Angel of Death
The Moorish Conquest of the Iberian Peninsula (Southern Europe)
I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, "Come!" I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider had a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.
European Christians made servants of other European Christians before they enslaved people from other lands. University of London professor Dr. Kate Lowe explains in a publication of the Walters Art Museum:
With the exception of Spain, in the mid-fifteenth century before the commencement of the slave trade from West Africa, only a small percentage of slaves in Europe were African; the vast majority were from the eastern Mediterranean, Russia, or Central Asia. During the Renaissance, slavery was not just a Black phenomenon—slaves in Europe were both “White” and “Black.” Europe had a long history of White slavery. There was mass White slavery in Europe before there was Black slavery, and White slavery continued after the influx of Black slaves from sub-Saharan Africa in the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries...
The earliest evidence of White slaves in Medieval Times can be found in the resolutions of church councils held in Koblenz, Germany (922), in London, England (1102), and in Armagh, Ireland (1171) condemning this practice.
These anti-slavery sentiments would not apply to the "Saracens" scattered across Europe.
"The Triumph of the Holy Cross in the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa"
by Marceliano Santa María Sedano (1866-1952), 1892
© Museo Nacional del Prado
This painting commemorates the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (also known as the Battle of Al-Uqab معركة العقاب), in the land of Jaén (now a city in southern Spain) on July 16, 1212.
The Catholic kings of Christian Iberia, Sancho VII of Navarre, Alfonso VIII of Castille, Afonso II of Portugal, and Peter II of Aragón combined forces and, with help from France and England, were victorious over the Almohad rulers of Muslim Iberia ("al-Andalus") in a crusade organized by Alfonso VIII and Pope Innocent III.
The Christians numbered 70,000. The Muslims numbered 120,000.
The pope granted indulgences ("full remission of sins") to all who died fighting under the banner of the Holy Roman Empire, and in Alfonso's words, 'The Catholic Faith.'
The Christian army conquered several towns as they advanced upon the camp of Muhammad al-Nasir الناصر لدين الله محمد بن المنصور, "King of the Moors." In the ensuing battle, Alfonso VIII launched a surprise attack and the Moors, thinking there was far more of the Christian army than they first believed, retreated.
According to a biased legend, the Caliph of Morocco had his tent surrounded with a bodyguard of slave-warriors who were chained together as a defense against the Christian armies. It is more likely that there were chain fences which enclosed the tent. King Sancho led a group of knights in a charge, which broke through them. Later on, these chains appeared on the coats of arms for various kings in Navarre and France.
King Alfonso wrote to Pope Innocent on the aftermath of the battle:
On their side there fell in the battle 100,000 armed men, perhaps more, according to the estimates of Saracens we captured later. Of the army of the Lord – a fact not to be mentioned without the most fervent thanksgiving, and one scarcely to be believed, unless it be thought a miracle – only some twenty or thirty Christians in our whole host fell. What cause for joy and thanksgiving! Yet there is one cause for regret here: that so few in such a vast army went to Christ as martyrs.
The "Sultan of the Saracens" escaped to Seville and made preparations to cross the strait of Gibraltar for the safety of his homeland. He entered the stronghold of Marrakesh in Morocco early the next year.
The Latin Chronicle of the Kings of Castile (1236) records that he mounted a horse, then 'turned tail and fled.' His men, scattered about, were 'killed and slaughtered in droves...wherever they were found.'
One record estimated that a total of 200,000 Moors perished on that day. Another places the Christian casualties at just around 2,000.
This battle inspired a great wave of success for the Christian armies, signaling the arrival of Christian supremacy in the outer fringes of the peninsula, and their final triumph over the Moors.
Santiago at the Battle of Clavijo
by José Casado del Alisal (1832-1896), 1885
The Royal Basílica of San Francisco el Grande, Madrid, Spain
The mounted crusader in the painting above represents the apostle of Jesus who came to be known to Hispanic Christians through the Medieval era as "SantiagoMatamoros" or "Saint James, the Moor Slayer." (Does the name sounds familiar?) He would become the champion of their plight. Sightings of Saint James were reported in many battles against the Moors.
According to a chronicle narrated by archbishop of Toledo, Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada (c. 1170-1247), Saint James appeared to Ramiro I (c. 790-850), King of Asturias, in a dream. Here is a loose translation:
The Apostle Santiago said to him- "Know this King Don Ramiro, that when the Lord Jesus Christ left for me and my brothers the Apostles, the provinces of all the earth, of which he gave to me all of Spain in my keeping, that he would protect her and defend her from all the enemies of faith?
This was the first mention of Saint James' story in Medieval literature.
19th century Spanish historian José González de Tejada describes this "miracle" at the legendary Battle of Clavijo around 844:
It was at that time that Saint James appeared, mounted on a strong and beautiful white horse. The sight of him enlivened the Christians and so terrified the infidels who then cowardly turned their backs and retreated, leaving the field covered with Moorish corpses and running with rivers of their blood that, it is said, flowed to the Ebro River some two leagues away from that place.
The place where this battle was alleged to have taken place came to be called the "Field of Slaughter."
Saint James the Great Conquering the Moors
by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770), ca. 1749-1750
Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, Hungary
There is scant evidence that the battle of 844 took place as it was told, but the story lived on to inspire future generations. Every time that Christians were at the point of desperation, they could call upon their heavenly hero to grant them the victory.
Sedano was not around at the time these events took place, but his rendition captures its essence in vivid detail. For its display at the National Exhibition of 1892 in Spain, he won a medal. The National Museum of Prado, where it can be found today, is located in the Spanish capital of Madrid.
There are many other paintings that portray Saint James trampling the Moors. As the sketches of the examples here clearly demonstrate, these Moors were considered to be a distinct group of people and among them were people who would be readily identified with black Africans today. The study associated with the last painting was completed by the artist's son in 1757. It is labeled "Black boy with bowed head" by the Rijksmuseum, the National Museum of the Netherlands.
As the Christians chased the Muslims further and further south they shouted after them "¡Santiago y cierra España! – Saint James and Spain, charge!" Once again, in the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, the Christians met the Muslims with cries for "The Blessed Saint James."
Hernán Cortés at the head of the Spanish Armada, meeting the Aztec Emperor Montezuma II in the presence of St James on horseback, detail from a screen with scenes of the Spanish conquest, Battle at Tenochtitlan, oil painting by an unknown 17th century artist, 16th century
(Source: Museo De Las Culturas De Oaxaca)
Just as it was claimed that the Native Americans saw the vision of Saint James, it was also said that the Moors saw the vision in battles, and cried “Allah has come to the aid of Santiago!”
Notice the red symbol on the white cape of Saint James in the painting above. This was the symbol of the chivalric Order of Santiago, or the "Order of St. James of the Sword". It was a sort of religious and military fraternity which was officially established in 1170 with the purpose of protecting Christian pilgrims on the road to the shrine of Saint James in the northern Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. Christians began to travel there in 813 A.D. after a site nearby was rumored to be the tomb of Saint James.
According to legend, it was Ramiro I who was first 'induced to institute a brotherhood' under this title 'to reward the services of those who fought with him' in that battle with Saint James against the Moors. Their motto was "Rubet ensis sanguine Arabum" meaning "red is the sword with the blood of the Arabs." Pope Alexander III confirmed the order and made rules for how it would be governed. William Berry's 1828 Encyclopaedia Heraldica (Complete Dictionary of Heraldry) states that this order was "the richest and most powerful" of the four orders (the others being the Order of Calatrava, the Order of Alcántara, and the Order of Montesa) which served as the "Council of the Orders" under their chief administrator Charles V. Other orders merged into each of these. The ultimate purpose of these orders was to defend Christendom and to remove the Muslim Moors from the Iberian Peninsula.
Encyclopedia Britannica explains how the order took on a new mission after the Reconquista:
By 1493 the Order of Santiago had nearly 700,000 members and an annual income of 60,000 ducats, and in that year the Catholic Monarchs (Ferdinand II and Isabella I) took possession of the order in an effort to consolidate their own power.
The most prominent members of this order were either conquistadors or part of the Spanish colonial administration in the Americas. Many served as governors of New Spain, Peru, Cuba, and Florida. A comprehensive list of members based on extensive research and with visuals can be found here.
The Somerset House Conference, August 19, 1604
copy after Juan Pantoja de la Cruz (1553–1608), c. 1604
(Source: UK National Maritime Museum via Art UK)
These members might be familiar to you:
Portrait of Hernán Cortés (1485-1547), 17th Century
(Source: Museo Naval de Madrid via Wikipedia Commons)
King Charles sent a law expert by the name of Lodowick Ponteus to award Cortés the order while he was still in Mexico in 1528.
detail of Pedro de Avarado's portrait
Is this one a surprise?
Portrait of Francisco Pizarro, circa 1540
(Source: The Mariners' Museum)
You can see another version of this painting here.
Discovery of the Mississippi by De Soto
created by William Henry Powell (1823–1879) in 1853
(Source: Architect of the Capitol)
In this painting, a member of de Soto's entourage (in the bottom left) is wearing the cross of Saint James on his back and tips his hat off to a flag bearing a double-headed phoenix. Notice also the Moor on the right.
The Quaternion Eagle, hand-coloured woodcut (c. 1510) by Hans Burgkmair
(Source: Wikipedia Commons - see all the domains identified here)
The double-headed eagle or phoenix was the battle emblem of the Holy Roman Empire. As the Christian armies of Europe fought the Moors, they represented their plight as a winged creature in distress (as seen by the crucifix) rising out of the ashes of war and welcoming the re-birth of its former glory. Its divinity is alluded to by the halos and its royalty is represented by its crowns. This is a concept that is fundamental to Roman Catholic theology, which recognizes the pope as having authority both in heaven and on earth.
The number of heads the eagle had varied at times. We can see this especially on the heraldry of the different royal families and the coats of arms their knights carried.
Kingdoms of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation
illustrations from the Nuremberg Chronicle by Hartmann Schedel (1440-1514)
(Source: Morse Library - see all the domains identified here)
In the illustration below, the papal tiara (the pope's crown) hovers above golden armory.
The imperial eagle depicted with one, two and three heads
as proposed by German heraldist Konrad Grünenberg for the Habsburg coat of arms in 1483
(Source: Wikipedia Commons)
The pope functioned as a spiritual guide for the forces of Europe. At this time, the pope was also a political leader. The monarchs followed his direction because the alternative meant risking ex-communication from the church and therefore, banishment from heaven itself. Catholicism had been widely established since the Roman Emperor, Constantine I, made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century A.D.
The monarchs were desperate to recover their national pride and determined to reign in peace so the faith of the citizenry in their leadership was a top priority. They followed the directives of the church issued in councils and in papal bulls and instructed their armies accordingly. Thus, their unequivocal submission gave the pope and the Roman Catholic Church supreme power.
Pope Clement VII and Emperor Charles V on horseback under a canopy
by Jacopo Ligozzi, c. 1580
(Source: Museo degli affreschi Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle via Wikipedia Commons)
As you can see, King Charles is wearing the empire's insignia on his cape. The two powers are depicted on their way to Bologna, Italy, where Pope Clement VII crowned Charles emperor in 1530. He was the last person to be crowned emperor by the pope. Now you see where the word "Holy" in Holy Roman Empire comes from.
Charles V of Germany was also Charles I, king of Spain. As the grandson of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, he resumed the responsibility of maintaining Christian dominion over Islam in the kingdom.
Figure of a Moor on top of a Fountain
Frohnwag Square located in the town of Schaffhausen, Switzerland
Photo by Wikipedia User Andreas Praefcke
Of course, there were African knights and African nobles who served under the auspices of the Holy Roman Empire.
The statue above symbolizes one of the three magi in the Christian tradition named Kaspar. He has a curved sword, a golden chalice, and a shield with the coat of arms of the Holy Roman Empire. It is possible that this statue doubled as a memorial to the Moorish soldiers of the Roman empire for their service during the crusades.
The original was made in 1609 and stood in a public location. It was taken to the Museum zu Allerheiligen (Museum of All Saints) along with the original fountain and column and replaced with a replica by a Swiss sculptor in 1922. The artist is identified on the base of the new statue as "J. Oechslin."
These images represent the patron saint of the Roman Catholic Church, Saint Maurice. Notice that like the statue of the Moor in Switzerland, he wields a shield or a battle standard with the double-headed phoenix, wildly spewing its flames.
The legendary 3rd century Egyptian saint took on his characteristic Negro phenotype in Christian art at some point in the 12th century. The earliest known appearance of a Black Saint Maurice is at the Cathedral of St. Catherine and St. Maurice in Magdeburg, Germany. When the church was refurbished following a fire between 1240 and 1250, a statue of the saint dressed as a Roman soldier was made to portray a dark-skinned African.
From that point on, a cult of Saint Maurice spread across Germany.
Take a virtual tour of Magdeburg's Cathedral with British Historian Michael Ohajuru here.
This is the coat of arms for the Morzin family, a branch of the royal House of Habsburg, which dates back to the 11th century.
Those crowned, armless figures are Moorish rulers, deposed from their castles by the armies of the Holy Roman Empire.
The book this image is from, Wappenbuch des höheren Adels der deutschen Bundesstaaten (Heraldic book of the higher nobility of the German states), identifies the emblem with Count Morzin, an aristocrat who was the first to employ the famous English composer Joseph Haydn as his own music director.
The Morzins have ties to the ancient line of the name Mohr and the more ancient Mauroins. According to the Wikipedia entry on the House of Habsburg, the house first consolidated their royalty with the installment of Frederick III as the first Habsburg emperor of Rome and later with Charles V. "After Frederick III's coronation, the Habsburgs were able to hold the imperial throne almost continuously for centuries, until 1806." They were strongly against Protestantism so that they saw "an eradication...throughout vast areas under their control."
The building you see above is the Morzin Palace in Prague, Czech Republic. Count Václav Morzin commissioned the structure to be built by the architect Giovanni Satini Eichla in 1713. For some time, it was the location of the first Protestant chapel in the country until it became the headquarters for the Romanian embassy starting in 1881.
Morzin Palace, Nerudova Street, Prague
photo by Karel Ferdinand Bellmann
(Source: Johann und Ferdinand Maximilian Brokoff (1910) via Wikipedia)
Clearly, this family recognizes the foundation of their wealth and power as being the Moors who labored and fought on their behalf. In the photos above, the colossal Moorish figures are holding up the balcony of the palace.
The person who designed all of these sculptures was Ferdinand Maxmilian Brokoff (1688-1731). He also made a statue of Saint Francis Xavier, which stood on the Czech national landmark Charles Bridge. The original was replaced with a replica and is now part of an exhibition in the National Museum's Lapidarium.
Xavier was a missionary to Asia and North Africa in the 16th century (he never went to the Americas). In Brokoff's monument of Xavier, there are figures representing Chinese, Tatars, Moroccans, and an East Indians.
Close-Up of Moors on the Monument of St. Francis
(Credit: Wikipedia User Sarah Stierch)
The Moroccans look similar to the statue identified as an allegorical figure of Africa on the palace (although that one is complimented with a parrot and alligator, symbols typically associated with the Americas in European art) while his allegorical statues of Europe (with a horse), Asia (with a camel), and America (with a lion, typical of Africa) do not share the same features.
Xavier helped Saint Ignatius of Loyola to establish the Society of Jesus (a.k.a. the Jesuits). This order was dedicated to spreading Christianity around the world and members swore an oath of absolute obedience to the will of the pope himself.
In a monument dedicated to the Saint Ignatius, Brokoff depicts three figures in similar garb to the African giants he dedicated to the Morzins. An original variation on this work can be seen here.
Brokoff also made two statuettes of penitent Moors in 1720, now at the National Gallery in Prague. You can see a modern rendition here.
The statues of the soldiers above stand in front of Kounice Castle next to the Church of St. James the Greater in the Czech Republic. The building itself dates to before 1554. Jan Rudolf von Morzin (1641-1702) acquired it in 1693. Rudolf's son, Wenceslas, the Count of Morzin (1675-1737), had the guardian statues made by Brokoff amidst renovations in the early 1700s. They were modeled after the bound Moors on the family crest. František Xaver Morzin sold the palace in 1760.
Again, the original statues were taken to the National Gallery at Schwarzenberg Palace in Prague and replaced in 1969.
In contrast to the passivity of the kneeling and reclining images of Moors that Brokoff made on his own time, the standing Moors embody the chivalry and security of the Morzin family.
Let's see how the Moors were depicted during the time that they lived in Europe.
Some African converts joined the Order of Santiago (Muslims were excluded). Shown below is a painting of a busy harbor in Portugal featuring such a member.
The Chafariz d'El-Rey (King's Fountain) in the Alfama District, Lisbon, Portugal
Artist Unknown (Flemish), c. 1570-80
(Source: The Berardo Collection)
Jewish police officers haul away a possibly drunk black man wearing a turban
Apparently, Charles V ruled that the Jews have yellow circles affixed to their clothes. That sounds strangely familiar, doesn't it?
Servants among the Crowd
You can see here a Black man catching water from the fountain in a pot and across the scene, there is a White man on a horse drinking the water from a mug. The chained slave in the middle is comparable to another image in a German costume book from the 1520s or 1530s.
Black slave with a wineskin
from Das Trachtenbuch (1529) by Christoph Weiditz
(Source: Germanic National Museum)
This man may have been a slave in either Spain or the Netherlands.
Knighted man on horseback with a cloak bearing the cross of Saint James
Black people are portrayed here on all levels of society from slaves to knights. As much as 10% of the population of Lisbon at this time was Black. The individual in this detail may be the royal cortier João de Sá Panasco, who was awarded the order after participating in a successful 1535 military campaign against the Turks in the North African city of Tunis in modern-day Tunisia. Panasco started out as a slave and a court jester.
This information on the Order of Santiago is from the Ta Neter Foundation:
It is indeed documented that several Africans had been admitted to the Order, including Luis Peres (1550), D. Pedro da Silva (1579), and Joao de Sa Panasco, who was described in a 1547 royal court document as a "homen preto cavaleiro de minha casa" or "black knight man in my house" (1547).
The order still exists under the protection of the Spanish crown.
Agolant and his Moors attack a castle (Charlemagne, book 4, 3)
folio 167r from Les Grandes chroniques de France
(Source: British Library)
During the reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal), people were taken as prisoners of war on both sides. Muslim captives were often held for ransom and those who would not convert to Christianity were enslaved by the vengeful populace.
These miniature illustrations from an early 14th century medieval manuscript depict some of the battles between the Moors and the Christians.
Charlemagne besieging Agolant in Agen (Charlemagne, book 4, 4)
folio 168v from Les Grandes chroniques de France
(Source: British Library)
Charlemagne (742-814) was king of the Franks. Like Charles V, he too was crowned Holy Roman Emperor. His coronation was held in 800 A.D. at the Old St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.
Charlemagne crowned Emperor by Pope Leo III (Charlemagne, book 2, 1)
folio 141v from Les Grandes chroniques de France
(Source: British Library)
Charles "the Hammer" Martel (c. 688-741) led the French army against the Moors advancing from Northern Spain deep into Southern France during the Battle of Tours in 732.
The Saracen Army outside Paris, 730–32
by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1822-27
(Source: Bridgeman Art Library via Wikipedia Commons)
Charlemagne, also known as Charles the Great, continued the French campaign against the Moors in the next century for seven years. In 778, his army marched into Northern Spain and was ambushed by another army of Moors 20 times larger at a mountain pass on the border.
That battle became the subject of the 11th century poem Song of Roland, the oldest surviving major work of French literature. It is named after the nephew of Charlemagne who was a commander in the army and perished during the battle.
The poem describes Abisme, a knight of the Moorish King Marsile, with these words:
More felon none was in that company;
It then describes the reaction of a Christian cavalier, Turpin, upon seeing the Moor.
That Archbishop could never love him, he;
The knight charges on his steed "swift and of noble race" with a face of which "no beast is there." He strikes a fatal blow to the Moor.
He's worth no penny wage;
Then say the Franks: "He has great vassalage,
Roland himself offers great praise for this Archbishop afterwards.
Later on, Roland encounters the Moorish army.
Though fled be Marsilies,
When Rollant sees those misbegotten men,
It is clear that the Black Moors were understood by these lines to be as dark as the color itself. A knight of Charles named Tierris is described as such:
Black was his hair and somewhat brown his face.
Thus, we see a distinction between the colors brown, black, and even "tawny" as used for the horse of the Archbishop. But this is the not a complete picture of who the Moors were.
The writer identifies that of the thirty columns of 'chevaliers in marvellous great force' which composed the army of the Moorish 'admiral,' 'Negroes are the eighth.' He also writes 'Fifty thousand the smallest column holds.'
Notice the patronizing tone in this excerpt:
Charles the Great, when he sees the admiral
The Conversion of a Black Man To Christianity
From Las Cantigas de Santa Maria of Alfonso X the Wise (1221–1284), c. 1280s
(Source: W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, Harvard University via MedievalPOC)
Much propaganda such as this was made against the Moors in the medieval era. Christian writers commonly reduced the Moors to stereotypes and caricatures. One particular motif, the severed head, was displayed on shields and on banners, some of which survive in other forms today.
The coat of arms of Pope Benedict XVI
This is the coat of arms of Pope Benedict XVI, the reigning pope from 2005 to 2013. Benedict is his official title. Prior to his election as pope, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising in Germany. The Moor formed part of his emblem then, too.
On the top left of the episcopal plate is the "Moor of Freising". Behind the shield are the gold and silver keys of Heaven and Earth, which are alleged by the Catholic church to have been received by St. Peter from Jesus as a symbol of papal authority. They have based their theology on Matthew 16:19. The keys have been an integral part of papal heraldry for centuries.
Tiara of Pope Benedict XVI, given to him on May 25, 2011
(Source: Dieter Philippi, The Philippi Collection)
Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo (1925-2017), the cardinal who designed the pope's emblem, was from a noble family in Italy. In 2005, he described the concept behind his creation in a statement on the Vatican's official website:
There is an at least 800-year-old tradition for Popes to have their own personal coat of arms, in addition to the symbols proper to the Apostolic See. Particularly during the Renaissance and the centuries that followed, it was customary to mark with the arms of the reigning Supreme Pontiff all his principal works. Indeed, Papal coats of arms appear on buildings and in various publications, decrees and documents.
On the Moor's head, he said this:
In the dexter corner (to the left of the person looking at it) is a Moor's head in natural colour [caput Aethiopum] (brown) with red lips, crown and collar. This is the ancient emblem of the Diocese of Freising, founded in the eighth century, which became a Metropolitan Archdiocese with the name of München und Freising in 1818, subsequent to the Concordat between Pius VII and King Maximilian Joseph of Bavaria (5 June 1817).
The Moor’s head, facing left and typically crowned, appeared on the coat of arms of the old principality of Freising as early as 1316, during the reign of the Bishop of Freising, Prince Konrad III, and it remained almost unchanged until the “secularization” of the Church’s estates in that region in 1802-1803. Ever since that time the archbishops of Munich and Freising have included the Caput Aethiopum, the head of an Ethiopian, in their episcopal coat of arms."
Indeed, the Moor of Freising has appeared on several bishops' heraldry on the insignia of various municipalities, and on a few churches. You can see some examples here.
This is the Basilica of Saints Dionysius and Valentinus, a Catholic parish church dedicated to Saint Valentine (widely known as the patron saint of lovers). It is located in the Kiedrich community within the city of Hesse in Germany. On the wall outside is the insignia of the pope, which was placed there in October of 2010. Inside the church is a sculpture of Saint James.
Like the Morzins' statues of the dignified guardian Moors, the Moor was portrayed in a similar fashion in the town of Freising as demonstrated in this picture taken by Historian Runoko Rashidi.
Coat of arms of Pope Pius VII featuring three heads of Moors
(Credit: Wikipedia User Odejea)
Heads of Moors appeared on another papal coat of arms like that of Pope Pius VII a.k.a. Barnabas Chiaramonti, who reigned from 1800 (after the previous pope was captured by Napoleon and died in exile) until his death in 1823. What is all the more interesting is that this pope was opposed to the slave trade.
Flag of Corsica (before 1755)
(Credit: Wikipedia User Jimmy44)
Portrait of Theodor Freiherr von Neuhoff
by Johann Jacob Haid around 1740
(Credit: Exciting History)
German diplomat Theodore Neuhoff was crowned the first king of the island of Corsica when he led the inhabitants in an uprising against the oppressive Genoese occupiers. After they declared their independence, Corsican statesman Pasquale di Paoli (1725-1807) insisted that the white bandanna be moved above the eyes to symbolize Corsican liberation.
The national emblems of Sardinia are quite similar.
Coat of Arms for the Autonomous Region of Sardinia
According to the government website, the institutional emblems of the island of Sardinia consist of a banner, a seal, and a flag.
For Sardinia there is a "silver coat of arms to the red cross set aside by four blinded dark brown heads".
Flag of Sardinia
(Credit: Wikipedia Users Xander89 and icnussa)
The Sardinian flag is defined as "white crusader field of red with in each quarter a dark-haired head bandaged on the forehead facing away from the bent".
As the late Cardinal Montezemolo stated, this tradition of incorporating the head of the Moor in political emblems is nothing new. For Corsica and Sardinia, the use of the Moor's head goes back to relics of the medieval period. None of the early Moors are blindfolded and their Negro features are obvious.
Flags of Europe shown on folio 62r of the Armorial de Gelre, 14th Century
(Source: Wikipedia Commons)
The two flags of Moors above represent the kingdoms of "Sardaengen" and "Corse" among other territories of Aragon. You can see them all clearly identified here.
The Funeral Procession of King Charles I of Spain
Antwerp, Belgium, 1559
(Source: La magnifique et somptueuse pompe funebre faite aus obseques et funerailles du tres grande et tres victorieus empereur Charles cinquieme via the National Library of France)
detail showing the Flag of the Kingdom of Sardinia
Sardinia's website comments on the historical appearance of the Moors:
The physiognomy of the Moors depicted on the coat of arms in the fourteenth-century specimens is accentuatedly Negroid, with a snub nose and prominent lips; the hair and the beard are curly. Then the traits become western and lack a beard. The Moors are generally all the same; on the title page of the "Annales de la Corona de Aragòn" (1610), two Moors appear younger, shaved and with a princely crown, the other two bearded elders with royal crowns. There is no shortage, where the technique makes it possible to represent it, the brown color of the skin.
Mario de Valdes y Cocom, an independent historian and researcher at PBS, provides some information on the origin of the Moor's head symbolism in European heraldry.
The traditional explanation is they represent the four Moorish emirs who were defeated by a king of Aragon sometime in the 11th century.
Representation of the Battle of the Puig in which the King of Aragon James I (crowned and visiting in his clothes and in the horse saddle the royal signal) defeated in 1237 the Islamic army with the intercession of the patron Saint George (second behind the king). At the bottom of the composition the flags of the King and Saint George. Central table of the altarpiece of Saint George commissioned by the Centenar de la Ploma for its chapel in Valencia to the German painter Marzal de Sas. Victoria and Albert Museum, London, tempera on panel circa 1410-1420.
From Blazon of Aragon: the shield and the flag (1995) by Guillermo Fatás
(Source: Aragonese Law Virtual Library)
The king he is referring to is Peter I of Aragon and Pamplona. King Peter fought against Al-Musta'in II أحمد بن يوسف المستعين, the Muslim ruler of Zaragoza in eastern Spain. It was said that during this conflict (the Battle of Alcoraz) in the city of Huesca in 1096, Saint George appeared in the sky and motivated the Christian army to victory. Legend has it that the saint himself left the four heads of Moorish kings on the battlefield.
Saint George is often depicted slaying a dragon, but in the painting above, from the chapel of Saint George at the Cathedral of Valencia in eastern Spain, the dragon is replaced by a dark-skinned Moor. You can see the work as it appears on location here.
King Peter I of Aragon incorporates to its shield a red cross on white field in honor of Saint George-the four heads of the Muslim kings finished in the Battle of Alcoraz. Detail of the altarpiece of Saint George, oil painting on a table executed by Jeronimo Martinez, documented in 1524-1525. Church of El Salavador de la Merced de Teruel
From Blazon of Aragon: the shield and the flag (1995) by Guillermo Fatás
(Source: Aragonese Law Virtual Library)
At the end of the 13th century, Peter IV detailed in writing how he intended to use the heads as a symbol of his authority. The Alcoraz Cross became the royal seal to sign official documents in the 13th and 14th centuries.
Aragonese Armorial of Gaspar de Torres (1536)
From Blazon of Aragon: the shield and the flag (1995)
(Source: Aragonese Law Virtual Library)
An 1884 English book on heraldry The general armory of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales; comprising a registry of armorial bearings from the earliest to the present time defines the "Moor's head" in the Dictionary of Terms section as 'the heraldic term for the head of a Negro man, in profile, couped at the neck, wreathed about the temples.'
The 1911 Armorial de Aragón; Diccionario de Lemas Heráldicos (Armorial of Aragon; Heraldic Lexicon Dictionary) explains that they are 'beheaded,' 'defeated moors,' 'bleeding,' and wearing 'turbans.' It also says they were derived from the legacy of 'Peter the Cruel.'
You can see what the coat of arms looks like in the 1997 republication of the armorial here.
Shields of the Palace of the Diputación of the Kingdom of Aragón
(Source: Wikipedia User Escarlati)
This facade, which was from a wall of the (now gone) Palace of the Deputy General of the Kingdom of Aragón in the 1450s, can be found today at the Zaragoza Museum in Spain.
Portugal adopted the image of the Moor's head as well. On a map showing the kingdoms of Portugal and the Algarve is a coat of arms containing two Moor heads and two Christian kings. The artist is Dutch engraver Frederick De Wit (1610-1698), who published the map in Amsterdam at the end of the 17th century.
Tabula Portugalliae Et Algarbia, 1690
(Source: Jonathan Potter Limited)
Coat of Arms for the Kingdom of Algarve
(Credit: Wikipedia User Roxanna)
It was an army of knights of the Order of Santiago which conquered most of the Algarves one city after another, laying the groundwork for the end of the Portuguese Reconquista in 1249.
Another version of the map published in the Atlas Contractus by Johann Janssonius (1588-1664) in 1666 can be seen here. You can also view a vector version of the Algarve coat of arms here.
The Pope saying mass before Charlemagne and Hildegarde: the Pope crowning the sons of Charlemagne and Hildegarde (Charlemagne, book 1, 7)
folio 132r from Les Grandes chroniques de France
(Source: British Library)
Charlemagne had his two youngest sons, Carloman and Louis, crowned by the pope in 781 and they fought wars on his behalf where they ruled in Italy and in southern France. Meanwhile, his oldest son, Pepin the Hunchback, was involved in his own battles in Italy. Charlemagne himself conquered the islands of Sardinia and Corsica, extending the Roman Empire. He developed them as strongholds against the threat of Moorish invasions by sea.
Battle between Charlemagne and the Saracens (Death of the Moorish Prince Feurre)
folio 213r from Spiegel Historiael by Jacob van Maerlant, 1325 –1335
(Source: National Library of the Netherlands via the blog of Dutch Historian Esther Schreuder)
Thus, the Moor's head symbolism found its way into Italy and was adopted by the carpenter Puccis and the banker Medicis in Florence.
This is the Pucci family's chapel Santissima Annunziata in Florence. Moors appear in some of the reliefs depicting scenes from the bible. The Moor's head is displayed proudly with three hammers forming T's on the headband - Tempore Tempora Tempera (“Alleviate Troubles With Time” or "Time is a Great Healer").
The Victoria and Albert Museum explains its usage there:
The moor in Italian art was usually depicted wearing a white band tied above the eyes, instead of the German imperial crown, to represent victory over the moors during the Crusades. These families may have originally acquired their surnames from crusader ancestors.
The Pucci family's coat of arms at the Palazzo Pucci in Florence
(Credit: Wikipedia User Giovanni Dall'Orto)
The Puccis display the Moor's head on their coat of arms just outside their palace as well.
The Story of Nastagio degli Onesti
by Sandro Botticelli and Bartolomeo di Giovanni, c. 1483
(Source: Web Gallery of Art)
We can imagine that at feasts and parties such as this one commissioned by Antonio Pucci, showing the wedding of his son Giannozzo to Lucrezia Bini to Lucrezia Bini, there were at least a few Moorish Africans present. Some of them may have joined in on the festivities as members of the court. You can see the family's coat of arms hanging in the background.
Valdes suggests that the headbands/blindfolds of these trophy heads were associated with the good thief on the Cross beside Christ who came to be called St. Dismas. Because of his inner purity, he was granted access to the kingdom of heaven in his final moments of life despite the severity of his former crimes. This was a reminder to the Christian armies that the people they were fighting may still embrace Christianity if given the chance.
As they were no longer considered a serious threat to these families, the Moriscos (converts to Christianity) in Italy would not need to worry much about the pressure that their peers in the ongoing struggle faced elsewhere.
Construction took place from 1665 to 1669 under the supervision of Baldassarre Longhena.
A marble monument to the 103rd Doge (governor) of Venice, Giovanni Pesaro (1589-1659), commissioned by his nephew, Leonardo, stands inside the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice, Italy. The design is very similar to the monument of the chained Moors at the Morzin Palace.
Based on a description by the Web Gallery of Art...
There are two bronze skeletons holding scrolls containing the Doge's epitaph, two dragons symbolizing eternity, little angels holding up the Pesaro coat of arms, and a central statue of Giovanni Pesaro. The 'four gigantic Moors are struggling to hold up the balcony on which four White figures representing the allegories of Intelligence, Nobility, Wealth, and Study pose. On either side of Pesaro are the allegories of Religion with Constancy and Truth with Justice.
The official description from the church captures the essence of the scene:
On the throne held by monsters the Doge addresses the crowd, radiant and full of life...
Wow. But once again, it is obvious that this wealthy family felt it necessary and very much appropriate to identify the labor of the Moors as the foundation of their own legacy amidst the other virtues for which their loved one was known in life.
Monument of Doge Giovanni Pesaro in the Frari Church in Venice
by Carlo Ponti (ca. 1823-1893), circa 1860
(Source: i Photo Central)
Sheldon Cheek with The Root and Harvard University’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research renders his own impression of the monument:
The figures are usually characterized as Moors, a term that at the time could refer to a variety of people living on the periphery of Europe, not just Black Africans. Their presence on the monument coincides with the creation of four similar Black figures, also larger than life and made of black and white marble, for the terrace of a sumptuous hunting lodge outside Turin. A contemporary description of these figures describes them as schiavi mori, or "Moorish slaves." A direct connection between the two projects seems likely, since at least two of the same contributors were involved in both commissions.
If you were to ask me, two White American tourists expressed their sentiments on the figures in the most honest language possible.
As we looked up at it, we were awed by the humanity in their eyes and forlorn at the tattered clothing they wore. It reminds us our civilization was built on exploitation such as this.
Arms of the wealthy Bristol (English) merchant and shipper William II Canynges (d. 1474), as depicted on his canopied tomb in St Mary Redcliffe Church, showing the couped heads of three Moors wreathed at the temples (Source: Wikipedia)
Arms granted to John Hawkins in 1565, for the massive profits he made in the slave trade, featuring a demi Moor in his proper colour, bound and captive, with annulets in his arms and ears
(Source: College of Arms, London via Wikipedia)
You can see another version of this work here.
The Moor's head in European heraldry is known in other places such as at the House of the Blackheads in the city of Riga, Latvia and all over the town of Coburg, Germany. In both of those instances, the Moor represents Saint Maurice. It has also been seen in the armorials of France, where the Moors occupied for some time.
Three days after the historic Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212, King Alfonso took three fortresses and two towns. He writes:
We found Baeza already destroyed. A great number of people had fled from all the nearby settlements to Ubeda, because it was exceptionally strong both on account of its situation and on account of its defences. Since the people knew that no other city of that size had been stormed or taken by the Emperor or by any other Hispanic ruler, they thought they would be safe there.
According to the Chronicle, about 100,000 Moors and everything they owned were taken as "booty" in exchange for their lives. The Muslim text al-Marrakushi, al-Mu’jib (1224) reports that among the prisoners were "enough women and children to fill all the Christian territories."
The king took "many" of these captives for himself.
This painting of a "Town Scene in Lisbon" at the Kelmscott Manor in England, lost until 2010, is composed of two canvases. Art UK hints at a possible third. Upon my inquiry, Renée LaDue from the Society of Antiquaries of London checked with the head of collections and reported that there are officially two panels but the second one appears to have been trimmed short before the prior owner, artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti, purchased them in 1866.
A Black man rides a donkey on the far left of the first panel. Black children are playing with a dog. In both panels, Black women in full garments with hijabs are walking around and talking to each other as they carry baskets on their heads. There are also Black men carrying objects on their back - one is wearing a chain from their waist connecting to their ankle. In the second panel, there are two Black men carrying what appears to be some kind of furniture with a cross on it (a coffin, maybe?).
Triumph of Charles III at the Battle of Velletri
by Francesco Solimena, 1744
One thing is certain: as the Christian army conquered property and people across the Iberian Peninsula, they recruited help in their efforts. Much of that help came from the Moriscos who joined their ranks as soldiers. Their betrayal of their own kinfolk and their loyalty to the new Christian community was celebrated in the ever-popular iconography of Saint Maurice. As they brought more success to the empire they helped to build, they were rewarded with status in society.
Saint Maurice with Shield Bearing a Moor’s Head
Anonymous German Artist, c. 1450
From a crucifixion scene in Denkmalamt, Kiel, Germany
(Source: W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, Harvard University via MedievalPOC)
Later on, the Moriscos helped to bring Christianity to the New World as they traveled with the Spanish and Portuguese conquistadors. In order to accomplish this, they became allies with their former enemies in wars against the new "savages."
detail of the portrait of Hernán Cortés by José Salomé Pina showing Cortés' coat of arms, 1879
(Source: Museo del Prado)
The title of "Marquisate of the Valley of Oaxaca" was granted to Cortés by the Emperor in 1529. The associated coat of arms bearing the severed heads of four kings was made to commemorate the feat Cortés accomplished when he vanquished seven indigenous Lords in Mexico during the conquest of the capital city. Another version of the painting above is at The White House in Washington D.C.
Despite all the honors he received, Cortes could not have done it alone. In his entourage, there were at least four men identified as having possible Moorish heritage. The kingdom of Spain and all of Charles' territories would be "stronger" for it.
Those who resisted anywhere the scourge of the empire followed found it increasingly difficult to live in peace. Back in Europe, some Muslims rose up in protest against the more stringent policies of the Christians such as forced conversions, which they found intolerable.
On one occasion, Charles V's son, Don John of Austria (1547-1578), made a decree for the Moors to completely abandon their culture and traditions. In response, there was a mass uprising called "The Great Morisco Revolt" in the Alpujarra region of Southern Spain. The Don sent his army to suppress the riots and restore order. The result was that entire families were removed from their homes to other parts of Spain. The Moors in rebellion were slain and sold into slavery by the thousands.
Louis IX landing at Tunis; French knights cut off by Saracens in a tower (Saint Louis, book 55)
folio 440v from Les Grandes chroniques de France
(Source: British Library)
As more and more Portuguese merchants entering the swelling slave trade faced a dwindling supply, they turned to other groups of people to sustain their profits. Muslims had long been reaping profits in the enslavement of "infidels," including European Christians. Now, Iberians would join the Genoese, Italian, and Jewish merchants, who had been shipping Eastern Orthodox Christians across the Black Sea and into the Mediterranean for years. Traditionally, they sought Muslims, Jews, Gypsies, and Slavs.
Entrenching the camp (Saint Louis, book 57)
folio 442v from Les Grandes chroniques de France
(Source: British Library)
Natives of West Africa, who were not exposed to Christian or Muslim influences, were increasingly targeted and certain ideas about racial and cultural differences were propagated across Europe to justify this enterprise.
They were compared to the "barbaric" and "filthy" Moors. Their appearance and language were criticized. There were allusions to philosophical notions about the different levels of reasoning among different groups of people, especially Aristotle's arguments that some people were born to rule and some to be subjugated. Religious references about the cursed descendants of Ham were invoked against them.
Such persons are known to have been captured from Africa and taken as "natural slaves" to Portugal since the 1440s.
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