Spain: History for Young Readers - Frederick Ober

The Invasion from Africa

Within ninety years after El Hera—the "flight of Mohammed"—which occurred 622 A.D., Syria, Persia, and North Africa were brought under the control of his fanatical followers. The city of Damascus was taken in 634; in 640, Alexandria, when six million Copts are said to have embraced the religion of their conquerors. Moslem bigotry, ignorance, and fanaticism are well illustrated in the burning of the famous Alexandrian Library, according to the decree of Omar the Califa: "If these writings of the Greeks agree with the Koran, they are useless and need not be preserved; if they disagree, they are pernicious and ought to be destroyed!"

North Africa at that time was known by the names of its Roman provinces, such as Numidia, Mauritania, and Tingitania, and these were successively overrun and subjugated by the trusted general Musa (or Moses), who was made Emir of Africa and supreme commander. One of his six noble sons captured the coast city of Tangier, command of which was given to a veteran of Damascus named Tarik Ibn Zeyad, who had lost an eye in the wars and was known as el Tuerto, or "Tarik the One-eyed." His force was small, but composed mainly of Berbers, or natives of North Africa recently converted to the Moslem faith, and as fierce and fanatical as himself.

At that time the chief Gothic stronghold in Africa was Ceuta, the ancient Abyla of the Greeks, and forming, with Gibraltar, or Calpa, on the European side of the straits, the famed "Pillars of Hercules"—mentioned in our account of the Phoenician voyages. In command of the forces at Ceuta was Count Julian, who for reasons not known, but probably because he was a relative of the late King Witica and wanted to punish Don Roderick, offered to lead the Moslems to conquest in Spain if they would reward him as his treason deserved. So, under his directions, Tarik the One-eyed was sent across the Straits of Hercules and landed with a small force at Tarifa, the southern-most town in Spain as well as in all Europe. It is said to have derived its name from the Moslem commander Tarif, or Tarik, and this name also is perpetuated in our word "tariff." But however it was, Tarik saw enough to convince him that Spain could be easily invaded, if not readily conquered, and so went back with a report to that effect to Musa the emir, laden with the spoils of his ravage.

Having received permission from the, Califa at Bagdad to invade the country across the straits, Musa gathered an army of twelve thousand men and sent it over under the command of the fierce Tarik, who landed this time at Calpa, since named, after him, Gebel el Tarik, or Gibraltar, and made that the base of his operations against the unfortunate country. The apostate Count Julian joined him and served as a guide in this the first real invasion of Spain by a Moslem army. In short, the invaders were strongly re-enforced by the discontented masses of that section of Spain, the maltreated Jews and the debased agricultural classes, who saw, or thought they saw, freedom from a yoke that had galled them for generations and had grown heavier with succeeding years. Besides, they did not think that the Moslems would more than ravage the country and perhaps attempt to destroy the military power of the Goths, and then would retire to the land from which they had come. There are two things, at least, we should note: first, that the army of Tarik was composed mainly of native Africans, then called Moors or Berbers; and that they had come with the settled purpose of conquest and plunder. In order to enforce upon his men the desperate nature of their task, Tarik caused his ships to be burned, and thus impressed them with the fact that they must either conquer or' be destroyed—for they could not retreat.

Meanwhile, the gallant but unfortunate King Roderick had done his best to arouse the disunited kingdom to a sense of its impending danger, and had gathered an army of one hundred thousand men to resist the approaching infidels. The opposing forces met on a plain near Xeres, on the banks of the river Guadalete, and, after two days of desperate fighting, victory crowned the efforts of Tarik and his traitorous allies. Owing to the defection of Bishop Oppas, a brother of King Witica, and the latter's two sons, at a most critical moment, when they and all their followers went over to the enemy, the field was lost to King Roderick, who vanished from the scene completely, and was never seen or heard of more.

The base Julian, the bishop, and the two princes were rewarded for their perfidy, it is related, by a gift of the three thousand farms pertaining to the crown. Thus, after three centuries of dominion, extending from about 410 to 711 A.D., the Goths were driven from the throne they had won by the sword and held by force; for the battle of Guadalete was a decisive blow to the disintegrating kingdom, and after that the advance of the Moorish armies was almost unopposed. It may well be imagined that the warlike Tarik was not satisfied to rest here, when before him was all Spain, with wealthy cities to sack, fertile regions to be possessed, and a numerous population to be converted to Islamism or to escape only by paying tribute.

Although the conquerors professed the same religion, bowed to the same prophet, and waged war for the same great calif in the East, yet they were not all of the same nationality, for in the army of invasion were not only Arabs, but Moors, Egyptians, and Syrians. In time, however, all came to be called by the name of Moors, though their differences of birth and divergence of views led to serious quarrels among them. The first estrangement was when Musa, the emir, finding that Tarik had disobeyed his orders, and, instead of returning to Africa after defeating the Goths in battle and acquiring vast plunder, had pursued his conquests toward the north, hastily gathered another army and followed on his tracks.

Musa found, however, that though Tarik had followed up his victory by effectually scattering the defeated Goths, and even taking the capital city, Toledo, there was yet room for another conqueror to operate; so, instead of immediately pursuing Tarik, after he had landed he made a detour through Andalusia and took Medina Sidonia and the rich Roman city of Seville. Then, though gorged with plunder enough to have satisfied a king, he pushed on after and overtook the recreant Tarik at the city of Toledo. "I gave thee orders to make a foray only, then return to Africa," he said to the veteran, "yet thou hast marched through all this territory without my permission." The warrior received this reproof in silence, and for a time a truce was made between them; they pushed on their conquests, the one into the northwest, the other into the north and east, until only the Pyrenees separated them from the country of the Gauls.

Between them they brought all Spain under subjection, with the exception of certain remote districts, which they thought too small or too distant to be attacked. But it was within the confines of these small mountain valleys of the northwest that, protected by their rugged barriers, the defeated Goths halted and found a home, and gathered as a nucleus for future forays upon their enemies; as we shall see.

When the country had been practically conquered, the quarrel between Musa and Tarik was renewed; finally it reached the ears of the Calif at Bagdad that his most valiant generals were fighting like jackals over their prey, and he summoned them both to the Orient, there to give account of themselves. It would seem that gratitude was a sentiment entirely foreign to the Arab character, as instanced not only on this occasion, but on many another during the conquest and continuance of the Moors in Spain; for, in spite of his inestimable services to the califate, notwithstanding he had given to the Moslems a new country as their own, and had extended the sway of Islam westward to the Atlantic, Musa was degraded, even sentenced to death, and finally ended his life in poverty.

But despite the severity of Oriental rule, Spain continued a tributary to the Eastern califs until about the middle of the century in which it was conquered, when (as we shall see in due course) an independent califate was established in Cordova. Musa had left as emir in his absence his favourite son Abdalasis, who governed the conquered territory wisely, but had the misfortune, during his father's absence, to see and fall in dove with beautiful Exilona, the unhappy widow of the departed King Roderick. They were married; but as he was a Moslem and she a Christian, soon there began murmurs among their subjects, notwithstanding the generous nature of Abdalasis, who had ever in mind their well-being. These rumours reached the ears of the Calif, cruel and bloodthirsty Suleiman, and he sent orders that the devoted pair should be murdered. His commands were obeyed: both were basely killed while at morning prayers, and the head of Abdalasis was embalmed and sent in a casket to Syria, to the court of the Calif. The unfortunate Musa was in attendance at the court, and. when the casket arrived the Calif took out the head of Abdalasis and held it up before his victim:

"Dost thou know this head?" he demanded. Musa gazed in anguish. "Yes," he murmured, "well do I know it; and may the curse of God light upon him who has destroyed a better man than himself!" The stricken father did not long survive this terrible stroke; but the wrath of Suleiman was not appeased until the other sons of Musa, whom he had left at important posts in Africa, were also numbered with the dead.

Still, despite the ingratitude and cruelty of the Califas, able generals were found to carry on the war for Islam, until even the Pyrenees were leaped and the Moslem hosts invaded France. It seemed as though all Europe would become subject to the bonds of the Arabs, and soon be brought to acknowledge the "one God and Mohammed his prophet." But in the year 732, twenty-one years after the invasion of Spain, the tide was turned at Tours, when Charles Martel slew thirty thousand Moslems and turned back the remainder, eventually to retreat to the land whence they had come. No other country suited them so well, and here they lived, they and their descendants, from first to last, more than eight hundred years.