The history of Spain, like that of most ancient civilizations, will make for a riveting tale that would leave one in utter amazement at the phenomenal fetes that the modern-day humanity had to go through to get where it is now. Lying on the north of Africa and at the frontier of Europe, Spain is arguably one of the oldest countries of Europe. Through her story, one is bound to be fascinated by the many groups that invaded and inhabited her. In the prehistoric years, groups from North Africa, the Celts and the Eastern Europe made the Spanish Peninsula. At some point or another ancient Greeks, the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, vandals, Arabs, Suebi, and the Goths all lived in Spain. These diverse people brought with them several social, cultural religious and political practices that would influence the development of Spain one way or another. Christianity had come to the Peninsula very early. Some ancient writers such as Clement of Rome and Eusebius, St. Paul had made at least one visit to Spain (see Romans 15:24-28). At the time the Visigoths invaded the Peninsula, Christianity and the church was already established.
At the beginning of the 8th century, the Moors invaded Spain and proclaimed their dominion over the peninsula. During this time the Christians continued to enjoy some relative freedom of religion and were largely referred to as Mozarabic Christians. Come the 15th century, when the Reconquista of the peninsula from the Moors was complete, with the Christians become subject once again to the Roman liturgy and the strict papal jurisdiction.
Of interest to this paper will be a specific period, in which Spain went through some tremendous transformation in social constructions. The review will begin from the 8th century with the Umayyad’s conquest of Spain, through to the next one hundred years of the rule of the Caliphate of Cordoba, 929 to 1031. This period is arguably the apex of the tolerant co-existence in the peninsula, where diverse religious affiliations enjoyed freedom and the social repercussions came alongside.
During this time in the Iberian Peninsula, there were some tremendous changes in the social dynamics and religious directives. These would reverberate upon the lives of the Christians and the Jews who had inhabited the peninsula for ages. After the collapse of the Caliphate, Spain would again go through a period of change and readjustment whose culmination would be the Reconquista. Here again, the resultant effects on the religious minorities at the time would vary and affect them differently.
The Moors and their Conquest of the Iberian Peninsula
The Moors ruled Spain between the 8th to the 11th centuries. Their conquest extended throughout the peninsula except for Asturias. For most of this period, the Omayyad dynasty ruled this region from their capital at Cordoba. Though their reign was undisputed for most of this region, it was at Andalusia that they demonstrated the highest domination. The Moors relatively tolerant and treated their Visigothic, Celtiberian and Hispano-Roman subjects with respect. Even the Jews who had had it worse during the rule of the Visigoth were tolerated. Christian worship was allowed, whilst many Christian mercenaries enrolled in the Moslem armies. There were mixed marriages and some Christians rose to high office in the Moorish administrative structure.
There was also significant progress in agriculture as the Moors introduced exotic crops to the peninsula. These included figs, dates, sugar, and rice. Arab engineers who had developed great knowledge of irrigation as a means of food production extended the same in areas where such interventions would lead to more productivity. Having also advanced in mining techniques, they exploited minerals that Spain could offer, spreading their skills in the process. Stock-raising, and wool and silk industries also throve, with beautifully designed silk fabric making their way to the ports to be exported by the largest marine in the Mediterranean.
There was also an increasing interest in art, science and literature as the Moors brought a renaissance. This was mostly at the time when Europe was in state of virtual intellectual stagnation whilst the Arabs had tremendous interest in the pursuit of knowledge. Through translations, the learning of ancient Greece was introduced to the west, with translators being mostly Mozarab and Jewish scholars. The Moorish capital of Cordoba became a leading center for European intelligence, with a library that had at least 400,000 books. There was also a university that was open to students from far and wide, and they could study mathematics, medicine, science and philosophy under the tutelage of Moslem, Jewish and Christian professors. Music also gained recognition with university harboring a renowned academy of music.
The architectural outlook of the Iberian Peninsula also changed, with the streets being paved with stones, aesthetic fountains erected, and public baths built. The houses had piped water, marble balconies for the summers, fine gardens, and hot air ducts for the cold winters. The great mosque of Cordoba was an architectural marvel built in 785, and the Alhambra palace at Granada which was built during the 13th and 14th century.
The reign of the Caliph Abdur Rahman III (912-961) and that of Almansor towards the end of the 10th century marked the peak of the Moorish power. They had conquered Barcelona in the north-east by 985, while Santiago in the north-west fell in 997.
At the death of Almansor in 1002, the Berbers whose might had been at the expense of the old aristocratic Arab military slowly began to decline. There ensured domestic struggles that eventually led to a spilt of the domain into small states. It is the belief of most scholars that this decline would be the beginning of the Reconquista. Barcelona would be the first to be recovered from the crumbling dominion, but little headway could be made for total liberation as the Christian kingdoms remained large disunited and suspicious of each other.
The Collapse of the Caliphate and the Spanish Reconquista
Having gone through centuries of domination, the 13th through the 15th centuries would become the most significant years in the formation of the modern state now known as Spain. However the Reconquista had actually begun in the 8th century. The history of the Christian kingdoms during the first five centuries of Moorish occupation was highly characterized by wars and continuous intrigues pitted against one another as they made sporadic attempts to drive back the Moors. Indeed, there are occasions when a particular Christian state would have Moslem allies against another Christian state. The situation would remain more or less the same until the 11th century when the Reconquista picked pace in earnest.
At the beginning of the 10th century, the original Christian kingdom of Asturias founded by Pelayo moved its capital to Leon from Oviedo. Here it became the leading Christian state. However, in the middle of this century, the County of Castile, broke away and became independent, citing hostility to the Visigothic traditions of Leon. In the 10th century there was an increased rise to the fame of the Basque kingdom of Navarre in the Pyrenees. Sancho the Great of Navarre had in the 11th century formed a union with Castile and conquered Leon. On his death, by his will the kingdom was divided into Navarre and Aragon. Ferdinand I of Castile completed the conquest of Leon, becoming her leader. It is this small kingdom that would become the mainspring of the Reconquista.
Meanwhile in the north coast, in 1137, Aragon and Catalonia were united by marriage. This formed a strong Kingdom of Aragon which now had an access to sea. However, this new-found momentum for the Reconquista was halted in the second half of the 12th century by the arrival of the Berbers from Africa, the Almohades. This breed of was fiercer and intolerant than their predecessors, the Almoravids. Having brought Moorish Spain under their control, they drove the advancing Christians back routing the army of Alfonso VIII of Castile in 1195.
In 1212, Aragon, Castile, and Navarre at last combined, at the behest of the Pope to from a coalition against the Almohades. At last they won a great victory at Las Navas de Tolosa, in the north-east of Cordoba. These victorious campaigns spearheaded by Ferdinand III of Castile (1217-1252) and James I of Aragon (1213-1276) went on for close to five decades. The Almohades were expelled from Spain and by the end of the 13th century; the entire peninsula was under Christians except Granada. This unity that had eventually brought victory did not last. After the expulsion of the Almohades, the various kingdoms resorted to their personal pursuits, internal preoccupations and forming newer alliances. This allowed the Moors to remain rulers of Granada for another two hundred years. In 1340, the last invasion from Africa in their support was defeated decisively by Alfonso XI of Castile at Rio Salado. The final conquest of Granada however, would wait until 1492, after the marriage of Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Argon had united the kingdoms.
The Social and Religious Dynamics in the Decline of the Caliphate
Many scholars hold prolific views as to the causes of the Spanish Reconquista. Some hold the opinion that the dynamics leading to the Reconquista were wholly religious, whilst some believe the reasons were overwhelmingly secular. But a consensus is yet to be achieved despite the vast documentation on the subject. Vincente Cantarino in joining this debate once asked, “How can one accept the idea of the Reconquista as a Christian holy war against Islam while there existed an unqualified willingness to absorb and transmit Muslim culture to the rest of the Western Christendom?Yet one cannot dispute the strong role of the in the cooperation between her secular leadership in setting the stage for the defeat of the Moors and other Islamic colonists.
During the beginning of the 13th century, Christian kingdoms in the mountainous north of Spain expanded to the south. In their wake they either chased or converted the Muslim population they encountered. This went on for some time until the religious landscape in Spain started to resemble that of other western European nations, a predominant Christians and a minority others. Christian kingdoms expanded and became more united until only the Castilian royal house and the Avis dynasty. In 1238, arguably the most important in the Muslim kingdom, Cuidad de Valencia fell to Jaime I, the king of Aragon and Catalonia. This opened up a vast region where Christian influence would easily flourish. The years that followed his conquest saw this ambitious monarch focusing his attention bringing as much land once under Muslims under his control. He particularly focused on places that had some significant economic returns like those that were agriculturally productive or those that had thriving mining activities going on. Jaime’s campaigns were mainly for political mileage than they were religious. His interest lay more on tightening his hold of the kingdom and solidifying his position in his Christian realms. This was evidently demonstrated by the continued growth of the Muslim communities and the sound interactions that existed between them and the Christians. The inter-religious relationship between the three Abrahamic religions of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism during the medieval Spain would demonstrate varying levels of tolerance from time to time. The time however, came when Islam was viewed in the eyes of medieval Western Christendom as problematic. These cultural complications and competition have persisted for most of past history through to the modern era.
It is also noteworthy to point out the economic implications during the Reconquista. The economic dynamics of the new kingdom after the expulsion of the Muslims is often difficult to gauge, but there are some deductible evidence in the hundreds of trade documents that came from the court of Jaime between 1257 to his death in 1276. These documents contain explicit evidence on the economic relationship that Muslims had with the Monarch. These shows that even under the new Christian leadership, the Muslims were still regarded as significant contributors to the well-being of the Monarch. There is ample evidence that Jaime tried to improve on the economic development of both Christians and Muslims by offering them grants for entrepreneurial purposes. Some documents on the other hand demonstrate clear attempts at subjugation of the Muslims, there were some instances where land could be taken away from a Muslim and given to a Christian nobleman without any compensation. Owing to the differences that existed in traditions between the Muslims and the Christians, there were some significant positions of leadership and institutions that could only be filled by the Muslims. These included the qadi, amin and the sharia courts. These were left to the Muslims albeit with a little supervision from the Christians. This would mean that the Muslims had little trouble adjusting to the rule of the Christians.Whilst there is little account from the Muslim records that could verify the purported cordial relationship, it can be assumed that the increasing assimilation of their culture and some vocabulary into some Christian sentences was a demonstration of some appreciation.
There are few times in world history that gives as extraordinary glimpse into the unique cultural cohabitation and coexistence. Medieval Spain after the Islamic invasion, the many years under foreign rule, and the eventual Christian Reconquest that ended in 1492 makes for some fascinating reading. Whilst the beginning and the ends this captivating story is filled with forced conversions and persecution, there were remarkable instances of peaceful coexistence and cooperation, which went alongside cultural exchanges that were of benefit to the Muslims, Christians, and the Jews who inhabited the Iberian Peninsula. This period is often referred to as the convivencia. There was enrichment in learning, which would contribute enormously to development of literature, art, and science. In general, it is clear that there exited a good working relationship between the Muslims and the Christians in the building of the economy. The Reconquista in regard tried to ensure a thriving economy that recognized the input of all. The golden era of Spain began soon after with increased wealth and the expansion of the Spanish empire abroad. The marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella would offer Spain more than just a union of a king and a queen. As a team these two leaders were strong and working together, they remolded their kingdom into a European giant.
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