Archive for August, 2017

Joseph’s journal: 29

14 Marchevan 4808 (October, 1059)


The winter of 4788-89 (1039-40), my father had to deal with more than the usual number of disputes between tribal chiefs and the other viziers. One of the King’s viziers was involved in a plot to bring back Prince Boluggin. Father had to defuse that situation. All of the intrigue, and palace politics brought additional stress. The result was that Father was uncommonly curt with my mother. One day I witnessed him barking at her for no real reason.

That same evening I was called to his study. I listened while he vented his frustration about another stressful situation at the palace. I must have been visibly upset so he stopped. He assured me that just talking aloud about a problem helped him decide a course of action. He told me he appreciated what a good listener I was.

“Thank you, Papa, but why are you being unkind to my mother?”

“Am I? I’m sorry, Joseph. I promise I will make amends to her. This has been a particularly difficult few weeks for me.”

Then he changed the subject. He explained that he was obligated to mingle and interact with all of the chiefs of the tribes of the Zanhadja, as well as Badis’ several sons from different mothers. There were also a large number of nephews, and a host of other Berber dignitaries. Although it was onerous to him, he told me, he was forced to join with them when they drank to excess, gorged on rich foods, and comported with the young girls and boys who served at their parties.

“The leaders of the Zanhadja are Berbers, with a warrior background, and they are amazingly unsophisticated. They are Moslem only for convenience. They are, for the most part, not interested in literature, or science, or any intellectual pursuit. Because they are uneducated they are uncomfortable around intellectuals, writers, and poets. Because they feel, but would never admit to, being envious of learning, they are especially hostile to Arabs of learning.”

My father had to be able to demonstrate to these men that although he was well educated and could hold his own in any kind of intellectual debate, he was nothing more than their servant.

I now find myself in the same situation. When they invite me to their functions, I cannot refuse. I must participate in their favorite pastimes with enthusiasm. Since I hold a high position, with great authority, I cannot do, or neglect to do, anything that might cause Badis to think less of me, or for his nobles to get the impression that I feel myself superior to them in any way. This requires that I constantly act against my nature, even more so against my religious principles. I am particularly resentful of having to deceive my wife Sarah, although I suspect she knows what transpires at the Berber orgies. The situation was just as dangerous and stressful for my father as it is now for me.

That evening Father went on to give a specific example. He told me that the night previous a well-known and learned Arab writer attended a party by Badis’ invitation. Badis is still clever enough to know that men of this ilk want to convince him that they have exceptional talents and learning, and they are willing to provide their exceptional skills for the good of the kingdom, if offered employment.

“You must remember to never underestimate Badis’ brain. He is uneducated but extremely intelligent and intuitive. He is also quite clever, especially when he feels threatened in any way. He expects me to provide entertainment for his friends by demonstrating the limitations of these interlopers’ learning and abilities. The one last night, as have all such men previous and future, displayed his extensive knowledge of Arabic literature by replying to the unsmiling questions of Badis, and the other nobles at the gathering, using quotations from the Qur’an, and/or famous Arabic poetry. Of course the Berber courtiers understood practically nothing of what the man was expounding, but were eagerly waiting for Badis to introduce my father as his Jew chief advisor. This particular scholar, as have all others, immediately turned the conversation to religion, wanting to initiate a debate. Badis and his minions leaned back in their cushions to enjoy the show. They expected my father to not only respond but to soundly defeat the man. Father confessed he was able to do so on this occasion, but he knew eventually he would meet his match. When that happened he expected Badis and the others would turn against him. I share those same concerns, but also lack the level of debating skills my father achieved.

I asked him why he continued? Why he subjected himself to such situations?

“I must, Joseph. When you are older, I hope you will understand, and agree, that by occupying this position of great responsibility and power I, and I hope and pray that you, do what we do to protect our people. Nobody in all of Granada dares to raise a hand against any Jew for fear of my retribution.”

“I’m so very sorry you have all these worries, Papa. Maybe if you think back to a happier time you will find relief.”

“What happier time are you thinking of, Joseph?”

I reminded him of the party he hosted in our home the night of the Mahradjan, the longest day of the year.

“Your guests started to arrive as the sun turned the sky the color pomegranate and orange. After walking up the hill to our house, they paused at our gate, then crossed the road to stand at the low stonewall, tarrying to enjoy the view of the Sierra. That evening the Vega was painted with the greens, blues, and purples of the vineyards. The verdant ordered rows of the growing crops contrasted with the black-green of the olive groves extending up the foothills. The peaks of the Sierra formed a backdrop capped by the ever-present snow. I watched as some of the guests looked to their left at the steep hill topped by the Alcazaba and its tower with the top of the king’s palace just visible above where the walls come to a point at the tip of the long mesa. They could see the king’s terraced and manicured gardens interspersed with the forest of trees and shrubs covering the steep slope up to the Alcazaba.”

“I watched them from our roof top terrace hidden from their view. Although I knew that all of them received a personal note from you inviting them to the party they seemed apprehensive. They were reluctant, perhaps shy, to knock at the gate to be admitted. Then you called to me to run fast, to let the guests into the courtyard, and lead them to the salon, your large meeting room.”

“I remember that the tile floor of the salon was completely covered with thick red Armenian carpets. You waited until all were in the house, before you came out of your study. I thought you were the most imposing figure in your elegant cloak, standing half a head taller than the next tallest man in the room. You greeted each man by name and embraced him. Most of the men clasped your right hand in both of their hands and bowed. After greeting everyone you faced east and cleared your throat. Everyone turned to face the east and recited the evening prayer.”

That night I counted nineteen guests, including some young men from my father’s Talmudic Yeshiva. I also noticed two of the Rabbis from the Yeshiva, and several elders of the community, whose hair was graying, as was my father’s. His guests sat on cushions, at low tables covered with soft leather squares draping over all four sides. Father spoke briefly to three of the younger guests, and they went to one of the three tall serving tables, picked up jugs and poured wine into glasses. They then passed around the room serving all the guests. As the wine was distributed, our servants arrived with large bowels of fresh and dried fruits, and sweet cakes stuffed with almond and pistachio nuts, and with slivers of cinnamon and sugar running through them. I am still very fond of those particular sweet cakes. There were also other pastries stuffed with fruit.

All the guests conversed quietly, in small groups. Occasionally one person would leave one group and migrate to another. One of the students from the Yeshiva, stood and recited one of Father’s Hebrew poems, much to everyone’s delight. Shortly after that a servant escorted a man, almost as tall as my father, to the salon. Father stood and embraced him then bade him sit at his table. He offered him food and fruit juice, not wine. Father did not introduce the man by name, but explained to everyone that he was from Cordoba, and a friend of long standing. The man then stood and recited a long poem in Arabic. Everyone voiced their appreciation, and admiration. I also thought the poem wonderful. Then the stranger gathered his large cloak around himself, and said goodbye to all in the room. As he went out he patted me on the head. After he was gone father told everyone that the stranger was the famous Arabic poet Abu Ahmad al’aziz ibn Khira al-Munfatil.

Shortly after the poet left a group of musicians all wearing identical scarlet and yellow tunics arrived. They made themselves comfortable, after rearranging some cushions, then started playing first slowly and quietly, then progressing into more animated melodies. One of them sang poems set to music. I remember that one of the musicians used, what he told me afterwards was the feather from an eagle, to coax music from a strangely shaped harp of only five strings. Other musicians strummed guitars and sang, others played flutes of various sizes and tones. After the musicians departed some of the guests went to stroll in the courtyard.  A few continued their quiet conversation inside. Most just walked around the fountain inspecting the plants, while a few sat on the stone benches, taking in the calm night air and tranquility. Father joined those in the courtyard. When one of the men noticed Father’s eyes in long blinks, and his head nodding, the man circled around, murmuring to each group. One at a time the men came to take Father’s hand again, and thank him for the evening.

The next morning, at breakfast, Father told me that most of the men were Jewish government officials. He had personally appointed those in the highest positions. Others were given their positions because of his recommendation. Some were appointed by the directors of various agencies who wanted to gain Father’s goodwill by giving positions to his Jewish friends.

During those years, many Jews came to Granada because of my father. They came to take advantage of the opportunities, safety, and lack of persecution. Other Berber rulers were aware of the loyal service my father provided for King Badis, and they gave positions to Jews, especially as managers of their finances and estates. Many Jews, because of the security my father provided, and his influence throughout Andalusia, became wealthy, acquiring land and estates. Jewish families immigrated to Granada from Arab ruled Andalusian states, as well as from other places in North Africa and the Mediterranean, including the Middle East.

The Jews in Andalusia and beyond, once my father’s accomplishments were known, referred to him only by his title Ha Nagid. In addition to being chief vizier to King Badis he was also the chief rabbi of the Jewish community of Granada, a position he had the utmost respect for. He didn’t tolerate quarrels or disputes within the Jewish community. He knew those disputes would undermine his position, and the goodwill the Berbers had for the Jews. Every important lawsuit in the Jewish community was brought to him. Many legal questions were directed, by correspondence, to him from communities beyond Granada. He always responded to these questions. I was often tasked to make copies of his responses.

He found time to teach, not only his chosen scholars who came to our house. He also taught Torah at the Talmudic Academy of Granada. He supported needy scholars with regular stipends, gave generously to the Yeshiva, and paid his students and other scribes to make copies of the Torah and Talmud. He gave those copied volumes to poor students and scholars, and distributed them to Yeshivas in Morocco, Tunisia, and the Middle East.

He maintained correspondence with Talmudic scholars throughout Andalusia, North Africa, and the Middle East, and considered them his equals in learning and accomplishment. These scholars shared their various interpretations of sacred law, the books they wrote, and other writings, as well as news of what they were currently studying, and preparing to write about in the future.

When he was out on military campaigns, Father maintained his correspondence, as well as writing scholarly opinions and poems. When he returned he ordered copies made of everything he had written. He distributed the copies, using convenient traders on their way to the destinations where he wanted to share his insight and poetry. He also used messengers to send his writings to favored scholars throughout the diaspora.

He communicated regularly with the gaon, or leader of the Talmudic academy in Tunisia, Rabbi Hai, whom he held in high esteem and respect. He also corresponded with Rabbi Hezekiah the recognized Head Rabbi, called the Exilarch, of all Jews. Rabbi Hezekiah was also the head of the Yeshiva of Pumbedita, the Babylonian community responsible for the Babylonian Talmud. Just before my Bar Mitzvah, my father was awarded the title of Head Rabbi of Andalusia. This gave him considerable influence over all the Jewish communities.

I also want to record here some thoughts about the influence my father had on the economy of Andalusia. Concurrent with the increasing importance and stability of the various Jewish communities in Andalusia, was significant growth of the economy. Sugar, cotton, and grain were cash crops grown on irrigated Vegas and exported. Olive oil and wine produced wealth. Gold, silver, copper iron and marble were extracted from the hills and mountains especially in the provinces of Elvira, just northwest of Granada.

The mined gold and silver were used by goldsmiths and silversmiths. Iron and copper provided raw materials for tools, weapons, and other trade goods. Jews participated in these industries as both artisans and merchants. They marketed all the products of Andalusia. Some were especially successful as traders, even into the surrounding Christian kingdoms. Wherever they traded they were respected for their honesty and integrity. Ha Nagid did all that he could to foster this positive reputation of the Jews. He encouraged them to honor all deals made, no matter the consequences or cost, and to make real the perception of integrity he considered to be the true strength of his people. The disdain, displeasure, and disappointment he displayed for those who did not adhere to these high principles was enough to make compliance certain.

By some estimates, the Jews of Granada accounted for at least forty percent of the total population. Besides artisans, merchants, royal officials, and tax collectors, Jews were also physicians who took care of all citizens, scholars and teachers, and scientists who discovered and disseminated their new knowledge. All the people of Andalusia benefited directly or indirectly from my father’s activities.

Oh yes, while I’m describing my father’s world, I should mention another aspect of his achievements. I may have mentioned previously in these journals that he was a student of the renowned Rabbi Hanokh when he was a youth in Cordoba. Father wrote extensively on the subject of halakha or Jewish law. He spent many hours studying, and thinking about, the ideas and arguments presented in both the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds. As a youth, after his exodus from Cordoba, he wrote commentary, in Arabic, regarding some rarely discussed and relatively unstudied chapters in the Gemara. The work was designed to counter the ideas of the Babylonian academies while enhancing the reputation of Andalusian scholars especially the work of Rabbi Hanokh.

While out fighting yet another war, he began an extensive Talmudic review, in Hebrew, using the style of the Talmudists. He entitled this work Hilkh ‘ta g’bharadta.  His purpose was to write a more complete, more precise, and better-organized argument than any existing works of that nature. He organized the work by citing a specific law as discussed in the Babylonian Gemara and juxtapose the Jerusalem Talmud interpretation of that law. He then cited the writings of the various leaders of the scattered yeshivas and scholarly academies throughout the Diaspora. Finally, he added his own interpretation and thoughts. I am still in awe of all my father accomplished during his long life.

Read Full Post »

Joseph’s journal;

10 Marchehvan, 4808 (1059)


While the cavalry was mopping up, and our other soldiers were occupied stripping the dead and wounded of their weapons and valuables, Ishak fled to Carmona, with what was left of his army. Ecija was once again a part of Granada. All the rich farmlands and fields of the province were annexed as well. As a reward for his efforts a grateful King Badis gave Father title to two large estates in the conquered territory.

My father now owned seven properties consisting of fruit and olive orchards, vineyards, and irrigated farmland, most of them in the rich river valleys called Vegas in Ladino. Shortly after Father’s return from the re-conquest of Ecija, he called me into his study.

“Pay close attention, Joseph because one day, perhaps soon if I continue to fight battles, I could be seriously wounded or even killed. If that happens, you will be responsible for the family’s estates.”

He told me three men were waiting in our courtyard. Two of the men were stewards of the two new estates in the province of Ecija. The previous owners of these estates had retreated to Seville. The stewards were ordered to bring all of the records for the past five years of the estates they managed. My father told me he wanted me to help him inspect the expenses and income of these new properties, along with the records of harvest, the size, and the loyalty of the labor force. I was to learn all aspects of the operations.

One of the properties consisted of fertile bottomlands on either size of the Genil River, ten kilometers north of Ecija. There were over four hundred hectares of tilled land irrigated by canals that diverted water from the Genil. The land produced a good quality of sugar, as well as wheat and sunflower seeds, amongst several other crops. The other property was located in hill country that was, in ancient days covered with wild olive trees. It was planted with three different varieties of domesticated olives and four different varieties of wine grapes.

The third man who would join us was, I learned, a very experienced agriculturalist by the name of David ben Abraham, a Jewish citizen of Ecija. My father explained that after we inspected the production and financial records of the properties, and took the measure of the two stewards, we would decide, with ben Abraham’s input, if the two would continue to manage the day-to-day operations. If not, we would first look to the workers on the farms for replacements. If any of the laborers were Jewish, and were reasonably educated, they would have preference. Father told me ben Abraham would know other Jewish farm workers, and went on to outline his plan to compensate the stewards.

“As our overall manager for these properties, ben Abraham will receive an annual stipend plus ten percent of all net profits. The on-site stewards will receive a house, food for their families, a modest annual stipend, and five percent of all profits. All workers will share in the profits as well, one or two percent depending on the profitability of the holding on which they labor. Do you understand the difference between gross and net profit Joseph?”

I was only eight years old.

“Not really, Papa. Isn’t profit how much is left after all expenses are paid? I didn’t know there were different kinds.”

“You understand that if we press our own olives the value of the oil is more than if we sell the olives to someone else to press them for the oil. However, if we don’t have a press the cost of constructing one might be more than what we receive for the oil. Plus, we have to hire someone who knows how to operate the press. The same is true for grapes. We can sell the grapes to a vintner to make wine, but if we want to make our own wine we will bring in more money. However, making good wine is a skill and an art. We would need people who are very good at this to make good, valuable wine.”

“This is all complicated, Papa.”

“Yes, it is. You and I cannot afford the time to learn all that is necessary to operate any of our agricultural properties profitably. What do you know about when and how to irrigate a bean field, for example? We could learn how to do it, and when, but it would take too much time away from more important things.”

“Yes, I understand and I don’t know anything about irrigating fields.”

“Exactly, so our strategy is to hire people with the necessary skills, and knowledge, and remunerate them, with an additional incentive for them to control expenses and maximize profit. I also have a policy of rewarding effective and honest stewards by deeding a portion of the property to them after seven years of service. You know that our Lord commands that we allow our fields to go fallow, that is not to plant anything on them, every seven years?”

“Yes, Papa, I remember that.”

“On all our properties I insist we rotate crops so only a portion of the fields are allowed to go fallow each year, on a seven-year cycle. So we obey that law without losing a harvest every seven years. When they are partial owners of the property, the stewards are even more motivated to make a profit. But any kind of agriculture is a risky venture. Drought, too much rain at the wrong time, hail, fires started by lightning, disease of the crops or animals, many things that are only controllable by God can mean one or several years in a row of loss. Luck and our Lord, as well as good workers and managers, determine the success of our agricultural endeavors.”

“I have been fortunate in finding good stewards for the other five farms we own. All of those stewards are Jews whose families have been involved in agriculture in Andalusia for generations. Because they are honest Jews, I can trust them and they know they can trust me. So, Joseph, are you ready to help me make a decision about the men who are waiting for us?”

“Yes, Papa.”

“I don’t want you to say anything while they are with us. I want you to watch and listen carefully. Alright son, please go to the courtyard and escort the men here.”

I watched and listened carefully as my father greeted each of the three men when they came into his study. My father embraced David ben Abraham and they spoke in Hebrew, exchanging greetings and news of each other’s family. Then my father turned to the other two men. He extended his right hand to each of them as a mark of respect and courtesy, not something commonly done for employees. Then he asked if they spoke Hebrew. Both shook their heads no. He switched to Arabic, and apologized for being discourteous by excluding them from the conversation with David ben Abraham. Ben Abraham smiled and nodded his head, immediately understanding what my father was doing and why he was doing it. Next, my father asked each man about wife, sons and daughters, and the rest of their family’s wellbeing. He showed genuine interest and delight when he learned that the steward of the Vega property had his father and mother, and paternal grandfather, all living under his roof, and that all were in good health. The steward managing the olive groves and vineyards was much younger. He had a young wife and a baby son.

Next father questioned each of the men about their level of education asking questions designed to evaluate their understanding of literature, mathematics, as well as specific agricultural practices of the properties they managed. After that he asked specifically about the books they had most recently read. The younger man mentioned a book dealing with management of olive groves and another book of Arabic poetry. In answer to my father’s question he said he especially liked the poetry of Abu Ahmad Abd al’aziz ibn Khira al-Munfatil. My father raised his eyebrows in surprise then asked if the man could recite the opening lines of a favorite poem, and the steward did so. My father smiled, nodded then recited the next two lines of the poem.

Finally, Father began a detailed examination of the records from each of the properties. He added columns of figures in his head, and nodded when the entries matched, then corrected the few that did not. After completing the inspection of all the records, a task that occupied over three hours, he mentioned that he found the records of the Vega property incomplete.

He made several suggestions, wrote the suggestions down, and explained the additions and changes in record keeping that he wanted. He handed the list to ben Abraham after showing the list to me. It mostly addressed organizing the bookkeeping differently, keeping a closer and more detailed accounting of expenses, and making certain that the sums balanced.

He mitigated the bite of his criticism of the Vega records by acknowledging to the three that he understood that the record keeping for the Vega property was significantly more complex since many different crops were raised, and the crops were harvested at different times. He also told them he understands that prices for crops will vary widely depending upon the current availability, and many other factors.

The meeting lasted into the late afternoon. The only break came when my mother brought food into the study at noon. Following my father’s example, we continued working while we ate. I continued my task of silent observation and learning, but managed to partake of the cold lamb roast and three kinds of cheese, two hard one soft. There was also fresh baked bread with a hard brown outside crust that showered crumbs when bit into. The bread was a softly textured pure white inside.  We washed everything down with freshly squeezed orange juice.

After the men left, Father explained to me that his close inspection of the records was to look for inconsistencies, or unexplained expenses, that would indicate the previous owner was being taken advantage of. He said he hadn’t found anything of that nature.

“Well, Joseph what do you think, should I keep these men on?”

“David ben Abraham is very nice, and I think he is very knowledgeable and intelligent, Papa. The man in charge of the Vega farm seemed confused about what you expect of him but ben Abraham will, I’m certain, be able to explain everything in terms he can understand, and will monitor what he does closely. I saw ben Abraham nodding his agreement when the man spoke about the actual farming. I think the olives and grapes are being well cared for, and that man seemed to understand what you expect of him. Both seemed very surprised, and pleased to learn, that if they were retained they would share in any profits. I don’t believe the previous owner did anything like that.”

“So, should we keep both of them in place and monitor the results?”

“I wouldn’t want to cause financial or other problems for their families. What will you do, Papa?”

“I am very pleased to hear you are thinking of the welfare of the families of these men Joseph. I am proud that you think in terms of the impact of our actions on, not only the men but also their families. If you agree we will give them each a year to demonstrate their worth, but under David ben Abraham’s close supervision.”

That fall and winter my father frequently brought me into his study, often repeating his strict instructions to only watch and listen. I was to be like a fly on the wall he told me. He was relying on me, he said, to especially watch for the reactions, and facial expressions of everyone in the room when someone else was speaking. This was especially important when he had more than one visitor.

“I want you to learn to interpret their reactions to what is said by their expression, and body language. You should be able to guess if they agree or disagree with what is being said by changes in their face, especially the eyes and mouth. Some will fidget or shift body position when uncomfortable. When you notice such changes we will talk about what you think the changes meant after they leave. This is a most important skill, Joseph. It is essential that you be able to detect when you think someone is lying, or holding back some of the truth, or being evasive. When I think someone has done this, and you don’t catch it, we will speak of it, and I will describe what made me think so.”

I sat on cushions against the wall on the right hand side of father’s desk when he had meetings with ambassadors and emissaries from other governments. He always arranged the visitor’s so I could observe their faces. He also did this when he was giving instructions to his ambassadors and emissaries who were being sent to other kingdoms. He always wanted them to achieve specific goals, and provided suggestions on how to accomplish his aims. When he met with his spies, or men who were plotting some action in another government, I was excluded from the meetings, but he often shared the substance of the meeting or report afterward. He always maintained strict control of the financial matters of the kingdom. Along with being General in Chief of the Armies, he was also the Vizier for Finance, as well as the Chief Vizier for the King. He told me the office of the Vizier for Finance was the most important of all.

He insisted on meticulous financial record keeping and, as he explained to me many times.

“Everything we do as a government depends upon having the financial resources available to do it. At the same time, we must keep King Badis happy by providing him with the means to do whatever he wants to do. We must always be mindful of the historic tensions between the tribes of our Berber masters. Even the lowest Berber tribesman will feel himself superior to us. Other dignitaries of the court, and even the common citizens of Arab decent, all believe in their superiority.”

“We must also be ever mindful of disputes that could impact our position. As soon as I hear of any situation that could result in confrontation, and I usually hear of such things early, I bring all those involved together, and listen attentively, and with understanding, to all sides of the dispute. By giving people the opportunity to air their grievances, and listening carefully without comment or judgment, I am usually able to suggest a compromise that all can live with.”

Read Full Post »

Joseph’s Journal: 27

8 Marchehvan, 4808 (October, 1059)


Granada was not free of the machinations of Prince Yaddair. After his escape, he made his way to Carmona seeking aid for yet another attempt to claim the crown of Granada. The king of Carmona, that same Muhammad ben Abdallah we had saved, listened to him. It was a propitious time for Yaddair. Carmona was feeling pressure from both Seville, its near neighbor to the west, and from our expanding Granada to the southeast. Ben Abdallah was well aware of the dual threat. He had information indicating individuals in both Seville and Granada were proposing plans to annex portions, or all of his kingdom. Yaddair promised ben Abdallah that when he was made King of Granada, he would never consider taking any of Carmona’s territory. He promised ben Abdallah would be his permanent ally. To sweeten the deal, he promised to cede two adjacent provinces of Granada to Carmona.

Ben Abdallah agreed to this pact and in the month of Nissan, 4803 (spring of 1043) Yaddair initiated isolated raids into Granada’s nearby provinces. This was done as a test to gauge the reaction of King Badis. Badis was incensed. He immediately ordered my father to mobilize the army. He sent his General-in-Chief, in command of a large force, to find Yaddair, defeat his forces, and punish Carmona for ben Abdallah’s complicity. He considered ben Abdallah’s actions treacherous and traitorous. This was completely unacceptable behavior from someone he had considered an ally, and fought battles to save from Seville.

Before my father was put in official command of Granada’s armies, the annual summer wars of the various Berber, Arab, and Slav rulers were not much more than forays into enemy territories for looting and exacting tribute. The main purpose of these “wars” was to achieve honor and respect for their martial prowess, to satisfy their inclination for thievery, and less than incidentally, to pay their soldiers and mercenaries. All of the individual soldiers and officers in these armies had a vested interest to do everything possible to avoid being killed or wounded while collecting as many portable valuables as possible. Pitched battles requiring strategy and tactics were not something their commanders spent time, or intellectual energy on. Confrontations in force were avoided. The swift horses of the Berbers and Arabs enabled them to strike quickly, while fighting for honor and reward. This mode of conflict especially appealed to both the Berber and Arab cultures, it was their nature.

My father instituted strategies and tactics proven successful by the Romans and Greeks, before the birth of Christ, to force his enemies to engage. His purpose was to defeat the whole army aligned against him. This strategy enabled him to force the capitulation of towns, cities, and lands, thus increasing the holdings and influence of Granada. Fortified towns surrendered to avoid the horrors of a long siege, starvation, or death from projectiles hurled over the walls. The fortifications were always built on the highest ground available. This meant limited access to water, so thirst was also a fear. Large jugs of Greek fire hurled over the walls started fires and forced the defenders to use scarce water supplies to fight the fires.

Father initiated the war against Carmona by attacking outlying towns and small cities. He successfully captured them by the use of overwhelming numbers. While on the move, his army foraged for food, animals, and valuables. He forced the people they encountered to swear loyalty to Granada, and pay taxes to King Badis. If they refused payment, they were driven from their farms and holdings, and all their valuables seized. When a fortified city or town made a decision to resist, my father brought up his engineers with their siege machines and attacked the fortifications at their weakest point. After the fortress was taken, he allowed his regular troops to join his mercenaries raping, murdering, and pillaging. This was done as an example to other fortified populations that might consider resistance. He justified these extreme measures explaining that other cities would be less liable to resist. If the people did not resist, and swore loyalty to Granada and King Badis, they were spared the savagery of his soldiers. Although some tribute was always required, so he could pay his troops. I have never been able to reconcile this level of brutality with the teachings of the Torah.

So much booty was accumulated during the initial stages of this campaign, that my father was forced to appropriate every mule, horse, and wagon to transport it. He assigned space on pack mules or in the wagons to specific groups of soldiers from each unit. Thus, enabling them to transport their confiscated treasure. The number of animals and wagons in his baggage train was soon larger, and longer, than his army. When they were on the march the baggage train sometimes took many hours to catch up, after the march was halted each evening. By mid-summer Yaddair’s last fortress of retreat was attacked and quickly subdued. This time Yaddair did not escape. King Badis’ order was to rid Granada of the menace once and for all. Yaddair’s head was separated from his body with one swift swing of Father’s sword.

After he returned home and we were once again in his study, Father confessed to me.

“Despite our Lord’s injunction against killing I found the execution of that man, who caused so much trouble for my king and myself quite satisfying. It was not nearly as troubling to my soul as I anticipated it would be. The slaughter of some innocents does trouble me but by doing so I was able to save many lives. The lives of not only my soldiers but of many more innocent civilians.”

However, the killing of Yaddair did not settle things between King Badis and Carmona. That fall, Abdallah became ill and died. His son Ishak assumed leadership, continuing the ruling dynasty. Among the cities of Carmona captured and added to Grenada by my father was the city of Ecija. It was the second most important city in the territory formerly ruled by Carmona, and only a day’s ride distant from that capital. After he executed Yaddair, my father stationed a garrison in Ecija and returned home with his army.

The citizens of Ecija, and the other cities and towns that resisted him, didn’t forget the brutality of my father’s army. They were also still loyal to the dynasty of Carmona. Ishak moved to relieve the occupation of Ecija. As soon as Ishak and his troops left Carmona, the citizens of Ecija made it impossible for our garrison to move about the town, except in large numbers. The commander of the garrison realized that with the threat of Ishak’s army, and the mood and actions of the citizens of Ecija, it would be impossible to defend the city. He abandoned the city and returned to Granada with his soldiers. Ishak entered Ecija as a returning hero.

Only after the Ecija garrison arrived back in Granada did Badis learn of the events. He was furious. He had decided that because Ecija was so close to Seville it must be under our control to prevent any encroachment by Seville. He purposely intended Ecija to be a constant threat to Seville, that ancient enemy of the Zanhadja.

That fall and winter, my father started to mobilize another large force. It was late spring when his army again surrounded Ecija. He employed the same tactic that had worked many times previously. He created situations to entice the defenders out of their fortress. He placed what seemed to be easy targets of foot soldiers and archers but those troops were bait for the trap. He situated much larger forces hidden from sight. Once the enemy cavalry that sallied from the fortress was within range, he unleashed his hidden units of archers, crossbow men, and slingers.

Father incorporated another tactic he learned from his military reading. He organized a separate and elite unit of men who showed aptitude in the use slings attached to short poles, and then paid these men to train year-round. These pole slingers were capable of flinging rocks and small boulders longer distances with considerable accuracy. They also dispatched small jugs filled with Greek fire, a type of grenade particularly scary to opposing troops.

“I have created a small army of Davids,” Father bragged to me.

After suffering losses from several of these ambushes, Ishak decided that his honor required him to engage. The two armies met on the same battlefield where Granada had defeated Prince Ismail of Seville. However, this time the army of Granada guarded the ford across the Genil.

Father’s engineers were instructed to build trenches and barricades designed to counter Ishak’s attack. Father positioned his archers, crossbow men, slingers, and the highly trained and elite pole slingshot unit, so they could fire salvos from the tops of the mounds created by the soil and rocks excavated from the trenches. Ishak’s soldiers would have to jump over the trenches and force their way up the mounds to get to the men firing at them. After firing, each rank retreated behind the mounds to reload while the next rank moved to the top and fired.

“I positioned my cavalry in front of the ford. Ishak’s cavalry was enticed to attack through a gauntlet to reach us. He sent his foot soldiers in first, and we decimated them. His cavalry fared little better. They were all but completely routed before I finally ordered our cavalry to attack. His archers and crossbow men were never seriously engaged, and fled for their lives when our cavalry charged.”

“I tell you Joseph my head was ready to burst with excitement and energy, I was possessed. After I ordered our cavalry to charge I joined them while praying aloud to the Lord to make my arm strong, and help me smite my enemies. Despite any misgivings about killing, I was flushed. My conscious mind, and my conscience were lost in the exhilaration of battle. The blood of those soldiers I slew mixed with the dust and dirt beneath my stallion’s hooves.”

Read Full Post »

Ha Nagid’s journal26

21 Tishrei, 4788 (September, 1039)


After three hard days in the Sierra Nevada we came down from the mountains to the city of Guadix. The route was filled with steep accents, and descents. The trails were rocky, thick with brush, thistles, and scrub oak. We lost three horses, and six mules, on the dangerous passage. They stumbled, twisted their legs, and were too lame to be used. We abandoned them to fend for themselves. We also lost two horses, and one mule that fell off the steep edge of a cliff and were dashed against rocks as they fell. A man riding one of the horses managed to kick loose and jump off, but broke his leg when he landed. The other horse was a packhorse. It lost its balance when the load it was carrying shifted. The mule we lost was shoved to the side by another mule trying to squeeze past on a very narrow portion of the trail. The shoved mule lost his balance and went over the side.

Although the route was difficult, we made it through with almost all of our troops, animals, and supplies in good condition. We came down from the mountains to Guadix where we rested for a day and resupplied with fresh food. Then we crossed the valley, skirted the Sierra de Baza over hills that were sometimes very rocky and steep, but lacked those yawning precipices threatening to swallow us. We rested again for a day in the town of Baza, then, entered the long valley between the Sierra de las Estancias and Sierra de Maria. The valley broadens out before climbing into mountains again to arrive at the ancient city of Valez Rubio. From there, we planned to unite with the forces of Abdal Ma’n. Our combined forces were to descend to the hill country, then circle around and approach Lorca from the southeast.

During this time, Abdal aziz learned about our progress. His army, joined by the army of Denia, stopped their advances on the other cities who had instituted the revolt. He concentrated his resources, quickly subdued the revolutionary forces in Murcia then established his forces in the stronghold of Lorca. I had anticipated this response.

It was increasingly obvious to the king of Denia that Abdal aziz’ long term goal was to not only gain control of all of Valencia. He wanted Almeria as well. It was not in Denia’s best interest for Valencia to be that strong. The king of Denia was only fighting in order to keep an independent Almeria. He knew if Almeria and Valencia were combined they would be so strong it would threaten the wellbeing of an independent Denia. He decided to demand immediate payment of the fee Abdal aziz had agreed to when Denia joined him. As he, no doubt, anticipated Abdal aziz was strapped for cash after paying his Catalan mercenaries. He was unable to pay.

The king of Denia took his army and went home. Word of our imminent arrival reached Lorca by way to spies I sent into that place, with inflated reports of our size and strength. Abdal aziz’ Catalan mercenaries decided the odds of defeating us, thereby collecting booty and reward, were not in their favor. They also went home.

Abdal aziz’ regular army consisted of many conscripts who had been fighting all summer long. Fall was looming and many of these conscripts were anxious to return home for the harvest season. Abdal aziz was out of options. He abandoned Lorca. We entered two days later in triumph. We also secured a strong ally for the future, Almeria’s new king Abu l-Ahmas Ma’n.


Read Full Post »

Joseph’s journal: 25

6 Marchehvan, 4808 (October, 1059)


Early the following spring the next crisis loomed, this time unrelated to Yaddair. After Zuhair and his Vizier were killed, the populace of Almeria invited the King of Valencia, Abdal ‘aziz ben Abdurrahman, to take possession of Almeria, and to govern them. Abdurrahman accepted. He went to Almeria with his young son, Ubaidallah, and stayed long enough to establish a working government before returning to Valencia. He left Ubaidallah to rule with the boy’s uncle, his brother-in-law, Abu l-Ahmas Ma’n, as regent.

Ahmas Ma’n was not content to rule Almeria only until the young Ubaidallah was old enough to take over. His aspiration was to rule all of Almeria and beyond. He approached the governors of several Valencian provinces who were not particularly happy with the rule of Abdal ‘aziz. These men were also desirous of more power and control. The conspirators managed to synchronize their plans and simultaneously orchestrated revolts in four different locations; Lorca, about a hundred and fifty kilometers north and east of Almeria, Jodar, about two hundred kilometers north and west of Almeria, and Xativa, about four hundred kilometers’ northeast of Almeria. Within the Taifa of Almeria itself Ma’n, since he was already in control, staged a bloodless coup. Ubaidallah was banished, sent back to his father in Valencia. Ahmas Ma’n did have some scruples, he was reluctant to execute his sister’s son.

Abdal ‘aziz reacted quickly. He mobilized and moved his army to Xativa located only sixty-five kilometers south of Valencia. He quickly subdued the revolt there and hired experienced Catalan mercenaries to join him in campaigns against Lorca and Almeria. He also petitioned the King of Denia, on the coast and only a hundred kilometers southeast of Valencia, to join with him to defeat the revolutionaries.

It was important for Denia’s security to maintain some balance between Valencia and Almeria, the later located only five day’s easy ride to the southwest. Denia’s goal was to maintain its position as an independent kingdom between the two larger Taifa. Deciding the best course of action was difficult but the King of Denia finally decided his best option was to join Abdal ‘aziz. This decision was bolstered by considerable remuneration. If Abdal ‘aziz was victorious Denia could maintain its’ independence.

The Denia/Valencia alliance was a major threat to Ahmas Ma’n. He responded by asking Badis for help swearing to be a “forever faithful ally” if Badis would come to his aid. My father asked Badis to delay his response for four days so he could investigate and consider the matter. Father spent the time interviewing emissaries, spies and viziers of other Taifa, while at the same time carefully evaluating Badis’ mood. He needed to determine how Badis would analyze the situation and to which side he would lean. He finally decided to recommend that Granada join Ahmas Ma’n. Valencia was their historic enemy and there was good rationale for fighting against that regime.

Badis agreed. He ordered Father to mobilize the army and insisted, as General-in-Chief, my father was to be in command of all strategy and tactics despite his, Badis’, presence. There was a long, difficult journey to complete before Granada could play an active role in the war. The strategy my father worked out with Ahmas Ma’n was for Granada to retake the city of Lorca while Ahmas Ma’n and his rebel allies fought against the forces of Abdal ’aziz’ trying to retake Almeria, Xativa, and Jodar.

Lorca is about two hundred and thirty kilometers east-northeast of Granada. The most direct, and fastest access for the army was to penetrate and cross the north end of the Sierra Nevada. That road is impassible for wagons, so baggage and supplies had to be carried by a vast number of mules. The route was too steep and rough for the men to traverse while wearing their armor and carrying their weapons, so they marched in their bleached linen tunics embroidered with the colors and insignia of their unit. They wore loose linen trousers and leather boots, although some of the infantry, especially the Nubians, preferred sandals. Each man carried a closely woven woolen cloak that was water-resistant but not waterproof. At night in the cold mountains, the passes of the Sierra Nevada were still covered with snow in mid-summer. The soldiers rolled up in their cloaks huddled as close to a fire as possible. Father shared in his men’s discomfort, although he and his officers did have tents.

The army and supply train of mules stretched out over five kilometers when on the move. A good day’s march in the mountains was twenty-five to thirty kilometers. On more level ground they were able to cover about fifty kilometers.

My mother and I stood on the roof-top terrace of our house, her left hand squeezing my shoulder, as we watched the army make its way south before swinging to the east into the foothills of the Sierra. My father rode side-by-side with King Badis. They were at the head of the column, each mounted on spirited stallions, their saddles richly decorated with gold and silver. My father’s saddle was only slightly less ornate than Badis’, indicating his standing relative to the king.

All the saddles used by our soldiers were of the same basic design, only medium high pommels and seat backs. My father explained to me that the heavy cavalry of the Christians of Northern Spain used saddles with high pommels and high seat backs and rode with their stirrups long so their legs were straight. Because much of the fighting in Andalusia happened in mountains or hill country our saddles had lower pommels and seat backs and our men usually had the iron stirrups set short enough to ride with the knees bent in comfort. This was a much more secure manner of riding in rougher terrain. All our saddles had both breast and rump straps to make them even more secure on the horse. Saddle blankets were sheepskin with the wool clipped, but still present, and were either cut or folded to afford the horse as much protection and comfort from the saddle as needed. All of the cavalry and mounted archers were equipped with chain mail armor. Their armor was carried, along with most of their weapons, by the mule train. Their uniforms were similar, although much less ornate, than the equipage of king, vizier, generals and unit commanders.

The Arabian horses of the commanders were adorned with plumes, dyed the color of their unit. Single plumes for each unit were attached to the headpiece of the bridle, or the cheek strap, or hanging from breast or rump straps. Each color and placement was different enough to make identification easy in the confusion of battle. The horses of Badis and my father had plumes on all parts of their equipment, as did the standard-bearers who rode behind them carrying poles with their individual flags and the banners of all the units. Scouts were deployed at least an hour before the army departed each day.

The evening before they started, my father showed me his armor and that of his horse. Father’s included a Zardfaa, a long chainmail coat, the links attached to soft leather and to each other. The Zardfaa reached to his knees and elbows and was burnished to shine brightly in the sun. There was a chainmail hood that protected his throat and neck and a solid iron helmet held on with straps under the chin and held off his head by a leather harness inside. There were vambraces for his forearms. These were made of chainmail attached to thick ox-hide. He also wore greaves to protect his knees and ankles, also backed with heavy leather. There were stiff gauntlets, of the same basic manufacture, to protect his hands and wrists. There was a royal blue plume on top of his helmet.

I was allowed to try it all on but everything was, of course, too big. It was also very heavy. When he piled all the armor onto a canvass tarp on the tiles of our courtyard it was so heavy I could only lift one corner. I was unable to slide the loaded tarp along the smooth tiles.

The armor for Father’s three horses consisted of three separate parts of chainmail. Each was sewed to soft leather. The chain links were attached to each other. The first part to go on covered the head of the horse except for the eyes, nose, and ears. The second portion protected the neck and hung down to the breast. The third section was like a large blanket that draped over the horses’ back with an opening for the saddle. This section reached to the horses’ knees and was split in front to allow movement. Some of the horses, including father’s, were trained to rear and strike soldiers on the ground, or other horses with their front, iron shod, hooves. Some cavalrymen wanted less weight on the horse. They preferred an apron-like protector, also of chainmail, that only covered the horses’ chest and front legs.

My father’s weapons included his two-and a half-foot-curved sword in a scabbard that hung from a silver-encrusted, and highly decorated, Baldric he wore over his left shoulder. His Kontos, slightly more than twice the length of his body, he carried on his back, held there by a strap. His shield travelled attached to the left side of his saddle. It was in the shape of a teardrop about half his height and about an arm’s length across at the widest part. He also carried a Bardoukon, a spiked mace, in a case attached to the right hand side of his saddle. While on the road he only carried his sword and the dagger that was always in his belt. All of his armor and the rest of his weapons, along with the armor and spare weapons of the rest of the men were carried in the baggage train or, on this deployment, the mule train.

As we stood on the roof, entranced by the glitter and noise of the procession, my mother’s hand on my shoulder squeezed ever tighter. The dust hovered over the troops and mixed with smell of horses, mules, manure, and sweat. Men counting cadence, some units singing, passed in the valley below our house and the sounds of tramping hard-soled boots, sandals, and iron shod hooves rose to our ears. It was colorful, noisy, thrilling, and ominous. I repeated aloud, from memory, my father’s prayer before battle. The pressure from my mother’s fingers increased even more in response to the prayer. Her touch was reassuring.

Read Full Post »

Joseph’s Journal: 24

5 Marchehvan, 4808 (October, 1059)


The barrier of the Sierra de Alta Coloma, north of Granada, separated Yaddair and his activities from us. Without my father’s help, King Badis had not been able to organize an immediate response to Yaddair’s invasion of our territory. My father was soon back to full strength after dealing with the death of my Uncle Isaac. He worked hard and long to organize the army making certain it was fully supplied, and properly equipped. It wasn’t long before he was ready to deal with the invasion to the north.

It was in the month of Elul, 4802 (August, 1041), when my father, at the head of a sizable army, left Granada to deal with Prince Yaddair. King Badis explained to Father that it would not be appropriate for him to be the direct cause of the death of his first cousin, so he stayed home. Father told me that attitude was completely understandable, given Badis’ character, but some degree of laziness was probably also involved in the decision.

The army marched through the foothills, splashed through creeks, then a river. The men, with their long supply train following, climbed up twisting roads into and through the heavily forested and rocky mountain passes of the Sierra de Alta Coloma. As the army came down from the last pass, Father’s scouts reported sighting a contingent of Yaddair’s forces in the valley below. Father paused his forces, and made camp in a small valley with good forage and water. He sent out an additional six scouts, all mounted on fast horses, to determine the strength of the force he intended to attack.

After obtaining the reports of his scouts, he was able to determine that Yaddair’s forces were inferior in every way to his own. He instructed his cavalry and mounted archers, crossbowmen, and slingers to leave his camp at midnight and attack Yaddair at first light. He told his commanders he would bring along the infantry and supply train the next morning to clean up.

Attacking in overwhelming numbers while Yaddair’s men were still wiping sleep from their eyes, Father’s forces overran the camp. Many of the mercenaries were killed during the first mounted charge. After their first run through the camp they whirled and charged back, forcing Yaddair, and all of his men who were able to catch a horse, to flee. Yaddair made good his escape taking refuge at Fuensanta de Martos, the closest fortress to the battle.

Fuensanta de Martos is perched atop a steep rocky promontory known as the Rock of the Garlic. It still dominates the large valley spread out as far as a man can ride a horse across, or the length of, in half an hour at a full gallop. A mountain ridge east of the fortress rises some considerable distance above the fort. From that ridge’s summit, the eastern approach to the fortifications is down a steep rocky slope. It is too difficult and dangerous to mount a serious attack from that direction.

The fortress itself has the classical three levels of defense. The first level of defense is an outside high wall with battlements built, as usual, on the remains of a Roman fortress later rebuilt and used by the Visigoths. The wall protects the northern, eastern, and southern approaches. The second line of defense, the Alcazaba itself, is built up to the very edge of a steep rock precipice. It protects the western approach and has battlements from which the defenders can fight off attack. In the center of the Alcazaba stands the tower. From the tower, any attack directed at the fortress can be seen and forces deployed to counter it.

The only regular access to the fortress is via a huge solid oak outer gate in the south wall. That gate opened into an enclosed space with a second, even stronger gate and high walls on all sides forming the Alcazaba. From those walls defenders could pour rocks, hot oil, arrows, crossbow bolts or javelins down on any invaders who manage to breach the first gate.

My father soon deployed his forces. He surrounded the fortress, preventing people or supplies from entering. He directed his troops to conduct a variety of maneuvers designed to make the defenders believe they had temporary numerical advantage. These maneuvers were successful, enticing Yaddair to send out contingents of cavalry to attack. These sallies resulted in furious fighting, but Yaddair’s forces were always driven back into the fort. While these diversions were taking place, Father’s engineers constructed artillery machines. He described the siege of Fuensanta de Martos to me:

“Look here, Joseph. I have the four books of; Epitoma Rei Militaris written by Publius Flavius Vegetius Ranatus.” He pulled the books from his shelves. “You remember I showed these to you before?”

“Yes, Papa.”

“Well I took the fourth volume with me, thinking I would probably have to extract Yaddair from a fortress. This proved to be the case. The immediate vicinity of the fortress was covered with only low bushes, scrub oak, grasses, and small clusters dwarf pine, but the steep rocky slopes of the mountain range east of the fortress provided stands of yellow pine and oak of sufficient size to construct Mangani Magribi. These are the siege weapons that Ranatus calls Trebuchet. I held numerous conferences with my engineers and, while my cavalry and archers distracted Yaddair and his defenders, the engineers constructed three Spendore type Ballistae sling machines. Look at these drawings here in Ranatus’ book. They show how men pull on these ropes to cock the machines. We also built two light Alakatrom Farangi type Trebuchet like this one in the book. These Trebuchet had baskets that we loaded with large boulders. Much bigger than we could use with the slings of the Ballistae. We also used the baskets to lob sealed jugs with Greek fire of three different types.”

I learned that Greek fire is a mixture of naphtha, turpentine, and oil. When mixed with saltpeter the mixture is explosive. Larger clay pots or other containers full of the stuff can have a lighted fuse attached and are then thrown over the wall by the machines. Smaller jars can be used as grenades by the slingers.

In Arabic the word naft refers to petroleum, the Hebrew word is neft. It can be crude oil or tar, diluted with oil. Even the pitch from certain trees can provide the neft. Father told me they didn’t have very much petroleum with them, but they did have ample stores of turpentine and olive oil. The pine trees provided them with pitch. He also directed the artillery soldiers to add some quicklime to the mixture. This combination ignites when it contacts water so when the defenders tried to douse the fires with water they exploded.

Once the machines were in place they were able to concentrate the attack on the southeast portion of the wall. They placed the machines in locations easily accessible to cavalry coming out of the fortress. This was done to tempt Yaddair to send his men out in an effort to destroy the machines. Father positioned infantry, crossbowmen, and archers so they were not visible from the Alcazaba. As soon as the enemy horsemen were within range his men attacked, driving them back to the fortress. This tactic was effective and he was able to reposition the men each time so the next time the enemy sallied forth they couldn’t predict from where the counterattack would come.

My father’s forces continued in this way for eleven days with constant bombardment during the day and throughout the night. On the twelfth day, Father instructed the artillery to concentrate all of their projectiles at the base of one particular section of the wall. After four hours a breach was created. He had the machines moved closer and continued to attack the breach until it was large enough to send in a cavalry unit. Before the first wave attacked, he moved the archers in to target any exposed enemy personnel. Two units of infantry were deployed to protect the archers. When the defenders weakened, Father sent in the infantry armed with spears, javelins, long swords, daggers, and shields to do their close work. They were followed through the breach by mounted archers and three ranks of crossbowmen. The first rank fired a volley, then fell back and reloaded. The second rank moved forward and fired, repeated by the third rank. By then the first rank had reloaded so the onslaught was continuous.

The defenders knew they would be showed no mercy after what they had done to the towns they had conquered, they had little to lose. Our veteran Nubian infantry were well-armed, and well-protected with new and improved armor. They had chain-mail coats, iron helmets with nose protection, and chain-mail hoods under the helmet to protect the neck and the throat. Once inside they were able to use their spears and shields against ineffective cavalry counter attacks because of the closed in space. After they unhorsed the cavalry, the following ranks of infantry were able to throw their javelins and use their long swords and shields to great effect. Once the hand-to-hand fighting began, all was confusion. There was shouting of the soldiers as they attacked, accompanied by the screaming of the wounded. The sounds of the battle mixed with the smell of burning flesh from Greek fire grenades, and the penetrating, acrid smell of blood.

Within two hours, our men gained control of the fortress. Our physicians treated only our wounded. Their wounded were of little concern, since they were to be executed, as were all the other prisoners. Father was determined to never face those particular men again.

When Father described this battle, and the murder of the enemy survivors to me, I was aghast. I asked him how he could reconcile the brutality with the teachings of the Torah.

“This is what war is, Joseph. Dead enemies do not have to be fought again.”

Two of Yaddair’s most trusted generals were captured and brought to my father. One of them died of his wounds as he was thrown to the ground at my father’s feet. The other survived and Father ordered him to be beheaded the following morning. He begged for his life but Father replied:

“I will show you the same mercy you showed for the innocent people you slaughtered in the towns you conquered.”

They searched every possible hiding place for Prince Yaddair, but during the confusion of the battle he somehow managed to escape with a half-dozen supporters. Within days, Father learned Yaddair had managed to make his way the considerable distance to Cordoba where he thought he would receive asylum.

Father initiated negotiations with the King of Cordoba through two of that ruler’s viziers, both reasonable men. He managed to convince them that Yaddair was not only a threat to Granada, but to the stability of all of Andalusia. Yaddair was imprisoned in the Alcazaba of Baena. However, he still had many wealthy followers, as well as his own financial resources. Within two months he managed his escape from Baena, probably by bribing his jailors. The next intelligence my father received was that Yaddair was in Carmona as a guest of honor.

When my father recited these events to me years later I was confused.

“But I thought Prince Muhammad ben Abdallah of Carmona was our friend and ally. Why didn’t he turn Yaddair over to you?”

“Ah Joseph, your political education and insight are still lacking,” he told me.

He explained how the growing strength and power of both Seville to the west and Granada to the east were perceived as a threat by ben Abdallah. Ben Abdallah suspected, and rightly so with respect to King Badis, that Granada lusted after his western provinces, and perhaps all of Carmona. Nothing the King of Seville said or did gave him any reason to believe Seville was any less interested in the annexation of Carmona.

Father knew we had not suffered the last of Yaddair’s schemes. It wasn’t long before his spies reported Yaddair had organized another army. He was still intent on gaining the throne of Granada.

Read Full Post »

The story of Samuel Ha Nagid, rabbi, poet, diplomat, advisor, and warrior continues.

Letter from King Badis to my father: 22

14 Junada al-awwal, 430 (14 Menachem Av, 4788; August, 1039)


My servant Ibn Nagrela,

I require your presence in the throne room four hours after the sun rises tomorrow morning. At that time, you will accept the positions of Chief Vizier to the king and General-in-Chief of his armies.

Be prompt and dress accordingly.

Badis, King


Joseph’s Journal: 23

4 Marchehvan, 4808 (October, 1059)


My father composed a long poem about the battle of the Genil and this particular victory over Seville. He titled that poem; Tehilla. This poem, as did Shira, consists of one hundred and forty-nine lines, as do the Psalms. Again, this was done on purpose. In both poems, he provides many references to biblical events. He equates these references, as analogies, to these battles and to the victory over his enemies.

The Arab ruler of Seville, Ibn Abbad’s, long-term goal was to usurp the Berbers. He wanted to unite all of the Arab and Slav rulers of the various Taifa and provinces of Andalusia with him as the Supreme Calif. This ambition was further fueled by a new, and now overwhelming desire for revenge for the death of his son Ismail at the hand of the Berbers. Prince Yaddair provided him with both an opportunity to exact a measure of revenge and to move his political goals forward. Ibn Abbad decided to encourage and provide support for Yaddair’s efforts to recruit and mobilize a force of elite Slav mercenaries. By the early summer of 4802 (1041), Yaddair had put together his mercenary army. He led them through and around neighboring Taifa before invading Granada’s territories from the north. His forces first took the city of Arjona. To exact a measure revenge for ibn Abbad, and to gain the continued support of that still grieving monarch, he ordered the execution of the entire garrison. Yaddair also allowed his troops to strip the city, and its citizens of their valuables before moving to the south. He bypassed Jaen, deeming that city and its fortress too strong to overcome quickly. He moved steadily south forcing several smaller towns and fortresses to surrender.

While Yaddair was thus occupied, my father received word that his brother, my Uncle Isaac who lived in Loja, was seriously ill. My father tried to convince King Badis, that despite Yaddair’s depravations, he would be unable to deal with the invasion while not knowing if his brother was adequately cared for. However, Badis insisted that my father must take the field as the General-in-Chief of his armies. My father pleaded to be allowed to attend to Isaac.

Badis prevaricated for a week before granting permission for Father to attend to his brother. Father left immediately, accompanied by the leading physician in Granada, Abu Mudin. During that difficult week he started a poem he entitled; Does Isaac Live?

Later he gave me the poem to copy. In the completed poem, he describes how on the morning he was finally allowed to go to his brother’s aid, he was met on the road by a messenger who informed him my Uncle Isaac had died.

Father was distraught. He sent Abu Mudin back to Granada to inform the family and to expedite making certain our family arrived in Loja for the funeral, since by our Law that event must happen within 48 hours, unless Shabbat intervenes. Father continued on to Loja to organize the funeral for his brother, and to provide comfort and care for my aunt and his brother’s children.

Two days after the funeral, we were standing in the barren Jewish cemetery of Loja. There were twenty family and friends all dressed in white mourning clothes, stark against an overcast sky with nothing green to break the mood of that dreary place. Everything was depressing, the brown dirt covering the ground, the gray pebbles resting on gray gravestones, the mourners silhouetted against an overcast sky, and the mound of the newly filled grave of my uncle. We were gathered once again in a circle around Uncle’s grave, as we had been every day since the funeral, to pray.

When Father was done praying and weeping, we left the cemetery and returned to Granada, where my father sequestered himself in his study. The only time he came out during the next five days was to lead the prayers for the dead during the shiva. The Jewish community of Granada demonstrated their support and love for my father by crowding the meeting room with many more than the ten men necessary for a minion.

King Badis, uncharacteristically, seemed to understand my father’s attachment to his brother and his grief. He made no demands of my father until the official mourning period was completed.

Before he went back to deal with the most recent developments of Yaddair’s insurrection, Father gave me four new poems to copy. The first he named; A Curtain of Stones. In it he speaks of Uncle Isaac’s unexpected death, his own anguish, and the realization of his own mortality. The second poem entitled; I Carried Him to His Grave, speaks to Uncle Isaac’s role as a mentor and teacher to my father and many others. He also describes Isaac’s magnanimous nature and how he proved aid to all who were in need. He describes carrying his brother to the grave; “my garments were rent on the left side of my cloak.” This is a reference to Samuel 13:31 that says those mourning should tear their garments over their heart. The third poem; A Day Ago I Buried You, speaks of his own pain that his brother could no longer communicate with him and the fourth; Within The Earth They Have Locked You Up, was another expression of his deep grief over the loss of his brother, mentor, and friend. I do not believe that another day of his life passed without my father thinking about my uncle, and saying a prayer for him.

It wasn’t long before Yaddair’s evil deeds brought my father back to the present and pushed him to reassume his responsibilities and duties to the Kingdom. It was necessary for Father to focus his thinking, studying, and actions to confront the new threat from the north.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »