Jewish Persecution: 1 CE – Today, part 93

A grimoire including demonic summoning rituals. Attributed variously to Popes Honorius I and III. And people say history is dull.

Pope Honorius ordered the Archbishop of Toledo to enforce the “Badge of Shame” issued by Spanish authorities in 1218 CE over Jews in Christian Spain. But the Jewish people rebelled, and threatened to take their services and property with them to Muslim controlled Spain, then known as Al Andalusia. The pope and Spanish secular authorities were forced to rescind the enforcement of Shame for a time. The Iberian peninsula and Spanish March countries made sporadic attempts at enforcing sumptuary laws for Jews. The Kingdoms of Aragon and Navarre passed restrictions in 1228 and 1234, respectively. Portugal waited until 1325. In Barcelona in 1397, the consort Queen Maria required all Jews to wear light green with a Jewish badge in the shape of yellow circle with a red bullseye on their chests. Visitors to the city who were caught without the required costume would be stripped, whipped, and fined. 

No sumptuary laws were imposed in Germany until the second half of the 13th century, more than 100 years after the 4th Lateran Council of 1215. Rather than a badge, the high pointed hat Jewish scholars wore to denote wisdom became required rather than voluntary. Looking back at history, European antisemitism is clear and obvious, and ever-present. But the burnings, forced baptisms, expulsions, and accusations of ritual murder were spread out across the continent and British Isle over centuries. When that anti Jewish hatred was particularly intense, some Jews converted or simply professed a conversion to spare their lives while others fled to safer lands. 

Muslim Spain had been a relative refuge for early medieval Jews. The caliphate of Al-Andalus was inherited by Hisham II, who was still a boy, in 976 CE. The true power behind the throne was Al-Mansur ibn Abi Aamir, also written as Almanzor. He kept Hisham and his brother out of the way so that he could run the show, and for 24 years he expanded the boundaries of Al-Andalus to their maximum extent. But upon Almanzor’s death in 1002, the Arab and Berber nobles and generals of the country had no loyalty or deference to the Umayyad family or Caliph Hisham II. As contemporary chronicler Abdullah ibn Buluggin described: 

“When the ‘Amirid dynasty’ [of Al-Mansur] came to an end and the people were left without an imam [leader], every military commander rose up in his own town and entrenched himself behind the walls of his own fortress, having first secured his own position, created hois own army and amassed his own resources. These persons vied with one another for worldly power, and each sought to subdue the other.” 

Al-Andalus broke apart into taifa, warring emirates. Meanwhile in contemporary world events, Pope Urban II had launched Christian Crusaders towards Jerusalem in 1095 with his speech at the Council of Clermont, urging Christian men to reclaim the Holy Land because “God wills it!” Another Christian land reclamation project against Muslims had been focused in the Iberian peninsula since the days of Charlemagne (742-814), the Reconquista of Spanish lands. In the taifa of Cordoba the Berber king and rebels both hired Christian mercenaries to fight for them. The heightened Christian zeal encouraged mercenaries to fight further to the south in Muslim lands they’d previously not visited. Jews generally fought on the side of their Muslim rulers and majority population, rather than the super religiously amped up Christian invaders, for reasons which I hope would be obvious at this point in the series, honestly. 

The taifa kings dwindled from 30 at the dawn of the 11th century to 8 by its close as the strong conquered the weak. But these conquests came at tremendous cost. Mercenaries had been replaced by the Christian nations of the Spanish March, and with each victory over a taifa they took land and spoils, growing Christian territory in the peninsula. Once those March nations had paid duties to Al-Andalus; now taifa kings paid them. In war with each other the Muslim emirs were spending well beyond their means, and bankrupting their tiny kingdoms. To curb the growing Christian influence in Spain, some of the taifa kings in the mid 11th century invited a new, purist brand of Islam Almoravid and its powerful leader, Abdullah ibn Yasin.


Further Reading 

Nirenberg, David. Race and the Middle Ages, Chapter 4: The Case for Spain and Its Jews. University of Chicago, 2007. 

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