Re: Racism and ancient history

Thomas L. Billings (
Fri, 03 Jan 1997 01:35:37 -0800

In article <5ae31n$>, Doug) wrote:

> I was wondering about racism in Spain, and if it existed at the time of
> the Conquista. I know religion was used as a justification for war and
> stealing. But was race? In other words, did the light-skinned
> "winners" from the north write and talk about "dark-skinned subhuman
> Moors," and was there concern about inherent inferiority and physical
> identification of Jews? Remember the Nazis and their "How to identify
> the Jew" films and classes? The Nazis and modern racists really aren't
> concerned too much woth Jewish religion. "Once a Jew, always a Jew."
> But I seem to recall the successful "conversion" and full integration
> of Jews and Moors into Spanish society. In fact, conversion to
> Christianist was a way of saving family fortunes in much of Europe
> during periods of anti-Jewish pogrom hysteria.

I'll attempt a short precis of the relevant history of Iberia during the
relevant time.

First, "the reconquista" lasted from about 1030 A.D. to 1492 A.D. Not all
462 years of it were alike in attitudes and actions on either side!

During the first part of that time the old andalusian states of Leon,
Navarre and Castile were definitely militarily, technically, and
culturally, inferiors of the moslems in the south of Iberia. Any racism
was probably more directed against the Andalusians by people like "Al
Mansur" before 1030. After his death, the christian states were still
looked down on by the newly disunited (by 1030) moslem states. The old
visigothic nobility started pushing south though, under their Kings. They
absorbed some of the higher culture of the small arabic states and were
relatively tolerant of moslem subjects.

Then, in 1085, the Castilians conquered the major moslem city/state of
Toledo. This caused some of the remaining moslem states to ally with a
newly converted (to Islam) group of berber fanatics from N. Africa, the
Alamoravids. These were culturally inferior to the christian/moslem
states that were in Iberia, but they had a great advantage over the
relatively tolerant peoples of the Iberian states. They Kept Winning!
They formed their own empire stretching across the straits and nearly
overwhelmed the christians as was done in the 8th century. The first
group of berbers was replaced by a second, the Alamohads, even more coarse
than the Alamoravids, just as the first group was mellowing out, around
1145. And They Kept Winning!

During this time the christian kings seem to have come to the conclusion
that, even though these guys were intolerant boors, when compared to
either their christian or moslem subjects, it was prudent to encourage
someone on their side to equal levels of fanaticism. This resulted, along
with the crusades to the Holy Land, in the spanish Military Orders, which
were under the command of the Kings of Castile, Aragon and Portugal.
Unfortunately it also resulted in a larger and larger role for religious
fanaticism, and eventually for religious bigotry, in the reconquista. The
fact that prominent statesmen of the moslem states were often jewish
subjects marked their religion out for the fanatics. By 1212 the battle
of Navos De Tolosa sealed the long-term fate of the moslem states.

There seems to have arisen a combination of slavery and racism that was
bitter towards the darker berbers first, and then towards anyone of darker
skin. This resulted in no small part from the fact that the slavery
common in Islamic Iberia of that time was commonly that of christian
slaves of darker berber slave-holders. This was particularly galling to a
nobility deeply conscious of family lines stretching back to the
pre-Islamic Visigothic Kingdom of Hispania. Anything marking one's
ancestry as being of the old kingdom was prized, including physical traits
quite prominently. By 1492 the last islamic state was crushed by a now
deeply fanatic combination of Crown, Church, and Nobility. The pogroms of
that time are well known.

All who had insulted the old aristocracy by demonstrating superiortity of
any sort, whether military, or cultural, were to be despised. Slavery was
not extinguished, but rather turned on those groups that had lorded it
over the Andalusians, and were now on the southern side of the straits of
Gibraltar again. Slave raiding went back and forth accross the straits
for centuries. Anyone who just might sympathize with the enemy (moriscos
were prominent here) were held in the deepest suspicion.

Lastly, the "conversion" of at least some of the jewish families was NOT
successful. After the overthrow of the conservative Portugese state in
the 1970s, there were a number of "morisco" families that gradually
admitted to still being jewish in their faith after all these centuries.
I think that's quite a remarkable testimony to faith their god, but it
also confirms the suspicions of many of those old fanatics, that the
moriscos were sometimes NOT committed to Christianity and Al Andalus.

I hope this gives somewhat of a feel for how the particulars of Spanish
racism and religious intolerance developed. My sources are 20 years past,
and I would have to look, but you should find similar material in your


Tom Billings

Institute for Teleoperated Space Development Billings)
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