The People of Gibraltar

 2020 - Once upon a time in Islamic Gibraltar - Part 17

Ibn al-Kardabus (Abu Ja'far) (1200)
The “Translator’s Preface” of Pascual de Gayangos’ translation of Al Makkarí’s History of the Mohammedan Dynasties in Spain - Volume 1 – published in 1840, contains a summary of several Islamic works which the author lists as having consulted and cited. Among them is this one:

“Kittabu-l-iftifa fi akhbari-l-kholafa” - “The book of sufficiency in the history of the Khalifs”, by Abu Ja’far Ibn Abdi-l-hakk Al-khazreji of Cordova, a writer of the twelfth century of our era containing a history of the Mohammedan empire, both in the East and the west, beginning with Abu Bekr Abdullah ibn Uthman and ending with Al-mamum Mohammed son of Al-muktafi bi-amri-llah, of the house of Abbas, who began his reign in 560H (1165). . .” p xxii

Notes: Abu Bekr – now known as Abu Bakr - (c573-634) - which was actually his kunya or nickname - was the father-in-law and companion of the prophet Muhammad. He also became the very first Islamic or Rashidun Caliph. He reigned from 632 to 63.

Muhammad and Abu Bakr in a cave (17th century Turkish miniature - unknown)

Al-mamum Mohammed must be the Abbasid Calph Al-Mustanji who was the son of Al-Muktafi (Muqtafi) and whose reign began in 1165 CE. This date matches the era of the Almohad Caliph Abu Yaqub Yusuf – son of Abd al-Mu’min the man who founded the town of Gibraltar. This date also coincides with the year in which al-Kardabus ends the section on al-Andalus in his Kitab al-iktifa.

Gayangos follows up his reference to Abu Ja’far with a footnote directing the reader to his Appendix D which reveals the following:

The MS. to which I allude (the Abu Ja’far MS) is a folio volume of about 480 pages, written in a clear African hand. . . The first four leaves and the last eight are supplied by a modern hand, upon white paper, manufactured in Europe. Owing to this . . . it is impossible for me to fix with certainty the age of the MS, but, were I to judge, I should not hesitate in declaring it . . .  written at Seville towards . . . (1174-5).

The name of the author is nowhere stated in the MS . . . But as Ibnu Sa’id . . . has spoken of an historical work whose title and description answer exactly to those of the present, and which he attributes to Abu Ja’far . . . we may reasonably conclude, for want of a better proof that he was the author of the present (article) . P xlii/xliii

20 years later, the Dutch Arabist Reinhart Dozy made the following observation in his Recherches sur l'Histoire et la litterature de l'Espagne which was published in 1860. 

. . . words and phrases used by the author, are found in the Arabic writings that deal with this period, especially in the Kitab al-ictifa, (iktifa) an excellent chronicle that was composed, in the second half of the XIIth century, by an African faqui, (lawyer or legal expert) named Ibn-al-Cardebous. (Ibn al-Kardabus) Vol II p45

This was followed by a footnote that read:

I know the name of the author of the Kitab al-ictifa from Ibn-Chebat, (ibn al-Shabbat, from Tunisia d1282) who often quotes him.

Since then, Gayangos’Kittabu-l-iftifa fi akhbari-l-kholafa” – now  generally known simply as the Kitab al-iktifa - has been generally accepted as the work of Ibn al-Kardabus and not of “Abu Yafar” – In 1986, Felipe Maíllo Salgado published his Spanish translation of this work which I have included and discussed  in one of the essays in the series.

I have also mentioned elsewhere that Maíllo was apparently quite critical of Gayangos’ translation style.

“No pretendo aquí erigirme en juez de tan insigne arabista como fue Gayangos, ni creo que mi critica empañe en nada su labor pionera; sin embargo, importa dejar sentado que su forma de traducir, buena y apetecida en su tiempo, no lo es ya en nuestra época, en la que los estudiosos demandan rigor científico antes que cualidades estéticas.”

The above has made me decide to include a second chapter on al-Kardabus – this second one being Gayangos’ English translation of the Kitab which he tentatively attributed to Abu Jafar. It might perhaps allow the curious reader to compare the two and find out the merit or otherwise of Maillo’s criticism.

The quotes below are taken from Pascual de Gayangos’ translation into English of Al-Makkarí’s History of the Mohammedan Dynasties in Spain, - Volume 1 - Appendix D.

An Account of the Conquest of al-Andalus

Julian and Roderick
At the time of the conquest of Africa by the Arabs, Maghreb and Andalus were in the hands of the Rum (Christians) and Berbers. The former were in possession of Andalus and all the opposite coast of Africa; the latter held all the interior and the deserts. Among the Berbers there were some who listened to the voice of their preachers, and embraced Islam; others shut their ears to it, and remained in ignorance and idolatry. pxlii

There was in Tangiers a Rumi, named Ilyan (Julian), who was Al-mukaddam (commander) of Ludherik (Roderick) King of Andalus, who held his court at Toledo. This monarch is the same under whose reign Andalus was invaded and subdued by the Arabs. One of the causes which is said to have contributed most efficaciously to that event is the following. 

The story of the padlocked house
One of the causes which is said to have contributed most efficaciously to that event (the conquest of al-Andalus is the following. There was at Toledo a palace the gate of which was secured with many locks, for every king who ruled over that country added a lock to the gate, and none ever dared. to open it; nor did any one know what it contained. The number of the locks had already reached to twenty, one for each of the kings who had governed that country when the said Ludherik (Roderick) ascended the throne of Andalus. pxlii

He then said, “I must have the gate of this palace opened, that I may see what is inside,” but his counts and bishops said to him, “Do no such thing, O King! Do not innovate upon a custom which thy predecessors have hitherto kept most religiously.”

But Ludherik replied, “No, you shall not persuade me, I must have it opened, and see what it contains.” He then caused the gate to be thrown open, but he found nothing inside save a large roll of parchment, on which were portrayed figures of turbaned men mounted on generous steeds, having swords in their hands, and spears with fluttering pennons at the end. 

The roll contained besides an inscription, purporting, “The men represented in this picture are the Arabs, the same who, whenever the locks of this palace are broken, will invade this island and subdue it entirely.” When Ludherik saw this, he repented of what he had done, and ordered the gate to be shut.

The Story of Julian’s Daughter and Roderick 
It was then the custom among the Rum for all the people of rank to send their daughters to the royal palace, to be brought up with the daughters of their sovereign. There they were all educated together, and taught the same accomplishments, and, when grown up, the king would marry them to the most distinguished people of his dominions, and grant them marriage portions, by which means he secured the affections of the husbands, the wives, and their children. 

It happened that in compliance with this usage, Ilyan, (Julian) the governor of Tangiers and Ceuta, who was one of Ludherik’s favourites, and one of the most powerful lords of his kingdom, sent his daughter to Toledo, where she was accordingly lodged in the king’s Ilyan used to visit Ludherik once a year, in the month of August, when he always brought with him presents for his master, such as hawks for the chase, and other productions of Africa. 

Ilyan’s daughter being extremely handsome, the eye of Ludherik rested on her, and he became deeply enamoured, but, failing in persuasion, he obtained by force the gratification of his wishes. However, he afterwards repented of what he had done, and ordered that his act should be kept a secret, and that the girl should be hindered from speaking to any one, lest she should write to her father and acquaint him with what had occurred.

Roderick misbehaving (Unknown)

But notwithstanding all these precautions, the girl soon contrived to acquaint her father with her situation by sending him a splendid present, and among the articles composing it a rotten egg. No sooner did Ilyan see this than he understood the message, and saw that his daughter had been dishonoured; he immediately crossed over to Andalus, and repaired to Toledo, although contrary to orders, and out of the time fixed for his presentation, it being then the month of January. pxliv/plxv

When Ludherik saw Ilyan come so unexpectedly, he said to him, “O Ilyan! what ails thee, to come to me at this season of the year, in the depth of winter?” and Ilyan answered, “I come to fetch my daughter, for her mother is very ill, and I fear her death, and she has expressed a. strong desire to see our daughter, that she may console her in her last moments. Then Ludherik observed, “Hast thou procured us the hawks we told thee of?” 

“Yes, I have,” answered Ilyan, “I have found thee such as thou never sawest the like of in thy life; I shall soon return with them, and bring them to thee, if God be pleased.” Ilyan was all the time meaning the Arabs. He then took his daughter, and returned without loss of time to the seat of his government, where no sooner had he arrived than he went to Ifrikiyyah (Ifrikiya), and entered Cairwan, where the Amir Musa ibn Nusayr was residing at the time. 

Musa Ibn Nusayr 
This Musa was the son of Nusayr, son of Abdu-r-rahman, son of Zeyd Al-bekri (Musa Ibn Nusair); he was born in the year nineteen of the Hijra, under the Khalifate of Omar Ibnu-l-khattab, (may God show him his favours!) Musa’s father had been captain of the guard to Mu’awiyah Ibn Abi Sufyan, and when that Khalif made war against Ali, (may God show him his favours!) he would not accompany him, and refused to take part in the expedition. pxlv

Notes: Then follows a lengthy exchange explain why Musa’s father refused to take part which I have respectfully left out.

But, to return, Musa obtained the government of Eastern Africa in A.D. 698 . . . and was, therefore, the viceroy of all the Arabian conquests of Eastern and Western Africa during the Khalifate of Abdu-l-Malek. After the death of this monarch he was confirmed in his post by his brother and successor, Al-Walid. (Al Walid I) p xlv

Julian meets Musa 
To this Musa, Ilyan, governor of Tangiers, came to offer his services. He found him at Cairwan told him what had happened to his daughter, and, anxious to revenge the outrage on his enemy, proposed to him to make the conquest of Andalus, an undertaking which he represented to him as being of very easy execution. p xlv/xlvi

Notes:  “Cairwan " is now the modern city of Al Qayrawan in Tunisia. It was founded by the Umayyads in 670 AD. Most medieval documents spell the town as Cairwan.


He described Andalus as an extensive kingdom, filled with treasures of all kinds, whose inhabitants would make very handsome slaves, a country abounding in springs, gardens, rivers, and a land yielding every description of fruit and plants. Musa, who was endowed with much penetration and wit, and who had great experience in all the affairs of war, said to the Christian, 

"We doubt not that thou art telling us the truth, but we fear for the sake of the Moslems, and the dangers they may encounter. Thou wishest them to invade a country with which they are not in the least degree acquainted, and from which they are separated by an intervening sea, while thou art bound to thy king by the common ties of the idolaters, and united to thy countrymen by the same customs and the same religion. But return to thy government, call together thy and partisans, cross the Straits in person, and make an incursion into the territory of that king. When thou hast done thus, and begin hostilities, then will it be time for us to follow thy steps, if God be pleased.”

Ilyan agreed to these conditions, and prepared for his intended expedition. Musa then wrote to Al-Walid Ibn ’Abdi-l-malek (Al-Walid I) acquainting him with what Ilyan had proposed to him, and the Khalif’s answer was as follows: 

“Let the country be first explored by light troops, that thou mayest judge of the real strength of the enemy, and be sure not to be the victim of treason.” 

Julian and Tarif’s preliminary raid
llyan in the meanwhile returned to his government, called together his men, and, crossing the Straits in two vessels, landed at Jesiratu-l-Khadhra, (Al-Yazirat Al-Hadra - Algeciras) whence he made incursions into the land, burning the houses and fields, killing, taking captives, and collecting considerable spoil; after which he and his companions returned safe to Africa, their hands filled with booty. p xlvi

Notes: Algeciras would not have been known as Al-Yazirat Al-Hadra until after the conquest - a common anachronism in medieval literature.

Tarif Ibn Malik – Abu Zara
The news of this success soon spread over every district of Africa, the result being that about three thousand Berbers, collected under the orders of Abri Zar’ah Tarif Ibn Malik Al-mu’awi, (Tarif) crossed the sea, and landed on an island ever since called ‘the island of Tarif,’ from the name of their general. 

Like their predecessors, the Berbers with Tarif spread over the neighbouring country, making incursions, killing, and taking prisoners. They also returned safe into Africa. llyan then hastened to apprise Musa of this new victory, and Musa informed the Khalif of it; it is even said that the very same day on which Musa’s messenger was introduced into the Khalif’s presence, eleven more messengers, all bearing news of similar victories obtained by the Arabs in the various quarters of the globe, reached the court of Damascus, and that Al-Walid fell immediately on his knees and praised God. p xlvi

Tariq’s Invades Iberia 
. . . Ilyan went a second time to Musa, and acquainted him with the success of both enterprises; he told him of what he had executed and the experiment he had tried, and he again urged him to make the conquest of Andalus. This time Musa sent for his freedman Tariq ibn Ziyad, and gave him the command of twelve thousand men, Arabs and Berbers; he then commanded him to cross the Straits and invade Andalus, bidding Ilyan accompany also the expedition with his own troops. p xlvi 
Tariq lands close to Gibraltar (Jabal Tarik)
Before Tarik left Africa a great number of volunteers flocked under his banners; he first went to Ceuta, and, having embarked in vessels, he cast anchor close to a mountain, which received his name, and was ever since called Jebal-Tarik (Jabal Tariq), ‘the mountain of Tarik.’ This event took place . . . (at the beginning October, A.D.711) p xlvi
Story of the flattening of the ground 
When Tarik was about to land, he found some of the Rum (Christians) posted on a commodious part of the coast where he had intended to disembark, who made some show of resistance. But Tarik, giving up that spot, sailed off from it at night and went towards another part of the coast, which he contrived to render flat by means of the oars, and by throwing over them the saddles of the horses, and in this way, he managed to effect a landing unobserved by his enemies and before they were aware of it. p xlvi

Tariq landing somewhere that looks like Gibraltar – no sign of oars or packsaddles (unknown)

Notes: A footnote by Gayangos states that he believes that Tariq crossed the Straits in vessels provided by Julian. That this was probably so is also suggested by several other Muslim historians. This insignificant detail – I personally would never have thought it important to determine who exactly supplied Tariq’s transport – has given rise to some discussion among modern historians. For example, to quote George Hills in Rock of Contention.

The 710 (A.D.) raid under Tarif must have alerted the Visigoths in Julia Traductor (Pre-Islamic Algeciras) to their vulnerability to surprise attack. They knew what Arab warships looked like. That Tariq had in mind the desirability of surprise and an unopposed landing is implicit . . . This detail is confirmed by the earliest Spanish full account of the invasion, the Arabs came “in navibus mercatorum ne causa transitus perciperetur” . p26

The Latin quote is from Rodrigo Ximenez de RadaDe Rebus Hispania – which was finished in 1243, a date which somewhat negates Hills argument. Hills of course was probably much more interested in the bit about Tariq landing “close to the mountain” as he was strongly of the opinion that he never actually set foot on the place.

The translation by Gayangos continues:

Tariq harangues his troops and burns his boats
He then began to make incursions into the country, and fell upon the Rum, and collected considerable spoil, penetrating as far as Cordova, after setting fire to the vessels which had conveyed him to Spain. He said to his men, “You must either fight or die.” p xlvii

Notes: Gayangos offers the following on the above: 

This address of Tarik to his soldiers will be found entire in the Appendix E., p. lxx . . . Were we to draw any inference from the language used by Tariq on this occasion, we might say that the Berbers under his command had been put to flight by the Christians. Otherwise, cui bono those words, "Whither can you fly? " If the contest lasted a whole week of continual skirmishing, as all the Arabian historians assert, the invaders might easily have been defeated in some partial engagement. p524

Tariq burns his boats after arrival – the lady must be Umm Hakim (2009 - Fareed Suheimat)

The story of the black mole prediction 
He met an old woman who addressed him thus: 
“l had once a husband who was learned in divination, and who used to say that a man of thy figure and shape, having a prominent forehead, and a black spot upon his shoulder, with a mole covered with hair, would cross over to this island.” Tarik then uncovered his shoulder and showed the spot and the mole to his men, who rejoiced at the good omen, and felt their courage very much strengthened by the fortunate circumstance.
Roderick prepares for war
When the news of Tarik’s landing reached Ludherik, (Rodrigo) that monarch sallied out to meet him at the head of one hundred thousand cavalry, bringing his treasures as well as his wardrobe in waggons. The tyrant came on a litter borne by three mules placed in a row; a vaulted canopy, sprinkled with pearls, rubies, and the richest jewels, was spread over him to screen him from the rays of the sun; he was dressed in a robe made of strings of pearls, interwoven with silk, and followed by long trains of mules whose only load was ropes to pinion the arms of the captives, for he did not doubt that he would soon make every one of the Arabs his prisoner.

Notes: According to Gayangos the mules were white p xlvii. The translation continues:

Before Tarik sailed for Andalus, Musa fell on his knees, and began to pray, and to shed tears, and to implore the assistance of Almighty God, and to pray most fervently for his help and interference in favour of the Moslem troops. It has been said of him that no army which he commanded ever fled before the enemy. p xlvii

The Cannibal Story
However, Ludherik (Roderick) marched his army to Cordova, meaning to attack Tarik; and when he came close to him, he (Roderick) chose among his host a man of tried courage and experienced in the affairs and stratagems of war; he directed him to go under some pretence to Tarik’s camp, and observe all the movements of his men, so as to be able to report to him on their numbers, looks, and general appearance. p xlvii/xlviii

The man did as he was commanded; he approached the tents of the Moslems, and Tarik, having been informed of it, put into practice the following stratagem in order to overawe his enemies. He ordered the flesh of the slain to be cut piecemeal, and to be dressed as if it were to be served for the men’s repast; 

Tarik’s men did as they were ordered, they cut up the dead bodies and cooked the flesh in large cauldrons; and when Ludherik’s messenger saw this he doubted not but that the Moslems fed upon dead bodies. However, Tarik, having caused the human flesh to be privately removed and buried during the night, had beef and mutton dressed in its stead, and, when in the morning the men were summoned to partake of their repast, Ludherik’s messenger was also invited to partake of it, and he ate along with them. 

The repast concluded, the messenger returned to his master, and said to him, 

“Thy kingdom has been invaded by a nation of people who feed upon the flesh of the slain; their description is the same as that found by thee in the sealed palace; they have set fire to their vessels, and seem determined either to conquer or to perish.” 

The Battle of Guadalete 
This news filled Ludherik and his men with utter consternation, but the contest had now become inevitable, and both armies came to an engagement on a Sunday. The Moslems sustained the fight with great courage; they charged desperately and at once upon the infidels, whom God was pleased to put to flight, for their first ranks having given way, they were closely pursued by the Moslems, dealing death among their scattered bands and making numbers of them prisoners. p xlviii

The Battle of Guadalete – that is supposed to be Tariq killing Roderick (Unknown)

Roderick’s fate 
What became of their king, Ludherik, nobody knows; they pretend that while flying from his pursuers he contrived to hide himself among the bushes on the banks of the river, but that he came up to a marsh and was drowned; in corroboration of which it is said that some soldiers found one of his sandals, sprinkled with pearls and rubies, having the string still fixed to it, which no doubt fell off one of his feet. 
The Spoils of War
So precious were its materials that when, after the battle, the division of the spoil was made, it was valued at one hundred thousand dinars. Ludherik’s camp was, moreover, completely plundered, and the Moslems spread right and left over the country, gaining every where considerable spoils, of which Tarik religiously put aside the fifth for the royal coffers, distributing the remainder among all those present at the battle, by which means the hands of his men were filled, and all, without one exception, became rich. p xlviii
The table of Suleyman
When the people on the other side of the sea were informed of Tarik’s success, they flocked to him from all parts, from the East as well as from the West, and Musa dispatched immediately a messenger to the Khalif Al-Walid, informing him of the victories gained by the Moslems. Tarik, in the meanwhile, marched to Toledo, which he took; he then went to a place beyond that city, where he found in the principal church the table of Suleyman, son of Daud, (on whom be peace!) which was so beautiful to behold that whoever gazed at it the world vanished before his eyes. 

It was inlaid with precious stones of various kinds and hues, as well as with aromatic woods; it was, besides, most beautifully ornamented with several inscriptions in the Greek tongue. But this was not the only jewel which Tarik found; he seized also on one-and-twenty copies of the Torah, the Gospels, and the Psalms, as well as a copy of the book of Abraham, and another of that of Moses, (the salutation of our Lord be on them!) 

He found, likewise, five-and-twenty royal diadems, beautifully ornamented with jewels, one for each of the kings who had ruled over the country, since it was a custom among them for every monarch to deposit there before his death a crown of gold bearing an inscription indicative of his name, personal description, duration of his life and reign, and the children he had. He found also several books treating of the manner of using plants, minerals, and animals, advantageously for man, besides many wonderful talismans, the work of ancient philosophers, and another work on the great art," and its roots and elixirs . . . p xlviii

Notes: Sulayman bin Abd al-Malik also known as Suleyman was the younger brother of Al-Walid I and succeeded him as Caliph from 715 to 717 AD. No true liking exists of Sulayman - or of any other Moorish leader of antiquity - perhaps because human representation was against the principles of Islam and tended to be considered a form of idolatry.