Between Tariq and Columbus

I have long followed Brian Catlos’ more academic works, so I was excited to read Kingdoms of Faith: A New History of Islamic Spain. Aside from some strange contemporary allusions, this is a good introductory book. If you are curious about more detail, the author has written good monographs.

The reason that this work is interesting is that Al-Andalus is a frontier society that’s been well studied. Liminal to both Islam and Western Latin Christendom, for various political reasons it is of particular interest in modern times.

One of the themes is Catlos’ work is though that we tend to refract the history of the Iberian peninsula between 700 and 1500 in simple stark modern dichotomous terms, the reality was that confessional identities were simply one of many loyalties. And yet if you read his work you see the meta-ethnic/civilizational identities are what determine the long-term arc of history, the hinges around which it turns.

In the initial decades after the conquest, local Christian elites and power structures remained intact, and the Arab conquest elites utilized them as administrative intermediaries. But after 800 AD a combination of local Iberian converts and Muslims from other parts of the Islamic world were numerous enough that Christian society begins to be pushed to the margins, even if numerically they remained a majority in the 800s.

Additionally, Catlos emphasizes the deep ethnic divisions between old Arab families, who monopolized religious offices 300 years after the conquest, tribes of Berber origin who occupied a position between the indigenes and the Arabs, and finally, Arabicized converts and Christians, Mozarabs. While the high culture became Arab, Latin speech persisted among the rural peasantry. Even the remnant Christian elites within Al-Andalus were literate primarily in Arabic.

One of the major insights from Kingdoms of Faith is that the conversion of Latin elites, whether Basque, Visigoth, or post-Roman, to Islam, resulted in corrosion of Christianity within Iberia. That corrosion was reversed only with political reconquest, and migration of Christian peasants from the north and the gradual conversion of Muslims in the centuries before the final expulsion of the remnant Moriscos.

Kingdoms of Faith is a useful read, not because of what it tells us about the history of Spain, but how we can compare to other regions of the world….

29 Replies to “Between Tariq and Columbus”

  1. The closest parallel to Spanish reconquista in India was the Maratha empire. Marathas under Peshwa dynasty took India inch by inch till they marched into Delhi, spread to the banks of Indus and squared off against Abdali. Third battle of Panipat was really a bid to convert what was a already a de facto Hindu empire into a de jury one. There was open talk in Poona that after the wrap up of Afghan affair, Peshwa’s son and heir apparent Vishwas Rao would be officially declared as the emperor of India.

    Unfortunately for Marathas, Panipat Jhala. (literally, Panipat happened). Their dream of reconquista died with their army in the fields of Panipat. India would still be reconquered by the natives, but the enterprise was taken over by local powers like Sikhs and Gorkhas.

    When Christians reconquered entire Spain, they converted it back to 100% Christian country by expelling or reconverting its entire Muslim and Jewish population. However, the factors which guarded India’s majority Hindu character despite long centuries of Muslim rule also prevented it from becoming a 100% Hindu country again, namely its large population and caste system. Large population meant that its huge Muslim population could not be expelled anywhere. Caste system obviously closed the gate of reentry into Hinduism. So this is how we reached modern era – with a quarter of Muslim population as a relic of Islamic period of nations history. This large chunk of Muslim population ultimately gave rise to the political borders of modern South Asia.

    I guess all this means nothing. Just a dry commentary on why SA’s borders look as they look.

  2. Visigoths are Goths named by Greeks as Celts (i.e. ‘whites’ – Greeks at that time did not consider themselves as white), in France they were called Galls (Asterix and Obelix vs Ceaser) are Serbian speaking tribes. Wiki says that are Germanic tribes originated in Skandinavia but this theory is get abandoned, their origin is from Danube civilisation. Wiki says that their language was extinct (?) in the 8th c.AC (?) and that the most of their alphabet was taken from Greeks. This is wrong and can be seen that they had letters ↑ and Ч (pronouncing as CH – CHarles) which does not exist in Greek language, it was taken from Serbian Vinca alphabet and used only as a number (= 300; letters were used as numbers).

  3. LOL the Marathas.

    Quite the “Hindu Empire”. Roving brigands massacring, looting, and raping as they went, ruining any chances of India retaining prosperity in the wake of Mughal collapse. Maratha desecration of Hindu-temples in the south resulting in Brahmans begging the Mysore Sultanate for protection. The reported 400,000 civilians murdered and raped in Orissa, Bihar, and Bengal, cementing the East-Indian Hindu support for the Bengal Sultanate against the Maratha raiders. Not to mention the Maratha invasion of the northern-Rajput states, so detested that the latter were happy to abandon the Marathas to their crushing defeat at the hands of the Afghans. Hardly anybody during this period had anything good to say about the Marathas (whether Hindu, British, or Muslim), though of course, they are lionized in the post-colonial anti-Muslim discourse that defines modern India (especially in the North).

    Also, I’m unsure what you mean by, “reconquered by the natives”. The Mughals were an Indian empire. They all spoke Indian languages, were largely Indian by ancestry/genetics, and even practiced an Islam that had a distinct Indian flavor to it. Heck, the highest class of people in the empire, after the Turco-Persian royalty, were Hindu Rajputs (ahead of Afghans and Muslim Indians). Though again, in post-colonial modern-India, I realize “native-Indian” is code-word for Hindu.

    1. Generally speaking +1
      Liked your comment!

      I am unaware of any evidence of the Marathas breaking the Prana Pratishta of any deities or temples. I don’t think you understand what temple desecration is. 😉

      Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, and the other 8 Darshanas almost never engage in temple desecration. :LOL:

      Like you I am no fan of what the Marathas became by the middle of the 1700s. They engaged in many atrocities. Afghanistan’s destruction of the Maratha empire in 1761 was not an entirely bad thing.

      The “Company” was definitely better than Tipu Sultan. Maybe better than the Marathas too. I am not as negative on the company pre 1805 as many others. [Wrote two articles savaging english colonialism at BP . . . not an apologist for the “company”.]

      Indthings . . . you misunderstand “native”. Jahanara, Dara Shikoh, Mullah Shah Badakhshi, Mian Mir, Qadiriyya, Chisti, Kabir, Nund Rishi, Janardan, Shirdi Sai Baba are considered “native” by Dharmics. They are accepted, revered and worshiped by Hindus. They have close connections with many masters and paramparas of Bharat.

      Aurangzeb is not regarded as “native” by many. His mind was colonized by external ideas.

      1. Regarding the Marathas, their most famous (but not only) episode of temple desecration was Sringeri, where they invaded the monastery, massacred the Brahmans, looted its wealth, damaged some property, and dismantled the idol. A swamy of the temple survived the ordeal, and fled to Mysore, recounting the details to Tipu Sultan, begging him to stop the Marathas.

        Regarding temple desecration, its defined academically as the the forceful invasion and sacking of a temple, often accompanied by massacres of the priests and removal of their idol (either via thievery or destruction).

        Hindus engaged in frequent temple desecration, both against other Hindus and Buddhists, especially before the Muslim-period.

        Regarding Aurangzeb, if his ideas (and resulting actions) are not native, what are we to make of the Aryans, whose Vedic religion was also not native, and whose actions were far more traumatic to India than anything Aurangzeb (or any Indian-Muslim ruler) had done?

        1. Sringeri episode as described in your post is half truth, and a half truth becomes a lie when used to further a political agenda.

          Sringeri raid was the handiwork of a rogue army unit (pindaris). The event became a scandal at the highest level. Nana Phadnavis, the regent of the empire himself got involved. Culprits were tracked and punished. Looted property were restored to the temple. (It was partly driven by superstition because the temple priest had undertaken a fast in protest, and Maratha rulers didn’t want the blood of a Brahmin on their hands. Whatever).

          Which Muslim warlord has ever returned the looted property of a temple?

          1. Nicely said Lizard Catcher.
            The Pindari did the craziness at Sringeri. The Marathas were deeply embarrassed. They apologized and tried to catch the criminals. Stealing the wealth of a temple of Matha is not desecration of Praana Pratishta of a temple.

            Some questions:
            —Is there evidence that the Pindari damaged the Praana Pratishta of Sringeri math?
            —Does anyone have information about the Pindari?

            ++++++++++++++++++

            Indthings, are you certain that AASI and R1a were not Arya more than 6,000 years ago? Can you explain why?

            Do you define Arya culture and Arya civilization as the approximately 15 ancient saints and their families and students?

          2. LC: “Which Muslim warlord has ever returned the looted property of a temple?”

            Erdogan returned!

            The truth, did not return to the original owners than to the looters themselves.
            But, he returned… (see a comment above your in Open Thread).

          3. I haven’t found any evidence of this narrative other than Swarajmag, a far-right Hindutva website (other similar blogs have reproduced their story).

            There’s also an issue where a number of Maratha-related letters (the sources for this narrative) that tend to paint a rosy and Hindu-friendly version of Maratha history, are not taken to be authentic by a number of historians. I don’t know if these letters are from the same cache, but its possible.

            Its also a little strange that the Marathas would be so worried about the Swami’s reaction to this looting, considering it was traditional Indian practice to loot the temples of rival empires (in this case Mysore), and nobody presumably ever worried about the karmic implications. We also have accounts of Marathas massacring Brahmans in Bengal, and invading at least one other rival-temple (Tirupati), are there records indicating Maratha-leadership punishing all these forces as well?

          4. INDTHINGS, are you for real? 🙂

            Many are not fans of the Marathas!

            “Its also a little strange that the Marathas would be so worried about the Swami’s reaction to this looting, considering it was traditional Indian practice to loot the temples of rival empires (in this case Mysore), and nobody presumably ever worried about the karmic implications. We also have accounts of Marathas massacring Brahmans in Bengal, and invading at least one other rival-temple (Tirupati), are there records indicating Maratha-leadership punishing all these forces as well?”

            Sringeri Matha is one of the most important and respected Mathas of Sanathana Dharma. It was founded by Adi Shankaracharya (some might call him the person most responsible for modern Hinduism . . . he is also often accused of being a Buddhist.) The various different paramparas (including Jain, Buddhist, Sikh) have relations with the Sringeri Math!

            These institutions are a-political. They have no political affiliations!

            Do you understand what “Praana Pratishta” is? Stealing money from the temple treasury is very different from trying to break “Praana Pratishta” of a temple.

        2. INDTHINGS:

          what are we to make of the Aryans, whose Vedic religion was also not native, and whose actions were far more traumatic to India than anything Aurangzeb (or any Indian-Muslim ruler) had done?

          For the last time: Indians (or Hindus and other “Dharmic” people) are not traumatized by the Aryans because we completely identify with them. If there ever was trauma, it came and went more than 3000 years ago. (And, by the way, you’ll have to prove that there was “trauma”, as neither you nor anyone else knows the full picture. The dynamics of how the Aryans came to India and what happened next is conjecture at this point; multiple interpretations are possible; see some of the earlier Brown Pundits podcasts for speculations.)

          On the other hand, we know exactly what Aurangzeb did, whose side he was on, and who he was against. And there are hundreds of millions of the latter, so that’s relevant, unlike the precisely ZERO people who are traumatized by whatever the Aryans did.

          The Vedic religion was also not brought from outside but is quite indigenous to the subcontinent, but given that your knowledge of that religion is miniscule (and learned from Pakistani schoolbooks), I guess you can be forgiven for repeating the error.

          1. I can also confirm no trauma at all. My ancestors are almost for 4000 years Hindustanians. Traumatised are those who don’t recognise, do not respect and do not care about their ancient ancestors because during conversion few centuries ago one half of their grandparents’ brains was removed what subsequently became a hereditary feature. I can see this in my neighbourhood (Bosniacs) where is scientifically proved that genes cannot work with a half brain only.

          2. Having said previous I should emphasise that Bosniacs are perceived as the dumbest group of people in the region. Probably every other region has own category of ‘Bosniacs’. There are many thousands of jokes about them, there are all funny and without bad intentions. The key roles have friends Muyo and Haso (i.e. Mustafa and Hasan), sometimes Muyo’s wife Fata (Fatima) and other friend Sulyo (Suleiman).

            One short for now – A man walking on the street sees Muyo and Haso who are working on the street. Muyo is digging a trench. Immediately behind him is coming Haso and trampling the trench. ‘Guys – says a passer-by – it does not make a sense what are you doing!’ – ‘Of course it does – says Muyo – only Sulyo is sick and missing today. He should lay down the pipes.’

          3. There is another one as a bonus…

            Muyo is reading a book and there is coming Haso. ‘Muyo, what do you read?’-asks Haso. ‘The Logic”-says Muyo. ‘What is the logic?’ – asks again Haso. ‘Let me explain. Do you have a fish aquarium at home?’ – says Muyo. ‘I have’ – answers Haso. ‘See, it means you like fishes, it means you like animals. If you like animals it means that you love people too, you love women, it means you are not a gay. That is the logic.’- explained Muyo.

            The following day Haso is reading a book and there is coming Sulyo. ‘What do you read Haso?’-asks Sulyo. ‘The Logic’ – says Haso. ‘What is the logic?’ – asks again Sulyo. ‘Let me explain. Do you have a fish aquarium at home?-asks Haso. ‘No, I don’t have.’ – answers Sulyo. ‘You piss-off, you bloody pufta!’ – says Haso.

    2. I won’t deny your comments about Marathas reflexively. Marathas’ rapacity was notorious. However, there is reason to believe that with peace restored, Maratha administration would have improved. There is evidence that the pillage of Maratha armies was limited to the lands which were not under their direct occupation, but were contested with rival rulers, like Rajputana and Bengal. Areas under their direct control like Maharashtra proper, or Bundelkhand or Gujarat were administered much more efficiently.

      The claim of Mughals being Indian is bunkum. It is a fiction propagated by left leaning, wooley headed though well meaning, Doabi shared culture proponents. Mughals, even the very last one of them, remained foreign to India.

      1. Everything you said of the Marathas can be said (and has been said) of the Muslim conquerors in India. “Rapacious” during conquest more tranquil during formal rule. Though of course, Hindutvas cry “liberal-whitewashing” when its said of Muslims, calling them genocidal invaders. Your gentle treatment of the Marathas simply because they are Hindus, is noted.

        I mean, in the warped British-inspired version of history that is taught in India now, the Mughals are considered foreign. But during the actual time the Mughals lived, they weren’t (or at least, not more so than any other polity conquering its neighbors). Its illustrative to note that as late as 1850, many Northern-Indians (the vast majority of them being Hindu) rose up to overthrow the “foreign” British, in the name of installing the “true emperor of India”, the Mughal monarch. (Quotes are from “The Last Mughal” which I encourage you to read).

        1. But during the actual time the Mughals lived, they weren’t (or at least, not more so than any other polity conquering its neighbors). Its illustrative to note that as late as 1850, many Northern-Indians (the vast majority of them being Hindu) rose up to overthrow the “foreign” British, in the name of installing the “true emperor of India”, the Mughal monarch.

          the mughals span a period between the middle of the 16th century and the middle of the 19th century. it is clear that the early mughals were marginally indian, while the later mughals were quite indian.

          in the interests of rebutting stupid hindutva nationalism you often fall into a similar sort of reductiveness. one can make points of comparison between marthas and mughals…but it’s difficult since the latter were a substantial multi-century project while the former were a stillborn cultural imperium which ultimately remains more a lost hope than a realization.

          it is your liberty to engage in ideological ax-grinding, but please be self-conscious enough to know that those of us without the strong ideological commitments which drive you and your enemies can see it pretty clearly.

          i do invite you and anan to be a little concise though, because having to page down through repetitive exchanges of the same mantras gets tiresome for me on my own posts.

          1. “Its also a little strange that the Marathas would be so worried about the Swami’s reaction to this looting, considering it was traditional Indian practice”

            It is strange only if you subscribe to the “considering”. Alternatively, the “worry” could be regarded as rendering the “considering” doubtful.

          2. “Had Mao died in 1956, his achievements would have been immortal. Had he died in 1966, he would still have been a great man but flawed. But he died in 1976. Alas, what can one say?”
            – Chen Yun

            The fun part about being a lost hope is that everyone projects good stuff on you. Where INDTHINGS goes wrong is that he assumes India (and the Marathas) is sui generis in this matter.

    3. All the things you accuse the Marathas of doing (which are correct anecdotally) have been done by literally by every other bunch of empire-builders. Aurangzeb, for one, was universally loathed by all non-Muslims in India at his deathbed (and continues to be loathed today). That doesn’t make the Mughal Empire, its power and its wealth, something fake.

      Like many empire-builders, the Marathas ran out of steam. Also, poor tactics fetched them a humiliating defeat at Panipat. But you are nuts if you think they were just a bunch of brigands roaming around aimlessly. They established various (and stable, for a while) dynasties in different parts of India, and had local legitimacy everywhere they ruled. Look at the list of kings and chieftains who led the rebellion against the British in 1857; most of them were Marathas, in the Gangetic belt and in Central India. Marathas settled in and merged with local populations as far north as Haryana and as far south as Tanjavur. Brigands don’t end up that way.

      As usual, your “history” is nothing but a bunch of canards from highly biased sources.

    4. @INDTHINGS your absolute ignorance is showing when you claim Mughals spoke Indian languages. For the vast majority of the empire’s existence, the royals and elites (not commoners) spoke Chagatai Turkic and Persian, you nincompoop.

  4. Everything you said of the Marathas can be said (and has been said) of the Muslim conquerors in India. “Rapacious” during conquest more tranquil during formal rule. Though of course, Hindutvas cry “liberal-whitewashing” when its said of Muslims, calling them genocidal invaders. Your gentle treatment of the Marathas simply because they are Hindus, is noted.

    I mean, in the warped British-inspired version of history that is taught in India now, the Mughals are considered foreign. But during the actual time the Mughals lived, they weren’t (or at least, not more so than any other polity conquering its neighbors). Its illustrative to note that as late as 1850, many Northern-Indians (the vast majority of them being Hindu) rose up to overthrow the “foreign” British, in the name of installing the “true emperor of India”, the Mughal monarch. (Quotes are from “The Last Mughal” which I encourage you to read).

  5. Rajib, thanks for sharing your perspectives on these books.

    Any data on the legal structure in the Iberian Peninsula 700 AD to 1500 AD?

    How was Shariah implemented? How was the hybrid Shariah Christian jurisprudence implemented?

    The Pope authorized Europeans to buy existing slaves from muslims. In this did the European legal system recognize Shariah business law?

    How was freedom of art and speech treated by the legal system?

    How good was security?

  6. Arabs did not have pure Central Asian half-Tatar half-Uzbek horsewaffes like Jaggu. Could have made short work of al-kastillia. I know I would have kept Isabella for myself as a laundi and enjoyed her in generalife 😉

    Jagger conquistador bagger
    #IslamWillRetakeSpain
    #PazVegaLikesMuslimRiders

  7. “I haven’t found any evidence of this narrative other than Swarajmag, a far-right Hindutva website”

    Lolwut…Swarajya has a clear editorial slant (but so does every Indian news/opinion organ), but I’ve not seen it to be a “far-right Hindutva” site. Seems like it’s basically National Review, but for India. And like National Review, I think it’s got some good insights at times.

    Both of those sites have some howlers too. What you brought up may be one of them. But on the whole, I’ve not observed either site to be outre or “far-right.”

  8. // Indians (or Hindus and other “Dharmic” people) are not traumatized by the Aryans because we completely identify with them //

    I just want to say that this statement is literally true. Indians identify with the word “Arya” to the point that it has not even remained a noun in prkRta (common) speech, but is an honorific, interjection and a pronoun rolled into one – “aji” or simply “ji”. Fused into the syntactical structure of Hindi-Urdu. No matter how many Arabic words Urdu borrows and native lexicon it purges, try getting rid of “ji” 🙂

    1. Sanskrit Arya is ajja in Prakrit and in south Indian languages it is ayya , a commonly used word for addressing someone respectfully or as parts of name.
      It also gives rise to caste names Ayyar and Aiyangar (Arya garu)

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