Moorish Power In Spain

Decline Of The Moorish Power In Spain
Author: Dunham, S. A.
Growth And Decay Of The Almoravide And Almohade Dynasties

1086 - 1214

During the early part of the eleventh century the western caliphate,
which with its splendid capital of Cordova had flourished for almost three
hundred years, entered upon a decline that was the beginning of its final
dissolution. By A.D. 1020 the local governors openly asserted their
independence of Cordova and assumed the title of kings. Conspicuous among
them was Mahomet ben Ismail ben Abid, the wali of Seville.

While these petty rulers were determined to renounce allegiance to
Cordova, it was resolved at that capital to elect a sovereign to subdue them
and restore the ancient splendor of the empire. The choice fell upon Gehwar
ben Mahomet, who soon established a degree of tranquillity and commercial
prosperity unknown for many years. But he failed to reestablish the supremacy
of Cordova, which capital Mahomet of Seville was preparing to invade when he
died. His son, Mahomet Almoateded, having subdued Southern Andalusia, became
the ally of Mahomet, son and successor of Gehwar on the throne of Cordova; but
he betrayed the latter under pretence of aiding him against his enemies, and
usurped the sovereignty.

On the death of Mahomet Almoateded, his son Mahomet succeeded him at
Cordova. He was already King of Seville, and as he soon occupied many other
cities he became the most independent and powerful sovereign of Mahometan
Spain. His chief rival, Yahia Alkadia, King of Toledo, was so contemptible to
his people that they expelled him. He appealed for aid to Alfonso VI, King of
Leon (Alfonso of Castile); but that Christian soldier was persuaded by Mahomet
to oppose, instead of assisting, Yahia. The latter was restored to his throne
by the King of Badajoz, but Alfonso invested Toledo and, after a three-years'
siege, reduced the city, in A.D. 1085. In the history of the events directly
following the capitulation it is shown how costly to himself was the alliance
of Mahomet with Alfonso, and how it played its part in the coming of his
coreligionists from Africa to his assistance, and finally, as it proved, to
his own undoing and the supplanting of the power he represented in the
Mahometan government of Spain.

The fall of Toledo, however it might have been foreseen by the
Mahometans, filled them with equal dismay and indignation. As Mahomet was too
formidable to be openly assailed, they turned their vociferations of anger
against his hagib, whom they accused of betraying the faith of Islam. Alarmed
at the universal outcry, Mahomet was not sorry that he could devolve the heavy
load of responsibility on the shoulders of his minister. The latter fled; but
though he procured a temporary asylum from several princes, he was at length
seized by the emissaries of his offended master; was brought, first to
Cordova, next to Seville; confined within the walls of a dungeon; and soon
beheaded by the royal hand of Mahomet. Thus was a servant of the King
sacrificed for no other reason than that he had served that King too well.

The conquest of Toledo was far from satisfying the ambition of Alfonso:
he rapidly seized on the fortresses of Madrid, Maqueda, Guadalaxara, and
established his dominion on both banks of the Tagus. Mahomet now began
seriously to repent his treaty with the Christian, and to tremble even for his
own possessions. He vainly endeavored to divert his ally from the projects of
aggrandizement which that ally had evidently formed. The kings of Badajoz and
Saragossa became tributaries to the latter; nay, if any reliance is to be
placed on either Christian or Arabic historians, ^1 the King of Seville
himself was subjected to the same humiliation. However this may have been,
Mahomet saw that unless he leagued himself with those whose subjugation had
hitherto been his constant object - the princes of his faith - his and their
destruction was inevitable. The magnitude of the danger compelled him to
solicit their alliance.

[Footnote 1: Conde gives the translation of two letters - one from Alfonso to
Mahomet, distinguished for a tone of superiority and even of arrogance, which
could arise only from the confidence felt by the writer in his own strength;
the other from Mahomet to Alfonso, containing a defiance. The latter begins:

"To the proud enemy of Allah, Alfonso ben Sancho, who calls himself lord
of both nations and both laws. May God confound his arrogance, and prosper
those who walk in the right way!"

One passage of the same letter says: "Fatigued with war, we were willing
to offer thee an annual tribute; but this does not satisfy thee: thou wishest
us to deliver into thine hands our towns and fortresses; but are we thy
subjects, that thou makest such demands, or hast thou ever subdued us? Thine
injustice has roused us from our lethargy," etc,]

As the King of Saragossa was too much in fear of the Christians to enter
into any league against them, and as the one of Valencia (Yahia) reigned only
at the pleasure of Alfonso, the sovereigns of Badajoz, Almeria, and Granada
were the only powers on whose cooperation he could calculate (he had
annihilated the authority of several petty kings). He invited those princes
to send their representatives to Seville, to consult as to the measures
necessary to protect their threatened independence. The invitation was
readily accepted. On the day appointed, Mahomet, with his son Al Raxid and a
considerable number of his wazirs and cadis, was present at the deliberations.
The danger was so imminent - the force of the Christians was so augmented, and
that of the Moslems so weakened - that such resistance as Mahometan Spain
alone could offer seemed hopeless. With this conviction in their hearts, two
of the most influential cadis proposed an appeal to the celebrated African
conqueror, Yussef ben Taxfin, whose arm alone seemed able to preserve the
faith of Islam in the Peninsula.

The proposal was received with general applause by all present: they did
not make the very obvious reflection that when a nation admits into its bosom
an ally more powerful than itself, it admits at the same time a conqueror. The
wali of Malaga alone, Abdallah ben Zagut, had courage to oppose the dangerous
embassy under consideration: "You mean to call in the aid of the Almoravides!
Are you ignorant that these fierce inhabitants of the desert resemble their
own native tigers? Suffer them not, I beseech you, to enter the fertile
plains of Andulasia and Granada! Doubtless they would break the iron sceptre
which Alfonso intends for us; but you would still be doomed to wear the chains
of slavery. Do you not know that Yussef has taken all the cities of Almagreb;
that he has subdued the powerful tribes of the east and west; that he has
everywhere substituted despotism for liberty and independence?" The aged Zagut
spoke in vain: he was even accused of being a secret partisan of the
Christian; and the embassy was decreed.

But Zagut was not the only one who foresaw the catastrophe to which that
embassy must inevitably lead: Al Raxid shared the same prophetic feeling. In
reply to his father, who, after the separation of the assembly, expatiated on
the absolute necessity of soliciting the alliance of Aben Taxfin as the only
measure capable of saving the rest of Mahometan Spain from the yoke of
Alfonso, he said: "This Aben Taxfin, who has subdued all that he pleased, will
serve us as he has already served the people of Almagreb and Mauritania - he
will expel us from our country!"

"Anything," rejoined the father, "rather than Andalusia should become the
prey of the Christians! Dost thou wish the Mussulmans to curse me? I would
rather become an humble shepherd, a driver of Yussef's camels, than reign
dependent on these Christian dogs! But my trust is in Allah."

"May Allah protect both thee and thy people!" replied Al Raxid,
mournfully, who saw that the die of fate was cast.

The course of this history must be interrupted for a moment, while the
origin and exploits of this formidable African are recorded.

Beyond the chain of Mount Atlas, in the deserts of ancient Getulia, dwelt
two tribes of Arabian descent - both, probably, of the greater one of Zanhaga,
so illustrious in Arabian history. At what time they had been expelled, or
had voluntarily exiled themselves, from their native Yemen, they knew not; but
tradition taught them that they had been located in the African deserts from
ages immemorial. Their life was passed under the tent; their only possessions
were their camels and their freedom. Yahia ben Ibrahim, belonging to one of
these tribes - that of Gudala - made the pilgrimage of Mecca. On his return
through the province of Cairwan he became acquainted with Abu-Amram, a famous
alfaqui, originally of Fez. Being questioned by his new friend as to the
religion and manners of his countrymen, he replied that they were sunk in
ignorance, both from their isolated situation in the desert and from their
want of teachers; he added, however, that they were strangers to cruelty, and
that they would be willing enough to receive instruction from any quarter. He
even entreated the alfaqui to allow some one of his disciples to accompany him
into his native country; but none of those disciples was willing to undertake
so long and perilous a journey, and it was not without considerable difficulty
that Abdallah ben Yassim, the disciple of another alfaqui, was persuaded to
accompany the patriotic Yahia.

Abdallah was one of those ruling minds which, fortunately for the peace
of society, nature so seldom produces. Seeing his enthusiastic reception by
the tribe of Gudala, and the influence he was sure of maintaining over it, he
formed the design of founding a sovereignty in the heart of these vast
regions. Under the pretext that to diffuse a holy religion and useful
knowledge was among the most imperative of duties, he prevailed on his
obedient disciples to make war on the kindred tribe of Lamtuna. That tribe
submitted, acknowledging his spiritual authority, and zealously assisted him
in his great purpose of gaining proselytes by the sword. His ambition
naturally increased with his success: in a short time he had reduced, in a
similar manner, the isolated tribes around him. To his valiant followers of
Lamtuna he now gave the name of Muraditins, or Almoravides, ^1 which signifies
men consecrated to the service of God.

[Footnote 1: This Moslem dynasty, founded about 1050, ruled in Africa, and
afterward in Spain, until 1147, when it was overthrown and succeeded by that
of the Almohades.]

The whole country of Darah was gradually subdued by this new apostle, and
his authority was acknowledged over a region extensive enough to form a
respectable kingdom. But though he exercised all the rights of sovereignty,
he prudently abstained from assuming the title: he left to the emir of Lamtuna
the ostensible exercise of temporal power; and when, in A.D. 1058, that emir
fell in battle, he nominated Abu-Bekr ben Omar to the vacant dignity. His own
death, which was that of a warrior, left Abu-Bekr in possession of an
undivided sovereignty. The power and consequently the reputation of the emir,
spread far and wide, and numbers flocked from distant provinces to share in
the advantages of religion and plunder. His native plains were now too narrow
for the ambition of Abu-Bekr, who crossed the chain of Mount Atlas, and fixed
his residence in the city of Agmat, between those mountains and the sea.

But even this place was soon too confined for his increased subjects, and
he looked round for a site on which he might lay the foundations of a great
city, the destined metropolis of a great empire. One was at length found; and
the city of Morocco began to rear its head from the valley of Eylana. Before,
however, his great work was half completed, he received intelligence that the
tribe of Gudala had declared a deadly war against that of Lamtuna; and that
the ruin of one at least of the hostile people was to be apprehended. As he
belonged to the latter, he naturally trembled for the fate of his kindred; and
at the head of his cavalry he departed for his native deserts, leaving the
superintendence of the buildings and the command of the army, during his
absence, to his cousin, Yussef ben Taxfin.

The person and character of Yussef are drawn in the most favorable colors
by the Arabian writers. We are told that his stature was tall and noble, his
countenance prepossessing, his eye dark and piercing, his beard long, his tone
of voice harmonious, his whole frame, which no sickness ever assailed, strong,
robust, and familiar with fatigue; that his mind corresponded with his outward
appearance, his generosity, his care of the poor, his sobriety, his justice,
his religious zeal, yet freedom from intolerance, rendering him the admiration
of foreigners and the love of his own people. But whatever were his other
virtues, it will be seen that gratitude, honor, and good faith were not among
the number. Scarcely had his kinsman left the city, than, in pursuance of the
design he had formed of usurping the supreme authority, he began to win the
affection of the troops, partly by his gifts and partly by that winning
affability of manner which he could easily assume. How well he succeeded will
soon appear. Nor was his success in war less agreeable to so fierce and
martial a people as the Almoravides. The Berbers who inhabited the defiles of
Mount Atlas, and who, animated by the spirit of independence so characteristic
of mountaineers, endeavored to vindicate their natural liberty, were quickly
subdued by him.

But his policy was still superior. He had long loved, or at least long
aspired to the hope of marrying, the beautiful Zainab, sister of Abu-Bekr; but
the fear of a repulse from the proud chief of his family had caused him to
smother his inclination. He now disdained to supplicate for that chief's
consent: he married the lady, and from that moment proceeded boldly in his
projects of ambition. Having put the finishing touch to his magnificent city
of Morocco, he transferred thither the seat of his empire; and by the
encouragement he afforded to individuals of all nations who chose to settle
there, he soon filled it with a prosperous and numerous population. The
augmentation of his army was his next great object; and so well did he succeed
in it that on his departure, in a hostile expedition against Fez, he found his
troops exceeded one hundred thousand. With so formidable a force, he had
little difficulty in rapidly extending his conquests.

Yussef had just completed the subjugation of Fez when Abu-Bekr returned
from the desert and encamped in the vicinity of Agmat. He was soon made
acquainted - probably common report had acquainted him long before - with the
usurpation of his kinsman. With a force so far inferior to his rival's, and
still more with the conviction that the hearts of the people were weaned from
him, he might well hesitate as to the course he should adopt. His greatest
mortification was to hear his own horsemen, whom curiosity drew into Morocco,
loud in the praises of Yussef, whose liberality to the army was the theme of
universal admiration, and whose service for that reason many avowed their
intention of embracing. He now feared that his power was at an end, yet he
resolved to have an interview with his cousin.

The two chiefs met about half-way between Morocco and Agmat, ^1 and after
a formal salutation took their seats on the same carpet. The appearance of
Yussef's formidable guard, the alacrity with which he was obeyed, and the
grandeur which surrounded him convinced Abu-Bekr that the throne of the
usurper was too firmly established to be shaken. The poor emir, so far from
demanding the restitution of his rights, durst not even utter one word of
complaint; on the contrary, he pretended that he had long renounced empire,
and that his only wish was to pass the remainder of his days in the retirement
of the desert. With equal hypocrisy Yussef humbly thanked him for his
abdication; the sheiks and walis were summoned to witness the renewed
declaration of the emir, after which the two princes separated. The following
day, however, Abu-Bekr received a magnificent present from Yussef, ^2 who,
indeed, continued to send him one every year to the period of his death.

[Footnote 1: The distance is about ten or twelve leagues.]

[Footnote 2: This present is made to consist of twenty-five thousand crowns of
gold, seventy horses of the best breed, all splendidly accoutred, one hundred
and fifty mules, one hundred magnificent turbans with as many costly habits,
four hundred common turbans, two hundred white mantles, one thousand pieces of
rich stuffs, two hundred pieces of fine linen, one hundred and fifty black
slaves, twenty beautiful young maidens, with a considerable quantity of
perfumes, corn, and cattle. Such a gift was worthy of royalty. In a similar
situation a modern English sovereign would probably have sent - one hundred

Yussef, who, though he had refused to receive the title of almumenin,
which he considered as properly belonging to the Caliph of the East, had just
exchanged his humble one of emir for those of almuzlemin, or prince of the
believers, and of nazaradin, or defender of the faith, when the letters of
Mahomet reached him. A similar application from Omar, King of Badajoz, he had
disregarded, not because he was indifferent to the glory of serving his
religion, still less to the advantage of extending his conquests, but because
he had not then sufficiently consolidated his power. Now, however, he was in
peaceful possession of an extended empire, and he assembled his chiefs to hear
their sentiments on an expedition which he had resolved to undertake. All
immediately exclaimed that war should be undertaken in defence of the
tottering throne of Islam. Before, however, he returned a final answer to the
King of Seville, he insisted that the fortress of Algeziras should be placed
in his hands, on the pretence that if fortune were unpropitious he should have
some place to which he might retreat. That Mahomet should have been so blind
as to not perceive the designs involved in the insidious proposal is almost
enough to make one agree with the Arabic historians that destiny had decreed
he should fall by his own measures. The place was not only surrendered to the
artful Moor, but Mahomet himself went to Morocco to hasten the departure of
Yussef. He was assured of speedy succor and induced to return. He was soon
followed by the ambitious African, at the head of a mighty armament.

Alfonso was besieging Saragossa, which he had every expectation of
reducing, when intelligence reached him of Yussef's disembarkation. He
resolved to meet the approaching storm. At the head of all the forces he
could muster he advanced toward Andalusia, and encountered Yussef on the
plains of Zalaca, between Badajoz and Merida. As the latter was a strict
observer of the outward forms of his religion, he summoned the Christian King
by letter to embrace the faith of the Prophet or consent to pay an annual
tribute or prepare for immediate battle. "I am told," added the writer, "that
thou wishest for vessels to carry the war into my kingdom; I spare thee the
trouble of the voyage. Allah brings thee into my presence that I may punish
thy presumption and pride!" The indignant Christian trampled the letter under
foot, and at the same time said to the messenger: "Tell thy master what thou
hast seen! Tell him also not to hide himself during the action: let him meet
me face to face!" The two armies engaged the 13th day of the moon Regeb, A.H.
479. ^1

[Footnote 1: October 23, A.D. 1086.]

The onset of Alfonso at the head of the Christian cavalry was so fierce
that the ranks of the Almoravides were thrown into confusion; not less
successful was Sancho, King of Navarre, against the Andalusians, who retreated
toward Badajoz. But the troops of Seville kept the field, and fought with
desperate valor: they would, however, have given way, had not Yussef at this
critical moment advanced with his reserve and his own guard, consisting of his
bravest troops, and assailed the Christians in the rear and flanks. This
unexpected movement decided the fortune of the day. Alfonso was severely
wounded and compelled to retreat, but not until nightfall, nor until he had
displayed a valor worthy of the greatest heroes. Though his own loss was
severe, amounting, according to the Arabians, to twenty-four thousand men,
that of the enemy could scarcely be inferior, when we consider that this
victory had no result: Yussef was evidently too much weakened to profit by it.

Not long after the battle, Yussef being called to Africa by the death of
a son, the command of the Almoravides devolved on Syr ben Abu-Bekr, the ablest
of his generals. That general advanced northward, and seized some
insignificant fortresses; but the advantage was but temporary, and was more
than counterbalanced by the disasters of the following year. The King of
Saragossa, Abu-Giafar, had hoped that the defeat of Zalaca would prevent the
Christians from attacking him; but that of his allies, the Mahometan princes,
in the neighborhood, and the taking of Huesca by the King of Navarre,
convinced him how fallacious was his fancied security. Seeing that no
advantage whatever had accrued from his former expedition, Yussef now
proclaimed the Alhiged, or holy war, and invited all the Andalusian princes to
join him. In A.D. 1088, he again disembarked at Algeziras and joined the
confederates. But this present demonstration of force proved as useless as
the preceding: it ended in nothing; owing partly to the dissensions of
Mahometans, and partly to the activity of the Christians, who not only
rendered abortive the measures of the enemy, but gained some signal advantages
over them. Yussef was forced to retreat on Almeida. Whether through the
distrust of the Mahometan princes, who appear to have penetrated his intention
of subjecting them to his empire, or through his apprehension of Alfonso, he
again returned to Africa, to procure new and more considerable levies. In
A.D. 1091 he landed a third time at Algeziras, not so much with the view of
humbling the Christian King as of executing the perfidious design he had so
long harbored. For form's sake, indeed, he invested Toledo, but he could have
entertained no expectation of reducing it; and when he perceived that the
Andalusian princes refused to join him, he eagerly left that city, and
proceeded to secure far dearer and easier interests: he openly threw off the
mask, and commenced his career of spoliation.

The King of Granada, Abdallah ben Balkin, was the first victim to African
perfidy. In the conviction that he must be overwhelmed if resistance were
offered, he left his city to welcome Yussef. His submission was vain: he was
instantly loaded with chains, and with his family sent to Agmat. Timur ben
Balkin, brother of Abdallah, was in the same violent manner despoiled of
Malaga. Mahomet now perceived the grievous error which he had committed, and
the prudent foresight of his son Al Raxid. "Did not I tell thee," said the
latter, mournfully, "what the consequences would be; that we should be driven
from our palace and country?"

"Thou wert indeed a true prophet," replied the self-accused father; "but
what power could avert the decrees of fate?"

It seemed as if fate had indeed resolved that this well-meaning but
misguided prince should fall by his own obstinacy; for though his son advised
him to seek the alliance of Alfonso, he refused to do so until that alliance
could no longer avail him. He himself seemed to think that the knell of his
departing greatness was about to sound; and the most melancholy images were
present to his fancy, even in sleep. "One night," says an Arabic historian,
"he heard in a dream his ruin predicted by one of his sons: he awoke, and the
same verses were repeated:

"'Once, Fortune carried thee in her car of triumph and thy name was by
renown spread to the ends of the earth. Now, the same renown conveys only thy
sighs. Days and nights pass away, and like them the enjoyments of the world;
thy greatness has vanished like a dream!'"

But if Mahomet was superstitious - if he felt that fate had doomed him,
and that resistance would be useless - he resolved not to fall ignobly. His
defence was indeed heroic; but it was vain, even though Alfonso sent him an
aid of twenty thousand men: his cities fell one by one; Seville was
constrained to capitulate: he and his family were thrown into prison until a
ship was prepared to convey them into Africa, whither their perfidious ally
had retired some weeks before. His conduct in this melancholy reverse of
fortune is represented as truly great. Not a sigh escaped him, except for the
innocent companions of his misfortune, especially for his son, Al Raxid, whose
virtues and talents deserved a better destiny. Surrounded by the best beloved
of his wives, by his daughters, and his four surviving sons, he endeavored to
console them as they wept on seeing his royal hands oppressed with fetters,
and still more when the ship conveyed all from the shores of Spain. "My
children and friends," said the suffering monarch, "let us learn to support
our lot with resignation! In this state of being our enjoyments are but lent
us, to be resumed when heaven sees fit. Joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain,
closely follow each other; but the noble heart is above the inconstancy of

The royal party disembarked at Ceuta, and were conveyed to Agmat, to be
confined in a fortress. We are told that on their journey a compassionate
poet presented the fallen King with a copy of verses deploring his
misfortunes, and that he rewarded the poet with thirty-six pieces of gold -
the only money he had left, from his once exhaustless riches. He had little
apprehension of what was to follow - that Yussef would leave him without
support; that his future life was to be passed in penury; nay, that his
daughters would be compelled to earn his subsistence and their own by the
labor of their hands. Yet even in that indigent condition, says Aben Lebuna,
and through the sadness which covered their countenances, there was something
about them which revealed their high origin. The unfortunate monarch outlived
the loss of his crown and liberty about four years.

After the fall of Mahomet, the general of Yussef had little difficulty in
subduing the princes of Andalusia. Valencia next received the African yoke.
The King of Saragossa was more fortunate. He sent ambassadors to Yussef,
bearing rich presents, and proposing an alliance with a common league against
the Christians. "My dominions," said Abu-Giafar, "are the only barrier
between thee and the Christian princes. Hitherto my predecessors and myself
have withstood all their efforts; with thy succor I shall fear them still
less." Yussef accepted the proposal; a treaty of alliance was made; and the
army of Abu-Giafar was reinforced by a considerable body of Amoravides, A.H.
486, with whom he repelled an invasion of Sancho, King of Aragon. A third
division of the Africans, which marched to destroy the sovereignty of Algarve
and Badajoz, was no less successful. Badajoz capitulated; but, in violation
of the treaty, the dethroned Omar, with two of his sons, was surrounded and
assassinated by a body of cavalry, as he was unsuspiciously journeying from
the scene of his past prosperity in search of another asylum. A third son was
placed in close confinement.

Thus ended the petty kingdoms of Andalusia, after a stormy existence of
about sixty years.

For some years after the usurpation of Yussef, peace appears to have
existed in Spain between the Mahometans and the Christians. Fearing a new
irruption of Africans, Alfonso contended himself with fortifying Toledo; and
Yussef felt little inclination to renew the war with one whose prowess he had
so fatally experienced. But Christian Spain was, at one moment, near the
brink of ruin. The passion for the crusades was no less ardently felt by the
Spaniards than by other nations of Europe; thousands of the best warriors were
preparing to depart for the Holy Land, as if there were more merit in
contending with the infidels, in a remote region, for a barren sepulchre, than
at home for the dearest interests of man - for honor, patriotism, and
religion. Fortunately for Spain, Pope Pascal II, in answer to the
representations of Alfonso, declared that the proper post of every Spaniard
was at home, and there were his true enemies. Soon afterward Yussef returned
to Morocco, where he died on the 3d day of the moon Muharram, A.H. 500, after
living one hundred Arabian or about ninety-seven Christian years.

In A.H. 514 the empire of the Almoravides was tottering to its fall. It
had never been agreeable to the Mahometans of Spain, whose manners, from their
intercourse with a civilized people, were comparatively refined. The sheiks
of Lamtuna were so many insupportable tyrants; the Jews, the universal agents
for the collection of the revenues, were here, as in Poland, the most pitiless
extortioners; every savage from the desert looked with contempt on the milder
inhabitant of the Peninsula. The domination of these strangers was indeed so
odious that, except for the divisions between Alfonso and his ambitious queen
Donna Urraca, who was sovereign in her own right, all Andalusia might speedily
have been subjected to Christian rule. Alfonso, the King of Aragon, fell at
the siege of Fraga about A.D. 1109, but the Almoravides met an equally valiant
foe in his son and successor, Alfonso Raymond, King of Leon and Castile.

After a period of about forty years, during which the Christians were
steadily increasing their dominions, Coria and Mora and other Mahometan
strongholds were acquired by Alfonso, now styled the "Emperor"; and almost
every contest between the two natural enemies had turned to the advantage of
the Christians. So long, indeed, as the walis were eager only to preserve or
to extend their authority, independent of each other and of every superior,
this success need not surprise us - we may rather be surprised that the
Mahometans were allowed to retain any footing in the Peninsula. Probably they
would at this time have been driven from it but for the seasonable arrival of
the victorious Almohades. Both Christians and Africans now contended for the
superiority. While the troops of Alfonso reduced Baeza, and, with a Mahometan
ally, even Cordova, Malaga, and Seville acknowledged Abu Amram; Calatrava and
Almeria next fell to the Christian Emperor, about the same time that Lisbon
and the neighboring towns received Don Enrique, the new sovereign of Portugal.
Most of these conquests, however, were subsequently recovered by the
Almohades. Being reinforced by a new army from Africa, the latter pursued
their successes with greater vigor. They reduced Cordova, which was held by
an ally of Alfonso; defeated, and forever paralyzed, the expiring efforts of
the Almoravides; and proclaimed their Emperor Abdelmumen as sovereign of all
Mahometan Spain.

Notwithstanding the destructive wars which had prevailed for nearly a
century, neither Moors nor Christians had acquired much advantage by them.
From the reduction of Saragossa to the present time, the victory, indeed, had
generally declared for the Christians; but their conquests, with the exception
of Lisbon and a few fortresses in Central Spain, were lost almost as soon as
gained; and the same fate attended the equally transient successes of the
Mahometans. The reasons why the former did not permanently extend their
territories, were their internal dissensions; while Leon was at war with
Castile, or Castile with Leon, or either with Aragon, we need not wonder that
the united Almoravides, or their successors the Almohades, should sometimes
triumph; but those triumphs were sure to be followed by reverses whenever not
all, but any one, of the Christian states was at liberty to assail its natural
enemy. The Christians, when at peace among themselves, were always too many
for their Mahometan neighbors, even when the latter were aided by the whole
power of Western Africa.

In A.H. 572 (about A.D. 1179) the King of Castile reduced Caenza, and the
Moors were defeated before Toledo. The following year the Portuguese were no
less successful before Abrantes, which the Africans had besieged. These
disasters roused the wrath of Yussef abu Yagur (son and successor of
Abdulmumen who died A.H. 558 = A.D. 1165); but as an obscure rebellion
required his presence at that time in Mauritania, he did not land in Spain
until A.H. 580. He marched without delay against Santarem, which his soldiers
had vainly besieged some years before. Wishing to divide the Portuguese
force, he one night sent an order to his son Cid Abu Ishac, who lay encamped
near him, to march with the Andalusian cavalry on Lisbon. The officer who
carried the order instead of Lisbon named Seville; the whole Moslem army were
sure that some disaster was impending, and that the siege was to be raised;
before morning the camp was deserted, the guard alone of Yussef remaining.
While he despatched orders to recall the alarmed fugitives, the Christians,
who were soon aware of the retreat, issued from the walls, surrounded and
massacred the guard. Yussef defended himself like a hero: six of the
advancing assailants he laid low, before the same fate was inflicted on
himself. The merciless carnage of the Christians spared not even his female
attendants. At this moment two companies of cavalry arrived, and, finding
their monarch dying, furiously charged the Christians, whom they soon put to
flight. In a few hours the whole army returned, and, inspired with the same
hope of vengeance, they stormed and took the place, and put every living
creature to the sword.

Yacub ben Yussef, from his victories afterward named Almansor, who was
then in Spain, was immediately declared successor to his father. For some
years he was not personally opposed to the Christians, though his wails
carried on a desultory indecisive war; he was long detained in Africa, first
in quelling some domestic commotions, and afterward by severe illness. He was
scarcely recovered, when the intelligence that the Christians were making
insulting irruptions to the very outworks of Algeziras made him resolve on
punishing their audacity. His preparations were of the most formidable
description. In A.H. 591 he landed in Andalusia, and proceeded toward
Valencia, where the Christian army then lay. There Alfonso VIII, King of
Castile, was awaiting the expected reinforcements from his allies, the kings
of Leon and Navarre. Both armies pitched their tents on the plains of
Alarcon. The following day the Christians commenced the attack, and with so
much impetuosity that the centre was soon broken. But an Andalusian chief
conducted a strong body of his men against Alfonso, who with the reserve
occupied the hill above the plain. While the struggle was in all its fury,
Yacub and his division took the Christians in flank. The result was fatal to
the Castilian army, which, discouraged at what it considered a new enemy, gave
way in every direction. Alfonso, preferring an honorable death to the shame
of defeat, prepared to plunge into the heart of the Mahometan squadrons, when
his nobles surrounded him and forced him from the field. His loss must have
been immense, amounting probably to twenty thousand men. With a generosity
very rare in a Mahometan, and still more in an African, Yacub restored his
prisoners to liberty - an action for which, we are informed, he received few
thanks from his followers. Alfonso retreated to Toledo just as the King of
Leon arrived with the promised reinforcement.

After this signal victory Yacub rapidly reduced Calatrava, Guadalaxara,
Madrid and Esalona, Salamanca, etc. Toledo, too, he invested, but in vain. He
returned to Africa, caused his son Mahomet to be declared wali alhadi, and
died, the 22d day of the moon Regeb, A.H. 595. ^1 He left behind him the
character of an able, a valiant, a liberal, a just, and even magnanimous
prince - of one who labored more for the real welfare of his people than any
other potentate of his age. He was, beyond doubt, the greatest and best of
the Almohades.

[Footnote 1: May 19, 1199.]

The character of Mahomet Abu Abdallah, surnamed Alnassir, was very
different from that of his great father. Absorbed in effeminate pleasures, he
paid little attention to the internal administration of his empire or to the
welfare of his people. Yet he was not insensible to martial fame; and he
accordingly showed no indisposition to forsake his harem for the field. After
quelling two inconsiderable rebellions, he prepared to punish the audacity of
Alfonso of Castile, who made destructive inroads into Andalusia. Much as the
world had been astounded at the preparations of his grandfather Yussef, they
were not surpassed by his own, if, as we are credibly informed, one alone of
the five divisions of his army amounted to one hundred and sixty thousand men.
It is certain that a year was required for the assembling of this vast
armament, that two months were necessary to convey it across the straits, and
that all Christian Europe was filled with alarm at its disembarkation.
Innocent III proclaimed a crusade to Spain; and Rodrigo of Toledo, the
celebrated historian, accompanied by several prelates, went from one court to
another, to rouse the Christian princes. While the kings of Aragon and
Navarre ^1 promised to unite their forces with their brother of Castile to
repel the common danger, great numbers of volunteers from Portugal ^2 and
Southern France hastened to the general rendezvous at Toledo, the Pope ordered
fasting, prayers, and processions to be made, to propitiate the favor of
heaven, and to avert from Christendom the greatest danger that had threatened
it since the days of the emir Abderahman.

[Footnote 1: Sancho, King of Navarre, is justly accused of backwardness at
least in joining the Christian alliance. He even sought that of Yacub and
Mahomet, on condition that his own states should be spared, or perhaps
amplified at the expense of his neighbors. If the Arabian writers are
correct, he privately waited on Mahomet in Seville; but the result of the
interview is unknown.]

[Footnote 2: The King of Portugal was not present in this campaign,
confidently as the contrary has been asserted by most historians. - La Clede:
Histoire Generale de Portugal, ii.]

Mahomet opened the campaign of A.H. 608 by the siege of Salvatierra, a
strong but not important fortress of Estremadura, defended by the knights of
Calatrava. That he should waste his forces on objects so incommensurate with
their extent proves how little he was qualified to wield them. The place
stood out for several months, and did not surrender until the Emperor had
sustained a heavy loss, nor until the season was too far advanced to permit
any advantage to be derived from this partial success. By suspending the
execution of his great design until the following season, he allowed Alfonso
time to prepare for the contest. The following June, the kings of Leon and
Castile having assembled at Toledo, and been joined by a considerable number
of foreign volunteers, the Christian army advanced toward the south. That of
the infidels lay in the neighborhood of Baeza, and extended to the Sierra

On July 12th, A.H. 608, the crusaders reached the mountainous chain which
divides New Castile from Andalusia. They found not only the passes, but the
summits of the mountains, occupied by the Almohades. To force a passage was
impossible; and they even deliberated on retreating, so as to draw out, if
possible, the enemy from positions so formidable, when a shepherd entered the
camp of Alfonso and proposed to conduct the Christian army, by a path unknown
to both armies, to the summit of this elevated chain - by a path, too, which
would be invisible to the enemy's outposts. A few companies having
accompanied the man and found him equally faithful and well informed, the
whole army silently ascended and intrenched themselves on the summit, the
level of which was extensive enough to contain them all. Below appeared the
wide-spread tents of the Moslems, whose surprise was great on perceiving the
heights thus occupied by the crusaders. For two days the latter, whose
fatigues had been harassing, kept their position; but on the third day they
descended into the plains of Tolosa, which were about to be immortalized by
their valor. Their right wing was led by the King of Navarre, their left by
the King of Aragon, while Alfonso took his station in the centre. Mahomet had
drawn up his army in a similar manner; but, with a strong body of reserve, he
occupied an elevation well defended besides by vast iron chains, which
surrounded his impenetrable guard. ^1 In one hand he held a useless scimitar,
in the other the Koran. The attack was made by the Christian centre against
that of the Mahometans; and immediately the two wings moved against those of
the enemy. The African centre, which consisted of the one hundred and sixty
thousand volunteers, made a determined stand; and though it was broken, it
soon rallied, on being reinforced from the reserve. At one time, indeed, the
superiority of numbers was so great on the part of the Moslems that the troops
of Alfonso appeared about to give way. At this moment that King, addressing
the archbishop Rodrigo, who was with him, said, "Let us die here, prelate!"
and he prepared to rush amid the dense ranks of the enemy. The prelate,
however, and a Castilian general, retained him by the bridle of his horse,
representing the rashness of his purpose, and advising him to reinforce his
weak points by new succors. Accordingly those succors, among which were the
vassals with the pennon of the archbishop, advanced to support the sinking
Castilians. This manoeuvre decided the fortune of the day. ^2 The Mahometan
centre, after a sharp conflict, was again broken, this time irretrievably, and
a way opened to the intrenchments of the Emperor. Seeing the success of their
allies, the two wings charged their opponents with double fury and triumphed
likewise. But the Africans ^3 rallied round Mahomet, and presented a mass
deep and formidable to the conquerors. Rodrigo, with his brother prelate, the
Archbishop of Narbonne, now incited the Christians to overcome this last
obstacle: both intrepidly accompanied the van of the centre. The struggle was
terrific, but short; myriads of the barbarians fell; the boundary was first
broken down by the King of Navarre; the Castilians and Aragonese followed; all
opponents were massacred or fled; and the victors began to ascend the eminence
on which Mahomet still remained. Seeing the total destruction or flight of
his vast host, the Emperor sorrowfully exclaimed, "Allah alone is just and
powerful; the devil is false and wicked!" Scarcely had he uttered the truism,
when an Alarab approached, leading by the hand a strong but nimble mule.
"Prince of the faithful!" said the African, "how long wilt thou remain here?
Dost thou not perceive that thy Moslems flee? The will of Allah be done!
Mount this mule, which is fleeter than the bird of heaven, or even the arrow
which strikes it; never yet did she fail her rider; away! for on thy safety
depends that of us all!" Mahomet mounted the beast, while the Alarab ascended
the Emperor's horse, and both soon outstripped not only the pursuers but the
fugitives. The carnage of the latter was dreadful until darkness put an end
to it. The victors now occupied the tents of the Mahometans, while the two
martial prelates sounded the Te Deum for the most splendid success which had
shone on the banners of the Christians since the time of Charles Martel. The
loss of the Africans, even according to the Arabian writers, who admit that
the centre was wholly destroyed, could not fall short of one hundred and sixty
thousand men. ^4

[Footnote 1: These chains are not mentioned by the Arabs; but what can be
expected from their brevity?]

[Footnote 2: The standard-bearer of Rodrigo, don Domingo Pasquel, canon of
Toledo, showed that he was well fitted to serve the church militant; he twice
carried his banner through the heart of the Mahometan forces.]

[Footnote 3: The Arabian account says that the Andalusians were the first to

[Footnote 4: Of this great battle we have an account by four eye-witnesses: I.
By King Alfonso, in a letter to the Pope; 2, by the historian Rodrigo of
Toledo 3, by Arnaud, Archbishop of Narbonne; 4, by the author of the Annals of

By recent writers of Spain the number of slain on the part of the
Africans was two hundred thousand; on that of the Christians, twenty-five
individuals only. Of course the whole campaign is represented as miraculous;
and, indeed, actual miracles are recorded - which we have neither space nor
inclination to notice.]

The reduction of several towns, from Tolosa to Baeza, immediately
followed this glorious victory - a victory in which Don Alfonso nobly redeemed
his failure in the field of Zalaca - and which, in its immediate consequences,
involved the ruin of the Mahometan empire in Spain. After an unsuccessful
attempt on Ubeda, as the hot season was raging, the allies returned to Toledo,
satisfied that the power of Mahomet was forever broken. That Emperor, indeed,
did not long survive his disaster. Having precipitately fled to Morocco, he
abandoned himself to licentious pleasures, left the cares of government to his
son, or rather his ministers, and died on the 10th day of the moon Shaffan,
A.H. 610 (A.D. 1214), not without suspicion of poison.

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