Upper March

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The Upper March, as the northwest part of the Caliphate of Córdoba.

The Upper March (in Arabic: الثغر الأعلى‎, aṯ-Tagr al-A'la; in Spanish: Marca Superior) was an administrative and military division in northeast Al-Andalus, roughly corresponding to the Ebro valley and adjacent Mediterranean coast, from the 8th century to the early 11th century. It was established as a frontier province, or march, of the Emirate, later Caliphate of Córdoba, facing the Christian lands of the Carolingian Empire's Marca Hispanica, the Asturo-Leonese marches of Castile and Alava, and the nascent autonomous Pyrenean principalities. In 1018, the decline of the central Cordoban state allowed the lords of the Upper March to establish in its place the Taifa of Zaragoza.

Formation of the Upper March[edit]

Following the Muslim conquest of the majority of the Iberian peninsula, the lands of what would become the Upper March were granted to Arab and Berber troops that had participated in the invasion, but unlike other regions, the Ebro valley saw a large number of native families being allowed to keep their lands in exchange for the their conversion to Islam and oaths of fealty. When a Berber Revolt in the early 740s destabilized the frontier, the neighboring Christian Kingdom of Asturias moved into the depopulated lands bordering the Upper March to the west, while Pepin the Strong moved from the north into Septimania in the 750s, establishing the extent of the Upper March. In response to these challenges, an Arab leader in the Ebro valley, Hubab al Zuhri, joined in a 754 rebellion against the leadership in Córdoba, and offered refuge to the exiled Umayyad prince, Abd al-Rahman I, who ended up conquering Al-Andalus to establish the Emirate of Córdoba in 756. He formally established three marches on his frontiers, with the Lower March (aṯ-Ṯaḡr al-Adna) in the northwest, the Middle March (aṯ-Ṯaḡr al-Awsaṭ) in the center-north, and the Upper March, administered out of Zaragoza, in the northeast.

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Coras of the Upper March, by mapping constituent towns: Barbitaniya (red); Huesca (turquoise); Lleida (blue); Zaragoza (black); Calatayud (orange); Tudela (green); Barusa (pink)

The Upper March consisted of several coras (territorial subdivisions): Barbitaniya, stretching from the north of the present province of Huesca, with its capital in Barbastro, and also including the towns of Boltaña and Alquézar; Washka, based in Huesca and including the fort of Bolea; Lleida, which included Mequinenza and Fraga; Zaragoza, both politically and economically the principal cora of the Upper March, centered on the city of the same name but also including Zuera, Ricla, Muel, Belchite, Alcañiz and Calanda; Calatayud, including its eponymous city as well as Maluenda and Daroca; Tudela, which included the cities of Tarazona and Borja and extended to the current La Rioja; and the smallest, Barusa, organized along the Rio Petri, with its capital in Molina de Aragón, and bordering Santaveria, in the Middle March. The first two of these coras, Barbitaniya and Huesca, formed a subdivision of the Upper March called the Distant or Farthest March (aṯ-Ṯaḡr al-‘Aqṣā).

Failed Carolingian expansion[edit]

The nobility of the Upper March remained fractious. In 774, Husayn of Zaragoza rebelled against Umayyad Córdoba, proclaiming for the Abbasids, and the Emir sent an army to subjugate the march. Then in 778, Sulayman ibn Yaqdhan al Arabi of Barcelona sent envoys to Charlemagne, offering his fealty along with that of Abu Taur of Huesca and Husayn of Zaragoza in exchange for his support in their rebellion against Córdoba. The Frankish monarch marched south and took Barcelona, but when he arrived at Zaragoza he found the marcher lords to have had a change of heart, and the city was closed to him. After an unsuccessful siege, Charlemagne withdrew through the Pyrenees, where his rear guard was ambushed at the Battle of Roncevaux Pass. This marked the end of significant Frankish attempts to expand into Iberia, and in 795 Charlemagne would establish the Marca Hispanica in the eastern Pyrenees to serve as a buffer between his realm and the Upper March, while the two realms continued to compete for influence in the western Pyrenees, among the Basques. At Pamplona, Muhammad ibn Musa was assassinated in 798, while a Christian army led by Velasco the Gascon was defeated by Emirate armies in 816. This defeat would lead to the ascendancy, as clients of Córdoba, of a native Basque dynasty allied by blood to the Muwallad lords of the Upper March as rulers of the nascent state of Pamplona.

Muwallad rivalry and ascendance[edit]

In 781, the emir succeeded in forcing the submission of Husayn in Zaragoza, who had murdered Sulayman in 780, but in 785 the latter's son, Mutrah, rebelled and took Huesca and Zaragoza, before he in turn was murdered by his servants, the kinsmen Amrus ibn Yusuf and Shabrit, in 791/2. The Emirate brought the loyalty of Amrus by granting him Toledo, but in 798 another Zaragoza rebel, Bahlul Ibn Marzuq, took Huesca from the Banu Salama, and this led to the return of Amrus from Toledo into the Upper March. Amrus expelled Bahlul and fortified Tudela. Another rebellion in Zaragoza, this time led by Furtun ibn Musa of the Banu Qasi, was likewise crushed by Amrus, who then was given control of Zaragoza and the Upper March, which he held for almost a decade. There followed a period of conflict among two Muwallad kindreds, descendants of native Iberian families that had converted to Islam, with the Banu Amrus, along with their kin the Banu Shabrit and Banu al-Tawil, pitted against their rivals the Banu Qasi, both competing with a family of Arab origin, the Banu Tujibi, for control of the region. The Banu Amrus and Banu Qasi each had power bases in multiple coras, and would in turn be granted overall control of the Upper March along with the right to collect taxes and to accompany the Emirate armies on their lucrative raiding into the Christian lands. Thus enriched, they would then defy the Emir, leading to a punitive campaign and the establishment of a member of a competing family in their place.

The death of Amrus, probably in 813/4, led to the ascendance of the Banu Qasi, and in 840, their leader Musa ibn Musa ibn Qasi rebelled against Córdoba in concert with his half-brother, Íñigo Arista of Pamplona. Over the next decade he went through several rounds of rebellion and reconciliation with the Emirate that ended with him being made governor of the Upper March. He would rise to such prominence during this period that he would be called 'the Third King of Hispania', suggesting power equivalent to that of the King of Asturias and the Emir of Córdoba. However, his power in the Upper March came to an end when he suffered a crushing defeat against the combined armies of Asturias and Pamplona in 860 at the Battle of Monte Laturce. Severely weakened, Musa was deprived by the emir of all his titles.

There followed a decade-long eclipse of the Banu Qasi. Musa ibn Galind, thought to have been grandson of their kinsman Íñigo Arista, was holding power in the Banu Qasi's home city of Huesca when in 870, Amrus ibn Umar of the Banu Amrus killed him and rebelled in alliance with the dead governor's Christian uncle, García Íñiguez of Pamplona, but was shortly enticed back into allegiance by being given Toledo. However, his rebellion allowed the resurgence of the Banu Qasi, and Musa ibn Musa's sons quickly reestablished power on the Upper March, starting in Huesca, then gaining control of Zaragoza, Monzon, Lleida and Tudela, while forming a marriage alliance with the Banu Jalaf of Barbitanya. To balance their power, the Emir installed the Arab Banu Tujibi family in Calatayud, and their pressure forced Muhammad ibn Lubb ibn Qasi to sell Zaragoza in 885. When the Banu Qasi again rebelled, the Emir captured and crucified several members of the family, giving Zaragoza to a different branch of the Banu Tujibi in 886. Control of Huesca went to Muhammad al-Tawil of the Banu Shabrit, who in 887 killed the last of his Banu Amrus kinsmen and in 890 defeated a Banu Qasi rebellion led by Isma'il ibn Musa, uncle of Muhammad ibn Lubb. He claimed the lands of the defeated Isma'il, but the Emir would not risk such an increase in his power and instead granted them to Muhammad ibn Lubb, who had supported the Emir against Isma'il.

Muhammad ibn Lubb tried to reverse these family losses by carrying out a multi-year siege of Banu Tujibi-held Zaragoza, which would only end when he was killed outside the city's walls in 898. His son Lubb ibn Muhammad experienced a period of success, twice defeating al-Tawil's armies, capturing the latter and requiring an exorbitant ransom, and in 897 he defeated and killed his Christian neighbor, Wilfred the Hairy of Barcelona.

In the early 10th century, the dynamics of the Upper March were fundamentally altered by changes in the leadership of the states to the north and south. In 905, the Córdoba client Fortún Garcés of Pamplona was supplanted by the anti-Muslim Sancho I, and when in 907 Lubb attacked the new king, he was ambushed and killed. Similarly, in 911 al-Tawil allied himself with Abd Allah ibn Muhammad, Lubb's brother and successor, to attack Sancho and they were in turn crushed. Meanwhile, the vigorous Abd ar-Rahman III became Emir of Córdoba in 912, later declaring it a Caliphate, and the marcher lords found themselves pressed by monarchs to the north and south who had both set their sights on controlling the Upper March, in addition to the constant pressure from the Kingdom of Asturias to their west. Amidst this struggle, the Banu Qasi became embroiled in internecine contests that allowed the armies of Córdoba, Pamplona and Ribagorza-Pallars to take their lands, force them into fealty, or force them to flee, with the last of the Banu Qasi to rule, Muhammad ibn Lubb, being killed in 929.

With the removal of the Banu Qasi, the Banu al-Tawil, whose father Muhammad al-Tawil had been killed in 913 in a campaign against Barcelona, jockeyed with each other and the Banu Tujibi for control over the coras of the Upper March. In spite of progressive alliances with Pamplona, Ribagorza, the Caliphate and even in 931/2 with Muhammad ibn Hasim of the rival Banu Tujibi, they were progressively marginalized. They continued to hold Huesca into the second half of the century, but lost their other holdings and could never again challenge for the control of the Upper March.

Ascendance of the Banu Tujibi[edit]

The Banu Tujibi, granted Catalayud in 872 and Zaragoza in 886, now become the uncontested lords of the Upper March. They in turn rebelled against Abd ar-Rahman III, and were briefly forced or coerced into alliance with Ramiro II of Leon. Córdoba brought them back into submission, and the Banu Tujibi head, Abu Yahya, was captured in the defeat of Caliph's army at the Battle of Simancas in 939. He was released in 941 and restored in Zaragoza by 942, to serve as Cordoba's proxy against Ramiro's allies in Pamplona. The Banu Tujibi allied themselves in 983 with Almanzor, de facto ruler of Córdoba, but were again deprived and their head killed in 989 when they conspired with his son. However, their power in the region made them irreplaceable and they were again restored. They reached the pinnacle of their power and brought the Upper March to an end in 1018, when after the formal overthrow of the Caliphs of Córdoba, Al-Mundhir ibn Yahya al-Tujibi declared independence, converting what remained of the Upper March into the Taifa of Zaragoza. This remained independent for almost a century under the Banu Tujibi and their successors, the Banu Hud, until it was conquered by the Almoravids in 1110. The region was permanently wrested from Muslim control by Alfonso I of Aragon in 1118.

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