A fanciful portrayal of the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa. Source.

Summary of Late Medieval / Early Modern Times

by Dr Salah Zaimeche, BMHC

The late medieval period was marked by a series of remarkable events, including the end of the Crusades in the East (1291); the arrival of the Ottomans onto the historical scene; and the overall decline of Muslim power in North Africa, and most of all the loss of al-Andalusia. This period also witnessed the rising power of Western Christendom, which had begun in the wake of its borrowings of sciences and civilization from the Muslim world (from the 12th century onwards). In fact, the Ottoman realm aside, and Muslim India to some extent, the whole Muslim world had by now, in the late 13th century, begun its journey into the decline that marks it today. In the midst of Muslim collapse, the way was open to invigorated Western Christendom to launch a renewed crusader onslaught on Islam. 1

The image that springs out throughout the Muslim world from east to west towards the end of the 13th century is that of overall decline, collapse even. Beginning with Muslim Spain, it was lack of coordination and unity that led to the Muslim disaster of 1212 at Navas de la Tolosa.[/ref]A. Laroui: The History of the Maghrib; Princeton University Press; New Jersey; 1977; p. 190.[/ref] The Muslim army of Spain, and North Africa (to some large extent) was utterly crushed on the battlefield by a much smaller, but well led, and motivated Christian army. Following this disaster, Muslim power was broken in the Peninsula. 2 Almohad Spain broke into small independent states, with ensuing civil wars between them. 3 Cordova, weakened by Muslim infighting, fell easily in 1236. King James of Aragon marched and took Valencia in 1238 initially to support one side of an Islamic civil war, part of a wider Muslim infighting. 4 In 1246, Fernando III (1217-52), the King of Castile, occupied Murcia. Two years later, Seville, the Almohad capital, just like Cordova, fell victim to local Muslim infighting. 5 Tarifa was captured in 1275-76. 6 Now the whole of Spain, except Granada (which was to fall two centuries later in 1492), was in Christian hands.

As the decades passed, Muslim numbers, who once formed the vast majority of the population in Spain kept falling, and now that their power was gone, their status and freedoms deteriorated considerably, and they became subjected to many indignities. 7 They were summarily jailed and tortured for refusing to eat pork or drink wine; and surveillance was introduced to keep an eye on anyone who looked clean and neat as that showed they performed regularly their ablutions for prayers. 8 The collapse of their status mirrored the fate of Muslim Spain, its glory now long gone and never to be recovered again. The very Muslim presence in that land was to end in 1609. 9

The disaster of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212 also spelled the end of North African power. It ought to be pointed out that a great proportion of the army defeated and slain at Las Navas was of North African origin. Without real power and cohesion, disintegration of authority and the realm followed, as in Spain. 10 In the 13th century, the Maghrib from the area of today’s Tunisia to Morocco, passing by Algeria, came to be divided among three Berber kingdoms that managed to dominate both the towns and the tribesmen in their area. 11 Wars raged between these North African dynasties. 12 The dynasties, Hazard observes, were stricken by the same ‘fatal malady, intra-dynastic contentions for power’ in which each candidate-sought support by unremitting intrigue in which neighbouring rulers meddled. 13

While the Maghrib was destroying itself in futile struggles, the modern scholar, Laroui, notes, Aragon, Castile and Portugal, aided by the Italian city states, gained in economic and military strength. 14 The Maghrebi civil wars, more importantly, encouraged Christian crusading against them. 15 In fact, as early as 1291, the nascent states of Christian Spain devised a plan for the sharing of North Africa. King Sancho of Castile concluded a new partition agreement with James II of Aragon, which envisaged the division of North Africa into Castilian and Aragonese zones, showing how firmly rooted the concept of extending the Christian advance southward beyond the peninsula into the Maghrib itself was. 16

Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), who lived in that period, 17 seems to have thought that:

‘The Arab race had long been exhausted and that consequently the weakening of the Berbers meant the end of all civilization, that there was no possibility of a renewal from within, and that the history of the Maghrib was at an end.’ 18

In the east, no sooner the Muslim realm began to recover from the Crusader-Mongol invasions (1095-1291) than it suffered further devastating blows at the hands of Timur the Lame (Timur Lang). With his hordes, he descended on the Muslim world with pitiless savagery. 19 Zaranj, the capital of the province of Seistan, suffered a terrible fate. In Sivas, Timur had 120,000 people massacred. 20 In Tus, in 1388, Timur’s general, Miran Shah, gave the order to loot the city, first; then his men slew, en masse, men, women and children, before erecting minarets of skulls. 21 In Muslim southern Russia, in 1395, all able women and girls were taken into slavery, and raping was on a mass scale. 22 In 1398, Timur invaded Muslim India, and sacked Delhi. He massacred its inhabitants, and carried the treasure of the sultans home to Transoxania. 23

In the final decade of the 14th century, just before they devastated India, Timur’s hordes descended on the Arab World and committed atrocities worse than those of the Crusaders. Wherever they went, they killed en masse, violated every woman that fell in their hands, and laid everything to ruin. In Tikrit, in 1393, the whole male population was slaughtered; the town was laid flat. 24 In Baghdad, which had just begun recovering from the Mongol devastation, Timur’s army pitilessly massacred the population, and erected pyramids of their skulls. 25 Then Timur fell on Syria, and turned the land into a heap of rubbles and destruction. 26 All over the Muslim land, from Ispahan, to Tus, Delhi, Aleppo, to Baghdad, Timur erected minarets of skulls, sometimes towers of skulls, surrounding cities, over fortresses, and on top of mountains. 27 It was in this context of vast devastation that there arose Ottoman Turkish power.

The rise of the Ottomans, remarkably, came about in the wake of one of the most dramatic episodes of Islamic history. 28 Othman was born in 1258, the year of the destruction of Baghdad by the Mongol, Hulagu. The descendants of Othman were to assume the name of the Osmanlis, a word corrupted in Europe to Ottoman. 29 As their arrival coincided with the vast crusading movement, it was the destiny of the Ottoman Turks to face the might of the united Christian armies on a number of fronts.

From the onset, the Turks of Asia Minor were faced with Byzantine claims over the region. One of the last acts of Emperor Michael Palaeologus (1269-1282) of Byzantium was to send, in 1282, his son Andronicus, then a youth of eighteen, to attack the Turks before Aydin, but the young man failed. 30

The early years of the 14th century were marked by rampant crusading fervour in Western Christendom, with calls and preparations for the ‘recovery of the Holy Land,’ and passage through Asia Minor. 31

In the wake of conflict, in 1326, the Turks captured Bursa, which became their first capital. 32 This capture put them in an advantageous position. Bursa, commanding natural position on the mountain slope, rendered it strong against an army attacking it in front. 33

The 1340s witnessed the same sort of crusading and counter crusading. In 1343, Pope Clement VI (Pope 1342-1352) authorised the preaching of a crusade against the Turks throughout Western Europe. 34 The objective of this crusade was Smyrna. 35

The same year Murad I (Sultan 1362-89) accessed the throne, a new pope, Urban V (1362-1370) was elected. No sooner was he in place, Urban preached (in 1363) a crusade against the Turks to take place under the leadership of Peter I of Cyprus. 36 In the year 1366, yet another anti Turkish crusade took place, the Crusade of Amadeo of Savoy. 37

Following Murad II’s death in the wake of the Great Battle of Kosovo in 1389, Bayazid, his son, was proclaimed the new ruler. 38 Stephen Lazarevich, the new King of Serbia, found that it was hopeless to continue the struggle, and entered into a treaty by which Serbia became the vassal state of the Ottomans. 39 He undertook also to render, in person, military service to the Sultan in all his campaigns; and throughout his life he honourably performed his portion of the contract. 40

The fourteenth century ended with the great Ottoman victory at Nicopolis in 1396. Whilst the Ottomans were rising to great power, in Spain, the last Muslim stronghold was reaching the last moments of survival. The fate of the Nasrid rulers of Grenada was sealed at the victory of Salado de Tarifa, won in 1340 by the Castilians and Portuguese, putting an end to Moroccan interventions to save Muslim Spain; although the Nasrid held for another century and half (until 1492, to be precise). 41

The conquest of Grenada was a combined outcome of the Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand’s and Isabella’s, decision to overthrow the emirate. 42 Just at the moment when the Muslims of Grenada needed all their forces to withstand the Christian attack, there arose dynastic quarrels caused by jealousies in the harem of the emir. 43 This feud involved Abu’l Hassan ‘Ali (Mulay Hassan), ruler of Grenada, and his son Mohammed XII, known as Boabdil. 44 It was the latter’s subjection to Ferdinand, which contributed as much as any other cause to the overthrow of Muslim power in Grenada. 45 Boabdil would eventually open the way to Christian forces to occupy all outer defences of Malaga in 1484, Ronda and its mountain bastion, and eventually Grenada itself. 46 Facing the Christian army was Abu’l-Hassan and, above all, his brother, Al-Zeghal. Their forces fought the Spanish with such determination, that despite the shortcomings and betrayal of some emirs, it took ten years of implacable struggle to secure the triumph of Christianity. 47 The seventeen strongholds and eighty boroughs of the Emirate (of Grenada) had to be conquered one by one. 48

Grenada had enjoyed a brief period of resumed peace and prosperity whilst the Spaniards dealt with other Muslim strongholds, although its inhabitants were apprehensive of Christian encroachments on its outskirts. Boabdil, evidently in the belief that he would be left in possession of the kingdom as promised by the Christians. 49 His turn to submit came next, though. After the fall of Almeria and the surrender of Al-Zeghal he was called upon to deliver the city. 50

Boabdil handed over the keys of Grenada, and left the Alhambra by a little frequented route. After a brief but courteous exchange with Ferdinand and Isabella, he continued his journey into exile, while the Catholic Monarchs made their triumphant entry into the city. 51 So ended almost eight hundred years of Muslim rule in Spain. Boabdil had surrendered the last outpost without a fight, and the bitter reproach of his mother `Aisha, who had herself played no little part in its downfall, rings down the centuries as his epitaph:

‘Weep like a woman for what you could not defend like a man.’ 52

Select Reading List

  • Felipe Fernandez Armesto: Before Columbus; MaCMillan Education; London, 1987.
  • A.S. Atiya: The Crusade of the Later Middle Ages; Methuen & Co Ltd; London; 1938.
  • C.H. Bishko: The Spanish and Portuguese Reconquest, 1095-1492; in A History of the Crusades; K.M. Setton ed; The University of Wisconsin Press; 1975; vol3; pp. 396-456.
  • N. Daniel, The Arabs and Mediaeval Europe, Longman Librairie du Liban; 1975.
  • Baron G. D’Ohsson: Histoire des Mongols, Les Freres van Cleef; La Haye et Amsterdam; 1834.
  • E. Gibbon: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; Methuen and Co Ltd; 1920, vol 7.
  • H.W. Hazard: Moslem North Africa; in K.M. Setton ed: A History of the Crusades; The University of Wisconsin Press; 1975; vol 3; pp. 457-85.
  • N. Housley: The Later Crusades; Oxford University Press; 1992.
  • H. Inalcik: The Ottoman Turks and the Crusades; 1329-1451; in K. M. Setton ed: A History of the Crusades; vol 6; pp. 222-75.
  • T.B. Irving: Dates, Names and Places: The End of Islamic Spain; in Revue d’Histoire Maghrebine; No 61-62; 1991; pp 77-93.
  • S. Lane-Poole: The Moors in Spain; Fisher Unwin; London; 1888.
  • A. Laroui: The History of the Maghrib; Princeton University Press; New Jersey; 1977.
  • M.L. de Mas Latrie: Traites de Paix et de Commerce, Burt Franklin, New York, originally Published in Paris, 1866.
  • R. Merriman: The Conquest of Grenada; in The Islamic World and the West; Edited by A.R. Lewis; John Wiley and Sons, Inc; London; 1970; pp. 137-144.
  • Rodrigo de Zayas: Les Morisques et le Racisme d’Etat; Ed. Les Voies du Sud; Paris; 1992.

Notes:

  1. For a historical overview, see:

    • Baron G. D’Ohsson: Histoire des Mongols, Les Freres van Cleef; La Haye et Amsterdam; 1834.
    • E. Gibbon: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; Methuen and Co Ltd; Vol VII; 1920.
    • M.L. de Mas Latrie: Traites de Paix et de Commerce, Burt Franklin, New York, originally Published in Paris, 1866.
    • Felipe Fernandez Armesto: Before Columbus; MaCMillan Education; London, 1987.
    • Rodrigo de Zayas: Les Morisques et le Racisme d’Etat; Ed. Les Voies du Sud; Paris; 1992.
  2. M.L. de Mas Latrie: Traites de Paix; op cit; p.72.
    • R. I. Burns: Muslims in the Thirteenth Century Realms of Aragon: Interaction and Reaction, in Muslims Under Latin Rule, (J.M. Powell ed); Princeton University Press, 1990; pp. 57-102; p. 73.
    • H.W. Hazard: Moslem North Africa; in K.M. Setton ed: A History of the Crusades; The University of Wisconsin Press; 1975; vol 3; pp. 457-85;
  3. R.I. Burns: Muslims; op cit; 73.
  4. Felipe Fernandez Armesto: Before Columbus; op cit; p.52.
  5. Rodrigo de Zayas: Les Morisques; op cit; p.174.
  6. E. Lourie: Anatomy of Ambivalence: Muslims under the crown of Aragon in the late thirteenth century, in E. Lourie, Crusade and Colonisation, Muslims, Christians and Jews in Medieval Aragon, Variorum, Aldershot, 1990.
  7. T.B. Irving: Dates, Names and Places: The End of Islamic Spain; in Revue d’Histoire Maghrebine; No 61-62; 1991; pp 77-93; p. 81.
  8. N. Daniel, The Arabs and Mediaeval Europe, Longman Librairie du Liban; 1975; p.254.
  9. A, Laroui: History of the Maghrib; op cit; p. 193.
  10. J.B. Wolf: The Barbary Coast; W.W. Norton & Company; New York; 1979; p. 2.
  11. A. Laroui: History of the Maghrib; op cit; p. 205.
  12. H.W. Hazard: Moslem North Africa; op cit; p. 479.
  13. A. Laroui: History of the Maghrib; op cit; p. 232.
    • C.H. Bishko: The Spanish and Portuguese Reconquest, 1095-1492; in A History of the Crusades; K.M. Setton ed; The University of Wisconsin Press; 1975; vol3; pp. 396-456; at p. 434.
    • A. Ballesteros, “La Toma de Salé en tiempos de Alfonso el Sabio,” Al-Andalus, VIII (1943), 89-196; Ch. E. Dufourcq: Un Projet Castillan du XIIIe siècle: La Croisade d’Afrique, Revue D’Histoire et de Civilisation du Maghreb, I (1966), 26-51.
  14. C.H. Bishko: The Spanish and Portuguese Reconquest, op cit; p. 435.
  15. The reader is referred to Lacoste: Ibn Khaldun; Nassar: La Pensee Réaliste; Rabi: Political Theory; Lahbabi: Ibn Khaldun; Mahdi. Ibn Khaldun’s Philosophy of History.
  16. A. Laroui: History of the Maghrib; op cit; p. 219.
  17. J. Aubin: Comment Tamerlane Prenait les Villes; in Studia Islamica; Vol 19; pp. 83-122; p. 83.
  18. E. Pears: The Ottoman Turks to the Fall of Constantinople. In The Cambridge Medieval History ( Vol IV: J.R. Tanner et al); op cit; pp 653-705. pp. 679-80.
  19. J. Aubin: Comment; op cit; p. 116.
  20. Such as in Ispahan; Khwarizm, and elsewhere in J. Aubin: Comment; op cit; p. 107.
  21. E.R. Wolf: Europe and the People Without History; University of California Press; Berkeley; 1982; p. 45.
  22. J. Aubin: Comment; op cit; p. 116.
    • E. Gibbon: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; Methuen and Co Ltd; 1920; vol 7; pp. 55-6.
    • E. Pears: The Ottoman Turks; op cit; pp. 679-80.
  23. E. Gibbon: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; op cit; pp. 55-6.
  24. J. Aubin: Comment; op cit; p. 119.
  25. J. Glubb: A Short History; op cit; p. 220. E. Pears: The Ottoman Turks; op cit; p. 655.
  26. J. Glubb: A Short History; op cit; p. 220
  27. E. Pears: The Ottoman Turks to the fall of Constantinople; op cit; p. 656.
  28. N. Housley: The Later Crusades; Oxford University Press; 1992.
  29. E. Pears: The Ottoman; op cit; p. 659.
  30. Ibid.
  31. N. Jorga: Latins et Greeks d’Orient; Byzantiniche Zeitschrift; XV; 1906; pp. 179-222; p. 189.
  32. A.S. Atiya: The Crusade of the Later Middle Ages; Methuen & Co Ltd; London; 1938; p. 291.
  33. D. Geanakoplos: Byzantium and the Crusades 1261-1354; in A History of the Crusades; (ed K.M. Setton; vol 3); pp. 27-68; op cit; p. 73.
  34. H. Inalcik: The Ottoman Turks and the Crusades; 1329-1451; in K. M. Setton ed: A History of the Crusades; vol 6; op cit; pp. 222-75; at p. 241.
  35. E.S. Creasy: History of the Ottoman Turks; Khayats; Beirut; 1961; p. 32.
  36. Ibid.
  37. Ibid.
  38. G. Sarton: Introduction; Volume III; op cit; p.38.
  39. J. Read: The Moors in Spain and Portugal; Faber and Faber, London, 1974; p.211.
  40. R. Merriman: The Conquest of Grenada; in The Islamic World and the West; Edited by A.R. Lewis; John Wiley and Sons, Inc; London; 1970; pp. 137-144; at p.138.
  41. J. Read: The Moors in Spain; op cit; p.196.
  42. S. Lane-Poole: The Moors in Spain; Fisher Unwin; London; 1888; p. 246.
  43. Ibid; p. 247.
  44. M.L. de Mas Latrie: Traites de paix; op cit; p. 323.
  45. Ibid.
  46. S. Lane Poole: The Moors in Spain; op cit; p. 258.
  47. J. Read: The Moors in Spain and Portugal; op cit; p.216.
  48. Ibid. p. 217.
  49. Ibid. 219.