Unit 4: New rulers new hopes

Overview of the unit

  1. Tyrants or protectors?
    How were empires in the past governed? In this section, we learn about the rulers who governed al-Andalus from the eighth to the tenth centuries. These rulers ranged from conquerors and tyrants to those who were great city-builders and patrons of learning.
  2. Rising to greatness
    The individuals who worked under the caliphs occupied positions of great power and influence. The text leads us to examine the ways in which individuals came to occupy high positions. We become aware of the role that a person’s background played when people were selected for these positions. We also examine how people with special talents and skills were viewed by the rulers in these times.
  3. The caliph’s adviser
    To help us get a better understanding of the above topic, we study the example of a Jewish court official who rose through the ranks in Muslim al-Andalus because of his wide range of talents. Hasday ibn Shaprut was recognised by the caliph for his skills as a royal adviser, doctor and scholar. We learn how Hasday helped the caliph to set up closer links with a Christian monarch in the north.
  4. The case of the missing horses
    An important part of governing an empire in the past was ensuring that there was law and order in the land. The text gives us insight into how law and order were maintained in Cordova in the tenth century. We are presented with an example of a dispute between two groups of people in the city and how it was settled by the judges and officials.
    1. Tyrants or protectors
    The current ruler of al-Andalus is Abd al-Rahman III. He has ruled for almost fifty years, the longest a Muslim ruler has ruled in al-Andalus. Now worrying rumours are arising among the Cordovans. Who among the many sons of Abd al-Rahman will be chosen as the new ruler? Will that ruler turn out to be a tyrant or a protector?
    It is a worrying time for the people of Cordova. Those who are old know all too well how the fate of ordinary people depends in these times on the type of ruler who inherits the throne. Some of them still remember the reigns of the earlier amirs.

    Abd al-Rahman I

    The Cordovans remember the rule of Abd al-Rahman I, the Umayyad prince who came to al-Andalus from Damascus. He was a conqueror who seized power from a weak amir and forced his own rule on the people. He became the amir of al-.Andalus and governed for thirty years. By the end of his rule, he had managed to unite the different groups in his empire, and to protect its borders from neighbouring kingdoms.


    Abd al-Rahman I chose neither his oldest son nor his youngest one to become the next ruler. Instead, he selected the middle prince whose name was Hisham, the gentlest among his children. Hisham turned out to be a very pious amir. People say that he dressed in a simple white robe, helped the poor by taking food to their homes, and prayed with the ordinary people.
    Some Cordovans doubt whether an amir would do these kinds of things, but everyone seems to agree that Hisham was a holy man.


    Just before Hisham died, he too passed over his eldest son to choose one of his younger princes who was only twenty-six years old. Al-Hakam, as the new amir was called, was quite the opposite of his father. If Hisham spent most of his time in the mosque, al-Hakam was given over to drinking and hunting. Hisham was a devout person while a1-Hakam was unpredictable and harsh.
    It was not long before some of religious leaders in Cordova started complaining about the amir’s ways. Al-Hakam began to feel threatened by the growing numbers of his opponents. He ordered a large number of rebels to be murdered in a tower in Toledo. He also got his soldiers to burn down an entire area on the south bank of the Guadalquivir where many of his opponents lived.
    These events still remain in the memories of the Cordovans. Some people call al-Hakam a tyrant, while others say that he was a strong ruler who wiped out all reb11ion in. al-Andalus in his time.

    Abd al-Rahman II

    Al-Hakam was followed by Abd-al-Rahrnan II, who was yet again different from all the previous amirs. Abd al-Rahman II built a new palace in Cordova. He asked workers to build a conduit to bring water from the mountains to the city. Hundreds of fountains with marble basins were built so that the city became filled with the sound of sprinkling water.
    The amir also built new mints in al-Andalus to make more co ins, a sign of the increasing wealth of al-Andalus. Abd al-Rahman was a man of culture, and invited poets, musicians and other artists to entertain him in his palace.

    Abd al-Rahman Ill

    Now it is the time of Ad al-Rahman III who has gone further than the other rulers. He is no longer an amir, but he has become a caliph. Amirs are of lower rank than caliphs. The previous amirs were governors who were forced to accept the rule of the Damascus or Baghdad.
    Abd-al Rahman III has become the first caliph of al-Anda1us. The new caliph’s reign has been more peaceful and prosperous than the periods in which the previous amirs ruled.
    Al-Andalus, like other regions in these times, has experienced many difficulties with its rulers. Let’s find out how Abd al-Rahman III is ruling his empire. What kinds of people are helping him govern his land? What relations has he set up with neighbouring kingdoms? And what kind of law and order has he brought about in the towns and cities?

    What kinds of rulers hold power in at Andalus from the eighth to the tenth centuries?


  • 8th century CE: Abd al-Rahman I
  • 8th century CE: Hisham
  • 9th century CE: Al-Hakam
  • 9th century CE: Abd aI-Rah man II
  • 10th century CE: Abd aI-Rah man Ill
Imagine that you visit Cordova In the periods when it is being ruled by the. five rulers described here. Write an account of how the life of Cordovans might be affected by the reign of each ruler.
Leadership was an important factor for Muslims in the past. Progress or decline Ii: these. times often depended on the types of rulers who held, power over the people.


Compare two rulers from different empires who lived in the past. For example, you could compare the rule of Abd al-Rahman Ill with that of Charlemagne, the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire In the ninth century. What similarities and differences do you notice?


What are some major challenges facing modern rulers in different parts of the world today’? Are the challenges faced by Muslim leaders similar to or different from those faced by other leaders?

What kinds of qualities are required by a modern leader to lead a country? To what extent do modern leaders reflect these qualities?

4.2    Rising to greatness
The Middle Ages are a period of kingdoms and empires run by kings, emperors, caliphs or amirs. The leaders are not elected by the people, as they ace in many modern countries. They become leaders by birth, or they are appointed by some one powerful, or they seize power for themselves if they are strong enough.
Rulers in the middle Ages can become tyrants, if they so wish. In real life, they may find it difficult to rule people in whatever manner they choose. Most new rulers, if they are wise, respect the law that exists in their land. They might change some laws and bring in new ones, but on the whole, they allow people to get on with their lives. Change for its own sake is not considered good in these times.
Rulers also need a great deal of help to manage their kingdoms or empires. They often turn to ministers, advisers and governors to run their affairs for them.

Selecting people for positions

The caliph depends on many important people to help him rule al-Andalus. Some of these peop1e include viziers (ministers), qadis (judge) and army commanders. How are these people chosen for these important positions?
Inhering a high position
In the Middle Ages, people usually gain high positions as a result of being born in a particular family. If a person’s father and grandfather have been chief qadis, then there is a very high chance for that person to become a chief qadi if he has the required knowledge and ability. People in medieval times believe that occupations have to be passed on from father to son.

Connections with the powerful

People in power often choose those who are related to them, or are well known to them, or come from wealthy and powerful families. In this way, the rulers are able to keep the power within their own families and ruling groups.
However, sometimes a close relative of a caliph might turn ambitious and seek to become the ruler himself. In al-Andalus, the caliph is very suspicious of his own  brothers, uncles and even his sons.

People with special talents

Those who are selecte4 for a high position need special knowledge and skills to do their work; Rulers and court officials may pick out individuals
because of their talents and give them special work to do.
Talented people stand out because of special gifts they have. They may show great ability to become good soldiers, scholars, poets or architects. They may be rich or poor, and come from all walks of life. Some of them may even be slaves.
In al-Andalus, the caliph has appointed people because of their birth, connections and skills. The caliph has also chosen some officials from less recognised groups because of their outstanding talents.
Some of these officials and advisers are Jews and Christians who work in important positions in Cordova and the other main towns of al-Andalus. They have been selected to work in high positions because of their wide knowledge and their special skills.
In the next section, we learn about a close adviser of the caliph who is a gifted scholar, a doctor and a good court official.


How did individuals rise to high positions in al-Andatus?


  • Qadi
  • Vizier


Individuals rose to high positions in the middle Ages because of their birth, connections and skills. In some cases, individuals from less recognised groups were selected because of their special talents.


To what extent are people selected for particular positions today because of their special skills? Discuss this question in relation to your country.
Are talented people gifted by birth, or have they worked hard to become talented? Discuss this question by referring to examples of individuals’ special talents today.


Think of some people in history, from different civilisations in the past, who are considered to be great. What are the reasons they are accepted as great figures?
4.3    The caliph’s adviser
Whoever becomes the ruler of al-Andalus faces a big challenge — to protect the borders of al-Andalus from invasions. It has not been easy to guard these borders, for the Christian kingdoms in the north are not always on friendly terms with al-Andalus. There have been frequent battles with these kingdoms. In a few cases, the Muslim and Christian rulers have tried to set up good relations with one mother.

The Ambassador from Navarre

Abd al-Rahman III has recently received an unexpected request from one of the Christian kingdoms. An ambassador has arrived from the queen of Navarre, seeking help from the caliph. She wants the caliph to help her defeat a neighbouring kingdom called Leon. The kingdom was being ruled by her grandson, Sancho, but he has lost his throne. The queen wants to see her grandson regain his kingdom.
The ambassador from Navarre has also brought another request from the queen. She wishes the caliph to send him a good doctor who can cure her grandson from an illness he is suffering.
The caliph is happy to receive these requests from the queen. It is a good opportunity for him to make peace with the kingdom of Navarre and to capture Leon for the queen’s grandson. The caliph knows that he needs to send someone very capable to the queen. It will have to be somebody with special skills, a person who can speak Latin, deal cleverly with a ruler, and also be able to treat illnesses. Fortunately, the caliph has just the right person in his court. It is Hasday ibn Shaprut, his close adviser.

Hasday ibn Shaprut

Hasday is a man of many talents who is highly respected by the caliph.
Hasday belongs to a good Jewish family of Cordova. He has wide knowledge of geography, politics, poetry and medicine. He speaks Hebrew, Arabic and Latin, and knows Romance, a language that is an early form of Spanish. He has also discovered in the ancient books a cure for comfort poisons. Hasday is glad to act as an envoy for the caliph and soon sets off to Navarre with the ambassador.
The queen and her grandson
When Hasday reaches Navarre, he conveys the caliph’s message to the queen. He lets her know that] caliph is willing to help her regain her grandson’s kingdom of Leon.
Hasday finds that the queen is not entirely certain of the caliph’s promise. He knows he will have to do much more to win her over to the caliph’s side. If he could persuade the queen to visit Cordova, she might get to know the caliph much better. But it is rare in days for monarchs to visit foreign lands. For a Christian monarch to visit a Muslim ruler is even more rare.
The answer comes to Hasday when he looks into Sancho’s illness. He tells the queen that he can cure her grandson’s illness, but only in Cardova.The drugs, instruments, advisers and texts that he needs for illness are all in Cordovan. The queen knows that the best doctors are to be found in the south of the peninsula. After further persuasion by Hasday, the queen at last agrees to travel with her grandson to the capital of al-Andalus.

A royal procession

A long royal procession sets off from Navarre, working itself south towards the caliph’s capital. Accompanying the queen and her grandson are a large group of priests and nobles, soldiers and servants who follow their royal masters. Along the route, villagers came out to watch this strange sight. Never in their lives have they seen a royal procession pass by their villages.

A warm welcome

After many weeks of travel, the queen of Navarre finally reaches Cordova. The caliph’s troops are ready to receive her and accompany the royal procession all the way to the palace. Huge crowds of Cordovans line the streets to catch a glimpse of the queen.
The queen is taken aback by the splendour of Cordova, with its gardens and fountains, its majestic mosques and splendid buildings, but most of all, by its people who seem to be of every imaginable race and colour.
The queen is overcome by the caliph’s hospitality and generosity. Most of the suspicions that she has about the caliph slowly disappear during her stay in Cordova. Most important of all, Hasday cures her grandson of his illness as he promised.
So the months later, the caliph helps the queen to regain the kingdom of Leon for her grandson. Unfortunately, not many stories in the middle Ages have a happy ending. Not many years later, the rulers of Leon and al-Andalus are once again at war with each other.
How were people with special talents treated by the caliphs in Muslim lands?

        • Hebrew • Romance 

• Monarch  


  • 10th century CE: Hasday ibn Shaprut


Imagine Hasday trying to persuade the queen of Navarre to visit Cordova. What objections would the queen have raised? How would Hasday have I tried to persuade her? Write a dialogue based on the conversation the two of them might have had.
In some periods Muslim rulers appoint Christian and Jewish advisers based on their special skills and talent.


Identify individuals in the past who became great because of the special ta1ents they had Find out more about these individuals and how they became recognised for their skills
Many people in modern societies feel they are unfairly treated because of the religion they practise, the culture they belong to, the language they speak, the colour of their skin, or because of being female. What are some of the reasons why discrimination takes place today? What are some ways in which a fairer society can be created?


Find out about societies In the twentieth century which discriminated against people on the basis of their race, religion or culture. What impact did such policies have on people who lived in these places? What was the final outcome for these societies?
4.4    The case of the missing horses
Defending the borders of al-Andalus is an important challenge for the caliph. A bigger challenge is keeping law and order inside the land. Ensuring peace among the different groups who live in al-Andalus has never been easy for the rulers. A visit to one of the markets of Cordova should be interesting. It may help us to learn how law and order is kept on the streets of the capital.
The market we are visiting is a large one and we will have to be careful we do not loose our way. We are in a part of the market where livestock is sold. Here, we find farmers and traders buying and selling poultry, sheep, cattle and horses. Suddenly we notice a large crowd that has gathered around an empty stable. We hurry over to the stable to find out what is happening.
The olive merchants and the blacksmiths
A group of olive merchants are disputing with some blacksmiths over five horses that have disappeared from the stable during the night. The horses belonged to the olive merchants who had left them with the blacksmiths that they could be fitted with new horseshoes. No one knows where the horses are.
The olive merchants are demanding money from the blacksmiths, claiming that the horses were under the care of the blacksmiths. The blacksmiths refusing to pay any money for the lost horses, arguing that the olive merchants should have left their stable-boy to look after the horses overnight. This is what all their other customers did.

The muhtasib

Someone soon calls the muhtasib, a special officer who is in charge of the markets.

  • It is his duty to examine the weighing scales to make sure that traders do not cheat their customers.
  • He checks the prices of loaves of bread and other food items to make sure they are not overpriced.
  • He deals with complaints brought to him by customers and stall-keepers.
The muhtasib is just the right person to solve this dispute. He listens to both the olive merchants and the blacksmiths. The crowd is taking sides and things are beginning to get, out of control. The muhtasib calls for the police who are in charge of disturbances in the city. They arrive quickly and soon disperse the crowd.
The muhtasib feels this is a case for the qadi, the judge who sorts disputes of this kind. He takes down the names of people of both groups and asks them to report to the qadi.

The qadi

The qadi is a man who has settled many cases of this kind before. He listens to both the olive merchants and the blacksmiths. The olive merchants tell their side of the story while the blacksmiths mike a good case for themselves. Each side is convinced that it is in the right. Since there are no witnesses, it is difficult to solve this disagreement.
The qadi is in a difficult position. Who should have been responsible for looking after the horses at night? He tries hard to find the answer; each party insists that the other is to blame. The qadi has no choice but to seek the advice of the chief qadi.

The importance of law and order

Keeping law and order in Cordova does not always work as in the above story. There are cases where unjust decisions are made by the muhtasib, the qadi, the vizier or the army commander. At these times, one group or another feels betrayed.
In the past. as is also true of modern times, people realise the importance of law and order. How the laws are made and followed is not always an easy matter.

The Chief qazi

The chief qazi is a wise man who always takes into account points which some judges may consider unimportant. He finds out that the olive merchants and the blacksmiths belong to two opposing communities who have been quarreling for many months now. If one side feels they have been treated unfairly, it will not take long for the dispute to grow.
Clearly, it would be very silly to upset the peace between these two groups for the sake of five horses. The chief qazi advises the junior qadi to compensate the olive merchants for their lost horses and hopes that it will solve the problem. However, as a precaution the chief qadi alerts a vizir of what has happened.

The vizier

The vizier is one of several ministers of the caliph. It is his duty to make sure that there is peace between all the different groups who live in Cordova and elsewhere in al-Andalus. The vizier does not like the story he hears from the chief qadi. He fears the worst for these two groups. It is quite likely that the dispute will spread. Should he bother the caliph about this matter?
After careful thought, the vizier decides that he will wait for a few days to see if the matter grows worse. Like the chief qadi, he is a cautious man. He therefore speaks to the army commander to make sure that matters do not get out of hand. He hopes that the whole matter will die away. The peace of al-Andalus depends on peace between the different groups who live in this land.
How was law and order kept in Cordova?




Imagine you are the qadi who is tying to settle the dispute between the blacksmiths and the olive merchants. Write a list of questions that you would ask each group. How would you settle the issue?
In Muslim empire as in other lands in the Middle Ages law and order were essential for people to carry out. their everyday activities.


Find out how criminals were treated by different civilisations in the middle Ages! How do modern societies treat criminals? What are some of the reasons for these changes?
Some people claim that there is greater crime and injustice today than
there was in the past. They feel that modern systems of law are not effective. Discuss this claim in relation to your country.
Examine some of the public laws that you have to follow in your daily life. How were these laws made in. your country? How are laws made in other countries?
Review questions 

4.1   Tyrants or protectors?

  • Who were some of the rulers of Cordova, and in what ways were they different from one another?
  • What did Abd al-Rahman I manage to achieve during his rule?
  • Why was Hisham considered a pious man while al-Hakam was viewed as a
  • What were some of the achievements of Abd al-Rahma.n III? 
    4.2   Rising to greatness

  • How were people selected for high positions in the Middle Ages?
  • Why did people in the past prefer to pass occupations from father to son?
  • What kinds of difficulties might people with special talents from less recognised groups have faced in being selected for high positions?
  • To what extent are people today selected for positions on the basis of their skills?

  1. The caliph’s adviser

  • Who was Hasday ibn Shaprut and why was he selected by the caliph to work for him?
  • How did Hasday help in creating closer links between the Christian queen and the Muslim caliph?
  • In what other ways might advisers such as Hasday been of value to caliphs?

  1. Case of the missing horses

  • What led to the dispute between the olive merchants and the blacksmiths? kind of officials intervened in the dispute?
  • Why was it difficult to find out, who was responsible for the missing horses?
  • How was the dispute finally resolved? Was this a fair way of solving the disagreement?
  • In what ways is keeping law and order today different from medieval times?



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