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

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Abstract

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.