Hidden History: When Muslims Ruled in Europe

When the Moors Rules in Europe

Bettany Hughes (2011)

Film Review

When the Moors Ruled in Europe corrects many common misconceptions about Muslim rule in Spain between 711 and 1492 AD. Historical and archeological evidence contradicts the prevailing belief that this 700 year rule represented a violent military occupation. At the time Muslim Berbers from North Africa invaded Spain, the Christian/Visigoth cities were collapsing into chaotic anarchy – all the evidence suggests the inhabitants welcomed the Berbers for the security they provided.

Owing to its favorable climate, Spain quickly became the primary agricultural hub for a Muslim Empire that extended from North Africa to the Chinese border. After introducing irrigation, Muslim rulers also introduced citrus, avocado and other exotic crops which quickly spread across Europe. Owing to a faith committed to learning, the Moors also introduced universal literacy (in contrast to the rest of Europe where only clerical elites were taught to read). They also introduced advanced architecture, modern medicine, astronomy, Arabic numerals*, algebra, geometry and classical Greek philosophers which the Catholic church had banned in the rest of Europe.

During the 12th century, scholars from all over Europe flocked to the great libraries at Toledo to translate (into Latin) classical Greek and Arabic texts. These scholars would introduce a new approach to knowledge, based on rational inquiry, that would inspire the founding of prestigious universities at Oxford, Paris and elsewhere.

Christian Armies Retake Spain and Launch the Spanish Inquisition

Inspired by the Crusades to the Holy Lands, during the 12th century, Christian armies from northern Spain began slowly retaking Moorish cities from their Muslim rules. By 1250, only Grenada at the southern tip of Spain remained under Muslim rule.

In 1469, Isabella, Queen of Castille, married her second cousin Ferdinand, who was king of Aragon. In 1492, a siege which had begun 100 years earlier was successful and they seized Grenada to unify Spain.

Soon afterwards they launched the Spanish Inquisition to arrest, torture and kill Muslims, Jews and Christian heretics suspected of not practicing the “true” Catholic faith. Initially Muslims (who were mainly ethnic Spaniards) were offered the option of conversion. However in 1609, 300,000 were forcibly removed Most resettled in North Africa.

The Inquisition also burned more than a million Muslim texts.


*Arabic numerals also made multiplication and division possible – both are virtually impossible with Roman numerals. It was also via Spain that numerous Arab terms for scientific concepts were introduced into English and other European languages (eg al-cohol, al-gebra, al-gorithm, al-chemy).

14 thoughts on “Hidden History: When Muslims Ruled in Europe

  1. Aunty, I think it was Churchill who said “history is written by the victors.” When our views and interests don’t coincide with those of the ruling elite, it becomes very difficult to access historical truth.

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