The People of Gibraltar
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 6 – Vikings and Almoravids

THE VIKING RAIDS (From previous article)
Ibn-al-Kutia – 9th century – Quoted in The Vikings in Spain - Jon Stefansson 1909 P
When the great mosque in Seville was finished, Abdurrhaman dreamt that he . . . found the prophet lying dead . . . in the holiest part of it. When he awoke . . . he asked the soothsayers about the meaning of this dream, they answered that divine service would cease for a time in this mosque.  
This came to pass when Madjus (Vikings) had seized the city. Several Sheikhs in Seville have told that Madjus shot burning arrows at the roof of the Mosque, and that parts of the roof caught by these fell down . . . When the Madjus found that they would not succeed in burning the Mosque in this way, they piled up wood and reeds in the nave.  
They meant to set it on fire, and hoped the fire would reach the roof. But a young man coming from the holiest part of the Mosque met them. He drove them out of the Mosque, and prevented them from returning there the three following days, until the day when the great battle was fought. (Battle of Talyata – given by Alcantara as Tablata). The Madjus said the young man who drove them out of the Mosque was of an extraordinary
If distinguishing fact from fiction in Islamic literature is a problem, the northern sagas make Viking history even harder to follow in this respect. Nevertheless, according to the legend of the saga of the early 13th century the Northmen did visit Gibraltar’s waters – but probably not the Rock itself.
Ynglinga saga of Odin
. . . it is well known that from Norfasund (the Straits of Gibraltar), a great sea (the Mediterranean) extends quite to Palestine . . . 
According to Arabic sources there were at least six Viking expeditions against al-Andalus during the 9th and 10th century. The first in 844 A.D. is the one mentioned by Alcantara in which Seville was thoroughly pillaged. Although I doubt whether there was any mythology involved here, the story of a later expedition are perhaps more interesting as it is brings us closer to home. 

The Vikings are coming  (Edward Moran)

In the 859 a series of never-ending raids on the towns and cities of the western coast of Spain were carried out by the Viking leaders Björn Ironside and his side-kick Hastein. The former was a Danish Prince and is a much commented upon historical figure – not so Hastein who is variously described as Björn’s younger foster brother or simply as a soldier. Their exploits are described in this wonderfully desperate account by a contemporary French monk: I quote it from this book:

(2015 - Charles Stanton)
Ermentarius of the island of Noirmoutier (9th century) 
The number of ships grows: the endless stream of Vikings never ceases to increase. Everywhere the Christians are victims of massacres, burnings, plundering: the Vikings conquer all in their path, and no one resists them: they seize Bordeaux, Périgueux, Limoges, Angouleme and Toulouse. 
Angers, Tours and Orleans are annihilated and an innumerable fleet sails up the Seine and the evil grows in the whole region. Rouen is laid waste, plundered and burned: Paris, Beauvais and Meaux taken, Melun’s strong fortress levelled to the ground, Chartres occupied, Evreun and Bayeux plundered, and every town besieged . . . 
And much more succinctly and to the point in this book:

Philip Parker - The Northmen's Fury -2014 
The Norsemen then sailed on southwards to Muslim-controlled lands, where in a few short weeks they did more damage than the Christian kingdoms had inflicted on the Umayyad emirate in more than a century.
In 1859 Björn et al arrived at the beautiful bay that lies to the north of the Norfasund. They ignored the imposing but apparently still more or less uninhabited and almost certainly booty-free mountain that dominated the east side of the Bay - and turned their attentions towards the town of Al Jazira Al-Khadra – today’s Algeciras - on the opposite shore. Tradition has it that the men who were settled there at the time were decedents of Arab soldiers who had come over with Musa bin Nusayr in the early 8th century.

Viking Longboat – Could that be Gibraltar on the left? (David Seguin)

The Vikings looted the wealthier looking quarters and in an act of ill-conceived contempt set fire to the two main mosques – “Banderas” and the “Aljama” which is the mosque I wrote about in the previous chapter on the Mesquita of Cordoba. 

 The inhabitants of Algeciras eventually managed to drive the Viking invaders out of town capturing two of their longboats in the process. When the mosque was rebuilt, wood taken from these Viking drakkars was used for the doors and beams of the building - most of which is confirmed by an old Islamic account:
Ibn Adhari (Idhari al Marrakusi)
In the year (860 A.D.) Madjus (Vikings) were seen again, and this time with 62 ships on the Western coasts. They found them well guarded . . . the other Madjus ships sailed on along the coast, and arrived at the mouth of the river by Seville. . . Madjus left the river mouth and sailed to Algeziras which they took, and where they burnt the grand mosque.


I can’t find any mention of the Battle of Tablata and am therefore assuming that he meant the Battle of Talyata in which Abd ar-Raman II - the fourth Emir of Cordoba and not the man who founded the Emirate as mentioned on the previous page – finally managed to force the Vikings to leave the neighbourhood after a series of skirmishes.

Abd ar-Raman II, Emir of Cordova - on the left - drove the Vikings out of Seville and fortified the city against further attacks (Unknown old manuscript)

Nevertheless, the Vikings continued to cause havoc in Al-Andalus for quite a while. The fourth Viking raid took place in 964-966
Ibn Idhari
In the year . . . 966, the Khalifa Hakam II received a letter from Kasr abi-Danis (Alcacer). It told that a fleet of Madjus had been seen in western seas near this place, that the inhabitants of all this coast were greatly anxious, as they knew that Madjus used formerly to make . . . they told among other things that Madjus had plundered here and there, and had arrived at the plain of Lisbon.
The most tantalising reference to Viking that that sailed through the Norfasund is one that might . . . just might . . . refer to Gibraltar and which if true might change our perception of what the Rock was like two or three centuries after Tarik had landed there.
G.T. Garratt - Gibraltar and the Mediterranean 1939 P17
. . . . one curious incident . . . occurred about the year 1100.
King Sigurd of Norway had set out upon a crusade. The Saga of his adventures describes his arrival by sea at the Straits of Gibraltar, and his attack upon a party of Saracens, ‘who had their fortress in a cave, with a wall before it, in the face of a precipice’. There follows an account of a successful landing, and the final smoking-out of the garrison by burning trees outside their cave. . . The story is interesting because it suggests that the early occupants of the Rock had already begun to use the caves, fissures, and potholes which abound in this limestone mass.
Another historian gives us a slightly different version of Sigurd’s entry into the Mediterranean.
George Hills - Rock of Contention - 1970
The saga of King Sigurd Josafar (Jerusalem-farer) of Norway tells of his attack on Saracens in the Strait of Gibraltar “who had a defence-work in a cave, with a wall before it, in the face of a cliff.” He smoked them out and proceeded on his famous journey to the Holy Land. That was in 1107.  
Unfortunately, it is not clear from the context on which side of the Strait Sigurd’s men landed, and the question must remain open whether it was . . . Gibraltar that they attacked or one in the Caves of Hercules in Tangier . . .
A third quote taken from a translation of real McCoy Viking records possibly puts the entire theme to rest for good.

Samuel Laing - Heimskringla - History of the Norse Kings - 1907
King Sigurd then proceeded on his voyage, and came to Norfasund; and in the sound he was met by a large Viking force . . . and the king gave them battle . . . He gained the victory here also. 
King Sigurd then sailed eastward along the coast of Serkland, and came to an island there called Forminterra. There a great many heathen Moors had taken up their dwelling in a cave, and had built a strong stone wall before its mouth.  
King Sigurd landed on this island, and went to the cave; but it lay in a precipice, and there was a high winding path to the stone wall, and the precipice above projected over it. The heathens defended the stone wall, and were not afraid of the Northmen's arms; for they could throw stones, or shoot down upon the Northmen under their feet; neither did the Northmen, under such circumstances, dare to mount up. 
Acantara’s suggestion that Gibraltar was at peace for a long time may be correct but the truth is that – as mentioned previously – nobody seems to have recorded what was happening on the Rock whether peaceful or violent over the several centuries after 711. On the other hand, Iberia was anything but peaceful during this period.


From a dynastic point of view while the Almoravids took over from the Umayyads in North Africa during the early 11th century and the main Umayyad towns in Iberia such as Seville, Cordoba and Malaga in the south became separate territories run by feudal overlords – and the devil take the hindmost. By the mid-11th century there were 26 of them.

Southern 11th century Taifas - (2016 - Rose Walker - Art in Spain and Portugal from the Romans to the Early Middle Ages: Routes and Myths)

Not shown on the above map is that one of the original Taifas was the Kingdom of Algeciras which:
George Hills . . . stretched from the river Barbarte, south of Jerez to at least the river Guadiaro and thus included Gibraltar. It was sandwiched between the Arab al-Mutadid Kingdom of Seville and the Berber Kingdom of Malaga. 
The man in charge in Algeciras and therefore also of Gibraltar, was - according to Hills - Muhammad ibn Hammud but is named elsewhere as Muhammad ibn Al-qasim. However, as explained by Alcantara and shown on the above map, it was soon incorporated into Seville by al Mutadid twenty odd years later.

Seville – or isbiliya as it was then known – became perhaps the most powerful of the Taifas of Al Andalus. But not powerful enough to stop the Christian’s efforts to take over the place. It meant that the Abbasid al-Mu’tadid was forced to pay an annual tribute to Alfonso VI of Castile and Leon.

Al Mutadid is a good example of the nasty pieces of work that ended up benefiting from the Taifa system – as confirmed by the following quote.

Dictators and Tyrants (1995)
Al Mu’tadid was a gifted politician, as well as a poet and patron of the arts, but he was above all else ruthless, his ambition matched by his cruelty. 
Sometime around 1048 he began a campaign of conquest in the frontier region, during which he subdued and annexed five principalities. 
In 1053, he invited a number of minor Berber princes from the south to his palace in Seville, suffocating them to death by treating them to a steam bath, having first sealed up all of the openings in the bathhouse. He then promptly seized their kingdoms. . . Abbadid al-Mu’tadid was executed by his own son, the crown prince Isma’il who rebelled in an effort to create his own Kingdom . . . 
And this is the fellow who according to the Encyclopaedia of Islam – via George Hills - changed his name from Mu’tadid to Mutamid out of love for a girl . . .

Finally, something that tickled my fancy and has little to with what this article is all about – for a few months of the 21st century Algeciras appeared as an 11th century Taifa on Google maps.

To read the booklet without any interruptions from me - click on the link below:

711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar - J.J. Alcantara

To read the rest of my commentary click on the appropriate link below:

711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 1 - The Visigoths and Islam
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 2 - Tarik and Gibraltar
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 3 - Tarik’s Mountain
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 4 - Tarik Invades
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 5 - Covadonga
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 6 - Vikings and Almoravids
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 7 - Yusuf Ibn Tashfin
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 8 - Abd al-Mu’min
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 9 - Madinat-al-Fath
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 10 - Moorish Wall, Aqueduct and Town
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 11 - Abd al-Mu’min Revisited
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 12 - The First Siege
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 13 - Christian Gibraltar and the Second Siege
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 14 - La Giralda and the Third Siege
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 15 - Abu al-hasan
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 16 - The Tower of Homage
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 17 - The Line Wall and the Shrine
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 18 - The Mosque, St Mary the Crowned and Rio Salado
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 19 - Siege of Algeciras and Ibn Battuta
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 20 - Southern Defences and Moorish Baths
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 21 - The Nuns’ Well
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 22 - The Gatehouse
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 23 - The 6th and 7th Sieges
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 24 - The 8th Siege – Castilian Gibraltar