The Caliphate of Cordoba

moors caliphate 2.jpgThe Caliphate of Cordoba (929-1031) was the greatest kingdom in Islamic Spain. It covered most of the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) save for the independent Christian states of the far north. The Caliphate was originally the Emirate of Cordoba (756-929), which was the same government by a different name. When the rest of Europe was sunk in the Dark Ages, Cordoba was a cultural capital of the world.

  • Capital: Cordoba
  • Official Language: Classical Arabic
  • State Religion: Sunni Islam
  • Government: Theocratic monarchy
  • Dynasty: The Ummayads

The Umayyad Dynasty first conquered Christian Spain in AD 711. Then barely a century old, the Muslim world still belonged to one government, the Caliphate of Damascus. In 750 the Abbasids of Baghdad overthrew the Ummayads. Only a single prince escaped the slaughter by swimming across the Euphrates River. Assisted by a Greek freedman, Abdal Rahman escaped to Egypt and crossed North Africa in secrecy to the furthest corner of the empire.

On arriving in Al-Andalus, as Iberia was known in Arabic, Abdal Rahman mustered an army. By 756 he had defeated the local emir. Lacking a banner, he unravelled a green turban and tied it to his spear. This was the emblem of the Cordoban Ummayads ever since.

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Unfortunately, Abdul Rahman’s dreams of revenge were never realised. He spent his remaining years suppressing rebellions by dissatisfied Arab and Berber vassals, some of whom Charlemagne backed in the northwest.

The Frankish King’s retreat through the Pyrenees is immortalised in the Chanson de Rolande, the oldest piece of French literature. The Frankish rear-guard, commanded by the paladin Roland, were annihilated in an ambush. The epic records the assailants as Moors when they were, in fact, Christian Basques.

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Abdar Rahman III

Abdal Rahman III, the seventh Emir of Cordoba declared a caliphate in 929. This made him one of three: alongside the Abbasids in Baghdad and the Shi’ite Fatimids in Cairo.

The Ummayads were tolerant rulers who intermarried with their Spanish subjects. Abdal Rahman’s mother was a Christian princess and he had blue eyes, though dyed his beard black. His son, the blonde-haired Al-Hakam II, was openly homosexual and kept a male harem. The mother of his children, a Basque concubine, first seduced the caliph by dressing as a male bodyguard!

Wider society was strictly hierarchical. Ethnic Arabs formed the top strata, followed by Berbers and native converts. Sephardi Jews, who formed 10% of the population, were integrated into Muslim society and served as businessmen, officials, scholars and poets. The wider Catholic population were denied full rights, but granted protection and freedom of religion so long as they, like the Jews, paid a special tax. Cordoba itself was roughly split between Muslims and Jews.

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The Ummayads introduced rice, bananas, watermelons, toothpaste and deodorant to Iberia. The ideal of courtly love began with  the Arabic poets of Cordoba, from where it spread to the troubadours of southern France.

Cordoba was built with the opulent splendour of Moorish architecture. The ‘historical centre’ is now a UNESCO world heritage site. The Great Mosque, with its marble columns and red and white striped arches, is a marvel.

Under the Ummayads, Cordoba became the largest, and most advanced city in Europe. The library of Al-Hakam contained up to 400,000 texts. Headed by Al-Hakam’s secretary Lubna, a team of Muslim and Catholic scholars translated Ancient Greek works into Arabic, Latin and Hebrew. Cordoba’s university was the largest of its time, attracting students from not only Al-Andalus and the Maghreb but across Western Europe. Unfortunately the library was destroyed by Al-Hakam’s de facto successor, the pernicious vizier Almanzor.

After Almanzor, the caliphate crumbled into petty kingdoms. The Moorish Almoravid and Almohad dynasties who followed were puritanical and heavily persecuted both Christians and Jews. The Catholic Spaniards of the Reconquista were even worse; the 1492 Alhambra Decree expelled all non-Catholics from Spain. Remaining converts were left to face the Inquisition.

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The Excavation of Troy

hisarlik2It is the spring of 1873 and beneath the warm Turkish sun workmen labour at a mound of earth and stone. Standing guard over the shimmering blue waters of the Dardanelles, the causeway between Europe and Asia, lie the ruins of not one but nine overlapping cities each built, centuries apart, upon the ruins of the former.

The lead excavator, an eccentric German with too much time and money on his hands, has spent the last two years digging through the centuries in search of a fairy-tale city he is convinced lies buried at the bottom. As the sun reaches its apex and the workers scratch the surface of the penultimate layer, a woman’s voice pierces the air. It is the boss’s wife, a striking Greek lady 30 years her husband’s junior. In honour of Mr Schliemann’s birthday, she informs the team that their work for the day is done.

Confused, but glad to finish early on a full day’s salary, the workers return to their tents. Heinrich and Sofia Schliemann remain. He really turned 61 in January: the shrewd businessman simply does not trust his employees with what he is about to uncover. Submerged three thousand years beneath eight layers of ruin lies what he was searching for all along; the treasures of Ancient Troy.

Henrich schliemannUnlike Howard Carter or Arthur Evans, Schliemann was not a trained archaeologist. His father could not afford schooling, so at 14 Schliemann joined an Amsterdam trading firm and started his own at 25. Based out of Saint Petersburg, he worked as an indigo trader, a speculator in the California Gold Rush and a military contractor in the Crimean War. His gift for languages, risky investments and financial knack paid off; Schliemann retired with a fortune at 36.

Heinrich Schliemann was socially awkward, secretive and suspicious of everyone around him, preferring the company of books to people. Since a boyhood dream of a burning Troy he was obsessed with the works of Homer, naming his son Agamemnon, and carrying a copy of the Iliad wherever he traveled. Ignoring the wisdom of the time Schliemann believed the cities of Homer were real places; the story of the Trojan War rooted not in a blind bard’s imagination but historical fact.


A typical East Mediterranean tell

The Mediterranean Coast is dotted with giant mounds or tells that mark the ruins of ancient cities. The Iliad placed Troy on Anatolia’s eastern coast, and Schliemann spent years unearthing various tells in the area to no avail. It was not until he met Frank Calvert, a British Archaeologist on a similar quest, that Schliemann began digging at Hisarlik. Richer by far, the German tycoon seized control of the excavation, side-lined Calvert and took full credit for their discoveries.

sofia schliemann

Sophia Schliemann, wearing the Jewels of Helen

That day in 1873 Schliemann uncovered no less than 8,000 artefacts. Diadems, rings and necklaces of gold and silver, copper cauldrons, goblets, knives and axe heads filled the halls of King Priam.

Most valuable of all were the ‘Jewels of Helen’, an illustrious diadem made of 16,353 gold pieces. Bribing his Turkish supervisor, Schliemann smuggled the treasure to Germany and donated it to the Royal Museum in Berlin. Here it remained until Soviet troops stormed the city in 1945 and spirited the riches away to Moscow.

Taking the broken walls, and charred remains as evidence of Greek invasion, Schliemann proclaimed he had discovered the Troy of Legend.

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 “I have proved that in a remote antiquity there was in the plain of Troy a large city, destroyed of old by a fearful catastrophe, which had on the hill of Hisarlık only its Acropolis with its temples and a few other large edifices, southerly, and westerly direction on the site of the later Ilium; and that, consequently, this city answers perfectly to the Homeric description of the sacred site of Ilios.”

The Nine Layers of Hisarlik

  • Troy IX: 85 BC – 500 AD (Roman,)
  • Troy VIII: 700 – 85 BC (Greek, destroyed by Gaius Fimbria)
  • Troy VII: 1300-1190 (historical Troy, Late Bronze Age, destroyed by Greek invaders)
  • Troy VI: 1800 – 1400 BC (destroyed by earthquake)
  • Troy V: 1800 – 1600 BC (fate unknown)
  • Troy IV: 2100 – 1950 BC
  • Troy III: 2250-2100 BC
  • Troy II: 2600 – 2250 BC (Schliemann’s Troy, Early Bronze Age)
  • Troy I: 3000– 2600 BC)

hisarlik layers

He had discovered Ancient Troy, it turned out, but it was not the layer he presumed. Troy II predated the Greek Bronze Age by a thousand years. The Homeric Troy, was most likely Troy VII one of the less impressive ruins Schliemann had decimated in his quest for something greater. What lost civilization had built the second citadel at Hisarlik, or crafted the so called Treasures of King Priam remains a mystery to this day.


  • Maitland Armstrong Edey, Lost World of the Aegean

2018 Predictions

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These are events that I think will happen this year. I am not Nostradamus, I am not Cassandra, nor do I have a crystal ball. I am not even an expert. These are simple educated guesses and nothing more. Godwilling I will review my predictions in December so long as I don’t fall victim to the impending nuclear apocalypse.

Disclaimer: This list is only speculation. Planned Events certain to occur, like Russia hosting the Fifa World Cup, are not included. Note these are not all positive: just because I think they will happen, does not mean I want them to!

1. The Democrats will win a senate majority in the US Midterm elections

Public confidence in the current administration is low. Donald Trump has the worst average approval rating of any modern president and the Democrats have already won Alabama, the reddest of red states. This does not bode well for the incumbent Republicans, who only hold a slim majority of 51% as is.

2. Bitcoin will surpass 20,000 USD 

Altcoins too will grow in value, with runner up Ethereum reaching 2,000 USD a coin.

3. The USA will suffer its largest ‘mass shooting’ in history

The Pulse Nightclub Shooting took 50 in 2016, the Las Vegas Shooting 59 in 2017. The pattern may continue.

4. New Caledonia will vote no to Independence

The 1998 Noumea Accord stipulates that New Caledonia’s second independence referendum is to be held by November 2018 at the latest.

New Caledonia outstrips other, independent, Pacific islands economically because of French support. New Caledonians, Caldoches and Kanaks alike, simply have too much to lose.

5. Putin will win Russia’s March 2018 Election

This one is obvious. Other autocrats like Egypt’s Abdul Al Sisi, Thailand’s Prayut Chan-o-Cha and Cambodia’s Hun Sen will also be reelected.

6. Social Democrats will win the Brazilian Election

Less certain. Former president Lula de Silva of the Worker’s Party currently tops the polls but faces a pending criminal conviction over the Petrobas Corruption Scandal. Unless overturned, Lula will be ineligible to run for president. This leaves the runner up Social Democrat Party in a promising position, providing they select the right candidate.

7. Artificial Meat will be available in supermarkets.

The first cultured meat burger was tested in 2013. Memphis Meats may not plan public release til 2021, but they have only raised $3 million towards research so far. Competitor Hampdon Creek has already raised over 120.

8. Bashar Al-Asad will win the Syrian Civil War.

This may seem unlikely, but with ISIS out of the picture it’s only a matter of time before the regime emerges triumphant.

9. The Islamic State will launch an insurrection in Southeast Asia

As their caliphate crumbles in the Middle East, the Islamic State looks to new frontiers – specifically East and West Africa, Central and South East Asia.

IS is already spreading its seeds in the later: Malaysian, Indonesian and Filipino fighters are returning home to radicalise their friends while existing insurgent groups unite under the Black Standard.

The ongoing plight of the Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar will prove effective propaganda and the dispossessed will rally to their cause. Marawi’s 2017 violence was only the beginning.

10. Bangladesh will declare war on Burma

Since a standoff with its neighbour in 2007, Bangladesh has purchased Chinese tanks, Russian missiles and helicopters in preparation for a possible war. They are expecting 100 Turkish armoured vehicles this year.

With tensions heated by border violence and thousands of refugees fleeing ethnic cleansing, Bangladesh warned in September that further provocations will trigger ‘unwarranted consequences.”

The last Southeast Asian genocide was only prevented when the Vietnamese invaded. Perhaps Bangladesh will do the same.



Falangism is a Catholic brand of fascism once popular in Spain and Lebanon. It emphasises conservative Catholic values, class collaboration, national syndicalism, anticommunism, and authoritarian nationalism. Falange is Spanish for Phalanx, a military formation of tightly packed spearmen favoured by the Spartans and Alexander the Great.

In a Phalanx, each shield overlapped and every row would raise their weapon at a slightly higher degree, creating a near-impenetrable wall of spears. Phalanxes required discipline and trust: each man was only as strong as the man next to him. Falangists seek to emulate that disciplined effectiveness state-wide.

The Falangist economic system is national syndicalism; the revolutionary syndicalism of the labour movement with an authoritarian twist. The idea is that all national industries are organised into syndicates represented at the government level, to work for the national economic good rather than private profit. Tariffs are high, industries are regulated and the government intervenes to prevent recessions. National Syndicalism was envisioned as an alternative to both capitalism and communism, helping weather the Great Depression in Italy, Portugal and Spain.

jose primo de rivera

Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, an idealistic aristocrat and son of the former dictator founded the Falanges Espanola in 1933. Modelling his thought on Italian fascism he advocated syndicalism and land reform but opposed both communism and liberal democracy. Violence and revolutionary reform would regenerate Spain and transform it into an imperial power once more.

When the new republican government executed de Rivera weeks before the Civil War, the Falanges aligned with the Nationalist rebels. Francisco Franco incorporated Falangism into his ‘National Movement’ as an ideological framework but curbed its revolutionary edge to reconcile it with his conservative support base. Falangism’s anti-capitalism was abandoned and, particularly after Franco aligned with the US after WW2, its anti-communism emphasised. Instead of being run by the workers as first intended, the Spanish syndicates were organised from the top down. Franco’s one-party dictatorship lasted from 1937-1975.

pierre gemayel.jpgFalangism was not an exclusively Spanish phenomenon, however. Pierre Gemayel (pictured), a young Lebanese Catholic, attended the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and was awed by the Nazis’ disciplined spectacle. He subsequently modelled the Kataeb party, or Phalanges, on the fascist parties of Europe, complete with brown-shirted paramilitary and Roman salutes.

In 1958, 18 years after independence, the Phalangists emerged as the leading party of Lebanese Christians. While in power, they developed the country’s infrastructure and tourism, introduced public education and bitterly opposed the  Pan-Arab zeitgeist.

In the Lebanese Civil War of 1975 to 1990, the Phalangists allied with Israel against Hezbollah and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. In 1984 Phalangist militias under Gemayel’s son Bachir, massacred 2,000 Palestinian civilians in Beirut’s Sabra-Shatila refugee camps.

phalangist millitamen

Phalangist Militiamen in the Lebanese Civil War

Losing its primacy after the war, the Kataeb Party resurfaced in the 2005 Cedar Revolution. Though still to the right, the Phalangists have shed their fascist roots, focusing instead on Christian Democracy, Lebanese identity and opposition to Syria and Hezbollah.

Falangist movements sprouted across Latin America in the 30s and 40s too, though without lasting impact.

The Argentinian Tacuara Nationalist Movement, a gang of Falangist guerillas, perpetrated over 30 anti-Semitic hate crimes in the early 60s. In ’63, the Tacuaras robbed a bank of 14 million pesos (753,000 USD in 2017) but were dispersed in the resulting crackdown.

The far-right Bolivian Socialist Falange, meanwhile was the country’s second-largest party from 1954-74. Though weaker, it still stands today.

Primo di Rivera disliked the term fascism, though Franco embraced it wholeheartedly until 1945. Contrary to the Argentine Tacuaras, antisemitism was notably absent in Spanish Falangist thought. The Lebanese Phalanges even included Jews in their ranks. Regardless, Falangism is the only fascist political system to outlive the Second World War.

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My 2018 Blogging Goals


On the 2nd day of 2018 I sit at my desk wishing I began this blog at the start of last year, or perhaps waited to the start of this one, so on January 1st I could look back over a year of content, and easily count how long I’ve been blogging in the future. But it’s not the case; I’ve been going only five months.

Nevertheless, the New Year is a time for reflection in all aspects of life, so today I set straight my blogging goals for 2018.

  1. Posting once a week: From now on, I will publish new post every Monday. If I wish to follow up with a smaller one, such as a song review, I will do it on the Thursday.
  2. Diversifying: Aside from the usual history and current events I intend to write about culture this year too and perhaps the odd personal anecdote. This is my first blog after all and by not sticking to one, specific topic, I hope to find my voice, what I enjoy writing most and what my audience likes to read.
  3. Style Guide: One will be made at some point this year.
  4. Nanowrimo: I started National Novel Writing Month in 2016, but followed the example of my two friends and dropped out only 18,000 words in. This November, I’ll see the 50,000 through.
  5. Diligence: For reasons mentioned below, my New Year’s resolution is to stick this blog out to  the end of year at least, whether anyone reads it or not.

I have written both fact and fiction in my free time, on or off, since I was nine. Completing a finished product was always my demon. Now I think of it, that was one of the best aspects of school: accountability to teachers and deadlines. I actually finished things, whether I enjoyed the process or not!

Since then I have started a hundred projects and finished none, save for a shabby first draft I wrote as a teenager. No more.

These are my blog goals for this year! Are you a blogger? Do you have any questions or advice to offer? Let me know in the comments below!