The Slide into Anarchy of the Emirate of Cordoba | 852CE – 912CE | Al Andalus Episode 03
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The Slide into Anarchy of the Emirate of Cordoba | 852CE – 912CE | Al Andalus Episode 03


When Abd al-Rahman died, his son Abdullah,
the son of his favorite concubine, looked like the heir to the emirate. However, due to him being busy with, what
we can assume was a hell of a party, Muhammad, the brother of Abdullah, took the throne. The story of Muhammad’s ascention is probably
a bit exaggerated but it’s interesting nonetheless. The night Abd al-Rahman died, the eunuch in
the palace wanted to inform Abdullah to come to the palace but one of the religious advisors
of Abd al-Rahman stopped them and told them Muhammad would be a better choice, even though,
Muhammad wasn’t very nice to anyone. So, the eunuch went to Muhammad’s palace
right there in Cordoba. They convinced Muhammad to come to the palace,
who was reluctant because he didn’t know his father had died and thought this might
be a scheme of some sorts. Nevertheless, he dressed as a woman and sneaked
through the city. He went right past the gate of his brother
Abdullah’s palace, where a raging party was in progress. He arrived in the palace and the city guard
swore allegiance to him and summoned the wazirs. By the morning, Muhammad was inarguably the
Emir. Now, let’s talk a bit about the societal
structure in Al Andalus. Andalusian Society was made up of manly three
ethnicities of people. First, there were Syrians who had been moved
there in the 730s and 40s. These people were mostly called Mawali which
is plural for Mawla, a word that means friend or lord. Secondly, there were Berbers who had moved
from North Africa. They were often also called Mawali or they
were simply called Berbers. Finally, there were people of Iberian descent
or mixed descent, these were called Muwallad or Muladi. The word was used for Iberian Muslims and
people who, specifically, had an Arab Father and a non-Arab mother. These three or two, ethnicities were always
clashing over their role in the government. On top of that, from 800CE to 950CE, there
were rapid conversions of Christians to Islam. There’s quite a bit of evidence to confirm
it but none to show the reason. It wasn’t forced, though, there’s no evidence
for that. Anyways, the conversions were actually bad
for the Umayyad political machinery. Muslim administration charged higher taxes
to their non-muslim subjects. It was called Jizya. Large numbers of non-Muslims converting to
Islam meant a decrease in taxes and NO ONE LIKE THAT. The Umayyads were like “Damn it! Not again!”. The new Muslims actually had a better time
with the government. While they were mostly kept away from the
elites, they didn’t have to serve in the military. The Mawali had to either serve in the military
or pay money, the new Muslims didn’t. Muhammad actually changed it and made it voluntary
for the Mawali as well, later on in his reign. Here’s something I’ve always found interesting,
the Umayyads and the Abbasids, they always distanced themselves from each other. Like Russia and the US during the Cold War,
they painted themselves as polar opposites of each other but in the end, they both had
the same problems. For instance, In Persia and Mesopotamia, local
non-arab Muslims soon wanted to take more and more power and started to resent Baghdad
trying to impose its authority over them. Eventually, they caused a lot of headaches
for the Caliph. Similarly, as a large number of local Christians
converted to Islam in Al Andalus, the Muwallad class started to grow dramatically. Muhammad’s elites were mostly Mawali. One Mawali whom Muhammad relied heavily on
Hashim ibn Abd al-Aziz was even called The Evil Genius who corrupted the entire administration. He was intolerant towards the Muwallad and
alienated some very powerful members of the Muwallad. At the start of Muhammad’s reign, Toledo
revolted in 853 CE or so. They had always had an independent mind but
were forced into obedience two decades earlier. Now, they drove out the Umayyad Governor and
started to raid Cordoban territories. Muhammad dispatched a small army which was
defeated only a few kilometers from Cordoba. The Toledan Muwallad were joined by local
berbers and Arabs were driven out. King Ordoño I of Oviedo entered into alliance
with the rebels the same year and helped raise a large army. The next year, the Allied army was defeated
near Toledo but only barely. A peace treaty was drafted which gave Toledo
near autonomy. In 868CE, the Emir launched a surprise attack
on Merida, which had been evading Cordoba’s authority for a while. It was quickly subdued and burned. The city never recovered from it. This could’ve been the end of Muhammad’s
trouble but NO! Of course, not! His favorite racist, Hashim ibn Abd al-Aziz,
who had a lot of influence and advocated against the Muwallad openly, is said to have told
Ibn Marwan the Gallician that he was worse than a dog and is said to have beaten him,
out in the public. Ibn Marwan, who was a prominent member of
the Muwallad felt insulted and wanted nothing less than ibn Abd al-Aziz’s head. So, he fled Cordoba and set up in Badajoz,
still a village at this time. He started raiding against Cordoba and used
that money to fortify his headquarters, built mosques and baths in Badajoz. Muhammad finally sent an army for him in 876CE,
under the command of his favorite racist. Ibn Marwan was able to defeat him and capture
him. Since he was a high ranking official in the
Cordoban ranks, Ibn Marwan saw that killing ibn Abd al-Aziz for revenge isn’t quite
the most logical thing to do. So, he sent him as a gift to King Alfonso
III of Asturias. Muhammad was obviously furious. He sent an army to destroy ibn Marwan but
Marwan was able to enter the No-Man’s land north of the River Tagus. This was an agreed upon neutral zone between
Muhammad and the Christians to the north. Marwan’s power grew so much, over the following
years, that he even raided Seville. However, after his death in 890CE, his small
start disintegrated and fell into Umayyad domain. Badajoz, however, remained in his family’s
hands till Abd al-Rahman III captured it some forty years later. The Ebro Valley had been in the hands of the
Banu Qasi. Muhammad formalized their position by giving
Musa ibn Musa, the head of the Banu Qasi, autonomy. In 861CE or so, however, he was deposed by
the Berbers of Guadalajara, who might’ve been supported by the Emir. Muhammad gave the Ebro valley to his own governor
and sent his sons to lead the Saifa there. Saifa was basically any summer campaign to
raid or capture Christian territories. In 871CE, Musa’s sons captured the governors
of Tudela, Huesca and Zaragoza. The Banu Qasi slaughtered the arab population
there and re established power. The Emir was unable to do anything about it
but he didn’t need to. He had a policy of supporting local weaker
lords to put checks on the power of more powerful lords. He fortified smaller cities as he did in Toledo
and the Ebro valley to make sure there was always enough localized conflict to distract
the Governors. Around 881CE, a local band of rebels under
the command of Umar ibn Hafsun, a member of a respectable Muwallad family, started harassing
the countryside. He slowly became a pain for the emirate but
for now, nothing of permanence was obtained. Muhammad died in 886CE. He was succeeded by his very capable son,
Al-Mundhir. However, he too, died in 888CE. Just two years after. The emirate was in turmoil. There were constant rebellions. Anarchy was brewing. Muhammad’s other son, Abdullah inherited
the Emirate from his brother. According to most sources, he was morose and
depressed man. He was also very pious. Shortly after he started his reign, Ibn Hafsun
was becoming a serious problem and even threatening Cordoba. Abdullah led an army against him but couldn’t
do much. He slowly became more and more isolated. He only left the palace to go to the mosque
and even made covered passageways to ensure no one would see him. In 891CE, he encouraged and supported his
son al-Mutarrif to kill Muhammad, Abdullah’s eldest son. In 895CE, al-Mutarrif found himself on the
wrong side of his father’s fury. He died defending himself in his home for
three days. Abdullah also had his brothers Hisham and
Al-Qasim killed. This purge of the royal family scared the
elites and the elites started to consider a change in circumstances. As much trouble as Cordoba was already in,
there was about to be more. Various local Arab lords in Al Andalus revolted
against the emirate. One of them was Kurayb ibn Khaldun. He was a distant ancestor of the great historian
Ibn Khaldun. Along with another Arab lord named Ibn Al-Hajjaj,
he was able to take control of Seville in 891CE. There, he massacred the Muwallad population. By 899CE, however, the alliance was breaking
down. Al-Hajjaj took a page from the Lannister playbook
and arranged a dinner for his rivals where he killed them all. In his brutality, Al-Hajjaj wasn’t much
different than his namesake, Al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf, from earlier Umayyad period. He might’ve actually been a descendant of
him but I couldn’t confirm it. In 899CE, Ibn Hafsun announced that he had
turned to Christianity. He had been a serious problem for the Umayyads
so far. None of the other rebels had the austerity
to lead an assault on the capital but he did. However, him turning to Christianity changed
quite a bit. First of all, apostacy is punished by death
in Islam so a lot of his Muslim supporters left him. Secondly, Cordoba couldn’t negotiate with
him anymore because then, he would be a legitimate ruler. Finally, him leaving Islam made this rebellion
into a sort of Jihad. It was now a holy war against a Christian
who was trying to come to power. Turning to Christianity might’ve been a
good spiritual move for Umar ibn Hafsun but it was a terrible strategic move. In 901CE, a very interesting thing happened
in Al Andalus. Ibn al-Qitt, a member of the Umayyad Dynasty
declared himself to be Al-Mahdi. Al-Mahdi is a character who, in the Muslim
mythos, is to appear near the end of time (or often not near the end of time) to return
Islam to its roots, away from corruptions. He was supported by the Nafza Berbers who
joined him in his mission. He started his preaching from Merida and told
his followers to go to Zamora, a Christian stronghold. He predicted that the city’s wall will crumble
as soon as he enters but well, that didn’t happen because Physics and his army deserted
him after a short siege of Zamora. This story shows the willingness of the rebels
to assert religious authority in order to legitimize their rule and overthrow the Umayyads. Despite all of this, however, the emirate
survived. Various members of the Umayyad dynasty, like
the Emir’s uncle, Hisham ibn Abd al-Rehman, led small bands of loyalists to fight off
their enemies. Various loyal families like the Banu Abi Abda
reinforced the campaigns till they were slowly able to restore some order. However, these campaigns weren’t without
their problems. There was no money to properly supply these
campaigns and many times, they came down to pillaging like a band of common thugs. As Hugh Kennedy writes… Whatever the case, they were able to save
the emirate until the incompetant emir’s death in 912CE. After the death of, arguably the worst emir
of the Umayyad emirate of Cordoba, came who was inarguably the best emir of the Umayyad
emirate of Cordoba. The golden age of Cordoba would soon commence
under the rule of Emir and later Caliph, Abd al-Rahman III. See you next time.

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