A taifa (from طائفة ṭā'ifa, plural طوائف ṭawā'if) in the history of Iberia was an independent Muslim-ruled principality, an emirate or petty kingdom, of which a number formed in the Al-Andalus (Moorish Iberia) after the final collapse of the Umayyad Caliphate of Córdoba in 1031.
The origins of the taifas must be sought in the administrative division of the Umayyad Caliphate of Córdoba, as well in the ethnic division of the elite of this state, divided among Arabs (a powerful but tiny minority), Berbers, Iberian Muslims (known as Muladíes - the overwhelming majority) and Eastern European former slaves.
There was a second period when taifas arose, toward the middle of the 12th century, when the Almoravid rulers were in decline.
During the heyday of the taifas, in the 11th century and again in the mid 12th century, their emirs (rulers) competed among themselves, not only militarily but also for cultural prestige. They tried to recruit the most famous poets and artisans.
Reversing the trend of the Umayyad period, when the Christian kingdoms of the north had often had to pay tribute to the Caliph, the disintegration of the Caliphate left the rival Muslim kingdoms were much weaker than their Christian counterparts, particularly the Castilian-Leonese monarchy, and had to submit to them, paying tributes known as parias.
Due to their military weakness, taifa princes appealed for North African warriors to come fight Christian kings on two occasions. The Almoravids were invited after the fall of Toledo (1085), and the Almohads after the fall of Lisbon (1147). These warriors did not in fact help the taifa emirs but rather annexed their lands to their own North African empires.
Taifas often hired Christian mercenaries to fight neighbouring realms (both Christian and Muslim). The most dynamic taifa, which conquered most of its neighbours before the Almoravid invasion, was Seville. Zaragoza was also very powerful and expansive, but inhibited by the neighbour Christian states of the Pyrenees. Zaragoza, Toledo, and Badajoz had previously been the border military districts of the Caliphate.
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