In the tenth century, Islamic Spain—al-Andalus—developed into the greatest economic and cultural power in the West. In the early 900s under the amir ‘Abd al-Rahman III, a long period of upheaval, civil war, and foreign attacks came to end. ‘Abd al-Rahman subdued the ever-rebellious Arab elite of al-Andalus—the descendants of the warriors who conquered Visigothic Hispania in the early eighth century—forced the small Christian principalities that dotted the mountainous north of Spain to submit to his authority, and undertook the conquest of northwest Africa. With that campaign Córdoba gained access to gold that originated on the far side of the Sahara, in the Niger Delta and the Akan Forest farther beyond. Intrepid Muslim merchants began to take cloth and salt across the vast desert and trade them pound for pound for high-quality gold, as well as ivory, pelts, and slaves. Much of this gold found its way into the royal treasury, funding a navy with which the amir controlled the Western Mediterranean, and a new army that soon had no serious adversary on the Iberian Peninsula. Up to this time, the Arab tribal elite of al-Andalus had dominated the army of a relatively united Umayyad Spain, and ‘Abd al-Rahman’s predecessors could not rule without their consent. But now, with a new army made up largely of Berber mercenaries recruited from Tunisia and Morocco and paid for with African gold, ‘Abd al-Rahman cowed both the tribal elite and his Christian tributaries, some of whom were his own kin. The submission of these tributaries to Córdoba was so complete that the Muslim court became a center of Christian diplomacy and intrigue, and its harem a destination for their daughters.
The African gold also inaugurated a time of unprecedented prosperity in al-Andalus, and a cultural and scientific renaissance. Córdoba became the center of both trade and culture. The city’s population swelled to nearly half a million, making it, alongside Constantinople and Cairo, the largest metropolis west of Baghdad. The streets were paved, and unlike the filth, squalor, and danger of the stunted and primitive cities of Northern Europe, the capital had a working sewage system, a police force, and street lighting. On those streets peoples from across the Mediterranean and beyond rubbed shoulders: most of the city’s inhabitants were Muslims, but there were also many Christian Mozarabs and Jews, who were all but indistinguishable in language, dress, and habits from one another and from their Muslim neighbors. The strange accents and languages of foreign visitors could also be heard: merchants and scholars from the expanse of the Islamic world, and not a few Latin foreigners, as well as slaves imported from the “land of the Blacks” and pagan Eastern Europe or captured in raids on Christian lands, and even the occasional Byzantine Greek. These peoples were joined by an increasing number of new arrivals from North Africa, Berber warriors and their families who were looked down on by the native Andalusis for being dark-skinned, and—as they saw it—rude and uncultured. The city was a tumult of workers and craftsmen, traders and merchants, stern royal officials, veiled courtesans, haughty slaves, beggars, soldiers, scholars, and holy men. The aromas of Africa and India wafted from the covered market northeast of the royal fortress, where cloth merchants hawked silks and linens and where gold- and silversmiths’ hammers added to the din caused by the braying of donkeys, the bellowing of camels, and the chatter of townsfolk, visitors, officials, and charlatans of all kinds.
Next door to the market sprawled the majestic Great Mosque, which ‘Abd al-Rahman renovated, doubling its size to accommodate the city’s burgeoning population. Outside of the magnificent structure, scribes-for-hire wrote petitions, contracts, and letters for all and sundry. Within the stone walls, a broad patio, shaded by orange trees and cooled by sprinkling water fountains, served as a public park and gathering space. Near the doors to the prayer hall, the qadi, or magistrate, held court and passed sentence on cases both mundane and sensational. Inside, among the marble columns taken from Roman ruins in the Western Mediterranean and beneath the red-and-white-banded arches that crowned them, people read, meditated, or dozed. Here, on Fridays at noon, the amir himself joined his Muslim subjects, prostrate on the carpeted floor. They faced the ivory-inlaid mihrab, the amir separated from the masses only by the wooden honeycomb of a mashrabiyya screen.
Buoyed by his successes, in 929 ‘Abd al-Rahman took a monumental step and declared himself to be the caliph (khalifa) and Córdoba to be the center of power in the Islamic world. This was not only a blow to the prestige of the ‘Abbasid caliph in Baghdad, who had been universally recognized as legitimate by Sunni Muslims, but a challenge to ‘Abd al-Rahman’s enemies, the Shi’a Fatimids of Tunisia, who had declared their own independent caliphate twenty years before. More than anything it marked a shift in the practice of leadership in Islamic Spain. To that point, the amirs had been “men of the people” in the style of the tribal Arab warlords of old: earthy, practical, and simple. In a stroke ‘Abd al-Rahman transformed himself into a near-divine autocrat, in the mold of Persian and Byzantine emperors. His act had profound consequences. Most immediately it meant that he would withdraw from public life. Protected and served by an ever more efficient and elaborate civil service, his direct intervention in the daily affairs of his realm was no longer practical or necessary. And in 939 a rare defeat at the hands of the forces of Christian León persuaded ‘Abd al-Rahman to end his military career—the life of the caliph could not be risked.
Three years earlier ‘Abd al-Rahman had begun construction on Madinat al-Zahara a few miles west of Córdoba, imagining it as a self-contained palace-city. For forty years, ten thousand workers and slaves were said to have labored on the immense complex, which included residences, a huge mosque, barracks, storerooms, and baths. To its luxurious and extensive gardens were brought exotic plants and trees gathered from as far away as India. The poet Ibn Zaydun would recall “the meandering waterway … its silvery waters … like a necklace unclasped and thrown aside,” and the “fragrant breaths from the pome of the water lilies.” Once finished, Madinat al-Zahara was staffed by thousands of slaves, officials, and soldiers. It became the official seat of government in 947; there would be no reason for the caliph to venture beyond its walls. The center of the palace was the great reception hall, its ceiling decorated with gilt and multicolored panels of translucent marble, interspersed with gold and silver panels and sheltering an ornate fountain sent from Constantinople by Emperor Constantine VII. On sunny days, the light streaming into the great hall was said to be sublime, and when the caliph wanted to awe visitors, his slaves would knock a mercury basin, and its ripples would send shimmers of reflected sunlight through the chamber. It was here that envoys from Africa, the Holy Roman Empire, and Constantinople would come to offer their respects, and the rulers of Christian Spain would come to bear homage.
A contemporary Muslim observer recorded one such visit. In 962 Ordoño IV, King of León, journeyed to Córdoba for an audience with al-Hakam II, the caliph’s son and successor. After stopping to pray at the tomb of ‘Abd al-Rahman III, the Christian king proceeded under escort to Madinat al-Zahara. The caliphal bodyguard had been deployed in parade regalia and the notables of the court had assembled. As Ordoño made his way through the resplendently decorated palace toward the inner sanctum, he was gradually deprived of his own entourage, until he was surrounded only by his closest advisers. Before reaching the reception hall he was forced to dismount his horse. Entering the dazzling room, the king must have been awestruck by the gilded and marbled walls, which were intended to give a sense of Heaven on Earth. At the center, surrounded by well-coiffed and perfumed officials, slaves, and eunuchs, and flanked by soldiers—blond-haired and bearded “Slavs” and Africans whose black skin had been oiled to a glistening sheen—sat the caliph, garbed in exquisite, brightly dyed silk robes. As he drew near al-Hakam’s throne Ordoño bowed, rose, took a few steps, and bowed again, repeating this performance until he reached the caliph, who held out a hand. After Ordoño retreated respectfully, his grandees each rose to kiss al-Hakam’s hand, and then the king exclaimed, “I am a slave of the Commander of the Faithful, my lord and my master; and I am come to implore his favor and to witness his majesty, and to place myself and my people under his protection.” The desired effect—to overwhelm the visiting Christian king, to render him speechless—had clearly been achieved.
Though the caliph’s move to the palace increased his isolation and resulted in new powers for the palace bureaucrats, notably the wazir, the top administrator, and the hajib, or chamberlain, who controlled access to the sovereign, ‘Abd al-Rahman remained involved in the affairs of his kingdom. He was astute enough to realize that the loyalty of his various officials, generals, and wives was tenuous at best—any of them might plot to depose or assassinate him and place a kinsman on the throne. And so he relied for his own protection on bodyguards recruited or captured from the Christian lands in the north, men called “the Silent Ones” for their inability to speak Arabic, who, having no natural allies in al-Andalus, would be unlikely to betray him.
In the same spirit, one of the keys to maintaining the political equilibrium in the caliphate was his cultivation of dhimmis, the Jews and Christians who were the “protected” subject peoples of the Islamic regime. Both communities were granted broad liberties, and both were integrated into Muslim society. A century earlier, after a brief flurry of resistance, the local Christian Church had effectively become a branch of the Andalusi civil service. Thus, for example, the Christian aristocrat and courtier Reccemund, who went by the name Rabi’ ibn Zaid in Muslim circles, was rewarded for his faithful service to the regime when he was appointed bishop of Elvira by the caliph. Jews found themselves with similar opportunities. The Jewish physician and rabbi Hasdai ibn Shaprut became the caliph’s close friend and adviser, and even led the caliph’s most delicate diplomatic missions. As a consequence of his influence in Córdoba (not to mention his extraordinary devotion and learning), Hasdai was recognized as Nasi, “prince,” and became an advocate for Jews across the caliphate and beyond.
Non-Muslims, slaves, and Berbers were useful to ‘Abd al-Rahman because they were in their own ways outsiders, and would be unable to harness popular support in a coup. As a consequence, each group served the caliph as counterweights to potentially subversive Muslim and Arab factions within the kingdom. In essence, the administration oversaw a dynamic meritocracy in which neither class nor ethnic background nor religion posed insurmountable obstacles to success. This is not to say that Córdoba’s political culture was based on a principle of tolerance, but rather that the Umayyad rulers were interested only in power. But the regime’s pragmatic self-interest fostered a situation in which Christians, Muslims, and Jews found themselves working together to build a caliphate in the West, each group secure and confident, and each speaking Arabic and moving within an Islamic social, cultural, and intellectual milieu. Muslims felt no threat from the dhimmis among them, and Christians and Jews were accommodated and integrated to such a degree that only the most stalwartly reactionary would harbor any resentment against the still superior status of Muslims.
By 961, when ‘Abd al-Rahman’s son, al-Hakam II, came to the throne, the caliphate was practically running itself, leaving the heir free to pursue his scholarly and intellectual interests. This suited al-Hakam, who had little interest in affairs of state. A bookish type, he patronized scholars, poets, and scientists. During his reign the royal library possessed, if the sources are to be trusted, close to a half million volumes. (This at a time when the Abbey Library of St. Gall in Switzerland, one of the great centers of learning in the Latin West, boasted just over one hundred.) The caliph and other grandees funded translations of literary and scientific works, and scholarship and research progressed apace. But for all his learning, al-Hakam did not foresee the perils of entrusting bureaucrats and administrators with the day-to-day running of his wealthy and complex kingdom.
Shortly after joining the caliphal Administration, Ibn Abi ʿĀmir forged a lasting alliance with the mother of the heir to the throne, the favorite Subh, which was only broken in 996 by Ibn Abi ʿĀmir’s ambitions, which Subh considered a threat to her son Hisham.
AN ANDALUSI CAESAR
One of these administrators was an ambitious young man who claimed Arab descent, named Muhammad ibn Abi Amir, who had come to Córdoba from the provinces, hoping to work as a scribe. Through good fortune and persistence he managed to find employment not only in the palace but in the caliph’s harem. He became the personal administrator to Subh, a former Christian, who as the mother of al-Hakam’s sole son and heir, Hisham, was herself a powerful figure. Coaxing al-Hakam to produce an heir had been no easy feat; the caliph’s predilection for men was said to be so strong that he kept a male harem. Subh, it was claimed, had managed to succeed in seducing the unwitting caliph by cropping her hair and disguising herself as a boy. Whatever the truth, Ibn Abi Amir rose quickly in her service; and there were rumors of an affair between the two. However he won Subh’s affection and trust, though, the young scribe was evidently after power, not sex.
Marriage was a separate matter. Ibn Abi Amir married Asma, the daughter of Ghalib al-Nasiri, a leading “Arab” aristocrat and general, with whose support he secured valuable experience and then popular acclaim as a military commander. In 976 al-Hakam died and ten-year-old Hisham ascended to the caliph’s throne. After heading off a coup by the palace eunuchs, Ibn Abi Amir, Ghalib, and Subh made a pact to keep young Hisham a virtual prisoner while they ran the caliphate. Over the subsequent decades Ibn Abi Amir gradually consolidated his power, disposing of rivals and having himself appointed both wazir and hajib. At the same time, he imported increasing numbers of North African troops and launched spectacular expeditions against the Christian lands to the north. These, along with his conspicuous acts of public piety—copying his own Qur’an by hand and purging the caliphal library of “subversive” works—earned him broad support among the religious elite and the Muslim public over which they held sway. Then Ibn Abi Amir turned on his allies with Stalinesque thoroughness: Subh, Ghalib, and any others who might threaten him were eliminated. Ibn Abi Amir had become the uncontested ruler of al-Andalus.
Hisham, the caliph in name only, was forced to formally cede political authority to the hajib in 997. By then Muhammad ibn Abi Amir had become known as al-Mansur—“the Victorious by God”—a name that swiftly became synonymous with terror in the Latin world. Called “Almanzor” by his Christian enemies, Ibn Abi Amir sacked the major towns of Christian Spain, including Barcelona, León, and Pamplona. In 997 his armies marched to Santiago de Compostela, the legendary resting place of the Apostle Saint James in the far northwest of the peninsula, and carried the bells from his church back to Córdoba as trophies to be hung in the Great Mosque. For al-Mansur these campaigns served three purposes: to keep the Christian kingdoms weak and on the defensive; to provide an outlet for the energies of his army; and to cement his popular reputation as a mujahid, or a warrior of Islam. At home, he placated the old Arab elite—Hisham’s immense extended family, the Umayyad clan—by ensuring that they had access to powerful and lucrative positions in the administration and by not challenging their social and cultural prestige.
To all appearances the caliphate was at the height of its power under al-Mansur. But beneath the surface tensions were building. Despite his efforts, the Umayyad clan chafed at having been shunted aside by an upstart scribe. Provincial governors and palace slaves plotted uprisings. The ‘ulama’, or clerics, pressured al-Mansur to pursue a repressive domestic policy designed to protect the status of the native Muslim elite and maintain religious rigor. In order to placate them, he burned the books they considered offensive, including a large part of al-Hakam’s immense library. And Andalusis of all classes and backgrounds came to loathe and fear the increasingly powerful Berber element. In the previous decades North African domination of the army had translated into broader political power for Berbers, many of whom had been appointed to administrative posts. The notion that these illiterate, dark-skinned non-Arabs were taking over galvanized the alarmed native populace.
In 1002, returning from his fifty-second biannual invasion of Christian territories, Muhammad ibn Abi Amir took ill. His army stopped in Medinaceli, a wind-swept plateau not far from the northern frontier of the caliphate, and where an arch built by the Roman emperor Domitian nine hundred years earlier still stands today. Here al-Mansur died. His army mournfully carried his body four hundred miles south, back to Córdoba. The hajib was first succeeded by his favorite son, ‘Abd al-Malik, who carefully kept up the facade of the caliphate, but who died unexpectedly in 1008. He was succeeded in turn by his younger brother, ‘Abd al-Rahman, known popularly as Sanjul, or “little Sancho,” for his resemblance to his maternal grandfather, King Sancho II of Pamplona. Sanjul shared none of his father’s or brother’s discretion or restraint. Not content to hold power in practice, Sanjul wanted also to hold it in name, and a year after his appointment, he forced the aging and childless Hisham II to designate him the official heir to the title of caliph. This was simultaneously an act of betrayal to the Umayyad clan, an affront to the ‘ulama’, who upheld the religious legitimacy of the caliphate, and an outrage to the Muslim populace of al-Andalus. Then, further stoking the growing opposition, he ordered state dignitaries to abandon their traditional multicolored headdresses—the symbol of their aristocratic status—in favor of the Berber-style turban. To the people of Córdoba it seemed as though the Berbers were taking over.
Recognizing that he had gone too far, Sanjul attempted to regain popular support among the Arab-identifying Andalusis, but this served only to alienate him from his North African military. In 1009 he was seized by his own troops and put to death, and the people of Córdoba rose up against the Berber clans, who had settled on the outskirts of the city. The period that followed would come to be called the fitna, or “disorder.” A generation-long civil war, it would witness the destruction of Madinat al-Zahara, the sacking of Córdoba, and the collapse of the caliphate. It would herald the beginning of the end of Muslim dominance of the peninsula. Islamic Spain tilted into anarchy: the cities became unsafe, bandits and mercenaries roamed the countryside, and local governors declared themselves independent rulers. A few decades before, the German poetess and nun Hrosvitha of Gandersheim had described it as “the brilliant ornament of the world [that] shone in the west”; now Córdoba was reduced to a shell of its former self. The scholars, merchants, and soldiers of fortune who had lived there scattered as refugees in the aftermath of the uprising. Among these were a Jew, Shmuel Ha-Levi, and a Berber, Zawi ibn Ziri. Although they would never meet, their destinies were deeply intertwined. Between them, they would found the Kingdom of Granada and make it prosper, and Shmuel’s son, Yusuf ibn Naghrilla, would one day aspire to seize its throne.
A SOLDIER OF MISFORTUNE
Zawi ibn Ziri would not have referred to himself as a “Berber,” a label invented by condescending Arab geographers for the diverse indigenous peoples of the Maghrib (Arabic for “the West”; what is now northwestern Africa, from Libya to Morocco). The term derived from the Arabic barbara, “to babble nonsensically.”* Arab-identifying Spanish Muslims viewed Berbers as illiterate, brutish, and uncouth; the prejudice originated during the age of Islamic conquest, and has been perpetuated unthinkingly by writers and historians to this day. In fact, the tribal hill and desert dwellers of the region—farmers, herders, and warriors—spoke a number of languages, including Tamazight, Taqbaylit, and Tarifit, and had used an alphabet developed by the Phoenician colonists at ancient Carthage. Their generic word for themselves, Imazaghen, meant “the nobles.”
When the Arabs arrived in northwestern Africa in the late seventh century, the Berbers (with the exception of some tribes who may have identified as Christians or Jews) were pagan, and so were not considered eligible to live within the dar al-Islam. They were given the choice of converting to Islam or fighting to the death. Some resisted but most acquiesced, and gradually the various tribes of the Mediterranean’s African coastland became Muslim (at least in name), and subjects and allies of the Arab warlords. They relinquished their alphabet as they were gradually Arabized. It was Berber troops who were largely responsible for the Islamic conquest of Spain in the early 700s. Those who stayed in the peninsula after the campaigns were absorbed into the new Hispano-Arabic society of al-Andalus, and by the time of ‘Abd al-Rahman III their origins had been forgotten. This was not the case, however, with the North Africans who had been recruited during the years of the caliphate. Brought over as clans, complete with their women and children, these warriors maintained their distinct customs, language, and identity. Although they took their Islam very seriously, many did not even speak Arabic. Along with the disdain the Andalusis felt for them, this fact made integration impossible. Moreover, the recently arrived Berbers maintained their ties with family members and tribes back home across the Straits of Gibraltar, and saw themselves not so much as immigrants but as temporary mercenaries in the service of the caliphate, or as the vanguard of a new conquest.
Two of the largest nomadic tribal groups of the Maghrib were the Zanata in the west and the Sanhaja in the east. They were traditional enemies. When, under ‘Abd al-Rahman III, Islamic Spain began to conquer and colonize North Africa, it engaged with the Zanata first, as by turns an antagonist and an ally. As a consequence, most of the mercenaries who swelled the ranks of the caliphal army were from Zanata tribes. The Sanhaja, on the other hand, were dependents of the Fatimids, the Umayyads’ archenemies, who had established their own caliphate in Ifriqiya (Tunisia, or the former Roman province of “Africa”) in the early 900s. In 969, after their conquest of Egypt, the Fatimids founded a new capital at Cairo, leaving the Sanhaja to govern Ifriqiya in their place.
The Sanhaja were ruled by a clan called the Banu Ziri, whose men were famous for their fierce prowess in war. But the Zirids, as they were also called, were riven by internal power struggles, and in 999 a civil war erupted that pitted Zawi ibn Ziri and his brothers against their nephew, Badis ibn Mansur, who had been appointed official governor of Ifriqiya by the Fatimid caliph. Despite their skill on the battlefield, the rebels were defeated, and with his brothers dead, Zawi was left as head of his clan. Seeing no future for his people in Ifriqiya, with great reluctance he turned to his old enemies, the Umayyads, for a way out. Al-Mansur reacted to the overture with cautious interest. Although the Zirids had been his implacable enemies, Zawi was renowned as a warrior from Cairo to Córdoba, and al-Mansur saw how he could prove useful. Though bringing Zawi and his clan to al-Andalus might unsettle the ranks of the caliphal forces, which were drawn from tribes hostile to the Sanhaja, it would also help temper the growing influence of the Zanata, who, in the preceding decade, had come to dominate the army and had taken over key positions in the civil and palace administration.
After prolonged negotiations, Zawi ibn Ziri and the members of his clan, including their families and households, arrived in al-Andalus sometime after 1002. Al-Mansur had died, but Zawi had reached an agreement with his son and successor ‘Abd al-Malik. The future seemed to promise a respite from years of danger and insecurity. But it was not to be; in 1009 the caliphate descended into civil war. After Hisham II’s death, two of ‘Abd al-Rahman III’s descendants made claims to the throne. The first, al-Musta’in, had the support of the Berber armies, whereas his rival, al-Mahdi, was backed by the Arab elite and the people of Córdoba. In 1013 al-Musta’in triumphed, and his victorious Berber forces swept through the capital, taking bloody vengeance against the city. But his victory did not make for peace, and many North Africans fled the peninsula in the aftermath. To restore stability and placate the people of Córdoba, the new caliph stationed the bulk of his remaining Berber forces in the provinces.
The Zirids were assigned to Elvira, a prosperous and fertile region south of Córdoba with a vibrant economy based on abundant orchards and the production of some of the finest silks in al-Andalus. Elvira was also distinguished by its substantial Jewish population. The region had suffered Berber attacks since the time of Sanjul’s death, and Zawi feared that his family might become targets for retribution. The Elvirans, however, saw in the fearsome Zirids their best hope for survival. They petitioned Zawi to be their protector, offering safety for his kin and generous payment for his troops. Zawi accepted, and not a moment too soon. In 1018 al-Musta’in was assassinated in his bath and two new rivals rose to contest the title of caliph. The Zirids had lost their protector and were now vulnerable to enemies who would seek to destroy them. Moreover, wealthy Elvira become an irresistible target for raiders. An attack was all but inevitable.
Set on open terrain and minimally fortified, the city was vulnerable. Zawi determined that the only hope in the event of an invasion was to retreat to higher ground. Summoning all his eloquence and tenacity, he persuaded the people of Elvira to evacuate their homes and relocate to a town just to the south called Granada, which, because of its proximity to the Sierra Nevada range, would be relatively easy to fortify. Together, the Elvirans and the Zirids settled in Granada and rebuilt and extended its defenses. In the meantime, forces representing al-Murtada, one of the two claimants to the caliphal throne, assembled to subdue or destroy the Zirids. A huge host composed of Muslim troops and Christian mercenaries began to plunder the countryside and to encircle the city. Seeing no other option but to strike, the greatly outnumbered Sanhaja warriors sallied forth from Granada’s gates on horseback. They overran the invaders’ camp and scattered al-Murtada’s ill-prepared forces. Against all odds, Granada had been saved, which made Zawi ibn Ziri’s next move all the more surprising.
In the wake of the great victory, Zawi mustered his troops and announced his intention to immediately return to Ifriqiya, and his hope that his warriors and their families would follow. Sixteen years in al-Andalus had left him disillusioned, and convinced that there was no future there for the Sanhaja, who were hated despite their loyal service to the caliphate. The Andalusis and the Zanata, he claimed, would always plot to wipe them out. “If we kill one of them, a thousand will replace him [and] as their power grows ours will weaken, for we can never replace our dead.” While the allure of his homeland was powerful, Zawi may have had other motives. News from Ifriqiya had led him to believe he might be able to reestablish himself and his clan in the region. His old enemy and kinsman Badis ibn Mansur had died, and Zawi had received permission from Badis’s son and heir, al-Mu’izz, to return from exile. Whatever the case, Zawi’s appeal to his kinsmen in Granada fell on deaf ears. The younger generation had little memory of North Africa, and flush with victory, they were confident that they had achieved security and prosperity in al-Andalus. They refused to follow Zawi home.
By 1020 Zawi was gone, having sailed with his immediate household to settle in the Zirid capital of Qayrawan. His return, however, was not a happy one. Soon after his arrival, he received word that his nephew, an equally audacious warrior named Habbus ibn Maksan, had seized power in Granada from Zawi’s sons, whom he had left in charge of the city. And in Ifriqiya itself, he was allotted a large palace as his home, but far from being invited to share power, he was blocked from any access to Maghribi politics. Of Zawi’s ultimate fate we cannot be certain. One account claims he was poisoned not long after his arrival in his homeland, another that he succumbed to illness after some years, isolated and forgotten. In any event, this proud and principled old warrior died without realizing that quite by accident he had founded what would become one of the most powerful kingdoms in al-Andalus.