Moors, nomadic people of the northern shores of Africa, originally the inhabitants of Mauretania. They were chiefly of Berber and Arab stock. In the 8th cent. the Moors were converted to Islam and became fanatic Muslims. They spread SW into Africa (see Mauritania) and NW into Spain. Under Tarik ibn Ziyad they crossed to Gibraltar in 711 and easily overran the crumbling Visigothic kingdom of Roderick. They spread beyond the Pyrenees into France, where they were turned back at Tours by Charles Martel (732). In 756, Abd ar-Rahman I established the Umayyad dynasty at Córdoba. This emirate became under Abd ar-Rahman III the caliphate of Córdoba. The court there grew in wealth, splendor, and culture. The regent al-Mansur in the late 10th cent. waged bitter warfare with the Christians of N Spain, where, from the beginning, the Moorish conquest had met with its only opposition. The cities of the south, Toledo, Córdoba, and Seville, speedily became centers of the new culture and were famed for their universities and architectural treasures (see Moorish art and architecture). With the exception of brief periods, there was, however, no strong central government; the power was split up among dissenting local leaders and factions. The caliphate fell in 1031, and the Almoravids in 1086 took over Moorish Spain, which was throughout the whole period closely connected in rule with Morocco. Almoravid control slowly declined and by 1174 was supplanted by the Almohads. These successive waves of invasion had brought into Spain thousands of skilled Moorish artisans and industrious farmers who contributed largely to the intermittent prosperity of the country. They were killed or expelled in large numbers (to the great loss of Spain) in the Christian reconquest, which began with the recovery of Toledo (1085) by Alfonso VI, king of León and Castile. The great Christian victory (1212) of Navas de Tolosa prepared the way for the downfall of the Muslims. Córdoba fell to Ferdinand III of Castile in 1236. The wars went on, and one by one the Moorish strongholds fell, until only Granada remained in their hands. Málaga was taken (1487) after a long siege by the forces of Ferdinand and Isabella, and in 1492 Granada was recovered. Many of the Moors remained in Spain; those who remained faithful to Islam were called Mudejares, while those who accepted Christianity were called Moriscos. They were allowed to stay in Spain but were kept under close surveillance. They were persecuted by Philip II, revolted in 1568, and in the Inquisition were virtually exterminated. In 1609 the remaining Moriscos were expelled. Thus the glory of the Moorish civilization in Spain was gradually extinguished. Its contributions to Western Europe and especially to Spain were almost incalculable—in art and architecture, medicine and science, and learning (especially ancient Greek learning).

See S. Lane-Poole, The Moors in Spain (1886, repr. 1967).

The description Moors has referred to several historic and modern populations of Muslim (and earlier non-Muslim) people of Berber and Arab descent from North Africa, some of whom came to inhabit the Iberian Peninsula. The North Africans termed it Al Andalus, comprising most of what is now Spain and Portugal). Moors are not distinct or self-defined people, but the appellation was applied by medieval and early modern Europeans primarily to Berbers, but also Arabs, and Muslim Iberians. As early as 1911, mainstream scholars recognized that "The term Moors has no real ethnological value.

In the Spanish language, the term for Moors is moro; in Portuguese the word is mouro. There seems to have been some confusion about the relationship of the word moro/mouro to the word moreno (which means tanned or dark or brown-skinned. Originally moreno was used to refer to a person with brown or black hair color, regardless of skin or eye color - synonym for Brunette; today both meanings co-exist). However, the two words have different etymological roots. Though most were probably of swarthy complexion, the Moors were not "negro".

The Al Andalus Moors of the late Medieval era inhabited the Iberian Peninsula after the Arab conquests of the Rashidun and Umayyad Caliphates, and the final Umayyad conquest of Hispania. These conquests stretched south to modern-day Mauritania, the western Sahara, and West African countries as far south as the Senegal River. Earlier, the Classical Romans interacted (and later conquered) Mauritania, a state in what is now Algeria. The people of the region were noted in Classical literature as the Mauri. Cultures north of the Mediterranean applied this name to them; it was not their own.

The term Mauri, or variations thereof, was later used by European traders and explorers of the 16th to 18th centuries to designate ethnic Berber and Arab groups speaking the Hassaniya Arabic dialect. Today such groups inhabit Mauritania and parts of Algeria, western Sahara, Morocco, Niger and Mali. Mauri was the genesis of the name of the modern Islamic Republic of Mauritania, first applied by the French during their colonial rule. In the Philippines, some residents use a variation of the term to designate some Muslim populations.

Speakers of European languages have historically designated a number of ethnic groups "Moors". In modern Iberia, the term continues to be associated with those of Morrocan ethnicity living in Europe. Some consider it pejorative. Moor is sometimes used in a wider context to describe any person from North Africa. Similarly, in Spanish, most speakers consider the cognate moro a racist and derogative term. The Spanish use the term and think of it as neutral in local sayings such as "no hay moros en la costa" (literally, "There are no Moors on the coast", meaning "the coast is clear").


The term Moor is believed to come from the Greek word mauros (Greek orthography μαύρος, plural μαύροι), meaning "black" or "very dark". In Latin, the word became maurus (plural mauri). In the Medieval Romance languages (such as Portuguese, Spanish, French, and Italian), the root appeared in such forms as mouro, moro, moir, and mor. Derivatives are found in today's versions of the languages. Through nominalization, the root has always referred to various things conveniently identified by their dark color, for example, blackberries. Moreno, from the Latin root, can mean "tanned" in Spain and Portugal. In Cuba and other Spanish-speaking countries, as in Portuguese speaking Brazil, it can mean "black person" or a "mulatto" . Also in Spanish, morapio is a humorous name for "wine", specially that which has not been "baptized" or mixed with water, i.e., pure unadulterated wine.

In Spanish usage, moro ("Moor") came to have an even broader usage, applied to moros of Mindanao in the Philippines, and the moriscos of Granada. Moro is also used to describe all things dark, as in "Moor", "moreno", etc.. It has been the bases of such European surnames as Moore, Mauro, Moura, and so on. The Milanese Duke Ludovico Il Moro was so-called because of his dark complexion.

This name could also have been derived from one of the strongest dynasties in Islamic Iberia: the Almoravids, in Arabic Al-Murabitun or Al Moorabiteen (1060-1146), who ruled the northern and western parts of Africa and some parts of Iberia. The name of Al Morabiteen was likely abbreviated to Moors with usage.



Although the Moors came to be associated with Muslims, the name Moor pre-dates Islam. It derives from the small Numidian Kingdom of Maure of the 3rd century BC in what is now northern central and western part of Algeria and a part of northern Morocco. The name came to be applied to people of the entire region. "They were called Maurisi by the Greeks," wrote Strabo, "and Mauri by the Romans. During that age, the Maure or Moors were trading partners of Carthage, the independent city state founded by Phoenicians. During the second Punic war between Carthage and Rome, two Moorish Numidian kings took different sides, Syphax with Carthage, Masinissa with the Romans, decisively so at Zama. Thereafter, the Moors entered into treaties with Rome. Under King Jugurtha collateral violence against merchants brought war. Juba, a later king, was a friend of Rome. Eventually, the region was incorporated into the Roman Empire as the provinces of Mauretania Caesariensis and Mauretania Tingitana; the area around Carthage already being the province of Africa. Roman rule was beneficial and effective enough so that these provinces became fully integrated into the empire.

During the Christian era, two prominent Berber churchmen were Tertullian and St. Augustine. After the fall of Rome, the Germanic kingdom of the Vandals ruled much of the area; a century later they were displaced by Byzantine incursions.

Neither Vandal nor Byzantine exercised an effective rule, the interior being under Moorish Berber control. For over 50 years, the Berbers resisted Arab armies from the east. Especially memorable was that led by Kahina the Berber prophetess of the Awras, during 690-701. Yet by the 92nd lunar year after the Hijra, the Arab Muslims had prevailed across North Africa.

The Moors of Iberia

In 711 AD, the now Islamic Moors conquered Visigothic Christian Hispania. Under their leader, a Berber general named Tariq ibn-Ziyad, they brought most of Iberia under Islamic rule in an eight-year campaign. They moved northeast across the Pyrenees Mountains but were defeated by the Frank, Charles Martel, at the Battle of Poitiers in 732 AD.

The Moorish state fell into civil conflict in the 750s. The Moors ruled in North Africa and in the Iberian peninsula for several decades, except for areas in the northwest (such as Asturias, where they were defeated at the battle of Covadonga) and the largely Basque regions in the Pyrenees. Though the number of original "Moors" remained small, many native Iberian inhabitants converted to Islam. According to Ronald Segal, some 5.6 million of Iberia's 7 million inhabitants were Muslim by 1200 AD, virtually all of them native inhabitants. The persecution and forced conversion to Catholicism of the Muslim population during the time of the Christian Reconquista in the second part of the 15th century caused a mass exodus. This is considered the main reason why the number of Muslims shrank to one-third by 1600.

In a process of decline, the Al Andalus had broken up into a number of Islamic-ruled fiefdoms, or taifas, which were partly consolidated under the Caliphate of Cordoba.

The Asturias, a small northwestern Christian Iberian kingdom, initiated the Reconquista (the "reconquest") soon after the Islamic conquest in the 8th century. Christian states based in the north and west slowly extended their power over the rest of Iberia. The Navarre, Galicia, León, Portugal, Aragón, Catalonia or Marca Hispanica, and Castile began a process of expansion and internal consolidation during the next several centuries under the flag of Reconquista. In 1212, a coalition of Christian kings under the leadership of Alfonso VIII of Castile drove the Muslims from Central Iberia. The Portuguese side of the Reconquista ended in 1249 with the conquest of the Algarve (Arabic الغرب — Al-Gharb) under Afonso III, the first Portuguese monarch to claim the title King of Portugal and the Algarve.

However, the Moorish Kingdom of Granada continued for three more centuries in the southern Iberia. This kingdom is known in modern times for magnificent architectural works such as the Alhambra palace. On January 2, 1492, the leader of the last Muslim stronghold in Granada surrendered to armies of a recently united Christian Spain (after the marriage of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, the Catholic Monarchs). The remaining Muslims and Jews were forced to leave Spain, or convert to Roman Catholic Christianity or be killed for not doing so. In 1480, Isabella and Ferdinand instituted the Inquisition in Spain, as one of many changes to the role of the church instituted by the monarchs. The Inquisition was aimed mostly at Jews and Muslims who had overtly converted to Christianity but were thought to be practicing their faiths secretly - called respectively marranos and moriscos. The Inquisition also attacked heretics who rejected Roman Catholic orthodoxy, including alumbras who practiced a personal mysticism or spiritualism. They represented a signficant portion of the peasants in some territories, such as Aragon, Valencia or Andalusia. In the years from 1609 to 1614, they were systematically expelled by the government. Henri Lapeyre has estimated that this affected 300,000 out of an estimated total of 8 million inhabitants of the peninsula.

In the meantime, the tide of Islam had rolled not just to Iberia, but also eastward, through India, the Malayan peninsula, and Indonesia up to Mindanao. This was one of the major islands of an archipelago which the Spaniards had reached during their voyages westward from the New World. By 1521, the ships of Magellan and other Spanish explorers had reached that island archipelago, which they named Las Islas de Filipinas, after Philip II of Spain. In Mindanao, the Spaniards named the kris-bearing people as Moros or 'Moors'. Today in the Philippines, this ethnic group of people in Mindanao, who are generally Muslims, are called 'Moros'. This identification of Islamic people as Moros persists in the modern Spanish language spoken in Spain, and as Mouros in the modern Portuguese language. See Reconquista, and Maure.

According to historian Richard A. Fletcher, 'the number of Arabs who settled in Iberia was very small. "Moorish" Iberia does at least have the merit of reminding us that the bulk of the invaders and settlers were Moors, i.e Berbers from Morocco.' Aline Angoustures says that the Berbers were about 900,000 and the Arabs about 90,000 in Iberia.

Modern age

Beside its usage in historical context, Moor and Moorish (Italian and Spanish: moro, French: maure, Portuguese: mouro / moiro, Romanian: maur) is used to designate an ethnic group speaking the Hassaniya Arabic dialect. They inhabit Mauritania and parts of Algeria, western Sahara, Morocco, Niger and Mali. In Niger and Mali, these peoples are also know as the Azawagh Arabs, after the Azawagh region of the Sahara.

In modern, colloquial Spanish, the sometimes pejorative term "Moro" refers to any Arab. Similarly, in modern, colloquial Portuguese, the term "Mouro" is used as a derogatory term by northern Portuguese to refer to the inhabitants of the southern parts of the country: (the Alentejo and Algarve). "Mouro" may also refer to an enchanted person (generally a women, called moura encantada). In Northern Portugal, moura also means "stone".

In the Philippines, a former Spanish colony, many residents call the local Muslim population in the Southern islands Moros. They also self-identify that way (see Muslim Filipino). The term was introduced by the Spanish colonizers. Within the context of Portuguese colonization, in Sri Lanka (Portuguese Ceylon), Muslims of Arab origin are called Moors (see Sri Lankan Moors).

Notable Moors

  • Lusius Quietus, a Roman general, governor of Iudaea in 117. Originally a Berber prince, his military ability won him the favor of Trajan, who even designated him as his successor. During the emperor's Parthian campaign, the numerous Jewish inhabitants of Babylonia revolted and were relentlessly suppressed by Quietus, who was rewarded by being appointed governor of Judea. Restlessness in Palestine caused Trajan to send his favorite, as a legate of consular rank, to Judea, where he continued his sanguinary course.
  • Macrinus, 164-218, a Berber officer, prefect of the Praetorian Guard under Caracalla. In 217-18, he became the first Roman emperor who was not a senator.
  • Gildo, a Berber chieftain who instigated a rebellion against the Roman Empire in 398.
  • Othello, the fictitious hero in the eponymous play by William Shakespeare, published in 1604. The character of Othello was a mercenary who served in the war between Venice and Cyprus, who married the daughter of a Venetian nobleman.
  • Estevanico, also referred to as "Stephen the Moor", was an explorer in the service of Spain of what is now the southwest of the United States.

Religious relations

The initial rule of the Moors in the Iberian peninsula under this Caliphate of Córdoba is generally regarded as tolerant in its acceptance of Christians, Muslims and Jews living in the same territories. The Caliphate of Córdoba collapsed in 1031 and the Islamic territory in Iberia came to be ruled by the Almoravid dynasty. This second stage started an era of Moorish rulers guided by a version of Islam that left behind the tolerant practices of the past.


Moorish Iberia excelled in city planning; the sophistication of their cities was astonishing. According to historian Ivan Van Sertima, Córdoba "had 471 mosques and 300 public baths … the number of houses of the great and noble were 63,000 and 200,077 of the common people. There were … upwards of 80,000 shops. Water from the mountain was distributed through every corner and quarter of the city by means of leaden pipes into basins of different shapes, made of the purest gold, the finest silver, or plated brass as well into vast lakes, curious tanks, amazing reservoirs and fountains of Grecian marble." The houses of Córdoba were air conditioned in the summer by "ingeniously arranged droughts of fresh air drawn from the garden over beds of flowers, chosen for their perfume, warmed in winter by hot air conveyed through pipes bedded in the walls." This list of impressive works includes lamp posts that lit their streets at night to grand palaces, such as the one called Azzahra with its 15,000 doors. During the height of the Caliphate of Córdoba, the city of Córdoba proper was one of the major capitals in Europe and one of the most cosmopolitan cities of its time.

Population genetics

Shomarka Keita, a biological anthropologist from Howard University, has suggested that populations in Carthage circa 200 BC and northern Algeria 1500 BC were very diverse. As a group, they plotted closest to the populations of Northern Egypt and intermediate to Northern Europeans and tropical Africans. Keita stated that "the data supported the comments from ancient authors observed by classicists: everything from fair-skinned blonds to peoples who were dark-skinned 'Ethiopian' or part Ethiopian in appearance." Modern evidence showed a similar diversity among present North Africans. Moreover, this "diversity" of phenotypes and peoples was probably due to in situ differentiation, not foreign influxes. Of course foreign influxes certainly had an impact: Sub-Saharan Africans, Phoenician, Greek, Roman, Vandal, and Arab migration had some impact from 900 BC to 730 AD. But they did not replace the indigenous Berber population. Only about 4% of the North African DNA landscape is traceable to Europeans, mostly from the later colonization period by the French.

The Y chromosome p49a,f TaqI Haplotype V, which corresponds to Y haplogroup E1b1b1b (M81) -- formerly E3b1b, E3b2 and colloquially referred to as the "Berber marker" -- has been found among 68.9% of modern Berbers in North Africa and as high as 80% in one group. It is believed to be about 6,000 years old, and to have arrived with the Neolithic expansion from the Near East. M81 is not found in Sub-Saharan Africa. This haplotype has also been observed in as high as 40% of one small group of Andalusians tested. Generally it appears at much lower frequencies among Iberian populations, and lower as distance from North Africa increases.

Y DNA haplogroup E1b1b (formerly E3b) predominates among North African populations; its E1b1b1b subgroup (M81) is identified especially with Berbers. The Vb subtype of p49a,f Haplotype V, apparently corresponding to E3b1b, has been found to occur in two-thirds of the Haplotype V Southern Iberians, that is, in about a quarter of all Andalusians tested. The frequency of Vb is at its highest among Berbers, and was found to decline rapidly from West to East among North Africans sampled. It is uncommon in France and Italy.

A 2006 mitochondrial DNA study of 12th-13th century Islamic remains from Priego de Cordoba, Spain, indicates a higher proportion (4%) of sub-Saharan African lineages. This is attributed only partially to the period of Moorish occupation; researchers believe that more ancient migrations from Africa to Europe were more significant.

Mitochondrial DNA sequences and restriction fragment polymorphisms were retrieved from three Islamic 12th-13th century samples of 71 bones and teeth (with >85% efficiency) from Madinat Baguh (today called Priego de Cordoba, Spain). Compared with 108 saliva samples from the present population of the same area, the medieval samples show a higher proportion of sub-Saharan African lineages that can only partially be attributed to the historic Muslim occupation. In fact, the unique sharing of transition 16175, in L1b lineages, with Europeans, instead of Africans, suggests a more ancient arrival to Europe from Africa. The present-day Priego sample is more similar to the current south Iberian population than to the medieval sample from the same area. The increased gene flow in modern times could be the main cause of this difference.

See also



This section's bibliographical information is not fully provided. If you know these sources and can provide full information, you can help Wikipedia by completing it.

  • Jan Carew, Rape of Paradise
  • David Brion Davis, "Slavery: Black, White, Muslim, Christian"
  • Herodotus, The Histories
  • Shomark O.Y. Keita, "Genetic Haplotyes in North Africa"
  • Shomark O.Y. Keita, "Craniometric Data from North Africa
  • Shomark O.Y. Keita, "Further Craniometric Data from North Africa"
  • Shomark O.Y. Keita, "Bernal vs. Snowden"
  • Bernard Lewis, "The Middle East"
  • Bernard Lewis, "The Muslim Discovery of Europe"
  • Bernard Lewis, "Race and Slavery in Islam"
  • Stanley Lane-Poole, Turkey (1888)
  • Stanley Lane-Poole, The Barbary Corsairs (1890)
  • Stanley Lane-Poole, The History of the Moors in Spain
  • J.A. Rogers, Nature Knows no Color Line
  • Ronald Segal, "Islam's Black Slaves"
  • Ivan Van Sertima, The Golden Age of the Moor
  • Frank Snowdon, "Before Color Prejudice"
  • Frank Snowdon, "Blacks in Antiquity"
  • David M. Goldenberg, "The Curse of Ham"
  • Lucotte and Mercier, various genetic studies
  • Eva Borreguero. The moors are coming, the moors are coming! encounters with muslims in contemporary Spain.Islam and Christian-Muslim relations, 2006, vol. 17, no4, pp. 417-432. Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Georgetown University, Washington DC

External links

Search another word or see moorson Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature