The Warrior Rabbi: 32

Joseph’s Journal: 32

16 Marchehvan 4808 (October, 1059)


I have mentioned the importance of agriculture to life in Andalusia, but perhaps now would be a good time to describe the extent and variety of that industry. When the Romans came to this country they named it Hispania. They recognized the fertility of the soil, the moderate weather, and long growing season so they stayed, making slaves of the indigenous people. When the Visigoths arrived from the north they recognized the same attributes, and also stayed.

The Arabs and Berbers, and my own people did the same, adding new expertise. They improved the irrigation systems developed by the Romans and Visigoths, and imported new crops from North Africa, and beyond. They discovered that sugar cane, brought from the Nile Valley, thrived in the lower Guadalquivir valley, and in the environs of Malaga. The lemon trees brought into the region by the Romans were improved, and new varieties of both bitter and sweet oranges were added. Several varieties of olive trees were planted in vast orchards. Grape vineyards, growing several wine varieties, eating varieties, and the wonderful seedless and sweet corintos, found new soils and new climates.

Vast irrigated fields of wheat, rye, and barley were developed, as were orchards of date palms, almonds, coconut palms, bananas, and hazelnuts. Pine nuts, harvested from the forests, added to the cornucopia. Fruit orchards provided cherries, apples, and pears, and from the Ebro and Jalon river valleys, figs. Irrigation also enabled several varieties of beans, endives, spinach, chard, radishes, leeks, carrots, celery, onions, eggplant, and artichokes. Then there were melons, too many different kinds of melon to list, and squash, many kinds, each with its own texture and flavor that was enhanced by knowledgeable chefs.

Fruits were dried in the sun, preserved for exportation, and for use in recipes throughout the year. There always seemed to be a fresh fruit in season and available. Oh yes, mulberry trees were grown to harbor silkworms for silk production. Wheat and other agricultural products made possible by the fertility of the soil, irrigation, and abundance of sun and warm weather, along with silk textiles and the work of our gold and silver smiths, constituted our exports to the world. Exportation and trade accounted for much of the wealth of our citizens.

Any civilization can only endure if it’s economy is strong. My father understood this. He took an active interest in making certain all aspects of Granada’s economy grew stronger with time. I am doing my best to suggest programs, and initiatives to King Badis that will continue economic growth, but there is unspoken resistance to my ideas. The king takes them under advisement. I know he discusses the ideas with some of his other viziers, and tribal chiefs, but it is uncommon for him to take action. I am doing my best to discover the reasons for this opposition, and from whom it originates. I am not nearly as clever as my father was at rooting out opposition.

The Warrior Rabbi: 31

Joseph’s Journal: 31

15 Marchehvan 4808 (October, 1059)

It was 4791 (1042) when Mohammed ibn Abbad, King of Seville died, and was no longer able to create difficulties for my father. His son, Mutadid, was only twenty-six years old. My father and Badis, along with all the Zanhadja chiefs, considered Mutadid too young and inexperienced to be a serious threat. The Sevillian army was a collection of mercenaries, and my father had defeated them in every encounter. Seville also began to pay tribute to an adjoining Christian state. All the Berbers considered this a significant sign of weakness. These factors indicated to the Zanhadja, as well as to several smaller Taifa states with leaders craving expansion, that Seville was no longer a force to be reckoned with.

Two years later, Mutadid emerged as a viable threat. During the first two years of his rule he worked diligently to acquire allies. He rebuilt his army into a cohesive force. Whenever smaller Taifa states launched an attack to acquire Sevillian resources, his reaction was immediate, aggressive, and brutal. He also began to collect the heads of his enemies. He ordered that all the heads of leaders killed in battle be brought to him. He beheaded captured leaders with his own sword, and added their heads to his collection. Mutadid delighted in recounting to his court how he kept the pickled heads of his enemies in containers in his bedroom, and how he took the heads out of their containers, holding them up by the hair. He would then line the heads up on the floor facing him, and shout at them, recounting all the transgressions of their previous persons.

His cruelty and madness didn’t end with severed heads. Anyone who did something to displease him, or that he suspected of considering a course of action that might displease him, was strung up in the courtyard of his palace to slowly strangle.

Seville was again ruled by a strong and ruthless Arab, and took its place, next to Granada, as one of the big two Islamic powers. The Christian states to the north remained a threat to encroach on Islamic territories. The conglomeration of smaller independent Taifa ringing the borders of the big two were constantly mounting raids to obtain loot and to grab land. Various Berber, Arab or Slav tribes ruled each of the small states that surround Seville and Granada. There was a constantly shifting loss or gain of power, and of allegiance among them.

Let me record a little about the Slavs, another interesting story. Most of the people we identify as Slavs originally arrived in Andalusia as child slaves. Children captured in raids or wars, from Christian Europe or kingdoms to the east, were brought to Andalusia to be sold. Some of these waifs were even sold to traders by their parents. I am sorry and ashamed to admit that many of the slave traders were, and still are, Jews. They justify their participation by saying trade is trade. A man must provide for his family the best way he can. These men are well-versed in all the Torah passages which describe the acceptable manner in which slaves are to be treated. Thus, they justify acquiring, keeping, and trading slaves.

No matter how they are acquired, most of the female children brought to Andalusia are trained as servants. Male children, deemed to have potential, are often trained as mercenaries. Their brothers-in-arms become their only family. There are many such Slavs who are trained with severe discipline. They become fiercely loyal only to each other. The cream inevitably rises to the top, and those individuals with greater intellect and bravery, or with innate wisdom, or special skills, become courtiers, generals, provincial rulers, and some even rulers of states. Most of these overachievers convert to Islam and practice the religion as a convenience, but they maintain strong connection, and loyalty, to their origins.

With time, the numbers, influence, and power of the Slavs grew and they became as ruthless as the Berbers and Arabs by whom they were schooled. Today Slavs rule almost all of eastern Andalusia.

To this day the Moslem states seem to be most interested in raiding, plundering, and looting each other. They justify this behavior because it is necessary to keep their standing armies, and mercenaries, happy and paid. They are not particularly anxious to wage prolonged wars, or pitched battles, or even to expend their resources to limit the slow advance of the Christian states. This last weakness will be problematic in the future.

As Mutadid gained strength, he realized that a successful strategy against Granada relied on gaining the support of four key small states, Carmona, Ronda, Moron, and Arcos. All of these states are ruled by Berbers, natural enemies of the Arabs, but all four rulers are Zenata, and they have long-held grievance against the Zanhadja as well. Because of these consuming hatreds they can and do align themselves with either Granada or Seville with enthusiasm, when it suits their purpose.

The Birzali tribe of Zenata rules Carmona. They are known to be ambitious and full of natural energy but are not overly thoughtful. Carmona changes sides often, depending on the direction of the winds of war. Moron was founded and is still ruled by the Dammon tribe. Their leader, in father’s time, was Muhammad ben Nun. The Dammons always strived to achieve the same intellectual level as the Birzali, but lacked the energy of those rulers of Carmona. Moron is important because it occupies a territory critical to the welfare of Seville.

Ronda is situated geographically between Moron and Malaga. This independent Taifa is, to this day, ruled from an Alcazaba built on a natural fortress, almost immune to seizure. It is the strongest of the four small states, and is ruled by the Yenfreni tribe. Ronda has a long history of aligning itself with Seville, and is an ideal location from which to launch raids in any direction while maintaining a secure retreat. It is located about a hundred kilometers directly west of Malaga. It is positioned to attack the rear of any Sevillian army invading Granada, or vice versa.

Arcos is located about eighty-five kilometers directly west of Ronda. It is the least significant of the four Taifa but is somewhat protected by the Sierra de Grazalema. It is ruled by the Krizun tribe. It is also critical to any meaningful strategy involving the two super powers.

Mutadid plotted and garnered strength in Seville. My father’s concerns about that growing threat caused him to spend significant time and energy planning counter moves, and trying to anticipate how the almost inevitable attack would come about. During this critical time, a family tragedy distracted him. My sister and I both became very ill with smallpox. My sister, whom I loved dearly, died.

Father mourned her passing while doing his best to encourage me to fight off the disease. Four physicians visited our home daily. After they finished their various treatments Father always questioned them closely. It was not uncommon for one or two to disagree about what constituted an effective treatment or prognosis, but the diagnosis was unanimous. When the physicians disagreed, Father would gather them all together in my bedroom, and question the basis of their opinions. He was seeking more than anecdotal evidence for the proper course of action. He also prayed with them for God’s guidance.

Eventually, ever so slowly, I recovered. Father rewarded all four physicians equally, and handsomely. He was never certain who had been the most instrumental in my recovery. I remember what he told me shortly after I regained my health.

“We must give thanks to God, Joseph. The treatment was successful because God inspired the physicians, or listened to their prayers and mine, or perhaps you recovered despite the treatments because God willed it. Regardless we must thank God.”

After my recovery, Father took me with him on an excursion to demonstrate to the people that I had recovered, and he was no longer distracted. First, we went to the Synagogue and prayed for over an hour. Then came my reward. We went to the market.

I had been to the market many times with my mother when I was a young child. I had also accompanied various servants on errands, and with my friends from the Yeshiva, but this day was special. I was with my father. After many long weeks in a bed it was thought I would never get up. He held my hand as we strolled through the tunnel formed by three-story houses leaning into the street on both sides. Ahead, the tunnel opened to Market Square, shielded from the sun and occasional rain, by almost overlapping canvas awnings. The sound of vendors shouting as they touted their wares rolled up the narrow street to engulf us, like waves from the Mediterranean breaking over the feet of waders walking into the sea. The day was wonderful, full of sunshine, and mild temperature. The sky was devoid of clouds, an effervescent blue.

As we entered the square, we were constantly stopped by lines of people who wanted a word with Father, or to thank him for a favor he had done, or to ask for a favor, or to just touch his hand and receive a blessing. We were pressed by the crowd of people, inundated by the sounds of many voices speaking many languages, Arabic, Berber, Hebrew, Ladino, the tongue of the native Andalusians, and sprinkles of various Slav tongues.

A bewildering array of objects, people, colors and sounds assailed me, all accompanied by mingled smells, not unpleasant but impossible to ignore. Baskets and mounds of seasonal vegetables, butcher stalls with hanging carcasses of lamb, veal, beef, goat, chickens, game birds, ducks, venison, and rabbits. There were seafood stalls displaying tuna, shad, and sardines along with many other fish I did not recognize.

As we wandered through the market, I remembered the opening lines of another of my father’s Hebrew poems:

Passing a butcher’s market once I watched

The sheep and oxen standing side by side.

Cattle too many to count, like schools of fish,

And flocks of fowl were all awaiting death.

Blood was congealing over clotted blood,

While butchers, rank on rank, were spilling more.

Nearby was the fisher’s market, filled with fish,

            And crowds of fishermen with hook and net;

Next was the baker’s market, where the ovens

            Burn all day and get no rest at night.


There were many stalls selling both fresh and dried fruits, and spice stalls too numerous to count. There were thousands of aromatic herbs and spices. Many of them unfamiliar to me, but I did recognize the aroma of cumin, aniseed, mint, cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg, coriander, parsley, mustard, and the golden, pungent, but delicate saffron. All of these, especially the saffron, were standard for any Andalusian kitchen. Some recipes, my mother explained, called for nearly three grams of saffron, that most expensive of spices, tiny threads plucked by hand from the blossoms of a fall flowering crocus.

Our wandering through the narrow pathways, lined by stalls, took us past the bakers to the drink vendors. Father gave one of the vendors a coin for two cups of steaming hot, sweet tea, perfumed with fresh mint. We sat at a rickety table outside the stall, and sipped our tea while a line formed to pay homage to my father.

Later, we walked past the prepared food stalls where we were assaulted by the fragrance of spiced meatballs of many different flavors, mirgas, a spiced sausage, fried fish, churros, a type of fried fritter dipped in boiling honey, and almojabana, a sweet cake made with cheese. We finally arrived at the destination I had been hoping for, stall after stall of sweet treats made with sugar, honey, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, eggs, candied fruits, cinnamon, and other spices. The possibilities were without number and Father, pleased with my appetite, allowed me to choose three.

I remember shoving the first of my treats into my mouth. The flavors exploded on my tongue. Slivers of almonds crunched under my teeth as the sweet taste of honey followed. Another bite and I felt the resistance of a piece of candied cherry just before it broke apart inundating the other flavors with its sugariness.

Next were the stalls selling vinegar, too many different flavors and types to name. The Andalusian kitchen uses vinegar in most recipes especially vegetable dishes. Next were the olive oil stalls, different varieties of olives, different stages of pressing, again too many differences to account for.

The day turned hot. The sun traversed the sky from high in the east, to mid-way to the west. I was tiring.

“Papa, I am thirsty.”

“Of course, Joseph, as am I. Let us find another drink vendor and sample something cool.”

Father had a word with one of the men who had been following us. He had been trying, not very successfully, to engage Ha Nagid in a conversation. He beckoned, and we followed him to the stall of an Arab selling jugs of fresh spring water kept cool sitting in snow from the Sierra. The vendor explained that the icy snow was delivered to him early each morning. He kept his drinks always in the shade in a box insulated with straw. His water was infused with rose or orange blossoms. He poured each of us a glass after giving us a choice of flavoring. I had the orange-blossom, Father chose the rose-blossom, but he let me taste his. Then I noticed another jug of flavoring.

“What is in that jug, sir?” I asked.

“That is Rubb,” he answered.

Rubb, what is Rubb?”

“It is a syrup I make from the corinto grape and sugar. It is also used to flavor the water. Do you want to taste it?”

I looked at my father, who nodded.

“Yes, please.”

The vendor poured a generous amount of the thick syrup into a glass, added cold water, stirred it with a silver spoon and handed it to me.

It tasted of fresh sweet grapes, the flavor soothing, and long lasting. I smacked my lips. Both my father and the vendor laughed as I polished off the remarkably refreshing drink. I still crave, and acquire, that refreshment when the day is hot.

After we returned home, I was in the kitchen describing all we had seen and done to my mother. She continued to make a pumpkin sweet I am, to this day, extremely fond of. She measured flour, water, a dash of vinegar, salt, and butter then kneaded it, gradually adding cold water until she decided it was the consistency she wanted. She rolled out the dough then spread butter over the top, folded it and rolled it out again, spread more butter, and repeated this process six times. Then she divided the dough into several equal amounts, and rolled each out into a thin round. She covered one of the rounds with grated candied pumpkin then put the second round on top of the first. She painted the edges with a beaten egg then pinched the dough to connect the two layers. The completed pastry fit exactly in my hand.  Mother put it into the oven, with the temperature low. It cooked while I continued my recounting of the day. Before the treat was done, she removed it from the oven, dabbed the crust with another beaten egg, and sprinkled the top with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar. She put it back in the oven, checking it frequently before removing it when the crust was golden.

“Do not look at it and me with those sad eyes, Joseph. I spoiled you when you were ill, but now you are cured. A small taste of this will be for a treat, but only after you eat your entire dinner tonight, including all your vegetables.”

The Warrior Rabbi: 30

Joseph’s Journal: 30

14 Marchehvan 4808 (October, 1059)

During my father’s administration, the state of Granada grew and prospered. The realm spread south to the sea and to the east all the way to Baza. To the north our lands went north of Jaen, almost to the Christian territories, then west to Ecija. All of the people who inhabited the cities, villages, mountains, hills, valleys, and lands within these borders paid tribute to King Badis, and answered to his administrator, my father.

Concurrently, Jewish communities prospered, spread, and expanded throughout Andalusia, especially in the cities and towns. There were Jewish agriculturalists, many of them. They brought their skills, ethics, morals, devotion, and love of the land with them from wherever they had lived previously. Jaen’s Jewish community was large, second in size only to that of Granada. Jews engaged in all types of agriculture and trade in Jaen but controlled the tanning and leather producing industries.

Those products were considered to be of the highest quality throughout Andalusia and beyond. I overheard in the Synagogue, that two families from Jaen are moving to Palestine to start a leather products importation business. Due to my father’s influence, and protection, Jews were free to migrate to places of opportunity throughout Andalusia and beyond.

I am thinking back to when I was ten or eleven, maybe twelve years old. My father and I were once again in his study. He quickly scanned the most recent copy I made of one of his long poems.

“This is a good job, Joseph. Your calligraphy has improved significantly in the last two months. Are you beginning to understand more of the references to Torah passages?”

“I think so, Papa, but I’m certain I don’t find or understand all of them.”

“Well, let’s do this. If you think a phrase may be a reference to Torah or Talmud passages, but aren’t certain, you must ask me. If it is, we will find the passage, discuss it and see if we can arrive at an interpretation of the passage that we are both satisfied with.”

“Thank you, Papa. May I ask you about something else?”

“Of course, anything.”

“I know you have had problems with the Hammudite tribe of Malaga but I don’t know the history.”

His eyes squinted and furrows deepened on his forehead making his Semitic nose even more prominent. The smile he produced was more of a half-grimace, involving only the lower third of his face.

“That is a long and complicated history, Joseph, but it will be good for you to learn it.  Perhaps you will obtain a better idea of the kind of people I must deal with almost daily.

It was about fifty years ago when Ali, a former general in the army of Caliph Suleiman who was, incidentally just a puppet Caliph, was given Malaga as a reward for his service to the Caliphate. Ali was a member of the Berber Hammudite tribe of North Africa. The Hammudites were related to the Umayyads who you should remember originally established the Caliphate. Because of that relationship, Ali believed he had the right to claim the Caliphate of Cordoba, so he did. He was a cruel and unpredictable ruler. He managed to alienate almost everyone living in Cordoba. He was assassinated about three years into his rule. His brother Kasim succeeded him as Caliph, but the Caliph of Cordoba, prior to Ali’s arrival, had a son, Yahya. This Yahya, of course, enjoyed a more legitimate claim to the crown than Kasim did. The inevitable result was a civil war. Remember, in those days the Caliph of Cordoba ruled all of Andalusia?”

“That all happened when you were still young didn’t it, Papa?”

“Yes. I was in my early twenties when it happened. Those were very troubling times.”

For a long moment he was lost to me, remembering. Then he shook his head.

“Anyhow, Kasim lost the civil war and fled to Seville, but the governor of Seville turned him and all of his followers out. Seville was rewarded for turning Kasim away by obtaining near total independence from Cordoba. Yahya’s forces fought a few more major battles, but mostly just skirmishes with the very depleted army led by Kasim. Those times were very difficult. There were two forces, mostly consisted of small bands of robbers and thieves, running amok throughout the countryside. Finally, Kasim was captured. Yahya imprisoned Kasim and kept him in prison for thirteen years. When he learned that Kasim was planning an escape he had him strangled.”

“The civil war and the level of independence granted to Seville caused many other cities to strive for equal or even complete independence from the Cordoban Caliphate. Eventually, those desires resulted in the Taifa, the multiple city/states we now have. Yahya tried to retain and maintain the Caliphate, in its entirety, but these efforts required constant warfare. In 1035 he made a pact with the Zenata tribe that controlled the province of Carmona. He brought them back into Cordoba’s sphere of influence as an almost equal ally. Next Yahya invaded Seville, but the Carmona Zenata betrayed him. He died in battle while fighting the army of Seville.”

“My old enemy, Ismail ben Abbad was in command of that victorious Sevillian army. The treacherous Slav, ibn Bakunna, the same evil man who conspired with Zuhair and ibn Abbas of Almeria to destroy the Zanhadja and me, installed Yahya’s brother Idris as Caliph.  But Idris lacked any real power, he was just another puppet of ibn Bakunna.”

“Idris died not long after he became Caliph. Ibn Bakunna tried to engineer the crowning of Idris’ young son, who was also named Yahya. This was all done so he, ibn Bakunna, could continue to rule through a puppet Caliph.”

“Another Slav vizier of Malaga, Naja, supported a cousin of the young Yahya to be a Caliph. This cousin was Hasan. He and Naja moved too quickly for ibn Bakunna. They sent a large fleet into Malaga’s bay. Ibn Bakunna panicked and fled to hide in one of the ancient hill towns northeast of Malaga. Hassan sent a messenger to him promising sanctuary and ibn Bakunna, feeling much relieved, returned to Malaga. He was immediately arrested and brought to his knees to beg for his life at Hassan’s feet. Hassan looked on as ibn Bakunna was slowly strangled to death.”

“Hassan knew that the unpredictable loyalties of the Berber tribes might result in them uniting under Yahya, so he had the boy murdered. One of Hassan’s wives happened to be the older sister of that same Yahya. This wife decided her husband was acting with considered malice and treacherousness against her family, so she poisoned him.”

“That family sounds crazy, Papa.”

“I think so too, Joseph, but wait, the story is not over. After Hassan was murdered by his wife, Naja continued scheming to regain power. He was running out of male Hammudites. Hassan’s young son and Hassan’s younger brother were still in Malaga. Naja made a bold move. He killed Hassan’s young, and threw his brother, a studious, and anything but ambitious, young man, into prison. Subsequently, he convinced the various Berber clans in the Province of Malaga to swear allegiance to him as the new king. They agreed to this but not with great enthusiasm.”

“Naja still had one more Hammudite to deal with, the ruler of the small Taifa of Algecira. So, he mobilized an army to attack Algecira, and eliminate that potential threat. He encircled the Alcazaba at Algecira, but the various Berber Chiefs with him began to disappear with their men. Because of his murderous behavior, and obvious lack of respect for them, they no longer believed Naja was the best possible choice for King. Having lost much of his army Naja assessed the situation and decided to return to Malaga. The road he chose to go back went through a narrow gorge. The Berbers still with him, and some of those who had previously deserted, organized an ambush. Naja’s carcass, as far as we know, is still rotting in that canyon.”

“The Berber Chiefs of Malaga freed Hassan’s brother, and he was crowned ruler, renamed Idris II. This poor fellow was a good man, very pious and reverent. He instituted policies to help the poor and unfortunate, supported artists, musicians, and poets, but he lacked the fortitude and ruthlessness necessary to rule Berbers. He also failed to recognize and counter the ambitions of our King Badis. Badis began by demanding Idris II concede a specific tract of land. This demand was based on a trumped-up claim that it had always been part of Granada. Idris II conceded. So, Badis invented other stories to claim one small village, then another, then towns and fortresses as he expanded Granada to the south. Eventually, Badis took control of Casabermeja only twenty-four kilometers from Malaga itself.”

“Idris II’s Chief Vizier had a large extended family who owned property in and around Casabermeja. This vizier made a crucial mistake. He encouraged his brethren to obstruct the decrees of the Governor Badis appointed to administer the newly annexed territories. The most devastating thing he did was suggest his relatives remit their taxes directly to Idris II in Malaga instead of Granada. Badis demanded the vizier be sent to Granada to answer for his sins. Idris II, afraid to confront Badis, dispatched the poor man into Badis’ clutches.”

“The vizier arrived at our court with his hands bound at his back. I had to avert my eyes and focus on our Master’s smiling face as he watched the poor soul be strangled. After the fellow slumped to the floor dead, Badis turned his gaze on me. With my heart pounding in my ears, like the surf in a storm, I managed to force a smile, and nodded my head to show my agreement with his action. May God have mercy on me for this, and for the many other sins I have committed to appease Badis, and to maintain my authority.”

I went to my father and hugged him, then tried to climb onto his lap in a childish attempt to comfort him. He pulled me off and patted my shoulder.

“You are too old for me to hold you in my lap, Joseph. You must grow up fast and learn even faster. Do you want to know what happened next?”

I took two steps back and sat again on his footstool.

“Yes, Papa.”

“Well, the Berber chiefs of Malaga could no longer countenance such a weak ruler. They sent him into exile with his books and replaced him with a distant cousin, Mohammed. Mohammed is now the ruler of Malaga and he is mean spirited, ambitious, cruel, and foolhardy, a perfect Berber ruler. I doubt he will last long.”

After that evening, I had a different perspective and appreciation for the problems my father faced maintaining his position so he could protect our people. I began to realize the difficulties he had reconciling his actions that were contrary to the teachings of morality and fairness of our religion.

I am writing these accounts thirteen years after the events I describe, but I have my father’s notes and letters and poems to fill in any details that I have forgotten. Much of what happened my father shared with me during our evening “talks” as he called his monologues. I’m not certain if I am blessed or cursed to have almost total recall of those talks.

Warrior Rabbi: 29

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.

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.”

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.”

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.