Decline of Muslim Rule in the Iberian Peninsula

Decline of Muslim Rule in the Iberian Peninsula
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  • 0:02 Conquest of Spain
  • 0:55 Unfinished Business
  • 2:28 Disagreements
  • 3:32 From Strength to Weakness
  • 4:53 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Spain used to be one of the richest and most intellectually progressive places in the Islamic world. This lesson explains how Spain went from being a thoroughly Islamic region to being completely re-conquered by Christians.

Conquest of Spain

Following the establishment of Islam in the early 7th century, the Islamic world was expanding faster than any empire had in history. Soon, it stretched from Morocco to China, with millions of people living within its borders. By 711, a great army in Morocco decided to cross the Straits of Gibraltar into Europe. Shortly after, they had conquered the Iberian Peninsula and given this new Islamic province in Spain and Portugal the name al-Andalus. Al-Andalus became one of the richest and most intellectual provinces of the Islamic world, attracting merchants and scholars from as far away as Persia and India. Soon, great cities, such as Granada and Cordoba, were established as the most important centers of al-Andalus.

Unfinished Business

Yet, the Muslims had not conquered all of Spain. In the very north of Spain, in what are now the regions of Galicia and the Basque Country, the terrain is what it was then: very rugged and mountainous. This limited the ability of the Muslim armies to conquer the region, and as a result, the Muslims decided to leave the Christian kingdoms alone. Truth be told, the Christians actually spent more time fighting each other than fighting the Muslims, so the decision to let them be was not exactly seen as a gamble by the Muslims. However, these rulers never forgot that they had once ruled much more territory, and made sure that their descendants knew that the lands to the south were rightfully theirs.

To be honest though, no one in the rest of Europe really cared for more than 300 years. The great powers of Europe, namely England, France, and the Holy Roman Empire, were too busy trying to figure out their own borders, with many powerful local rulers challenging the authorities of the kings. However, in 1095 all that changed. Pope Urban II called for the Crusades, wars meant to defeat Islam, specifically in the Middle East, but later all over the world. Soon, Crusaders who were too poor to make the trip to the Middle East arrived in Spain. Slowly, over the course of the next 400 years, the Crusaders beat back the Muslims. However, those Crusaders were helped by other events.


As long as the central government in Cordoba was strong, al-Andalus was happy to remain united as one political power. However, whenever a weak leader emerged, strong regional leaders would use the opportunity to gain more power for themselves. These local rulers were known as Taifas, and anytime there was a weakness in Cordoba, these rulers began fighting among themselves for supremacy. If it reminds you of siblings fighting when their parents aren't looking, you've got the right idea.

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