This is episode 28 called Camino de Santiago and Spanish Romance languages and in this episode you will learn:
- The background of the Revolt of Arrabal or Revolt of the Suburb
- The Revolt of Arrabal and the brutal aftermath
- Why al-Hakam reconciled with the Maliki ulema who instigated the revolt and how al-Hakam secured the succession
- The legacy that Abd al-Rahman II inherited from al-Hakam
- The origins of the link between Santiago el Mayor or Saint James the Great and Spain
- What’s the story behind the discovery of the alleged tomb of Santiago in Santiago de Compostela
- What long-term consequences had the Camino de Santiago for the Kingdom of Asturias and later Spain
- Clarification of a few concepts about languages and Latin, and the development of Romance languages throughout Europe
- The origins and development of the Spanish Romance languages: Mozarabic, Catalan, Galician-Portuguese, Navarro-Aragonese, Astur-Leonese and Castilian / Spanish
- A reflection about the figure of Santiago Matamoros or Saint James the Moor-slayer
I’m David Cot, host of The History of Spain Podcast, and this is episode 28 called Camino de Santiago and Spanish Romance languages. In this episode you will learn about the last years of reign of al-Hakam, with the Revolt of Arrabal, the alleged discovery of the tomb of James the Great, and the development of Spanish Romance languages. Subscribe to the podcast to not miss an episode!
We left the previous episode with the revolts of the reign of al-Hakam, the clashes between Asturias and Córdoba during his reign, and the foundation of the Marca Hispanica. In this episode I’m going to finish the reign of al-Hakam, starting with the most threatening revolt against the Emir. The Revolt of Arrabal, or Revolt of the Suburb, took place in Córdoba itself, as it had happened in 805. But unlike the conspiracy of 805, that was crushed before it even started, the Revolt of Arrabal was a widespread uprising. The breaking point happened in the spring of 818, but first I need to give you some context to understand why a popular uprising happened in the first place. If you remember from the previous episode, the implacable executions following the conspiracy of 805 terrified the Cordobans and general discontentment grew. In the following year there was a demonstration led by several merchants, and again al-Hakam didn’t hesitate to execute these agitators too. No one in the capital of al-Andalus dared to oppose the Emir until 818, but he was increasingly hated while other revolts were happening throughout the Emirate.
Over the course of the years, al-Hakam relied more and more on the protection of his personal bodyguard made up of foreign slaves and mercenaries, known as the Mutes. The Mutes led by the Mozarab Count Rabi extended their responsibilities, to collect taxes and build a spy network in Córdoba. The Emir imposed new taxes, which only increased the tax burden and dissatisfaction of the plebs against the Emir and the Mutes. The Muladis, that is native Hispano-Goths who converted to Islam, saw how the Emir imposed taxes that weren’t recognized in the Quran, and they saw how their advantages as Muslims were reduced, so some wondered if the conversion had been worth to do. On the other hand, the Maliki ulema were indignant because al-Hakam had reduced their influence and he was tolerating public vice, such as the sale and consumption of wine. The ingredients for a revolt were there, and with just a spark a major uprising could happen.
That spark was a quarrel between a bodyguard of the Emir and an artisan, that ended up with the artisan dead. Al-Hakam was hunting, but when he was on his way back to the palace the plebs started to boo. The Mutes took ten agitators and immediately crucified them, a despotic and tyrannical act that only infuriated more the masses. The Emir hurried to reach the palace, while the leading Maliki jurists seized the opportunity to encourage a massive uprising. In the suburb that laid to the south of the city, across the Guadalquivir River, the Muladis, Maliki theologians and other townsfolk took up their arms. The insurgents attempted to cross the Roman bridge and storm the city with the objective to expel the Umayyads. Although the number of rebels only grew, al-Hakam acted quickly to crush it. His chief minister gathered as many Mutes as he could find to protect the city gates. Meanwhile, the cousin of al-Hakam, Ubayd, son of the former rebel and current ruler of Valencia Abd Allah, led the cavalry out of a side gate to attack the rebels from the rear. Ubayd and his cavalry quickly arrived, and by the time the insurgents notice it, it was too late. They were attacked from both sides and couldn’t escape, which resulted in a total annihilation.
The slaughter lasted for three days, since al-Hakam ordered the Mutes and his troops to raze to the ground the suburb. Houses were sacked and burned, men were killed, women were taken as slaves, and boys were castrated. Al-Hakam would have killed every single inhabitant of the Arrabal if he had not listened to his chief minister. His chief minister convinced him to stop on the fourth day, and all exits were blocked for a few days until the Emir issued his verdict. The verdict was this: the Arrabal was going to be destroyed to use the soil as agricultural land, and three hundred notables were to be publicly crucified, while the rest were to be expelled from Córdoba. A few moved to Toledo, but most settled in the recently founded capital of Morocco, Fez, at the invitation of the sultan of Morocco. However, the most interesting group of Andalusi exiles formed an expedition of maybe 10,000 pirates that took Alexandria for ten years and then conquered the Greek island of Crete and founded the Emirate of Crete, that was not reconquered by the Byzantine Empire until 961. It’s a very singular and interesting story, so if you want to learn more about these exiles I encourage you to search articles and videos about them.
Nonetheless, what strikes me the most about the aftermath of the Revolt of Arrabal is that al-Hakam made an effort to reconcile with the Maliki ulema. He pardoned the ones who had instigated the revolt in the first place, something that must have been very hard to do for someone as ruthless as him. But al-Hakam probably understood that he and his successors needed the support of the men of religion and law, to legitimize the rule of the Umayyads and sustain domestic stability. As a gesture to the Islamic jurists and Cordobans, al-Hakam allowed his son and successor Abd al-Rahman to put on trial and execute the much-hated leader of the Mutes, Count Rabi. After that, the public image of al-Hakam suddenly improved, and his successor gained the love of the Andalusis. Al-Hakam became an exemplary ruler, friend of the qadis, and he spent his remaining years quietly to establish the succession firmly. Al-Hakam cared about the unity of his emirate, so to avoid dynastic struggles al-Hakam publicly proclaimed Abd al-Rahman as Emir and he named another son to succeed Abd al-Rahman in case he unexpectedly died. In his deathbed, al-Hakam urged Abd al-Rahman to be just and firm, and spoke the following words: “Like the tailor who uses the needle to knit, I’ve used the sword to put together my disunited provinces… I leave you, my son, my kingdom in peace, as a bed to rest quietly, ‘cause I took care that no rebel came to disturb your sleep.”
In 822 al-Hakam died, so it’s time to evaluate the legacy that Abd al-Rahman II inherited. Al-Hakam has frequently been characterized as a ruthless tyrant, but Muslim chroniclers usually focused on what he achieved rather than the means. He was praised for his efforts to consolidate and pacify the Emirate of Córdoba, and during his reign we can already see how al-Andalus started developing its own cultural and intellectual works. The ancestral rivalries among the Arabs lost importance, and the ethnically divided population of al-Andalus started to mix. That race mixing didn’t end the ethnic tensions, because people identified themselves as belonging to a certain ethnicity according to their paternal ancestry, but over time these identities were more imaginary than real. From al-Hakam onwards, the emirs relied more heavily on non-Arabs for the administration and military, with Muladis, Berbers or Slavs becoming indispensable for the survival of the Umayyad regime in Spain. With a pacified Emirate of Córdoba, Abd al-Rahman II was able to launch raids against the Christian kingdoms and to develop the economy, science and arts of al-Andalus. Always keep that in mind when judging both al-Hakam and Abd al-Rahman.
As for now, let’s leave the narrative of al-Andalus to go back to what was happening in the Kingdom of Asturias of Alfonso II. Sometime during the reign of Alfonso II the alleged tomb of Apostle Saint James the Great, known in Spanish as Santiago el Mayor, was found in what’s now Santiago de Compostela. It’s not clear whether the discovery happened in 818, in 820 or in 830, but what’s clear is that this event had a profound impact for the history of the Kingdom of Asturias and later Spain. As for now, let’s put things into context and see how it was discovered, and later I will analyze the consequences. James the Great, from now on Santiago, was one of the most important apostles due to his close relationship with Jesus. He was one of the first disciples to join Jesus and he was one of the three apostles that were present in the transfiguration of Jesus. Santiago was later executed by King of Judea Herod Agrippa, thus suffering the same fate as other Christian martyrs.
Nonetheless, Santiago, unlike John or Peter, doesn’t intervene in any evangelical passage, that’s why the cult of Santiago took its time to appear. For instance, in the West the oldest text consecrated in his honor dates from the 5th century. However, what matters to us is the first reference about how Santiago preached in Hispania. The oldest relationship between Santiago and Spain can be found in the ‘Breviarum Apostolorum’, a 6th century text that collects the biographies of each apostle. According to this account, Santiago preached in the western fringes of Hispania, and after his martyrdom his disciples carried his body to Hispania by sea. Of course that doesn’t make any sense, since why would you move the body of an apostle from Jerusalem to Galicia? But that’s what Christian tradition claims. Other works started to link Santiago with Spain, and the most well-known intellectual of Visigothic Spain, Isidore of Seville, accepted the idea that Santiago brought the gospel to Spain. Yet the cult to Saint James didn’t develop in Visigothic Spain, but in the mid-8th century.
With most of Spain under Islamic rule, the number of references to Santiago increased greatly, in Asturias and among the Mozarabs. During the reign of Mauregato, Beato de Liébana composed a liturgical hymn that invokes Santiago as the preacher of Spain and “our protector and special patron”. The Asturian Church started to claim Santiago as its patron, something that the Visigothic Kingdom had never done, maybe in a conscious attempt to create an anti-Muhammad that would protect the Asturians from Muslim attacks. That would also explain why the figure of Santiago Matamoros, or Saint James the Moor-slayer, appeared centuries later, or why in the 12th century the military Order of Santiago was founded, one of the most important Spanish military and religious orders along those of Calatrava, Alcántara and Montesa.
With that context, I think the story of the alleged discovery of the tomb of Santiago can be better understood. As the story goes, a Christian hermit named Pelayo heard angels singing and saw bright lights during the night, coming from a remote forest. The hermit informed Bishop Teodomiro of Iria Flavia about these strange events, and Teodomiro went to the site of the burial where he found three marble tombs. One tomb belonged to a decapitated man in his fifties, remains attributed to Saint James the Great, and the two other tombs that would belong to his disciples. The bishop of Iria Flavia Teodomiro hurried to notify King Alfonso II of Asturias about the discovery. Alfonso then organized a pilgrimage with the magnates of the kingdom to visit the ‘field of stars’, or Compostela, and once he arrived he ordered the erection of a church.
News of the discovery spread throughout Asturias and decades later to the rest of the Christian world. Pilgrims started to arrive in Santiago de Compostela, forming the Camino de Santiago or Way of Saint James, although it wasn’t until the 11th and 12th centuries that the pilgrimage to the shrine of Santiago became very popular outside Spain, a pilgrimage equal in importance to that of Jerusalem or Rome. The Camino de Santiago contributed greatly to broader commercial and cultural ties between Christian Spain and the rest of Europe, and the belief in the existence of Santiago’s tomb in Spain strengthened the moral of the people of the Kingdom of Asturias. The shrine of Santiago was a key ideological element to constitute and consolidate the Kingdom of Asturias, from both a religious and political point of view. The need to ensure the safety of the pilgrims meant that monarchs and ecclesiastical authorities had to improve the infrastructure of northern Spain, watch the routes and build hospitals and lodges. Moreover, some foreign pilgrims settled in Spain, thus bringing their knowledge and helping in the Christian conquests and repopulations.
Now let’s move on to the other main topic of the episode, the origins and development of the early Spanish Romance languages. This is a topic that still resounds in modern Spain, since in Spain not only Spanish is spoken, there are other regional languages such as Catalan, Basque, or Galician. Because of that I’m sure that many will find this topic fascinating, although I will just cover the first centuries of development of Romance varieties in the Iberian Peninsula. Quick note here, I won’t cover the Basque language because it’s not a Romance language, but I will talk about it in the next episode. Okay, first of all, we need to clarify a few concepts about languages in general and Latin in particular. The first thing to consider is that languages are not born out of nothing. When we say that a language was born in X century what we actually mean is that a variation of another language had substantially developed a distinct syntax, semantics and phonology to be considered a new language. Natural languages are ever changing, they are dynamic and alive, meaning that the Spanish of the 16th century is not the same as the modern Spanish. Not only languages change over time, they also change according to sociocultural levels or geographical location. Even in the Roman Empire of the 2nd century there was not one single form of Latin, since there were social and regional variations.
In Roman Hispania there were slightly different variations of Vulgar Latin. These variations were influenced by factors such as the Pre-Roman languages of each area and how quickly and deeply each region was Romanized. This is similar to what happened to Spanish in America, Spanish was eventually imposed as the lingua franca of the Spanish American colonies, but each region developed its own variation, and Spanish assimilated words of the different native languages too. Going back to the point, the fall of the Western Roman Empire only accentuated the differentiation of regional varieties of Vulgar Latin in the Iberian Peninsula and elsewhere. During the Visigothic period, the texts written by the clergy don’t show those variations of the spoken language, nonetheless we know that the development of Romance languages was already happening. During the Middle Ages the separation between the spoken and written language only became more obvious, and only sporadically did written texts show elements of the spoken language. As for why the literate class still used Classical Latin, the most important reason was probably the fact that it was the language that united Christendom. After the dogmas of sacred religious texts have been determined, it’s important to preserve unaltered the meaning of each sentence to avoid dangerous deviations. That’s one of the reasons the Catholic Church persecuted Martin Luther, because any translation of a sacred text could start a heresy.
What accelerated the appearance of distinct Romance languages was the increasing political and economic division and isolation of societies throughout Europe, but in the Iberian Peninsula two events marked their development: the Arab conquest and the establishment of the Marca Hispanica. The Arab conquest provoked the territorial fragmentation of the Iberian Peninsula and a major cultural change, while the Frankish conquest of eastern Catalonia provoked the political and cultural isolation of that region marked by Frankish influence, unlike the other Christian political entities of the Iberian Peninsula that were founded by the native elites. Precisely around this time, between the 8th and 9th centuries, ecclesiastical authorities warned about how believers had more and more difficulties to understand what they were talking about. To address this issue, the Council of Tours of 813 decided that priests should preach sermons in the local Romance language. This liturgical reform was the first to acknowledge the reality of Romance languages as distinct from Classical Latin, and it was applied first in the Carolingian Empire, including the Marca Hispanica. Nonetheless, the reformed liturgy, known as Roman Rite, took its time to be adopted by other Christian realms. In the Iberian Peninsula, the Hispanic Rite survived in the Christian Spanish kingdoms until the 11th century, although a few Mozarab communities still performed the Hispanic Rite. Since the edict of Tours took two centuries to be applied in most of Christian Spain, Spanish vernacular languages took more time to be found in written texts compared to Old French dialects.
With all that said, let’s look at the development of each Romance language and dialect of Medieval Spain. Let’s start with the Mozarabic language or Andalusi Romance, which is not actually a single language but several Romance dialects that were spoken in al-Andalus. While Arabic was the language of high culture of Muslim Spain, some Berbers and most Hispano-Goths, Christian and Muslims alike, spoke Andalusi Romance dialects. Since it wasn’t an appreciated language among Andalusi scholars, we have very few written texts in Andalusi Romance, and mainly the surviving evidence can be found in poetry of the 11th century. On another note, the interaction of Hispano-Goths with Berbers and Arabs made Mozarabic a Romance language with as much as 40% of Arabic and Berber words. Because of that it’s not so surprising to see that most Mozarabic texts were written using the Arabic script, although a few used the Latin or Hebrew scripts. As the Reconquista progressed and Islam was adopted by more people in al-Andalus, Mozarabic dialects were substituted by either Andalusi Arabic or Romance languages of Christian Spain, until they became extinct in the 13th century. However, the legacy of Andalusi Romance can still be felt, since Spanish adopted some Mozarabic and Andalusi Arabic words, and essentially all words and toponyms that start with al- come from these two languages of al-Andalus.
Now let’s look at the origins of the Catalan language. There isn’t complete consensus among linguists, but Catalan is the only Romance language of the Iberian Peninsula commonly classified in the Occitano-Romance family branch instead of the Ibero-Romance group. The reason behind this is that the Catalan Counties were closely related to the southern region of modern France, Occitania, in political, economic and cultural terms. In the 9th and 10th centuries you couldn’t tell the difference between Old Catalan and Old Provençal, the language of Occitania, yet they started to differentiate in the 11th century. Still, there were notable Catalan troubadours that participated in this tradition of lyric poems with chivalry and court love themes that was so prestigious in Occitania. Aside from that, we find the first sentences of Old Catalan written in daily documents such as testaments or mercantile transactions of the 9th century, although the oldest known literary document in Catalan is the Homilies d’Organyà, a collection of homilies of the late 12th century.
In the other northern extreme of the Iberian Peninsula, the Galician-Portuguese developed from the local Latin dialect. Galician-Portuguese appeared first in Galicia and then expanded in northern Portugal as the Reconquista advanced, but Galician and Portuguese started to diverge in the 14th century, two centuries after the independence of Portugal. The first written evidence of the Galician-Portuguese language can be found mixed with Latin texts of the 8th century, although texts fully written in Galician-Portuguese cannot be found before the 12th century. In the 12th and 13th centuries Galician-Portuguese was used to compose lyric poetry and it was a pretty prestigious language in both the Crown of Castile and of course the Kingdom of Portugal. Nonetheless, it was later displaced by Castilian in the 14th century and over the course of centuries Galician became an oral language mostly spoken by the rural population, until in the 19th century Galician literature reemerged. The same decline cannot be said about Portuguese, but I leave that for another episode.
Before I start explaining the origins of the Spanish language, I would like to briefly talk about two languages that were eventually replaced by Spanish and that are almost extinct, Navarro-Aragonese and Astur-Leonese. Both languages were used in the courts of their respective kingdoms, but Catalan on one hand and Castilian in the other displaced these Romance variants. The Basque people and language expanded from the 8th to the 11th century, from modern Basque Country and La Rioja to northern Aragon people spoke Basque dialects. However, during this process of expansion many Basques became Romanized, much like it had happened when the Visigoths interacted with the Romans, and that acculturation of the Basques gave birth to the Navarro-Aragonese language. Most written texts in Navarro-Aragonese date from the 14th and 15th centuries, but even then we see a process of convergence with Castilian. On the other hand, Astur-Leonese was born in the primitive Kingdom of Asturias and later expanded with the military expansion of the Kingdom of León. We have written texts in Astur-Leonese from the 10th to the early 14th century, but since the Trastámara dynasty promoted the use of Castilian in official texts Astur-Leonese quickly declined during the Early Modern Era.
I have intentionally left the origins of Spanish for the end of the episode. I’ve done so because Modern Spanish derives mainly from Old Castilian, but as the Crown of Castile expanded in the Iberian Peninsula and beyond the Spanish language borrowed elements from many different languages. To name the most important influences, Modern Spanish loans words from Basque, Native American languages, Mozarabic dialects, Arabic, Greek, Gothic, Astur-Leonese and Navarro-Aragonese. The most substantial contribution to the Spanish language outside of Latin comes from Arabic, which isn’t weird considering the centuries-long presence of Muslims in the Iberian Peninsula. Linguists calculated that around 4000 words in Spanish derive from Arabic, roughly 8% of all words! As I have said in other occasions, the Spanish language displaced other languages, but at the same time it incorporated elements of other languages, making Spanish a very rich and dynamic language.
What’s impressive is that the same Spanish that is currently the world’s second most spoken language by number of native speakers has its origins in a tiny region of Spain, in the primitive Castile, that was roughly the province of Burgos and part of Cantabria. Later the County of Castile, vassal of the Kingdom of León, became independent and eventually annexed León, and this political hegemony predestined Castilian as the dominant language of Spain. A very important step to consolidate Old Castilian was the standardization and formalization of the language during the reign of Alfonso X in the 13th century. He elevated the prestige of Old Spanish by using it in official documents and by backing the scholars of the Toledo School of Translators to translate many philosophical and scientific works from Arabic, Greek and Hebrew into Medieval Castilian. Later in 1492 Antonio de Nebrija published the Grammar of the Castilian Language, the first grammar book of a Romance language to be published. When questioned by Queen Isabel of Castile about the usefulness of such a work, Hernando de Talavera, bishop of Ávila, answered for Nebrija in words that seem prophetic now: “After Your Highness has subjected barbarous peoples and nations of varied tongues, with conquest will come the need for them to accept the laws that the conqueror imposes on the conquered, and among them our language.” The destiny of Spanish was to become a global language and unite Europe and America.
THE VERDICT: In today’s verdict I want to discuss the figure of Santiago Matamoros, or Saint James the Moor-slayer. In the Spanish Medieval imaginary, the Apostle Santiago exchanged his robes for an armor and a white horse to stop being a contemplative pilgrim and apostle and become a victorious killer of Moors. Santiago Matamoros didn’t turn the other cheek like Jesus said, he had another philosophy: exterminate every damn infidel. This depiction of Santiago motivated the Christian Spanish troops, who used the battle cry Santiago y cierra España, meaning Santiago and at them Spain, to invoke the Apostle and ensure his protection. The legend of Santiago Matamoros consolidated throughout the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries, and that’s not a coincidence because those were the centuries of more intense fighting between Christians and Muslims. Religious fervor and the antagonism between Christians and Muslims spread throughout Europe in the era of Crusades, and in those years of constant fighting when neither Christians nor Muslims in Spain had a clear hegemony over the other the Christians needed a military patron to protect and guide them to victory. In times of adversity and constant warfare, it’s logical to ask for divine protection and intervention, don’t you think? The Reconquista ideology was all about expelling the Muslims and restoring the religious and political unity of Spain as it had happened in the Visigothic Kingdom. Considering that in those centuries the idea of the Reconquista was very popular, it’s understandable than rather than God soldiers preferred to invoke directly the national patron of Spain, Santiago. When the Catholic Monarchs conquered the Emirate of Granada, the praise and cult to Santiago Matamoros lost importance. The purpose of his myth had ended. And with that, The Verdict ends.
In the next episode I will cover what was happening in the western half of the Pyrenees and Middle Ebro Valley, with the foundation of the Kingdom of Pamplona, the County of Aragon and the rise of the Banu Qasi. 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!
KINGDOMS OF FAITH. A NEW HISTORY OF ISLAMIC SPAIN. Brian A. Catlos
MUSLIM SPAIN AND PORTUGAL. Hugh Kennedy
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
MEDIEVAL IBERIA: CHANGING SOCIETIES AND CULTURES IN CONTACT AND TRANSITION. Ivy A. Corfis and Ray Harris-Northall
HISTORIA MUNDIAL DE ESPAÑA. Xosé M. Núñez Seixas
‘Orígenes de las lenguas romances peninsulares: del latín al castellano, el catalán y el gallego’. Javier Elvira
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