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For the Portuguese wine grape, see Mourisco (grape).
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Moriscos (Spanish: [moˈɾiskos], Catalan: [muˈɾiskus], [moˈɾiskos]; Portuguese: mouriscos [mo(w)ˈɾiʃkuʃ], [mo(w)ˈɾiskus]; meaning "Moorish") were Muslims who decided to convert to Christianity rather than leave Spain and Portugal in the early 1500s. Over time the term was used in a pejorative sense applied to those nominal Catholics who were suspected of secretly practicing Islam. The Moriscos were eventually expelled from Spain between 1609 (Valencia) and 1614 (Castile).


Estimates of Morisco populations at the time of expulsion vary, many estimates being based on the number of recorded expulsion edicts (around 275,000). However, modern studies estimate around one million moriscos present in Spain at the beginning of the 16th century.[1]

Of the Granadan Moriscos, 80,000 are estimated to have dispersed in Andalusia and Castile during the deportation from the Kingdom Granada carried out as a result of the War of the Alpujarras.[2]

Moriscos were far from being a homogenous population and were largely subdivided in four distinct groups or ethinicites:



Granada was the last Islamic Kingdom in the Iberian Peninsula and by the late 15th century this region had the largest Morisco population, and it formed the majority of the region's population. The least hispanized of all the groups, this community spoke fluent Arabic, was well versed in Islamic doctrine and - until Moorish customs were prohibited by the Catholic rulers following their conquest of Granada in 1492 - it conserved the majority of cultural traits pertaining to Islamic Al Andalus: dress, music, gastronomy, festivities etc...
After their second revolt against Catholic oppression, in 1568-71, the Moriscos of Granada were deported to the various regions of the Kingdom of Castile, Extremadura and Andalusia.


The second largest Morisco population was to be found on the Eastern Kingdom of Valencia, where Moriscos accounted for about a third of the population. Vassals of estate-owners who protected them due to the high tax revenue they provided, Valencian Moriscos were also relatively distinct population. Arabic was used commonly among them although they were also fluent in the Castilian and Valencian languages. They were known for their practice of the Islamic faith despite their nominal adherence to the Catholic Church. Among other Morisco communities, they were known for their knowledge of the Qur'an and the Sunna and Valencia "Alfaquíes" were known to travel throughout Spain as teachers for other Morisco communities. It was the Valencian Moriscos who, due to their coastal location established relationships with the Ottoman and Barbary ships. Valencia had been the centre of production of Hispano-Moresque ware in the late Middle Ages and pottery continued to be a significant industry.


Moriscos accounted for 20% of the population of Aragon, residing principally on the shores of the Ebro river and its tributaries. Unlike Granada and Valencia Moriscos, they did not speak Arabic but as vassals of the nobility were granted the privilege to practice their faith relatively openly.

Places like Muel, Zaragoza were inhabited fully by Moriscos, the only Old Christians were the priest, the notary and the owner of the tavern-inn. "The rest would rather go in a pilgrimage to Mecca than Santiago de Compostela."[3]

In the Aragonese City of Monzón (Huesca) a peculiar tradition is still celebrated related to the Moriscos known as "El Bautizo del Alcalde" (The baptism of the mayor). It is celebrated on the 4th of December, festivity of Saint Barbara, patron of the City, and involves local politicians throwing chestnuts and sweets from the terraces of the Town Hall to the crowds below gathered in the main square. On the 4 of December 1643 (a few decades after the expulsion), Castilian troops reconquered the castle from the French during the Catalan Revolt. According to local sources, following the capture of the town, its inhabitants chose a Morisco as a mayor and since his Christian faith was doubted, he accepted to be baptized in public after which the town erupted in festivities.


The Kingdom of Castile included also Extremadura and much of modern day Andalusia (particularly the Guadalquivir Valley). Morisco presence in most of its territory was scarce except in specific locations such as Hornachos, Arévalo or Cinco Villas where they were the majority or even the totality of the population. Castille's Moriscos were practically indistinguishable from the Catholic population: They did not speak Arabic and a large number of them were genuine Christians. The mass arrival of the much more visible Morisco population deported from Granada to the lands under the Kingdom of Castile led to a radical change in the situation of Castilian Moriscos, despite their efforts to distinguish themselves from the Granadans. For example, marriages between Castile Moriscos and "old" Christians were much more common than between the former and Granada moriscos. The town of Hornachos was an exception, not only because practically all of its inhabitants were Moriscos but because of their open practice of the Islamic faith and of their famed independent and indomitable nature. For this reason, the order of expulsion in Castile targeted specifically the "Hornacheros", the first Castilian Moriscos to be expelled and who maintained their combative nature overseas, founding the Corsary Republic of Rabat and Salé in modern day Morocco.


In the medieval period al-Andalus Muslims who had come under Iberian Christian rule, as a result of the incremental Reconquista, were known as Mudéjars. The religious minorities were tolerated as inferiors. The victory of the Catholic Monarchs in the Battle of Granada in 1492 ended the last Islamic rule and al-Andalus territory on the Iberian peninsula. The pre-established Treaty of Granada (1491) guaranteed religious and cultural freedoms for Muslims and Jews in the imminent transition from Emirate of Granada to Province of Castile. The Alhambra Decree (1492) promptly rescinded the Jews' rights, expelling the observant Jews and leaving a population of conversos suspected of secretly practicing Judaism (crypto-Judaism) called Marranos. The Decree set a precedent for upcoming persecution and later expulsion of Muslims and Moriscos.

When Christian conversion efforts on the part of Granada's first archbishop, Hernando de Talavera, brought Muslim opposition, Cardinal Jimenez de Cisneros took stronger measures: with forced conversions, burning Islamic texts, and prosecuting many of Granada's Muslims. In response to these and other violations of the Treaty, Granada's Muslim population rebelled in 1499. The revolt lasted until early 1501, giving the Castilian authorities an excuse to void the terms of the Treaty for Muslims. In 1501 the terms of the Treaty of Granada protections were abandoned.

In 1501 Castilian authorities delivered an ultimatum to Granada's Muslims: they could either convert to Christianity or be expelled. Most did convert, in order not to be forced to abandon their property and small children. Many continued to dress in their traditional fashion and speak Arabic, and some secretly practiced Islam (crypto-Muslims). With the decline of Arabic culture, many used the aljamiado writing system, i.e., Castilian or Aragonese texts in Arabic writing with scattered Arabic expressions. In 1502, Queen Isabella I of Castile formally rescinded toleration of Islam for the entire Kingdom of Castile. In 1508, Castilian authorities banned traditional Granadan clothing. With the absorption of Navarre into the crown of Castile in 1512, the Muslims of Navarre were ordered to convert or leave by 1515.

However, King Ferdinand, as ruler of the Kingdom of Aragon, continued to tolerate the large Muslim population living in his territory. Since the crown of Aragon was juridically independent of Castile, their policies towards Muslims could and did differ during this period. Historians have suggested that the Crown of Aragon was inclined to tolerate Islam in its realm because the landed nobility there depended on the cheap, plentiful labor of Muslim vassals.[5] However, the landed elite's exploitation of Aragon's Muslims also exacerbated class resentments. In the 1520s, when Valencian guilds rebelled against the local nobility in the Revolt of the Brotherhoods, the rebels "saw that the simplest way to destroy the power of the nobles in the countryside would be to free their vassals, and this they did by baptizing them." [5] The Inquisition and monarchy decided to prohibit the forcibly baptized Muslims of Valencia from returning to Islam. Finally, in 1526, King Charles V issued a decree compelling all Muslims in the crown of Aragon to convert to Catholicism or leave the Iberian Peninsula (Portugal had already expelled or forcibly converted its Muslims in 1497 and would establish its own Inquisition in 1536).

Faced with the threat of expulsion, thousands of Iberian Muslims converted to Christianity and became known as Moriscos.

Before the reign of King Philip II, some Moriscos rose to positions of wealth and prominence and wielded influence in society. Moreover, Aragonese and Valencian nobles in particular were interested in keeping their Morisco vassals under personal control; they tried to protect them from Inquisitorial prosecution by advocating patience and religious instruction. However, in 1567 Philip II changed tack. He directed Moriscos to give up their Arabic names and traditional dress, and prohibited the use of the Arabic language. In addition, the children of Moriscos were to be educated by Catholic priests. In reaction, there was a Morisco uprising in the Alpujarras from 1568 to 1571.

Spanish spies reported that the Ottoman Emperor Selim II was planning to attack Malta in the Mediterranean below Sicily, and from there advance to Spain. It was reported Selim wanted to incite an uprising among Spanish Moriscos. In addition, "some four thousand Turks and Berbers had come into Spain to fight alongside the insurgents in the Alpujarras",[6] a region near Granada and an obvious military threat. "The excesses committed on both sides were without equal in the experience of contemporaries; it was the most savage war to be fought in Europe that century."[6] After the Castilian forces defeated the Islamic insurgents, they expelled some eighty thousand Moriscos from the Granada Province. Most settled elsewhere in Castile. The 'Alpujarras Uprising' hardened the attitude of the monarchy. As a consequence, the Spanish Inquisition increased prosecution and persecution of Moriscos after the uprising.

Huguenot support

Further information: Islam and Protestantism

French Huguenots were in contact with the Moriscos in plans against the House of Austria (Habsburgs), which ruled Spain in the 1570s.[7] Around 1575, plans were made for a combined attack of Aragonese Moriscos and Huguenots from Béarn under Henri de Navarre against Spanish Aragon, in agreement with the king of Algiers and the Ottoman Empire, but these projects floundered with the arrival of John of Austria in Aragon and the disarmament of the Moriscos.[8][9] In 1576, the Ottomans planned to send a three-pronged fleet from Istanbul, to disembark between Murcia and Valencia; the French Huguenots would invade from the north and the Moriscos accomplish their uprising, but the Ottoman fleet failed to arrive.[8]

Toward the end of the 16th century, Morisco writers challenged the perception that their culture was alien to Spain. Their literary works expressed early Spanish history in which Arabic-speaking Spaniards played a positive role. Chief among such works is Verdadera historia del rey don Rodrigo by Miguel de Luna (c. 1545–1615).[10]


At the instigation of the Duke of Lerma and the Viceroy of Valencia, Archbishop Juan de Ribera, Philip III expelled the moriscos from Spain between 1609 (Valencia) and 1614 (Castile).[11] They were ordered to depart "under the pain of death and confiscation, without trial or sentence... to take with them no money, bullion, jewels or bills of exchange... just what they could carry."[12] Estimates for the number expelled have varied, although contemporary accounts set the number at around 300,000 (about 4% of the Spanish population). The majority were expelled from the Crown of Aragon (modern day Aragon, Catalonia and Valencia), particularly from Valencia, where Morisco communities remained large, visible and cohesive; and Christian animosity was acute, particularly for economic reasons. Some historians have blamed the subsequent economic collapse of the Spanish Eastern Mediterranean coast on the region's inability to replace Morisco workers successfully with Christian newcomers. Many villages were totally abandoned as a result. New laborers were fewer in number and were not as familiar with local agricultural techniques. In the Kingdom of Castille (including Andalusia, Murcia and the former kingdom of Granada), by contrast, the scale of Morisco expulsion was much less severe. This was due to the fact that their presence was less felt as they made up a considerably smaller percentage of the total population, as well as the government ordered internal dispersion of Morisco communities after the War of the Alpujarras, making them a less distinct group that soon began to merge with and disappear into the wider society.

Adult Moriscos were often assumed to be covert Muslims (i.e. crypto-Muslims), but expelling their children presented Catholic Spain with a dilemma. As the children had all been baptized, the government could not legally or morally transport them to Muslim lands. Some authorities proposed that children should be forcibly separated from their parents, but sheer numbers showed this to be impractical. Consequently, the official destination of the expellees was generally stated to be France (more specifically Marseille). After the assassination of Henry IV in 1610, about 150,000 moriscos went there.[13][14] Most of the Moriscos migrated from Marseille to North Africa, with only about 40,000 settling permanently in France.[15][16]

The overwhelming majority of the refugees settled in Muslim-held lands, mostly in the Ottoman Empire (Algeria and Tunisia) or Morocco. However they were ill-fitted with their Spanish language and European customs.

During the reign of Sultan

Scholars have noted that many Moriscos joined the Barbary Corsairs, who had a network of bases from Morocco to Libya. In the Corsair Republic of Sale, they became independent of Moroccan authorities and profitted of trade and piracy. Also, Morisco mercenaries in the service of the Moroccan sultan, using arquebuses, crossed the Sahara and conquered Timbuktu and the Niger Curve in 1591. Their descendants formed the ethnic group of the Arma. A Morisco worked as a military advisor for Sultan Al-Ashraf Tumanbay II of Egypt (the last Egyptian Mamluk Sultan) during his struggle against the Ottoman invasion in 1517 led by Sultan Selim I. The Morisco military advisor advised Sultan Tumanbay to use infantry armed with guns instead of depending on cavalry. Arabic sources recorded that Moriscos of Tunisia, Libya and Egypt joined Ottoman armies. Many Moriscos of Egypt joined the army in the time of Muhammad Ali of Egypt.

Numerous Moriscos remained in Spain, living among the Christian population. Some stayed on for genuine religious reasons, some for merely economic reasons. It is estimated that in the kingdom of Granada alone, between 10,000 and 15,000 Moriscos remained after the general expulsion of 1609.[17]

The number of Moriscos which remained following the edict is subject to historical debate, although recent historians agree both that the original morisco population and the number of them who avoided expulsion is higher than was previously thought.

According to Professor Dwight Reynolds "perhaps the most shocking thing in the expulsion is they were not actually expelling Arabs nor were they expelling Berbers. The huge majority of the people that were being expelled, by blood, by DNA if you will, were as Iberian as their Christian cousins in the North who were kicking them out of Peninsula".[18]

Genetic legacy of Moors in Spain

Although most Moriscos were of Iberian descent, a significant number were descended from non-Europeans (mainly Moors - the combined term for Arabs, Berbers and other foreign non-Spanish Muslims). A number of studies have tried to find out the genetic impact of non-European Muslim populations on the modern Spanish and Portuguese populations, through comparison of genetic markers in Spain and Portugal with North Africa and the Near East. The most recent and thorough study about Moorish influence in the Iberian Peninsula was conducted April 2013 by Pompeu Fabra University using genome-wide SNP data for over 2000 individuals. This study concluded that the Iberian Peninsula holds significantly higher levels of both North African and Sub-Saharan ancestry than the rest of the European continent with a sharp difference between the Iberia and France. Estimates of shared ancestry with North African populations were found to be much higher than previously reported, accounting for up to 20% of individual genomes, whereas these do not exceed 2% in Southern European populations outside Spain and Portugal and are practically inexistent north of the Pyrenees.[19]

Priorly, Capelli et al. 2009 reported that North African male haplogroups, especially E1b1b1b (E-M81), E1b1b1a-b (M78 derived chromosomes showing the rare DYS439 allele 10, or E-V65) and a subset of J1 (M267 derived), represented, on average, 7-8% of the current Iberian male lineages.[20]

Historically introduced NW African types in Iberia (Capelli et al. (2009))
Sample N E1b1b1b (M81) E1b1b1a-b (V65) J1 (subset) Total %
Spain 717 5.2 1 1.5 7.7
Portugal 659 5 0.3 1.8 7.1
Iberia 1376 5.1 0.7 1.7 7.4

A number of studies focus on the genetic impact of the Morisco community on the modern Spanish population. Iberia has a significant presence of the typically North African Y-chromosome haplotype marker E-M81, largely absent in the rest of Europe.[21][22] and Haplotype Va.[23] A thorough Y-chromosome analysis of the Iberian peninsula reveals that haplotype E-M81 surpasses frequencies of 10% in Southern Iberia.[24] As for Mtdna analysis (Mitochondrial DNA), although present at only low levels, Iberia has much higher frequencies of typically North African Haplogroup U6 than those generally observed in Europe.[25][25][26][26][27][28] It is difficult to ascertain whether U6's presence is the consequence of Islam's expansion into Europe during the Middle Ages, or it is rather the result of ancient demic processes that predate the Islamic presence.[27][29]

According to a widely publicized recent study (December 2008) published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, 19.8 percent of modern Iberians (Spain + Portugal) have DNA reflecting Near Eastern and 10.6 percent having DNA reflecting North African ancestors.[28] The study's speculation on Sephardic origin of the Levantine markers has been widely contested since it is likely that such markers also reflect other migrations from the Near East such as what medieval Andalusians called "Syrians", earlier Phoenician colonization or even population movements during the Neolithic.[27][28][28][30][31][32][33][34] Chris Tyler-Smith, a collaborator with the team that carried the study,[35] argues that the individual differences in Y-chromosome markers suggests a common ancestry more recent than several millennia.[36]

According to another DNA study by the University of Leeds (2008) of the Y chromosome amongst the current population of Iberia suggests that 11% of Iberian males have traces of Moorish ancestry.[37] Results regarding the "Jewish" genetic markers have come under similar criticism as the 2009 study mentioned above.[33][38][39][40][41][42][43][44] Earlier genetic studies done in Spain estimated the Moorish contribution from a range of 2.5/3.4%[45] to 7.7%.[46]


Miguel de Cervantes' writings, such as Don Quixote and Conversation of the Two Dogs, offer ambivalent views of Moriscos. In the first part of Don Quixote (before the expulsion), a Morisco translates a found document containing the Arabic "history" that Cervantes is merely "publishing". In the second part, after the expulsion, Ricote is a Morisco and a former neighbor of Sancho Panza. He cares more about money than religion, and left for Germany, from where he returned as a false pilgrim to unbury his treasure. He admits, however, the righteousness of their expulsion. His daughter Ana Félix is brought to Berbery but suffers since she is a sincere Christian.

Extended meaning

In historical studies of minoritisation, morisco is sometimes applied to other historical crypto-Muslims, in places such as Norman Sicily, 9th-century Crete, and other areas along the medieval Christian-Muslim frontier.

In the racial classification of colonial Spanish America, morisco was used as a term for the child of a mulatto and Spaniard.

Descendants and Spanish citizenship

In October 2006, the Andalusian Parliament asked the three parliamentary groups that form the majority to support an amendment that would ease the way for morisco descendants to gain Spanish citizenship. The proposal was originally made by IULV-CA, the Andalusian branch of the United Left.[47] Spanish Civil Code Art. 22.1, in its current form, provides concessions to nationals of the Ibero-American countries, Andorra, the Philippines, Equatorial Guinea, and Portugal as well as to the descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled by Spain. It allows them to seek citizenship after two years rather than the customary ten years required for residence in Spain.[48]

This measure could benefit about five million Moroccan citizens, who are considered to be descendants of moriscos. It could also benefit an indeterminate number of people in Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania, Libya, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey.[49] However, finding proof of Morisco ancestry is not easy, unlike what happens with Sephardic Jews, who still speak a language closely related to Spanish.

Since 1992 some Spanish and Moroccan historians and academics have been demanding equitable treatment for Moriscos similar to that offered to Sephardic Jews. The bid was welcomed by Mansur Escudero, the chairman of Islamic Council of Spain.[50]

See also


  • Moriscos of Spain: Their Conversion and Expulsion, by H. C. Lea, (London 1901)


Further reading

  • Barletta, Vincent. Covert Gestures: Crypto-Islamic Literature as Cultural Practice in Early Modern Spain. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005.
  • Domínguez Ortiz, Antonio and Bernard Vincent. Historia de los moriscos: Vida y tragedia de una minoría. Madrid: Alianza, 1978.
  • Drummond Braga, Isabel M. R. Mendes. Mouriscos e cristãos no Portugal quinhentista: Duas culturas e duas concepções religiosas em choque. Lisbon: Hugin, 1999.
  • García-Arenal, Mercedes. Los moriscos. Madrid: Editora Nacional, 1975.
  • Harvey, L. P. Muslims in Spain, 1500 to 1614. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.
  • Mary Elizabeth Perry, The Handless Maiden: Moriscos and the Politics of Religion in Early Modern Spain, Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 2005.
  • Gerard A. Wiegers. Islamic Literature in Spanish and Aljamiado: Iça of Segovia (fl. 1450), His antecedents and Successors. Leiden: Brill, 1994.
  • Bernabé Pons, Luis F., Los moriscos. Conflicto, expulsión y diáspora, Madrid: Catarata, 2009.

External links

Template:NIE Poster

  • A web site is dedicated to the research and study of the Moriscos –
  • Alhadith, a web resource at Stanford University for students and scholars of Morisco language and culture
  • 1911 Encyclopedia
  • The expulsion of Muslims from Spain by Professor Roger Boase
  • Columbia Encyclopedia
  • Aljamiado-morisco manuscripts
  • Treaty of Granada
  • Moriscos culture influence in Morocco. Study in Spanish with Arabic translation
  • ´The Moriscos of Spain, their conversion and expulsion´ by Lea, Henry Charles

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