Samuel Parsons Scott was an American who was both a well known banker and an eager amateur scholar. He wrote several books - not always without criticism - about Europe in the middle ages. In 1904, he published The History of the Moorish Empire in Europe.
The work is in three lengthy volumes but I have restricted myself to the first one from which I quote and discuss below. Given the date of publication some of his descriptions of events that occurred just after the Moslem Umayads had tried unsuccessfully to take the city of Ceuta in the late 7th century right up to those describing Tarik-Ibn-Zeyad’s (Tariq ibn Ziyad) arrival in Visigothic Spain in the very early 8th are somewhat at variance with modern scholarship, but his penchant for elaboration on the minutiae of some of the action makes for interesting reading.
As regards Gibraltar, he hardly mentions it at all other than to tell us it was called Calpe in those days. But then it is probably worth keeping in mind that as far as anybody can tell it was no more than an impressive but uninhabited mountain in those days – something that I have always found rather hard to believe – but that is another story.
Iberia under the Visigoths - A bit of local colour.
The castle of Ceuta was the key of Europe. Impregnable to all the resources of military engineering; in an age when gunpowder was unknown, its value as an obstacle to foreign invasion was not understood by the Visigoths. The immunity of centuries; the contempt for barbarians: the ignorance of the mighty and unexampled power of Islam; the inertia produced partly by the influence of climate, but principally by an abuse of all the pleasures of unbridled luxury, had disposed the sovereigns of Toledo to consider their kingdom inaccessible to attack, and their empire eternal.
Visigothic Iberia and its regional divisions just prior to the Muslim conquest.
. . . this haughty and corrupt nation was constantly agitated and its integrity menaced by a score of discordant factions. Its recent monarchs had bent all their energies to the abrogation of the statesman-like measures inaugurated by their forefathers. The nobles and the clergy, inflamed with mutual animosity, suspicious of their partisans, and arrayed against each other, were engaged in a mortal struggle for superiority.
The Jews, indulged and persecuted by turns lived in a continual state of apprehension and despair. All the salutary restraints of religion were apparently removed; the Church was regarded as a convenient instrument for the attainment of political power; the priesthood were devoted to the practice of nameless vices; the people to indiscriminate libertinage. A large body of slaves, who, under the lash of brutal masters, still preserved the traditions of liberty, were ripe for revolt, and longed for the day of their deliverance.
A disastrous famine, followed by its usual successor the pestilence, and whose effects were still apparent in untilled fields and deserted hamlets, had contributed to increase the popular suffering and discontent. Fortified on one side against the incursions of the Franks by the natural rampart of the Pyrenees, and isolated on the others by the Mediterranean and the ocean, the inhabitants of the Peninsula, in the enjoyment of a salubrious climate and fruitful soil, rested in fancied security, and had long since laid aside the armor whose weight had become oppressive, and abandoned those warlike exercises whose preservation was their only safeguard.
Modern Ceuta was originally called Abyla by its founders – who were probably Carthaginians and who thought of the place as the southern Pillar of Hercules. (See LINK). Later, Abyla was renamed Septa by Pomponius Mela, a reference to Septem Fratres - the seven smaller mountains that surrounded it. Later it was taken by the Vandals who in turn were ousted by the Visigoths. Shortly afterwards it became part of the Byzantine Empire. Although not mentioned directly in the above passage Ceuta was the only place in Africa held by the Visigoths.
Ceuta in the early 17th century ( Unknown )
Count Julian convinces Musa to attack Visigothic Iberia
Incited by a spirit of desperation which considered neither the consequences of his acts nor the means by which they were to be accomplished Count Julian sought the presence of Musa. He found the Moslem general at Kairoan, which had been selected as the seat of the vice regal government of Western Africa.
The intrepid character of his visitor was not unknown to the great Arab soldier whose designs upon Ceuta had been twice frustrated, by the valiant Greek, after the employment of all the resources at the command of the Khalif, and Count Julian was received with every token of honor and respect.
Unfolding his project, he decanted long and earnestly upon the riches of the Gothic monarchy and the facility of its conquest. He explained the feuds and bitter feelings engendered by disappointed ambition, by religious persecution, by the seizure of hereditary estates, by the sufferings of wounded pride. He expatiated on the sense of injury experienced by the advocates of hereditary descent, who considered the reigning monarch of foreign lineage and interior rank that had justly incurred the odium of usurpation.
He portrayed in glowing terms the innumerable attractions of the country, its productive valleys, its crystal streams, the medicinal value of its herbs and plants to which magical virtues were attributed by popular report, its mines, its fisheries, the precious spoil which awaited the hand of the invader, the transcendent beauty of its women. He described the effeminate character of the inhabitants, enervated by idleness, luxury, and sensual indulgence.
Much of this information was already familiar to Musa, but hitherto the impassable barrier of the fortress defended by the stubborn courage of the governor of Ceuta had checked the aspirations of the Moslem commander; nor had it been possible to even confirm the accuracy of the wonderful tales which had been related concerning Ghezirah-al-Andlalus, or the Vandal Peninsula, as Spain was known to the Arabs.
Thoroughly appreciating the importance of the proposal, the magnitude of the interests involved, and the uncertainty which would attend the issue of the expedition, and, at the same time, distrusting the good faith of the Goth, Musa determined to obtain the consent of the Khalif hefore returning a definite answer.
In the late 8th century Ceuta was ruled by somebody who was ambiguously known to both history and legend as either Count Julian or the King of Ghomara in English or as Ilyan in Arabic. Whether he was actually a Byzantine or a Visigoth – or indeed a home-grown Berber - seems to be open to question. Scott identifies him variously in his History as either a renegade Greek or as an unknown quantity- as shown in the quote below:
Of Count Julian . . . We have accounts but little less unsatisfactory. His nationality, his antecedents, his relations to the Goths, the origin of his appointment as governor of Ceuta, the scope of his authority, his obligations to the court of Toledo, are, for the most part, matters of conjecture. Even the story of the outrage to his family, the immediate cause of his defection, though supported by the testimony of almost every Arab chronicler, has been disputed.
Musa or Musa ibin Nusayr - was the military governor of Ifrikaya - the North African provinces of the Umayyad caliphate that was based in Damascus. He was sent to North Africa in order to suppress the local Berber population. However, rather than impose Islam by force, he tended to use diplomacy. The end result was that many Berbers converted to Islam and more than a few actually entered his army. The mountain opposite Gibraltar on the African coast called Djebal Musa takes its name from him.
A view of the New Mole (see LINK) in Gibraltar from the Saluting Battery with Mount Abyla in ther distance ( 1846 - J.M. Carter ) (See LINK)
Kairoan – Kairouan or al-Qayrawan, is a city in Tunisia that was founded by the Umayyads around 670 AD or less than half a century before Tarik arrived somewhere along the shores of Gibraltar.
Musa is convinced that it might be worthwhile to plunder IberiaAs regards Ghezirah-al-Andlalus most historian seem to agree that the Arabic name for Spain itself – as against simply the bit we now call Andalucía – was al-Andalus and that this was derived from the name of the Vandals who occupied the area before the Visigoths. However the addition of Ghezirah – or perhaps Jazeera which I have always understood to mean an island in Arabic and is frequently given as the original name for the town just across the Bay from Gibraltar - Al Jazeera Al-Khudra - is not supported by any other history I have read.
Despatches, with complete information, were accordingly sent to Damascus. The reply of Al- Wahid who then occupied the throne of the khalifate, (caliphate) was favorable; hut he strongly advised the exercise of caution, a recommendation entirely superfluous in the case of a man of Musa’s suspicious and crafty disposition.
Sending for Count Julian, Musa informed him that he would be required to prove his fidelity by heading a reconnaissance into the enemy's country. The count accepted the condition with alacrity; crossed the strait with a small detachment of soldiers belonging to his garrison; ravaged the coast in the neighborhood of Medina Sidonia; burned several churches; destroyed the growing harvests, and returned with considerable booty. Knowing his ally to be now compromised beyond all hope of pardon, and the trifling resistance encountered having apparently demonstrated the feasibility of the enterprise; Musa announced his willingness to negotiate.
Al-Walid I was the Caliph of the Umayyads from 705 to 715 AD. His huge empire eventually spread from the Caucasus right through Arabia and along the whole of North Africa to its western shores.
( From The Conquest of North Africa and Andalusia )
Medina Sidonia - the name of the town is an anachronism as it only became known as such after it was conquered in 712 by the Moorish commander Musa ibn Nusair himself. It is reputed to be the oldest city in Europe and was originally called Sidon – hence the Arabic “City of Sidon” or Medina Sidonia.
The walls of Medina Sidonia in the 16th century ( Barrantes Maldonado ) ( See LINK)
Musa sends Tarif to find out whether Julian’s plans are feasible
The conditions of the compact which disposed of one of the richest kingdoms of Europe have escaped the notice of history. There is reason to believe, however, that Count Julian was promised substantial pecuniary remuneration in addition to the gratification of revenge; and that their hereditary estates were to be restored to the family of Witiza, whose sons were present at the conference, and whose brother Oppas was not only privy to the conspiracy but was one of its principal promoters.
The keys of Ceuta were surrendered, and Count Julian, having sworn allegiance to the Khalif, was invested with a command in the Moslem army. The wary old veteran Musa was not yet satisfied, and determined to send a second expedition, under one of his own captains, to explore the Spanish coast.
He selected for this purpose one of his trusty freed-men, Abu-Zarah-Tarif by name, who, embarking with one hundred cavalry and three hundred infantry, landed at Ghezirah-al-Khadra, now Algeziras, in July, 710. The incursion of Tarif differed little in its results from that of his predecessor, but confirmed the representations of the latter, and proved beyond doubt the defenceless condition of the Visigothic kingdom.
Witizia was King of the Visigoths whose death in 709 AD at the ripe old age of 27 led to a power struggle in which Roderick, Count of Baetia, ended up as King. Oppas - also known as oppa or Obba - is a myth-shrouded individual with multiple possible histories. Perhaps more pertinently modern research suggests that Tarif actually landed in the island of Tarifa – not that far from either Gibraltar or Algeciras and that both the island and nearby town took its name from him.
Map showing the relative positions of Tarifa (Tarife) Gibraltar, Ceuta and Algeciras along the straits of Gibraltar ( Early 18th century – C. Inselin )
Preparations for war were now made upon a larger scale, but one which still could not contemplate the overthrow of the monarchy in the incredibly short period required to accomplish it, and which, indeed, was designed only as a predatory expedition. The command of the troops was given to Tarik-Ibn-Zeyad, a Berber, whose red hair and light complexion disclosed his descent from the Vandals.
The similar names of these two officers, both of whom were freed-men of Musa, have led to confusion and mistaken identity, which has greatly embarrassed the narratives of both ancient chroniclers and modern historians.
Tarik was a soldier of approved experience, extraordinary enterprise, and unflinching courage. His army was one of the most motley forces which had ever been assembled under the Moslem standard. The number was comparatively insignificant, amounting to only seven thousand, of whom but few were cavalry.
Tarik – although I suspect that it is highly unlikely that he ever looked like this (Unknown )
The bulk of the troops was composed of Berbers -fierce savages of the Atlas Mountains, proselytes reclaimed from fetishism by the policy and eloquence of Musa - among them being representatives of the tribes of Ghomarah, Masmoudah, and Zenetah, names destined to a cruel celebrity in the subsequent history of Spain.
Every nation whose types chance, misfortune, the love of plunder, or the spirit of adventure had impelled upon the African coast, was represented in the ranks of the invaders; descendants of the Vandals and the Goths; Bedouins from the Hedjaz; political exiles from the far Orient; conspirators from Syria; apostate Byzantines who had renounced allegiance to the Emperor of Constantinople; and a considerable body of Jews, whose relations with their Spanish brethren rendered them valuable auxiliaries, swelled the command of Tarik. In the latter were adherents of every form of religion - the adorer of fire, the worshipper of the stars, the Pagan votary of the gods of Olympus, the orthodox and the heretic Christian,
Each tribe was marshalled under its respective banner, and the varied nationality of the rank and file was equally displayed in the widely diverse origin of the subordinate officers - Count Julian the renegade Greek, Tarik the Berber, Mugayth-al-Rumi the Goth, and Kaula-al-Yahudi the Jew.
Vessels for the passage of the strait were furnished by Count Julian, who impressed such merchantmen as lay at anchor in the ports under his jurisdiction, the only ones obtainable; the number of these, however, was so insufficient that the transportation of the army consumed several days. The Moslems finally disembarked at the foot of an immense promontory known to the ancient world as Calpe, hut which, rechristened by the Arabs GebaI-al-Tarik, the Mountain of Tarik has transmitted its new appellation, almost unchanged, (see LINK) to future ages as the famous Gibraltar.Tarik waits near Gibraltar
Scarcely had the invaders landed, when they were attacked by the Goths under Theodomir, that chieftain whose successful conduct of the naval expedition during the reign of Egiza, had induced Roderick to invest him with the command of the forces at his disposal. The ill-equipped and undisciplined troops of the Gothic general at once disclosed their inability to withstand the onset of the fiery horsemen of the Desert, and Theodomir was compelled to retreat.
Roderick et al ( 1900s Marcelino de Unceta Rodrigo )
He sent, without delay, the alarming news of the invasion to the King, revealing the universal dismay, with which this strange enemy was regarded, in the following language:
"Our land has been invaded by people whose name, country, and origin are unknown to me. I cannot even tell thee whence they came, whether they fell from the skies or sprang from the earth."
This ominous despatch reached Roderick before the walls of Pampeluna, which had recently revolted against his authority. ‘Whatever were his faults, the Gothic monarch was certainly not deficient in courage and resolution. Raising the siege, he hastened to Cordova, and devoted all his energies to the assembling of an immense army for the defence of the kingdom.
Every resource was employed promises of amnesty, threats, bounties, and conscription, until a hundred thousand men had been mustered under the royal standard. But this great host was formidable only in appearance. The levies of which it was composed were wholly wanting in discipline and unaccustomed to the perils of warfare.
Their weapons were mainly implements whose use was familiar in the practice of the peaceful arts of husbandry. The rank and file, a tumultuous rabble of slaves and hirelings, marched on foot. Horses were few and expensive in the Peninsula; only the nobles were mounted; and to the deficiency of cavalry among the Goths the Arab historians have largely attributed the crushing reverses sustained by their arms.
King Roderick and his Visigothic army about to be wiped out by the invaders”whose name, country, and origin” were unknown to him ( Unknown )
To the unwieldy and disorderly character of the Gothic army was added the secret and fatal influence of treason. Thousands had been enrolled to defend the imperilled crown of Roderick, whose chief desire was the transfer of that crown to a rival dynasty. Others, high in rank, had tendered their services with the hope that, amidst the general confusion, they might push their political fortunes and gratify an inordinate ambition.
. . . . The jealousy of rival commanders tended still further to impair the efficiency of the Christians, whose feuds and discontent being well known to their adversaries had a tendency to inspire the latter with a well-grounded hope of victory. In the mean time, Tarik had seized and occupied the ancient town of Cartea, and, fortifying himself securely, sent foraging expeditions far and wide throughout the surrounding country.
These were, without exception, successful, and the rapid movements of the Arab cavalry, their seemingly invincible character, and the valuable booty they secured, not only struck terror into the astonished natives, but greatly encouraged the main body of the invading army, encamped under the shadow of Gibraltar.
Tarik, presumably in Carteia where he famously “burned his boats” ( See LINK) – the woman is supposed to represent ( 20th century - Fareed Suhelmat )
Theodomir - also known by countless variations of this spelling was a Visigothic Count and ally of Roderick. He controlled much of the area around Murcia at the time of the Arab invasion and was one of the first of the Goths to confront Tariq.
The emissaries and secret allies of Tarik, who swarmed in the court and camp of Roderick, lost no time in apprising him of the preparations being made for his destruction. Alarmed by the accounts he received, he despatched a messenger to Musa for reinforcements. A detachment of ﬁve thousand Berber cavalry was sent to his aid, which with the remainder of his troops amounted to twelve thousand veterans; a mere handful when compared with the army of the Goths, but composed of warriors inured to privation, accustomed to conquer, inflamed with religious zeal, and bearing a devoted and unswerving attachment to their commander.The battle took place, Tariq won and Roderick was probably killed. Tariq then and went on to more of less conquer the rest of Iberia – with more than a little interference from his boss Musa.
The Battle of Guadalete and the death of Roderick ( Unknown )
As to what happened to Tariq after he returned home, Scott has this to say.
The posterity of Tarik was known and esteemed for several centuries in Spain, until his identity and remembrance were finally lost in the civil wars and proscriptions which accompanied the establishment of the dynasty of the Almohades.