Tariq ibn Ziyad

Tariq ibn Ziyad


The man for whom Gibraltar is named was a Berber, probably born in North Africa. Nothing is known of Tariq’s early years. He first appeared in the historical record as a Berber and former slave who was appointed a subordinate by Musa ibn Nusayr (c. A.D. 660—c. 714), the Arab governor of Morocco. Tariq was left in charge of the city of Tangier.

In A.D. 710, an Arab recon¬ naissance party crossed the narrow body of water between North Africa and Spain, called the “Pillars of Hercules” by the Greeks and Romans. The Arabs found Spain to be weak and reported this to Tariq.

The Berber leader decided to see for himself, and on April 27, A.D. 711, he crossed the Pillars of Hercules with 7,000 soldiers, near¬ ly all of them Berber tribespeople rather than Arabs. Tariq landed near a large rock that jutted out from the coast of Spain; that rock was named “Jebel Tariq (Tariq’s Rock). The Spanish later converted those words to “Gibraltar.”

Tariq soon discovered that his scouts had been correct. Visigothic Spain was divided and offered little resistance to the invaders.

Tariq rapidly advanced northward, and on July 19, A.D. 711, he fought the Battle of La Janda against the army of King Roderick, the last Christian king of Visigothic Spain. Tariq won the battle and moved on to occupy the Visigothic capital of Toledo.

Learning of his lieutenant’s success, Musa crossed the Pillars of Hercules with 18,000 troops (most of them Arabs) in June A.D.712. He met Tariq at Talavera and scolded his subordinate for having traveled so far and conquered so much without orders to do so.

By this time, the last Visigothic nobles had fled to the mountain region of Asturias in northern Spain, the area that would later become the center of the Christian kingdoms of Leon, Castile and Navarre.

Tariq and Musa had pushed the Christians out of southern and central Spain, further expanding the area of the world under the sway of Islam.

Musa was sum¬ moned by the caliph of Damascus to return east and report on the con¬ quest. Musa and Tariq went to Damascus together, bringing a large convoy of prisoners. They reached Syria in February A.D. 715.

Caliph al-Walid lay dying, and his successor showed no gratitude to either Musa or Tariq for their conquests. The two men ended their lives in complete obscurity in the East. They never returned to Spain, most of which they had conquered under the banner of Mohammed.