Arabic-Speaking Christians on the Medieval Frontier: the Mozarabs of Toledo and Christian-Muslim relations in Iberia

Helen Flatley
D.Phil Candidate, St Cross College, University of Oxford

Watch and listen to an illustrated video version of Helen’s presentation


The Mozarabs of Toledo have long been considered as an emblematic community within medieval Iberia, somewhat paradoxically as both a testament to Christian continuity in the Peninsula, and as a symbol of Iberian cultural and religious plurality. They are best defined as a community of ‘arabicised’ Christians who played a unique social, economic and political role in Toledan life in the period after the conquest of the city by Alfonso VI of León-Castile in 1085. The Mozarabs were an inherently inter-cultural group: they were staunchly Christian, yet drew their cultural identity from Islamic al-Andalus, and engaged in religious practices that looked back to Visigothic (pre-Islamic) Iberia. This marked them out as particularly distinct from their Castilian and Frankish co-religionaries in Toledo: as a community with both Christian and Islamic cultural heritage they operated as a bridge between cultures and religious groups and allow us to observe the complex and conditional ways in which religious identity was negotiated on the Christian-Muslim frontier in the Iberian Peninsula. This paper explores the role of the Mozarabs in shaping Christian-Muslim interactions in medieval Toledo, and raises broader questions about the dominant prisms and assumptions that condition our understanding of interreligious relations in the medieval period.