What changes did occur in Iberia throughout the Middle Ages?
Throughout the Middle Ages, Iberia was subject to numerous shifts in ideology and physical identity. The peninsula was diverse regarding faith as it comprised of followers of all three Abrahamic religions, many of whom experienced life under Christian kingdoms as well as Islamic caliphates. This essay will primarily focus on detailing the influence the Almohad Caliphate (1121-1269) had on faith, dynasty, society and architecture, as well as discussing the physical identity of al-Andalus (Andalusia) and how it was forcibly adopted by the ideologies of both Islamic and Christian rulers.
The Iberian peninsula was vulnerable to invasion at the beginning of the Medieval period when the Roman Empire collapsed in 476 AD. This fragile territory was consequently at the mercy of invading barbarians from north Africa. First to attempt invasion were the Vandals. Although they failed to hold the southern part of the peninsula for long, their influence remains with the name, ‘al-Andalus’ meaning ‘Land of the Vandals’.1 The Byzantine Empire under the jurisdiction of Justinian the Great, captured southern parts of Spain from the Vandals in 552 AD. This created the Byzantine province of Spania which was eventually overrun along with the Suevian kingdom in the north-west, by the Visigoths. This thus led to the Visigothic Kingdom presiding over the entire peninsula.2 Subsequently, the Visigothic kingdom became the prototype for Catholic monarchy in Spain and inspired the pursuits of future kingdoms such as Castile and Aragon.3 The dynastic ambitions of these two kingdoms merged in 1469, when Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon secretly eloped and married despite her predecessor, Henry IV trying to marry her off to his brother-in-law, Afonso V in attempt to strengthen Castile’s alliance with Portugal.4 Though Isabella and Ferdinand respectively kept their own separate kingdoms, their marriage was the foundation of what became Spain. They were united by faith, political ideology and the desire to change the peninsula from a multi-faith society to a solely Catholic state.5 If Isabella did marry into the Portuguese monarchy, the physical identity and culture of Spain would have taken shape much differently as it would have more influence from Portuguese culture than Aragonese. Portugal would have likely become an autonomous community within Spain and Aragon an independent state.