The Muslim presence in the Iberian Peninsula bequeathed a set of majestic monuments abundant in luxury, such as the Alhambra in Granada, the Mosque of Córdoba or Medina Azahara. All these constructions had nothing to envy, far from it, to the palaces and monasteries of the antagonists northern christian kingdoms, beautiful but much less refined. However, in the struggle that unfolded during the Middle Ages, sobriety ended up ruling over opulence. Al AndalusDespite its economic, cultural and political superiority, it was defeated by the steel of arms, by a military weakness that increased over the centuries.

Unraveling the reasons for this warlike setback and, consequently, the disappearance of the Muslim power on the peninsula is what he tries to do Josep Suñé Arce, Doctor in History from the University of Barcelona, ​​in his work War, army and taxation in al-Andalus (8th-12th centuries), published by Ediciones La Ergástula and result of the synthesis and revision of his doctoral thesis. One of the main consequences of their work is that the Andalusians consumed their military resources more often in the struggle of some rulers with others than in the practice of jihad.

The historian, study member of the Iberian Association of Military History, IV-XVI centuries, has analyzed 543 military expeditions that pitted Muslims from the Iberian Peninsula against Visigoths, Franks, Christians from the northern peninsula, ultra-Pyrenean combatants and other Christian peoples from the western Mediterranean between the years 708 and 1172.

Fresco of the battle of La Higueruela (1431), in the Escorial Battle Room, in a photograph taken by Jean Laurent.

Historical Heritage Photo Library

For the dominions of al-Andalus, this period is divided into nine stages: Governors (708-756), Umayyad Emirate (756-888), First Fitna (888-929), Califato Omeya I (929-976), Califato Omeya II (977-1008), Second Fitna (1009-1031), Taifas (1031-1085), Almoravids (1086-1146) and Almohad Reunification (1147-1172). Suñé shows that the Muslim offensive capacity was superior to the Christian one until the first decades of the 11th century, but every territorial lossIn the form of civil wars and tributes paid to the supposed enemy to avoid armed actions, the military power of the Andalusians drastically diminished.

It also debunks one of the most widespread myths: that Muslims had little interest in the trade of arms, who were bad strategists and even cowardly men. In reality, their defeat is due to a more complex set of circumstances. From the second half of the 8th century, the Andalusian armies proved incapable of blocking Christian fortified places. By the 1020s, the latter’s ability to concentrate troops and launch expeditions was more powerful; and towards 1060, its superior armors. Until the end of the century, the Christians signed the most important conquests, such as Toledo (1085), Lisbon (1093) or Valencia (1094).

Internal enemy

In addition to these problems, the disunity of the Andalusians, the centralization of military affairs and the feudalism of the Christian kingdoms were other factors that aggravated the situation, although not the fundamental ones. “Actually, the main reason that explains the Andalusian military problems is found in the different way that Christian powers had to distribute their income, which meant that their hosts received a higher percentage of resources than was destined for the Muslim armies “, explains Josep Suñé.

That is to say, Christian superiority was curdled in its decision to dedicate significant percentages of its income to the recruitment and maintenance of men-at-arms. On the contrary, Muslims they spent a large part of their resources in the palaces and in its inhabitants, which served to show the economic strength of the emir or caliph, and thus try to avoid internal riots that threatened their political power. “Investing in prestigious gifts, palaces and treasures was just as effective in demonstrating the strength of the sultan and his hegemony, but it also had the advantage of reducing the risk of armed rebellions that forced him to share political power with other leaders or , what is worse, they made him literally lose his head “, the author values.

Cover of 'War, army and taxation in al-Andalus'.

Cover of ‘War, army and taxation in al-Andalus’.

The Ergástula

The historian describes several very graphic examples to understand this: the Umayyads, for example, allocated 30% of their resources to the army and 60% to the public treasury and the construction of architectural works, while the Christian powers of the 11th and 12th centuries would have given their soldiers up to 80-90% of your assets. “This explains the military superiority of the Christians over the Andalusians and also their inferiority in almost all other aspects,” Suñé sums up. It is estimated that the caudillo Almanzor He had 54 million dinars in his treasure, which would have enabled him to carry out 108 military expeditions and recruit 36,000 more horsemen.

And why did the Muslim leaders, knowing that this policy inexorably led to a situation of military weakness in the face of the Christian kingdoms, who made enormous efforts to improve their cavalry, did not try to reverse it? “Increasing the financing of his army would have forced him to reduce that of the rest of the pillars and, at the lose supporters, image of majesty and wealth, he would have ended up depending excessively on his troops, “says Suñé. That is, the possible internal enemy was more feared than the real external one. The historian closes his interesting and revealing work with this conclusion:

“It can be said that from the end of the 9th century onwards, the different political leaders of Andalusian Islam found themselves in the position of having to choose between two different options: preserve the singular and exclusive power of the sultan at all costs or increase the percentage of income destined for the army to equal that of the Christians, even at the risk of creating tensions that endangered the infirad (his isolation within the clan to occupy a preeminent position) and the istibdad (the appropriation of the sole power). It seems that all, or most of them, favored the first of the alternatives. With that decision ended up indirectly accepting the progressive loss of war hegemony, initially, and then a situation of chronic military inferiority caused by insufficient funding. “


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