While exploring the beautiful town of Burgos in northern Spain, the traveler will be struck by the many medieval sites, including the monumental Cathedral and the ruins of the fortress. In addition to the remnants of actual structure from the medieval periods, many plaques, street names, pamphlets, and books that one encounters throughout Burgos celebrates the medieval history of the town, with particular attention to the deeds of its past kings, nobles, and prominent citizens.
(Catedral de Santa María in Burgos, constructed between the early 13th and 16th centuries . Source)
The past week (March 23rd to be exact) marked the 650th anniversary of the assassination of Pedro I of Castile-León (r. 1350-1369), one of medieval Iberia’s most controversial, enigmatic and interesting sovereigns. For some, he represents a vicious tyrant whose repressive policies were catastrophic for Castile. Meanwhile, others have memorialized him as a sovereign who promoted a culture of toleration, employed Jews and Muslims in significant numbers within his administration, and sought to curb the power of the nobility. Far from attempting to grapple with or unpack his complex legacy, this post introduces the English-speaking reader to this complicated sovereign in order to encourage further inquiry into his life and times.
For the article in Spanish explaining the object and its digitization as a 3D model, see Margot Gil-Melitón & José Luis Lerma, “Digitalización 3D de la espada nazarí atribuida a Ali Atar” https://polipapers.upv.es/index.php/var/article/view/10028 (an English overview/summary can be read here. For some clarifications about the factual details mentioned in the article, see Dr. Josef Ženka’s Twitter thread here.
The Alcazar (from the Arabic al-Qasr meaning palace) is the royal residence of the kings of Spain. The Alcazar is considered a World Heritage Site, like many other extraordinary pieces of architecture in Spain, and is magnificent to behold. It is one of Spain’s lesser known sites, since most visitors often consider the Alhambra in Granada or the Mezquita-Catedral in Cordoba to be more significant. However, the Alcazar is not only an amazing piece of work in its own right, but even rivals the Alhambra as a palace. The palace is built almost entirely in Hispano-Muslim style and, in many ways, resembles the Alhambra. Thus, there is a natural tendency to assume that this was a palace built by and for Muslims. This is both right and wrong. Yes, the palace was initially constructed in the taifa period and served as the royal residence of the Banu ‘Abbad dynasty, whose most famous son was al-Mu’tamid (the poet-prince). However, in its current form, the building was commissioned by a Christian king, Pedro I of Castile, in the late fourteenth century. Pedro (or Peter) hired a number of Muslim artisans and architects from among his own population in the kingdom of Castile, but also some from the Nasrid kingdom of Granada, to work on the palace. Interestingly, some of the very same artisans who worked on constructing and beautifying the Alhambra were also those who worked on the Alcazar, hence the similarities. Also worth noting is that Pedro I was a close friend and ally of Muhammad V, the Nasrid sultan who commissioned the major parts of the Alhambra palaces(Patio de los Leones, etc.) which have become the hallmarks of the structure. The building itself also integrates northern Spanish influence. As such, the building itself–in addition to underscoring the power and legitimacy of Pedro I–is also a demonstration of the medieval Spanish cultural co-production in which various medieval Iberian Christian, Jewish and Muslim cultures interacted with one another and formed different parts of a unique whole.
This map shows the territorial evolution of the Andalusi Muslim Kingdom of Zaragoza, ruled by the Banu Hud dynasty, from a frontier principality into one of the largest taifa kingdoms during the late 11th century.
The following is a link to a 19th-century French translation of ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Khaldun’s History of the Nasrid Dynasty, excerpted from his Kitab al-‘Ibar. It was translated by Maurice Gaudefroy-Demombynes and printed in Paris in 1899 as Histoire des Benou’l-Ahmar : rois de Grenade. It provides a French translation of all the relevant sections from Ibn Khaldun’s universal history dealing with the 13th- and 14th-century history of the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada.
Despite over three centuries of Umayyad political rule in al-Andalus, during which pro-Alid sentiments were discouraged and (at times) outlawed, with ‘Alī b. Abī Ṭālib and his descendants sometimes being ritually cursed from the pulpits of the mosques, the Family of the Prophet (the Ahl al-Bayt)—which includes ‘Alī and his sons al-Ḥasan and al-Ḥusayn—remained an important focal point for popular religious devotion among Andalusi Muslims in the Iberian Peninsula. Putting aside the various pro-Alid and even Shī‘ī-inspired political movements in early medieval al-Andalus (about which I will write at a later date), much of the scholarly culture in al-Andalus within the fields of history, hadith, theology, mysticism and Qur’anic interpretation shared much in common with the broader Sunni world in considering ‘Alī (and his sons) one of the preeminent personalities of Islam whose proximity to the Prophet Muhammad and whose service to the faith deemed him worthy of major respect. Although Umayyad attempts to fabricate traditions and hadith favoring their family while condemning (or, at least, marginalizing) the Alids met with some success, it seems clear that the vast majority of Sunni scholars in al-Andalus maintained a considerable degree of respect for the Ahl al-Bayt. There were, of course, exceptions to this, such as the famous tenth-century, pro-Umayyad litterateur Ibn ‘Abd Rabbihi (d. 940) excluding the names of ‘Alī and al-Ḥasan from the name of legitimate caliphs, listing Mu‘āwiyah b. Abī Sufyān as the fourth caliph instead; interestingly, he was strongly condemned for his doing so by several contemporaries, including none other than Mundhir b. Sa’īd al-Ballūṭī (d. 966), the chief judge of Córdoba under ‘Abd al-Raḥmān III (r. 912–961). Continue reading →
The following is my own summary translation of pp. 33 to 38 of Dr. ‘Abd al-‘Azīz Sālim’s book al-Jawānib al-Ijābiyah wal Silbīyah fī al-Zawāj al-Mukhtalaṭ fī al-Andalus (Rabat, 1994). Although it is heavily dependent upon the perspective of (later) Arabic primary sources and contains some errors, this is a particularly interesting passage that sheds light on the extent of the intermarriage between Muslim and Christian dynasties in early medieval Iberia,. The main primary sources relied upon by the author include the anonymous Akhbār Majmū‘ah, Ibn al-Qūṭīya’s Tā’rīkh Iftitāḥ al-Andalus, Ibn al-Khaṭīb’s A‘māl al-A‘lām, Ibn Idhārī’s Bayān al-Mughrib, al-Maqqarī’s Nafḥ al-Ṭīb, and Ibn Khaldūn’s Kitāb al-‘Ibar. Continue reading →
Following the collapse and disintegration of the Umayyad Caliphate of Cordoba during the civil wars of 1009–1013, al-Andalus fragmented into about 20-30 kingdoms known as the party kingdoms, reyes de taifas or mulūk al-tawā’if. Some of these emirates, such as the Taifa of Silves, were little more than self-governing city-states while others, such as the Taifa of Seville, controlled large swathes of territory. Although there were three Taifa periods—the first from 1010 to 1110, the second from 1144-1172, and the third from roughly 1220 to 1270—I will be focusing this post on the first Taifa era, which is what scholars usually mean when they refer to the “Taifa Kingdoms.” I thought it would be useful to simply lay out the names and ethno-tribal origins of the ruling families of the various Taifa kingdoms in order to demonstrate the complex political situation that had arisen in 11th-century al-Andalus. Although the question of “ethnicity” is certainly a troublesome one in the medieval period (not least in al-Andalus!), the concepts of “Berber,” “Arab,” and “indigenous Iberian” (muwallad) were all deployed and utilized by various factions in the Taifa kingdoms during the 11th century. Rather than attempt any major analysis (I’ve provided a list of further reading for those interested in learning more), it seemed like a good idea to clarify the tribal and “ethnic” background of each of ruling families of the Taifa kingdoms.