muslim spain

Muslim Umayyad conquest of Spain

This is episode 20 called Muslim Umayyad conquest of Spain and in this episode you will learn:

Show notes

  • Introduction to a new and complex era of the history of Spain, the Medieval Spain of Muslims and Christians
  • What was Pre-Islamic Arabia like
  • A brief history of the rise of Islam, from the reveleations of the Prophet Muhammad to the Rashidun and Umayyad Caliphates
  • Why the conquest of Spain was the logical step to follow after the conquest of North Africa and what was the Iberian Peninsula like before their conquest
  • Introduction to the main characters of the initial conquest of the Visigothic Kingdom: Tariq ibn Ziyad and Count Julian
  • How the Muslim forces of Tariq crushed the Visigothic army of Roderic in the Battle of Guadalete, and the betrayal of the brothers of former King Wittiza, Oppas and Sisebut
  • Why the weak military system was a cause of the abrupt fall of the Visigothic Kingdom
  • How Tariq ibn Ziyad took advantage of his victory and transformed the expedition from a large-scale raid to a full-scale invasion
  • The probably brief proclamation of Oppas as King and the fall of Toledo, that eliminated the possibility of a centrally organized resistance
  • Why Musa ibn Nusayr, governor of Ifriqiya, prepared a second expedition to Spain
  • The resistance of Mérida and the Treaty of Orihuela, as an example of the numerous treaties of capitulation signed between the Muslim conquerors and the Christian nobles, priests and towns
  • The Muslim conquest of the Ebro Valley, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia under Musa and Tariq
  • What was the strategy followed to conquer the Iberian Peninsula
  • The unhappy ending of Musa and Tariq
  • How was the success of the Muslim conquest interpreted by both Muslims and Christians
  • Reflection on the common motivations that all conquests have

Script

I’m David Cot, host of The History of Spain Podcast, and this is episode 20 called Muslim Umayyad conquest of Spain. In this episode you will learn about the background of Islam and the Umayyad Caliphate, and the events of the first three years of Muslim conquest of Spain. Subscribe to the podcast to not miss an episode!

This episode has a special importance because it’s the start of a new era of the history of Spain. As we will see in this episode, the abrupt fall of the Visigothic Kingdom caused by the Muslim conquest changed the paradigm. The religious unity of Spain was broken, I mean yeah not 100% of the population of the Visigothic Kingdom was Catholic, but the great majority was. After the Muslim conquest, there were more religious issues because the Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths lived in the same Iberian Peninsula. Political unity, already weak in the late Visigothic Kingdom, disappeared, and several political entities emerged in Medieval Spain. That meant that borders were permeable and territories were constantly changing hands, and political division also explains the emergence of regional cultures and languages that still exist in modern Spain and Portugal. Spain under the Romans interacted extensively with both Europe and North Africa, under the Visigoths it was more connected with the West, while Muslim Spain interacted more with North Africa. Spain as a Catholic nation, heir of Rome and the Visigoths, almost disappeared. Instead, al-Andalus as a Muslim nation, descendant of both the Latin and Arab cultures, emerged.

Medieval Spain was a long, complex and dynamic period, so both you and I will require to pay attention to detail to avoid oversimplifying this period. Medieval Spain wasn’t just about Christians fighting Muslims, several times Christians and Muslims fought among themselves and they formed alliances with their religious nemesis. Until the 11th century Muslim Spain was in a position of supremacy over the different Christian states, then between the 11th and 13th centuries the balance of power went back and forth, and after that only the Emirate of Granada remained, until its conquest in 1492 led by the Catholic Monarchs. Now, let’s start already with the background of the Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula.

While the Visigothic Kingdom was in a state of chaos and infighting, divided between the supporters of King Roderic and Agila II, the rising Muslim Umayyad Caliphate had already finished the conquest of North Africa after a series of bloody and difficult campaigns. The war machine of the Arab empire was ready for a new campaign to spread the word of the Prophet Muhammad, and to seek for riches of course. But what are the origins of Islam and the secret behind the rapid success in its spreading?

First we need to understand the society of the birthplace of Islam. Pre-Islamic Arabia was a sparsely populated and preliterate place with a population of Semitic origin. There were both sedentary and nomadic Arabs, but Pre-Islamic Arabian society was in any case a tribal society. That means that it was a society organized in clans, and that explains the later conflicts among the Arab elite of the Umayyad Caliphate, such as the Qays-Yaman rivalry between northern and southern Arabians. In terms of political development, there weren’t any long-lasting and relevant Arab states before Islam, as political authority was at the hands of the chiefs of the tribes. You can imagine that the lack of political organization and tribal justice led to ceaseless warfare, that’s why Arab men were skilled warriors. This is similar to the case of the Mongols, whose political anarchy, tribal society and harsh living conditions transformed them into exceptional warriors.

pre-islamic arabia

Arabia was a patriarchal society, where women had no social status of any kind and where men could marry as many women as they wanted. Alcoholism and addiction to gambling were common problems among Arab men, that’s why alcohol and gambling were later banned by Islamic laws. As the Arabs lived in a desertic environment, they were used to travel to migrate to places with better living conditions, and they were used to carry out caravan trade. Slavery was a common economic institution in Pre-Islamic Arabia, and the wealthiest and most powerful Arabs were slave traders, merchants and moneylenders. On the religious side, most Arabs were polytheist pagans who venerated various deities and spirits, although there were also some Jews and Christians, as well as a few followers of Iranian religions such as Zoroastrianism. So, religiously, Pre-Islamic Arabia was as much of a mess as politically. I think these social, political and economic conditions help us understand better the characteristics of Islam.

Now let’s overview the origins and rise of Islam. Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, was a caravan trader and a member of a leading family of the city of Mecca in western Arabia. According to Islamic tradition, in 610 he started having revelations from God through the archangel Gabriel, who required him to preach a monotheistic religion to his fellow Arabs. While Muhammad was undertaking his mission, he had new revelations on ethical doctrines, laws and social rules that needed to be observed by his followers, the Muslims, that means ‘those who have surrendered to God and his Prophet’. Sharia, or Islamic law, touches every aspect of life, from slavery to women rights, and at the heart of the Prophet’s preaching lay the Five Pillars of Islam: there’s only one God, believers must pray five times a day at stipulated times, fast during the hours of daylight in the month of Ramadan, make pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, and distribute a portion of their personal income to the poor.

Muhammad’s religious message threatened the very pillars of the tribal Arab society, because it had a universalist message of equality, as God didn’t care about race nor about the material wealth of believers. Note that the egalitarian message was only applied to the male Muslims, but it was still an improvement from the previous order. In fact, Islam condemned practices of Pre-Islamic Arabia such as female infanticide, usury, alcohol and gambling, or the exploitation of the poor and slaves. Because of his revolutionary message, which was similar to that of other prophets such as Jesus or Mani, the Prophet faced opposition soon enough. Muhammad and his followers had to move to Medina, where he solved an inter-tribal conflict. Thanks to Medina’s strategic position, Muhammad blocked the commercial trade route between Yemen in southern Arabia and the Byzantine Empire. Mecca depended on that trade, so after years of failed attempts to overrun the Muslims of Medina the tribes of Mecca surrendered and embraced Islam.

Before the death of the Prophet, Muslim forces managed to conquer the majority of the Arabian Peninsula in two years, following the conquest of Mecca. Even though he named a successor, at the death of Muhammad there was a succession problem. A group followed the successor that the Prophet had appointed, who would become the Shias, and others supported another candidate, who would become the Sunni. The Sunni assumed political power and started what became known as the Rashidun Caliphate. The crisis of leadership caused the apostasy of many recently converted tribes, but the rebellion was suppressed. The Muslim schism between Sunnis and Shias was kind of put on pause for about twenty years, and during that time the Rashidun Caliphate rapidly expanded and spread Islam. The Caliphate launched a simultaneous attack on both the Byzantine and Sasanian Empires, two empires that were exhausted after years of war against each other. If the two empires hadn’t fought during almost 30 years, the most likely scenario is that Islam wouldn’t have expanded as much as it did.

rashidun caliphate

But the Arabs, united for the first time under Islam, swiftly invaded the Byzantine provinces of Syria, Mesopotamia, Palestine and Egypt. As for the Zoroastrian Sasanian Empire, it required many bloody campaigns and repression to conquer, but the Islamic Caliphate had conquered it by the 650s. But then a civil war erupted in the Caliphate, between those who supported a cousin of Muhammad and those who supported the cousin of the previous caliph, who had been murdered. This civil war permanently divided the Muslims between Shia and Sunni Muslims. The cousin of the previous caliph, that was seen as the legitimate caliph by Sunni Muslims, won the civil war and replaced the Rashidun with the Umayyad Caliphate in 661, with the capital in Damascus.

The Umayyad Caliphate continued the rapid military expansion of Islamic forces. It’s important to note though that the rapid conquests didn’t mean that the conquered peoples massively converted to Islam. Massive conversions took decades or even centuries depending on the region, and that was the situation during both the Rashidun and Umayyad Caliphates. The situation of having a Muslim Arab elite ruling over a population that was predominantly non-Muslim caused more and more tensions as the caliphate expanded, and the Arab discrimination against those non-Arab Muslims also caused social tensions, because the message of the Prophet included the condemnation of racial discrimination. In terms of expansion, the Umayyad Caliphate conquered modern Pakistan and Afghanistan, Armenia, the Caucasus, North Africa, Central Asia and, of course, the Iberian Peninsula.

umayyad caliphate 750

For the history of Spain, the conquest that matters as a previous step to the conquest of the Visigothic Kingdom was that of Maghreb in North Africa. The Arabs defeated the Byzantine armies without any major setback, and they founded the city of Kairouan, which would become the capital of the province of Ifriqiya, the renamed Byzantine province of Africa. In 698 Carthage fell and was destroyed, and the Byzantine Empire lost forever all North African territories, territories that were key grain suppliers for the empire. It was a blow from which the Eastern Roman Empire never recovered.

The Byzantine armies were barely an impediment to Arab expansion, but the Berber tribes of the interior regions were a whole different thing. The Berbers of modern Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco blocked any Arab attempt to advance beyond the coasts of Tunisia, until between 703 and 708 Maghreb was conquered and the Umayyad Caliphate gained control over all the North African coast, except for Ceuta. At this point, they were very close to Spain itself and the Muslim forces were waiting for their chance to attack. By 711, the North African province of Ifriqiya was pacified enough for an expedition to be launched into Spain.

In many ways, the conquest of Spain was the logical and necessary step to follow after the conquest of North Africa. Most Umayyad soldiers served in the hope of booty and lands through more conquests, which were beneficial for both Arabs and Berbers, even though the distribution of benefits was asymmetrical. If no new opportunities of conquest appeared, the tribes and groups might fight each other and lead to the disintegration of the caliphate. Luckily, Spain offered the kind of opportunity needed to keep united and expanding the Umayyad Caliphate. For Arab and Berber standards, the Iberian Peninsula was a fertile and wealthy land. The population of Spain in the late Visigothic period has been estimated to be less than 5 million, far from the 6 or 7 million of the 5th century, as plagues and famines reduced the population of the Iberian Peninsula. We can imagine a very empty landscape, with self-sufficient small towns and large estates, and a kingdom that again had a very weak control over the poor and mountainous north, where the Asturians, Cantabrians and Basques lived. Such was the land the Muslim armies conquered.

But before that, let me address the question of how Islamicised were the conquerors of Spain. In the 630s, the Rashidun Caliphate conquered areas that were predominantly Arab or Semitic, so it was relatively easy to integrate them. The captured non-Muslims were enslaved, and slaves could only be liberated if they embraced Islam and became perpetual clients of the tribe of their previous master. If they converted, they received a share of the spoils of war, although that share was lower than that of the Arabs. That’s how the ranks of the conquerors could continue to grow, as was the case of Musa ibn Nusayr, the governor of Ifriqiya during the conquest of Spain, who was the grandson of an enslaved Syrian Arab. This system worked until the Arabs overextended so much that they became a tiny minority, and their racial discrimination against non-Arabs became unacceptable by their subjects. The overextension was already obvious when the Muslim forces started the conquest of Spain. The bulk of the invading army of Spain was Berber, an ethnic group that had just submitted to Islamic rule and that was far from being truly Islamicised and Arabicized.

The governor of Ifriqiya, Musa ibn Nusayr, appointed his Berber client Tariq ibn Ziyad to rule the Moroccan city of Tangier and to raid Spain. The first step to do so was to conquer Ceuta, a key North African city to control the Strait of Gibraltar. Ceuta was then part of the Visigothic Kingdom, and its governor was a man remembered in Spanish historiography as Don Julián. The historicity of this character has been long a matter of debate among historians. Legend says that Julian collaborated with the Muslims because the King of the Visigoths Roderic had raped his daughter. This tale of betrayal and personal revenge is almost for sure fictional, with the aim to moralize and to explain why the Visigothic Kingdom fell. But it’s very likely that Count Julian existed, I mean, collaborators with foreign invading powers aren’t something new in history. Now let me explain the part of the story that is more plausible. Tariq and Julian arranged an agreement that confirmed the authority of Julian over Ceuta, and the Muslims probably promised him new estates. In exchange, Julian provided ships, a harbor, and intelligence and logistical support. Julian had no choice but to accept this deal, I mean Ceuta would have been put under Muslim control with or without his collaboration, so from an individual point of view better to collaborate and keep his position and wealth.

With the assistance of Count Julian, Tariq sent a commander named Tarif to make a reconnaissance raid in the southern coast of Spain in 710. Maybe in Tarif’s expedition the Muslims also consolidated some alliances with the locals, using the network of contacts of Julian. After the reconnaissance raid, Tariq thought that the prospects of a successful attack were good, but he wasn’t thinking about a full-scale invasion to conquer the entire Visigothic Kingdom, as it later happened. Anyway, Tariq prepared a force of between 7,000 and 12,000 men, who were mostly Berbers, and the Muslim army crossed the Strait of Gibraltar in April 711, landing at the rock that still bears the name of Tariq, Gibraltar. The invading army occupied without resistance the surrounding areas, including Algeciras and Medina Sidonia, therefore the Muslims gained control of the communications between the two shores of the strait.

News of those attacks reached King Roderic, who was then occupied fighting the Basques in the north, although it wasn’t until summer that Roderic was able to lead his army south to expel the Muslims. The army of Roderic was likely larger than that of Tariq, we are talking about maybe 20,000 men, and in mid-July the armies of Tariq and Roderic met somewhere near a river of the province of Cádiz. The battle became known as the Battle of Guadalete, and this battle marked the future of the Iberian Peninsula for the following centuries. The brothers of former king Wittiza, Oppas and Sisebut, accompanied Roderic with hidden intentions. The brothers of Wittiza had the duty to lead the flanks of the Visigothic army, maybe because Roderic wanted to reconcile with the faction that supported Wittiza. However, Oppas and Sisebut had other plans. When they had to charge against the army of Tariq, the soldiers in the flanks defected and abandoned the battlefield. King Roderic was left with only his loyal supporters, and now they had a numerical disadvantage. It’s not like Oppas and Sisebut had made an alliance with the Muslims, instead the brothers of Wittiza thought that the Muslims would defeat Roderic, raid southern Spain and then leave. What neither the Muslim nor Christian forces expected was the crushing defeat that the Visigoths suffered in the Battle of Guadalete. King Roderic himself was killed and Visigothic losses were very high. The situation was very similar to that of 507 when the Franks defeated the Visigoths in the Battle of Vouillé and killed the King of the Visigoths. The key difference was that this time the Visigoths had no ally such as the Ostrogoths to back them in this critical moment. In a single battle, the fate of the Visigothic Kingdom was sealed.

king roderic battle of guadalete

Another reason why Visigothic Spain fell quickly after the Battle of Guadalete was its military system. As in the rest of post-Roman Germanic kingdoms of Europe, there was no standing army in the Visigothic Kingdom. The nobles brought their clients and subordinates in response to royal summons, and the king rewarded them with legal concessions, new estates, or gold and silver. The weakness of this system that functioned during the Middle Ages in Europe is obvious: the bulk of the troops are loyal to their lords, not necessarily the monarchy, which is exactly what happened with the betrayal of the brothers of Wittiza. At the time military disaster meant the dispersal of the supporters of the previous king, who had to elect a new king in Toledo. The problem, as we will soon see, was that Toledo quickly fell after the Battle of Guadalete, which left the Visigothic Kingdom in chaos and eliminated the possibility of a centrally organized resistance. For those well versed in English history, this situation may remind you to that of the Norman conquest of England in 1066.

The unexpectedly crushing victory of Tariq ibn Ziyad changed the objective of the expedition, from a large-scale raid to a full-scale invasion. Like other Muslim invasions, the idea to transform a raid into an invasion didn’t start as a result of the initiative of the Caliph al-Walid or even the governor Musa ibn Nusayr. It looks like it was entirely Tariq’s idea. All of Spain laid open to Muslim conquest, so, in the aftermath of the Battle of Guadalete, Tariq moved quickly to take advantage of his victory. He split his army, moving the main army under him to the capital of the kingdom, Toledo, while dispatching a smaller army to Cordoba. In Cordoba the Muslims encountered some opposition, as a group of nobles took refuge in a church and fortress where they resisted for three months. After that time, and seeing that no one was coming to help them, they surrendered and arranged agreements with the conquerors. On the other hand, Málaga, Cádiz and Granada were conquered without resistance.

The brother of Wittiza Oppas arrived in Toledo before Tariq, and he was probably proclaimed king, but only a few days after that happened Oppas fled Toledo along many other people. Abandoned by those who could have put up a fight, the little resistance that could still be offered wasn’t enough and Tariq conquered Toledo. The fall of Toledo, the capital of the Visigothic Kingdom, had an important psychological and political blow. Apart from north-eastern Spain that was controlled by the Visigothic pretender Agila II, the rest of the regions could only put up an isolated resistance with no coordination with other regions. In Toledo, the Muslims executed many nobles, as they were either too close to the aristocratic families that ruled the Visigothic Kingdom, or they had supported Oppas. We don’t know the fate of Oppas, but we do know that his brother Sisebut established himself in Coimbra, in modern Portugal. Sisebut wasn’t the only noble who fled to the north to live outside of al-Andalus, but we will see that within two episodes when I will talk about the start of the Reconquista.

muslim conquest of spain stages map

When word of the incredible success of his client Tariq reached Musa ibn Nusayr, he felt envious of the achievements of his subordinate and decided to send reinforcements and prepare an army that he would lead himself. It wasn’t difficult to recruit new Berber and Arab soldiers, because everyone heard about the opportunity to enrich themselves. From Kairouan Musa departed in 712 with maybe more than 10,000 men, many of which were Arabs. The objective of the expedition was to make very clear that Musa ibn Nusayr was the legitimate authority and that the conquest of the Visigothic Kingdom would be his personal achievement. I’m sure Tariq wasn’t very enthusiastic about this idea. The governor of Ifriqiya first gathered information and thoroughly planned the route that his army would follow. Then Musa landed at Algeciras and conquered the fortress of Carmona in southern Spain, which was captured with the help of native collaborators that pretended to be refugees and from within they opened the gates. Then Musa ibn Nusayr laid siege on Seville and it was conquered by force, which means that the properties of the locals weren’t to be respected. After being conquered, Seville became the capital of the new conquered lands, which was a quite logical decision, since it was the most economically powerful city of Spain and it has a navigable river, the Guadalquivir.

Then Musa divided his forces, the majority remained under the governor of Ifriqiya while a smaller army under his son Abd al-Aziz moved to the southeastern region of Murcia. In Mérida Musa faced serious resistance, as Mérida had the magnificent Roman walls and aqueduct that made its conquest difficult. For more than a year, Mérida resisted until the city capitulated in the summer of 713. The conditions of the surrender were that all the properties of the clergy and those who had fled the city were to be confiscated, while the Muslims would respect the life, property and faith of the rest of the local population. As for the son of Musa, Abd al-Aziz, he conquered the region of Murcia with the surrender of Theodemir. Theodemir was a Gothic noble who had defended a few years before the southern coast of Spain from a weird Byzantine attack. It’s said that Theodemir had to dress up women and children as soldiers to create the illusion that he could defend his estates and that it was better to negotiate without a fight. His example shows how defenseless Visigothic Spain was. Luckily for him, the trick worked and Abd al-Aziz and Theodemir signed what’s known as the Treaty of Orihuela or Treaty of Theodemir, a treaty of surrender that has been preserved. Let me quote a fragment of the treaty:

“We will not set special conditions for him or for any among his men, nor harass him, nor remove him from power. His followers will not be killed or taken prisoner, nor will they be separated from their women and children. They will not be coerced in matters of religion, their churches will not be burned, nor will sacred objects be taken from the realm, as long as he remains sincere and fulfills the conditions that we have set for him. He has reached a settlement concerning seven towns: Orihuela, Villena, Alicante, Mula, Bigastro, Ello, and Lorca. He will not give shelter to fugitives, nor to our enemies, nor encourage any protected person to fear us, nor conceal news of our enemies. He and his men shall pay one dinar every year, together with four measures of wheat, four measures of barley, four liquid measures of concentrated fruit juice, four liquid measures of vinegar, four of honey, and four of olive oil. Slaves must each pay half of this amount.”

Surrender agreements such as these were signed in many cities and with many Spanish nobles and priests. As you can see, the terms of the treaty are assumable, which is why many nobles and towns submitted instead of trying to resist the Muslim conquest, which would have provoked a futile bloodbath. The conditions of capitulations varied though, as in some towns the Muslims demanded captives and properties, while in others they respected the faith of the natives and the local authorities in exchange of their loyalty and tribute. A few towns were burned and destroyed, and in those cases the local population was killed, but that very rarely happened. The enslavement of the local population, particularly young women to turn into sexual slaves, the taking of hostages or plunder were much more common though, so don’t get it wrong, the conquest was far from being peaceful.

Going back to the expedition of Musa, as the siege of Mérida was taking a long time, Musa left the city before its fall to move to Toledo, to meet again with Tariq and make clear that he was the boss. As you can imagine there were tensions and disputes over the booty, but they left together Toledo after the winter and launched a joint expedition to submit the Ebro Valley, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia. There they continued to occupy the administrative regional centers, such as Zaragoza, Pamplona, Leon, Astorga or Lugo. The Muslims made hundreds of nobles prisoners and captured their treasures. Many of them were refugees that had fled Toledo or their respective hometowns with the hope that the Muslim invasion would be repelled, but that didn’t happen. Those who believed that the new conquerors were there to stay could exploit that to their advantage. For instance, Count Cassius converted to Islam to preserve his lands and to become a close native collaborator of the new regime. This Count Cassius founded the Banu Qasi dynasty that became important in the Andalusian politics of the 9th and 10th centuries.

In a matter of just three years, only Septimania, Lusitania and modern Catalonia and Valencia remained out of Muslim control. The strategy followed to conquer the Visigothic Kingdom wasn’t innovative. The conquest was similar to that of Iran, although it all happened faster, on a smaller scale and with less bloodshed. The first stage of the conquest was about conquering the main cities and lines of communication, as well as the fertile lands of southern and southeastern Spain. The second stage, that happened gradually and only after the expedition of Musa and Tariq, involved the conquest of the north-east and making effective Muslim control over rural and remote areas.

However, this story didn’t have a happy ending for the main characters of the conquest. The success of Musa and Tariq drew the attention of the Umayyad Caliph al-Walid, who summoned them in Damascus. Musa and Tariq reluctantly left Spain in September 714, along captives and nobles such as Count Cassius, leaving his son Abd al-Aziz as governor of al-Andalus. Musa and Tariq were never to return to the lands they had conquered. Musa and Tariq triumphantly entered Damascus, before meeting with Caliph al-Walid who was on the point of death. A few days later al-Walid died and was succeeded by his brother Sulayman, who demanded that Musa gave him all the spoils of war. Musa refused to do so, and Sulayman stripped him of his rank and confiscated the spoils anyway. The punishment didn’t end there, but we will see in the next episode how cruel destiny was with Musa ibn Nusayr. It’s kind of what happened to Hernán Cortés, they both lead epic conquests only to be suspected later by the rulers in whose names acted. However, the fate of Musa was much more tragic than that of Cortés. As for Tariq, we virtually know nothing about what happened after he arrived in Damascus, but it’s safe to say that he didn’t have a happy ending either.

Before going to The Verdict, I think it’s interesting to see how the success of the Muslim conquest was explained by both Christians and Muslims. For Muslims, the answer was simple: God had willed it. The Christians instead had to explain why God had abandoned them. Medieval chroniclers blamed the ruling Visigoths for their immorality. According to them, they were all to blame: the desire of power and glory of Roderic, the treachery of Oppas and Sisebut, the cowardice of the bishop of Toledo who fled to Rome, and the lust of King Wittiza, who had many concubines. Therefore, for Christians the sins of the Visigoths were what made God punish them with the invasion of the infidels.

THE VERDICT: In today’s verdict I want to discuss the common motivations that all conquests have. Religion has traditionally been a major reason, as it unites people and it gives warriors a higher moral cause, and this is true for both Muslims and the later fervent Christians. But religion is not a sufficient motivation, because if it was, there wouldn’t be conflicts among believers of the same faith. More mundane reasons are usually much more important. Conquerors risk their lives to enrich themselves, either through a salary, a share of booty, or new lands to settle. Conquerors also risk their lives for women, either to marry foreign women or to sexually enslave or rape them. And the other big reason is for prestige, glory and power. The deadly sins, such as lust, pride and greed, are the human factors that have shaped the world. And with that, The Verdict ends.

In the next episode I will cover the definitive conquest of the Visigothic Kingdom and the society of al-Andalus. To end this episode, let me remind you that the podcast has a website, thehistoryofspain.com, where you can find the scripts of the episodes, a list of books about the history of Spain and subscribe to the biweekly newsletter. Please subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube and more, review the podcast, and follow the social media accounts of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. I hope you enjoyed the episode and thank you for listening!

Sources

EARLY MEDIEVAL SPAIN: UNITY IN DIVERSITY, 400-1000. Roger Collins

KINGDOMS OF FAITH. A NEW HISTORY OF ISLAMIC SPAIN. Brian A. Catlos

MUSLIM SPAIN AND PORTUGAL. Hugh Kennedy

HISTORIA DE LA ESPAÑA DE LA EDAD MEDIA. Vicente Ángel Álvarez Palenzuela

ESPAÑA 702-719: LA CONQUISTA MUSULMANA. Luis A. García Moreno

A HISTORY OF MEDIEVAL SPAIN. Joseph F. O’Callaghan

ESPAÑA MUSULMANA (SIGLOS VIII-XV). Rachel Arié

CONQUISTADORES, EMIRES Y CALIFAS: LOS OMEYAS Y LA FORMACIÓN DE AL-ÁNDALUS. Eduardo Manzano

LA CONQUISTA ÁRABE, 710-797. Roger Collins

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

Book review: The Mercenary Mediterranean

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Review The Mercenary Mediterranean

Hussein Fancy’s The Mercenary Mediterranean: Sovereignty, Religion, and Violence in the Medieval Crown of Aragon presents the complexity of Christian and Muslim relationships, specifically talking about the Muslim mercenaries who served the Christian Crown of Aragon. This challenges the black-and-white perception that we sometimes have while reading about Medieval Spain.

These are some quotes extracted from academic reviews of the book:

“Fancy has put forward a deeply learned and beautifully woven argument, in a thought-provoking and discomforting study that constitutes a major contribution to the history of medieval Spain.” – American Historical Review

“Readers are confronted with multilayered loyalties, military needs, and powerful ambitions that defy the habitual designations of reconquest, crusade, and jihad to this kind of state policy making. . . . Highly recommended.” – Choice

“Fascinating. . . . The Mercenary Mediterranean has made a remarkable number of major contributions . . . and offers valuable lessons for any scholar interested in medieval ethno-religious relations, royal/imperial authority, or the political history of the western Mediterranean.” – Bulletin for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies

“The Archive of the Crown of Aragon has served as a reliable source for scholars to produce groundbreaking studies on interfaith relations. To a list that includes Burns, Boswell, Nirenberg, and others, we must add Hussein Fancy, whose present volume will be essential reading not only for the discipline of interfaith relations, but of religious history as well.”- Medieval Encounters

“Like David Nirenberg’s now-classic Communities of Violence and Olivia Remie Constable’s vital work in this area, The Mercenary Mediterranean will be of immense importance to historians of medieval Iberia. Original and intellectually ambitious, this book will likely become a landmark for scholars in the field, placing Fancy at the forefront of the new generation of Mediterraneanists working in medieval literary and cultural studies.” – Vincent Barletta, Stanford University

The Mercenary Mediterranean fundamentally advances our understanding of soldiers recruited from North Africa to fight for the Crown of Aragon. More than just another example of border-crossing or the malleability of religious identity, the case of the jenets demonstrates the paradoxes and strangeness of medieval warfare and faith. Fancy argues convincingly that religion, far from being shoved aside by other factors, remains central to comprehending warfare, cultural conflict, cultural rapprochement and ideas of empire. This is among the most important and thought-provoking books on Mediterranean and Iberian history of recent years.” – Paul Freedman, Yale University

“Fancy begins this extraordinary journey with a pawned sword and five men on mules at the borders of Valencia. By its end he has ranged across mountain, sea, and desert, across centuries and languages, in pursuit–like some relentless historical posse–of mercenary bands of Muslims, Christians, and Jews. His narrative is everywhere astonishing, as he shows us how medieval power was woven out of their migrations across the western Mediterranean, and in the process makes us question the nature of our own modern world.” – David Nirenberg, University of Chicago

Summary of reviews: all the academic reviews signal how thought-provoking The Mercenary Mediterranean is, although without making unfounded revisionist claims. It’s very recommended if you want to learn a specific case of interfaith relations of Medieval Spain.

Book review: Caliphs and Kings

caliphs and kings roger collins

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Review Caliphs and Kings: Spain, 796-1031

Caliphs and Kings: Spain, 796-1031 is one of the works of Hispanist Roger Collins on Medieval Spain. Roger Collins talks about the different Medieval states of the Iberian Peninsula before the disintegration of the Umayyad Caliphate of Cordoba. This includes chapters focused on the Caliphate of Cordoba, the Kingdom of Asturias, the Kingdom of Leon, the County of Castile, the Counties of the Pyrenees and the Kingdom of Navarre. But not everything is about politics, in this book Roger Collins also debunks the theory that Muslim-dominated Spain was a place of religious tolerance and harmony between Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Nonetheless, he also dmystifies some Christian Spanish nationalists theories about this period.

This is what customers on Amazon say:

“This book SHATTERS the myth that Islamic Spain was a land of tolerance between the Muslims, Jews, and Christians. The only reason I didn’t give it 5 stars is because the book is very scholarly and it’s pretty dry in parts because of it. On a slightly cerebral note, I didn’t count the number of decapitated heads mentioned in this book, but it’d be a very high number. Someone needs to write a popular history of this time period with the same content because more people need to know what really happened in Al-Andalus.” – Anonymous Amazon customer

This new volume in the series “A History of Spain” follows in the footsteps of the two previous ones (“Visigothic Spain 409-711” and “The Arab Conquest of Spain, 711-797”), written by the same author. The later volume was first published in 1989 and the former on the Visigoths in Spain in 2006. Roger Collins uses Caliphs and Kings to revisit the Arab Conquest of Spain some 20 years later, and revisit some of the themes that he developed at the time, in the light of recent historical literature and archaeological findings. His thesis, summarized in the introduction, is that the Visigothic Kingdom was caught at a moment of weakness, rather than being in decline, or even decadent, when the Arab Conquest happened. Moreover, he shows that the Conquest was so swift because of a conjunction of events: a troubled and violent succession coupled with a civil war, the death of the King in battle against the invaders and the swift occupation of Toledo, the Kingdom’s capital, so that no other fully legitimate King could be crowned again.

He also shows that, beyond the Conquest, there were some fundamental changes but also many elements of continuity. Many families belonging to the elite submitted to the invaders were allowed to keep their lands and most of the political and economic power and converted within a few generations. However, Reilly also states that the Arab Conquest put an end, once and for all, to the political unity of the Iberian Peninsula. Never again would it be unified under a single authority. In addition, he also presents the Omayyad regime of Muslim Spain as having to almost continuously fight the separatist tendencies of numerous regional governors and warlords, especially (but not only) in the three Marches. The general impression that is conveyed is that of a relatively divided, heterogeneous and potentially weak Muslim regime that only the strongest among the Omayyad leaders could successfully hold together. Another component is to show what must have been at least one of the reasons for such endemic unrest. The taxes and tributes that the Emirs’ and then the Caliphs’ administration raised were essentially for their own exclusive benefit, and not for that of their subject. Also, the Emirate and then Caliphate was plagued by succession conflicts as all sons of the reigning monarch (and often all of his brothers as well) could stake a claim to the throne.

Despite this, and despite losing the conquered territories beyond the Pyrenees to the Franks by the end of the 8th century, and Barcelona by the beginning of the 9th, the Muslim regime in Spain is shown to have been much stronger than the small Christian kingdoms that were initially entrenched in the mountains of northern Spain. The attitude of the Ommayads and of the Muslims more generally, towards these kingdoms seems to have been rather ambivalent. After an initial failure to conquer them, they raided them regularly in the name of Holy War, destroying and pillaging what they came across but without seeking to conquer and obliterate these kingdoms once and for all. As Reilly shows rather well, this was both because such a conquest was probably not worth the effort and because these regular raids served the political purpose of demonstrating the Ommayads supremacy within their own territory over their own unruly military and often semi-independent and rebellious governors. Over time, however, the Christian kingdoms expanded and became stronger, taking advantage of the periods of weakness of the Caliphate until the later imploded into multiple successor states (the “taïfa” kingdoms).

Despite the author being a scholar and a specialist of the period, but sometimes also because of this, the book is somewhat difficult to read. They are a number of repetitions, especially when considering the various Christian Kingdoms and Counties, as the same event happens to be considered several times when each of the nascent kingdoms is analysed. Further confusion is introduced with many of the Christian leaders bearing similar names, fighting against each other or allying with each other against a third party as least as much as they fought against Muslim raiders and neighbouring warlords, or with them. An additional difficulty for a “general reader” is the book’s structure. In particular, the last four chapters, which cover the 10th and early 11th century, are not entirely chronological since they present an overview of major events and reigns in Al Andalus, Leon, Navarre and the Pyrenean counties and in the County of Castile. As a result, there is some hardly avoidable jumping back and forth which can be nonetheless confusing.

Interestingly, the volume includes a significant amount of discussion on both the Christian and the Muslim sources with the limitations of both categories of sources being highlighted. For the former, which are largely made up of charters, many of these, and in some cases up to half of them, are either 12th century forgeries or have been heavily interpolated during the 12th century in order to make good specific claims. Reilly also shows that some of the chronicles are quite unreliable and tend to “reconstruct” events or even invent genealogies in order to reinforce the claims and legitimacy of some of the monarchs under which they were written. Muslim “historians” are often no more reliable, although they do often preserve excerpts of older sources within their chronicles. This is largely because their purpose was not to tell history as we would understand it nowadays, but to tell – sometimes mythical and mostly embellished – stories. This is why, for instance, Reilly dismisses as a fiction the story of the vengeful “Count Julian”, Lord of Ceuta, who allegedly ferried the Muslim army of Tariq to Spain.

To conclude, this is a valuable book that displays impressive scholarship and develops interesting and, at times, fascinating theses and assumptions. Unfortunately, both the topic itself (Caliphs AND Kings) and the way it is treated also make this book hard to read and somewhat difficult to access for a “general” reader that does not have a particular interest in the topic. Such as reader might prefer to start with other narratives which have the benefit of being simpler and clearer, even if they are less comprehensive than this one, such as Richard Fletcher’s Moorish Spain.” – JPS (top 1000 reviewer)

And this is what a member of the Goodreads community said:

I don’t know how the hell I always get mixed up with these rigorously academic studies. I think the concept always intrigues me and then when I start reading I’m like Larry David, I just can’t abandon it until I’m done. No offense to Dr. Collin’s either, it’s just that you can tell he’s been grinding through the gears of academia his entire life; the sentences have all the indicative traces of it. Unfortunately this gets my eyes very bleary, and when their at that state I tend to think irrational thoughts, like, “this book deserves a one star rating” or “I should burn down my local university”. Of course, both of these statements are unfair, and, in one case, exceptionally illegal…

SO LETS GET DOWN TO BUSINESS

In “Caliphs and Kings: Spain, 796-1031” (2014), the intention of Roger Collins is, in a broad sense, to lay the framework for a historical understanding of the Umayyad rule in Spain during his chosen time frame (796-1031). Yep, a general history. But rest assured folks, Dr. Collin’s isn’t anywhere near this shallow, he’s got other things on his mind as well. Collins makes it crystal clear that he’s not fond of a popular vein of historiography associated with the period, mainly those that push the notion that this was some sort of perfect ‘golden age’ of mutual toleration (pg.2). Throughout the work Collins always takes great pains to try and argue against such a ‘rosy’ outlook, and the nice thing is, he does so with a fair degree of success. Collins is one of those valuable historians that actually cares a good deal about the scholarly treatment of the sources he is assessing, and he even knows how to point out things that seem particularly misleading.

For those not up to date with the historiographical traditions of Spanish high medieval history (who the hell is), you should know that the idea of convivencio (i.e. ‘La Convivencia), or coexistence, is vitally important to the portions of Collins argument’s that concern the degree of interaction/toleration during the Umayyad rule. Convivencio is something he cannot afford to skip discussing if he wants to be taken seriously, and yet, strangely enough, the actual word is never explicitly mentioned anywhere in the text. Even before the chapter devoted specifically to this topic, i.e. “The Christians of al-Andalus”, we only come into very subtle contact with his thoughts on such perceived collaboration. Collins asserts that, on a political level, Umayyad behavior in the 9th and 10th century, especially there deliberate attempt to not capture more territory (pg.23), is an example, not of Christian/Muslim collaboration or understanding, but rather the lack of aggression (strategic and diplomatic jihad tactic, pg.26) on the side of the Umayyad’s. On a more social level, he says that Muslim influences on Christian ideas were less pronounced then once was thought to believe. He denounces the ‘Mozarabic style’ (pg.119) from having a particularly heavy effect on Spanish architecture, while also claiming that class tensions were higher than ever (pg.169) in the ‘golden age’ of “Abd al-Rahman III”. It should already be easy to see that Collins’ approach doesn’t position itself statically in the comfortable realm of simple political history. If that’s what you wanted out of such a book I suggest looking elsewhere, since he’d rather examine the cultural contact through a constantly questioning investigative lens.

In convivencio arguments he often proves his points by comparing and contrasting scholarly opinions on the ideas put forth, while also heavily criticising what he considers weakness in the source material. Collins will talk in-depth about his thoughts concerning the strength of the sources, an approach that tends to be to his advantage. This is because, more often than not, his position will rely on the ability of his argument to compare and contrast with different scholarly treatment. This type of inquiry can only be executed admirably if the writer has a strong grasp of all of the surrounding causes, secondary authorities, and primary source knowledge, or it would look sloppy and superfluous. Luckily for the reader, Collins usually possesses all three. A case that illustrates this strength can be clearly seen in his ch.7 discussion of the stature of ethnic variance (pg.174-176) in the later Al-Andalus period (‘golden age’). In his analysis he does not concede the idea of a total ethnic convivencio easily. Collins makes it a point to include, not just Christian treatment in the total sum, but rather represent all levels of social variance (Jewish, Arabic, Berbers, etc). By employing this type of comparative approach Collins can argue for a much fuller image of potential coexistence, because it allows him to compare the treatment each social group receives within the realm of the others.

The study isn’t perfect though. A potential weakness in some of Collins’ argumentative chapters can also stem from his heavy reference on sources. Chapter 3 seems to spend too much time trying to compare both Muslim and Christian mental sentiments through the exclusive guiding force of upper class behavior (in the primary source material). The effect this has on his Christian coexistence argument is somewhat negative, as it comes off as forcing a link that is perhaps too exclusive to be as tangible as he would like it to seem. In Chapter 3, he argues that even if the physical reality (i.e. actual attempts) surrounding potential revivals of Christian martyrdom in Al-Andalus was faked or blown out of proportion (pg. 89), the fact that it was a distinctive feature in upper class thought is enough to suggest bad Christian sentiments towards Muslim interaction. This argument is an example of how contrasting too heavily between certain groups can lead the argument into a dead end, as the constant reference to upper class (pg. 86-87) attempts at martyrdom cannot possibly account for the entire social perspective for this behaviour. Furthermore, some of his own arguments in this section tend to go against him, but I won’t press the issue.

Let me just say that the way Dr. Collins organizes his writing is fairly offbeat, switching chapter topics in a way that forces the reader to lose focus. On top of that, some chapters cover history that is in no way related to the previous block of writing (e.g. chapter 6 crammed in between two Al-Andalus discussions). All this makes the work choppy, but I must admit Collins himself has a defense for this when he states that to approach each discussion in the same fashion would be repetitive and “probably impossible” (pg.2) anyway, leaving further inquiry to lean on his bibliography. I guess he assumed this style of approach will suit his work just fine since, as mentioned, one of his key strengths lies in his vast congregation of source material(it has hundreds of footnotes and a forest of a bibliography). I can’t be too angry with his response, simply because of how many things he looks into. His scope is not limited to (often times sketchy) primary source readings but uses basically everything. For example, in his study of the blurry Asturian succession (8th century), he applies the use of legal charters and even physical culture (pg.59) such as coins to come to his conclusions, while in another instance he studies urban planning to a certain degree, so he may figure out the implications of houses that are built over pre-existing Roman roads (29).

Through Collins’ discussion we learn that, if anything, the idea of convivencio is not as clear cut as much of the historiography makes its legacy out to be. Even if we don’t agree with his arguments directly, he’s among an admirable group of new historians who has spotlighted just how much grey area is wrapped around the particular areas of contention in this historical field.

I guess what really irks me about all this is that the book, like the rest of the titles in the History of Spain series it’s featured in, are marketed like popular history and written like extended scholarly papers. If you want a synthesis of academic knowledge on this period, I guess this will work, otherwise, prepare for your eyes to turn grey.” – Petruccio Hambasket IV

Summary of reviews: Roger Collins’ work is criticized for being a bit too scholarly and for some of his arguments against the theory of “convivencia” in the Muslim-dominated Spain, but still his work is considered quite good and everyone recognizes that Collins is a very professional historian.

Book review: Moorish Spain

moorish spain richard fletcher cover

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Review Moorish Spain

Moorish Spain, authored by historian Richard Fletcher, was published back in the 90s, but it’s still a great introductory book to learn the basics about Muslim Spain, covering from the conquest in 711 to the fall of Granada in 1492, with a special emphasis on the cultural heritage that influenced not only Spain but Europe.

This is what customers on Amazon say:

This was one of several books used in a course on “Literature and Culture of Muslim Spain” that I took in 2009. As our professor pointed out, the period from 711 to 1492 is difficult because the Muslim culture flourished early in Iberia and then went into a centuries-long, anticlimactic decline. At the time I took the course I found this book difficult to absorb and much preferred the Maria Rosa Menocal’s book on the same subject. However, post-graduation I’ve had time to read these two books separately and in their entirety. Fletcher’s book has risen mightily in my esteem. While Menocal’s very entertaining collection of essays does make it easy to relate to “Muslim Spain,” Fletcher’s task is far more difficult. He’s trying to help the general reader make sense of a chaotic and scantily-documented period. His basic approach is chronological, but events often were affected by other events happening in the Middle East, North Africa, and beyond the Pyrenees, sometimes simultaneously, which often necessitates a little backtracking. Fletcher’s writing is concise. It was often necessary for me to put the book down and think about what I’d read. However, by reading carefully the reader can learn a lot about the historian’s tools. The book would be valuable to me for this reason, if for no other. “Nostalgia is the enemy of historical understanding,” writes Fletcher in the final chapter of this book. As Ms. Menocal’s book so aptly exemplifies, there is a tendency to romanticize al-Andalus. Fletcher romanticizes nothing. His agenda is historical understanding. I’d recommend, if possible, reading both Fletcher’s and Menocal’s books. They reinforce and support each other. Five stars for Fletcher, too.” – Krebsman

Richard Fletcher’s “Moorish Spain” is a refreshing tonic against the plethora of books on Islamic Spain idealizing the supposed ‘Convivencia’ (especially, “The Ornament of the World” by Maria Rosa Menocal). Fletcher avoids the tendency among many scholars who wish to find an apt, hopeful (albeit unrealistic) Christian-Islamic modus vivendi for Europe’s present-day demographic predicament based on a romaticized model of medieval Spain. Presented in a well-researched, matter-of-fact fashion, the ‘good’ is presented in the context of the ‘bad and the ugly’.” – M. Orbuch

And this is what readers of the Goodreads community say:

An excellent book outlining the history of Moorish Spain! In 711 a relatively small army crossed over from Africa to establish a presence on the Iberian peninsula which was to last for almost a thousand years. Richard Fletcher describes the development of Moorish civilization from its beginnings, its relationship with Christian Europe and the rest of the Islamic world through to its final collapse in 1492. The book also shows how Islamic learning introduced science, agricultural practices and ancient philosophical studies which benefited the then emerging cultures of Christian Europe.

This book gives an insight into a fascinating period of history. Recommended reading!” – Andrew

After reading and being disappointed with Menocal’s famous book on Moorish Spain, The Ornament of the World, I decided to take another crack with this book. And I am happy to report that Fletcher’s book is much better.

While Menocal is wistful and romantic, Fletcher is more detached and occasionally wry. While Menocal hardly acknowledges her sources, Fletcher is usually careful to note where he is getting his information from, even if this book lacks a scholarly bibliography. I found this a great relief, as I have been discovering that Moorish Spain is one of the most persistently mythologized periods in history. Washington Irving set the tone for this in his Tales of the Alhambra, but other writers have been following in his romantic footsteps ever since. Thus Fletcher’s dispassionate treatment was refreshing.

The main drawbacks of this book is that it is too short, and too scholarly. Fletcher was explicitly aiming for a popular audience, but the book he wrote would be better suited for an undergraduate class than a tourist. You cannot, for example, find many good vacation ideas in these pages; indeed, if this was your introduction to Moorish Spain, you might not even want to travel there at all.

Instead of focusing on intellectual and cultural history, the majority of this text deals with political and military history—the invasions, battles, territorial expansions, and so on. Admittedly, Fletcher also quotes poems, autobiographies, and includes pictures of famous buildings; he even has a whole chapter on the relations between Christians and Muslims during this time. But this information jostles for space among dozens of unfamiliar names of rulers who I do not much care to remember. Probably, if he wanted a better-selling book, he could have bot expanded it and included more of a personal touch. He is a fine writer and rather opinionated, so it would have served him well, I think, to have written something less formal.

In any case, I doubt there are any better books on the market for the history hungry tourist visiting Andalusia. This book will give you an overview of the period, and in the process inoculate you against much of the nonsense that gets thrown around about al-Andalus. It was not a paradise of tolerance, nor was it a perpetual war of faith against faith. As Fletcher said: “The past, like the present, is for most of the time rather flavourless.” ” – Roy Lotz

Summary of reviews: reviews are very positive, the only criticism I’ve found is that some say it’s too scholarly and the bombardment of dates in a 200-pages book can confuse the general reader. Recommended for those who want to have a general perspective about Muslim Spain.

Book review: Conquistadores, emires y califas: Los omeyas y la formación de al-Andalus

conquistadores, emires y califas: los omeyas y la formación de al-Andalus portada y review

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Review Conquistadores, emires y califas: Los omeyas y la formación de al-Andalus

Conquistadores, emires y califas: Los omeyas y la formación de al-Andalus is a Spanish history book written by Eduardo Manzano Moreno in 2011. Professor Eduardo Manzano studies the three centuries that follow the Muslim Umayyad conquest of the Iberian Peninsula, from the conquest started in 711 to the fall of the Caliphate of Cordoba. The work is based on Latin and Arabic sources, as well as recent archeological and numismatic findings to provide an accurate and objective approximation to the evolution of al-Andalus until the fall of the Caliphate.

This is what academic reviews say about this work:

“It is, in short, a work of very high quality, developed with the right tools by an author who is well versed in the issues he deals with and who has patently put the greatest interest on it. But as important or more than its intrinsic value will be its ability to provoke new debates that revivify the scope of the history of al-Andalus, since, among other virtues not negligible, it will put before the eyes of the Arabists all the contributions that from other fields have been done in recent years, so we can not continue to ignore them -this has been the mainstream position-, but we will have to take advantage of the good that they contain and confront once and for all the lost theories that have gone growing before the disdainful silence, but not for that reason less accomplice, of the union of the Arabists.” – Luis Molina

This is what buyers on Amazon say:

“This book is an exhaustive study on the history of the origin, development and fall of Al-Andalus, with an introduction about the Visigoths. The worst, there are few images, but it is a small detail that can be ignored if the objective is to know in-depth the origin of the Andalusian culture” – Helena

“A well-explained and easy-to-consult book.” – Fernando Cevallos

Summary of reviews: there are some objections to Manzano’s work, like the lack of information about Andalusian wars (because there’s a lack of that in Andalusian historiography) or the exaggerated importance of the Ulama, the Islamic scholars, but overall the work is appreciated as exhaustive and comprehensive.