09.12.01, Hitchcock, Mozarabs in Medieval and Early Modern Spain

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Michael Ryan

The Medieval Review 09.12.01

Hitchcock, Richard. Mozarabs in Medieval and Early Modern Spain. Aldershot, Hampshire: Ashgate, 2008. Pp. 151. ISBN: 978-0-7546-6314-0.

Reviewed by:
Michael Ryan
Purdue University

Richard Hitchcock, Professor Emeritus of Hispano-Arabic Studies at the University of Exeter, has built a career stretching over four decades by studying the Mozarabs of the premodern Iberian Peninsula. In his new book, Mozarabs in Medieval and Early Modern Spain: Identities and Influences, which functions as a retrospective of his scholarly legacy, he thoroughly reevaluates how scholars should comprehend the Mozarabs, typically understood as those Christians who maintained and practiced their faith while living as subjects of the Muslims of al-Andalus. Relying upon Arabic- and Latin-language economic accounts, legal sources, and chronicles for his study, Hitchcock asserts that the traditional perception of the Mozarabs merely as Christians dwelling in Muslim Spain is far too general, as it fails to take into account the complex and nuanced mechanics behind their own, as well as others', construction of their identity. For Hitchcock, "Mozarabism" instead should be understood more as a variable phenomenon dependent upon the vicissitudes of time and space. Reconsidered as such, the term Mozarab takes on a new importance that, in Hitchcock's estimation, captures more effectively the historical development and experiences of members of the Mozarabic communities in medieval and early modern Iberia.

Hitchcock establishes his argument, most of which centers on the appearance, understanding, and application of particular terms, over the course of nine chapters. In the introduction to his book, he parses carefully the origins of the term "Mozarab." Hailing from the original Arabic musta'rib/musta'rab, the word Mozarab derives from the Arabic root, 'araba, to assimilate oneself to Arabic customs. As Hitchcock remarks, the term "designat[es] someone who had the appearance of an Arab, was indistinguishable from Arabs, and would not stand out in a crowd of Arabs," (ix). He points out that despite the Arabic etymology of the word Mozarab, attributed to those Christians who negotiated the Iberian Muslim and Christian worlds by adopting Arabic language and dress, yet maintained their Visigoth Christian rite, Andalusi Muslims themselves did not use the term to define these individuals, based on the documentary record. This development is paralleled in the Latin sources as well, since the word muzarave did not appear until the first half of the eleventh century in León and solely in two instances, as I discuss below. Hitchcock argues that it was only after the 1085 capture of Toledo, the former Visigoth capital, by King Alfonso VI of Castile when the term appears more frequently, especially throughout the fueros, legal rights granted to the resident Christian communities by the king (xix).

Hitchcock uses this reevaluated understanding of the Mozarabs as the point of departure for the rest of his book and studies three general epochs of Mozarabism in premodern Iberia. The first focuses on those Mozarabs who lived in the Umayyad Emirate and Caliphate of al-Andalus from the eighth through eleventh centuries. The second appears in the appearance of scattered communities of Mozarabs resident in the Christian-dominated northern part of the peninsula. The final, and perhaps best-known, Mozarab community that Hitchcock reappraises is that which emerged and flourished after Alfonso's conquest of Toledo.

In Chapter One, Hitchcock continues further about the origins of the Iberian Mozarab communities by studying the treatment of subject communities after the arrival of Islam into the peninsula and the dismantling of the Visigoths' kingdom in 711. Both the muwalladūn, new converts to Islam, as well as the dhimmī, the protected Jewish and Christian communities, faced certain levels of discriminations from members of the new Arab ruling state, who also marginalized the ethnic Berbers indispensable for the conquest of the peninsula. In the Arabs' estimation, both the muwalladūn and the dhimmī were virtually indistinguishable, although the dhimmī were offered incentives to convert to Islam, such as lower taxes and more opportunities in the government bureaucracy, and the Arabs' approaches in interacting with those communities would lay the foundation for future experiences for the Mozarabs. Chapter Two sees Hitchcock addressing the Mozarabs' origins further and he notes that contemporary accounts discussing the arrival of the Muslims in the eighth century did not depict the Islamic conquest of the peninsula as a conflict between opposing faiths, as many might suppose. Instead, Hitchcock writes, "the invasion and conquest can be seen as one amongst many episodes of Muslim expansion in the extraordinary first century after the death of Muhammad in 632," (7). Based on the documentary record, the idea of jihād as Holy War, popularly conceived as central to the Muslim expansion, thus did not apply within the context of the first century of Muslim domination and settlement of the Iberian Peninsula. Indeed, for the descendents of the Hispano-Roman families in Iberia, the new arrival of the Muslims provided them a significant degree of political and economic stability, especially in light of the internecine struggles and assassinations within the Visigoth ruling caste to which they had been exposed.

Hitchcock focuses his third chapter on the experiences of the Mozarabs within Umayyad Córdoba and its environs. The centerpiece of this chapter is his discussion of the ninth-century martyrdom of the Christians Perfectus and Issac, as referenced in the Memoriale sanctorum of Eulogius. These two figures, among a handful of other Christians, publicly blasphemed against the name of Muhammad in al-Andalus and thus received the death sentence for their transgressions. They, along with Eulogius, were virulently anti-integrationist individuals who were, in Hitchcock's estimation, profoundly disturbed to see their coreligionists adopting Arabic language and dress in order to advance within the ranks of the Umayyad bureaucracy. The martyrdom of Perfectus, Issac, and their followers notwithstanding, the Christian and Muslim communities still needed to interact with each other in Umayyad Spain, as well as with the wider world, and in his fourth chapter, Hitchcock demonstrates how the life and career of the scholar, translator, and ambassador essential for the diplomatic agenda of the Umayyad Caliphate, Recemundo/Rabi' b. Zayd al-usquf al-Qurtūbī, constituted the "almost prototypical 'Mozarab,'" (48).

Chapter Five has Hitchcock regarding the presence of Arabic words and nomenclature found in Leonese monastic sources dating from the ninth through the eleventh centuries. He explains how the presence of those Mozarabic names has encouraged prior scholars to elaborate upon their origins, as well as the impact that those who bore those names had upon secular and ecclesiastical society in León. An example of the latter situation appears in Hitchcock's very brief sixth chapter, an analysis of the legal issues that arose between the monks of the monastery of San Ciprián de Valdesalce and three individuals identified outright as Mozarabs, Vincente, Iohannes, and Abiahia. As recorded in two copies of a lawsuit from 1024, these three men contested property in the surrounding area of Valdearcos, which they argued the king had granted them, a statement that the monastery disputed. Ultimately, the suit was judged in favor of the monastery. These lawsuits, however, are crucial towards Hitchcock's argument, as they are the aforementioned Leonese sources in which scholars first glimpse the appearance of the word "mozarab."

The final three chapters see Hitchcock turning to the presence of Mozarab communities in other parts of the Iberian Peninsula. In Chapter Seven, he studies the presence and experiences of the Mozarabs in Toledo, especially after the Alfonsine conquest. Although the conquest of Toledo functioned as a union between León and al-Andalus, the encounter between the two different Christian communities was not without its own issues, as many of the Leonese Christians viewed those Toledan Christians who spoke Arabic and wore Arabic-style dress with suspicion or outright hostility. It was in Toledo, however, where the word Mozarab would appear more frequently in the sources, especially as a surname, from the middle of the twelfth century; hence the subsequent emergence of a reckoning of all Toledan Christians as Mozarabs. In Chapter Eight, Hitchcock turns his attention to the presence of Mozarabs in the Christian kingdom of Aragón by discussing the work of the fourteenth-century historian, Ibn al-Khaṭīb, who references a twelfth-century account from As-Sayrafī. In this account, As-Sayrafī refers to the invasion of al-Andalus in 1125-26 by the forces of King Alfonso I of Aragón, who had been entreated by the Mozarabs resident there for military assistance against the Almoravids and who, in exchange for Alfonso's aid, returned with the king to settle in the Ebro river valley. Instead of understanding it as a cry for help on the part of the Mozarabs, as some past scholars have argued, it is in As-Sayrafī's chronicle where Alfonso's invasion appears as a subtle political conspiracy, "involving the substitution of an increasingly oppressive overlord by a foreign power, by means of promises and inducements," (102). In the ninth, and final, chapter of his work, Hitchcock uses the date of the end of the Iberian Reconquista, the conquest of Nasrid Granada by the Catholic Monarchs, Fernando of Aragón and Isabella of Castile in 1492, to reassess the Mozarabs' role in this new, post-Reconquista Iberia. Although the Mozarabs' power would decline and eventually fade in the early modern era, some members of Iberian society, those who were without substantial political and economic agency, would continue to refer to themselves as Mozarabs. This was a fraught deed, however, as some, such as the sixteenth-century Dominican preacher Agustín Salucio, considered them to be no more than the descendents of collaborationists with the Muslims of al-Andalus. Within the early modern Iberian debates surrounding the concept of "limpieza de sangre," or "cleanliness of the blood," the quest to purge Iberian blood from purportedly "unclean" Jewish or Muslim strains, this was no small matter, as to be able to draw upon a potential Mozarabic lineage would be of great advantage. Finally, with his postscript, Hitchcock provides a helpful and concise, one-page, summary to his book's argument.

I have a few criticisms with Hitchcock's work, despite its overall strength and importance. Most likely, because it is a reflection on decades of his and others' scholarship, the chapters in the book at times tend to read as separate, stand-alone pieces, rather than forming a coherent and flowing unity. As such, there is a bit of an overall disjointed quality to the book. The chronological jump between chapters eight and nine, for instance, respectively set in the twelfth and late fifteenth centuries, leaves the reader wanting more. Although Hitchcock states that the Mozarabs were localized around Toledo and that their status descended throughout the Later Middle Ages, further information would have been most welcome. More frustratingly, Hitchcock does not translate foreign language quotations, leaving them in their original Latin, Castilian, French, or German. Although this is not a problem for professional medievalists, it does create obstacles to those who may not have facility with one of those particular languages or with the student who might wish to embark upon Mozarabic studies. Indeed, members of the latter group would find Hitchcock's book most rewarding and it is a shame to see such a potentially exasperating impediment arise. Despite these criticisms, however, Hitchcock's work stands as a testament to the impact and legacy of his scholarship upon medieval Iberian history, in general, and Mozarabic studies, in particular. It is the culmination of a lifetime of scholarship and if, in Hitchcock's own words, he does not provide "definitive solutions" (129) for the dilemmas and contradictions engendered by the misunderstanding and misapplication of the term "Mozarab," this is not due either to slipshod scholarship or the use of vague terminology on his part. With the publication of this book, Hitchcock has produced an important work that allows scholars to question deeply held traditions surrounding the Mozarabs in medieval and early modern Spain. It thus merits consultation for those who would wish to learn more about the polyvalent and fluid principles behind Mozarabic identity construction within the premodern past.

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Michael Ryan

Purdue University