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Arabs in Spain (711-722)

End of the Visigoth Rule in Hispania

In 711 AD, a large group of Arabs and Berbers led by their Berber commander Tariq ibn Ziyad landed where Europe and Africa met in Gibraltar. Hispania was ruled at that time by a Visigothic elite who wrested the power from the weakened Roman empire less than 200 years earlier. The Hispania that the Visigoth King Ruderic ruled was wracked with civil wars and on the verge of disintegration when the Muslims landed in Gibraltar. The Muslims took the residents by surprise when they launched the first coastal raids, but they quickly turned this into a large-scale invasion after they took advantage of the cracks in the Visigoths’ rule. Their initial entry into Spain was also aided by Ruderic’s rival, the Count Julian, who held a personal grudge against the king. This event is recorded on the Bible Timeline Chart with World History between 711 – 722 AD.

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Ruderic mustered all the men he could find to defend his territory, but he was killed during the Battle of Guadalete on July 19, 711 AD. The Visigoths’ defeat was devastating—the battle not only killed Ruderic, but also wiped out almost all of the noblemen who might rule Spain after his death. With no else strong enough to put up any resistance against the invasion, the Arabs, along with their Berber allies, rapidly advanced north and conquered most of the southern and central Spain within seven years. It became the province of Al-Andalus and administered by the North African governor.

Arabs_in_Spain
“The battle of Guadalete”

Tariq was recalled by the caliph Sulayman to Syria in the year 714. This left the Arab commander Abd al-Aziz ibn Musa ibn Nusayr as governor of Al-Andalus, who then established the city of Seville as the capital of the province. He married Ruderic’s widow, Egilona, in 718 and she converted to Islam in the same year. He was later assassinated after rumors that he converted to Christianity reached the caliph.

Byzantine Resistance

When it looked like that the Islamic expansion was unstoppable, the Byzantines in Asia Minor proved to be more resilient than their western Mediterranean neighbor. They held out for a little longer with the help of the strategic defence and capable leadership under Emperor Leo III during a naval battle in the Arabs’ Siege of Constantinople. His forces were also reinforced by the Bulgarian allies. The Byzantines successfully defended the city until the death of Sulayman in 717.

The Kingdom of Asturias

It seemed the Visigoth resistance did not die out with its last king Ruderic. In 718 AD, a Visigoth named Pelagius (Pelayo) retreated north to Asturias and established a kingdom on the northern remnants of Christian Spain. Asturias’ rugged mountainous terrain made it difficult for the Arabs and Berbers to successfully conquer all of the Iberian peninsula, and the region became the last bastion of Christianity in Spain. The Arabs and Berbers managed to slip through Southern France and arrived at the Duchy of Aquitaine. They were defeated by the Frankish duke Odo, who killed the governor of Al-Andalus in the Battle of Toulouse (721 AD). The dead governor was replaced with a man named Al-Ghafiqi, and the Asturian King Pelagius led a successful rebellion against the Muslims in 722 AD.

References:
Picture By Salvador Martínez Cubells – [www.artflakes.com], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18373367
Bauer, Susan Wise. The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade. New York: W.W. Norton, 2010.
Esposito, John L. The Oxford Dictionary of Islam. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
Watt, William Montgomery., and Pierre Cachia. A History of Islamic Spain. New Brunswick, NJ: Aldine Transaction, 2008.
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