Reconquest, Holy War, and Crusade I

Caliphate of Córdoba, circa 1000

When the crusaders assaulted and captured Jerusalem in July 1099 the struggle between Christians and Muslims in Spain had been in progress for nearly four hundred years. From 711, when a mixed force of Arabs and Moroccan Berbers crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and overthrew the Visigothic kingdom, until the collapse of the Umayyad Caliphate of Córdoba in 1031, Muslim supremacy in Spain was unquestioned. As the seat of Islamic power was Córdoba, an eccentric location in the southern part of the peninsula, the Muslims did not permanently occupy large stretches of mountainous zones in the north. That made it possible for small groups of Christians to form the tiny, independent states of Asturias, León, Castile, Navarre, Aragón, and Catalonia. Clinging to the Cantabrian and Pyrenees mountains, this congeries of Christian enclaves, variously ruled by kings or counts, was kept on the defensive for nearly three hundred years, as Muslim armies marched northward every summer to ravage their lands but never to conquer them. In those early centuries a no-man’s land stretching along the Duero River from the Atlantic to the borders of Aragón separated Christian and Muslim territory, but it was many years before the Christians dared to venture southward to occupy that zone. As the Christian population increased a gradual movement toward the Duero occurred and the process of settling that frontier zone commenced. In the northeast, however, Muslim rule reached as far north as the foothills of the Pyrenees until the late eleventh century.

After the occupation of the Duero valley, the Christians took advantage of the breakup of the Caliphate to move into the Tagus valley, capturing Toledo in 1085. The invasions of the Almoravids (al-murābiṭūn) from Morocco soon afterward and of the Almohads (al-muwaḥḥidūn) in the middle of the twelfth century put the Christians on the defensive again, however, and temporarily checked their advance. Early in the thirteenth century victory over the Moroccans enabled the Christians to press forward to the Guadiana River and to capture the principal towns of the Guadalquivir valley. By mid-century all of Islamic Spain was in Christian hands except the tiny kingdom of Granada, and that was reduced to tributary status to Castile-León. Occupying the central meseta, the largest segment of the peninsula, the kingdom of Castile-León maintained a contiguous frontier with the Muslims until Ferdinand and Isabella conquered Granada in 1492. Meanwhile, the kingdoms of Portugal on the west and Aragón-Catalonia on the east had expanded as fully as possible by the middle of the thirteenth century, and their boundaries would remain fixed thereafter save for some minor adjustments. Thus in the closing centuries of the Middle Ages the conquest of Islamic lands remained the primary responsibility of the kings of Castile-León.

Reconquest, Holy War, and Crusade

When the crusaders assaulted and captured Jerusalem in July 1099 the struggle between Christians and Muslims in Spain had been in progress for nearly four hundred years. From 711, when a mixed force of Arabs and Moroccan Berbers crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and overthrew the Visigothic kingdom, until the collapse of the Umayyad Caliphate of Córdoba in 1031, Muslim supremacy in Spain was unquestioned. As the seat of Islamic power was Córdoba, an eccentric location in the southern part of the peninsula, the Muslims did not permanently occupy large stretches of mountainous zones in the north. That made it possible for small groups of Christians to form the tiny, independent states of Asturias, León, Castile, Navarre, Aragón, and Catalonia. Clinging to the Cantabrian and Pyrenees mountains, this congeries of Christian enclaves, variously ruled by kings or counts, was kept on the defensive for nearly three hundred years, as Muslim armies marched northward every summer to ravage their lands but never to conquer them. In those early centuries a no-man’s land stretching along the Duero River from the Atlantic to the borders of Aragón separated Christian and Muslim territory, but it was many years before the Christians dared to venture southward to occupy that zone. As the Christian population increased a gradual movement toward the Duero occurred and the process of settling that frontier zone commenced. In the northeast, however, Muslim rule reached as far north as the foothills of the Pyrenees until the late eleventh century.

After the occupation of the Duero valley, the Christians took advantage of the breakup of the Caliphate to move into the Tagus valley, capturing Toledo in 1085. The invasions of the Almoravids (al-murābiṭūn) from Morocco soon afterward and of the Almohads (al-muwaḥḥidūn) in the middle of the twelfth century put the Christians on the defensive again, however, and temporarily checked their advance. Early in the thirteenth century victory over the Moroccans enabled the Christians to press forward to the Guadiana River and to capture the principal towns of the Guadalquivir valley. By mid-century all of Islamic Spain was in Christian hands except the tiny kingdom of Granada, and that was reduced to tributary status to Castile-León. Occupying the central meseta, the largest segment of the peninsula, the kingdom of Castile-León maintained a contiguous frontier with the Muslims until Ferdinand and Isabella conquered Granada in 1492. Meanwhile, the kingdoms of Portugal on the west and Aragón-Catalonia on the east had expanded as fully as possible by the middle of the thirteenth century, and their boundaries would remain fixed thereafter save for some minor adjustments. Thus in the closing centuries of the Middle Ages the conquest of Islamic lands remained the primary responsibility of the kings of Castile-León.

The Reconquest: Evolution of an Idea

The preceding historical sketch summarizes a long period in the history of medieval Spain that Spanish historians have called the Reconquista. The reconquest has been depicted as a war to eject the Muslims, who were regarded as intruders wrongfully occupying territory that by right belonged to the Christians. Thus religious hostility was thought to provide the primary motivation for the struggle. In time, the kings of Asturias-León-Castile, as the self-proclaimed heirs of the Visigoths, came to believe that it was their responsibility to recover all the land that had once belonged to the Visigothic kingdom. Some historians assumed that that ideal of reconquest persisted without significant change throughout the Middle Ages until the final conquest of Granada and the inevitable union of Castile and Aragón under Ferdinand and Isabella.

Nevertheless, in the last thirty years or so historians have challenged these assumptions, asking whether it is even appropriate to speak of reconquest. Did the reconquest really happen or was it merely a myth? If it is legitimate to speak of reconquest, then what exactly is meant by that term? Doubts about the validity of this idea are reflected, for example, in Jocelyn Hillgarth’s consistent placement of the word “Reconquest” in quotation marks. However that may be, Derek Lomax pointed out that the reconquest was not an artificial construct created by modern historians to render the history of medieval Spain intelligible, but rather “an ideal invented by Spanish Christians soon after 711” and developed in the ninth-century kingdom of Asturias. Echoing Lomax’s language, Peter Linehan remarked that “the myth of the Reconquest of Spain was invented” in the “880s or thereabouts.” Like all ideas, however, the reconquest was not a static concept brought to perfection in the ninth century, but rather one that evolved and was shaped by the influences of successive generations. In order to assess these views it is best first to trace the origins of the idea of the reconquest in the historiography of the early Middle Ages.

The Loss of Spain and the Recovery of Spain

The idea of the reconquest first found expression in the ninth-century chronicles written in the tiny northern kingdom of Asturias, the so-called Prophetic Chronicle, the Chronicle of Albelda, and the Chronicle of Alfonso III, which proposed to continue the History of the Gothic Kings of Isidore of Seville (d. 636).6 These texts, written in Latin no doubt by churchmen, have generally been associated with the royal court and probably reflect the views of the monarch and the ecclesiastical and secular elite. What ordinary people thought is unknown, but the chroniclers developed an ideology of reconquest that informed medieval Spanish historiography thereafter. The Chronicle of Alfonso III also served as the basis for subsequent continuations in the eleventh and twelfth centuries by Sampiro, bishop of Astorga (d. 1041), Bishop Pelayo of Oviedo (d. 1129), and the anonymous author of the Chronicle of Silos.

The history of the idea of the reconquest may be said to begin with the collapse of the Visigothic Monarchia Hispaniae of which Isidore of Seville spoke. From their seat at Toledo, the Visigoths were believed to have extended their rule over the whole of Spain, including Mauritania in North Africa, in other words over the whole Roman diocese of Spain. Given the interest of medieval and early modern Spaniards in the possibility of conquering Morocco, it is well to remember that they knew that Mauritania or Tingitana was anciently one of the six provinces of the diocese of Spain. In the early fourteenth century Alfonso XI of Castile (1312–50), repeating the language of the canonist Álvaro Pelayo, laid claim to the Canary Islands because, as part of Africa, the Islands were said to have once been subject to Gothic dominion. In the fifteenth century Alfonso de Cartagena made much the same argument. The concept of a unified and indivisible kingdom embracing the entire Iberian peninsula, though it hardly corresponded to reality, was one of the most significant elements in the Visigothic legacy. That idea was reflected in the thirteenth-century account of Infante Sanchos protest against the plans of his father, Fernando I (1035–65), king of León-Castile, to partition his dominions among his sons: “In ancient times the Goths agreed among themselves that the empire of Spain should never be divided but that all of it should always be under one lord.”

The Muslim rout of King Rodrigo (710–711), the “last of the Goths,” at the Guadalete river, on 19 July 711, brought the Visigothic kingdom crashing to the ground and changed the course of Spanish history in a radical way. The contemporary Christian Chronicle of 754, written in Islamic Spain, deplored the reign of King Rodrigo, “who lost both his kingdom and the fatherland through wicked rivalries.” Decrying the disaster that befell the Visigoths, the chronicler lamented that “human nature cannot ever tell all the ruin of Spain and its many and great evils.” The Prophetic Chronicle declared that “through fear and iron all the pride of the Gothic people perished . . . and as a consequence of sin Spain was ruined.” In varying degrees the ninth-century Asturian chroniclers mourned the loss or extermination of the Gothic kingdom, the ruin of Spain, and the destruction of the fatherland. Similar language appears in the chronicles of later centuries.

By contrast with the catastrophic loss of Spain, the chroniclers tell us that through Divine Providence liberty was restored to the Christian people and the Asturian kingdom was brought into being. This reportedly occurred when the majority of the Goths of royal blood came to Asturias and elected as king Pelayo (719–737), son of Duke Fáfila, also of the royal line. Pelayo, formerly a spatarius or military officer in the Visigothic court, supposedly was King Rodrigo’s grandnephew. When faced with an overwhelming Muslim force demanding that he surrender, Pelayo, in the chronicler’s words, responded:

I will not associate with the Arabs in friendship nor will I submit to their authority . . . for we confide in the mercy of the Lord that from this little hill that you see the salvation of Spain (salus Spanie) and of the army of the Gothic people will be restored. . . . Hence we spurn this multitude of pagans and do not fear [them].

The ensuing battle of Covadonga, fought probably on 28 May 722, was a great victory for Pelayo, for “thus liberty was restored to the Christian people . . . and by Divine Providence the kingdom of Asturias was brought forth.” Among the Asturians the battle of Covadonga became the symbol of Christian resistance to Islam and a source of inspiration to those who, in words attributed to Pelayo, would achieve the salus Spanie, the salvation of Spain.

The inevitability and the inexorability of the struggle that Pelayo commenced was stressed by the Chronicle of Albelda, which declared that “the Christians are waging war with them [the Muslims] by day and by night and contend with them daily until divine predestination commands that they be driven cruelly thence. Amen!” Recording the prophecy that the Muslims would conquer Spain, the Prophetic Chronicle expressed the hope that “Divine Clemency may expel the aforesaid [the Muslims] from our provinces beyond the sea and grant possession of their kingdom to the faithful of Christ in perpetuity. Amen.!”

Identifying the Goths with Gog and the Arabs with Ishmael, the author of the Prophetic Chronicle offered this reflection on the words of the Prophet Ezekiel (Ezek. 38–39) addressed to Ishmael: “Because you abandoned the Lord, I will also abandon you and deliver you into the hand of Gog . . . and he will do to you as you did to him for one hundred and seventy times [years].” Although the Goths were punished for their crimes by the Muslim invasion, the chronicler proclaimed that “Christ is our hope that upon the completion in the near future of one hundred and seventy years from their entrance into Spain the enemy will be annihilated and the peace of Christ will be restored to the holy church.” Calculating that those one hundred and seventy years would be reached in 884, the author predicted that “in the very near future our glorious prince, lord Alfonso, will reign in all of Spain.” Aware of Alfonso III’s (866–910) recent successes against the Muslims, as well as internal disorders afflicting Islamic Spain, the chronicler was confident that the days of Muslim domination were numbered. This anticipation of the imminent destruction of Islam proved illusory, but the hope persisted for centuries.

The notion of continuity existing between the new kingdom of Asturias and the old Visigothic kingdom, whether actual or imagined, had a major influence on subsequent development of the idea of reconquest. The ninth-century chroniclers were at pains to establish the connection between the old and new monarchies, identifying the people of Asturias with the Goths, and linking the Asturian kings to the Visigothic royal family. Indeed, the chroniclers consciously conceived of themselves as continuing Isidore’s Gothic History. According to the Chronicle of Albelda, Alfonso II (791–842) “established in Oviedo both in the church and in the palace everything and the entire order of the Goths as it had been in Toledo.” Exactly what that meant is not entirely certain, but the purpose of the statement was to affirm the link between Asturias and the Visigothic kingdom, however tenuous that might be.

The Gothic connection thus established was repeated again and again in subsequent centuries, though without any further attempt at proof. For example, the twelfth-century author of the Chronicle of Silos described Alfonso VI, king of León-Castile (1065–1109) as “born of illustrious Gothic lineage.” Two centuries later, Álvaro Pelayo recalled that Alfonso XI was descended from the Goths. When Enrique of Trastámara claimed the throne in opposition to his half-brother Pedro the Cruel (1350–69), he declared that “the Goths from whom we are descended” chose as king “the one whom they believed could best govern them.” Fifteenth-century expressions of this sort were commonplace, and even Ferdinand and Isabella were reminded of their Gothic ancestry. By asserting, though not demonstrating, the bond between the medieval kings and their supposed Visigothic forebears, the chroniclers also underscored the close link between the Visigothic monarchy and its purported successor in Asturias-León-Castile. In doing so they justified the right of the medieval kings, as heirs of the Visigoths and of all their power and authority, to reconquer Visigothic territory and restore the Visigothic monarchy.

The emergence of the kingdoms of Portugal and Aragón-Catalonia in the twelfth century, and to a lesser extent, of Navarre, necessitated some readjustment in Castilian thinking as it became apparent that the eastern and western monarchies would also have their share of the old Visigothic realm. In expectation of the inevitability of conquest, the kings of Castile, León, and Aragón optimistically made several treaties that will be discussed in later chapters, partitioning Islamic Spain. Even more optimistically the kings of Castile and Aragón concluded a treaty in 1291 providing for the partition of North Africa, allotting to Castile Morocco—ancient Mauritania—over which the Visigoths reportedly had once held sway, and to Aragón Algeria and Tunis.

Reconquest and Holy War

The Christian struggle against Islamic Spain can be described as a war of both territorial aggrandizement and of religious confrontation. In speaking of the warlike activities of the Asturian kings the chroniclers tell us that the king “extended the kingdom” or “expanded the land of the Christians with the help of God.” The greatest encomium that could be bestowed on the monarch was that he had increased the extent of his dominions. The thirteenth-century Latin Chronicle, for example, emphasized that Fernando I “liberated Coimbra from the hands of the Moors.” Later in the century, Fray Juan Gil de Zamora remarked that Alfonso III had “liberated from Arab dominion” Gallia Gothica (southeastern France and Catalonia), Vasconia (the Basque provinces), and Navarre. Then, after repeatedly noting that “Spain was recovered” (recuperate fuit Hispania) or “liberated” (liberata fuit) by this king or that, he summed up the process by commenting that “Spain was recovered by many noble kings.”

Among them was Fernando III (1217–52), who, as he lay on his deathbed, admonished his son, the future Alfonso X (1252–84), as follows:

My Lord, I leave you the whole realm from the sea hither that the Moors won from Rodrigo, king of Spain. All of it is in your dominion, part of it conquered, the other part tributary. If you know how to preserve in this state what I leave you, you will be as good a king as I; and if you win more for yourself, you will be better than I; but if you diminish it, you will not be as good as I.

In effect, after recalling the reconquest of lands lost by Rodrigo, the last Visigothic king, Fernando III urged his son to continue a policy of territorial aggrandizement and expansion.

While the king might hope to increase the size of his kingdom, the soldiers who did his bidding often were motivated, as we shall see, by the desire to enrich themselves and to raise their social standing by the acquisition of booty. Beyond that, they looked for pasturage for their flocks, and over the centuries extended the sheepwalks or cañadas from the northern stretches of Castile into Andalucía (Ar. al-Andalus). They were also anxious to secure land for cultivation, to acquire the wealth of Islamic Spain, and ultimately to control markets and means of production. In order to accomplish all that they had first to dominate a given territory and to hold it by the establishment of fortified settlements or by taking possession of old Roman towns then in Muslim hands.

The ideas of territorial aggrandizement and religious expansion were coupled in the late eleventh century, just before the First Crusade, when Sancho I Ramírez, king of Aragón and Navarre (1063–94), expressed his aspirations in this way:

Let it be known to all the faithful that for the amplification of the Church of Christ, formerly driven from the Hispanic regions, I, Sancho . . . took care to settle inhabitants in that place [Montemayor] . . . for the recovery and extension of the Church of Christ, for the destruction of the pagans, the enemies of Christ, and the building up and benefit of the Christians, so that the kingdom, invaded and captured by the Ishmaelites, might be liberated to the honor and service of Christ; and that once all the people of that unbelieving rite were expelled and the filthiness of their wicked error was eliminated therefrom, the venerable Church of Jesus Christ our Lord may be fostered there forever.

In other words, the liberation of the kingdom, following the destruction and expulsion of the Muslims and the extirpation of their rite, would result in the recovery, growth and fostering of the Christian religion.

Damian Smith suggested that the reforming popes of the late eleventh and twelfth centuries influenced the idea of reconquest by their use of such words as recuperare, restituere, liberare, reparare, reddere, reuocare, restaurare, and perdere. Urban II, for example, referred to the liberation of the church of Toledo and commended the efforts of the count of Barcelona to restore the church of Tarragona. Noting the restoration of the metropolitan see of Toledo, Paschal II remarked that the church there “was ripped from the yoke of the Moors and the Moabites.” Such language, although referring primarily to the restoration or liberation of churches, likely reinforced the idea of territorial liberation or reconquest.

Muslim authors were aware of the Christian ambition to dispossess them. ʿAbd Allāh, king of Granada (1073–90), commented in his memoirs that “the Christians’ thirst for al-Andalus became quite evident.” The early fourteenth-century Moroccan chronicler, Ibn ʿIdhārī, whose work reliably reflects traditions handed on by his sources, reported that Fernando I made the following reply to a deputation from Islamic Toledo seeking his help against their fellow Muslims of Zaragoza:

We seek only our own lands which you conquered from us in times past at the beginning of your history. Now you have dwelled in them for the time allotted to you and we have become victorious over you as a result of your own wickedness. So go to your own side of the Strait [of Gibraltar] and leave our lands to us, for no good will come to you from dwelling here with us after today. For we shall not hold back from you until God decides between us.

Thus the Christians made plain their belief that the Muslims had no right to the lands they held and would eventually be driven out.

Territorial conquest undoubtedly prompted many military actions along the frontier and may have been uppermost in the minds of many warriors over the centuries. Religious considerations, however, also fueled the struggle against Islam. Menéndez Pidal remarked that “the war of reconquest always had a religious character” and Sánchez Albornoz emphasized that the struggle with the Muslims “was not only a war of reconquest, but also of religion, and it was maintained, not only by the desire to recover territory, but also by hatred between creeds.”

Such a war may be described as a holy war, though to do so is surely a travesty. War, which of its very nature entails the destruction of life, the infliction of extreme harm on human beings, and the ruination of crops, homes, churches, temples, and other structures, is not holy or sacred. The type of war of which we are speaking was not holy but rather religious. A religious war was a conflict between two societies, in each of which the spiritual and the temporal, the sacred and the secular, were wholly integrated. In such a society religion and religious values were paramount, touching upon and regulating every aspect of individual and community life. Full participation in the community was dependent upon one’s adhering to the community’s religion.

By proclaiming oneself a Christian, a Muslim, or a Jew, one espoused not only specific religious doctrines such as the Christian dogma of the Trinity, or the absolute monotheism of the Muslims or the Jews, but one also accepted an entire system of cultural values affecting one’s daily life, habits, traditions, laws, and even language. Thus Christian and Muslim societies were mutually exclusive, by reason not only of social and legal differences, but above all because of religion which suffused every facet of life. Daily interaction between Christians and Muslims did contribute to a degree of acculturation, especially in matters of language and social usage, but there was no real possibility of the full integration of Christians into Muslim society or Muslims into Christian society. In each instance Christians or Muslims could only be protected minorities with limited political and legal rights.

The purpose of war against Islam was not to convert the Muslims. Aside from the challenge to Islamic rule by the ninth-century martyrs of Córdoba, and some Mozarabic apologetic treatises of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, Hispanic Christians were remarkably passive in confronting Muslim theology. Those who did make an attempt to preach the Gospel among the Muslims tended to come from beyond the peninsula. One of the first recorded efforts of this sort was undertaken around 1074 by a Cluniac monk, Anastasius, who offered to prove the certitude of the Christian faith by undergoing an ordeal by fire; but when the Muslims proved obdurate, he “shook the dust from his feet” and returned home. Less than a century later, Peter the Venerable, abbot of Cluny, visited Spain and obtained a translation of the Qurʾān (done by the Englishman Robert of Ketton) so he could refute Islamic doctrine, but he did not initiate any serious effort at conversion. Although Mark, a canon of Toledo, also translated the Qurʾān early in the thirteenth century, that apparently did not prompt any missionary campaign. From time to time individual Muslims converted, but the popes and northern Europeans expressed greater interest than peninsular Christians in persuading the Muslims to adopt the Christian faith.

In time the Muslims came to be regarded as invaders wrongfully occupying territory that by right belonged to the Christians, and whose entire way of life was foreign to that of the Christians. Thus the aim of the conflict was to drive the Muslims from the peninsula. Sampiro of Astorga put that succinctly when he remarked that Fernando I appeared on the scene “to expel the barbarians.” The difficulty, if not the impossibility, of reconciling or assimilating different religious and cultural points of view was at the root of the conflict between the Christians and Muslims. Both sides came to understand that it would end only when the Christians completed the subjugation of the Muslims or ousted them from the peninsula. Though the discord was obviously based on religious antagonism, the term holy war or guerra santa appeared for the first time that I am aware of in fifteenth-century peninsular sources.

Some scholars have argued that a holy or religious war was totally contrary to Christian belief. Jaime Oliver Asín, for example, stated emphatically that “neither here [Spain] nor in any Christian country could there be born by itself alone a kind of war whose spirit was essentially anti-Christian: the propagation of religious faith by the violence of arms.” This statement misunderstands the nature of the war in Spain as well as the crusades to the Holy Land. Neither the reconquest nor the crusades were intended to convert anyone by force, but rather to evict them from territory claimed by the Christians or at least to subject them to Christian rule. Américo Castro, following Oliver Asín, argued that because warfare is inconsistent with the tenets of Christianity the source of the holy war must be sought in the teachings of Muḥammad. Castro concluded that “the holy war against the Muslims in Spain and Palestine, leaving aside the difference in its aims and consequences, was inspired by the jihād or Muslim holy war.” He also believed that the idea that those who fell in war against the “infidels” were martyrs to the faith was borrowed from Islam and was “simply a reflection of Islamic ideas and emotions.”

The Islamic concept of jihād (a word etymologically signifying any effort aimed at a specific objective) was a precept established in the Qurʾān. A religious duty incumbent upon all male members of the community, its aim was the subjugation of all people to the rule of Islam. This was an obligation that would continue until the rule of Islam had been extended throughout the entire world. Given the universal and unified nature of the Islamic community in theory, there could be no holy war against other adherents of the faith. Warfare against non-Muslims might be interrupted by truces (though these ought to be limited to a ten-year period), but there could never be permanent peace with them until they had finally submitted to Islam. Service in the holy war, according to Muḥammad, was the most meritorious of all works, bringing spiritual benefit to the participants. In several places in the Qurʾān God promised the reward of heavenly bliss to those dying in the holy war, who were accounted as martyrs (shuhadāʾ) to the faith.

It was understood that all peoples should be invited to embrace Islam, and only after they had refused to do so would the holy war be declared against them. In practice, pagan peoples were forced to accept Islam, but Christians and Jews, as “Peoples of the Book” (ahl al-kitāb), peoples who had received a revelation from the one true God, contained in their respective scriptural texts, were allowed to worship freely, provided that they submitted to Muslim rule, and paid both the poll tax (jizya) and the land tax (kharāj). The opportunity to participate in the holy war in Spain and to obtain religious merit and even entrance into paradise drew many volunteers to the peninsula. Al-Andalus, according to al-Ḥimyarī, was “a territory where one fights for the faith and a permanent place of the ribāṭ.” Following an ascetic regimen, volunteers (al-murābiṭūn) were stationed in frontier garrisons (ribāṭ) in defense of Islam.

The argument that the Christians had to borrow from Islam in this respect because of Christianity’s repugnance to the use of force needs to be subjected to close scrutiny. Given the obvious similarities between Christian and Muslim concepts of holy war, one could argue that the idea ultimately derives from the Hebrew Scriptures, a common source for both Christian and Muslim teaching. Even though the Fifth Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” explicitly and without qualification prohibited killing, God directed Joshua, Judah Maccabee, and other Jewish leaders to take up arms and gave them victory over their enemies. Victory was attributable to God’s care for his people, and defeat was construed as a sign of his wrath, a punishment for sins. When the continuator of Lucas of Túy, described Fernando III as a new Joshua, he was doubtless aware of God’s promise to Joshua: “Your domain is to be all the land of the Hittites.” With that promise in mind Joshua instructed his officers: “Prepare your provisions, for three days from now you shall cross the Jordan here, to march in and take possession of the land which the Lord, your God, is giving you” (Josh. 1: 4, 10). After noting that Joshua “had conquered the kings who occupied the promised land,” the continuator went on to say that, like Joshua, Fernando III, had conquered the Muslim kings and “established the people of León and Castile, who are the sons of Israel, in the land of the Moors.”

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