It cannot be denied that Medieval Iberia represents an incredible example of cultural and intellectual diversity that was unique in Europe and may lack a comparable example elsewhere in the world for the same length of time (711 – 1492CE). However, some historians have overemphasized the harmonious atmosphere between groups on the peninsula by characterizing their coexistence as convivencia – a word that can carry overly positive connotations and might gloss over important political, religious, economic and ethnic competitions between various groups throughout this period. In her text, The Ornament of the World, Maria Rosa Menocal upholds the positive image (if not the word) of convivencia in Iberia by examining cultural prosperity in the era of Islamic polities and beyond. Elsewhere, Menocal makes it clear that her invocation of the spirit of the term is polemical in helping to establish a counter-narrative to the hegemonic discourse that excludes and Others al-Andalus from European intellectual history. Other historians such as Richard Fletcher prefer to complicate convivencia as having less to do with harmonious coexistence and more to do with simply “living together” – something that was far from a “straightforward business” and may have carried with it an ever-looming possibility of violence.[1] Still others such as Alex Novikoff take the middle road between pedestalizing convivencia and villainizing interreligio-ethnic contests in Iberia, drawing on examples of either tolerance or intolerance. Olivia Remie Constable sees no such value in the term, nor its opposite (Reconquista) which both serve to polarize and thereby simplify our understanding of Iberian history. In contrast, the value of the term is reified by Thomas Glick, who sees its rescue as an opportunity for learning about the process of acculturation and what it says about cultural and social interactions between people in Iberia and our contemporary period. Its reification in spirit (if not name) is also a method used by Janina Safran in her study of identity and differentiation between Christians and Muslims in 9th Century al-Andalus. In my mind, Safran stands with David Nirenberg who seems to belong to the camp of those who advocate the abandonment of a term such as convivencia (and its opposites) because it can obfuscate the multi-layered complexities between identity groups that give rise to both positive and negative realities within one society. To borrow Nirenberg’s language, what is at stake in tallying a society’s “assets and liabilities” is the “commodification” of its historical experiences which usually have less to do with the actual history and more to do with the historian’s current moment.[2]

What is at stake in the term convivencia is whether or not Iberia was unique and if there is something for the historian to learn from its uniqueness with regards to our modern situation. In this paper, I will briefly examine the definition of convivencia from the scholars listed above in greater depth, illuminating the term’s contestation, modification or abandonment among them. In surveying the variant ways in which scholars have made use of the term convivencia, it becomes clear that it has taken on a multiplicity of meaning and layers of complexity that run counter to the idea of it as an oversimplified, reified concept. Ultimately, however, I will side with Menocal (with a few modifications) to show that until the public hegemonic myth that excludes al-Andalus from European history is adequately complicated by examples of Iberian convivencia, abandonment of this term as a historical commodifier runs the risk of historians reneging on a discursive ethical imperative. I will conclude by showing why, in both academic and non-academic circles, commodification or crystallization, is inevitable and thus, why that imperative matters.

In The Ornament of the World, Menocal does not use the word convivencia to refer to Medieval Iberia, a point about her work echoed again in Novikoff’s historiography of the term.[3] In fact, Menocal is clear that her examination of “cultural tolerance and symbiosis” which Europe inherited from al-Andalus is not meant to “replace all the older clichés [of Medieval intolerance and darkness] with another equally simplistic new one” – i.e. a tale of convivencia.[4] However, in reading her text, it becomes very clear that Menocal is not only interested in upholding al-Andalus as the center of multiple medieval golden ages and muffling differences, but that she is also willing to do so by distorting or dismissing the influence of other civilizations such as the Almoravids and the Almohads. Novikoff chalks this paradoxical approach up to the fact that Menocal has not defined what cultural tolerance is, nor is she interested in how it differs from either social or political forms of tolerance. Rather, what is at stake for Menocal is the mythologizing of al-Andalus’ incredible literary, social and artistic achievements by finding their origin in the attitudes of the Ummayads and their demise in the religious fanaticism of both Christians and Muslims.[5] I use the term mythologizing here because, in relation to other works by Menocal, it becomes clear she is employing a conscious program of rewriting history against other, more dominant histories. In “The Myth of Westernness in Medieval Literary Historiography,” Menocal follows in similar footsteps as the likes of Hayden White and other Critical Memory theorists who concur that “our writing of history is as much a myth-making activity as that of more primitive [sic] societies.”[6] She explores Western discourse’s preoccupation with their own intellectual heredity, shattering notions of the East-West dichotomy by pointing out how their particular myth comes with a dominant and selective forgetting of al-Andalus’ instigation and propagation of the so-called “West’s” intellectual Renaissance.[7] Her call for the inclusion of Andalusian influence in Western literary historiography is characterized as involving a major paradigm shift of unimaginable proportions because it requires the reimagining of Western civilization as being “indebted to and dependent on a culture… regarded as inferior…and as the quintessence of the foreign and the Other.”[8] Since this paradigm shift is Menocal’s project, it makes sense that Ornament be read as the development of a counter-myth to hegemony, explaining why her work focuses more on positive outcomes of tolerant, co-existing cultures, rather than seeking to complicate images of that coexistence. This purposeful and selective retelling is in direct resistance to typical European narratives that not only black out everything between antiquity and the Renaissance, but also might view an Arab-centred historical reconstruction with the same disdain felt towards Darwinian evolution theories – that Europeans were “descended from apes.”[9]

Without invoking such pejorative imagery, multiple historians have complicated this view of coexistence, either declaring it inadequate, expanding its meaning to include positive and negative cultural interactions, or abandoning it completely in favour of some other historical lens. Constable claims, in the introduction to her Medieval Iberia Reader, that “the diversities of Iberian history cannot be fully explained by either harmonious convivencia or hostile Reconquista[10]– presumably using each term in its most typical form. Not only did elements of both exist, but each term also represents a mythologizing that, in its overuse, simplifies Iberian history. Her collection of primary source documents that follow are intended to show differences but also points of contact between varying groups.[11] The reader is meant to pass from source to source, drawing their own conclusions organically or in contrast to other historians’ secondary interpretations, and ultimately, what is meant to come through is that no such terms can capture all the different kinds of people, groups, affiliations and so forth that are found in these sources. While this may be true, the uniqueness of the situation in which these documents arose should not be neglected. Without some kind of coexistence, it is hard to imagine the need for texts like “The Pact of ‘Umar,” “The Treaty of Tudmir,” Abraham ibn Daud’s “Book of Tradition,” Samuel Ibn Naghrela’s “Battle of Alfuente” and many more. While there are many counter examples, these simply represent more extreme negotiations of coexistence at different times and in different contexts. A relativist might argue that no historical experience rises above another and, as such, Iberia is not a shining example above Europe and Islamic polities; however, in various documents throughout the text, not only is sharing and coexistence the principle put forth, it is the means by which those documents could even have arisen.

Novikoff’s somewhat tepid contribution to this discussion is simply to say that the academic community can find in Medieval Iberia instances of both tolerance and intolerance, making it a place and time of study that is fruitful for lessons drawn from the past.[12] The presumption is that historians are not just writing history for the sake of recording it, but rather to lend a better understanding to our present moment – something difficult to argue against. Richard Fletcher takes a rather different approach to our contemporary learning than both Menocal and Constable because of a different overall purpose, tackling the issue of convivencia head-on in his chapter of the same name. While he acknowledges the unique cultural and intellectual achievements of Iberian coexistence, using many of the sources we find in Constable’s reader, he is quick to point out that multi-religio-ethnic groups living together is, by no means, an anomaly and can be found elsewhere.[13] What is unique about Iberia is how long-lasting that coexistence was compared to other European examples.[14] And yet, Fletcher falls short of accounting for why it was so long-lasting, other than to say that outright slaughter of one another was not an option due to the economic value of keeping people alive. The implication is that convivencia was undertaken begrudgingly, out of necessity and not attitude, and that – citing the unfortunate tale of Ramon Llull and his slave as evidence – at any moment this fragile balance could be disrupted and made violent.[15] It is harder to know who Fletcher is talking to here, but his work can be taken two ways. Firstly, Fletcher’s characterization of convivencia could be taken as an example of the hard work that went into coexistence for these groups, including cultural and intellectual exchanges, rather than something to be taken for granted. In terms of the current moment, it would signify that such experiments require continuous effort to retain some semblance of cohesion, if not harmony. More skeptically, from the perspective of the hegemonic discourse to which Menocal spoke, such a compromise of the term might be a vindication of Euro-centric discourses, particularly those that amplify the Reconquista narratives of taking back the peninsula from untrustworthy Muslims and Jews who could turn on Christians at any time.

Glick straddles the middle ground between Menocal’s selective cohesive imagery and Fletcher’s more cynical look, while tackling the definitions and the use of the term convivencia directly. Rather than discard the term like Constable, he notes that convivencia has been used as a synonym for coexistence but also “carries connotations of mutual interpenetration and creative influence, even as it also embraces the phenomena of mutual friction, rivalry and suspicion.”[16] He is also careful to point out that even definitions of the term that carry these connotations assume a lot about different religio-ethnic groups, including the fact that people saw themselves as bound by those identities or bound to play the roles ascribed to them. This highlights the permeability of multiple social strata by different individuals, depending on which role was being played at any given time, including interactions structured along the lines of social class, as well.[17] The latter point, coupled with the fact that both Andalusian and Christian-dominated polities may have isolated minorities religiously or ethnically but not economically, added a different dimension of social tension.[18] What convivencia does for Glick is highlight the flexibility of identity depending on the circumstances, challenging the self-affirming image “of a sealed, pristine, pure and uncontaminated culture” that groups use in their discourse, with the realities of a mixed, everyday lived experience.

In “What Can Medieval Spain Teach Us About Muslim-Jewish Relations,” Nirenberg echoes Glick in examining what Iberia can teach us about the present moment, especially in light of multivalent, multidirectional understandings of identity. Nirenberg also offers a deeper level of understanding to modern conflicts between Muslims and Jews through the lens of coexistence in Iberia. Eyeing the myth of convivencia, without naming it so, Nirenberg explains how Jewish historians of the late 19th century had perpetuated writing about the age of Islamic tolerance, particularly juxtaposed against persecution from (re)conquering Christians and then modern Europeans. However, with the creation of the State of Israel, Muslim-Jewish relations have become much more central in collective consciousness than either of those two groups as they relate to Christians. As such, historians revisiting Medieval Iberia as a case study have sought to uphold the moniker of convivencia in reifying the Jewish Golden Age narrative, or have sought origins of Anti-Semitism among Arabs by examining darker periods of competition, polemics and persecution in Iberia. Nirenberg cuts through both narrative extremes by pointing out that Iberia was, in fact, unique, especially as it regards Jews, because they carried a historical memory of the “relative merits of life under Islam and under Christendom…[and represent] a precious example of a society in which Jews and Muslims were able to engage each other in open competition and conflict as they work out the terms of their own existence.”[19] Thus, Nirenberg does not, after all, outrightly dismiss the possibility of convivencia but seeks to find the factors that coalesced to make a picture of that coexistence less than rosy. Among his conclusions is the fact that Muslim-Jewish dialogue was always mediated by or through Christians, Christianity, Christendom and Christian representations of both groups. Historians relating to the modern period would do well to heed Nirenberg’s warning of forgetting the intruding “third voice” that permeate(s/d) Muslim-Jewish relations, and arguably, mutate(s/d) them.[20]

In “Identity and Differentiation in Ninth Century al-Andalus,” Janina Safran is also careful not to speak explicitly of convivencia, but instead, also shows how a nuanced view of coexistence, such as that espoused in Glick, results in a better understanding of the negotiations of identity for both Muslims and Christians as they dealt with the realities of that coexistence –including acculturation, interfaith marriage and conversion. The picture painted is less about impending violence (though is shown to have happened in Safran’s work, particularly as it relates to the martyrs of Cordoba) and more about the work that goes into living together and issues that arise as a result. Concerns about the corruption of the religion dominated discussions among Muslims, who found legal methods of protecting the religious orthodoxy while accommodating an influx of converts and, to a lesser extent, marriages to dhimmis. Safran’s work stands as a brilliant middle ground between Menocal and Fletcher – giving voice to the cultural-legal achievements of Medieval Islamic polities while showing that cohesion may have required hard work, but violence was not necessarily a given. For Nirenberg, violent competition was also not a determined consequence and it only arose in relation to the presence of a disenfranchised third party, the deposed Christians. For Safran, this might well have been true, but violence was not a given for less cynical reasons than Fletcher: people did not avoid slaughtering each other because it would have made poor economic sense to do so; they kept each other around because, after generations of sharing and intermixing, Muslims, Christians and Jews were not only sharing communities, languages, culture and economic status, but family units too. The work that went into convivencia, however complicated it was and, at times, contradictory to the implied meaning of the term, was undertaken as an attitude of relationality, an experiment (to use Fletcher’s term) which, for a long time, succeeded. Focusing on learning from those successes as they pertain to our modern situation is as admirable an endeavour as a historian can hope to undertake, though I recognize that this is not the raison d’etre of every historian.

The question that then follows is this: if it is possible to have all of these variations (positive and negative) coexist, so to speak, under the banner of convivencia, then why abandon it as Constable has recommended? What is gained in such secondary analyses which do abandon it, like that of Safran and Nirenberg? It might be said that within highly elite historical discourse, the abandonment of the term convivencia with its rosy implications may allow for the brilliant nuanced arguments we see in Safran and Nirenberg, and which are allowed to arise organically from Constable’s assemblage of primary sources. There is no prescribed conclusion from which to start and, as such, an examination of coexistence in Iberia can include everything rosy and not-so-rosy. As an intradisciplinary conversation, this is perfectly acceptable. However, history is not only the task of academics, nor is its relevance only found in scholarly circles and so we must also ask what is lost in the abandonment of convivencia. Arguably, the work done in the agreements, disagreements and amendments by academics contributes to an overall, collective narrative that then trickles down or is forcefully brought to the level of civil policy, education curriculums (including introductory programs at public universities) and other public avenues. The histories told there will invariably do violence to the meticulous work of the historian by virtue of their crystallization (or as Nirenberg terms it, “commodification”).[21] In other words, these crystallizations will serve political purposes for those who employ them and this will almost always lead to manipulation and oppression, as univocal histories cannot help but do, however intentional. Thus, the role of the historian is not only intradisciplinary but can also be extradisciplinary. A translation of academic discourse must take place to compete in the public educational arena where political discourse and power resulting from certain uses of history dominate. As such, I return to Menocal and her project of using convivencia to tell the main narrative of Medieval Iberia, focusing on cultural and intellectual flourishing, as a counter-point to hegemonic narratives that continue to trace the Renaissance in a straight line from Antiquity to the modern era with no Iberian pit-stops in between. However imperfect her conclusions may appear within Iberian academic discourse and however much farther she had to push them (particularly in terms of including the Almohads as part of the intellectual inheritance of Europe), her preliminary stance offers a delightful muddying of illusions of “pure” cultural achievements of transcendental value[22] that arise from within any discipline’s particular ideological rootedness.[23] Convivencia opens a door to Iberian studies and the development of an understanding of intellectual heredity that hegemonic narratives do not even recognize exists. Its relevance to challenging and breaking down the current myths by which powerful political forces dichotomize the East and West and engage in ever violent activity is too salient to ignore, and for historians who recognize history as the weapon that it is, (for either hegemony or resistance) it ought not to be ignored.


Constable, Olivia Remie, ed. Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources. University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia, (2012)

Fletcher, Richard. Moorish Spain. University of California: Berkeley. (1992)

Glick, Thomas, “Convivencia: An Introductory Note” in Convivencia: Jews, Muslims, and Christians in Medieval Spain, Mann, Glick, and Dodds, eds. George Braziller Publishing: New York (1992)

Menocal, Maria Rosa. The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain. Back Bay Books: New York. (2002)

Menocal, Maria Rosa, “The Myth of Westernness in Medieval Literary Historiography” in The New Crusades: Constructing the Muslim Enemy, eds. Emran Qureshi and Michael Sells, Columbia University Press: New York, 2003, p249-87.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. On The Use and Abuse of History. Cosimo Printing: New York. 2005.

Nirenberg, David. “What Can Medieval Spain Teach Us About Muslim-Jewish Relations?” CCAR Journal: A Reform Jewish Quarterly (Summer, 2002)

Novikoff, Alex. “Between Tolerance and Intolerance in Medieval Spain: An Historiographic Enigma,” Medieval Encounters. 11.1-2 (2005).

[1] Fletcher, Richard. Moorish Spain. University of California: Berkeley. (1992) p 135.

[2] Nirenberg, David. “What Can Medieval Spain Teach Us About Muslim-Jewish Relations?” CCAR Journal: A Reform Jewish Quarterly (Summer, 2002) p 19.

[3] Novikoff, Alex. “Between Tolerance and Intolerance in Medieval Spain: An Historiographic Enigma,” Medieval Enocunters. 11.1-2 (2005) p 7-8.

[4] Menocal, Maria Rosa. The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain. Back Bay Books: New York. (2002) p 13.

[5] Novikoff, p 9.

[6] Menocal, Maria Rosa, “The Myth of Westernness in Medieval Literary Historiography” in The New Crusades: Constructing the Muslim Enemy, eds. Emran Qureshi and Michael Sells, Columbia University Press: New York, 2003, p 249.

[7] Menocal, “The Myth”, p 250.

[8] Ibid, p 257.

[9] Ibid, p 251.

[10] Constable, Olivia Remie. Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources. University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia, (2012)p xxix.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Novikoff, p 36.

[13] Fletcher, p 134-5.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid. p 155-6.

[16] Glick, Thomas, “Convivencia: An Introductory Note” in Convivencia: Jews, Muslims, and Christians in Medieval Spain, Mann, Glick, and Dodds, eds. George Braziller Publishing: New York (1992) p 1.

[17] Ibid, p 4.

[18] Ibid

[19] Nirenberg, p 20.

[20] Ibid, p 22.

[21] Nietzsche, Friedrich. On The Use and Abuse of History. Cosimo Printing: New York. 2005.

[22] Menocal, “The Myth” p 267.

[23] Ibid. p 266.

Historical discussion of the Almoravid and Almohad dynasties tends to conflate the two by labelling them both as Berber and “fundamentalist.” While both dynasties did, indeed, originate in Amazigh tribes from what is now Morocco, their interpretations of Islam were far from the same. Almoravids upheld the Maliki school of fiqh, whereas the Almohads adopted an early form of scripturalism, critical of the Maliki school, combined with ancient philosophy that committed exegesis through the use of reason. To see them as similar or a continuation of one another is a homogenization of their disparate ideological differences and likely arises from a tendency to view their influence as an incursion on an idealized understanding of Andalusian Islams and Iberia’s relegation to the status of an Amazigh colony under both polities. In this paper, I will briefly examine their theo-ideological differences, and other contingencies that separate the two dynasties. I will also examine their similarities and speculate as to the reason for their conflation among historians.

In the Medieval Iberia reader, the distinction between Almoravids and Almohads is ambiguous, partly because the source materials associated with them are lumped into the same chapter, and the dating of these materials can be a bit unclear. The dating of Ibn Abdun’s Hisba Manual is simply “early twelfth century,” which does not leave much information for the reader as to whether it was a specifically Almoravid or Almohad document. Its emphasis on Qur’anic or hadith stipulations for governing the marketplace leaves things up in the air as to who the document could have belonged to as both groups tended towards reinterpreting these key scriptural sources. That being said, the Almoravids did not break from the Maliki school of fiqh as the Almohads did and a thorough study of legal opinions from that school in relation to the prescriptions of this document might help to make the connection (or non-connection) to the Almoravids clearer. The one account we are provided with that is directly attributable to the Almoravids is Al-Idrisi’s Description of Almeria which says little of their ideological preferences or other distinguishing features. It appears that the Almoravids were very much interested in commerce, manufacturing and trade but the same can easily be said about the Almohads whose trade networks would later extend much farther east across the Mediterranean. The other documents in the chapter tend to focus on Almohad theology, their patronage and their treatment of the Jews. It could be that the source materials for the Almoravids in Iberia are simply not available or not directly attributable to them, which leads to a conflation of the two dynasties by virtue of source issues. Looking at how they are arranged in the Medieval Iberia reader is one example of this conflation.

At the beginning of his chapter entitled “Moroccan Fundamentalists” in Moorish Spain, Richard Fletcher notes that although the Almohads were of a remarkably different sect of fundamentalism from the Almoravids, the two groups are “confusingly similar” and “there is nothing that can be done about it.”[1] Maria Rosa Menocal describes both the Almoravids and the Almohads as fundamentalist Berbers from Morocco.[2] It seems that the term fundamentalism is being used here to imply a kind of intolerance based on literal applications of Islamic interpretations. The argument that these two are largely indistinguishable from each other, however, remains unconvincing and in the interests of not generalizing about these groups, it is important to find their key distinguishing features.

Constable argues that the Almohads are easier to trace based on their theological projections being clearer than the Almoravids who preceded them.[3] Although Menocal (wrongfully) claims that the Almohad’s “narrow interpretation of Islam made their scholars far less avid than many Latin readers of [the] scientific and philosophical library,”[4] their Almohad Creed is an excellent example of how the influence of Aristotelian metaphysics impacted Almohad interpretations of Islamic doctrine. Arguments made in the Creed were meant to be tested against one’s own Reason and lived experience in order to arrive at the truth of the Almohad ontology. Sources suggest that this approach was unique to the Almohads and was not shared by the Almoravids who exhibited their “fundamentalism” by extinguishing practices in al-Andalus that were against Islamic fiqh rulings but remained within that rigid framework.[5]

Their differences in ideology are just one area we can use to nuance our demarcation between them. Al-Marrakushi’s history of the Almohads and Ibn Tumart’s rise and take over of Almoravid territory is a primary source document that helps to illustrate not only that these groups were different but that they were in contention with one another. The Almohads gained momentum quickly under Ibn Tumart’s leadership, conquering Almoravid territory in Morocco and into al-Andalus. In looking at their historical interaction, it sounds redundant to say, but these are obviously not the same group. I would go so far as to say that they are not the same brand of so-called fundamentalism either – a term problematic for its anachronistic connotations.

So, it remains, in what instances could it seem appropriate to put the Almoravids and Almohads in the same historical category together? Such an exercise might be useful from an Andalusian perspective as distinctions between the two groups might have been a moot point. The usurpation of power by the Almohads was still the unification of al-Andalus under a foreign polity – both polities which practiced radically different forms of Islam, not only from each other but from Andalusians themselves. In trying to uphold a narrative of Andalusian exceptionalism or preference for their cultural-religious practices, it would make sense to put two foreign, less cosmopolitan conquerors (who arrived one after the other) next to each other. For historians seeking to understand the differences between these two groups and to highlight the unique experience of Andalusians under each one, their conflation is of little value.

[1] Fletcher 105

[2] Menocal 141 and 195-6

[3] Constable 237

[4] Menocal 198

[5] Fletcher, 108.

As the de-facto leader of the caliphate of al-Andalus under the reign of Hisham II, Al Mansour carried out a significant number of military expeditions to the Christian lands in the north, gathering booty and prestige along the way. One of the most significant campaigns occurred in 997 (386-7), when Al Mansour sacked the Santiago de Compostela. Historians such as Richard Fletcher, Maribel Fierro, and Maria Rosa Menocal have highlighted the significance of this event, for different reasons, trying to unpack the real motivations behind it. In this paper, I will briefly examine the justifications these historians give for the possible economic, political and religious reasons behind the sack, concluding with my own synthesis of their arguments in light of primary source materials. My hope is that this will yield a clearer picture of what might have been behind Al Mansour’s campaign to this particular place in Christendom.

In Moorish Spain, Richard Fletcher argues that the campaign in Compostela fit the mould of the previous caliph’s expeditions as being primarily to “exact tribute, plunder, livestock, slaves [and] treasure.”[1] The motivations of both leaders, according to Fletcher, were primarily economic and they used these campaigns to raise capital for a leadership that had a significantly smaller tax base (given the rise of conversions to Islam and the exodus of Christian emigres to the north). Fletcher likens the sacking of a monastery to “something like raiding a bank” while simultaneously downplaying any religious dimensions that may have been important for the campaigners.[2] Naming the expedition to Compostela as the “most daring and notorious in a series of hammer-blows…delivered to the Christian principalities”, Fletcher is also quick to situate it among nine other campaigns in the same paragraph. His point is that the Compostela raid was one of many (fifty-seven in total) and that it was not undertaken as an exceptional religious vendetta against the monastery of St. James the Moor-slayer.

With booty and capital would come political prestige and legitimacy. In the case of Al Mansour, he might have been less occupied with being named the real leader of al-Andalus so long as he wielded all the actual control anyway. Fletcher argues that the primary drive for the expeditions was likely economic in order to cover the enormous costs incurred by Al Mansour to maintain his rule. These costs included the building of Madina al-Zahira and the transfer of administration of the caliphate there, additions to the Great Mosque in Cordoba, reducing the amount of taxes he collected to build his popularity, rewarding loyal followers with considerable gifts and increasing the size of the army.[3] Financial gain, however, is only a means to an end and, in looking at what Al Mansour financed with his booty, it becomes clear that political strength and the consolidation of power are an important part of the motivation puzzle. Further, if Al-Mansour’s expeditions were following the same basic pattern as his caliphal predecessor, Abd al-Rahman III, it must be recognized that financial gain (while a beneficial byproduct) might not have been the only purpose behind these expeditions, Compostela included. As Maribel Fierro notes, the primary reason for the excursions under Abd al-Rahman, was to check Christian expansion into Islamic lands by “weakening the enemy to prevent attacks.”[4]

For Maria Rosa Menocal, the attack on Compostela was a continuation of Al-Mansour’s dictatorial and “bloodthirsty” rule, and, further, contained a distinctly religious flavour. Menocal claims that the taking of the church’s bells was not only “gratuitous” (implying that it was unprovoked or unjustified) but also that the bells were “purely religious trophies.”[5] In reading the ode written by Ibn Darraj al-Qastalli in praise of Al-Mansour and contemporary to the event, the invocation of religious imagery and allusions to divine sanction might seem to uphold Menocal’s claim.[6] However, this was a common literary tool of the time that might have more to do with the tastes and offering retrospective justifications for raids, than gaining insight into Al-Mansour’s personal motivations for the raid. In looking at the Latin account of the raid from Historia Turpini, there is little evidence to uphold Menocal’s argument as the description does not go much beyond that found in Fletcher’s book: it was a raid on the church in search of booty.[7] Of course, this account was written in the 12th century in France and so is difficult to use for accurate historical verification, but it does show that even later Christian-origin accounts of the expedition did not peg it as an exclusively religious enterprise.

And yet, the possibility of there being a religious dimension is difficult to ignore in light of some material evidence not yet considered. Firstly, Fletcher notes that Compostela was not an ideal location for a raid because without Christian mercenaries acting as the army’s guide, they would likely have not found their way there at all.[8] It is around 859km from Cordoba and was fully within Christian territory at the time. Secondly, as Menocal points out, nothing exceptional was done with the bells at the time, other than putting them to use a lamps in the Great Mosque of Cordoba.[9] In thinking about the sheer size and weight of the bells, the lack of practical use for them and the distance traveled to get them, it would seem that much more than economics is at play. But is this necessarily indicative of a religious motivation for Al-Mansour? The answer is no. It could just as easily be justified that any religious dimension to this raid could have been couched in such terms so as to meet specific political ends, particularly in the securing of legitimacy. The act of humiliating the Christians of Compostela and reclaiming the congregational bells of the famous Moor-slaying Saint James would have had too much socio-political currency to be framed in purely economic or purely religious terms. It also would have served as sufficient reason to warrant such a far expedition, in a land arduous to navigate, for extremely heavy booty that served no other purpose than decoration.

Ultimately, the problem herein lies in the historical question posed because it hinges on something ultimately unknown: an individual of history’s personal motivations for particular actions. What can be most illuminating about this type of exercise is not in trying to determine why someone did something, but rather, in figuring out what that action might have meant to them or others affected by it.

[1] Fletcher, Richard. Moorish Spain. University of California: Berkeley. 1992: p 75

[2] Ibid. p 76

[3] Ibid

[4] Fierro, Maribel. ‘Abd al-Rahman III: The First Cordoban Caliph. Oneworld: Oxford. 2007: p 70.

[5] Menocal, Maria Rosa. The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain. Back Bay Books: New York. 2002: p 97

[6] Ibn Darraj al-Qastalli, “Ode in Praise of al-Mansur’s Victory” in Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources. Olivia Remie Constable, ed. Majd Yaser Al-Mallah, trans. University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia, 2012: p 93-98.

[7] “Latin Account of al-Mansur’s Raid” inES Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources. Olivia Remie Constable, ed. Colin Smith, trans. University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia, 2012: p 98

[8] Fletcher, p 75

[9] Menocal, p 97

In “Legends of the Fall: Conde Julian in Medieval Arabic and Hispano-Latin Historiography”, Denise Filios uses the figure of Julian and his various representations to examine the role of the historian in the use of primary source materials. Weaving together both Arabic and Hispano-Latin sources according to chronology, Filios drains Julian of any essential, a priori qualities and shows him to be a culturally-saturated figure around which political-historical contingencies orbit. In doing this, Filios reminds students and scholars alike that some of the tasks of the modern historian are in uncovering the meaning inscribed in cultural representations, the weight of their social currency, and how they fit into the larger worldviews (or memory-scapes) in which they are found. As such, the article can serve the learning needs of a wide readership, subtextually introducing them to some of the methodologies found in memory studies and narrative theory, regardless of interest in the historical particularities of her subject.

From the beginning of the article, Filios is clear that her purpose in analyzing the source material is not in determining their “historical reliability” which “misconstrue[s] the nature of the truths that the chronicles attempt to construct.”[1] While it is important for the historian to determine if a source is a complete fabrication (and even that is valuable to explore in terms of how and why that might occur), Filios is clear and adamant that the best “truths” to be found in these sources are in determining how they were used to represent and develop “a meaningful reality”.[2] In “Collective Memory: In Search of a Meaning,” James Wertsch highlights this difference in scholarship as divided between determining “accuracy criterion” of texts versus how they provide us with a “usable past”.[3] Previous scholars such as Nora and Halbwachs (the fathers of continental memory studies) pitted collective memory against history. However, what Wertsch further outlines and Filios negotiates very well is that the tasks of differentiating accurate representation from the creation of a usable past need not be mutually exclusive endeavours for the historian any longer. In focusing on what social memory expert, Ehud Ben Zvi calls “Future Memories” or how these texts sought to persuade their readers about the future, Filios is careful and quite right to not label them as elite propaganda of their time. Studies on collective memory, particularly where narrative theory is concerned, view a narrative “memory” (or in this case a cultural representation or text) as neither a simple copy of reality, nor entirely active (re)constructions.[4] Filios balances both in her analysis of Julian by asking poignant historical questions. Rather than trying to determine if Julian was real per se, she is instead focused on what he meant to his authours and his audiences.

In textually-mediated collective memory studies in particular, narrative theory can be useful because it presumes that narrative plays a central role in human consciousness and that it is a cultural tool developed in historical and institutional settings that will invariably be reflected through the text.[5] Moving effortlessly through the chronicles of Yulyan in Ibn ‘Abd alHakam and ‘Abd alMalk ibn Habib, and Iulianus’ presence (or absence) in Hispano-Latin sources like Duclidius or Historia Silence, Filios shows how Julian comes to stand as a metaphor for the Strait of Gibraltar – either making it passable and losing relevance quickly after Conquest or as a reflection of Christian views of Muslims through time. In the latter formulation, the Strait often comes to represent a border through his figure. As such, through these juxtapositions, it quickly becomes clear that Julian has no essential characteristics and, in fact, cannot even be said to have existed! Since the latter is not Filios’ research question, that is of little consequence. The point is that even seemingly important narrative details about him vary widely, depending on their author and their historical situation which tell us more about them than Julian himself.

This relatively short article is valuable to readers who are unsure of how to deal with primary source materials, particularly narratives. While not being explicit about her connection with narrative theory or critical memory studies (other than a reference to Hayden White), Filios has provided such readers with an excellent, well-researched example of what is possible through memory studies, regardless of their individual research areas.

[1] Filios, Denise, “Legends of the Fall: Conde Julian in Medieval Arabic and Hispano-Latin Historiography,” Medieval Encounters, Vol 15, 2009, p 377.

[2] Ibid

[3] Wertsch, James. “Collective Memory: In Search of a Meaning” in Voices of Collective Remembering. Cambridge University Press. 2002, p 31.

[4] Ibid. p.32

[5] Ibid. p.56-7