A Muslim Describes the Conquest of Spain

A Muslim Describes the Conquest of Spain
IBN ABD-EL-HAKEM, The Conquest of Spain (ca. 870)
Ibn Abd-el-Hakem, an Egyptian from a prominent family of legal scholars, wrote his
history of the conquest of Spain more than a century after the actual events. As the
oldest of such histories written by an Islamic scholar, it was frequently cited by later
Muslim historians. The events he describes are a combination of myth and fact. In the
following excerpt, he discusses the events that led to the defeat of Roderic, a Visigothic
king, by Tarik ibn Ziyad, the Muslim commander who led the conquest of Visigothic
Spain. After the conquest, the Muslims in Spain — the land they called al-Andalus —
built a kingdom known as a center of culture and the arts that lasted for centuries. As
you read the excerpt, consider how distrust and misunderstanding shaped interactions
between Muslims and Visigoths. The governor of the straits between this district
[Tangiers] and Andalus was a foreigner called Ilyan, Lord of Septa. He was also the
governor of a town called Alchadra, situated on the same side of the straits of Andalus
as Tangiers. Ilyan was a subject of Roderic, the Lord of Andalus [i.e., king of Spain],
who used to reside in Toledo. Tarik put himself in communication with Ilyan, and treated
him kindly, until they made peace with each other. Ilyan had sent one of his daughters to
Roderic, the Lord of Andalus, for her improvement and education; but she became
pregnant by him. Ilyan having heard of this, said, I see for him no other punishment or
recompense, than that I should bring the Arabs against him. He sent to Tarik, saying, I
will bring you to Andalus…. But Tarik said I cannot trust you until you send me a
hostage. So he sent his two daughters, having no other children. Tarik allowed them to
remain in Tlemsen, guarding them closely. After that Tarik went to Ilyan who was in
Septa on the straits. The latter rejoicing at his coming, said, I will bring you to Andalus.
But there was a mountain called the mountain of Tarik between the two landing-places,
that is, between Septa and Andalus. When the evening came, Ilyan brought him the
vessels, in which he made him embark for that landing-place, where he concealed
himself during the day, and in the evening sent back the vessels to bring over the rest of
his companions. So they embarked for the landing-place, none of them being left
behind: whereas the people of Andalus did not observe them, thinking that the vessels
crossing and recrossing were similar to the trading vessels which for their benefit plied
backwards and forwards. Tarik was in the last division which went across. He
proceeded to his companions, Ilyan together with the merchants that were with him
being left behind in Alchadra, in order that he might the better encourage his
companions and countrymen. The news of Tarik and of those who were with him, as
well as of the place where they were, reached the people of Andalus. Tarik, going along
with his companions, marched over a bridge of mountains to a town called
Cartagena…. When the Muslims settled [on an island near Andalus], they found no
other inhabitants there, than vinedressers.1 They made them prisoners. After that they
took one of the vinedressers, slaughtered him, cut him in pieces, and boiled him, while
the rest of his companions looked on. They had also boiled meat in other cauldrons.
When the meat was cooked, they threw away the flesh of that man which they had
boiled; no one knowing that it was thrown away: and they ate the meat which they had
boiled, while the rest of the vinedressers were spectators. These did not doubt but that
the Muslims ate the flesh of their companion; the rest being afterwards sent away
informed the people of Andalus that the Muslims feed on human flesh, acquainting them
with what had been done to the vinedresser. When Tarik landed, soldiers from Cordova
came to meet him; and seeing the small number of his companions they despised him
on that account. They then fought. The battle with Tarik was severe. They were routed,
and he did not cease from the slaughter of them till they reached the town of Cordova.
When Roderic heard of this, he came to their rescue from Toledo…. They fought a
severe battle; but God, mighty and great, killed Roderic and his companions. From Ibn
Abd-el-Hakem, History of the Conquest of Spain, trans. John Harris Jones (Goettingen:
Dietrich, 1858), pp. 18–20. Text modernized by Amy R. Caldwell. 1vinedressers: People
who cultivate grapevines.
An Arab Account of the Frankish Defense of
Poitiers (ca. 732)
After the initial conquest of Spain by Muslim forces early in the eighth century, an
expeditionary force continued into Frankish territory and was defeated by Frankish
forces led by Charles Martel. The defeat marked the end of Muslim incursions across
the Pyrenees and allowed the Franks and Martel to build a powerful kingdom, which
peaked under his grandson Charlemagne. There are numerous Catholic accounts of the
battle, but the following is one from an unknown Arab chronicler that provides a
counterpoint to the Christian point of view. This excerpt picks up after a string of Muslim
victories. Abderrahman1 drove them back; and the men of Abderrahman were puffed up
in spirit by their repeated successes, and they were full of trust in the valor and the
practice in war of their emir. So the Moslems smote their enemies, and passed the River
Garonne, and laid waste the country, and took captives without number. And that army
went through all places like a desolating storm. Prosperity made these warriors
insatiable. At the passage of the river, Abderrahman overthrew the count,2 and the
count retired into his stronghold, but the Moslems fought against it, and entered it by
force and slew the count; for everything gave way to their cimeters,3 which were the
robbers of lives. All the nations of the Franks trembled at that terrible army, and they
betook them to their king Caldus,4 and told him of the havoc made by the Moslem
horsemen, and how they rode at their will through all the land of Narbonne, Toulouse,
and Bordeaux, and they told the king of the death of their count. Then the king bade
them be of good cheer, and offered to aid them. And in the 114th year5 he mounted his
horse, and he took with him a host that could not be numbered, and went against the
Moslems. And he came upon them at the great city of Tours. And Abderrahman and
other prudent cavaliers saw the disorder of the Moslem troops, who were loaded with
spoil; but they did not venture to displease the soldiers by ordering them to abandon
every thing except their arms and war-horses. And Abderrahman trusted in the valor of
his soldiers, and in the good fortune which had ever attended him. But such defect of
discipline is always fatal to armies. So Abderrahman and his host attacked Tours to gain
still more spoil, and they fought against it so fiercely that they stormed the city almost
before the eyes of the army that came to save it; and the fury and the cruelty of the
Moslems toward the inhabitants of the city was like the fury and cruelty of raging tigers.
It was manifest that God’s chastisement was sure to follow such excesses; and Fortune
thereupon turned her back upon the Moslems. Near the River Owar6 the two great
hosts of the two languages and the two creeds were set in array against each other.
The hearts of Abderrahman, his captains, and his men, were filled with wrath and pride,
and they were the first to begin the fight. The Moslem horsemen dashed fierce and
frequent forward against the battalions of the Franks, who resisted manfully, and many
fell dead on either side, until the going down of the sun. Night parted the two armies; but
in the gray of the morning the Moslems returned to the battle. Their cavaliers had soon
hewn their way into the centre of the Christian host. But many of the Moslems were
fearful for the safety of the spoil which they had stored in their tents, and a false cry
arose in their ranks that some of the enemy were plundering the camp; whereupon
several squadrons of the Moslem horsemen rode off to protect their tents. But it seemed
as if they fled; and all the host was troubled. And while Abderrahman strove to check
their tumult, and to lead them back to battle, the warriors of the Franks came around
him, and he was pierced through with many spears, so that he died. Then all the host
fled before the enemy, and many died in the fight. This deadly defeat of the Moslems,
and the loss of the great leader and good cavalier Abderrahman, took place in the
hundred and fifteenth year. From Edward Creasy, The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the
World: From Marathon to Waterloo (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1862), pp. 177–178.
1Abderrahman: Abd-ar-Rahman, the Muslim governor of Córdoba. 2count: Count Odo
of Aquitaine, also known as Duke Odo. 3cimeters: Scimitars; curved swords used by the
Muslim forces. 4king Caldus: Charles Martel, mayor of the Palace of Austrasia, a
powerful statesman and military leader who basically ruled the territory of Francia from
718 to 741 C.E. 5114th year: This refers to 114 years after the hijra, or the migration of
the Muslim community from Mecca to Medina in 622 C.E. 6River Owar: Possibly the
Loire River.

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