Citation for Zaragoza

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Corbera, Carlos Laliena . "Zaragoza." In Oxford Islamic Studies Online. Oxford Islamic Studies Online. Nov 29, 2021. <>.


Corbera, Carlos Laliena . "Zaragoza." In Oxford Islamic Studies Online. Oxford Islamic Studies Online, (accessed Nov 29, 2021).


Zaragoza, Saraqusta in Arabic, from Caesaraugusta—the name of its founder, the emperor Augustus—was one of the strategic cities of the Visigoth state and was subsequently conquered during the campaigns of Mūsā ibn Nuṣayr in 714. The city capitulated, availing itself of the classic formula of Islamic expansion, by which surrender allowed the defeated to keep their possessions and maintain their Christian faith, in exchange for acknowledging the authority of the Muslims, the preeminence of their religion, and the payment of a tribute. From that time, Zaragoza became the capital of the so-called Upper March, a province in the northeast of al-Andalus. A number of Arabic families who settled there rebelled frequently against the authority of Córdoba during the second half of the eighth century, from the revolt of 750–754 up to the uprising of Sulaymān ibn Yaqzan al-ʿArabī and al-Ḥusayn ibn Yaḥyā al-Anṣārī, who famously tempted Charlemagne to intervene unsuccessfully in 778. Conflicts among the conquerors provided an opportunity for muwallads—converts from Christianity—and Berbers to gain influence. In response ʿAbd al-Raḥmān I, the founder of the independent Umayyad emirate in al-Andalus, besieged the city in 781 and obtained the obedience of powerful Arab factions. With this submission, muwallad clans emerged at the forefront of the regional panorama, a dynamic that coincided with the consolidation of Umayyad power in Córdoba.

These muwallad families were protagonists in the period referred to as “the first fitnah,” or civil war, that coincided with a decline in the power of the emirate. In this period, Zaragoza was dominated by the Banū Qasi, an indigenous family that claimed descent from a Count Casius of the Visigoth era, who strove for region autonomy. From 842 to 862 the city was ruled by the powerful patriarch Mūsā ibn Mūsā; his descendants were displaced as governors by the Banū Tujib, a group of ethnic Arab origin, in 890. The independence of Zaragoza and the Upper March was brought to an end by a series of punitive expeditions carried out by ʿAbd al-Raḥmān III in 934, 935, and 937. From that time onward, the city entered a phase of peaceful and stable relations with Córdoba, which came in part as a consequence of the consolidation of Umayyad legitimacy through their claim to the title of caliph, and of the Islamization and Arabization of the region.

The civil war that began in Córdoba at the beginning of the eleventh century and that produced the great fitnah that brought down the caliphate and ushered in the period of the taifa (from, tawaʾif or “factions”) kingdoms, resulted in the reestablishment of independence in 1013 under the rule of Mundhir ibn Yaḥyā, of the Banū Tujib. Mundhir I adopted modest titles that reflected a certain respect for the institution of the caliphate, until the year 1024/25, when he began minting coins that no longer acknowledged Umayyad authority. His son, Mundhir II, was assassinated by a relative in 1039, a crime that led to the rise of Sulaymān b. Hūd, the governor of Lerida, who took the throne of Zaragoza. Sulaymān was the head of the Banū Hūd, a clan that also claimed Arabic descent and went on to have considerable importance in the history of al-Andalus up until the thirteenth century. With Sulaymān, the Hudid dynasty dominated the cities of the Ebro Valley including Zaragoza, Huesca, Calatayud, Barbastro, Daroca, and Tudela. Similar to the other taifa kingdoms, Zaragoza was forced to pay heavy tribute to neighboring Christian princes, including those of Leon, Navarre, and Barcelona. These payments, or parias, transferred considerable quantities of gold, silver, and precious objects to the Christian aristocratic elite. Following the death of Sulaymān, the kingdom was divided between his sons. Aḥmad, who had received Zaragoza, set out to reunify the realm, embarking on a long war with his brother, al-Muẓaffar of Lleida, who was ultimately defeated between the years 1078 and 1081. Several years earlier, Aḥmad had taken control of the taifa kingdoms of Tortosa (1060–1061) and Denia (1075–1076), thereby extending his domains from Medinaceli to the Mediterranean and from Barbastro to Denia. In addition, he was able to defeat Frankish and Catalan invaders who had conquered Barbastro in 1064, prompting him to take the throne-name al-Muqtadir, or “Powerful (by the grace of God).”

Nevertheless, upon Aḥmad’s death he too distributed his territories among his sons: Yusūf al-Mutamin and Mundhir ʿImad al-Dawla, who became lords of Zaragoza and Lleida, respectively, provoking another fraternal war. In this instance, al-Mutamin had the support of the Castile and the exiled condottiero, Rodrigo Díaz “el Cid,” while ʿImad al-Dawla was supported by the Count of Barcelona, Berenguer Ramón II. Rodrigo Díaz and his Christian mercenaries were decisive in forestalling Aragonese advances until 1092, when he abandoned Zaragoza in an attempt to conquer Muslim Valencia. In that era, the kingdom of Zaragoza was governed by Aḥmad al-Mustaʿin (1083–1110), who suffered significant territorial losses at the hands of Aragonese Kings Sancho Ramírez and Pedro I, namely the towns of Monzón (1089), Huesca (1096), and Barbastro (1100), together with their territories in the foothills of the Pyrenees. In 1110 the people of Zaragoza expelled the Hudid ruler, Aḥmad II ʿImad al-Dawla, and the city was occupied next by the Almoravids, a Berber dynasty that had conquered the other taifa kingdoms.

The Almoravid presence ensured the survival of the Islamic city for some years, until Alfonso I of Aragon and Pamplona besieged it in the summer of 1118. After a six-month siege, Zaragoza surrendered and although the conditions agreed upon were generous—the Muslims were allowed kept their possessions and maintain their religion—many of the defeated chose to go into exile. The rest of the towns of the Ebro Valley that had pertained to the taifa of Zaragoza were conquered by Alfonso between 1119 and 1120, thus bringing to a close the short-lived but remarkable history of this Muslim sultanate. Under Christian rule, the city maintained an important population of mudéjares (free Muslim subjects), who were ultimately forced to convert to Christianity in the 1500s, and were later exiled between 1609 and 1614.

Over the course of its eleventh-century glory Muslim Zaragoza had a population of over 25,000 inhabitants, although recent archaeological excavations have uncovered substantial suburbs that indicate a population that was significantly larger, though still smaller than the great cities of al-Andalus, such as Córdoba or Seville. The city’s prosperity continued to be anchored in the tremendous fertility of the Ebro Valley, an extensive zone of irrigated lands the richness of which was praised by Muslim geographers including al-Idrīsī and al-Himyari. Although the Ebro River flows through one of the most arid zones of the peninsula, the irrigation developed in this era made it possible to maintain a large urban and rural population. Furthermore, despite the fact that Arabic authors paid less attention to the manufacturing sector, production in this city was significant, in particular regarding luxury goods such as furs, leathers, silks, high-quality clothing, and ceramics. Similarly as important were the trades related to construction and decoration, as reflected in the magnificence of the city’s Aljafería Palace—the residence of al-Muqtadir. Zaragoza was also an important commercial center, bolstered by its location on the Ebro River which was navigable to the Mediterranean. The importance of commercial activity is reflected in the abundant currency that was coined and in the fact that peasants were able to commercialize their products and pay taxes in cash. The discovery of a fragment of Chinese ceramic in the Aljafería proves that even very distant commercial contacts existed.

After the conquest of 714, an Arab garrison was established in Zaragoza and it is likely that the number of people who could claim Arab ethnic origin multiplied quickly. The urban elite always recruited within this social group, even when the leaders were muwallads, as was the case in the ninth century. Christian conversion began at this time, and likely peaked in the 800s, much sooner than in rural areas. Zaragoza was an Islamic and Arabic-speaking city, notwithstanding the survival of a Christian Mozarab minority until the mid-eleventh century. On the other hand, a small but important Jewish community, which had thoroughly adopted Arabic language and Andalusī culture, produced a series of important thinkers and writers. In other words, Zaragoza in the taifa period may not have been the largest of Andalusī cities, but it was dynamic, prosperous, sophisticated, and diverse.

A popular but unreliable tradition recounts that two venerated holy men, Hanas al-Sanʾani and ʿAlī al-Lakhmi, were buried in the cemetery of the Qibla in Zaragoza, and that their tombs were said to work miracles—a symbol of the early affiliation of the city to Islam and the vigor of its Muslim faith. It can be said with certainty that the city was home to many notable members of the ʿulamāʾ, whose names are recorded in the biographical dictionaries compiled in al-Andalus. No fewer than forty-six of these notable scholars lived in Zaragoza between 1027 and 1127 and many of them travelled to the East to increase their knowledge. Abu al-Walid al-Baji (1012–1081) is the most prominent figure among the scholars of the Qurʾān who resided in the capital during this period. After having travelled to Mecca, Cairo, Baghdad, and Damascus, he returned to al-Andalus, where al-Muqtadir recruited him to his court in the middle of the century.

The conflicts that broke out in al-Andalus with the fall of the caliphate provoked a dispersion of intellectuals from Córdoba to the regional capitals and, among them, Zaragoza. Muslim rulers of the time understood the maintenance of a sophisticated court to be a sign of power and legitimacy, and therefore competed to attract and patronize scholars, poets, and intellectuals. Among the luminaries of the mid-eleventh century Hudid court, figure Shlomo b. Yehudah b. Gabirol (Salomon ibn Gabirol, 1021–1058) and Abū Bakr Muḥammad ibn al-Sāʾigh ibn Bājjah (Avempace, 1080–1139). Poetry, which was also a highly valued form of expression in Islam, enjoyed a period of splendor in this same century in Zaragoza, thanks to emigrants such as Ibn Darraj al-Qastalli (958–1030), who had written panegyrics for the ḥājib, Muḥammad ibn Abi ʿĀmir al-Manṣūr (Almanzor in Córdoba before the fitnah), and later wrote for Mundhir I and al-Mutaʾdid ibn ʿAmmar (1031–1086)—only one of the courtesan poets who took refuge in this city between 1058 and 1085. Lastly, the body of knowledge relating to astronomy, music, medicine, physics, and mathematics found eager support in the circles of al-Muqtadir and his son, al-Mutaʾmin, who gave refuge to exiled scholars of these disciplines, including botanist-physicians, like Ibn al-Kattani and Ibn Buklaris, astronomers, and Aristotelian commentators like Ibn Hasday (c. 1045–1121). The rulers themselves engaged in these pursuits; al-Mutaʾmin was a brilliant and original mathematician, who wrote an important treatise on geometry, the Book of Perfection.

Today, the list of philosophers, poets, and men of science who lived in the taifa Zaragoza is the most important legacy of the rich cosmopolitan and commercial culture of this important Muslim kingdom, together with its greatest surviving monument, the Aljafería. It is now the seat of the present-day Aragonese Parlament, the Cortes, but in its time, it was only one of many luxurious mosques, palaces, and princely estates that adorned the city and its hinterland.


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