This is episode 31 called Banu Qasi and in this episode you will learn:
- The civil war that followed the death of King Alfonso II of Asturias, between Ramiro and Nepociano
- The attempt to repopulation León, the future capital of the kingdom
- The most important (and mythical) event of Ramiro’s reign, the Battle of Clavijo
- The development of Pre-Romanesque Asturian architecture
- The deposition of Count Bera in the Marca Hispanica and the rival Hispano-Gothic vs Frankish approaches
- The increasingly obvious autonomist tensions in the Spanish March and the progressive disintegration and division of the Carolingian Empire
- Why Musa ibn Musa of the Banu Qasi clan revolted in the first place, allied with García Íñiguez of Pamplona
- Why didn’t Abd al-Rahman remove Musa ibn Musa from power
- The rise of the Banu Qasi with the First Battle of Albelda
- A refleciton on how we should interpret the revolts of the Banu Qasi
I’m David Cot, host of The History of Spain Podcast, and this is episode 31 called Banu Qasi. In this episode you will learn about what was happening in the Marca Hispanica and Carolingian Empire, the Kingdom of Asturias under Ramiro I, and the revolts of the Banu Qasi. Subscribe to the podcast to not miss an episode!
In the previous episode I talked about the domestic changes of the Emirate of Córdoba during the reign of Abd al-Rahman II, so now it’s time to first explain the domestic events of the Kingdom of Asturias and Spanish March and their interactions with Córdoba. To start with the Kingdom of Asturias, Alfonso II couldn’t expand his kingdom further because the Emir of Córdoba did a good job sending expeditions every now and then. However, the Emir wasn’t able to send raids against the Christians every year, in fact there was a 10-year peace between Christians and Muslims. Yet he took the duty of making yihad seriously. Córdoba sent aceifas, or summer raids, in 823 against the regions of Castile and Álava, in the eastern extreme of the Kingdom of Asturias. The Andalusis did their usual job: they sacked farms and towns, burned harvests and captured Christians to sell them in the slave markets of Córdoba. The same happened two and three years later, adding the region of Galicia to the objective of those campaigns. Quick note here, Galicia for the Muslims was the modern region of Galicia and northern Portugal, that bordered the Lower March. Anyway, the Andalusis found little resistance, and the same happened in 839, 840 and 841. Musa ibn Musa, head of the Banu Qasi clan, participated in the campaign of 841 and what followed was one of the reasons why the Banu Qasi revolted, but let’s discuss this later.
The 82-year-old King of Asturias, Alfonso II, died in 842 without any known offspring or any appointed heir. I mean, he literally had more than 50 years to name someone of his family to succeed him, yet he didn’t do it, or maybe he did but without taking enough measures to make his will effective. Alfonso II of Asturias may have been very chaste and pious, but he failed to secure the succession, one of the most important tasks of any monarch. Two pretenders emerged: Nepociano and Ramiro. Nepociano was a count of the palace and he was related to Alfonso II, although it’s not clear how. Some sources say that Nepociano was a brother-in-law of the previous king, and if that was the case Nepociano would base his legitimacy on his marriage with a woman of the ruling dynasty, just like Alfonso I and Silo did. On the other hand, Ramiro was the son of Bermudo the Deacon, the predecessor of Alfonso II, so he had a pretty good claim.
A group of nobles proclaimed Ramiro, then 52 years old, as Ramiro I of Asturias while he was in the primitive, or let’s say embryonic region of Castile. He was there to get married for a second time with a Castilian noblewoman. Before that, he was married to a Basque woman of noble birth and the couple had a son, Ordoño, but his wife had probably died before his accession to the throne. Nepociano took advantage of Ramiro’s absence to usurp the throne with the support of a group of Asturians and Basques. Ramiro I then moved to Lugo, because he had been governor of Galicia and his son was now governing the region. His son Ordoño organized an army and once Ramiro arrived, he moved the army to Asturias to remove the usurper Nepociano from power. The two armies met but the troops of Nepociano refused to combat and the usurper had to flee. However, his escape didn’t last long, because he was captured and Ramiro had him blinded and confined in a monastery.
After assuming the throne, Ramiro had to repel two unimportant Viking attacks in 844, but the Vikings barely touched the Kingdom of Asturias in their first expedition in the Iberian Peninsula. The Viking raid on al-Andalus and the revolt of the Banu Qasi made launching new raids against the Kingdom of Asturias impossible for Córdoba. With the increasing political instability of the Emirate of Córdoba, Ramiro I of Asturias and his successors could be ambitious and repopulate the demographic Desert of the Duero. His objective was the repopulation of León, the future capital of the kingdom. León was a strategic center back in the Roman period, because it was the settlement of the Legio VII Gemina, the only legion that remained in Hispania after the Roman conquest was completed. The site had been strategically chosen to easily suppress any rebellion of the Astures and Cantabri and to secure the transportation of gold extracted in the mines of Las Médulas, so it was very well-connected with the Roman roads. León had kept the ancient Roman walls but it had been severely depopulated. Ramiro started this initiative, but as soon as he could Abd al-Rahman II sent an expedition against León, led by his son and successor Muhammad I of Córdoba. The Andalusis brought siege engines that impressed so much the inhabitants of León that the citizens fled during the night, even though the city still had solid fortifications. The Muslims then burned and razzed the city, and they left it making wide breaches in its walls. The repopulation of this stronghold of the Meseta would have to wait a few more years.
What’s funny is that the most important event of Ramiro’s reign didn’t really happen. I’m talking about the mythical Battle of Clavijo of 844, that was an iconic symbol of the Reconquista and a strong ideological element of the Catholic and Spanish national idea. As the story goes, King Ramiro refused to pay the, also mythical, tribute of one hundred virgins. The armies of Ramiro and Abd al-Rahman clashed, with the Asturians being heavily outnumbered. Only a miracle could save the Christians. Ramiro then dreamed that the Apostle Santiago would show up in the battle and ensure their victory. And the next day he did show up, armored and riding a white horse. Christian morale and the killing abilities of the Apostle, who had been dead for 800 years, made the Asturians achieve a great victory at Clavijo. The image of Santiago Matamoros, the Moor-slayer, then appeared in the Christian collective imagination of the Iberian Peninsula. This legend appears written for the first time in the 13th century, when the Christians were already beating the Muslims, and it was a way to boost the Christian morale and give soldiers a strong ideological sense of holy war against Islam, but it was in fact based on the Second Battle of Albelda that I will explain in a few episodes.
Last but not least, during the reign of Ramiro I the Pre-Romanesque Asturian architecture developed greatly. The Pre-Romanesque of Asturias borrows elements from the Romans and Visigoths while adding unique elements of the local Asturian culture. Therefore, it’s a style that developed its own personality as the Kingdom of Asturias evolved. During the reign of Ramiro, the Asturian Pre-Romanesque made a step forward in terms of decoration, it incorporated barrel vaults and eliminated the need for wood ceiling. The reintroduction of barrel vaults is especially interesting, because they became popular in Asturias decades before it happened in the rest of Europe. Mozarab immigrants brought with them rich decorations brought by the Visigoths under Byzantine influence. The Palace of Santa María Naranco for instance incorporates Corinthian columns and sculptured forms of animals. The churches of San Miguel de Lillo and Santa Cristina de Lena were also built during this period, they are all good but don’t expect grandiose and very complex architecture. They are rather relatively small and apparently simple buildings, but if you look carefully at the personality of Asturian architecture, it’s pretty awesome.
Now let’s move from the Asturias of the 840s to the Marca Hispanica of the 820s. Open hostilities had ceased between the Carolingian Empire and the Emirate of Córdoba, but there were two rival approaches among the Carolingian elites regarding the strategy to follow in Spain. Count Bera and several leading Hispano-Goths represented empowerment, more political autonomy and lower taxes for the Marca Hispanica, while they defended a diplomatic approach to ally the Basques and maintain peace with Córdoba. On the other hand, the elites of Frankish origin were more bellicose, and they preferred tough actions to subjugate the Basques of Pamplona and Aragon and increase the overall prestige and power of the Carolingian Empire. The bellicose party was led by the half-brothers of Bera, Gaucelmo of Roussillon and Bernardo of Septimania.
In an assembly where Emperor Louis the Pious and both rival parties were present, Gaucelmo accused Count Bera of Barcelona of treachery for his soft stance against the Basques and Muslims and for working too much for the interests of the Hispano-Goths as opposed to the Franks. As it was customary among the Franks, the accusation was settled by a duel. Count Bera was defeated and a defeat was considered to prove the guilt of the accused, so he was stripped of his rank in 820 and Emperor Louis the Pious sent him into permanent exile until his death. However, Gaucelmo wasn’t appointed Count of Barcelona. Smartly, the Carolingian Emperor appointed a Frankish noble who didn’t have a power base in Spain, but during his five-year rule nothing relevant happened.
In 826 Louis the Pious named Bernando of Septimania Count of Barcelona, in a clear attempt to dominate the Goths. Few Hispano-Goths liked what Bernardo represented, so it’s not surprising to see how many Spanish magnates, including the son of Count Bera, rebelled against Bernardo. Bernardo only had enough troops to restrain the rebels, but then the rebels turned to the Emir of Córdoba for some help. Just like the Basques, the Hispano-Goths of the Spanish March didn’t see the Muslims as bitter enemies. Realpolitik and pragmatism prevailed over religious differences during much of the Middle Ages, I know I’ve said that other times, but it’s important to highlight because most people have misconceptions about Medieval Spain and the Reconquista. The allied Hispano-Goths and Andalusis failed to take Barcelona and Girona, and as they heard that the Franks were sending reinforcements they decided to return to Córdoba, with the rebel Hispano-Goths included.
The triumph of Bernardo of Septimania didn’t really solve the autonomist tendencies of the Marca Hispanica. Domestic tensions only increased over the years, derived from the political fragility and disintegration of the Carolingian Empire, and appointments and revocations of counts happened very frequently. At the same time, there was a tendency to concentrate several counties on the hands of one man. That’s why Bernardo is known as Bernardo of Septimania, because he was the Duke of that region and he directly controlled much of the Spanish March. These attempts to centralize were supposed to help in the suppression of independentist tendencies, but if a disloyal count became Count of Barcelona, then the whole conflict would be much more difficult to handle. This is what happened in the civil wars of the Carolingian Empire, starting in 830. Bernardo of Septmania sided with a son of the Emperor, Pepin I of Aquitaine, but they were defeated and removed from office. Louis the Pious replaced Bernardo for a more loyal subject. Lothair, one of the three sons of Louis the Pious, revolted for a second time and he was crushed. This time Bernardo of Septimania sided with the Emperor, so he then asked for the restitution of his position and estates. He was granted that honor, but when Emperor Louis the Pious died in 840 civil war restarted.
Charles the Bald and Louis the German defeated their brother Lothair in 841, and in the aftermath Bernardo promised Charles the Bald that he would convince the ruler of Aquitaine to end his rebellion. Charles the Bald didn’t trust Bernardo, so he decided to campaign in Aquitaine against them. However, events like the Viking raids and Breton rebellions forced the three sons of Louis the Pious to sign a treaty that had a profound impact for the history of Europe. The Treaty of Verdun was signed in 843 to divide the Carolingian Empire in three parts: Lothair remained the nominal emperor and he received Middle Francia, the worst part of the Empire since it didn’t make any sense from a geographical and cultural point of view. Charles the Bald received West Francia while Louis the German received East Francia, so we can say that there was one emperor but three kings. To make the claim effective, Charles the Bald returned to Aquitaine, where he captured and executed Bernardo of Septimania.
King of West Francia Charles the Bald appointed a Hispano-Gothic noble to rule most of the Catalan and Septimanian counties. He chose Sunifredo, or Sunifred in Catalan and English, because Sunifredo had successfully repelled an Andalusi raid against Barcelona and Narbonne. However, the son of Bernardo of Septimania, Guillermo, revolted against Charles the Bald and fought Sunifredo. Sunifredo then died in 848, it’s not clear if assassinated, and Guillermo usurped the Catalan counties. Of course, Charles the Bald didn’t just wait and see, he dispatched troops to appoint someone else as Count of Barcelona. Guillermo of Septimania turned to the Emir of Córdoba and they devastated Girona but weren’t able to take the city. Eventually the usurper was defeated and executed in 850, and as a reprisal for the death of their ally the Andalusis sacked and briefly occupied Barcelona the following year. Instability in the Spanish March continued for several more years, but more on that in another episode.
On a different note, on the second half of Abd al-Rahman II’s reign we start to see the symptoms of the political and territorial disintegration of the Emirate of Córdoba that was accentuated until the accession of Abd al-Rahman III in 912. We know about the cyclical revolts of the Lower and Middle Marches, but the revolts of the Banu Qasi in the Upper March are something different. Unfortunately, there are two different versions of this story, so I think it’s better if I briefly mention both. One version says that in 841 or 842 there was an aceifa against Álava, the Basque region controlled by the Kingdom of Asturias. In this raid the head of the Banu Qasi, Musa ibn Musa, was in charge of the rearguard. Musa ibn Musa did his job, but a general of Córdoba confronted him and accused him of disloyalty to appropriate his merit. Musa had had enough, so he returned to his stronghold, the Castle of Arnedo, and from there started to attack the possessions of the rival families of the Upper March. Eventually, the Banu Qasi dragged the Kingdom of Pamplona into their uprising and the whole thing escalated.
The other version of the story starts with the Emir Abd al-Rahman II replacing the governors of Zaragoza and Tudela for enemies of the Banu Qasi. These governors would have attacked the Kingdom of Pamplona of Íñigo Arista, so the Banu Qasi and the Aristas rebelled against Córdoba and retook Tudela. When news reached Córdoba, the Emir launched several punitive campaigns against both families. After this point, the two stories coincide, but you can notice how the two narratives differ. In the first case, the main reason was the personal pride of Musa ibn Musa, while in the second the ones to blame are the governors of Zaragoza and Tudela. Anyway, both stories say that a son of Musa lost the stronghold of Borja and he was executed. Musa and the army of the Emir reached a compromise, Musa abandoned Tudela while the Cordoban general returned to Zaragoza.
However, the general quickly broke this compromise and he besieged Arnedo, the home of the Banu Qasi. Musa already knew that peace wouldn’t last long, so he had requested the help of García Íñiguez, the son of Íñigo Arista who was then the regent of Pamplona because his father had suffered an illness that left him paralytic. García Íñiguez remained de facto ruler of Pamplona until his father died in 851 and García officially became the second King or caudillo of Pamplona. Anyway, the Banu Qasi and Pamplonese army managed to defeat and capture the Cordoban general. Abd al-Rahman was enraged after hearing this, so in 843 he decided to personally lead a much larger army to punish the rebels. The Emir marched against Pamplona, where he crushed the insurgents. The ruler of Pamplona García Íñiguez and his brother were wounded, his uncle was killed, and Musa ibn Musa fell from his horse and had to run away afoot. All the rebels were forced to accept submission, pay tribute and both Musa and García handed over one of their sons to Córdoba. And if that wasn’t enough, hundreds of Basques defected to the Cordoban side and started to serve in the Andalusi army.
The Emir wasn’t completely satisfied with this outcome, so in 844 he prepared a new campaign led by his son Muhammad to remind the Banu Qasi and Basques their status. He managed without much opposition to confirm the submission of the Banu Qasi and Pamplona, while reinstating Musa as governor of Tudela. A few months later, Musa helped to defend southern Spain from the attack of the Vikings, but every year from 845 to the death of Abd al-Rahman II in 852 Musa ibn Musa showed disloyalty or desire of autonomy. Because of that, we see how the same story repeats itself every year: when Musa tried to annex or attack the lands of enemy landlords loyal to Córdoba, the Emir had to send an army to intimidate him and return to the status quo.
But the key question to ask here is why Abd al-Rahman didn’t remove Musa ibn Musa from power? The truth is that the Banu Qasi had their local power so well entrenched that, for the moment, the Banu Qasi were irreplaceable subjects in the Upper March. Solutions applied in the Lower March, like tearing down walls, were not something that the Andalusis could do in the Upper March. The same solutions wouldn’t work there because the Upper March was right next to the crumbling Carolingian Empire, so dismantling the fortifications of the major towns of the region was inconceivable. You also need to consider that it wasn’t difficult to dispatch troops from Córdoba to suppress revolts in the Lower and Middle Marches, but the same cannot be said about the Upper March. Distance was greater and if for some reason Córdoba lost control of the Middle March, the Emir would not be able to send troops to the middle Ebro valley. Therefore, dealing with the lords of the Upper March wasn’t as easy as handling the clans of the other two marches.
The Andalusi troops used each intimidating campaign to raid Vasconia too and enslave the Christians, to make the campaigns less pointless. The ties between the Aristas and the Banu Qasi weakened, because the Aristas saw how the Franks weren’t as threatening as they used to be, and because the Banu Qasi didn’t protect them from Muslim raids. On the other hand, in 850 when Ramiro I of Asturias died, his successor Ordoño I had to deal with a rebellion of the Basques of Álava. Musa ibn Musa decided to support them, probably in an attempt to put Álava under his sphere of influence. In the First Battle of Albelda Musa defeated a coalition of Asturians, Franks and Gascons, who had kept friendly relationships since the late 8th century. Thanks to this victory Musa ibn Musa earned much prestige in the region and in Córdoba, and he gained control of the modern region of La Rioja. After that, his power only grew until he controlled the entire Upper March and he styled himself Third King of Spain.
THE VERDICT: In today’s verdict I want to talk about how we should interpret the revolts of the Banu Qasi. It’s an interesting topic, because some historians have seen the revolts of Musa ibn Musa as some sort of manifestation of Spanish nationalism led by the Muladis, a revolt of the old Hispano-Gothic aristocracy that had converted to Islam. According to this interpretation, the Banu Qasi resented the Arabs because Muladis were looked down on and they didn’t participate in the central government of Córdoba. But does this interpretation fit history? Not entirely. The main objective of Musa’s revolts was to expand his dominions at the expense of enemy clans, not to change the regime of al-Andalus or overthrow the Umayyads. He wanted to make the Banu Qasi the absolute lords of the Upper March, and from that privileged region Musa could be decisive to both defend from external land attacks and to launch aceifas against Frankish, Basque and Asturian territory. So to sum up, there’s no evidence of anti-Arab sentiments in Musa’s revolts, rather it was once again an act of pure political opportunism and personal ambition. And with that, The Verdict ends.
In the next episode I will cover the Viking attacks of 844 and 860 and the Martyrs 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!
A HISTORY OF MEDIEVAL SPAIN. Joseph F. O’Callaghan
CALIPHS AND KINGS, 796-1031. Roger Collins
KINGDOMS OF FAITH. Brian A. Catlos
MUSLIM SPAIN AND PORTUGAL. Hugh Kennedy
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 DEL REINO DE NAVARRA. José Lacarra
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