Tārik Crosses into Spain Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Ṭārik’s crossing into Spain began the Muslim political conquest that allowed Muslim influences to pervade all aspects of Spanish life.

Summary of Event

The entire question of the Muslim conquest of Spain is shrouded in mystery and romance. Some historians think it was the result of religious zeal on the part of newly converted Arabs; others maintain that the invasion of Spain was part of a grand strategy planned by the Islamic caliphs and aimed at the subjugation of Europe. The latter school points to the Muslim siege of Constantinople in 717 and to the entry into Spain in 711 as opposing eastern and western pincer movements. Still others see an economic motive only. [kw]Ṭārik Crosses into Spain[Tariq] (April or May, 711) [kw]Spain, Ṭārik Crosses into[Spain Tarik] (April or May, 711) Ṭārik ibn-Ziyād Spain;Muslims and Africa;Apr. or May, 711: Ṭārik Crosses into Spain[0540] Spain;Apr. or May, 711: Ṭārik Crosses into Spain[0540] Expansion and land acquisition;Apr. or May, 711: Ṭārik Crosses into Spain[0540] Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Apr. or May, 711: Ṭārik Crosses into Spain[0540] Mūsa ibn Nuṣayr Ṭārik ibn-Ziyād Roderick Julian, Count Witiza

Scholarship shows that the caliph of Damascus actually had little control over Mūsā ibn Nuṣayr Mūsa ibn Nuṣayr , his governor in North Africa, and that the latter’s push from Egypt was the result of his personal ambition and only incidentally led to independent raiding parties bent on plundering Spain.

The first of these expeditions across the Strait of Gibraltar did little more than report the ease with which booty could be obtained. Mūsa accordingly outfitted a larger raiding party led by his lieutenant, Ṭārik ibn-Ziyād, a Berber and a former slave. With about seven thousand Berber warriors, none from Mūsa’s army, Ṭārik landed in April or May, 711, on the great rock that has since borne his name, the Jebel Ṭārik or Gibraltar. King Roderick Roderick (king of the Visigoths) , a usurper of the Visigothic throne from the sons of his predecessor Witiza Witiza , marched south with between 40,000 and 100,000 men to intercept Ṭārik.

At the seven-day Battle of La Janda La Janda, Battle of (711) fought between the Barbate River and the Sierra de Retin, treachery by members of the disposed Visigothic line assured Ṭārik of victory. King Roderick became a figure in Spanish legend. Although his horse and sandals were found on the river bank, the body of Roderick was not with them. He undoubtedly was killed and his body washed out to sea. In Spanish legends, King Roderick would return in triumph to lead the Christians against the Moors.

Ṭārik laying his conquests at the feet of Mūsa.

(F. R. Niglutsch)

Fearful and jealous of his lieutenant, Mūsa led another army across the strait to complete the subjugation of the peninsula. He degraded Ṭārik publicly and moved north, taking city after city, and finally driving the Visigothic Visigoths nobles under Christian leaders such as Pelayo into the mountainous region of Asturias in the northwest. These Christian pockets were destined to hold isolated fortresses for more than three hundred years. They ultimately coalesced into the Christian kingdoms of León, Castile, and Navarre and began to reconquer the peninsula from Muslim control. Christianity;Spain Spain;Christianity

Most historians regard much of the Visigothic version of the conquest as legend. King Roderick, largely unknown, appears to have reigned for only one year. Evidence that the sons of Witiza played some part in Ṭārik’s success is only partly credible. The identities of Count Julian, Julian, Count the governor of Cueta, and his daughter Florinda are either vague or fanciful.

According to Spanish legend, Count Julian sent his beautiful daughter to the court of King Roderick at Toledo to be educated. Instead of protecting her as he was honor bound to do, Roderick seduced her. Because Julian’s wife, the daughter of deposed King Witiza, was of royal blood, the disgrace was even greater. Count Julian revenged himself by aiding Ṭārik. Although the legend may not be true, it is known that Julian supplied the four ships used by Ṭārik to cross to Gibraltar and those used by Mūsa in the second invasion. Another explanation for Julian’s action is his desire to retain his position of governor in Cueta after the inevitable Muslim conquest of the city.

Instead of such colorful and romanticized accounts, historians prefer to cite the disorganized internal situation in Visigothic Spain to explain its sudden collapse. The kingdom had been weak since the fifth century, when the Visigoths seized the area from the Romans. The Visigoths remained a minority because they would not be assimilated into the hostile local population, whom they cruelly exploited. The serfs were legally tied to the land and without rights or recourse. The middle class was burdened with crushing taxes, and slaves, who had no hope of betterment or freedom, labored on the large estates owned by a small group of nobles.

The Visigoths were Arian Christians when they conquered Spain, and most of their subjects were staunch orthodox Christians. Furthermore, the Visigoths sporadically persecuted a large Jewish element who had made their homes in the peninsula. Finally, in the sixth century, the Visigothic king and most of his followers converted to orthodox Christianity, but the monarchy fell under the domination of Spanish bishops. By the time of Roderick, the kingship was almost powerless, insecure, and still regarded as an alien influence by most of the population. Jews;Spain

When Ṭārik arrived, the kingdom was incapable of united action in any form. The native population did not seem to care one way or the other. The Jews threw in their lot with the Arabs and actually held the city of Toledo for the invaders. The nobles were jealous and disorganized, and the high-ranking clergy, including the archbishop of Toledo, were interested only in saving their treasures and themselves. The result was that Christian Spain disintegrated and collapsed.

The Spanish people found scant consolation in the fact that Mūsa ibn Nuṣayr fell into disfavor. Summoned to Damascus by the caliph, he was stripped of his rank and possessions and forced to retire to Medina, where he died penniless. Ṭārik ibn-Ziyād journeyed to Damascus with his master, but he returned to live out his days on the riches he had gained from his unexpected and phenomenal conquest.


The Iberian Peninsula was dominated by Muslims for the next four hundred years, with the Muslim presence continuing until the fall of Granada Granada, Fall of (1492) in 1492. During this period, Arabic learning flourished at Muslim courts, and Spain became one of the primary sources from which western Europeans in the twelfth century drew much of their knowledge of mathematics, medicine, astronomy, and particularly Aristotelian philosophy. Muslim culture has been one of the continuing influences in many aspects of Spanish life. In the face of Islamic Islam;influence on Spain penetration, Spain developed an aggressive devotion to orthodox Christianity, a characteristic that has been typical of Spain through the Reformation and through today.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Chejne, Anwar G. Muslim Spain: Its History and Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1974. The author gives a panoramic view of Hispano-Arabic culture.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Christys, Ann. Christians in Al-Andalus, 711-1000. Richmond, England: Curzon, 2002. Considers Christianity coexisting with Islam in Moorish Spain. Chapters on chronicles of the time, the city of Toledo, martyrdom, and more.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Coppée, Henry. History of the Conquest of Spain by the Arab-Moors: With a Sketch of the Civilization Which They Achieved and Imparted to Europe. 2 vols. Piscataway, N.J.: Georgia Press, 2002. This work, originally published in 1881, explores Ṭārik’s conquest of Spain and the resulting Arab influences on European civilization.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fregosi, Paul. Jihad in the West: Muslim Conquests from the Seventh to the Twenty-first Centuries. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1998. A history of Muslim conquests, including Ṭārik’s crossing into Spain. Includes chapters titled “The Mountain of Tarik: Spain 711” and “A Conqueror’s Fate: Spain 711-715.”
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hitti, Philip K. History of the Arabs: From the Earliest Times to the Present. 10th ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002. Argues that the Arabs carried the torch of culture to Spain and to Europe. Includes a complete description of Arab culture in Spain.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kennedy, Hugh. Muslim Spain and Portugal: A Political History of al-Andalus. New York: Longman, 1996. Chapters on the 711 conquest, emir leadership, the caliphates, and the end of al-Andalus. Includes an appendix on ruling dynasties, a bibliography, and an index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Marín, Manuela, and Julio Samsó, eds. The Formation of al-Andalus. 2 vols. Brookfield, Vt.: Ashgate, 1998. Vol. 1 looks at Andalusian history and society, and Vol. 2 explores Andalusian language, religion, culture, and science. Includes a bibliography and an index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Trend, J. B. “Spain and Portugal.” In The Legacy of Islam, edited by Thomas Arnold and A. Guillaune. New York: Oxford University Press, 1952. A summary of the views of leading Spanish historians of the importance of the Moorish invasion.

Categories: History