Travel Blog

Tariq ibn Ziyad
22nd June 2021

Tariq ibn Ziyad was a Muslim general who led the Islamic conquest of Visigothic Hispania in 711-718 A.D. He is considered to be one of the most important military commanders in Iberian history. Under the orders of the Umayyad Caliph Al-Walid I he led a large army from the north coast of Morocco, consolidating his troops at a large hill now known as Gibraltar. The name “Gibraltar” is the Spanish derivation of the Arabic name Jabal Tāriq (جبل طارق), meaning “mountain of Tariq” named after him.

Most medieval historians give little or no information about Tariq’s origins or nationality. Ibn ‘Abd al-Hakam, Ibn al-Athir, Al-Tabari and Ibn Khaldun[2] do not say anything, and have been followed in this by modern works such as the Encyclopedia of Islam and Cambridge History of Islam. There are three different accounts given by a few Arabic histories which all seem to date from between 400 and 500 years after Tariq’s time.

Most historians, Arab and Spanish, seem to agree that he was a slave of the emir of Ifriqiya (North Africa), Musa bin Nusayr, who gave him his freedom and appointed him a general in his army. But his descendants centuries later denied he had ever been Musa’s slave. The earliest reference to him seems to be in the Mozarab Chronicle, written in Latin in 754, which although written within living memory of the conquest of Spain, refers to him erroneously as Taric Abuzara.

Musa bin Nusayr appointed Tariq governor of Tangiers after its conquest in 710-711,[13] but an unconquered Visigothic outpost remained nearby at Ceuta, a stronghold commanded by a nobleman named Julian.

After Roderic came to power in Spain, Julian had, as was the custom, sent his daughter to the court of the Visigothic king to receive an education. It is said that Roderic raped her, and that Julian was so incensed he resolved to have the Arabs bring down the Visigothic kingdom. Accordingly he entered into a treaty with Tariq (Musa having returned to Qayrawan) to secretly convey the Muslim army across the Straits of Gibraltar, as he owned a number of merchant ships and had his own forts on the Spanish mainland.

About April 29 711, the army of Tariq, composed of recent converts to Islam, was landed at Gibraltar by Julian.[14](the name Gibraltar is derived from the Arabic name Jabal at Tariq, which means mountain of Tariq).

Tariq’s army contained about 7000 men, and Musa is said to have sent an additional 5000 reinforcements.[15] Roderic, to meet the threat, assembled an army said to number 100,000.[16] Most of the army was commanded by, and loyal to, the sons of Wittiza, whom Roderic had brutally deposed.[17] Tariq won a decisive victory when the Visigothic king, Roderic, was defeated and killed on July 19 at the Battle of Guadalete.

On the advice of Julian, Tariq split his army into various divisions which went on to capture Cordoba, Granada and other places, while he remained at the head of the division which captured Toledo and Guadalajara. Tariq was de facto governor of Hispania until the arrival of Musa a year later.

Both Tariq and Musa were simultaneously ordered back to Damascus by the Umayyad Caliph Al-Walid I in 714, where they spent the rest of their lives.[18]

In the many Arabic histories written about the conquest of Spain, there is a definite division of opinion regarding the relationship between Tariq and Musa bin Nusayr. Some relate episodes of anger and envy on the part of Musa, that his freedman had conquered an entire country. Others do not mention, or play down, any such bad blood.

The most extreme episode is in the earliest Arabic history, that of Ibn Abd al-Hakam (9th century). He stated that Musa was so angry with Tariq that he imprisoned him, and was going to execute him, were it not for the intervention of Mugith ar-Rumi, a freedman of the caliph Al-Walid I. It was for this reason that the caliph recalled Tariq and Musa.[19] And in the Akhbār majmūa (11th century) it states that after Musa arrived in Spain and met up with Tariq, Tariq dismounted from his horse as a sign of respect, but Musa struck him on the head with his horsewhip.[20]

On the other hand, another early historian al-Baladhuri (9th century) merely states that Musa wrote Tariq a “severe letter” and that the two were later reconciled.[21]

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