Reconquest, Holy War, and Crusade II

Christians clearly were aware of the use of violence at God’s command in the Hebrew Scriptures, but they also knew that the fundamental message of the Gospel is peace. Jesus seemed to condemn all warlike activity when he declared that “all that take the sword shall perish by the sword” (Matt. 26: 52). Early Christian writers condemned the use of force to spread the Gospel and questioned or even denied the moral right of a Christian to follow a military career. Nevertheless, there is no explicit condemnation of war or of the military profession in the New Testament. Christians were expected to avoid the shedding of blood under any circumstances and especially in defense of religion. Once the empire became Christian after the conversion of Constantine, these attitudes began to change as more and more Christians held civil or military positions, where they exercised the authority to condemn guilty persons to death or to order men to kill in battle. In effect Christians accepted the authority of the state and its coercive power.

In these circumstances, St. Augustine of Hippo (d. 430), basing himself on Roman legal concepts, developed the western theological tradition concerning the legitimacy of warfare. He held that warfare is licit when undertaken for just cause under the direction of a duly constituted authority. The purpose of warfare was to establish peace and order. To achieve that end the state, like the individual, had an inherent, natural right of self-defense, against both internal and external enemies. Offensive war to punish those who inflicted harm without cause or to recover property seized wrongfully might also be undertaken. Thus, warfare, though abhorrent, was necessary at times. On the other hand, Augustine condemned the waging of war “through mere lust of dominion to crush and subdue people who do you no harm.” He asked: “What else is this to be called than great robbery?”

A just war was not identical with a religious war, but that transformation was not long in coming. The establishment of Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire eventually meant that sacred and secular interests were united in war which was thought of as being carried out in God’s name. In the Carolingian age the church was identified with the community that was often described simply as the populus christianus. The concept of the Christian people transcended ethnic, racial, or linguistic barriers. As members of the church, of the one Body of Christ, all Christians had responsibility for one another. The defense of Christian values was tantamount to the defense of society itself. Eventually Christians acknowledged that the use of force to achieve that purpose was justifiable.

Reflecting on papal attitudes toward Islam, John Gilchrist argued that from the eighth century onward the popes justified hostilities against the Muslims threatening southern Italy and the Mediterranean world by referring to the wars waged at God’s command in Sacred Scripture. Scant mention of Augustine’s theory of the just war appeared in papal and canonistic texts of the central Middle Ages. In general until the eleventh century Christians taught that warfare was sinful and inappropriate behavior for a follower of Christ. H. E. J. Cowdrey argued that Gregory VII played a decisive role in transforming Christian attitudes toward the use of force, “so that from being inherently sinful, it was, or at least might be, meritorious to engage in it, and so to promote ‘right order’ in human society by force of arms.” Gregory VII and the other reform popes of the late eleventh century and beyond justified their wars by branding their enemies as Anti-Christ and sanctioning the shedding of blood to maintain the rights of Christ and his Church. In that sense warfare was made holy or sacred.

One can fairly say that both Christian and Islamic societies, founded upon the unity of the sacred and the secular, drew upon the Hebrew Scriptures and their own respective traditions to arrive at a similar acceptance of warfare. One should also emphasize that the participation of Spanish Christians in the struggle against Islam was not based on any evangelical precept; nor was it their aim to convert the Muslims or to subjugate them to their rule, but rather to dispossess them entirely. Nevertheless, once the Christians in the thirteenth century began to occupy extensive Muslim lands, they found there an overwhelming Muslim presence which they could not easily get rid of. Thus, they treated subject Muslims, known as Mudejars, as a protected minority, whose status was similar to that of Christians living in Muslim lands.

The Populus Christianus Against the “Pagans”

The gulf separating Christians and Muslims in Spain is reflected in the language they used to refer to one another. Language mirrored their respective attitudes and often made plain their bitter animosity toward those whom they perceived as enemies. We may begin our inquiry by considering the names by which they identified one another.

Muslim authors referred to Christians in several ways. Rūm, meaning the Romans, was essentially an ethnic or political term without any pejorative connotations. In the eastern Mediterranean it referred to the Byzantines, but it was also extended to the entire Christian population. The words al-lshban (from Hispani or Spaniards), or al-Franj, the Franks or Catalans, both ethnic references, were also used. From time to time, reference was made to Christians or Nazarenes (naṣrānī), a description of their religious affiliation and their devotion to Jesus of Nazareth, but without implying any negative judgment. Terms such as boor (ʿilj) and foreigner or barbarian (ʿajamī), of course, suggested people of inferior social status. Very commonly used were the words infidel (kāfir), polytheist (mushrik), or idolater (ʿabid al-aṣnām), all of which reflected the Muslim opinion (expressed in the Qurʾān) that the Christians, by holding to the dogma of the Trinity, actually believed in three Gods rather than the one true God. On this account, one chronicler could say that “the land of the Christians is a land of idolatry (arḍ al-shirk).” Muslim authors also often described Christians as enemies of God (ʿadūw Allāh), and Christian rulers as tyrants (ṭāghiya). The mention of a ruler’s name was followed frequently by an imprecation: “May Allāh curse him!” “May Allāh damn him!” Despite these negative remarks Muslim authors, realizing that a triumph over a worthy adversary enhanced the quality of victory, at times exhibited a grudging respect for the abilities of Christian warriors.

The earliest Christian sources written immediately after the Muslim invasion are surprisingly silent concerning the nature of the religion professed by their conquerors. However, as the Muslim presence grew stronger and appeared more threatening, especially from the ninth century onward, Christian authors began to speak more often and more negatively about their adversaries, employing a variety of words, some of biblical derivation, some ethnic, and some condemnatory. Saraceni, Agareni, and Ismaelitae, all derived from the Book of Genesis (Gen. 16–17, 21, 25), appear primarily in the early Latin sources. As Sarah, the wife of the patriarch Abraham, failed to conceive, he turned to Sarah’s Egyptian slave girl, Hagar, who bore him a son Ishmael. The Prophetic Chronicle explained these terms to ninth-century readers: “The perverse Saracens think that they descend from Sarah; more truly the Agarenes are from Hagar, and the Ishmaelites from Ishmael.” Noting that “Abraham sired Ishmael from Hagar,” the chronicler then gave a genealogy from Ishmael to Muḥammad “who is thought by his followers to be a prophet.” A pejorative note was injected when Christians stressed that the Muslims were descended from the slave girl Hagar, rather than from Abraham’s legitimate wife Sarah.

Also of biblical origin, but quite anachronistic, were the words Chaldeans, used in the Hebrew Bible with reference to Babylon, and Moabites, a people settled east of the Dead Sea; the word Moabites was used most often to refer to the Almoravids, a Muslim sect who invaded Spain in the late eleventh century. The ethnic origin of one of the principal elements in the Muslim community was stressed when the sources mentioned the Arabs, though they were a distinct minority. When Christian authors referred to the Muslims as “pagans” they were in effect condemning them in much the same way as the ancient Romans who were charged as idolators because they did not believe in the Christian God.

Muslims were also commonly described as “infidels,” a term that literally designated men without faith, here meaning that they did not share the Christian faith. By calling them barbarians, Christian authors emphasized that the Muslims did not belong to the Christian community, but there was also an implication that they were less civilized than the Christians. The description of the Muslims as enemies of the cross of Christ (inimici crucis Christi), which became more common during the era of the crusades, emphasized the religious nature of the opposition to them.

Finally, we have the word mauri. The earliest citation of mauri that I have encountered is in the Chronicle of 754, but it does not appear in the Christian chronicles of Asturias-León until Bishop Sampiro used it in the eleventh century. Mauri referred to natives of Mauritania, the old Roman province in North Africa, and eventually appeared in the vernacular as moros, whence our Moors. Mauri or moros, an ethnic description not implying any condemnation, eventually supplanted nearly all of the other biblical and ethnic terms in common usage.

Although Muslims referred to Jesus respectfully, believing him to be one of the prophets, they pointed out the error of the Christians who declared him to be God. Eighth-century Christian chroniclers had little to say about Islam or Muḥammad, though the Byzantine-Arabic Chronicle of 741 recorded that the Muslims “worshipped him with great honor and reverence and affirmed in all their sacraments and scriptures that he was an apostle of God and a prophet.” By contrast, ninth-century Mozarabic writers, such as Eulogius (d. 859) and Aivarus (d. 861) of Córdoba, felt no compunction in denouncing Muḥammad as a perfidious and false prophet, and his religion as a false or damnable sect. The Chronicle of Albelda, for example, described him as the “wicked Muḥammad.” After remarking that he “was thought to be a prophet by his followers,” the Prophetic Chronicle included a life of Muḥammad, the pseudo-prophet, the heresiarch, who was buried in hell. Archbishop Rodrigo incorporated a life of Muḥammad into his History of the Arabs and also reported that the prophet was buried in hell. The twelfth-century Chronicle of Nájera spoke of the “superstitious Muḥammadan sect” and the thirteenth-century Poem of Fernán González condemned Muḥammad as “the man of wicked belief.” Comparing the Muslim leader al-Manṣūr, known to the Christians as Almanzor, and the count of Castile Fernán González respectively to Goliath and King David, the poet put these words in the mouth of the defeated Muslim: “Ay, Muḥammad, in an evil hour I trusted in you . . . all your power isn’t worth three fruit trees.” The Libro de Alexandre of the same century called the Muslims a “renegade people who pray to Muḥammad, a proven traitor,” and the Chronicle of 1344 referred to Muḥammad’s “wicked sect” and “wicked law.” Reminding Alfonso XI that his ancestors, the Gothic kings, were “the shield and protection of the faith of Christ,” a contemporary poet urged him “to honor the holy law [of Christ] by destroying the wicked law [of Muḥammad].” A century later, Fray Martín de Córdoba, spoke of the “dirty flies of Muḥammad.” These examples could be multiplied.

Muslim rulers were also mentioned with contempt. The Chronicle of Silos, recording the death of al-Manṣūr, the Muslim leader who ravaged the Christian states in the late tenth century, remarked that “he was seized by the devil who had possessed him in life and he was buried in hell.” The thirteenth-century poet Gonzalo de Berceo described the caliph as “lord of the pagans, the mortal enemy of all the Christians.” On the other hand, the History of Rodrigo, after recording the victories over the Muslims of Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, known as the Cid, uttered no word of condemnation and used no pejorative adjective to describe them.

Finally, one ought to observe that when Christian chroniclers speak of warfare against the Muslims, they generally speak of Christian armies and Christian soldiers, rather than Castilians, Leonese, Portuguese, Navarrese, Aragonese, or Catalans. In doing so they were highlighting the religious differences between the combatants.

Reconquest and Crusade

Now we may return to the question: is it appropriate to speak of reconquest, and if so what was it? Did the reconquest really happen? One may suppose that initial resistance to Islam in the northernmost sectors was prompted by a desire to protect one’s own and did not have any ideological coloration. Although Abilio Barbero and Marcelo Vigil argued that northern mountaineers opposing Muslim rule had previously been equally hostile to Roman and Visigothic attempts to subdue them, Bonnaz, Montenegro, and others have emphasized the continuing Gothic presence in Asturias. Whether or not Pelayo and his followers thought of themselves as engaged in the reconquest of the lost Visigothic kingdom is unknown, but in time an ideological framework for Christian opposition to Islam developed. The historiography of the late ninth century supposed a direct link between the Visigothic realm destroyed by Muslim invaders in 711 and the kingdom of Asturias-León-Castile. By implication the neo-Gothic peoples of the north, after resisting Muslim expansion, were merely reconquering land once belonging to their ancestors. Emphasizing that Divine Providence was on their side, the Christians concluded that the Muslims would inevitably be driven from Spain.

Richard Fletcher, however, declared unacceptable Menéndez Pidal’s suggestion that the ideal of reconquest set forth by the ninth-century chroniclers “remained the dominant concern of Spanish rulers, especially those of the succcessor-states in the Asturian kingdom in León and Castile, until the process was complete.” Indeed for most of the ninth, tenth, and eleventh centuries the Christians were at the mercy of the Muslims and could only make weak and ineffectual efforts to oppose their intrusions. The chroniclers of the tenth and eleventh centuries scarcely touched on the theme of reconquest, inasmuch as the Christians had all they could do to survive the overwhelming power of the Caliphate. To speak of the expulsion of the Muslims and the recovery of Spain in such circumstances one would have had to have had great faith in God’s promises.

In the twelfth century, however, given changing political conditions, the possibility of reconquest became very real and from that point on reconquest ideology fills the pages of the Christian chronicles. According to Julian Bishko “the last years of the eleventh century witnessed a profound transformation in the nature, tempo, and course of the Spanish and Portuguese reconquest.” In much the same way, Roger Collins commented that “the eleventh century and the early twelfth marked a period of profound change in the peninsula, in which the ideology of the Reconquista was first born.” While an idea such as reconquest may not be tangible, it was nevertheless real in that it influenced the actions of Spanish kings and princes from the late eleventh century onward. Spain may not have been reconquered by the descendants of the Visigoths, but it certainly was reconquered by the Christians, who again and again expressed their belief that the recovery of Spain from Muslim hands was their ultimate objective. As Lomax remarked: “The Reconquest really did happen, in the sense already defined, and the Christians involved really did believe that they were recovering Spain for Christian political predominance.”

Too often the reconquest has been presented in a monolithic, institutionalized way, without nuance or variation. On the contrary, it was a process unfolding in the context of the changing political, religious, social, and economic circumstances of each epoch. It was characterized by a slow and intermittent advance from one river frontier to another and was accompanied by the colonization or repopulation of occupied territory. Thus Angus MacKay, following Sánchez Albornoz, emphasized that most historians “would agree . . . that the related concepts of the frontier and the reconquest provide the key to Spanish historical development.”

The reconquest has also been described as a crusade, although in a strict canonical sense crusades did not appear in Western Europe until the end of the eleventh century. Prior to that time northern Europeans had paid scant heed to peninsular events, but thereafter northern influences, including crusading ideology, permeated Spain in every way. In time the notion of crusading fueled traditionalist and nationalist fervor as generations of Spaniards were taught that for seven hundred years their ancestors almost singlehandedly had waged a crusade to hold back the Muslim hordes threatening to engulf Christian Europe. During the Spanish Civil War the effort of General Franco’s forces to bring down the Republic and destroy the republican opposition was described by propagandists as “our crusade” (nuestra cruzada), a term that suggested a religious struggle against the forces of godless communism. The twentieth-century crusade was an appeal to the medieval tradition of a crusade to drive the “infidels” from the peninsula.

Nevertheless, the study of crusading influences on the idea of the reconquest did not receive significant scholarly attention until more than forty years ago when José Goñi Gaztambide wrote his monumental study of the papal bull of crusade in Spain. A crusade, in his view, was “an indulgenced holy war” (una guerra santa indulgenciada), a war sanctioned by ecclesiastical authority (popes, councils, or bishops) who granted remission of sins to those taking part in it. Since then Spanish historians, perhaps assuming that everything had been said about the subject, have paid only minimal attention to it. Emphasizing the crusading nature of the thirteenth-century wars against the Muslims Robert I. Burns, however, commented that he had “relentlessly used the phrase ‘Crusader Valencia’ ” in the titles of his books and articles.

Students of the crusades usually tended to concentrate on the struggle to liberate the Holy Land in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and to ignore or even to deny that crusades also were undertaken in the Iberian peninsula. Some, however, have spoken of the war against Spanish Islam prior to the twelfth century as a pre-crusade and the wars of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries as crusades. Paul Rousset summed up the arguments in favor of the crusading character of those wars: they had papal encouragement, an international character because of French participation, and they were part of a general Christian offensive against Islam. On the contrary, he argued, the wars of the reconquest lacked the distinctive crusading indulgence, the wearing of the cross, and the intention of delivering the Holy Land. In much the same vein Hans Eberhard Mayer argued that the wars in Spain were holy wars, but not crusades. However, they “became a substitute for a crusade. French knights, chary of the difficult journey to Jerusalem, could instead fight Islam in Spain. The popes promoted this, recognizing it as the equivalent of a crusade.”

The collaborative A History of the Crusades published under the general editorship of Kenneth Setton tried to broaden that outlook by taking into account crusades against the Muslims in Spain, the pagan Slavs of Eastern Europe, the Albigensian heretics, and political opponents of the papacy. Julian Bishko’s lengthy chapter on the Spanish Reconquest was a notable contribution to that series. In spite of such major works as Steven Runciman’s A History of the Crusades, crusading historians did not fully appreciate the nuances of canon law relating to the crusaders until the publication of James Brundage’s studies. In recent years English scholars have sparked a renewal of interest in the crusades and have incorporated the wars of the reconquest into the general theme of crusading history. Jonathan Riley-Smith, for example, defined the crusade as “an expedition authorized by the pope, the leading participants in which took vows and consequently enjoyed the privileges of protection at home and the Indulgence, which, when the campaign was not destined for the East, was expressly equated with that granted to crusaders to the Holy Land.” Quite recently, however, Christopher Tyerman has raised many questions, pointing to the ambiguity surrounding the notion of the crusade, especially in the twelfth century, and emphasizing the lack of a coherent crusading organization and structure.

The same may be said of the idea of the reconquest, which did not have an institutional or structural foundation; nor can one say that everyone involved in it was motivated in precisely the same way. The reconquest can best be understood as an ongoing process, which, though often interrupted by truces, remained the ultimate goal toward which Christian rulers directed their efforts over several centuries. Claiming descent from the Visigoths, they argued that they had a right, indeed an obligation, to recover the lands of the Visigothic kingdom; once Christian, those lands were now believed to be held unjustly by the Muslims. Thus the struggle for territory was placed in a religious context and the reconquest became a religious war between Christians and Muslims.

While the “traditionalists” among crusading historians limited the crusade to expeditions directed to Jerusalem, the “pluralists” (to use Tyerman’s characterization) emphasized the multiplicity and diversity of crusades proclaimed by the popes. My position obviously is with the “pluralists,” as I do not believe that the term crusade can only be applied to expeditions to the east. From the beginning the popes acknowledged that the war against Islam in Spain was as worthy of spiritual and material support as the effort to recover the Holy Land. In many instances the popes stated explicitly that Hispanic crusaders would gain the same spiritual benefits as those going to Jerusalem.

Unlike the reconquest, the crusade in Spain can be viewed as an event, a specific campaign, resulting from a proclamation by the pope, a council, a papal legate, or a bishop who granted remission of sins to those who would take up arms against the Muslims. Whereas kings often made donations of property for “the remission of my sins,” waging war against the Muslims as a way of atoning for sin was a new development principally of the late eleventh and twelfth centuries. The proclamation of a crusade presupposed that the benefits offered would be preached to the faithful so that they could be recruited. Preachers presumably expected some declaration of intent on the part of the listener. Only in that way and by confessing his sins and receiving absolution could he obtain remission of sins. Thus the Hispanic crusader, like his eastern counterpart, probably took a vow to participate in the planned expedition and placed a cross on his garments as a sign of his intention. From time to time kings, nobles, and others took the crusader’s vow and set out to meet the enemy, fortified by the knowledge that their sins would be forgiven and that if they were killed in battle they would be rewarded with eternal life in heaven. Christian rulers recognized the recruiting value that a promise of remission of sins entailed and were quite prepared to take advantage of the spiritual and material benefits accruing from the crusade. Thus the canonical apparatus relating to crusading was adapted to the peninsular war against Islam. While the reconquest was a constant aim of the Christian kings, not every campaign of the reconquest was a crusade, but just as one might refer to Reconquest Spain, I believe it is entirely appropriate to speak of Crusading Spain. Papal crusading bulls are strewn across the pages of Spanish history and crusading ideas and wars had a profound impact on peninsular life.

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