By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 4th 2018)
History is full of misconceptions and airbrushing of crimes to present a nostalgic view justifying the rule and crimes of one side or other. More often than not the truth lies in between – neither pure as the driven snow, nor wicked enough to put Sodom and Gomorrah to shame. The Moors – more accurately Berbers – are no different, but misconceptions about them are rife. Their contribution to Europe was immense.
Talk of brutality and slavery being brought to Europe by Arabs – the Umayyads conquered the Mahgreb, but did so without the usual brutality of war – and imposed by Moors is arrant nonsense. Did they keep slaves? They certainly did, but slavery in Europe pre-dated Tariq ibn Ziyad’s arrival in Spain by centuries, and it is conveniently forgotten that the slavery brought by the Umayyads was little different to that practiced by the Romans and Greeks – it was more servitude than what we would consider slavery. Chattel slavery was vastly different, and that certainly was not brought to Europe by Moors.
In ancient times captives of war were enslaved. Spain is no different. Slavery there pre-dated the arrival of the Romans, Carthaginians and Phoenicians, and it lasted long after the Visigoths under Alaric finally defeated the Roman Empire. The Visigoths rule over Hispania was finally ended by the Islamic conquest of Spain.
The Visigoths were once considered Barbarians – originally a Greek term for foreigners made derogatory by the Romans. It came to mean uncivilised and was used to justify the imposition of Roman rule and hegemony over these tribes. The Visigoths were far from uncivilised as their artistic jewellery amply proves, but they could be extremely brutal even to each other.
The ‘last’ King of the Visigoths, Rodéric was a nobleman by birth, but had no right of succession. He was considered by many a usurper. The previous and last ‘legitimate’ King of the Visigoths was Wittiza. After a promising ‘honeymoon’ Wittiza turned despot, torturing, imprisoning or executing rivals. Among those dispossessed was Theodofred, father of Rodéric. He was blinded and imprisoned by Wittiza. Rodéric fled into exile.
As Wiitiza’s despotism grew, so did opposition, leading to a coup by nobles, who appointed Rodéric the new ruler. Rodéric lost no time settling scores for his father. Wittiza was blinded and imprisoned – the same fate he imposed on Theodofred, Wittiza spent his remaining days – not many – wracked by remorse, but it was too little, too late. And then there was Achila II, Wittiza’s son. Unlike Rodéric, he had a legitimate claim by right to the Visigoths’ throne – their rivalry weakened the Visigoth cause.
Rodéric ruled primarily in the south and considered the Muslims his greatest threat, while Achilo’s domain was in the north of Spain and south of modern day France. After Rodéric’s defeat and death at Guadalete, Achila had to confront the Umayyads and was defeated within three years. He was succeeded by Ardabastus (Ardo) the last Visigoth King. His reign lasted approximately seven years – his defeat and death consigned the Visigoths to history, but the seeds of Visigoth destruction were planted almost a decade earlier.
Rodéric also alienated a Visigoth nobleman, Julian, the Count of Ceuta. It was claimed – history is uncertain on whether Julian even had a daughter, let alone what was alleged to have happened – that Julian was said to have sent his daughter to Rodéric to be educated, but instead the King raped her. Enraged, Julian took his revenge – a revenge many consider treason. Julian encouraged Tariq ibn Ziyad’s invasion – he even facilitated and aided it. Without the Count of Ceuta’s involvement the invasion would at the very least have been far more difficult to execute.
Acquiescence and Tolerance
The conquest of the Mahgreb and Berbers by the Umayyads bordered on acquiescence as merit was rewarded and the beliefs of the ‘conquered’ was tolerated.
Former slave turned Emir of Tangier, Tarik ibn Ziyad, was the first to cross over Gibraltar from Morocco to Spain. It paved the way for the Berber’s Islamisation of Spain – the one that hardly gets acknowledged in Europe, but is the subject of remarkable ignorance. Ironically, the origins of the Islam of the Emirate of Cordoba and also the Berbers had the same source – the Umayyad Caliphate and Empire.
Islam came to North Africa from Yemen and Saudi Arabia too, but this time it came through conquest – the roots, however were permanent and affected the course of both Morocco and Spain. It should be remembered that despite this expansion coming through the Umayyad Caliphate, they were not originally Muslims.
The Umayyad dynasty began in 661 AD, lasting until 750. The Umayyads eventually converted to Islam, although they remained tolerant of other faiths. Their treatment of Jews is particularly striking, as Jews had been persecuted by Christians especially. Jews were accepted and protected by the Umayyads and were part of the Umayyad invasion of Europe.