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Jews Driven from Spain and Sicily

Just like France, medieval Spain had a long history of hosting Jewish migrants. Many of them came to the Roman province after the Jewish revolt and the destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70. Although the Iberian Peninsula was conquered by the Muslims, Jews continued to live there in peace for more than 1,000 years. It was not until 1491-1492 that the Jews were driven from Spain and Sicily. Many of them converted to Christianity, while others left the peninsula for parts of Europe, North Africa, and the Ottoman Empire.  These events are recorded on the Biblical Timeline with World History during that time.

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The Spanish Inquisition

King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain.

In 1474, Henry IV’s half-sister Isabella became queen of Castile. She married Ferdinand of Aragon in 1469, which made them joint rulers of a strong Spanish realm. Their reign was marked with civil war with Isabella’s niece and rival to the throne Juana de Beltraneja. Juana was later defeated and was forced to enter a convent in Coimbra.

Between 1482 and 1492, Isabella and Ferdinand were occupied with the reconquest of Granada, the last Muslim stronghold in the peninsula. The Catholic monarchs’ zeal to keep Spain in Christian hands spilled over to the Spanish Jews. The conflict started because of the presence of the conversos or Jews who recently converted to Christianity. These new converts were viewed with suspicion by the “old Christians.”

Strangely, their downfall was brought about by Tomas de Torquemanda, a Dominican friar who himself was a grandson of a converso. He was appointed General Inquisitor, and he accused the Jews of corrupting “old Christians” to the king and queen. In 1483, the Jews were driven out of Andalucia and Seville. The Jews of Zaragoza in Aragon were also expelled three years later. The king and queen of Spain still continued to hire Jews as government officials despite the expulsions in some areas. It was also business-as-usual between ordinary Christians and Jews.

In 1491, the Spaniards captured Granada. A treaty signed by both parties assured the people—whether Jew, Christian, or Muslim—that they could freely practice their religion in Spain. This was overturned by the Alhambra Decree issued in March 13, 1492, and the Jews were ordered to leave Spain. The decree was announced in major cities in May, 1492, and they were allowed to stay for three months to prepare. The expulsion was extended to Spanish territories of Sicily, Sardinia, Menorca, and Mallorca.

The leaders of the Jewish communities tried to appeal to the king and queen, but to no avail. Many gave up, and 120,000 Jews went to Portugal but they were expelled there too. Thousands of those who remained in Spain converted to Christianity so that they would not be expelled. Others fled to North Africa, Italy, and the Ottoman Empire. The Jews who fled to North Africa were later called Sephardim which came from the word “Sepharad” which was the Hebrew word for Spain.


Public Domain, Link

Halsall, Paul. “Jewish History Sourcebook: The Expulsion from Spain, 1492 CE.” Internet History Sourcebooks Project. Accessed January 11, 2017.

Mackay, Angus. The New Cambridge Medieval History: 1415-1500. Edited by Christopher Allmand. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Roth, Norman. Medieval Jewish Civilization: An Encyclopedia. S.l.: Routledge Member of the Taylor and Francis Group, 2002.

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