Moors, Saints, Knights and Kings: The African Presence in Medieval and Renaissance Europe


The learn about of the African presence in historical past, whether or not within the African Diaspora or Africa itself, is a richly rewarding undertaking. On this learn about we notice that slavery on my own isn’t African historical past and that African historical past is everyone’s historical past. The historical past of African folks — Black folks — is wealthy and complete, inspiring and, frequently, little identified. Nowhere is that this extra the case than the African presence in Medieval and Renaissance Europe.

The Moors: Gentle of Europe’s Darkish Age

Consistent with the Oxford English Dictionary, the Moors, as early because the Heart Ages and as past due because the seventeenth century, have been “recurrently intended to be black or very swarthy, and therefore the phrase is frequently used for Negro.”

Early within the 8th century, after a grim and prolonged resistance to the Arab invasions of North Africa, the Moors joined the triumphant surge of Islam. Following this, they crossed over from Morocco over to the Iberian Peninsula the place their swift victories and noteworthy feats quickly turned into the substance of legends.

In July 710, Tarif, with 400 foot squaddies and 100 horses, all Berbers, effectively performed a challenge in southern Iberia. Tarif, a very powerful port town in southern Spain, is called after him.

It’s transparent, then again, that the conquest of Spain was once undertaken upon the initiative of Tarik ibn Ziyad. Tarik was once in control of a military of no less than 10,000 males.


In 711, the daring Tarik crossed the straits and disembarked close to a rock promontory, which from that day since has borne his title — Djabal Tarik (“Tarik’s Mountain”), or Gibraltar. In August 711, Tarik gained paramount victory over the opposing Eu military. At the eve of the fight, Tarik is said to have roused his troops with the next phrases:

“My brethren, the enemy is sooner than you, the ocean is at the back of; whither would ye fly? Apply your common; I’m resolved both to lose my existence or to trample at the prostrate king of the Romans.”

Losing no time to relish his victory, Tarik driven on along with his rushing and reputedly tireless Moorish cavalry to the Spanish town of Toledo. Inside of a month’s time, Normal Tarik ibn Ziyad had successfully terminated Eu dominance of the Iberian Peninsula.

Within the aftermath of those sensible struggles, hundreds of Moors flooded into the Iberian Peninsula. So keen have been they to come back that some are stated to have floated over on tree-trunks. Tarik himself, on the conclusion of his illustrious army profession, retired to the far-off East, we’re knowledgeable, to unfold the lessons of Islam.

There may be truly no wish to speculate at the ethnicity of those early invaders of the conquest length. Number one Christian assets in terms of the conquest, specifically the Primera Cronica Normal of Alfonso X, make the next remark in regards to the Moors: “Their faces have been black as pitch, the handsomest among them was once as black as a cooking pot.”


The Black Saint Maurice: Knight of the Holy Lance

Of all of the many Black males within the historical past of Europe, few have excited the creativeness greater than Saint Maurice. He was once a Black saint in a space then and now that has only a few Black population. He was once additionally a Black knight. Certainly, shall we name him a knight in shining armor. He’s a minimum of exceptional.

The title Maurice is derived from Latin and approach “like a Moor.” The Black Saint Maurice (the Knight of the Holy Lance) is thought of as the nice patron saint of the Holy Roman Germanic Empire. He’s additionally identified, particularly in Germany, as Saint Mauritius. The earliest model of the Maurice tale and the account upon which all later variations are based totally, is located within the writings of Bishop Euchenus of Lyons, who lived greater than 1500 years in the past. Consistent with Eucherius, Saint Maurice was once a prime legit within the Thebaid area of Southern Egypt — an overly early heart of Christianity.

In particular, Maurice was once the commander of a Roman legion of Christian squaddies stationed in Africa. By means of the decree of Roman emperor Maximian, his contingent of 6,600 males was once dispatched to Gaul and ordered to suppress a Christian rebellion there. Maurice disobeyed the order. Therefore, he and nearly all of his troops have been martyred once they selected to die quite than persecute Christians, resign their religion and sacrifice to the gods of the Romans. The execution of the Theban Legion passed off in Switzerland close to Aganaum (which later turned into Saint Maurice-en-Valais) on Sept. 22, both within the 12 months 280 or 300.

In the second one part of the fourth century, the worship of St. Maurice unfold over a huge space in Switzerland, northern Italy, Burgundy, and alongside the Rhine. The key towns of Excursions, Angers, Lyons, Chalon-sur-Saone, and Dijon had church buildings devoted to St. Maurice.

By means of the epoch of Islamic Spain, the stature of St. Maurice had reached immense proportions. Charlemagne, the grandson of Charles Martel and essentially the most outstanding consultant of the Carolingian dynasty, attributed to St. Maurice the virtues of the easiest Christian warrior. In token of victory, Charlemagne had the Lance of St. Maurice (a reproduction of the holy lance reputed to have pierced the facet of Christ) carried sooner than the Frankish military. Like the overall populace, which strongly trusted St. Maurice for intercession, the Carolingian dynasty prayed to this army saint for the energy to withstand and triumph over assaults by means of enemy forces.


In 962, Otto I selected Maurice because the identify patron of the archbishopric of Magdeburg, Germany. By means of 1000 C.E. the worship of Maurice was once handiest rivaled by means of St. George and St. Michael. After the second one part of the twelfth century, the emperors have been appointed by means of the pope in entrance of the altar of St. Maurice, in St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome.

In Halle, Germany, a monastery with a faculty connected to it was once based and devoted to St. Maurice in 1184. In 1240, a supreme Africoid statue of St. Maurice was once positioned within the majestic cathedral of Magdeburg — the primary Gothic cathedral constructed on German soil. I used to be in fact ready to talk over with this cathedral and {photograph} the statue in 2010. The facial traits of the statue are described by means of historian Gude Suckale-Redlefsen in his vintage paintings, The Black Saint Maurice, as follows:

“The rather small opening within the carefully becoming mail coif was once enough for the Magdeburg sculptor to supply a powerful characterization of St. Maurice as an African. The facial proportions display standard alterations compared to Eu physiognomy. The huge, rounded contours of the nostril are recognizable even if the top has been damaged off.

“The African options are emphasised by means of the surviving stays of the outdated polychrome. The surface is coloured bluish black, the lips are crimson, and the darkish pupils stand out obviously towards the white of the eyeballs. The golden chain mail of the coif serves, in flip, to shape a pointy distinction with the darkish face.”

A middle of utmost devotion to St. Maurice was once advanced within the Baltic states, the place traders in Tallin and Riga followed his iconography. The Area of the Black Heads of Riga, as an example, possessed a polychromed picket statuette of St. Maurice. Their seal bore the distinct symbol of a Moor’s head.

In 1479, Ernest constructed a number of castles, considered one of which he named after St. Maurice — the Moritzburg. Beneath a banner emblazoned with the picture of a Black St. Maurice, the political and spiritual leaders of the Holy Roman Empire battled the Slavs. The cult of St. Maurice reached its maximum lavish heights below Cardinal Albert of Brandenburg (1490-1545), who established a pilgrimage at Halle in honor of the Black saint.

From the early sixteenth century, and now within the Metropolitan Museum of Artwork, hangs an impressive portray by means of Lucas Granach, the elder of St. Maurice, resplendent as a knight in shining armor. Within the Alta Pinakothek in Munich hangs the portray by means of Matthias Grunewald of St. Maurice and St. Erasmus in heaven. Grunewald was once the best painter of the German Renaissance. And within the Gemaldegalerie in Berlin is the portray by means of Hans Baldung Grien of St. Maurice below the banner flag of the German imperial eagle on one facet, a portray of the adoration of the magi (with a Black king, the youngest of the 3 magi), within the heart, and St. George and the dragon at the reverse facet. I’ve observed and photographed all 4 of those magnificent artwork gadgets.

Between 1523 and 1540, folks from right through the empire journeyed to Halle to worship the relics of St. Maurice. The lifestyles of just about 300 primary photographs of the Black St. Maurice were catalogued, or even lately the veneration of St. Maurice stays alive in a lot of cathedrals in jap Germany.


The Black King within the Artwork of the Eu Renaissance

One of the interesting facets of the African presence in Europe is the extensive selection of photographs of the Black Magus/King in Eu artwork. Even if once in a while recognized as a Moor, he isn’t a Muslim. Such art work enhance the galleries and museums right through Europe and the US. Those are superb photographs of the sensible and outstanding African king who adopted a celeb and got here to pay homage and supply wealthy treasures to the Christ kid within the time of Herod within the manger in Bethlehem as described within the Gospel of Matthew.

The semblance of the Black king in Eu artwork seems no less than by means of the 14th century and more than likely previous. The Moors have been a fixture in Europe presently. By means of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, hundreds of art work depicting the Adoration of the Black Magus or King were made.

The Black magus is the youngest of the 3 kings and historically he’s stated to come back from Ethiopia. He’s often referred to as a Moor and he’s, curiously sufficient, the king who stands farthest clear of the Christ kid. His title is Balthazar and his provide to the Christ kid is the reward of myrrh.

Once in a while, specifically within the Dutch global, every other of the kings is recognized as Black. That is Gaspar, recognized as a king from Asia and he’s additionally credited once in a while as bringing myrrh, and once in a while frankincense.


Sir Morien: Black Knight of King Arthur’s Spherical Desk

Few paperwork painting the ethnicity of the Moors in medieval Europe with extra pastime, boldness and readability than Morien. Morien is a metrical romance rendered into English prose from the medieval Dutch model of the Lancelot.

Morien is the journey of a wonderfully heroic Moorish knight (perhaps a Christian convert), intended to have lived all the way through the times of King Arthur and the Knights of the Spherical Desk. Morien is described as follows:

“He was once all black, whilst I inform ye: his head, his frame, and his arms have been all black, saving handiest his enamel. His protect and his armour have been even the ones of a Moor, and black as a raven.”

To begin with within the journey, Morien is just known as “the Moor.” He first demanding situations, then battles, and after all wins the unqualified recognize admiration of Sir Lancelot. As well as, Morien is very forthright and articulate. Sir Gawain, whose existence was once stored at the battlefield by means of Sir Morien, is mentioned to have “harkened, and smiled on the black knight’s speech.” It’s famous that Morien was once as “black as pitch; that was once the craze of his land — Moors are black as burnt manufacturers. However in all that males would reward in a knight was once he honest, after his sort. Regardless that he have been black, what was once he the more severe?” And once more: “his enamel have been white as chalk, another way was once he altogether black.”

“Morien, who was once black of face and limb” was once a perfect warrior, and it’s stated that: “His blows have been so mighty; did a spear fly in opposition to him, to hurt him, it afflicted him no whit, however he smote it in twain as though it have been a reed; naught may bear sooner than him. In the long run, and sarcastically, Morien got here to personify the entire greatest virtues of the knights of medieval Europe.

“It must be famous that for an overly lengthy length the Dutch language used Moor and Moriaan for Black Africans.”

Some of the Lorma neighborhood in trendy Liberia, the title Moryan continues to be distinguished.


The Expulsion From Spain and the Dispersal of the Moors

In Iberia, Christian pressures at the Moors grew impossible to resist. In the end, in 1492, Granada, the closing necessary Muslim stronghold in al-Andalus, was once taken by means of the warriors of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, and the Moors have been expelled from Spain. In 1496, to assuage Isabella, King Manuel of Portugal introduced a royal decree banishing the Moors from that portion of the peninsula. The Spanish king Philip III expelled the remainder Moors by means of a different decree issued in 1609. Absolutely 3,500,000 Moors, or Moriscos, as their descendants have been known as, left Spain between 1492 and 1610.

An estimated million Moors settled in France. Others moved into Holland. An overly curious tale within the Netherlands is that of Zwarte Piet (Black Peter). By means of some accounts Zwarte Piet, the significant other to Sinterklaas (Santa Claus), was once a Moorish orphan boy whom Sinterklaas followed and educated as his assistant.

By means of 1507, there have been a lot of Moors on the court docket of King James IV of Scotland. One among them was once known as Helenor within the Courtroom Accounts, perhaps Ellen Extra. There have been no less than two different Black ladies of the royal court docket who held positions of a few standing, and they’re mentioned as having had maidservants get dressed them in pricey robes.

In 1596, Queen Elizabeth, extremely distressed on the rising Moorish presence in England, wrote to the lord mayors of the main towns that:

“There are of past due divers blakamores introduced into this realm, of which kinde of folks there are already too manie.”

*Runoko Rashidi is based totally in Los Angeles and Paris. He’s the creator of “Black Superstar: The African Presence in Early Europe.” In August 2014, he’s main a excursion staff via a number of towns in Western Europe specializing in the African heritage, particularly within the museum collections. For more info and to sign up for the excursion write to: [email protected] or cross to