Academic journal article Comparative Civilizations Review

Medieval Islamic Spain (Al-Andalus) as a Civilizational Bridge between Later Antiquity and Early Modernity

Academic journal article Comparative Civilizations Review

Medieval Islamic Spain (Al-Andalus) as a Civilizational Bridge between Later Antiquity and Early Modernity

Article excerpt

The term "civilizational bridge" is basic to this study. It involves an inter-linkage of the two historical periods of late European antiquity and early modernity or more especially Iberia of the 7th to 15th centuries.

In the noun form, a civilization designates a larger or more comprehensive socio-cultural entity than either a single social or cultural entity, yet is inclusive of both. However, it entails a differentiation and complexity not found among "simpler" or "primitive" peoples: larger populations in extended settlements; a system of communication of more than direct face-to-face speech; and graphic representation, (such as cuneiform, glyphs, or hieroglyphs) and quasi or actual alphabetic "writing" on more or less permanent material, such as clay or papyrus.

The institutional structures are also more or less formal and impersonal. Some persons travel outside of a given societyculture (e.g., for trading or diplomacy). An identifiable economy involving an exchange of goods and services exists. Occupational specialization and a graded hierarchy of statuses (a social stratification) have emerged. Concurrently, organized force as centered in the (political) state has emerged with a king or emperor. Religion, with a professional priesthood, has become established. All of these are to be found exemplified in Muslim Spain.

Pre-Islamic Spain

For several centuries before the Islamic conquest, the Iberian Peninsula was ruled by Visigoths (Western Goths), except for the Basques in the northwest. Even earlier, ancient pagans remained, as did the Roman settlers (who called the area "Hispania"), the Celts, the Vandals (from whose occupancy the Arabic "al-Andalus" is derived), the Germanic Suevi and Alamani, and smaller numbers of Jews (who added to the ethnic and religious heterogeneity).

The Visigoths arrived in the 5th century A.D. Initially, they were adherents of a brand of Christians who followed Bishop Arius, who held that Jesus "was not quite divine..., but not quite human" either (Lowney, pp. 22-30). In 589 A.D., they became Roman Catholic (Menocal, pp. 132-133). In Lowney's view, the Visigoths were important in keeping Spain together and in avoiding a reversion to a pre-Roman patchwork of small fiefdoms (pp. 22-25).

The Advent of the First Arabs

In 711 an Islamic invasion headed by Tariq ibn Ziyad overwhelmed the Visigothic (the then Spanish) King Roderick, spilling over the Pyrenees to imperil France, and to move within 200 miles of Paris. But Charles Martellus (i.e., Latin for Charles the Hammer) repulsed the Islamic invaders in 732 A.D. Martellus was the grandfather of Charlemagne, who endeavored to ensure, two generations later, that France would never again "suffer such an incursion" (Lowney, p. 124). Thus, a first Muslim invasion had occurred between C.E. 711 and 732 (cf. Michael Morgan, pp. 4, 26-34).

The Second or Main Arabic Muslim Invasion

Begun in the early 8th century (C. E.) this invasion was led by Abd al-Rahman, who was the only member of the Ummayad dynasty to escape murder by the Abassids in the caliphate capital of Damascus in 750. He and his brother fled successfully across Egypt and North Africa to Spain, arriving five years later. With the assistance of émigré Syrians and Berbers, who recognized his claims, he defeated, displaced, and replaced the then caliph, to (re-found) an Umayyad dynasty that endured for 11 generations in Andalus (756-1031 C.E.).

Abd al-Rahman (fourth generation, 822-852) was able to consolidate Umayyad power throughout Muslim-held territories and to establish a court in Cordoba in a style that quickly rivaled any within the then contemporary Islamic world. Abd al Rahman III (eighth generation, 922-961) spent his first 14 years in consolidating power lost to other Muslim caliphates. In 926 he proclaimed himself caliphate of alAndalus and "commander of the faithful."

During his lengthy 40-year reign, Spain attained its peak: territorial expansion, political and economic stability, and cultural efflorescence (which continued under al Hakm II (961976), but afterwards declined and disintegrated under the invading (Muslim Berber) Almoravid and Almorad conquerors. …

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