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Where Did the Moors Come From?

Where Did the Moors Come From?

Moors is a broad term that Europeans generally used to describe the Muslims of the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa during the Middle Ages. From 711 to 1492 AD, Muslims from Africa ruled the Iberian Peninsula, which is the area that covers modern-day Portugal and Spain.

The Moors were a diverse group of people who originated in the Maghreb region of North Africa.

Although the term “Moors” was mostly used for Berbers and other groups of people from the Mauretania province of ancient Rome [1], Europeans used this word for all Muslims during the Middle Ages, including North African Berbers, Arabs, and Muslim Europeans.

Where Did the Moors Come From? Infographic.

Everything You Need To Know About the Term “Moor” 

You can find the term “Moor” throughout Muslim history books, art, and literature. It’s derived from the Greek word “Mauros[2], which means “dark-skinned or black.”

Then, the word became Mauri (plural of Mauro) in Latin, which subsequently was rendered as “Moors” in different European languages, including English.

This term was initially used for people belonging to Berber tribes who lived in the African region called Mauretania, now known as Northern Africa. The term Mauri was also used for Berbers and Arabs living in the coastal areas of Northwest Africa during the Latin Middle Ages.

It’s important to note that Moors are not self-defined or distinct people, and the term never had any real ethnological value [3]. Interestingly, the Portuguese started calling Muslims living in South East Asia ‘Indian Moors’ and ‘Ceylon Moors’ during the colonial era [4].

Castillian ambassadors attempting to convince Moorish Almohad king Abu Hafs Umar al-Murtada to join their alliance.
Castillian ambassadors
cantigas de santa maria, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Moors Ruling Iberian Peninsula

In 711 AD, North African Moors, under the command of Tariq ibn Ziyad, led the Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula, known as Al-Andalus in Muslim literature. It was a large area covering a major part of Septimania and modern-day Portugal and Spain.

Islamic rule had been established in the Iberian Peninsula by 718 AD, and many Moors started migrating to this region from North Africa. Within decades, Muslim Iberia created an independent state by breaking away from the rest of the Islamic world.

The inhabitants of this region consequently developed a unique culture under the influence of Europe, and it was very different from the culture of the Middle East.

It was the beginning of a long-lasting Muslim era that ruled the Iberian Peninsula for almost 800 years and had a big impact on Portuguese and Spanish culture.

Achievements and Advancements of Moorish Spain

The Moors continued moving forward and occupied Sicily and Mazara in 827 AD, which allowed them to develop a port and consolidate the remaining part of the island.

During that time, 99 percent of the population of Christian Europe was illiterate [5], but the Muslims made education universal in Moorish Spain.

The entirety of Europe, at that time, only had two universities, while the Moors had 17, located in different regions, including Toledo, Seville, Malaga, Juenl, Granada, Cordova, and Almeria. 

In addition, they established more than 70 public libraries, which was something nonexistent in Europe.

The Moors maintained control of the Iberian Peninsula for centuries despite many wars. To complete the entire region, they used a simple Islamic tax system. All Christians and Jews of the Iberian Peninsula had to pay a tax to practice their religion peacefully.

It allowed Jews, Christians, and Muslims to live in peace and harmony for centuries and also enabled Moors to influence Spanish Christians. They started considering Moorish culture exotic and began to wear Muslim clothing [6].

The Muslim world of that era also indulged in the development of science in different fields, such as Algebra, physics, and chemistry. The Algebraic number system and Algebra used in the modern western world was started by a Muslim scientist, Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi [7].

Fall of Moorish Spain

The Moors ruled the Iberian Peninsula for almost 800 years, but the differences in culture and religion led to a conflict with the European Christian kingdoms. This conflict is known as Reconquista [8].

Moors were expelled from Sicily in 1224 AD to the Lucera settlement, which was also destroyed in 1300 AD by white-European Christians. 

Later in 1492 AD, the fall of Granada ended the Muslim rule in Spain. Many Muslim communities still remained in Spain, but they were also expelled from the region in 1609 AD.

Muslims weren’t the only ones who suffered because of the Reconquista. Jews living in Muslim Spain also experienced difficulties. That’s because the Iberian Peninsula was the only region in the entire Western Europe where Jews were allowed to live peacefully.

Jewish scholarship flourished alongside the Moorish scholars and scientists. It’s also known as the golden age of Jewish scholarship.

The Capitulation of Granada.
The Capitulation of Granada
Francisco Pradilla y Ortiz, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Stance of Moors After the Fall of Granada

After the Moors were defeated by the Christian kingdoms of Spain in 1492 AD, many of them were forced to convert to Christianity or face persecution. Those who converted to Christianity were known as Moriscos.

The Moriscos continued to face discrimination and persecution, and many of them were eventually expelled from Spain in the early 17th century. By then, the Morisco population in Spain had largely disappeared through conversion, expulsion, or voluntary migration.

Some of the Moors who were able to flee Spain settled in other parts of the Muslim world, such as North Africa and the Ottoman Empire. Others may have remained in Spain, but their culture and way of life were largely suppressed by the Spanish authorities.

Final Words

The Moors, originating in the Maghreb region of North Africa, were primarily descended from Arab and Berber people who had migrated to the region and converted to Islam.

In the 7th and 8th centuries, the Moors established several powerful Muslim states in the region. They were known for their advanced culture and learning and played an important role in the history of North Africa and Europe.

Despite the eventual fall of their states, they left a lasting legacy on the regions they once ruled.