1902 Encyclopedia > Spain > Spanish History - The Omayad Dynasty in Spain (822-1031)

(Part 21)


The Omayad Dynasty in Spain (822-1031)

OMAYYADS (822-1031). 'Abd al-Rahmán II. We must now return to the history of the Arabs. Under 'Abd al-Rahmán II. (822-852), one of the mildest and most cultivated of the Omayyad dynasty, began a period of disorder and anarchy which might have ruined his power if the northern states had been prepared to take advantage of it. Toledo, which had recovered its independence soon after the "day of the fosse," was not reduced until after a desperate struggle of eight years, and then its fall was mainly due to internal quarrels. More serious was the growing spirit of insubordination among the Christian population of the south. In spite of the tolerance with which they were treated, the priests persisted in preaching against the rule of the infidel. Under the leadership of Eulogius and his friend Alvaro, a fanatical sect was formed which sought to emulate the glory of the early martyrs. So averse was the Government to resort to persecution that it was only by publicly blaspheming Mohammed that they could bring themselves under the penalties of the law. Eleven persons were put to death for such conduct, who are celebrated in Spanish history as the "martyrs of Cordova." It was in vain that the moderate party denounced their conduct as wanton suicide; the enthusiasts persisted in their defiant conduct.

Mohammed. Mohammed (852-866), sterner and more narrow-minded than his predecessor, was not unwilling to take repressive measures, and the execution of Eulogius, who had been chosen archbishop of Toledo, seems to have checked for a time the thirst for martyrdom. But the movement had succeeded in provoking a feeling of distrust between the two religions, and it was difficult to return to the old attitude of easy tolerance. The "renegades" found their position altered for the worse, and under Mohammed they were jealously excluded from all the higher offices of state.

A series of revolts showed how prevalent was the feeling of discontent. The Gothic family of Beni-Casi, which had embraced Mohammedanism in order to advance itself, had become extremely powerful in Aragon. Músá, the head of this family, made himself master of Saragossa, Tudela, and Huesca, concluded a close alliance with Toledo, which had again recovered its independence, and claimed to be the "third king in Spain." Músá's death in 862, in a war with Ordoño I. of Oviedo, enabled Mohammed to regain Tudela and Saragossa, but his troops were soon expelled by Músá's sons, and the Beni-Casi, with the help of Alfonso III., were for a long time able to bid defiance to the authority of the emir. About the same time an independent state was formed in the west by Ibn-Merwán, a renegade of Merida. But by far the most formidable of these risings was that of 'Omar b. Hafsún, who began as a brigand in the mountains of Andalusia, but whose castle at Bobastro became the centre of all the dissatisfied Christians and renegades of the south. Neither Mohammed nor his son and successor Mondhir (886-888) could reduce this impregnable fortress, and for years 'Omar was the real ruler of Andalusia. His authority was far greater than that of the emirs had ever been; his administration of justice was rude but efficient; and the Arab historians maintain that a girl laden with treasure could in his time cross the mountains in safety.

'Abdallah. The premature death of Mondhir, a brave and chivalrous prince, gave the succession to his brother 'Abdallah (888-902), who ascended the throne at a very critical moment. Not only had the rising of the Christians and renegades assumed an almost national character, but the Arab nobles had taken advantage of the general disorder to assume the independence that was so congenial to them. 'Abdallah, considering the latter danger the more formidable, sought to gain over the Spaniards, and even offered Ibn Hafsiin the government of Regio, on condition that he would acknowledge himself as sovereign. But the negotiation came to nothing, and the only result was to provoke the indignation of his own race against the emir. Luckily for him the Spaniards had an old debt to pay off against the Arabs, who had long treated them with insufferable contempt. In various districts a desperate civil war broke out, which was destructive of all law and order, but was not directly aimed against the central Government. The most violent struggle was in the province of Elvira, where for a time the natives got the upper hand, and it was only after a desperate conflict that the Arab domination was maintained by the heroism of two successive leaders, Sauwar and Sa'id. In Seville a similar contest arose, and 'Abdallah, after attempting in vain to hold the balance between the two parties, was at last compelled to espouse the cause of the Arabs. An insurrection, in which the life of Mohammed, the emir's eldest son, was in imminent danger, was punished with ruthless severity; but it was the Arab nobles who profited by the success to make themselves absolute masters of the province. The central authority was almost powerless. Most of the provincial governors had thrown off all connexion with Cordova, and the others only rendered obedience when it was convenient to themselves. But at the moment when matters seemed at their worst the tide turned. In 890 'Abdallah won his first victory over Ibn-Hafsún, and during the remainder of his reign he gradually recovered power in the revolted provinces.

'Abd al-Rahmán. The work was continued by his son and successor, 'Abd al-Rahmán (or Abderame) III. (912-961), the greatest of the rulers of Cordova. Under this prince, who at last assumed the title of caliph, the unity of Mussulman Spain was for the time restored.

No sooner had 'Abd al-Rahman completed the first part of his task by the reduction of the family of Ibn-Hafsún than he found himself confronted by two dangers. In Africa the Fatimites were establishing a great empire, and it was almost certain that they would turn their attention to Spain as soon as their power was secure in the southern continent. In the north the Christian states had profited by the long anarchy among their old foes and were assuming a very threatening attitude. Alfonso III. had moved his capital across the mountains to Leon, and Sancho had recently created the kingdom of Navarre. As regards Africa, 'Abd al-Rahmán contented himself with encouraging and subsidizing the princes that still held out against the Fatimites, and with obtaining possession of Ceuta, so as to have complete command of the straits. The northern danger was the more pressing. In 914 Ordono II. made a successful raid into the territory of Merida, and two years later he defeated the army which had been sent to avenge the insult. Although Merida had not yet returned to submission, 'Abd al-Rahmán was determined to conciliate his subjects by proving his ability to defend them. He spared no pains to collect a magnificent army, and his efforts were rewarded in 918 by a great victory over the combined forces of Leon and Navarre. This was the first of a series of successful campaigns, in the course of which he penetrated as far as Sancho's capital, Pamplona. But his victories brought him little beyond glory and revenge. As soon as his troops were withdrawn, the enemy showed himself to be really unconquered. In 921 Ordono is said to have advanced within a day's journey of Cordova, and in 923 Sancho excited a panic in Mussulman Spain by the capture of Viguera. But the disorders in Leon that followed Ordoño II.'s death were a great blow to the Christians, and enabled 'Abd al-Rahmán to complete his work of internal reorganization and to turn his attention to resisting the Fatimite conquest of Mauretania. On the death of Sancho, his widow Tota recognized the caliph as suzerain of Navarre.

In his later years 'Abd al-Rahmán was less uniformly successful. The Arabs were disgusted by his policy of excluding the nobles from all share in the government and of filling the chief offices with "Slavs," the generic title for all foreign servants of the court. Ramiro II. had succeeded in restoring unity to Leon, and resumed the warlike policy of his predecessors. In 939 he inflicted a serious defeat upon the army of the caliph at Alhandega, and was only prevented from following up his victory by a quarrel with the famous count of Castile, Fernan Gonzales. The divisions which followed Ramiro's death were an additional advantage to 'Abd al-Rahman; and in 960 he gained the most conspicuous success of his reign when his troops restored the deposed Sancho I. to the throne of Leon. This was almost his last act, as he died in October 961.

"Among the Omayyad princes of Spain 'Abd al-Rahmán III. incontestably holds the first place. His achievements bordered on the fabulous. He had found the empire in a state of anarchy and civil war, divided amongst a crowd of chiefs of different race, exposed to constant raids from the Christians of the north, and on the verge of being absorbed either by Leon or by the Fatimites. In spite of innumerable obstacles he had saved Andalusia both from itself and from foreign rule. He had given to it internal order and prosperity and the consideration and respect of foreigners. He found the treasury in disorder; he left it in the most flourishing condition. A third of the annual revenues, which amounted to 6,246,000 pieces of gold, sufficed for the ordinary expenditure; another third was kept as a reserve; the rest was devoted to buildings. The condition of the country was equally prosperous. Agriculture, industry, commerce, the arts and sciences, flourished together. The foreigner was lost in wonder at the scientific system of irrigation, which gave fertility to lands that appeared most unpromising. He was struck by the perfect order which, thanks to a vigilant police, reigned in the most inaccessible districts. Commerce had developed to such an extent that, according to the report of the superintendent of the customs, the duties on imports and exports constituted the most considerable part of the revenue. A superb navy enabled Abd al-Rahman to dispute with the Fatimites the empire of the Mediterranean, and secured him in the possession of Ceuta, the key of Mauretania. A numerous and well-disciplined army, perhaps the best in the world, gave him a preponderance over the Christians of the north. The most haughty sovereigns were eager for his alliance. Ambassadors were sent to him by the emperor of Constantinople and by the sovereigns of Germany, Italy, and France."—Dozy, iii. 90.

Al-Hakam II. The new caliph, Al-Hakam II. (961-976), was distinguished as a patron of literature and a collector of books. The number of volumes in his library was reckoned at 400,000, and he is said to have read and annotated them all. For politics he had comparatively little taste. Naturally averse to war, he was only forced into hostilities by the obstinate refusal of Sancho I. to fulfil the treaty which he had signed on his restoration, and he hastened to conclude peace on an empty renewal of the treaty. The disorders which arose during the minority of Ramiro III. put an end to all danger on the side of Leon, and the death of Fernan Gonzales in 970 removed a ruler who had always been a thorn in the side of the infidel. The most notable event of Al-Hakam's reign is the rise to influence of a man who was destined to play a more prominent part in the history of Spain than any of the caliphs, not excluding 'Abd al-Rahmán III. Mohammed Ibn-abí-'Amir was the descendant of a family which had long been distinguished in the civil administration, but had never been admitted to the higher nobility of the sword. From his earliest youth he was inspired with the thought that he was destined to rule. His ability and the favour of Al-Hakam's favourite wife, Sobh, combined to bring about his speedy advance, and by the time of the caliph's death he held a high office in the court. Al-Hakam had done all in his power to secure the succession of his son by Sobh, Hisham, a boy of ten years of age. But the chief eunuchs, dreading the influence which a minority would give to Moshafí, the hájib or chief minister, sought to give the crown to Moghlra, a brother of Al-Hakam.

Hishám II. With the help of Ibn-abi-'Amir, Moshafí defeated the plot; Moghíra was put to death, and Hisham succeeded to/ his father's throne. Hisham But he never really ruled. Ibn-abí-'Amir, still aided by II. Sobh, whose lover he was popularly supposed to be, gradually rose to absolute power. Moshafí, a man of little real ability, was charged with peculation and deposed, and his younger rival was appointed hájib in his place. To free himself from all danger from the mob at Cordova, the all-powerful minister transferred the government and the court to Zahra, which he built for the purpose. There the young caliph was immured in a magnificent palace, and was carefully secluded from all contact with public affairs. His education was purposely neglected, and he never made the slightest effort to free himself from his gilded imprisonment. To remove all obstacles to his authority, Ibn-abí-'Amir reorganized the army. He filled the ranks with Moors from Africa and with Spaniards from Leon, Castile, and Navarre, whom he bound to his cause by lavish generosity. The old tribal distinctions among the Arabs, so long the source of jealousy and quarrels, he completely disregarded in the forming of regiments, and thus completed the work of assimilation which 'Abd al-Rahmán III. had commenced. Though trained to the study of the law and experienced only in civil affairs, he speedily mastered the art of war and conciliated the popular favour by victories such as no caliph had ever won. In 981 he defeated Ramiro III. and his allies in a pitched battle, took Zamora and Simancas, and was only prevented by a storm from capturing Leon.

Almansór. On his return he assumed the name of Almansór (victorious by the help of God), by which he is usually known in history. Bermudo II., whom the nobles of Leon raised to the throne in place of the defeated Ramiro, could only secure himself by paying tribute to the ruler of Cordova. In 985 Almansór invaded Catalonia, which had hitherto been respected as a Frankish fief, drove the count Borrel into exile, and took and sacked Barcelona. When Bermudo II. sought to free himself from the harsh conditions that had been imposed upon him and drove the Moslem troops from his kingdom, Almansor took a terrible revenge. In 987 he stormed Coimbra and razed it to the ground. In the next year he advanced into the heart of the kingdom. Leaving Zamora, where Bermudo awaited him, on one side, he marched against the city of Leon, and took it after an obstinate resistance. The fortifications were utterly destroyed, with the exception of one gate, which was left to commemorate the victor's triumph. Zamora was then attacked, and Bermudo fled to his northern territories, which were all that were left to him.

In spite of these successes Almansór had to face more than one conspiracy on the part of those who were jealous of his pre-eminence. The most formidable of these, was fomented by his former patroness, Sobh, who found herself more and more thrust into the background. She succeeded in gaining over her son, but Almansór soon recovered his ascendency over the feeble caliph, from whom he extorted a document transferring all powers to himself. A refusal of Bermudo II. to continue the payment of tribute led to the last and most famous of his campaigns, in which he took Compostella and carried off the gates and bells from the shrine of St James, the patron saint of the Christians. At the same time his generals were gaining victories in Mauretania, and his power was almost equally dreaded on both sides of the straits. His death in 1002 deprived the Spanish Moslems of the greatest ruler and warrior, considering his origin, that their race had produced. His campaigns against the Christians, which are reckoned by the Arab historians as more than fifty, were almost uniformly successful. Three capitals—Leon, Pamplona, and Barcelona—had been conquered by him. His home administration was as successful as his generalship, and much of his attention was devoted to tho construction of roads and bridges, so as to facilitate communication between all parts of Spain. He was a zealous, if not an intelligent, patron of literature, but his real interests were always practical. Finding that he was suspected by the people of a laxness in religious belief, he did not hesitate to prove his orthodoxy by an act of politic vandalism. Taking the chief ulemá into the library of Al-Hakam II., he begged them to collect all the books on philosophy, astronomy, and other prohibited sciences; and when they had completed their task he ordered the condemned books to be burnt on a vast pile.

Almansór had been absolute in everything but name. He had desired at one time to take the final step and to supersede the incapable Hisham II. in the caliphate, but he dreaded the inveterate attachment of the people to the Omayyad dynasty. He had, however, taken steps to secure the continuance of his family in power. His son, 'Abd al-Melik Mozaffar succeeded to the office of hájib, and ruled with the same authority and success as his father. But the position was really untenable. An hereditary monarchy is intelligible, but an hereditary line of chief ministers is not. The early death of 'Abd al-Melik (1008) gave the government to the weaker hands of his brother 'Abd al-Rahmán. The latter was hated by the Mohammedan clergy, partly because he indulged in the use of wine, and partly because his mother had been born a Christian. She was the daughter of a Sancho, either the king of Navarre or the count of Castile, and her son was nicknamed Sanchol, or the little Sancho. The Amirids were not popular. Their exaltation irritated, not only the families that claimed a higher rank by birth, but also those who thought themselves their equals. Without having any actual grievance to complain of, the people vaguely desired a change of rulers. It was easy under the circumstances to effect a revolution. When Sanchol returned from a campaign against Leon in 1009 he found that his power had been completely overthrown. Mohammed, a great-grandson of 'Abd al-Rahmán III., had headed an insurrection in the capital and had gained possession of the caliph's person. Sanchol was put to death, and the magnificent palace which his father had erected at Zahrá was razed to the ground. The Amirids fell, and with them ended the grand period in the history of Moslem Spain.

Mohammed. Mohammed was not long content with the office of hájib. Scrupling to kill the unfortunate Hishám, who had never made any opposition to the acts that had been committed in his name, he closely imprisoned him, and buried the corpse of a Christian who bore a strong personal resemblance to the caliph. Mohammed was now raised to the caliphate, and assumed the title of Al-Mahdí (guided by God). But his reign was not destined to be long or untroubled. He had been raised to power by a combination of orthodox Moslems, of the so-called " Slavs" (foreign slaves serving in the royal harem and in the army of the caliph) and of Berbers, and he alienated each in turn. The Berbers, who formed an important part of the army, were the first to revolt. Raising the standard of Soleimán, a member of the Omayyad family, they obtained assistance from Count Sancho of Castile, marched upon Cordova,. and inflicted a serious defeat upon the troops which Mohammed imprudently led out to meet them. Mohammed endeavoured to strengthen his position by producing Hishám II., whom he had given out as dead. But the Berbers refused to be turned from their purpose, and occupied Cordova in November 1009. The wretched Hisham was compelled to abdicate in favour of Soleimán, and returned to his prison. Mohammed, who had escaped to Toledo, now turned for assistance to the Christians, who, by a sudden change of circumstances, had become the arbiters of Mohammedan affairs. With the help of troops from Catalonia he recovered Cordova, which had to pay in constant sieges a terrible penalty for the levity with which it had welcomed the fall of the Amirids. In pursuing the Berbers, however, Mohammed was again defeated. The Slavs, who had hitherto supported him for their own ends, determined to desert the unsuccessful caliph. Hishám II. was again dragged from prison to assume the throne, and Mohammed was murdered in his presence. Wádih, the leader of the Slavs, was now hájib, and aspired to play the part of Almansór. But his resources were at an end. An attempt to increase the taxes roused general indignation, and he was put to death by his own followers (1011). Two years later the nominal reign of Hishám II. came to an end. Cordova was taken by Soleimán and the Berbers, and the caliph disappeared (1013). His fate remains one of the unsolved secrets of history.

Soleimán. Soleimán was now formally proclaimed caliph, but his power was more nominal than real. The provincial governors had taken advantage of the civil war to make themselves independent, and Soleiman's authority was only recognized by five towns—Cordova, Seville, Niebla, Oksonoba, and Beja. Even within this district he soon found an opponent. The Slavs were unwilling to submit to the domination of the Berbers, whose excesses the caliph was unable to check. Their most powerful leader, Khairán, had been badly wounded in the late struggle, but on his recovery he determined to avenge his defeat. He found a capable ally in 'Alí b. Hammúd, a descendant of the famous son-in-law of the Prophet, but whose family had almost ceased to be Arab in their long residence in Africa. 'Alí relied not only upon the Slavs but also upon the Berbers, who regarded Soleimán with contempt, and looked upon 'Alí as a fellow-countryman. Soleimán's government was easily overthrown (1016), but Khairán's attempt to discover Hishám II. was unsuccessful, and he had to acknowledge 'Alí as caliph and to content himself with the office of hájib.

Hammúdites. The Hammúdite dynasty, thus established in Cordova, was not destined to enjoy a long tenure of power. Khairán revolted against a sovereign who was too able and spirited for the part of a Hishám II., and set up an anti-caliph in the person of another Omayyad, 'Abd al-Rahmán IV., a great-grandson of 'Abd al-Rahmán III., who took the name of Mortadá. 'Alí was murdered in his bath (1017), but his supporters rallied round his brother Kásim.

Decline of the Omayyads. For five years a confused civil war raged which was complicated by the hostility to Kásim of 'Ali's son, Yahyá. In 1023 Mortadá was slain in battle, and the Omayyad party gave the crown to another 'Abd al-Rahmán, a brother of the detestable Mahdí. Two months later the young prince was murdered, but his successful rival, Mohammed b. 'Abd al-Rahmán was driven from Cordova in 1025. The Hammúdite caliph, Yahyá, now occupied the capital, but was slain in attempting to reduce the rebellious wáli of Seville to obedience. Hishám III., a brother of 'Abd al-Rahmán Mortadá, was now raised to the throne. But all central government was by this time at an end; no revenues could be drawn from the rebellious provinces; and in 1031 Hisham abdicated a title which had ceased to have any meaning, and sought peace and retirement in the neighbourhood of Saragossa. His death five years later was almost unnoticed even in Cordova. With him ended the Omayyad dynasty, which had ruled in Spain for nearly three centuries, and which had produced princes worthy to be ranked with the greatest of their contemporaries. Its decline dates from the time when it allowed power to slip from its hands and to be wielded by ambitious ministers.

Ever since the death of Almansór Moslem Spain had been gradually splitting up into a number of independent principalities. With the extinction of the Omayyads the last semblance of unity disappeared. "The Berber generals shared the south; the Slavs ruled in the east; the rest was divided either among successful adventurers or among the small number of noble families who had been fortunate enough to escape the blows which 'Abd al-Rahmán and Almansór had struck at the aristocracy. Finally, the two most considerable towns, Cordova and Seville, were organized as republics" (Dozy). Into the history of the numerous dynasties which were established during this period it is impossible to enter here, but the reader will find the subject not only fully but attractively treated in the fourth volume of Dozy's Histoire des Musulmans d'Espagne. See also Plate VII.

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