Greatest Nations: Spain - C. F. Horne

Spain Under the Moors

Moors in Cordova


This was the message that Musa, the Governor of Africa, sent to the Caliph Welid at Damascus: "O Commander of the Faithful, these are not common conquests; they are like the meeting of the nations on the Day of Judgment."

And the solemn ecstasy of the Mussulman leader was natural, for he and all his people stood almost breathless at sight of the completeness of their triumph. It was Tarik who had won the astounding victory, but Musa, his superior, was moved by a base jealousy to go to treacherous lengths to rob him of the glory and claim it for himself. He succeeded partially for a time, but Tarik, the idol of his soldiers and one of the most daring and chivalrous of military leaders, was beloved by his Caliph, who had learned of his wonderful achievements, and he saw that full justice was done the hero. Musa himself was punished with such ferocious cruelty that with all his meannesses one cannot help pitying the old man who deserved better treatment from the country he had faithfully served.

Although the mortal blow had been struck against Spain, a good deal of work still remained to be done by the conquering invaders. Tarik was the one to follow up his success without a day's unnecessary delay, although in doing so he had to violate the express orders of Musa, which bade him remain on the defensive and await his superior's arrival. Tarik separated his forces into three divisions, and advancing over the Peninsula met little trouble in reducing city after city. One of his officers was despatched with seven hundred horse to seize Cordova. A rattling hailstorm and the dense darkness allowed them to approach a weak spot in the walls undetected. They rushed through, and the city was speedily left with no choice but to surrender. It was placed in charge of the Jews, who were staunch friends of the Moslems, because the latter did not persecute them as the Goths did.

Tarik and Musa.


Aided by the Jews, and by the panic which clung to the Spaniards, the Moslems subdued them in every quarter. Malaga surrendered, and Elvira, near the present site of Granada, was stormed and taken. Theodemir made a valiant defence in the mountain passes of Murcia, but was rash enough to fight a battle on the open plain, with the result that his army was annihilated. Theodemir escaped with a single attendant to the city of Orihuela, which he saved through a trick, which has become dear to story tellers.

Hardly any men were left to garrison Orihuela, most of them having fallen in the field, so Theodemir made all the women put on male attire, draw their hair under their chins, to imitate beards, wear helmets, and carry long rods that looked like spears. Then they were lined up along the ramparts, and, in the dusk of early evening, the Moslem general did not dream that they were not what they pretended to be. He saw that a desperate fight was inevitable, with doubtful results, and was gladdened, therefore, at sight of a knight with a flag of truce issuing from the gates, for the purpose of negotiating the surrender of the city.

The general, who was a son of Musa, and a brilliant leader, was prepared. to listen to a demand for liberal terms, and he heard it. The knight impressed upon him the fact that the city could defend itself for a long time, but his master was anxious to spare the lives of his soldiers, and knew the magnanimity of the Moslem commander. He demanded, therefore, that the inhabitants should be allowed to retain their property and become peaceful tributaries to the Moors. Upon this condition they would surrender without striking a blow; otherwise the garrison would fight to the last man.

Abdulaziz expressed his willingness to grant the terms, and suggested to the messenger that he should return and lay them before Theodemir. "That is unnecessary," replied the Goth, "for I have full authority to conclude the matter and sign the treaty." Accordingly the terms of the capitulation were immediately drawn up and signed by the Moslem general, who handed the pen to the other for him to attach his signature. He did so with a bold sweep of his arm, and the name he wrote, to ! it was "Theodemir."

Abdulaziz was astonished to find he had been treating with the famous Gothic commander himself, but he complimented his adversary on his cleverness, and thanked him for the confidence shown in his generosity. The reader may be interested in the words of this remarkable document, which, yellow with the mould of twelve centuries, is preserved in the Bibliotheca Arabico-Hispana Escurialensis of Casiri. It was drawn. up in Latin and Arabic, and the translation reads:

"In the name of God, clement and merciful: condition of Abdulaziz, son of Musa, son of Nosseyr, to Theodemir, son of the Goths [Tadmir Ibn Gobdos]: Peace is ordained, and this shall be for him a stipulation and a pact of God and of his Prophet, to wit: That war will not be waged against him or his people; that he shall not be dispossessed of, or removed from, his kingdom; that the Faithful shall not slay, nor subjugate, nor separate from the Christians their wives or their children, nor do them violence in what pertains to their law [religion]; that their temples shall not be burned;—with no further obligation on their part than those herein stipulated. It is understood that Theodemir will exercise his authority peacefully in the seven following cities,—Orihuela, Valencia, Alicante, Mula, Biscaret, Aspis, and Lorca; that he will take nothing belonging to us, and will neither aid nor give asylum to our enemies, nor will conceal their projects from us; that he and his nobles will pay a dinar or gold-piece per head yearly; also four measures of wheat, four of barley, four of must, four of vinegar, four of honey, and four of oil. Vassals and people liable to tax will pay the half. Agreed to on the fourth of the moon Regeb, in the ninety-fourth year of the Hegira [April, 713]. The present writing is signed by Otman Ibn Abdah, Habib Ibn Abi Obeida, Idris Ibn Maicera, and Abul-Kasim el Moseli."

Early the next morning the gates of Orihuela were thrown open and a force of Moslems rode in to take formal possession. When Abdulaziz looked around and saw only a few men, he asked Theodemir what had become of all whom he had seen upon the ramparts. Theodemir then smiled and explained the joke he had played upon the Moslem.

Abdulaziz was a man who could appreciate a jest of that nature, and he laughed heartily and praised Theodemir for his quick wit. He honorably kept the letter and spirit of the agreement he had made, and, while he remained in Orihuela, he was treated as a guest and not as an enemy. Sad to say, the Caliph of Damascus in his resentment against Musa, who had used Tarik so ill, caused this generous son of Musa to be beheaded.



Neither the people nor the city suffered any injury at the hands of the Moslems, who soon left the province to occupy the other cities in southern Spain. Murcia and its seven cities, because of the friendship of the two commanders, were treated with leniency and were garrisoned with only small parties, who, in every instance, obeyed the orders of Abdulaziz to act generously toward the conquered. The Moorish general made Theodemir governor of the province of Murcia, which was afterwards called in Arabic "Theodemir's land." It may be added that the Moors set an excellent example to the Christians in their chivalrous treatment of their enemies. Centuries later, the victorious Spaniards addressed them as "Knights of Granada, Gentlemen, albeit Moors."

Tarik had pushed on to Toledo, the Gothic capital, in quest of the nobles, but when the city was delivered into his hands by the Jews, he found his foes had fled into the mountains of the Asturias. 'Count Julian and other traitors remained, and were rewarded with governmental posts, but the others had abandoned Spain to the Moors, and it became part of the immense empire of the Arab Caliphs, whose court at Damascus governed a country stretching from the mountains of India to the pillars of Hercules. All that remained to be done for the pacification of Spain was accomplished by Musa, who crossed the Straits in the summer of 712, with eighteen thousand men, reduced Carmona, Seville, and Merida, and at Toledo met Tarik. He showed his insane jealousy of Tarik by striking him in the face with his whip, when that victorious general begged his pardon for having disobeyed his orders, and by removing him from command, but as soon as the news reached the Caliph Welid, he summoned Musa to Damascus and restored Tarik to the leadership in Spain.

You do not need to be reminded of the dream of the followers of Mahomet, who aimed to overrun all Europe and bring it under the green banner of the Prophet. Musa had revelled in the vision, but his recall ended that. In 719, however, an Arab leader occupied the southern part of Gaul and raided into Burgundy and Aquitania. In 721, the Saracens were defeated by Eudes, Duke of Aquitania, in front of Toulouse, but the repulse only changed the course of the devastating wave to the westward. The invaders seized Avignon in 730 and desolated the neighboring districts. Then the new governor of Narbonne, Abderahman, planned to conquer all Gaul. He checked Eudes, who had tried to carry the war into the enemy's country, captured the Aquitanian's fair daughter Lampagie, and sent her as a prize to Damascus. He now invaded Aquitaine, defeated Eudes, captured Bordeaux, and, in 732, advanced in triumph toward Tours.

Between that city and Poitiers Abderahman met Charles Martel, the "Ham mer," who fought with him one of the decisive battles of the world, for upon its issue depended the question whether Europe was to be Christian or Mahometan. 'The conflict was a stupendous one, but the Moslems were overthrown and driven from the field in irrestrainable panic. Long after, the scene of the battle was known as the "Pavement of the Martyrs," and never again did the Moors, through all the centuries they held sway in the south, attempt to invade France.

But France had learned to respect the heroism and prowess of her swarthy neighbors and, though her troops indulged in occasional forays, there was little effort to subjugate the Moors. You have learned elsewhere of the attempt of Charlemagne in 777 to stamp out the Moslem power on the other side of the Pyrenees, and of his disastrous failure. The rear of his army was destroyed in the Pass of Roncesvalles, by the treacherous Basques, aided by the Saracens. It was on that dreadful day that Roland, the Paladin, commander of the frontier of Brittany, fell, and his sad fate has been commemorated many times since in song and story.

The triumph of Charles Martel having ended all possibility of the Saracen conquest of Europe, the Moors gave their attention to the work of consolidating the kingdom they had won. For nearly three hundred years after the ill-starred invasion of Charlemagne they were hardly disturbed in their possession of the country. While some of the Goths in the mountainous districts of the north refused to yield, and now and then regained small portions of their dominion, there was no real interference with the domination of the Moors until the eleventh century. They did not think the conquest of the northern districts worth the cost. They, therefore, left Gallicia, Leon, Castile and the Biscayan provinces to the Christians, and were content with the possession of the better part of the country.

Thus it came about that Spain presented a peculiarity never seen before or since: she was the home of two distinct races and civilizations, which for centuries flourished side by side. It was Christian in the north and Moslem in the south. Although opposed by blood and religion, the two peoples not only lived in comparative harmony, but in numberless instances displayed friendship and mutual regard.

The reader should study the map and make careful note of the boundaries of these two extraordinary kingdoms. In a general way, the dividing line may be taken as the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains, which extend northeasterly from Coimbra, in Portugal, to Saragossa, from which point the Ebro can be accepted as the boundary. This division gave to the Moors the rich valleys of the Tagus, the Guadiana, and the Guadalquivir, in addition to the famous cities of Andalusia, with their soft climate, occasionally plagued by the hot winds from Africa, but well watered and capable of high cultivation, while the north was bleak, sometimes intensely cold, deluged with rains, and having few natural advantages other than good pasturage. These two divisions were separated by a large plateau, belonging chiefly to the Moors, who left it to the care of the descendants of the Berber tribes that first came to the country with Tarik. Two-thirds of the Peninsula belonged to the invaders, and was by them called "Andalus," though the more familiar form of the name is Andalusia.



It was there that these people founded the remarkable kingdom of Cordova, which was the wonder of the Middle Ages. While all the rest of Europe was sunk in the darkness of anarchy and ignorance, Cordova held aloft the beacon light of learning and civilization. Her rulers were wise, mild and just. Indeed, one of the unsolvable problems is where those people got their ability for administration, since they came from the flaming deserts of Arabia, and never had the opportunity to acquire the difficult art in which, however, they showed themselves to be past masters. The Goths were always unable to rule to the satisfaction of their subjects, but Spain in all her history was never so contented, happy, and prosperous as under the Moors. The so-called religion of the Christians had made little impression upon the native Iberians. The one thing they yearned for was the privilege of living in security and peace, and that boon was given to them for the first time by those of another race, who were fanatical believers in a wholly different religion.

The people were allowed to keep their own laws and judges, to collect the taxes and to adjust all differences among themselves. The citizen classes were required to pay only a moderate poll tax, instead of all the State expenditure; .and they paid no other taxes unless they held cultivable land, while the poll tax was graduated according to the rank of the payer. Being, however, a tax upon what was termed heresy, it was levied only upon the Christians and Jews, while all, including Moslems, had to share in the land tax. In most cases there was no disturbance of the property of cities, or of the farming class. While the lands of the Church and of those who had fled were confiscated, the serfs were allowed to cultivate them undisturbed, or were required to pay only a small portion to their new masters. In short, with the exception of the poll tax, the Christians did not suffer any more exactions than the Moslems. Moreover, they were permitted to sell their lands, which right they never possessed under their Gothic rulers.

As regarded religion, they were not disturbed. Indeed, the poll tax assumed such big proportions that the frugal Arab preferred that no attempts should be made to turn the Goths from the error of their ways. Like many since, they decided not to let religion interfere with business, and it is not to be wondered at that the Christians of lower rank openly declared their preference for the rule of the Moors over that of the Goths.

The Mahometan rulers, however, were by no means at peace among themselves. It must not be supposed that the Arabs were a closely united people, even though all professed the faith of Islam. Bitter jealousies and enmities prevailed among many of the tribes. It was the militant character of Islamism that made it permanent and extended its boundaries so as to include millions of people. Nor must it be imagined that the Mahometans fought only to advance their faith; the hope of "loot" and booty was as potent to them as to professing Christian nations, though their fanatical devotion to the cause of God and his Prophet cannot be denied.

So long as these turbulent warriors could be kept fighting, it was easy to hold them together, but Spain being conquered and themselves in quiet possession, the old jealousies and quarrels reappeared. For about six hundred years most of the immense Mahometan Empire was under the nominal authority of a central ruler, known as a Caliph, which title means a "successor." This Caliph appointed the governors of all the provinces and removed them when he chose. So vast an empire, however, could not long be held together by a central point, and the power of the Caliphs steadily diminished, while the local governors, including the "Emir of Andalus," virtually became independent, though still professing loyalty to the Caliph.

In a furious contest between rival Caliphs of the houses of the Abbasides and the Omeyyads, all of the latter, except two, were treacherously slain. One of these succeeded in reaching a remote part of Arabia, where he and his descendants ruled for many years. The other, who bore the common name of Abderahman, left Damascus with horses and money, and by rapid flight over almost unknown paths, joined a band of Bedouins, who received him hospitably. He remained a long time with them, often changing from one tribe to another through fear of his pursuers. He wandered through Egypt to Barca, where the governor, an ardent Abbaside, heard of his presence and sent out agents to arrest him. Escaping his enemies by the narrowest chance, he fled to the desert, where messengers came to him from Cordova with the offer of an independent crown, though they warned him at the same time of the great personal peril he would have to face. He promptly accepted the offer, and, accompanied by some seven hundred picked horsemen, all fully armed, set out for turbulent Spain.

The Abbaside Emir in control of the country at that time, who was named Yusuf, received the startling news while returning from Saragossa. He made all haste homeward, sending messengers in every direction to summon troops to the defence of the endangered country.

Abderahman was a strange compound. He was tall, athletic, brave, and of no mean mental ability. He had but one eye, lacked the sense of smell, and, while merciful and charitable when he chose to be, at other times was as remorseless as Satan himself. He landed on the southern coast of Spain early in 755, and was received with shouts of welcome, thousands flocking to his standard. The Abbaside ruler of the country made a brave resistance, but was defeated and driven into exile, while Abderahman, in less than a year, suppressed all opposition and declared himself independent of the Caliph of Damascus. Thus the Mahometan world was divided, and there reigned in Spain an independent Caliph of Cordova.



Firmly established, Abderahman set himself to work to improve the capital, and under him and his successors, Cordova grew into a splendid city. The Guadalquivir was narrowed, and the space gained from the waters turned into beautiful flower gardens. He transplanted the palm into the peninsula, cultivated the soil more highly than before, and made the country one of the most delightful and attractive in the world. But to do all this, he acted with a harshness that was appalling, murdering and massacring all who dared to raise a hand against his iron authority. If the people feared, they also detested him, and he died a gloomy and unhappy man. His rule of thirty-two years was upheld by the swords of mercenaries whose bloody support he purchased with gold, and he sank into his grave amid curses instead of regrets and blessings.

For nearly three hundred years Spain was governed by the descendants of the house of Omeyya, the first being the fugitive Abderahman, and the mightiest, the conqueror Almanzor. During that period, the sovereigns at Damascus were of the house of the Abbasides, who were kept so busily employed at home in suppressing disorder that they had no time to give to concerns in Spain. To the period named belonged the most brilliant portion of the Moorish occupancy of the country. The government resembled that of the eastern Caliphs, and the sovereign was called, like them, the "Commander of the Faithful."

The civilization of Moorish Spain became the wonder of Europe. Scholars flocked from all lands to the schools of Cordova. Science and the arts made rapid advancement. We are told that when the Greek Emperor at Constantinople, then the most gorgeous of Christian cities, sent an ambassador to Cordova, the envoy fainted at sight of the splendor that confronted him. Yet, as is so often unhappily the case, while the land increased in wealth and culture, it declined in virtue and military strength. Gradually it broke up into a number of semi-independent little kingdoms, offering an easy re-conquest to the advancing Christians.