Moonlight in a Jar: An Al-Andalus Timeline

ACT I: Hisham II and al-Mughira
With thanks to XanXar for rekindling my interest in actually sharing my first honest-to-goodness TL publicly, and more broadly to everyone who's discussed al-Andalus on these forums over the years for leaving behind a massive body of discussion to trawl through over the past several months, and of course to the authors of the various primary and academic sources drawn upon, adapted and thrown for a loop to inform what's here. Let's see how this goes, and how much damage the butterflies from a few changes in a distant corner of medieval Europe can do to everything else in the world.


We are crescent moons, whose light
Banishes the shades of night;
Wheresoe'er we sit, we bring
Glory to the gathering.

Fate, the traitor, may efface
Wrongfully our pride of place;
Fate may take our most; yet whole
Still abides our pride of soul.

- Ibn Adha (1098-1145), OTL

A palm tree I beheld in ar-Rusafa
Far in the West, far from the palm-tree land:
I said: You, like myself, are far away, in a strange land;
How long have I been away from my people!
You grew up in a land where you are a stranger,
And like myself, are living in the farthest corner of the earth:
May the morning clouds refresh you at this distance,
And may abundant rains comfort you forever!

- Abd ar-Rahman I, Emir of Cordoba (r. 756-88)


Excerpt: The Rise and the Fall of the Mohammedan Caliphs of al-Andalus - Muhallab ibn Jalil al-Dani, AH 1056 (AD 1646)

Chapter 6
The Days Between the Death of al-Hakam II al-Mustansir
and the Ascendancy of Hisham II al-Mu'ayad

On the eve of the death of the Caliph al-Hakam al-Mustansir, his son Hisham, surnamed al-Mu'ayad-billah, who was perhaps twelve years old at the time, succeeded to the throne. It was, however, a narrow thing, and the years that followed him were uncertain ones for the Córdoban Caliphate.

The historian, ibn Hayyan, tells us that among his multitude of virtues, al-Hakam, a wise and vigorous man whose reign saw the Caliphate enjoy such relative steadiness as so precipitously situated an institution could in those dark days, possessed paternal love in such a degree that it blinded his prudence. In his love, he appointed as his successor his only son, then a child, in preference to any of his brothers or nephews, men of mature age and wisdom, with the experience and capability of making their mandates obeyed.

Perhaps it is that love of a father for a son that blinded al-Hakam to the folly of his decision, or perhaps an expectation of a longer life in which to prepare the boy. Though he doted upon his son, others rose in his young life. Prominent among them was a man, Mohammed ibn Abi Aamir, the manager of the child's estates and a favourite of Sobha, his mother. The influence ibn Abi Aamir held upon the boy Hisham and his mother cannot be understated, nor the ambition he demonstrated. Among them, too, was the hajib, the Berber named Ja'far al-Mushafi, a man of obscure lineage who may have counted himself among Hisham's supporters but whom we are told by the historians saw opportunities in the lad - for with the ascent of the youth, he believed, the empire would be in his hands, but with the ascent of another sovereign his soldiers would lose all power and authority.

Thus was the circumstance on the eve of the second day of Safar, AH 366[1], when al-Hakam swooned and perished. All eyes turned to the child, Hisham al-Muayad.

It has been observed by the histories of the day that the first to know of the death of the Caliph were two of his eunuchs, of the saqaliba[2] - the master of the tiraz[3], Fa'iq al-Nizami, and the faulconer, Judhar. Together they were among the foremost of some thousand saqaliba present within the palace of Córdoba, as well as within the palace guard. Even as al-Hakam al-Mustansir breathed his last, these two men, foreseeing the troubles and calamities that might arise from the ascent to the throne of a mere child, conceived of the idea to replace Hisham in the line of succession instead with a brother of al-Hakam, al-Mughira, son of the late Abd ar-Rahman III by the concubine, Mushtaq.

Their first move was to summon the hajib, Ja'far al-Mushafi. Before he arrived, however, the two spoke of their plan. "Methinks," Fa'iq is said to have said to Judhar, "we shall never be able to carry our plans into execution as long as Ja'far al-Mushafi lives. He must die."

"And are we," said Judhar to Fa'iq, "to begin our undertaking by slaying an old man, who is our master and protector?"

"By God! I can see no other way," Fa'iq said.

What actually transpired in the ensuing meeting, behind closed doors, was witnessed by none. The histories tell us only of what happened when the doors opened, and the two siqlabi conspirators exited, and left behind the corpse of al-Mushafi, his life having been taken from him.

In the hours thereafter, a detachment of the royal guard, perhaps twenty saqaliba in number, travelled to the house of al-Mughira, finding him in complete ignorance of what had occurred. To his credit, the young man appears to have been totally innocent of any political aspirations at that time, though not lacking for hope in his younger years. At the receipt of the news of his brother's end, al-Mughira was thunderstruck; but soon after recovering, he said, "I hear and obey the orders of my new master," and swore to Hisham his loyalty.

More difficult was the man, ibn Abi Aamir, who commanded the loyalty of some in the court - particularly his contacts were strong among the Berbers, among whom he once served on behalf of the Caliph. The saqaliba, too, attended the house of ibn Abi Aamir. It was a journey less to win his loyalty than to neutralize him, a man who did not yet know of the death of the Caliph.

Upon receipt of the news, the wily ibn Abi Aamir feigned acceptance. Within, he chafed at it mightily, for it is said that he was a man of the greatest ambition - a man who decided from a young age that his goal would be to become the most powerful man in the Caliphate. He made a show of bowing his head and going along with things, while resolving to maneuver himself, somehow, even closer to power.

Thus it was that the machinations of the saqaliba came to fruition. In truth, al-Mushafi was a man buoyed in his position in the main by the patronage of al-Hakam, for he had no base of power in Córdoba, and many of the oldest families felt his ascent to power an affront, and considered his removal the righting of a grievance. Many loyal to the Umayyad line rallied behind the heir of al-Hakam, some out of love of the dynasty, others sensing the opportunity of winning the favour of a Caliph still but a child. And yet, faced with the reluctance of a thunderstruck al-Mughira to push aside his brother's son, and faced with critical eyes in many corners of the court, a compromise could be found.

It was announced that a coup had been foiled - an attempt to undermine the Banu Umayya by al-Mushafi, to raise the child as a figurehead to be manipulated by the hajib, who was interested only in their own greed. This tale was readily accepted by many in the establishment, for al-Mushafi had long been viewed among the great families as a Berber upstart, widely despised at court. An agreement was struck: Hisham would be raised to the throne, but in his stead for now would stand al-Mughira, not as Caliph but as hajib and protector of his nephew, to guide him in his minority and to stand aside when the boy became a man strong enough to rule.

Thus it was that the boy-Caliph, Hisham II, ascended to the height of power, his uncle al-Mughira standing uneasily behind him to guide him.

It was not an enviable ascent. The boy, the man, supported by much of the court and by the saqaliba, held precariously in their hands a strong land, but one deeply divided against itself, riven by internal struggles for power, surrounded on all sides by the Christian and the Berber, reft by the simmering tensions of centuries since founding between Arab and Berber and Muladi and others. More immediately, upon the sidelines stood the ambitious ibn Abi Aamir, the favourite of the umm al-walad[4], Sobha, herself infuriated by the course of events but powerless to change them. To guide the Caliphate in these days, the most pivotal of al-Andalus, was the challenge suited for a great man.

The years ahead would test the boy's capacity to rise to that greatness.

[1] September 29, 976.
[2] "Slavs" - Slaves of eastern European origin, often eunuchs. They form a nascent but powerful military class in Andalusi society as slave-soldiers and are in some ways analogous to mamluks.
[3] The official wardrobe.
[4] Mother of the son. Specifically a concubine who bears her master's child.

* Reprinted with permission from the Qapraqan el-Usuli Library, Shillah, Cawania

976: Al-Hakam II, Caliph of Córdoba, dies. After an internal power struggle in which the hajib, Ja'far al-Mushafi, is killed, the late Caliph is succeeded by his young son, Hisham II, under the regency of al-Hakam's youngest brother, al-Mughira. Mohammed ibn Abi Aamir, the man who would be Almanzor in another time, remains a strong figure at court, but the saqaliba gain the upper hand in the political battles in Córdoba.
This really does look good so far, I'm glad you've decided to start this time line, eagerly anticipating the next update. I wonder what Al-Mansur's plan will be now he has to deal with Al-Mughira instead of the near-death Al-Mushafi, will he still try to become Hajib? Was OTL Al-Mughira any good at the art of political intrigue?
This really does look good so far, I'm glad you've decided to start this time line, eagerly anticipating the next update. I wonder what Al-Mansur's plan will be now he has to deal with Al-Mughira instead of the near-death Al-Mushafi, will he still try to become Hajib? Was OTL Al-Mughira any good at the art of political intrigue?
Not much is actually known about OTL al-Mughira; he never really had the chance to launch himself. It's likely that he had some ambitions towards power when he was younger, as evidenced by the fact that someone out there thought to commission a filthily expensive pyxis full of "know your place" subtext. The sources disagree on whether or not he was in on the scheme concocted by the saqaliba but even if he did harbour ambitions, it's likely he wouldn't have known al-Hakam had died before the eunuchs started plotting. Certainly he was seen as being more suited for the job than Hisham, and must've showed some promise and desire as a younger man if indeed there were those in the dynasty worrying that he might act on those ambitions. Then again, there's also the fact that we hear nothing else of him before his death.

OTL, of course, Fa'iq and Judhar chose not to kill al-Mushafi, and it was Almanzor - ITTL just ibn Abi Aamir - who went to al-Mughira's house and murdered him to clear the way for himself to eventually overcome al-Mushafi and Ghalib al-Nasiri, then to establish himself as hajib to Hisham. Almanzor himself had to do a lot of work after the succession to consolidate power in his own person. Here he backed the losing horse, and Hisham is supported by someone who may have some ambition, but also has a different outlook and a different core of support.
Is this an "Al-Andalus survives longer" TL or are you hoping to do something else?
That depends on which iteration of al-Andalus you mean. In the long run, it's likely that a Muslim Iberia will survive longer. The Caliphate of Córdoba may not. The idea is to explore not only a different fate for Islam in Iberia, but how the butterflies radiating out of al-Andalus result in changes to the broader world. Just with where I've gone so far in the behind-the-scenes planning stuff, the butterflies are far-reaching. OTL, Almanzor's actions had consequences far beyond al-Andalus. What happens without him sacking Santiago de Compostela, or invading the Spanish March during the troublesome French succession?

Basically don't be surprised if you follow along with this thing and find I'm writing chapters about Hugh Capet or Ethelred the Unready.
ACT I Part II: The Pyxis of al-Mughira
This was all wrong. All wrong.

He looked to the door to his chamber; closed, secure - he hoped - and guarded by two of the
saqaliba, more of them stationed outside his chambers in the palace of Madinat az-Zahra. Protection, but yet feeling so terribly scant.

Erring close to the window, the young man found himself staring out into the gardens beyond. The light of the moon bathed the world in the haunting, washed-out lucidity that sometimes comes at the deepest and most serene reaches of the night, a time for dreams and rest. He found he could do neither, lost instead in the memories of a time before now.

Of course, the man reflected to himself with a certain bitterness, there was once a day when this outcome would have been an opportunity. To rule... if not in name, then in fact.

Slowly, Abu al-Mutarrif al-Mughira turned from the moonlit garden. The trains of his court robes hissed softly against the flooring as he turned to the bedside, to the collection of objects there - quills, scrolls, the like.

His hands fell to one object - a masterwork of ivory carving, a little cask which had sat out of the way there for some years since its arrival. He turned it over slowly in his hands, eyes lingering on the elegantly carved panels. The hands of the young men reaching into the nest of the falcon.

He sighed and closed his eyes, twisting his lips with a deeply-felt bitterness. Momentarily flirted with the notion of hurling the priceless, accursed thing across the room and ridding himself of it.


Blessings from God, goodwill, happiness and prosperity to al-Mughira, son of the amir al-mu'munin, may God's mercy be upon him; made in the year 357.

- Inscription on the Pyxis of al-Mughira


....................................................................................................................[OTL photo credit: Steven Zucker (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)]

Excerpt: Andalusi History Through Artifacts - Prof. Peire-Raimond Raspail, University of Lacoide Department of History, Acatian Scholastic Press, 1987

Preserved strikingly intact in the National Museum of Culture in Córdoba, the Pyxis of al-Mughira is a cylindrical, domed box or jar. The Pyxis is considered an Andalusi national treasure, and from an artistic standpoint, has long been hailed as a masterwork in the art of the ivory-carver. It has also been hailed as one of the great pieces of irony in the history of Muslim Iberia, recognized not as a piece of art but as a piece of subtext.

The lid of the pyxis - a type of ornamental box, wrought in precious ivory - identifies the intended recipient as a son of the first Córdoban Umayyad caliph, Abd ar-Rahman III (r. 912-61). Namely, the receipient was Abu al-Mutarrif al-Mughira, a young man with a complex history. Among the youngest sons of Abd ar-Rahman III, he was a young man during the reign as caliph of his older brother, al-Hakam II al-Mustansir. The pyxis came to him in the year 968 by European reckoning of the calendar, 357 by the Muslim reckoning.

Leaving aside the artistic merit of the object, that it belonged once to al-Mughira, one of the most remarkable figures in a turbulent time in the history of ancient al-Andalus. All the more remarkable is the message contained within the imagery of the pyxis itself: At least in many circles, a field of scholarly thought hewed to most closely in modern studies of Andalus suggests the pyxis was most likely commissioned by al-Mughira's enemies, perhaps the influential estate manager Muhammad ibn Abi Aamir or the vizier Ja'far al-Mushafi - or perhaps even his own brother - as a warning to him against seeking the caliphal throne. Another view suggests the pyxis was commissioned from a prominent eunuch by al-Mughira's mother, al-Mushtaq, whom contemporary historians portray as someone of influence at court. Certainly something as expensive and luxurious as the pyxis could not have been commissioned by anyone outside the upper echelons of the Caliphate.

Nevertheless the images are striking - one medallion, for instance, depicts two men gathering eggs from falcon nests, the falcon widely being seen as a symbol of the power and legitimacy of the Umayyad dynasty. The medallion depicts these men being bitten by dogs. Yunus Yusufeddine (1977) interpreted this as an implication of threat to those who would seek to grasp the power of the dynasty. The subtextual message - joined with other medallions depicting symbols of the strength and tradition of the Umayyad line - seems to convey a warning to al-Mughira: An urging to him to abandon any aspirations to power he may have, both for the sake of the dynasty and for the sake of himself. The fate of the men who would pluck the eggs from the falcon's nest is thus a warning that any ambition on the part of al-Mughira will lead both him and the Umayyad line to a dire fate.

Though we know little of al-Mughira's early years, the existence of the pyxis can tell us much of who he was. The young al-Mughira must have been a gifted young man, undoubtedly possessed of the ambition and the desire to rule, and most certainly viewed at least in court circles as a young man suitable to take the reins of power if not for the choice of the unready boy Hisham.

It is, perhaps, ironic that the message is ensconced upon the pyxis eight years before the tumultuous succession of 976. In that year, the caliph al-Hakam II passed, and a succession crisis erupted around the person of his designated successor, his son Hisham II. The crux of the dilemma was the boy's age - he was a lad of perhaps 11 or 12 at the time, while al-Mughira was about twenty-five and considered possessed of attributes suitable for the rule of the Andalusi caliphate.

A faction coalesced around three members of the court: Hisham's mother Subh, who had been al-Hakam's consort, the powerful visier al-Mushafi, and ibn Abi Aamir. This faction seemingly sought to place Hisham on the throne with no true figure of guidance, save perhaps by ibn Abi Aamir, a man spoken of in the histories as a man of towering pride and ruthless ambition. Al-Mughira's faction comprised the powerful palace eunuchs who had been members of both caliphs' inner circles, among them the eunuchs Fa'iq al-Nizami and Judhar, who were present at the time of al-Hakam's death and moved to place al-Mughira on the throne. Ironically, the faction did not comprise al-Mughira himself.

The message of the pyxis, however, must have registered upon al-Mughira even as he was presented by the palace eunuchs with a path to power. We are told by history that he refused the call when it came, swearing his loyalty to Hisham even after the die was cast. He would, true to the message of the pyxis, never stand as caliph, but as regent and protector for his young nephew, Hisham.

Therein lies the true irony: Even without grasping the eggs from the nest of the falcon, al-Mughira would prove to be a key but unheralded mover in the history of medieval Andalus, coming to prominence just as the ancient Iberian caliphate steamed towards a critical fulcrum which would decide the future of Islam in the west. With Muhammad ibn Abi Aamir still opposed to him, al-Mughira faced the choice of either following his youthful ambitions, or placing his love of his brother and his family - and the Caliphate - ahead of his own personal desires.

That he chose a different road is, perhaps, most striking of all.
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I love al-Andalus timelines. Will this TL feature the other faiths extant in Andalus at the time (Judaism and Christianity)?
ACT I Part III: Ghalib's Expedition
Excerpt: The Rise and the Fall of the Mohammedan Caliphs of al-Andalus - Muhallab ibn Jalil al-Dani, AH 1056 (AD 1646)

On the death of al-Hakam, his son Hisham al-Mu'ayad, who was then but a lad of twelve, rose to succeed him. The Christians of the north mountains, hearing word of the passage of al-Hakam, began to muster their men-at-arms and made some threat upon the frontiers. Al-Mughira, who stood as the protector and regent for Hisham his nephew and Caliph, sent against them Ghalib al-Nasiri, the commander of the outpost of Medinaceli, and an army with him.[1]

By the grace of almighty God, it came to pass that Ghalib returned victorious from the expedition, leaving the Christians defeated upon the field. The circumstance gained the veteran even greater acclaim, and with it, acclaim for the young Caliph and his protector, and the people cried out in celebration of the viictory.

It did little to bring ease to the heart al-Mughira, though for he was an intelligent man and not absent of ambition, he remained a man who had been thrust to his surprise into a precarious circumstance, advising a young Caliph with the foundations of an adept mind and a compassionate manner but with little sign of the dynamism of his father. While the people hailed the victories of Ghalib against the Christians, in the court, al-Mughira, himself a man of steady disposition and loyal demeanor, found himself faced with the blandishments of the favourite of the umm al-walad, Mohammed ibn Abi Aamir.

By the murder of the hajib, al-Mushafi, Hisham saw himself ensconced firmly upon the throne handed down through the lineage of the Banu Umayya, and al-Mughira guided him in his administration and counselled him as wisely as he could in his affairs. In his heart knowing that he possessed greater gifts than his young ward, nonetheless he looked upon the court and saw the perils of attempting to grasp power for himself, in defiance of the will of the old families that al-Hakam's choice of his son as his heir should be honoured. He laid aside much pomp and sat along with the wizirs and other members of the council on a seat similar to theirs, and he stood behind Hisham in public.

Ibn Abi Aamir, however, was in character less willing to compromise his ambitions. Against the judiciousness of al-Mughira he demonstrated an unbounded spirit of vigor and liberality, and to al-Mughira's reserve and steadiness of temper, ibn Abi Aamir opposed an agreeable charm and wit, enough so to win the admiration of many hangers-on at the court. The zeal with which ibn Abi Aamir carried out the duties of his office so won the favour of Sobha, the umm al-walad, that his power and influence made him a dangerous man. The man who was al-Mushafi had been disliked in many circles, but ibn Abi Aamir was a different man - an esteemed officer of the royal household, a man of both charisma and towering ambition, too dangerous for al-Mughira to send away and leave unchecked, yet too perilous to allow him to whisper in those quarters close to the young Hisham, or those whose support was key to him. While he presented a face of loyalty to Hisham and al-Mughira, ibn Abi Aamir was secretly working in the shadows to tear the foundations of support from the latter. He worked to destroy him in the favour of the umm al-walad, speaking of him as disloyal to Hisham.

Al-Mughira himself gathered significant support, especially from the old tribes, the likes of the Banu Abi Aabda and the Banu Shuhayd, those whose ancestors had come to the Andalus in the beginning, and from Ghalib, the old siqlabi general. These old supporters of the Banu Umayya viewed Ja'far al-Mushafi as something of a carbuncle upon the face of the court, a man with no natural power base in Córdoba, of a Berber family of no real significance, and thus viewed his demise as welcome rectification of a decision which had rankled them. At the advising of al-Mughira, Hisham granted the role of his financial manager not to ibn Abi Aamir, but to Muzaffar, a son of the Banu Abi Aabda, and placed some confidence in such ministers as Abu Umar Ahmad ibn Said ibn Hazm. In the game of politics, al-Mughira maneuvered to position ibn Abi Aamir outside the circle of the supporters of the Banu Umayya, to tacitly position him as an outsider.

An ally to him in these matters came in the form of his mother, Mushtaq, once a concubine of Abd ar-Rahman III. A woman of some influence among the great men of the court, her words carried great weight with many of the great families, and it is said she both whispered to them words of the readiness of al-Mughira, and of the amorality of ibn Abi Aamir. The man, she said, clearly sought to rise above his station, to act in the stead of a caliph when he was not even of the Banu Umayya, but from a lesser noble family - he was of an Arabian family from Yemen, dwelling in Al-Jazira, and could not trace his lineage to the companions of the Prophet, may God honour him and give him peace.

The relationship between al-Mughira and Ghalib, meanwhile, grew closer as the days passed, and Ghalib began to advise the hajib closely. This bond was deepened in the month of Moharram of the year 367, on the night of Naurus[2] as al-Mughira took in marriage the hand of Asmá, daughter of Ghalib. The marriage was celebrated with pomp and extravagance surprising for such an occasion; the bride was received in state at the palace by the Caliph Hisham, who accompanied her afterwards to the dwelling of the bridegroom. These marks of distinction increased the power and influence of al-Mughira. It is said that he doubled in one night the number and vigor of his supporters at the court, among them many of the men who had stood in support of ibn Abi Aamir, who himself had sought the hand of Asmá and been rebuffed by Ghalib himself. The man grew bitter as he watched his rival, the hajib al-Mughira, gain in prestige and consolidate his position at the expense of ibn Abi Aamir himself.

And yet perhaps al-Mughira's greatest opportunity came not from his mother, nor from the efforts of the saqaliba to support and aid Hisham and himself. Rather it came from the foe in the north, the Christian.

As the earliest days of the year 367 wound past, calamity rose once more from the north. Hearing word of unease at the court of Córdoba, the Count of Castile, Garcia Fernandez by name, sought to capitalize upon the succession and win glory for his faith and his name. The Christians rode across the River Douro into the lands of al-Andalus.

Some two years before, the Count of Castile had sent forth an edict to his people, which has been preserved by history: Any villein of the town of Castrojeriz whosoever furnished the arms of a knight would be raised into the ranks of the nobility as reward for their services to lord and faith. It is likely that other such edicts were issued to the villeins of other settlements within his fief. These new warriors, eager to cross blades with the warriors of al-Andalus in the name of the cross, rode into the lands of the Muslims and sought to bring the host of Córdoba to battle, raising fire and sword to the land. While the King of Pamplona also dispatched men to raid the lands, it was the host of the Count of Castile which came even within sight of Córdoba, the Jewel of the World, to the consternation and worry of the villeins of the land, and even to the anxiety of the righteous men of that great city.

Upon receiving word of the blandishments of the Castilians, al-Mughira again turned to the old general, Ghalib. As the seasons warmed, Ghalib rode to the north a second time, taking with him a host of warriors as well as saqaliba and Berbers - and with him he brought the embittered ibn Abi Aamir as a second, himself accompanied by Berber warriors of the Banu Birzal, men greatly loyal to ibn Abi Aamir personally.

It was a dangerous move for al-Mughira. He waited for word anxiously as his strongest military supporter, Ghalib the old man, rode north with his most dangerous enemy and his strongest supporters - friend and foe, to be matched against the Christian, in the hopes that if they could not unite, that the stronger would emerge ascendant. The host of Ghalib and ibn Abi Aamir rode north in the late days of Sha'ban 367[3], to a battle which would prove decisive.

Encountering the Christian in the lands of Calatrava, the host of al-Andalus clashed with them, and by God's mercy emerged in triumph, the Christians forced to withdraw towards the river. As the forces of Ghalib and ibn Abi Aamir made camp overnight, chance had it that the pair walked to the crest of a tall hill to speak of their strategy. A dispute having arisen between the two as to the best plan to be adopted, ibn Abi Aamir grew increasingly nettled and said to Ghalib, "What manner of man art thou, who grants the hand of thine blood to the usurper al-Mughira, who seeks only to empower himself?"

"Fie on you, serpent!" was the retort of Ghalib. "All men know it is thou who seeketh the royal power for thine own self!" He then drew his sword and smote ibn Abi Aamir, whom he wounded mildly on the left arm, before ibn Abi Aamir drew his blade and struck Ghalib in turn, striking only his armour. It is then that, beholding the drawn blades of their superiors, several of the royal guard and a number of common soldiers grappled with the two men and forced them apart, until such time as they retired to separate tents in utmost rancour.

As the day dawned again, Ghalib resolved to rely no longer on ibn Abi Aamir, who he had come to resent. Leaving his colleague and rival in the reserve, he rode out from the fortress to seek the remnants of the enemy host, that he might sweep them from the lands of the caliphs, and smite them gravely.

Chance should have it that the knights of the Count of Castile encountered the enemy in the open field, and that as the blades of the Castilians and the Córdobans crossed, that Ghalib should be wounded most direly. So grave was his injury that the encounter may have been lost, save for the thunder of hooves from the rear, and the sudden arrival of the Banu Birzal in full battle array, ibn Abi Aamir with them despite his wound. By the grace and fortune of God, the arrival of the Berbers routed the Christian, who broke and fled to the north, to not return in such numbers for a great time to come.

It is said that ibn Abi Aamir hoped that the valiant foeman would remove the obstacle of Ghalib for him, and leave for him all the glory and the honour of the victorious warrior. He was not so fortunate, for Ghalib would by dint of fate and stiffness of spirit survive his wound, though grievous. And yet the dire gravity of his wounds ensured that, as he returned home to Córdoba, Ghalib could and would never again ride out into battle, and in his maiming as well as his advancing eld, it was certain his remaining days were few. Ibn Abi Aamir was hailed as a victorious leader, a younger man and dynamic, seen as a natural heir to Ghalib as a military leader.

While the victory brought glory to the name of caliph Hisham, it furrowed the brow of al-Mughira mightily. The hajib was filled with consternation, for the wisdom and leadership of Ghalib were of great value to him. With his leading commander of men maimed and unable to ride again at the head of the host, and certainly to die soon, he found himself faced with the valiant man, ibn Abi Aamir, whose renown was only on the increase and who appeared destined to glorious things, and yet whose eye remained fixed on claiming for himself the caliphal power.

[1] Late AD 976.
[2] August 19, 977.
[3] April 978.

977: Al-Mughira, hajib of al-Andalus, marries Asmá, daughter of the general Ghalib al-Nasiri, en route to consolidating his power in al-Andalus.
978: Mohammed ibn Abi Aamir - the ITTL Almanzor - leads Córdoban troops to victory in an expedition against raiders dispatched by Count Garcia Fernandez of Castile. Ghalib al-Nasiri, one of hajib al-Mughira's key supporters at court, is maimed in the dispute and likely to die. Ibn Abi Aamir's position at court is strengthened by the key victory.
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Great so far, really liking what your doing. Looks like the clash between Al-Mughira and Al-Mansur is fast approaching. Did Garcia Fernandez survive the battle?
Great so far, really liking what your doing. Looks like the clash between Al-Mughira and Al-Mansur is fast approaching. Did Garcia Fernandez survive the battle?
Garcia Fernandez lived and rode home to annoy Ramiro III of Leon some more. (We'll be hearing from Ramiro soon.)

I'm trying to be careful not to make too much of a villain of Almanzor here, too.
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What was the main language of Al-Andalus in this timeline?
As with OTL, the most widely-spoken language at this point would've been the Andalusian dialect of Arabic. Think lots of fronting and raising - "al-Hakam" might sound like "el-Hekem," for ex, at least if I'm reading the pronunciation notes properly.
As with OTL, the most widely-spoken language at this point would've been the Andalusian dialect of Arabic. Think lots of fronting and raising - "al-Hakam" might sound like "el-Hekem," for ex, at least if I'm reading the pronunciation notes properly.
Oh, I thought Mozarabic (Romance Andalusí).... OKNo...
Oh, I thought Mozarabic (Romance Andalusí).... OKNo...
Mozarabic is also there, but most of the guys actually running the place would've spoken Arabic.

It's hard to know the exact distribution of the languages - especially in terms of written texts, most of it is in Arabic, or for Christian materials, Latin - but Arabic would've likely been the language of government, and most people would've spoken it - around the time we're dealing with the language was starting to peak towards about five to seven million speakers. Mozarabic would've been spoken widely by the commons, though - not just Christian dhimmi living in the area but also the Muladies, ie. the Islamized native folk.
Mozarabic is also there, but most of the guys actually running the place would've spoken Arabic.

It's hard to know the exact distribution of the languages - especially in terms of written texts, most of it is in Arabic, or for Christian materials, Latin - but Arabic would've likely been the language of government, and most people would've spoken it - around the time we're dealing with the language was starting to peak towards about five to seven million speakers. Mozarabic would've been spoken widely by the commons, though - not just Christian dhimmi living in the area but also the Muladies, ie. the Islamized native folk.
Oh, I see...
ACT I Part IV: Hisham II's Formative Years
"Whatever I know, I owe solely to my assiduous reading of books of the ancients, to my desire to understand them and to appropriate this science; then I have added the observation and experience of my whole life."

- Abu al-Qasim Khalaf ibn al-Abbas az-Zahrawi, The Method of Medicine, ~1000 AD


Excerpt: Lives of Medieval Andalus: Tracing the Footsteps of the Western Caliphs - 'Amr Saadeddine, Falconbird Press, 1427 (2006)


Hisham II al-Mu'ayyad and Abu al-Mutarrif al-Mughira

The Unready Boy and the Unlikely Guardian

Following the death of al-Hakam II in 976, his son Hisham II succeeded him to the throne, setting himself on the path to becoming one of the more interesting rulers in Andalus's history.

In most respects, contemporary historians, such as Ibn Hayyan, recall al-Hakam II as a worthy and vigorous caliph capable of adequately managing the affairs of the state. These histories take on a somewhat more cautious tone with Hisham, his son by a Basque concubine named Subh (or Sobha in some translations), one coloured by the fact that this caliph ascended the throne as a mere boy of 11 or 12 years. While the texts speak of him with the reverence and respect due to the chosen descendant of the caliph and the representative of the Umayyad dynasty, as he grew into a man he demonstrated little sign of ambition or an active spirit. When the histories address him, it is often with the veiled suggestion that Hisham was seen in his early years as too young and too callow to rule.

Most sources agree as to the general accuracy of the events of the succession from al-Hakam to Hisham. Fearing Hisham too young to rule on his own, the palace eunuchs arranged the assassination of the unpopular vizier, Ja'far al-Mushafi, and engineered the installation of Hisham's uncle and al-Hakam's brother, Abu al-Mutarrif al-Mughira, as his regent. While contemporary sources suggest al-Mughira was innocent of any political aspirations at the time, it's likely that he knew he would have been a more viable candidate than his nephew simply in terms of being old enough to handle the complexities of managing the Caliphate. Certainly, though, he would not have expected the fraught political situation he inherited, nor did he likely have a hand in the plot to install him as Hisham's vizier, nor as caliph, despite his ambitions.

Perhaps it is remarkable that al-Mughira did not seek to centralize power in his own person. But it was also inevitable.

The legitimacy of the Córdoban caliphate lay upon the shoulders of the caliph himself. The strength of the caliph and the deep roots of the Umayyad dynasty - tracing back to the Quraysh, the companions of the Prophet Muhammad - gave the dynasty significant personal legitimacy which could be exercised mainly through the caliph's person. And while the palace eunuchs may have been more than willing to give al-Mughira some degree of liberty to centralize power, the court in general respected al-Hakam highly and would have expected his decision to pass power to Hisham to be honoured. An al-Mughira caliphate may have been acceptable to the Slavic eunuchs who engineered al-Mushafi's death, but would have run the risk of alienating other groups among the many competing ethnic interests which the Córdoban political scene of the day required balancing with utmost delicacy.

To that end, Hisham found himself embroiled in the functions of the court almost from the moment of his ascent to the throne. Far from being a secluded figure fully under the thumb of his regent, Hisham appeared in full regalia at functions on a regular basis. What records remain, particularly those of Ibn Hayyan, emphasize that al-Mughira took great care to always stand behind and to the right of Hisham, so that the young caliph would always appear first and most prominent in the eyes of others. It also seems that al-Mughira judged, rightly, that the only way to preserve the dynasty - barring setting Hisham aside, which he must have decided would be imprudent - would be to complete Hisham's education and teach him the skills of manhood and rulership that al-Hakam had seemingly neglected to impart until that point.

In the first years of his caliphate, Hisham took on the role of a learner. Highly skilled tutors were called to court to guide him in fields such as stewardship and law. The day-to-day administration fell to al-Mughira in those first few years, who evidently made a point of involving Hisham in a mentor-and-student fashion.

By 367, the political headwinds shifted around Hisham after an expedition against Count Garcia Fernandez of Castile resulted in a key supporter, Ghalib al-Nasiri, being maimed, while a key competitor for his favour, Mohammed ibn Abi Aamir, returned home in triumph. While Hisham personally held ibn Abi Aamir in high regard, al-Mughira, who viewed ibn Abi Aamir as a danger to Hisham and himself, urged the boy caliph to cultivate new allies capable of projecting caliphal power outside of Córdoba. By and large their efforts focused at first on shoring up their core of supporters - the saqaliba, the court eunuchs and the influential class of old Arab families with their roots in the original migration to al-Andalus. With the public, too, al-Mughira was seen as more suited for the regency; he was, after all, of the Umayyad line, while ibn Abi Aamir's line was a minor Yemeni noble family with no ties to the Quraysh, ensuring that the caliphal power could never legitimately be his. But beyond status, Hisham and al-Mughira also made their power felt through foreign relations.

Not long after the battle in Calatrava, in 367 (978), Hisham received in state the King of Leon, the 17-year-old Ramiro III. Hisham met the Leonese monarch in full caliphal regalia, with al-Mughira standing well behind him and out of the way. Evidently without prompting, Hisham, then about 14, fairly smoothly navigated through the standard ceremonies of receiving the Leonese monarch before renewing the peace treaty previously renewed by his father, al-Hakam II - in effect a tributary agreement. The decision came despite the urgings of some few nobles, many loyal to ibn Abi Aamir, to eschew the treaty and resume warring with Leon. Instead Hisham asserted his power over Leon by accepting the treaty as a sign of the Christian kingdom's submission, then insisted firmly that Ramiro rein in the Count of Castile, then under the vassalage of the Leonese crown. Ramiro, still struggling with Viking raids along his coastlines in Galicia, acceded to the request, though likely he chafed at being dictated to by a younger man.

Ramiro's promises to rein in his vassal proved difficult to enforce - the already separatist Castile, much like Galicia, was hardly about to start following the king's orders now. In Córdoba, however, the meeting added to Hisham's legitimacy. The unready boy began to be seen as having some level of power over the Christians of the north. Warriors continued to be sent to punish Castilian raiders, realizing a drop-off in the level of raider activity.

Hisham's weakest constituency, however, was likely the Berber tribes involved with al-Andalus. Prior emirs and caliphs had utilized tribes of Berber warriors as mercenaries, acknowledging the small numbers of Arabo-Andalusians within al-Andalus as being insufficient to provide a "native strength" military. Berbers from North Africa were seen as the obvious source of manpower, and the Maghreb was treated as a manpower factory by the caliphs. While Hisham and al-Mughira sought to continue the policy of their predecessors, their ties to the region were weak, and damaged by their dispute with ibn Abi Aamir, whose connections among many prominent Berber tribes ran deep.

In roughly 368,[1] Hisham and al-Mughira found a potential ally in Ziri ibn Atiya, the newly-enthroned king of the Zenata tribe. The pair extended nominal protection to Ziri as he set his sights on conquering much of the Maghreb. It was hoped that by cultivating a relationship with a future client, like Ziri, Hisham would one day be able to go around ibn Abi Aamir and develop his own ties into the Berber world.

The first steps in the rise of Ziri ibn Atiya weren't all that happened in 979. During the cold months, Hisham apparently came down with an illness. Historians are somewhat vague on the actual name of the diease but the symptoms seem consistent with a fairly severe and persistent infection of the ear. Evidently in a great deal of pain, Hisham, then about 14 or 15, found himself spending long periods in bed that winter under the treatment of the court physician.

Abu al-Qasim Khalaf ibn al-Abbas az-Zahrawi[2] had served Hisham's father as court physician, and Hisham had retained him in the office. Science knows al-Zahrawi for his enormous contributions to modern medicine - he is hailed as the Father of Surgery, and many of his medical practices remain in use. He had no political presence save that, in this instance, the man who once wrote of maintaining a positive doctor-patient relationship irrespective of social class was now a constant presence for Hisham as he treated the young caliph to the best of his ability.

Far from the fear of physicians one might expect in the Middle Ages, Hisham accepted al-Zahrawi's treatments with respect and a keen interest. Court history of the time suggests he must have asked al-Zahrawi many questions about how he knew what was wrong with him and how to fix it. What is apparent is that the expert care and positive bedside manner of the wise physician influenced Hisham's outlook on life.

Hisham survived the infection and returned to the public eye healthier and with a budding interest in the sciences, and he began to spend more time in his father's library, legendary at the time for the number of books he had accumulated. He developed a strong interest in books and learning, and he took to his tutors' lessons with greater vigor in the hopes of one day becoming a learned man too. The boy who had gone into his reign with little perceptible political personality had begun to develop the first signs of a curious mind and a mature identity. His new focus on scholarship also began to create, unwittingly, distance between himself and ibn Abi Aamir, who, while erudite in his way, disapproved of the "ancient science books" al-Hakam had collected.

Sensing ibn Abi Aamir's disdain for scientific learning, al-Mughira encouraged the young caliph to pursue his scholastic interests.[3] He also apparently worked to interest Hisham in women as he drew close to the age of 16, though even at that young age it was evident that Hisham's predilections lay towards men, much like his father. Court stories tell that al-Hakam was only convinced to bed Hisham's mother Subh when her hair was cut short and she donned trousers and styled herself Ja'far; the trait seems to have bred true in Hisham, who is said to have taken on a male playmate as he reached the years of puberty. Few would seem to have begrudged him his preferences, interestingly.

It's likely that someone - probably al-Mughira - did at least impress upon him the importance of having a child and continuing the family line, as by 370[4] Hisham, then about 17, took on his first wife, a girl of Arabo-Andalusian stock by the name of Asma.

[1] AD 979.
[2] The man who would be known as Abulcasis in the Spanish world, if a Spanish world existed ITTL.
[3] Both OTL and ITTL, Hisham II came to power as a boy with no discernable political personality. OTL, this made him perfect for Almanzor, who for better or for worse envisioned a model of governance inspired by that of the Buyids of Iraq over the Abbasids around that time - acting as "the pillar of the state" for a powerless and secluded caliph. Even when Hisham became old enough to rule, OTL Almanzor basically locked him in the palace and made up the excuse that he wanted to devote himself to religion and was leaving everything to the hajib. ITTL, al-Mughira needs to keep Hisham in the public eye to maintain his position against Almanzor, the result being that Hisham actually gets the opportunity to develop a personality.
[4] AD 981 - skipping ahead just a little.

978: Ramiro III, King of Leon, travels to Córdoba to renew the peace treaty with the new Caliph.
979: Ziri ibn Atiya becomes king of the Zenata Berbers. He embarks on a campaign to consolidate as much of the Maghreb under his control as possible, with the tacit consent of Caliph Hisham II of Córdoba, whose regent hopes to cultivate him as a future ally.
979: Hisham II falls ill with a severe ear infection. He spends much of the winter under the care of the court physician, Abulcasis, and begins to develop an interest in the sciences, not unlike his father's scholastic interests.
So Hisham turns out to be on the road to a capable leader thanks to Al-Mughira, that's got to be good news. Also the events unfolding in the Maghreb seem interesting, so has Ziri ibn Atiya displaced the Idrisids at this point? That would cause some interesting butterflies, perhaps reaching as far as Fatimid Cairo.

It looks like both borders are secure too, with a peace treaty with Leon and a friendly Maghreb, all that leaves is Navarre and Catalonia up in the air (and Castile but they've just been left with their tail between their legs).
So Hisham turns out to be on the road to a capable leader thanks to Al-Mughira, that's got to be good news. Also the events unfolding in the Maghreb seem interesting, so has Ziri ibn Atiya displaced the Idrisids at this point? That would cause some interesting butterflies, perhaps reaching as far as Fatimid Cairo.

It looks like both borders are secure too, with a peace treaty with Leon and a friendly Maghreb, all that leaves is Navarre and Catalonia up in the air (and Castile but they've just been left with their tail between their legs).
Ziri ibn Atiya displaced the Idrisids anyway - al-Hakam knocked them around for awhile and they were effectively done two years before the POD, though OTL there were some flareups, so you might see some Idrisid action here. He does seem to be well on his way to scoring some wins down there, though we'll see if he achieves the same results as he did with Almanzor running things.

As for the borders, a big part of what tanked al-Andalus is that Almanzor's attacks didn't really hurt the Christians at all. I'll be doing a bit in the next installment about military policy but aside from a few battles and the big sacking of Santiago de Compostela, most of what Almanzor did was ephemeral and served mostly to annoy the northern monarchs into taking a swing back at him, and once Almanzor died there was no one with a strong enough grip on the Berbers to handle the repeated punches.