A history of Moorish Spain – (Part 3)

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BORN in Toledo in 788AD Abd ar-Rahman II became Umayyad Emir of Cordoba after the death of his father Al Hakam I in 822AD. No stranger to controversy he had been involved in ‘the massacre of the ditch’ in 807AD when nobles were invited to Toledo supposedly to honour the then Emir. Instead as they arrived at the banquet they were all beheaded. Estimates vary from 500 to 7000 murdered souls.

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Abd ar-Rahman II was considered a weak ruler and its recorded that he was advised by Yahya a mystic or whirling dervish, a musician called Ziryab, a woman called Tarub and Nasr a eunuch who was responsible for political decisions.

Constantly during his reign there were many Christian rebellions. In the past Christians were given the very fair choice of either paying a special tax called Jizya, banishment, or if they preferred execution and thus martyrdom if they denounced Islam in public.

Abd ar-Rahman II was responsible for the so called ‘Martyrs of Cordoba’ where 48 Christian believers were decapitated between 850-859AD for various crimes of blasphemy against Islam. A Hagiography is a biography that idealizes or idolizes the person (especially a person who is a saint) and a Cordovan priest called Eulogius wrote the work Exhortation to martyrdom. By writing this work Eulogius encouraged many of the voluntary martyrdoms. By coincidence His name stems from the Greek word eulogia meaning good words.


To counter these voluntary martyrdoms Abd ar-Rahman II convened a special council or synod between 850-852AD and a decree was issued supported by Reccafred the Christian Bishop of Cordoba. He preached religious tolerance and sided with the Moslem authorities as he considered the martyrs religious fanatics. He threw Eulogius into prison in 852AD but this just served to whip up religious militancy further. Eulogius was eventually executed in 859AD after being caught sheltering an apostate Moslem girl called Leocritia who had converted to Christianity. She was then executed on March 15th a few days after Eulogius finally followed his own teachings.

Alfonso II King of the Asturias constantly waged war against Abd ar-Rahman II. Over a hundred years previously around 720AD at the time of the original Moorish invasion the Moors had let surviving Christian nobles escape north to the Asturias. Now many years later the Christians had started the reconquest. King Alfonso II took Lisbon from the Moors in 798AD and up until he was stopped by Abd-ar–Rahman II in 825AD and Lisbon was retaken he had managed to take areas of Galicia, Leon and Castille. It is said that King Alfonso II was the first Christian pilgrim to Santiago de Compestela after the body of Saint James was discovered there. King Alfonso II died in 842AD and has the following eulogy ‘after having held for 52 years chastely, soberly, immaculately, piously, and gloriously the government of the realm’.


Al-Andalus was assailed from many sides and in 844 a fleet of 52 ships anchored off the Lisbon coast. Filled with Al-Madjus or Norse Vikings they landed and took Cadiz from the Moors and on October 1st they took Seville by force. Venturing up the Guadalquivir River the Vikings sent an ambassador to Abd ar-Rahman II to propose a peace treaty. In return the Moorish diplomat Yahya returned with the Norseman and returned unharmed some 20 months later to his Emir. A naval fleet and arsenal was constructed in Seville afterwards to repel any future invasion.

During his reign Cordoba prospered and numbered several hundred thousand inhabitants to become the largest city in the known world. Poetry and philosophy were encouraged and Abd-ar-Rahman II was responsible for many public building projects. The streets were paved and lit at night, mosques, libraries and public baths were built and indoor plumbing was introduced. He owned a fabulous jewelled belt which El Cid and then Queen Isabel owned, the latter selling it hundreds of years later to help pay for the Christian reconquest of Granada. Abd ar-Rahman II died peacefully in 852AD and was succeeded by his son Muhammad I.




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