The Survival of Nasrid Granada during the Reconquest
By Marcel Abou-Assaly
McGill Journal of Middle East Studies, Volume 8 (2005-2006)
Introduction: Islamic Spain is often cited as the peak of Islamic cultural development, representing a vibrancy and openness previously unseen. After the year 1252, however, no more than a single Islamic political entity remained, centered around the city of Granada within the mountainous regions in the southern portion of the peninsula. Ruled by the Nasrid dynasty, the Nasrid kingdom of Granada managed to survive and go on to thrive for two and a half more centuries. Indeed, Granada is an anomaly in the history of the Iberian Peninsula. Major reasons will be cited and discussed, with the intention of clarifying the factors contributing to Granada’s impressive resistance in the face of Christian advances from the North and the stated intention of unifying the entire Iberian Peninsula under the banner of Christianity.
The factors to be discussed are numerous but can be simplified by grouping them into the following major categories: geographic, social, demographic, military, economic and political. Geography had a direct impact on Granada’s survival through such factors as the natural defense provided by the Betic Cordillera mountain range in which the kingdom was nestled, as well as the geographic difficulties encountered by the North regarding consolidation of conquered lands, and the close proximity of North Africa. Social conditions in Islamic Spain differed from those in the North and the presence of a refuge for emigrants from newly conquered lands was important in order to reduce political and religious friction. Tied to social factors were demographic considerations such as the low population density in the Christian North, which limited the potential to adequately administer and populate newly acquired territories. Political fortunes are often tied to military capacity and the relative military strength of Granada allowed it the ability to defend itself against changes in the political balance of the region. The economic state of Northern Spain was weak and the economic potential of newly conquered lands was squandered due to a lack of the necessary skills to reap maximum benefit from these lands. The imposition of tribute payment provided significant economic advantage while avoiding the high cost of war. Finally, political factors such as change in the perception of Granada as a threat reduced the urgency for its defeat, while a lack of unity among the Christian kingdoms and repeated political manipulations through changes in allegiance allowed Granada some flexibility.