Who the Moors really were.

There are several works of art from the Moorish occupation of Spain, one called ‘Cantigas de Santa Maria’, from the reign of Alfonso the X, and the ‘Book of games’, also from the same era. These two books were written and illustrated by the Spanish, there are a few images illustrated by the Moors themselves in the ‘Tale of Bayad and Riyad’ from the 13th century, and an 11th century illustrated book called ‘The Skylitzes Chronicle’ by medieval Byzantine historian Johannes Skylitzes.

The images have all come from this page, which has a far more comprehensive library of images than you will find on this blog.

Cantigas de Santa Maria

The wourd ‘Mouros’ can be clearly seen in the text above.

It can be clearly seen that one of the Mouros is black, but black Moors are a small minority of the Moorish army seen in these old illustrations.

Again, about three black Mouros in this group of clearly Arabic soldiers.

The Book of Games

This shows a Spaniard playing chess with an Arab (Turban) who appears to have a red beard.

As you can see, from these and the other images, black African Moors seem to be about 10% of the total army.

And here is how the Moors depicted themselves in the ‘Tale of Bayad and Riyad’.

There are several DNA studies showing the genetic legacy of the Berbers and Arabs in Southern Europe, one of which I have on this link. The black African Berbers don’t seem to have left any trace of sub Saharan Y chromosomes except at trace levels. Which isn’t surprising as most Berbers are of Eurasian origin, with more admixture from Saharan populations as you move South. Most of North Africa has been home to these Berbers for the past 20,000 years.

Essentially, the Moors were a mix of Caucasian Berbers and Arabs with some black Berber tribes like the Tuareg. The Spanish records list which tribes were black, and what land was given to each tribe as a reward. It also records the fighting after the conquest, as the Arabs were given all the best land, and they gave the Berbers the less fertile hills and mountainous area.

Modern Moors in Morocco.

It’s something of a mystery as to why ‘Moor’ gained a racial connotation from the Tudor times on. Possibly it was from reading the ‘song of Roland’, where one part of the army was described as ‘blacker than pitch’ (the army of Abisme, an Ethiopian prince). What is more strange is that prior to the 19th century the Phoenician word ‘Mahur’ is given as the root of the word Moor, not ‘Mauri’.

The origin of the word Moor.

The word Mahur means ‘west’, and the modern name of the North Africa region ‘the Mahgreb’, means ‘land of the Western sunset’. Prior to the more recent national names, North Africa was called Mauritania by the Romans, and Libya by the Greeks and Egyptians. All parts South of the Sahara were Ethiopia, inhabited by black Ethiopians (although Herodotus mentions Ethiopians in Libya too).

This makes the etemology of the word Moor coming from the Greek word for dark (not black) as rather dubious, as the Greeks already had a name for the area, Libya.

This makes it quite possible that the Phoenicians named the area Mahur, the Western lands, as these newly conquered lands were indeed West of their homeland of Canaan, and were the furthest lands to the West in their world. Mauritania is a quite possibly a romanised version of the Semitic name for the Mahgreb.

The Moors, mostly, not black.

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37 responses to “Who the Moors really were.

  1. don’t you mean the moops? ;)

  2. That was the working title of this entry!!

  3. This shows a Spaniard playing chess with an Arab (Turban) who appears to have a red beard.

    Rather a beard dyed red. I don’t know the english name of this specific dye, but it was, and still is, very popular in muslim countries.

  4. He may well have used henna on it, but Moorish records do describe red and blond Arabs and Berbers. One of the Moorish leaders was reputed to have dyed his red hair black because he looked too much like a Visigoth.

  5. North African

    Men don’t use henna, it is used exclusively by women and mainly for their hands and feet.

  6. I’ve seen some pictures of Arabs with suspiciously red beards though…

  7. Aguante La Mona. Còrdoba, Argentina.

    North African was and man are caucasoid (mediterranean). (According to Valois clasification).

  8. Your right the Moors were intitally not mostly Black, but over hundereds of years race mixing took place in Africa and Spain. The Black Moors in Europe could be thought of like blacks in America. Blacks in America are only 13 percent of the population but look at the impact of Blacks on American Society (OBAMA) . Great Islamic Societies are multi racial, That is one of the beauties of the faith.

    • With reference to Rasim’s comment on Blacks in USA Society[OBAMA] – It was NOT only Black People that made it all possible. He first had to be elected by his peers, whom I beleive, are not in the main, of any kind of black/ethnic mix!

      Besides your write up indicates black people only make up 13% of USA – is this true?!

      Obama ran his campaign a lot slicker than the average politician – hence ensuring his victory to to the most powerful offices in the western world!

      Wendi

  9. Well truth is, all Moors did start off just Black, but over the years of mixing, they got light.

    • Then why does all the art from the neolithic to the Byzantine show north Africans as mainly white then Mike? And why do the carnai look just like modern north Africa, and the crania studies point out they looked mainly like mediterraneans and not black Africans.

      they also have DNA from 12,000 year old bones that shows all Eurasian female ancesty.

  10. In french language the Moors are called Les Maures and they mean by this ,arabs or north africans.A study of french blood in1989 published in the magazine Science et Vie showed a presence of north african genes . A picture of a french man named, X. Maure from near Poitier whom they beleived was a descend of arab ancestry because of his name Moor.

  11. Mike : you`re a dick!

    Another Afrocentrist who blabbers the same old crap! – Moors did start off just Black, but over the years of mixing, they got light.

    They`ve been light from the beginning!!!
    You Afrocentrists, if that`s what you are!!!
    Always spill the same old horse shit!!!
    Get a life and look at the historical documented evidence on their culture, DNA, archaeological evidence, and ancient surviving documents all say the opposite to your demented crap!!!
    The word Maures/Moors is the Western North African name for the Berbers, and the Berbers form part of the Mediterranean Caucasoid peoples. The black people who travelled with them into Spain, some were slaves who were freed on condition that they fought in the Berber armies that conquered Spain. Some were already freed and fought as mercenaries under the payment of the Berber leaders.
    You need to swot up on ancient Mauritania, which today is called Morocco! just in case you didn`t Know!!!

  12. As early as the Middle Ages, and as early as the seventeenth century, “The Moors were,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary, “commonly supposed to be mostly black or very swarthy, and hence the word is often used for negro.” Dr. Chancellor Williams stated that “The original Moors, like the original Egyptians, were Black Africans.”

    At the beginning of the eighth century Moorish soldiers crossed over from Africa into Spain, Portugal, and France, where their swift victories became the substance of legends. To the Christians of early Europe there was no question regarding the ethnicity of the Moors, and numerous sources support the view that the Moors were a black-skinned people. Morien, for example, is the adventure of a heroic Moorish knight supposed to have lived during the days of King Arthur. Morien is described as “all black: his head, his body, and his hands were all black.” In the French epic known as the Song of Roland the Moors are described as “blacker than ink.”

    William Shakespeare used the word Moor as a synonym for African. Christopher Marlowe used African and Moor interchangeably. Arab writers further buttress the Black identity of the Moors. The powerful Moorish emperor Yusuf ben-Tachfin is described by an Arab chronicler as “a brown man with wooly hair.”

  13. As early as the Middle Ages, and as early as the seventeenth century, “The Moors were,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary, “commonly supposed to be mostly black or very swarthy, and hence the word is often used for negro.” Dr. Chancellor Williams stated that “The original Moors, like the original Egyptians, were Black Africans.”

    To the Christians of early Europe there was no question regarding the ethnicity of the Moors, and numerous sources support the view that the Moors were a black-skinned people. Morien, for example, is the adventure of a heroic Moorish knight supposed to have lived during the days of King Arthur. Morien is described as “all black: his head, his body, and his hands were all black.” In the French epic known as the Song of Roland the Moors are described as “blacker than ink.”

    William Shakespeare used the word Moor as a synonym for African. Christopher Marlowe used African and Moor interchangeably. Arab writers further buttress the Black identity of the Moors. The powerful Moorish emperor Yusuf ben-Tachfin is described by an Arab chronicler as “a brown man with wooly hair.”

    • the Christians of early Europe there was no question regarding the ethnicity of the Moors

      Quite right, they generally portrayed them looking like Arabs in the early invasions, we have the art work from North Africa and Spain to prove it. We also have the DNA legacy which is mainly of Berber males, not black African males in Spain to hold that up..

      What you are getting confused with is the later Moors (Almoravid) were indeed way darker, some were imported from the central and southern Sahara and were not all coastal North African. Even so they were still essentially a mixed race bunch, following the rule of Arab leaders and following an Arab culture and religion.

      “A man named Abd Allah ibn Yasin founded the Almoravids by converting several Saharan Tribes to his religion on his way towards Morocco. They became a Berber Muslim dynasty, which ruled Spain and Morocco during the 11th and 12th centuries”

      Ross, the whole ‘north Africans/Moors/Egyptians were all black etc ‘ has been disproved by DNA and the art. Let it go.

  14. Afro-Arabian origins of the Early Yemenites and their Conquest and Settlement of Spain

    ‘Shem was especially blessed black and beautiful
    Ham was blessed black like the raven …”

    The above written between the 1st to 2nd century AD by Rabbi Eli`ezer of Israel, from the Pirqe, pereq 24 – cited by Yafeu Taom ha Levi (of the Resource Center for African Jews in America) http://www.fortunecity.com/millenium/zebedee/67/index.htm

    “The Arabs used to take pride in their darkness and blackness and they had a distaste for a light complexion and they used to say that a light complexion was the complexion of the non-Arabs” Al Mubarrad, 9th century born in Basra, Iraq.

    “…these tribes – with the exception of the Harasis – have a tradition of African origin, the order of their local antiquity being Shahara, Bautahara, Mahra, Qara. “ The South Eastern Borderlands of Rub-al Khali Bertram Thomas vol. 73 (LXXIII) No. 3 March 1929. on the descendants of Kahtan (Joktan).

    • Mr Informed, as I’ve pointed out, balck was used to refer to modern Arab type skin tones, as was used that way right into the modern era in Europe.

      FYI, there’s just about no European femal ancestry in teh Arabian area, so there’s no way white slaves whitened up the Arabs, same for Libyans, Algerians etc, and the European maternal ancestry in moroccans dates back over 12,ooo years.

      And we do have art showing the moors, mainly not black.

  15. “The inhabitants of this part of Arabia nearly all belong to the race of Himyar. Their complexion is almost as black as the Abyssinians…”
    cited in Geography of southern Arabia by Baron von Maltzan in ‘Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of London”, Vol. 16, No. 2 p. 121 published between 1871-1872, on the tribes of Southwest Arabia near modern Yarim – the Aram of Genesis.

    “The people of Dhufar are of the Qahtan tribe the sons of Joktan mentioned in Genesis: they are of Hamitic or African rather than Arab types…” in A Periplus of the Persian Gulf Arnold Wilson. The Geographical Journal Vol. 69l, No. 3 March 1927, pp. 235-255. See page 236.

    “There is a considerable mass of evidence to show that there was a very close resemblance between the proto-Egyptians and the Arabs before either became intermingled with Armenoid racial elements.”
    Written by anatomist Grafton Elliot Smith see p. 61 The Proto-Dynastic Egyptians , Gorgias Press, 2007 originally published 1923.

    “In the 9th century Photus of Constantinople in his Bibliotheca quotes the Greek Nonnos of 533 AD saying ‘the Ethiopians, Himyarites and Saracens were the most powerful nations of this time’”
    (Sir Richmond Palmer p. 207, Bornu Sahara and Sudan 1970, originally published 1936 by John Murray).

    Terms to Know

    bin or banu (beni) – son or children of

    The Yemen – the name for the southern parts of Arabia including what is now the area of the modern nations of Hadramaut, Yemen, and southern parts of Oman and Saudi Arabia.

    Cana’an – the name of a tribe and their land in western Arabia south of Mecca stretching from the southern Hejaz and Tehama southward into the Himyarite region of Yemen. Some emigrated north before 1200 B.C. and named the region of Canaan in Syria after themselves. Also considered cursed with blackness in later Eurasiatic tradition.

    Ad or Ait– known also as Athir (Adhar) in Arabian tradition – the Gether of the Genesis book. The Adites – called “sons of the fire mist” after Adah their ancestral mother were considered by Medieval Muslim writers to be the same people as the Mahra and Shahara. The mythological “man from Ad” was “Adapa” in Babylonian texts whose name was also that of the ancient ruler Ityop of Abyssinian king lists. In Greek legend Ethiopais, ‘son of Ethiops’ is a title of Bacchus/Dionysus. (Garnier, 2006, p, 38)

    Qahtan- name for the ancestor of ancient Sabeans and Himyarites. Brother of Peleg or Faligh in Arabic and Hebraic tradition. He is also known as Joktan.

    Yemen as with the rest of Arabia is a rich mixture of populations including the original Arabian people, and later Iranians (Persians) as well as the Byzantines and Turks numerous slaves brought in from all over surrounding world. Turks and other subjected people of the Turks also played a part in settling the Yemen as Egypt and North Africa. Not too long ago in about the year 1900 British colonial observer of the British Yemeni Society remarked, “If Turks were thrown out of Yemen a wonderful field of commerce would be opened…” (Zwemmer, 1900, p. 62)

    • Hmm..
      Thank you for the very useful list of quote MrInformed..

      But, FYI.

      Black just meant a Turkish to middle east skin tone to Europeans, and there’s sod all maternal European ancestry to be found in the arab peninsula. The Arabs however imported black female slaves like there was no tomorrow, and a big chunk of the maternal (but not male) ancestry of the Arabian peninsula is East African.

      And yes, Early Egyptians (who weren’t mostly black) DID resemble Arabs a fair bit.

  16. The descriptions of the Arabs of both the Yemen in the south and the northern part of the Arabian peninsula in early Christian and Islamic times, say the people were largely still of dark-brown or black African appearance with “kinky” hair. While people that were fair-skinned were recognized by Arabs as descendants of subject peoples and slaves.

    • Mr Informed- Europeans called anyone with a tan brown, and anyone with a dark middle eastern skin tone black- they did not say Arabs looked like black Africans.

  17. Uraeus – Unless I’m missing something, u seem more of the dick. Mike just stated his opinion.

    Mathilda – Why such importance on disassociating dark skinned blacks or sub-Saharan Africans from Moors? The truth is… Africans conquered Spain.

    On your quote – “Again, about three black Mouros in this group of clearly Arabic soldiers.”

    From an African-American view point. I see about 1/2 of the moors being black on the image. Look at the hair texture. Blacks are all different shades and I’m sure with the Moors ruling for about 800 years, that color would lighten to some degree just as it has in the Americas.

    I have questions to ponder on DNA but will post when I get home… (posting this at work)… 800 years hunh.

    • Mathilda – Why such importance on disassociating dark skinned blacks or sub-Saharan Africans from Moors?

      Becasue if you call a modern north African black he’ll get pissed off with you- I’ve chatted to enough to know they find it offensive. And most of the moors were like modern north Africans, there were about 10X as many black females sold into North Africa as European, and ancient DNA from North Africa doesn’t show much black ancestry to it at all.

  18. would it be fair to ask you if you think that racial thinking is the same now as it was 2000 years ago?

    • would it be fair to ask you if you think that racial thinking is the same now as it was 2000 years ago

      Terms are different, but we divide people into the same rough groups. They were probably less hung up on it though.

  19. “Mathilda – Why such importance on disassociating dark skinned blacks or sub-Saharan Africans from Moors?” Because it’s true. ” The truth is… Africans conquered Spain.” Not “black” Africans. If that’s what you mean, the statement is false.

    • Phen, becasue I keep getting moron Afrocentrists here isisting they were all black thats why. You don’t see half the abusive crap I delete, and my irritation shows at time.

      And I do point out you did get some black moors, the Spanish recorded which tribes were which.

  20. You are correct in everything you have stated Matilda. One reason the black tag is applied to the moors is because of the Catholic powers that were at that time and now-tried to erase the truth of who these people were or might be. Mauros does have a black meaning in greek occultism (astrology) and they may just be the lost tribe of Israel. I had never saw these period pieces of moorish life but they do seem to reflect there racial make-up. I have been searching for the churches of asia minor in revelation who had fled into the wilderness and I find myself here.
    Excellent website !

  21. “Moor” was originally invented by Europeans to describe black people. Do you actually read or just look at pictures?

    • Moor” was originally invented by Europeans to describe black people

      Bzzt- wrong. It was used to describe invading North Africans/Arabs- who are not black in their own art, andocassionally black in the art of the people who saw them. The word moor was used much later to mean black Africans, but that wasn’t its original meaning.

      Perhaps you should read some books on anthropology, genetics and history before spouting inane crap in public.

  22. Peace,

    Black just meant a Turkish to middle east skin tone to Europeans, and there’s sod all maternal European ancestry to be found in the arab peninsula.

    mathilda37 can you provide references for this thesis as if you were defending a Masters degree. Cause if what you say is truth there should be historical accounts to support it. Maat Knows best.

    • you provide references for this thesis

      yes, Dana Marniche from Rastawire very kindly supplied me with a few. LOL

  23. The Moors were called ‘ blackheads’ not because they were black but because they wore black turbans on their heads as some of the pictures show. The arab desert Tuareg still wear this type of black turban which covers most of their face.

  24. The inhabitants of North Africa, from where the Moors came, have always been the vast majority white or near white Semitics. This was even more so 1,000 years ago when the arabs and moors invaded southern Europe. It is only in the last few hundred years that some arabs started to mix with sub-Saharan blacks. Even today blacks in North Africa are only a very small minority.

  25. i am berber origins – i grew up in morocco – until we came to usa – none of us gave a thought to the differences of the various shades in our family – but like my mexican friends here in usa we could discribe someone as light (rubio) or dark (la negra). In the magreb we know our ancestors went into spain with the arabs – i am tired of being told by others that i could not be arab / berber becuse i do not look like one. Yes i do not look like a saudi or middle easterner stereotype – I have blond hair grey eyes / Stop making up history to suit your fake history of us. Its boring and insulting to make up our history to suit your fairy tale ideas.

  26. The face has Unmistakably Negroid features

    He was wrong, and he was wrong a lot. He swore blind a lot of those figures were from Egypt (wrongly) too, he said some were mongoloid too..

    The early Europeans don’t have any traits that were particluarly negroid. A lot of the traits that were thought to be negroid can now be put down to Neanderthal ancestry. Most of the statues found don’t have any traits that look particularly ‘Africoid’, unless you consider a fat butt to be particularly African in origin.

    What a few anthropolgists have said about early Europeans…

    Upper Paleolithic crania are, for the most part, larger and more generalized versions of recent Europeans. Howells ([1995]) reached a similar conclusion with respect to European Mesolithic crania.”

    “while Cro Magnon does not tie in with the recent French, it does indeed tie closely with our English and Scandinavian samples”

    “THE UPPER PALEOLITHIC EUROPEANS, who lived from about 30,000 to about 10,000 years ago,where modern Caucasoid’s. Were they barbered and dressed in the current styles,they could sit in any western European restaurant without arousing particular comment except for their tables manners”.

    “The Grimaldi child was no more Negroid than the Palestinians of Skhul and many living Europeans of the Mediterranean region”

    “Verneau’s (1924) interpretation of the Grimaldi skeletons as racially Negro has, and had, no osteological or morphological basis”..

    A lot of these statues were mistakenly thought to have negroid hair which turned out to be woven hats upon closer inspection.

    One of his ‘negroid’ statues
    venus statuette with a hat.

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