Posts Tagged ‘Arabic poetry’

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.

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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.

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Ha Nagid’s journal26

21 Tishrei, 4788 (September, 1039)


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

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

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

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

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

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


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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: 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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