The Black Rulers of Europe

Check the majority of Spanish, Portuguese and North Africans and you will see very dark hair and bushy eye lashes. It is the black genes in those people. How did that happen? Read on!

There have been mainstream Eurocentric or Western attempts in describing “Moors” as people of Caucasian or mixed race; or a claim that it was interchangeable with Arab and Muslim. These are all mainstream Western attempts to minimise the role and place of Blacks in history and influence in European development.

In its original form the term “moor” denoted a physical description. It was not used by the Moors themselves.

Christians called those lands occupied by black Muslims “Moorish”. The Moors called the lands “Al-Andalus”.

The only time the term “Moor” came to be used in a non-descriptive manner was during the Islamic epoch of Spain when all Muslims were called Moors, and even then there were modifiers like “Moriscos” to denote non-black converts.  

The term “maure”, “mauri” or “Moor” was used before the eighth century invasion of Iberia or Iberian Peninsula, which was conquered and ruled by the Moors for nearly 800 years in the period between 711 and 1492.

The Iberian Peninsula was referred to by the Moors as “Al-Andalus” and consisted of Asturian, Leonese, Mirandese, Spanish, Portuguese and Galician (peoples). It is located in the extreme southwest of Europe and includes the modern-day sovereign states of Spain, Portugal and Andorra, as well as the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar.

Most Muslims of medieval Spain were local “muwalladun”.

But the bulk of the Islamic “foreigners” were Berber/Arabic-speaking Africans traditionally called Moors. They far outnumbered Arabs, Persians, Syrians and even the Slavs.

Al-Mansur, the ruler over all the Muslim dominions following the collapse of the caliphate and preceding the Taifa states, was “stocky and dark-skinned” (H Kennedy, “Muslim Spain and Portugal: A Political History”.)

The Spanish account of the Almohad invasion quips that their “faces were like pitch and the most handsome of them was like a cooking pan”; this was of course nine centuries ago.

Alfonso X described the invading soldiers of the 13th (century) “All the Moorish soldiers were dressed with silk and black wool that had been forcibly acquired … their black faces were like pitch and the most handsome of them was like a cooking pan.”

All Muslims were called Moors for the simple fact that most of the invaders were notably dark-skinned.

Following the tenth century all local converts were described variously by the Spanish and Portuguese as muladi or mulado after the Spaniards and Portuguese had adopted the Arabic “muwalladin” for half-castes and modified it to mean mixed-race as well as local converts.

They tended to call non-black foreigners, including Arabs, saracens.

The dictum holds true that all blacks were Moors but not all Moors were black. Because Moor became synonymous with Islam there came a point in Iberia where the term offered no significant ethnological value, but held its original connotations irrespective of Islam in other parts of Europe (hence the representation of Moors on numerous family crests).

The Greeks called the Moors, Mauri or mavros which means dark-skinned or black, the word “Moor” is a derivative of this.

The Romans called the land Mauritania which means “Land of the blacks”.

By the time of Shakespeare Moor and Negro were equivalent. And by the early 17th century the Latin nigri supplanted the Greek mavros.

In Latin, Mauricius means dark skinned. In Italian, it's Mauro; in French, Maurice; in German, Moritz; English, Morris.

According to “A Book of English Surnames”, Blackmore, Blakemore, Blackmoor, Blacomer, Blackomer and Blakomor all derive from the phrase “black as a moor”.

In “Race, Rhetoric and Composition”, they argue: “Blackamoor seems understandable, thus, not as a compound of black and moor, but rather as a contraction of the implied argument that this person being referred to was ‘as black as a Moor’.”

Procopius was clear that the Moors who broke their treaty with Belisarius were distinct from the Vandals, who were “not black-skinned like the Moors, but very white and fair-haired.” (“History of the Wars”, Books III and IV.)

In the first or second century Juvenal quipped “a Gaetulian” he encountered was “so black you’d rather not see him at midnight”.In the 13th century German tapestry entitled “Wild Men and Moors”, you can see quite clearly the dark-skinned “Moors” defending their castle from pale-skinned “wild men”.

Moors served under the Romans in Britain, Switzerland, France, Hungary, Poland, Austria, Romania – virtually everywhere Rome held sway. Latin phrases such as “woolly hair like a Moor” leave little doubt as to their racial composition.

The current Pope's Coat of Arms, which features a bear, a shell, and a “moor's head” … comes from the Bavarian tradition which Joseph Ratzinger introduced into his coat of arms when he became Archbishop of Munich and Freising in 1977.

The Moor's head typically facing to the viewer's left (dexter in heraldic terms) and is associated with 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 (June 5, 1817).

This is the ancient emblem of the Diocese of Freising, founded in the eight 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.

 • The Moor’s Head

The Moor's head is not rare in European heraldry.

It still appears today in the arms of Sardinia (the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, after Sicily and before Cyprus and Corsica) as well as in the blazons of various noble families.

Italian heraldry, however, usually depicts the Moor wearing a white band around his head instead of a crown, indicating a slave who has been freed; whereas in German heraldry the Moor is shown wearing a crown.

The Moor's head is common in the Bavarian tradition and is known as the caput Ethiopicum or the Moor of Freising.

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.

The widespread use of the black Moor head in European heraldry, the prevalence of blacks on shields, family crests, landmarks etc, throughout the medieval period, is the strongest indication of what “Moor” meant. Were it “medium tan/brown as a moor,” we'd be having a very different discussion.

In Abd Allah's Roudh el-Kartas, he describes Yusuf ibn Tashfin, the founder of Marrakesh/Morocco, as, “Brown color, middle height, thin, little beard, soft voice, black eyes, straight nose, lock of Muhammad falling on the top of his ear, eyebrow joined, wooly hair.”

The portrait of Mulay al-Rashid (or “Mulay Arsheid Zeriff” in the US National Portrait Gallery), the founder of the current Alaouite Dynasty of Morocco, concludes he was anything other than black African.

Islamic or Moorish Spain was, in fact, mostly black African.

Richard Fletcher says: “‘Moorish’ Iberia does at least have the merit of reminding us that the bulk of the invaders and settlers were Moors, ie Berbers from Algeria and Morocco.”

Although “Moor” came to be used in a very general non-descriptive sense to denote Muslim culture in Iberia, some people have taken this as indication that the term never had any specified ethnic/racial connotations. This is indeed a false argument because, as we've seen, the Spanish had modifiers like “Moriscos” to denote mixed heritage.

Northern Africa includes the Maghreb, Egypt, Western Sudan, as well as the northern regions of what is today Mauritania, Mali, Chad, Niger and Sudan.

The Sahara went from grass to woods to desert by 3 500 BCE. From Morocco to the Red Sea, the once fertile Sahara was pretty much the same climate, where various peoples tended to congregate in the vicinity of Lake Chad.

Today the northern Sahara is a dry sub-tropical climate, while the south is a humid tropical environment.
Ibn Khaldun wrote: “The inhabitants of the first and the second zone in the south are called the Abyssinians, the Zanj, the Sudanese.

These are synonyms used to designate the particular nation that has turned black.

“The name Abyssinians however is restricted to those Negroes who live opposite Mecca and the Yemen and the name Zanj is restricted to those who live along the Indian Ocean.

“These names are not given to them because of an alleged descent from a black human being, be it Ham or anyone else. Negroes from the south who settled in the temperate fourth zone or in the seventh zone that tends towards whiteness, are found to produce descendants whose color gradually turns white in the course of time.”

• This article has been extracted from

November 2012
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