MORISCOS. First recorded in 1500, the term Moriscos denotes Muslims who converted to Christianity after the fall of Granada in 1492. In effect, Morisco constitutes a highly ambiguous religious-ethnic designator. From Muslims living near the Ebro River in Aragon to long-standing Castilian Mudéjares (Muslim subjects of the Christian monarchs) and from Valencian Muslims tied to local seigneurs to the conquered communities of Granada, this great variety of Muslim peoples converted to Christianity at various times and under different circumstances.
The conquest of Granada set in motion a process that would herald the conversion of Granadan and Castilian Muslims by 1502. Initially, the surrender capitulations granted extensive freedom of religion to Muslims. Their conversion to Christianity through preaching and patient persuasion—a proselytizing process always favored by the monarchy—began under Archbishop Hernando de Talavera. However, when Cardinal Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros arrived in the city in 1497, he forced the mass conversion of Granada's elches —descendants of Christians converted to Islam. This violation of the capitulations resulted in a violent revolt in 1499. Although the rebellion extended to the countryside, by 1501 the royal government's troops emerged victorious. In exchange for amnesty, Muslims throughout the kingdom converted to Christianity en masse. By 1504, approximately 150,000 Moriscos populated the Kingdom of Granada.
Castille's Mudéjares, numbering approximately 20,000, having lived in relative peace and tranquillity, now faced the repercussions of the Granadan insurrection. Instituting an explicitly militant policy, the royal government ordered their conversion in lieu of expulsion in 1502. Almost all converted to Christianity.
Muslims in the Kingdom of Aragon constituted, after those in Granada, the most important community in the Iberian peninsula. Valencia's Mudéjares may have numbered almost 100,000. Those in Aragon have been estimated at 50,000, while Catalonian Muslims numbered no more than 10,000. Protected by the local Christian nobility—especially in Valencia where Muslims constituted the cornerstone of the seignorial economy—these communities were initially able to avoid the fate that befell their Castilian brethren. By 1522, however, widespread popular revolts in Valencia—the germanías —led to forced conversions of many Muslims. By 1525 the royal government ordered all remaining Aragonese Muslims to convert.
Thereafter, this large population of nominal Christians, still adhering to some degree to Islamic religious practices and Arab cultural norms, presented a host of problems. The royal government and the church hovered uneasily between patient evangelization and repressive assimilation. Until 1570, official attitudes towards Moriscos stressed tolerance and catechism. Morisco communities were sometimes spared investigation by the Spanish Inquisition, and some cultural manifestations such as traditional dress and dances were more or less tolerated. Even when inquisitors tried Moriscos for practicing Islam, the penalties applied were rather lenient. As it became evident, however, that Moriscos continued to resist attempts toward assimilation, attitudes increasingly hardened and Morisco religious and cultural practices were conflated and interpreted as signs of subversion.
In 1568 the widespread Morisco revolt of the Alpujarras in Granada against the increasing control placed upon their cultural and economic activities resulted in a bloody war that lasted until 1570. Drastic measures were taken in the revolt's aftermath. In four years, approximately 80,000 Granadan Moriscos were relocated to the Castilian interior and interspersed among Old Christians—Christians who apparently did not descend from converted Muslims or Jews. Moreover, the state adopted repressive policies against any kind of religious or cultural sign that denoted Islamic heritage. The Inquisition stepped up its prosecution of Moriscos. Assimilationist policies were curtailed, and Moriscos faced increasing hurdles in various cultural and professional pursuits.
Meanwhile, Morisco resistance to acculturation increased. Whereas some evidence points to increasing Christian influence in religious literature in the first half of the sixteenth century, by the 1580s Morisco communities and families had learned to defend their Islamic religious and cultural practices. Often with women safeguarding ancestral knowledge, Moriscos successfully resisted pressures the state heaped upon them to assimilate.
In some ways, however, Moriscos and Old Christians continued to cooperate and enjoy cordial relations. Local studies have shown that Moriscos and their Old Christian neighbors often lived in relative harmony, continuing commercial transactions and economic cooperation. Some evidence even suggests that the efforts by church and state to highlight religious and cultural differences between Moriscos and Old Christians exacerbated social tensions that were mild beforehand.
By the early seventeenth century, the failure of Morisco assimilation, the fear of their contacts with the Ottomans, Barbary pirates, and Protestants, and the increasingly virulent polemics against them convinced the royal government to issue an edict of expulsion. Between 1609 and 1614 almost 300,000 Moriscos left Spain, mostly for North Africa and Constantinople, although, later, many secretly returned and effectively assimilated into the dominant culture. After 1614, traces of Moriscos both in Spain and in their new homes slowly disappear from archival records. Some Moriscos established a semi-independent pirate state in Salé, Morocco, and even entered unsuccessful negotiations with the royal government to return to Spain in 1631. Other Moriscos arrived in Tunis and established a strong cultural and commercial presence. (Chronicles referred to them until the middle of the eighteenth century.) Slowly, Moriscos became integrated into the dominant cultures of their new homelands, even as they left an imprint of their Spanish identity in various commercial and cultural pursuits that retained Spanish language and practices for decades.
The short-lived history of the Moriscos has had an appreciable impact on Spanish historiography. Their contribution to Spanish society, their level of assimilation or resistance, the attitudes of the state and the Old Christian majority, and the effects of their expulsion have consistently recurred as viable themes because they strike at the heart of Spanish political sensibilities and provide material for various historiographical traditions seeking to forge a particular view of a national past. Moreover, the vagaries of the place of Morisco communities within Christian society are particularly relevant for our understanding of various early modern phenomena—the rise of the state, the increasing marginalization of minorities, and the delicate balance between central processes and everyday local structures—and these are reflected in the growing production of scholarship on Moriscos.
Berco, Cristian. "Revealing the Other: Moriscos, Crime, and Local Politics in Toledo's Hinterland in the Late Sixteenth Century." Medieval Encounters 8, no. 2–3 (2002): 135–159.
Cardaillac, Louis, ed. Les Morisques et l'Inquisition. Paris, 1990.
Chejne, Anwar G. Islam and the West: The Moriscos, a Cultural and Social History. Albany, N.Y., 1983.
Domínguez Ortiz, Antonio, and Bernard Vincent. Historia de los moriscos. Vida y tragedia de una minoría. Madrid, 1978.
Halavais, Mary. "Like Wheat to the Miller: Community, Convivencia, and the Construction of Morisco Identity in Sixteenth-Century Aragon." Ph.D. diss., University of California San Diego, 1997. Published electronically at www.gutenberg-e.org.
Lea, Henry Charles. The Moriscos of Spain : Their Conversion and Expulsion. Philadelphia, 1901.
López-Morillas, Consuelo. "Language and Identity in Late Spanish Islam." Hispanic Review 63, no. 2 (1995): 183–210.
Phillips, Carla Rahn. "The Moriscos of La Mancha, 1570–1614." Journal of Modern History 50, no. 2 (1978): D1067–D1095.
Surtz, Ronald E. "Morisco Women, Written Texts, and the Valencian Inquisition." Sixteenth Century Journal 32, no. 2 (2001): 421–433.
The term Moriscos is used to refer to those Spanish Muslims who were, under various degrees of duress, converted to Christianity at the beginning of the sixteenth century, and continued to live in Spain until the general expulsion of the Moors that occurred from 1609 to 1614. Muslims had been a minority in Christian Spain during the Middle Ages, at which time time they enjoyed a legal status that allowed them to practice Islam, retain their own communal authorities, and be ruled by Islamic Law. This minority was known as the Mudejar. In Castile, the Mudejar population was small, predominantly urban, and highly acculturated. In Aragon and Valencia, the Mudejar population was much more numerous and mainly rural. For the most part, they lived on the estates of large landowners, to whom they owed labor and who protected them from the interference of Church and State. The Mudejars of Valencia spoke Arabic, whereas the Muslims of Castile and Aragon produced a literature known as Aljamía, which combined Castilian or Aragonese vernacular with an Arabic script.
In 1469 King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile had wed, uniting their two formerly independent kingdoms. Together they launched measures aimed at the creation of an homogeneous country ruled under a single body of law and loyal to a single religion. Spain became a territorial nation, with new social classes and new institutions. Among these institutions was Inquisition, established in 1478 for the purpose of creating an all-Catholic nation. Jews were the first victims of the homogenizing policies of this new state, for in 1492 they were obliged to choose between conversion to Catholicism and exile. The majority chose exile. In that same year, Castile conquered the Kingdom of Granada, which was the last region in the Iberian Peninsula to be ruled by a Muslim political power. This had enormous consequences for minorities in the whole of Spain.
In capitulating to the Spanish Christian forces, the Moorish population of the Kingdom of Granada was guaranteed certain rights which gave them a status similar to that of the Mudejar. Nevertheless, the upper classes quickly emigrated to North Africa, The Crown encouraged this emigration during the first two years after Granada fell by paying the costs of transport across the Straits of Gibraltar for all those who wished to go, and by permitting the émigrés to take their movable property with them.
The situation deteriorated rapidly after the end of the fifteenth century, however, when new Christian settlers arrived in Granada. In a country in which the state tended to intervene in every aspect of its subjects' lives, society was becoming increasingly intolerant of difference. In February 1502, the Muslims of the Kingdom of Castile (which now included Granada) were offered the choice between conversion or emigration by a decree very similar to the one previously applied to Jews. This time, however, conditions were added which made emigration practically impossible. In 1512 the Castilan decree was extended to Navarre, whose Mudejar communities fled to Aragon (including Valencia), where the practice of Islam remained, for a time, legal. During the Germanías rebellion against landlords and crown (1521–1522), the rebels turned against the Mudejar vassals who supported their lords and subjected them to forced baptism. The validity of these baptisms was contested by theologians, but in 1526 the general conversion of all Muslims in the lands of Aragon and Valencia was decreed. From 1526 on, therefore, no Muslim could legally be a subject of the kings of Spain.
Only their legal status separated Mudejars, who were permitted to practice Islam, from Moriscos, who were forcibly converted to Christianity. Of course, most of the new converts, in spite of missionary efforts, continued to practice Islam in secret. If they were caught they were persecuted by the Inquisition as apostates or as heretics, for, after all, they had been baptized, however unwillingly. Inquisitorial persecution of Moriscos was particulaly intense in the 1550s and 1560s. Inquisition documents reflect the pressure that Christian society exerted upon the Moriscos communities, and its efforts to eradicate all cultural, social, and religious differences. The Crown, in the person of Philippe II, took new and radical repressive measures. In 1567 a law was passed forbidding the spoken or written use of Arabic, the publication or possession of Arabic books, the use of Arabic names, the wearing of Arabic clothing, and the patronage of Arabic bathhouses.
This decree, together with other factors such as the crisis in the silk industry, which employed many Granadan Moriscos, ignited a Morisco rebellion in the mountains of Granada, known as War of the Alpujarras (1568–1570). This was a long and cruel war, with all the atrocities which are inherent to civil wars. The outcome was a difficult and costly Christian victory and the deportation, in the winter of 1569 and 1570, of the entire Morisco population of Granada to the territories of northern Castile. There the Moriscos were settled in small, scattered groups. Many of these impoverished and uprooted Granadan exiles turned to outlawry, and tension between Moriscos and Christians, hitherto unknown in those territories, grew considerably.
The Spanish government grew to fear the prospect that Moriscos might seek to ally themselves with North African pirates, with Morocco, or with the Ottoman Empire. This concern led to a ban on Moriscos residing near the coasts. From 1582 onward, the expulsion of Moriscos was an idea that grew increasingly attractive to the Spanish government. When the final decision to expel all Moriscos was reached in 1609, it was mainly justified on grounds of national security. Moriscos were considered unrepentent Muslims, regardless of their conversion status, and were thought likely to conspire with foreign powers—mainly Muslim, but also with French Protestants. Some Moriscos were Muslims, of course, but by this time many had fully assimilated to Christian society and were sincere Christians. The authorities did not trouble to make such fine distinctions.
Between 1609 and 1614, about 320,000 Moriscos were expelled in phases. The first to be obliged to leave were the Moriscos of Valencia, considered the most dangerous. The last to go were those of Castile. Some communities were directly transported to North Africa via the harbors in the south and east of Spain. Others crossed to France, from where they went (sometimes via Italy) to the Ottoman Empire and Egypt. The majority of Morisco exiles to North Africa settled in Morocco and Tunisia, but some settled in Algiers. In their new countries they had a distinct personality, which was manifest during the first century after their arrival. Most of these first generation of exiles did not speak Arabic, and their knowledge of Islam was scant. Their integration into the societies of North Africa was generally difficult. Only in Tunisia did they find an easy entry, for the Tunisian Dey (governor), Uthman, applied a generous settlement policy to these newcomers.
In their new countries, Moriscos tended to settle in small, ethnically homogeneous enclaves near the coasts. Many turned to the sea for their livelihoods, and considerably increased the ranks of the corsairs and pirates that plied the shipping lanes. In the Moroccan port of Sale, a group of Moriscos founded a pirate republic, which maintained its independence for a time. Other Moriscos settled in the agricultural plains of North Africa, where they introduced the irrigational techniques that they had used in spain. They also introduced new crops, some of which had only recently come to Spain from the Americas. Moriscos also settled in the capital cities, near the courts, where their knowledge of Spanish and of European ways helped some of them to become secretaries, interpreters, translators, and ambassadors. Before the end of the seventeenth century, the Moriscos were totally assimilated to North African societies. By the early twenty-first century, only a few family names and some fragments of folklore remained of their once distinctive culture.
Benítez Sánchez-Blanco, Rafael (2001). Heróicas decisiones. La Monarquía Católica y los Moriscos valencianos. Valencia: Institut Alfons el Magnanim.
Cardaillac, Louis, ed. (1990). Les Morisques et l'Inquisition, Paris: Publisud.
Domínguez Ortíz, Antonio, and Bernard Vincent (1997). Historia de los Moriscos. Vida y tragedia de una minoría. Madrid: Alianza.
García-Arenal, Mercedes (1996). Los moriscos. Granada: Universidad.
Lea, Henry Charles (1931). The Moriscos of Spain: Their Conversion and Expulsion. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Wiegers, G. A. (1994). Islamic Literature in Spanish and Aljamiado: Iìa de Segovia (d. 1450) His Antecedents and Successors. Leiden: E. J. Brill.
In the 1500s the Spanish began using the unflattering term Moriscos to refer to Muslims who had converted to Christianity. Two royal decrees, one in 1502 and one in 1525, ordered all Muslims living in Spain to become Christians or leave the country. Almost 400,000 Muslims chose to stay in Spain as Christians.
Moriscos were fairly rare in most regions of Spain. However, they made up some 20 percent of the population in Aragon and one-third of the residents of the city of Valencia. Most of them were peasants skilled in irrigation or in raising cereals and tree fruits, such as olives and oranges, on dry lands. The Moriscos of Granada, in southern Spain, also worked in the silk, construction, and leather industries. Culturally they were diverse: many had lived alongside Christians for years, while others had only recently come under Christian rule. Some spoke only Arabic, while others spoke no Arabic at all.
In the early 1500s, Spanish authorities tried to do away with many aspects of Muslim culture. They banned the wearing of traditional dress and regulated birth, marriage, and burial customs. After 1526 Spanish leaders used gentler means to persuade Moriscos to adopt the Christian way of life. Preaching by religious orders such as the Jesuits* and Franciscans met with little success, however. In 1566 Spain began to enforce the anti-Muslim laws it had ignored for many years. This decision led to a Morisco revolt in the southern region of Granada, which lasted two years and resulted in the exile of 80,000 Moriscos.
Some Spaniards still felt that the Moriscos could be convinced to abandon their Muslim culture. Others called for more severe actions, such as deporting the Moriscos to the New World or even wiping them out completely. One proposed solution was to force all Moriscos out of Spain, but Spanish priests opposed this plan because they did not want Moriscos to settle in other Islamic lands. Noble landowners, who had come to depend heavily on the labor of Morisco peasants, also fought against the idea. Such resistance managed to block an attempt to expel the Moriscos from Valencia in 1582. However, anti-Morisco feelings still ran high in Spain. Some Spaniards accused the Moriscos of conspiring with Muslim and Protestant enemies of Spain. In 1609 King Philip III expelled the kingdom's Moriscos. About 350,000 people left Spain, most of them moving to North Africa. The expulsion severely damaged the economies of those regions that had once had the most Moriscos.
- * Jesuit
refers to a Roman Catholic religious order founded by St. Ignatius Loyola and approved in 1540
Moriscos (môrĬs´kōz) [Span.,=Moorish], Moors converted to Christianity after the Christian reconquest (11th–15th cent.) of Spain. The Moors who had become subjects of Christian kings as the reconquest progressed to the 15th cent. were called Mudéjares. They remained Muslim, and their religion and customs were generally respected. After the fall of Granada (1492), Cardinal Jiménez converted many Moors by peaceful means. However, the rigorous treatment of those who refused conversion or apostatized from the new faith led to an uprising (1500–1502) in Granada. This was soon suppressed. Faced with choosing between conversion or banishment, the majority accepted conversion, but many continued secretly to practice Islam. The Moriscos at times provided the Ottoman Turks with information facilitating Turkish raids on the Spanish coast. Persecuted by the Spanish Inquisition and subjected to restrictive legislation (1526, 1527), the Moriscos rose in a bloody rebellion (1568–71), which Philip II put down with the help of John of Austria. The Moriscos prospered in spite of persecutions and furthered Spanish agriculture, trade, and industries. However, in 1609 Philip III, influenced by Lerma, decreed their expulsion for both religious and political reasons.
See H. C. Lea, The Moriscos of Spain (1901, repr. 1969).
Spanish Muslims who converted to Christianity.
SEE ALSO Christianity.