AskDefine | Define Moorish

Dictionary Definition

Moorish adj : relating to or characteristic of the Moors; "Moorish architecture" [syn: Moresque] n : a style of architecture common in Spain from the 13th to 16th centuries; characterized by the horseshoe (Moorish) arch [syn: Moorish architecture]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. of or pertaining to the Moors or their culture
  2. Of or pertaining to a style of Spanish architecture from the time of the Moors, characterized by the horseshoe arch and ornate, geometric decoration

Extensive Definition

This article is about the ethnic group. For the landscape see Moorland.
Moor was a common term to refer to the Muslims of the Islamic Iberian Peninsula and North Africa, who were of Arab and Berber descent. They inhabited the Iberian Peninsula after the Arab conquests of the Rashidun and Umayyad Caliphates that influenced southern migration of the indigenous North West African inhabitants. Today the term remains in use in the Spanish language as Moro, a pejorative word to describe people from Morroco. At the beginning of the eighth century, Moorish soldiers crossed over from Morocco into Spain, Portugal and southern France which for a long period of time they controlled, developed and cultivated.
Today, the word remains associated with the Morrocan immigrants in Spain, and is considered a pejorative word. It is sometimes used in a wider context to describe any denizen of North Africa. Similarly, in Spanish, the cognate moro is considered a racist and derogative term. But the Spanish still use it and even think of it as a neutral word in local sayings such as "no hay moros en la costa" (lit. "there are no moors on the coast," meaning "the coast is clear").


Moor is believed to come from the Greek word mauros (Greek orthography μαύρος, plural μαύροι), meaning "black" or "very dark". In Latin it became maurus (plural mauri). In the Medieval Romance languages (such as Portuguese, Spanish, French, and Italian), the root appeared with such forms as "mouro", moro,, moir, and mor. Derivatives are found in today's versions of the languages. Through nominalization, the root has always referred to various things conveniently identified by their dark color, for example, blackberries. Moreno, from the Latin root, can mean "tanned" in Spain and "black person" in Cuba and other Spanish-speaking territories. Also in Spanish, morapio is a humorous name for "wine", specially that has not been "baptized" with water, i.e., pure unadulterated wine.
The Moors, during the Middle Ages and as late as the 17th century, were described as being black, dark-skinned in complexion. Modern texts, such as Webster's New World Dictionary, group all Moors together under the terms Arab and Berber, which has to omit the association with Africans that are racially considered "black". Considering that Berbers were a mixture of various shades of diverse nomadic groups comprising of North Africans and some Sub-Saharan Africans, the claims of racial heritage being of one specific ethnic group are at best dubious. Today, it is the inhabitants of Morocco and Mauritania in addition to groups from various countries who are referred to as Moors.
In Spanish usage, moro ("Moor") came to have an even broader usage, to moros of Mindanao in the Philippines, and the moriscos of Granada. Moro is also used to describe all things dark, as in "Moor", "moreno", etc.; and it has led to many European surnames such as Moore, Mauro, Moura, and so on. The Milanese Duke Ludovico Il Moro was so-called because of his dark complexion.



Although the Moors came to be associated with Muslims, the name Moor pre-dates Islam. It derives from the small Numidian Kingdom of Maure of the third century BC in what is now Morocco. The name came to be applied to people of the entire region. "They were called Maurisi by the Greeks," wrote Strabo, "and Mauri by the Romans." During that age, the Maure or Moors were trading partners of Carthage, the independent city state founded by Phoenicians. During the second Punic war between Carthage and Rome, two Moorish Numidian kings took different sides, Syphax with Carthage, Masinissa with the Romans, decisively so at Zama. Thereafter, the Moors entered into treaties with Rome. Under King Jugurtha collateral violence against merchants brought war. Juba, a later king, was a friend of Rome. Eventually, the region was incorporated into the Roman Empire as the provinces of Mauretania Tingitana and Mauretania Caesariensis; the area around Carthage already being the province of Africa. Roman rule was beneficial and effective enough so that these provinces became fully integrated into the empire. During the Christian era, two prominent African churchmen were Tertullian and St. Augustine. After the fall of Rome, the Germanic kingdom of the Vandals ruled much of the area; a century later they were displaced by Byzantine incursions. Neither Vandal nor Byzantine exercised an effective rule, the interior being under Moorish Berber control. The Berbers resisted for over 50 years Arab armies from the east. Especially memorable was that led by Kahina the Berber prophetess of the Awras, during 690-701. Yet by the 92nd lunar year after the Hijra, the Arab Muslims had prevailed across North Africa. (The words Islam and Muslims appeared only after Muhammad became a prophet around 600 AD.)
In 711 AD, the now Islamic Moors conquered Visigothics, mainly Christian Hispania. Under their leader, an African Berber general named Tariq ibn-Ziyad, they brought most of the Iberian Peninsula under Islamic rule in an eight-year campaign. They moved northeast across the Pyrenees Mountains but were defeated by the Frank, Charles Martel, at the Battle of Poitier in 732 AD. The Moorish state fell into civil conflict in the 750s. The Moors ruled in the Iberian peninsula, except for areas in the northwest (such as Asturias, where they were defeated at the battle of Covadonga) and the largely Basque regions in the Pyrenees, and in North Africa for several decades. Though the number of "Moors" remained small, many native inhabitants converted to Islam. According to Ronald Segal, author of Islam's Black Slaves, some 5.6 million of Iberia's 7 million inhabitants were Muslim by 1200 AD, virtually all of them native inhabitants. The persecution and forced conversion to Catholicism of the Muslim population during the time of the Catholic reconquista in the second part of the 15th century, causing a mass exodus, are considered the main reasons why their number shrank to one-third by 1600.
As a sign of decline, the country had broken up into a number of mostly Islamic fiefdoms, which were partly consolidated under the Caliphate of Cordoba.
A Christian enclave from the Muslim conquest in Asturias, a small Visigothic northwestern Spanish kingdom, initiated conflicts in earnest between Christian and Muslim in the 10th century AD. Christian states based in the north and west slowly extended their power over the rest of Iberia. The Navarre, Galicia, León, Portugal, Aragón, Catalonia or Marca Hispanica, and Castile in fits and starts began a process of expansion and internal consolidation during the next several centuries under the flag of Reconquista.
In 1212, a coalition of Christian kings under the leadership of Alfonso VIII of Castile drove the Muslims from Central Iberia. However, the Moorish Kingdom of Granada continued for three more centuries in the southern Iberian peninsula. This kingdom is known in modern times for magnificent architectural works such as the Alhambra palace. On January 2, 1492, the leader of the last Muslim stronghold in Granada surrendered to armies of a recently united Christian Spain (after the marriage of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile). The remaining Muslims and Jews were forced to leave Spain, forced to convert to Roman Catholic Christianity or be murdered for not doing so. In 1480, Isabella and Ferdinand instituted the Inquisition in Spain, as one of many changes to the role of the church instituted by the monarchs. The Inquisition was aimed mostly at Jews and Muslims who had overtly converted to Christianity but were thought to be practicing their faiths secretly -- known respectively as marranos and moriscos -- as well as at heretics who rejected Roman Catholic orthodoxy, including alumbras who practiced a kind of mysticism or spiritualism. They were an important portion of the peasants in some territories, like Aragon, Valencia or Andalusia, until their systematic expulsion in the years from 1609 to 1614. Henri Lapeyre has estimated that this affected 300,000 out of a total of 8 million inhabitants of the peninsula at the time.
In the meantime, the tide of Islam had rolled not just westward to Iberia, but also eastward, through India, the Malayan peninsula, and Indonesia up to Mindanao-—one of the major islands of an archipelago which the Spaniards had reached during their voyages westward from the New World. By 1521, the ships of Magellan and other Spanish expeditioners had themselves reached that island archipelago, which they named Las Islas de Filipinas, after Philip II of Spain. In Mindanao, the Spaniards also named these kris-bearing people as Moros or 'Moors'. Today in the Philippines, this ethnic group of people in Mindanao who are generally Muslims are called 'Moros'. This identification of Islamic people as Moros persists in the modern Spanish language spoken in Spain; and as Mouros in the modern Portuguese language. See Reconquista, and Maure.
According to historian Richard A. Fletcher, 'the number of Arabs who settled in Spain was very small. "Moorish" Spain does at least have the merit of reminding us that the bulk of the invaders and settlers were Moors, i.e Berbers from Morocco.' Aline Angoustures says that the Berbers were about 900,000 and the Arabs about 90,000 in Spain.

Modern age

Beside its usage in historical context Moor and Moorish (Italian and Spanish: moro, French: maure, Portuguese: mouro / moiro, Romanian: maur) is used to designate an ethnic group speaking the Hassaniya Arabic dialect, inhabiting Mauritania and parts of Morocco, Western Sahara, Algeria, Niger and Mali.
In modern, colloquial Spanish the sometimes pejorative term "Moro" refers to any Moroccan person. Similarly, in modern, colloquial Portuguese the term "Mouro" is used as a derogatory term by citizens of Northern Portugal to refer to the inhabitants of the southern areas of the country, although "Mouro" is also an enchanted people and "Moura" also means stone in Northern Portugal.
This usage has also been maintained in the Philippines, a former Spanish colony, where the local Muslim population in the Southern islands are called (and call themselves) "Moros" (see Muslim Filipino), a term introduced by the Spanish colonizers. Within the same context of colonization, Sri Lankan Muslims of Arab origin are also called "Moors"(see Sri Lankan Moors).

Notable Moors

  • Macrinus, 164-218, a Moorish officer, prefect of the Praetorian Guard under Caracalla. He became the first Roman emperor who was not a senator in 217-18.
  • Estevanico, also referred to as "Stephen the Moor", explorer of what is now the southwest of the United States in the service of Spain.
  • Gildo was a Moorish chieftain who instigated a rebellion against the Roman Empire in 398.
  • Lusius Quietus was a Roman general, governor of Iudaea in 117. Originally a Moorish prince, his military ability won him the favor of Trajan, who even designated him as his successor. During the emperor's Parthian campaign, the numerous Jewish inhabitants of Babylonia revolted and were relentlessly suppressed by Quietus, who was rewarded by being appointed governor of Judea. Restlessness in Palestine caused Trajan to send his favorite, as a legate of consular rank, to Judea, where he continued his sanguinary course.
  • St. Maurice, the Knight of the Holy Lance, is regarded as the greatest patron saint of the Holy Roman Empire. Rumored to be a Roman commander of Egyptian descent, Maurice is said to have gained sainthood after refusing to have his legion massacre a Christian uprising. Honored as early as 460, St. Maurice has had numerous artworks and structures—even a castle—dedicated to him. The existence of nearly three hundred major images of St. Maurice have been catalogued, and even today his veneration is seen within numerous cathedrals in eastern Germany. He is also the Patron Saint of the United States infantry, with the highest honor given to a member of the Association of the United States Infantry being the "Order of Saint Maurice."
  • Alessandro de' Medici (July 22, 1510 – January 6, 1537) called "il Moro" ("the Moor") by his contemporaries was the Duke of Penne and also Duke of Florence (from 1532) and ruler of Florence from 1530 until 1537). Though illegitimate, he was the last of the "senior" branch of the Medici to rule Florence and the first to be hereditary duke. Historians (such as Christopher Hibbert) believe he had been born to a black serving-woman in the Medici household, identified in documents as Simonetta da Collavechio. The nickname is said to derive from his features (Hibbert 1999: 236). Contemporary portraits depict his full lips and coppery skin - he still has descendants (via his own illegitimate children) among many European royal and noble families.
  • Othello, the fictious hero in the play by William Shakespeare of the same name, written in 1604. Othello is a mercenary that serves in the war between Venice and Cyprus. Othello being a Moor is important to the plot of the play because it drives Othello to believe that Desdemona who is white would never love him because he is a Moor. Othello marries a noblewoman, Desdemona but succumbs to corruption by the villain Iago and becomes fiercely jealous. He ends up killing his wife, and then kills himself when he realizes he was played for a fool.

Religious relations

The initial rule of the Moors in the Iberian peninsula under this Caliphate of Cordoba is generally regarded as tolerant in its acceptance of Christians, Muslims and Jews living in the same territories. In some periods Jews were expelled and Christians relegated to a kind of second class status Dhimmis. The Caliphate of Córdoba collapsed in 1031 and the Islamic territory in Iberia came to be ruled by North African Moors of the Almoravid Dynasty. This second stage started an era of Moorish rulers guided by a version of Islam that left behind the tolerant practices of the past.


Moorish Iberia excelled in city planning; the sophistication of their cities was astonishing. According to one historian, Córdoba "had 471 mosques and 300 public baths … the number of houses of the great and noble were 63,000 and 200,077 of the common people. There were … upwards of 80,000 shops. Water from the mountain was distributed through every corner and quarter of the city by means of leaden pipes into basins of different shapes, made of the purest gold, the finest silver, or plated brass as well into vast lakes, curious tanks, amazing reservoirs and fountains of Grecian marble." The houses of Córdoba were air conditioned in the summer by "ingeniously arranged draughts of fresh air drawn from the garden over beds of flowers, chosen for their perfume, warmed in winter by hot air conveyed through pipes bedded in the walls." This list of impressive works includes lamp posts that lit their streets at night to grand palaces, such as the one called Azzahra with its 15,000 doors. During the height of the Caliphate of Córdoba, the city of Córdoba proper was one of the major capitals in Europe and one of the most cosmopolitan cities of its time.

Population genetics

Dr. Shomarka Keita, a biological anthropologist from Howard University, has suggested that populations in Carthage circa 200 BC and northern Algeria 1500 BC were very diverse. As a group, they plotted closest to the populations of Northern Egypt and intermediate to Northern Europeans and tropical Africans. Keita stated “The data supported the comments from ancient authors observed by classicists: everything from “fair-skinned blonds to peoples who were dark skinned 'Ethiopian' or part Ethiopian in appearance.” Modern evidence showed a similar diversity among present North Africans. Moreover, this “diversity” of phenotypes and peoples was probably due to in situ differentiation, not foreign influxes. Of course foreign influxes certainly had an impact: Phoenician, Greek, Roman Vandal, Sub Saharan Africans, and Arab migration had some impact from 900 BC to 730 AD. But they did not replace the indigenous Berber population.
The Y chromosome p49a,f TaqI Haplotype V, which corresponds to Y haplogroup E3b referred to as a "Berber marker", has been found among 68.9% of modern Berbers in North Africa and is indigenous to this area. From there, it traveled north and west to Europe with the expansion of Neolithic agriculturalists. This group has also been found in some 40% of Andalusians tested, and a similar if not higher percentage in Southern Portugal, with declining frequencies among Iberian populations as distance from North Africa increases.
Y DNA Haplogroup E3b predominates among North African populations; its E3b1b subgroup (M81+) is identified especially with the Berber people. The Vb subtype of p49a,f Haplotype V, apparently corresponding to E3b1b, has been found to occur in two thirds of the Haplotype V Southern Iberians, that is, about a quarter of all Andalusians tested. The frequency of Vb is at its highest among Berbers, and was found to decline rapidly from West to East among North Africans sampled, and to be uncommon in France and Italy.
A 2006 Mitochondrial DNA study of 12th-13th century Islamic remains from Priego de Cordoba, Spain, indicate a higher proportion (4%) of sub-Saharan African lineages attributed at least partially to Moorish occupation, in addition to more ancient migrations to Europe.



This section's bibliographical information is not fully provided. If you know these sources and can provide full information, you can help Wikipedia by completing it.
  • Jan Carew, Rape of Paradise
  • David Brion Davis, "Slavery: Black, White, Muslim, Christian"
  • Herodotus, The Histories
  • Shomark O.Y. Keita, "Genetic Haplotyes in North Africa"
  • Shomark O.Y. Keita, "Craniometric Data from North Africa
  • Shomark O.Y. Keita, "Further Craniometric Data from North Africa"
  • Shomark O.Y. Keita, "Bernal vs. Snowden"
  • Bernard Lewis, "The Middle East"
  • Bernard Lewis, "The Muslim Discovery of Europe"
  • Bernard Lewis, "Race and Slavery in Islam"
  • Stanley Lane-Poole, Turkey (1888)
  • Stanley Lane-Poole, The Barbary Corsairs (1890)
  • Stanley Lane-Poole, The History of the Moors in Spain
  • J.A. Rogers, Nature Knows no Color Line
  • Ronald Segal, "Islam's Black Slaves"
  • Ivan Van Sertima, The Golden Age of the Moor
  • Frank Snowdon, "Before Color Prejudice"
  • Frank Snowdon, "Blacks in Antiquity"
  • David M. Goldenberg, "The Curse of Ham"
  • Lucotte and Mercier, various genetic studies

External links

Moorish in Arabic: مور
Moorish in Bulgarian: Маври
Moorish in Catalan: Moro
Moorish in Danish: Maurer
Moorish in German: Mauren
Moorish in Spanish: Moro
Moorish in Esperanto: Maŭroj
Moorish in Estonian: Maurid
Moorish in French: Maures
Moorish in Indonesian: Moor
Moorish in Italian: Mori (storia)
Moorish in Hebrew: מורים
Moorish in Malay (macrolanguage): Moor
Moorish in Dutch: Moren
Moorish in Japanese: ムーア人
Moorish in Korean: 무어인
Moorish in Norwegian: Maurere
Moorish in Norwegian Nynorsk: Maurarar
Moorish in Polish: Maurowie
Moorish in Portuguese: Mouros
Moorish in Romanian: Mauri
Moorish in Russian: Мавры
Moorish in Slovenian: Mavri
Moorish in Serbian: Маури
Moorish in Finnish: Maurit
Moorish in Swedish: Morer
Moorish in Thai: ชาวมัวร์
Moorish in Chinese: 摩尔人
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