Posts Tagged ‘Jewish influence in Andalusia’

Joseph’s Journal: 24

5 Marchehvan, 4808 (October, 1059)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, Papa.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Full Post »

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

Letter from King Badis to my father: 22

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


My servant Ibn Nagrela,

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

Be prompt and dress accordingly.

Badis, King


Joseph’s Journal: 23

4 Marchehvan, 4808 (October, 1059)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Full Post »

Ha Nagid’s copy of the message he wrote and sent via messengers on fast horses to ibn Bakana and ben Abdallah: 20

10 Rabi’ al-thani, 430 (10 Tammuz, 4788; June, 1039)

Esteemed Sirs,

We are stopped in sight of the ford of the Genil River. Ismail has surprised us by circling around and ensconced his army between us and an open plain, the only ford of the river for some distance at his back. We request that you immediately come back to reunite our forces. Only this action will enable us to deal with this threat to the security of all three of our Kingdoms.

The messengers who arrive with this plea will lead you by the shortest route possible so we can join forces in this endeavor.

May Allah grant you speed;

Badis, King of Granada


Ha Nagid’s journal: 21

12 Tammuz, 4788 (June, 1039)

With the Genil protecting his rear and an open plain between us, Ismail no doubt felt he was in a much better position to maneuver his forces and win the day. Our three leaders met, with me present, and Badis addressed me.

“Have you a plan, Nagrela?” he asked.

I responded in the affirmative.

Badis explained to our allies that he considered me a wise and learned man who had made a study of military tactics and strategy. He told them it was my plan that was responsible for the recent defeat of Zuhair. He asked if they were willing to listen to me and if they didn’t like the plan he was open to consider other ideas. The two leaders, and their generals, all agreed to listen to what I had to say.

“We should offer our best fighter as our champion, to challenge their champion to single combat. While the enemy troops are focused on the outcome of this fight we should position the cavalry of ibn Bakana to attack the right flank of their army. After the right flank is fully engaged the cavalry of ben Abdallah should attack the left flank. When the enemy shifts in response to the second cavalry attack, we advance our foot soldiers forward in the middle. The archers, sling throwers, and the crossbow archers should be placed in ranks behind the infantry soldiers. The infantry advances until the archers are in range of their troops. The archers and crossbow soldiers fire, in volleys. Each rank reloads while the next rank advances and fires, until the slingers are close enough to cause damage. All must maintain discipline and keep their ranks close. We hammer the enemy until they start to spread out or scatter. Badis’ cavalry is held in reserve to attack the weakest point when it is exposed. The infantry soldiers with their long spears are our best defense against cavalry. They must block any cavalry attacks on the main forces that continue to move forward until they reach the river. The objective is to split Ismail’s forces. By massing with overwhelming numbers in the center, our archers, sling and crossbow soldiers will make maximum impact. Each of you have personal guards of about fifty men. I suggest that these mounted men be held in reserve until the enemy shows its first signs of breaking ranks, then you release your men to go in and clean up.”

The commanders all agreed to this plan. Badis called for the best swordsman from his guard and asked him if he would volunteer as our champion. The man was so honored by his king’s request, and so certain of his own prowess, that he readily agreed. The challenge was issued and accepted by Ismail’s champion.

The two came together in front of the massed troops. They fought on foot with sword and shield, evenly matched, for over thirty minutes. While they were thus engaged, and the enemy soldiers focused on the spectacle, our cavalry units maneuvered to the right and left flanks of Ismail’s position. The two champions, exhausted from their exertions bent at the waist, taking deep breaths, but paused less than a minute to catch their breath then re-engaged. As the cheering from both sides reached a crescendo, the signal went out for the attack. Ibn Bakana’s cavalry detached and charged Ismail’s right flank. Ismail’s infantry was re-deployed to intercept but were slow and disorganized. As soon as our cavalry made contact ben Abdallah’s cavalry attacked the left flank. This time Ismail’s remaining infantry responded a bit faster. As soon as both flanks were engaged, our center moved forward. The champions broke off and returned to their units both leaving blood on the ground.

I watched from a small hill with Badis and his colleagues all of us were mounted. The kings’ personal guards arrayed behind each them. Signal calls from bugles and drums competed with the clash of swords and spears clanging against shields. We discerned the sounds of weapons breaking, horses neighing and screaming with pain. Those sounds merged with the shouts of men and battle cries, horses running, cries of the wounded, moans of the dying, and the whoosh from volleys of arrows, bolts and missals flying through the air.

I clutched my small Torah under my cloak and silently murmured continuous prayers to our God. Suddenly I noticed that the Berber mercenaries employed by Ismail’s father seemed to be reluctant to enter the fray. I pointed this out to Badis who immediately dispatched the commander of his Zanhadja guard to confer with those Berbers. They immediately joined our side in the battle.

Our Nubian infantry steadily advanced, making it easier for our archers, crossbow, and sling soldiers to pick individual targets as opposed to just sending volleys into the air. The massed group in the center of our forces headed directly towards Ismail and his bodyguards, who were fighting furiously. Badis and the other two commanders rushed into the fray with their mounted men. In a matter of moments, Ismail was on the ground dead. What remained of his army fled to save themselves.

Ismail’s head was severed from his dead body and sent, with one of the captured officers, to the king of Seville to inform him of our victory. The soldiers of all three of our armies spent the rest of the day removing valuable articles from the dead and wounded. It took all of the following day to divide all the spoils Ismail’s troops had garnered from Ecija and Ossuna, and from the many small towns and villages they had conquered during their depravations. Three even piles of valuables were stacked and the three commanders awarded shares to each of their regular and mercenary contingents. The leaders of each contingent were left to distribute the share to their men. The commanders, of course, retained a significant portion for their own use. While the division of spoils was taking place, I retired to my tent and started writing down a hymn of praise to God. I named the work; Prayer Before a Battle. I vowed to recite that poem to myself before every battle I am involved in from this time forward. Here is the Prayer:

Prayer Before a Battle

Behold my distress this day, hear and be entreated by my prayer.

Remember the promise to your servant and let me not be ashamed of my hope.

Can any hand reach out to do me ill when You are my power and protection?

You appointed me and were gracious; by the hands of angels You brought me glad tidings.

I am passing through the waters, draw me out of my fears;

 I am walking in a conflagration, set me free from my flames.

And if there are bitter decrees against me, –what am I or my miserable deeds?

I am in dire straits and I cannot say more.

Do to me that which my heart desires and hasten to my aid.

And if in your judgment I am not worthy, then do it for my son and my Torah!

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

Joseph’s journal: 18

 28 Tishrei, 4808, (September, 1059)

My father’s house, now mine, was built on a small hill in the northeast corner of the Jewish section of Granada. From the rooftop terrace there is a clear view of the snow-covered Sierra Nevada. We can also see Badis’ renovated palace. It occupies the top of a much larger hill. The triangular top of the hill has been flattened and comes to a point. That portion of the Alcazaba looks down on us, and on all of Granada.

Our house was built in many stages. The basic and original structure consists of both quarried rock and handmade bricks. The ground floor is reached via a stout, solid cedar gate from the street in front of the house. There are no houses across the street from ours, only a retaining wall and then a view of the valley below. Our front gate opens onto a large courtyard with the sound and smell of fresh water. In one corner of the courtyard water falls two meters over a rock wall into a pool. That water drains into a fountain in the center of the courtyard that sends out a cooling mist. The water from the waterfall also circulates through a series of ponds filled with fish and water flowers. On the roof of the house is a windmill that powers the pump that lifts the water up into a tank that feeds the waterfall. There are several stone benches in the courtyard and many planters filled with exotic plants and fruit trees. Birds sing to us from the trees and there are always flowers, or flowering bushes, or flowering trees, depending on the season, to add their sweet aroma.

One enters the house proper from the courtyard through an iron gate that protects a huge oak door. Both can be locked to prevent entry into the house. Through the doorway there is a long narrow room lined with wood benches. Those waiting to see my father, and now me, can use the benches to wait if the weather is bad, or they are uncomfortable waiting in the courtyard. This waiting room has three other doors in addition to the one leading from the courtyard. The first of these doors opens onto a hallway with an open arch. This hallway leading to the salon and adjoining dining room. Off the dining room is the kitchen, then a storeroom with a door to a small back courtyard. The back courtyard contains the privy and there is a stout gate to the narrow alley that passes in back of the house. The hallway continues and ends at the stairs leading up to four bedrooms, then up another flight to the large bedroom of my mother and father. My wife and I use that master bedroom now. The rooftop terrace is reached from a separate doorway from the top stair landing.

The second door from the waiting room opens to a short hallway leading to the study. Off the study is an adjoining room containing a small bed, covered in bright silks, and a silk pillow stuffed with cotton. This is where my father would nap in the afternoon. The third hallway door opens into a large room filled with floor cushions and book shelves along three walls. This is the room where Father would meet with his students. He also used it for meetings when there were too many people to fit into his study. I use the rooms as my father did.

Shortly after he was appointed Finance Minister, my father started a Yeshiva. He selected his students using several criteria. The first criterion was an evaluation of their skill as calligraphers. He claimed he could tell much about a person’s personality and reliability by their calligraphy. If the prospective students passed this test, Father interviewed them to evaluate their knowledge of the Torah and Talmud. Finally, he asked a series of questions designed to evaluate their honesty and moral character.

His mode of instruction was to arrange the students in a semi-circle in front of where he sat. He would dictate to them from the Torah, or one of his books of the Talmud, or from some other work of theology. He would then inspect what they copied and make corrections before initiating a discussion of the possible interpretations and meanings of the text. When not teaching, he put the students to work making copies of important writings, mostly his. Many of these copies, including copies of the Torah and Talmud, were destined for poor communities or scholars throughout the Diaspora.

After the defeat of Zuhair and ibn Abbas, it wasn’t long before Prince Yaddair initiated another crisis. This was made possible because Badis’ neglected to do what was necessary to maintain his popularity with several of his chiefs. Muhammad al-Djurdjani also felt slighted by Badis, who never bothered to respond to his request for an audience. Yaddair, with minimal effort, was able to recruit al-Djurdjani to his cause and hired him, and his retinue, as his personal bodyguards. He then conspired with al-Djurdjani to organize a rebellion involving the chiefs who felt slighted. His new bodyguard made all the necessary contacts and organized the treachery while Yaddair was able to keep his own hands clean. Even though Yaddair’s dislike of my father was well known, the schemers invited my father to join their cabal. Al-Djurdjani’s clever reasoning was to involve my father so he could not act against them. They even pressed my father to host one of their meetings to plan Badis’ assassination. I believe they had Father host this meeting because they were certain he would learn of their plot in any case.

Father told me of these plans soon after they were broached to him, but he was not certain of a course of action. He believed Prince Boluggin might be party to the scheme, or at least know of it. Badis was failing to demonstrate true leadership and that was troublesome. When Father learned some of those same stalwarts of the Jewish community responsible for the murder of my grandfather were involved in the plot he formulated his own plan.

All the servants were told to visit their relatives and not return until two days later. My mother and I, my uncle, and my baby sister were sent to our farm at Guevegar for a three-day holiday. That same day, Father met with Badis and told him what he knew. The two of them hatched a plan.

When the planet Venus was just visible in the darkening sky there were four heavy raps, with the pommel of a sword, rattling the heavy back gate. My father swung it open and Badis, clothed in a heavy cloak, his face covered with the tail end of his turban, entered sheathing his sword. Father closed and locked the gate then led the way up the stairs to my bedroom which was located directly over the meeting room. He had drilled a hole in the floor so the King could listen to what transpired during the meeting.

More than an hour later Father ushered the last of the conspirators into the meeting room. King Badis sat on cushions near the hole in the floor. He told me later it was not necessary for him to lie on the floor with an ear to the hole to clearly understand the conversations being held in the room below. He was tempted, he told me, on a couple of occasions to look through the hole to see who was talking, but feared the movement would be noticed and he would be discovered.

Yaddair was not present at the meeting, but al-Djurdjani was clearly speaking for him. When they first arrived, Father acknowledged each of the men by name but said nothing else during the meeting. The plan to assassinate Badis was discussed and assignments as to who was to do what made, as well as the sequence of events that would make Boluggin king. They even talked about making Yaddair the king after Boluggin was induced to abdicate or, if necessary, assassinated. Perhaps they were still unsure of my father, so they avoided any discussion of the time and place for the plot to unfold. The meeting ended and the more than two-dozen men left the house in groups of three or four. When the last were gone, Father showed King Badis the way out to the back courtyard and opened the gate. Neither of them spoke but Father told me that before disappearing into the narrow alley Badis put his left hand on father’s right shoulder, gave it a squeeze, and nodded his thanks.

Badis recognized the voices of several of the conspirators. The next day he summoned one of them, ostensibly to offer him a new position of responsibility in the government. When they were together, he explained to the man that if he did not reveal when and where the assassination attempt was to be made his whole family would be killed while he watched. After they were dead he would be slowly, painstakingly tortured until death released him from his agony. Badis estimated the process would take several days.

The plan was to surround Badis and his bodyguards at the horse races scheduled for the coming weekend at the nearby village of Zubia. Several weeks previously, Badis made it known he was looking forward to attending these races in which several of his own horses would compete.

Badis made his plan. He showed up at the races with just four bodyguards and two invited chiefs, one of whom he knew to be one of the conspirators. He secreted fifty of his best Zanhadja warriors, all from his own family, in the large crowd. The weather was cool and all of his men wore long cloaks concealing their light armor and swords. As al-Djurdjani and his men, along with eight of the co-conspirators, maneuvered individually through the crowd to get close to the king, each was cut-off, separated and held at knifepoint by Badis’ men. After they were disarmed, the conspirators were led away with minimal fuss. When Al-Djurdjani was grabbed he did manage to draw his sword, but not until after he was surrounded by five skilled warriors. After his sword arm was severely lacerated, he was led away with a rope around his neck and his hands tied behind his back.

Yaddair and most of the other conspirators were waiting at the palace, poised to take control. They received word of the events at the races and fled Granada, eventually reaching Seville. Among those that fled were those same affluent Jews who had caused my father so much grief. He was not unhappy to see them gone from Granada. He even made it easy for their families to join them in exile. King Badis honored my father for his loyalty by giving him the houses and property of those Jews. Father allowed their families all the wealth they could carry as they departed and also paid them a fair, but discounted, price for their properties. Prince Boluggin came to Badis. He admitted he knew of the plot, and also admitted he had failed to warn his brother. He begged forgiveness, which was granted, but he was instructed to go to his estates and remain there unless summoned. He was effectively banished.


Read Full Post »

Joseph’s journal: 17

27 Tishrei, 4808 (September, 1059)

Ahmad Ibn Abbas was brought into Granada defeated, disgraced, and humiliated. He was forced to walk in chains in front of the very man he railed against for so long. My father told me that when he was mounted on his stallion, with Abbas dragging his chains and shuffling his feet in the dirt in front of him, his heart soared. He was as content as any man could be, but troubled  because of those emotions.

Badis ordered that Abbas be imprisoned in the house of the chief of one of the smaller tribes. This was an honor shrouded in a threat. The jailer was told that Abbas was to be treated as a guest, but he must be watched, not allowed to escape. If ibn Abbas escaped the chief understood that he would pay with his life.

Ibn Abbas was a haughty Arab overly proud of his education, intellectual achievements, and heritage. He was not of royal blood but he was a very wealthy man. He knew that King Badis was, as were all rulers, avaricious, and always needed cash. He offered to pay Badis a huge ransom for his freedom. My father explained to me that Badis prevaricated. His excuse was that he needed to consult with his chiefs and with his viziers.

Despite my father’s victory this was a difficult time for him. He knew Badis was tempted by the magnitude of the ransom. If ibn Abbas was released he would do everything in his power to once more conspire against my father, whom he had even more reason to hate. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Abbas held my father responsible for his defeat.

Ibn Abbas had always considered himself destined to be King of Almeria. My father felt it was necessary to remind Badis, at every opportunity, that ibn Abbas was an Arab and a sworn enemy of the Zanhadja. He was also vindictive in nature and would, as long as he lived, seek revenge for his defeat and humiliation.

During the time ibn Abbas was held as a prisoner, various kingdoms and principalities throughout eastern Andalusia sent emissaries to our court. Some of these emissaries requested that ibn Abbas be set free, others asked for his death. Badis listened with a serious face to all the entreaties, nodded his head, but said nothing.

Rosh Hashanah came, then Yom Kippur, and still Badis made no decision concerning the fate of ibn Abbas. Succot arrived and my father was unable to maintain the normal light-hearted banter and good spirits he felt for this holiday. He was preoccupied and concerned about Badis’ decision on the fate of his enemy.

Every year, on the 15th day of Tishrei, we celebrate Sukkot. Sukkot is the Hebrew word for a hut. Each family builds a small temporary structure and lives, eats, and sleeps in the hut, for seven days. The purpose is to commemorate forty years of wandering in the desert, and the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai because during this wandering the Israelites lived in frail huts. This is a festival, a season of rejoicing. It also celebrates the fall harvest. The sukkot is decorated with fruits and vegetables. We also make a lulav, a combination of date palm, willow, and myrtle branches held together by a woven palm branch. The lulav is held in the right hand and the Etrog, a lemon-like fruit with a strong citrus smell, is held in the left hand. The two are waved simultaneously in six directions, north, south, east, west, up and down, symbolizing that God is found everywhere.

That year our feast at the table set up in the succot built in our courtyard, was somber. The celebration fit father’s mood.

My mother closely supervised the preparation of the Succot meal for the first night and prepared the main course herself. It is called buraniya and consists of layers of fat lamb, eggplant and spiced meatballs made from veal. It is still one of my favorite dishes but my wife’s version does not compare favorably with my memories of my mother’s. One of my favorite memories is sitting in our kitchen watching as my mother prepared and cooked this dish. First she cut up the lamb into chunks and put them in a large pot sitting over the fire after the olive oil she put in the pot first started to smoke. She stirred the meat while adding coriander, cumin and saffron. After the seasoned lamb was browned she added a spoonful of soaked almori.

Perhaps you are not familiar with our almori. It is a mixture of salt, honey, raisins, pine nuts, almonds, hazelnuts, and a small amount of flour. This is all pounded into a paste and formed into a roll that is allowed to harden in the sun. Many of our dishes contain this ingredient. The cook breaks off as much as needed for the dish, soaks it in water and then adds it to the dish.

After mother added the almori, she added a couple of spoons of spiced vinegar. Perhaps that is the difference. I think my wife uses less of the amori and leaves out the vinegar, or maybe uses the wrong vinegar. The mixture is cooked until the meat is about half done. While mother prepared all the initial ingredients, our cook mixed the veal, onion, garlic, and parsley, chopped everything together into small pieces then made meatballs and fried them in olive oil.

Next mother dipped slices of eggplant in boiling water then grilled the slices. She selected a large pan and made alternating layers of eggplant then lamb then more eggplant then the meatballs. Each layer was seasoned with saffron. She covered the dish with chopped almonds and poured whipped eggs with lavender and cinnamon over the mixture. Finally, she topped everything with egg yolks and put it in the oven until the ingredients blended together and all the wet ingredients were dry. After this, she put the pan on the edge of the embers of the kitchen fire to keep warm until it was time to cut it into slices and serve it. My mouth is full of saliva as I write this.

Father’s worries about ibn Abbas persisted until the nightfall that heralded Simchat Torah. That is the holiday when we complete the annual cycle of Torah readings and begin a new cycle. King Badis was out strolling that evening with his brother, General Boluggin, and one of his other viziers Ali ibn al-Karawi. They passed the house where ibn Abbas was being held and Badis decided to enter along with his companions and two bodyguards. He instructed the chief to bring Abbas before them.

Ibn Abbas, arrogant as always, thought Badis was going to accept his ransom offer. He decided to make his release more certain by doubling the offer. Badis was incensed. He considered Abbas’ arrogant demeanor, and the increase of the ransom offer, as denigration of his hospitality, and his honor as King. He grabbed the spear from one of his bodyguards and stabbed ibn Abbas in the abdomen. Boluggin quickly grabbed the other guard’s spear and struck to the chest. Ibn al-Karawi joined into the slaughter with his knife. The jailer chief covered his eyes to avoid watching the butchery. The three of them stabbed ibn Abbas seventeen times before he finally died.

The same evening ibn Abbas was murdered, but prior to my father learning of it, he gave me the following instructions:

“Joseph, I want you to take this to my students and I want each of them, and you, to make copies of the poem. You will check all copies for errors and make any necessary corrections yourself. I will send copies of the poem to our courts and yeshivas in Jerusalem, Baghdad, Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere informing them of our victory at Alfuente and what it means for all our people.

The poem was written in Hebrew with an Arabic superscription explaining that the poem was a description of the malicious plans and actions of Zuhair and ibn Abbas and how God was instrumental in rescuing my father from their evil intentions and punishing them. His title for the poem was Shira. He wrote it in one hundred and forty-nine lines, each stanza ending in words with the sound “ruh”. I also noticed the poem had the same number of lines as the number of Psalms. I am certain this was not a coincidence. After I started making my copy I observed there were numerous references to the scriptures, drawing parallels to his story and those told in the Torah. Later he instructed me to have his students make more copies and I was to distribute them throughout the Diaspora. He intended this poem to be used in a celebration to rival that of Purim.

Only a month after the death of ibn Abbas and the final victory over Almeria, Granada was buzzing with the news of the arrival of Abu l-Futuh Thabit ben Muhammad al-Djurdjani who entered the city with a dozen well-armed warriors. The writings of this dignitary were well known, as was his reputation as a mercenary of great skill. When I heard of his arrival I asked my father about him.

“Ah yes, al-Djurdjani. He is, a furious and skillful warrior, Joseph. His writings indicate he is also a formidable scholar, thinker and writer. I am concerned and somewhat anxious to know why he came to Granada. He asked for an audience with King Badis, but Badis, after our victory and all the adulation from his peers, has become even more distracted and difficult than usual. He avoids the day-to-day obligations of his position forcing me and the other viziers to make decisions he should be making.  His chiefs and their men are flush with spoils from the capture and appropriation of several of Almeria’s towns and fortresses. Notables, including myself, have been given many appropriated estates. Our traders have benefited by gaining direct access to the sea and trade. With all of this distraction Badis has neglected to pay some of his chiefs the attention and acknowledgement they feel they are owed. He is too preoccupied with hunting, his harem, wine and other diversions to cultivate his friends.”

Read Full Post »

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.”

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »