Muslim Conquest of the Iberian Peninsula: Al-Andalus and Its Legacy

Conquest of the Iberian Peninsula

8th century, Muslims had expanded far beyond their original territory on the Arabian Peninsula.

  • Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula was the continuation of Islamic expansion across the Mediterranean region.
  • It was also possible by a civil war between rival groups of the Visigoth nobility. In 711, one faction requested help from Musa, a Muslim ruler in North Africa.

Muslims defeated the Visigoth King Roderic in the Battle of Guadalete.

The Muslims called their new territory Al-Andalus, and made Córdoba its capital. The emirate of Al-Andalus was dependent on the Umayyad caliphate in Damascus.

The independent Emirate of CórdobaMost members of the ruling Umayyad family in Damascus were killed when the new Abbasid dynasty took power. Umayyad prince called Ab-al-Rahman I, he founded the independent Emirate of Córdoba in 756.
Caliphate Córdoba(929-1031)

Was creates by Abd al -Rahman III who became its caliph. Ruled through a chief minister(hajib), ministers(viziers) and provincial governors(walis).

The Caliphate of Córdoba was one of the world great state in the 10th century:
  • Abd al-Rahman III strengthened his authority by repressing Christian kingdoms in the north of the Iberian Peninsula.
  • Cordoba was one of the most populous in the world, and became a giant marketplace for products from all over the world.
  • When Córdoba was a great cultural centre, home to many philosophers, astronomers, doctors, musicians and poets.

The role of the caliph weakened greatly from the late 10th century. Hisham II was only 11 years old when he became caliph in 976, and a general named Al-Mansur became the real ruler of Al-Andalus. Al-Mansur conducted raids, or razzias, on Christian territories in the north.

Taifa States(1031-1086)

Al-Andalus split into small independent Muslim states called taifas.

  • There were many conflicts between the taifas.
  • The Christian kingdoms attacked the taifas and forced their rulers to pay parias or tribute.

Christian kingdoms were growing threat to the taifas, especially after they took Toledo in 1085. The following year the Muslims called for help from the Almoravids.

Almoravids and Almohads (1086-1212)

  • Almoravids crossed over to the Iberian Peninsula in 1086. Their arrival was at the request of Muslim rulers in Al-Andalus, but they took over the most of the taifa states. They were unable to prevent Christian advances. Al-Andalus fragmented once again into small taifa states in the 1140s.
  • Almohads were the successors of the Almoravids in North Africa, and crossed over in 1147. Conquered the taifa states as well as resisting the Christian kingdoms. Continued to expand in the 12th and 13th centuries.

They achieved a great victory over the Almohads in the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa. Almohad authority collapsed and Christian kingdoms conquered all of the Iberian Peninsula by the mid-13th century, except for Granada.

Nasrid Kingdom of Granada

In the south-east Spain was the last surviving Muslim territory on the Iberian Peninsula. Was never military strong, it was fairly prosperous thanks to trade and agriculture. Monarchs survive as an independent state because it paid them large amounts of tribute and provided military assistance. Wealth to create the Alhambra, an extraordinary complex of palaces, was built during 14th and 15th centuries. The kingdom was weakened by internal conflict between noble families and the Nasrid dynasty. Was conquered by the Catholic Monarchs in 1492.

Life in Al-Andalus

A diverse society

  • Arabs, from the Middle East, were the land-owning aristocracy and held political power.
  • Berbers, from North Africa, also helped to conquer the Iberian Peninsula. However, they received less land and wealth than the Arabs, and sometimes rebelled against their authority.

Initially, Muslims were only a very small minority of the population. However, many Christians (Muladis) converted to Islam and adopted Muslim customs.

Christians and Jews are allowed to practice their religion as long as the paid taxes:

  • Mozarabs were Christians who didn´t convert to Islam. As the Christian kingdoms expanded, some Mozarabs left Al-Andalus to live in the Christian north.
  • Jews were merchants, artisans and scholars. They lived in separate neighborhoods called Jewish quarters.


  • Agriculture. Most of the population of Al-Andalus was dedicated to agricultural work. Grains, grapes and olives, as well as fruit trees, were grown in Al-Andalus. The Muslims developed irrigation techniques and introduced new crops such as cotton, rice, aubergines and artichokes. Farmers sold their products in the souks of nearby cities.
  • Craftwork. Craftsmen developed high-quality products. Skilled craftsmen worked mainly in ceramics, leather, precious metals and silk. Craftsmen with a particular specialty lived and worked in the same area, so there were neighborhoods of leather workers, weavers and potters.
  • Trade. Al-Andalus was a busy trade center. It exported crafts and imported gold and slaves. There were 2 coins: gold dinar and silver dirham.

Andalusi culture and art

Cultural achievements

  • Libraries. In the 10th century, the caliph Al-Hakam II amassed a huge library, which was claimed to have over 400,00 books.
  • Poetry was a popular art. Court poets were paid a salary.
  • Philosophy and science. Muslim philosophers and scientists like Averroes and Avempace had great influence. Maimonides was a leading Jewish philosopher.

Carolingian Empire

It is a Frankish Kingdom established in present-day France after the all the Roman Empire. However, by the 8th century its real rulers were officials called Mayors of the Place. Charles Martel, led the army that defeated the Muslims in the Battle of Poitiers(732). Martel´s son Pepin the Short became the king in 751, and his grandson Charlemagne succeeded Pepin in 768. Charlemagne conquered many territories:

  • In present-day Germany he defeated the pagan Saxons, and forced them to became Christians.
  • He conquered the Lombard Kingdom in Italy.
  • He gained control of the north of the Iberian Peninsula.

800, the Pope crowned Charlemagne Holy Roman Emperor.

  • Counties were administrative units ruled by counts.
  • Missi dominici (the ´lord´s messengers´) were royal inspectors who controlled regional administration.
  • Marches were well-defended border regions.

Second wave of invasions

New invasions

  • Vikings from Scandinavia attacked territories throughout Europe and settled in regions such as the British Isles, northern France and southern Italy.
  • Magyars(or Hungarians), from the Asian Steppe, attacked many parts of Europe and founded the Kingdom of Hungary.
  • Muslim raiders, based in northern Africa, attacked the Mediterranean coast.


Was the main political, social and economic system in Europe between the 10th and 13th centuries. It developed in the climate of insecurity that followed the second wave invasions, when the kings gave land to the nobles in return for their military assistance. Royal armies were small, so a king depend on the nobles private armies for defense. A noble who received land in this way became the king´s vassal.

  • In a ceremony of homage, the vassal promised his lord personal loyalty and military assistance.
  • In return, the lord gave the vassal a fief, which was usually a large piece of land.

Feudal lords was also granted smaller fiefs to knights who became their vassals. This created a network of feudal ties that connected the nobility to the monarchy.

There was continuous them to take refuge inside fighting between the kings and feudal lords, as well as between the lords themselves.

Climate insecurity also affected relations between lords and peasants. The lords protected the peasants with the armies and allowed them to take refuge inside the castle walls. Peasants worked for them. Some peasants became serfs who worked all their lives on the same fief.

Life on a fief

Feudal society was essentially rural because urban life had declined since late Roman times.

  • Demesne was the land that the lord used directly. It consisted of his castle, farmland, fields and forests. Framed by serfs.
  • Lord also granted plots of land to free peasants. To pay farm produce as taxes and provide services to the lord.
  • Feudal lords had absolute authority in their fiefs and administered justice.
  • Lord owned the mill, the press and the oven, which peasants had to pay to use. Merchants had to pay a toll when they crossed land or bridges on a fief.
  • Each fief also contained one or more villages, where the peasants lived.


What were the 3 states?

  • Nobility had a military role.
  • Clergy were all those who belonged to the Church.
  • The 3rd consisted of the rest of the population. Most population were peasants, but there were also merchants and craftsmen.

Upper nobility were great feudal lords with castles and large states, who acquired hereditary titles such as Duke, Count or Marquis. Lower nobility were knights who sometimes owned only their horses and weapons.


Serfs and free peasants

  • Serfs were completely under the authority of their feudal lord. Born and died on the same piece of land, which they could only leave with the lord´s permission. Needed the lord´s permission to get married. Very harshly treated.
  • Free peasants owned small plots of land and lived in villages. They paid taxes to the lord and the Church and also paid the lord to use his mill, oven and press. Make their own personal decisions.


Role of the Church

Religion was a crucial part of everyone´s lives in the Middle Ages.

  • Political. Pope was the highest authority in the Roman Catholic Church and had the power to excommunicate(or expel) rulers from the Church. Emperors and kings often used church leaders as their main advisers.
  • Economic. Received donations of land in return for prayers, and became a very wealthy landowner. Paid the Church a tithe, which was a share of their harvest.
  • Cultural. Few people could read and write apart from the clergy. Monks copied manuscripts in the scriptorium of a monastery, and artwork was created for churches and cathedrals.

Church organization

  • Secular clergy were priests and their bishops. Didn´t live outside society and they provided religious services for the rest of the population.
  • Regular clergy were members of the religious orders, who lived in separate communities. From the 6th century onwards, many monasteries were founded.