Slavs of Muslim Spain

The earliest Arabic-Slavic contacts can probably be traced all the way to the 500's, and most likely occured on or near the territory of the East Roman (Byzantine) Empire. The earliest Arabic sources describe the Slavs as a people with pale skin, that turns "red" while under the sun, and blond hair. The Arabs even referred to a certain kind of a white coloured bean as Saqalibiya (Slavic), as we learn from the Kitab al-Filaha, a treatise on agriculture written by Ibn al-'Avvam at the end of the 12th century; the bean's colour apparently reminded them of the colour of the Slavs' hair. The first confirmed instance of the Slavs meeting the Arabs is mentioned by the Byzantine chronicler Teofanes (Teophanes), who wrote in the early 9th century; according to him in 664 a group of 5 000 Slavic (Sklavinoi) mercenaries in the Byzantine service joined the victorious army of the Omayyad (Umayyad) Caliph Mu'avyi I (reigned 661-680) who was returning from a campaign in Asia Minor. The caliph settled these Slavs in an area near the city of Apamea in northern Syria.

The Arabic name for the Slavs, Saqaliba (or as-Saqaliba with the Arabic "the"), which later also acquired at least a few dialectical variations, is a Greaco-Byzantine loanword; this word is the regular Arabic plural form of the word Saqlab, Siqlab, Saqlabi, which itself is a corruption of the word Sklav- or the Greek and Middle Latin singular form of the Sklavinoi mentioned by the Byzantines. Albeit the Slavs were probably the first northern European race to be encountered by the Arabs who called them Saqaliba, and in some rare cases it is also used in reference to some non-Slavic northern European peoples by later Arabs, it originally was exlusively used to refer to the Slavs by the early Arabs, and in the vast majority of cases that was also the case with the later Arabs. Therefore, the claim often put forward by many chauvinistic Western scholars that the Arabs usually called as "Slavs" all northern Europeans does not reflect reality. This is clearly seen in the early medieval accounts of such Arabic writers like al-Ya'qubi, Ibn Hurdadbeha, and many others.

The first wave of the Slavic settlement among the Arabs started in 664, but more was to come; in 692 another group of Slavic soldiers-settlers in Byzantine service, under their Prince Nevulos, voluntarily went-over to the Arabs; when the Arabs raided Asia Minor, the local Slavic soldiers-settlers whom the Byzantines intended to use against their enemies, joined the Arabs. Most of these were the Macedonian Slavs, but also apperently included some Serbs, who were originally resettled in large numbers from Macedonia to Bithynia in 686 by the Byzantines, during the reign of Emperor Justinian II (reigned 685-695 and 705-711). This second groups of Slavs was also settled within the borders of the Caliphate: in northern Syria (near the cities of Antioch and Kyrrhos). Since the 8th century new groups of Slavs appear on the territory of the Caliphate, settled by the last Omayyad Caliph Marvan ibn Muhammad (or Marvan II, reigned 744-750); these Slavs are also known to have been settled in northern Syria, Cilicia (Cylicia), Commagene, Armenia or northern Mesopotamia, and Georgia. But there were also still some Slavs left on the Byzantine side of the border; Arabic writers mention a certain Hisn as-Saqaliba (Fortress of the Slavs) located on the road leading from Tarsus to the "Cilician Gates".

Arabic sources also mention Slavic settlements in Arabic-ruled Sicily. One of them called Sclafani is mentioned in 939. Another one is Harat as-Saqaliba (Slavic Quarter), a Slavic-inhabited district of Palermo located close to the city's port, in the capital of the emirs of Sicily. The origin of these Slavs is disputed; according to conflicting claims they go back all the way to 535 AD when the Byzantine General Belisarius presumably left a Slavic garrison in the city, or to the 10th century when the Fatimids conquered Sicily and likewise left a Slavic garrison there. The Italian historian Amari probably came with the most plausible explanation for their origin; he points out that Abu'l Fida'y, an Arabic historian and geographer from the 1300's, states that in 928/9 off the coast of Maghreb and Sicily there appeared a Slavic piratical fleet of 30 ships which, together with the Arabs, pillaged Calabria, Corsica, and Sardinia. After some time these very Slavic pirates decided to permanently settle in a quarter of Palermo which was named after them. These were most certainly South Slavic pirates from the Adriatic littoral who were quite active sea rovers during the period in question. We cannot be certain as to how many Slavs settled there, but judging from that Constantine Porfirogenetus (Porphirogenetus) estimated that a large ship (sagena) of the Southern (Balkan) Croats contained about 40 men, and using this number as a general reference, when multiplied by 30 ships should give us about 1 200 men. These Sicilian Slavs are mentioned by Ibn Hauqal, an Arabic geographer and traveler from the second half of the 10th century, as well as by Yaqut, who also mentions a different quarter of Palermo whose name was "The Quarter of the Slavic Mosque". It must also be added that the total number of Slavs who settled in Palermo was probably larger than the one calculated above since we should also add the Slavs from the "The Quarter of the Slavic Mosque" and also possible later arrivals to both quarters. Eventually, the Sicilian Slavs become completely assimilated; the name Harat as-Saqaliba disappears with time and in the Latin-written documents of the 12-13th century it is displaced with the designation of Seralcadi (< ar. Shari' al-qadi "Street of the Judge").

The Slavic pirates on the Mediterrenean Sea were not uncommon in during the 10th century. Ibn Hauqal mentions Slavic pirates plundering the coast of Muslim Spain, and al-Masudi who mentions that against the inhabitants of al-Andalus (Muslim Spain) fight the Jalaliqa (Galicians), Ifranja (Franks), Nukabard (Lombards) and Saqaliba (Slavs). We also know that Croat and Dalmatian Slavs fought in the Byzantine fleet operating on the Adriatic and Yonian Sea, like it was the case in the expedition to Bari in the mid-9th century against the Arabs, who tried to establish a foothold there. The Slavic activity on the southern seas starts quite early; already in 526 a Slavic fleet attacks Constantinople from the sea, in 626 light Slavic boats appear on the Black Sea fighting on the side of the Avars against the Byzantine navy, in the 7th century Slavic pirates appear on both the Adriatic and Aegean Sea. Light Slavic ships control the northern coast of the Aegean Sea in the second half of the 7th century, attacking the Byzantine vessels transporting food from Saloniki to Constantinople; they even besieged Saloniki from the sea, the largest Byzantine port in the Aegean, and they laid waste to the Cyclades. In 623 Slavic pirates attack Crete (at about this time in the western part of which Slavs are known to have settled) and Asia Minor, and in 642 Apulia (the latter probably by Slavs from Dalmatia, where Slavic naval art developed very early). The alliance of the Slavic pirates with the Arabs mentioned by Abu'l-Fida'y was by no means the first one of its kind; Constantine Porphirogenetus reports that during the reign of Emperor Nicopherus in 805 or 807 Slavs attacked the city of Patras in the Peleponessus, together with "Saracens and Africans". The Slavs living on the shores of the Adriatic also displayed maritime inclanations; during a period of at least about 50 years during the 900's the Venetian Republic was reduced to a status of a virtual tributary of the Slavic pirates from the Adriatic littoral. The Croats and Neretvans fought most frequently against the Venetians; one Venetian Doge is known to have been killed in a battle against the latter. The Slavic raids on Italy also took place by land; these were pillaging raids launched on the north-estern part of the Lombard Kingdom, or military interventions made at the request of some Lombard factions involved in civil wars. For example, Arnefrit, the son of the late Lupus, Duke of Friulia, fled to the Slovenes (also knowns at that time as Garotans, Horutans, or Karantans, from Garota "cave" therefore Garotans would mean "inhabitants of lands with caves" - a very accurate description since there are numerous caves in southern Austria and Slovenia, where they lived at that time) after the Lombard King Grimoald refused to give him his deceased father's duchy. He returned to Friulia with a Slavic army, but was quickly killed in a clash with the Lombards. Not long after the Slavs again attacked Friulia but were defeated. In 701 Slavic raiders attack Friulian shepherds; a subsquent Lombard pursuit fails to catch them. Just a few days later, when new Slovene detachments enter Friulia, Duke Fergulf, along with the flower of the Friulian nobility, attacks them, but he is killed, together with most of his troops, while storming the Slavs' camp located on a hill. During the reign of King Liutprand (reigned 712-744), Duke Pemmo tried to eject a Slavic detachment from Friulia, but was forced to cease fighting and make peace. Just as it was the case in Sicily, Crete, and elsewhere, the Slavs sometimes combined raiding with permanent settlement; a few Slavic enclaves appear at about this time in north-eastern Italy. As we can see, during this age the Slavs were active raiders on both land and sea.

At last we should mention the Slavs who arrived in the Muslim Spain. These can be subdivided into two groups: one consisted of the slaves of Slavic origin who were recognized as a highly valued commodity there, and the other were Slavic warriors who voluntarily became mercenaries in the service of the Arabic rulers of Spain; the latter must have been surely attracted by the fabulous wealth of al-Andalus.

The Slavic slaves sold to Muslim Spain included female concubines for the harems of the rich Arabs who were especially valued for their light complexion and blond hair, and males, often brought in as young boys, who either became civil servants, palace servants, eunuchs at the above-mentioned harems, or, in the case of the physically strongest speciemen, troops of the elite Slavic Guards, which served as preatorian guards whose soldiers enjoyed special privileges, of Spain's Arabic rulers. It must be also added that part of the Slavic slaves who arrived in Spain were later transferred to other locations in the Muslim world, like North Africa and even Near East; in the former the existence of the Slavic Guards has also been confirmed (see below about the Slavic Guard at Nukur).

According to Ibn Hauqal the Slavic slaves were brought to Muslim Spain via Galicia, Frankia, the Lombard Kingdom, and Calabria in southern Italy. To Galicia they must have been most likely brought by sea by Danish and/or even Polabian Slavic merchants. Albeit many historians will surely credit the former with such deeds, the involvement of the Slavic merchants cannot be entirely ruled out. The Polabian Slavs were very skilled sailors and boat-builders; the Polabian city of Vineta was one of the largest and richest trading centers in contemporary Europe. Polabian Slavs, it appears especially the Vielets, established their own enclave in the Utrecht area, and settled in parts of England, apparently as Danish allies; Polabian-Pomeranian Slavs are also known to have even settled on Norse age Iceland and also extensively in the northern Eastern Slavdom. At last we can also add that the medieval northern Russian Republic of Novogrod, whose population was to a large degree descended from Polabian-Pomeranian Slavs, a fact nowdays very much overlooked, also carried-out prosperous trade; in 1134 a Novogrodian merchant fleet visits Denmark. The Rus merchants also show up in Baghdad in 846, where they require the services of local Slavic interpreters. The Slavs had their own active part in the creation of the famed German Hansa too; many of its member cities were known as the Wendisch (Slavic) ones, including Lubeck, originally the Slavic city of Lubeka, which was one of the league's co-founding members, and also its de facto capital, where the Hanseatic judicial courts took place along with the governing councils known as the Hansetage.

In case of both Frankia (Francia) and the Lombard Kingdom, it is clear that these Slavic slaves must have been prisoners-of-war captured by Franks and Lombards in their wars against the Slavs, and also slaves who were bought by Jewish and Catholic slave traders in the western sectors of Slavdom; it is known that at that time Prague was a major center of the slave trade. There were two main hubs of slave trafficking in Frankia: the hub at Verdun was controlled by the Catholic traders, the one at Lyon by their Jewish counterparts. The main land roads across Frankia led through Germany, Mogunce, Verdun, and Lyon, on to Spain. The Slavic slaves brought from Calabria were most likely of South Slavic origin; again some of them might have been Lombard and Venetian prisoners-of-war, while some of them might have been even brought by the Slavic pirates, who sometimes also preyed on other Slavs. In some cases, the Arabs might have bypassed the intermidiaries by capturing slaves or hiring mercenaries of Slavic origin on the Balkan coast; in 868 an Arabic fleet attacks Ragusa (Dubrovnik). According to a certain Italian chronicle, the Venetians were in fact involved in the trade with Slavic slaves, prisoners of war they captured during their numerous wars against Slavic pirates waged during the republic's early history. Slavs themselves were apparently also involved to some degree in the enslavement and trade of both non-Slavs (Norsemen, Franks/Germans, Avars, Lombards, Byzantines, Vlachs, Antes, and others) and fellow Slavs. The latter is by no means impossible, since at that time wars between Slavic tribes are nothing unheard of, and besides, events in post-1989 Poland show that there are always some scoundrels to be found who are ready to sell out their fellow compatriots.

With regard to the Slavs who arrived in Muslim Spain on their own account, to serve as mercenaries in the armies of the Spain's Arabic rulers, we know that the more venturesome Slavs from both the Balkans and the southern shores of the Baltic could have reached Spain without too much difficulty; the Mediterrenean is very much an inland sea, with lots of coasts and islands that make navigation much easier than is the case on an open ocean. The Western Slavs from the Baltic had a more difficult journey to accomplish, but they could have easily employed stop-overs at various Slavic "Danelaws" established on the North Sea, one such in the present-day area of Utrecht in the Netherlands (founded by the Vielets), and which Thomas Ebendorfer refers to as the Provincia Veletaborum (Vielet Province), as well as many more in England where Western Slavic settlement during the viking times was surprisingly extensive. It appears that the Danes made an extensive use of Slavs as mercenaries and settlers in parts of England; the Slavs' military virtues being clearly very appreciated by these most fearsome of all the Norsemen. Not surprising, since Denmark, and to lesser degrees Sweden and Norway, itself experienced the fury of the Slavs on its own skin.

The Slavs arrived in Muslim Spain quite early on; already in 762 a certain Arabic diplomat named 'Abd ar-Rahman al-Fihri, who arrived from the East to agitate on behalf of the Abbasids, had the nickname of as-Saqlabi (the Slav), because he was tall, had auburn hair and blue eyes. There were also many Slavs at the court of the Omayyad Emir of Cordoba al-Hakam I (796-822). The Slavs in Muslim Spain quickly attained an important position in the social structure of Muslim Spain, and many went on to play an important role in its politics in the subsequent future. These "Spanish" Slavs found a powerful patron in the person of 'Abd ar-Rahman III (reigned 912-961, since 929 as the Caliph), one of the most outstanding monarchs from the Spanish line of the Omayyad Dynasty. Muslim Spain owes this ruler reforms in its administration, expansion into Maghreb (Maghrib), creation of a strong navy, expanding and securing the borders on the Castilian and Leonese frontier with mostly successful and devastating (to the northern Catholic states) military campaigns, magnificient construction projects, an unprecedented development of arts and sciences, as well as general economic prosperity.

'Abd ar-Rahman III quickly recognized the high value of the Slavs, their bravery and loyalty, and their industriousness. Keeping this in mind he organized an elite preatorian guard, appropriately known as the Slavic Guard, which, aside from protecting his person, was also tasked with keeping the unruly hereditary Arabic aristocracy and the anarchic Berber tribes, which frequently launched revolts against the Arab domination, in check. The Slavic Guard is known to have been blindly obedient to the caliph, and was also one of the strongest and most disciplined military units of its time. It is interesting to note that, according to the Muslim laws, all non-Muslims who lived under Muslim rule were forbidden from bearing arms, yet this same prohibition did not applied to the non-Muslims who came from outside of the Muslim domains (dar al-Islam in Arabic). The number of the Slavs in the service of the Caliph of Al-Andalus rapidly increases; according to al-Maqqari, an Arab historian from the 17th century, in the city of Cordoba (Cordova) alone it reaches 3 750, then it elevates to 6 087, and at the end of the reign of 'Abd ar-Rahman III it stands at 13 750. Many of these Slavs came to Spain as young boys and such individuals easily became Muslims; they showed great attachment and loyalty to their protector, who did not spared them privileges and promotions. Already in 939 'Abd ar-Rahman III nominates a certain Slav named Naja as the commander of his army in a war against the Kingdom of Leon. Many other Slavs also attained important positions in the Spanish Caliphate's military and civil service. This state of affairs continues during the reign of 'Abd ar-Rahman's successor Caliph al-Hakam II (reigned 961-976), who comes under the total influence of his Slavic preatorians.

There have been some false suggestions put forward with regard to whether the Slavs of Muslim Spain were really Slavs. The clear connotation of the Arabic name for Slavs to genuine Slavs has been already mentioned in the beginning. Afterwards, the ways in which the Slavs arrived in Moorish Spain from their homelands have also been discussed. To this should also be added the Spanish Arabic sources which clearly state that the members of the Slavic Guards originally consisted exclusively of men of the Slavic race, and only later on some Leonese, Franks, and Lombards were allowed to join it. Furthermore, the latter do not just appear only later, but could not have been admitted in larger numbers, since that would have been a very dangerous thing for the Muslims to do. The case of the famous Castilian knight El Cid, during the last part of the Taifa Period, demonstrates it quite clearly. Having real Slavs as either all or at least most troops of the Slavic Guards conveniently avoided such un-necessary risks. Interestingly, El Cid was never referred to by his Muslim employers as a "Slav" in spite of that Slavs are kept on being mentioned by the Arabic sources as being in Muslim Spain until the 12th century. At last, the troops of the Slavic Guards are known to have had the nickname of "the silent" since they could not speak either Arabic nor Romance; a lack of proficiency in the latter would surely not have been the case with the Leonese, Franks, and Lombards - all of whom came from Romance-speaking regions.

In the beginning of the 11th century Muslim Spain experiences a period of political turmoil and fragmentation which begins around 1010 with the collapse of the central authority; a power vacuum arises and a succession struggle ensues. From 1013 to 1031, when a ruling council of Cordoba officially abolishes the office of the caliph, six Omayyads and three members of a half-Berber dynasty held that office, in each case for a brief time; none had any real power of a true caliph, and they only exercised authority in the Taifa state of Cordoba. Between 1011 and 1013 Muslim Spain disintegrates into about 30 states during an era of anarchy known as the fitna; some of them are seized and ruled by the Slavs. The rulers of these states that were established on the ruins of the Cordoban Caliphate were known in Arabic as muluk at-tawa'if (Party Kings) or reyes de taifa (and thence the Taifa Period) in Spanish, because they were often supported by the various parties that carved out their own dominions in Muslim Spain. This condition persists until the early 1090's, when Muslim Spain is re-unified by the Almoravids. For example a certain Slav named Hayran, who was the leader of the Slavic party in the capital of Cordoba and a faithful follower of the Caliph Hisham II (reigned 976-1009 and 1010-1013), was also the governor of the Province of Almeria where eventually a Slavic-ruled state was established. At the same time, another Slav named Vadih was the governor of a northern "march" frontier province of the Cordoban Caliphate. During the early part of the Taifa Period a certain Slav was the Prince of Jaen, Baeza, and Calatrava. In some cases even the very names of these Slavic rulers identify them as Slavs; that was surely the case with Khayrah al-Saqlabi, the Slavic Taifa ruler of Jativa, and Labib al-Saqlabi, the Slavic ruler of Tortosa.

Vast majority of these Taifa states were small. In some cases very small, consisting of a city or a town and a small area around it. There were only a few larger ones, like Badajoz or Toledo, but all of them were sparesely populated. Some of the smallest states were not able to furnish armies larger than a few hundred troops. All the Slavic-ruled states were medium-sized in comparison to the other Taifa states; they were always located on Spain's eastern seaboard, where, on much of the coastline, the population density was relatively high, and therefore we must conclude that the native populations they ruled over were also relatively big, comparatively speaking. The populations that lived there were, together with these of southern Spain much of whose at that time came under Berber rule, among the most racially heterogenous in the entire Iberia, what perhaps facilitated the Slavs' (and the Berbers') seizure of power in the areas where they established their respective states. The Slavs found more enduring states in Almeria, Denia-Balearics (in the 1015-1016 period even briefly extended to Sardinia), Murcia, Tortosa, and Valencia; during the early stage of the Taifa Period they also ruled over for shorter periods of time in Jaen, Baeza, and Calatrava (the Slavic prince mentioned above), while in the "march" frontier province of Badajoz a Slav named Sabur initially held power.

In the Taifa state of Seville the Slavs never seized power, but, nevertheless, there may have been some Slavic troops in its service; some Western scholars speculate that they were actually Catholic mercenaries from the north, but that is both unlikely and unsubstantiated. Seville was one of the most expansionistically successful of the Taifa states and perhaps these Slavic troops had a hand in these successes.

The Slavic-ruled states established in Spain during the fitna were somewhat similar to the ones estabished by the Berbers, in that they were both founded by the alien military elites apparently pursuing their own interests and without much interest for the indigenous populations (that is actually Wasserstein's own assertion, the examples of at least some of the Slavic rulers show that, at least in some cases, the opposite was true); they were also often torn apart by internal squabbles, had very mixed native populations, and were either unwilling or unable to import additional members of their own race to increase their numbers. The latter was an important consideration for the Slavs, who were especially few in number (according to Wasserstein's "guesstimate" perhaps no more than around 15 000 at the peak of their numerical presence in Moorish Spain, or about the size of a single contemporary town on the eastern coast of Spain, where the more long-lasting Slavic states were established). The fact that a small portion of the Slavs in Muslim Spain were made into eunuchs, to be placed in charge of the rich Arabs' harems, did not help either, albeit that was surely not the case with many of them, as some historians maliciously try to suggest. One might point out that eunuchs don't make into good soldiers, especially elite ones. Besides, it is known that Mujahid, the Slavic ruler of Denia-Balearics, begot children, and we also keep on hearing about the Slavs in Muslim Spain until the 12th century, or long after all imports of Slavic slaves to this land had completely ceased with the collapse of the caliphate in the 1010-1013 period; a fact well attested by the decline of the port of Pechina (near Almeria), through which a large portion of the Slavs arrived in Spain, that started in 1011-1012 or at the beginning of the anarchy period (which immediately led to the establishment of the Taifa states) known as the fitna. Therefore, it must be concluded that these "later" Slavs (those mentioned in the late 11th and 12th century) were born in Spain of at least partial Slavic parentage. The unusually high frequency of light-haired individuals among the Valencians is certainly a legacy of the Slavs' habitation in that city and the surrounding area, and that is where one of the Slavic-ruled states was actually established.

The most successful Slavic ruler of the Taifa states was Mujahid al-Amiri the ruler of Denia (later of Denia-Balearics), a son of a Christian woman (most of Slavdom was by that time part of Christiandom), albeit a devout Muslim himself; he was also one of the most brilliant of all the Taifa rulers in general. He established his state in Denia in 1011, during the onset of the fitna, which saw the collapse of Cordoba's central authority and the simultaneous emergence of the Taifa states. Using the naval assets of his tiny state, and perhaps also employing Slavic pirates-turned-mercenaries, he soon extended his authority to the Balearics. He even briefly conquered either all or part of Sardinia in 1015, when he invaded it with a fleet of 120 vessels transporting 1 000 cavalrymen. But the following year a combined Genoese-Pisan force ejected him from Sardinia, causing him significant losses, including the capture of his wives and daughters. The Genoese were at that time a major naval and merchant power on the Mediterrenean; it appears that they were afraid that Sardinia will become a major base for the Muslim privateers' expeditions against its territory, while the Pisans were perhaps more concerned about safeguarding their commercial interests. Mujahid was also a notable patron of sciences; in his capital he established a Koranic school that became renowned in the entire Muslim world, and he also attracted many learned men to his court. Madina Mayurqa (Palma in Majorca) was a scene of a scholastic controversy between Ibn Hazm and al-Baji, two of the most outstanding contemporary Andalusian intellectuals, which took place in public, revealing the high level of culture developed on the Balearics during the period of the Slavic rule. Denia, according to the documents of the Cairo Genizah, became at that time one of the most important ports on the Iberian Peninsula, on par with Almeria and Seville (the former was also under Slavic rule) and with direct links to Egypt. The Slavic rulers of Denia-Balearics also maintained diplomatic relations with the counts of Barcelona. His brilliant statesmanship is very evident from the fact that his reign was a period tranquility and prosperity for his realm. Mujahid also ruled over the Taifa state of Valencia during the 1017-1021 period (in 1017-1019 he ruled there jointly with Labib al-Saqlabi, the Slavic ruler of Tortosa). Mujahid, who passed away in 1045, was succeed to the throne by his son 'Ali, who, prior to assuming power, had to contend it with his brother. In 1076 he is forced by his brother-in-law, the ruler of Saragossa (Zaragozza), to exchange Denia for an estate in the latter's domain.

Another outstanding Slavic Taifa ruler was Khayran; he held sway over Orihuela, Murcia, and Almeria. At the latter he established his capital in, fortifying and beautifying it in the process, in addition to constructing new buildings and a running water system. Khayran made his brother Zuhayr the governor of Murcia and it was he who succeeded him to the throne. Upon his succession, Zuhayr extended his domain from Almeria all the way almost to Cordoba and Toledo as well as over Jativa and Baeza; he also continued his brother's general policies. Nevertheless, he suffered serious setbacks in fighting the Badis of Granada, and he was killed in a battle in 1038. News of his untimely demise caused an immense constarnation in Almeria, where he was soon replaced by 'Abd al-'Aziz of Valencia, who arrived at the request of Almeria's inhabitants.

But not all the Slavic Taifa rulers appear to have been as enlightened as Mujahid; the 11th century historian Ibn Hayyan has written a certain account in which he accuses the first two Slavic Taifa rulers of Valencia, in the 1011-1017 period, of having reduced their subjects to a miserable condition by their impositions, and of forcing them to abandon their villages and rural areas in order to appropriate and transform them into their private holdings, sometimes accepting the original owners back, albeit now only as tenants on lands they used to own.

Traces of the Slavic presence in Spain can even be found in its place names; for example one of the districts belonging to the Province of Shantarin (Santarem) is referred to by the medieval Arabic geographers as Saqlab (Slavic). Unfortunetly, now we do not know where precisely was this district located, albeit it is likely that the modern-day town of Ceclavin on the lower Rio Tajo (Tagus River), near the Portuguese border (in what is now the Spanish Province of Extremadura) is in fact a Romance corruption of the dialectical Arabic Seqlabiyin (Slavs). Another explanation for this place name was put forward by Charmoy; according to him Saqlab was actually an Arabic corruption of Scalabis, the original name for Santarem. The two major flaws in this hipothesis are the fact that Saqlab does literally translate as "Slavic" and many place names across Europe are known to have been named after a specific nationality that lived there, and also that the Arabs had no reasons to confusingly corrupt Scalabis into their name for Slavs, if no Slavs lived there to begin with. Furthermore, some folk traditions and festivities still found in modern-day Spain appear are not unlike those found among some of the Slavs. It may be pointed out that the tribe of the Vandals (and by the same token the Swedes, who might have been one and the same tribe), which is now referred to as "Germanic" in reality was of Slavic origin, dwelled in Spain for some time, as did the Germanic Suevi, whose name sounds very much like a corruption of the Slavic Slaveni or Sloveni (this subject surely deserves more investigation). In fact some Polish historians made the connection between ancient Slavs and both the Vandals and Suevi quite a long time ago. It should be pointed out that the very Arabic name for Spain (al-Andalus) was derived from the name of the Vandals; thus, it was quite fitting for the Arabs to bring more Slavs (Wends or Vends - Vendels - Vandals) to this region. At last we should not forget that the ruling family of the Visigoths (from which, among others, Alaric haled from) was known as the Balti (or Balthi); that is quite an interesting name, because the Goths and Balts lived close to each other for some time. Since some ancient peoples are known to have invited foreigners to rule over them during unresolved succession disputes (Germanic tribes invited Celtic princes, the Eastern Slavs invited Rurik) it appears that these Balt(h)i might have been originally a princely family of the Balts who were invited by the Goths to rule over them. One might also point out the remarkably Slavic-sounding names found among the ancient Goths (this is erroneously denied by the Germanic propagandists); especially those with the suffix of -mir, very common in many Slavic names, but virtually unheard of among the Germanic ones. But not only these; of interest is the Visigothic name Witiza, which perhaps may have been derived from the Slavic word vitez, which, contrary to some false claims, is of genuinely Slavic origin and has no connotation whatsoever with the word "viking" (and it appears that even the latter may be of Slavic origin as well). Slavs and Goths also lived close to each other for some time; the latter used to form either most or all of the population of a substantial chunk of present-day Poland, especially in its north-central, north-eastern and eastern sectors, from the Vistula delta in the north to Zamojszczyzna in the south. As a side note, one might point out that the Goths themselves were of Iranian (Alan or Osset) origin.* Or perhaps it was that such traditions originated from people of a later Slavic origin; from the Slavs who arrived and stayed in Muslim Spain. Moreover, there may be some words of Slavic origin in the Spanish language; for example, the Spanish word for "and" is almost identical to its Slavic counterparts (Polish: i, Spanish: y), as is the word for an "eye" (Polish: oko, Spanish: ojo).

It must be added here that the Slavs in Muslim Spain alse played not an insignificant role in its scholarly and cultural life, which in the 10th and 11th century stood on a very high level in comparison to the rest of the world. They also quickly acquired lots of wealth; Arabic sources state that many Slavs owned palaces, lands, and slaves. They also took an active part in the intelectual life of Muslim Spain. In the last years of the Cordoban Caliphate, there were so many writers, poets, and bibliophiles of Slavic origin that there arose a need to write a separate monograph devoted just to them, and written by a certain Slav named Habib as-Siqlabi.

There was a great deal of animosity existing between the Berber and Slavic components of the caliphatic armies. Al-Mansur (Al-Manzor) brought large numbers of both "new" Berbers and Slavs to strengthen his armies in his many devastating campaigns against the Catholic states in the north, and it appears that a fierce competition arose between the two new arrivals. Perhaps these antagonisms started even before this time. The Berbers, who made up the bulk of the ordinary troops of the caliphatic armies must have surely resented the preferential treatment and privileged status the Slavs received from the caliphs, and from the Arab rulers in general. During the early part of the Taifa period there are recorded certain outbursts of hatred on the Berbers' part toward Slavs. For example, after a Berber faction seized the Taifa state of Cordoba, the Slavs living there were quickly compelled to leave it and seek refuge in the Slavic-ruled states on the eastern seaboard (in this case most likely Almeria and Murcia, since these two were the closest); thus, depopulating Cordoba from the Slavs, but, simultaneously, reinforcing the local Slavic element in the states already under Slavic rule. Perhaps not all Slavs made it though, a certain medieval Arabic writer mentions a tradition according to which some Slavs, after losing a local civil war, were thrown to a cave in vicinity of the settlement of Cabra, located near Cordoba. Perhaps this event precipitated the Slavic exodus from Cordoba. Surprisingly enough, the Berbers and Slavs were in many ways alike; they both dominated the military and administration, many of those in the military could not speak Arabic, their cultural levels were quite different from those of al-Andalus, they often did not settle on the land, they strongly retained their distinct racial identities, and, at least until the beginning of the Taifa Period, many did not become urbanized in spite of being encamped in vicinity of cities.

Eventually, the distinct racial identity of Muslim Spain's Slavs started to diminish. This process was already under way during the Taifa Period. But even afterwards the Slavs continued to play an important role in the local affairs, and are kept on being mentioned until and including the 12th century. It is not until the 13th century that all mentions of their presence disappear from the records; by that time they became completely assimilated into the local population, whose faith they went on to subsequently share.

In the end, the persistent political dis-unity of al-Andalus is taken advantage of by the Catholic states of northern Iberia; at the end of the 10th century they were tributaries of the Muslims, but by mid-11th century they demanded tribute from some of the petty Muslim states. This is quite evident from the text of two treaties between Muqtadir of Saragossa and Sancho "el de Penalen" of Pamplona from 1069 and 1073 respectively. Incidentally, both teaties were written only in Latin, which shows that cultural dominance often goes hand-in-hand with a political one. Moreover, al-Muqtadir's signature on the treaty and his confirmation that he understands its contents are in a fairly crabbed Arabic, which shows that the dominated cultures often lose their language purity and/or fluency, as was the case in many regions conquered by the Romans, or (with regard to language purity) is the case in post-1989 Poland. In 1085 Toledo is lost. The strongest remaining Muslim ruler in Spain, al-Mu'tamid, the ruler of Seville, already a Castilian tributary himself, tries to remedy the situation by inviting the Berber Almoravids, who in 1086 soundly defeat the King of Castile at Zallaqa near Badajoz. This victory terminated the Muslims' tributary status, but the Catholic states began to renew their incursions, and in 1088 the Almoravids are asked to return. This they do in 1090, and go on to re-unify Muslim Spain, take Badajoz in 1094, Valencia in 1102, and Saragossa in 1110. The Almoravids ruled until they were deposed by rebellions in 1144-1145, being subsequently replaced by a rival Berber dynasty known as the Almohads.

We also find a Slavic Guard in Maghreb (North-West Africa), where slaves of Slavic origin often played a role that was analogoes to that of their counterparts in Spain. For instance, at the court of the small but important Arabo-Berber state called Nukur, which was in the area of present-day Algerian-Moroccan frontier, there also existed an elite Slavic Guard. From the description of al-Bekri we learn that this Slavic Guard was a pillar of support for the local ruling dynasty, and it enjoyed preferential treatment granted to it by its emirs. This situation persisted until the early 11th century. When the Slavs, taking advantage of the difficult internal situation experienced by Nukur, demanded from the contemporary Sultan Sa'id ibn Salih, the formal abolishment of their status as slaves (which by then was purely nominal in nature), he rejected their request. Subsequently, with support from other members of the ruling dynasty they revolted and only after the entire population of the state was summoned to wage war against them, were they defeated. After this setback, the Slavs withdrew to the nearby mountains where they estalished a fortified camp in a certain settlement, which became named after them as the Qaryat as-Saqaliba (Village of the Slavs).

At about that time Slavs are also found elsewhere in the Muslim world; there are frequent mentions of them as being present in Iraq (one Arabic source even mentions that at some time around 800 Baghdad was even "flooded" with Slavs). There were also many slaves of East Slavic origin in Khorezm (Khiva) in Central Asia, from where some even go on to end up in lands even further to the south and east; they were originally either bought or caught by the Khazars, Volga Bulgars, and Hungarians, and later sold to the Khorezmians who at about that time had extensive trade links with Eastern Europe. Again some go on to attain very important positions. During the reign of the last Caliph from the Omayyad Dynasty, Marvan II (reigned 744-750), a certain Saqlab, who was a maula (freed slave), was the caliph's chamberlain (hajib). According to an account told by Ibn as-Sajir, but written down by Abu'l-Yaqzan, some embittered high-ranking Slavic court officials also co-participated in a civil war that took place in the Abbasid Caliphate from February 865 to January 866. They, along with some Turks and Ferghaners, released from jail al-Mu'tazz, the cousin of Caliph al-Musta'in who reigned from 862, and proclaimed him as the new caliph. After a civil war that lasted almost one year al-Musta'in abdicated. Oddly enough, the deposed monarch was half-Slavic himself. Al-Mas'udi also gives an account of the same events, but he fails to explicitly mention the Slavs, and he also gets some other details wrong.

We also find Slavic Guards elsewhere: on Sicily, the local Emir Ibrahim ibn Ahmad formed a strong and disciplined army from slaves of Slavic origin in the second half of the 9th century. At the court of the Egyptian Fatimids there was also a certain princely ceremonial guard of the caliph consisting of, aside from the Slavic ones, princes from Maghreb, Yemen, Nubia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Turkestan, Deylem (in northern Persia), and even Delhi in India. Also in the service of the Fatimids, albeit those from Ifriqiya (or Ifrikiya, present-day Tunisia and Tripoli/north-western Libya), was a certain Slav named Mas'ud, who in 924/5 attacked and captured the Castle of Santa Agata on Sicily; in the subsequent years he launched three additional expeditions against the possessions of the island's emir. But the Slavic activity in this region did not end there; later on the outstanding Norman leader Duke Robert Guiscard had a bodyguard of 60 very loyal Slavic mercenaries. In 1078 Count Roger narrowly escapes death in an ambush made by unspecified Slavic raiders somewhere in vicinity of Taormina.


* - By having descended from the legendary Ossetian King Odin and his followers who were known among the ancient Teutons as the Aesir (singular: Aas), what is an obvious corruption of the word As, or the ancient Ossetian self-designation. The description of the location of Asaland or Asaheim found in the Norse sagas corresponds with the actual location of Ossetia (Alania); the Ossets were a dark-haired swarthy Iranian people who at that time lived on the northern slopes of the Caucasus and the steppes located north of it, along the Sea of Azov. It must be added here that the alleged blond Alans mentioned by one Roman source were actually Germanic slaves in Osset service, since the Ossets are known to have extensively employed foreign slaves as cannon fodder troops in their armies. Another piece of pseudo-evidence used to support the false claim that the ancient Alans were blond is the argument that the Alan tribe of the Ruxs-Alan (Rus-Alans or Rus-Ossets), or Ruxs-As in Ossetic (Roxolani, Roxalani, or Rosomoni of the antique sources), who are mentioned, among other sources, in the early medieval Alanic Tale of Iry Dada and Mstislav, was named so because its members had fair hair; in Ossetic the word ruxs means "radiance" or "light", but in reality this designation has nothing to do with hair color. According to G. Vernadski, Ruxs-Alan means "Radiant Alans". Therefore, it is not surprising that an Alan tribe would refer to itself as "radiant" since the sun emits radiance, and it was this very celestial body that featured very prominently in the religion of the ancient Iranians, hence the origin of the name "Radiant Alans". Furthermore, in the above-mentioned Tale of Iry Dada and Mstislav, which describes a Russian-Alan conflict in the early 1000's, the Alans often describe their Russian opponents as having blond or red hair, whereas, they never describe themselves in a likewise manner.

The Ossets of Scandinavia conquered the natives and were recognized as "gods" by their Norse subjects. After some time the Aesir split into two groups: the southern, now known as the Dan, the name derived from the ancient Osset word for "water" (the name of the river Don in southern Russia is of same origin) and would thus mean "Waterers" or "People by the Water", established itself on the coast of present-day southern Sweden and later went on to create Denmark; the other group, located to the north and whose name derived from the word "gods" (because that is what, at least initially, the Ossets were treated as in the Nordic countries, thence the name) eventually left Scandinavia and embarked on an attempt to return to Ossetia (thence the Goths' journey in the direction of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov). The connection between Odin and the Caucasus area has been recently pointed-out by the late Thor Heyerdahl; prior to him, the only other person to have made this connection, more precisely between ancient Scandinavia and Ossetia, that I'm aware of, was the emigre Osset scholar Dzambulat Dzanty. Unfortunetly, lacking the famous name and "appropriate" origin of his Norwegian counterpart, D. Dzanty has been blatantly ignored for the last several decades.

Open For Viewing: 31.01.2004

Last Updated: 10.03.2004


Articles & Books

J.W. Bowker, The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, Oxford University Press, Oxford - New York, 1997.

E.R. Dupuy & T.N. Dupuy, The Harper Encyclopedia of Military History; From 3500 B.C. to the Present, Harper Collins, 4th edition, New York, 1993.

Encyklopedia Popularna PWN, Panstwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 16th edition, Warszawa, 1988.

Atlas Historyczny Polski, edited by Wladyslaw Czaplinski & Tadeusz Ladogorski, Panstwowe Przedsiebiorstwo Wydawnictw Kartograficznych im. Eugeniusza Romera, 7th edition, Wroclaw, 1987.

Atlas Historyczny Swiata, chief editor: Jozef Wolski, Panstwowe Przedsiebiorstwo Wydawnictw Kartograficznych im. Eugeniusza Romera, 2nd edition, Wroclaw, 1986.

Relja Novakovic, Balticki Sloveni u Beogradu i Srbiji, Narodna Knjiga, Beograd, 1985.

David Wasserstein, The Rise and Fall of the Party Kings; Politics and Society in Islamic Spain 1002-1086, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ, 1985.

The Cambridge Illustrated History of the Middle Ages, 950-1250, Vol. 2, edited by Robert Fossier (translated by Stuart Airlie and Robyn Marsack), Cambridge University Press, 1st English edition, Cambridge, 1997 (c 1982).

Ireneusz Grajewski & Jozef Wojcicki, Maly Leksykon Morski, Wydawnictwo MON, Warszawa, 1981.

Dzieje Polski, edited by Jerzy Topolski, Panstwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, Warszawa, 1978.

W. Montgomery Watt, The Majesty That Was Islam; The Islamic World 661-1100, Sidgwick & Jackson, 2nd edition, London, 1976 (c 1974).

Jan Read, Moors in Spain and Portugal, Faber and Faber, London, 1974.

Anwar G. Chejne, Muslim Spain, Its History and Culture, The University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1974.

Jon Johannesson (translated by Haraldur Bessason), A History of the Old Icelandic Commonwealth; Islendinga Saga, University of Manitoba Press, 1974.

Gabriel Jackson, The Making of Medieval Spain, Thames and Hudson, London, 1972.

Taduesz Lewicki, Zrodla Arabskie do Dziejow Slowianszczyzny, Vol. 2 (Part 1), Wydawnictwo Polskiej Akademii Nauk, Wroclaw - Warszawa - Krakow, 1969.

Jerzy Nalepa, Slowianszczyzna Polnocno-Zachodnia; Podstawy Jej Jednosci i Jej Rozpad, Panstwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, Poznan, 1968.

Stephan and Nandy Ronart, Concise Encyclopaedia of Arabic Civilization, Vol. 2 (The Arab West), Frederick A. Praeger Publishers Inc., New York, 1966.

Boris A. Rybakov (translated by John Weir), Early Centuries of Russian History, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965.

Henryk Lowmianski, Poczatki Polski; Z Dziejow Slowian w I Tysiacleciu n.e., Vols. 1-3, Panstwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, Warszawa, 1963-1967.

G. Vernadski, Problems of Ossetic and Russian Epos, "American Slavic and East European Review", Vol. 18, 1959.

D. Dzanty & G. Verndaski, The Ossetian Tale of Iry Dada and Mstislav, "Journal of American Folklore", Vol. 69, 1956.

Tadeusz Lewicki, Zrodla Arabskie do Dziejow Slowianszczyzny, Vol. 1, Wydawnictwo Polskiej Akademii Nauk, Wroclaw - Krakow, 1956.

Tadeusz Lewicki, Osadnictwo Slowianskie i Niewolnicy Slowianscy w Krajach Muzulmanskich, "Przeglad Historyczny", XLIII, 1952.

Kazimierz Wachowski, Slowianszczyzna Zachodnia, Instytut Zachodni, 2nd edition, Poznan, 1950 (c 1906).

Thomas William Shore, Origin of the Anglo-Saxon Race; a Study of the Settlement of England and the Tribal Origin of the Old English People, Edited (Posthumously) by his sons: T. W. Shore and L. E. Shore, Kennikat Press, 2nd edition, Port Washington NY, 1971 (c 1905).

Stanley Lane-Poole (with collaboration of Arthur Gilman), Moors in Spain, Khayats, 2nd edition, Beirut, 1967 (c 1886).

Web Pages

"Forum Veneti I", Carantha. Available on-line at

"Forum Veneti II", Carantha. Available on-line at

C.I. Gable, "Dalmatian Pirates", Virtual History of Venice, 1998-2000. Available on-line at

C.I. Gable, "Venice Acquires [Parts of] Dalmatia", Virtual History of Venice, 1998. Available on-line at

"Slavs Among Norsemen in America and Iceland", Polish Resistance Movement, 17 January of 2002. Available on-line at

"The Aryans", Iran, History, Land and People, 1999-2004. Available on line at

"Pre-Avesta Era: 850 BC - 728 BC", IPC, 16 August of 2001. Available on-line at

Jesus de Castro, "Taifa de Valencia - Regulos Eslavos", Jesus de Castro, 1998-2004. Available on-line at

Geoffrey Malaterra, "The Deeds of Count Roger of Calabria and Sicily and of Duke Robert Guiscard, his Brother", Leeds Medieval History Texts in Translation, ????-2003. Available on-line at and

Forum Posting

"Why ship is called a ship", Polish Resistance Movement Message Board, 26 June of 2003. Available on-line at

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