Posts Tagged ‘Arabic poetry’

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

Letter from King Badis to my father: 22

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


My servant Ibn Nagrela,

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

Be prompt and dress accordingly.

Badis, King


Joseph’s Journal: 23

4 Marchehvan, 4808 (October, 1059)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Joseph’s journal: 19

2 Marchehvan, 4808 (October, 1059)

Despite the setback, Yaddair was not deterred. The throne of Granada continued to beckon him. He still had strong supporters in Granada who preferred him, and Badis, who relied even more on my father, reverted to his alienating ways. Yaddair sent emissaries who visited Granada to evaluate the situation. From time to time he received emissaries from secret admirers who still lived in Granada. These contacts served to reinforce his dreams.

While Yaddair continued to plot Father’s spies supplied the names of at least two hundred Zanhadja warriors who supported Yaddair. When my father communicated this information to Badis, he was incensed. He demanded the names and vowed to execute all of them immediately. Father convinced him this could prove to be dangerous because many of the men were well connected and well respected. Their executions would likely draw their friends, colleagues, and certainly their family members, into Yaddair’s camp. My father suggested that Badis make his knowledge of these men known by giving some of them large gifts for no apparent reason. He reasoned this would make the ones not given gifts wonder if they had been exposed. He also told Badis he would devise other strategies to turn the traitors against each other.

The Arab King of Seville, Granada’s long-time enemy, also supported Yaddair’s scheming. His concern was the growing strength of the Granadan Zanhadja. After defeating Zuhair, and the takeover of much of Almeria’s territories, Granada was the most powerful state in eastern Andalusia, thus a threat to Seville.

When I was twelve years old, I asked my father why Seville hates us so much.

“It’s all politics and long-held grudges, Joseph. Granada is a Berber kingdom and Seville is Arab. Seville came to be as a result of the struggles between the Umayyad dynasty and the Hammudite dynasty. The Berbers support the Hammudite dynasty while the Arabs have always supported the Umayyads. The first three Hammudite rulers took the title of Caliph and ruled all of Andalusia after deposing the original Umayyad caliphate. Since that time, the war between the Arab supporters of the Umayyads and the Berber supporters of the Hammudites has never been completely settled. Seville emerged as the Arab supported Umayyad stronghold with a puppet they installed as the Umayyad Caliph. The kingdom is actually ruled by the crafty and power hungry Abu l-Kasim Ibn Abbad. That despot’s goal is to rule all of Andalusia.”

In the year 4788 (1039) the King of Seville sent his army to invade the borders of Carmona. Instead of moving his army the short one day’s march east and slightly north to that city, Seville’s army circled south and east, subduing several small towns and cities along the way before taking the Carmona ruled city of Ossuna. The army then moved directly north to take Ecija. The object of this strategy was to protect their rear when laying siege to Carmona.

The ruler of Carmona at that time was Prince Muhammad ben Abdallah, a Zenaga Berber, who had done his best to maintain good relations with Seville, his eastern neighbor. The King of Seville gave the responsibility of his army to his son Ismail, an experienced and successful general. Following the subjugation of Ecija, Ismail turned back east and laid siege to Carmona. As soon as Ismail started to approach Carmona, ben Abdallah sent emissaries to both Badis and to the Hammudite king of Malaga, Idris ben Ali.

Carmona is well protected by the fortress that occupies the top of the largest hill in the region. That fortress is built on the ruins of the original Roman and Visigoth fortresses, as are most in Andalusia. The kings of Grenada and Malaga understood the obvious threat to their own kingdoms if Carmona fell to Seville. Sending immediate aid to their Berber colleague in Carmona was not only responding to the pleas of another Berber, it was a smart diplomatic move and in their own interests. King Ali of Malaga was ill so he sent his Vizier, ibn Bakana, at the head of his army. Badis headed our army, but he insisted that my father join him.

Our army marched northwest on the road to Cabra, a town located on the western edge of our territory. There the army joined forces with ibn Bakana at Cabra. The combined forces trekked west for over forty kilometers before fording the Genil River. The next move was further west to the plains just east of the small town now known as Los Arenales.

King Badis, my father, and the other high officials and generals all had their own tents and servants. Badis had a pavilion of heavy silk, blues, reds, yellows, and greens strips all sewed together to make a large enough shelter in which to hold court. The tents of the other leaders were only marginally smaller and slightly less ornate than that of Badis. My father’s tent was just large enough to house the heavy carpet that served as his bed, some cushions, his traveling desk, the books he always took with him, and one or two visitors. It was made of heavy, close-woven, blue silk. The generals’ and other administrative tents were slightly smaller than father’s. The officers of the troops generally had single person canvas tents.

The servants set up the tents of their master’s at each camp. They cared for the horses, cooked their master’s food, and served them. The soldiers were divided into platoons of ten to twelve men who drew their rations from the supply wagons, foraging for fresh food along the way. The soldiers made their own cooking fires and slept on the ground rolled up in their cloaks. My father, to show solidarity with the soldiers, did not use a mattress, but slept on a carpet on the ground in his tent. He made certain his servants made this fact well known throughout the camp.

The army moved west, making no effort to obscure the fact they were coming to the aid of Carmona. Ismail’s spies warned him of the size of the approaching army. Not wanting to be attacked from the rear by our army he abandoned laying siege to Carmona, and marched his army to meet us. When he had confirmation that Ismail was moving to intercept our forces my father mentioned to Badis and ibn Bakana that he had in his service a young Jewish man who was raised in Carmona. The young man was willing to make his way into the city where his family still lived. Father suggested the young man could take a message to ben Abdallah instructing his forces to attack Ismail from the rear as soon as our armies were engaged. Badis and his generals thought the plan a good one and the messenger was dispatched on a fast horse.

The armies faced each other on open ground just east of a small village. As the armies prepared for battle, ben Abdallah at the head of his army, appeared on top of a hill to the rear of Ismail’s forces. Ismail, being prudent, ordered his army to retreat to the southwest rather than engage our forces on two fronts.

The three leaders of our forces held a meeting and celebrated the bloodless victory. Badis decided to encamp in place and wait for the following day to start the return to Granada. The next morning, ibn Bakana left with his troops to return to Malaga and ben Abdallah only tarried for an hour or so before beginning his return to Carmona. Our forces started east for Cabra and the return to our own territories. To reach Cabra, we had to re-cross the Genil River. Badis followed his usual practice of sending scouts out ahead of his army and they discovered that Ismail had circled back to the east around us and reached the ford across the Genil by hard march. He was there waiting our arrival, his troops now ready and anxious to do battle.

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Joseph’s journal: 16

26 Tishrei, 4808 (September, 1058)

I can still remember the day of my father’s first battle. It was a Friday. I watched from my bedroom window as my father mounted his stallion and departed in the first light of dawn.

The next day, the Sabbath, Samuel ibn Nagrela returned victorious. He paced the house, charged with energy and excitement. He was much too excited to sit still. Talking to himself he reviewed the events of that day over and over. I hid in the hall outside the salon where my mother cornered my father, trapping him in a corner. She put her arms around him and held him tightly to stop his shaking.

“Did you have to fight my love,” my mother asked?

I couldn’t restrain myself and ran into the room.

“Did you kill anyone, Papa?” I asked. “Did you receive any wounds?”

My mother led him to a chair in the dining room. She pushed him gently into it then sat on his lap, her arms around his neck, her face buried in his chest. She was sobbing with relief and my father patted the small of her back. My uncle joined us and took one of the chairs, pulling it closer to hear my father’s account of the battle.

“No, I did not have to fight. King Badis, myself, and two of his chiefs, all of us protected by bodyguards, were able to see almost all of the fighting from one of the highest hills, while still seated on our horses. It went as God willed it. When Zuhair, at the head of his army, reached the bridge at Alfuente he discovered it destroyed. At that moment, our soldiers hidden above the gorge on both sides, rained arrows, crossbow bolts, and stones from slings down onto his troops at the end of the column.”

“Zuhair had two hundred mercenary Nubian foot soldiers in his army. On the day we first went to greet him I observed the commander of our Nubian mercenaries talking with a young man from Zuhair’s army. I questioned the commander and learned the man he was talking to was a younger brother, a captain in the employ of Zuhair. I then had a private discussion with our commander, and he agreed to make contact with his brother. His charge was to outline a course of action that would be very profitable to his brother, and to his brother’s men.”

“When our troops attacked the baggage train, Zuhair’s Nubians scurried to plunder his supply train, then joined their relatives fighting for us. Zuhair managed to form his remaining troops into battle array, but his cavalry was trapped in the gorge. They did not have room to maneuver. Whenever his foot soldiers managed to fight their way out of the gorge, our Calvary was able to cut them down.”

“During the whole of the battle, Ahmad ibn Abbas was screaming invectives against me. His voice echoed off the walls of the gorge, blaming me for all of Islam’s ills. His shouting dominated all the other sounds of battle, including the screams of the wounded men and animals. The commander of Zuhair’s Slav Calvary was thrown from his horse and taken captive. When Almeria’s cavalry saw their commander captured, they were the first to break ranks and scatter, with our men in pursuit. Zuhair’s entire army had no choice but to run for the foothills, trying to make their individual way up into the relative safety of the mountains of the Sierra Nevada. The strongest struggled to reach the edge of the snow and make their escape. Those on foot were unable to keep pace with those who were mounted and were captured. Those still mounted, braved the steep slopes and deep precipices, but their horses stumbled in the rough terrain. Some men were pitched off their mounts, while some horses fell off the edges into gorges. Zuhair was unable to control his horse. The terrified animal struggled to join other horses running out of control along the edge of a cliff. His horse stumbled and fell, carrying Zuhair into the void. His head was crushed on a large boulder that arrested his fall.”

“Many Almerians were slain and many more were taken captive. General Boluggin gave me the honor of putting Ahmad ibn Abbas in chains. He stumble along, his hands bound behind, in front of my horse, all the way back to Granada.”

That same evening, Father showed me a tiny rolled up Torah with miniscule writing. He had commissioned this easily transportable Torah when he first decided he would participate in war. That same Torah was with him in every battle he ever fought.

“It is a complete Torah,” he told me. “I accompanied King Badis and the army and I prayed that our Lord would give me the strength and courage of David. It was with God’s help we defeated the Almerians.”

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Ha Nagid’s journal: 15

10 Iyar, 4788 (May, 1039)

Today, after presenting Zuhair with many gifts, Badis hosted a dinner with all the ceremony and honor befitting a guest king. I was present when Badis and his most trusted chiefs sat with Zuhair to discuss relations between the two states. Zuhair was attended by Ahmad ibn Abbas and two of his generals but he said nothing. He allowed ibn Abbas to do all the talking for him. I remained in the background, silent but observant. Zuhair sat on his cushions, arms folded and a smirk on his face.

Badis asked that Almeria annul its pact with Carmona. Ahmad ibn Abbas replied by bragging about the size and strength of the Almerian armies and boasted that Zuhair was strong enough to do as he pleased. Ahmad continued his diatribe by suggesting that Granada was already dependent upon Almeria’s strength and goodwill for its survival and should be thankful for the protection.

I could see our chiefs were seething, ready to snatch their swords and begin a slaughter. Warning stares from Badis kept them silent and under control. Badis pointed out that Zuhair had pleaded for Granada’s help only two years previously. Now here he was at our gate as an uninvited, but welcomed guest, presuming to suggest he was somehow entitled. Ahmad ibn Abbas was not satisfied with the consternation he had wrought. He persisted. I sat quietly, my face a mask, while ibn Abbas continued to infuriate. He told our chiefs they should force Badis to rid himself of the Jew sitting amongst them if they wanted peace with Almeria. Badis, seething, glanced at me, then fought to conceal the smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. The arrogance of Zuhair and his minion brought several of the chiefs, who previously had only tolerated me, to my side as friends and supporters. Badis could see this happening.

After Zuhair and his entourage returned to their camp, Badis stalked the room where he had hosted the meeting. He cursed, waved his arms, and shouted his anger. His manhood had been denigrated and he was ready to fight. His honor, that of all his Zanhadja chiefs, and their people, demanded they not succumb to this Slav eunuch and his arrogant Arab vizier.

I reported that none of the patrols we sent out found an Almerian army close enough to cause problems. Badis was determined to attack the next morning, but Prince Boluggin asked for permission to try one more time to convince the Vizier of Almeria not to renounce the old pact with Granada. Badis glanced at me and I nodded agreement. There was nothing to lose by allowing it.

That very evening, Boluggin went to the tent of ibn Abbas in this last attempt to prevent war. He returned within the hour to report he was convinced ibn Abbas and Zuhair fully intended to either annex or destroy the Zanhadja kingdom. While Boluggin was gone, I suggested to the king and assembled chiefs that Boluggin would be a good choice to command our army. There was unanimous agreement.

Although Boluggin was distraught about the outcome of his peace initiative, he was honored by Badis’ offer to appoint him commander of our forces and accepted.

I then retrieved from my satchel a large map I had commissioned. I spread it out on a table and suggested a strategy for battle that was very different from the type of warfare commonly waged. Arabs, Berbers, and Slavs all emphasize the use of cavalry. They preferred to meet on open ground to engage their enemy where they can maneuver their horses. The intent of this strategy is to bring the opposing cavalry into the range of archers and crossbowmen. These battles inevitably end in hand-to-hand combat, where force of numbers usually prevail.

I pointed out to the war council the route Zuhair had used to come to Granada. It was the same route he was most likely to use on his return. To arrive he had skirted the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada. Not far from Granada the army had crossed over the Genil River, using the bridge at the small village of Alfuente. On their return, Zuhair and his army would have to pass through a narrow gorge before reaching that bridge. I suggested our archers and foot soldiers take advantage of the topography and hide in the hills on either side of the gorge. If the bridge was destroyed prior to Zuhair’s arrival, and our forces waited until the tail of their column was in the gorge, his army would be trapped in our ambush. Their only escape would be into the mountains where their cavalry would be of little use.

Badis and his chiefs agreed. Orders were issued. Boluggin made certain his troops were distributed in the most advantageous sites for the ambush. His engineers were dispatched to destroy the bridge.

Now, everything was in the hands of God.

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Ha Nagid’s journal:13

5 Iyar, 4788 (May, 1039)

After the rejection of his overtures by Almeria, King Badis instituted regular meetings with his generals. He also spent considerable time drilling his army. It is good that he is personally involved, preparing our defenses. Today we received intelligence that Zuhair was on his way to Granada, with a thousand elite troops.

Why only a thousand troops? We have at least four thousand soldiers. Why would Zuhair invade with only a thousand? I can only speculate that Zuhair’s ego has made him reckless. I suggested that King Badis send out scouting patrols in all directions from Granada. Perhaps Zuhair’s plan is to distract us in one direction, and attack with force from another. Maybe the whole thing is just an attempt at intimidation, overconfidence, and hubris. In any case, my advice to the King is to wait. He should act surprised when Zuhair appears. Time will reveal his intentions. Is it possible Zuhair is so deluded he thinks Badis will become his vassal without a fight?


Ha Nagid’s journal: 14

9 Iyar, 4788 (May, 1039)

Zuhair and his army arrived late this afternoon. He made camp on a hill just south of the Jewish section of Granada. His arrival at the head of so many soldiers, without prior announcement, was rude and provocative. King Badis rode out to greet him with only his personal guard, myself, and three tribal chiefs. When Badis asked the reason for this breech of manners Zuhair’s explanation was that he had come to pay his respects at the grave of his great ally and friend King Habbus. This was, of course, bogus since he had never offered condolences to Badis when Habbus died.

We returned to the Alcazaba where King Badis followed my advice. Contrary to the advice of the majority of his tribal chiefs, he restrained his outrage. He waited to see what Zuhair would do next.

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Joseph’s Journal:11

Shevat 4807 (January, 1058)

Yesterday I read my father’s journal entry written on 20 Tishrei, 4733. This evening I asked my mother if she regretted not being married to her cousin.

“Was he always still your first love?”

She shrugged and replied, “I never was allowed a choice or an opinion. The decisions were made by my father then my Uncles.”


Joseph’s journal:12

25 Tishrei 4808 (September, 1059)

I think I was about ten years old when I showed my father my most recent copy of one of his poems. This one was written in Arabic. I correctly identified it as acrostic, in the tawil meter. The first letter of the first word in each stanza spelled out Nagrela. I clenched my new gold coin in my left hand ready to leave his presence and add the coin to my growing hoard.

He leaned forward and patted the seat of one of his guest chairs. I will do my best to recreate the conversation we had.

“Wait, Joseph…sit,” he instructed.

I sat.

“First I want you to remember something very critical. Those who occupy important positions, as I plan you will someday, always have enemies. You must work hard to make certain you have at least twice as many friends as you do enemies. Do you know what is necessary for you to do to make and keep friends?”

“I’m not certain. I don’t have many friends other than Samuel ben Yehuda.”

“I know his father, it is a good family. Samuel is a big strong boy, no?”

“Yes, he has been here in the house, we study sometimes together.”

“Anyhow, the first rule for making and keeping friends is to follow the words of Rabbi Akiba: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’  The second rule is to always be humble, do not act as though you are better in any way than those you want as friends. The third rule is to care, really care, about their health, and wellbeing, and that of their family members. If they are in need of anything, and you have the ability to take care of that need, you must do so. That includes emotional support as well as material support. The fourth rule is to maintain contact. It is hard work to maintain friendships, but if you have not heard from a friend recently you must initiate contact, let them know you are thinking of them. Ask if there is anything you can do for them. At the minimum, you must arrange some sort of meeting, or a study session, or invite them to a party. You need to be with them in an informal setting.

The fifth rule is to do nothing to create bad feeling. This is especially true of your relationships with the Muslims or Christians. You must have friends amongst those peoples. Adapt yourself to their culture and beliefs. You know our Berber masters are fond of wine, good rich foods, and women, as well as young girls and boys. Are you old enough to understand this last bit of what I am telling you, Joseph?”

“Yes, Papa, I know of this from your poetry. But you don’t do those things do you? You just imagine them and write poems?”

“Because it is essential for me to not give cause for King Badis and the Berber chiefs to no longer be my friends, I do participate, but with restraint. I never take wine or food in excess. I sometimes dally with the women and children, but I do not consummate. Do you know what I mean by consummate?”

“No, Papa.”

“When you are older I will explain it. Just always remember that I love your mother and all you children. Enough of this. This evening I want to tell you more of my history. Perhaps this will help you understand all I have had to do to achieve my present position. Speaking of these matters aloud also reminds me of events and helps me maintain constancy and clear thinking.”

“You know that early one morning in Menachem Av, 4796, when you were just two years old, King Habbus died. The next few days were crucial for our family. It was very possible I would be arrested. If that happened, your mother had to be prepared to flee the city with you and your uncle. I arranged for horses and a carriage for all of you at the Cogollos Vega farm. I also purchased a house in Jaen, in the Jewish section. If I was taken, your mother would make her way there. I instructed your mother and uncle not to speak of these arrangements to anyone, but to be prepared to depart immediately. Your uncle was given the responsibility to see to it that you and your mother were safe.”

Father told me that over the next several days he had meetings with Prince Boluggin. He knew that many of the Zanhadja tribal chiefs preferred to have Boluggin, rather than Badis, as the new king. Father repeated his previous arguments to Boluggin, in even greater detail. He again described the responsibilities of the king and the restrictions that would be placed upon him, both by the position and by people’s expectations. Father asked him to consider what he knew about the personality and character of his older brother. He asked him what he thought Badis would do if he, Boluggin, accepted the handshake of fealty and allegiance when offered by those tribal chiefs who were most likely to support him. While he spoke to him, Father could see that Boluggin understood that Badis would not give up the throne quietly. Father went on to point out that a civil war between brothers was a terrible price to pay for power. Father spoke of his own nightmares, inspired by his conversations with the one God, who Jews do not name but the Muslims know as Allah, about the horrors that would come to Granada from a civil war.

Later, my Father learned from his spies that same afternoon some of the chiefs did meet with Boluggin. He did not know what Boluggin’s response to them was. Father had spoken to Prince Badis on several occasions during the King’s final illness and pledged his support, along with that of the great majority of the Jewish community.

Three days after his conversation with Prince Boluggin, Father was called to King Haddus’ bedside. Haddus told him he knew about his nephew Yaddair’s efforts to have my father removed as Vizier. He asked my father, which of his sons he considered to be the best to rule the kingdom after his death. Father was frank. He told the king he considered Badis to be better prepared and better suited by temperament and personality to be a strong ruler. He was most likely to follow the example set by his father. He told Habbus that although there was strong support for Yaddair he couldn’t understand why he might consider choosing a nephew over one of his own sons since both were qualified. Father told me Habbus agreed then asked him to take writing up materials. He dictated an order for his nephew, instructing him to forgo trying to usurp the throne. Yaddair was further instructed to provide his loyalty, support, and counsel to the new king. While seated at the King’s bedside, my father composed the document. When it was finished, Haddus read it, nodded his head, and held out his hand for the pen. After signing, he called for a messenger and gave instructions to deliver the document into Prince Yaddair’s hands.

Within hours of Habbus’ death, one of our servants knocked on the doorjamb of my father’s study, where I sat with him reciting a passage from the Torah.

“There is a messenger from the palace at the front gate sir,” the servant said.

“Well, Joseph, I expect this is the news I have been waiting for. At least it is a messenger, not soldiers to take me away.”

He told the servant to bring the messenger to us. When the messenger entered the study, Father looked at him and lifted his chin. The messenger looked at me and raised his eyebrows.

“He is my son; he does not speak of anything said in this room. Please tell me what has transpired.”

The messenger told us that Prince Boluggin refused to shake the hands of those that came to him offering fealty. Prince Badis promised to make Boluggin commander of all the mercenaries, including the Negro infantry from Nubia. He also promised him the choice of several large estates. Prince Boluggin accepted all of these honors and pledged his loyalty to Badis.

“Who sent you with this message?” asked Father.

“Prince Badis sent me. He also told me you are invited to attend the ceremony that will crown him King.

“When is the ceremony to take place?” asked Father.

“The ceremony is scheduled to begin at ten tomorrow morning.”

Father thanked the messenger and asked him to tell King Badis he will be honored and very pleased to attend him.

After the messenger left my father allowed himself a smile of satisfaction.

“Well, the first obstacle had been overcome, Joseph, but Badis has an unstable and volatile personality. He could prove to be less easy to influence than was his father. We are entering some interesting and dangerous times. That’s enough for this evening, Joseph. I see you listen very intently to what is said in this room. Do you remember?”

“Yes, Papa, I remember everything.”

Several evenings later, I was back in father’s study. He glanced at my copy of the poem he had assigned and smiled.

“Yes, good, Joseph,” and he handed me the gold coin he was holding between thumb and first finger.

“Sit. Tonight I want to talk about what has happened in the short time since Badis became king. Within days after he was crowned, Badis appointed two brothers as new Viziers, Ali and Abdallah ibn al-Karawi. The brothers were classmates of Badis at the school for chief’s sons. They have remained close friends and spend much time in diversion with the king. Their father’s family was originally Christian. The grandfather, converted to Islam and the whole family subsequently converted. The family has supplied aides to various Zanhadja chiefs since the grandfather’s conversion. The two new Viziers have the ear of Badis. I had to make certain I knew what advice they gave so I could adapt mine to theirs.”

“King Badis also increased the functionaries of his court to include native Andalusians, those decedents of the original people who inhabited Andalusia. The native Andalusians willingly adopted the trappings of any religion they needed to survive. They accepted the different Paganisms and Gods of the Romans, then the Visigoth beliefs, then Christianity. When the Muslims invaded, many of them found Islam, although today there are still a few who observe the Pagan practices of their ancestors. Some few Andalusians even converted to Judaism, but most converted to Islam. It made life significantly easier for them. So now I am dealing with Andalusians, Arabs, Berbers and Slavs, all of whom have envied and hated each other for generations, and are now struggling for influence at the court. Of course they all hate Jews, especially Jews who occupy higher positions of power than they enjoy.”

Now I am now forced to make friends of all these natural enemies so I can maintain my position. My fate, inherited from my father, is always to strive to retain enough influence so I can protect our people.

My father continued:

“To further complicate matters the Vizier of Almeria renewed his efforts to oust me. He did his best with King Habbus. After Habbus died, he sent a strong letter to Badis reiterating his charge that giving a Jew high office is forbidden in the Qur’an. He suggested that I was the only obstacle to peace between Almeria and Granada. Without comment, King Badis handed me that letter and waited for my response. I read it quickly, then read it again, with considerable thought and concentration before looking up.”

“I decided to ignore the first part of the letter and focused my attention to ibn Abbas’ reference to a recent pact between his King Zuhair and the Prince of Carmona. I reminded King Badis that Carmona’s territory abutted Granada’s, western borders. I reminded him that the rulers of Carmona were Zenaga and closely related to other Zenaga, and those tribes were chronically attempting to unite to destroy the Zanhadja. I then spoke about the advisability of maintaining a good relationship with Almeria to protect the rear of the kingdom from attack. This was essential if he was to deal with the generations-long conflict with the Kingdom of Seville to the east.”

“I suggested King Badis send a respected Arab theologian, such as my friend Abu l’Hassan, as his emissary to hold meetings with ibn Abbas. He might be more inclined to listen to an Arab emissary who enjoyed strong theological credentials. I suggested that the charge for Abu l’Hassan should be to remind ibn Abbas, and Zuhair, of how quickly and forcibly Granada came to the aid of Almeria in their recent conflict with Seville, and how mutually beneficial it would be to renew the alliance.”

Badis accepted my father’s advice. He sent the noted scholar, also a sharia judge, to conduct talks with the leaders of Almeria. Badis further instructed the emissary to inform the leaders he considered the Jew too valuable to be dismissed. Abu l’Hassan returned dejected. He reported that ibn Abbas told him under no circumstances would he advise Zuhair to accept Badis’ arguments. He hinted that with his strong army of Slavs, Arabs, Negroes, and Christian mercenaries, along with his ability to hire additional Catalan troops, Zuhair would not have much difficulty if he decided to annex Granada to his kingdom.

After receiving this report, my father’s advice to Badis was to start an immediate buildup of his own army, but to wait until Zuhair made the first move. He explained that the longer we could delay, the more time we had to gain strength.

Badis followed Father’s advice. This was also the time that Father embarked on an exhaustive study of treatises on military strategies, techniques, armaments, and descriptions of how historically decisive battles had been won.  He had agents from throughout the Diaspora purchase books on these subjects, many delivered by messengers on fast horses. Most of these books were written in Latin or Greek. When my own in studies in Latin and Greek were advanced enough, I asked my father if I could borrow some of his books. He was happy that I showed interest. I took the time to read several of them and discovered they were all published by successful Generals and Father had made copious notes to himself in the margins.

During that same time, my father, even at his advanced age, hired experts to come to the house to teach him the use of the sword, spear, bow and arrow, shield, sling, and all the other weapons in common use. He also purchased three well-bred stallions and took time, at least three times a week, to practice horseback riding along with his training for battle.

My father became thin, fit and muscular. He could hold his own with the various swordsmen he brought to the courtyard of our house for practice and exercise.

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Ha Nagid’s journal:10

20 Tishrei, 4733 (October, 1024)

I was born in Cordoba in the year 4654 (993). My brother Isaac is slightly over a year older than me. We were both keen students. Isaac still has a quick, retentive mind, and superior powers of reasoning. I was marginally slower than he. My father was not extremely wealthy but he was a successful businessman, and he made certain his sons studied with the best teachers available. We both studied with the renowned scholar Rabbi Hanokh and his son Rabbi Moses ben Hanokh, both highly respected for their learning. We also studied with the leading Hebrew grammarian of his generation, Judah Hayyudi. There were other teachers for Latin and Greek, Arabic, Aramaic and Berber. The language of the streets, Ladino, we learned on the streets.

Our father did not neglect to teach his sons business affairs. We both became practical and self-sufficient, as well as well-educated. In those days students met at previously set times in the homes of their teachers, sometimes in the synagogue, and sometimes even in shops where books were sold. Most wealthy homes, both Islamic and Jewish, had extensive libraries. The teachers would lead and direct long discussions of various literary topics, and all the scholars present were expected to participate sharing their insights and opinions. Significant amounts of time were set aside for the reading and analysis of all the various meters of Arabic and Hebrew poetry. Readings were followed by an in-depth discussion about the form, texture and meaning of the poems.

At an early age I enjoyed recognition for my understanding of both Arabic and Hebrew poetry, even approbation by Arab scholars who appreciated my writings. I have always been excited to learn something new every day and feel if I haven’t the day has been wasted. I have even made an extensive study of the Qur’an, and of the writings of many Muslim theologians. Of course, I have studied Torah, and both editions of the Talmud, extensively and in great detail. Neither have I neglected the writings of Christian scholars and the New Testament.

Leaders of the large Jewish community of Cordoba often spoke of the accomplishments of the physician Hasdai ibn Shaprut. Ibn Shaprut achieved preeminence as Foreign Minister to the illustrious court of the Caliph of all Andalusia. As a youth, I often daydreamed about matching or even surpassing the accomplishments of ibn Shaprut, hero of all the Jews of Andalusia.

It was in the month of Siven, 4674 (1013) when the Berbers took final control of Cordoba from the Umayyads, after three years of strife. The result was the breakup of the Umayyad Empire into many city/states now known as the Taifa. During those three years of conflict the Jews and other citizens of Cordoba were under continuous stress as well as physical danger. I was twenty years old and decided to leave Cordoba to escape the turmoil. My father and the rest of my family stayed behind in hopes of retaining the home and business.

I joined a small group of immigrants. We were all intent on braving the roving bands of Berbers and effecting an escape. Berber raiders were continuing to create havoc in the countryside and on the highways, robbing, raping, pillaging and murdering those they encountered. Our small group’s plan was to reach Malaga, where the ruler of that Taifa had an agreement with the Berbers. They accepted tribute from him and in return agreed to leave him, his holdings, and his people alone.

There was then, and still is, a highway that follows the course of a thousand-plus-year-old Roman road from Cordoba to Malaga. That road runs south and slightly east from Cordoba and is less than two hundred kilometers in length. Under normal circumstances it is a relatively easy eight-day trip on foot. Our small group of emigrants inquired of everyone we met along the way with the intent of finding the easiest road and avoiding contact with Berbers. We first headed in the opposite direction, northeast out of Cordoba then took the road to Montoro. We then followed a little traveled road south and west crossing the Guadajoz River then east to Baena. From Baena we made our way east then south again skirting the eastern slopes of the Subbetica Mountains and continuing south to Archidona. From Archidona we learned the roads were safe from Antequera to Malaga. We finally arrived in Malaga after twenty days of walking.

Several times during the journey we were forced to hide from roving Berber bands. During those twenty hectic days, I formed a special relationship with the donkey that carried my most valued books, and the supplies and gear I needed for the trip. The donkey followed me closely, keeping the rope from my hand to his halter slack. Whenever we were forced to hide, my hand on the donkey’s nose was enough to prevent him braying. I kept that donkey for many years.

After I was settled in Malaga I opened a small shop and started a business selling spices. I had sewn a dozen gold coins into the hem of my cloak. Those coins were all I had as capital to start my business. The business acumen I learned from my father proved valuable. Over the next several years my business expanded enough for me to purchase the building that housed the shop. The business provided an adequate, albeit not extravagant, lifestyle.

The Jewish community of Malaga was small, about forty families. Almost all the heads of households were either craftsmen or merchants. There were no young scholars or writers with whom I could interact. I did manage to find some intellectual stimulation in the home of Rabbi Judah, the leader of the small Malagan Jewish community. But there was no extensive circle of intellectuals to provide the back and forth discourse I was accustomed to when living in Cordoba. I felt isolated and depressed, except when I was able to interact with the new friend I made during my first year in Malaga.

Ali ben Ahmad ibn Hazm became one of the most renowned Muslim intellectuals of our generation. He was the son of a high-ranking member of the recently deposed government of Cordoba. Although he and I were both born and raised in Cordoba, we did not meet until after both of us moved to Malaga. After the takeover by the Berbers, ibn Hazam’s father was ousted by the new Berber rulers, then imprisoned and was forced to forfeit a significant portion of his property to obtain his freedom. Despite these family setbacks, Ali ibn Hazm continued his studies and acquired a deep understanding of Arabic literature, philology, and the theory of logic. He also composed beautiful poetry, but his overriding passion was the study of theology.

After we met, as two refugees from Cordoba, there was an immediate connection. Then, and for the rest of his life, ibn Hazm was a controversial man. He particularly enjoyed arguing with anyone who held religious views that differed from his, not excluding other Muslim theologians. He also enjoyed debating literary subjects. He and I spent many hours engaged in good spirited argument.

Ibn Hazm particularly enjoyed arranging public debates. He loved to demonstrate his knowledge and debating skills to an audience. He challenged me to a series of debates about the veracity of certain sections of the Torah. My friend eventually published a book detailing those debates, his arguments and my responses. In that book, he voiced the opinion that I was the most accomplished debater he ever knew. We maintained a respectful friendship while we both resided in Malaga, but once I attained a position of authority and success, ibn Hazm, who never achieved a similar level of recognition, became increasingly vindictive and eventually turned against me.

Within the small Jewish community of Malaga, and increasingly within the entire population of the city, my reputation as a scholar was increasing. There was also considerable interest in my ability to write grammatically correct Arabic, free of error and in the flowery style much appreciated by the Andalusians. It wasn’t long until those skills were put to use. I was happy, and pleased, to compose letters for people I knew.

By this time, I had all but given up on my youthful dreams of living up to the standards set by my hero Hasdai ibn Shaprut. My spirits reached a new low as I approached thirty years of age. I was unmarried as well as frustrated with the lack of an intellectually challenging life. Then something totally unexpected happened.

The house next to mine was owned by the Finance Vizier of Granada, Abu l-Abbas. The house and nearby estates of this worthy man were maintained and managed by one of his stewards. The steward made my acquaintance and frequently asked me to write letters to the Vizier. I answered the Vizier’s questions about his affairs in Malaga and provided updates on his properties. Abu l-Abbas was apparently impressed by the level of skill and learning apparent in that correspondence and asked the steward about the scribe responsible. On one of his visits to Malaga, Abu l-Abbas insisted the steward introduce him to me. After a short conversation, the Vizier recruited me to return with him to Granada to become his aide.

A legend is often repeated in Jewish community of Granada that I was responsible for the growth in influence and the wise advice of the Vizier l-Abbas. According that legend, the Vizier, on his deathbed, admitted to King Habbus that the writings and wise council he provided for the king were all my work thus securing for me the position of Vizier. This legend is pure fabrication, but it seems to have developed a life independent of reality. It will, no doubt, persist.

Even after moving to Granada, my life did not progress smoothly. As my reputation grew and I became more successful I was appointed Ha Nagid, responsible for the good behavior of the Jewish community as well as tax collector for that community. This, inevitably, resulted in my acquisition of enemies. Tax collectors are never popular and the way the system works, throughout Andalusia, is that the rulers tell those responsible for collecting taxes how much the government expects from their assigned district. These so-called “tax farmers” collect as much as they think they can, and kept the difference. I became successful in this endeavor and thus managed to alienate several wealthy, and influential, heads of old Jewish families in Granada. When I arrived, the Jewish community comprised at least forty percent of the inhabitants of Granada and was destined to grow in numbers under my nurturing.

I wanted to help my friend from Malaga, Rabbi Judah. It also was true that Rabbi Judah’s daughter Rebecca was young, beautiful, and of marriageable age. I secured a tax territory for Rabbi Judah and the Rabbi moved his family to Granada. I made no secret of my interest in Rebecca, but she was already spoken for. A second cousin, who was the Rabbi’s disciple, had been promised her.

The fact that I brought in an outsider to assume the lucrative tax farmer duties rankled, and further alienated those same, already out of sorts, old Jewish establishment families. The situation was worse because Rabbi Judah was an even more recent arrival than I was. The Jewish men who felt slighted turned to the Muslim officials with whom they had long-standing relationships. They managed to convince those officials that I was collecting significantly more than I should in taxes and was keeping enough to become overly wealthy. I was arrested and put into prison. Later I discovered the same malcontents also hired thugs who attacked and killed Rabbi Judah and his disciple, the fiancé of Rebecca, while I was in jail and they were out collecting taxes.

My many friends in the Jewish community, along with the Finance Vizier l-Abbas, managed to obtain my release from prison, but it was too late to save Rabbi Judah. I suggested I should marry Rebecca and assume the responsibility and honor of caring for the Rabbi’s family. Despite having to pay a huge fine to help secure my release, I still had considerable financial resources. Rabbi Judah’s family agreed to the arrangement but insisted the marriage be delayed for a full year of mourning. Eventually the katuba was signed and Rebecca and I were married.

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