Updated: May 16
Northwestern Africa, Kingdom of Mauretania.
There is a perfect equation between the Moors and the Berbers.
(historical) A Moor (member of a Berber people from western North Africa, ruling parts of Spain during the Middle Ages).
(archaic, potentially offensive) A black person, a negro.
The Golden Age of the Moors is a Berber epic with iconic figures like Roman Emperor of Moorish origin, Macrinus, Saint Augustine and Pople Victor.
Berbers are indigenous Africans west of the Nile Valley. They are found from western Egypt (Siwa Oasis) to Atlantic Morocco. The Tuareg of West-Central Sahara are also Berbers. The Berbers of the last frontier are found in northern Burkina Faso.
Why is there so much controversy about the origins and identity of the Moors?
The word Moor acquired a racial connotation in ancient and medieval Europe (even much later). The word Moor is an early English term for negro and was used a synonym for negro during the Middle Ages (and even before); the same for its equivalents in other European languages (Mohr, Murzyn, Mavros).
Biologist John Baker (1974) explains: The association of dark skin with the name of 'Moors' resulted eventually in the same term being applied to Negrids."
In the eyes of ancient and medieval Europeans, all the Moors were Blacks and all the Blacks were Moors. Saint Benedict, the Moor of Palermo, was not a Berber. Gannibal, the Moors of Peter the Great, was not a Berber. Many people in the Renaissance thought that black skin was the result of infection or dirt, and that it could be passed on to children (and even sexual partners - there are Renaissance stories of women who married Moors turning black themselves) like a sexually transmitted disease
"North African, Berber," late 14c., from http://O.Fr. More, from M.L. Morus, from L. Maurus "inhabitant of Mauritania" (northwest Africa, a region now corresponding to northern Algeria and Morocco), from Gk. Mauros, perhaps a native name, or else cognate with mauros "black".
Being a dark people in relation to Europeans, their name in the Middle Ages was a synonym for "Negro;"
Glossary of Archaic and Provincial Words: A Supplement to the ..., Volume 2 Jonathan Boucher, Joseph Hunter, Joseph Stevenson – 1833 A Moor that is a black, as the negro races were formerly accounted Moors.
The word Moor was replaced by the word Negro in a shipping register in 1606.
Black slaves were called Moors as late as 17th.
In early colonial America the word Moor was still commonly used for African slaves.
Sir John Hawkins, a notorious and early British slaver had a crest with a demi-Moor
Moors' from Oxford Islamic Studies Online
In the Latin Middle Ages, Mauri referred to a mixture of Berbers and Arabs inhabiting the coastal regions of Northwest Africa. In Spain, Portugal, and Italy, Mauri became Moros (Maures in French).
More commonly, however, it was a racial designation for dark-skinned or black peoples, as in its English usage, which is seen as early as the fourteenth century.
In the etymological dictionary of the French language by” Gilles Ménage (xvii century) More is defined as black or blackish man.
About the Moors of Spain we read in the same dictionary, we have called Moors or Moorish Arabs who conquered Spain because they came from Mauritania, that is to say the land of black or blackish men.
Mauretania, or Maurusia, as it was called by Greek writers, unquestionably signified the land of the Mauri, a term still retained in the modern name of Moors, and probably meaning originally nothing but "black men "
With the Moorish Islamic Empire, the word Moor acquired another connotation religious. All the dark skinned Muslims were called Moors. The Ottomans who were Muslims were never ever called Moors.
Actually, the Crusaders who fought against the Muslims made a clear distinction between the Moors, the Turks and the Saracens in heraldry.
The “Turk” is mustachioed, and bald save for a long topknot of hair; if he wears a turban, it is explicitly blazoned. When “proper”, he is Caucasian with black hair. The Turk is found in the canting arms of Turcha, c.1550 [BSB Cod.Icon 276:123]. Turks’ heads are more often found: they’re frequent in Hungarian armory, a remnant of that conflict during the 16th and 17th Centuries; they are found in the arms of Captain John Smith (of Pocahontas fame), granted 1603 [Volborth 122; Woodcock & Robinson 38-39].
The “Moor” or “blackamoor” is a Negroid human, unbearded and with nappy hair. If he wears headgear (a torse, a kerchief, &c), it is explicitly blazoned. When “proper”, he is dark brown with black hair. Moors and Mooresses are frequently found, especially for canting purposes, as in the arms of Mordeysen, 1605 [Siebmacher 160].
The “Saracen” is sometimes misblazoned as a “Moor” in mundane armory. The Society has accepted the definition of a Saracen as having Semitic features, bearded by default; his hair, when visible, is long and wavy. He’s most frequently shown turbaned, but some period examples show him crowned or torsed; in any case, the headgear is explicitly blazoned. Saracen’s heads are found, blazoned as “soldan’s (sultan’s) heads” in the canting arms of Sowdan, c.1460 [RH]; the full figure is found in the arms of Thomshirn or Thumbshirn, 1605 [Siebmacher 158].
When “proper”, the Saracen is black-haired, his skin slightly darker than Caucasian but still light-colored. (There were rare instances in period of dark brown Saracens [HCE xxxiv]; they should be blazoned “brown Saracens proper” in Society armory.
The earliest European account of the Moorish invasion of Spain, the Chronicle of 754, refers to the Visigothic capitulation, the so-called “loss of Spain” (perdida de España) at the hands of the “Arabs and Moors sent by Musa,” or Musa Ibn Nusayr, the Muslim governor of North Africa.
In the Estoria de Espanna (History of Spain), the first vernacular chronicle composed in Spain, we find a characteristic portrayal:
“All the Moorish soldiers were dressed with silk and black wool that had been forcibly acquired … their black faces were like pitch and the most handsome of them was as black as a cooking pan.”
The Spaniards immortalized the final defeat of the Moors in a very famous painting
Marcelino de Unceta was also influenced by the Romantic movement, such as in his painting "El suspiro del moro" ("The sigh of the Moor", a reference to King Boabdil of Granada). Unceta also painted the frescos that decorate the central dome of the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar in Zaragoza; the frescoes depict martyrs and bishops of Aragon.
Here are rare pictures of the original Moors.
They look just like their prime ancestors who were migrants from the Horn of Africa. Ancient Berbers, the African Moors looked like Horners.
As you arrive at the Philadelphia Art Museum and enter room 155 in the European Art section you are instantly struck by a powerful image there that stands out from the rest.
The image is a painting simply titled the Moorish Chief, and it is a sight to behold. What makes the painting so striking is that it is a powerful image of a black man from the past.
He is dressed in a white cloak and he is armed with a sword. In the background is the famous Islamic architecture of Spain known as the Alhambra. The Moors in an almost forgotten time invaded Europe and ruled over Spain for 700 years. Castles and beautiful structures like the Alhambra are the monuments and testaments that are all that is left, but are powerful reminders that they were once there. I think what is so mind blogging about the painting is that this powerful image runs counter to everything we have been taught about the African in history.
We were taught that he was either a savage or a slave, but yet here we are left staring at this "Moorish Chief" in wonderment.
Credit: Francoise Marie Quora correspondent