Caliphs and Kings
A broad and complex treatment of the tenure of the Umayyad dynasty in Spain Debunks myths and investigates the historiography of existing scholarship of the period
Formerly a Fellow of the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities in the University of Edinburgh, Roger Collins is now a Fellow in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology of the University of Edinburgh. He has published widely in medieval Spanish and European history, and his books include: The Basques (Blackwell, 1986), The Arab Conquest of Spain, 710-797 (Blackwell, 1989), Oxford Archaeological Guide to Spain (1998), Charlemagne (1998), Visigothic Spain, 409-711 (Blackwell, 2004), and, most recently, Keepers of the Keys of Heaven: A History of the Papacy (2009).
Caliphs and Kings
War and Society, 796–888
The problems we face in using the Arabic sources for the history of al-Andalus in the ninth to eleventh centuries are both fewer and simpler than those met with in trying to make sense of the preceding period of the conquest, the rule of the governors, and of the first two Umayyads (711–796). 1 But we need to understand the purposes for which they were written and the relationships between them. Some of the earliest historical writings in al-Andalus were composed to resolve legal questions rather than provide factual narratives of events for their own sake. By the early part of the tenth century, however, Andalusi historians were motivated by rather different concerns and began using the relatively copious records of the Umayyad court to produce substantial narrative works containing detailed information on a number of specific topics. These included the appointments made by the ruler each year to military commands and to judicial and administrative posts; the deaths of distinguished individuals; and the aim, course, and outcome of any military expeditions, including the numbers of "infidels" killed and captured. 2 The practice of compiling such lists goes back to the earliest phases of Islamic historiography in the mid-eighth century. 3
Based on such yearly records kept by the Umayyad administration, these narrative histories generally took an annalistic form and structured their content into annual units. Only when a ruler died would this pattern be modified, when reports of his life, his wives, his children, his age and appearance, and the chief ministers who had served him would be included in a round-up section added to the appropriate annal. This pattern of historical writing was definitely not unique to al-Andalus, having first emerged around the middle of the eighth century in Syria, quite possibly influenced by the Syriac tradition of annal writing. It developed gradually into its full-grown form in the work of writers such as al-abar (d. 923) in the 'Abbsid caliphate from the early ninth century onwards, and its Western equivalents generally followed a generation or more later. 4 Indeed, some of the Andalusi historians wrote with the deliberate aim of providing information on Western events largely overlooked by their 'Abbsid predecessors. Such a genesis in the official records of the Umayyad court makes the work of these historians extremely valuable, though it has to be accepted that the details given in government reports can be exaggerated, especially when it is a matter of publicizing the dynasty's achievements.
A more serious problem than allowing for propagandistic distortion of the details of military and other achievements is the fact that many of these works have been lost or survive only as fragments preserved in the larger-scale compilations of later generations of historians. Inevitably this raises the question of how such excerpts were made. Were they verbatim or did a later writer edit or condense the text he was borrowing, possibly interpolating other material? In some cases the survival of fragments of a work permits comparisons with the way it was used by later writers and thus reveals how faithful they were to the texts they were copying or excerpting.
For example, only some sections of the work of the most important Andalusi historian for this period, Ibn ayyn (d. 1076), have survived intact, but the whole of it was used as a source by a North African annalist, Ibn 'Idhr, who was writing in 1313/4. 5 Where direct comparison can be made, it is clear that sometimes Ibn 'Idhr lightly condensed his predecessor's work but did not otherwise change or distort the information he took from it. However, it would seem that Ibn ayyn was not Ibn 'Idh