Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Conquest of Tariq ibn Ziyad

The Umayyad Caliphate
In the southern tip of Spain stands a giant monolith that became known as the European side of the Pillars of Hercules where the Mediterranean Sea met the Atlantic. This monolith, the Rock of Gibraltar, bears a legacy of Muslim Spain. In fact, it bears the name of the man who started the Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula – Tariq ibn Ziyad.

The Governor of Tagiers

Little has been known about Tariq ibn Ziyad. But today, the widely accepted information on the Muslim conquer was that he was an Amazigh or Berber Governor of Tangiers and a subordinate to the governor of Ifriqiya Musa ibn Nusayr. As Berber, he belonged to North African nomads who converted to Islam and fought with great ferocity for the spreading of the religion. As Muslim governors, they served the fastest expanding Empire at that time called the Umayyad Caliphate, centered in Damascus. The Empire they served threatened the boundaries of the mighty Byzantine Empire and Europe itself that faced turmoil after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century.

Visigoth Spain

Speaking of turmoil, on the other side of Tangiers, Spain faced internal unrest. Back then the Visigoths ruled Spain since the 7th century and maintained a culture that combined Roman and German. Visigoth nobles elected their Kings rather than hereditary primogeniture. They had a code of law and embraced the Catholic faith at the expense of all other religion, most especially Jews who faced tremendous persecution.

In 710, King Wittiza passed away. Different sources varied on the nature of his death with some suggesting natural causes while others blamed the demise on assassination. Whatever the case, his death resulted to a civil war. The election of the King went contested and 2 claimant battled each other. In Northeastern Spain, a region called Tarraconensis, Achila challenged the claim of Roderic, Duke of Baetica, who ruled the rest of country and held the capital city of Toledo. The 2 fought each other weakening the country and making it ripe for conquest.
Coin with King Roderic's Name

Umayyad Invasion

In Africa, Tariq ruled the newly conquered city of Tangiers. As to how he went to Spain remained also a contention. One story suggested that Tariq received a request from the Lord of Ceuta, Julian, to attack Roderic’s kingdom as revenge to the Visigoth king’s violation of the Lord’s daughter who went to Toledo to study. Another suggested enemies of King Roderic requested Tariq’s assistance in the civil war. Whatever the case, Tariq crossed the 14 kilometer strait that separated Europe and Africa on May 711.

Tariq and his 7,000 men made up of Berbers, Syrians, and Yemenis crossed the straits and land on a coast near a giant limestone promontory. Later on, they called the rock Jebel-al Tariq or Tarik’s Mountain. Later on, the name got translated into English and became Gibraltar.
Gibraltar, 1852
After their landing, Tariq’s army wasted to no time in making their presence felt. Berber warriors raided cities in Baetica to the alarm of King Roderic who by then fighting a rebellion in the Basque region of northern Spain. Tariq received support from some local Jews who suffered from persecution and also noble enemies of Roderic. With initial successes, Tariq received additional troops that swollen his forces to about 10,000.

In July 711, Tariq suddenly faced a tough army opposing him. Suddenly, he discovered King Roderic marched against him in Baetica after ending his campaign in the north. His adversary had mustered a huge army, and as to the number, records once again failed to provide a detail or exact number. Some suggested the Visigothic army numbered to 100,000. But certainly, Tariq faced a numerically superior opponent. The 2 sides then met in an unknown location, but most accepted the location of the battle to be Guadalete. In the Battle of Guadalete, Tariq triumph against Roderic who fell in battle and became known as the last Visigoth King of Spain.

Soon none halted Tariq’s advance. His army captured Cordoba and then later marched to capture the capital Toledo.

In the following year, hearing the success of Tariq, his superior Musa ibn Nusayr, Governor of Ifriqiya, also crossed the Strait of Gibraltar with reinforcements numbering to 18,000. This army then moved to link up with Tariq and destroyed in the process remnants of Roderick’s followers. Musa’s forces captured Seville, Alcala de Guadaira, and Carmona. A part of his army sweep to the west, to Lusitania (modern day Portugal), and captured Merida on June 713.

Finally, Tariq met with Musa on Talavera and they continued to capture most of Spain. Their conquest laid the foundation of the Al-Andalus region of Spain. As to the name Al-Andalus, once again mystery shrouded its etymology. The most popular explanation stated that it came from the word Vandals, the Germanic tribe that dominated a part of Northern Africa and the first Germans that the Muslims encountered.

The 2 Muslim leaders continued their conquest of Spain in 714. Musa led the capture of Zaragoza and Galicia. Musa’s son, Abdulaziz, led the capture of Lisbon and Algarve. Tariq, on the other hand, captured Aragon, Leon, and Astorga.

Tariq and Musa almost conquered the whole Iberian Peninsula if not for a Visigoth noble Pelayo (Pelagius) escaping to the mountains of Asturias, establishing a Kingdom, and remaining as the leader of the last bastion of Christianity in the region.

In 714, however, Tariq and Musa received an order from Caliph Walid I recalling them to Damascus. Apparently, their conquest in Spain and establishing a bastion for Islam in Europe went unauthorized from the great Caliph. Upon their return to the capital, they were charged of misappropriating funds and insubordination earning them imprisonment and removal from power. Both passed away in obscurity, with Tariq, the conqueror of Spain, meeting his end in 720.

Impact of their Conquest

Tariq’s conquest changed the history of Europe. His opportunism and boldness to cross the strait led to the addition of the rich Iberian Peninsula to the domains of the fledgling Umayyad Caliphate. It gave future Muslim conquerors a foothold in the continent plagued by division and political turmoil. It implanted in Spain, Islamic culture that to this day remained in form of culture, music, arts, language and palaces. But also, the mark of Islam’s crossing to Europe remains to be epitomized with the rock named after the Tariq – Gibraltar – the strait that today held immense strategic importance. 

Alkhateeb, Firas. Lost Islamic History: Reclaiming Muslim Civilisation from the Past. London: C. Hurst & Co., 2014.

Curta, Florin & Andrew Holt. Great Events in Religion: An Encyclopedia of Pivotal Events in Religious History, Volume 1: Prehistory to AD 600. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2017.

James, David. Early Islamic Spain: The History of Ibn al-Qutiya. New York, New York: Routledge, 2009.

Rogers, Clifford. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Medieval Warfare and Military Technology. New York, New York: 2010.


"Tarik ibn Ziyad." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Encyclopedia.com. Accessed on November 11, 2017. URL: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/tarik-ibn-ziyad 

Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. "Tariq ibn Ziyad." In Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed on November 11, 2017. URL: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Tariq-ibn-Ziyad

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