Muslims under the rule of Military Orders in the Medieval Iberian Peninsula

Clara Almagro Vidal, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main

Within the medieval Iberian Peninsula, military orders prospered in a context in which the fight against Islam held great weight. They played an important role in the territorial advance of Christian kingdoms at the expense of Andalusian territories and were also instrumental in the consolidation of frontier areas. In spite of it, or maybe because of it, they encountered Muslims often, both in the battlefields and outside of them. Muslims served in their convents, castles and houses, and resided on their lands as settlers in different fashions.

Military orders were present in different kingdoms at the same time. As such, they offer an excellent case study to approach Muslim presence under Christian rule while sidestepping the traditional focus on individual kingdoms. This has the potential to bring a new perspective to the interpretation of the factors and mechanisms at play in the relations between Muslims and their Christian lords in different areas and moments in time, showing the equilibriums and internal tensions that marked the different contexts and configurations surrounding their presence.

With the financial support from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), the goal of my research project is to to analyse the ways in which military orders ruled over the Muslims that lived and worked under their rule in the Christian kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries. The analysis focuses on two facets of Muslim presence: Muslim servants and Muslim inhabitants on their lands. In both cases, the objective is to identify both the characteristics of their status and of the roles they played, as well as to analyse the actions taken by military orders as their lords towards them. In order to do so, special attention is dedicated to records that relate to the economic administration of the possessions of the orders, as well as internal regulations, privileges, and judicial records.

The project is still ongoing. However, some very interesting findings are shaping a fascinating picture: servants of the orders included not only slaves, but also free Muslim men who occupied positions of trust within the orders fulfilling al manners of roles. 

The presence of Muslim settlers was encouraged in a number of ways, including establishing agreements with already existing Muslim communities or providing partial tax exemptions, among other strategies. The knights also offered protection to the Muslims living under their rule, which probably played a role in the fact that the relations between Muslim and Christian neighbours was often peaceful. However, these actions by the military orders were in a big part influenced by circumstances outside of the orders themselves. They showed themselves to be adaptable in this respect and, as a result, local factors greatly influenced the manifestations of overarching developments. In turn, the presence of Muslims inhabitants brought certain advantages to military orders, such as the availability of workforce on the land, especially at times when it was difficult to attract Christian settlers; and in the form taxable subjects, Muslims  could be subjected to higher fiscal pressure than their Christian counterparts, among other benefits.

Some early results of my research have already been published and a monograph is in the works.

Photo: Cantiga 181 of the Cantigas de Santa Maria of Alfons X, in: Codex Rico, Ms TI1, f. 240r, Biblioteca de El Escorial https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/; http://warfare.gq/Cantiga/Cantigas_de_Santa_Maria-181.htm.