Who were the Moors and what significant role did they play in European history?
This page gives a brief history of the Moors, but feel free to do some further research of your own. You may want to use Wikipedia or just a straightforward Google search, or perhaps a visit to your local library would be more informative.
You know your pupils, so you will have to judge how complicated their projects need to be. Even a very basic response to these suggested topics can stimulate new thinking, or your pupils may create some very detailed and inspiring material. Be prepared for some questions that you may not be able to answer in detail, and work together with the pupils to research the subject. A world map will be useful.
Pupils could work together in groups or on their own projects. Again, you should be the judge of this, based on how much time you have for the subject.
WHO WERE ‘THE MOORS’?
In many of the history books, Islamic culture in the Middle Ages has been referred to as Arabic, but the Arabs were a minority in the so-called Arabic World, and their chief contribution was the Arabic language. DeGraft Johnson explains this issue much more clearly:
“It was because the conquering army in Spain was largely made up of Africans from Morocco that we hear such phrases as “the Moorish invasion of Spain,” and why Shakespeare’s hero, Othello, is a Moor, and why the word “Blackamoor” exists in the English Language, a word which leaves no doubt as to the colour of the army of occupation in Spain… The organisation of education throughout the Muslim world began in the eighth century and by the ninth, learned men in the schools of Cordoba in Spain were corresponding with learned men in Kairowan, Cairo, Baghdad, Bokhara and Samarkand. The Greek classics were rediscovered and Aristotle came into his own.”
RESEARCH & LEARNING
“The museum at Alexandria, so long neglected, became the centre of research and learning. Mathematics, medicine and the physical sciences received fresh attention. The clumsy Roman numerals were soon ousted by the figures which we use to this day and the zero sign first came into general usage. Arabic words like “algebra” and “chemistry” became universal words… The term “Arabic” we intend in a cultural rather than a racial sense… It was through Africa that the new knowledge of China, India and Arabia reached Europe and it was Africa which supplied men who protected Moslem Europe or Spain from attack, and thus made it possible for the new learning to take root and develop.”
THE IBERIAN PENINSULA
The Iberian peninsula was made great by the labours of the Moors. They established the silk industry and they were highly skilled agriculturalists, introducing cotton, rice, sugar cane, dates, lemons and strawberries into the country. Abu Zaceria and Ibn Alaman wrote authoritative remarks on Moorish animal husbandry and agriculture. Ibn Khaldun, a Moorish agriculturalist, wrote a treatise on farming and worked out a theory of prices and the nature of capital (he has been called the Karl Marx of the Middle Ages). Caliph er Rahan of Cordova ordered the construction of an aqueduct, which conveyed pure water from the mountains to the city.
Extensive irrigation systems were constructed by Moorish engineers, who also built large underground silos for storing grain. The mineral wealth of the land was utilised to the fullest. Copper, gold, silver, tin, lead, iron, quicksilver and alum were extensively mined. Cordova and Morocco had the best tanneries in the world. The city of Toledo had the finest sword blades in the European continent. Almeria specialised in the making of sashes, which were famous for their fine texture and brilliant colour. The world-renowned carpets were from Teulala, and bright hued woolens could be found in Granada and Baza. High quality glass, pottery, vases, mosaics and jewelry were produced by Moorish artisans.
THE CITY OF CORDOVA
The most wonderful city of the age was Cordova. The streets were well-paved, with raised sidewalks for pedestrians. During the night, ten miles of trees were illuminated by lamps. This was hundreds of years before there was a paved street in Paris or a street lamp in London. Cordova had a population of at least one million and it was served by four thousand public markets and five thousand mills. Public baths numbered in the hundreds.
LIVING STANDARDS, HEALTH & EDUCATION
These amenities were present at a time when cleanliness in Christian Europe was regarded as a sin. Education was universal in Moorish Spain, available to the most humble, while in Christian Europe ninety-nine percent of the population were illiterate and even kings could neither read nor write. The Moorish rulers lived in sumptuous palaces, while the monarchs of Germany, France and England dwelt in big barns, with no windows and no chimneys and with only a hole in the roof for the exit of smoke.
LIBRARIES & UNIVERSITIES
In the tenth and eleventh centuries, public libraries in Europe were nonexistent, while Moorish Spain could boast of more than seventy, of which the one in Cordova housed six hundred thousand manuscripts. Christian Europe contained only two universities, while in Moorish Spain there were seventeen great universities. The finest of these were located in Almeria, Cordova, Granada, Juen, Malaga, Seville and Toledo. Scientific progress in astronomy, chemistry, physics, mathematics, geography and philosophy flourished in Moorish Spain.
HAPPINESS & PROSPERITY
Scholars, scientists and artists formed learned societies, and scientific congresses were organised to promote research and to facilitate the spread of knowledge. A brisk intellectual life flourished in all Islamic dominions, since both caliphs of East and West were, as a rule, enlightened patrons of learning. A vivid reconstruction of the splendours of Moorish Spain, as seen by Abd-er-Rhaman III, Caliph of Cordova, and his companions, has been preserved for us by a recognized authority on the history of the period, Joseph McCabe, as follows:
“The Germans would find Andalusia in those days a real garden of song and flowers and gaiety. It had tens of thousands of prosperous villages, and the Germans would for the first time in their lives see peaches, pomegranates, strawberries, apricots, lemons, almonds, dates, oranges and sugar cane growing: while at the hostels they would find coffee, spinach, asparagus, the daintiest cooking, and all the spices of the East. Not an acre of ground was left untilled, and aqueducts, dams, reservoirs and tunnels cut through mountains provided ample irrigation where it was needed. The land bore a larger population than it does today – probably larger than Germany, France, England and Italy put together at that time – and an immeasurably happier and more prosperous population.”