Tarik's Address to His Soldiers, 711 CE

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The document, “Tarik’s address to His soldiers, 711 CE, from The Breath of Perfumes by Ahmed al-Maqqari,” is a translation of the Muslim historian’s work found in the book, The Sacred Books and Early Literature of the East, written by Charles F. Horne.

It is noted by Horne (p.238) that since Al Maqqari wrote and published his work long after the Moorish people had ceased to occupy Muslim Iberia, he simply attributed the speech to Tarik, even though the words therein were not the exact ones uttered by the Muslim commander. Essentially, Al Maqqari uses his writing to present the tradition of Tarik’s words as preserved through history by the remainder of the Moorish people living in Africa during his time.

Ahmed al-Maqqari was an Algerian born scholar from a prominent intellectual family tracing its origin to the village of “Maqqara” (Meri, 2005). It is also evident that during Al Maqqari’s time in the 17th

century, the Arabic people’s former customs of scientific study and critical service had morphed into a societal appreciation of poetry and philosophy (Horne, p.238). It is this introspective society to which Al Maqqari’s work sought an audience. Furthermore, the author’s work had been inspired by his frequent pilgrimages to Jerusalem and Damascus and the lectures he gave there on Bukhari’s Traditions, which fuelled his desire to write about and preserve the history and glories of Muslim Iberia (Thatcher and Wheeler, p.664-665).


The document in question raises fundamental questions about the subject of the speech and the setting of the address.


There are disparate opinions on the information provided by medieval historians about the origin or nationality of the subject of Al Maqqari’s idealized speech, Tariq Ibn Ziyad. The Mozarab Chronicle, written in Latin in 754 presents itself as the earliest reference to the Muslim Commander (para. 34). Conversely, most historians attest that he is the Muslim military commander who pioneered the Islamic Umayyad conquest of Visigothic Hispania in 711 A.D. (Talib, 2016). With the assistance of Julian, the scorned Visigothic Count of Ceuta, Tarik crossed the Strait from the North African coast into the Iberian Peninsula under the orders of the Umayyad Caliph Al-Walid I and consolidated his troops at the present-day Rock of Gibraltar, so named after him (Government of Gibraltar). He then proceeded to defeat and kill King Roderic of Spain at the Battle of Guadalete even though his army was vastly outnumbered. It is this occasion preceding the battle of Guadalete that the 16th-century historian Al Maqqari uses in The Breath of Perfume to immortalize his idealized version of the words Tariq used to rouse his men.

            Musa bin Nusair subsequently made Tariq governor of Tangiers after the invasion (p. 41 of Beltran’s Spanish translation) and they continued their largely successful Spanish conquest until the Umayyad Caliph Al-Walid ordered them back to Damascus in 714 where they lived out the remainder of their lives (Reilly and Bernard, p. 52).    

It is also important to note that even though his latter-day descendants disapproved of the theory, most Arab and Spanish scholars are agreeable that Tariq was a slave of the emir of North Africa, Musa bin Nusayr, who granted him freedom and made him an army commander (p. 81 of Slane’s English translation). Furthermore, historians also have conflicting opinions about the nature of the relationship between the two, with some citing envy on the part of Musa for Tariq’s achievements in conquest. Early historian, Al Baladhuri, however, posits that even though Musa once penned a “severe letter” for Tariq, the two later settled their differences (p. 365 of Hitti’s English translation).

The Setting

The scene of Tariq’s speech turned out to be the launch pad for the establishment of a medieval Muslim territory and cultural domain that stretched throughout most of the Iberian Peninsula for a few centuries and subsequently referred to as Al-Andalus. The Moors typically maintained control of large swaths of the peninsula in the period between 711 and 1492 during which there was a persistent conflict with the Christian Reconquista which eventually managed to regain control of the region.

Many sources have over time eulogized the wonders and high level of civility that was present in the Caliphate of Cordoba, al-Andalus. Abdul Talib (p.1) for example, claims with open bias that the advent of Islam not only “shed its light of faith upon the land, it also liberated the citizens from the oppression and tyranny” of King Roderic who “enjoyed a prosperous life” on the back of the high taxes imposed on his people.

However, there is also sufficient historical evidence to suggest that the Caliphate was a bastion of knowledge and with Cordoba being the biggest city of its time in Europe, it was also a major cultural and economic center. Consequentially, some historians justly attest that some achievements which advanced Islamic and Western science came from scholars based in al-Andalus. For example, Gerbert was a student at the University of Cordoba who later became Pope Sylvester II. He was instrumental in exporting the science of mathematics and Arabic numerals to northern Europe, particularly Italy. It is also opined that the city of Toledo in al-Andalus was the point of translation to Latin, and transition of manuscripts from great scholars such as; Aristotle, Plato, Galen, Ibn Sina, al-Farabi, and Ibn Bajjah into Europe (Halilovic, 2017). These manuscripts gradually seeped their way into becoming important literature within institutions of study across Europe.  

Critical Thought

Tarik’s speech is very informative in highlighting the social stratification that had endured in the medieval ages. Taking note of the line; “in this country you are more unfortunate than the orphan seated at the table of the avaricious master,” it is evident that there existed at the time strict feudalistic class differences that separated noblemen from serfs. In spite of this social stratification or perhaps in a bid to avoid differing opinions within his ranks, Tariq the General of the army, keenly reassured his men that he would bravely fight alongside them in the heat of battle, “where the chance of life is always least.”

Also, the source offers an important sneak peek into the medieval ages where the landscape was regularly shaped by brutal conquests and expansionists ideals championed by romanticized, brave leaders who led men into battle by example. Furthermore, the document is an ideal gateway into understanding the medieval history of the Muslim occupation of the Iberian Peninsula. The research I have undertaken in trying to understand the context and background that is alluded to in the document has fit into and further reinforced my knowledge of the medieval time period. Indeed the Moorish conquest and occupation of Iberia was not a mere flash in the pan, instead, it was an extended period of over 500 years of established control, which was bound to have a lasting effect in terms of the cultural exchange.

Works Cited

Al-Baladhuri. Kitab Futuh al-Buldan, English translation by Hitti P. in The Origins of the Islamic State. 1924.

Carmen C.H. The Textual Transmission of the Mozarabic Chronicle of 754. Blackwell. 1999.

“History of Gibraltar.” The Government of Gibraltar. https://web.archive.org/web/20080103220336/http://www.gibraltar.gov.gi/gov_depts/port/port_index.htm. Accessed 5 Oct. 2018.

Halilovic S. Islamic Civilization in Spain-a Magnificent Example of Interaction and Unity of Religion and Science. Bosnia and Herzegovina: Zenica UP, 2017. Pdf.

Horne C.F. The Sacred Books and Early Literature of the East. New York: Parke, Austin & Lipscomb. 1917.

Ibn Abd al-Hakam. Kitab Futuh Misr wa’l Maghrib wa’l Andalus. Yale UP. 1932. Spanish translation by Beltran E.Vidal.

Ibn Khallikan. Wafayat al-a yan wa-anba az-zaman. English translation by M. De Slane in Ibn Khallikan’s Biographical dictionary. 1843.

Meri J.W. Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia. Taylor and Francis. 2005.

Reilly, Bernard F. The Medieval Spains. New York: Cambridge UP. 2009.

Talib A. L. Tariq Bin Ziyad: The Conqueror of Andalusia. PTS Publishing Sdn. 2016.

Thatcher, Wheeler G. “Maqqari.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Cambridge UP, 11th ed. 1911.

November 24, 2023

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