In the year 710, a scouting party of 700 Muslim Berbers led by the Berber leader Tariq ibn Ziyad, entered southern Spain and met with little resistance as they established control over the coastline. 20,000 or so non-Muslims within Spain, who welcomed the newcomers as allies rather than conquerors, aided them willingly.
Apart from Roderic’s enemies, this number included many persecuted Jews and peasants, who hated all Visigoths. The Visigoths were so busy fighting amongst themselves, they were slow to realize what was really going on. When word of the invasion was finally sent to Roderic, he quickly returned to the south with a small band of men. They were easily overwhelmed and defeated in an ambush and Roderic was killed by Tariq’s men on 19th July 711 (around lunchtime).
This initial incursion was followed in 712 by a mainly Arab force of 18,000. The non-Arab portion of this number included more Berbers, Egyptians, Yemenis, Syrians and Persians. After many bloody revolts and power struggles, the Arabs took control in 788. The Berbers, despite their assistance in the successful reconnaissance mission, were soon reminded of their subordinate status in the Arab Empire and were virtually treated as second class citizens.
For the next 300 years or so, despite periods of instability, Andalucia flourished as a center of learning, culture and trade under Arab rule. In the year 1090, a dynasty of Berbers called the Almoravids seized power from the Arabs. In 1147 an opposing dynasty of Berbers called the Almohads muscled their way into power.
In 1237, the Arab controlled Nasrid Sultanate overthrew the decaying Almohad Empire and began building the Alhambra in Granada. By this time, all that was left of ‘Moorish’ held Spain was the southwest corner of the Peninsular. The Christians in the meantime continued their push southward until they finally moved in on Granada in 1492. The “capitulation” of the Catholic Kings, which took the form of the “Treaty of Granada” and outlined 69 articles of religious tolerance, was enough to woo the Moslems into surrendering peacefully. For a few short years there was a tense calm in the province but the inquisitors were never happy with the deal. The Church advisors, using religious justifications, convinced Ferdinand and Isabella to break the treaty and force the Moslems to become Christians or get the hell out of Spain.
To the Christians, Moor simply meant Muslim barbarian. They didn’t care where these ‘Moors’ came from. Their only interest was to evict every last one of them from Spain. The term ‘Moorish’ can really only be applied with any accuracy to the unique architecture in the region. Because of the dazzling variety of races unfairly lumped together under the blanket term ‘Moors’, it is far safer to use the word Islamic when talking about influences, and Muslim when talking about the people.