1902 Encyclopedia > Spain > Spanish History - Mediaeval Era: The Arab Invasion of Spain; The Omayads; The Christian States.

(Part 20)


Spanish History - Mediaeval Era: The Arab Invasion of Spain. The Omayads. The Christian States.

The Arab invasion. Spain had been intended by Músá, the governor of Africa, to be merely a plundering raid (compare MOHAMMEDANISM, vol. xvi. p. 573). A single unexpected success turned it into a conquest. Tárik had already made himself master of Cordova and Toledo when Músá arrived from Africa and rewarded his too successful lieutenant by consigning him to prison. But his military ability was too valuable to be dispensed with, and he was speedily released to aid in completing the conquest. Within four years the whole Peninsula, except the mountainous districts in the north, had submitted to the invaders. It was now Músá's turn to suffer from the jealousy of his superior. Recalled to Damascus by Walid, he arrived just after the caliph's death, and at once fell under the displeasure of his successor Suleiman. His sons, who had been left to rule in Spain, were involved in his disgrace, and the father died broken-hearted on a pilgrimage to Mecca.

Causes of its success. Few things in history are more remarkable than the ease with which Spain, a country naturally fitted for defence, was subdued by a mere handful of invaders. The usual causes assigned are the misgovernment of the Visigoths, the excessive influence enjoyed by the clerical caste, internal factions and jealousies, and the discontent of numerous classes, and especially of the Jews. All of these doubtless co-operated to facilitate the conquest and to weaken the power of resistance, but the real cause is to be sought in the fact that the Visigoths had never really amalgamated with the conquered population. The mass of the inhabitants regarded their rulers as aliens, and had no reason to resent a change of masters. This feeling was strengthened by the conduct of their new conquerors. The Arab invasion undoubtedly brought with it considerable bloodshed and destruction of property, but it was merciful when compared with the previous inroads of the German tribes, and in the end it proved a blessing rather than a curse to the country. To all who submitted the Arabs left their laws and customs, and allowed them to be administered by their own officials. The cultivation of the fields was left to the natives, and the overthrow of the privileged classes gave rise to a system of small holdings or properties, which was one of the causes of the flourishing condition of agriculture under Arab rule. The slaves found their lot much improved under a religion which taught that the enfranchisement of a slave was a meritorious action. The Jews, as they had suffered most under the Visigoths, were the chief gainers from a conquest which they had greatly contributed to bring about.

Tolerance. But nothing was so influential in securing ready submission to the Arabs as their tolerance in religious matters. Even the most bigoted adherents of Islam found a practical check to their zeal for proselytism in the loss that would accrue to the exchequer. The Christians had to pay a poll-tax, which varied according to the class to which they belonged. All property was subject to the kharáj, a tax proportioned to the produce of the soil, but converts to Mohammedanism were excused from the poll-tax. A clerical chronicler of the 8th century, while bewailing the subjection of Spain to an alien race, says nothing against the conquerors as the professors of a hostile religion. His silence is an eloquent testimony to the haughty tolerance of the Arabs.

As time went on, and the Arabs felt more secure in their position, their rule became not unnaturally harsher. Many of the treaties which had secured favourable terms to the conquered were broken, and the Christians were provoked to resistance by persecution. A notable instance of this was the edict making circumcision compulsory for Christians as well as Moslems. Greater hardships still were endured by the "renegades," most of whom had embraced Mohammedanism from a desire for safety or for temporal gain, and who found that return to the old faith was blocked both to themselves and to their children by the law which punished a perverted Mussulman with death. At the same time their social position was intolerable, and they were excluded from all lucrative offices and from all share in the government. Their discontent led to numerous and stubborn rebellions, but they belong to a later period, and in the 8th century the chroniclers record only a single rising, that of the Christians of Beja, and they seem to have been merely the tools of an ambitious Arab chieftain.

Mohammedan discords. It was fortunate for the Arabs that they succeeded at first in conciliating the natives, as otherwise their rule in Peninsula would have been short-lived. Internal discord offered the Christians an easy opportunity for successful revolt if they had chosen to avail themselves of it. The conquerors were united by religion but not by race. When the task of conquest was achieved, and the need for unity was removed by the submission of the vast majority of the natives, quarrels arose between the various races which had taken part in the invasion. Besides the Arabs proper, who regarded themselves as the true conquering race, there were Berbers or Moors, Egyptians, and Syrians. So difficult was it to prevent their quarrels that it was found necessary to subdivide the conquered territory and to allot separate settlements to the different tribes, a measure which only tended to perpetuate their differences. Matters were made worse by the constant efforts of ambitious chieftains to raise themselves to power or to ruin their more successful equals. The first forty years of Arab rule in Spain are a period of woeful confusion, and it is difficult even to enumerate the names of the emirs who followed each other in rapid succession. The great empire of the Arabs began to fall to pieces as soon as it had reached its greatest extent. A movement whose end was conquest began to fail directly it ceased to conquer. The overthrow of the Omayyad dynasty by the Abbasids was a proof that disorder prevailed at the centre. The extremities inevitably displayed the same symptoms. Each new caliph sent a fresh emir to Spain; the governor of Africa claimed to interfere in the affairs of a province which had been conquered by one of his predecessors; and the native chiefs were often unwilling to submit to a new ruler whose arrival was the result of a revolution in which they had no share and which they would have prevented if they could. A capable and energetic governor, confronted with internal dissension and always dreading the arrival of a successor to supersede him, could only devise one way of solving the problem. The Arabs were unable to live at peace, and the one means of preventing them from warring with each other was to find them new lands to conquer. Hence came the frequent invasions of Gaul, now ruled by the degenerate Merwings, which resulted in the conquest of the provinces of Septimania and Narbonne, and at one time threatened to subject the whole of western Europe to the successor of Mohammed. But the battles of Toulouse (721) and of Tours (732) checked the advance of the Moslems, and by 759 they had been compelled to retire from all possessions beyond the Pyrenees. Thus thrown back upon the peninsula, it seemed probable that their empire in Spain would speedily succumb to the disruptive forces which had no longer any external outlet.

OMAYYADS. 'Abd al-Rahmán. From this fate the Arab power was saved by 'Abd al-Rahmán (Abderame), the one survivor of the Omayyad dynasty, wrho succeeded after a long series of romantic adventures in escaping from the general massacre of his family (see vol. xvi. p. 578). His arrival in the Peninsula was welcomed by those Arab chieftains who had ends of their own to gain or who saw how impossible it was for Spain to be ruled from a distant centre like Damascus or Baghdad. The resistance of the Abbasid emirs, Yúsuf and 'Alí b. Moghíth, was overcome, and 'Abd al-Rahmán was enabled to found a new Omayyad dynasty at Cordova. He and his immediate successors seen to have contented themselves with the title of emir, but all connexion with the eastern caliphate was cut off, and Spain became independent under its new rulers. The reign of 'Abd al-Rahmán I. was spent in almost constant warfare. No sooner had he reduced the southern provinces than a revolt broke out in Saragossa under Hosein b. Yahya. Driven from Spain, where he had raised the black standard of the Abbasid caliph, Hosein fled to the court of Charlemagne and implored his assistance. The Frankish army restored Hosein to power, but on its return was almost destroyed by the Basque mountaineers in the famous valley of Roncesvalles (778). After a siege of two years Saragossa was taken, Hosein was put to death as a rebel, and the whole country up to the Pyrenees was compelled to submit to the Omayyad. A formidable rising of the sons of Yúsuf was put down in 786, and 'Abd al-Rahmán was enabled to devote the last two years of his life to the arts of peace and to the construction of his famous mosque at Cordova. Before his death he settled the succession on his third son, Hishám, who had been born in Spain, and compelled his followers and his elder sons to swear fealty.

Hishám. Hishám's reign, which lasted only eight years (788-796), was comparatively uneventful. He was successful in foiling the attempt of his elder brothers to seize the throne, but a projected invasion of Gaul was repulsed by the courage of the count of Toulouse. Hishám was a devotee,—strict in the performance of religious duties and absorbed in works of charity. He completed the mosque which his father had begun, and endeavoured to make Cordova the educational centre of Islam.

Al-Hakam. His son and successor, Al-Hakam, was of a very different temperament. With a keen enjoyment of the pleasures of life, Al-Hakam disregarded the precepts of the Koran which forbade the use of wine, and his lax practices irritated the fakíhs, the "scribes" of Mohammedanism. The inability of the Arabs to adapt themselves to a life of peace found expression in a number of isolated risings, of which the most notable took place in Toledo and Cordova. The inhabitants of Toledo had never forgotten that their city had once been the capital of Spain, and most of them belonged to the class of "renegades," who had no real attachment to the dominant faith. Al-Hakam determined to suppress their discontent by a notable act of cruel treachery. Feigning the most complete goodwill, he invited the chief citizens to a banquet in honour of the presence of his son in Toledo. As they entered the door they were conducted to an inner chamber and massacred by a band of assassins. More than seven hundred, are said to have perished on this "day of the fosse" (807), and the citizens, deprived of their leaders, submitted with the torpor of despair. The fate of Toledo terrified the Cordovans, and postponed their rising for seven years. But in 814 the murder of a blacksmith by one of Al-Hakam's bodyguard provoked a terrible outbreak. Besieged in his palace by the infuriated mob, Al-Hakam only escaped death by his own coolness and presence of mind. A detachment of his guard was sent to fire the houses of the citizens; the mob hurried off to save their families and goods; and a sudden charge of the emir and his soldiers threw them into complete disorder. With politic severity Al-Hakam destroyed a whole quarter of the city and condemned all the inhabitants to exile. Part of them found a new home in Africa, but others, after a temporary sojourn in Alexandria, conquered Crete, where they founded a dynasty, which lasted till 961, when the island was recovered by the Greeks. The fakíhs, the real instigators of the rebellion, were treated with conspicuous leniency, and their leader, Talut, was even admitted to Al-Hakam's favour.

CHRISTIAN STATES. By the end of the 8th century it had become evident that the Arabs had committed a great error in not reducing the whole Peninsula, and that the contemptuous indifference with which they had left the northern mountains to a handful of refugees was destined to bring its own punishment. The early history of the Christian states of Spain is wrapped in a mist of fable and legend, but it is not hard to discern the main outlines. A scanty band of warriors, headed by Pelayo, probably a member of the Visigothic royal family, found refuge in the cave of Covadonga, among the inaccessible mountains of Asturias. Their own bravery and the difficulties of the country enabled them to hold their own, and they became the rallying point for all who preferred a life of hardship to slavish submission. The formation of a Christian kingdom was the work of Pelayo's grandson, Alfonso I., who seized the opportunity when the Arabs were occupied in the disputes attending the accession of 'Abd al-Rahmán I. After driving the Berbers from Galicia, Alfonso advanced with his victorious troops as far as the Douro. But he had not followers enough to colonize the conquered territory, and contented himself with the northern districts, leaving a desert to form a natural boundary between himself and the Moors. Alfonso's son and successor, Fruela I. (765-775), fixed his capital at Oviedo, but the greater part of his reign was occupied with the suppression of internal disorders, and he ultimately fell a victim to assassination. His throne was successfully usurped by his cousin Aurelia and his nephew Silo, both of whom sought security against domestic enemies in an alliance with 'Abd al-Rahmán. On the death of Silo (784) a party among the nobles elected Fruela's son, Alfonso II., but for six years the western half of the kingdom obeyed a bastard son of Alfonso I. by a Moorish captive, nicknamed from his origin El Maurecato. Under Alfonso the Chaste, whose long reign lasted till 842, the Christian kingdom of Oviedo was firmly established. It is impossible to find any accurate account of his achievements. The monkish chroniclers are hardly trustworthy authorities for military history, and they prefer to confine themselves to the more congenial subject of the founding and endowment of churches. The discovery of the pretended tomb of St James at Compostella is in their eyes the greatest event of the reign, and it undoubtedly aided to give a religious character to the war which was destined to be the great crusade of the west.

Alfonso II.'s reign witnessed the establishment of another Christian state in Spain. Charles the Great had been too much occupied elsewhere to avenge the great disaster at Roncesvalles, but he was only waiting for his opportunity. This was offered in 800 by the treachery of another governor of Saragossa, who had revolted against Al-Hakam and sought assistance from the Franks. Charles himself was on his way to Italy to assume the imperial crown, but he sent his son Louis across the Pyrenees. In his first campaign Louis reached the Ebro, but he had to return in 801 to vanquish the obstinate resistance of Barcelona. The administration of the "Spanish mark " was entrusted to Bera, a man of Gothic descent, who proved fully capable of the task imposed upon him. The attacks of the Arabs were repulsed, and their last possessions beyond the Ebro were lost in 811, when Tortosa, after a siege of two years, succumbed to the forces which Louis the Pious had again led over the mountains. Henceforth the province was ruled by the counts of Barcelona, as representatives of the Frankish kings.

To avoid the difficulty of frequent transitions, it will be best to sketch in advance the main outlines of the history of the Christian states down to the formation of the three kingdoms of Aragon, Castile, and Navarre, leaving their relations with the Moors to be narrated in connexion with the caliphate of Cordova. It is impossible to do much more than trace the dynastic and geographical changes, as their mutual quarrels are intricate and wearisome, and of little importance except as prolonging the rule of the Arabs in the Peninsula. The county of Barcelona may be dismissed with a few words. It continued for some time to be subject to Frankish suzerainty, and it suffered from the disorders that followed the break-up of Charles the Great's empire. Bera, its first count, was exiled, and his successor, Bernhard, played a prominent part in the intrigues of that troubled period. At one moment he added Septimania to the Spanish mark, at another he was disgraced and exiled; and finally he was treacherously murdered. In the later part of the 9th century all connexion with Septimania was cut off, and Wilfrid the Hairy (d. 907) was able to make the county hereditary in his family. With its mixed population and its long line of coast the county of Barcelona, or Catalonia as it came to be called, was more involved in the affairs of Gaul than of Spain. Berengar I. annexed the county of Carcassonne and other districts north of the Pyrenees (about 1050-1076), and Berengar III. (1092-1131) obtained Provence by marriage. On the latter's death Catalonia and the transmontane territories were divided between his two sons, and in 1150 Berengar IV., by marriage with Queen Petronilla, obtained the kingdom of Aragon, with which Catalonia was henceforth united.

Kingdom of Ovieto or Leon. The history of Oviedo is more important and more complicated. Alfonso II.'s successors, Ramiro I. (842-850) and Ordoño I. (850-866), had to contend both with the great nobles, who aimed at independence, and with the Basques, who had never learnt to submit to orderly rule. Alfonso III., in a long reign of nearly fifty years (866-910), won the title of "The Great" from the success which attended his arms. While his plundering raids extended as far as Coimbra and Lisbon, he really advanced his frontiers to the Douro, and in order to defend these more exposed territories he transferred his capital from Oviedo to Leon, on the further side of the mountains. In accordance with the universal custom of the Germans, Alfonso divided his territories among his three sons, Garcia receiving the southern districts with Leon as a capital, Ordoño II. western Galicia, and Fruela II. the original district round Oviedo. In 931, however, the kingdom was again united under Ramiro II., a son of Ordoño II., and henceforth called after the new capital, Leon. Under Ramiro, a great warrior against the Arabs, we first hear of a district that was destined to become the most important in Spain. The border territory, a march to the south-east of Leon, previously Bardulia, was now known as Castile, from the number of castles that had been raised to hold it against the infidels. Its count, Fernan Gonzales, was the most powerful noble in the kingdom of Leon, and sought to make himself independent. Ramiro reduced him to submission and then bound him to his side by marrying his eldest son to the count's daughter. Ordoño III. (950-957) sought to emulate his father's achievements against the Arabs, but was hampered by the revolt of his brother. Sancho and his father-in-law Fernan Gonzales. Sancho I. (957-966) found an enemy in his recent ally, who attempted to place a rival king upon the throne, and he could only procure restoration to his kingdom by an alliance with the caliph of Cordova. This alliance lasted during the minority of his son, Ramiro III. (966-982), who was deposed by the malcontent nobles in favour of his uncle, Bermudo II. (982-999). The latter, too mild a ruler for such troubled times, had a hard struggle against domestic treachery and foreign enemies, and left a desolate kingdom to his son Alfonso V. Alfonso succeeded in restoring order, and to his reign are attributed the most important of the fueros, on which were based the local institutions of his kingdom.

Rise of Navarre, Castile and Aragon. Meanwhile a new kingdom had sprung up to the east of Leon, which for a time seemed likely to become the chief state of Christian Spain. The district in the western Pyrenees bordering on the Bay of Biscay was the most defensible position in the Peninsula. It was there that the Basques had held out against the German invaders, and that the Suevi had found a refuge from the Visigoths. The sovereignty of the Moslems and of the Franks had been in turn acknowledged, but had never been more than nominal. About the beginning of the 10th century Sancho founded here the kingdom of Navarre, and he succeeded in extending his rule as far as the lower Ebro. His means of defence were primitive but efficient. When attacked by the infidels in overwhelming numbers he retired to the inaccessible mountains, and recovered the lost ground as soon as the enemy had turned his back. His grandson, Sancho the Great; (970-1035), profited by the disasters which befel Leon. He married the sister of Garcia, count of Castile, and when his brother-in-law fell a victim to a conspiracy he seized the opportunity to avenge his death by annexing the northern portion of his country. In 1034 he picked a quarrel with Bermudo III. (1028-1037), the son and successor of Alfonso V., and conquered eastern Leon as far as the river Cea. More important still were his acquisitions in the south-east of Navarre. Partly by marriage connexions, and partly by the sword, he obtained possession of the counties of Aragon, Sobrarbe, and Ribagorça, which had for years been struggling to maintain their independence against the Mussulman governor of Saragossa. These considerable territories Sancho divided on his death (1035) among his four sons, and the division is an important event in the history of Spain. Garcia, the eldest, received Navarre, with a small district on the right bank of the Ebro; Ferdinand, the second son, obtained Castile, with the addition of the district of Palencia, which had been wrested from Leon; the counties of Ribagorça and Sobrarbe passed to Gonzalo, and that of Aragon to Ramiro, a bastard.

The death of Sancho the Great seemed to offer Bermudo III. an opportunity for recovering his lost territories, and he at once collected his forces to attack Ferdinand. In a pitched battle near the river Carrion, Bermudo was defeated and killed, and the conqueror at once annexed Leon with its dependencies— Galicia and Asturias—to his new kingdom of Castile (1037). The eldest brother, Garcia, resented a change which threatened to deprive Navarre of the pre-eminence which it had enjoyed under his father. To gratify his jealousy he did not scruple to ally himself with the emirs of Saragossa and Tudela. But in the battle of Atapuerca (1054) the unnatural coalition was defeated, Garcia lost his life on the field, and Ferdinand added to Castile the district on the right of the Ebro, leaving the rest of Navarre to his nephew, Sancho IV. Meanwhile Ramiro, equally ambitious and successful, got rid of his brother Gonzales, and seized upon Sobrarbe and Ribagorça to form, with his own inheritance, the kingdom of Aragon. Henceforth the history of Christian Spain centres round the two great states of Castile and Aragon. Leon, much to the disgust of its inhabitants, becomes a province of the former, and Navarre is soon afterwards deprived of independence by its more powerful neighbour.

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