About Jurji Zaidan

Introductory Summary

The Conquest of Andalusia | The Battle of Poitiers | The Caliph's Sister

The Caliph's Heirs | Saladin and the Assassins

About the Novel | The Historical Context | The Translator | Afterword | Study Guide

The Historical Context

The events in this novel take place just before and during the conquest of Spain – or Al-Andalus to the Arabs -- in 710-711 AD (91-92 AH). This led to an Arab presence of almost eight centuries in the Iberian Peninsula until the last piece of Spanish territory under Islamic rule (Granada) was re-conquered in 1492. By the time, the Umayyads had assumed the Islamic Caliphate in 661AD (41 AH) and had established their capital in Damascus, the Islamic conquests had reached as far East as India and China, while in the West most of North Africa had been conquered. The native Berber tribes converted to Islam, but the Christian Byzantines still retained most of the ports. The major unfulfilled goal of the Umayyads was to conquer Constantinople and destroy the Byzantine Empire – a feat they attempted three times without success during their almost one hundred year reign. The conquest of Andalusia was of lower priority – and it seems to have happened more as a result of local North African initiatives than of any centralized plan. It was, after all, undertaken with local resources and limited Arab material support. The commander of a joint
Berber-Arab army, Tariq Ibn Ziyad, was himself a Berber.

Two centuries before the events depicted in this novel, the Visigoth rulers had conquered the Iberian Peninsula and had been converted to Christianity by Arian bishops. Later, when Arians were declared heretics, the Visigoths submitted to the Roman Catholic Church. When the novel opens, the Council of Bishops had forced the Jews, who held predominant positions in trade, crafts and professional services, to either convert or be banished. Meanwhile, the Visigoth dukes and counts who ruled the provinces under an elected king, exploited the indigenous population and slaves to farm the land and supply menial and military services.  This socio-political context sets the stage for conflict and conspiracy between the Visigoth aristocracy and the King, between Christians and Jews and between Catholics and Arians.

The novel depicts the political climate and social mores of Spain at that time. One of the more distinctive attributes of Zaidan’s approach is the continuous and perceptive commentary and reflection on political and social organization and particularly on human behavior, emotions, and motivations under varying external conditions. Zaidan also analyses the power of a common religion or language in unifying people from different cultures – a theme found in many of his other works. Last but not least is the depiction of the Jewish role in aiding the Arab invasion. At a time when Jews in Visigoth lands were being compelled to convert to Christianity or forced into exile or executed, Jews under Islamic rule were able to preserve their religious heritage and thrive in exchange for a tax. Arab rule proved to be a golden age of tolerance and achievement for the various communities living in Spain until the Christian re-conquest of Spain in 1492, an event that led to the Inquisition and the expulsion of both Jews and Muslims. 



Opera on the Life of Jurji Zaidan
(in Arabic) attended by the
President of Egypt

Prelude with Speeches of Literary Figures


Jurji Zaidan and his Family

Centennial Celebrations
of Dar-al-Hilal