In modern times much has been made of a clash of civilizations between the Muslim East and the Christian West. It has been seen as a religious conflict rather than a political one. This is expressed by the tendency, particularly among right wing extremists, to view these different faiths as being somehow incompatible with each other twhich extends to our reading of history as well. The history of the reconquest of Spain by the Christians has often been portrayed as a centuries long conflict that in which the armies of Christ were eventually victorious. However, this would be to ignore the centuries of cooperation that existed in the centuries following the Muslim conquest. There is even evidence to suggest that the reconquista was more of a conquest through demographics than warfare. This article follows the story of Musa ibn Musa and Inigo Arista, two half brothers who blurred the line of faith and allegiance in the first century of Muslim rule in Spain. Although the families of the two men are eventually divided and become enemies this happens not so much out of religion but out of personal greed.
The story begins with a Visigothic count called Cassius who, after the Muslim conquest, traveled with his conquerors to Baghdad to make his conversion before the Caliph, Al-Walid I. Like many nobles Cassius underwent his conversion to protect his status and preserve his lands. Cassius’ name became attached to that of his tribe who were based in the Ebro Valley, the Benu Qasi tribe (the heirs of Cassius). Musa ibn Musa was the grandson of Cassius and became ruler of the Benu Qasi tribe after his father, also called Musa, was murdered. Musa’s mother had, only a couple years earlier, been married to a Basque chieftain with whom she had a son, Inigo Arista. Thus Musa, a Muslim, had a half-brother Inigo, a Christian. Together these two brothers would not only cement their two families but define the power plays of Spain and create a new Christian kingdom.
Following the Muslim conquest of Spain the Emperor Charlemagne had invaded Spain in 778 in order to force back the Muslim armies and secure the border along the Pyrenees. His expedition had ended in failure with a defeat at the first battle of Roncevaux pass (in the Pyrenees), however, Charlemagne managed to secure the existence of the Christian state of Asturias which is considered the start of the reconquista.
46 years later, in 824, the two brothers, Inigo and Musa, defeated a second Frankish invasion force at the second battle of Roncevaux pass and enter into the annals of history. Northern Spain was still heavily Christian and could only be lightly controlled by the Muslims. Musa, ruling from Tudela was able to assert control in the name of the Emirate of Cordoba but his own family’s Christian past meant that he tolerated the Christian population. The Carolingian Empire had since Charlemagne, harboured ambitions for an expansion into Spain. Musa and Inigo’s intervention at Roncevaux prevented the Franks from realizing this ambition and allowed Inigo the room to create his own kingdom. Inigo was crowned King of Pamplona in the same year and as such became the second Christian king in Spain. Musa would eventually be unofficially proclaimed the “Third King in Spain” after his brother’s death, a demonstration of the power he would later wield that allowed him to compete with the Emir of Cordoba, and the King of Asturias.
Since he had helped his brother win a kingdom Musa made sure that all threats were dealt with. The two brothers turned on another Christian target, Asturias. Together they were able to defeat, in 834, Pamplona’s more powerful neighbour and ensure that the Basque kingdom did not fall prey to the Galicians of Asturias. However, the kingdom was not safe from the Emirate of Cordoba. In 840 skirmishes along the border with Pamplona between Inigo and the Muslim lord of Zaragoza led to war between Inigo and the Emir of Cordoba, Abd Ar-Rahman II. Musa was ordered to lead the vanguard against Inigo. Unwilling to fight his brother, Musa switched sides on the day of battle and delivered a shocking defeat on the Emirate forces. The war turned into a rebellion by Musa who, with Inigo’s help, ran an effective guerrilla campaign against his liege lord capturing the commander of the Emirate army in 843. At this point Rahman II decided to intervene and personally led another army towards Pamplona. Musa and Inigo barely managed to escape the onslaught and Musa was forced to submit and give up his seat in Tudela to the Emir’s son leaving Inigo with a much depleted kingdom. The loss of his fief did not sit well with Musa who, again with Inigo, rose in rebellion again only a year after his submission. This rebellion was eventually defeated but Musa was allowed to have Tudela back in return for both brother’s sending their sons to Cordoba as hostages.
However, in 850 Inigo died and, fortunately for Musa, so did Rahman II. Inigo was succeeded by his son Garcia as king of Pamplona, Rahman was likewise also succeeded by his son Muhammed (who had been given and then lost Tudela) as Emir of Cordoba. Following the death of Rahman and Inigo a time of peace was established between the two nations. The new Emir gave Musa a chance at formal reconciliation when the Franks, sensing weakness, decided to invade again. Musa, again, managed to defeat the Frankish forces in a great battle near Albelda with help from his nephew, the new king of Pamplona. As a reward Musa was given the city of Zaragoza. Over the 10 years Musa’s control was expanded to include Toledo and Huesca effectively giving him control of most of northern Spain. At this point he was called the “the Third King of Spain” by contemporaries who ignored the tiny city state of Musa’s nephew.
However, Musa’s drive for power had led him to neglect his nephew, Garcia, in Pamplona. Worried by Musa’s proximity with the Emirate of Cordoba, Garcia was forced to look to Asturias for security. Together they orchestrated an attack on Musa’s most prized possession, the old, Visigothic capital of Toledo. Pamplona and Asturias covertly sowed the seeds of rebellion among the Christian population of Toledo in 854. Musa was forced to crush the uprising and, in the process, had to kill a large number of his subjects. For the next 5 years there were small scale engagements which further soured the bond between kinsmen until, in 859, Musa launched an invasion of Pamplona. In a display of genius Garcia and the king of Asturias trapped Musa’s vastly superior army in a pincer movement at the second battle of Albelda completely routing the invasion force.
The battle was a disaster for Musa who lost his titles, commands and all his lands except Tudela as the Emir of Cordoba was forced to intervene. Stripped of all his power Musa was forced to look towards his son-in-laws (who were in possession of various fiefs) to help. Musa met his end leading a small force against one of these son-in-laws (who had refused to help him) at Guadalajara. Receiving several wounds in a skirmish he was forced to retire to Tudela where he died on the 26th of September 862.
This partnership of Muslims and Christians became a regular feature of the reconquista as various lords sought such alliances to achieve their short term goals. For Musa and Inigo it had been a question of family honour which sadly died with Inigo. Musa’s legacy was his autonomy which was copied by the later Taifa Emirates in the centuries after. Inigo’s dynasty would soon lose Pamplona to another Christian dynasty but their bloodline would continue in the kings of Navarre who would, in the 16th century, become the kings of France.