This is episode 33 called Muladis in Revolt and in this episode you will learn:
- The palatine intrigue at the end of Abd al-Rahman II’s reign and the legacy of this emir
- The continuist policies of Emir Muhammad I of Córdoba
- Two key changes: end of conscription for the Old Muslim population and increasing rate of conversion to Islam
- The challenges that the New Muslims, the Muladis, had to face within the Andalusi society
- The revolt of Toledo of 852-858 and the Asturian intervention in the Battle of Guazalete, with a Cordoban victory
- Why Musa ibn Musa of the Banu Qasi clan was a tolerated rebel
- The Second Battle of Albelda and its consequences for the Banu Qasi, Asturias, Pamplona and Córdoba
- The Muladi of the Lower March, Ibn Marwan “the Galician”, who allied King Alfonso III of Asturias, the capture of the corrupt hajib Hisham ibn Abd al-Aziz and the foundation of Badajoz in 875
- The start of the troubles caused by Umar ibn Hafsun, the popular rebel who led a very threatening revolt against the Umayyads of Córdoba very close to the capital
- The legacy of Emir Muhammad I of Córdoba and why the magnates of the marches revolted against Umayyad authority
- A reflection on the importance of not discriminating your subjects when these are a majority.
I’m David Cot, host of The History of Spain Podcast, and this is episode 33 called Muladis in Revolt. In this episode you will learn about the rise of rebellious movements led by Muladis during the reign of Muhammad I of Córdoba. Subscribe to the podcast to not miss an episode!
Today’s episode will have lots of information, so let me cover very briefly cover the death of Abd al-Rahman II. At the end of his reign there was a palatine intrigue involving an influential concubine of Abd al-Rahman and the powerful eunuch Nasr. Together they planned to poison both Abd al-Rahman and Prince Muhammad, who was likely to become his successor, to make a son of the concubine the heir. Nasr asked the new royal physician to prepare a poisoned drink, and the physician apparently accepted. However, he warned another concubine about it who then warned the Emir too. When Nasr showed the beverage to Abd al-Rahman, the Emir invited him to drink it himself. Nasr was forced to do it and he died. Later, on September 852 the learned Emir Abd al-Rahman II died, and his son Muhammad succeeded him.
Let’s briefly review the reign and legacy of Abd al-Rahman II. This Emir ruled for 30 years, took measures to centralize the Emirate of Córdoba and imitated the political, courtesan and cultural model of the Abbasid Caliphate. With the influence of Ziryab, al-Andalus was transformed into an Oriental country in Europe. The economy grew and due to the Viking attack Abd al-Rahman focused more efforts in the building of a powerful army and navy. That also allowed the Emirate of Córdoba to become the dominant power of the Western Mediterranean and to become respected among Christian powers like the Carolingian and the Byzantine Empires. Therefore, Abd al-Rahman II laid the foundations for the rise of the Caliphate of Córdoba under Abd al-Rahman III, but the downside was that these political and cultural changes generated tensions among the Muladi and Mozarab population that would explode during the reigns of his successors.
Muhammad tried very hard to maintain the centralizing and authoritarian policies of his father Abd al-Rahman II, but unfortunately for him these same policies didn’t produce the same outcomes. Sometimes, Muhammad made more brutal and crude actions, like those of his grandfather al-Hakam. The Emir had to deal again with the Vikings and he put an end to the Mozarab martyr movement of Córdoba, as we saw in the previous episode. He also had to take vigorous actions against the Kingdom of Asturias, as they increasingly threatened the territorial integrity of al-Andalus. In terms of foreign policy, we know that the Emirate of Córdoba entered in official contact with the rulers of Sijilmasa, a key city of the Trans-Saharan trade route to control gold trade. Moreover, Muhammad would eventually establish peaceful relations with the Carolingian Empire for some years, which is not that weird considering that both states were in decline. However, don’t put all the blame on Muhammad’s shoulders, because he followed what his predecessors had done, and he is described by several biographers as a smart, honest and insightful ruler. The thing is that there were underground changes going on within the Andalusi society, and it was very difficult to tackle these issues.
A very important reform that Muhammad introduced was the end of conscription for the Old Muslim population that used to be forced to join the military for jihad. Instead, they just had to pay a tax to be exempt and because of that the Emir had to rely more on professional and voluntary armies to crush rebels of al-Andalus or to make holy war against the Christians. The long-term effects of the demilitarization of the Andalusi population were very negative, just like it happened to the Romans of the Western half of the Empire when they started to rely heavily on German soldiers. Apart from the demilitarization of the society, the other big underground change was the increasing rate of conversion to Islam. I think I’ve mentioned this in a previous episode, but a conservative estimate said that by 950 50% of the population of al-Andalus was Muslim. Then there is another estimate, this time too exaggerated probably, that says that 70% of the population of Córdoba and the nearby villages were Muslim by 850. I would say that seeing all the revolts that started during Muhammad’s rule, it’s very likely that Muslims represented close to 50% of the population at that time, but again we don’t have data to confirm this.
The newly converted Muladis expected to pay less taxes and to play a full role in the politics and society of the Emirate of Córdoba. However, some sectors of the society opposed it. We have the intransigent Mozarabs who were very worried with the Arabization and Islamization of the society. More importantly, many Arab aristocrats didn’t want to compete with the Muslim Hispano-Goths for high social positions and public offices, and they wanted to keep treating them as second-class citizens. The New Muslims didn’t have to do military service, so that’s another reason to understand the end of conscription of Old Muslims, probably in an attempt to alleviate social tensions too. As it happened in the Abbasid Caliphate, these conversions undermined the fiscal basis of the Cordoban state too, because the Muladis didn’t have to pay the jizya and other taxes associated with the dhimmis, who had to pay higher taxes than Muslims.
Muhammad inherited an apparently stable kingdom, but the change of a ruler always provides opportunities for revolts. In this case, it was a regional uprising that occurred in the Middle March, in the typically rebel old Visigothic capital, Toledo. Unlike other strongholds of al-Andalus, most Toledans were Mozarabs, and that along disappointed and ambitious Muladis was the perfect mix for an armed revolt. The Toledan rebels captured the governor of the city to force Muhammad to release political hostages. You see, in Córdoba there was a big building where rebels and their relatives were confined, and until the new Emir released them, they didn’t release the Umayyad governor. Their initial success made the Toledans audacious, so they launched a devastating attack on Calatrava la Vieja, a key stronghold that connected Córdoba and Toledo. The rebels destroyed the town’s walls and killed some of its inhabitants. Emir Muhammad couldn’t leave this attack unpunished. He sent an army that managed to recapture and rebuild the walls of Calatrava, but later it was ambushed and the Cordoban army was defeated.
Inter-urban rivalries like this one between Toledo and Calatrava aren’t weird in history, and they can turn into violent conflicts if central authority is weak. So yeah, if the US government collapsed, there could be a full-scale war between New York and Boston or New York and New Jersey. Such conflicts usually start as a result of economic competition, but power struggles and military defeats, or in the modern world defeats in sports, can perpetuate these city rivalries. The rebel Toledans knew that Muhammad would send a larger army next time. Because of that, they made an alliance with King Ordoño I of Asturias, who was more than happy with the idea of sparking revolts and a civil war in al-Andalus. On the other side, the Emir would command the punitive expedition himself, as his legitimacy and prestige were in danger. It’s important to highlight that Muhammad sought the support of Berber clans of the area, notably the Banu Di-l-Nun. The Banu Di-l-Nun controlled the modern province of Cuenca and centuries later with the fall of the Caliphate of Córdoba they would establish the large Taifa of Toledo.
Going back to the story, the two armies met in the Battle of Guazalete, in a stream near Toledo, and the Andalusi army defeated the Toledans and their Asturian allies. According to Arab sources, 12,000 Toledans and 8,000 Asturians perished, although as most Medieval figures I wouldn’t take them very seriously. Despite this defeat, Toledo continued its resistance for some years. The intellectual behind the Mozarab martyr movement, Eulogio of Córdoba, was elected bishop of Toledo, but the appointment was blocked by Muhammad as it would have only incited more the rebellion across Spain. Abandoned by the Asturians, the inhabitants of Toledo requested an amnesty in 858, which was granted and kept them quiet for a bit more than a decade. Nonetheless, the long resistance of the Toledans evidences their cohesion and desire of autonomy and lower taxes.
On another note, at the death of his father Emir Muhammad recognized Musa ibn Musa as his vassal and governor of Tudela. He agreed to name the head of the Banu Qasi governor of the Upper March and let him rule the key strongholds of Zaragoza and Huesca, a too generous offer that Muhammad was forced to agree with in order to avoid having two fronts open in the Middle and Upper March. The Emir allowed this on condition that Musa had to give a certain external image of submission to the Umayyads, so we could say that he was a tolerated rebel. This way, Muhammad could claim the victories of his vassal against the Christians as his own too. For instance, Musa ibn Musa led some important raids against the Marca Hispanica and the Basque region of Álava, that was under Asturian control. Moreover, Musa might have attacked his old allies and relatives of Pamplona, because some sources say that they also supported the Toledan rebels. In any case, Musa didn’t send the fifth of the booty to Córdoba as he was in theory obliged to do, and instead he spent it to expand the Mosque of Zaragoza. With the amnesty, the Toledans were given the autonomy to elect their own governor, and they chose a son of Musa in 859. The power of the Banu Qasi was expanding even beyond the Upper March. The head of the Banu Qasi put on airs of a true sovereign, and he started to style himself as Third King of Spain in front of his subjects. Emir Muhammad knew that he had to crush the power of the Banu Qasi, but he waited for the right moment. He waited until Musa made a mistake.
With the victory of the Banu Qasi in the First Battle of Albelda, the clan had gained control over La Rioja, the region famous now for its wines. Since it was a disputed area next to the Kingdom of Asturias and Pamplona, the Third King of Spain ordered the construction of a fortress in Albelda. In 859, right after the Vikings liberated King García Íñiguez of Pamplona, Ordoño of Asturias and the Pamplonese caudillo attacked together the fortress. The Second Battle of Albelda lasted several days, and Musa himself went there to force the Christians to lift the siege. Nonetheless, the Asturian and Basque coalition achieved a decisive victory over the forces of Musa ibn Musa. They wounded and almost captured him, and they killed one of his sons and hundreds of Muslims.
The result of the Second Battle of Albelda had very important consequences. For Ordoño it was a victory that increased his prestige and the victory facilitated the Christian repopulations. A son of Musa became a vassal of Ordoño and lived the rest of his life under his command. Emir Muhammad decided to avenge the death of Muslims and ravage the Kingdom of Pamplona the following year, when the Andalusis captured the heir of García Íñiguez, Fortún Garcés. The Emir also intensified the aceifas against the Kingdom of Asturias, and I will explore more in depth all these consequences in the following episodes. The defeat of the so-called Third King of Spain was the opportunity Emir Muhammad had waited for to depose him as governor of Zaragoza and the Upper March. As in Toledo, Muhammad built a counterweight to the Banu Qasi using other regional magnates, mainly the Muladi Banu Amrus and the Arab Banu Tujib, who would centuries later establish the Taifa of Zaragoza.
The Third King of Spain had to spend his two remaining years humiliated as an ordinary vassal of Muhammad. Musa ibn Musa was killed in 862 when he launched an attack against the Berbers of Guadalajara, to the west of the power base of the Banu Qasi. His descendants fought among themselves to become the leaders of the Banu Qasi and rule what his father used to rule. Nonetheless, none ever achieved his greatness and the influence of the Banu Qasi clan progressively faded away until they disappeared from the political scene in the early 10th century. The divide and conquer strategy was clever, but by the time of the death of Muhammad I the Upper March remained unstable and divided between clans competing for power, that only recognized Umayyad authority when it suited them or when they were forced to do so.
On the other hand, the capital of the Lower March, Mérida, waited more time than Toledo to revolt against Umayyad authority. The leader of the rebellion was Ibn Marwan al-Yiliqi, al-Yiliqi meaning son of the Galician or just the Galician, because his ancestors were Muladis from what’s now northern Portugal. His father had been the loyal governor of Mérida that was assassinated during the reign of Abd al-Rahman II. His son Ibn Marwan didn’t show the same loyalty towards the Umayyads, so he probably stopped paying taxes to Córdoba or participating in military expeditions and Muhammad saw Mérida as a rebel city. It’s important to note this, because some of these endemic revolts of the marches or other areas of al-Andalus were not armed revolts, they sometimes were local magnates who were in theory loyal clients of the Umayyads but who suddenly started acting like independent local rulers. This seems to be the case of the revolt of Mérida, as opposed to the violent revolt of Toledo, but what’s surprising is that Muhammad I reacted much more forcibly here than in Toledo. The Cordoban forces captured without much difficulty Mérida, because if you remember it Abd al-Rahman had destroyed its Roman walls. The Emir forced Ibn Marwan to move to Córdoba and serve him, and expelled the inhabitants of Mérida, like his grandfather al-Hakam had done in the Suburbs of Córdoba. The Alcazaba or fortified citadel of Mérida remained intact, and Mérida kept being the capital of the Lower March until the fall of the Caliphate of Córdoba. However, the city was depopulated, and it never recovered its previous position of hegemony within the region.
We don’t know what happened to the inhabitants of Mérida in the meantime, but we know that many of them later moved to Badajoz, which would become the main urban center of the modern region of Extremadura from then on. But before that happened, we need to talk more about Ibn Marwan, because the story could have ended here if the corrupt hajib Hashim ibn Abd al-Aziz hadn’t insulted and beat Ibn Marwan seven years later, in 875. The Galician escaped from Córdoba and went back to Western Spain. There he and his followers entrenched in a castle, where they were besieged for three months. Lacking water and forced to kill their horses to feed themselves, Ibn Marwan surrendered. Nonetheless, Emir Muhammad let him live in an area next to the Guadiana river, in exchange of a hostage. The year 875 marks the foundation of Badajoz, the city that would become his stronghold, and the hostage didn’t persuade Ibn Marwan to remain faithful. Instead, he welcomed former inhabitants of Mérida to settle in Badajoz and he built fortifications to bear a siege.
Attempts to defeat him failed, and the Galician made an alliance with the Berber clan of the Banu Danis, who dominated modern central Portugal, with strong presence between Coimbra and Beja. Through the Banu Danis, Ibn Marwan formed an alliance with the Kingdom of Asturias of Alfonso III, successor of Ordoño. To sum up, you now had a coalition made up of Muladis, Berbers, Mozarabs and Christians of Asturias, provoking the loss of much of the Western Iberian Peninsula from Cordoban control. The situation was very serious, so Muhammad sent an expedition under his hajib or prime minister Hashim ibn Abd al-Aziz, who had sparked this whole mess in the first place. The rebel forces assisted by the Asturians defeated him and made the hajib prisoner. Ibn Marwan was then able to avenge the humiliation he had suffered. Satisfied to see his personal enemy captured, the Galician sent him to Alfonso III of Asturias as a gesture of gratitude. It was a humiliation for Córdoba to have such a high-ranking official in the hands of a Christian king. He was captive for two years, until the Emir Muhammad paid a huge ransom to set him free.
The victories of Ibn Marwan made him a popular caudillo. He is described as fearsome, politically and militarily clever, brave, and respected among his rivals. In Arab chronicles the Galician is sometimes accused of being an apostate who converted to Christianity, but it’s more possible that he was Muslim only very superficially, much like many other Muladis. Going back to the story, it’s not clear if Ibn Marwan and his following abandoned Badajoz and took refuge in the Kingdom of Asturias for some years after a campaign of Muhammad, or if the rebels remained in Badajoz. What’s clear is that we only have news of a new Umayyad campaign to defeat the Galician in 884, with a campaign led by the heir-apparent al-Mundhir, who actually managed to force Ibn Marwan out of Badajoz and to burn part of the city. Despite this defeat, Ibn Marwan had other strongholds in Extremadura or in modern Portugal, like the Castle of Marvão that is named after him. He also proved that he could engage in a devastating guerrilla war attacking the regions of Algarve and Huelva in southern Portugal and southwestern Spain, and because of this Emir Muhammad, who was about to die, was forced to negotiate with the rebel Ibn Marwan. From then on and until the accession of Abd al-Rahman III, Ibn Marwan and his descendants were left alone to rule de facto independently the Principality of Badajoz, whose capital was transformed into a prestigious Islamic city with a mosque, a huge fortress and baths.
The other great Muladi rebel who started his activities during the reign of Muhammad was Umar ibn Hafsun. You will hear a lot about him in this podcast because he kept causing troubles until the reign of Abd al-Rahman III. His story really resembles a fictional novel. Umar was a Muladi of noble origin, born in the mountains of the province of Málaga, in the area between Málaga and Gibraltar and very close to Ronda, a very beautiful city by the way. What made him a renegade and a rebel was an incident that occurred when he discovered a Berber shepherd that was stealing his livestock. Umar confronted him and he ended up murdering the thief. His father repudiated Hafsun, but he was still his father and he helped him hide in the narrow Desfiladero de los Gaitanes, a gorge of the area. There he lived in the ruins of a castle, that would later become his impregnable stronghold known as Bobastro. In these mountains he met other fugitives, and together they became bandits. The governor of Málaga eventually captured them and beat them up, unaware of the murder committed by Umar ibn Hafsun. Knowing that he had been lucky and that he shouldn’t tempt fate, he was prudent and moved to North Africa, becoming a tailor trainee in the capital of the Rustamids, Tahert.
Nonetheless, he didn’t stay there for long. In 880 another Muladi convinced him to go back to al-Andalus and take advantage of the increasing internal chaos. The Mozarabs, Muladis and Berbers of the Baetic System of southern Spain celebrated the victories of Ibn Marwan the Galician and the capture of the corrupt Hashim ibn Abd al-Aziz. They didn’t ignore the autonomy of the Upper March nor the expansion of the Kingdom of Asturias under Alfonso III. Clearly, the Emirate of Córdoba was in a growing state of instability and anarchy. There were agitators here and there that caused local disturbances, but nothing of relevance. However, the atmosphere was tense, governors were incapable to put an end to the rising brigandage, and they had more problems to collect taxes. What the agitated masses needed to provoke a massive uprising was a caudillo, a charismatic military leader to guide them.
With the support of his uncle and brothers, Umar ibn Hafsun was able to organize a small squad of ruffians and outlaws. That gang, based in Bobastro, rebuilt the Castle of Bobastro and their ranks grew every day with deserters, adventurers, and disaffected Muladis, Mozarabs and Berbers. As he gained more followers, he was able to make more audacious actions that earned him a reputation of being bold and brave. The problems that Umar and his squad were causing couldn’t be ignored anymore, so in 883 Muhammad sent Hashim ibn Abd al-Aziz to subdue him. The corrupt hajib was successful, and Umar ibn Hafsun and his men were fighting for the Umayyads in 884 in an aceifa against Álava. However, he didn’t like to be a hostage in Córdoba and his squad was constantly mistreated, as they never received enough food nor the same perks and rewards that the Arabs received. When an Arab official insulted him, Umar had enough and he and his men escaped from the capital and went back to their fortress of Bobastro.
Umar ibn Hafsun was determined to establish an independent principality and perhaps he was ambitious enough to dream and promise the overthrow of the Umayyads. His ambition reflects the desire of emancipation of Muladis, Mozarabs and Berbers from Arab domination. The Umayyads seem to have learned nothing from the Abbasid Revolution that expelled them, as people grew tired of their discrimination. Umar promised his followers to end the high taxes and discriminatory treatment that dhimmis, Muladis and Berbers faced. Hafsun promised to eliminate the system of distribution of lands that favored the Arabs, and with this simple but clear political program he gathered a massive popular support. Umar ibn Hafsun conquered several towns and castles, and he sealed alliances with other minor rebel groups. His uprising was very threatening to the Umayyad regime, because this was not some revolt of the distant marches, this was a popular revolt that was occurring in the heart of al-Andalus, not very far from Córdoba. Hafsun’s revolt evidences the growing unpopularity of the Umayyads and the generalized political and socioeconomic injustices, as well as the discontent that a series of famines and floods caused. Emir Muhammad sent his heir al-Mundhir to crush the rebellion, and although he had some initial success as soon as he was told that his father died in August 886, he went back to Córdoba to assume the throne.
The legacy of Muhammad I of Córdoba was a much more unstable kingdom than the one he had inherited more than 30 years before. The situation in the marches had become more complicated and the Emir had to essentially recognize their autonomy, and he even left a dangerous uprising going on in the province of Málaga, close to the capital. Moreover, as we will see in the next episode, the kings of Asturias Ordoño and Alfonso III became bolder. They expanded their realm and intervened in al-Andalus assisting the rebels, all while repopulating the buffer zone that used to be the Desert of the Duero. I’ve talked already about the causes of the revolt in southern Spain and I gave an answer in the first Q&A to the question of why the central government of Córdoba was so weak and had problems to control its territories, especially referring to the marches. I basically said that the regional magnates and warlords revolted when they could and that the concessions that they received from their Umayyad patrons were very important.
However, I think that now I can give a more complete answer to that question related to Cordoban control of the marches. Everyone can understand the reluctance to pay taxes to Córdoba, especially since there were few tangible returns and the ideological basis for Umayyad rule wasn’t enough. The main tangible benefit for frontier societies like the marches of al-Andalus was the construction of fortifications, but until this moment there was no serious military threat from the Christian states to the north. In fact, the raids were very one-sided, and the Islamic forces clearly had the hegemony with their aceifas against Asturias, Pamplona and the Spanish March. The frontier lords thought that they would be better off with the autonomy to either make the aceifas themselves and keep all the profits, or to make alliances with the Christians to fight other Muslims. Local and regional realities were what mattered to frontier lords, not what happened in Córdoba or other parts of the Emirate. It’s an egoistic and even short-sighted view, because as we are seeing already and as it will become even more obvious with the Taifas, disunity among Muslims and alliances with Christians is what allowed the Christian expansion. The Emirs of Córdoba launched aceifas that not only served to punish and plunder Christian lands but also to subdue local rebels. Nonetheless, these expeditions depended on taxes and manpower to be effective. The more widespread anarchy and uprisings in al-Andalus were, the more difficult it became for the Umayyads to reimpose their authority. With multiple fronts opened, the situation became more and more difficult to handle and an all-out crisis didn’t take long to start, which nearly destroyed the Umayyad dynasty.
THE VERDICT: In today’s verdict I wanted to discuss the importance of not mistreating and discriminating your subjects when these represent the majority of the population. States can discriminate minorities and get away with it, but boy don’t dare to provoke the hate and fury of the bulk of your vassals. When you have a ruling class dominated by an ethnic minority, it’s difficult to prevent the revolt of the native elites and popular rebellions. There are many examples in world history, like it happened in Qing China with the Manchus, in Haiti where the black slaves rebelled against the French, or you know, the Umayyad Caliphate that was destroyed in the Abbasid Revolution. Such societies can only be maintained through violence and repression, but in the end the dominant minority must integrate the bulk of the society and especially the native elite, otherwise the dominant minority is very likely to be overthrown. And with that, The Verdict ends.
In the next episode I will talk about the repopulation of the Desert of the Duero and the foundation of two marches that would later become very important, the County of Castile and the County of Portugal. 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, Facebook and LinkedIn. 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
SOCIEDAD, POLÍTICA Y PROTESTA POPULAR EN LA ESPAÑA MUSULMANA. Roberto Marín Guzmán
HISTORIA DEL REINO DE NAVARRA. José Lacarra