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Arab Conquest Spain 710-797 (A History of Spain)
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 14 October 2012
This is a superb and meticulously researched piece of scholarship, in addition to being a piece of detective work, as another customer mentioned years ago. The main merit of this book is not only to explain how Visigoth Spain fell to the "Arabs". It is also to show who the invaders were and how initial raids turned into an invasion and a military occupation, before the conquerors settled. The book has several further merits. One is to show both the changes and the continuities with the previous Visigoth rule, illustrating in particular that, just as elsewhere during the Moslem Conquests, local elites were allowed to submit by treaty and keep most of their power and governing structures, for a price: the payment of tribute.

Another merit is to explain why the initial conquest was so swift. Contrary to traditional views, the author does not believe that the Visigoth Kingdom was in decline. However, the attack took place just as a new and contested King had violently seized power and was confronted with two other contenders. The King was defeated and killed and the one of the two Arab armies quickly seized Toledo, the centre of royal and religious power, something which allegedly paralyzed further resistance. More generally, the author makes the case for a Kingdom caught off-guard, at the worst possible moment, rather than the "Visigoth Twilight" that has traditionally been offered to explain the swiftness of the fall. While interesting, I was not entirely convinced, especially after also reading another book in the same collection by the same author, but this time on the Visigothic Kingdom. The case for decline or moral decadence may be dismissed convincingly by the author. However, it is hard to avoid the feeling that a kingdom not organized for war, where the king is elected by two dozen nobles and bishops and where this king has to spend the first years of his reign putting down rebellions is rather at a disadvantage, if not ill-equipped, when having to face foreign invasions.

A further merit of this book is to describe and explain the causes and the numerous conflicts and divisions that raked the conquerors and led to several bouts of civil war, once the onslaught over the Pyrenees had been abandoned. Related to this are the detailed explanations for the long and difficult, but ultimately successful rise of Abd ar-Ruhman, the first of the Ummayad Kings of Muslim Spain, who took over twenty years to impose his domination over the peninsula. Here again, the author presents the most likely events, showing much of the latter stories told by much latter Arab and Christian Chroniclers to be embroideries and embellishments that fitted particular agendas.

A further example of these investigative methods is provided by Collins' presentation of the story of Pelagius, the founder of the little kingdom of the Asturias and who was a Visigoth noble with no relations whatsoever with any previous royal family. He did found an independent kingdom and defeat a punitive Arab expedition against him. His successors would develop and expand this kingdom considerably, at the expense of the Galicians and the Basques, and not only against the Moslems. However, the author also shows that this was largely made possible by the civil wars among the conquerors during the 740s and that the Berber garrisons pulled out of the northern mountains and moved into more clement lands to the south.

Also to be praised is the author's treatment and in-depth discussion of all the sources, although this may put off some readers. This, however, is a scholarly history book, and it has never pretended to be anything else. Also, in his eagerness to "get the record straight" and address a number of received ideas about an Arab Conquest of Spain that changed everything, Roger Collins may sometimes give the impression of becoming controversial when showing elements of continuity. The effort is nevertheless a valuable on, and so is this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 12 September 2000
This is an absorbing and thorough account of a period in history that marked Spain forever. The evidence for what happened is notoriously difficult to assess, but Collins avoids rushing to hasty conclusions. A great virtue of the book is that it keeps putting developments in Spain in their wider European and North African context. An excellent contribution to the Blackwell History of Spain series.
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on 28 February 1998
This is a really wonderful book; Collins writes well and he has a very clear idea of what happened in Spain in the 7-8th century, which is not called the Dark Ages for nothing. Anybody with an interest in the period will love it.
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on 31 March 2015
A little dry ... but well worth the effort.
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 24 July 1999
Collins appears to be an expert on this topic. However I wish he would share more histroy with us. I understand that not much is known but the reader deserves more information. Unfortunately this is a 200 page bibliography which left me clueless on what happened in Spain during this period. This book should be titled "A List of Chronicles" I want my money back!
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