Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Iberia – part 4: Islamic Rule, Establishing Law and Order


Originally published in Slingshot, issue 288, May/June 2013 - the magazine of the Society of Ancients

After 716 AD the initial phase of Muslim conquest of the former Visigothic Kingdom was over, although fighting was still continuing in parts of the Peninsula.  Law had been imposed by the conquerors, as well as taxes on the conquered.  The introduction of a regular system of urban governors (qādī) probably took place between 715 and 718 AD. 

In 718 AD the Umayyad Caliph in Damascus appointed as-Samh bin Mālik al-Khawlānī as wālī of al-Andalus.  As-Samh had to implement the fiscal reforms that Damascus had been introducing throughout the caliphate.  His first task was to draft a sort of Doomsday Book report on al-Andalus, which should enable the caliph to secure his share of income generated by the Peninsula.  In Muslim law a fifth of the wealth seized at the time of a conquest belonged to the caliph as the official successor of the Prophet Muhammad.

However, it is unlikely that the caliph ever received his share of the revenue, for the early settlers of the Peninsula had always vigorously resisted ceding any income from al-Andalus.  Between 724 and 743 AD Caliph Hishām initiated new attempts to increase tax-yields from the non-Muslim subject population across the whole breadth of the Arab-ruled lands. Muslims themselves also became increasingly liable for taxes due on lands that they had acquired and that were formerly in non-Muslim ownership.  To suppress social unrest and restore justice, the Andalusi wālī Yahyā bin Salāma al-Kalb (r.726 to 728 AD) restituted property that formerly belonged to Christians; those Arabs and Berbers that had acquired loot illicitly were prosecuted.

When in 740 AD the Andalusi wālī ‘Uqba bin al-Hajjāji as-Salūlī tried to implement stricter fiscal policies, the local Arabs organised a coup d’état in which as-Salūlī was forced to resign.  However, the change was too late to prevent a major Berber revolt in 741 AD.  Though the revolt was put down by an army of 10,000 Syrians from North Africa, it profoundly changed the political character of Muslim Iberia.  The Arab and especially the Syrian element in the population had substantially increased, particularly in those rural areas in the south, which were to be the heartland of al-Andalus for centuries to come. Continued factional conflicts between traditional enemies, the newly immigrated Qaysī Syrians and the longer established Yemenis caused considerable disruption within the peninsula.

Meanwhile, a much greater threat had landed from Africa in the person of ΄Abd ar-Rahmān bin Mu’āwiya.  A member of the Umayyad family, he had been able to escape the bloody ‘Abbāsid revolution in Damascus of 750 AD and his arrival would mark the beginning of a new era.

Piece of embroidered textile
The Revolution of 749/50 AD 
In Damascus the Umayyad regime under Caliph Hishām had come under considerable strain.   In particular, the growing body of non-Arab Muslims in the former territories of the Persian Empire had become discontented with the Syrian dominance of the Umayyads and the failure of the caliphs to ensure genuine equality of status between Arab and non-Arab Muslims.  As a result, within five years of his accession, the Umayyad Caliph Marwān II (r.744-750 AD) was faced by a major revolt fostered by the ‘Abbāsids, who organised an alliance of discontented non-Umayyad and Persian mawāli (early non-Arab converts to Islam) against the caliph and his Syrian troops. Within a year, Marwān had been driven from his capital and died in a last ditch resistance in Egypt.

All members of the Umayyad family that fell into the rebels’ hands were slaughtered.  This earned the first ‘Abbāsid Caliph Abu al-Abbas (749-54 AD) the nickname of al-Saffah (“Shedder of Blood”).  Hitherto the indiscriminate slaughter of a noble Arab family had been unthinkable, but the bloodshed did not stop here. Caliph Abu Jafar al-Mansur (r.754-75 AD) murdered all the Shi’ite leaders whom he considered a danger to his rule. Ironically enough, his son (r.775-85 AD) would style himself al-Mahdi (“The Rightly Guided One”), a term used by Shi’ites to describe a leader who would establish the age of justice and peace.

Due to the ‘Abbāsid revolution the centre of gravity in the Islamic world shifted further eastwards to Persia.  This was symbolised by moving the capital city from Damascus to Iraq, settling first in Kufah, and in 762 AD in the newly-founded city of Baghdad (meaning “Gift of the Lord” in Persian, and originally called Madīnat as-Salām in Arabic, “City of Peace”). This made the Andalusi outpost of Islam even more remote from the Islamic heartlands than before.

Baghdad was a more startling example of a planned city than anything in the west that succeeded.  It had a network of avenues, major streets that were one-third of the width of the avenues and side streets, as well as alleys that could be locked at night.  In contrast to the more rectangular shape of the later planned western cities, Baghdad had the form of concentric circles.  The inner area of public buildings was called the Round City and surrounded by symmetrical arcaded rings of city blocks.  The bazaars and homes of the artisans and servants were relegated to the periphery.  Though Baghdad was initially inhabited by the imperial family, army and officials, it developed more ethnic diversity and had more public buildings and amenities than other Muslim cities.  In the tenth century, Baghdad would have some 200,000 inhabitants and had become probably the biggest city in the world at the time.
Old city of Baghdad in the ninth century AD

Acutely aware of the discontent that had helped to bring the Umayyads down, the ‘Abbāsids promised to treat all provinces equally and not to allow any ethnic group special status, which satisfied the mawāli.  Their empire was egalitarian in that it was possible for any man of ability to make his way in the court and administration.

However, the old informality characteristic for the life of the first caliphs would rapidly be replaced by elaborate pomp.  Founded in a convenient location beside the Tigris and close to the agricultural base of Iraq, the Sawad, Baghdad was only 30 km from Ctesiphon, the capital of the Persian Sassanids.  The increased Persian influence caused the new caliphate to become more and more modelled on the old pre-Islamic autocracy.

Harun ar-Rashid (786-809 AD)
By the time of Caliph Harun ar-Rashid (d. 809 AD) the transformation of the caliphate was complete. Ar-Rashid ruled like an old-style absolute monarch.  Living completely isolated from his subjects, courtiers kissed the ground when they came to his presence, something unimaginable in the days when Arabs prostrated themselves only before God.  Styled the “Shadow of God on Earth”, the caliph had always the executioner standing behind his throne, to show that he had the power over life and death.

The government was left entirely to the newly created office of the wazīr (vizier, or chief minister), whereas the caliph himself had become the court of ultimate appeal, beyond the reach of factions and politicking.  He led the prayers on Friday afternoons and led his army into major battles.  Also the army had changed. It was no longer a people’s army, open to any Muslim, but a corps of Persians, who had helped the ‘Abbāsids into power and were seen as the caliph’s personal troops.

However un-Islamic all these developments were, during the rule of ar-Rashid the empire enjoyed an unprecedented peace. Whereas uprisings were ruthlessly quashed and the populace could see that opposition to this regime was pointless, the upside was that people were able to live more normal, undisturbed lives.  Ar-Rashid was a patron of the arts and scholarship and inspired a great cultural renaissance.  Building on the learning of the past, Muslim scholars made more scientific discoveries during this time than in the whole of previously recorded history. Industry and commerce also flourished, and the elite lived in refinement and luxury.  But it was difficult to see how this regime was in any way Islamic.  Far from confining themselves to the four wives prescribed in the Qur’an, the ‘Abbāsid caliphs had vast harems like Sassanid monarchs.

By the end of the reign of ar-Rashid, it was clear that the caliphate had passed its peak.  The economy was in decline and some of the peripheral provinces, such as al-Andalus were beginning to break away.  When ar-Rashid’s son al-Mamun (r.813-33 AD) began his reign, there were two main power blocs in the empire.  One was the aristocratic circle of the court, the other egalitarian and “constitutionalist” bloc was based on the Shariah.

The Umayyad Emirate of Córdoba (756-929 AD)
As the ‘Abbāsid family committed its bloody coup in Damascus, the red haired giant 'Abd ar-Rahmān bin Mu’āwiya, an offspring of the defeated Umayyad family, had fled to his mother’s influential Nafza Berber family in Morocco. From there, he sent agents to al-Andalus to assess his chances against the ruling governor al-Fihrī.  He was informed that while the Qaysite faction refused to treat with him, the rivalling Yemenis welcomed his proposals.

In the early autumn of 755 AD Abd ar-Rahmān crossed the strait and began to make contact with Yemeni leaders throughout the south of the Peninsula.  By the next spring, he had recruited an army of about 2,000 Umayyad mawāli and Yemeni troops and marched to Córdoba, where he destroyed the Qaysite army led al-Fihrī in 756 AD and took the title of Emir of al-Andalus in the capital.

His action was revolutionary in that he assumed the office on his own and accepted no subordination to a higher authority.  Hence, as of 756 AD, al-Andalus enjoyed de facto political independence.  As a member of the Prophet’s tribe of Quraysh and of the family of the Umayyad caliphs, no-one could deny his high descent.  Many other members of the Umayyad family arrived from the East and were committed supporters of the new emir.

Called ‘Abd ar-Rahmān I, and nicknamed ad-Dakhil (“the Immigrant”), he ruled his independent emirate effectively for 33 years and strengthened Córdoba as his capital, beautifying the city.  After pulling down the Visigothic Church of San Vicente, for which the Christians were compensated by being allowed to build another church in the suburbs of the city, he started to build the famous mosque that is still standing today.  Over time, it would be enlarged four times, from the original 110 to 1013 pillars.
 Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, formerly the mosque of Córdoba

With 23,400 square meters by the end of the tenth century, it was the second biggest mosque of the world in surface, right behind the Mosque of the Mecca, until in the thirteenth century it was turned into the current Cathedral of Santa Maria.

Córdoba became the focal point of al-Andalus for over 200 years and the city would grow into one of Europe’s largest settlements.  Whereas previous emirs of Córdoba had had little coercive power beyond the strength of their own following, ‘Abd ar-Rahmān’s main objective was to expand the authority of Córdoba throughout the Muslim-held areas of the Peninsula.  This was of course resented by many leaders who did not want to be robbed of their autonomy.  Moreover, the arriving Umayyad family needed estates and lands had to be confiscated from Arabs and Christians alike.  

It was at this time that the bulk of the estates of Count Ardabast (or Ardavazd) of Coimbra, son of King Wittiza (d. 710 AD), were confiscated and probably the areas covered by the pact with Count Theodemir were opened up for Muslim settlement.

Consolidation of power
Al-Fihrī, who did not accept ‘Abd ar-Rahmān’s claim to authority raised a large army of Berbers, but he was defeated by ‘Abd ar-Rahmān’s troops and murdered in 759/60 AD near Toledo.  However, the Fihrīs could mobilize widespread support among the Berbers and it was not until 785 AD before they finally gave up their resistance.

There were many more sources of Andalusi resistance.  In 766 AD Sa’id al-Matarī rebelled in Niebla and took over Seville, before being killed by the emir.  In the same year, another leader of the rebellion was executed in Córdoba, and the dead man’s followers tried to take Córdoba by surprise.  It was not until 774 AD that the rebellion was finally defeated.  In the same year, Sulaymān bin Yaqzān al-A’rabi, lord of Barcelona and Girona, and al-Husayn bin Yahyā bin Sa’d bin ‘Ubāda sent a mission to Charlemagne’s court in Paderborn to ask his support, probably in return for the overlordship of Zaragoza. 
City walls of Niebla

When Charlemagne arrived with is army in 778 AD, however, al-Husayn refused to cooperate with the Frankish king, who, for lack of siege engines, had to withdraw, humiliated, from the walls of the city.  Sulaymān was executed by his former ally al-Husayn, upon which ‘Abd ar-Rahmān led a military expedition to re-establish Muslim control in the Ebro valley. Al-Husayn was captured and executed and severe measures taken against the townspeople of Zaragoza.  After the elimination of the Berber leader Shaqya in 776 AD ‘Abd ar-Rahmān was also finally able to impose his authority on the north-east of the Peninsula.   By the late eighth century, three frontier districts, or marches, had been created, along a diagonal extending from the mouth of the Tajo to that of the Ebro, with Mérida, Toledo and Zaragoza normally serving as their administrative centres.  They were usually known as:

  • at-Tagr al-Adna (Lower March) – capital Mérida
  • at-Tagr al-Awsat (Central March) – capital Toledo
  • at-Tagr al-A’lā (Upper March) – capital Zaragoza.

All three marches played a vital role in the politics of the Umayyad state, though their structure and administrative terminology was by no means fixed.  Like the rest of al- Andalus, they were divided into a number of provinces, of which there seem to have been about eighteen overall, each subdivided in to districts. All such districts would contain a number of small fortresses and watch towers, depending on local defensive needs.  Each province would normally have a governor (wālī or amil), whose seat would be in the main town of the province. In the marches the provinces were usually in the hands of the same man, for reasons of military necessity. 
‘Abd ar-Rahmān’s dynasty failed to solve its emirate’s social problems, so that religious and ethnic disunity continued in the eighth and ninth centuries.  Until 822 AD, one emir after another would have to suppress regular revolts, sometimes with difficulty and considerable bloodshed.  To rule al-Andalus effectively without the constant threat of rebellion, the emirs had to consolidate their authority with force.  In an effort to attain greater authority at home and to emphasize his independence of the caliphate in Baghdad, the last Umayyad emir, ‘Abd ar-Rahmān III, would upgrade his title to caliph in 929 AD.  He would rule in this capacity until his death in 961 AD.

Caliphate of Córdoba
Succession problems
While it was clear that ‘Abd ar-Rahmān intended that the emirate should remain hereditary within the Umayyad house, the principle of primogeniture was never established in the Umayyad family.  As the emir had three sons, this was an issue.  Designation by the previous ruler and acceptance by the other members of the family and their supporters were the determining factors in deciding who should succeed.  In the end, Hishām managed to gain the throne as Hishām I, pushing his brothers aside with little internal opposition.  In 788-9 AD, however, the son of al-Husayn of Zaragoza would challenge his rule and proclaim himself emir, but he was defeated.

The Arab chroniclers describe Hishām as a pious and ascetic personality and say that he sought to exert his authority by personal example and by leading the Muslims against the Christians in the north. These campaigns were important in asserting the role of the Umayyads as leaders of all Muslims of al-Andalus. They also brought Umayyad armies to parts of the country where they would not normally penetrate.  Many of Hishām’s followers would follow this precedent.

It was during Hishām’s rule that the descendants of the old Visigothic families, the Banū Qasī (“Sons of Cassius”) and Banū ‘Amrūs (“Sons of Ambrosius”), entered the political arena and allied with the Umayyads against rivalling Arab families in al-Andalus.

Al Hakam I (796 - 822 AD)
When Hishām died in 796 AD, he was careful to leave no uncertainty about his successor and his son al-Hakam was duly accepted as Emir of Córdoba. Portrayed as very different from his father, the new prince was to prove a formidable ruler. Tall, thin, haughty and strikingly dark in complexion, he was fond of women and wine, and apparently also a pretty good poet.  Most of all, however, he would be remembered for his cunning and implacable ruthlessness.  It was during his reign that the infamous Day of the Ditch (or Pit) occurred in Toledo (Tulaytula in Arabic, nicknamed Medīnat al Muluk – city of the – Visigothic – kings).

Appointed new governor of the city, ‘Amrūs bin Yūsuf al-Muwalad (“Ambrosius, son of Joseph, Raised as an Arab”) was determined to end the continuous state of rebellion existing in the city and he ordered an enormous pit to be dug within the Alcázar in 797 AD. When it was ready, al-Muwalad ordered 700 nobles of Toledo to a celebration in the palace.  The story goes that al-Hakam sent his young son ‘Abd ar-Rahmān to witness what followed.  As those who had been invited to the party arrived, the guests were ushered individually into the fortress through a narrow gate.  Each in turn was seized and beheaded by al-Muwalad’s guards and their bodies thrown into the pit.  As a result, the young prince and future emir ‘Abd ar-Rahmān II, would suffer from a nervous twitch in the eye for the rest of his life.

In spite of this ruthless demonstration of power, Toledo would remain a turbulent and rebellious place. In 932 AD ΄Abd ar-Rahmān III finally besieged the city and submitted its inhabitants to Moorish rule in Córdoba. The caliph rebuilt what had been destroyed and erected a castle and fortress there.  Toledo became a prosperous city with a population of 20,000 to 30,000 people that mainly lived from craftsmanship and agriculture.

Struggle for power
Al-Hakam’s uncles, who had been sidetracked by his father and their brother Hishām, tried to regain their inheritance.  Uncle ‘Abd Allāh established himself in Zaragoza, visiting Charlemagne in Aachen to solicit his support in 797 AD.  Charlemagne sent him off to the frontier with his son Louis of Aquitaine (later “The Pious”) to help him launch a bid for power in the Ebro valley.  The same year also saw a major Asturian raid into al-Andalus, in which the town of Olispo (modern Lisbon) was taken and sacked by the army of Alfonso II.

Eventually in 802 AD, ‘Abd Allāh was established in the city of Valencia and granted a salary of 1,000 dinars a month, and an annual bonus of another 1,000 dinars.  This arrangement worked well. This area had never been under the effective control of Córdoba and ‘Abd Allāh’s rule brought it within the Umayyad influence.  ‘Abd Allāh al-Balansī (“the Valencian”) now directed his military against the Christians of the north.  The other uncle, Sulaymān, was executed in 800 AD, the first member of the ruling family to suffer this indignity.

Another rival of the emir, Sa’dun ar-Ruayni (Zade in Latin), wālī of Barcelona, had offered his allegiance to Charlemagne in 797 AD.  However, when Louis of Aquitaine arrived at Barcelona, Sa'dun had in the meantime been reconciled to the Caliphate and refused to open the city gates, upon which Louis proceeded to capture Huesca.  Huesca fell in Moorish hand again in 800 AD, but Louis managed to take Barcelona in 801 AD. The county of Barcelona would remain Frankish as part of the Spanish March for over two hundred years.

Al-Hakam’s autocratic rule and the imposition of taxes on other cities, however, caused widespread discontent.  He had also distanced himself from the local elite by recruiting a private body-guard of 5,000 Franks, Slavs and Hispano-Christians, including 3,000 cavalry, nicknamed al-khurs, or los mudos in Spanish (“the silent ones”), because they did not speak any Arabic.  These are said to be the first slave soldiers (mamlik) in al-Andalus and were commanded by the Hispano-Christian, ar-Rahbī bin Theodolfo.

In 805 AD, there was a conspiracy to mount a coup d’état, which was exposed and 72 conspirators were publicly crucified. Numerous executions followed and Córdoba was surprised and shocked by the emir’s severity. For thirteen years discontent rumbled on and the emir became more and more dependent on his guards.  In 818 AD there was a widespread uprising, though the causes are disputed, but it is likely that the combination of resentments because of the exclusion from power and paying more taxes brought together a broad cross-section of the populace against the emir.  Also this rebellion was suppressed and the vengeance of the emir was terrible.  He ordered three hundred of those who were captured to be crucified in front of the alcázar.  The suburb ar-Rabad, where the rebellion had started was to be razed to the ground and its inhabitants to be driven into exile. Many of them emigrated to North Africa and others resettled in cities like Toledo, noted for their tradition of resistance to the Umayyads.
Having established his authority and succession firmly, al-Hakam became something of a recluse before his death in 822 AD. He was succeeded by his son ‘Abd ar-Rahmān II, who would rule al-Andalus for thirty years.

Muslim society of al-Andalus
It is not surprising that many towns readily signed peace treaties and submitted to Muslim rule, since the alternative offered was destruction of the town and enslavement of the population.  A well-known example of such a peace treaty is the one between governor Mūsā bin Nuşayr and a certain Duke Theodemir, lord of seven towns and their associated lands in the modern province of Murcia.  Because of this treaty, Theodemir’s region would be called “Tudmīr” by the Muslims for centuries afterwards.

People of the Book
People who came under Muslim authority had the option of converting to Islam. However, if they did not wish to do so, they could still live peaceably under their new overlords. The Qur’an states in Sura II:256 that There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion.”   Christians (called Rūm, from “Rome”) and Jews were both considered ahl al-kitab “People of the Book”, or fellow-monotheists, who were protected subjects (dhimmi) and could not be raided or attacked in any way.

In this context, it may be noted that anti-Semitism is essentially a Christian vice.  In the Muslim world hatred of the Jews originated only after the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent loss of Arab Palestine.

In return for military protection dhimmis paid a poll tax and could retain their religion and customs, if they promised to refrain from further resistance and from proselytizing.  The poll tax consisted of one dinar, four measures of wheat, four of barley, four jugs of thickened grape juice, four of vinegar, two of honey and two of oil per head. For every slave a half payment would be expected. Converts to Islam (musalim) and their children (muwalladun) who were born into the faith were not subject to tribute.  Furthermore, dhimmis were required not to give refuge to deserters from or enemies of the conquerors, not to conceal the existence of such enemies, nor to threaten those who lived under the protection of the Muslims. Also, they were prevented from exerting authority over Muslims.  In the Islamic culture of Córdoba, many Christians adopted the dress and manners of the Muslims, and increasing numbers spoke Arabic. 

Though, in the normal course of events, Christian and Jewish practices were allowed a wide degree of tolerance, public and ostentatious displays of faith like processions and ringing of bells were discouraged, at least in the capital of Córdoba.  There were, however, two practices which Islam could not tolerate: one was apostasy, which is punishable by death in Islamic law, the other was public insult of the Prophet.  When in the first half of the ninth century, many Mozarabic (arabized) Christians took the final step and converted to Islam, some church leaders, who saw this development as a serious threat to the existence of the Christian community, tried to check the tide of conversions.  
Fragment of Andalusi Koran
From 850 AD onwards, a small group of Christians in Córdoba, led by the priest Eulogius, openly defied Muslim law by insulting the Prophet in public, even in the qādī’s court.  Some converts to Islam publicly returned to the religion of their fathers, refusing to avoid execution which would inevitably follow, unless they repented.  Both Muslim and Christian authorities sought to avoid the excesses, but to no avail.

The motivation of the martyrs has been much debated, but the main motivation seems to have been the cult of self-sacrifice and martyrdom which developed around Eulogius.  A small group of some thirteen persons were executed, all after public and formal trials.  When Eulogius left for the north in 852 AD the martyrdoms ceased for a while, but were resumed after his return in 853 AD.  In March 859 AD there were fourteen more executions.  Finally Eulogius himself, by now bishop of Córdoba, was decapitated, which seemed effectively to have brought the movement to an end.  This seems to have had little effect on the overall character of Islamic Spain, apart from the fact that some Christians chose to move into the Christian controlled areas far in the north of al-Andalus.

Muslim Law and Justice
In the Muslim community law was the will of God. Failure to obey the law was tantamount to defiance of God himself and was punishable both in this life and the life in the hereafter.  God revealed the law in the Qur’an, implicitly in the customs, or the Sunna, and in the consensus of the community (ijma).  Jurists had to set forth the meaning of texts, establish the authenticity of traditions, resolve contradictions, and determine the applicability of specific rules if law.  In the ninth century the Malakite school of legal thought dominated al-Andalus, upholding a strict orthodoxy and dogmatic unity.  This religio-legal persuasion was so successful in suppressing dissident views that al-Andalus never suffered the religious quarrels so prevalent in other parts of the Muslim world.

Each town in Al-Andalus had its own judge (iudex or qādī), who had both a political and military role. The qādī al-jama΄a (community judge) was responsible for civil and criminal law, and at the same time he was the legal guardian of the helpless, orphans and idiots. Furthermore he was supposed to verify the quality of the witnesses and to lead the Friday prayer (in the role of imam).  He held court daily in a corner of the mosque, assisted by scribes. Before passing judgement, he might consult with legal scholars, who issued written opinions (fatwa) based upon precedents.

During the litigations, the qādī arbitrated based on law texts and jurisprudence (fiqh). Though nominated by the central authorities, he often acted against their interests in the name of the law and the inhabitants of his town.  The sahib al-shurta, or prefect of police, was responsible for the punishment of crime. With the coercive power of the government at his disposal, he could use methods not available to the qādī, compel people to appear before him and use whatever measures necessary to repress violence and disorder.  The prevention and punishment of fraudulent practices in commercial transactions were the responsibility of the sahib al-suq, also muhtasib, or inspector of markets.  Mozarabs and Jews had their own magistrates and their own law, whereas in cases between Muslims and non-Muslims, Muslim courts had jurisdiction.

The Reign of ‘Abd ar-Rahmān II (822-852 AD)
‘Abd ar-Rahmān II was about 30 years old when he succeeded his father al-Hakam I.  Tall with a slight stoop, he had full dark eyes and a henna-dyed beard.  Having led expeditions to Toledo and the northern frontiers, he was already experienced in political and military affairs.  During his reign al-Andalus would develop into a mature Muslim state with a genuine indigenous Muslim culture.

From the beginning of his reign, ‘Abd ar-Rahmān tried to be more responsive to Muslim susceptibilities and to move away from al-Hakam’s policy of repression.  He started a programme of mosque building, secured the demolition of the wine market in Córdoba (there is abundant evidence that, contrary to Koranic precept, a good deal of wine drinking went on in al-Andalus) and ordered the execution of the hated commander of the Christian bodyguard ar-Rahbī bin Theodolfo.  The administration became more formal and bureaucratic and took on the structures it retained until the end of the Umayyad rule in 1031.  At its head was the hājib (chamberlain), or prime minister, holding his own court at the palace gates where messengers or petitioners would report.  Below him were the wazīrs, who were general purpose officials that would lead an army or govern a city. Sometimes the term was used as an honorary title.  The emir’s personal secretary (kātib) was one his closest advisors. A dīwān (administrative office) was organised to arrange the collection of taxes.  Also, the standard Muslim institutions to mint coins and to provide inscribed textiles were set up.

Ziryāb the singer
In 822 AD the talented and dark-skinned Iraqi polymath, poet and singer ‘Alī bin Nafī, nicknamed Ziryāb (“the Blackbird”) arrived in al-Andalus. Here he soon became a well-respected authority and set himself up not only as a musician, but also as an arbiter of taste in dress and food. Thus, Córdoba came under the influence of Eastern Muslim cultural and administrative examples set by Baghdad, which were eagerly adopted. This period marks the first age of Andalusi culture.

In the second half of his reign ‘Abd ar-Rahmān came to rely increasingly on the eunuch Nasr, who is said to have come from a muwallad family in Carmona, and who would be the first, but not the last, eunuch to achieve major political influence in al-Andalus.

Soon after ‘Abd ar-Rahmān’s succession, factional conflict broke out in the region of Tudmīr, which lasted for seven years and caused three thousand deaths in localised but bitter feuding. To end this, the new emir had to take hostages and move the regional administrative centre to the newly founded fortified settlement of Murcia, where an Umayyad garrison was stationed.

In 828 AD a revolt broke out in Mérida, in which the emir’s governor was killed, and it took six years before Mérida was again submitted to Umayyad rule. One leader of the revolt, Mahmud al-Marīdī (“the one from Mérida”) escaped to the Kingdom of Asturias, which had gradually expanded to include most of eastern Galicia and part of the Basque region on the western fringes of the Pyrenees. Here King Alfonso II established him in a fortress on the frontier to defend Christian territory against raids from al-Andalus.  However, since al-Marīdī and his followers were later suspected of plotting to return to Umayyad allegiance, they were surprised and killed by Alfonso’s troops in May 840 AD.

Toledo, too, remained volatile, until the city was reduced to submission by the emir’s brother al-Wālid, who then became its governor.  The old Roman walls around the city were partly knocked down to the ground, leaving it defenceless against a siege.

Europe at the death of Charlemagne
These internal difficulties meant that ‘Abd ar-Rahmān did not lead any significant campaigns against the Kingdom of Asturias. Though the Muslim sources report the taking of much loot and many captives destined for slavery in 838 AD, 840 and 846 AD, no major battles took place.  In 842 AD, when the Frankish Empire was suffering from civil war between the surviving sons of Louis the Pious, a major expedition was planned to cross the Pyrenees and raid Frankish territory around Narbonne. However, internal disputes led to a collapse of the expedition.  When ‘Abd ar-Rahmān II ruled al-Andalus, the simple household of his great-grandfather ‘Abd ar-Rahmān I had gradually transformed into a formal court, with its courtiers sheltering a secluded and remote monarch who rarely appeared to his subjects.

The emir also surrounded himself with an increasing number of eunuchs and slave girls.  According to the Naqt al ‘Arus by Ibn Hazm (d. 1067) he is said to have had fifty sons, which did not much for the stability and factional equilibrium within the family as these male heirs approached maturity.

Sources and Further Reading
·       Armstrong, Karen, Islam, A Short History, Phoenix Paperback, Orion Publishing Group, London, 2001
·      Barker, Phil and Richard Bodley Scott, DBM Army Lists 2,WRG, Devizes, 1998
·      Carey, Brian Todd, Road to Manzikert, Byzantine and Islamic Warfare 527-1071, Pen and Sword, Barnsley, UK,  2012
·      Collins, Roger, The Arab Conquest of Spain, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford, UK, 1989, 1994
·      Collins, Roger, Charlemagne, University of Toronto Press, Toronto and Buffalo, 1998
·      Collins, Roger, Caliphs and Kings, Spain 796-1031, Wiley- Blackwell, Chichester, UK  2012
·      DESPERTA FERRO, No 7, Al-Andalus, de la conquista a la quiebra del califato, Desperta Ferro Ediciones, SLNE, Madrid, 2011
o    Al-Andalus, Orto y ocaso de un Estado militarizado, Francisco García Fitz
o    La batalla de Poitiers, Philippe Senac
o    La supervivencia de los reinos cristianos, José Sánchez-Arcilla
o    El guerrero andalusí, Yeyo Balbás
o    Un ejército al servicio del califa , ۢۢAbd-al-Rahmān III y su política military, Vergilio Martínez Enamorado
o    Yihad durante el califato de al-Andalus, Cristina de la Puente
o    Tolerancia, convivencia y coexistencia en al-Andalus, ¿mito o realidad?, Alejandro García Sanjuán
o    Las campaňas de Almanzor, Xavier Ballestín Navarro
·      Fletcher, Richard, Moorish Spain, Orion Books Ltd., London, 2001
·      Fletcher, Richard, The Quest for El Cid, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1991
·      Kennedy, Hugh, Muslim Spain and Portugal, Longman, London & New York, 1996
·      Kennedy, Hugh, The Armies of the Caliphs, Routledge, Abingdon & New York, 2001
·      MEDIEVAL WARFARE, Volume I, Issue 3:
o    Iván Gimenez, The Rise of the Saracens
o    Murray Dahm, Arab Sources on the Conquest of al-Andalus, lberto Raúl Esteban Ribas, The Battle of Guadalete
o    Kai Grundmann, The fracture, downfall and remnants of the Visigothic Kingdom
o    David Balfour, A Turning Point for Europe and Islam
o    Gareth Williams, Fortifications of Western Europe, 700-1100 AD.
       Karawansaray Publishers Luxembourg, 2011
·      Nicholas, David, The Growth of the Medieval City, from Late Antiquity to the Early Fourteenth Century, Addison Wesley Longman Ltd, Harlow UK, New York, 1997
·      Nicolle, David, Armies of the Muslim Conquest, Men-at-Arms 255, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, 1993, 2008
·      Nicolle, David, The Moors - The Islamic West, 7th-15th Centuries AD, Men-at-Arms 348, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, 2001
·      Nicolle, David, Armies of the Caliphates 862-1098, Men-at-Arms 320, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, 1998
·      Nicolle, David, Two Swords from the Foundation of Gibraltar, in GLADIUS XXII, 2002, pp. 147-200
·      O’Callaghan, Joseph F., A History of Medieval Spain, Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London, 1983
·      Phillips, William D. Jr. and Carla Rahn Phillips, A Concise History of Spain, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2010
·      Rucquoi, Adeline, L’Espagne Mediévale, Société d’édition Les Belles Lettres, Paris, 2002
·      Russell Robinson, H., Oriental Armour, Dover Publications, Inc., Mineola, New York, 1967, 1995
·      Slingshot No. 55, A Medieval Arab Military Manual, Phil Barker, pp. 13-16, September 1974
·      Slingshot No. 99, Origins of the Mamluk Military Institution, John Feilla, pp. 11-2, January 1982

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