Posts Tagged ‘Jews in Moslem Spain’

Joseph’s journal;

 22 Kislev, 4808 (November, 1059)

My father deployed his Zanhadja troops, mercenaries, and his Zenata allies with such skill he was able to engage Mutadid’s various raiding parties in several small-scale skirmishes. In each instance he made certain he always had the preponderance of numbers. Thus his troops were successful in all these confrontations. Eventually he and his allies were able to drive the Sevillian forces out of the provinces of Carmona and Moron and return those territories to the rule of their original Berber families.

However, during the campaign, Father’s health deteriorated. First he suffered from recurring boils. Next he contracted an upper respiratory infection that, initially responded to treatment then reoccurred three separate times. At the end of the last month of the campaign he was confined to his mattress on the floor of his tent, suffering from a fever so severe it induced a bout of delirium. His physicians feared he was dying and sent for me. After three days and two nights of hard riding, changing horses every ten kilometers, I reached his encampment. I found him sitting on a rug on the floor of his tent at his campaign desk writing a poem.

Even when bedridden my father was compelled to work. He was incapable of turning off his mind. Even dreaming he was mulling over a problem of diplomacy, palace intrigue, military strategy, the solution of a complex Talmudic question, or how to best express a poetic thought. He especially loved acrostics, the first letter of each line forming a word or phrase. He was also particularly enamored of the muwashat, the girdle poem, with a two-line opening girdle followed by the first stophe rhyming three times, the second strophe also rhyming three times but encircled by the first opening girdle. The difficulty of expressing an idea or concept while finding Hebrew words or expressions to fit the complex poetic structure was exactly the kind of mental gymnastics that most appealed to him.

I apologize to the reader not interested in, or familiar with, the exacting rules of poetic expression. They were drummed into me from an early age. I can correctly identify the various poetic structures in my father’s, or the poetry of others, but I lack the knack of composing my own poems, at least poems that have any merit. I learned to be satisfied with making copies of Father’s efforts and the work of other poets that he admired.

I stayed with Father during that campaign, until he felt fully recovered. It was then we received intelligence that Mutadid’s forces had feigned retreat, but circled around and raided north of Malaga. His troops were causing havoc in some of the new Granadan territories we had recently taken from Malaga. Initially, my father wanted to send me home, but I managed to convince him that although I was no warrior, I could be of service. I wanted to make certain he was well cared for and did not suffer a relapse. He relented, allowing me to stay with him and I was personally able to witness my father, the general, in action.

The Sevillian generals were reluctant to engage in any pitched battles. They were specifically instructed to follow this tactic by Mutadid. Mutadid was no fool. He recognized Father’s skill and reputation as a fighter. Our scouting parties, backed with light cavalry, mounted archers, and slingers, fought a series of skirmishes while pushing Mutadid’s forces back into Sevillian territory. After these minor successes, Father, following with the rest of his army, took possession of the towns, villages, and fortresses that offered token resistance, if any.

A month after I joined him he had recovered almost all of his strength. He was obviously enjoying himself. The physical challenges of being in the field that made my life so uncomfortable made him stronger each the day. We were following a small unit that had dispersed after a short encounter, to the village of Ard-Allah or land of Allah, known as Ardales in the common language of the Andalusians. The white-washed houses of the village hugged the base of a huge rock on top of which was perched a small fortress that offered protection to the soldiers we were chasing.

Our forces occupied the village. After questioning several of the villagers, father identified the most respected man. He sent that village elder as an emissary to the fortress with  instructions to tell the defenders in the fortress if they did not surrender before the following morning, the village would be torn down, the inhabitants would be taken as slaves to Granada, and the fortress would be bombarded, continuously, until they surrendered or were starved out. Any survivors would be enslaved. If they gave up now, however, they would be disarmed but set free and the village would enjoy the protection of Granada.

The defenders of the fortress followed the emissary back down mountain and surrendered all their arms. My father kept his word. None of the soldiers were harmed and the village was spared, although we did provision our army from the stores in the fortress and from the homes of the village and surrounding fields.

That same evening, Father started coughing again. He gave orders that the army needed to rest and refurbish their arms. He allowed into his tent only those officers he could fully trust to not disclose he was ill. Over the next five days he gradually recovered then we continued our march towards Seville.

The plunder was good and my father extracted tribute as we moved through Sevillian territory. Our army and our allies were happy to be gaining wealth with relatively little effort and practically no danger.

Father was not able to shake the remnants of whatever respiratory infection made him cough. The coughing sapped his strength and resolve. He finally deemed the retaliation against Mutadid sufficient and turned his army south and east to reoccupy Malaga. There was no opposition as we entered the city and took back the Alcazaba. Father soon installed people loyal to King Badis to administer Malaga. It is still under our control to this day. The king, and those around him, were humiliated and left devoid of power, their treachery avenged. We returned to Granada before Rosh Hashanah anticipating a peaceful fall and winter and an opportunity for Ha Nagid to rest and to recover his strength and health.

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Ha Nagid’s journal: 47

12 Tishrei, 4795 (September, 1054)


The summer of 1054, King Badis stayed home. He was drinking heavily, amusing himself with untold numbers of new additions to his harem. I took our forces to unite with the armies of Carmona and Moron. During the previous winter, I worked diligently to bring more of the Berber kingdoms into my grand alliance. Those that did not join the alliance seemed to believe Mutadid’s raids into Carmona and Moron was only the normal activity of stealing sheep and horses. They didn’t think the raids were anything more nefarious. I was frustrated. It did not enter their consciousness that his true intent was to build an empire.

Once I was able to unite our forces with the troops and officers sent by our allies, we penetrated deeply into Sevillian territory. Mutadid’s generals avoided large-scale confrontations but all the skirmishes that did take place were won by our Zanhadja-Zenata Berber coalition.

One aspect of Mutadid’s conquest of Ronda troubled me greatly. I harbored no good feelings for the Rondan hierarchy, but the manner in which the kingdom was brought down was troubling. All of the Berber controlled taifas, including Granada, were home to significant populations of Arabs. These populations thought of themselves as a persecuted minority. At least the Arab intellectuals with whom I communicated felt persecuted. Mutadid’s successful takeover of Berber governments was significantly aided by an immediate revolt of the indigenous Arab populations. They opened the gates of Ronda’s Alcazaba to Mutadid’s forces and, once Mutadid’s forces gained control, the Arabs killed every Berber they could find. This fact was of considerable concern to King Badis, less so to me. But Granada’s population did include significant numbers of Arabs.

Before I left for the summer’s campaign, I was called to the palace and asked Joseph to accompany me. Badis, as usual, was drinking steadily, although his tolerance was great. When we arrived, he was slumped on his cushions his eyelids half closed. After we were ushered into his presence, he put aside his cup, roused himself, sat upright and, with no slurring of speech and considerable glee, revealed a plan he had concocted on his own.

“You know the problem, Nagid. In every city and town of the Zanhadja, there is a fifth column of enemies and schemers who live, and I don’t need to tell you that they live well, under our protection. But they resent us none-the-less. They pose a significant problem, as we have seen, with what happened in Ronda. I have a brilliant solution. On a certain Friday, I will make it known that I will review and inspect all the troops you leave to garrison Granada. This will allay any suspicions about the reason for so many armed soldiers walking the streets. The devout and responsible Arabs will all be at prayer in the mosques. I will have the soldiers block all of the exits then send in units to kill those Arabs trapped within. What do you think Nagrela, a brilliant plan, no? I will execute this plan while you are gone campaigning so no one can blame you. They will never suspect.”

“Ah, great King. It is indeed a brilliant solution to the possibility our Arab citizens, although they have always supported your Majesty, will rise against us if the opportunity presents itself.”

I was buying time while frantically trying to think of some way to dissuade Badis from killing a significant number of loyal Granadian citizens. I knew if Badis carried out this scheme he would surely convert a host of Arab families into resolute enemies, thirsting for revenge.

“I have not heard any rumors our Arab citizens would contemplate a rebellion of this sort, despite what happened in Ronda,” I temporized. “You know I have many spies who report anything of this nature to me immediately. Do you have any reason to believe those Arab friends who attended the gathering you hosted last week would even consider such an action?’

“You speak nonsense, Nagrela. Arabs have butchered Berbers for centuries. Many times, this has happened when to all appearances Arabs and Berbers were living together in peace.”

Badis stared at me, then at Joseph. He set his mouth and squinted his eyes.

“Do I detect that you are in opposition to this plan, Nagrela? Do I have to worry about your loyalty? Do you propose to defend the Arabs who have always been the enemies of the Zanhadja? Can I no longer trust you?”

“Please, Majesty. I am now, and will always be, your loyal servant. I think only of the possible long-term effects of an action of this magnitude. We have plenty of enemies. I have always counseled you to destroy any rebellion instantly and completely. I will never abandon that position. I cannot help but think, however, the action you propose should be carefully thought through and all ramifications be considered. This, I think, is essential for the security of your kingdom.”

Badis reached back with his right hand. A servant immediately placed a cup of wine in the hand and retreated out of sight. My king took a slow drink from the cup, peering at me over the rim.

“This solution is one I have arrived at without your counsel, Nagrela. It is a good solution to the problem of harboring potential enemies in our midst. I do not want to hear any more of your whimpering. I will give the orders so this will happen. Do not interfere or you will regret it.”

He staggered to his feet and shouted. His words were slurred, but I could not decide if from wine or anger.

“Do you hear me, Vizier, or do you no longer wish to be Vizier? Possibly you want to join forces with your oh so intellectual Arab friends?”

I raised both arms over my head in surrender. “Your Majesty knows what is best for his kingdom. You have my unquestioning loyalty and support for whatever you do, Highness. I am certain you have given the matter much thought. I do not presume to second guess you.”

The Berbers, as I repeatedly mention, are mostly uneducated, and crude. They come from a warrior tradition that makes them content to fight, and to steal sheep and horses. They resent urbane, educated Arabs, and feel uncomfortable when in the presence of those intellectual discussions that the Arabs love. This discomfort feeds their memory of every slight, treachery, injury, double cross, and death any Berber has ever suffered at the hands of an Arab throughout their detailed and minutely remembered history.

“I should think not. You and your son are dismissed. I do not want to hear any more of your reservations,” Badis interrupted my thoughts.

“Of course, Majesty.”

I motioned Joseph to follow me through the doorway. We both backed away. It was the worst kind of offense to turn one’s back on any king, but especially Badis. I once witnessed the flogging he administered to one of his tribal chiefs who made that mistake. From beneath my lowered eyelids, I saw Badis sway and fall back onto the cushions that constituted his throne. He shook his head trying to clear it then slid around on his backside to find a more comfortable position in the nest of embroidered silk brocade pillows. He held out his wine cup to be refilled by the same servant who had been quietly hovering behind the curtain in back of the platform.

When we were safely away from the palace and walking towards our home, I took Joseph’s arm and pulled him close so I could whisper in his ear.

“We must come up with a way to warn the Arab community. It is imperative that we not leave any evidence that the warning came from our house. Start thinking, Joseph. How can we accomplish this?”

I was scheduled to leave for the summer campaign five days later. We guessed Badis’ plan was probably going to be put in motion the first Friday after I was gone. Badis was not the kind of person who could wait to do something once he made up his mind. He was also very unlikely to forget something as basic to his personality as the hatred, the feelings of inferiority, and the envy, he harbored for Arabs.

That evening Joseph and I were again in the study. I was in my chair, leaning forward, both elbows on my table, holding my head. My turban lay on the floor where I caused it to fall. Wisps of gray hair protruded from between my fingers. I was troubled. I wanted Joseph to understand the magnitude of my depression instituted by Badis’ ridiculous plan.

“Have you come up with a solution?” I asked.

“No, I have not … but if we warn them and Badis finds out, he will likely murder both of us. Even if he allows me to live, only because he considers me insignificant, he will strip the family of our wealth. He might take retribution on the whole Jewish community. I believe his prejudice against Jews is only slightly less than that directed at the Arabs and Christians.”

“That is true, Joseph but to murder most, if not all, of the Arab population of Granada without reason is a terrible act, an immoral act. It is the very type of act expressly forbidden by the Torah. We must do something to prevent it from happening. Badis must be saved from himself. This is an ill-conceived idea hatched from a brain befuddled by wine. The Badis I thought I knew is too shrewd to concoct such a terrible thing. It is his overindulgence of wine talking. Are you still friends with the son of Abu Ishak ibn Talib? I seem to remember that the two of you were close as youngsters.”


“We must warn him of what Badis plans. When you and ibn Ishak were children did you not create a cipher to send secret messages back and forth?”

“We did.”

“Do you think ibn Ishak will remember the cipher?”

“I think so.”

“You must let him know what the king plans, using your cipher. Do not meet him in person. It will be a disaster if someone witnesses such a meeting. I have a man I can trust who will deliver the message. You must instruct your friend to make it appear that the Arab community suspects something is wrong when they see so many armed soldiers on the morning of their Shabbat. They must express skepticism of the excuse of troop review giving this as the reason they avoid the mosques. I will also plant rumors amongst the garrison troops so the Arab soldiers get wind of the plan and warn their families.”

“We will not be able to save them all father. The most devout will not fail to go to the mosques to pray.”

“No, some will certainly be murdered, but we must do what we can despite the risk to ourselves. God demands it. There is no excuse for us to allow the murder of innocent people when we have the power and the obligation to prevent it.”

That very night Joseph did as I asked. He put the details of the plot and my suggestions of what to do into a cipher message. I prayed to God his childhood friend would recognize the game and be able to decode the message, warn his own father, and spread word throughout the Arab community. They needed to pay close attention to any increase in the numbers of armed soldiers on the streets on any Sabbath day. We did not know when Badis would set his plan in motion. They needed to question the soldiers about why they were so numerous and why they were moving about the city with full armor and weapons. This would give credence to the idea the Arab population had a premonition something bad was going to happen. It would explain their apprehension about congregating in their mosques in the usual numbers.

The cipher message to Joseph’s friend and the spread of rumor among the garrison troops accomplished most of what we hoped for. However, many Arabs ignored, or didn’t believe the warnings. Badis’ troops closed off the mosques with them inside, along with a few devout Berbers. His handpicked mercenaries moved in with sword and knife. I was told the screams of the slaughtered could be heard throughout the city. It took weeks to clean the floors and walls of the mosques before anyone could return to listen to the few remaining Imam’s and pray. Badis was furious his brilliant plan did not produce the complete annihilation of the Arab population. Some of the survivors were brought before Badis for torture and questioning. Although he may have had his suspicions he was unable to find evidence to associate the failure of his plan to me or to Joseph.

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Joseph’s journal: 46

20 Kislev, 4808 (November, 1059)

The Moslem celebration of the birth of a newborn male is very similar to our Jewish custom. The circumcision ceremony is a great celebration, especially so for a monarch. Mutadid’s third wife was only fifteen years old when she gave birth to a son. The kings of Mutadid’s allies, Moron, Arcos, and Ronda, were all invited to the circumcision. All three rulers arrived on the same day, with their entourages. The three processions entering through the main gate into Seville within an hour of each other.

Mutadid welcomed the three as they arrived and suggested they freshen up after their travels by taking a steam bath in his newly renovated sauna. He explained that he was very proud of the work done on the steam bath, although he admitted his stonemasons were still completing some final tasks. He told them that if the construction noise was disturbing they should just say so to the attendants. The workers would cease their labors immediately.

The three kings readily agreed to the steam bath looking forward to the relaxation it would provide. Mutadid made certain they were supplied with the best his palace had to offer in wine and snacks, but cautioned his guests not to eat and drink too much because there was to be a grand banquet that night.

The three paid no notice of the masons working at the entrance to the sauna until one of them noticed that the entrance had been walled shut. Within moments the amount of steam in the room increased, along with the temperature. Their frantic shouts and pleas were not answered. Nobody could say how long it took for the three to die, but Mutadid was in no hurry to check on them. He was too occupied with the murder of their entourages. Not one person, male, female, or child, was left alive. Late the next morning, Mutadid had the sauna reopened and added the parboiled heads of the three kings to the collection of pickled heads he kept in his bedroom.

Mutadid’s next move was to dispatch a regiment of troops to Ronda where they joined forces with the Sevillians already stationed there. The Arab population of Ronda immediately joined the Sevillian forces. The combined Arab forces slaughtered every Berber not wise enough to calculate the odds and flee, including many women and children. The king of Ronda had left one of his sons, the heir-apparent to the throne, in charge while he travelled to Seville for the festivities. The young man made an attempt to escape by rappelling down the cliff on which the Alcazaba perched, but the rope slipped loose and he fell to his death.

Arcos was the next to be to be brutally violated and annexed to Seville. The Berber rulers of that city/state, and their followers, were only able to mount a quickly suppressed token resistance. Mutadid installed his own people to administer the two Taifa he had annexed and his generals took command of their remaining armed forces and mercenaries.

When the king of Moron learned of the fates of the Zenata Berbers of Ronda and Arcos he immediately dispatched emissaries to both Carmona and Granada, pleading for aid from their Berber brothers to fight against the Arabs. Both Berber states responded by dispatching units of their military to support Moron’s army. But Mutadid was again content with his gains. He never exercised his plan to take over Moron. He had made certain that two of his fickle Berber allies would not be able to change sides when next offered the choice.

When I was a teenager, I can remember my father looking forward, with excitement and anticipation, to taking the field each spring for a summer of campaigning. The garnering of more territory and wealth for his king and for the kingdom motivated him. It was a fortuitous incidental that he also acquired more wealth and honor for himself and his people.

The winter of 4795 (1054) my father celebrated his sixty-first birthday quietly, at home. That was the first time I noticed the large, persistent, dark, puffy bags under both of his eyes. His beard and hair, both long and gray, were beginning to become thin and wispy. His shoulders, once square and proud, slumped forward. When at work at his desk he hunched forward squinting and peering to better see the words he wrote or was reading. He seemed to have shrunk at least three centimeters in height.

That spring when he strapped on his armor and took up his weapons, he seemed to struggle from their weight. I selected those servants who most valued and cared about him to accompany him during the spring and summer campaigns. Those loyal people understood they were responsible for his welfare. I also charged them with making certain that every possible creature comfort was provided for him. Aside from the obvious challenges and dangers of fighting battles my father had to endure the added stress of exposure to the elements. Campaigning often required long days of travel under trying and dangerous conditions.

True to his nature, Father worried first about the wellbeing of his troops. He was ultimately responsible for the welfare and supply of the thousands of men who depended on his attention to detail. He had to make certain to provide everything his men needed in the field and on the march. Adding to all this, he had to deal with the arbitrary moods and desires of a capricious king. I can only imagine how much stress these responsibilities put on him.

“Joseph, I am so very happy you have no aptitude nor skill as a general. It has been my curse,” he told me one long spring night before the start of that year’s campaign. “You will be able to function well as a Grand Vizier, but I am pleased you will not become a general. It is too difficult.”

I could see my father was tired, bone weary tired. The same evening he shared that he was pleased with my lack of aptitude for war, he fell ill with a severe cough and fever. He took to his bed. A parade of physicians came, administered their remedies, and departed. After four weeks, he regained strength, but only after my mother sat with him and spoon-fed him bowl after bowl of rich chicken soup, her remedy for all ailments. After he was able to get up and move around on his own, he resumed all of his normal activities, including daily training with his sword. After just five or so minutes of exercise, however, the cough returned and he had to stop, catch his breath, and rest before resuming. Nothing I said was able to convince him to stay home and rest, to let his generals take care of defending the kingdom. He just shook his head and resumed his training. The bags under his eyes grew larger. His shoulders slumped more. His posture did not improve.

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Joseph’s journal: 45

19 Kislev, 4808 (November, 1059)

I am somewhat reluctant to record this next incident in the saga of my father but it is necessary to provide a complete picture of who he was. On numerous occasions King Idris III of Malaga showed himself treacherous and lacking in moral character. During recent times, he was our ally, but only for the moment. Father was acutely aware that Idris was not a man to be trusted. Father understood that Idris was certain to betray Granada the first time it appeared advantageous for him to do so.

Father worried about a multitude of possible threats to the kingdom. One of these constant concerns was the possibility of someone using poison to eliminate him, or worse in his mind, King Badis. A plot could be promulgated by high-ranking Granadian functionaries but this was not a huge concern, although vigilance was essential. Poisoning was the most likely method to avoid exposure for the person actually responsible. For this reason, father made it known to all of the physicians in the city of Granada and its territorial holdings, that if they knew of any new poisonous substances, or if they heard of, or developed antidotes to any poisons, he was to be informed immediately. One day, a physician from Jaen showed up at our door and was admitted to Father’s study.

After the physician told my father why he had come, Father sent a servant to tell me to stop whatever I was working on and come immediately to his study. When I arrived Father turned to the physician.

“This is my son Joseph. Joseph, this is the physician David ben Noah of Jaen. Dr. ben Noah has come to us with interesting information. Please, ben Noah, tell us again about what you have discovered.”

“Of course, Ha Nagid. The powder is made from fruit pits, cherries, apples, apricots, any or all of them. The pits are crushed into a fine powder, a very fine powder. When you have a full cup of the powder you add hot water and, while keeping it warm, stir until the powder is in solution. The water must not boil, however. After the powder is completely dissolved, you spread the liquid in a shallow container and allow it to evaporate. It can be put out in the sunlight to hasten evaporation. The powder that remains after the liquid evaporates is the poison. If the poison is mixed with wine or vinegar it will emit a gas that is also poisonous.”

“And you have some of this powder?” asked Father.

“I have it here,” said ben Noah. He extracted a small glass container with a cork stopper from the pocket of his cloak and handed the flask to my father.

“And what is the antidote for this?”

“There is no known antidote, Ha Nagid.”

“No antidote?” My father’s brow furrowed as he rested his chin in his hand. “How fast does it act?”

“That depends on the size of the person and upon the amount consumed or inhaled. One fourth of the powder in the flask you are holding will kill a horse.”

“Thank you, ben Noah. I assume you are doing experiments to find an antidote to this poison?”

“Yes, of course, Nagid, but so far none of the antidotes have an effect, even when given to a test animal prior to exposure.

“Well, I want you to continue to work on the antidote.” Father handed the physician a pouch of gold coins. “This should enable you to continue your research for the antidote. Please keep me informed of your progress on a regular basis. Is there any way to detect this substance so a person would be able to prevent it being used to kill someone?”

“Yes, Ha Nagid, it seems about one of every three persons can smell it. They detect a faint odor similar to the smell of almonds. It would be wise to have someone with that ability available to smell food or beverage offered by someone you do not know or trust.”

“Is it safe to sniff this?”

“Yes, as long as it is still a dry powder.”

Father removed the cork from the flask and sniffed tentatively then again, more strongly. He replaced the cork stopper.

“I smell nothing,” he said and handed me the flask.

I removed the cork, took a sniff and recognized a faint aroma of almonds.

“Yes, I smell almonds, it seems to be a bitter scent, but still of almonds.”

Father smiled broadly. “From now on Joseph you will give the smell test to everything on my plate before I take a bite,” he teased.

“Even food my mother prepares?” I responded, serious.

He laughed. “Especially food prepared by your mother.” He reached over and rubbed my head. “I’m teasing you, Joseph. You take everything so seriously, therefore it amuses me to tease you. Put the flask away in your safe place, Joseph. “

Two weeks later, as we were finishing our evening meeting, my father addressed me.

“Before you retire this evening, Joseph, please bring me the flask the physician ben Noah brought to this house.”

I looked at him, raised my eyebrows and waited.

“Never mind, that is all you need to know for now. I have a plan I must discuss with the king. Just bring me the flask please.”

“Of course, Papa.”

I did as he requested, but even when I withheld the flask for a moment with a questioning look on my face, he told me nothing more about what he wanted the poison for. The evening of the following day he handed the flask back to me. About a third of the powder was gone. Again I looked at him, questioning.

“Badis has agreed to my plan with considerable enthusiasm. He gave me a solid gold wine cup, exquisitely decorated. He also provided a small flask of his very best wine. We are going to send Idris of Malaga the cup and the wine as a special present.”

“And the poison that is missing from the flask?”

“That has been dissolved and all the liquid is being evaporated from the cup. When all is ready I will send the gifts to Idris as a token of our appreciation for all he has done recently as our much valued ally.”

“And who will you send to bring him these presents?”

“Our king has suggested Ishak ibn Mohammed, chief of the Bani tribe.”

“Ishak ibn Mohammed? Isn’t that the same man you told me about a month ago? He has been whispering evil about you to the king.”

“Exactly so.”

I shook my head. “And the king has approved this plan, and even recommended ibn Mohammed for the task?”

“Yes. This is yet another harsh lesson for you, Joseph. Say nothing. Watch events as they develop. You must observe what people say, and more importantly do, as the plan unfolds.”

Late that same winter of 4802 (1053) I learned what happened. As he was instructed, ibn Mohammad delivered the gold cup, and the flask of wine to Idris III. Much later I heard, from a tribal chief who was present, that ibn Mohammad gave Idris his testimony as to the fine quality of the wine.

He said to King Idris, “I was summoned to King Badis and he told me he wanted me to bring to you two very special gifts. He handed me the gold cup you now hold in your hand. I think you must agree it is one of the finest, if not the finest, such drinking cup in existence. The decorations are exquisite. My lord, King Badis also gave me a taste of the wine in this cask I’m holding. He told me it is the finest Granada has to offer. I agree, it is the best I have ever tasted.”

“Well then,” said Idris, extending the gift gold cup he was examining, “let’s have a taste of this jewel of the wine maker’s art.”

Ibn Mohammad poured some wine into the cup. Idris raised the cup to his lips and sniffed, then sniffed again, inhaling deeply.

“It smells of almonds.”

“Yes excellency, I have been told as much but could not detect that smell when I was given a taste.”

Idris became pensive, perhaps thinking back to his own long history of treachery. He took another, longer and deeper, sniff of the cup and wrinkled his brows. Then held out the cup of wine.

“Ibn Mohammad I want you to drink from this cup. Tell me if it is the same fine wine you were given prior to coming to me.”

“Yes, of course, Excellency, as you wish.”

He took a sip of the wine then gazed into the cup.

“Not quite as I remember it but still very good, Excellency.”

“Drink the whole cup. We will fill it again, then I will drink.”

Ibn Mohammad shrugged and finished off the contents of the cup handing it back to Idris. Idris took the cup then turned it slowly again in his hand examining the intricate carvings. He looked inside the cup then studied ibn Mohammad who seemed to be getting dizzy. Idris waited, … smiling.

Ibn Mohammad sank to his knees and bent over. He tried to push himself upright again with both arms. He managed to get up on one knee then collapsed, rolled to his right side in the fetal position and died. Foam came from between his lips. The nobles of Idris’ court who witnessed this charade, rushed to their king.

“How did you know?” asked one of them.

“I didn’t, but I suspected. This is the work of the Jew, I’m certain of it.”

However, Idris was not aware of the deadly toxic fumes released from the poison by the wine. That afternoon he complained of being weak and short of breath. He seemed confused and kept dozing off. He roused with a start, and exploded into a ranting rage at a blameless servant, for no discernable reason. The next morning, he was slow to awaken, and seemed even more confused. His skin was a bright pink. He was breathing very fast, almost panting, while at the same time complaining that he couldn’t catch his breath. That afternoon, despite frantic attempts at treatment by his physicians, he was comatose. One of the physicians reported he smelled bitter almonds on his ruler’s breath. Late the next morning, he died.

Granada’s complete takeover of Malaga was initiated the day after word of Idris’ death reached Granada. I am still attempting to reconcile my father’s role in this.

Meanwhile, King Mutadid of Seville was still plotting and planning. He was finally ready to set in motion his strategy for the coming summer’s military campaign. He instigated the invasion of Granadian territory by the kings of Moron and Arcos, promising them financial, military, and logistical support. They were to attack Granada in early spring, as soon as the weather permitted.

Mutadid anticipated correctly that King Badis would respond to this attack as usual, by retaliating and invading Seville’s lands. Once Granada was committed, Mutadid arranged for the king of Ronda to attack our forces from the rear. This time he followed through on his promises. He sent two regiments of his army to support Moron and Arcos, and three regiments to support Ronda. He also sent considerable gold and silver as well as the promised logistical support in the form of long lines of mule-drawn wagons loaded with provisions, arms, and supplies.

This previously tried and proven strategy of getting Granada to commit, then attacking them from the rear, was once again effective. The Zanhadja were soon fighting on two fronts with significant numbers against them on both. During that summer, both sides managed to avoid any large confrontation, but continuous small encounters occupied both armies. The general outcome of the skirmishes was that Granada’s forces retreated, but they always pulled back disciplined and in good order. During the whole summer’s campaign, neither side was willing to fight a pitched battle so neither side suffered devastating losses.

My father engineered the strategy of orderly retreat by convincing Badis the combined forces of Seville and her allies outnumbered our forces significantly. He explained that Granada could easily lose an all-in confrontation. He also pointed out that any relief coming from Granada was likely to be ambushed along the way. The wisest course was to avoid any significant large-scale clash, abandon those territories they had already lost, and retreat to Granada. They could use what was left of the fall, and the fast approaching winter months, to rebuild their strength, remobilize, and be in a position to exact vengeance early the following spring.

Somewhat surprisingly, Mutadid seemed content with this outcome. He recalled most of his troops, leaving only token forces with his allies. What my father didn’t realize until later, was Mutadid’s grand strategy had never been a final and extremely dangerous confrontation with Granada. His strategic goal was to expand and consolidate Seville’s territories.

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Joseph’s journal: 44

18 Kislev, 4808 (November, 1059)

Two weeks after he gave me the seditious poems to hide, my father was stronger. He coughed only occasionally and less severely. He asked me to ride with him to attend a sale of mares. Along the way he explained that King Badis planned to attend this sale and had requested that my father and I join him. We went to the palace, where the king was waiting for us. When we arrived we found him sitting calmly on a prancing white stallion. The animal was incapable of standing quiet for even a moment. The three of us, accompanied by a platoon of marching Nubians, and ten mounted bodyguards, made our way out of the palace then through the streets of Granada. It was mid-winter, the air clear and cold. The sunlight was bright enough to cause all of us to squint, but its rays did little to warm us. The ever snow-capped Sierra Nevada sent gusts of cold wind to whip our cloaks and threaten the turbans on our heads. We were headed for the horse farm, only a short distance from the city.

While winding through the streets of the city we came upon an Arab merchant sitting in the sun, basking in the reflected heat from the brick front of his leather goods shop. As we passed, the man directed a string of vile curses at my father. The mildest was “dirty Jew”. Without stopping, Badis twisted in his saddle to look at my father.

“Say the word, ibn Nagrela, and I will order that scum beheaded this instant.”

“No, My Lord, his words mean nothing. Words are incapable of causing me harm. I will take care of this incident, please trust me to do so.”

Badis stared hard at Father then smiled.

“I understand. I have seen you take retribution, Nagrela, and I know you are capable of swift and violent action. Good, … people in our positions cannot afford to show weakness. I will trust you to make certain this incident is not repeated.”

Three weeks later, Badis, my father, and myself, again accompanied by guards, were in a similar procession on our way to a party hosted by one of the tribal chiefs. Badis insisted we pass by that same leather shop. Before turning the corner nearest the shop, Badis reined in his stallion, on this occasion a magnificent black, to a slow, high-stepping walk. As we came abreast of the merchant, again in the sun while leaning against the brick wall of his shop, the man jumped to his feet and ran alongside my father’s horse, holding on to his right stirrup.

“This man is a saint,” he shouted. “A jewel amongst men. Praise Allah Granada has been blessed with so wise and forgiving a Grand Vizier, and so great a general. And Allah praise our blessed King Badis for the wisdom to honor and promote this man.”

Surprised, the king turned to my father. “How has this transformation come about, Vizier? What did you do to this fool?”

“The wisest of our Rabbis tell us the surest way to defeat an enemy is to convert him into a friend,” smiled Father.

“And how did you accomplish this?” asked the king.

“His young son was very ill. I sent a physician who cured the boy. The man’s business was failing, and he was deep in debt. I gave him a no interest loan. His daughter is of an age to marry. I supplied her with a dowry.”

Badis laughed, shook his head and spurred his stallion forward.

This story has become another legend. Unlike most legends surrounding my father, this one is true, I can attest to its veracity because I was a witness. On that day I was very proud to be my father’s son.

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Ha Nagid’s journal: 43

11 Marchehvan, 4794 (October, 1045)

One of the estates I acquired from Malaga was on the sea, with a beach only steps away from the main house. After Passover, I took my family with me to visit the property for the first time. It was one and a half days of easy travel almost directly south, through the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada’s snow-capped peaks. We arrived at the estate, perched on a small plateau, with olive orchards, orange orchards, and vineyards. The vineyards were on sandy soil that produce an extremely pleasant white wine. From the house, there is a path down an easy slope to a private beach with fine gray sand.

Rebecca and I lay on the warm sand, our shoulders touching, watching our children cavort in the small waves caressing the sand. The warmth of the sand and the soft smell of salt water and marine life soothed us. The place will become our family’s seaside retreat.


We entered the winter of 4799 (1050) with Seville still posing a threat. Mutadid, despite losing every direct confrontation with our forces, was still able to marshal fighting strength and resources. For the time being, however, we were at peace.

I have spent a significant portion of my adult life in service to King Badis. On many occasions, I was able to save the king’s life by smelling out, unearthing, and quelling plots against him. I have enhanced the king’s position and reputation by making Granada the largest and most powerful Taifa in Andalusia. I enabled, and even encouraged, Badis to indulge his every whim while I concentrated on making certain the kingdom functioned smoothly, and was in sound shape economically. I have done everything within my considerable power to encourage trade and commerce. I am writing this down because Joseph now has free access to my journals. I want him to understand that the real strength of Granada is, and will always be, based on strong and reliable financial resources. I know Joseph has no enthusiasm nor talent for war. I doubt he could bring himself to actually kill another human, or in fact even an animal, unless he was starving. That is no doubt a good thing in the eyes of the Lord. I hope he will be able to provide the level of support the kingdom requires from a Chief Vizier. I know he is more than capable of being an outstanding Financial Vizier. He must make certain he fills this role, if none other.

I understand and acknowledge King Badis is a despot. Any hint of disloyalty, even by the most highly placed tribal chief or vizier in his court, is answered with immediate and brutal execution, frequently by his own sword. I must be constantly on guard and mindful of the possibility of any adverse rumor about me reaching the ears of the king. This level of psychological pressure sometimes requires emotional release. I find this release by writing seditious poetry.

This evening, as we sat in my study, I handed Joseph a new poem. He read through it, looked up at me, then read it again, more carefully.

“Papa, this could get you killed.”

“Yes, I know, but I must allow these thoughts out. I want you to find a safe and secure place to put this poem, no copies to be made until after I am long gone. Will you do this for me?”

“Yes, of course, Papa. I have a secret place where I secure sensitive documents. I will add this one.”

“Good, now please read it aloud. I may want to edit it.”

The poem asked if my king made me bitter by criticizing some of my actions, then drew an analogy at me wanting to respond to him by talking about the difficulty in putting together the shards of a broken jug. We sat in silence for a time while I considered the words of the four line poem. The candles in the room flickered. Our shadows on the wall oscillated but we were both immobile. I finally nodded my head.

“No … it is what I wanted to say.”

I was oddly tired so I got up and moved to the couch to lay down. I had lost weight in the last couple of months. I knew my face was gaunt, my brow permanently furrowed. I rolled to my side on the couch and reached into a deep side pocket of my long brocade cloak. I was forced to kick impatiently in my efforts to free the tangle of the cloak from my legs but was finally able to extract two more sheets of folded paper, and extended them to Joseph.

“What is this?” he asked.

“More of the same. Read them aloud, if you will. They express thoughts you must take to heart. My time is fast approaching Joseph. These military campaigns take a huge amount of my energy and have now affected my health.”

I was overcome by a fit of coughing. Joseph jumped up to come to me, but I waved him back to his chair. After a few minutes, I took a deep slow breath before speaking.

“I’m sorry, Joseph. This cough does not improve. We are approaching the time when you will have to take over for me. It will fall to you to protect our family and our people.”

“Nonsense, Papa, you are still strong. You are just over tired. You need to sleep more. If you follow the instructions of your physicians, you will recover your health as you have always done. I pray every day to God he will help you regain your health and strength so you can continue to protect his people.”

I looked into my son’s eyes and saw he was seriously concerned about me. Another fit of coughing engulfed my body, jerking me forward with each expulsion of air. The cough produced no phlegm, but I felt as though I was coughing up the very tissues of my lungs. I willed myself to stop.

“Read the poems aloud, Joseph.”

Joseph unfolded the first paper. This five line poem talks about how a king can force a person to some action that could prove fatal to that person then rescuing you from the danger he forced on you.

“Papa, this is more dangerous than the first. God forbid the king ever sees or even hears about this. We must destroy these poems.”

“Yes, Joseph … I understand your anxiety.” I paused and took four deep breaths. “If as you say, you have a place to keep these well-hidden, nothing will happen. I must be able to rid my mind of these thoughts and writing them down is the best way for me to accomplish that. Go ahead and read the next one.”

Joseph just shook his head at my obstinacy and read the third poem aloud. It is another five lines speaking to the volatile nature of the king and how he can strike out at his most loyal friend when angered or in a sullen mood. How his moods are like the responses of a spoiled child.

Joseph refolded all three pages of poetry and put them inside his tunic next to the bare skin of his chest, then patted the tunic that concealed them.

“No one must see these; Papa I will guard them with my life.”

I held up my hand, engulfed with another fit of coughing.

“Do you … understand why … I have shared these thoughts with you, Joseph?”

“Yes, Papa, I understand, and I take these thoughts of yours to heart, as I do all you have taught me.”

“Good. If you want, after I am gone, you can add these to your anthologies and distribute them throughout the Diaspora. But only do so if you feel safe from recrimination.”

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Ha Nagid’s journal: 42

4 Marchehvan, 4794 (October, 1045)

It was the second day of Iyar. King Badis, along for the adventure, joined me leading the army out of Granada. Once again, we were embarking on a campaign against Seville. This time, my strategy was for our attacks to be coordinated from three different directions. Al-Muzaffar, the ruler of Badajoz, agreed to invade Sevillian territory from the north. His army initially met little resistance. They overran villages and towns, capturing fortresses as they moved south. Their successes garnered much plunder and resulted in a continuous column of wagons returning to Badajoz. Carmona’s role was to attack Seville directly from their city’s stronghold, while Badis and I advanced from the southwest. After passing south of Antequera, and north of Malaga, we encountered Mutadid’s forces just south of Utrera.

The Sevillian commander was not much of a strategist. I was able to entice the Sevillians, their army almost exclusively composed of cavalry, into a trap. I deployed our troops in small units, apparently separated from support, while I positioned reinforcements carefully hidden from the Sevillians. This induced the Arabs to attack with their typical, and now familiar abandon of reason. I was able to take advantage of the Arab propensity to satisfy their urge for honor. This machismo behavior reinforced their concept of bravery. The trait is not different amongst the Berbers, but the later have now recognized the success of my strategies. The Arabs charged, oblivious to everything, into my infantry anchored by the Nubians. These stalwarts, after years of experience, training and successes, no longer considered a cavalry charge anything to be feared.

Once the Arab army initiated their charge the hidden reserves moved quickly to join those units used as bait. The Nubians were formed up as I positioned them. Protected behind their mobile fort of shields, undeterred by the screams of the oncoming hoard, the infantry aimed their long spears at the unprotected undersides of the charging horses. After hitting their marks or shattering their spears, the Nubians used their javelins to devastating effect. They were no less effective when they resorted to their swords. Behind the ranks of infantry were three rows of archers, crossbows, and slingers. The first of these ranks fired their missiles then knelt down to reload while the next rank fired, by the time the third rank fired the first was ready with their next round. To my surprise these tactics worked as perfectly this time as they had previously. The Sevillians had learned nothing from their previous defeats. The effect was to rain down barrage after barrage on the attacking Sevillian cavalry before most of them were able to get close enough to engage our infantry.

Once the forces clashed, and the enemy was fully engaged, I unleashed my cavalry, until that time still hidden on each flank. At this point the archers, crossbow soldiers and slingers were able to pick individual targets. Their missiles were even more effective. Swords flashed. javelins, arrows, crossbow bolts, grenades, and stones filled the air. Arms were severed, or nearly so. Terrible wounds were made to the face, neck hands, and legs until torsos were exposed. Then came the killing thrusts. The air filled with the noise, and awful smell, of conflict. The entire battle lasted less than an hour and a half.

The Sevillians were overwhelmed. They lost more than half of their army, killed, wounded or captured. After what was left of the Sevillian forces fled the field, my men gathered the plunder, and dispatched those enemy fighters who were so severely wounded their recovery was doubtful. We moved on to lay siege to the Alcazaba of Utrera.

While Badis lounged with his tribal chiefs in his huge pavilion, partaking of only the best of the local wines, I supervised the placement of the siege machines, and initiated the bombardment of the fortress. When I was satisfied with all the arrangements for the siege, I retired to my tent. I had my books to study, poems to write, and correspondence to attend to. Meanwhile the walls of the Alcazaba were gradually but inevitably weakened as the water supplies of the besieged dwindled. I did take time out from my intellectual pursuits to meet with a unit of engineers. I instructed them to tunnel under the section of wall they thought most vulnerable, undermining that section of wall, and weakening it enough to tumble.

On the road to Utrera the army camped for one night at the ruins of an ancient fortress. I notice that as I gain in years I become more retrospective. That night I felt depressed and was moved to compose a poem I entitled I quartered the troops for the night. The poem gives vent to the emotions I experienced thinking about all the people who dwelt, fought, and died in that place. I wondered what had happened to those people who by now were all long dead. What was the lasting effect of their lives and what would be mine?

While I was occupied with the siege of Utrera, Carmona, still a loyal ally, and the third aspect of my strategic planning, maneuvered towards Seville. The strategy was to use Carmona and Badajoz to draw Mutadid’s resources away from my front. For a while this strategy worked well. Initially, the army of Badajoz met only token resistance and was able to advance, but Mutadid sent reinforcements, led by one of his best generals, and the Sevillians were able to win some confrontations.

Next the wily Mutadid played a different card. He still had great influence with the king of Malaga, that same erstwhile Caliph of Andalusia. Mutadid reminded that false friend that Badis had wanted him dead and told him I had tricked him into believing otherwise. He convinced Idris III that if the truth were to be known, Badis, and his Jew Chief Vizier, had never been his friends. With considerable effort, and the application of appropriate financial incentives, Mutadid convinced Idris III to attack our forces from the rear. A strategy Mutadid used previously when he incited a rear attack by Ronda.

Badis was infuriated by this turnabout. He was the one who made Indris III the Caliph of Andalusia, even if the title was little more than an honorific. To meet the Malagan threat, and to punish the ungrateful Caliph, Badis ordered me to withdraw the army from Sevillian territory. He was determined to confront, and crush his newly crowned Caliph. Idris III had very little time to gloat over his success at relieving Seville. He was confident, fully expecting Mutadid to attack and trap our army between them.

Mutadid cared little, if at all, about the safety, or ambitions of Idris III, or indeed of the fate of Malaga. Malaga’s rear attack and our response made it possible for him to redistribute what remained of his army to confront Badajoz and Carmona. With overwhelming numbers arrayed against them, both Badajoz and Carmona were forced to abandon the war and return home, saving as much face as possible.

Idris III had been deceived. He fully expected Mutadid’s support and counted on that support to reclaim at least some of his lost territories. But Mutadid had achieved his short-term goal. Idris III was still flush with his victory, and still not terribly concerned. Being a Berber himself he knew the Berber nature. He managed to convince himself that although Badis might easily win a few skirmishes, he would stop to allow his troops to pillage and plunder. Badis certainly wanted to follow that scenario, but I managed to convince him otherwise. It was time to deal more permanently with the treachery of Malaga and its king.

One by one, our army of Granada attacked and subdued villages and towns belonging to Malaga. In each conquered location, I was able to identify people I felt could be trusted. Many of these men happened to be Jews. Badis and I installed them in office with the responsibility of representing Granada and administering the conquered territories. Before leaving, we exacted tribute from the conquered peoples. We used those resources to pay our mercenaries, and swell Badis’ coffers, thereby assuaging my king. I also installed tax collectors in each precinct to continue to divert the flow of wealth from Malaga to Granada, providing the King’s personal fifth of everything collected.

The Malagan kingdom was decimated. The erstwhile Caliph of Andalusia was boxed in and sequestered in the formidable Alcazaba of Malaga, three circuits of defensive walls with over a hundred towers, sited on the top of a mountain overlooking the port. After less than a month laying siege to his fortress we discovered that Idris III, the bully, was also a coward. He was not prepared emotionally to withstand a prolonged siege that would inevitably end in his death. He sent emissaries to beg Badis for peace and for his life, ceding everything taken from him. I weighed the cost in resources and manpower to continue the siege of the Alcazaba and convinced Badis revenge, and the complete absorption of Malaga, wasn’t worth the cost of men and resources.

Moreover, I was tired. I was feeling my age. For the last two weeks of the siege I had been troubled by a persistent cough that drained me of energy. The rigors of this particular campaign were no more strenuous than any of those preceding, but this time they exhausted me.

Badis, true to his nature, was bored with the siege. He readily agreed with my assessment of the situation and we returned home with many wagons full of plunder. The economy of Granada was given a huge boost by the infusion of appropriated wealth, and my personal financial situation, if not my physical health, increased significantly. I now possessed additional estates to manage. I put them in the care of my brother-in-law, Rabbi ben Judah.

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