Moors as military leaders

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AN original brass military diploma which dates from the middle of the Second Century AD mentions Moorish soldiers in Moesia, which is modem Serbia. 

Another military diploma of AD 158 speaks of Moorish soldiers from Africa in Dacia, or modem Rumania, and also of auxiliary troops of the Dacian Moors. 

A Roman document, Notitia Dignitatum, which dates from the beginning of the Fifth Century AD, mentions several Moorish battalions in the Balkans and the Moorish military colony Ad Mauras which was located on the Inn River near Vienna; and in what is modem Besarabia, there was a city called Maurocastrum. 

According to the document Notitia Dignitatum, 2 500 to 5 000 Illyrian Moorish soldiers, in five separate military units, had served in the Near East. 

From this document, we must deduce that at the beginning of the Fifth Century at least 100 000 descendants of Moors lived in Illyricum, which was located in the present-day Balkans. 

Regarding specific military men of Moorish extraction, there were several who served Rome honorably, or had ancestors who participated in Rome’s foreign wars. 

In 253, for example: “After his departure, the governor of Lower Moesia (modern Serbia), M. Aemilius Aemilianus, a Moor born in Mauretania, succeeded in defeating the Goths and was proclaimed emperor by his troops.” 

In another case, Zenophilus, Consul of Numidia, boasts: “My grandfather is a soldier, he had served in the Commitatus, for our family is of Moorish origin.” 

To the Commitatus belonged the renowned Equites Mauri, a black horse cavalry of North Africa. 

The Moors before the invasion of Spain 

We should not lose sight of the fact that connections between North Africa and Spain were in existence centuries before the birth of Muhammad. 

It would not even be presumptuous to suggest that very early blood ties may have connected the regions. 

The fact that blacks had lived in some of the same Iberian regions later occupied by Islamic Moors suggests this. 

For example, the city of Osuna, in southern Spain, has yielded several archaeological works depicting blacks with tightly curled hair which archaeologists have labeled ‘negroid’. 

As long ago as 170, writes Durant, “…the Mauri or Moors invaded Spain from Africa.”

Even earlier, according to Laroui: “The Berbers of that region [North Africa] made incursions into Baetica, Spain.” But the use of the term ‘Berber’ perhaps camouflages the issue here. 

Regarding the same event, W.T. Arnold speaks of “…Moorish incursions in Baetica as early as the first century.” 

Interestingly enough, many of these Moors were Christians. 

During the Sixth Century, the Byzantine historian Procopius and the Latin poet Corippus compiled precious documents regarding the Moors in post-Roman North Africa. 

During this period, the dominance of the Vandals, the Germanic tribes who had invaded North Africa in 429 and seized several provinces (including Mauretania), was challenged politically and militarily. 

In providing a veritable war correspondent’s view, Procopius chronicled the ferocious assaults and ultimate victories of the Moorish rebels. 

This is recorded in his volume, appropriately entitled The Wars:

“When the Moors wrested Aurasium from the Vandals, not a single enemy 

had until now evercome there or so much as caused the barbarians to be afraid that they would come …. And the Moors of that place also held the land west of Aurasium, a tract both extensive and fertile. And beyond these dwelt other nations of the Moors, who were ruled by Ortaias.”

This statement shows that the Moors were not only perceived by Procopius as numerically significant, but demonstrates that they occupied an extensive portion of north-west Africa. 

During this same period, Byzantine arms began moving into Africa. With them came strong efforts to renew the grip of Roman dominance. The emperor Justinian sent in General Johannes Troglita to quell the challenge to Byzantine authority, but was forced to face a full-scale war. 

There was a great slaughter and taking of prisoners, as recounted by Corippus in the military epic lohannis

The Moorish Conquest of Spain

Early in the Eighth Century, after a grim and extended resistance to the Arab invasions of North Africa, the Moors joined the triumphant surge of Islam. Following this, they crossed over to the Iberian Peninsula where their swift victories and remarkable feats soon became the substance of legends. 

The man chosen to lead the probe into Iberia was Tarif, son of Zar’a ibn Abi Mudrik. Tarif was one of the young generation of Islamised Berbers imbued with the military thinking of Hassan ibn al-Nu’man and Musa ibn Nusayr — the two men who had just commanded the Arab conquest of north-west Africa. 

In July 710, Tarif, with 400 foot soldiers and 100 horsemen, all Berbers, successfully carried out a reconnaissance mission in southern Iberia. Tarifa, a small port in southern Spain, is named after him. 

It is clear, however, that the conquest of Spain was undertaken upon the initiative of Tank ibn Ziyad. Tarik ibn Ziyad ibn ‘Abd Allah ibn Walghu was a member of the Warfadjuma branch of the Nafza Berbers. 

Musa ibn Nusayr had previously appointed him governor of the far western Maghrib, which covered what is today the southern part of the Kingdom of Morocco. 

Tarik was in command of an army of at least 10 000 men, mainly Sanhadja Berbers. In 711, with a Berber expeditionary force and a small number of Arab translators and propagandists (some say 300), Tarik crossed the straits and disembarked near a rocky promontory which from that day since has born his name: Djabal Tarik (Tarik’s mountain), or, Gibraltar.

In August 711, he won a decisive victory over the Visigoth army. It was during this conflict that Roderick (the last Visigoth King) was killed. 

On the eve of the battle, Tarik is alleged to have roused his troops with the following words: “My brethren, the enemy is before you, the sea is behind; whither would ye fly? Follow your general: I am resolved either to lose my life or to trample on the prostrate King of the Romans.”

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