La Convivencia

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La Convivencia ("the Coexistence") is the period of Spanish history from the Muslim Umayyad conquest of Hispania in the early eighth century until the expulsion of the Jews in 1492. In the different Moorish Iberian kingdoms, it is widely claimed that the Muslims, Christians and Jews lived in relative peace. This period of religious diversity differs from later Spanish and Portuguese history when Catholicism became the sole religion in the Iberian Peninsula as a result of expulsions and forced conversions.

However, the historicity of the above stereotypical view of the supposed intercultural harmony has also been argued by many to be a "myth" and to depend too strongly on unreliable documentation.[1] During the same time, the Christians' reclaiming of the parts of the Iberian Peninsula that the Moorish Muslims had conquered was ongoing.

Cultural meaning

La Convivencia often refers to the interplay of cultural ideas between the three religious groups and ideas of religious tolerance. James Carroll invokes this concept and indicates that it played an important role in bringing the classics of Greek philosophy to Europe, with translations from Greek to Arabic to Hebrew and Latin.[2]

End of the Convivencia

While the Reconquista was ongoing Muslims and Jews who came under Christian control were allowed to practice their religion to some degree. This ended in the late 15th century with the fall of Granada in 1492. Even before this event, the Spanish Inquisition had been established in 1478. In 1492 with the Alhambra decree all Jews were either expelled from Spain or converted. Many Jews settled in Portugal where they were expelled in 1497.

Similarly the Muslims of Iberia were forced to convert or face death or expulsion. This happened even though the Granadan Muslims had been assured of religious freedom at the time of their surrender. Between 1500 and 1502 all remaining Muslims of Granada and Castile were converted.[3] In 1525 all Muslims in Aragon. The Muslim communities converted became known as Moriscos. Still they were suspected by the old Christians of being crypto-Muslims and so between 1609 and 1614 their entire population of 300,000 was forcibly expelled. All these expulsions and conversions resulted in Catholic Christianity becoming the sole religion in the Iberian Peninsula.


David Nirenberg challenges the significance of the age of "convivencia", claiming that far from a "peaceful convivencia" his own work "demonstrates that violence was a central and systemic aspect of the coexistence of majority and minority in medieval Spain, and even suggests that coexistence was in part predicated on such violence".[4]

Mark Cohen, professor of Near Eastern studies at Princeton University, in his Under Crescent and Cross, calls the idealized interfaith utopia a "myth" that was first promulgated by Jewish historians such as Heinrich Graetz in the 19th century as a rebuke to Christian countries for their treatment of Jews.[5] This myth was met with the "counter-myth" of the "neo-lachrymose conception of Jewish-Arab history" by Bat Yeor and others,[5] which also "cannot be maintained in the light of historical reality".[6]

The eminent Spanish mediaevalist Eduardo Manzano Moreno wrote that the concept of convivencia has no support in the historical record [“el concepto de convivencia no tiene ninguna apoyatura histórica“] and “There is scarcely any information available on the Jewish and Christian communities during the Caliphate of Cordova. This may come as a shock in view of the enormous weight of the concept of convivencia.“ [“quizá pueda resultar chocante teniendo en cuenta el enorme peso del tópico convivencial.”] Dr Manzano attributes the genesis of the convivencia myth to the Spanish philologist Américo Castro (1885-1972). But Castro’s conception “… was never converted into a specific and well documented treatment of el-Andalus, perhaps because Castro never succeeded in finding in the Arabist bibliography materials suitable for incorporation into his interpretation …”[1]

During the Muslim rule of much of the Iberian Peninsula, Jews were living in an uneasy coexistence with Muslims and Catholics, and the relationship between these groups was, more often than not, marked by segregation and mutual hostility.[7] In the 1066 Granada massacre of the entire Jewish population of the city, the Jewish death toll was higher than in the much publicized Christian pogromes in the Rhineland slightly later.[7] The notable Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides (1135–1204) was forced to flee from Al-Andalus to avoid conversion by the Almohads, which may have prompted his bitter statement that Islam had inflicted more pain on the Jewish people than any other 'nation'.[8]

See also

Sources and further reading


  1. 1.0 1.1 [1], Qurtuba: Algunas reflexiones críticas sobre el califato de Córdoba y el mito de la convivencia [Qurtuba: Some Critical Reflections on the Caliphate of Cordova and the Convivencia Myth], by Eduardo Manzano Moreno, Awraq n.° 7. 2013, pp 226-246
  2. Carroll, James (2001), Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews, Chapter 33. Houghton Mifflin, Co., Boston.
  3. Kidner, Frank; Bucur, Maria; Mathisen, Ralph; McKee, Sally; Weeks, Theodore (2013). Making Europe: The Story of the West (2 ed.). Cengage Learning. p. 376. ISBN 9781285415185. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Nirenberg, David, Communities of violence • Persecution of Minorities in the Middle ages. Princeton University Press, 1996. P. 9.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Cohen, Mark R. (October 1995). Under Crescent and Cross. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-01082-X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Daniel J. Lasker (1997). "Review of Under Crescent and Cross. The Jews in the Middle Ages by Mark R. Cohen". The Jewish Quarterly Review. 88 (1/2): 76–78. doi:10.2307/1455066.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 Darío Fernández-Morera: "The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise", The Intercollegiate Review, Fall 2006, pp. 23–31 (25)
  8. Darío Fernández-Morera, 2006, p. 30

External links