Successors to the Caliphate in Muslim Spain
During the period of anarchy in the public affairs of al-Andalus between 1008 and 1031 [C.E.], as the centre failed to hold, Spain’s centrifugal, fissile tendencies were able to develop unchecked. The poet al-Shaqundi, looking back at this process from the early thirteenth century [C.E.], wrote of “the breaking of the necklace and the scattering of its pearls.” The frail unity of al-Andalus disintegrated into a number of regional successor-states known to historians as the taifa kingdoms—the name is derived from the Arabic word ta’ifa, which means “faction” or “party”. The ruler of one of these states, ‘Abd Allah of Granada, has left us a description in his remarkable book of memoirs of what happened:
When the Amirid dynasty [i.e. Almanzor’s] came to an end and the people were left without an imam [the use of this word recalls the divine sanction claimed by the Umayyad caliphs] every military commander rose up in his own town and entrenched himself behind the walls of his own fortress, having first secured his own position, created his own army, and amassed his own resources. These persons vied with one another for worldly power, and each sought to subdue the other.
Each taifa kingdom was typically based on a town which had previously been the capital of a province or march, such as Seville or Zaragoza, where there already existed a machinery of local administration and a degree of regional solidarity which an opportunist could exploit; Initially, in the period of maximum confusion down to about 1040 [C.E.] or so, there existed some three dozen of these petty principalities. But the big fish swallowed the little ones, and by the mid-century half-a-dozen larger states stood out as pre-eminent: Seville and Granada in the south, Badajoz to the west, Toledo in the centre, Valencia on the east coast, and Zaragoza in the northeast. We are presented with a political scene in mid-eleventh century Spain, the age of [El] Cid‘s boyhood and youth, in some ways reminiscent of pre-Alexandrian Greece or Renaissance Italy or the Germany of the Enlightenment: diverse principalities in a state of constant rivalry with one another.