Caliphate of Córdoba Falls

The fall of the caliphate of Córdoba marked the receding political power of Muslim Spain and its loss of cultural influence.

Summary of Event

The tenth century was the golden age of Muslim Spain Spain;Muslims and , and Córdoba was its political and intellectual center. Yet the roots of the downfall of the Umayyad caliphate in al-Andalus (Andalusia Andalusia , or Muslim Spain) can be found in the caliphate’s rapid rise to power. [kw]Caliphate of Córdoba Falls (1031)
[kw]Córdoba Falls, Caliphate of (1031)
Umayyad caliphate;fall of
Spain;1031: Caliphate of Córdoba Falls[1560]
Government and politics;1031: Caliphate of Córdoba Falls[1560]
Religion;1031: Caliphate of Córdoba Falls[1560]
Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;1031: Caliphate of Córdoba Falls[1560]
Cultural and intellectual history;1031: Caliphate of Córdoba Falls[1560]
ՙAbd al-Raḥmān III al-Nāir
Hakam, al_ II
Hishām II
AbūՙĀmir al-Manṣūr
Mushafi, al
Muẓaffar, al

The first caliph of Córdoba, ՙAbd al-Raḥman III al-Nāṣir (r. 912-961), on horseback, surveying his executioners. Taking the title caliph in 929, he was known for unifying Islamic Spain and maintaining the peace, in part by ruthless suppression of Christians, Jews, and other religious dissidents.

(F. R. Niglutsch)

On January 16, 929, ՙAbd al-Raḥmān III al-Nāir ՙAbd al-Raḥmān III al-Nāṣir proclaimed himself caliph, an act that separated Córdoba from the caliphate at Baghdad. Córdoba, a city with a population of 100,000, was noted for its extensive markets, the architecture of its mosques, its official residences, palace, industrial zones, baths, and gardens. Beginning in 936, ՙAbd al-Raḥmān built a new palace and administrative headquarters, Madinat az-Zahra, approximately 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the city. Until 961, al-Andalus prospered during his reign. ՙAbd al-Raḥmān quieted the Christian campaigns in the north as well as the Fāṭimid navy that threatened the Mediterranean from North Africa. To maintain this peace, he relied heavily on mercenary soldiers, and he imported Slavs from Europe for his personal protection.

ՙAbd al-Raḥmān was succeeded as caliph by his son al-Hakam II Hakam II, al- , who continued many of the policies of his father. Always the scholar, he accumulated a library of more than 400,000 books, an impressive collection in its time. Al-Hakam tended, however, to rely more strongly than his father on officials to conduct routine activities of the caliphate. Although he failed to prepare a successor to assume the caliphate on his death, his concubine Subh Subh gave birth to a son, Hishām Hishām II , who succeeded his father.

Because Hishām was only eleven years old when his father died, there was some difficulty in determining who would assume the position of caliph while several groups, including the Slav bodyguards, attempted to place their own choices. Abū ՙĀmir al-Manṣūr Manṣūr, Abū ՙĀmir al- , chancellor under al-Hakam, accepted the guardianship of Hishām until he came of age and was able to serve as caliph. Al-Manṣūr, as Ibn Abū ՙĀmir came to be known, with al-Mushafi Mushafi, al- , the first minister, and Ghalib Ghalib , the head of the military, formed a triumvirate to carry out the responsibilities of the young caliph. Unfortunately, Hishām was isolated in the palace for the remainder of his life, however, and others ruled for him. Al-Manṣūr manipulated himself into a position of absolute power; he was aided in his acquiescence of power by Subh who, by that time, held great influence outside of Córdoba. His Madinat az-Zḥira equaled in splendor the palace of ՙAbd al-Raḥmān III. With his administration relocated to the new center, Hishām was left a veritable prisoner within the palace. By 981, al-Manṣūr was named mayor of the palace and ruled until 1002. During his reign, he built extensively, cut taxes, and increased the size of the army by the use of Berbers from Africa. Despite his means of obtaining control of the caliphate, al-Andalus was stable and prosperous under his rule.

Al-Manṣūr not only centralized authority in his own hands but also nominated his son, al-Muẓaffar as chamberlain. After the death of al-Manṣūr, the change in authority was again challenged by several groups, particularly the Slavs. Al-Muẓaffar Muẓaffar, al- (chamberlain of ) and al-Manṣūr had both maintained the absolute power bequeathed to them by the caliph, who was left completely unfit to assume the responsibilities of the office. Because al-Muẓaffar and al-Manṣūr had done nothing to harm the caliph nor diminish the respect for the office, the populace generally accepted their rule. When al-Muẓaffar died after only six years of rule, his brother tried to succeed him and, ultimately, gain the title of caliph. These actions quickly led to his downfall and to the end of the dictatorship.

From 1008 until the dissolution of the caliphate in 1031, al-Andalus suffered an ongoing civil war. In the absence of the tight control that al-Manṣūr and his son had maintained, chaos suddenly erupted. Mercenaries who were no longer being paid soon resorted to lawlessness and violence. Various groups, particularly the Slavs and the Berbers as well as the people of Córdoba, again put forward leaders who tried to establish control, but none was successful. Some were in control for only a few months, others for as long as a few years. Madinat az-Zahra, the royal city built by ՙAbd al-Raḥmān, and Madinat az-Zḥira, the administrative center built by al-Manṣūr, were both destroyed completely in the civil war. Hishām II retained the title of caliph through the early years of the civil war, but remained impotent and was eventually killed in 1013.

Following so many years of war and internal struggles, al-Andalus was eager for the peace and stability it had enjoyed previously. In 1031, the elders of Córdoba met under the leadership of Abn Hazm Ibn Jahwar and abolished the institution of the caliphate. In its place, a governing council was established, which was to rule the region of Córdoba. Shortly thereafter, towns established their own independent rulers, who became known as party kings.

In considering this period of al-Andalus, the historian is left with few primary sources of material. While some caliphs employed professional historians to record the events of the period, much of their writing was destroyed during the civil war. Historians also caution that these writers made no attempt to hide their allegiances in their efforts to explain the reasons for the downfall of the caliphate. Some Muslim writers of the time followed a religious line of thought that claimed that the events were a trial or test for Muslims from God. They were defeated, they believed, because of losing their way from the right path.

Other writers pointed to more political and social causes for the great downfall. Many, for example, pointed to ՙAbd al-Raḥmān’s reliance on mercenary soldiers and Slavs, which led to ethnic divisions within Muslim society. In the same way, al-Manṣūr increased the size of the military by importing Berber soldiers and, at the same time, eliminated tribal groupings. Society was unable to assimilate so many new groups, and a great deal of friction resulted. There was also concern that the caliphate did not have the resources to maintain such a large military force.

Another cause for concern was al-Hakam’s relinquishment of his authority to various officials of the palace. This action may have enabled al-Manṣūr and others who followed to usurp the power of the caliph and then centralize that power outside of the office of caliph.


Despite such reasons, history clearly shows that with the abolishment of the caliphate in 1031, al-Andalus was divided into many independent kingdoms and the glory of the tenth century caliphate was not seen again. It also seems safe to assert that the loss of the Umayyad caliphate marked a shift in the relations between Christian Spanish kings of the north and the Muslims of al-Andalus. The Christian kings’s efforts to reconquer Spain from the Muslims gained greater strength and momentum after the fall of Córdoba.

Further Reading

  • Chejne, Anwar G. Muslim Spain: Its History and Culture. St. Paul: University of Minnesota Press, 1974. The second chapter, “The Caliphate 929-1031,” includes a discussion of both the rise and fall of the caliphate of Córdoba.
  • Fletcher, Richard. Moorish Spain. New York: Henry Holt, 1992. While this work deals with various aspects of the Spanish-Islamic state, chapter 4, “The Caliphate of Córdoba,” considers the glories of the caliphate as well as its collapse.
  • García-Ballester, Luis. Medicine in a Multicultural Society: Christian, Jewish and Muslim Practitioners in the Spanish Kingdoms, 1222-1610. Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2001. A look at medical practice and medical practitioners in the Spanish realm after the introduction of Moorish medical knowledge into the region. Includes an index.
  • Huff, Toby E. The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China, and the West. 2d ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Provides a strong cross-cultural background for the rise of science and medicine in Moorish Spain. Includes illustrations, a bibliography, and index.
  • Reilly, Bernard F. The Medieval Spains. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993. The caliphate and its decline is discussed within the general context of medieval Spain.
  • Scales, Peter C. The Fall of the Caliphate of Córdoba: Berbers and Andalusis in Conflict. Leiden, the Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1994. In this scholarly work, Scales examines the primary sources available in his discussion of the fall of the caliphate.
  • Watt, W. Montgomery. A History of Islamic Spain. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1965. This detailed history of Islam in Spain provides extensive background on the events leading up to and following the collapse of the caliphate of Córdoba.