711 AD: The Conquest of Spain
The Moorish conquest of Spain was nothing of the sort. The defeat of the Visigothic army in July 711 AD in Andalucía was the first and last major confrontation of the war. By the winter, Tariq, the Moorish governor of Tangier, was in the Visigothic capital of Toledo. In the summer of the following year his superior, Musa, joined him with a huge army to mop up the last Visigoth resistance at Mérida. Internal politics held up the Moorish advance, but even so they were only stopped at Poitiers in southern France. Their advance through alien country was incredibly swift.
There were a number of reasons for this. St Boniface, in the 11th century, blamed the Visigoth rulers' 'moral degeneracy and homosexual practices'. Other reasons were probably more important. The Moorish invaders could be extremely brutal, with the bulk of the army made up of fierce Berber warriors from the Moroccan mountains; and Tariq knew how to build a reputation. After the Battle of Guadalete, where he crushed the Visigoth army, Tariq ordered that some of the prisoners be hacked to pieces and boiled in cauldrons in front of their comrades. The rest were freed and, harrowed by the scene, spread the word of Moorish brutality. Fear is a powerful weapon.
Just as importantly, though, the Visigoths were unloved rulers. The old Hispano-Romans who made up their subjects despised the Visigoths. They were disdainful of their barbaric and decadent rule, and quite happy to see them deposed. Most believed the Moors would plunder and leave, and that the Hispano-Romans would then regain power. The Jews in particular aided the invasion. Since King Sisebut's anti-Semitic edict in 616, they had been forced to convert, leave or worship in secret, and anyone suspected of the latter was routinely lashed. Yet they were still hugely influential as merchants and traders and able to offer help disproportionate to their numbers. It would not be the last unlikely religious collaboration of the era.
It should be noted that the Moorish conquest and subsequent Re-conquest are often painted as simple battles of ideology: Christian against Muslim. Things were never quite so clear-cut. The Moors were more tolerant of religious differences than the Romans, who forced their Christianity on the locals. So it would take some time before the Spanish could work up a case for a religious war.
The Moorish era began a little incongruously, and probably had the locals rolling their eyes in memory of the Visigothic kings' escapades. First, the Berbers revolted against their leaders. After the revolt was put down, the two main Moorish factions started a virtual civil war against one another. Tariq was imprisoned, then released, then imprisoned again. Musa fell foul of the new caliph back in Damascus and was left to rot in a prison cell. His son declared himself governor of the new Moorish kingdom, but was beheaded in Seville; his head was shipped back to Damascus and put on show as a warning to other would-be upstarts.
It wasn't the best of beginnings, all told. The internal problems explain why the Moors never quite conquered the whole peninsula. If they had, it is conceivable the Re-conquest might never have got started. As it was, a small parcel of land in the north-west of Spain was able to resist. Elsewhere, in Asturias on the northern coast, the beginning of what would become an epic legend was being acted out by a group of 30 men in a cave.
The group's leader was a man called Pelayo, and there is probably more legend than truth in his story. He was the son of a Visigoth nobleman and exiled by King Witiza. Some versions of the tale say his sister was chosen by a Moorish leader for his harem. Whatever the truth, legend states that Pelayo's little troupe of mountaineers based themselves in a tiny cave at Covadonga and lived off honey, refusing to pay tribute to the Moors and harassing Moorish troops. In the end, the Moors gave up hunting them down and left them to it, saying: 'What harm can a group of 30 savage asses do to us?'
Sometime between 718 and 722, Pelayo and his men took on a Moorish army at the Battle of Covadonga. By rights, this should have been a massacre. After all, the Asturians were ridiculously outnumbered. The 30 men faced a veritable horde of 400,000 Moors, but refused to be cowed. They stood their ground as the Moors charged, raining down a storm of weapons on the merry band. Miraculously, all the Moorish weapons turned and flew back at them, and those that were not killed turned and fled. The Christian god had spoken, and all Islam knew he was not to be trifled with.
If you don't quite believe the details of the story, you are not alone. Historians actually tell of a simple skirmish where the men gathered an army of 300 around them to defeat a small Moorish patrol. The story, however, became legendary, and would inspire many a Crusader over the coming centuries. Even so, it was a small victory, now dubiously claimed as the first of the re-conquest.
Pelayo himself declared a small independent Kingdom of Asturias. Today, the heir to the Spanish throne takes a special title in honour of Pelayo and his men. He is known as the Prince of Asturias.
The new Moorish kingdom on the peninsula was known as Al-Andalus, derived from the Berber phrase Tamarus Wandalus, 'land of the Vandals'. It is said in Islamic legend that when Allah created the Earth each place was given five wishes. Al-Andalus asked for a clear sky, a sea full of fish, beautiful women and plentiful fruit. The final wish, for good government, was rejected on the grounds that it would have created Heaven on Earth. Many Spaniards wryly say little has changed.
Around 750, a young Syrian prince, the only member of his family to escape a massacre in Damascus, arrived in Al-Andalus. He had allies there, particularly among the Berbers. Indeed, his mother had been a Berber. As with survivors of coups generally, he had a healthy hatred of his new overlords. And he knew of the prophesy that said Al-Andalus would be conquered by a man with two dark curls of hair on his forehead, just as he had.
Abd-er-Rahman, 'the Wanderer', was one of those historical figures who pop up once in a while to terrify their contemporaries. Within a year, he had declared Al-Andalus a semi-autonomous state - with himself as emir, of course - and begun building a huge army that would number over 40,000. He did not suffer insurgents particularly well; he would behead them, fill the head with salt and myrrh, and send each, individually packed, back to the caliph in Damascus. On opening the boxes, the caliph apparently cried 'Allah be praised, that the sea divides us from this devil!'
Determined to have Al-Andalus under his power once again, the caliph paid the Frankish king Charlemagne to invade Al-Andalus. Charlemagne's nephew, Roland, failed in an attack on Zaragoza and was attacked on his retreat by the Basques, after sacking Pamplona for plunder instead. The episode inspired the poem The Song of Roland. It is interesting, not to say deeply symbolic of the age, that the Franks fought the Moors on behalf of Islam, not Christianity. The battle between Christian and Moor on religious grounds would take longer to develop.
The first emir of Al-Andalus began a dynasty that would survive for almost 800 years. It is not quite as simple as that, though. Three different groups would rule the Moorish areas, the borders would ebb and flow, and the last 250 years of Moorish occupation would cover just a small area around Granada.
The story of the Moors is not easy to tell because of its polarities. Washington Irving paints a romantic view in Tales of the Alhambra, his scenes full of dark princesses and gardens of paradise. Meanwhile, historical accounts tell of Hakam I's crucifixion of 300 suspected rebels near Seville around 800 AD. The Moors heroically and poetically recorded their own triumphs, while the Christians embellished every barbarism. The truth was probably somewhere in between, but there is no neutral source to describe it.
Certainly the romance and brutality are described in equal measure. Hakam I starred again when he beheaded potential rebels one by one, in their hundreds, in Toledo on the infamous Day of the Foss. He later explained this to his son: 'I have taken care that no rebel shall disturb your slumbers.' Yet also from this era comes the legend of the northern princess who married a Moor and pined for the snows of her Scandinavian home. The Moorish prince planted almond trees over every hillside in view so that she could see the white blossoms covering the ground when they fell. There are enough tales of both aspects of the Moorish occupation to make the assumption that the tellers were prone to extremes.
There are plenty of myths surrounding the Moors, some of which need to be clearly dissociated from the early Islamic rulers. One is of intolerance to other faiths. Spaniards who converted paid slightly less tax, but the Moors in general saw both Christians and Jews as 'people of the book' and allowed them to practice their religion so long as they observed Moorish law. Philosophy and artistry, regardless of religious bent, were also prized. Also, although Al-Andalus was ruled solely by Arabs, no women arrived with the invaders. Every Moorish child was therefore a product of a Moorish-Spanish relationship, and the blood line was quickly diluted.
Interestingly, the three religions developed differing roles in society. They gradually divided into a caste system, different from the class system in the rest of Europe. These were simply traditional roles that each faith naturally favoured, given importance according the Moors' view of them as economic priorities. The Moors were at the top, filling the roles of architects, engineers and artists. They were followed by the Christians, who were the farmers, fishermen and manual workers. Finally the Jews were the traders and pharmacists.
The economic roles were not set in stone, and the ease with which citizens could inter-marry or convert meant the social system was much more flexible than the 'sorted by birth' method developing in the rest of Europe. All inhabitants were considered to have the same status regardless of faith, and an individual's importance within society was defined by his or her occupation alone. Feudalism and the concepts of rights and responsibilities between rulers and subjects didn't develop.
The Umaiyid period which lasted until 1086 is perhaps the era that people most associate with the Moors. There were regular revolts, but it was generally internal intrigue; the average citizen would have witnessed a fairly peaceful and tolerant time. Perhaps the peak of the whole Moorish era came under the rule of Abd-er Rahman III in the 10th century, when Al-Andalus was declared a fully independent state with Rahman as its caliph and Córdoba its capital. Rahman's empire included huge swathes of north-west Africa, and his rule was classically Moorish. He lived in a state of constant war, had dozens of his generals executed for cowardice, yet built the incredible palaces of Medina Azahara and the Great Mosque of Córdoba.
But there were rumblings in the north. From humble beginnings in Asturias, the Christians set out to make a new capital at Léon. In 951, according to legend, Castilla was founded when a local king defaulted on a payment for a horse and a hawk until the debt grew to the size of a small kingdom. These localised kingdoms grew almost gently in power and influence, often relying on inter-marriage to survive. But by the turn of the 10th century they had control of a thick strip of the country stretching from the Atlantic coast to the Pyrenees.
The idea that Spain was a country to be re-conquered was taking hold. St James' grave had apparently been rediscovered at Santiago de Compestela, and he inspired the Christians to a famous win in Galicia. The legend of St James the Moor-slayer was born, pilgrims began to trickle to Santiago, and the idea of a re-conquest based on religious fervour began to take shape. St James is still Spain's patron saint.
Córdoba had noticed this. A charming young man called Al-Mansur was virtually running the court of caliph Hisham II and was not someone to be trifled with. He had one of his own sons whom he suspected of plotting against him whipped to death during dinner, and made a giant pyramid out of the heads of his enemies. Unfortunately for the fledgling kingdoms, he wasn't too fond of Christians either, and led three or four raiding parties into their territory each year.
Finally he struck at their heart. In 997, his army captured and sacked Compostela, and destroyed St James' shrine. The tomb was only spared when an old monk refused to abandon it and Al-Mansur, impressed by his bravery, ordered his troops to desist. Even so, the bells and doors of the church were carried off to Córdoba as trophies for the Great Mosque. The Christians had been dealt an early, and almost fatal, blow.
Note that not all videos of this series are available in the web. We have so far 12 of the total 26 of the complete series. However, CosmoLearning has made available numerous documentaries about the remaining chapters, as indicated in the description below. Please check these links since they refer to some of the best productions ever made about World History.
History's Turning Points - Vol. I is a thirteen part series on decisive moments in world history. Each turning point in history has behind it a story and a set of principal characters whose dilemmas and conflicts form its dramatic core, and whose unique personalities influenced the outcome of events. How would the development of one of the world's greatest civilizations, China, have been different without the ruthless ambition of its first emperor, Chin? Would the British have won Quebec in the eighteenth century without the tenacity and devotion to duty of General John Wolfe? New facts, often from indigenous sources, have emerged to add to our understanding of these crucial events and these, together with the latest historical research and documented first-hand accounts, bring each turning point vividly to life. Exclusive dramatizations carried out at the actual sites of the events, History's Turning Points provides a fascinating and intriguing new perspective on the significant moments that have changed the world.
Volume 1 Content:
THE BATTLE OF SALAMIS-480 BC
At Salamis Bay, the Golden Age began when the Greeks expel the Persians, sinking 200 Persian ships while losing only 40 of their own. Themistocles not only was not rewarded for his victory, but was removed as Athen's leader for being too arrogant.
THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA-221 BC
To seal off his empire from marauders, Chin commanded the building of the Great Wall. Three hundred thousand were employed, and thousands, especially the scholars, died and were buried within the wall. Called "the world's longest graveyard", it was his greatest accomplishment and his greatest tragedy.
THE BATTLE OF ACTIUM-31 BC
If the battle of Actium had been won by Cleopatra and Antony, there would have been no Roman Empire. Yet Octavius Caesar's victory in 31 BC created an absolute dictatorship that sparked one-of the greatest imperial and cultural expansions the world has ever known.
THE CONQUEST OF SPAIN-711 AD
By the 8th century, the rise of the Muslim Empire spread Arab rule over the Middle East, Egypt, and North Africa. After appointing a Berber, Tariq, to invade Spain, the Arabs enslaved the Visigoth Kingdom. Seven centuries of their Moorish rule brought accomplishments in mathematics, architecture, and science.
THE BLACK DEATH-1347 AD
When a plague-ridden ship landed in Venice in 1347, it was immediately put into quarantine...but no one could stop the rats from corning ashore. Within three years, a third of Western Europe's population was dead. It was the greatest calamity in history.
THE SIEGE OF CONSTANTINOPLE-1453 AD
In 1204 crusaders sacked the city, then renamed Constantinople. For the next thousand years, the Byzantine Kings hid safely behind the massive walls of Constantinople. Then in 1453, with the Turkish Ottoman Empire encircling the city, Sultan Mehmet brought the newest technology of the 15th century, the cannon, and finally brought down the walls of the world's most impregnable fortress.
THE CONQUEST OF THE INCAS-1532 AD
When Pizarro, 170 soldiers and a friar arrived, The Inca, scornful of the scruffy Spaniards, invited them to stay in the town. They kidnapped the Inca, collected a ransom and killed him. But the plunder had only begun. The Spaniards diseases wiped out 90% of the Incas.
THE MARRIAGE OF POCAHONTAS-1614 AD
On the land of the Algonquins, 150 English settlers had built a trading post called James Town. And though Captain John Smith promised the Indians the colony was temporary, they saw it as a lie. He was captured and about to be stoned, when 13 year old Pocahontas, the favorite among Chief Pohantan's hundred children, intervened.
THE BATTLE FOR CANADA-1759 AD
In the first half of the 18th century, British and French interests in North America increasingly overlapped. British war minister William Pitt ordered an invasion up the St. Lawrence. Racing winter, British forces scaled the cliffs near Quebec City at night, with no retreat possible.
ZULUS AT WAR-1879 AD
After diamonds were discovered at Kimberley and gold in the Transvaal, British colonization stepped up. Charged with stopping Zulu attacks, 5000 British soldiers invaded Zululand, setting camp at Isandalwana, they more than 1300 Brits died.
THE BATTLE OF TSUSHIMA-1905 AD
In 1902, the Japanese attacked the Russian city of Port Arthur. Using the teaching of his model Admiral Nelson, Admiral Togo defeated the corrupt Russian navy, with aristocrat-officers and brightly painted ships. Russia surrendered South Manchuria to the Japanese, changing the balance of power in Asia forever.
THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION-1917 A.D.
Both Lenin and Kerensky were driven to overthrow the Czar. From similar backgrounds, they were both fervent revolutionaries. Lenin wanted the rich to be poor; Kerensky wanted the poor to be rich. Lenin, a charismatic workaholic, won because he would not compromise.
You can find many videos about the Russian Revolution in many links in CosmoLearning, such as:
THE ATOMIC BOMB-1945 AD
Without doubt, the Second World War was the most momentous event in U.S. history. Few single instants have marked so great and historic watershed as 9:15 a.m., August 6, 1945. Traditional war as an instrument of international policy ended completely, and future relations between nations changed drastically afterward.
Follow some of the links in CosmoLearning where you can find documentaries about the Atomic Bomb in 1945:
History's Turning Points Vol. 2 is a sequel to the best selling series. It continues with thirteen additional moments in time that changed the course of history. These docudramas, with dramatizations carried out at the actual sites of the events and some newly released historical footage, provide perspectives of these events that only visual interpretations of the latest in historical research can provide. Fly with the Wright Brothers, storm the Bastille, learn how television was created and what it meant to the war in Vietnam. A captivating journey into World History.
Volume 2 Content:
THE PLOT TO KILL HITLER
The bomb explodes, but against all odds Europe's most hated dictator survives In July 1944 Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, a trusted junior officer of the Nazi home army, entered Hitler's high security headquarters, the Wolf's Lair, intent to kill his Furher. He stakes his life on success and a restoration of honor for Germany. The bomb explodes, but by a curious twist of fate, does not kill Hitler, who goes on to be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands more men, women and children in the last nine months of the war.
The documentary below - part of the renowned series The World at War - shows the plot to kill Hitler, including an interview with his secretary:
REVOLUTION IN PARIS
A prison is stormed and modern France is born On July 14th 1789 the starving and destitute citizens of Paris riot in search of food and weapons. The people storm the Bastille, dreaded symbol of royal rule, determined to liberate its prisoners and seize its weapons. Its ill fated governor, Monsieur De Launay eventually surrenders, overwhelmed by the number of besiegers. He becomes the first nobleman to die at the hands of the citizens and the people of France learn through violent struggle they might realize their dream of a people's republic.
For a complete documentary about the French Revolution:
SEARCH FOR TROY
Schliemann finds the site of Ancient Troy and the mythical past becomes scientific fact. Heinrich Schliemann was a German grocer's boy who had made a fortune in the gold fields of California and became an archaeologist. He dug for three years at Hissarlik in modern Turkey, determined to prove that it was the site of the Troy of the ancient epic story of Homer's Iliad. In 1873 he discovers a glorious horde of treasure and opens the world's eyes to the wonders of the ancient past. The mythical world of the heroes of the Iliad had become reality.
Follow the link for the Topic Troy in CosmoLearning, with 8 hours of documentaries so far:
THE TELEVISION EXPLOSION
Television explodes into a business and in one generation revolutionized our lives David Sarnoff, a poor Russian immigrant, was the first person to recognize the financial and commercial potential for television. He had championed the radio mania of the 1920s and set out to put a television in every home in America. At the World's Fair in Flushing Meadows, New York on April 30th 1939, Sarnoff unveils commercial television, the most powerful means of advertising and entertainment yet invented. Our world would never be the same again.
THE RISE OF THE MOB
The Volstead Act is passed and the Mafia takes over America. In 1920 the American government cracks down on drinking and bans the sale and consumption of alcohol. But instead of making America a better place, prohibition funds the creation of an even greater evil - the Mafia. Chicago becomes a city torn by rival gangs led by the notorious Al Capone and his arch enemy Bugs Moran. On St. Valentine's Day Al Capone's men massacre members of Moran's gang in a blood bath at a disused garage. The murders horrify America and on February 20 1933, prohibition is abolished, ridding the gangsters of their most valuable source of income.
In the topic United States you can find three documentaries about the History of the Mob:
THE SHOT THAT STARTED THE GREAT WAR
The murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand triggers the start of a world war
Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire arrived with his wife Sophie in the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Sarajevo on June 28th 1914. His visit is a show of strength to the rebellious Serb Nationalists. That day saw him assassinated with his wife by Gavrilo Princip, an idealistic 18 year old, in the streets of Sarajevo. Their assassination set in motion a chain of events which led rapidly to the outbreak of World War I and the end of an era.
The link below show the first chapter of the best series ever made about the WWI, showing the origins of the shot that triggered the War:
THE SPANISH ARMADA
The planned Spanish invasion of England fails and England dominates the waves
It is 1588 and the conflict between the Catholic Philip II of Spain and the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I of England is at a breaking point. In May Philip launches the Spanish Armada, an invincible fleet of 130 ships to conquer English shores Sir Francis Drake and the English fleet sail from Plymouth to meet the invaders. The English overcome the far larger Spanish fleet by using fireships. The broken Armada is forced to flee North where many die off the hostile coasts of Scotland and Ireland. Philip's dream of a Europe united under Catholic rule is shattered.
For a complete documentary about the Spanish Armada:
THE INCREDIBLE MARCH
Mao turns defeat into victory and Chinese communism is born
Mao Tse-tung, the leader of China's Communist First Front Army flees the forces of his arch enemy, the Nationalist leader Chiang Kai Shek. Mao and his one hundred thousand strong peasant army battle against the Nationalists and nature itself, fleeing over 6000 miles through 12 provinces over 18 mountain ranges and across 24 rivers in an epic test of human endurance. Only six thousand men survive but Mao lives to become the undisputed father of Chinese Communism and 14 years after his epic journey becomes Chairman of the People's Republic of China.
A complete documentary about Mao, including the Long March:
THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN
The RAF defeats the Luftwaffe and democracy is saved
Britain's fighter pilots take to the skies in the summer of 1940 in order to maintain control of the English Channel and stave off Hitler's planned invasion. When German bombers lose their way and drop bombs on London on August 24, Prime Minister Churchill retaliates by sending planes to attack Berlin. Hitler's Luftwaffe shifts its attack to British cities and kills thousands of civilians during the Blitz. But despite terrible losses the British pilots fight gallantly and eventually force Hitler to abandon indefinitely his plans for a land invasion of Britain.
Follow links with documentaries about the Battle of Britain:
THE FIRST FLIGHT
The Wright brothers reach for the clouds and world air travel becomes a reality
Orville and Wilbur Wright, two bicycle mechanics from Dayton, Ohio are determined to prove that man can fly. After years of research, the two brothers eventually construct the Flyer and on the sands of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina on December 17 1903 Orville Wright becomes the first man to fly in a self-propelled engine powered plane. The age of flight has arrived.
NAPOLEON INVADES RUSSIA
The French army is destroyed by the Russian winter and a new Empire is created In 1812 Napoleon, Emperor of France determines to defeat Alexander I Tsar of all Russias and establish himself as the most formidable military leader in Europe. He sets out to conquer Russia with half a million men. Although he captures Moscow, the Russian capital, hundreds of thousands of soldiers die, frozen or starved to death on Russia's open plains. Rather than the greatest of his military victories, Napoleon's invasion of Russia becomes a disorganized retreat. His dream of a united Europe under France is destroyed forever.
Here you can find a complete documentary about Napoleon, including the invasion of Russia:
CRISIS IN KOREA
A Communist invasion in the Far East brings the world close to nuclear war
When communist North Korea invades the democratic South in 1950, the US World War II hero, General MacArthur is determined to put an end to the Red menace for good. With his daring landing at Inchon, he pulls off one of the greatest military operations ever. But when he orders his troops north to the Yalu river, Communist China joins the war. Their massive land and jet plane attacks drive the United Nations forces back into South Korea and MacArthur threatens to drop atomic bombs in China, a move that could spark off global nuclear war. Just in time, US President Harry Truman prevents this by firing MacArthur. World War III has been avoided, but the Cold War has truly started.
Documentary about the War in Korea:
THE BATTLE FOR VIETNAM
Walter Cronkite and the media question a victory and the war in Vietnam is lost
During the Tet truce for Chinese New Year, January 31st 1968, the Vietcong carry out a surprise attack on America's Embassy in Vietnam's capital, Saigon. It is the beginning of a country-wide offensive as major cities are assaulted all over Vietnam and thousands are killed. Television footage of the attacks are broadcast in America where the CBS Anchorman Walter Cronkite publicly questions America's involvement in the war. His report sends shock waves through an American public already wavering in their support for President Lyndon Johnson.
Here are some links where you can find documentaries about the Vietnam War: