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Maximilian Starr
Hist. 298: Research Practicum
UMW Spring 2015
Primary Source Analysis
Ibn Abd-el-Hakem, History of the Conqziest of Spain, trans. by John Harris Jones (Gottingen, W.
Fr. Kaestner, 1858), pp. 18-22. http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/source/conqspain.asp.
When delving into the topic of the Islamic conquest of Spain during the 8th century, one
of the earliest Arabic texts known to us is the work of Ibn Abd-al –Hakem’s: The Islamic
Conquest of Spain. I located this source on the Fordham University Archive under the Medieval
Sourcebook, and the source was translated and published by John Harris Jones. The source is an
Arabic text that chronicles the conquest of Spain including the reasons for the conflict, the
government and leaders placed in charge during the conquest, and the key events and battles that
happened during the time period including the fall of Roderic the last Visigoth king. The text
provides the earliest Islamic viewpoint offering unique insight into the political machinations of
the Umayyad Empire and how they pertain to the success of the invasion itself and the cultural
traditions of the later 8th and 9th century Arab-Muslims within the Abbasid Empire.
The Islamic Conquest of Spain was written during the 9th century by Ibn Abd-al-Hakem
who was born in Egypt in 802 AD and died in Egypt in 871. Ibn is recognized as the earliest
Arab historian on Egypt and was a contemporary of other famous Arab historians such as alBaladhuri and al-Tabari.1 He was born into a prominent family and lived under the tutelage of
Wright, Christopher James, Ibn ‘Abd al-Hakam’s Futuh Misr: An Analysis of the Text and New Insights into the
Islamic Conquest of Egypt, (UMI, ProQuest Information and Learning Company, 2006.), pp. 31.
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his father, ‘Abdallah ibn ‘Abd al-Hakam. ‘Abdallah was the chief of the Malikite School in
Egypt and helped composed a number of works on tradition and jurisprudence. Ibn’s family
would later be convicted of embezzlement by the ‘Abbasid Empire leading to the imprisonment
of his father and torture of his brother. While Ibn Abd-al-Hakem was working on his histories, he
tried to avoid citing his father whenever possible because of his father’s disgrace.2 Ibn is known
for not being a “pure” historian but a traditionalist who illustrated early Arabic customs to teach
Islamic law. By embedding writings about customs into his history communicating the
importance of tradition, he confirms his dedication to the teaching of the Malikite School.
When analyzing this source it is important to acknowledge that when Ibn was writing
about the Islamic conquest, it was around a century and a half after the invasion itself. As Ibn
himself did not see the conquest, his work was formatted by looking at sources that no longer
exist as well as legends and history passed down through oral tradition. His writing was also a
product of the time, he wrote his histories when political strife was apparent within the ‘Abbasid
Empire.3 In his writings, he depicts early Arabs as pious men who show virtues such as honor,
bravery, generosity, and loyalty. This contrasted with the extravagant life-style of the Byzantines
shown in his work, and during his lifetime there was a “resurgence” of Arab and Muslim values
and culture.4 This showed his desire to raise the status of Arab Muslims as they had fallen in
https://books.google.com/books?id=ob1q023WZzoC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false. (Accessed on
February 11, 2015)
2
Wright, Christopher James, Ibn ‘Abd al-Hakam’s Futuh Misr: An Analysis of the Text and New Insights into the
Islamic Conquest of Egypt, (UMI, ProQuest Information and Learning Company, 2006.), pp. 35.
https://books.google.com/books?id=ob1q023WZzoC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false. (Accessed on
February 11, 2015)
3
Wright, Christopher James, Ibn ‘Abd al-Hakam’s Futuh Misr: An Analysis of the Text and New Insights into the
Islamic Conquest of Egypt, (UMI, ProQuest Information and Learning Company, 2006.), pp. 42-43.
https://books.google.com/books?id=ob1q023WZzoC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false. (Accessed on
February 11, 2015)
4
Wright, Christopher James, Ibn ‘Abd al-Hakam’s Futuh Misr: An Analysis of the Text and New Insights into the
Islamic Conquest of Egypt, (UMI, ProQuest Information and Learning Company, 2006.), pp. 37.
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standing with the ‘Abbasid Empire. He also praised Egypt specifically and stressed its role in
Islamic history in an attempt to bring it back into the limelight of the empire.5 Ibn had his own
goals for his histories as an Egyptian and a member of the ‘Abbasid Empire.
Even though Ibn Abd-al-Hakem’s work is colored with his own bias and agenda, it still
provides many key facts raising questions about the Islamic conquest of Spain. His work shows
us two intriguing sides of the ‘Abbasid Empire politics in its description of the treatment of
conquered people in Spain and the empire’s response to Tarik’s success. Ibn’s narrative is
important as most writings from the Islamic side of the conflict tend to be epic tales or poetry
focusing on the cultural rather than the political. In showing us the political structure
implemented after conquering the people of Spain, he gives an example of one of the reasons the
invasion encountered little resistance. Tarik (the man who commanded the force which
conquered much of Spain), was willing to reach out to subjects of Roderic who were displeased
and treated them with respect.6 This tactic gave Tarik allies within Roderic’s ranks and gave him
a distinct advantage and a reason to invade. Tarik also, after conquering a people and subjugating
them, would find a governor whose conduct was pleasing to the people and place him in charge
of them.7 Doing so would most likely minimalize resistance and would in many ways give the
people more political power then they would have under the Visigoth kings. The text also
https://books.google.com/books?id=ob1q023WZzoC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false. (Accessed on
February 11, 2015)
5
Wright, Christopher James, Ibn ‘Abd al-Hakam’s Futuh Misr: An Analysis of the Text and New Insights into the
Islamic Conquest of Egypt, (UMI, ProQuest Information and Learning Company, 2006.), pp. 44.
https://books.google.com/books?id=ob1q023WZzoC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false. (Accessed on
February 11, 2015)
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Ibn Abd-el-Hakem, History of the Conqziest of Spain, trans. by John Harris Jones (Gottingen, W. Fr. Kaestner,
1858), pp. 18-22. http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/source/conqspain.asp. (Accessed on February 11, 2015)
7
Ibn Abd-el-Hakem, History of the Conqziest of Spain, trans. by John Harris Jones (Gottingen, W. Fr. Kaestner,
1858), pp. 18-22. http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/source/conqspain.asp. (Accessed on February 11, 2015)
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answers questions about tradition and culture during the time period. The ‘Abbasid Empire
viewed Tarik, after he had plundered Iberia, with contempt as they had heard of the vast amounts
of wealth he had acquired. He remained loyal and delivered the plunder to Musa (who ruled over
North Africa as a governor at the time).8 This shows the values of the time that loyalty to the
empire was extremely important even when it meant the loss of the plunder you had earned. This
source is valuable as it looks into the event itself as well as the times in which it was written
showing the political strategies used by early Arabs which led to their success and traditions held
during the time of Ibn Abd-al-Hakem.
In order to approach this source as effectively as possible it is important to keep in mind
that Ibn wishes to use his histories to teach others about tradition and law. This is a huge
challenge as some of the history of the conquest may be exaggerated in order to create a more
appealing example of Arab-Muslim tradition or law. This is why having more than one account
as well as looking at the accounts of the Visigoths is important as well. Using other primary
sources makes it easier to ascertain which parts of the story are changed to imply a message
about tradition and which facts are supported by multiple primary sources. We also know that
Ibn had his own ideas about raising the status of Arab-Muslims depicting their ancestors as pious
soldiers. This makes it harder to distinguish if the presentation of Tarik’s political tactics are
based in fact or illustrated by Ibn to create a noble character. For this, studying the ways past
civilizations who were conquered by the ‘Abbasid Empire through primary accounts is an
important tool in understanding just how accurate this is (as it is one of the things I am most
interested in).
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Ibn Abd-el-Hakem, History of the Conqziest of Spain, trans. by John Harris Jones (Gottingen, W. Fr. Kaestner,
1858), pp. 18-22. http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/source/conqspain.asp. (Accessed on February 11, 2015)
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Ibd Abd-al-Hakem: The Conquest of Spain provides an informative perspective into the
Islamic conquest of Spain as well as an intriguing look into the life and political struggles of the
‘Abbasid Empire during the life of Ibn Abd-al-Hakem. As this source is one of the earliest
Arabic sources related to the Conquest of Spain available to the public, its value is immense.
Although the work has its own bias and agenda, through a filtered comparison of other
documents and an understanding of the life and times of Ibd Abd-al-Hakem, this source would
be an effective tool in any research paper and or thesis relating to 711 C.E. Islamic conquest of
Spain, or the traditions and culture of the Arab-Muslims during the 8th and 9th century.
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Bibliography
Ibn Abd-el-Hakem, History of the Conqziest of Spain, trans. by John Harris Jones (Gottingen, W.
Fr. Kaestner, 1858), pp. 18-22. http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/source/conqspain.asp.
(Accessed February 11, 2015).
Wright, Christopher James, Ibn ‘Abd al-Hakam’s Futuh Misr: An Analysis of the Text and New
Insights into the Islamic Conquest of Egypt, (UMI, ProQuest Information and Learning
Company, 2006.), pp. 44.
https://books.google.com/books?id=ob1q023WZzoC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&
q&f=false. (Accessed February 11, 2015).
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Source Analysis Ibd Abd-al-Hakem The Conquest of