The ‘Arab’ invasion army which defeated the Visigoths at the Transductine Promontories in 711 numbered 12,000 men including only 300 Arab cavalry, the remainder being Berber infantry. However these were reinforced in 712 by another 10-18,000 Arabs and Syrians. In 741 they were further reinforced by the 10,000 survivors (out of27,000) of the Syrian Junds of Homs, Damascus, Jordan, Palestine and Qinnasrin, which had been severely manhandled by Berber rebels in North Africa. Their leader, with the Jordan contingent, settled in Cordoba, the Horns contingent settled in Seville, that of Damascus in Elvira, Qinnasrin in Jaen, and Palestine in Algeciras and Medina Sidonia. It was through these Junds, staunch supporters of his dynasty, that an Umayyad exile, ‘Abd ar-Rabman, became Amir of Cordoba in 756. These Spanish Umayyads assumed the title of Caliph under ‘Abd ar-Rabman III (912-961) and lasted down to 1031, after which the Caliphate disintegrated into a number of minor amirates (the Taifa kingdoms) which were steadily absorbed by the Spaniards until conquered by Murabit Berbers in I 090.

‘Abd ar-Rahman I (756-788) established an army of 40,000 mercenary Berbers imported from North Africa (he distrusted the Junds), as well as a Black Guard- the first recorded regular Negro unit in a Moslem army. The later at least was organised on a decimal basis, consisting of2 units of 1,000 men, each divided into 10 companies of 100.

Thereafter Andalusian Umayyad armies comprised 5 principal elements, these being: (1) the native regulars from those districts owing military service, i. e. the old Junds whose obligations were hereditary; (2) temporary volunteers called hashid or ‘recruits’ who were enlisted for a single expedition; (3) religious volunteers called mujahids or al-murabitun who lived in fortified frontier communities called ribats, to whom fighting the Christians was a religious duty; (4) permanent units of foreign mercenaries, the murtaziqa, paid regular salaries; and (5) irregular foreign mercenaries called muttawi’a whose only pay, like that of the mujahids, came at the end of the campaign in the form of booty and other gratuities. In addition ‘Abd ar-Rabman II, who ruled in the mid-9th century, made military service compulsory for all Andalusians, but they do not seem to have often been called on to fulfil this obligation.

Under al-Hakam I (796-822) the army was comprised chiefly of Berbers and Negroes but also included Christians (the commanding officer of his bodyguard bearing the title of comes) both from Northern Spain and even beyond the Pyrenees. His famous Guard, established c. 807, consisted of 2,000 infantry and 3,000 cavalry and was called al-Khurs (‘The Mutes’ or ‘The Silent Ones’), since none of its members could speak Arabic! In total the standing army at his disposal numbered 50,000 men, a mixture of mercenaries and ghulams. 2,000 of them were permanently posted ai<.ng the banks of the River Guadalquivir on the frontier with the Christians, this force being divided into 20 units of 100 horsemen each under an officer called an ‘arif.

Masudi, writing c. 940, records the total strength of Caliph ‘Abd ar-Rabman rii’s standing army as an unlikely 100,000, which required one-third of Andalusia’s total revenue for its maintenance. An alternative source records the higher figure of 150,000, adding that his bodyguard numbered 12,000 men of whom 8,000 were cavalry. lr was he who introduced formal unit organisation into the Andalusian army, based on a corps of 5,000 men under an amir; within this were 5 units of 1,000, each under a qa’id, subdivided into 5 units of200 men under naqibs, in turn comprised of 5 units of 40 men each under an ‘arif. The smallest unit consisted of8 men under a nazir.

By the mid-10th century the royal bodyguard of ghulams is recorded as 3,750 men, all ‘Slavs’, though in Spain the term was by this time used for Franks, Lombards and Spaniards as well as true Slavs. This Slav guard was disbanded c. 978 by the vizier Ibn Abi Amir(better known as al-Mansur, 976-1002) who distrusted its members, but Slav ghulams continued to be employed down to 1031. Nor did al-Mansur trust the native Arab aristocracy, and he resolved to totally reorganise the army by abolishing the tribal units, the Junds, on which it was still based. Many of these were thereafter exempted from military service in return for a cash payment, the money being used to hire large numbers of Berbers from North Africa plus considerably smaller numbers of Christian cavalry from Leon, Castile and Navarre. All these plus Arabs and Negroes be intermixed in regular regiments without regard for family or patron so as to eliminate tribal jealousies. Al-Mansur allegedly increased Andalusia’s armed forces to as many as 600,000 men (probably 60,000), the large Berber element transforming the army into a practically all-cavalry force.

The name Andalusia derives from the Arabic ai-Andalus, ‘The Land of the Vandals’.


In the early period after the Moslem conquest Visigothic organisation appears to have persisted virtually unchanged in those corners of Spain that remained in Christian hands. However, as territory was steadily regained from the Moslems military organisation underwent steady change.

A system of landholding, originally instituted by the Frankish marcher lords (who had been established in Northern Spain by Charlemagne), evolved in the 9th century in the granting of tracts of wasteland in exchange for their cultivation. These grants were called aprisiones, which tended to become allodial possessions. NeverĀ· the less many of the landed nobility thus created were obliged to perform mounted military service for either the king or their own overlords, though others served in exchange for cash payments and yet others served simply as an obligation of their social status. The king’s own vassals, irrespective of which category they individually belonged to, were the fideles or milites regis. The bands of retainers such nobles led were usually maintained at their own expense.

Up to the close of the 10th century some of the Christian states acknowledged the overlordship of the Umayyad Amir, later Caliph, of Cordoba, which gave them the opportunity to expand steadily at the expense of their Moslem neighbours, securing their gains by the construction of forts. These were garrisoned from the 10th century onwards by regular troops paid for by taxes levied from the surrounding lands. Few of these soldiers held land of their own so they were not feudal troops, particularly since the majority were non-noble. As the frontiers expanded similar non-noble mounted soldiers called caballeros vi llanos, freemen of sufficient income and property to own a horse, came to owe service in exchange for non-hereditable grants of conquered land called caballerias, infantry similarly owing military service for smaller grants of land called peonias; both of these types began to appear in the middle to late 10th century.

As in Andalusia military service was technically owed by all able-bodied freemen but was likewise rarely called upon, warfare being largely a matter of raids and counter-raids launched by the nobles’ mounted bands, these sometimes penetrating as far south as Lisbon and Cordoba itself. However, when required infantry could be raised by a levy of one man out of every 3 by the 10th century, the other 2 of the trio paying for his rations and supplying an animal for his transport, presumably a donkey or mule since all men with horses were automatically obliged to serve as cavalry.

In addition Moslem mercenaries can often be found in Christian employ, though their numbers were smaller than in succeeding centuries. At the very end of this era we also find multi-national armies fighting alongside the Spaniards in the role of proto-crusaders; Frenchmen, Normans, Aquitanians and Burgundians arc encountered in this guise in 1064, and Papal and Italo-Norman contingents are also claimed by some authorities. Two sources even claim that French knights had been regularly crossing the Pyrenees to assist in the Reconquista since Sancho the Great of Navarre’s reign (1000-1035).