History Is Written By The Victors

Moorish Spain, we are told, began with the invasion and rapid occupation by ‘the Moors’ of a large part of the Iberian Peninsula in the year 711, and ended with the Reconquest in 1492, resulting in the expulsion of the Moors from the Peninsula. For ‘Moors’ we might be inclined to substitute ‘Arabs’; we would be wrong.

We would be wrong in a number of respects. Firstly, the people arriving in Hispania, as it was then known, were Berbers from the Atlas Mountains and Rif area of North Africa, just across the straits. Secondly, the so-called invasion was only one of a series of waves of immigration from this area which had been happening ever since the collapse of Roman rule around 410AD, Thirdly, although many Jews and Muslims were indeed expelled in 1492, the majority of Muslims remained and became forcible converts to Christianity - moriscos. All of which goes to show that reality is usually much more untidy than history.

But then history only tells one part of the story. Being written by the victors, it tells the story as they would have it known; which is not necessarily how it happened. Let’s take that evocative term, ‘Reconquest’, for example. The Roman rule of Hispania began around 211BC and lasted for six hundred years to about 410AD. It was then superseded by the collapse of the Roman empire, the departure of the Romans from what had been their most important territory after Italy, and their replacement by Visigoths moving in from Gaul to fill the vacuum. Daily life, however, continued pretty much as usual in the Roman manner; the local population had developed its political, commercial and social structures over the course of some 600 years.

Al-Ándalus, the name given to that large area of the peninsula (roughly the southern half, from the Meseta to the Mediterranean), lasted officially from 711 to 1492 - virtually 800 years, or one third longer than Roman Hispania. How, under those circumstances, can you properly attach the term ‘reconquest’ to the military campaigns of Ferdinand and Isabella (Los Reyes Católicos)? It’s as if the Welsh and the Irish were to join forces today to evict the Normans from England and Scotland and reclaim the British Isles for the Celts. And how would they identify them?

There’s much more to the story, but that will do for today.

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