Monday, November 02, 2009 11/2/09 - more andalusia - and slaves

In today's excerpt - under Muslim rule, Spain became
the center of wealth in Europe, and Cordoba was
Europe's most glamorous city. Converting to Islam
became fashionable, and one of Christian Europe's
most profitable new businesses was selling slaves to
the Muslims, the highest-quality of which were
eunuchs. The ruling dynasty in that era was the
Umayyads, the ruler himself was known as the
Caliph, and his domain was known as the Caliphate.
That part of Spain under the Caliph's rule was
al-Andalus or Andalusia:

"At the start of the tenth century, it has been estimated,
the population of al-Andalus was only one-fifth
Muslim; by 976, that percentage had been reversed.
The status of Christians in Islamic Spain had
[become] unfashionable. The Church in al-Andalus
had long been thundering against the passion of its
flock for Saracen (Muslim) chic; but increasingly,
whether translating the scriptures into Arabic, or
adopting Muslim names for themselves, or dancing
attendance on the Caliph at his court, even bishops
were succumbing to its allure. ...

"The Caliphate offered, to the ambitious merchant, a
free-trade area like no other in the world. Far
eastwards of al-Andalus it extended, to Persia and
beyond, while in the markets of the great cities of
Islam were to be found wonders from even further
afield: sandalwood from India, paper from China,
camphor from Borneo. What was Christian Spain, with
her flea-bitten little villages, to compare? Why, unlike
their equivalents in Italy, they were not even good for

"The Andalusis were now the importers of slaves; and
a swarm of Christian suppliers,
with little else to offer which might serve to tickle
Andalusi palates, had competed to corner the market
[in slaves] no less eagerly than their Muslim
competitors. ... In Arabic, as in most European
languages, the word 'Slavs' was becoming, by the
tenth century, increasingly synonymous with human

"Nothing, indeed, in the fractured Europe of the time,
was more authentically multicultural than the
business of enslaving Slavs. West Slavs captured in
the wars of the Saxon emperors would be sold by
Frankish merchants to Jewish middlemen, who then,
under the shocked gaze of Christian bishops, would
drive their shackled stock along the high roads of
Provence and Catalonia, and across the frontier into
the Caliphate.

"Few opportunities were neglected in
the struggle to obtain a competitive edge. In the
Frankish town of Verdun, for instance, the Jewish
merchants who had their headquarters there were
renowned for their facility with the gelding knife. A
particular specialization was the supply
of 'carzimasia': eunuchs who had been deprived of
their penises as well as their testicles. Even for the
most practiced surgeon, the medical risks attendant
on performing a penectomy were considerable - and
yet the wastage served only to increase the survivors'
value. Exclusivity, then as now, was the mark of a
luxury brand.

"And luxury, in al-Andalus, could make for truly
fabulous profit. The productivity of the land; the
teeming industry of the cities; the influx of precious
metals from mines in Africa: all had helped to
establish the realm of the Umayyads as Europe's
premier showcase for conspicuous consumption.
Cordoba, the capital of al-Andalus, was a wonder of
the age. Just as Otto,
emperor [of the Holy Roman Empire] though he was,
lacked a residence that could rival so much as the
gatehouse of the palace of the Caliph, so was there
nowhere else in western Europe a settlement that
remotely approached the scale and splendour of
Cordoba. Indeed, in the whole of Christendom, there
was only a single city that could boast of being a more
magnificent seat of empire - and that was
Constantinople, the Queen of Cities herself."

Tom Holland, The Forge of Christendom,
Doubleday, Copyright 2008 by Tom Holland, pp.


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