Header: Cantigas de Santa Maria (Thirteenth century).
Top row: (1) Statue of the African knight St. Maurice, located at Magdeburg Cathedral (2) Alessandro dei Medici, Duke of Florence, son-in- law of the Emperor Charles V. (3) Johannes Morus, vizier of Sicily, ca. 1100 CE. (4) Chevalier De Saint-Georges (1745-1799), Black composer in 18th century France.
Bottom row: (1) Alexandre Sergeivich Pushkin (1799-1837). Known as the “Father of Russian Literature.” (2) There are many Moors on coats-of-arms of medieval European families.(3) The Black Bashi-Bazouk by Jean-Léon Gérôme, ca. 1869. (4) Statue of Saint Benedict the Moor in the Franciscan church in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.
“All the Moorish soldiers were dressed with silk and black wool that had been forcibly acquired...Their Black faces were like pitch and the most handsome of them was like (Black as) a cooking pan.”
Thirteenth century Spanish king Alfonso “The Wise”
It was the year 711 C.E. when general Tarik led a small scouting troop of 400 soldiers and 100 horses from Africa to the Iberian Peninsula to investigate the possibility of invading Spain. Later that same year he would cross the straits again, this time in command of an army of 10,000 men to invade the country.
Upon reaching an Isthmus, and seeing that he was heavily outnumbered by Christian Visigoths, he roused his army with the following inspiring words: “Men, before you are the enemy and the sea is at your backs. There is no escape for you save in valour and resolution.” Having heard these words his men responded with loud enthusiastic cheer: “We will follow thee, O Tarik.” Shortly afterwards Tarik and his army took Spain, and he was to later be immortalised with a mountain bearing his name Gebal Tarik (Hill of Tarik or Gibralter). Little did Tarik or his army know, however, that it would be their momentous efforts that would later propel the whole of Europe out of the bleak and dismal dark ages and into the direction of intellectual and social enlightenment.
Tarik as well as the vast majority of his army were Black Africans, more specifically, Berbers or Moors from North Africa. One account from a Christian Visigoth sympathizer clearly sheds light on the race of these invaders:
“The reins of their (Moors) horses were as fire, their faces Black as pitch...”
In describing the Moorish invasion of Spain, the thirteenth century Spanish king of Castile Alfonso X (also known as “The Wise”) had this to say:
“All the Moorish soldiers were dressed with silk and black wool that had been forcibly acquired...Their Black faces were like pitch and the most handsome of them was like (Black as) a cooking pan.”
One of the most substantial and revealing sources of information regarding the African Moorish presence in Spain can be found in the Cantigas of Santa Maria. The Cantigas was primarily written by Alfonso X. It is a collection of 400 poems set to music. In it Black Moors are shown playing chess while being attended by Black and White servants and musicians. Blacks are also shown as foot soldiers, bowmen, lancers, horsemen and also high ranking officers.
Furthermore, the Moors, who were sometimes referred to as Saracens or Blackamoors, are vividly described in the celebrated medieval epic poem The Song of Roland (c.a. 1100). This epic chronicles the eighth century Frankish invasion of Northern Spain; its hero Sir Roland was supposedly the gallant warrior champion and prefect of Brittany in the army of the Carolingian emperor Charlemagne. He is said to have perished during the battle of Roncesvalles on August 15, 778, whilst valiantly defending the rear-guard of the Frankish army. When first sighting the Saracen (Moorish) army, Sir Roland said:
“At their head rides the Saracen Abisme: no worse criminal rides in that company, stained with the marks of his crimes and great treasons, lacking the faith in God, Saint Mary’s son. And he is Black, as Black as melted pitch...”
Cantigas de Santa Maria (Thirteenth century).
Two more paragraphs from this classic epic serve to further identify the Moors ethnicity:
“Ethiope [Africa], a cursed land indeed; the Blackamoors from there are in his keep, broad in the nose they are and flat in ear, fifty thousand and more in company.”
And lastly even more vividly:
“When Roland sees that unbelieving race, those hordes and hordes Blacker than the Blackest ink - no shred of white on them except their teeth.”
When reading these accounts it is clear that these writers had no problem in referencing these Spanish invaders and occupiers as Black, even to go as far as using adjectives to add to the racial clarification, such as “Black as pitch” or “pan.” In fact, quite on the contrary, the writers of the epic poem The Song of Roland and for Alfonso X seem to relish the opportunity to highlight the racial differences and thereby distant themselves from the rampaging “Blacker than the Blackest ink” Moorish hordes. Today, typically, Eurocentric historians are peculiarly reluctant to acknowledge these Moors as Black African, despite this, and other, incredibly blatant evidence. On this subject the world renowned historian Ivan Van Sertima remarked:
“The crash of Moorish power in the middle of the thirteenth century (although this lingered on in enclaves like Granada until 1492) was to make a tremendous difference. It is not an accident that the year Columbus sailed was the same year the African generals in Granada surrendered to Ferdinand and Isabella. Not only did the economic and political fortune of Africa fall dramatically after that but so did the very image and perception in which its people were held.”
One can notice the apparent shift in propaganda methodology: where as in medieval Europe the propaganda by Europeans was to paint the Moors as Black but barbaric and evil; today Eurocentric historians prefer to deny the Moors true racial identity entirely, obviously taking full advantage of the length of time passed and thus the general public’s loss of historical memory. It is no longer good enough to simply paint the Moors as barbaric and evil, today the debt Europe owes to the Moors for its intellectual and social progress is too great, too documented and too well known. Therefore, this only leaves historians with only one option and that is to deny that the Moors were actually Black African at all, and thus maintain the false notion of White superiority and Black inferiority.
However, despite this change in image and perception and the obvious propaganda, the historical reality stands too strong and proud to be denied forever. Even according to the Oxford dictionary the Moors are described in the following way: “Black or swarthy, and hence the word is often used for Negro.”
Moorish (Berber) soldier, North Africa.
Front cover image for Ivan Van Sertima's classic book Golden Age of the Moor, 2009.
The term Moor was not always employed, Arabic text applied the term Berber instead, and early Christian sources often applied the term Arab or Saracen, sometimes interchangeably. The term “Arabic or “Arab” should be viewed cautiously, however; according to the historian Dr. Degraft-Johnson, the term “must be understood in a cultural rather than a racial sense for the Arabs did not believe in an herrenvolk theory and freely intermarried with those they conquered.”
Historians are unclear were the origin of the word Berber derives, however, it is thought to have derived from the Latin Barbari, an appellation equivalent to the English “Barbarian” which the Romans called peoples who spoke neither Latin or Greek. This view is consistent with Professor Lotfi’s, who taught at a Moroccan university, and contended that, the “Berber origins are...likely East African and Kushitic.” He further added:
“There is no Berber-speaking community in Morocco today, which identifies itself by any name or term which is “even distantly related, phonetically or morphologically, to the term “Berber.” This is a “foreign” designation for what was mainly a “native” people.”
The importance of identifying the Berber’s racial origin is particularly imperative when you realise historically it is believed that these were the true Moors that conquered Spain. Thus, many Eurocentric historians have even suggested these Moors were of European or racially mixed descent, even though this contention flies in the face of all the objective evidence. Regarding this ridiculous notion historian Jose’ V. Pimienta-Bey remarked:
“European scholars who discuss North African ethnic origins fail to address the question of why Morocco is called Morocco, or why Mauretania is called Mauretania? How can one single out a much later citizen of Morocco, now mixed with other races, and present him or her as a classic example of the phenotype which dominated in “medieval” times, during the Moorish occupation of Spain?” Ancient Romans called the entire region of north-western Africa Mauretania, which translates from Latin as “The land of the Black-Skinned people." Today the word Berber is employed to describe present day inhabitants of North Africa who speak a pre-Islamic North African dialect.
The particular Berber groups or Moors that invaded and consequently occupied Spain were to large degree, Hawwara, Luwata, Nafza, Masmuda, Miknasa, Zanata, and Sanhadja. The Hawwara are particularly interesting because their roots can clearly be traced back to the ancient Egyptians. Prior to the invasion of Spain they occupied the province of Tripolitania and the deserts of southern Tunisia, where they worshipped the Egyptian god Amun, who was likewise by the ancient Egyptians, depicted as a Bull or Ram.
Two of the groups of North Africans to invade Spain were the turbaned Tibbu and Zaghawa. These men are described as jet Black and wiry men that were once known for their sorcery, and their skill in metallurgy. This description points to an ancient Egyptian origin. Today, you can still see them spread across the hottest areas of the Sahel and southern parts of the Sahara.
The Berbers being of ancient Egyptian origin is further corroborated by the historian George GM. James in his scholarly classic masterpiece Stolen Legacy. James contends that during the Persian, Greek and Roman invasions of ancient Egypt, large numbers of Egyptians fled their native country to adjacent lands in Africa, Arabia and Asia Minor, and also to the desert and mountain regions. It was in these regions that they secretly developed the ancient Egyptian teachings which belonged to their Mystery System.
James describes how profound the Mystery System was in antiquity:
“The Egyptian Mystery System, like the modern university, was the centre of organised culture, and candidates entered it as the leading source of ancient culture.”
The teachings of the Egyptians was called Sophia by the Greeks and meant Wisdom Teaching. It included (a) Philosophy and Arts and Sciences (b) Religion and Magic and (c) Secret methods of communication both linguistic and mathematical. Regarding these remarkable Moors, James added:
“These people from North Africa did more than merely distinguish themselves in Spain. They were really the recognised custodians of African culture, to whom the world looked for enlightenment. Consequently, through the medium of the ancient Arabic language, philosophy and the various branches of science were disseminated: (a) all the so-called works of Aristotle in metaphysics, moral philosophy and natural science (b) translations by Leonardo Pisano in Arabic mathematical science (c) translation by Gideo a monk of Arezzo in musical notation.”
Whilst some Eurocentric historians insist on promoting the false notion that Greek science and philosophy was born out of her own endeavours, fortunately, it is now accepted amongst many scholars that they obtained their knowledge from the Black Africans of ancient Egypt.
The irony, however, was that the Egyptian’s descendents, the Moors “came upon inscriptions and papyri that they could not read. They were therefore to draw upon the vast body of ancient science, second-hand, through the translations of the Greeks, the students, rather than the teachers.”
The term Moor can be traced back to at least 406 B.C.E. when Moorish soldiers are mentioned during the ancient martial conflicts between Rome and Carthage. These Black soldiers served tours in the Roman army in Britain, France, Switzerland, Austria, Hungry, Poland, Romania and more. They were actively recruited and specifically identified as Moors.
According to one historian “circa 46 B.C.E. the Roman army entered West Africa where they encountered Black Africans which they called “Maures” from the Greek adjective “Mauros”, meaning dark or Black.” This would explain why the Romans called the entire region of north-western Africa Mauretania.
Another group of note were the Garamantes, who are said to be at the heart of the history of the ancient Moors of the Sahara. They occupied a region later known as Fezzan in the Sahara. “Their capital city, called Garama or Jerma, lay amidst a tangle of trading routes connecting the ancient cities of Ghat, Ghadames, Sabaratha, Cyrene, Oea, Carthage and Alexandria.” Some of the paintings of the Garamantes provide clear evidence of Egyptian influence, they occupied much of northern Africa, and they were contemporary with the ancient Egyptian civilisation “from this vantage point,” according to one historian, “they can be considered the ancestors of the true Moors.”
The Greek historian Herodotus provides us with the earliest mention of the Garamantes. In an account in the 5th century B.C.E. he described them as being absorbed in a rather sedentary lifestyle. However, author and historian Wayne B. Chandler provides us with a different description altogether. He stated: “Far from being the obscure nomadic community stereotyped in European literature, the Garamantes were one of the most redoubtable and intimidating forces of the Sahara.” His hypotheses if backed up by numerous Saharan rock engravings and paintings believed to be of the Garamantes, or their predecessors, that date as far back as 5000 B.C.E.
They show domesticated cattle, men riding in horse-drawn chariots, and javelin-armed men riding horses and camels. Chandler continued: “Perhaps in order to protect their trade, they [Garamantes] developed military prowess to complement their economic power. By the first century A.D. Tacitus called them “invincible”, and Rome was in time to learn how powerful they really were. Unable to subdue the Garamantes, they actually joined them for several trading and exploratory expeditions.”
According to Ammianus Marcellinus, a Roman general of the 4th century A.C.E, “the Bedouin populations of southern Syria and the Arabian Peninsula whom the Romans called “Saracens” (derived from Sarah or Sahra meaning desert nomads) were peoples “whose primary origin was derived from the cataracts of the Nile on the borders of the Blemmyes.
The Blemmyes or Bedja are a people located then and now in the desert east of the Nile in Sudan.” These Sudanese or “Saracens” similarly to the Moors were notorious for their hit and run raids whilst on camels coming from the desert fringes.”
Although the Romans used the term “Saracen” to describe the people of southern Syria and the Arabian Peninsula specifically, it is obvious that because of their racial and cultural similarity, this term became applied more generally in later medieval literature to denote the Moorish or Berber type.
Returning to George G.M. James’ masterpiece Stolen Legacy, James is completely correct with his assessment of the enormous Black African contribution to Spain and the rest of Europe. Many historians today bizarrely exclude these contributions from their historical records, or these contributions are certainly not noted by them as being supplied by Blacks. Yet the impact that the Black African has had on the development of western “civilisation” over the seven hundred years of Moorish occupation of Spain cannot be overstated.
In fact, to aid in clarification, Europe would not possess many of her most notable universities if it were not for the remarkable scientific, artistic and literary contributions of Black Africans during medieval Europe. The list of educational centres developed during medieval times as a direct result of the Black African conquest and occupation of Spain reads like a Who’s Who.
Historian Jose V. Pimienta-Bey provides this extraordinary list of centres, and remarked: “When one notes the period in which most of Europe’s oldest and finest universities were established, one cannot but be struck by the proximity in time to the scientific flowering of Moorish Andalus, and the establishment of European centres for the transaction of Moorish documents:
1158 Bologna (It.)
1180 Montpellier (Fr.)
1200 Oxford (Eng.)
1209 Valencia (Cath.Sp.)
1223 Toulouse (Fr.)
1224 Naples (It.)
1228 Padua (It.)
1245 Rome (It.)
1250 Salamanca (Cath.Sp.)
1257 Cambridge (Eng.)
1279 Coimbra (Sp./Port.)
1290 Lisbon (Sp./Port.)
The revelations of the above clearly support the contention that Europe’s academic ascension was primarily born of its contact with the Moors who were occupying European soil.”
Oxford University in England was initially set up by Jewish scholars as a scientific school. These Jews had studied in Spain under the tutelage of Black African Moors. Thus, “the Moors furnished the knowledge and the Jews collected it. The Jews were intermediaries, the Moors and Christians were fighting each other and the Jews formed a bridge between them.”
However, let’s look at the Black African’s enormous contributions to Europe in more detail. In order to do this it’s important to be clear about the conditions in which this educational enlightenment flourished. It is also important to understand the differences between European and African cultures.
The Moors occupied Spain between 711 and 1492, from the time of their initial arrival to the Iberian Peninsula; it would take a further one hundred years before they would settle in their new abode. This was no-doubt due to continually fighting off Christian rebellions and internal conflicts. Eventually, however, over their long tenure they civilised the land they called “Al-Andalus,” a name derived from the former designation of the Iberian Peninsula as the “Land of the Vandals.”
According to the historian Thomas W. Arnold, the Christian Visigoths severely persecuted the people of Spain during their rule. Therefore, the invading Moors were actually welcomed by not only the Spanish slaves but also the lower and middle classes as well as the Jews. Under the new Moorish rule the Iberian Peninsula duly took the cultural and political lead in the west; although Moors would also eventually occupy and control Sicily and parts of the Italian mainland, Portugal and Crete.
In 846 A.C.E. the Moors held the city of Rome in siege, and in 878 A.C.E. they captured Sicily from the Normans. The Moors later took control of southern Italy by defeating Otto II of Germany. The Moorish conquests spread even further, it was only seven years after the capture of Gibraltar when the Moors invaded France; and conquered and overran most of its southern portion. The Moors ruled Portugal until well into the twelfth century.
Another interesting but little known fact is that the Moors also dominated and ruled parts of the British Isles. These Black Africans dominated Scotland as late as the Saxon kings. British Archaeologist and writer David McRitchie categorically stated:
“Late as the tenth century three of these provinces [of Scotland] were wholly Black and the supreme ruler of these became for a time the paramount king of transmarine Scotland.
We see one of the Black people - the Moors of the Romans - in the person of a king of Alban of the tenth century. History knows him as Kenneth, sometimes as Dubh and as Niger...We know as a historic fact that a Niger Val Dubh has lived and reigned over certain Black divisions of our islands, and probably White divisions also, and that a race known as the “sons of Black” succeeded him in history.”
These areas attracted students from Europe who came to study the arts and sciences of Africa and Asia which were consequently transplanted onto European soil. With regard to the Iberian Peninsula Andalus’s reputation spread far and wide. Many Europeans from outside of the Iberian Peninsula began crossing the borders in order to study the wonders of a highly civilised people and their society. So great was Spain’s reputation as a result of its Black African conquest that cities became known for their particular intellectual forte: Cordova, which was the most illustrious, was known for its libraries and collections; Seville for its music and musical instruments, and Toledo for its industry and learning. This was at a time when ninety-nine percent of the people of Europe were illiterate, including the monarchy that could neither read nor write. In contrast, the Black Africans of Spain came with knowledge by virtue of their ancient Egyptian ancestry, as well as studying works from the Egyptian’s students, the ancient Greeks, and also ancient Indian, Phoenician and Chinese literature - all of which derived from a Black African source.
The Spanish conquest instigated “a new and momentous forward leap in the theoretical and applied sciences [which] evidenced itself in Moorish mathematics, medicine, astronomy, navigation, and new concepts of world geography and philosophy.” So dominate was the schools of Toledo, Cordova, Seville and Granada that Arabic, which was the language of the Moors, for centuries became the commonly used language of scholars from Europe, Asia and Africa.
As to be expected it would follow that for centuries too, the wealthiest people of Europe, including rulers, courtiers and merchants would employ Moorish physicians and surgeons to cure them of their various ailments. This was even the case after the Reconquista (the wresting of Spain from its Moorish conquerors in 1492), when the “Christian rulers continued surreptitiously to invite Moorish scholars to their kingdoms, because of a profound respect for their knowledge and expertise.”
As well as their prolific knowledge and erudtion in mathematics, medicine, astronomy, navigation, and philosophy etc, the Moors were also highly influential in the area of municipality. Cordova was regarded as the medieval world’s most cosmopolitan and sophisticated city. In the tenth century the city boasted 800 public schools, 60,300 mansions, 900 public baths, 213,077 middle class homes, and 80,455 shops. Some wealthier homes had two floors, a library, gardens and running water.
One historian noted that “the palaces of the then rulers of Germany, France, and England were, when compared with those of the Moorish rulers of Spain and Portugal, scarcely better than the stables of the Moors.”
Historian John G. Jackson provides a detailed description of Cordova in the tenth century; he wrote:
“The Spanish city of Cordova...was very much like a modern city. Its streets were well paved and there were raised sidewalks for pedestrians. At night, one could walk for ten miles by the light of lamps, flanked by an uninterrupted extent of buildings.”
However, the cities of Toledo, Seville and Granada also boasted similar grand and magnificent features. In describing the residence of Granada one account remarked:
“The Moors of Granada, a small Black people, burned by the sun, full of wit and fire, always in love, writing verse, fond of music, arranging festivals, dances, and tournaments everyday.”
Historian Joseph McCabe in his book The Moorish Civilisation in Spain wrote about Andalus’s spectacular and abundant gardens, possessing latrines with running water, all of which he likened to an earthly paradise. Europe, however, would not realise these benefits for several centuries to come.
McCabe provides a description of Paris and London in the sixteenth century: “foul and contaminated water trickled along, or lay in stagnant pools on the unpaved streets.”
Another comparison in the nineteenth century classic book The Story of the Moors in Spain by English scholar Stanley Lane-Poole, provides the most vivid description of the contrast between Moorish Spain and the backwardness of other European countries:
“Cordova was the wonderful city of the tenth century; the streets were well paved and there were raised sidewalks for pedestrians. At night one could walk for ten miles by the light of lamps, flanked by an uninterrupted extent of buildings. All this was hundreds of years before there was a paved street in Paris or a street lamp in London. Cordova with a population exceeding one million was served by four thousand public markets and five thousand mills. Its public baths numbered into the hundreds, when bathing in the rest of Europe was frowned upon as a diabolical custom, avoided by all good Christians. Moorish monarchs dwelt in sumptuous palaces, while the crowned heads of England, France and Germany lived in big barns, lacking both windows and chimneys and with only a hole in the roof for the exit of smoke. Education was universal in Moslem Spain, being given to the most humble, while in Christian Europe 99 percent of the populace was illiterate, and even kings could neither read nor write. In the tenth and eleventh centuries, public libraries in Christian Europe were conspicuous by their absence, while Moslem Spain could boast of more than seventy, of which the one in Cordova housed 600,000 manuscripts.
Christian Europe contained only two universities of any consequence, while in Spain there were seventeen outstanding universities. The finest were those located in Almeria, Cordova, Granada, Jaen, Malaga, Seville, and Toledo. Scientific progress in astronomy, chemistry, physics, mathematics, geography, and philology in Moslem Spain reached a high level of development. Scholars and artists formed associations to promote their particular studies, and scientific Congresses were organized to promote research and facilitate the spread of knowledge.”
Unlike their Christian counterparts the Moors were very tolerant of different cultures and religions; the Jews and the Catholics were allowed to continue practicing their respective faiths. The Moors civilised nature is also demonstrated by the openness and flexibility of Andalusian society. “A man of humble station, whether Muslim or non-Muslim could climb the social ladder and occupy any high position except that of supreme ruler.” In addition, women enjoyed social freedoms uncharacteristic to many European medieval cultures. The Arab traveller and writer Ibn Battuta was astonished at the level of freedom and equality of women in the African town of Walata, and this cultural element was continued by the Africans of Moorish Spain.
Intellectual pursuits were openly and enthusiastically encouraged; there were regular scholarly debates between the Averroist Aristotelians and more orthodox theologians such as Al-Ghazzali (Algazel, as Europeans called him). The love of intellectual pursuits exhibited by the Moors in Spain is also confirmed by the French historian Francois L. Ganshof, when he wrote: “The Almohades encouraged non-theological pursuits and sought a more secular approach to knowledge.” The ninth century scholar of Moorish Spain, Ibn Ghabib, said that the Andalusians were “good managers, seekers of knowledge, and lovers of wisdom. Historian Anwar Chejne wrote: “Scholars, rulers, and notables had salons or literary clubs in their homes which were attended by select people. Literary debates pertaining to grammar, lexicography, poetry, religion, law and other topics took place.”
The Andalusian schools, which were plentiful, called madrasas, taught the sciences and philosophies of the period. The words used in various European languages demonstrate the extent, quality and impact of Moorish influence upon European development. Regarding these words, Chejne remarked: “English has many words of common usage, such as coffee, sugar, rice, lemon, syrup, soda, alcohol, alkali, cipher, algebra, arsenal, admiral, alcove, and magazine - which have relevance to human endeavour in the arts and crafts.”
The schools of Andalus were famous world-wide, and students from the continents of Asia, Africa, and Europe would flood into Spain. As Pimienta-Bey stated: “Western European thinkers such as Adelard of Bath, Plato of Tivoli, Robert of Chester and many others, resided among the Moors, with the intention of learning from them.”
What is even more rarely acknowledged is the Moorish impact on writers such as Cervantes and Shakespeare. As Van Sertima points out: “Cervantes was for several years prisoner of a Moorish leader in North Africa. The tales of knight errantry and courtly love, which obsess Cervantes’ hero Don Quixote, were filtered through centuries of Moorish/Islamic experience. There were Moorish brotherhoods that may be described as orders of knights.”
The English Franciscan monk Roger Bacon (1214-1294) was sometimes criticised by historians for having been too secure with Moorish scientific and philosophical concepts and observations. Some of the foreign students visiting Andalus were Christian and Jewish translator scholars. They would translate the Arabic text into Latin and carry into Western Europe the great scientific and philosophical works of the Moors. Curiously, although there was an obvious desire by the European Christian elite for this African knowledge, publicly there was a continued fervour by them to condemn the masses for acquiring this wisdom for themselves.
On this Pimienta-Bey remarked:
“[Roger] Bacon was censored by Catholic and perhaps other prominent authorities, because his focus upon and reverence for Moorish erudition was simply too heretically extensive for that particular time. Others like Michael Scot...were often ostracized and censored as “witches” because of their studies in Moorish sciences and philosophies.”
On this peculiar duplicitous behaviour Van Sertima commented:
“A curious schizophrenia developed among the Catholics in relation to Moorish science and knowledge. On the one hand they were very much aware of the superior knowledge of the Moors and they made effort to acquire that knowledge so that they would not be left too far behind. At the same time they strove desperately to keep it away from the common people and even, at times, to vilify it so that it would not become a challenge to Catholicism. They were afraid that the enlightenment, the new ideas that this new knowledge would bring, could affect the populace. So that, even though they were given the keys to the inner sanctum, they kept the cage closed to the masses.”
Archbishop Raimundo of Toledo (1125-1152) was a French national that settled in Andalus and set-up a translation school in Toledo.
Raimont De Sauvetat is said to have set up this scholarly centre for the good of Catholic Europe’s intellectual progress. With his co-founder a Bishop named Michael the two clerics created an international community of translators at Toledo. A century later the Catholic king Alfonso X “eagerly patronized the translation of scientific, recreational and philosophical texts” written by the Moors.
Alfonso “the Wise” as he is sometimes referred, school of translators produced more translations than any other European centre. Both the king and the cleric translators were no doubt given permission and instruction by the Church authorities to do so. Evidently they obeyed these instructions with great vigour and enthusiasm. Translations of Moorish Arabic text into Latin was continued by Alfonso’s brother-in-law Sancho of Aragon (Archbishop of Toledo) and another Archbishop, Gonzalo Garcia Gudiel, and continued well into the 14th century. On this subject historian Evelyn Proctor remarked: “The surplus of fourteenth century manuscripts attests to the feverish copying, studying and translating which continued at “holy” Toledo until the end of that century.”
Although the Moors were a religious and culturally tolerant people, not all of the Moors were happy with this “feverish copying” going on by the Christians and Jews. One such person was Ibn Abdun (12th century) that wrote in his work Seville Musulmane:
“Books of science ought not to be sold to Jews or Christians, except those that treat of their own religion. Indeed, they translate books of science and attribute authorship to their co-religionists or to their Bishops, when they are the work of Muslims.”
So what was the great Moorish work feverishly translated by Western Europeans? The early writing of Al Andalus was of two basic types: a) scientific treatises and geographical, historical and ethnographical accounts, and (b) Arabic poetry closely paralleling that of its Middle Eastern, Eastern and North African cultural relatives.
In his classic work History of the Intellectual Development of Europe (1864), scholar John William Draper, a Professor of Chemistry and Physiology at the University of New York, spoke passionately about the marvellous achievements of the Moors, when he remarked:
“What should the modern astronomer say when, remembering the contemporary barbarism of Europe, he finds the Arab Abdul Hassan speaking of tubes, to the extremities of which ocular and object diopters, perhaps sights, were attached, as used at Meragha? - What, when he reads of the attempts of Abderahman Sufi at improving the photometry of the stars?
Are the astronomical tables of Ebn Junis (A.D. 1008) called the Hakemite tables, or the Ilkanic tables of Nasser Eddin Tasi, constructed at the great observatory just mentioned Meragha, near Tauris, A.D. 1259, or the measurement of time by pendulum oscillations, and the methods of correcting astronomical tables by systematic observations-are such things worthless indications of the mental state?
The Arab (Moor) has left his intellectual impress on Europe, as, long before, Christendom will have to confess; he has indelibly written it on the heavens, as anyone may see who reads the names of the stars on a common celestial globe.”
Incensed by the deliberate omission by European historians of any Moorish scientific contributions to western European development, Draper emphatically added:
“I have to deplore the systematic manner in which the literature of Europe has contrived to put out of sight our scientific obligations to the Mohammedians. Surely, they cannot be much longer hidden. Injustice founded on religious rancour and national conceit cannot be perpetrated forever.”
Dr. Draper’s annoyance is perfectly understandable, for example, in the area of medicine in medieval Europe the Moors could not be surpassed. When most of Europe was struggling to find an answer to the symptoms of plague, or the Black Death, and often concluded it as damnation by God; Moorish physicians such as Ibn Khatib declared that it was a disease caused by tiny unseen contagions. Europeans did not view hygiene as essential to good health and lived by the curious backward adage that “filthiness is next to Godliness.”
Evidence of this attitude can be seen after the Reconquista when in 1568 Philip banned public baths, until then found in even the smallest towns and villages of Spain. The result of this act, unsurprisingly, was a succession of plagues and famines which fell upon both the Spanish cities and countryside. The French historian, Paul Lacroix “informs us of how for centuries, the medical writings of Moorish scientists such as Avenzoar (Ibn Zuhr), Avicenna (Ibn Sina), Averroes (Ibn Rushd) and Mesue, were being printed at Venice with marvellous rapidity.” In 1495 the Parisian printer Pierre Caron published an herbal dictionary initially titled L’ Abolayre and later titled Grand Herbier en Francois. This publication was composed of extracts from medical treatise by Moors such as Avicenna, and a Sicilian based African known as Constantinus Africanus. Regarding the Moorish methodical and rational approach to medical treatment Pimienta-Bey stated:
“Moorish medicine was based upon experimentation (Tajribah), reasoning (Qiyas) and observation. Moorish physicians used drugs, surgery and cauterization; medicine was a highly technical profession complete with extensive training and a code of conduct.
Physicians were academically trained scholars whose conduct and code prescribed stateliness, kindness, unselfishness, understanding and discretion. The physician’s hair and nails had to be short and their bodies were always to be clean. They also wore white attire. Each physician had to pass a licensing exam before beginning his practice.”
This was in stark contrast to Western Europe that largely relied upon charms and amulets. “Socially and politically powerful clergy frowned upon and repressed medicine, thereby leaving the field in the hands of quacks and barbers.” This European scientific backwardness is even further highlighted when one considers that “the most common form of therapy among the medieval European was that of covering the sick with blood-sucking leeches in order to draw out illness.” Pimienta-Bey continued:
“Europeans offered no competition with Moorish advances in pathology, aetiology (study of disease), therapeutics, surgery and pharmacology. Texts were written by Moorish physicians describing surgical techniques and the instruments that were used; doctors specialised in paediatrics, obstetrics, and ophthalmology, and in the treatment of hernias and tumours.”
France was to also benefit from the marvellous scientific and medical advancements of the Moors; “at Montpellier, the only medical school outside of Andalus to rival Salerno, translated works by Avicenna and Constantine “the African” (Africanus), were standard texts of study for medical licensing. Moorish medical and surgical techniques dominated the school.”
Culturally and artistically Europe benefited tremendously by the African infusion in the Iberian Peninsula. One of the most substantial and revealing sources of information regarding this African Moorish influence can be found in the Cantigas of Santa Maria. The Cantigas was primarily written by Alfonso X (“the Wise”), the thirteenth century king of Castile. It is a collection of 400 poems set to music. In it Black Moors are shown playing chess while being attended by Black and White servants and musicians. Blacks are also shown as foot soldiers, bowmen, lancers, horsemen and also high ranking officers.
Historians have used this vital source of information as a survey of secular medieval attitudes and behaviours. Twenty eight of the long poems deal primarily with the Moors. “One mentions Yusuf Ibn Tachfin and the Almoravid conquests. This may indicate that the clearly distinct Blacks identified as Moors in most of the Cantigas are most intimately connected with the Almoravid invasions of Spain during the eleventh century.”
“Portrait of an African Slave Woman,” attributed to Annibale Carracci, from around 1580.
Credit: Tomasso Brothers, Leeds, England.
Image courtesy of Runoko Rashidi.
Here we turn to the magnificent and tremendous musical accomplishments of the Moors. This is particularly important when one considers that Black Africans are erroneously known for their drums. This outright fallacy perpetuated in education institutions and the media could not be further from the factual reality. As the historian Yusef Ali points out:
“African music is usually perceived as being one-dimensional, primarily rhythmic in character and totally dominated by drums...it is exactly this mass impression that ethnomusicologists, those people who study music academically, love to correct, anyone reasonably well informed about music-making in Africa will immediately react against such a naive notion by citing a wealth of musical instruments: xylophones, flutes, harps, horns, and bells.”
In fact, there is clear evidence that Black Africans were playing stringed and wind instruments as far back as ancient times. There are images, for example, of ancient Egyptian women playing the harp and flute on temple and tomb walls. Regarding the ancient Egyptian’s musical prowess one scholar noted:
“Egyptians were one of the first to experiment with a system of musical notation. The development of music as a profession on ancient Egypt is significant in the study of African cultures in general. Schools of music were established that trained not only vocal and instrumental performance but also theory and chironomy - the Art of notation by means of gesture.”
This extremely old musical tradition obviously passed down, as the musicologist Francesco Salvador-Daniel refers to the music of the Moors as “the lost theory of the music of the ancients.”
With regard to the Cantigas, Ali emphatically states that “all of these Cantigas (that is, the ninety nine percent) shows that they were the instrumental and vocal compositions of the Moors.”
Furthermore, Ali refers to the historian Titus Burchardt who stated that the early Provincial epic poems, which precede all Christian medieval vernacular verse, were quite clearly modelled on the Arabic Andalusian short poem, the zajal. Ali added: “This is hardly surprising, since Moorish culture exercised a strong influence on neighbouring southern France; and the first known poet of courtly love to write in Vulgar Latin, Prince William of Aquitaine, is almost certain to have spoken Arabic.
Thus the origins of the Minnesongs, or poems of courtly love, which began in Provence (France) and swept through the German speaking countries lay in Moorish Andalusia.”
There is also clear evidence of the transmission by the Moors of the practical theory of solfeggio, notation, tablature, organum, and consonanees, etc. Ali continued:
“A glance at the musical instruments of medieval Spain, as delineated in manuscripts of the tenth and eleventh centuries, and in the Cantigas de Santa Maria (thirteenth century) reveals the debt owed to the Moors. While the names of these instruments, preserved in the verses of Juan Ruiz (fourteenth century) fully supplement this assertion. Laud, rabe morisco, cano, atambor, guitarra morisca, gayta, exabeba, albogon, anafil, and atambal, were names which came through the Arabic. Other documents tell use of dulcayna, adufe, exaquir, chirimia and xelami, all of which are derived from the same source.”
Ziryab (The Blackbird)
One of the most popular and charismatic Moorish musicians was Abu I-Hassan Ali Ibn-Nafi or Ziryab “the Blackbird,” a name given to him because of his Black complexion, his eloquence, and the melodic sweetness of his voice.
Ziryab arrived in Spain in 822, and had an enormous impact on the music of Andalusia. He is credited with having known a thousand songs by heart, and having developed a new five-stringed lute, the precursor of today’s guitar.
He also founded the first music conservatory in Cordova. However, his talents did not stop at music, “he introduced new dressing styles, using different coloured garments to match the season. And he created hairstyles to go with the attire. He transformed eating habits and the ritual of serving meals by using elaborate decorations at the table and eating food in courses instead of having it all laid down on the table at the same time. He even made a contribution to dental hygiene by inventing toothpaste that was both functional and pleasant to taste. And it was Zirab, the botanist, who introduced the asparagus to Europe.”
However, Ziryab was not the only African to introduce to Europe new vegetables.
The Moors of Andalus throughout their history provided Europe with new kinds of horticultural methods, types of plants, and fruits and vegetables, which were virtually unknown outside of Africa and Persia.
Rice or arruz in Arabic, from Africa and Asia appeared on Spanish riverbanks in the tenth century according to the records of Arib Bin Sa’id, secretary to the ruler Al-Hakem II (961-976). Cotton in the ninth century, and medicinal herbs from Africa, was grown by the Moors, such as dardar or ash trees.
Returning to music, Ali concluded:
“For years a shroud has hung over the music of Spain, the source of development of both its classical and popular forms being virtually unknown. Historians have claimed ignorance of its “progress” and even suggested that it was, in terms of its origin, set apart from other countries of Europe. One scholar declared that “modern Spanish folk-music had nothing in common with that of the Middle Ages.” At the same time many Spanish musicologists of today deny a Moorish influence on Spanish music, (although a Moorish Civilization existed in Spain from the Eighth to the Fifteenth Century). Rather they seek for all the roots of, and influences on, Spanish music in modern European music or ancient European culture. They do so in vain. For the history of Moorish music may be fragmented, its contributions, for various reasons, denied or suppressed, but it is neither dead nor buried. It lives on, like a subtle and vital undercurrent, in the modern music of Andalusia, in parts of Africa, and even, like a ghostly refrain, in the Sketches of Spain by Miles Davis and the Ole' of John Coltraine.”
Jabir the Chemist
Other great Moorish personalities include the 12th century Andulsean Moor Jabir. Jabir produced chemistry treatise that were studied by many Europeans in academic circles. Jabir, the chemist, was known for discovering nitric, sulphuric, and nitro-muriatic acids. “Moorish chemists, in general had also been sublimating, calcinating and distilling several centuries before Western Europe’s alchemists.” The name alchemy, many scholars believe, has its origin in Africa. Chem is a reference to Egypt. In Arabic and Spanish “al” is commonly used as an introduction for “a subject”
As one scholar stated: “His name became so closely linked with Aristotilian philosophy that whole schools of philosophy were set up in Paris, Padua and Bologna to spread “Averroism.”
Alessandro the Moor
Outside of Spain other notable and great Moorish figures during medieval Europe are numerous. One such person was Alessandro Dei Medici, Duke of Florence. He was the son-in-law of the Emperor Charles V. Alessandro was always referred to as Alessandro the Moor. His mother Anna was an African woman, and his father was a pope (Clement VII).
Luce Morgan (Lucy Negro)
Typically, little is mentioned by historians of the African presence in medieval England, but Africans or Moors were actually a common sight in Tudor times. One highly regarded figure Luce Morgan, also known as Lucy Negro, was Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite African in her Tudor court. By all accounts, Luce was a sought after African beauty. Gentlemen in the Inns of Court in London, titled men and apparently even William Shakespeare himself, vied for her attention. One authority on Shakespeare, Dr. George Bagshawe Harrison claims that “Shakespeare fell in love with Lucy Negro only to lose her later to the Earl of Southampton.”87 He further added: “This Lucy Negro I would identify as the Dark Lady of the Sonnets.”
Another famous African is St. Maurice, the Knight of the Holy Lance. The name Maurice is derived from Latin and means “like a Moor.” St. Maurice is regarded as the greatest patron saint of the Holy Roman Empire. His story can be traced back to c.a. 450 in the writing of Eucherius, Bishop of Lyons. Briefly, according to the story, Maurice was a high official and a commander of a Roman legion in the Thebaid region of Egypt, which was an early centre of Christianity. When he was ordered to suppress a Christian uprising by the Roman Emperor Maximian, he refused, declaring that he would rather die a martyr’s death than persecute fellow Christians, renounce their faith, and sacrifice to the gods of the Romans.
The Roman Emperor consequently ordered his execution. The execution of the Theban Legion took place in Switzerland near Aganaum (later called Saint Maurice-en-Valais) on September 22, in the year 280 or 300.
The worship of this Black African martyr spread to northern Italy, Burgundy, and along the Rhine. Tours, Angers, Lyons, Chalon-sur-Saone, and Dijon had churches dedicated to St. Maurice. The worship of St. Maurice continued throughout the Moorish rule of Spain. “In 962 Otto I chose Maurice as the title patron of the Archbishopric of Magdeburg, Germany.” In 1240 a wonderful statue of St. Maurice was placed in the majestic cathedral of Magdeburg. St. Maurice was so popular during the epoch of medieval Europe that in the latter half of the 12th century, the emperors were appointed by the pope in front of the altar of St. Maurice, in St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. To quote one historian and further demonstrate this Black African’s enormous popularity:
“The existence of nearly three hundred major images of the Black St. Maurice have been catalogued, and even today the veneration of St. Maurice remains alive in numerous cathedrals in eastern Germany.”
One document which emphatically highlights the race of the Moors with marvellous clarity is Morien. Morien derives from the Dutch version of the Lancelot, and rendered into English prose.
Although the date and author of the French original poem are unknown; the Dutch manuscript is dated to the beginning of the fourteenth century. There are more than five thousand lines dedicated to Morien from the Lancelot compilation, which is said to be a faithful translation of the original.
Morien describes the adventure of a heroic Moorish knight who supposedly lived during the days of king Arthur and the knights of the roundtable. He is vividly described in the following way:
“He was all Black, even as I tell ye: his head, his body, and his hands were all Black, saving only his teeth. His shield and his armour were even those of a Moor, and Black as a raven.”
In this adventure Morien is described by his peers with a great deal of admiration and respect, and is described as forthright and articulate. One individual who Morien saves on the battlefield by the name of Sir Gawain is said to have “harkened, and smiled at the Black knight’s speech.” Morien also wins the respect of none other than Sir Lancelot himself, after challenging and defeating him in battle. Another noteworthy account described Morien as “Black as pitch,” and continued: “that was the fashion of his land - Moors are Black as burnt brands. But all that men would praise in the knight was he fair, after his kind. Though he were Black, what was he the worse?”
Such was his remarkable reputation, Morien was considered to be a great warrior and one of the finest knights. In fact, he was held in such high esteem that Morien came to personify all of the fine virtues of the knights of medieval Europe. In describing his prowess on the battlefield it was said: “His blows were so mighty; did a spear fly towards him, to harm him, it troubled him no whit, but he smote it in twain as if it were a reed; naught might endure before him.”
Interestingly, according to the English scholar Gerald Massey, “Morion is said to have been the architect of Stonehenge.”
Another important but little known fact is the African presence running through the veins of some of today’s British and European noble families. According to the British historian David McRitchie “the most revealing evidence of Moorish origin of [British] noble families are the thick-lipped Moors on their coat-of-arms. Many of these families still carry the name Moore. According to Barry’s Encyclopedia Heraldica “Moor’s head is the heraldic term for the head of a Black or Negro.”
McRitchie’s contention is further corroborated by the Burke’s Peerage (described as the Bible of British Aristocracy) which states that: “The coat-of-arms of the Marquess of Londondeery consist of a Moor wreathed about the temples, arg. and az., holding in his hand a shield of the last, garnished or charged with the sun in splendour, gold.”
Noble families bearing similar coats-of-arms include the Earl of Newburgh; Viscount Valentia, whose family is related to Annesly and whose arms bear a Moorish prince in armour; and Baron Whitburgh. According to McRitchie “these noble families were descendants of the Moors of the very earlier centuries who had been bred out until the Black man finally disappeared by mating with Whites only.” He added: “Families with the name Moor, Moore, Morris, Morrison (and other derivatives)...had Moors as their ancestors.”
Other countries whose families bear Moors in their coats-of-arms include France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Switzerland, Poland, Denmark and Sweden.
Alexandre Sergeivich Pushkin (1799-1837) was of African descent and one of the greatest writers of the 19th century. So much so he was known as the “Father of Russian Literature.”
Alessandro dei Medici, Duke of Florence, son-in-law of the Emperor Charles V. His father was a pope (Clement VII) and his mother, Anna an African women. Alessandro was always referred to as Alessandro, the Moor.
An artist's depiction of Marie-Joseph Angelique (1710-1734).
Portrait of Chevalier De Saint-Georges (1745-1799), Black composer in 18th century France.
Images above: (1) Descendants of black governors of Ecuador, c.a. 1599. (2) Dido Elizabeth Belle (left). It is said that this girl helped to put an end to the barbaric slave trade. (3) Painting of the African St. Maurice, the Knight of the Holy Lance. (4) Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870) is a celebrated Black French author best known for his historical adventure novels, The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo. His grandmother was a former Haitian slave.
The first Moorish dynasty to rule Spain or Al-Andalus was the Umayyad from 715 to 750. Although some expansion of the empire occurred (Lyons, Macon and Chalons-sur-Saone were taken in 729), the focus during this period was on internal consolidation rather than external conquest.
The early years of Spain’s new Moorish rule was marked by bitter rivalry and contention. In 750 an Umayyad Khalif was killed in Mesopotamia, apparently assassinated by a Shiite Moslem. In Damascus seventy members of the royal family and court were murdered, again, supposedly, by Shiites. The throne was assumed by a new Khalif, Abu’l Abbas who founded the second dynasty, the Abbasid. The nephew (Abdurrahman) of the last Umayyad Khalif, fled Al-Andalus fearing for his life, and went into exile. Whilst in exile he managed to garner an army of primarily African Moors in order to pit his forces against the new Khalif of Spain Yusef. Finally, in 756 his ambitions were realised and Abdurrahman took the throne, once again resurrecting the Umayyad dynasty. Chandler describes this great leader and his legacy to Spain:
“More than simply a capable military commander, Abdurrahman proved to be a humane and effective administrator as well.
Under his leadership, Spain experienced a dramatic and positive change, by ushering in prosperity into Spain; Abdurrahman laid the groundwork for the splendid edifice of Moorish cultural accomplishment erected by later generations.”
On the numerous Moorish intellectual advancements Chandler remarked:
“The Moors set out to quench their insatiable thirst for knowledge by translating into Arabic all they could lay hands on of ancient Greek and Sanskrit material, ransacking monasteries for rare copies of Euclid, Galen, Plato, Aristotle and Hindu sages...Their achievements in science were spectacular. The Moors were the first to trace the curvilinear path of rays of light through air; this discovery, in about 1100 is a prerequisite to the design of corrective eyeglasses...India made clear to the Moors some principles of astronomy: ‘the world is round as a sphere, of which the waters are adherent and maintained upon its surface by natural equilibrium. It is surrounded by air and all created bodies are stable on its surface. The earth drawing to itself all that is heavy in the same way as a magnet attracts iron. The terrestrial globe is divided into two equal parts by the equinoctial line. The circumference of the earth is divided into 360...The earth is essentially round but not of perfect rotundity, being somewhat depressed at the poles...This is the Indian calculation.’
These principles, recorded in a Moorish translation of an Indian text, would not be comprehended by the rest of Europe for 400 years.”
Chandler added: “The Moors pursued practical applications as well as the natural sciences. The use of the astrolabe and the compass, revived again at a later period in Europe, were common to [Moorish] navigation.”
One of the less commendable activities to occur in Andalusia was the trading in slaves by members of the nobel Jewish community. This slave trade started from 786 to 1009, Jews that had been slaves themselves began trading slaves with the Franks. As T.B. Irving stated:
“Franks and Jews traded Slavs and Germans who had been taken prisoner...on the Frankish territories. Thus “slav” and “slave” became interchangeable [terms]...They [the Franks and Jews] made young boys into eunuchs at Verdon...The slaves were driven from France to Spain in great herds like cattle. When they reached their destination, the men were purchased as servants or labourers, the women as household help or concubines...Many women were also imported from Galacia, for their blonde appearance attracted the Arab gentlemen. Slaves were also traded from out the Adriatic. These captives too were Slavs, and their merchants chiefly Christians.”
The slave trade changed the racial mix in Al-Andalus, especially with the introduction of concubines, which collectively gradually lightened the complexion of Moorish Spain. It lightened even more speedily due to the special demand for blonde women whether Slavs, Germans or Galicians. However, the trading of White slaves was not exclusive to Spain, as the historian W.E.B. Dubois noted that during the 16th century “the Mohammedan rulers of Egypt were buying White slaves by the tens of thousands in Europe and Asia, and bringing them to Syria, Palestine and the Valley of the Nile.”
Another major factor in the lightening of Moorish Spain was the African custom of polygamy, which eventually “wrought havoc upon the inhabitants of Al-Andalus. Licentiousness and immorality became more and more prevalent in the Moorish social structure. Predictably, there was a gradual eroding of virtues, philosophy and the pursuit of cultural excellence.”
However, this was no one-sided affair. Although the African conquerors such as Abdul-Aziz-Ibn-Muza (who wed the widow of Roderico, for which he was murdered by the Arabs) took many Christian virgins for his concubines.
The defeated side such as Romiro II of Leon, often married or had affairs with African women, resulting in numerous off-spring. “The two cases were typical: On the one hand, a violent penetration of conquered people by the polygamous invader, through their womenfolk; and on the other, the attraction exerted by the Saracen [African] women...upon men of the defeated race.”
The Umayyad Dynasty
The Umayyad Dynasty lasted for two hundred and seventy years, and was finally brought to a close in 1031 when the Khalif at the time was dethroned. The collapse of the Umayyad dynasty also lead to the collapse of Moorish Spain’s military and political structure. Consequently “the Moors found themselves at the mercy of Christian expansionists who had been waiting for the opportunity to recapture territories long lost. The rising threat of Christian intervention and dominance began to create an air of fearful consternation amongst the inhabitants of Al-Andalus.”
Fortunately for Moorish Spain, as fate would have it, whilst the inhabitants of Al-Andalus was facing a growing threat by eagle-eyed Christians, a powerful force was emerging in the African Sahara, “this force would proliferate so rapidly that it would consume in time all of the central and north western sections of the continent, and play a major role in the history of the Spanish Moors.”
During the reign of the Umayyad Dynasty they were already a powerful nation obeying hereditary kings. Within the African continent their empire stretched from Senegal in West Africa to Morocco on the Mediterranean coast.
This formidable force was known as the Mobt-Themim (or wearers of the veil) and they were the powerful rulers of what came to be known as the Desert Empire. They later became known as the Almoravids, which derives from the name Al-Murabitun, which meant people of the Ribat.
By 1062 the Almoravids was under the capable leadership of the Black African Yusuf Ibn Tashifin. His brother Abu Bakar led the southern portion of the empire, and he would eventually attack, sack and pillage the great Empire of Ghana in 1076, “bringing to a close one of the glories of Sudanic Africa.”
Yusuf, meanwhile, was consumed with the mighty task of building the foundations of the town of Morocco with his own hands. He eventually “declared the independence of the northern kingdom of which it was to become the capital. Thus, a Black Moor appropriately founded the city of Morocco.”
Whilst Yusuf was busy building the city of Morocco, another major event was occurring in Spain. Alfonso VI and his Christian army took Toldeo and “swore to drive the Arabs [Moors] into the sea at Gibralter.” This event resulted in hundreds of Moors and Arabs fleeing back to Africa seeking help from the Almoravid ruler. In 1083 Yusuf finally consented when the governor of Seville, Al-Mutammed begged him for assistance to fight against Alfonso.
It is said that Yusuf amassed such a formidable army that “when Yusuf crossed to Spain there was no tribe of the western desert that was not represented in his army, and it was the first time that the people of Spain had ever seen camels used for the purpose of mounting cavalry.” On this momentous event Chandler quite rightly noted that: “Being that Yusuf was Black and the western portion of Africa was also predominately Black, it was only natural that the core of those he enlisted would be Black.”
Armed with Indian swords, thousands of Blacks that also fought at Zalakah in 1086, finally battled and drove the Christian forces out of southern Spain, and consequently laid the foundation for Yusuf’s Spanish Empire. Unimpressed by the state of the inhabitants that he fought for at Seville, `Yusuf commented: “It strikes me that this man [king of Seville] is throwing away the power which has been placed in his hands. Instead of giving his attention to the good administration and defence of his kingdom he thinks of nothing else than satisfying the cravings of his passions.”
After virtually completing his victory, Yusuf returned to Africa. He was later informed, however, by his generals “that they [his army] were doing the whole of the fighting against the Christians while the king of Al-Andalus remained sunk in pleasure and sloth.” The news infuriated Yusuf, and he immediately ordered “his generals to conquer the kings of Spain and set in their place governors of their choosing. This officially ushered in the third Moorish dynasty of Spain, the Almoravid.”
Regarding this powerful dynasty Flora L. Shaw wrote: “once more a supreme Sultan [sat] upon the throne of Al-Andalus, his conquest and dynasty which he founded must be regarded as an African conquest and an African dynasty. The Almoravids ruling in Spain were identically the same race as that which moving from the west established kingdoms along the courses of the Niger and the Senegal.”
Thus, the Almoravid dynasty, having conquered Al-Andalus, now had a double court, one in Africa and the other in Spain. Yusuf eventually died in 1106, and was succeeded by his son. The Almoravid dynasty carried on the splendour and civility where Moorish Spain’s greatest rulers left off. Taxes were abolished in Africa and trade flourished. Although under this dynasty Spain experienced great prosperity and learning, it was to only last a century. “Yusuf’s son, being inexperienced, lost the throne and the African dominion was overthrown in 1142; the Spanish dominion fell three years later in 1145.”
The collapse of the Almoravid empire ushered in the final great African dynasty to rule Spain - the Almohades. “Under the Almohades, who also hailed from the western fringes of Africa, Moorish glory in Spain was well maintained. Great monuments were constructed, the most treasured being the Tower of Seville. Grand observatories as well as splendid mosques were built.”
Queen Charlotte Sophie of Mecklenburg Strelitz (1744-1818), wife of George III. Described by others in her time as “a true mulatto face,” brown or yellow. Her nose is to wide and her mouth shows the same fault.
Dorothea of Denmark and Norway (November 10, 1520 - May 31, 1580) was a Danish, Norwegian and Swedish princess and an Electress of the Palatinate as the wife of Elector Frederick II of the Palatinate. Judging by her paintings, she was a black woman or a moor. Princess Dorothea was born on 10 November, 1520 to King Christian II of Denmark and Norway and Isabella of Burgundy, sister of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.
Johannes Morus. A Moor of saintly status in Europe. This icon is dated 19th century and is found in a museum in Germany. He was vizier of Sicily in ca. 1100 CE.
Source: Golden Age of the Moor, Ivan Van Sertima, 2009. p.155.
Moors on coats-of-arms of medieval English families. Source: Golden Age of the Moor, Ivan Van Sertima, 2009. p.343.
Charlemont, The Moorish Chief. Painted ca. 1878.
And it was not until 1492, over two centuries later, that Grenada, the last Moorish stronghold, finally fell. It is estimated that “no less than three million Moors were banished between the fall of Grenada and the first decade of the seventeenth century.”
Moorish Spain’s demise eventually had a tremendous negative impact on not just Spain but was to reverberate throughout the whole of Europe and the globe. Its Christian successors had a different world outlook entirely to that of Spain’s predecessors. “At the moment of the final expulsion of the Moors from Spain, the Catholic Cardinal Ximenes ordered the destruction of libraries.” On this bleak and dismal period, one scholar remarked:
“The misguided Spaniards knew not what they were doing...The infidels were ordered to abandon their native and picturesque costume, to assume hats and breeches of the Christians, to give up bathing and adopt the dirt of their conquerors...The Moors were banished and for a while Christian Spain shone like the moon, with a borrowed light, then came the eclipse, and in that darkness Spain has grovelled ever since.”
On Spain's reconquista and consequent downfall Poole wrote:
“In 1492 the last bulwark of the Moors gave way before the crusade of Ferdinand and Isabella, and with Granada fell all Spain's greatness.
For a brief while, indeed, the reflection of the Moorish splendour cast a borrowed light on the history of the land which it had once warmed with its sunny radiance ... Then followed the abomination of desolation, the rule of the Inquisition, and the blackness of darkness in which Spain had been plunged ever since ... and beggars, friars and bandits took the place of scholars, merchants and knights. So low fell Spain when she had driven away the Moors. Such is the melancholy contrast offered by her history.”
Aside from this social, intellectual and cultural darkness, another even more dire consequence was brewing. “Armed with the gun, its manufacture made possible by gunpowder brought by the Moors, and their ships using lateen sails, astrolabes and nautical compasses, all the inventions of the Afro-Arab Moors, the Portuguese and Spanish set sail to rob the resources of others.”
Unfortunately, and ironically, one of those valuable resources was the African Moors themselves. It is clear at this point that it was not enough to reclaim Spain, there was an absolute, determined and malignant effort to remove all of the African achievements from European consciousness as well, even to the point where trading in the people themselves helped meet their demented objective.
Regarding this gross and malevolent period of history, historian Edward Scobie observed:
“The Moorish contact with Portugal [and Spain] was to have...dire consequences for Africa and African peoples. To begin with the effects of [Moorish] civilisation on Europe, particularly Portugal, is closely linked to the effort to reconstruct the processes by which the African past was extracted from European consciousness...This expansion of the Portuguese into Africa and the New World set in the motion the encounters between the peoples of the European Peninsula and the African peoples. This was to lead into the Atlantic slave trade, and slavery, two of the greatest disasters which Africans suffered, and from which they have not yet recovered.”
“What has been ignored by Eurocentric historians - and this is a deliberate act - is that the beginning and the formation of the Portuguese state were the results of processes both directly and indirectly related to Muslim civilization. Prince Henry the Navigator has been credited with harnessing the energies of Portugal and the resources of the Order of Christ with the skills, the instruments, the most developed seamanship, the navigational wisdom -all copied and learnt from Muslim mathematicians, cartographers, astronomers and geographers. Where and from whom this ascetic, celibate and reclusive son of Joao of Avis and his English-born queen, Philippa, accumulated this vast reservoir of scientific and navigational knowledge has always been played down or ignored out of hand.
Portugal has always gone to great lengths to believe that its development and expansion into the rest of the world has been a history of its own doing without Muslim impact; and has believed that story with such intensity that she was quite successful, bit by bit, in incorporating both an imagined history and the habit of always feeding it into the process of her authentic existence. That is why it has been claimed that all Portugal's imperial enterprises; the lasting effect of Portugal in Brazil, in the East Indies, and in Africa; the celebrated figures of Vasco de Gama, Alfonso de Albuquerque, Ferdinand Magellan, and others; the works of Gil Vincente and Camoens - have all been the elements that have motivated the creation and recreation of the origins of Portugal. Without the knowledge, intellect, learning and artistic brilliance of the African Moors, this Renaissance Portugal would have never, and I repeat never, come about.
But, this is a condition or reality which relates not only to Portugal, and Spain, but the rest of the latecomers of Europe, as well. Eurocentric scholarship cannot come to grips with this fact of history; and therein lies its tragedy.
It is absolutely no exaggeration to state categorically, that Islam had provided for, not only Portugal and Spain, but the rest of emerging Europe a powerful, economic, scientific, artistic, political impulse; an impulse which led to European domination of the world. Eurocentric scholars boast that the Renaissance aroused Europe from its Dark age slumber. And they stop at this blank, empty statement which has no Caucasoid base on which to stand.”
Since the fall of this last great Black African empire, Moorish Spain, that finally fell to the Christian conquistadors in 1492, after over seven hundred years of rule, conveniently followed shortly by the trans-Atlantic slave trade from the early 1500s, the Black race’s image in the world’s eyes has been deliberately and systematically assassinated. And it has now reached a point where it no longer figures in the historical record. Consequently, vast amounts of momentous history have now been shamelessly denied to both Black and White people alike. In the establishment’s dogmatic quest to obliterate all knowledge of the Black African’s lofty accomplishments throughout history that happens to be intrinsically linked with the entire White European past, it has inevitably denied the true history of all races.
The high regard held for Black Africans throughout medieval Europe, despite historian’s deliberate omission, should not be surprising. At that time the Black African’s or Moor’s image was not tainted with the deliberate negative stereotypes of today. They were the scholarly civilised conquerors of the Iberian Peninsula, famed for their economic and military power, civility and love for intellectual pursuits. As one historian brilliantly put it: “they were the first to bring the benefits of civilisation and scholarship to a continent sunk in the very abyss of vulgarity and barbarism.”
Ivan Van Sertima, Golden Age of the Moor, Transaction Publishers, USA, Ninth printing 2009.
Lady Flora Shaw Lugard - A Tropical Dependency: An Outline of the Ancient History of the Western Sudan.
George G.M. James, Stolen Legacy, African American Images, USA, 2001.
Stanley Lane-Poole, The Story of the Moors in Spain, Black Classic Press, Baltimore, USA, 1990.
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