The Umayyad Emirate in Andalusia was a continuation of the Umayyad Dynasty in Damascus which collapsed in 750 AD due to the Abbasid and Shia rebellions. The Umayyad prince, Abd al-Rahman ibn Muawiyah, the grandson of the caliph Hisham who had escaped the massacre of the Abbasids, became the founder of this emirate.
The story of the escape of Abd al-Rahman ibn Mu’awiyah
The story of the escape of Abd al-Rahman al-Dakhil (comer) ibn Mu’awiyah from the pursuit of the Banu Abbasids became one of the most dramatic episodes in Arab history. This twenty-year-old youth for six years disguised himself on the run through Palestine, Egypt, and North Africa.
His escape began from a Bedouin Arab camp on the left bank of the Euphrates. At one point, the black Abbasid banners suddenly appeared near the tent. Abd al-Rahman ran towards the river with his thirteen-year-old younger brother.
Arriving at the river, his sister was not very good at swimming. At the same time, the Abbasid pursuers who had been before them promised that they would be granted amnesty.
The promise finally made Abd al-Rahman’s brother return from the middle of the river, only to meet his death. His head was beheaded and his body was left on the river bank. Meanwhile, the older brother continued to swim until he reached the other side.
On his journey south, Abd al-Rahman was brought to Palestine by his freed former slave named Badr.
In North Africa, he did not escape an assassination attempt by the North African ruler of Qairuan, Abd al-Rahman ibn Habib. The governor called out to all the residents to hand over the fugitive to him.
Abd al-Rahman’s efforts to enter Andalusia
Abd al-Rahman and Badr were able to carry out a good disguise for six years in North Africa. From the city of Meknes, he moved to the port city of Melilla near the city of Ceuta, on the Mediterranean coast.
From that city, he began to make observations to see the possibility of entering Andalusia. Abd al-Rahman himself secretly ordered his servant Badr to leave for Andalus to deliver a letter to his supporters in that country.
In Andalusia itself, there is a conflict between the Bani Mudhari and the Yamani. This conflict was seen as an opportunity to rally support for the capture of Andalusia.
Badr was able to contact Yamani officials who were willing to support Abd al-Rahman. The Yamani who at that time hated the Andalusian ruler, Yusuf al-Fihri, were willing to provide support. They then left for the city of Melilla to take the bait in 756 AD.
Together with the Yamani figures, Abd al-Rahman crossed the Jabal-Tarik strait (Gibraltar) and landed on the Almunecar beach. They then entered the city of al-Geciras. The dignitaries in the city then declared their submission and support for Abd al-Rahman.
The southern cities, one by one, opened their doors and surrendered without a fight. Arizona, Sindona, and Seville all welcomed the prince with open arms.
After Abd al-Rahman successfully landed in Andalusia, his next goal was to gather support. He and his supporters set out for the city of Sidonia. In Sidonia, the local governor, Ittab ibn Alkamah took the pledge of allegiance.
From Sidonia, the group moved towards Moron de la Frontera. The governor of al-Moron, ibn Sabbah was willing to take allegiance. Then Abd al-Rahman moved to Cordova.
Abd al-Rahman’s feud with Yusuf al-Fihri
As Abd al-Rahman and his supporters moved to Cordova, Governor Yusuf moved towards Seville. They also met near Cordova.
Before the battle, the prince had no military ensign of his own, so the leader of the Yemeni forces in Seville, Abu al-Shabbah al-Yashubi, designed a flag by tying a green turban to the end of a spear. According to history, that event marked the origin of the Umayyad flag in Andalusia.
On the morning of May 14, 756, two armies faced off on the banks of the river Guadalquivir. Although most of the personnel on both sides rode horses, which are still rare in Andalusia, Abd al-Rahman, realizing that some of his followers were afraid he would leave him, requested that his horse be replaced with an old donkey belonging to Abu al-Shabbat.
It turned out that the change of mounts was his tactic to strengthen the confidence of his supporters, that he would not leave them and would continue to fight until the end.
The strategy proved successful, but the battle did not last long. Yusuf and his main generals fled to Granada. Abd al-Rahman succeeded in pursuing Yusuf, the defeated governor finally pleading for amnesty and being allowed to settle in Cordova.
Three years later, in 759 AD, the former ruler of Andalusia again made a comeback. He quietly came out of Cordova to Toledo. In the city, Yusuf tried to persuade the local population to oppose and overthrow the rule of Emir Abd al-Rahman. He managed to gather a force of 20,000 people from the Berber tribe for his efforts.
After the news was heard, Emir Abd al-Rahman and his troops set out for Toledo, a fortress city on a hill under which the river Tage flows.
Raid and confrontation were inevitable. Feeling pressed, Yusuf tried to escape. But his supporters caught him and beheaded him on the outskirts of Toledo. Yusuf’s head was then sent to Emir Abd al-Rahman asking him for amnesty.
After Yusuf’s defeat, Abdurahman became the de facto caliph of Andalusia. Even so, he could not get the title of caliph. For that, he chose to use a title lower than the caliph, namely Emir (prince) of Cordova.
Security throughout the Iberian Peninsula is slowly recovering, except for a small area to the northwest overlooking the Bay of Biscaye. When Abd al-Rahman was busy quelling the rebellion in Toledo, the area was rebuilt as a continuation of the Visigoth Kingdom, namely the kingdom of Asturia by the nephew of King Roderick (710-711 AD) named Panglima Pelayo (718-737 AD).
Development of Cordova as Capital of the Umayyad Emirates in Andalusia
Emir Abd al-Rahman I ruled for 32 years (756-788 AD). His reign is noted as the first very stable government on the Iberian Peninsula.
Due to political and strategic considerations, he moved the capital of Andalusia from Seville to Cordova. Abd al-Rahman built the walls surrounding the city of Cordova.
Subsequently, he divided the Iberian Peninsula into six administrative regions with rulers who held the title al-Amil (Governor).
The reign of Emir Abd al-Rahman in Andalusia is known by historians as a period of massive development. He built a magnificent palace and a great mosque known as Masjid al-Hambra. The construction of the mosque cost a lot of money, although it was not finished when he died in 788 AD.
Not only in Cordova, but Abd al-Rahman also built other mosques outside Cordova. Subsequently, he built madrasas and institutes of knowledge.
In the economic field, he built irrigation canals for agricultural purposes. There was not an inch of land in his time that did not become agricultural land.
He quickly turned Cordova into a beautiful city, with beautiful gardens. One of the most famous parks is an al-Risafat park.
Challenges to Face
Throughout his reign, Abd al-Rahman had to face several successive uprisings carried out by Berber, Yamaniyah, and Shia groups provoked by Abbasid agents.
The Berber Revolt was crushed after ten years. The Berbers could never forgive the Arab leaders for their mistake of taking and controlling the conquered lands themselves and not dividing them up.
The people who used to be loyal supporters of this new emir, have now turned into enemies and must be dealt with quickly.
The head of the Shaykh of Seville—whose flag and donkey had brought Abdurahman to power—was severed in a revolt. Meanwhile, Badr, Abdurahman’s right-hand man, was exiled to a border town after losing all his possessions.
In 763 AD, the Abbasid Caliph al-Mansur sent a group of Abbasid troops to Andalusia to reclaim the region. However, Abd al-Rahman managed to repulse and defeat the troops. Since then, al-Mansur has preferred to leave Andalusia and focus more on strengthening the East’s human resources.
The challenge did not only come from the Abbasids but also from Europe. In 777, a large confederation was formed involving the leaders of the northeast region headed by the governor of Barcelona and one of the sons-in-law of Yusuf al-Fihri. The confederation invited Karel the Great, an ally of the Abbasids, who was also an enemy of the Emir Abd al-Rahman.
This alliance was created to fight the new emir in Andalusia. Charles the Great marched in 778 through the northeast until he reached Zaragoza, but he was forced to withdraw when the city closed its gates right before him.
Through this feud, Abd al-Rahman proved that he was equal to the strongest ruler in the West, as well as the greatest ruler in the East.
In his efforts to subdue his numerous enemies, Abd al-Rahman built and developed a well-trained and disciplined army. The army consisted of over 40,000 mercenaries from the Berber tribe.
They are imported from Africa and are known to be quite loyal and reliable in maintaining their power which is always under threat. Abd al-Rahman knows well the ways to keep the chairman, namely by providing a fairly high salary.
Thus the efforts made by Abd al-Rahman in resurrecting the existence of the Umayyad Dynasty, which had collapsed, became an independent country that was reckoned with.