The Umayyad Caliphate Invasion of Spain

The Arab Conquest of Spain 710 - 797 by Roger Collins
The Arab Conquest of Spain 710 - 797 by Roger Collins

The Umayyad Caliphate Conquest of Hispania

The Umayyad Caliphate expansion into Hispania (Iberian Peninsula) began in 711 and lasted until 718. This period marked the rise of Muslim Arab conquest over the Visigothic Kingdom, which resulted in the establishment of the Umayyad Wilayah of Al-Andalus.

Tariq ibn Ziyad and the Battle of Guadalete

During the reign of al-Walid I, Tariq ibn Ziyad led Berber forces in a successful invasion of Gibraltar in 711. They soon faced Visigothic king Roderic’s army at the Battle of Guadalete, where Tariq emerged victorious. This win marked a turning point in the conquest of Hispania.

Reinforcement from Arab Forces

Tariq was later reinforced by Musa ibn Nusayr’s Arab army, which enabled him to march northwards, occupying the region until 717. By then, the combined Arab-Berber force had successfully crossed the Pyrenees into Septimania, where they continued to expand their territory. Their reign in Gaul lasted until 759.

The Invasion

Northeastern Iberia and southern Gaul around the Pyrenees in year 740, military campaigns and geopolitical situation

Northeastern Iberia and southern Gaul around the Pyrenees in year 740, military campaigns and geopolitical situation

Tariq’s Initial Raid and Defeat of Roderic

Tariq ibn Ziyad was the governor of Tangier when he led the raiding force from North Africa to southern Spain in 711, according to Ibn Abd al-Hakam’s account. The force, estimated to be around 1,700 men, set sail on a fleet of ships and landed on the Iberian Peninsula. The raiders were not noticed by the people of Andalus, who mistook them for trading vessels. This confusion enabled the force to land undetected, and they quickly began their campaign to seize control of the peninsula.

Tariq’s troops encountered the Visigoth army, led by King Roderic, in a decisive battle at Guadalete in 712. Despite being outnumbered and outmatched, the Muslim forces achieved a stunning victory over the Visigoth army. The defeat of King Roderic’s army marked the end of the Visigoth Kingdom and the beginning of Muslim rule in the region.

Reinforcement by Musa ibn Nusayr

Tariq’s forces were then reinforced by those of his superior, Musa ibn Nusayr, who planned a second invasion. Both forces took control of more than two-thirds of the Iberian Peninsula. The second invasion comprised 18,000 mostly Arab troops who rapidly captured Seville, defeated Roderick’s supporters, and met up with Tariq’s troops at Talavera.

Continued Conquest and Capture of Iberian Cities

After the successful invasion of the Iberian Peninsula, Tariq’s forces were reinforced by the Umayyad governor of North Africa, Musa ibn Nusayr, who brought a significant Arab army to assist in the conquest of the region. With this reinforcement, Tariq’s forces were able to continue their advance across the peninsula and into the northwest region of Galicia.

The Galician cities of Léon and Astorga were captured by the Muslim forces, along with the city of Zaragoza in the northeast. These conquests marked a significant expansion of Muslim influence in the Iberian Peninsula, as they now held control over a vast amount of territory.

It is worth noting that the initial expedition led by Tariq consisted mainly of Berber soldiers who had recently converted to Islam and come under Muslim influence. These soldiers were likely accustomed to raiding and warfare, and their participation in the conquest of the Iberian Peninsula was likely part of a historic pattern of large-scale raids into the region dating back to the pre-Islamic period.

Despite their initial success, the Muslim forces did not have an easy time maintaining their hold on the newly conquered territory. The local population, consisting mainly of Christians and Jews, did not readily embrace the new rulers and frequently rebelled against them, leading to a period of conflict and instability in the region.

Debate on the Plan for Conquest

Some historians suggest that the Umayyad conquest of Hispania was not initially intended to be a permanent change of government, but rather a continuation of large-scale raids into Iberia dating back to the pre-Islamic period. The invading army, led by Tariq ibn Ziyad, was mainly composed of Berbers who had recently come under Muslim influence. The fact that the army was led by a Berber and that Musa, the Umayyad Governor of North Africa, only arrived the following year suggests that the governor had not planned for a full-scale invasion.

Furthermore, several Arab-Muslim writers mentioned that Tariq decided to cross the strait without informing his superior, Musa. This has led some to speculate that Tariq’s crossing was not part of a larger strategic plan, but rather a sudden, opportunistic decision. Musa’s arrival the following year, after the unexpected triumph, may have been more of a reaction to Tariq’s success than a planned reinforcement.

However, despite the possibility that the initial invasion was not intended as a full-scale conquest, the Umayyads continued to expand their control over the Iberian Peninsula over the following years. The combined forces of Tariq and Musa, along with subsequent reinforcements, took control of more than two-thirds of the peninsula within a few years, establishing the Umayyad Wilayah of Al-Andalus.

Overall, the exact intentions of the Umayyads in their initial invasion of Hispania are unclear, and scholars continue to debate the extent to which the conquest was planned or spontaneous.

Chronicle of 754. Manuscript London, British Library, Egerton 1934, fol. 2r. Text in Visigothic Script.

Chronicle of 754. Manuscript London, British Library, Egerton 1934, fol. 2r. Text in Visigothic Script.

Expectation of Temporary Raid

The Chronicle of 754, a Latin chronicle of Visigoth Spain, provides an interesting account of the early stages of the Muslim conquest of Iberia. According to the chronicle, many townspeople fled to the hills rather than defend their cities, indicating that they did not anticipate the Muslim raid to turn into a permanent occupation. This suggests that the Muslim incursion may have initially been viewed as a temporary raid, rather than an attempt at establishing a permanent change of government.

Furthermore, Muslim sources suggest that there had been raiding activity in previous years, indicating that the Muslims had been eyeing Iberia for some time. It is possible that Tariq’s army had been present in the region for some time before the decisive battle at Guadalete, possibly carrying out reconnaissance and small-scale raids to test the defenses of the local populace. This would fit into a historical pattern of large-scale raids into Iberia dating back to the pre-Islamic period, which could have encouraged Tariq to launch his own raid.

How the Chronicle of 754 Portrayed the Battle of Guadalete

The Chronicle of 754 provides the only contemporary account of the Battle of Guadalete, and its account has been debated by historians for centuries. According to the Chronicle, Roderic’s army of Goths fled, leaving him to fight alone. However, the chronicle provides no details about the battle and its aftermath. This lack of information has led to a variety of interpretations of the battle and its significance.

The location of the Battle of Guadalete is also uncertain. However, it is generally believed to have taken place near the Guadalete River, which runs through southern Spain. Some historians have suggested that the battle took place near the city of Medina-Sidonia, while others believe it occurred closer to the city of Cadiz. The exact location of the battle remains a mystery, and may never be definitively established.

The Power Vacuum that Led to Muslim Conquest

The death of Roderic, the last Visigoth king, was a significant blow to the kingdom. Roderic was an unpopular ruler, and his ascent to the throne was marked by violence and political instability. His sudden death on the battlefield would have thrown the Visigoth realm into chaos, leaving them without a strong leader to organize their defense against the invaders.

The Visigoths represented a tiny minority of the population, making their hold on power incredibly precarious. They relied on their military might to maintain control over the vast, multiethnic kingdom they had conquered. The loss of the royal army in the Battle of Guadalete was a massive blow to their military capabilities, leaving the entire land open to invasion.

The Muslim Arab forces under Tariq ibn Ziyad were quick to take advantage of the power vacuum that followed Roderic’s death. Their initial landing in Gibraltar and subsequent victory over the royal army were critical in destabilizing the Visigoth Kingdom, and they quickly moved to consolidate their control over the region. The Muslim invaders established their authority over much of the Iberian Peninsula, crushing any opposition from the disorganized Visigoth nobles and local populations who were unable to mount a coherent defense.

The power vacuum that emerged in the wake of Roderic’s death was undoubtedly unexpected by both the Visigoths and the Muslim invaders. However, the Muslims were quick to capitalize on the situation, seizing control of much of the territory and laying the foundations for the Umayyad Wilayah of Al-Andalus. The conquest had far-reaching consequences, transforming the political and cultural landscape of the Iberian Peninsula and shaping its history for centuries to come.

A Welcomed Change for Hispano-Roman Peasants

The power vacuum that emerged in the Visigoth Kingdom may have been welcomed not only by the Muslim invaders but also by the Hispano-Roman peasants, who had long felt a sense of disenfranchisement under the Visigoth rulers. The Visigoths had imposed their own legal system, language, and social norms on the Hispano-Roman population, creating a deep cultural divide. Many Hispano-Romans resented the Visigoth royal family, whom they viewed as “barbaric” and “decadent” in contrast to their own more refined culture.

With the arrival of the Umayyad Caliphate, the Hispano-Romans saw an opportunity for a change in leadership that could address their long-standing grievances. The Umayyads were known for their cosmopolitan and tolerant attitudes, and many Hispano-Romans may have seen them as a more just and inclusive ruling power. The Arab and Berber invaders also initially relied on the support of local leaders and communities, which may have further endeared them to the Hispano-Roman peasantry.

However, while the Umayyad conquest brought some changes that were beneficial to the Hispano-Romans, it also brought new challenges and injustices. The new rulers imposed their own legal and administrative systems, which, although more cosmopolitan, still marginalized the Hispano-Roman population. The Muslim conquerors also introduced new social and cultural norms that were at odds with traditional Hispano-Roman practices, leading to a clash of cultures.

Nonetheless, the power vacuum created by the Visigoth collapse and the subsequent Umayyad conquest allowed for a period of cultural and political transformation in Iberia, leading to the establishment of the unique and diverse Islamic culture of Al-Andalus. This new culture, which blended Arab, Berber, and Hispano-Roman traditions, would have a lasting impact on the region and beyond.

Conquest of Iberia by the Umayyad Caliphate

The Umayyad conquest of Hispania was a significant expansion of the Umayyad Caliphate in the 8th century. Musa ibn Nusayr, a trusted Arab general, led the conquest of the western Basque regions, Cantabrian mountains, and Gallaecia in 714. The conquest of these areas was relatively easy and uncontested, as there was little resistance to the invading forces.

During the reign of Abd al-Aziz ibn Musa, the second or first Arab governor, the principal urban centers of Catalonia surrendered without resistance. The Arab forces established their rule over the region, without facing any significant opposition from the locals. This was a significant turning point in the Umayyad conquest of Hispania, as it allowed the Arabs to consolidate their power in the region.

In the same year, Musa ibn Nusayr continued his conquests by capturing Soria, Palencia, Gijón, and León. The invading forces met with minimal opposition, as the Visigoth Kingdom was already weakened due to infighting and political instability. Musa ibn Nusayr appointed a Berber governor to rule over the last two regions, further strengthening the Umayyad presence in the region.

The success of the conquest can be attributed to a combination of factors, including the Arab military prowess, the weaknesses of the Visigoth Kingdom, and the lack of unity among the local people. These factors helped the Arab forces to achieve swift victories in various parts of Hispania, establishing a strong foothold in the region that would last for several centuries.

The Unconquered Valleys of Iberia

The northern regions of Iberia, including the high western and central sub-Pyrenean valleys, remained unconquered. The Umayyad troops met little resistance while reaching Pamplona, where the town submitted to the Arab commanders’ conditions, respecting the town and its inhabitants. In three years, the Umayyads almost reached the Pyrenees, securing towns’ submissions and future governance.

Jewish Communities and the Umayyad Conquest

The Umayyad conquest of Iberia weakened the Visigoth kingdom due to animosity towards the Visigoth rule and resentment involving local Jewish communities and ruling authorities. This played a pivotal role in the Umayyad Caliphate’s ultimate success in conquering Iberia and overthrowing the Visigoth royal family.


The Aftermath

Al-Ándalus en 732

Al-Ándalus en 732

Establishment of Al-Andalus

The Iberian Peninsula became the westernmost tip of the Umayyad Caliphate of Damascus and was under the rule of the governor of Ifriqiya. However, in 720, the caliph even considered abandoning the territory. Following the conquest, most of the Iberian Peninsula became known as Al-Andalus, dominated by Muslim rulers for several hundred years. Only a handful of small Christian realms managed to reassert their authority across the faraway mountainous north of the peninsula.

The emergence of an Independent Dynasty

In 756, Abd al-Rahman I, a survivor of the recently overthrown Umayyad dynasty, landed in Al-Andalus and seized power in Cordova and Seville, proclaiming himself emir or malik. In the wake of these events, southern Iberia became de jure and de facto independent from the Abbasid Caliphate. Although this was not accepted outside Al-Andalus and those North African territories with which it was affiliated, Abd al-Rahman, and especially his successors, considered themselves the legitimate continuation of the Umayyad caliphate, i.e. that their rule was more legitimate than that of the Abbasids.

Centralization and Homogenization

During the reign of Abd al-Rahman, Al-Andalus underwent centralization and slow but steady homogenization. The autonomous status of many towns and regions negotiated in the first years of the conquest was reversed by 778. The Hispanic Church based in Toledo, whose status remained largely undiminished under the new rulers, fell out with the Roman Church during the Adoptionist controversy in the late 8th century.

Decline and Fragmentation

The population of Al-Andalus, especially local nobles who aspired to share in power, began to embrace Islam and the Arabic language. However, the majority of the population remained Christian and Latin remained the principal language until the 11th century. The Umayyad dynasty survived until the 11th century, succeeded by a variety of small emirates (taifas) unable to stop the push of the expanding northern Christian kingdoms. The Almoravids, Almohads, and Marinids occupied Al-Andalus next, but that could not prevent the fragmentation of Muslim-ruled territory. The last Muslim emirate, Granada, was defeated by the armies of Castile and Aragon under Isabella and Ferdinand in 1492. The last wave of expulsions of Spaniards of Muslim descent took place in 1614.


Featured Image

King Don Rodrigo haranguing his troops at the battle of Guadalete

King Don Rodrigo haranguing his troops at the battle of Guadalete

El Rey Don Rodrigo arengando a sus tropas en la batalla de Guadalete” is a historical painting by Bernardo Blanco y Pérez that captures the intensity of the decisive Battle of Guadalete. The painting depicts the last Visigoth king of Spain, Don Rodrigo, standing on a rocky outcrop and addressing his troops before the battle. The figures are depicted in intricate detail, with colorful costumes, intricate armor, and vivid facial expressions. The artist’s use of light and shadow creates a dramatic atmosphere, highlighting the importance of the moment. Overall, the painting is a powerful representation of a significant historical event, capturing the bravery and determination of the soldiers on the battlefield.



  • Wikipedia Contributors. (2023, February 7). Umayyad conquest of Hispania. Wikipedia; Wikimedia Foundation.

  • Umayyad conquest of Hispania – New World Encyclopedia. (2023).

  • Chronicle of 754. Literature, at Spain is culture. (2023).

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