Tag Archives: public history

An(other) peculiar choice of local hero

The blog backlog seems to be moving quite rapidly through 2018 now; there is a grave danger of currency some year soon… But right now you find my memory of my life academic in late March 2018, facing the reality that, because of that grant I had got the previous year to get people together to talk about frontiers, I was now going to have to come up with a paper to give in a few weeks at a conference in front of those people. I will write (again) about that conference, in which there were much more interesting papers than mine, shortly, but by way of a run-up I want first to write about a peculiarity of local historical memory about a little-known figure of the Muslim régime in the Iberian Peninsula (or to use its snappier Arabic name, al-Andalus), a guy known to us as ‘Abd al-Rahmān ibn Marwān al-Ŷillīqī.

Modern bust of Mūsā ibn Mūsā in Tudela

Modern bust of Mūsā ibn Mūsā Ibn Qāsi in Tudela, by Arenillas (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

To do this I want to start somewhere we’ve been before, Tudela in the time of the nearly-legendary frontier warlord Mūsā ibn Mūsā. You may remember (or may quickly surmise from the old blog post I just linked there) that this man was said in a Christian chronicle of his era to have called himself ‘the third king of Hispania‘, which for me raised the questions, firstly, who’s number 2, and secondly, why does no Muslim source say this?1 But more important than my answers to those questions (which, after all, are in that post) is the fact that at Tudela Mūsā is now a feature of public memorialization, as ‘el Rey de l’Ebro’, King of the Ebro Valley, presumably because he is the only person who ever ruled as a successful independent from Tudela, so is ‘theirs’ in some way despite having repeatedly conquered or been awarded the place from his actual base at Arnedo. And it transpires that that is not the only such story, except that this one has maybe even shakier a basis.

It’s not, I should say, that there is any doubt that al-Ŷillīqī (or indeed Mūsā) actually existed; they are both reasonably attested. Neither is it that al-Ŷillīqī wasn’t an interesting and indicative character; that was indeed why I was looking at him. His story is substantially told in the Ta’rikh iftitāḥ al-Andalus (History of the Conquest of al-Andalus) of Muḥammad Ibn ʿUmar Ibn al-Qūṭiyya, which is now well-translated into English.2 It goes basically like this: he was the son of the governor of Mérida, from an originally-Christian family who had converted to Islam (which is probably why the likewise-descended Ibn al-Qūṭiyya, ‘son of the Gothic woman’, was interested in his story), and for reasons we know not (possibly not being allowed himself to become governor of Mérida?) rebelled against the Cordoban government of al-Andalus in 868.3 This coincided with a rebellion by another descendant of converts about whom we know much less, a guy called Sa’dūn ibn Fatḥ al-Surunbāqī, and the two of them teamed up and got help from the Christian north, at this time dominated by the aggressive and successful King Alfonso III of Asturias, as Ibn al-Qūṭiyya puts it, “causing huge disturbances throughout Islam, which would take too long to relate.” It was this connection to the Christian north, known in al-Andalus as Ŷillīyya from the same root that gives us modern Galicia, that got al-Ŷillīqī the by-name by which history now recalls him.

Anyway, this escalated, because the emir Muḥammad I sent his son with an army against the rebels, and the rebels won and captured the army’s commander, whom they gave to Alfonso III to ransom. This elevated al-Ŷillīqī’s standing on the frontier to the point where he was basically untouachable, and the terrible two began raiding much deeper into Cordoban territory. Muḥammad, apparently recognising that the situation could not be recovered, now entered negotiations, and Ibn al-Qūṭiyya’s report of this is so great that I’ll just quote it.

“Now, when the emir had become sorely tired of Ibn Marwān, he sent an intermediary to him, who said, ‘Listen! We are tired of you and you of us, so make known your plans.’ He replied, ‘My plan is to have al-Basharnal [San Cristobal], to build it up, extend it and populate it. I will pay allegiance, but will make no tribute nor abeyance, nor will you make any prohibitions.’ This place, al-Basharnal, is opposite Baṭalyaws [Badajoz], with the river [the Guadiana] between. It was agreed that Badajoz should be fortified as far as the river, to protect the party of Islam, according to the conditions.”

So with that matters were temporarily arranged. The province was at least notionally no longer in rebellion and the frontier of al-Andalus technically extended to its edge, even if Córdoba had no real power there; one would like to know whether al-Ŷillīqī would have fought in the emiral army if Muḥammad I had summoned him, as Mūsā ibn Mūsā did when the Vikings came a generation before, but as far as we know this never came up. Nonetheless, the situation was embarrassing, and eventually the ransomed army commander, a guy named Hāshim, persuaded Muḥammad to let him have another go (with a different one of the emir’s sons in tow this time). They must have moved quite slowly, however, because apparently news of their move north reached al-Ŷillīqī in plenty of time for him to send a letter to Córdoba, which Ibn al-Qūṭiyya summarises as follows:

“‘I have heard that Hāshim is on his way west. I have no doubt that he is intent on revenge, now that I am staying in a secure fort. Well, by God! if he comes past Niebla, I will put Badajoz to the torch! Then I will return to my previous tactics with you.'”

The army must have stayed in Niebla for some time, because on receipt of this letter Muḥammad I was apparently able to send orders to it to halt, and Badajoz was not burned on this occasion. It’s all a fascinating story for my purposes, and I’ll talk about the conclusions I draw from it in the next post, but as far as either Ibn al-Qūṭiyya or any other writer is concerned that’s where the story ends. We know of two sons of al-Ŷillīqī and some descendant was in rebellion against ‘Abd al-Raḥmān III (912-961 CE) in Ibn al-Qūṭiyya’s own time, so the family probably stayed in charge in the area till at least then, but this is not part of any coherent account of anything except ‘Abd al-Raḥmān III.4 But it’s not where local memory of the man ended, or at least it has been revived, because look!

Statue of Ibn Marwān al-Ŷillīqī as founder of Badajoz, by Estanislao García, Badajoz, 2003

Statue of Ibn Marwān al-Ŷillīqī as founder of Badajoz, by Estanislao García, Badajoz, 2003; image by Gianni86Trabajo propio, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This was put up in Badajoz in 2003, and is the work of one Estanislao García. You can’t see the plaque on this public-domain image, but there are several very good copyright ones on another site here and they make it clear that the Wikimedia caption is actually what is on the plaque, in both Spanish and Arabic, “Ibn Marwán, fundador de Badajoz, año 875 / 261 AH” (Ibn Marwān, founder of Badajoz, 875 CE or 261 Hijri).

Now, for reasons that are probably obvious, this historian here finds these choices a bit peculiar. Let’s never mind that there is basically no date for any of al-Ŷillīqī’s actions after 868; the date they’ve chosen is indicative and might not even be wrong. I’m more puzzled by the choice of this figure at all and the rôle they’ve given him. Firstly, I guess it’s evident from the story as reported above that Badajoz already existed when al-Ŷillīqī first became a problem there, and indeed as you’d expect the archaeology supports that. This city website admits that but still argues that the city can be considered al-Ŷillīqī’s foundation, and attributes to him walls that were built around the city in 878; but we’ve seen from Ibn al-Qūṭiyya that those walls were most likely put up against him, “to protect the party of Islam.”5 The place that al-Ŷillīqī founded, or at least built up, was San Cristobal, which is now all gone as far as I can tell, and he did that primarily so as to be able to threaten the good people of Badajoz if state power looked like coming anywhere near him.

Yet the descendants of those good people have still paid for a statue of this man, who would have cheerfully burned their city and ancestors, and decided he should be the crucial figure of their local history. Part of me would like to know what the consultation and decision process, and indeed the available education about the city’s past, were that lay behind the commissioning of that statue; and part of me fears that the answers would give me unto despair for the usefulness of the historical profession. And I suppose the reply from a patriotic citizen might be, “if you can’t give us anything better but can only take away the one documented early mention of our town, you can get out of town yourself,” and I would understand that to a point. And I suppose it’s even possible from what Ibn al-Qūṭiyya says about it that San Cristobal is now in Badajoz, which now extends over both banks of the Guadiana, and so that in that sense there would be a part of the city which he founded. But even if so, he did that by turning the other half into his hostages, and I can’t help feeling that should make a difference to his memory!6


1. Yves Bonnaz (ed./transl.), Chroniques Asturiennes (fin IXe siècle) (Paris 1987), Chronique d’Alphonse III s. a. 850. On the family and their position on the frontier see now Jesús Lorenzo Jiménez, La dawla de los Banū Qasī: origen, auge y caída de una dinastía muladí en la frontera superior de al-Andalus, Estudios Árabes e Islámicos: Monografías 17 (Madrid 2010).

2. Muḥammad ibn ʻUmar Ibn al-Qūṭīyah, Early Islamic Spain: the history of Ibn al-Qutiya, transl. David James (London 2011), where see pp. 118-119.

3. Not all of these details are in the text; Ibn al-Qūṭīyah, History, p. 127 n. 38 supplies them from Maria Isabel Fierro, “Familias en el Ta’rīj Iftitāḥ al-Andalus de Ibn al-Qūṭīyya” in Estudios Onomástico-Biográficos de al-Andalus vol. IV (Granada 1990), pp. 41-70, citing no. 67 & nn. 79-80, which I have not seen myself.

4. For the sons see ibid.; for the subsequent rebellion, Ibn al-Qūṭīyah, History, p. 140. The rebel lost this time, and that probably was the end of the family’s story.

5. See n. 2 above for the quote; “Historia”, Ajuntamiento de Badajoz, online here, says:

“La ciudad de Badajoz puede considerarse de fundación musulmana, a pesar de que las excavaciones realizadas en la Alcazaba, demuestran que ya en época prehistórica, en el calcolítico concretamente, existió un considerable núcleo de población. Esta población perdura en epoca protohistórica, pero no parece que existiera núcleo urbano durante el dominio romano de la península, aunque sí abundantes “villas” en sus proximidades.
“Tampoco ha quedado ninguna edificación visigoda, pero sabemos que debió tener cierta importancia este momento histórico a juzgar por la cantidad de restos encontrados como pilastras de mármol, capiteles, etc…
“Con los musulmanes, la ciudad adquiere notable importancia, siendo por dos veces capital de un reino independiente: la primera vez en tiempo del Valí Ibn Marwan (868) quien contruye las primeras murallas de adobe y tapial en el 878 y posteriormente al formarse los reinos de taifas y derrumbarse el califato cordobés en los primeros años del siglo XI.”

The key phrase here is pretty clearly “capital de un reino independiente”, capital of an independent kingdom, but to call Ibn Marwan walī, governor, or to accuse him of establishing that thing from that basis is surely to miss the context of his actions…

6. I should admit at this point that there is some relevant scholarship I haven’t been able to access, to wit, Christophe Picard, “La fondation de Badajoz par Abd al-Rahman Ibn Yunus al-Jalliki” in Revue des études islamiques Vol. 49 (Paris 1981), pp. 215–230, which nowhere I can easily reach has. I promise to check it before I try actually publishing anything involving al-Ŷillīqī, but it’s odd that Picard doesn’t even apparently agree about the guy’s filiation. Santiago Feijoo Martínez & Miguel Alba Calzado, “La decadencia de Mérida en el siglo IX” in Juan Zozaya Stabel-Hansen & Guillermo S. Kurtz Schaefer (edd.), Estudios sobre el Reino Aftasí, Bataliús 3 (Badajoz 2014), pp. 93–110, meanwhile, argue (p. 110) that the big event for Badajoz was the translocation of a decent part of the population of Mérida there in 875, for which they give no source; but if it happened, it was presumably another part of the state defence against al-Ŷillīqī, since we don’t think he controlled Mérida…