The Moors is the ancient name for the indigenous nomadic Berber people in North Africa, who converted to Islam in the 7th century. The name corresponds to the kingdom of the Mauri, Mauretania, which its last king Bocchus II willed to Octavian in 33 BCE, after which it became the Roman province of Mauretania. Mauretania lay in present day Morocco and Western Algeria. The name of Mauri was applied by the Romans to all non-romanized natives of North Africa still ruled by their own chiefs, until the 3rd century AD.
Since the Mauri were a dark-skinned people in comparison to Europeans, 'Moor' came to be applied indiscriminately by English speakers to blacks, muslims, saracens, Persians or Indians. Shakespeare's Othello was 'the Moor of Venice.' During the 17th century, Africans were sometimes distinguished from others as blackamoors.
In 711 AD, some Moors invaded Visigoth Christian Spain. Under their leader Tariq ibn-Ziyad they brought most of Spain under Islamic rule in an eight-year campaign. They attempted to move northeast across the Pyrenees Mountains but were defeated by the Frank Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours in 732. The Moors ruled in Spain, except for small areas in the northwest and largely Basque regions in the Pyrenees, and in North Africa for several decades. The Moorish state suffered civil conflict in the 750s.
The country then broke up into a number of mostly Islamic fiefdoms, which were consolidated under the Caliphate of Cordoba. Christian states based in the north and west slowly extended their power over Spain. Galicia, León, Navarre, Aragon, Catalonia or Marca Hispanica, and eventually Castile became Christian in the next several centuries. This period is known for the tolerant acceptance of Christians, Muslims and Jews living in the same territories. Although, the Caliphate of Córdoba collapsed in 1031 and the Islamic territory in Spain came to be ruled by North African Moors.
In 1212 a coalition of Christian kings under the leadership of Alfonso VIII of Castile drove the muslims from Central Spain. However the Moorish Kingdom of Granada thrived for three more centuries. This kingdom is known in modern time for architectural gems such as the Alhambra. On January 2, 1492, the leader of the last Muslim stronghold in Granada surrendered to armies of a recently united Christian Spain. The remaining Muslim were forced to leave Spain or convert to Christianity. These descendants of the Muslims were named moriscos. They were an important portion of the peasants in some territories, like Aragon, Valencia or Andalusia, until their systematic expulsion in the years from 1609 to 1614. Henre Lapeyre has estimated that this affected 300,000 out of a total of 8 million inhabitants at the time.
In the meantime, the tide of Islamic conquest had rolled not just westward to Spain, but also eastward, through India, the Malayan peninsula, and Indonesia, up to Mindanao, one of the major islands of an archipelago, which the Spanish had reached during their voyages westward from the New World. By 1521, the ships of Magellan had themselves reached that island archipelago, which they named the Philippines, after Philip II of Spain. On Mindanao, the Spanish also named these kris-bearing people as Moros, or 'Moors'. See Reconquista.
See also: Islamic architecture, Othello, the Moor of Venice, Blackamoor
Not to be confused with moor land.