Spanish History – under Arab Rule 731 to 1031 AD
From the date of arrival at Gibraltar on 30th April 711 of Tariq bin Ziyad from North Africa with his mercenary army in less than 20 years nearly all of the Iberian Peninsula has succumbed to the direct rule of the Caliph of Damascus in modern day Syria.
Governors are appointed directly by the Caliph in Damascus and they are in control of something like 90% of the Iberian Peninsular including modern day Portugal and Spain.
These rulers are known by the name of the Umayyads.
The Arabs with their Berber army continue to advance to the North and East and move towards Gaul.
Their armies move into Gaul which we know today as France and here at last they are stopped in their tracks by the Franks – near Poitiers in 732.
Poitiers is less than 200 miles to the South and West of modern day Paris.
The Franks are well known for their success in battle and it is not surprising that they are able to rebuff the Arabs at this time.
They turn back and return whence they came to Spain.
This defeat at the Hands of the Franks immediately restricts and curtails any further Arab territorial ambitions in Western Europe to the Iberian Peninsula.
The defeat in 732 at Poitiers has very far reaching repercussions for the Arab occupiers in Spain as it is followed by Berber rebellions in both North Africa and in Spain.
The time period 711 to 756 can be called the dependent caliphate because it is controlled directly from and is dependent on Damascus in Syria but this control is impossible to retain because of an on going rivalry between the various power factions with in the different Arab groups in Spain.
The Umayyad prince, Abd-al-Rahman brings balance and stability to Spain when he arrives from Damascus in 756.
He is lucky as he has escaped the Abbasid massacre of his whole family in Syria.
As background to this change in power the Abbasids rose against the Umayyad?s in 747. They wanted to be the leaders of the Arab world due to their descendence from Muhammad?s youngest Uncle Abbas.
The Umayyad?s took a large force into modern day Iraq to attack the Abbasids in 750.
At the battle of Zab the Umayyads lost and their leader went to Egypt but he was subsequently captured and killed.
An Abbasid then became the Caliph and he was known as Abu al Abbas Abdullah.
He was also known as “As Saffah” which translates to “The Slaughterer” and he was given that name due to the fate he handed out to the Umayyad?s who were put to death apart from Rahman the first who escaped.
Indeed after the assassination of his family the base of power in the Middle East is moved from Damascus to Baghdad and therefore more into the centre of Persia.
Rahman survives various assassination attacks and after a somewhat tortuous journey having to conceal his identity he eventually arrives after some five or six years in Southern Spain where is welcomed as a hero.
Rahman is descended from a Syrian and a Berber and is very well received in Spain as he represents the original Umayyad?s who initially occupied Spain in 711 they have not recognized the change in power brought about by the assassination of his family.
It is, as if, the rightful Prince arrives to claim the waiting throne so as to speak.
His seat of power is established at the beautiful city of Cordoba in 756 AD.
From 756 AD till 929 AD this period in history can be called the Independent Caliphate as Rahman and his successors? are completely Independent.
Here in Cordoba Rahman starts to build the first great Muslim civilization in Spain and as I have said he is now acting completely independently of the middle east power base which is now in Baghdad.
He is the sole ruler of most of Spain excluding Asturias in the North and the coastal strip from there to the Pyrenees in France.
In modern day terms this is from south of Oviedo in Northern Spain to say Narbonne in the South of France.
Asturias is where the Visigoth nobles retreated to and there they found a safe refuge as it is surrounded by mountains to the South , East and West and by the Sea to the North.
Effectively Rahman controls about 90% of the Iberian Peninsula including Portugal and he is happy to leave Asturias alone..
Allthough he was an occupier in a country which was not his original home in many ways he and his occupation were in some ways welcomed or perhaps I should say not opposed by the indigenous population as they brought trade and economy to Spain and with it came a better life style and as we would say today an increase in the standard of living. They were also tolerant and understanding of the existing religions.
They bought with them many new agricultural methods, ideas and of course many different crops to grow.
Many of the crops grown in Spain today come from these times and are not originally native of Spain.
The items I have in mind are Almonds, Aubergines, Apricots, Artichokes, Bananas, Lemons, Oranges, Peaches, Peppers and Pomegranates to give but some examples.
They also introduced systems of water irrigation and even to this day there is still evidence of water distribution systems for agricultural that date from these past times.
Apart from farming and agriculture there were of course many other cultural influences including Flamenco dancing and music.
As a proof that Rahman and his government was some what ahead of their time by Western European standards places of learning and healing were included in their construction ideas. In modern day terms we would call these Hospitals and Schools.
It is said that Cordoba in the ninth century was probably one of the most advanced cities in Western Europe at that time.
For example there were hundreds of mosques and at this point in time some seven hundred mosques and over time this eventually grew to sixteen hundred.
Apart from the religious aspect of life there some three hundred public baths and more than seventy libraries. Paper is widely available the manufacturing process having been brought back from China to Persia well before the Arabs came to Spain.
Cordoba became a hive of economy and business and as it does so it expands in physical size, economic resources and gains a reputation for both highly skilled craftsmen and scholars.
It has paved streets with lighting and houses with under floor heating which was probably copied from the Romans. In these days London for example would have had none of these things.
One has to realize that Islam had been expanding for some 200 years before reaching Spain and had access to many areas of great knowledge originating from many advanced civilizations? such as the Greeks, Egyptians and Persians all of whom were learned people. Much of this knowledge was at this point in history unknown in Western Europe.
In 912 Abd-al-Rahman 111 suceeds from Abd Allah his grandfather at the age of 21 and he commands a City with something like five hundred thousand inhabitants which is continuing to expand at a rapid rate of knots.
In 929AD he declares hims self Caliph and from this time till 1031AD this period in history could be called the Caliphate dynasty.
However dynasties do tend to come to an end often after rapid periods of growth and expansion.
Sooner or later there will be unrest in the camp.
The Berbers who I have already explained are a mercenary army and they start to be impossible to control.
They demand and are given very substantial concessions but in 1031 AD this brings about the collapse of the Umayyad Caliphate and with it, just as night follows day, comes the end of Arab control in Spain.
They have been in the country from 711 to 1031 some 320 years and from 756 till 1031 say some 280 years life seems to have been reasonably progressive and beneficial for the population of the country.
The end of the Umayyad caliphate in 1031 is followed by a period of anarchy among the Muslims of southern Spain.
A power vacuum develops which gives the Christian Kingdoms in the north a very welcome opportunity to start to move south.
These Kingdoms are influenced by world events as this is the time of the crusades and of course the Christians in Spain have their own local Muslims to confront if they wish to regain their original land and territory.
However in 1086 the Almoravids with Berber tribesman as their army arrive in Spain.
The power base now begins to change completely as the tribal leader is now from north Africa not Arabia.
He is leader of a noble Berber dynasty, the Almoravids and whilst there is now no Arab control they are still of the Muslim faith and they introduce a much harder line which is not popular with many.
In a brief article such as this one cannot over all the points but I hope that readers find this helpful.
About the Author
The author writes many articles on a variety of different topics and his web site is at Marbella Spain