This is episode 44 called Slavery and Jews of al-Andalus and in this episode you will learn:
- Introduction to slavery in the Islamic world and al-Andalus
- What’s the difference between a captive and a slave
- Captivity for women and the social problem that captivity supposed
- Which were the occupations and jobs performed by slaves in al-Andalus
- Captivity and slavery in the context of the campaigns of Almanzor
- What determined the price of a slave and how were auctions and transactions done
- Jews under early Umayyad rule and the case of Eleazar of Zaragoza
- Why Jews in al-Andalus were Arabized but not Islamized
- A brief biography of the great foreign minister and physician Hasdai ibn Shaprut
- Jews under the Taifa kingdoms, the case of Samuel HaNagid, and the Golden Age of Jewish culture
- The end of the Jewish golden age in al-Andalus, with the 1066 Granada Massacre and the arrival of the Almoravids
- The expulsion and forced conversions of Christians and Jews under the Almohads
- Why Jews were sometimes tolerated and sometimes suffered repression, understanding the political and economic logic behind it
- A reflection on the lives of captives and enslaved people
I’m David Cot, host of The History of Spain Podcast, and this is episode 44 called Slavery and Jews of al-Andalus. In this episode you will learn about captivity and slavery in al-Andalus, as well as the Jews of Umayyad Spain and the Taifa kingdoms. Don’t miss an episode, subscribe to the podcast!
Slavery was a common feature in the Islamic Middle Ages. Al-Andalus was no exception, and it became in fact a hub of the slave trade in the Western Mediterranean that redistributed slaves through Andalusi markets and beyond. Unfortunately, there’s no data to estimate the number of slaves traded throughout the history of al-Andalus, but from the texts of the 10th century, we know that the majority of slaves were Berber, Black African, and Galician, Galician usually meaning anyone from the Christian north. Berbers and Black Africans were bought in other international slave markets, and the same can be said about non-Spanish European slaves bought to Jewish traders or Norsemen.
The Andalusis captured the Christians themselves with their aceifas against northern Spain, that was a competitive advantage of being at a border between the Islamic and Christian worlds, and Jewish and Muslim merchants redistributed them in the Andalusi markets or reexported to other regions of the Islamic world. In the late 10th century, Ibn Hawqal wrote that “among the most famous exports from al-Andalus to other Muslim lands are comely slaves, both male and female, from Frankish and Galician regions”.
The splendor and military power of the Caliphate of Córdoba had a logical repercussion in the magnitude of slave trade and the amount of Christian captives from the northern Spanish kingdoms, and the apogee of the Christian captives occurred during the dictatorship of Almanzor in the late 10th century. One of the reasons Caliph al-Hakam II and Almanzor invoked to justify their campaigns against the Christians was that there were enslaved Muslim men and women, so the yihad was also a war of liberation,and their victories were a way to gain personal prestige and legitimacy. After the Caliphate of Córdoba fell, the balance of power between Muslim and Christian states changed and the situation was gradually reverted, with more Muslims being held captive and many enslaved than the other way around.
It’s important to make the distinction between captive and slave, because a captive could be ransomed and freed thereafter, while you could be a slave that had been captured or a slave born with that condition. Therefore, the key difference between a captive and a slave is the transitory character of the first. A few captives could be freed after their families, a generous lord or king paid a ransom or donated money for the purpose to liberate captives, or if the monarch agreed to exchange Muslim captives for Christian captives. Sometimes, cities located in the borderlands or in the coasts had Christian confraternities and religious orders that created a communal fund to liberate captives, but this was a formula that appeared after the fall of the Umayyad Caliphate.
Before the Christians surpassed the Muslims, if someone of low social condition was made prisoner, he or she would, in most cases, become a slave for his or her entire lifetime, in al-Andalus or in other regions of the Muslim world. Captives were not an exclusively Muslim phenomenon, the Christians captured and enslaved Muslims too as their conquests progressed. Nonetheless, sources indicate that captivity and slave trade was always a more common thing in the Islamic world until the emergence of the Atlantic slave trade. During the Almoravid and Almohad periods many Christians were enslaved, in the wars against the Emirate of Granada many Christians were captured as well, and the conquest of Granada in 1492 didn’t end the captivity of Christians, because Barbary pirates caused serious problems in the Mediterranean Sea for centuries.
If we focus on captive women, the harems of the ruling dynasties or wealthy patriarchs supposed a “golden captivity”. Sometimes concubines tried to become the favorite of their lord, like the Basque princess Urraca, who was given to Almanzor, converted to Islam and adopted the name Abda, eventually giving birth to Abd al-Rahman Sanchuelo. Other times captives were more rebellious, and this is the case of Teresa, daughter of Bermudo II of León who was also given to Almanzor. She furiously pronounced this powerful statement:
“A nation must trust the guard of its honor to the spears of its warriors and not to the charms of its women.” Most captive women were not as lucky as to become concubines or be freed, and they ended up as slaves doing domestic and rural activities. Women, children and elderly were more likely than men to commit apostasy and convert to Islam to improve their conditions under captivity, and although the Church condemned apostasy, the Catholic clergy eventually recognized the need to pardon apostates who did so only to improve their conditions, to reintegrate them in a Christian society.
Nonetheless, things were not that simple, and captivity supposed a very serious social problem for both the victim and their family. It was a traumatic event, and from the Christian perspective it was a key reason of the collective and zealous hate towards Muslims. People who had committed apostasy were outcasts, and even those who didn’t and especially women were frowned on, in some cases their own family repudiated them. Because of the social dimension of the problem and the fact that many captives became slaves for the rest of their life, Christians were always worried about being taken captive, but as the Christians managed to raid and conquer more Muslim lands, this problem worried the Muslims too.
It’s interesting though how usually slaves in Islamic societies were integrated into the domestic realm, and with that I mean that they became members of the household, although with their obvious limitations. Male and female slaves were included in the Andalusi extended family, and their owners could take care of their education if they showed great aptitudes for learning. Gifted slave women became concubines, while the rest generally married male slaves, although we know of some exceptional cases in which a male slave married a daughter of his master.
We don’t have much information about the occupations of slaves, especially in the countryside. Despite that, everything seems to indicate that the differences between free people and slaves weren’t huge in terms of job positions and conditions. In the countryside, slave women participated both in domestic chores and agricultural works, but obviously both free and slave women did these activities, as legal documents prove that some women worked as maids for a salary. Legal literature is the genre that provides more information about domestic slaves in the cities. Interestingly, we know that slave permutations and transfers in usufruct were allowed and regulated, like animal permutations or other types of commercial transactions. For instance, a slave craftsman was worth two slaves that were not artisans, and likewise it was not licit to swap one unskilled slave for another only based on beauty.
Slaves could perform jobs of all sorts, and that’s important to highlight because many people have the misconception that slaves were only cheap and unskilled labor. That’s far from being true, because many slaves were employed in management roles or in technical professions. In the dar al-Islam, slaves were not employed as massively as they used to be in the Roman Empire, but they were present in all levels of society and in all kind of jobs. There were governors and generals who were slaves in the Umayyad administration, but there were also secretaries, accountants, merchants, craftsmen, masons, bakers or embroiderers. Some of the male slaves were castrated by Muslim and Jewish slavers to convert them into eunuchs and saqaliba, and the saqaliba could be created thanks to the military and pirate raids against northern Spain and the coastal regions of Europe.
Since the dictator Almanzor distrusted the saqaliba, he stopped incorporating more of them into the Caliphal guard and he relied much more on Berber soldiers. With the arrival of the Almoravids and Almohads, Black African slaves were more commonly imported to al-Andalus, while the influx of captives from northern Spain increased as well because there were hundreds of skirmishes and incursions against the Christians, and the other way around too. Again, focusing specifically in captive and enslaved women, the capture and sale of Christian women in the slave markets of al-Andalus suggests that there was considerable demand for this “product”. In many cases, women were captured in the aceifas against the Christian north and were enslaved in small numbers. But the hajib and dictator Almanzor, or al-Mansur in Arabic, was much more ambitious and he enslaved large numbers of Christians. When Almanzor sacked Barcelona in 985, all those Christians who had taken refuge in the city or that were defending it were either killed or enslaved.
His son al-Muzaffar in 1007 captured the fortress of San Martín de Rubiales, in the County of Castile, and he separated the Christians into two group: one group with all the men who were subsequently executed, and the other with women and children that were shared out among the victorious Muslim troops, as was the custom. In accordance with the prevailing mentality of the time, the capture of women became the ultimate tool to dishonor the enemy. According to the 13th century Moroccan historian Abd al-Wahid al-Marrakushi, the around fifty campaigns of Almanzor from the 980s until his death in 1002 produced such a glut of Christian slave women that prices collapsed and many Muslim men decided to buy a Christian slave concubine instead of marrying a free Muslim woman. The beautiful daughter of a Christian noble is said to have been sold for only 20 dinars, about the same as a horse.
At sunrise, a town crier publicly auctioned off Christians throughout the morning. Sometimes entire families were on sale, and if the family was lucky enough, a wealthy patron bought the whole package as a gesture of Muslim charity. Christian women remained half-dressed during the auction, and if there was a potential buyer, the woman was moved to a near house and undressed to allow the potential buyer to check her beauty. In the auctions, characteristics such as origin, race, skills, health, virginity and beauty in the case of women, or the reputation of the person in question were all taken into account to determine the price, and as it happens to anything that’s sold demand and supply also determined the price. We even know from a number of examples that some slave traders obliged women to exercise prostitution and later abort, in order to avoid their price falling in the slave market. Obviously, the slave markets were nothing like the image given in some 19th century paintings of the Romanticism.
With that, I think we can move on to the other topic of today’s episode, the Jews of al-Andalus. After the conversion of the Visigoths to Catholicism, the Jews had suffered much under the antisemitic laws of the Visigothic Kingdom. The Muslim conquest of Spain supposed an improvement of the legal conditions of the Jews, and although they still faced legal discrimination, the Jews weren’t persecuted and forced to convert under the Umayyads. Relationships between Muslims and Jews before the arrival of Abd al-Rahman III don’t seem to have been problematic, although we are very poorly informed about Andalusi Jews of the 8th and 9th centuries. The best known Andalusi Jew of this period is Eleazar of Zaragoza, who was born as a Christian in the Carolingian Empire. His Christian name was Bodo and he had served as a deacon in the court of Louis the Pious, but for some reason he converted to Judaism in 838.
From the Catholic point of view, this was apostasy punishable by death, but Eleazar was smart enough to keep his conversion in secret and he was determined to reach al-Andalus to live openly as a Jew. In order to do so, he recruited Frankish men with the pretext to make pilgrimage to Rome, but instead Eleazar travelled with them to Zaragoza where he sold his Frankish colleagues as slaves. He was a pretty awful person I would say. In Zaragoza Eleazar gained fame as a polemicist against Christianity and an advocate of Judaism. He exchanged correspondence with Álvaro of Córdoba, the man who later wrote a chronicle about his friend Eulogio, the leader of the Martyrs of Córdoba. Letters began in a cordial tone, but soon descended into an exchange of insults. However, Eleazar of Zaragoza is remembered precisely for being a notable apostate and polemicist, an extremist Jew who didn’t represent the other Jews of al-Andalus, just like Eulogio and Álvaro of Córdoba didn’t represent the majority of Mozarabs.
In the Umayyad and first Taifa period, the Jewish population seems to have grown in the Iberian Peninsula, as a result of both immigration and demographic expansion of the Jews. Unlike many Mozarab Christians, the small Jewish community remained largely faithful to Judaism, partly because their faith required frequent assembly for prayer and a communal bathhouse, something that encouraged them to live in special Jewish quarters. Although the Jews usually lived in Jewish quarters, the exception to this rule is the Cordoban city of Lucena, that was exclusively inhabited by Jews from the 9th to the late 11th century. Because of that, Lucena was known as the Pearl of Sepharad, and it’s not surprising since Lucena was originally known as Eliossana, meaning in Hebrew ‘May God save us’. Lucena was a center of Jewish religious scholarship until the Almoravids and Almohads persecuted Jews and destroyed the city, provoking the migration of many Jews to the Christian north.
Going back to my point, the Jews of al-Andalus were Arabized but not Islamized, despite the fact that Arabization in al-Andalus and in all the other parts of the Islamic world was for many Christian a way-station on the path of adoption of Islam. All ethnic and religious groups became more or less Arabized by the 11th century, with fewer and fewer people speaking dialects of Mozarabic as time progressed, although during the Caliphate of Córdoba Romance was still widely used, even by the Caliph himself. Latin died as a language of literature among Andalusi Christians before the second millennium, while Andalusi Jews adopted Arabic as a vernacular language but stuck to the use of Hebrew in religious activities. Jews also wrote literature using the Hebrew script, and many Jewish authors like the renowned Maimonides wrote works in Judeo-Arabic or even Aramaic.
Moving on to the Caliphate of Córdoba, Hasdai ibn Shaprut is the first Andalusi Jew whose life is known in detail. Hasdai was born into a wealthy and learned Jewish family of Jaén in 910. He worked for Abd al-Rahman III and al-Hakam II and he raised to become a senior official in the customs. Hasdai ibn Shaprut represented the archetype of the Jewish courtier, becoming the Caliph’s confidant and one of his main counselors since the 940s. Other Muslim scholars and courtiers hated to see a dhimmi like Hasdai wielding so much power, but they couldn’t do anything to put pressure on al-Nasir. Caliph Abd al-Rahman III used the medical and diplomatic skills of Hasdai to cure the obesity of the deposed King of León Sancho, after his grandmother, the influential Queen dowager Toda of Pamplona, requested help to his nephew the Caliph Abd al-Rahman. Thanks to Hasdai, Cordoban influence in Pamplona and León increased and so did the prestige of the Caliph al-Nasir. He spoke Hebrew, Arabic and Latin, and that enabled him to receive and send embassies and letters from foreign powers, so he de facto became the foreign minister of the Caliphate of Córdoba.
For example, Otto I of the Holy Roman Empire decided to send to Córdoba a delegation in 953 led by the monk John of Gorze, a fervent Christian who was determined to convert Abd al-Rahman III to Christianity. The goal of this delegation was to ask the Caliph to intervene and put an end to the Muslim settlement of Fraxinetum, in Provence, from where Andalusi pirates and slave traffickers attacked the nearby regions, including the Italian possessions of the Holy Roman Empire. John of Gorze wanted to deliver a zealous and insulting letter to Abd al-Rahman, but Hasdai managed to persuade the envoy to obtain a revised and more respectful letter. Hasdai worked closely with a Greek scholar sent by the Byzantine emperor to translate into Arabic the Materia Medica of Dioscorides, given to the Caliph as a gift from Byzantium. These diplomatic contacts with distant Christian powers never got anywhere, but they show that the Caliphate of Córdoba had earned great prestige and it was a respected power.
His success in his roles of physician and diplomat gave him the position and resources to protect the interests of all the Jews of al-Andalus. What’s more, he deepened contacts between Jews of al-Andalus and other Jewish communities, including the educational Jewish centers of Iraq and the Jewish rulers of the Khazars, a mysterious semi-nomadic Turkic confederation located in the steppes of the Volga and Don rivers, from Crimea to the Caucasus. The authenticity of the letters exchanged between Hasdai ibn Shaprut and the King of the Khazars Joseph has been challenged by some historians, but currently I think that it’s more accepted the view that the Khazar Correspondence are valuable sources for our knowledge of the Khazars, who were about the disappear in the second half of the 10th century.
In the 10th and 11th centuries Jews in al-Andalus prospered economically and produced brilliant cultural output, and Hasdai was very important to build the foundations of the flourishment of Jewish culture in al-Andalus. He offered patronage to Jewish religious scholars, grammarians, and poets, from al-Andalus and from abroad. He also imported Jewish texts in Hebrew and Arabic, and all that provoked the flourishment of Andalusi Jewish culture that had a parallel development with the Islamic cultural flourishment under the reign of al-Nasir’s son, al-Hakam II. The cultural and intellectual development of al-Andalus with both Muslim and Jewish scholars supposed a deliberate attempt promoted by the Umayyads to break the Andalusi overdependence on religious and cultural models of the East, to create a unique Andalusi culture.
Jewish cultural renaissance was happening elsewhere in the Islamic world at that time, but the patronage of Hasdai ibn Shaprut certainly helped. The fall of the Caliphate of Córdoba supposed more opportunities for the Jewish community in the small Taifa kingdoms. In the first Taifa period, we see many Jewish politicians serving in the courts of Almería, Zaragoza, Denia, Seville or Granada. Everywhere Jews played similar roles to that of Hasdai ibn Shaprut a century before, in political positions that allowed them to act as patrons for Jewish cultural activity. Their skills and the fact that they belonged to a tiny minority that couldn’t threaten the Muslim political setup made Jews useful administrators for the Taifa rulers. Only in the then small Taifa of Granada the Jews made a Muslim ruler their puppet. The man who did so was Samuel ibn alNaghrila, also known as Samuel HaNagid, meaning the Prince. We don’t know how he acquired such dignity, but the title implies recognition and respect from the Berber Zirid rulers of Granada and the Jewish communities of al-Andalus and abroad.
Samuel HaNagid successfully navigated the politics of the tiny Taifa of Granada with skill, and he is said to have rose to become both the chief minister and general of the taifa. The story of his rise is a legend modelled on that of dictator Almanzor, and it seems hard to believe that he led troops in a state whose ruling Berber elite was defined by its military character. Whatever was his actual role, it’s true that Samuel HaNagid was a very influential man in the Taifa of Granada, because he managed to be succeeded in the position of vizier by his son Joseph, when he died in 1056. The power of a Jew over a Muslim community raised hackles, as for instance Ibn Hazm, a prolific Muladi polymath and father of religious comparative studies, attacked Samuel in a fiery pamphlet, accusing him of attacking the Quran. Samuel HaNagid was also a major poet of the Jewish renaissance in al-Andalus and a patron of other Hebrew poets.
The patronage of Samuel and other Jewish viziers resulted in an explosion of Jewish literature in the form of poetry, scientific works, philosophy and religious studies, written in Arabic, Hebrew and even Aramaic. In other parts of the Islamic world the same phenomenon was occurring, but not with the same intensity, and the difference probably lies in the emergence of Taifa kingdoms. The number of Taifas and their economic prosperity offered opportunities for the Jews in the political, economic and cultural spheres. Some historians such as María Rosa Menocal or David John Wasserstein label this as the Golden Age of Jewish culture, although other historians such as Bernard Lewis, Mark Cohen or Darío Fernández-Morera say that this view is exaggerated and a myth.
I think that it’s undeniable that during the Caliphate of Córdoba and first Taifa period Jewish cultural production in Spain reached an all-time high, so I don’t think it’s exaggerated to say it was a Golden Age of Jewish culture, but at the same time you must not forget that it’s also true that Jews continued to face discrimination and they were always seen as second-class citizens, even during that period of relative tolerance. Nonetheless, like the Christian masses later, the Muslim masses resented the influence and prosperity of the Jews, and as it happened many times to the Jews throughout their history and to other minorities, the Jews eventually became the perfect scapegoat for the masses and Muslim authorities. In the 11th century, before the arrival of the Almoravids, there were a series of anti-Jewish riots, pogroms, assassinations and expulsions. The 1066 Granada massacre is the most famous pogrom of this period, that resulted in the death of hundreds of Jews, including the son of the powerful politician Samuel HaNagid, Joseph ibn Naghrela, who ended up crucified.
Abu ibn Ishaq incited the pogrom with this poem that criticizes the Berber emir of Granada for favoring the Jews: “He has chosen an infidel as his secretary / when he could, had he wished, have chosen a Believer. / Through him, the Jews have become great and proud / and arrogant – they, who were among the most abject. [..] Oh why did he not deal with them, following / the example set by worthy and pious leaders? / Put them back where they belong / and reduce them to the lowest of the low.” The poem is quite long, but I think you get the idea. The Almoravids and Almohads only intensified the persecutions against both Christians and Jews, giving them the choice of either convert to Islam or to be expelled to Africa, as the Catholic monarchs and the Habsburgs later did to the Jews and Muslims.
Let me repeat it, the Muslims eventually forced conversions and expelled other faiths, and I want to highlight that because everyone knows about the Christians doing it but not the Muslims centuries before. If you have the preconceived image of Spanish Christians as intolerant and Andalusis as tolerant and multicultural, you were wrong, because that depended on the period and because the Muslims of Spain were as intolerant as the Christians later were. It was then, after these persecutions in al-Andalus, when the Christian Spanish kingdoms became a refuge for the Jews, until the Sephardic Jews were again persecuted in the 14th and 15th centuries, this time by both Christians and the Muslims of Granada.
We need to understand the alliance between Jews and Muslims or Christians depending on the period understanding the practical considerations of such an alliance. As other minorities, Jewish could be helpful to counter the power of a more numerous and potentially threatening group, such as the Christians in al-Andalus or the Muslims when the Christians conquered Andalusi territory. Muslim or Christian rulers favored the Jewish community as long as it was politically and economically helpful. My professor of Economic Development, Luigi Pascali, along her colleague Sascha Becker, investigated the economic logic behind anti-Semitism studying the case of Germany before and after the Protestant Reformation. The research concluded that anti-Semitism became popular in Protestant areas because Protestants started to compete with Jews in the financial sector, while in the Catholic parts of Germany the Jews continued to monopolize that field. So, in conclusion, the existence of inter-religious or inter-ethnic economic complementarities is key to sustain the coexistence of different religions and ethnicities, and when these complementarities disappear conflicts arise.
THE VERDICT: In today’s verdict I want to think about the poor people who remained captive for some time or who ended up enslaved for the rest of their life. Imagine that you are living close to the Muslim-Christian border, working hard in your field and waiting patiently to reap what you have sown. One day, some Muslim or Christian soldiers show up and as a peasant you can’t do anything to defend yourself, so you feel impotent and scared to death when these soldiers come to your field, destroy or steal your harvest, and capture you and your family as booty. If you are lucky, you and your family may be held captive for some months or years in a kind of prison, but you don’t know what’s going to happen because you don’t control your destiny anymore. During that captivity, you might suffer all kind of abuses, especially if you are a woman. Even if you manage to return home, you may suffer social exclusion, so after suffering such a traumatic event you may not belong anymore to your homeland. Sometimes it was even better to be enslaved and fit in with the same society who had enslaved you, but for most people being enslaved sucked. And with that, The Verdict ends.
In the next episode I’m going to talk about the last years of Abd al-Rahman III and what was happening in the Kingdom of León, Pamplona and the Catalan counties around the 950s and 960s. 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 materials 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, Pinterest and LinkedIn. I hope you enjoyed the episode and thank you for listening!
TRADE AND TRADERS IN MUSLIM SPAIN. Olivia Remie Constable
THE JEWS OF MOSLEM SPAIN. Eliyahu Ashtor
THE ROUTLEDGE HANDBOOK OF MUSLIM IBERIA. Maribel Fierro
THE RISE AND FALL OF THE PARTY-KINGS. David Wasserstein
THE MYTH OF THE ANDALUSIAN PARADISE. Darío Fernández-Morera
THE ORNAMENT OF THE WORLD. María Rosa Menocal
KINGDOMS OF FAITH. Brian A. Catlos
THE LEGACY OF MUSLIM SPAIN. Salma Khadra Jayyusi
CONQUISTADORES, EMIRES Y CALIFAS. LOS OMEYAS Y LA FORMACIÓN DE AL-ANDALUS. Eduardo Manzano Moreno
Mano de obra esclava en al-Andalus. Cristina de la Puente
Los cautivos en al-Andalus durante el Califato Omeya de Córdoba. Aspectos jurídicos, sociales y económicos. Francisco Vidal Castro
El cautiverio femenino cristiano en al-Andalus (711-1492). Ana Escribano López
Religion, division of labor and conflict: Anti-Semitism in German regions over 600 years. Luigi Pascali & Sascha O. Becker