones, and a basin of quicksilver whose undulating surface reflected the dancing rays of the sun. Al-Zahra became the residential center of an aristocracy renowned for the grace and polish of its manners, the refinement of its tastes, and the breadth of its intellectual interests. At the opposite end of the city al-Mansur constructed (978) a rival palace, al-Zahira, which also gathered about it a suburb of lords, servants, minstrels, poets, and courtesans. Both suburbs were burned to the ground in the revolution of 1010.

Normally the people forgave the luxury of their princes if these would raise to Allah shrines exceeding their palaces in splendor and scope. The Romans had built in Cordova a temple to Janus; the Christians had replaced it with a cathedral; Abd-er-Rahman I paid the Christians for the site, demolished the church, and replaced it with the Blue Mosque; in 1238 the reconquista would turn the mosque into a cathedral; so the good, the true, and the beautiful fluctuate with the fortunes of war. The project became the consolation of Abd-er-Rahman’s troubled years; he left his suburban for his city home to superintend the operations, and hoped that he might before his death lead the congregation in grateful prayer in this new and majestic mosque. He died in 788, two years after laying the foundation; his son al-Hisham continued the work; each caliph, for two centuries, added a part, till in al-Mansur’s time it covered an area 742 by 472 feet. The exterior showed a battlemented wall of brick and stone, with irregular towers, and a massive minaret that surpassed in size and beauty all the minarets of the time, so that it too was numbered among the innumerable “wonders of the world.”64 Nineteen portals, surmounted by horseshoe arches elegantly carved with floral and geometrical decoration in stone, led into the Court of Ablutions, now the Patio de los Naranjos, or Court of Oranges. In this rectangle, paved with colored tiles, stood four fountains, each cut from a block of solid marble so large that seventy oxen had been needed to haul it from the quarry to the site. The mosque proper was a forest of 1290 columns, dividing the interior into eleven naves and twenty-one aisles. From the column capitals sprang a variety of arches—some semicircular, some pointed, some in horseshoe form, most of them with voussoirs, or wedge stones, alternately red or white. The columns of jasper, porphyry, alabaster, or marble, snatched from the ruins of Roman or Visigothic Spain, gave by their number the impression of limitless and bewildering space: The wooden ceiling was carved into cartouches bearing Koranic and other inscriptions. From it hung 200 chandeliers holding 7000 cups of scented oil, fed from reservoirs of oil in inverted Christian bells also suspended from the roof. Floor and walls were adorned with mosaics; some of these were of enameled glass, baked in rich colors, and often containing silver or gold; after a thousand years of wear these dados still sparkle like jewels in the cathedral walls. One section was marked off as a sanctuary; it was paved with silver and enameled tiles, guarded with ornate doors, decorated with mosaics, roofed with three domes, and marked off with a wooden screen of exquisite design. Within this sanctuary were built the mihrab and minbar, upon which the artists lavished their maturest skill. The mihrab itself was an heptagonal recess walled with gold; brilliantly ornamented with enameled mosaics, marble tracery, and gold inscriptions on a ground of crimson and blue; and crowned by a tier of slender columns and trefoil arches as lovely as anything in Gothic art. The pulpit was considered the finest of its kind; it consisted of 37,000 little panels of ivory and precious woods—ebony, citron, aloe, red and yellow sandal, all joined by gold or silver nails, and inlaid with gems. On this minbar, in a jeweled box covered with gold-threaded crimson silk, rested a copy of the Koran written by the Caliph Othman and stained with his dying blood. To us, who prefer to adorn our theaters with gilt and brass rather than clothe our cathedrals in jewelry and gold, the decoration of the Blue Mosque seems extravagant; the walls encrusted with the blood of exploited generations, the columns confusingly numerous, the horseshoe arch as structurally weak and aesthetically offensive as obesity on bow legs. Others, however, have judged differently: al-Maqqari (1591–1632) thought this mosque “unequaled in size, or beauty of design, or tasteful arrangement of its ornaments, or boldness of execution”;65 and even its diminished Christian form is ranked as “by universal consent the most beautiful Moslem temple in the world.”66

It was a common saying in Moorish Spain that “when a musician dies at Cordova, and his instruments are to be sold, they are sent to Seville; when a rich man dies at Seville, and his library is to be sold, it is sent to Cordova.”67 For Cordova in the tenth century was the focus and summit of Spanish intellectual life, though Toledo, Granada, and Seville shared actively in the mental exhilaration of the time. Moslem historians picture the Moorish cities as beehives of poets, scholars, jurists, physicians, and scientists; al-Maqqari fills sixty pages with their names.68 Primary schools were numerous, but charged tuition; Hakam II added twenty-seven schools for the free instruction of the poor. Girls as well as boys went to school; several Moorish ladies became prominent in literature or art.69 Higher education was provided by independent lecturers in the mosques; their courses constituted the loosely organized University of Cordova, which in the tenth and eleventh centuries was second in renown only to similar institutions in Cairo and Baghdad. Colleges were established also at Granada, Toledo, Seville, Murcia, Almeria, Valencia, Cadiz.70 The technique of paper making was brought in from Baghdad, and books increased and multiplied. Moslem Spain had seventy libraries; rich men displayed their Morocco bindings, and bibliophiles collected rare or beautifully illuminated books. The scholar al-Hadram, at an auction in Cordova, found himself persistently outbid for a book he desired, until the price offered far exceeded the value of the volume. The successful bidder explained that there was a vacant place in his library, into which this book would precisely fit. “I was so vexed,” adds al-Hadram, “that I could not help saying to him, ‘He gets the nut who has no teeth.’”71

Scholars were held in awesome repute in Moslem Spain, and were consulted in simple faith that learning and wisdom are one. Theologians and grammarians could be had by the hundred; rhetoricians, philologists, lexicographers, anthologists, historians, biographers, were legion. Abu Muhammad Ali ibn Hazm (994–1064), besides serving as vizier to the last Umayyads, was a theologian and historian of great erudition. His Book of Religions and Sects, discussing Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and the principal varieties of Mohammedanism, is one of the world’s earliest essays in comparative religion. If we wish to know what an educated Moslem thought of medieval Christianity we need only read one of his paragraphs:

Human superstition need never excite our astonishment. The most numerous and civilized nations are thralls to it…. So great is the multitude of Christians that God alone can number them, and they can boast of sagacious princes and illustrious philosophers. Nevertheless they believe that one is three and three are one; that one of the three is the Father, the other the Son, and the third the Spirit; that the Father is the Son and is not the Son; that a man is God and not God; that the Messiah has existed from all eternity, and yet was created. A sect of theirs, the Monophysites, numbered by hundreds of thousands, believes that the Creator was scourged, buffeted, crucified, and that for three days the universe was without a ruler.72

Ibn Hazm, for his part, believed that every word of the Koran was literally true.73

Science and philosophy, in Moslem Spain, were largely frustrated by the fear that they would damage the people’s faith. Maslama ibn Ahmad (d. 1007), of Madrid and Cordova, adapted the astronomic tables of al-Khwarizmi to Spain. A work doubtfully attributed to him describes one of the many experiments by which alchemy was transmuted into chemistry—the production of mercuric oxide from mercury. Ibrahim al-Zarqali (c. 1029–87) of Toledo made an international name by improving astronomical instruments; Copernicus quoted his treatise on the astrolabe; his astronomical observations were the best of his age, and enabled him to prove for the first time the motion of the solar apogee with reference to the stars; his “Toledan Tables” of planetary movements were used throughout Europe. Abul Qasim al-Zahrawi (936–1013), physician to Abd-er-Rahman III, was honored in Christendom as Abulcasis; he stands at the top of Moslem surgeons; his medical encyclopedia, al-Tasrif, included three books on surgery which, translated into Latin, became the standard text of surgery for many centuries. Cordova was in this period the favorite resort of Europeans for surgical operations. Like every civilized city, it had its quota of quacks and moneymad physicians. One Harrani announced a secret specific against intestinal troubles, and sold it at fifty dinars ($237.50) a phial to moneyed fools.74

“We forbear,” says al-Maqqari, “to mention the poets who flourished under Hisham II and al-Mansur, for they were as numerous as the sands of the ocean.”75 Among them was the princess Wallada (d. 1087); her home at Cordova was a veritable salon of the French Enlightenment; wits, scholars, and poets gathered round her; she made love to a score of them, and wrote about her amours with a freedom that would have shocked Mme. Récamier. Her friend Mugha outdid her in beauty of person and licentiousness of verse. Almost everyone in Andalusia was a poet in those days, and exchanged improvised rhymes at any provocation. The caliphs joined in the sport; and there was seldom a Moorish prince who did not have at his court a poet not only honored but paid. This royal patronge did some injury as well as good; the poetry that has reached us from this age is too often artificial, flowery, lame with laborious similes, and clogged with petty conceits. The theme was love, carnal or Platonic; in Spain, as in the East, the Moslem singers anticipated the methods, moods, and philosophy of the troubadours.76

From this dancing galaxy we take one star: Said ibn Judi, son of the prefect of Cordova; an excellent warrior, a constant lover in the plural sense, a master of all the qualities that in Moslem judgment made a perfect gentleman: liberality, courage, skillful horsemanship, good looks, eloquence, poetic talent, strength, and the arts of fencing, wielding the spear, and bending the bow.77 He was never sure which he loved the more—love or war. Sensitive to the slightest touch of a woman, he suffered a series of infatuations, each of which had every promise of perpetuity. Like a good troubadour, he loved most ardently where he had seen least; his warmest ode was to Jehane, of whom he had seen only a lily hand. He was a candid epicurean, and felt that the burden of proof was always on the moralist. “The sweetest morsel in life,” he said, “is when the wine cup goes around; when, after a quarrel, the lovers are reconciled, embrace, and are at peace. I traverse the circle of pleasures as a frenzied war horse that has taken the bit in its teeth. I leave no desire unsatisfied! Steadfast when the angel of death hovers over my head in the day of battle, a pair of bright eyes can sway me as they will.”78 His fellow warriors sometimes resented his seduction of their wives; one officer caught him in situ, and killed him (897).

A more heroic end came to a greater poet, al-Mutamid, Emir of Seville. Like other kinglets of disintegrating Spain, he had for several years paid tribute to Alfonso VI of Castile as a bribe to Christian peace. But a bribe always leaves a balance to be paid on demand. With the sinews of war provided by his prey, Alfonso pounced upon Toledo in 1085; and al-Mutamid perceived that Seville might be next. The city-states of Moslem Spain were now too weakened by class and internecine war to offer any adequate resistance. But across the Mediterranean there had arisen a new Moslem dynasty; it was called Almoravid from the marabout or patron saint of northwestern Africa; founded on religious fanaticism, it had turned almost every man into a soldier of Allah, and its armies had easily conquered all Morocco. At this juncture the Almoravid king Yusuf ibn Tashfin, a man of courage and cunning, received from the princes of Spain an invitation to rescue them from the Christian dragon of Castile. Yusuf transported his army across the Strait, received reinforcements from Malaga, Granada, and Seville, and met the forces of Alfonso at Zallaka, near Badajoz (1086). Alfonso sent a courtly message to Yusuf: “Tomorrow [Friday] is your holyday, and Sunday is ours; I propose, therefore, that we join battle on Saturday.” Yusuf agreed; Alfonso attacked on Friday; al-Mutamid and Yusuf fought well, the Moslems celebrated their holyday with victorious slaughter, and Alfonso barely escaped with 500 men. Yusuf astonished Spain by returning bootyless to Africa.

Four years later he came back. Al-Mutamid had urged him to destroy the power of Alfonso, who was rearming for a fresh assault. Yusuf fought the Christians indecisively, and assumed sovereign power over Moslem Spain. The poor welcomed him, always preferring new masters to old; the intellectual classes opposed him as representing religious reaction; the theologians embraced him. He took Granada without a blow, and delighted the people by abolishing all taxes not prescribed in the Koran (1090). Al-Mutamid and other emirs joined in a league against him, and formed a holy alliance with Alfonso. Yusuf besieged Cordova; its populace delivered it to him. He surrounded Seville; al-Mutamid fought heroically, saw his son killed, broke down in grief, and surrendered. By 1091 all Andalusia except Saragossa was in Yusuf’s hands, and Moslem Spain, ruled from Morocco, was again a province of Africa.

Al-Mutamid was sent as a prisoner to Tangier. While there he received from a local poet, Husri, some verses praising him and asking for a gift. The ruined emir had now only thirty-five ducats ($87) in all the world; he sent them to Husri with apologies for the smallness of the gift. Al-Mutamid was transferred to Aghmat, near Morocco, and lived there for some time in chains, always in destitution, still writing poetry, till his death (1095).

One of his poems might have served as his epitaph:

Woo not the world too rashly, for behold,

Beneath the painted silk and broidering,

It is a faithless and inconstant thing.

Listen to me, Mutamid, growing old.

And we—that dreamed youth’s blade would never rust,

Hoped wells from the mirage, roses from the sand—

The riddle of the world shall understand

And put on wisdom with the robe of dust.79

You can support the site and the Armed Forces of Ukraine by following the link to Buy Me a Coffee.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at admin@erenow.org. Thank you!