Muslim-Dominated Spain Between the Tenth and Twelfth Centuries
In 711, a mix of Arab and Berber warriors landed in Spain to remove its Visigoth rulers and proceeded to fold it into the Umayyad realm. They changed its name from Hispania to al-Andalus. The Umayyads’ hold on the caliphate remained strong even after three hundred years of rule. The tenth century was the height of the caliphate’s power but by 1025 al-Andalus was divided into thirty small competing kingdoms called the Taifa (muluk al-tawa’if) that were held by different prominent families. Each family had its own court, and private armies made up of Berbers (native North Africans) and saqaliba (Slavs and other northern warriors). This led to the Almoravids being driven from Zaragoza by King Alfonso I of Aragon during 1118 AD according to the Bible Timeline Chart with World History.
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The Christian north slowly reemerged from obscurity in the eleventh century, but the Iberian Peninsula was still overwhelmingly Muslim. The Muslim Taifas were forced to pay the neighboring Christian kingdoms tributes or indemnities (parias) to ward off their attacks. By 1080, the independent Taifa kingdoms went down from thirty to just nine which included Zaragoza (held by the Hudid family), Seville, Toledo, Badajoz, Almeria, Majorca, Granada, Albarracin, and Alpuente.
The Arrival and Domination of the Almoravids in al-Andalus (1050-1118)
The majority of Morocco’s Berbers practiced Islam since the religion’s arrival in 680 AD. But more than three hundred years later, Abdallah ibn Yasin (a member of the Gazzula Berber tribe who dominated from 1050 to 1059) felt that the Islam the Berbers followed was only superficial. He had traveled across the Strait of Gibraltar before and saw how serious the people of al-Andalus were in practicing Islam. So he imposed a “pure” form of the religion to his followers. This Marrakesh-based movement was called the Almoravid. Just like the Prophet Mohammed before him, ibn Yasin attacked and conquered neighboring tribes which he considered as infidels.
Ibn Yasin died in 1059 AD, but the Almoravid movement had spread to the other parts of Morocco. In the years that followed, these hardy Berbers had conquered the Strait of Gibraltar. The Almoravids’ rise to prominence coincided with the rise of the Castilian king Alfonso VI of Leon and Castile. They united the kingdom after he allegedly had his brother, Sancho the Strong of Leon, assassinated. With Sancho dead, Alfonso now had his brother’s army under his command. With the army came the formidable general El Cid (Rodrigo Diaz). The general conquered Toledo while in service of Alfonso VI, but El Cid turned into a mercenary for the Taifa king of Zaragoza when he was driven out from Alfonso’s court out of jealousy for his accomplishments.
Angered at El Cid’s choice of a new employer, Alfonso attacked the other Taifa kingdoms until he reached Toledo. He conquered the cities of Coria and Toledo between 1079 and 1085. The remaining Taifa kings had no choice except to accept that Alfonso would conquer their kingdoms soon or send an urgent appeal for help to the powerful Almoravids in Morocco. The Almoravids’ leader Yusuf ibn Tashfin agreed to this offer and crossed the Strait of Gibraltar with 12,000 men to help the Taifa kings. Alfonso’s troops and the Taifa kings’ army (along with the Almoravid reinforcements) met in the Battle of Sagrajas (Zallaqa) in 1086. The Castilian king had to retreat from Zaragoza after his troops were defeated in this battle. Although they temporarily repelled Alfonso, the Almoravid-Taifa victory did not have any significant effect on what remained of al-Andalus. The Taifa kings continued to squabble over the next few years. The Taifa kings were also afraid that the Almoravids would eventually wrest their territories away, so they sent ibn Tashfin and his troops on their way home back to Morocco in 1088.
They recrossed the Strait of Gibraltar in November of 1088, but the Taifa kings’ fears proved true when the Almoravids under ibn Tashfin came back to Spain in 1090 as conquerors. They took Granada in 1090, Almeria and Seville in 1091, and Badajoz in 1094. They faced El Cid in Levante but retreated in 1093; El Cid was left to rule Valencia in 1094 until his death in 1099. By 1104, the Almoravids ruled southern Spain except for the Taifa of Zaragoza which was held by the Hudid family. It served as a buffer state between the Christian north and Almoravid south until 1110.
Out of Zaragoza
The Almoravids besieged El Cid’s Valencia stronghold in 1099. The great Spanish hero later died in the city on July 10, 1099. When El Cid’s widow Jimena saw that the defense of Valencia was impossible, she sent an urgent appeal to her cousin, King Alfonso VI, to escort her and her followers out of the city. By 1102, all of El Cid’s followers had left Valencia, while Zaragoza was still held by the Hudid family as an independent Taifa. In 1110, the last Hudid ruler al-Mustain set off in an expedition against the Christians but was killed at Valtierra. His son failed to secure his throne after his father’s death, so an Almoravid ruler named ibn al-Hajj took over Zaragoza on the 30th of May, 1110.
Alfonso brought with him a formidable army when he launched the siege of Zaragoza in May 1118. The overwhelmed Almoravid governor was forced to send an urgent plea to the governor of Valencia for reinforcements. However, the governor of Valencia sent only a few of his men to the besieged city. The Almoravids of Zaragoza were finally driven out of their domain in December 1118.
picture By Omar-Toons – Own workÉlaborée depuis File:Almoravid-empire-01-fr.svg ;Modifiée selon les entrées Almoravides sur Larousse.fr et Qantara-Med.org, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
Catlos, Brian A. Muslims of Medieval Latin Christendom, C.1050-1614. Cambridge University Press, 2014.
Ḥusain, Muẓaffar, Syed Saud. Akhtar, and B. D. Usmani, eds. A Concise History of Islam. New Delhi: Vij Books India, 2011.
Luscombe, David Edward, and Jonathan Riley-Smith, eds. The New Cambridge Medieval History, Volume 4: C.1024–c.1198, Part 2. Vol. IV. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
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