Ummayad Dependent Emirate

Ummayad Dependent Emirate

A Dependent Emirate



In the second half of the 7th century CE, Byzantine strongholds in North Africa gave way before the Arab advance. Carthage fell in 698. In 705 al-Walid I, the sixth caliph of the Umayyad, the first great Muslim dynasty centred in Damascus, appointed Musa ibn Nusayr governor in the west; Musa annexed all of North Africa as far as Tangier and made progress in the difficult task of propagating Islam among the Imazighen.

The Christian ruler of Ceuta, Count Julian (variously identified by the Arab chroniclers as a Byzantine, a native Berber, or a Visigoth), eventually reached an agreement with Musa to launch a joint invasion of the Iberian Peninsula.

The invasion of Spain was the result both of a Muslim readiness to invade and of a call for assistance by one of the Visigothic factions, the “Witizans.” Having become dispossessed after the death of King Witiza in 710, they appealed to Musa for support against the usurper Roderick.

In April or May of 711 Musa sent an Berber army headed by Tariq ibn Ziyad across the passage whose modern name, the Strait of Gibraltar, derives from Jabal al-Ṭāriq; in July they were able to defeat Roderick in a decisive battle.

Instead of returning to Africa, Tariq marched north and conquered Ṭulayṭulah (Toledo), the Visigothic capital, where he spent the winter of 711.

In the following year Musa himself led an Arab army to the peninsula and conquered Māridah (Merida) after a long siege. He reached Ṭāriq in Toledo in the summer of 713. From there he advanced northeast, taking Saraqusṭah (Zaragoza ) and invading the country up to the northern mountains; he then moved from west to east, forcing the population to submit or flee. Both Musa and Tariq were recalled to Syria by the caliph; by 718 then most of the Iberian Peninsula was under Muslim control.

The rapid success of the Islamic forces can be explained by the fact that Hispano-Visigoth society had not yet succeeded in achieving a compact and homogeneous integration. The Jews, harassed by the legal ordinances of Toledo, were particularly hostile toward the Christian government.

Moreover, the Muslim conquest brought advantages to many elements of society: the burden of taxes was generally less onerous than it had been in the last years of the Visigoth epoch; serfs who converted to Islam (mawali or muladí) advanced into the category of freedmen and enrolled among the dependents of some conquering noble; and Jews, who were no longer persecuted, were placed on an equal footing with the Hispano-Romans and Goths who still remained within the Christian fold.

Diverse society

Thus, in the first half of the 8th century, a new society developed in Muslim Spain. The Arabs were the ruling element; a distinction was made between baladiyyun (Arabs who had entered Spain in 712 under Musa) and Syrians (who arrived in 740 under Balj ibn Bishr). Below them in status were the Berbers, who made up the majority of the invading troops, whose numbers and influence continued to grow over the course of centuries because of their steady influx from Africa. Then came the native population who had converted to Islam, the musālimah, and their descendants, the muwallads; many of them were also mawali or even themselves of berber lineage. This group formed the majority of the population because during the first three centuries social and economic motives induced a considerable number of natives to convert to Islam. Christians and Jews who kept their religion came next in the social hierarchy, but their numbers decreased in the course of time. Finally, there was a small group of saqalibah—slaves captived from the northern peninsula and other European countries—and black captives or mercenaries.

The period between 711 and 756 is called the dependent emirate because Muslim Spain, or Al-Andalus, was dependent on the Umayyad caliph in Damascus. These years were marked by continuous hostilities between the different Arab factions and between the various social groups. Nonetheless, Muslim expansion beyond the Pyrenees continued until 732, when the Franks, under Charles Martel, defeated the Muslims, led by the emir Abd al-Rahman al.Ghafiqui, near Tours. This battle marked the beginning of the gradual Muslim retreat. A major Berber uprising against the Arabs in North Africa had powerful repercussions in Muslim Spain; it caused the depopulation of the northwestern peninsula, occupied at that time mainly by Imazighen, and brought the Syrian army of Balj to Al-Andalus, which introduced a new motive for discord. 

This situation changed with the establishment of an independent emirate in 756 by Abd al-Rahman al-Dakhil, an Umayyad prince who, having succeeded in escaping from the slaughter of his family by the Abbasids and in gaining power in Al-Andalus, became independent of them politically. The dynasty of the Andalusian Umayyads (756–1031) marked the growth and perfection of the Arabic civilization in Spain. Its history may be divided into two major periods—that of the independent emirate (756–929) and that of the caliphate (929–1031)—and may be interpreted as revolving around three persons of like name—Abd al-Rahman I (756–788), Abd al-Rahman II (822–852), Abd al-Rahman III (912–961)—and the all-powerful hajib (chief minister) Abu Amir al-Mansur (976–1002).

The Ummayad Emirate

The Ummayad Emirate

Ummayad conquest of Hispania

The Byzantine Empire, weakened by its wars with Persia and the alienation of its Coptic Christian and Jewish populations, lost Syria and Egypt between 636 and 640 to the nascent Ummayad Caliphate, which then invaded Libya. The Byzantines managed to hold Carthage until almost the end of the 7th century, but the establishment of the Muslim military headquarters at Kairouan in 670 marked the beginning of the Islamic conquest of the Maghreb.

From there Sidi Uqbah led an expedition to Morocco in 680-682. Uqbah was killed on the return journey, and it was not until 705 that the caliph al-Walid appointed a new governor, Mūsā ibn Nuṣayr. Mūsā annexed the entirety of North Africa as far as Tangier, leaving his general Ṭāriq ibn Ziyād to administer and Islamize the Berbers. Only Ceuta remained in Christian hands, being supplied from the Iberian Peninsula by the visig0th king Witiza.

On the death of Witiza, his dispossessed family appealed to the Muslims, ceded Ceuta, and enabled Ṭāriq to land in Spain with a Berber army. On hearing the news, Roderick, who had succeeded Witiza as king of the Visigoths, hastened southward, and Ṭāriq called on Mūsā for reinforcements. Roderick was killed in battle near Arcos de la Frontera (Cadiz) on July 23, 711. Ṭāriq at once marched on Ṭulayṭulah(Toledo) and occupied it, probably while the family of Witiza was still negotiating with Mūsā and the caliph. Mūsā himself brought another army, reduced Merida, the last stronghold of the followers of Roderick, entered Toledo and Saraqusṭah (Zaragoza), and perhaps crossed the northern Meseta, forcing the Visigoths to submit or flee.

When the caliph summoned Mūsā to return to the Umayyad capital at Damascus, Mūsā left his son Abd al-Aziz to govern Al-Andalus from Ishbīliyah (Sevilla). Both Mūsā and Ṭāriq were accused of misappropriation and died in obscurity in the East. Abd al-Aziz was murdered, and the caliphs appointed a succession of governors. The capital was moved to Cordoba, and the three sons of Witiza were restored to the “royal estates” but not to royal power. Pelayo, a follower of Roderick, established himself in a strong position in the Asturias (718–737). After an unsuccessful attempt to subdue him, in which Pelayo won a small but significant battle at Covadonga, he was left alone.

The Muslim governors carried their advance into gothic Gaul, settling Berbers in the Pyrenees, and penetrated deep into France. A Muslim army was defeated by Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours (732), but significant raids into Frankish territory would continue for the next decade. Muslim expansion north of the Pyrenees would come to a halt largely because of the great rebellion of the Berbers which erupted throughout North Africa in 739. This uprising spread to Spain, and the governor of Al-Andalus requested assistance from Damascus. The caliph dispatched an army from Syria under Balj ibn Bishr, which suppressed the Berbers in North Africa before embarking from Ceuta to Spain. Balj put down the rebellion in Spain, seized power in Córdoba (742), and executed the governor, only to be killed in combat shortly thereafter. These troubles enabled Alfonso I of the Asturias to briefly assert himself in Galicia and the Meseta, but he lacked the resources to occupy them permanently.

A new governor temporarily pacified Al-Andalus, but the Umayyad caliphate was on the verge of collapse. Caliph Hishām ibn Abd al-Malik had kept the factional tensions between northern (Qays) and southern (Kalb) Arab tribes in check, but those simmering feuds turned into open conflicts after his death in 743. Meanwhile, many non-Arab Muslims (mawali) had gravitated toward Hahimiyyah, an explicitly anti-Umayyad sect, and in 747 Abu Muslim launched a major uprising against the Umayyad caliph Marwān II.

Abu Muslim’s armies propelled the Abbasids to power in 749, and the defeat of Marwān II at the Battle of the Great Zāb River in 750 marked the end of the Umayyad caliphate. During this time, Spain was governed by Yusuf al-Fihrī, an experienced general who had established himself at Narbonne, and al-Sumail, Yusuf’s Syrian lieutenant, who held Zaragoza and the northeast frontier. While the Abbasids worked to exterminate the remnants of the Umayyad line, the grandson of Hishām ibn Abd al-Malik, Abd al-Rahman I, fled to North Africa.

After making his way to Spain in 755, Abd al-Rahman surveyed the political landscape, and he expertly played the rival factions of Al-Andalus against each other. Backed by a mercenary army, he eventually gathered enough strength to challenge Yusuf for supremacy. In May 756 ʿAbd al-Raḥmān defeated Yusuf’s forces outside Córdoba, and ʿAbd al-Raḥmān chose that city as the capital of the Spanish Umayyad emirate (caliphate from 929).