This is episode 26 called Administration of al-Andalus and in this episode you will learn:
- The succession practices of Arab royal families
- The quick war of succession between Hisham and his elder brother Sulayman, following the death of Abd al-Rahman I
- A revolt in Zaragoza that led to the rise of the Banu Amrus
- What characterized the rule of Hisham
- The reign of Bermudo of Asturias and the aceifas of the Emirate of Córdoba under Hisham against the Kingdom of Asturias
- The return of Alfonso II ‘the Chaste’ from his exile and the definitive capital of Asturias, Oviedo
- The introduction and adoption of the Maliki school of Islamic jurisprudence
- What was the central administration of the Emirate and Caliphate of Córdoba like
- The territorial organization of al-Andalus: interior and frontier marches
- Administration of justice in al-Andalus
- Financial administration of al-Andalus: legal and extralegal taxes, coinage, and how were taxes paid
- An anecdote that shows how the orthodoxy of the Maliki school was not always applied, in this case concerning the consumption of wine
I’m David Cot, host of The History of Spain Podcast, and this is episode 26 called Administration of al-Andalus. In this episode you will learn about the reigns of Hisham I and the contemporary reigns of Bermudo and Alfonso II, as well as a lengthy talk about the administration of the Umayyad Emirate and Caliphate of Córdoba. Subscribe to the podcast to not miss an episode!
We left the previous episode with the reign of the founder of the Umayyad Emirate of Córdoba, Abd al-Rahman I. Abd al-Rahman had a quite long reign that allowed him to consolidate an emirate, leaving to his son Hisham a quite peaceful kingdom in 788. This emirate spanned from southern Spain to the Duero River, while nominally controlling the Ebro Valley and northeastern Spain, but having very weak control over these regions. But who was Hisham? Hisham was not the elder, but the second son of Abd al-Rahman, whose mother was a Hispano-Gothic concubine. And here is the thing, the succession of an Arab royal house doesn’t follow the principle of primogeniture, that was so widespread in Christian Europe. Instead, the previous ruler designated a successor, that was usually one of his sons or brothers, whomever the previous ruler saw most suitable. The successor was also designated based on the acceptance of the members of the rest of the ruling family and their clients, to reduce the probability of a war of succession.
This practice of succession is great to guarantee to an extent that the heir is not a complete fool. The polygamy of Arab rulers also helped in increasing the chances of producing a good heir and to avoid the crisis of succession that were so common in Christian Europe. But as all systems, this system had flaws. Since there were so many potential heirs, there was the risk that one or more noninheriting members of the royal family rebelled to seize the throne. In the best-case scenario, the heir was chosen in sufficient advance to consolidate his position and bonds of clientage before the succession, but that not always happened. Given that I’m mentioning this, you can imagine that there was a succession crisis at the death of Abd al-Rahman.
Abd al-Rahman had several sons, but two emerged as possible candidates. One was the primogenitor, Sulayman, who had been born during the years of hardship and exile of his father. The other was Hisham, who was younger and who had been born in Córdoba in 757. At the death of their father, neither Sulayman nor Hisham were in Córdoba. Sulayman was governing Toledo, while Hisham was ruling the then more important city of Mérida. We have conflicting accounts about the succession, some saying that Abd al-Rahman chose Hisham, while others claim that Abd al-Rahman said that the first of the two to arrive in Córdoba would succeed him. The latter sounds quite weird, because it doesn’t seem serious to designate a successor according to who reaches the capital first. If those accounts are to be believed, Abd al-Rahman said that Hisham had the virtues of piety and good education, while Sulayman was brave and had the loyalty of the Syrians. Whatever was the case, what matters is that Sulayman didn’t accept his younger brother on the throne. So Sulayman raised in arms against Hisham and quickly recruited his brother Abd Allah to his cause. From Toledo the rebel army marched south, but the armies of Hisham and Sulayman clashed in Jaén and Sulayman was defeated. He then retreated to Toledo, and the emir put the city under siege. It took two months, but Sulayman and Abd Allah surrendered, and both were sent into a forced exile in Maghreb, not without paying a very large sum of money before departing.
However, this was not the only internal challenge that Hisham had to face. In 788 the governor of Zaragoza declared himself emir and took Barcelona, Tortosa and Huesca. His father had been Sulayman, the governor of Zaragoza who allied himself with Charlemagne against Abd al-Rahman, and I find interesting that his family wasn’t removed from power altogether. This gives us an intuition about the lack of influence that the Emirs of Córdoba had over the Ebro Valley and northeastern Spain. It’s very remarkable too that this governor was not defeated by the Umayyad army of Hisham, but by Musa ibn Fortún, of the Banu Qasi family. I already talked about the Banu Qasi family in episode 20, saying that its founder was Count Cassius, a Visigothic count that converted to Islam. The fact that the Umayyads relied on this powerful Muladi family to suppress a rebellion proves that central power was strong in modern Andalusia, but outside of southern Spain Umayyad control was weak and depended on the allegiance of local lords and clans. As we will see, these systematic flaws would have catastrophic consequences in the 9th and 10th centuries.
In 791 a warlord of Berber descent took Zaragoza and rebelled, but he was betrayed by a man named Amrus ibn Yusuf. Due to his betrayal against his old master, Amrus ibn Yusuf was rewarded by the favor of the Umayyad dynasty. Amrus ibn Yusuf founded the Banu Amrus family, a family of Muladi origins, that is native Hispano-Goths who converted to Islam, much like the Banu Qasi. The Banu Amrus were based in Huesca, and along the Banu Qasi and Banu al Tawil they played a key role in the Upper March, the frontier of al-Andalus of the Ebro Valley.
Apart from these rebellions, Hisham continued the work of his father by completing the Mosque of Córdoba and improving the infrastructure of the city, such as the repairment of the Roman bridge. Arab chroniclers portray Hisham as a pious, just and ascetic ruler that sought to exert his authority by personal example. He showed his piety by sending military expeditions against the infidel Christian kingdoms, including Asturias and Septimania. In the previous decades, both Asturias under Alfonso I and the Franks had taken advantage of the internal turmoil of al-Andalus, but unlike his father the internal circumstances allowed Hisham to adopt an aggressive attitude against the Christians.
Meanwhile, what was happening in the Kingdom of Asturias? King Mauregato died in 788 and was succeeded by the brother of Aurelio and son of Fruela of Cantabria, Bermudo. As a very interesting anecdote, the current King of Spain Felipe VI is a descendant of Bermudo I of Asturias, a truly mind-blowing fact. Anyway, while the future Alfonso II was still exiled in the eastern frontier of the kingdom, in Álava, the noble magnates elected Bermudo. What is striking is that Bermudo was a deacon at the time, so if the Asturians had followed the Visigothic succession rules Bermudo would have been unelectable due to his clerical condition. The most likely explanation is that the nobility opposed fervently Alfonso, so the only possible choice was the deacon Bermudo. Nonetheless, he didn’t rule for long.
Hisham and Bermudo ascended to the throne in the same year, but Hisham dreamed about destroying the Kingdom of Asturias, so he launched summer expeditions, known as aceifas, almost every year of his reign. Hisham, as his successors did, usually attacked the eastern and western flanks of the Kingdom of Asturias. I’m referring to the upper Ebro Valley, in Vizcaya and Álava, and Galicia. The aceifas, or summer raids, were successful, to the point of forcing the Alavese Basques to pay tribute and hand over hostages and defeating Bermudo of Asturias in Galicia. The defeat must have been overwhelming, since Bermudo either was forced to or decided to abdicate in 791, to become a monk for the rest of his life.
The pious Bermudo apparently abdicated in good terms in favor of Alfonso II, who could become king at last after so many years of exile. In September 791 he returned to Asturias proper and was proclaimed King, being 31 years old. He would have a very long reign, from 791 to 842, and Alfonso II, nicknamed the Chaste, would be fundamental to strengthen and organize the Kingdom of Asturias. It’s possible that it was Alfonso II who initiated the Neogothic narrative of linking the Visigothic and Asturian monarchy and restoring the institutions of the Gothic kingdom, so he might have been the original promoter of the Reconquista ideology. The first thing King Alfonso did was establishing the definitive royal seat of the Kingdom of Asturias in Oviedo. Oviedo was located in a strategic location, at the top of a hill, close to the plains with more agricultural potential of the region, and with access to rivers and the Roman roads that connected León, Galicia and Cantabria. The new political center could barely be called a city, but Muslim historian Ali ibn al-Athir described Oviedo as “the one of the churches”. Oviedo was founded by a monastery, and it seems that previous rulers and Alfonso II made an effort to build new religious buildings there.
Nonetheless, Oviedo was sacked in 794 and 795 in the aceifas of Hisham, and the same happened in the region of Álava. At least Alfonso II managed to escape to avoid being captured, and he avenged the Muslim attacks, ambushing the Umayyad soldiers and wiping them out in the Battle of Lutos. His victory over the Muslims at Lutos helped to restore Christian spirits, and the death of Hisham the following year gave the Asturians a respite, that continued for several years thanks to the instability of al-Andalus during the reign of al-Hakam. In the northeast, the Emirate of Córdoba launched an attack against the Carolingian Empire, first attacking Girona and then sacking Narbonne and Carcassone. The plunder is said to have been spectacular. The booty was more than enough to pay for the finishing works on the Mosque of Córdoba, to satisfy the army and populace, and to assert the authority of the Umayyads over al-Andalus.
However, the true and long-lasting legacy of Hisham I was the adoption of the Maliki school of Islamic jurisprudence. As a very religious leader and one interested in the consolidation of Islam within al-Andalus, Hisham knew that he had to give more power to the learned Islamic leaders and jurists, known as ulema. At the same time, in the sacred city of Medina a jurist and theologian, Malik ibn Anas, had thousands of followers eager to hear his teachings on how to apply the Islamic laws. Malik ibn Anas had the dream to create a systematic interpretation of Islam based on the Quran, the customs and actions of Prophet Muhammad, and the jurisprudence of Medina. He became such a leading religious figure that his codification of laws created a school of law that bears his name, the Maliki school. The Maliki school leaves little room for innovation or speculation, and it’s a very orthodox interpretation of Islamic law. Such a rigorous version of Islam avoided conflicts and favored stability, at the cost of having a legal system that is not ready to adapt to new circumstances. But maybe it paid off, since the hegemony of the Maliki school in al-Andalus prevented the religious disunity that was beginning to destabilize the rest of the Muslim world.
It’s worth to mention that not many Muslims were able to obey the Islamic pillar that required believers to travel to Mecca and Medina at least once in their lifetime, but Islamic jurists usually did it. The Abbasid Caliphate controlled the sacred cities of Islam, but that didn’t prevent the Umayyad Andalusis from paying the required visit. Some of these Andalusi Islamic scholars heard about the doctrine of Malik ibn Anas and wanted to become pupils of who was known as the Imam of Medina. Among these Andalusi jurists, the most relevant pupil in the spread of the Maliki school in al-Andalus was a Berber named Yahya ibn Yahya. When he returned to the Emirate of Córdoba, he quickly grew to become the most influential legal scholar and a close advisor of Hisham. From that favored position Yahya appointed qadis, that is judges of sharia courts, that followed the Maliki school too, and the qadi of Córdoba continued to exert supremacy over the rest of qadis for centuries. That’s how Maliki Islamic judges acted as the moral censors of the regime and how they truly became an influential and prestigious lobby. A school of law and lobby that was the main one of al-Andalus from Hisham to the last days of the Emirate of Granada, and that produced an abundant and remarkable literature. But much like it happened with the Visigtohic king Reccared when he gave much power to the Catholic clergy, the Maliki theologians and jurists could be a powerful ally or a terrible enemy of rulers.
In 796 Hisham died after 7 years on the throne of the emirate, and unlike his father he made sure that the succession was smooth and unchallenged. Hisham had designated his 26-year-old son al-Hakam to succeed him, even though he was not the eldest. To prevent a dynastic struggle, Hisham had imprisoned the eldest son, but revolts of other relatives and of other nature marked the turbulent reign of al-Hakam. Sadly, you will have to wait for the following episodes to hear about his reign, as now it’s time to spend quite some time in different administrative aspects of the Emirate and Caliphate of Córdoba.
The central administration of the Emirate and later Caliphate of Córdoba was modeled upon the eastern caliphate, that was in turn based on the Byzantine and Persian models. The emir was the equivalent of a king, while the title of caliph denoted both political and religious power, since the caliph claimed to be the successor of Muhammad and leader of the Muslim community. That was an uncomfortable situation that the Umayyads of Córdoba had to accept, since they considered the Abbasids usurpers, but they weren’t powerful enough to challenge them, not until al-Andalus flourished under Abd al-Rahman III. As al-Andalus got wealthier and the state strengthened, the sovereign of al-Andalus was more and more adored, through opulent ceremonies and a strict courtesan protocol.
In the Umayyad administration the equivalent of a prime minister was the hajib, the highest-ranking official of the court and, in the words of 14th century leading historian Ibn Khaldun, “the liaison officer between the ruler and the viziers and lower officials”. The vizier was a title of lower-ranking in al-Andalus, and there were different viziers to serve several functions. Unlike it happened in other Islamic states, the title vizier was a mark of dignity rather than related to a specific function, and you could have a vizier to control correspondence from provincial officials or one to supervise the frontier regions. Another high-ranking office was one that is universally important, the position of treasurer. But it wasn’t until the reign of Caliph Abd al-Rahman III that any free men, regardless of race, could access to high-ranking positions. Before that there were only Arabs in important positions, although at lower levels of the administration of the Emirate of Córdoba you could find Muladis, Mozarabs and Jews.
As for the territorial organization of al-Andalus, it changed over the course of centuries of Muslim presence. However, the basic elements were the kura, meaning provinces, and the thagr, or marches on the frontiers with the Christian kingdoms. Unfortunately, the information we have about the administrative division of the Emirate is very scarce, but we have abundant sources about the division during the Caliphate of Córdoba, so I will focus on the division during the Caliphate. The Caliphate was organized in six large administrative divisions, three in the interior and three frontier marches, which were in turn divided in smaller kura. The interior divisions were al-Gharb, that spanned from southern Portugal to Huelva; al-Mawsat, that extended from the Guadalquivir Valley to the Baetic System; and al-Sharq, that spanned from Murcia to the estuary of the Ebro Valley. Then we have the thagr or marches, which were militarized borderlands that were, on the other hand, permeable borders. From west to east, we have the Lower March, from Mérida and Lisbon to the ending section of the Duero River; the Middle March, at the center of the Iberian Peninsula, with Toledo as its capital; and the Upper March, in the Ebro Valley with the capital in Zaragoza.
Those large administrative divisions were divided in kura, that were ruled by a wali or governor and had one qadi, that is one supreme judge of Islamic law. However, the marches were ruled by military governors with broad powers, because the borderland nature of the marches required strongmen. Due to the distance between Córdoba and the marches, military governors enjoyed a high degree of autonomy and their position was usually hereditary. The central administration controlled the appointment and removal of provincial and local governors, but in practice the government usually appointed members of the most powerful clans of the region.
Another aspect of the state is the administration of justice. I talked before about how the orthodox Maliki school was made the official religious and legal thought of al-Andalus, but now let’s look at how it was applied. As I’ve mentioned other times, Muslims, Mozarabs and Jews were governed by different magistrates and jurisdictions, although dhimmis had to answer to Islamic judges when they transgressed laws that affected their relationship with Muslims and the state. Qadis were prestigious and learned jurists with high moral standards, who had jurisdiction over Muslims, but it was limited to laws and costumes extracted from the sources of the Maliki school. That means that there were other types of judges within the legal system of al-Andalus, judges that administered a more secular justice. To name some, the lord of injustices investigated and judged corrupt public officials and public mismanagement, similar to what modern ombudsmen do; the prefect of police was a police officer with judicial functions; and the inspector of markets supervised markets and punished fraudulent transactions. Going back to the qadis, the qadi of Córdoba was the most important judge of al-Andalus, and he had the power to appoint and dismiss the other provincial judges, at least until the reign of Caliph Abd al-Rahman III. Each provincial qadi dispensed justice as it happened in the capital, and their decisions were final and couldn’t be appealed to another court, although the qadi of Córdoba, the caliph or emir sometimes did review sentences.
The last aspect of the administration that I want to comment in this episode is the financial administration, from the tax system to minting. To start with, there are two important things that you should know: tax systems in Muslim states were confessional and we can distinguish between legal and extralegal taxes, depending on whether they were authorized by divine law or not. As a confessional tax system, Muslims and dhimmi, that is Christians and Jews, paid different types of taxes, but taxes divinely sanctioned by Islam weren’t enough for the expenditures of states, so states introduced additional, extralegal taxes. Starting with the legal taxes, Muslims had to pay the voluntary zakat, a tax that ranged from 2’5 to 10% levied on capital goods to be given to the Muslim poor, but this tax became compulsory soon. Additionally, Muslims were required to pay the ushr, a land tax of about between 10 and 20% of the harvest, and if they engaged in jihad and captured booty Muslims had to pay the khums tax on one-fifth of the value of the captured lands and goods. In theory, Muslim adult men had to serve in the military, but they could pay a voluntary tax to exempt military service. On the other hand, dhimmi paid the jizya as a payment for protection, although only adult, able-bodied Christians and Jews paid it and only depending on their social and economic status. Finally, dhimmi had to pay the kharaj, a land tax that was very similar to the ushr of Muslims, and as in the rest of pre-modern states taxpayers could pay in cash or in kind.
But as I’ve said, Islamic taxes were insufficient, and governments were forced to impose additional taxes. There was a wide range of extralegal taxes, such as market tolls, export and import tariffs, sales taxes, leasing or even inheritance taxes. One accounting report of the Caliphate of Córdoba, when taxation reached the highest level of complexity, reveals that one-fourth of public revenue was generated through Islamic taxes, while the rest came from extralegal taxes and additional sources of income. These additional sources of public revenue include tributes from the Christian Spanish kingdoms, confiscated or unclaimed properties, estates without heir, and profits of coinage. Estimates indicate that public revenues rose from 600,000 golden dinars under al-Hakam I, the successor of Hisham I, to more than 6,000,000 under the Caliph Abd al-Rahman III, just to give you an intuition of how the economy of al-Andalus grew over time and how the tax system became more developed. As for how taxes were collected, provincial governors had the responsibility to collect tributes, pay their own provincial expenses and then forward the surplus to Córdoba. Finally, it’s also worth to mention that the private property of the crown and the public revenue of the state were administered separately, unlike it happened in less developed states such as the Kingdom of Asturias.
Concerning coinage, both the Emirate and Caliphate of Córdoba issued their own coins. Unlike it happened in the Visigothic Kingdom or in the Christian kingdoms in their first centuries, money was fundamental for the economy of al-Andalus, because trade was very important. The Andalusi monetary system was trimetalistic, meaning that there were coins of gold, silver and copper. Cooper coins, called fulus, were the ones that circulated more widely throughout al-Andalus and were used in daily transactions. The problem with fulus is that the Treasury didn’t accept them to pay taxes, so cooper coins lacked fiscal value.
On the other hand, the minting of the golden dinar was a right reserved to the caliph, therefore during the Emirate of Córdoba emirs didn’t dare to issue golden dinars. It was only when Abd al-Rahman III assumed the title of caliph that fourteen golden mints were opened in al-Andalus. However, as strange as it might seem, the state, including the Emirate of Córdoba, demanded the payment of taxes in kind or in golden dinars. That was a problem, because the vast majority of coins in circulation were the silver dirhams, that were worth one-tenth of a dinar, and the copper fulus, that were worth one-sixtieth of a silver dirham. So, the Treasury came up with a solution: they established an official exchange rate, so taxpayers paid in dirhams, but the state recorded in the accounting documents the figures in golden dinars. Needless to say, the exchange rate was a profitable business for the tax office, since instead of 10 dirhams taxpayers needed 17 dirhams to pay a tribute worth 1 golden dinar.
To sum it up, the administration of the Emirate and later Caliphate of Córdoba became more and more complex over time, equivalent to the levels of development of the most advanced Medieval states, such as Song China, the Byzantine Empire, or the Abbasid Caliphate. All while Christian Europe was fragmented into much more rudimentary states.
THE VERDICT: In today’s verdict I would like to discuss how the orthodoxy of the Maliki school was not always applied to the production and consumption of wine. As you may know, Islam prohibits the consumption of alcohol, but the Muslim rule couldn’t end with the traditional consumption of wine in Spain. As a Roman Latin quote rightly points out, “happy the Spanish for whom living is dinking”. Despite the precepts of Islam, both the common people and the nobility consumed wine. For instance, Caliph Abd al-Rahman III liked to include wine in his parties and tolerated its moderated consumption. There are numerous written testimonies about how Andalusi judges preferred to ignore or be indulgent with drunks. 10th century historian Muhammad al-Khushani wrote in his monumental ‘History of the qadis of Córdoba’ a funny anecdote about how judges ignored drunks. The story goes like this. One day, in the house of a judge, a public servant brought a man that smelled like wine and denounced him. The judge told his secretary to smell his breath and the secretary smelled it and said “yes, yes, it smells like wine”. When the judge heard it, he couldn’t hide his displease, and he asked the other judge that was in the house if he could smell it. The other judge smelled the breath of the drunk and said, “I do smell something, but I can’t be sure that it’s the smell of an alcoholic drink”. When he heard it, the face of the judge changed to show joy and immediately said, “set him free, since it has not been proved that he committed that offense”. That story is just an example of how Umayyad Muslim Spain was a land governed by selective Islamic orthodoxy. The lack of rigor in the application of certain Islamic laws was one of the main criticisms that the Andalusis received from the fundamentalist Almoravids and Almohads, but who can resist the consumption of a bit of alcohol? And with that, The Verdict ends.
In the next episode I will cover the establishment of the Spanish March and the early years of the reigns of King Alfonso II of Asturias and al-Hakam of Córdoba. To end this episode, let me remind you that the podcast has a website, thehistoryofspain.com, that has a fantastic store with merchandising, history books, travel guides, books and material to learn Spanish, and more. If you love the podcast, you may want to support it by becoming a patron or making a donation, but there are other non-financial ways to support the show, like reviewing the podcast or spreading the word. Please subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcast, Spotify, YouTube and more and follow the social media accounts of Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. I hope you enjoyed the episode and thank you for listening!
EARLY MEDIEVAL SPAIN: UNITY IN DIVERSITY, 400-1000. Roger Collins
KINGDOMS OF FAITH. A NEW HISTORY OF ISLAMIC SPAIN. Brian A. Catlos
MUSLIM SPAIN AND PORTUGAL. Hugh Kennedy
HISTORIA DE LA ESPAÑA DE LA EDAD MEDIA. Vicente Ángel Álvarez Palenzuela
A HISTORY OF MEDIEVAL SPAIN. Joseph F. O’Callaghan
CALIPHS AND KINGS, 796-1031. Roger Collins
HISTORIA DE ESPAÑA IV. ESPAÑA MUSULMANA (711-1031). Ramón Menéndez Pidal
HISTORIA DE ESPAÑA. AL-ANDALUS: MUSULMANES Y CRISTIANOS (SIGLOS VIII-XIII). Editorial Planeta
HISTORIA MEDIEVAL DE LA ESPAÑA CRISTIANA. Editorial Cátedra
NOTE: Credit for the intro and outro music to Jeris and Clarence Simpsons, the song is called ‘Conquistador’and it’s under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license