Arab Spain

That country had been taken from the natives by the Carthaginians, from the Carthaginians by the Romans, from the Romans by the Goths, from the Goths by the Arabs and the Moors. It was the first province of the Holy Empire of the Caliphs to shake itself free, and to crown a monarch of its own. The Arabs raised Spain to a height of prosperity which it has never since attained; they covered the land with palaces, mosques, hospitals, and bridges; and with enormous aqueducts which, penetrating the sides of mountains, or sweeping on lofty arches across valleys, rivalled the monuments of ancient Rome. The Arabs imported various tropical fruits and vegetables, the culture of which has departed with them. They grew, prepared, and exported sugar. They discovered new mines of gold and silver, quicksilver and lead. They extensively manufactured silks, cottons, and merino woollen goods, which they despatched to Constantinople by sea, and which were thence diffused through the valley of the Danube over savage Christendom. When Italians began to navigate the Mediterranean, a line of ports was opened to them from Tarragona to Cadiz. The metropolis of this noble country was Cordova. It stood in the midst of a fertile plain washed by the waters of the Guadalquivir. It was encircled by suburban towns; there were ten miles of lighted streets. The great mosque was one of the wonders of the mediaeval world; its gates embossed with bronze; its myriads of lamps made out of Christian bells; and its thousand columns of variegated marble supporting a roof of richly carved and aromatic wood. At a time when books were so rare in Europe that the man who possessed one often gave it to a church, and placed it on the altar pro remedio animae suae, to obtain remission of his sins; at a time when three or four hundred parchment scrolls were considered a magnificent endowment for the richest monastery: when scarcely a priest in England could translate Latin into his mother tongue; and when even in Italy a monk who had picked up a smattering of mathematics was looked upon as a magician, here was a country in which every child was taught to read and write; in which every town possessed a public library; in which book collecting was a mania; in which cotton and afterwards linen-paper was manufactured in enormous quantities; in which ladies earned distinction as poets and grammarians, and in which even the blind were often scholars; in which men of science were making chemical experiments, using astrolabes in the observatory, inventing flying machines, studying the astronomy and algebra of Hindustan.

When the Goths conquered Spain they were reconquered by the clergy, who established or revived the Roman Law. But to that excellent code they added some special enactments relating to pagans, heretics, and Jews. With nations as with individuals, the child is often the father of the man; intolerance, which ruined the Spain of Philip, was also its vice, in the Gothic days. On the other hand, the prosperity of Spain beneath the Arabs was owing to the tolerant spirit of that people. Never was a conquered nation so mercifully treated. The Christians were allowed by the Arab laws free exercise of their religion. They were employed at court; they held office; they served in the army. The caliph had a bodyguard of twelve thousand men; picked troops, splendidly equipped; and a third of these were Christians. But there were some ecclesiastics who taught their congregations that it was sinful to be tolerated. There were fanatics who, when they heard the cry of the muezzin, "There is no God but God, and Mohammed is the messenger of God," would sign the cross upon their foreheads and exclaim in a loud voice, "Keep not thou silence, O God, for lo! thine enemies make a tumult, and they that hate thee have lifted up the head"; and so they would rush into the mosque, and disturb the public worship, and announce that Mohammed was one of the false prophets whom Christ had foretold. And when such blasphemers were put to death, which often happened on the spot, there was an epidemic of martyr-suicide such as that which excited the wonder and disgust of the younger Pliny. And soon both the contumacy of the Christians and the evil passions of the Moslems, which that contumacy excited, were increased by causes from without. When Spain had first been conquered, a number of Gothic nobles, too proud to submit on any terms, retreated to the Asturias, taking with them the sacred relics from Toledo. They found a home in mountain ravines clothed with chestnut woods, and divided by savage torrents foaming and gnashing on the stones. Here the Christians established a kingdom, discovered the bones of a saint which attracted pilgrims from all parts of Europe, and were joined from time to time by foreign volunteers, and by the disaffected from the Moorish towns.

The Caliph of Cordova was a Commander of the Faithful: he united the spiritual and temporal powers in his own person: he was not the slave of Mamelukes or Turkish guards. But he had the right of naming his successor from a numerous progeny, and this custom gave rise, as usual, to seraglio intrigue and civil war. The empire broke up into petty states, which were engaged in continual feuds with one another. Thus the Christians were enabled to invade the Moslem territory with success. At first they made only plundering forays; next they took castles by surprise or by storm and garrisoned them strongly; and then they began slowly to advance upon the land. By the middle of the ninth century they had reached the Douro and the Ebro. By the close of the eleventh they had reached the Tagus under the banner of the Cid. In the thirteenth century the kingdom of Granada alone was left. But that kingdom lasted two hundred years. Its existence was preserved by causes similar to those which had given the Christians their success. Portugal, Arragon, Leon, and Castile were more jealous of one another than of the Moorish kingdom. Granada was unaggressive; and at the same time it belonged to the European family. There was a difference in language, religion, and domestic institutions between Moslem and Christian Spain; yet the manners and mode of thought in both countries were the same. The cavaliers of Granada were acknowledged by the Spaniards to be "gentlemen, though Moors." The Moslem knight cultivated the sciences of courtesy and music, fought only with the foe on equal terms, esteemed it a duty to side with the weak and to succour the distressed, mingled the name of his mistress with his Allah Akbar! as the Christians cried, Ma Dame et mon Dieu! wore in her remembrance an embroidered scarf or some other gage of love, mingled with her in the graceful dance of the Zambra, serenaded her by moonlight as she looked down from the balcony. Granada was defended by a cavalry of gallant knights, and by an infantry of sturdy mountaineers. But it came to its end at last. The marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella united all the crowns of Spain. After eight centuries of almost incessant war, after three thousand seven hundred battles, the long crusade was ended; Spain became once more a Christian land; and Boabdil, pausing on the Hill of Tears, looked down for the last time on the beautiful Alhambra, on the city nestling among rose gardens, and the dark cypress waving over Moslem tombs. His mother reproached him for weeping as a woman for the kingdom he had not defended as a man. He rode down to the sea and crossed over into Africa. But that country also was soon to be invaded by the Christians.

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