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History Medieval

To Live Like a Moor

Christian Perceptions of Muslim Identity in Medieval and Early Modern Spain

by (author) Olivia Remie Constable

edited by Robin Vose

contributions by David Nirenberg

series edited by Ruth Mazo Karras

University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.
Initial publish date
Feb 2018
Medieval, Spain & Portugal
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Feb 2018
    List Price
    $55.00 USD

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What do clothing, bathing, or dining habits reveal about one's personal religious beliefs? Nothing, of course, unless such outward bodily concerns are perceived to hold some sort of spiritual significance. Such was the case in the multireligious world of medieval Spain, where the ways in which one dressed, washed, and fed the body were seen as potential indicators of religious affiliation. True faith might be a matter of the soul, but faith identity could also literally be worn on the sleeve or reinforced through performance of the most intimate functions of daily life.
The significance of these practices changed over time in the eyes of Christian warriors, priests, and common citizens who came to dominate all corners of the Iberian peninsula by the end of the fifteenth century. Certain "Moorish" fashions occasionally crossed over religious lines, while visits to a local bathhouse and indulgence in a wide range of exotic foods were frequently enjoyed by Muslims, Christians, and Jews alike. Yet at the end of the Middle Ages, attitudes hardened. With the fall of Granada, and the eventual forced baptism of all Spain's remaining Muslims, any perceived retention of traditional "Moorish" lifestyles might take on a sinister overtone of disloyalty and resistance. Distinctive clothing choices, hygienic practices, and culinary tastes could now lead to charges of secret allegiance to Islam. Repressive legislation, inquisitions, and ultimately mass deportations followed.
To Live Like a Moor traces the many shifts in Christian perceptions of Islam-associated ways of life which took place across the centuries between early Reconquista efforts of the eleventh century and the final expulsions of Spain's converted yet poorly assimilated Morisco population in the seventeenth. Using a wealth of social, legal, literary, and religious documentation in this, her last book, Olivia Remie Constable revealed the complexities and contradictions underlying a historically notorious transition from pluralism to intolerance.

About the authors

Contributor Notes

Olivia Remie Constable (1960-2014) was the Robert M. Conway Director of the Medieval Institute and Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. She was author of Trade and Traders in Muslim Spain: The Commercial Realignment of the Iberian Peninsula 900-1500 and Housing the Stranger in the Mediterranean World: Lodging, Trade, and Travel in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources, her monumental collection of primary source material, is also available from the University of Pennsylvania Press. Robin Vose is Professor of History at St. Thomas University, New Brunswick, Canada. David Nirenberg is the Deborah R. and Edgar D. Jannotta Distinguished Service Professor of Social Thought, Medieval History, Romance Languages and Literatures, and the College at the University of Chicago.

Excerpt: To Live Like a Moor: Christian Perceptions of Muslim Identity in Medieval and Early Modern Spain (by (author) Olivia Remie Constable; edited by Robin Vose; contributions by David Nirenberg; series edited by Ruth Mazo Karras)

Editor's Preface
"Perceptions" of Islam, and their development over time, form the topic of this book. But where others have explored such perceptions above all as they were expressed in a select corpus of contemporary theological, legal, or literary texts, Olivia Remie Constable's approach here was rather that of a wide-ranging social historian. The author's ability to glean evidence from a dizzying array of archival documents, manuscript and printed volumes, architectural remains, and material objects permitted her to weave together precisely the sort of nuanced and colorful tapestry that best represents the complexities of lived—as opposed to idealized—experience. "A long process of hunting and gathering," she once called her method; or "trying to piece together a jigsaw puzzle of unknown design, in which many of the pieces are missing and some of the available pieces are borrowed from other apparently similar puzzles." From legal and economic documents to chronicles (both royal and more localized) and cookbooks, religious treatises, travelers' accounts, poetry, artistic representations—Olivia Remie Constable was able to draw on all these and more to work out a more comprehensive and nuanced sense of just how medieval and early modern Iberian Christians' perceptions of their Muslim neighbors actually manifested and changed over the course of more than five centuries.
The tensions evident between any one source's depiction and the composite images resulting from a more expansive and inclusive approach are reflected in Constable's conscious decision to frame her analysis (at least initially) around the testimony of a single Morisco elder: Francisco Núñez Muley. Taking her lead from his passionate denunciation of the Christian regime's criminalization of heretofore licit practices widespread among the formerly Muslim population of Granada, she identified three major categories of behavior that were deemed to be unacceptable markers of "Islamic" identity by the middle of the sixteenth century: the adoption of certain types of clothing and appearance, certain approaches to bathing and hygiene, and use of traditional Arabic forms of communication (including naming and musical performance as well as speech and text). Yet a fourth category, left unmentioned by Núñez Muley in this text, also emerges in many other sources as an equally important area of dispute and a marker of difference: certain types of food preparation and consumption. This latter category had to be given due consideration, even if it did not always strike one relatively acculturated and privileged male witness as being worthy of comment, if a full picture of past experience was to be effectively rendered.
Constable's great original insight and research contribution with this book was to document how day-to-day cultural habits—especially habits that were bodily in nature, and in particular those that could be specifically linked to female bodies—became a primary focal point of anti-Muslim sentiment from the later Middle Ages to the beginning of the early modern period. Quite apart from their concerns over Islamic theological beliefs, Spanish Christians became increasingly antipathetic to the ways in which Spanish Muslims (and many of their converted Morisco descendants) dressed, bathed, spoke, and ate. These seemingly innocuous daily practices served as lightning rods for struggles over distinctiveness, assimilation, and the limits of toleration in the Iberian Peninsula. It was both by listening closely to what Francisco Núñez Muley had to say and by going beyond his singular perspective to see how other aspects of the same problem actually emerged over a long period of time that Remie Constable was able to bring together and make coherent such a vast mass of otherwise discordant information on such a very important topic. The result is a careful presentation of how and (where possible) why attitudes fitfully evolved to arrive at the tragic experiences of Núñez Muley's generation and the subsequent final expulsion of their children and grandchildren from Iberian soil.
The decision to seek publication of a work that, while near completion in many ways, remained unfinished at the time of its author's illness and death, was not taken lightly. There was, in particular, a problem with one of the four analytic sections originally intended for study. Constable had completed much of her research on the topic of language, naming practices, and songs, however the draft chapter laying out this information existed only in an incomplete outline. After much discussion, first with Remie herself and later with several of her closest confidants, it was reluctantly decided that only the three most complete of the four sections, those on dress, bathing, and food, should be submitted for publication as a coherent piece of scholarship that could stand proudly on its own merits. This meant leaving out a key planned chapter on evolving Spanish Christian perceptions of the Arabic language, and related linguistic and musical performances, as markers of religious identity. The importance of these topics to the original project remains evident in Professor Constable's introductory chapter, and there seemed no reason to hide it or to gloss over the resulting gap.
The virtue of this approach has been to retain, as much as possible, Remie Constable's own voice. The editor's role has been deliberately minimal. For the most part, it was limited to careful checking and rechecking of references, polishing and standardization of format, and completion of occasional unfinished thoughts (usually following meticulously recorded prompts from the author's own notes). Brief conclusions were imposed on each chapter for the sake of closure—Constable had deliberately left them open-ended because she was always adding more data, and consequently adjusting her ideas, to the very end. The only substantial research contribution by the editor appears in subsections relating to the use of henna (in Chapter 2), the impact of syphilis on questions of bathing hygiene (in Chapter 3), and the use of implements such as forks (in Chapter 4); further bibliographical information on modern debates over Islamic veiling was also added to Chapter 1. All these additions were scripted by Olivia Remie Constable's notes, with generous hints and clues to be followed, but any errors or distortions inadvertently introduced therein should not be held to her account.

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