There was more peace than war in the Reconquista | Letter

Dr Erin Thomas Dailey disagrees with the characterisation of Muslim rule over the Iberian peninsula as an ‘occupation’

I am, together with my six-year-old daughter, an enthusiastic reader of your weekly Kids’ Quiz that appears in the Saturday magazine. While it may seem overscrupulous to critique the answer given to 10-year-old Alice’s question, “What was the longest war?” (19 November), I feel compelled to take issue with the interpretation provided in your answer, the Reconquista, which characterised this era of European history as “a 781-year period of war” in which “Christian kingdoms […] fought to recapture territory from the Muslim moors who had occupied the Iberian peninsula”.

Historians have laboured in recent years to challenge this view, promoted heavily during the regime of the nationalist dictator Francisco Franco and echoed more recently in the rhetoric of the rightwing Vox party. These eight centuries of Islamic governance ought not to be described as an “occupation”, for the same reason that Roman rule on the Iberian peninsula (which lasted for about six centuries) is not described as an extended occupation either.

This period knew more peace, trade and cultural exchange across religious communities than war. Military conflict is also part of that history, but not distinctively so when compared to other regions of Europe during the Middle Ages.

And although the Christian-ruled kingdoms of the north eventually expanded, to cover the whole of the peninsula by 1492, they bore no resemblance to the Visigothic kingdom that had fallen to Muslim-led armies in 711. To interpret this process as a “reconquest” following an occupation is, I fear, to reinforce the prejudiced notion that a Muslim presence in western Europe, no matter how long it flourished, is inherently foreign and illegitimate.
Dr Erin Thomas Dailey
Associate professor of late antique and early medieval history, University of Leicester

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