The Taifa Kingdoms (ca. 1010-1090): Ethnic and Political Tensions in al-Andalus during the 11th Century

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.


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The Aljafería Palace in Zaragoza

One of the most important Andalusi cultural and historical monuments in Zaragoza is the Aljafería Palace (or Qasr al-Ja’fariyya). This fortress-palace complex was built between the ninth and eleventh centuries and was the political and administrative center of the northern parts of al-Andalus (thaghr al-‘ala). Although most of it was built during the second half of the 11th century during the period of the ta’ifa Kingdom of Zaragoza of Al-Andalus, later additions were made by Christian monarchs, who made it their northern residence in Spain. In the 11th century, it was the residence of the Banu Hud dynasty during the era of Abu Ja’far al-Muqtadir (r. 1046-1081). The palace reflects the splendor attained by the Kingdom of Zaragoza (1013-1110) at the height of its grandeur and provides a magnificent example of Islamic architecture during the early period of al-Andalus. The Aljafería Palace is one of the only royal residences from 11th-century Iberia to have been preserved almost perfectly until the present. The palace currently contains the Cortes (regional parliament) of the autonomous community of Aragon. This makes it one of the oldest structures in the world with a continuous use as a political center

File:Location map Taifa of Zaragoza.svgThe following are some pictures taken during my trip to the site in 2012 (I’ve also included a few higher-resolution pictures found online): Continue reading