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Mhammad Benaboud




By Mhammad Benaboud and Ahmed Yousfi




The history of Al-Andalus has fascinated historians for centuries. It is the history of an Islamic state and society on European soil. Al-Andalus is for some an enigma, because its history is full of contradictions, original trends and unprecedented orientations. It stands out in so many respects, that it is necessary to approach it from new perspectives in order to understand it profoundly. Andalusian society has fascinated scholars for its tolerance having included Muslims, Christians and Jews who lived in together in peace. Yet war also characterised Andalusian history during different centuries. The highly developed Andalusian culture stood out as one of the most original and unique cultures of the medieval period. Al-Andalus did not develop ex-nihilo, but interacted with other political entities in the Mediterranean World, especially the Maghrib and the Christian kingdoms of the North and even with the Middle Eastern states of the time. Finally, it is important to approach Al-Andalus as a changing phenomenon, having lasted for over eight centuries.


I. The Islamisation of the Iberian Peninsula

The Islamisation of the Iberian Peninsula followed by the creation of al-Andalus was the continuation and consequence of the Islamisation of the Maghrib. Yet this historical process varied radically. There are similarities and differences between the development of the historical phenomenon of the Islamisation of the Maghrib and the Iberian Peninsula. While some historians have studied this phenomenon by stressing the political and military dimension others have stressed the spiritual dimension, but it would perhaps be a mistake if the two dimensions were not considered as parts of one historical reality.

The Islamisation of the Iberian Peninsula differed from that of the Maghrib in several respects:
Firstly, while the Islamisation of the Maghrib lasted for over eighty years, that of the Iberian Peninsula took about four years to complete. There are many reasons for explaining this. The decadent Visigoth state in the Iberian Peninsula was in an advanced state of decline as a result of internal political, religious, social and economic conflicts.

Secondly, the resistance to the Islamic armies was extremely weak in the Iberian Peninsula, because the Visigoth state simply collapsed and the local population supported the Arab and Berber Muslims. The superiority of the Muslim army was in part due to its competent commanders, especially Tariq Ibn Ziyad and Musa Ibn Nusayr, and in part to the enthusiasm of the Muslim army and the dynamism of the new religion of Islam.

Thirdly, the process of Islamisation in al-Andalus differed, because many cities flourished in the Iberian Peninsula and it was possible to develop them further under Islamic rule. Cordoba would replace the old Visigoth capital of Toledo, but other cities were important too such as Seville, Saragossa or Valencia.

Even though the historical sources for the Islamisation of al-Andalus are weak, it is possible to reconstruct its main features. The phenomenon of the Islamisation of al-Andalus is extremely important for its consequences. The following observations are worth stressing:
Firstly, the Islamisation of the Iberian Peninsula and the creation of Al-Andalus marked a turning point in the history of the Islamic Occident. Islam was adopted as the religion of the Maghrib and al-Andalus and it would stay for eight centuries on Andalusian soil and permanently in the Maghrib. The Islamic history of this region would replace its Phoenician and Roman history.    

Secondly, the Islam in al-Andalus was not only profound as a religion, but led to profound social and cultural transformations. The urban social structure of Al-Andalus would replace the old feudal Visigoth social structure. The Arabic language was introduced as the new cultural



II. The Banu Umayya State    

The Banu Umayya State of Al-Andalus is one of the most interesting Islamic states to study. It was founded by Abderrahman Ad-Dakhil, a prince of the Banu Umayyas of Damascus who escaped when the Abbasids of the Orient overthrew the Banu Umaya dynasty. He is therefore the founder of an Arab kingdom in the Iberian Peninsula. Banu Umayya state of Al-Andalus was created as an Emirate, but ‘Abderrahman II proclaimed the Caliphate during the tenth century. He ruled this Caliphate for fifty years and consolidated one of the most powerful and prosperous Islamic states of the time. It flourished politically, economically and culturally. By the end of the tenth century it began to show signs of weakness. It collapsed suddenly by the end of the tenth century for a number of causes. These include the following causes:
Firstly, the incapacity of Hisham II, the young hereditary prince to rule, thus creating a problem of succession of the Caliph.
Secondly, Al-Mansour Ibn Abi ‘Amir’s, the previous hajib’s usurpation of power with the connivance of Sobh, the heriditary prince’s mother. This produced an institutional crisis when the ruler’s legitimacy was questioned,
Thirdly, the Banu Umayya Caliphate broke down when the army which consisted of carefully balanced elements of different ethnic backgrounds broke down as a result of the political crisis and different military commanders and governors who imposed their rule on different cities and ruled them as Taifa States.
Fourthly, the absence of an alternative for the Banu Umayya Caliphate prolonged the political crisis thus permitting the consolidation of the new situation of Al-Andalus dominated by the continued division of the Taifa States.
Finally, this change was radical because it involved numerous levels. Al-Andalus would no longer be dominated by a powerful centralised state and a new situation of drastic decentralisation would prevail instead. This division led to a fragile and insecure situation for the Taifa States as opposed to the security and stability of the previous Banu Umayya Caliphate. The economic prosperity of the Banu Umayya period would be replaced by a period of economic crisis during the Taifa period. Yet the cultural prosperity of the Banu Umayya period continued during the Taifa period.


III. The Taifa States   (11th century)

The history of Al-Andalus during the Period of the Taifa States is one of the most enigmatic periods to study for a variety of reasons. Unlike the previous period of the Banu Umayya dynasty which culminated with the collapse of the Andalusian state, the eleventh century was a period of decentralisation as a result of the division of  Al-Andalus into dozens of autonomous Taifa States which lasted for a period of  over eighty years. The continuous division of the Taifa States, their weak military organisation, the economic decline and the social crisis of this period formed a sharp contrast with the unique cultural development of this period. This situation continued during the following centuries when culture continued to prosper in Al-Andalus during the Almoravid; Almohad and Nasrid periods from the eleventh to the end of the fifteenth centuries. This trend confirms the fact that Andalusian culture and arts thrived regardless of the nature of the dominating political regimes. The universal character of Andalusian culture is such that it even continued to thrive in other societies outside of the Iberian Peninsula after the collapse of the last Nasrid state in Al-Analus.


Political Divisions

Eleventh century Al-Andalus was plundered by deep unprecedented divisions among the Taifa States. The Tatifa States varied in the nature of their geographical location, the extension of their territorial frontiers, the numbers of their inhabitants, degree of economic prosperity and the power of their rulers. For example some Taifa States like Seville incorporated the entire Atlantic coast of present day Portugal and overlooked the Straits of Gibraltar. Other Taifa States like Valencia and Almerica overlooked the eastern Mediterranan coast. Taifa States like Toledo or Cordoba were situated in the interior. In terms of their size, some Taifa States like Seville covered enormous territories and conquered some of the smaller cities like Ronda, while others like Silves covered small territories. However, they all shared the desire to live in a state of constant war with their neighbours, mainly because of the desire of the more powerful Taifa States to conquer other weaker Taifa States. Yet none were powerful enough to impose their political rule on all the others. The result was a continuous state of internal strife among the Taifa States which only contributed to the continuous destruction and economic drain of their economies. The basic problem of the Taifa States was that perhaps structural, because while they all adopted sophisticated models of political systems which consisted of the ruler, a hierarchy of ministers, administrators, the police, an army and a juridical system, they did not have the minimum conditions for assuring the long term existence of a powerful state. This was due to a variety of factors ranging from tiny territories with small cities, small numbers of inhabitants, unstable boundaries and limited economic resources. Worse still, the rulers of the Taifa States adopted aggressive policies towards their neighbours, contributing further to the permanent instability of their own internal affairs on the one hand and to the general instability of Al-Andalus on the other. The history of every Taifa State was therefore one of permanently attacking other neighbouring Taifa States and being permanently attacked by them.


The Taifa States and the Christian Kingdoms: Confrontation and Annual Tribute Money

The continuous divisions and conflicts of the Taifa States among themselves ware accompanied by their confrontation with the Christian kingdoms in the Northern part of the Iberian Peninsula, especially the kingdom of Castile. Internal strife and confrontations between the Christian kingdoms of the North either among each other or with the Taifa States took a new turn with the unification of the Kingdom of Leon and Castile under the rule of King Alfonso VI. The danger for the very existence of the Taifa States became eminent for the following reasons:
Fistly,  King Alfonso VI formulated a long term policy with the objective of conquering Al-Andalus including all the Taifa States.
Secondly, his strategy consisted in adopting an expansionist policy which consisted in imposing annual tribute on the Taifa States as a means of gradually weakening them economically and militarily. Alfonso’s army was not powerful enough to conquer all of Al-Andalus, and the lands of Al-Andalus were heavely populated, so he decided to confront the Taifa States individually with the final objective of weakening them collectively.
This strategy he would execute in the several phases:
The first phase was military. His army would besiege the capital of the Taifa States and ask for a sum of money as an annual tribute in return for protection. When the Taifa ruler refused, Alfonso’s army would start by plundering the agricultural harvest and then besiege the capital of the Taifa State until the ruler was forced to negotiate a new sum of tribute money which ended by forcing him to pay a sum which was much greater than the one initially proposed.  In the case of Granada, for example, Alfonso’s envoy proposed the sum of 10000 mithqals initially, asked for 50000 mithqals after the siege, and forced Abdallah Ibn Bullugin, the ruler of the Taifa State of Granada, to accept paying 30000 mithqals in order to end the siege.


The success of this policy from the military point of view was that Alfonso attacked each Taifa State individually in order to maintain his superiority. Furthermore, he often organised coalitions with some Taifa States against others, in order to diminish his expenses, to prevent possible coalitions of Taita States against him and in order to guarantee the success of each operation. This was the case of Alfonso’s alliance with Seville’s minister Ibn Ammar, when he besieged the capital of the Taifa State of Granada.
The military and economic dimensions of Alfonso VI’s expansionist policy was further strengthened by an ideological dimension when he carried out his strategy after an alliance with the powerful Catholic Church. This gave his policy and ideological dimension which attracted support from his kingdom and from other regions inside the Iberian Peninsula and even from distant regions like Cluny and Burgandy in France from which monks came to join his army in a crusade against the Muslims of the Taifa States. 
Once the Taifa States were weakened, he would conquer them one after another.


The Almoravids and the Taifa States

The Almoravids were the main reason which prevented Alfonso VI from carrying his expansionist policy to its logical end of  conquering Al-Andalus. In 1085 Alfonso VI conquered Toledo. His next step was to conquer Seville, the largest and most powerful Taifa State in Al-Andalus. He sent the ruler of Seville, Al-Mu’tamid Ibn ‘Abbad a letter asking him to surrender Seville to him. The Taifa States were no longer in a position to confront the powerful Castilian army. They reacted by inviting Yusuf  Ibn Tashufin’s, the ruler of the new powerful Almoravid State to help them face Alfonso’s army. Yusuf responded by first conquering Ceuta and then Algeciras, before leading a coalition of Taifa States near the city of  Badajoz to victory against Alfonso VI in the Battle of Az-Zallaqa known as Sagrajas in Spanish. This Battle had two serious consequences:

Firstly, it ended the continuation of Alfonso VI’s expansionist policy in the short term and enabled Al-Andalus to continue existing  as an Islamic state for four centuries more. However, Alfonso VI was able to reorganise his army after the defeat and to maintain his rule over Toledo which was strategically situated and suitable to launch the conquest of Al-Andalus in the long term. This phenomenon has been called the Reconquest in the Spanish sources and led to the progressive conquest of Al-Andalus which was accelerated during the thirteenth century leading to the Castilian conquest of important Andalusian cities like Cordoba and Seville, and finally to the conquest of Granada by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel in 1492.

The second consequence of the Battle of Az-Zallaqa was that Alfonso VI was able to appreciate the great divisions of the Taifa States and decided to conquer them for himself, with the consent of the Moroccan and Andalusian ulemas  and the popular support of the Andalusian masses. He therefore conquered the Taifa State of Granada which was ruled by the Berber King Abdallah Ibn Bullugin, followed by the Taifa State of Seville which had been ruled by Al-Mu’tamid Ibn ‘Abbad. This was followed by the Almoravid conquest of the remaining Taifa States, but the Almoravids were never able to recover Toledo. The Almoravid Empire now stretched over an extensive area from Morocco to Tunisia eastwards and covered a big part of the Iberian Peninsula northwards.

The Almoravid conquest of Al-Andalus also meant that Al-Andalus would become a province of the Almoravid state in Morocco. When the Almoravids were succeeded by the Almohads in the twelfth century, Al-Andalus became a province of the Almohad Empire. The tiny Nasrid state of Granada was all that remained of Al-Andalus by the end of the fifteenth century when it surrendered to the Catholic Kings in 1492.


The Andalusian Cultural Legacy 

Of Al-Andalus’ numerous historical dimensions, the Andalusian cultural legacy has left the most lasting effect in the minds of later historians and societies. Not only did Andalusian culture attain outstanding levels of development over its eight centuries of history, it continued to develop after the Christian conquest of Al-Andalus and the expulsion of the Andalusian Muslims and Jews. It developed in different societies in the Mediterranean World ranging from Morocco to Tunisia and beyond. It continued to develop over numerous centuries. This cultural legacy affected Muslims, and to a lesser degree, Jews and Christians. This cultural legacy affected many fields of specialisation including historiography, sociology, mathematics, jurisprudence, literature, architecture, urbanism and agriculture. This cultural legacy has developed in different ways over different historical phases of the history of Al-Andalus. That is why it is necessary to specify the period in order to understand the Andalusian culture in its temporal framework.

The period of the Taifa States is extremely interesting for studying the cultural development of the time, because this was a period of cultural splendour and innovation in many branches of knowledge. Some of the scholars who lived during this period were famous internationally. Ibn Hayyan who wrote a sixty volume history of Al-Andalus entitled Kitab al-Matin is recognised as the greatest Andalusian historian. Ibn Hazm who wrote books in numerous fields of knowledge including history, jurisprudence, literature, comparative religion, love and politics is the most brilliant encyclopaedic scholar of his time. Ibn Zaydoun who is particularly famous for his love verses for his beloved Wallada personifies Andalusian poetry in its highest artistic phase. Abu-l-Walid al-Baji is recognised as the greatest Andalusian Maliki jurist. Al-Bakri’s geographical works on Morocco, Al-Andalus and even the Arabian Peninsula are exceptional for their precision. Al-Qadi Iyad’s Kitab al-Madarik is an exemplary model of a bio-bibliographical dictionary of Maliki jurists.
The cultural production in Al-Andalus during the Taifa period has marked the evolution of Andalusian culture and contributed to enrich the Andalusian cultural legacy significantly. The foundations of this cultural legacy were laid during this period and the place of eleventh century scholarship is prominent in many of the later encyclopaedic works on previous intellectual works in Al-Andalus. The curve of Andalusian culture continued to rise after it had reached its peak during the Taifa period and the impact of the Andalusian cultural legacy has been impressive.



A Selected Bibliography


At-taibi, Amine Taoufiiq,
Kitab At-tibiaan lil-Amir Abdellah bni Boloqine,
Manchourat Okaadh , Rabat, 1995.

Ibn Bassam Ash-Shantarini,
Adh-Dhakhira fi Mahasini Ahl Al-Jazira, Ed. by Ihsan Abbas, 8 volumes, Beirut-Libya, 1978.

Al-Abbadi, Ahmad Mukhtar,
Fi Tarikh Al-Maghrib wa-l-Andalus,
                Cairo, 1970

Benaboud, Mhammad,
Sevilla en el siglo xi,
                Sevilla, 1992.

Benaboud, Mammad,
Jawanib Mina-l-Waqi’ Al-Andalusi,
Tetouan, 1987.

Lévi-Provençal, Evariste,
Histoire de l’Espagne musulmane, 3 volumes,
Maisonneuvre-Leiden, J/Brill, Paris, 1950.

Mantran, Robert,
L’expansion musulmane du 7ème au 11ème siècle,Collection Nouvelle Clio , PUF, 2 éd., Paris, 1979.

Pirenne, Henri,
Mahomet et Charlemgne,
Collection Hier , PUF, Paris, 1970.