The Warrior Rabbi: 41

Joseph’s journal: 41

15 Kislev, 4808 (November, 1059)

A simple fact accounted for the amazing amount of academic study, learning, and creative productivity accomplished by my father throughout his life. I never knew him to sleep more than five hours a night.

Even with nineteen hours a day to study, learn, plan, work, think, and write, I know of no other man who could accomplish what he did, especially with the constant strain of palace intrigue. He had to keep an often drunk and unpredictable master happy. Oh yes, he was also a successful general. He could focus and concentrate his attention better and more completely than any man I have ever known.

Because of its importance to all Jews, I must say more about his Hilkhata Gavata. I am thinking about this now because this past week I dispatched eleven more copies of the work to Father’s colleagues throughout the diaspora. More copies are being made for further distribution. In this work, Father emphasized the six principles he considered the basis of belief for all Jews. He expressed thankfulness that our God has no beginning and no end. He expressed his gratefulness that resurrection is certain, and that there is an afterlife. He was grateful that Moses gave us the Torah, and that the Torah is truth and perfection. He believed the words of our sages are just, as is their lore. The study of their works is a pleasure. He thought there are rewards in this world, and whatever comes after, for the pure and the just, and that the dead are recompensed for their sins.

After my father’s death, following his wishes and instructions, I edited three books of his poetry. I named these compilations the Son of Psalms, the Son of Proverbs and the Son of Ecclesiastes.

The Son of Psalms includes his autobiographical poems, two hundred and twenty-two of them. Many of these poems are long, over a hundred lines. I included a preface to provide the historical context for some of the poems but most, I feel, need no introduction or explanation. They tell the story of who he was and how he was thinking at the moment they were completed.

The Son of Proverbs is a collection of aphorisms. Many of these were not original creations of my father, but he often repeated and used them for effect. Frequently, he would add editorial improvements to these old sayings. All of them were commonly repeated during his days, and still are today.

The Son of Ecclesiastes includes four hundred and eleven poems. All of them original works of my father. Some of the poems I included in this volume only because they did not seem to fit into the first two volumes. There are poems about solar and lunar eclipses, and earthquakes. There are a number of poems that discuss various aspects of aging and death. Not surprisingly, these latter topics came to the forefront of his thinking after he turned sixty.

Throughout his life, Father was an active correspondent. He regularly exchanged letters with Jewish community leaders, institutions, and scholars wherever they could be found, as well as with dignitaries of other Andalusian, and a few Christian kingdoms. He frequently corresponded with Jewish scholars living in Kairouan in Tunisia. That city, founded by the Umayyads over four hundred years ago, is still flourishing and still is home to a significant Jewish population today.

He also corresponded with scholars in Babylonia, Palestine, Sicily, and in several persecuted Jewish communities throughout Christian Europe. He sent and received letters from as far away as England and India. When Rabbi Hushiel of Kairouan died, blessed be his memory, Father sent requests for a memorial service to be held in his honor in Cordoba, Jaen and other Jewish communities in Andalusia. He personally organized memorial services for this man, whom he admired greatly, in Granada and Lucena.

His Jewish identity defined him. From it, he derived his own relationship to the will of God, the history of our people as well as our prehistory. He celebrated the fact of our own special language, literature, wisdom, philosophy, laws, morals, and even our own astronomy and mathematics. Since our calendar is based on the phases of the moon, Rabbis had to be experts at mathematics and astronomy to establish the proper times and dates of our holidays and holy days. He was a master of those subjects.


In my father’s home and mine, our cuisine is kosher, traditionally Jewish. The Shabbat meal is usually chamin, a hot stew with beans and other vegetables, and often includes chunks of lamb. We also often have pestelas, a pastry topped with sesame seeds filled with pine nuts, a small bit of meat, and onion. Sambusak, a pastry filled with mashed chickpeas, fried onions and several spices is regularly served. Everything has to be prepared ahead. Those foods that are to be consumed hot are left on the coals of Friday’s fire. They simmer slowly until it is time for the dish to be eaten. I mention this because it is almost time for our Shabbat meal. The aroma of cooking fills house and filters into my study. My mouth is full of saliva.


When he was at the Palace, or on a military expedition, Father underwent a self-induced metamorphosis. It was a requirement of his position as Grand Vizier to attend, and sometimes host, both social and formal gatherings. At these functions, he became a fully acclimated Berber, and a participant in all their vices. Most of those vices were contrary to the teachings of Islam. Some of them ignored the teachings of Moses. I struggle with these same issues in my current role.

Father wrote many poems praising wine, and its effects, both in Hebrew and Arabic. However, he took special care to warn me about the dangers of overindulgence. He wrote poetry praising the beauty of both the young boys, and young girls, who were servants at the orgies of food and drink. He also wrote of the children and women who were brought to these functions to entertain the men with other favors. To ameliorate this behavior, he and I had many discussions, or rather I listened to many lectures, about the Torah’s strictures against homosexuality and sex outside of marriage. Today I am still obliged to attend functions of this nature. I struggle with my own morality. Thankfully, as King Badis ages he is less inclined to these pursuits than he was previously.

Predictably, Father’s relationship with my mother was as traditionally Jewish as the meals we ate. Father rarely demonstrated any annoyance with my mother, never anger. I never saw him argue with her. In my presence, at least, he spoke to her with respect, and on rare occasions with tenderness and love. Once or twice I saw him lay his hand gently on her shoulder, the only sign of affection I was witness to.

I clearly remember one evening, about a year after my marriage, he told me he wanted to give me advice about how to treat my wife. Without saying anything more he handed me a poem, that I included in Son of Ecclesiastes. The poem is entitled Advice to a Husband and suggests not to let your wife dominate you and rule you as a husband is supposed to, she is your woman.

He was, apparently determined to provide me with all sorts of helpful advice that night. After I finished reading this poem, for a second time, I stared at him, not knowing how to respond. Saying nothing he handed me a second poem whose advice was do not take a woman into your confidence, do nothing to harm or disgrace a friend, and to not take drugs that alter your mind.

I still struggle trying to understand the context of these two poems, and what it was he expected from me. When I was still a child, he was adamant that I was to fear and respect my mother, and to always obey her. The result of all this advice and admonitions is that I am still, and probably always will be, confused about how I should relate to women.


I must continue this history by writing of how Father made an ally of the Taifa of Badajoz. Badajoz is a Berber controlled city/state at least eighteen days of hard travel from Granada. It is about two and a half days directly west of Merida and over ten days, northwest of Cordoba. Most importantly to Father, and to King Badis, it’s only about a week of easy travel north and slightly west of Seville. As our ally, Badajoz provided another front from which we could attack our enemy.

The king of Badajoz, Muhammad ibn Abd Allah Al-Muzaffar, held the normal antipathy of all Berbers against the Arabs of Seville, and felt and understood the threat of Sevillian hegemony. Nevertheless, my father had to use all of his diplomatic skills, as well as buying the friendship of several highly-placed notables in Al-Muzaffar’s court, to bring him into the alliance. Despite his diplomatic skills, Ha Nagid was still ambivalent, and distrustful of allies.

The Zanhadja and Zenata Berbers were once again unified. All proudly flew the Amazigh flag. The design of this flag holds many special meanings. Its blue horizontal stripe represents the Berber tribes who originally lived by the sea, the green stripe represents those Berbers originating from the Rif and Atlas mountain ranges, and the yellow stripe recalls the desert dwellers. The red Amazigh symbol in the center of the flag represents the very human yearning for freedom of all peoples, arms open, reaching for the sky. It is sad that the trust and family the flag represents was so easily put aside when the Berber tribes, for whatever reasons, fail to remain unified.

The Warrior Rabbi: 40

Joseph’s journal: 40

13 Kislev, 4808 (November, 1059)

When he was in the field, all the officers knew and understood my father was in charge. However, he always took great care to let them know that he served only at the discretion of King Badis. It was understood but unspoken that all his decisions had Badis’ prior approval. The mercenary troops were clearly apprised that Badis was their employer. It was to Badis alone they owed allegiance. Father knew, as I do, that since we were Jews there were always those who would resent our high office. If it could be hinted that any segment of the army was primarily loyal to my father it would be easy to make a case that the Jew was plotting to take complete control. The Berber chiefs, always looking for an advantage, would be quick to embrace that suggestion, and to act on it.

Late in 1048, the newly installed Hammudite token Caliph of Andalusia, and king of Algeciras, died. Father was once again faced with a crisis. His response was a diplomatic stroke of genius. He convinced King Badis to spread the story that my father was the one who wanted to punish Malaga, and get rid of their king. My father used his many contacts to circulate the rumor that Badis did not agree with this course of action, but the Jew managed to convince him, against his better judgment. As the only living and legitimate heir to the Hammudite throne, the king of Malaga had to be recognized as the Caliph of all of Andalusia. With his ego properly massaged, Idris III accepted the responsibility, though he certainly understood no power came with the dubious honor. For what it was worth, Malaga and Granada were once again allies, at least until a more attractive option presented itself.

Nissan, 4797 (April, 1049) found my father once again in the field. This time he was leading an army to besiege one of the small peripheral fortresses of Ronda. Rondan tribal raiding parties were using the fortress as a safe haven from which to terrorize a number of Granadian and Malagan villages. The Malagan king even assigned troops to our Granadian forces for this retaliatory mission. The fortress was besieged, and the bombardment commenced. After four days of siege activity, my father called his officers to his tent to outline his strategy for a final assault the next day. That same night the Malagan forces deserted and returned home. No excuse for this perfidy was offered but Father had no reason to put his own men at great risk. He had decided to assign the Malagans to be in the forefront of the assault, emphasizing the honor that would accrue to them. Ha Nagid went to great lengths, praising the bravery and fighting prowess of the Malagans, when outlining his strategy. For that reason, he announced that he was giving them the honor of leading the assault. The likelihood of harm to the Malagan soldiers no doubt outweighed their estimates of the potential for honor and loot. Father was not aware they had departed until the next morning.

He was upset when his deception failed, and seethed at himself for the miscalculation. He decided to walk off his anger. He strayed from the camp, on foot, with only two bodyguards trailing him.

From the parapet of the besieged fortress, the youngest son of the fourth wife of the governor of that Rondan precinct, was gazing at the Granadian camp. He saw my father stride out of his tent with two bodyguards rushing to catch up to him. Curious, he continued to watch. At some point, he realized the tent must be my father’s as it was the most elaborate in the camp.

Could that be their General, the famous Ha Nagid? He continued to watch as the man, head bent, striding purposely, lost in thought, came closer to the fortress, and further from the camp. The young man was the commander of a company of cavalry. An outrageous thought came to him. He called for the sergeant of one of his platoons, who happened to be just below him, leaning against the wall in the shade. This is the scene I imagine:

“Akim, come up here.”

The sergeant groaned, then pushed away from the wall, walked the ten paces to the stairway, and slowly mounted to the catwalk to join his commander.

“Yes, ibn Fakir, what is it?”

“You see those three men?”

The young man pointed at my father and the two bodyguards.

“I think the man in front is the General of the Granadians, maybe even the infamous Vizier. Look at the cloak he is wearing and his armor. See how the cuffs of his sleeves glitter in the sunlight? I believe that is gold thread in the cloak, on his sleeves. Look at the color, how the gold shines in the sun compared to the white cloth. I bet you anything that is pure silk. And see the armor under the cloak? Can you see how shiny it is? That is an important man. I want you to get your platoon together with their horses and mine. If that man gets close enough to the fortress we are going to rush out of the gate and snatch him. Go.”

My father was still absorbed in his frustration and anger. Before long he was almost within range of an arrow. He looked up and saw where he was. He stood with hands at his hips looking at the fortress until one of the bodyguards shouted.

“Nagid, ten mounted men just rode out and they are riding directly for us. We must flee.”

My father was too old to run fast. The mounted men quickly overtook the three. Both bodyguards had their swords unsheathed and turned to protect my father who had neglected to take any weapons with him when he stormed from his tent. The young commander in the lead leaned over and took off the first guard’s sword arm with a sweeping stroke as he thundered past. The next rider severed the guard’s head. The other guard was surrounded by four horsemen and soon dispatched. The commander’s horse caught up to my father. As he rode past, he grabbed my father by the back of his cloak and dragged him up and over the horse’s neck, wedged him against the pommel of his saddle. The commander pressed the point of a knife over Father’s right kidney.

“I am told that a knife to the kidney is extremely painful. You will keep your balance and remain still, do not struggle, unless you want to feel the knife as it enters your body.”

Someone from Father’s camp witnessed the abduction and a shout went up. Men jumped into their saddles, grabbing whatever weapon was closest at hand. A ragged pursuit was launched but the foray from the fortress wheeled and spurred their horses, heels flailing. As they approached the gate from which they had launched their attack it groaned open. They galloped inside. The gate slammed closed, pulled by many willing, cheering men.

My father was shoved from the horse. Wind-milling his arms to regain balance he managed to not fall onto his back in the dirt. He stood straight and tall as the commander of the platoon dismounted, and again grabbed the collar of his cloak.

“Look who I have brought,” he shouted. “Are you the great Ha Nagid?”

“I am Samuel ibn Nagrela,” answered Father.

The young man’s father, governor of the precinct and commander of the fortress, pushed through the crowd of warriors who were pressing ever closer. The pressure from the crowd forced horses against my father and his captor.

“Get these horses out of the way and you men step back,” shouted the governor. “Fakir, who is this you brought to me?”

“Samuel ibn Nagrela. He is the Grand Vizier, and General of the Granadian army.”

The governor squinted and peered through cataract clouded eyes at my father. “So, this is him? On your knees, Jew.”

“I will not kneel to you, sir. Think for a moment. What am I worth to my king if alive? If you kill me, all you will reap is the wrath of my army, and my king. You and everything you hold dear will be destroyed. For your own good, I beseech you to take the time to consider all the possible ramifications of making ransom arrangements for my release, versus killing me, and hanging my head from the top of that gate.”

The governor’s son pushed his knees into the back of Father’s knees. Father went down, his knees in the dirt. He jumped back up and spun to face the young platoon leader.

“You are a brave young man, but do not think to humble me. You stand to gain much from my ransom, and only a slow death if you do me harm.”

The young commander raised his sword over his head, but was restrained by the hand of his father.

“No, Fakir, hold your sword. What he says make sense. Take him to the dungeons and lock him up. I have to consider what ransom we will demand.”

I don’t know why they did not kill my father as soon as they had him. But these men were Berbers. Perhaps the huge ransom they expected to receive for him was too enticing. It didn’t matter.

My father’s remaining forces, after the Malagan desertion, consisted of four companies, two Mamluk, one Almoravid, one Nubian infantry, and an artillery unit with their machines. The four company commanders, and the captain of the artillery unit, huddled together as the enemy platoon reached the gate with my father. Before the gate was even completely closed they made the decision to implement the strategy my father had described to them the previous evening.

The Nubian colonel insisted his infantry, supported by the Almoravid archers, crossbow men and slingers, lead the attack. The artillery needed to concentrate their missiles on the gate through which Father was taken and open a breach. Within minutes, the siege machines launched a furious and unrelenting bombardment of that gate.

The governor delayed selecting a man to go forth with a white flag to negotiate the ransom demand while he tried to decide how much Badis would realistically pay. Before the messenger was able to open a small, low one person gate and emerge the large gate through which my father had been abducted was smashed, along with a breach in the adjacent wall. The Nubians attacked forcing their way over the debris, and into the fort. The Almoravid archers, crossbow men, and slingers were close on their heels. The engineers followed and demolished portions of the wall on either side of the original opening, shoving the debris out of the way and enabling the cavalry to rush through. Once the cavalry entered, it took only moments to force the defenders to reveal where my father was being held.

Father’s bodyguard and ten Nubian infantrymen rushed into the governor’s quarters, pushing their way past guards who threw their weapons to the floor, and sank to their knees. One guard gestured to the stairway leading to the dungeons in response to the shouted question.

“Where is our general?”

The jailor fumbled with the key until the door was open. The rescuers found my father sitting on the filthy floor, his cloak and armor gone. His white linen clothes already dark from the accumulated muck.

Father smiled and pushed himself up from the floor.

“Gentlemen, I prayed the noise of battle heralded your arrival. I am pleased to welcome you to this extremely humble abode. I am sorry I cannot move any faster. The ribs on my right side are sore from being bounced against the pommel of my captor’s saddle, but I don’t think anything is broken. Please lead the way into the sunlight, I am quite weary of these surroundings.”

Two of the strongest Nubians supported him. Each held an arm in one hand, the other hand lifting under his armpit as they moved up the steep stairway. Father looked back in time to see one of his bodyguards raising his sword to strike the jailor.

“He is of no consequence, and was as kind to me as the circumstances allowed. Do not kill him.”

They took Father back to the camp and the warm bath and clean clothes waiting for him. While he cleaned himself, the fortress was sacked. All but a few of the defenders were killed in retaliation for their affront. Putting the Grand Vizier of Granada’s life at risk would not be tolerated.

My father led his cheering men on the road back to Granada. Smoldering ruins and dead bodies marked the army’s irritation and wrath at the temerity of those who dared to threaten the life of their beloved Ha Nagid. They entered Granada with twenty wagons full of plunder. Ten of those wagons were adorned with the heads of the young commander and those soldiers who snatched my father. An eleventh wagon displayed the severed head and now totally unseeing eyes severed from the body of the young man’s father.


When he was out campaigning, my father always took along a special pack mule to carry reference books and writing materials. On this campaign, despite the treachery of the Malagans, his capture, miraculous rescue, and his revenge on his captors, he once again demonstrated the dichotomy of his nature. Already in his late fifties, he completed the first draft of one of his most intellectual books; the Sefer Hilkhata Gavata, a compilation and explanation of Jewish law based on the writings found in both the Babylon and Jerusalem Talmuds, along with the written decisions of the most famous of the Geonim.

The Gaon is the head of the Babylonian Yeshiva. Whoever occupies that post is generally considered to be the Head Rabbi of the diaspora. In the Hilkhata Gavata, Father also cited the Midrash and the She’iltot of Ahai of Shabka. Upon his return, I worked with him to edit and polish this work. When it was completed to his satisfaction, I oversaw the making of copies. Many copies of this book were made, and distributed. Its publication established Father as an expert on the most complicated aspects of Jewish law. The book was responsible for engendering requests for his rulings on specific points of law from Jewish communities everywhere. Throughout the diaspora the name and accomplishments of Samuel Ha Levi ibn Nagrela, Ha Nagid, were becoming legend.

Father also returned to Granada from that near fatal campaign with a new poem. In this poem, he praised God for his rescue, but managed to ignore the love and respect his men demonstrated by their immediate response. I still regret he did not publically acknowledge his debt to those men. I do know that all of those soldiers benefitted financially for their efforts. He kept none of the plunder from that campaign for himself, distributing everything to the officers and men who rescued him, except, of course, the King’s fifth.

The Warrior Rabbi: 39

Joseph’s journal: 39

12 Kislev, 4808 (November, 1059)

The most important spoils distributed to the troops after the battle with Muhktar’s army came from the tributes collected from the former territories of Seville, now annexed to Grenada. My father convinced King Badis to award colonels and captains, as well as the generals, confiscated farms and orchards. Some of these men became landowners for the first time. Those captured officers, who came from families of substance, were ransomed. Those profits, along with the king’s fifth of everything, all went to Badis.

Eleven years after the battle, I visited the site. While standing on the same ground I remembered portions of the poem my father wrote after a previous victory over Seville, a battle that took place twenty years ago. He wrote how the king of Seville had mocked Granada and its king. How we responded seeking to take back what Seville had taken and revenge for its brutality. How that army had prevailed, with vivid descriptions of Granada’s heroes and their deeds. The poem is one of my favorites.

Abu Nun, the leaders of the Carmona and Moron contingents, and those of their soldiers who managed to escape, retreated to their respective strongholds. One of the captured Sevillian officers, who had achieved his rank by virtue of ability rather than birth, was given his freedom, with the task of returning Muhktar’s head to Mutadid. I never found out if Mutadid rewarded him for this task, or had the brave man murdered.

My father with his army, minus those troops assigned to escort our wounded, the enemy captives, and wagons full of booty, back to Grenada, followed Abu Nun to Ronda. Once again that fortress was besieged. Within a week, the weather changed heralding a long winter. True to form, the Zanhadja chiefs were not willing to participate in a long winter siege. They had their victory and significant booty. They decided to spread out on the way home so they could collect more tribute from the towns, villages, and cities along the way. Father was forced to abandon the siege and return to Granada, realizing he had achieved a great tactical victory but suffered a strategic defeat by not taking Ronda.

Once he was home, Father explained to me that unless he could bring all of the smaller states in as allies of Granada, or neutralize them in some other way, Granada could not be secure and at peace. It was clear to him that Mutadid intended to fight.

He had two choices. The first was to build and maintain alliances that would eventually enable him to destroy Seville. The other option was to attack and kill all the leaders of the small states and absorb those lands. The later choice was beyond his resources. He explained to me that even if he had all the resources necessary, the task would be too difficult, and too risky. The other option, forming a coalition against Seville, would not be easy, and would be even more difficult to maintain. Father understood that any states who joined his alliance would probably desert the alliance as victory over Seville became more likely. Their ultimate goal of any city/state was to retain its autonomy. They would not want to risk being absorbed by Granada, despite their natural antipathy to Arab Seville. All of these potential allies harbored a realistic fear of Granadian hegemony, once Seville was neutralized. There was also the Berbers’ natural laziness, and inability to see and understand the large picture. He cautioned me to never admit to this evaluation, especially to any of the Zanhadja. Most especially not to Badis.

Father’s first task was to convince the independent rulers, their viziers, and tribal chiefs, that this war needed to be fought to prevent the hated Umayyads from conquering and reuniting all of Andalusia. The major historical motivations for the Berbers to go to war were the potential for looting and plunder. He patiently explained to them that this war had to be different. Its goal was to stop the Umayyads.

The king of Moron, and the chiefs of his tribal families, recognized the superiority of the Zanhadja military and the leadership of my father. With Father’s encouragement, they managed to conjure up memories of the humiliation of years of defeats by the Umayyads. It was to their advantage to rekindled their hatred of the Umayyad dynasty. They abandoned Mutadid and joined my father’s coalition.

Carmona, only thirty kilometers from Seville, was not happy with Mutadid’s leadership, and especially his megalomaniac behavior. Their leaders also paid homage to my father’s skill as a general. They signed on, as did the leaders of Arcos. The potential reward for these Zenata Berbers, who were still leery of the Zanhadja, was sweetened by the possibility of their being able to appropriate the riches of Seville. They anticipated that Seville, after this most recent defeat by my father, would be easier pickings than Granada had proven to be.

Huelva was a tiny village located at the confluence of the Odile and Tinto rivers in the delta opening to the Gulf of Cadiz. It was about a hundred kilometers west of Seville. This town was a gate to the back door of Seville and its Berber leaders couldn’t resist the symbolic and religious sanctification of the alliance Father offered. They also, of course, were interested in booty.

Father was also constantly on the lookout for a person with the necessary family background to instill as the titular Hammudite Caliph. Such a puppet Caliph would serve as a person all of the Berbers could provide lip service to, and rally around, while still maintaining their independence. The King of Malaga would have been ideal, but he was already aligned with Seville, and still nurtured a grudge against Badis and Grenada.

The head of a different branch of the Hammudite family ruled Algecira, a tiny port city located at the tip of the straits of Gibraltar. My father eventually managed to convince his new allies to accept this man as their Caliph. To sanctify this charade, Father arranged a solemn ceremony to invest the new Caliph, and convinced the kings of Granada, Carmona, Moron, and Arcos to attend. The rulers who attended the festivities didn’t come alone. Their families, their nobles, their tribal chiefs, and their viziers accompanied them. The kings of Badajoz and Huelva were unable to attend, citing ill health, but they sent high-ranking nobles and their entourages in their stead.

As a diplomat, Father was at the zenith of his power and prestige. For a Jew to play such a crucial role in organizing and maintaining a military and cultural alliance that would assure the survival of so many independent city/states, was a diplomatic success not previously known.

Abu Nun, secure in his fortress of Ronda, decided he had to establish complete independence from both Granada and Seville. He decided to wait for a clear indication of which of the two big powers would be successful before making any commitments. He knew very well the character of his Berber relatives. All of them worried about any single big state encompassing them. He also understood that the draw of easy plunder was too tempting for them to ignore. Abu Nun managed to convince his chiefs it would be wise to forego any temptation for easy pickings, and to sit on the sidelines for the time being.

Ha Nagid’s journal: 38

15 Shevat 4796 (January, 1048)

I knew General Muhktar was confident, I hoped, over-confident. My spies informed me he commanded five regiments, all cavalry, except for one company of mounted archers, and two companies of infantry. I also knew he would be determined to fight on open ground. He would want the cavalry battle so loved by both his Berber and Arab troops. After Badis’ failure at Malaga, and the constant pressure of our having to respond to raids on our territories, he no doubt believed we were weary of fighting. The Zanhadja were no longer invincible.

My army travelled the hundred kilometers from Granada to Antequera in four easy stages. From there, we moved southwest, through a valley, following the river to the village of Valle de Abdalajis.

Valle de Abdalajis is situated at the western edge of a broad plain stretching over fifteen kilometers long and six kilometers wide. I moved my forces east from Valle de Abdalajis to the opposite end of the valley. I wanted Muhktar’s forces to be forced to attack us looking into the morning sun.

My spies reported that Abu Nun recalled all of his raiding parties and marched northeast from Ronda. Muhktar, with his regiments from Seville, were augmented by regiments from Moron and Carmona. This combined army travelled south from Osuna to join forces with Abu Nun, just west of El Chorro. They camped that night, held a strategy session, and the next day circled south through a low pass in the mountains and arrived at Valle de Abdalajis in the early afternoon, the day after we left that place, where they set up a base camp. I received almost hourly updates from my spies about all these movements. It was the 28th of Elul, 4796 (early September, 1047).

I stood outside my tent early the next morning. The morning air was clear and crisp. The sun was bright in the cloudless sky. The hills and mountains surrounding the broad valley were the color of a ripe lime, verdant green, covered by dense forests. Those forests, and the animals within, would be soon be non-participating witnesses to the clash of arms and cries of the wounded.

The previous evening I met with my generals and gave all the necessary orders for positioning our troops. The only discord during that planning session was the desire by each of the generals to have their regiment at the forefront of the battle. I placed the Nubian infantry in the center front, three ranks deep. Mounted Mamluks were on the right and left flanks of the infantry. Our own and the Almoravid archers and slingers were in the fourth and fifth ranks behind the Nubians, six ranks of Almoravids behind them. We split the Zanhadja cavalry units, both heavy and light, half on the far-right, and the other on the far-left flank, behind hills, hidden from sight. Each company, unit, and platoon were given explicit instructions for the part they were to play in the battle, and the drum signals that would tell them when to execute their role.

My horse was brought to me. I rode to the top of the highest nearby hill with my ten- member bodyguard, four drummers, and ten messengers mounted on fast horses. The hill I had chosen the previous day provided a panoramic view of the battlefield. The messengers were needed to relay instructions to my generals and colonels as the battle unfolded.

Muhktar advanced with the sun in his face, his cavalry spread across the entire width of the valley, three ranks deep. The air shimmered with the banging and clattering sounds of the equipment of war. Horses snorted, straining at the bits holding them back. These were warhorses, anxious to begin the charge that would fill the crisp air with battle cries, drums, men and horses screaming in pain, and the smell of blood, feces, urine, and fear. Dust kicked up from the iron-shod hooves of the sweating, armored horses of the heavy cavalry, additionally burdened with their armored riders. The leather-backed chain mail of horses and riders was soon hot enough to sear the skin. A slight breeze coming off the eastern hills carried only a small wisp of the dust rising from the horses hooves as they were spurred into a trot.

When Muhktar’s forces were five hundred meters away from our lines I raised my right hand. The drummers’ beat out the appropriate signal, repeated five times. The Mamluks charged forward from both flanks, galloping directly at the center of the approaching line, but when they were just out of range of Muhktar’s archers they whirled their horses, retreated and reformed, now in front of the Nubian infantry.

Muhktar, his Arab blood pounding in his ears, could not control himself. He screamed the command to charge and spurred his horse forward. The Mamluks executed a perfect retreat to their original positions on the flanks, allowing the Nubian infantry to take the brunt of the charge from the oncoming cavalry. They planted the butts of their large teardrop shields, next to the butts of their spears, into the ground. When anyone fell from the onslaught, another Nubian jumped forward to fill his place.

The charging horsemen were also met with barrage after barrage of arrows, slung rocks, and Greek fire grenades coming from the Almoravids aligned behind the ranks of infantry. The missals struck the charging cavalry before most of them could engage with the infantry units. Many fell wounded from the steady barrage, but the rest continued forward. The thunder of clashing lances and shields rose like a huge wave to engulf me.

On my order, the Mamluks charged into the melee from both flanks. Within minutes the fighting was hand-to-hand. Once the enemy was fully engaged I ordered half of the Zanhadja cavalry from each hidden flank to circle around and attack from the rear, the remaining Zanhadja were held in reserve, much to their disgust.

The superiority of the Mamluk and Almoravids was soon apparent. This made the Nubians fight even harder, determined to not be outdone. The regiments of Zanhadja Berbers who had circled around to attack from the rear were doubly motivated to match the intensity and determination of the mercenaries.

Muhktar went down and a tall Mamluk soon held his severed head high in the air. During the next hour of intense fighting, scattered but sizable units of Muhktar’s forces were able to gather themselves and fight their way free. Only those units with brave and competent commanders, maintaining control of their men, escaped the slaughter. I released the reserves to participate in the mop up.

The enemy dead were counted at five hundred and twelve, including those wounded so severely they were dispatched as an act of mercy. The enemy wounded, those who were still able to walk, were brought back to Grenada as captives, along with the many unwounded who surrendered. The walking-wounded and captured enemy soldiers totaled just over three hundred. I lost only seventy-two men killed. All of our wounded were well cared for, but another twenty subsequently died from their wounds. Our wounded survivors were transported home by wagon.

The enemy’s abandoned arms, armor, horses, wagons, and all their supplies were gathered as booty, along with anything of value taken from the dead and captured. All the victors shared in the prizes except me. I donated my share to our wounded, and to the families of those killed in the battle.

Joseph’s journal: 37

10 Kislev, 4808 (November, 1059)


Over the years, I have often thought about my father’s relationship with King Badis and their arch enemy, King Mutadid of Seville. I will endeavor to provide more insight into Badis’ and my father’s characters and personalities as this history progresses.

I believe the kings Badis and Mutadid had more in common than differences between them. Both had the ultimate goal of making their kingdom pre-eminent. Both enjoyed the support of their citizens in their efforts to achieve that goal. Neither would ever acknowledge that any constraints could be imposed on their whims, or indeed any aspect of their behavior. Both were both free to exercise any desire or passion. There was no one who could, or would, dare to prevent them from doing anything they wanted to do.

Both Badis and Mutadid faced the constant threat of assassination. The most significant danger often came from people closest to them. Their courtiers were suspicious of everything and everyone, particularly their colleagues. The same courtiers were fearful for their own safety, while much occupied with intrigue. All were insecure about their position at court, and constantly worrying about their influence, or lack thereof, with their king. Both kings knew that if they failed to completely humiliate and kill their enemies, often in the most gruesome way possible, they would be seen as weak and unable to act with decisiveness. Indecisiveness is a fatal flaw for a king, in any time. I think this knowledge was instinctive in both of them.

Both kings were isolated, alone even while amongst many. All governments require an organization of people capable and willing to effectively implement the decisions made by higher-ranking officials. This is especially necessary when, as it is in most cases, those making decisions are unable or incapable of performing the tasks and completing the work necessary themselves. Other hands are required to assume the workload in order to reach the desired policy outcome. Worker bees make the honey. No King can rule without a cadre of people willing to make certain the king’s desires and decisions are carried out.

My father, may he rest in peace, had many extraordinary skills. Perhaps the most important was his ability to convince King Badis to modify a contemplated action, or decision, that might be harmful to the kingdom. Another of my father’s great strengths was his ability to discover where, along the chain of command, a problem existed and either repair or remove the weak link. He also had a well-developed intuition that enabled him to identify and appoint men of intelligence and skill. Men who understood how to make things happen. Under his administration things got done.

So far, I have been fortunate. For the most part I am able to match Father’s administrative abilities, although I clearly lack many other of his skills.

Because of his long service and constant loyalty my father was, without question, the most trusted man in King Badis’ court. Never-the-less both he, and now I, have had to be constantly on guard against any offense, real or imagined. We have had to contend with the tribal chiefs, cronies, and hangers-on of the king, who all resent the fact that a Jew has more power than they do. I face these challenges on a daily basis.

King Badis, aside from his drunkenness, frequently displays signs of paranoia and inexplicable behavior, sometimes just for effect. These paranoid-induced, or calculated decisions, as well as decisions made without apparent thought or consideration, seem to have increased since my father died. Despite this, I believe Badis trusts me. I continue to do my best to serve him, and the best interests of the kingdom. By doing so I also protect the Jewish community.

Mutadid’s paranoia, on the other hand, is clearly a manifestation of mental illness. I recently learned from a man, a former member of Mutadid’s court, a troubling story. Mutadid’s own son feared his father was going to have him killed, so he hatched a plot to kill Mutadid first. Unfortunately for the son, Mutadid learned of the plot. He slit the son’s throat himself. But he didn’t stop with that horrific act. He proceeded to kill all of his son’s friends, his son’s servants, all four of his daughters-in-law, and all of their children, including two infants. When some of his viziers, including the man who told me of these events, fearfully entered the palace room full of slaughtered family members, they found Mutadid standing with a knife still held in his right hand, drops of blood sliding off the blade and splashing on the tile floor. Their Ruler stared at them from red-rimmed eyes, his pupils wide, dark, holes in his head. His clothing, his arms, and both hands were covered with the blood of his victims. The room shuddered in oppressive silence.

Mutadid screamed at the men huddled at the doorway.

“Wretches! Wherefore are you silent? You gloat in your hearts over my misfortune! Be gone from my sight!”

My father now realized that Granada would never be at peace unless it achieved dominance throughout all of Andalusia. This fit exactly with King Badis’ ambitions. The Zanhadja had no argument with the Zenata king of Ronda, prior to his attempt on my father. Now it was clear to both Badis and to my father that Mutadid was the instigator of the Rondan act of aggression.

During the winter of 4794 (1045 and 1046) the Zenata rulers of Carmona and Moron joined forces and began initiating raids on Granadian holdings. Father was convinced Mutadid had a hand in this as well. Father’s response was two-fold. He organized and conducted counter raids into the territories of Carmona and Moron. His troops took plunder, annexed territory, and exacted tribute from the inhabitants of those areas ruled by the Zenata Berber al-Birzali and Dammon families, who ruled Carmona and Moron respectively. At the same time, Father raised the funds to recruit a whole regiment, a thousand, Mamluk mercenaries.

Only purchased slaves could become members of the Mamluk. An extremely wealthy Berber family from Jaen owned the particular regiment Father hired. All physical needs of these men were taken care of by their owners, who provided exceptionally good living conditions and a reward system so generous it enticed many freeborn, but poor youngsters, to volunteer themselves for sale in order to gain membership to the elite organization. Forty-man units were divided into four, ten man platoons. Five units formed a company and five companies a regiment. The same organizational system was used by almost all Andalusian armies.

The Mamluks spend all of their time together. They are indoctrinated into the dictates of the code of fursiyya. That code emphasizes courage, generosity, fraternity, and obedience. Every new recruit is trained with extreme vigor and intensity in; cavalry tactics, horsemanship, archery, hand-to-hand combat, swordsmanship, and in the treatment of wounds. Only after they are proficient in all of these skills are they formally initiated into a unit, and assigned to a platoon. They continue to train daily for the rest of their careers.

They are cared for, even if they are wounded severely enough to no longer be fit for service. They are retired from active duty at the age of fifty-five. After retirement, many stay on and continue to be cared for. If they have saved enough, from the shares of loot they received as rewards, if they have family, and if they want to live with that family, they are provided with a modest stipend, and allowed to live independently. However, most retirees continue to live with their platoon, where they train the next generation of Mamluks. The Mamluks are the most elite and feared fighters today, but few regimes are wealthy enough to hire, and keep them on the payroll for prolonged periods of time.

Father also recruited a regiment of Almoravids. The Almoravids, also fanatical mercenary fighters, are organized and under the command of the Jazula Berber, Abd Allah ibn Yassin. This entrepreneur was able to convert whole captured North African Berber and Negro tribes into his warrior Islamic culture.

The two hired regiments bolstered Granada’s regular army. We had a full regiment of infantry that included six-hundred Nubians, bolstered by four-hundred conscripts. Our regular army also included three regiments of light and heavy cavalry, and another regiment of mounted archers and slingers. These last four regiments were tribal Zanhadja Berbers, actually militia, commanded by their own chiefs, and called upon whenever Badis needed them. When not in service to King Badis, these tribal warriors often occupied themselves by stealing sheep and horses from neighboring tribes or conducting raids on the holdings of their Arab or Zenata Berber neighbors.

The Zanhadja are masterful horsemen. They breed and raise Andalusian horses originally bred from Arabian stock, and renowned for their speed and endurance. When mobilized, each regiment was commanded by a general, who reported directly to my father. My father, as General-in-Chief of the army, reported only to King Badis. At the peak of his power and influence, my father commanded six thousand fighters. All were well-trained, well-equipped, well-supplied and well-paid. He was formidable.

Early in 4795 (1046) the weak and ineffective King Indris II of Malaga ceded more portions of his kingdom to both Granada and to her slippery, and fickle ally, Ronda. Abu Nun, encouraged again by the bribes of Mutadid of Seville, renounced his treaty with Granada, and initiated raids into Granadian territory. My father responded to these incursions with only minimal retaliatory efforts. He was not yet ready for an all-encompassing war with Seville. But, he understood that Mutadid was working to build his army and his resources, while encouraging the small-scale irritants by Ronda and other Taifa. All through 4795, Abu Nun continued his scattered raiding, but he was careful to avoid any significant battles with the forces my father deployed to retaliate. The inevitable result was that the only people to suffer were those occupants of the towns, villages, and farms plundered by the respective sides.

In 4796 (1047), Abu Nun opened a second front of attack. This time from his southern holdings, new territories acquired from Malaga. This was made possible because of the unstable situation in Malaga when King Idris II was overthrown and sent into exile. King Badis responded by personally taking a regiment of Zanhadja to Malaga with the intention of returning Idris II to the throne.

My father was in the north with his Mamluk and Almoravid regiments, retaliating against the raiding Rondans. Badis was on his own facing Abu Nun, managing without the wisdom, tactics, and strategies of my father. Abu Nun was able to outmaneuver Badis. He mounted a superior force to meet Badis in the type of mounted fighting the Berbers loved. The resulting battle was indecisive. Both sides lost many fighters, but neither could be said to be victorious. Badis lost heart for the endeavor. He returned to Granada, and his jug of wine.

The newly crowned King of Malaga, who took the name Idris III, was as cruel and aggressive as Abu Nun could hope for. He resented Badis’ effort to remove him, and recognized the advantages of being an ally of Ronda, and thereby Seville. Mutadid was now finally ready to act directly. He formalized alliances with both Ronda and Moron. He sent emissaries to several other Taifa states seeking an even stronger coalition against Granada.

Granada was facing a multi-front defensive war. Its enemies were able to pick the time and place of attack. My father recognized Seville was the real enemy, but a direct attack on Seville was not a viable option. Seville was now too strong, and too far away. If he did move against it he would be vulnerable to an attack from the rear by Ronda, Malaga and other states that would quickly recognize his vulnerability.

Father explained his predicament to me. If he attacked Malaga, his army would be isolated from home by the snow-capped Sierra Nevada, leaving Ronda and Seville an easy route into Granada itself.

Ronda was a formidable fortress perched on a sheer cliff, but the route to this fortress was not difficult. Leaving a single regiment to protect Granada, Father led the Zanhadja regulars and his mercenaries into Rondan territory. When he learned the magnitude of the threat, Abu Nun dispatched an urgent request for support to Seville. Mutadid made the decision to finally confront Granada directly. He responded to the Rondan plea by ordering General Muhktar, with two regiments of cavalry, to join forces with the armies of Moron, Carmona, and Ronda. He anticipated these combined armies would be able to crush the Granadans.

The Warrior Rabbi:36

Joseph’s journal: 36

4 Kislev, 4808 (November, 1059)


After his escape from the ambush by Abu Nun Father, returned to Granada. He was obsessed with finding out how Abu Nun learned his route of travel. More importantly he needed to understand how Abu Nun decided on the timing and planning of the attack. Father vowed he would never again be caught in that sort of trap, or any other, for want of knowing his enemy. I have always been thankful he sent me home when he did. The distraction of having to make certain of my safety could have proved fatal for him.

King Badis paid an assassin handsomely and it wasn’t long before the rebellious governor of Baeza was no more. With Badis’ blessing Father organized a massive invasion of Ronda to extract vengeance against Abu Nun. Grenada could not allow his treachery to go unpunished. Grenada’s army was much larger, stronger, and better equipped than Ronda’s. The instigator, Mutadid, was not in a position to offer significant help to his puppet. Abu Nun was left to his own devices.

The campaign was short and Ronda was soon under siege. Abu Nun’s pleas for help from Seville were ignored. It would take a long time to starve Ronda into submission but without viable options and defeat inevitable, Abu Nun agreed to a treaty with Grenada, giving up some territory. Father never had anything good to say about Abu Nun. However, he explained to me that turning an enemy into someone useful, even if he could never be trusted, was a necessary expedient, as well as a useful strategy.

It took me two days to make copies of the epic poem Father wrote to remind himself of his escape from Abu Nun’s ambush, and of all God’s blessings he enjoyed. I never tire of this poem, a part of it reads thus:

Samuel, approach the One seated upon the cherubs with free-will

            Offerings of your lips like rain upon the grass

And may the acclaim of the Rock your redeemer within your

            Mouth and heart be beloved.

When you go upon the way, remember what He has done for you

            Upon the thoroughfares

And praise God who favored you and say: “Blessed are You who

            Rewards the righteous!”

Remember the signs which He showed you here, like the miracles

            For his pure ones close to him.

On the day that kings gave chase to kill you upon horses thick as clouds

And went about in devious ways designed to ambush you from all sides,

You fled and fell into the river whose banks overflowed like a

            Philanthropist’s generosity,

But they were disappointed in their hopes as they returned

            Frustrated with bitter sadness.

The poem goes on to praise God for my father’s birth, childhood, and his parents. He offers thanks to God for his education, knowledge, wisdom, eloquence, and fame. He gives God all the credit for his high position, accumulated wealth, and the ability to manage and control the Berber court he served.

Will you remember this only? Will you not recall when He stood

            Up for you in time of trouble and redeemed you speedily,

And sated your sword with blood like water drawn from wells of Rejoicing

On the day when distress and fear were hot like an oven giving off

            Flames from all sides.

And all were gloomy and each heart like wax and every face was pale.

And arrows and spears sent down like rain mingled in the air,

Even upon the chiefs and horsemen and nobles swords opened

            Their mouth wide.

He saved you from the approaching disaster though none among

            Your dear ones could help.

His deeds multiplied defying count or telling nor could they be

            Contained in a book.

The poem continues to praise God and thank Him, promising to glorify His name and all His accomplishments in poetry.  Father asks Him to erase his guilt and hear his prayers, hoping that his prayers will be agreeable, and then he goes on to chide God:

Does it profit You that you remember the transgressions of your

            Familiars and the debts of your loved ones?

The next line asks that the angels defend him and then he devotes the following stanza of this long poem to belittling his detractors. He ends the poem with this:

O God destroy not your creation, and do not transfer healing for pain.

And may my loved ones not be ashamed of me nor the dogs laugh

            At me in the day of calamity.

Cover me with your pinions and your shade, according to my

            Desire and not that of my foes

And sweeten my years until death and dulcify the clods of earth in my grave.

God bless his memory, my father never had less than a high opinion of himself, and of his place on earth.

The Warrior Rabbi: 35

Ha Nagid’s journal: 35

20 Siven, 4793 (May, 1044)


Two evenings after sending Joseph home, I stopped my army in an idyllic canyon in the Sierra Magina, and made camp for the night. The clear waters of the Guadiara River, fresh with spring runoff, wound its way through the canyon. The evening was fragrant with the aroma of pine trees. The swift water passed over rocks, forming eddies, rushed through narrows, fell four feet over a small cliff, then spread out, widening and slowing. The sound created by the tumbling water reassured the men of the tranquility of the spot. I was completely lulled by the charm and serenity of the place. Colonel ibn Hakim consulted with me but I told him I didn’t think it was necessary to post guards. All the men should get a full night’s rest. My forces were more than adequate to deal with the insurrection. This was just a routine policing expedition and I had no premonition of danger, a mistake I will never make again.

I was not aware that Abu Nun, the king of Ronda, had encouraged the governor of Baeza to perpetrate the raids and looting.  That Berber governor needed very little encouragement to raid and loot. Abu Nun knew I would be forced to respond to this breach of discipline and order. Nun’s scouts were monitoring the progress of my troops, and that wily devil prepared an ambush. He hid the four hundred men he commanded close to where we were camped, anticipating I would halt there for the night. Abu Nun’s objective was singular, to kill or capture me. To accomplish this would be to achieve his long-term goal, the weakening of King Badis.

I suspect Abu Nun did not arrive at this strategy himself. I have reason to believe he was encouraged to undertake the operation by Mutadid, the king of Seville. Mutadid had the most to gain by eliminating me.

Later that evening the skies grew cloudy, threatening rain. The officers and I were in our tents, the soldiers rolled up in their cloaks. The camp was quiet. The occasional snore, or stamping of a horse’s hoof, were the only sounds penetrating the black night.

Abu Nun attacked first with his heavily armored cavalry. They were ordered to rush through our camp, strike as many of my men as possible on the way, then turn and sweep through again. The initial surprise attack was to be followed by archers and infantry to mop up.

Fortunately for me the surprise attack plan proved to be ill-conceived. The night was extremely dark because of the cloud cover. There was only a quarter moon, and it was hidden behind the heavy clouds. The darkness made communication among the attacking forces difficult, in some cases impossible. The obscure night also prevented the attackers from identifying their main target.

Colonel ibn Hakim reacted to the attack in a calm and efficient manner. He had not neglected to drill his troops on how to respond to this type of situation. A special platoon of Nubian infantry quickly formed a perimeter of locked shields around my tent. The rest of the Nubians positioned themselves with their shields and spears to confront the charging horses. The archers, crossbows, and slingers split and ran to opposite sides of the camp, concentrating their fire on the enemy. All this time the enemy commanders were shouting to their men:

“Abu Nun commands you identify Ha Nagid’s tent. He must be captured or killed at all costs.”

Colonel Hakim and his soldiers fought valiantly. The colonel deployed a tight circle of archers, crossbows, and slingers to the Nubians protecting me. Our cavalry rushed to bridle and saddle their horses, not bothering with their armor. I, and a contingent of cavalry, were able to lead our horses to the river, and into the current. The river was still deep and we had to swim to the far side where we mounted our horses, and made our way upstream. Hakim’s rear guard protected access to the river, and more men with their mounts managed to escape. Because of the darkness, the enemy archers were unable to pick specific targets. They resorted to firing one volley after another. Arrows coming from the dark sky careened off the raised shields forming a roof over the heads of the soldiers, who crouched down when they heard the whoosh of incoming missiles. The small round shields of the archers, crossbows, and slingers were not as effective. Many arrows, and other missals, found targets. The enemy soldiers screamed with pain when wounded by our defenders. My soldiers were stoic, professional, proudly brave. They endured their wounds silently.

A shout went up from the enemy as we made our way across the river. The heavy armor worn by Abu Nun’s cavalry, both horses and riders, made it impossible for them to follow. Some tried to respond to Abu Nun’s screamed orders, but their horses sank into the mud at the river’s edge. One man urged his horse into the faster current in the center of the river. Both disappeared under the water, never to reappear. The fate of that horse and rider was soon communicated. None of the other riders were willing to venture into the current encumbered, as they were, with their heavy armor. The complete darkness also prevented Abu Nun’s archers from being able to identify me, or those with me, as targets. Our highly trained, and brave, Nubian infantry were able to hold off the heavy cavalry of Abu Nun long enough for most of our cavalry, archers, slingers and crossbow soldiers to escape via the river. With discipline and order, small units of Nubians, their brothers protecting their retreat, were the last to plunge into the water and swim to safety. I lost over fifty men, including Colonel Hakim, who stayed to command and encourage those most loyal and brave soldiers who covered our retreat into the river. We lost some horses and arms, armor, wagons, and supplies, but I escaped to fight another day. I will gain revenge.