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June 22, 2021


Read The World Today

Why did the Caliphate of Cordoba Collapse

7 min read

Image by campunet from Pixabay

In the year 711 AD, the Muslim  Umayyad Dynasty began what would be  a 7-year conquest of the Iberian Peninsula. While  they had previously engaged in small raids and  incursions throughout the Iberian lands, it was not until 711 AD that the actual,  full-scale assault began.

At this  time, a Visigothic king, Roderic,  ruled over the region, which was  contemporarily known as Hispania. The Umayyad commander, Tariq ibn Ziyad, was now  ready to face off with Roderic and his troops.  Crossing modern-day Gibraltar, the channel that  divided Hispania and North Africa, Ziyad led his  army into the peninsula and along the banks of  the Wadi Lakku river.

Upon entering Hispania, the  Umayyad troops clashed with Roderic and his own,  resulting in a victory for the Muslim invaders. During the early stages of the conquest, King  Roderic was actually killed in battle against  Tariq ibn Ziyad, which the latter had not really  been expecting. To Ziyad’s pleasant surprise,   the loss of their king would have pushed the local troops into a downhill spiral.   The Umayyad’s were able to fully seize power throughout the Iberian Peninsula in 718 and  established the region as a province under the Umayyad Caliphate with Córdoba as the new capital.  This organization of territory remained until halfway through the 8th century,  after the Umayyad Caliphate was toppled by the succeeding Abbasid Caliphate in 750.

By 756, the remaining Umayyad leader, Abd al-Rahman I,  outright refused to acknowledge the authority of the Abbasid Caliphate. Instead, he managed  to depose the Abbasid rulers in the area and proclaimed the capital of Umayyad Iberia, Córdoba,  to be an independent emirate, known as the Emirate of Córdoba. Much to Rahman’s pleasure,  he was able to do so without much pushback, and he and his descendants became the rulers of this  new Emirate for many decades to come. While these emirs technically only ruled over Córdoba itself,  many of them actually extended their authority throughout more of the peninsula.

The political situation throughout the Emirate of Córdoba and the surrounding parts of the  peninsula remained more or less uneventful for the first century and a half. There was, however,  a proactive decline in the power and stability of the emirate that became glaringly apparent  around the time that the new emir, Abd al-Rahman III, took power in 912. Rahman was not willing  to give up his authority or territory quite yet  though. His first mission, which he succeeded at,  was to consolidate power not only within the Emirate of Córdoba, but across the whole of  the peninsula or al-Andalus, and even extending  to some parts of North Africa. While the emir  was triumphant with this, it did not entirely solve the instability within his territory.  Riots and discord remained to a high degree, and there was outside  pressure from the nearby Abbasid Caliphate  in Baghdad and Fatimid Caliphate in Tunis,  which made Rahman realize that more must be done to solve the problem. Hoping to be able  to directly combat both internal and external threats at the same time, the emir of Córdoba  opted to give himself a promotion of sorts. In 929, Rahman III proclaimed the Emirate  of Córdoba to now be the Caliphate  of Córdoba, with him as the caliph. It’s important to recognize that this decision  was more than just a mild political move. The Caliph of the Muslim world was supposed to be  the entirety of the Muslim community. This meant  that for anyone to deem themselves “Caliph”,  they were taking on an enormous political and  religious title and responsibility. Furthermore,  there was not supposed to be more than one caliph. This put Rahman in direct opposition  to the Fatimids and Abbasids, who had already  been primary enemies to each other for some time. The claim to the title for Rahman was  only partially beneficial as well.  While the Muslims in Al-Andalus recognized his authority and right to the caliphate,  seeing themselves as being closer to Muhammad than the alternative caliphates, other Muslims  outside of the reach that the Caliphate  of Córdoba had gained were not so pleased.  Nonetheless, due to the new local unity and acknowledgment of Rahman’s declaration,  turning the emirate into a caliphate,  Rahman and his people found great  prosperity. Rahman III in particular was a  great acquirer of triumph throughout his reign.  The caliph managed to unite  the entirety of al-Andalus through a combination of military  action and peaceful diplomacy,  

meanwhile also fighting back against his new rivals from the Fatimid Caliphate  as they attempted to pass through Morocco and  invade the lands of the Caliphate of Córdoba.

Rahman furthermore increased diplomacy between  his caliphate and the North African Berber tribes,  alongside the Christian rulers  throughout Europe, including   building a relationship with Constantinople. Riding his wave of success and continuing   his momentum, Rahman was also able  to drastically improve the economy  within the Iberian Peninsula, as compared to  ts numbers during the reign of Rahman II. The caliphate was now almost running completely  on its own. Thanks to the work of Rahman III, the  administrative duties to maintain al-Andalus became incredibly easy. This worked out  wonderfully for Rahman’s son, Al-Hakam The Second, who took over for his father upon  his death in 961. With Al-Hakam as the new Caliph of Córdoba, the caliphate continued  to thrive and maintain positive relations with their European and North African neighbors.  With his territories functioning so smoothly on their own, Al-Hakam was even able to place a  majority of his responsibilities on his advisors, and instead spent the bulk of his time invested in  scholarly activities. The state of Al-Andalus and Córdoba caliphate was possibly at the best it  had ever been. Scholastically, economically, and  politically, the Iberian Peninsula was prospering. While this period was vastly enjoyable, as  was most of the 10th century for Al-Andalus,  

it would not last forever, and the end was unfortunately soon…Before Al-Hakam died in 976, he had chosen his young son to become his successor.  The issue with this decision though was the minor age of Al-Hakam’s son. The unprepared,  10-year-old boy was not equipped in  any form to take over the caliphate,   but it had still been decided by the previous caliph nonetheless, and his top advisor, Almanzor,  had pledged loyalty to young Hisham The Second  already. Almanzor had no option other than to  declare Hisham the new caliph upon his father’s  passing, which proved to be a disastrous mistake…The Caliphate of Córdoba was now at  the start of a tragic decline. Hisham  himself was not entirely responsible  for this new, unfortunate trajectory,   of course. Given that he was a mere  child, the job of ruling the caliphate  fell predominantly upon the shoulders of  and the caliph’s mother, Subh. While these two were not flat-out  horrible, they were still not able   to maintain the prosperity that the  earlier rulers had been able to.  

Focused mostly on preventing and removing  any signs of opposition to the young caliph,  Subh and Almanzor suddenly began letting Berbers  immigrate into al-Andalus from North Africa   in hopes of increasing their own level of support  within the peninsula. While this may have worked   to an extent, it was not as successful of a  solution as Almanzor and Subh had hoped it to be. The authority that the caliph held began to diminish at a startling pace. Local  revolts and foreign threats became  more and more abundant. When a coup  d’etat erupted in 1009 and resulted in  the assassination of Almanzor’s son,   Abd al-Rahman Sanchuelo, the pace of  Córdoba’s decline greatly increased. The Fitna of al-Andalus, a time of  great inner strife and civil war,  broke out in response to the assassination  of Sanchuelo, and the competitors for the  throne that Almanzor and Subh had  tried to eradicate began to come out  of the woodworks. The Hammudid Dynasty was a sudden new adversary as well, with multiple  invasions being launched into al-Andalus  throughout the instability of the Fitna. Now under the weak rule of Hashim  The Third, the Caliphate of Córdoba  was crumbling. The once-powerful and united entity  was breaking apart into more and more factions,  and a total collapse was inevitable. Hashim knew  that it was too late to turn back the clock,  and in 1031, the entire caliphate split  up into a group of Taifas or smaller,  

independent structures all across the Iberian  Peninsula. Now, all that really remained of the  Caliphate of Córdoba, once the Emirate of  Córdoba, was the little Taifa of Córdoba. The ending of the Emirate had been a good thing,   as it meant that the entity of Córdoba was  then being upgraded to the high and mighty   title of a caliphate. But, the downfall of the caliphate itself was an entirely different story. Córdoba and all of al-Andalus had their competition and adversaries from the start,  and although a series of remarkable caliphs were able to not only maintain  but grow their young caliphate, the existence of it was bound to succumb to  the outward and inward pressure eventually…

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