10 May 2023

What are the Mozarabs? – Know all the characteristics of the Mozarabs

By Donald

During the Middle Ages, in the Iberian Peninsula, there was a group of people who lived under the rule of Muslims, despite continuing with their traditions and Christian culture. These were called Mozarabs, and they lived in cities that we know today as Toledo, Córdoba and Granada. If you want to learn more about this population, you will find it in this article.

Meaning and concept of Mozarabic

The Mozarabic word has its Etymological origin from the Arabic ‘musta’rab’, which means: arabized, that is to say, that speaks Arabic, although it is not originally Arabic. The term was used to designate Hispanics and also Christians who lived in Al-Andalus.

It was a group of Christians who lived in the Iberian Peninsula, who were subject to Islamic law and they were also forced to pay taxes to their Muslim rulers. Despite these conditions, they did not lose their cultural and religious identity, and in some cases even opposed government policies.

The term was used by Christians from the North, to designate those who emigrated to Arab territories. The oldest record of the use of this term dates back to 1024 in the Kingdom of León, and later it will continue to be used to refer to the Mozarabic community in Toledo, in which a large number of these people lived.

Their importance lay in their ability to resist the cultural and religious influence of the Arabs, remaining firm in their faith and traditions.

Besides, represent the struggle of Christians against the Muslims for the recovery of the territory and their identity, which led to great diversity and coexistence between both cultures.

What are Mozarabisms?

These are terms and expressions that come from Mozarabic, a romance language that used this town. They are utterances that have survived from the Middle Ages to the present, and in some cases are considered the linguistic and cultural heritage of that region.

Many of these Mozarabisms are words that have been integrated into the Portuguese and Spanish language today, and they are used in various regions of Andalusia, other areas of Spain and Portugal.

Among the most well-known terms are:

  • Swainwhich means young shepherd.
  • Ensignrefers to a military officer.
  • Tileare decorative tiles used in buildings.
  • Cottonwas written in Mozarabic al-qutun.

These have been the object of study and analysis by linguists and historians, who have investigated their evolution and their relationship with other languages ​​over the years.

What are the characteristics of the Mozarabs?

The Mozarabs are a civilization that had an important influence on the evolution of culture and customs. Among the most outstanding characteristics we have:

  • Its origin was Hispanic Visigothic, many they appreciated themselves as the heirs of the Visigothic legacy and traditions.
  • They they named themselves as ‘mozarabic’, therefore, it was not a name imposed by xenophobic acts or discrimination, at least for a long time.
  • As for architecture, they used the techniques of rope and blight, in which blocks are placed horizontally and interlocked one on top of the other. In addition, its decorations stood out for their sobriety.
  • The Mozarabs were allowed to practice their religion, their culture, and their political organization. In orthodox Islamic law for a time they were designated as ‘People of the Book’ or dhimmis, this being a legal status that allowed them to continue with their traditions, in a limited way.
  • most of these gradually converted to islam, and, to those who did this, they were granted the title of muladí. Although there are exceptions of people who were willing to die for their faith.
  • They did not have the freedom to build monasteries or Christian churchesat some moments in history they had to practice their religion in a discreet and limited way.
  • Their language was a variety of Latin, which had evolved during Roman times, their writing had Arabic and Visigothic influences. This was lost, until it disappeared, as they were adopting the Muslim culture.
  • Their participation in political affairs was not so limited, since, in the same way, they were subject to the payment of taxes and military service. Besides, allowed to run for political office in the Muslim administration, but with certain limitations, their decisions being subject to the word of other authorities.

Where did the Mozarabs live?

They were located in the Iberian Peninsula, during Muslim rule In the Middle Ages, although it was not a uniform population, its position changed depending on the time and the regions.

Al-Andalus is the name that the Muslims gave to the areas that were conquered by his troops. The name of this territory derives from the Vandal region of North Africa called ‘Vandalusia’, which was conquered by Muslims in the 7th century, until it extended to the Iberian Peninsula.

During the first years of Muslim rule, this area was a cultural and economic hub of great importance, for example, in the city of Córdoba a very prominent learning center is established. In addition, one of the largest and most important mosques was built.

This area became part of the Umayyad Caliphate, which after the year 756 would become the Emirate of Córdoba. But, today, these territories are:

  • Spain
  • France
  • Portugal
  • Andorra
  • Gibraltar

As the centuries passed, the area began to suffer a series of invasion attempts, in addition there were also internal problems, thus causing it to weaken, and later, causing its fall.

In the eleventh century, there was the invasion of the Almoravids to this territory, and later the Almohades, which were two Muslim-African dynasties. To end this period, in 1492, the conquest of Granada took place at the hands of the Catholic kings, which marked the end of Al-Andalus.

What religion did the Mozarabs profess?

The religion was Christian, although there were some particular situations. Because they were surrounded by muslimsthat is why its historical context changed, at first its religious liberties were broad, but as time went by these were reduced.

They developed a liturgical rite different from the common one in Christianity, which included the use of their own language, being a variant of Latin with Arabic words. Special songs called ‘responsories’ were also used, which were not usual in the European tradition.

As a consequence of practicing a religion other than the one established in their territory, they were prohibited from building new Christian churches, so they had to use those that already existed before the conquest by the Muslims. Despite these obstacles, they managed to maintain the Christian faith and identity for several centuries.

What language did the Mozabarians speak? Mozarabic dialects

Their language originated through the combination of various Romance dialects. There was no unification in this languagebecause it was a way of communicating typical of those Christian communities that were under the Islamic regime.

According to historians, it is made up of 40% of some oriental terms, and 60% of certain Romance words. It is also considered one of the most archaic Romance languages, since they retained some Latin consonants that were considered in this way, likewise, it is affirmed that It has more influence from Latin than from other Romance languages.. However, the Mozarabs had to learn to communicate in Arabic, since it was the language spoken by the majority of the Muslim population.

What was the architecture of the Mozábares like?

One of the most outstanding characteristics of this civilization is the combination of designs in architecture. In which stand out: the use of Christian symbols as decoration, and Arab structures.

They were positioned in islamic style buildingsfor example, is found in some houses, horseshoe arches, barrel vaults and rose windows, adorned with crosses and angels of Christianity.

They used stone and brick as construction materials, since they were the ones found in the area, in addition, as a construction technique, they used that known by the name of Rope and Tizón. The decorations were simple or non-existentplants were generally used for this purpose.

Another characteristic are the bell towers, which were built separately to the churches, and its purpose was to call the faithful to prayer. Among the buildings that are currently an example of this architecture are:

  1. The church of Santiago de Peñalba: located in the mountainous village of Peñalba de Santiago, highlighting the horseshoe arches and murals that represent the time of the caliphate.
  2. The church of Bobastro: It is located in Ardales, Málaga, Spain, of which only ruins remain.
  3. The church of Santa Maria de Melque: Located in Toledo, it has some Visigothic and other Mozarabic features.