Morisco: Wikis


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Embarkation of moriscos in Valencia by Pere Oromig

A morisco (Spanish) or mourisco (Portuguese), meaning "Moor-like", was a nominally Catholic inhabitant of Spain and Portugal of Muslim heritage. Over time the term was used in a pejorative sense applied to those nominal Catholics who were suspected of secretly practicing Islam. Similarly, converted Jews (conversos) who secretly held to Judaism were called marranos.[1]



In the medieval period, Iberian Muslims who had come under Christian rule as a result of the Reconquista, who were also known as Mudejars, had been tolerated on the peninsula, although treated as inferiors by Christian authorities. In the early 1500s, this policy of toleration gradually began to change.

After the fall of Granada in 1492, under the Treaty of Granada, the government granted the Muslim population the same sort of toleration with discrimination which had traditionally been extended by medieval Spanish rulers. That promise was short-lived. When peaceful conversion efforts on the part of Granada's first archbishop, Hernando de Talavera, brought subversive opposition, Cardinal Cisneros took stronger measures: forcing conversions, burning Islamic texts, and prosecuting some of Granada's Muslims. In response to these and other violations of the treaty, Granada's Muslim population rebelled in 1499. The revolt, which lasted until early 1501, gave the Spanish authorities an excuse to void the remaining terms of the treaty.

In 1501, Spanish authorities delivered an ultimatum to Granada's Muslims: they could either convert to Christianity or leave. Most did convert, but often only superficially. Many continued to dress in their traditional fashion, speak Arabic, and some secretly practiced Islam. Many used the aljamiado writing system, i.e., Castilian or Aragonese texts in Arabic writing with scattered Arabic expressions. In 1502, Queen Isabella formally rescinded toleration of Islam for the entire crown of Castile. In 1508, Castilian authorities banned traditional Moorish clothing. With the absorption of Navarre into the crown of Castile in 1512, the Muslims of Navarre were ordered to convert or leave by 1515. However, Ferdinand, as King of Aragon, continued to tolerate the large Muslim population living in his territory. Since the crown of Aragon was juridically independent of Castile, their policies towards Muslims could and did differ in this period.

Historians have suggested that the crown of Aragon was inclined to tolerate Islam in its realm because the landed nobility there depended on the cheap, plentiful labor of Muslim vassals.[2] But, the landed elite's exploitation of Aragon's Muslims exacerbated class resentments. In the 1520s, when Valencian artisans rebelled against the local nobility in the Revolt of the Brotherhoods, the rebels "saw that the simplest way to destroy the power of the nobles in the countryside would be to free their vassals, and this they did by baptizing them." [3] The Inquisition and monarchy decided to prohibit the forcibly baptized Muslims of Valencia from returning to Islam.

In the last step, Charles V issued a decree compelling all Muslims in the crown of Aragon to convert to Catholicism or leave Spain by the end of January 1526. Thus through the threat of expulsion, many Muslims of Spain became Moriscos.

Aljamiado text by Mancebo de Arévalo. c. 16th century[4]

Until the reign of Philip II, Moriscos were seldom subject to prosecution by the Inquisition. By contrast, judaizing conversos were more often prosecuted in this period. Some Moriscos rose to positions of wealth and prominence and wielded influence in society. Moreover, Aragonese and Valencian nobles in particular were interested in keeping their Morisco vassals under personal control; they tried to protect them from Inquisitorial prosecution by advocating patience and religious instruction. However, in 1567 Philip II changed tack. He directed Moriscos to give up their Muslim names and traditional Muslim dress, and prohibited their speaking Arabic. In addition, their children were to be educated by Christian priests. In reaction, there was a Morisco uprising in the Alpujarras from 1568 to 1571.

Spies reported that the Ottoman Emperor Selim II was planning to attack Malta and from there move on to Spain. They said he wanted to incite an uprising among Spanish Moriscos. In addition, "some four thousand Turks and Berbers had come into Spain to fight alongside the insurgents in the Alpujarras," [5] which was an obvious military threat. After the government defeated the rebels, they expelled some 80,000 Moriscos from Granada. Most settled elsewhere in Castile. The Alpujarras uprising hardened the attitude of the monarchy, for "the excesses committed on both sides were without equal in the experience of contemporaries; it was the most savage war to be fought in Europe that century."[6] As a consequence, the Inquisition's prosecution of Moriscos increased after the uprising.

Huguenot support

French Huguenots were in contact with the Moriscos in plans against Spain in the 1570s.[7] Around 1575, plans were made for a combined attack of Aragonese Moriscos and Huguenots from Béarn under Henri de Navarre against Spanish Aragon, in agreement with the king of Algiers and the Ottoman Empire, but these projects foundered with the arrival of John of Austria in Aragon and the disarmement of the Moriscos.[8][9] In 1576, a three-pronged fleet from Istanbul was planned to disembark between Murcia and Valencia while the French Huguenots would invade from the north and the Moriscos accomplish their uprising, but the Ottoman fleet failed to arrive.[8]

Toward the end of the 16th century, Morisco writers challenged the perception that their culture was alien to Spain. Their literary works expressed early Spanish history in which Arabic-speaking Spaniards played a positive role. Chief among such works is Miguel de Luna's Verdadera historia del rey don Rodrigo (c. 1545-1615).


La Expulsión de los Moriscos. A painting by Vicente Carducho. Museo del Prado, Madrid
Disembarking of the Moriscos at Oran port (1613, Vicente Mostre), Fundación Bancaja de Valencia

At the instigation of the Duke of Lerma and the Viceroy of Valencia, Archbishop Juan de Ribera, Philip III expelled the moriscos from Spain between 1609 (Valencia) and 1614 (Castile).[10] They were ordered to depart "under the pain of death and confiscation, without trial or sentence... to take with them no money, bullion, jewels or bills of exchange... just what they could carry."[11] Estimates for the number expelled in this second wave have varied, although contemporary accounts set the number at around 300,000 (about 4% of the Spanish population). The majority were expelled from the Crown of Aragon (modern day Aragon, Catalonia and Valencia). In contrast, the majority in the first wave were expelled from Andalusia shortly after the events of 1492.[12][13] Some historians have blamed the subsequent economic collapse of the Spanish Mediterranean on the attempted replacement of morisco workers by Christian newcomers. Not only were there fewer of the new laborers, but they were not as familiar with the local techniques.

Adult moriscos were often assumed to be covert Muslims (i.e. crypto-Muslims), but the arrangements for expulsion of their children presented Catholic Spain with a dilemma. As the children had all been baptized, the government could not legally or morally transport them to Muslim lands. Some authorities proposed that children should be forcibly separated from their parents, but sheer numbers showed this to be impractical. Consequently, the official destination of the expellees was generally stated to be France (more specifically Marseille). After the assassination of Henry IV in 1610, about 150,000 moriscos went there.[14][15]. Most of the moriscos then migrated to North Africa, leaving only about 40,000 to settle permanently in France.[16] [17].

Those moriscos who wished to remain Catholic were generally able to find new homes in Italy (especially Livorno). The overwhelming majority of the refugees settled in Muslim-held lands, mostly in the Ottoman Empire (Algeria and Tunisia) or Morocco.

"During the reign of Sultan Saadian ech Sheikh Mohammed (1554-1557), the Turkish danger was felt on the eastern borders of Morocco and the sovereign, even though a hero of the holy war against Christians, showed a great political realism by becoming an ally of the King of Spain, still the champion of Christianity. Everything changed from 1609, when King Philip III of Spain decided to expel the moriscos which, numbering about three hundred thousand, were Muslims who had remained Christian. Rebels, always ready to rise, they vigorously refused to convert and formed a state within a state. The danger was that with the Turkish pressing from the east, the Spanish authorities, who saw in them [the moriscos] a "potential danger", decided to expel them, mainly to Morocco…."


Based at mainly northern towns of North Africa, some Morisco men fought as corsairs against Christians. Some Morisco mercenaries (in the service of the Moroccan sultan), armed with European-style guns, crossed the Sahara and conquered Timbuktu and the Niger Curve in 1591. A Morisco worked as military advisor for Sultan Al-Ashraf Tumanbay II of Egypt (the last Egyptian Mamluk Sultan) during his struggle against the Ottoman invasion in 1517 led by Sultan Selim I. The Morisco military advisor suggested that Sultan Tomanbey use men armed with guns instead of depending mainly on cavalries. Arabic sources recorded that Moriscos of Tunisia, Libya and Egypt joined Ottoman armies. Many Moriscos of Egypt joined the army in the time of Muhammad Ali of Egypt.

Numerous Moriscos remained in Spain, living among the Christian population. Some stayed on for genuine religious reasons, some for merely economic reasons. It is estimated that in the kingdom of Granada alone, between 10,000 and 15,000 Moriscos remained after the general expulsion of 1609.[19] Scholars have suggested that the Mercheros (also Quinquis), a group of nomadic tinkerers traditionally based in the northern half of Spain, may have had their origin among surviving Moriscos.

In literature

Miguel de Cervantes' writings, such as Don Quixote and Conversation of the Two Dogs, offered interesting views of Moriscos and put them in a favorable light. In the first part of Don Quixote (before the expulsion), a Morisco translates a found document containing the Arabic "history" that Cervantes is merely "publishing". In the second part, after the expulsion, Ricote is a Morisco and a good mate of Sancho Panza. He cares more about money than religion, and left for Germany, from where he returned as a false pilgrim to unbury his treasure. He however admits the righteousness of their expulsion. His daughter María Félix is brought to Berbery but suffers since she is a sincere Christian.

Extended meaning

In historical studies of minoritisation, morisco is sometimes applied to other historical crypto-Muslims, in places such as Norman Sicily, 9th-century Crete, and other areas along the medieval Christian-Muslim frontier.

In the racial classification of colonial Spanish America, morisco was used as a term for the child of a mulatto and Spaniard.

Morisco descendants and Spanish citizenship

In October 2006, the Andalusian Parliament asked the three parliamentary groups that form the majority to support an amendment that would ease the way for morisco descendants to gain Spanish citizenship. The proposal was originally made by IULV-CA, the Andalusian branch of the United Left.[20] Spanish Civil Code Art. 22.1, in its current form, provides concessions to nationals of the Ibero-American countries, Andorra, the Philippines, Equatorial Guinea, and Portugal as well as to the descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled by Spain. It allows them to seek citizenship after two years rather than the customary ten years required for residence in Spain.[21]

This measure could benefit about five million Moroccan citizens, who are considered to be descendants of moriscos. It could also benefit an indeterminate number of people in Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania, Libya, Egypt and Turkey.[22]

Since 1992 some Spanish and Moroccan historians and academics have been demanding equitable treatment for moriscos similar to that offered to Sephardic Jews. The bid was welcomed by Mansur Escudero, the chairman of Islamic Council of Spain.[23]

A recent DNA study by the University of Leeds (2008) of the Y chromosome among the current population of Iberia (i.e. Spain and Portugal) suggests that 11% of Iberian males have traces of Moorish ancestry.[24]. The study has come under criticism since the Sephardic result is in contradiction [25][26][27] or not replicated in all the body of genetic studies done in Iberia and has been later questioned by the authors themselves [28][29][30][31] and questioned by Stephen Oppenheimer who estimate that much earlier migrations, 5,000 to 10,000 years ago from the Eastern Mediterranean might also have accounted for the Sephardic estimates. "They are really assuming that they are looking at this migration of Jewish immigrants, but the same lineages could have been introduced in the Neolithic"[32]. The rest of genetic studies done in Spain estimate the Moorish contribution ranging from 2.5/3.4%[33] to 7.7%[34].

See also

External links

Further reading

  • Chejne, Anwar G. (1983). Islam and the West: The Moriscos, a Cultural and Social History. SUNY Press. pp. 250. ISBN 0-87395-603-6.   (read the book)
  • Harvey, L. P. Muslims in Spain, 1500 to 1614. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.
  • Perry, M. E. The Handless Maiden: Moriscos and the Politics of Religion in Early Modern Spain. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005.


  • Moriscos of Spain: Their Conversion and Expulsion, by H. C. Lea, (London 1901)


  1. ^ Rothstein, Edward (2005-06-13), Regarding Cervantes, Multicultural Dreamer, New York Times,, retrieved 2007-12-15  .
  2. ^ Henry Kamen, Spanish Inquisition (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997, p. 216)
  3. ^ Kamen, Spanish Inquisition, p. 216.
  4. ^ The passage invites Spanish Moriscos or crypto-Muslims to continue fulfilling Islamic prescriptions and disguise (taqiyya), so they would be protected while showing public adherence to the Christian faith.
  5. ^ Kamen, Spanish Inquisition, p. 224.
  6. ^ Kamen, Spanish Inquisition, p. 224.
  7. ^ Divided by faith by Benjamin J. Kaplan p.311 [1]
  8. ^ a b The Moriscos of Spain: their conversion and expulsion by Henry Charles Lea p.281- [2]
  9. ^ Muslims in Spain, 1500 to 1614 by L. P. Harvey p.343 [3]
  10. ^ L. P. Harvey. Muslims in Spain, 1500 to 1614. University Of Chicago Press, 2005. ISBN 978-0226319636.
  11. ^ H.C Lea, The Moriscos of Spain; op cit; p.345
  12. ^ Patrick Harvey, Leonard (1992). Islamic Spain, 1250 to 1500. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 7. ISBN 0-226-31962-8.  
  13. ^ "Los hijos del destierro andalusí", El Mundo, 27 de Agosto de 2006, número 565
  14. ^ Bruno Etienne, « Nos ancêtres les Sarrasins » in : hors série n° 54 du Nouvel Observateur, « Les nouveaux penseurs de l’islam », april/may 2004, p. 22-23
  15. ^ Francisque Michel, Histoire des races maudites de la France et de l'Espagne, Hachette, 1847, p.71
  16. ^ René Martial, La race française, 1934, p.163
  17. ^ "it may be assumed that some 35,000 managed to remain", Anwar G. Chejne, Islam and the West: The Moriscos, a Cultural and Social History, SUNY Press, 1983, p.13
  18. ^ Bernard Lugan, Histoire du Maroc: Le Maroc et L'Occident du XVIe au XXe Siecle
  19. ^ "La guerra de los moriscos en las Alpujarras". Retrieved 2006-11-26.  
  20. ^ Propuesta de IU sobre derecho preferente de moriscos a la nacionalidad (Spanish)
  21. ^ Código Civil (Spanish)
  22. ^ Piden la nacionalidad española para los descendientes de moriscos (Spanish)
  23. ^ La Junta Islámica pide para descendientes de moriscos la nacionalidad española (Spanish)
  24. ^ The Genetic Legacy of Religious Diversity and Intolerance: Paternal Lineages of Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the Iberian Peninsula, Adams et al. 2008
  25. ^ Reduced genetic structure of the Iberian peninsula revealed by Y-chromosome analysis: implications for population demography, Flores et al. 2004
  26. ^ Mitochondrial DNA affinities at the Atlantic fringe of Europe, Gonzalez et al. 2003
  27. ^ Toward resolution of the debate regarding purported crypto-Jews in a Spanish-American population: evidence from the Y chromosome, Sutton et al. 2006
  28. ^ "Despite alternative possible sources for lineages ascribed a Sephardic Jewish origin", [4]
  29. ^ "La cifra de los sefardíes puede estar sobreestimada, ya que en estos genes hay mucha diversidad y quizá absorbieron otros genes de Oriente Medio" ("The Sephardic result may be overestimated, since there is much diversity in those genes and maybe absorbed other genes from the Middle East"). ¿Pone en duda Calafell la validez de los tests de ancestros? “Están bien para los americanos, nosotros ya sabemos de dónde venimos” (Puts Calafell in doubt the validity of ancestry tests? "They can be good for the Americans, we already know from where we come from). " [5]
  30. ^ “We think it might be an over estimate" "The genetic makeup of Sephardic Jews is probably common to other Middle Eastern populations, such as the Phoenicians, that also settled the Iberian Peninsula, Calafell says. “In our study, that would have all fallen under the Jewish label.””,_Jewish_genes
  31. ^ "El doctor Calafell matiza que (...) los marcadores genéticos usados para distinguir a la población con ancestros sefardíes pueden producir distorsiones". "ese 20% de españoles que el estudio señala como descendientes de sefardíes podrían haber heredado ese rasgo de movimiento más antiguos, como el de los fenicios o, incluso, primeros pobladores neolíticos hace miles de años." "Dr. Calafell clarifies that (...) the genetic markers used to distinguish the population with Sephardim ancestry may produce distorsions" "that 20% of Spaniards that are accounted as having Sephardim ancestry in the study could have inherited that same marker from older movements like the Phoenicians, or even the first Neolithic settlers thousand of years ago"
  32. ^
  33. ^
  34. ^

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