(ʿAbd al-Raḥmān ibn Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd Allāh
: عبد الرحمن الثالث; January 11 889
– October 15 961
) was the Emir
and Caliph of Cordoba
(912-961) and a prince of the Ummayad
dynasty in al-Andalus
). He ascended the throne when he was twenty-two years of age and reigned for half a century as the most powerful prince of the Umayyad dynasty in Iberia. Called al-Nasir, or the Defender (of the Faith), he was born at Cordoba
, and is the son of Prince Muhammad.
Although under his rule, people of all creeds enjoyed tolerance and freedom of religion, he repelled the Fatimids, partly by supporting their enemies in Africa, and partly by claiming the title caliph (ruler of the Islamic world) for himself.
Military success and assumption of the Caliphate
Abd-ar-Rahman III succeeded his grandfather ʿAbd Allāh
, one of the Andalusian Umayyads
, who had killed his father Muhammad. He spent the first part of his long rule (49 years) without military actions against his northern Christian enemies of the Kingdoms of Asturias
: this because his reign was shaken by revolts and tribal conflict amongst the Arabs under the harsh rule of ʿAbd Allāh. Strife between them and the Muslims of native Iberian descent was also present. Iberians who were openly or secretly Christians had acted with the rebels. These elements, which formed the bulk of the population, were not averse from supporting a strong ruler who would protect them against the Arab aristocracy. These restless nobles were the most serious of Abd-ar-Rahman's enemies, and he was to subdue them by means of a mercenary army, which included Christians.
He had initially to quench the dangerous revolt led by ʿUmar b. Ḥafṣūn. In 913 he attacked Seville, who had allied with Ḥafṣūn, conquering it on december 20. The following year he campaigned in the Rayya mountains near Málaga, where his mild treatment gained him the surrender of most of the Christian castles. In 917 Ḥafṣūn died, but the struggle was continued by his son, who surrendered only after the fall of Málaga on January 21 928.
On January 16, 929 Abd-ar-Rahman III declared himself as the Caliph of Cordoba, effectively breaking all ties with the Fatimid and Abbasid caliphs. His ancestors in Iberia had been content with the title of emir. The caliphate was thought only to belong to the prince who ruled over the sacred cities of Mecca and Medina. But the force of this tradition had been so far weakened that Abd-ar-Rahman could proclaim himself caliph, and the assumption of the title gave him increased prestige with his subjects, both in Iberia and Africa. Abd-ar-Rahman based his claim to the caliphate on his Umayyad ancestry who held undisputed control of the caliphate until they were overthrown by the Abbasids.
In 930 also Ibn Marwan surrendered, and in 932 Toledo was captured. At this point all Arabs, Iberians and Berbers submitted to Abd-ar-Rahman. In 931, in order to counter the increasing Famitid power in North Africa, the caliph had helped Berbers to conquer Ceuta and other territories, which accepted his suzerainty; this was however lost a few years later.
War with the Christian kingdoms of the north
Once having al-Andalus firmly under his rule, Abd-ar-Rahman restarted his war against King Ordoño II of León
, who had taken advantage of the previous troublesome situation to capture some boundary areas and to menace the Umayyad territory. In 920 the emir's troops had gained a first victory at Junquera
and, in 924, to sack the Basque capital of Pamplona
of King Sancho I
. An attempt by Ramiro to help Toledo had been pushed back in 932.
In 934, after reassuring his supremacy over Pamplona and Álava, Abd-ar-Rahman forced Ramiro to retreat up to Burgos. In 937 he counquered some thirty castles in León and then compelled again the Navarrese queen, Toda, to submit to him as a vassal. Then it was the time of Muhammad ibn Hashim at-Tugib, governor of Zaragoza, who had allied with Ramiro but was pardoned after the capture of his city.
Despite their early defeats, Ramiro II and Toda were able to crush the caliphate army in 939 at the Battle of Simancas, most likely due to treason from Arabic elements in the caliph's army. After this feat, Abd-ar-Rahman stopped taking part in person to the military campaigns. His cause was however helped by Fernán González of Castile, one of the Christian leaders at Simancas, who declared war against Ramiro, only to be defeated after a while.
According to 1911 Britannica
, Abd-ar-Rahman was "accused of having sunk in his later years into the self-indulgent habits of the harem."
In 951 he signed a peace with the new king of León, Ordoño III, in order to have free hand against the Fatimids in North Africa. He was however able only to launch an expedition against Ifrīqiya, in the area of Tunis. In the meantime, Ordoño's son and successor had been deposed by his cousin Ordoño IV, and, together with Toda of Navarre, sued for an alliance with Cordoba. In exchange for some castles, Abd-ar-Rahman helped them to take back Zamora (959) and Oviedo (960) and to overthrow Ordoño IV.
Abd-ar-Rahman spent the rest of his years in his new palace outside Corboda. He died in the October 961, being succeeded by his son al-Ḥakam II.
Abd-ar-Rahman was a patron of arts, and especially architecture: according to 1911 Britannica
, "a third of his revenue sufficed for the ordinary expenses of government, a third was hoarded and a third spent on buildings." After declaring the caliphate, he had a massive palace complex, known as the Medina Azahara
, built some 5 kilometers north of Cordoba. The Medina Azahara was modeled after the old Umayyad palace in Damascus and served as a symbolic tie between the new caliph and his ancestors.
Under his reign, Cordoba became the most important intellectual centre of Western Europe. He expanded the city's library, which would be further enriched by his successors.
He also reinforced the Iberian fleet, which became the most powerful in the Mediterranean Europe. Iberian raiders moved up to Galicia, Asturias and North Africa. The colonizers of Fraxinetum came from al-Andalus as well.
Saint Pelagius and Reconquista Polemic
A story is told of Abd-ar-Rahman falling in love
with a thirteen-year old boy (later enshrined as a Christian martyr and canonised as Saint Pelagius of Cordova
) who typically refused the Caliph's favors. The love story part is considered a construct on top of the original tale, in which he had simply asked the boy, a slave of the court, to convert to Islam and the boy's refusal. It also served to help demonise Muslims. Either way, enraged, Abd-ar-Rahman had the boy tortured and dismembered..
Unfortunately, while there is copious Spanish
and Arabic literature
on this period, little appears to have been translated into English. Coope, Scales and Woolf provide important social and historical overviews of Christian/Muslim relations within the Caliphate of Cordoba during its history that may provide historical context for this subject.
"I have now reigned above fifty years in victory or peace; beloved by my subjects, dreaded by my enemies, and respected by my allies. Riches and honours, power and pleasure, have waited on my call, nor does any earthly blessing appear to have been wanting to my felicity. In this situation, I have diligently numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness which have fallen to my lot: they amount to Fourteen: - O man! place not thy confidence in this present world!"
- Coope, Jessica (1995). Martyrs of Cordoba: Community and Family Conflict in an Age of Mass Conversion. Lincoln: ISBN 0-8032-1471-5.
- Fierro, Maribel (2005). Abd-al-Rahman III of Cordoba. London: Oneworld Publications. ISBN 1-85168-384-4.
- Scales, Peter (1994). Fall of the Caliphate of Cordoba. New York: EJ Brill. ISBN 90-04-09868-2.
- Wolf, Kenneth (1988). Christian Martyrs in Muslim Spain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-34416-6.