I am confused by a bunch of different meanings for the word Moor. Were the Moors strictly the Spanish Muslims or all Muslims? Were the Moors all non-Christians in Spain or just Muslims? Who exactly was included in the Moors of Spain?

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    This is explained in detail on Wikipedia. Please review that first and ask here if you have a specific, unanswered question.
    – Semaphore
    Oct 1, 2015 at 11:58
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    After reading over that wiki page, it seems to me the first question is in fact the subject of that page, but the last two questions aren't specifically addressed very well there. For example, I can't tell from that page if a loyal native Jewish subject of Caliphate of Cordoba would be properly considered a "moor".
    – T.E.D.
    Oct 1, 2015 at 12:21
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    To add to the point, Christians living under Muslim rule were the Mozarabs (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mozarabs). Jews were always refered as Jews, either under Christian or Muslim rule. Having being taught the History of Spain and seen common usage of the Word, I do not remember a single instance in which it did not implied "Muslim". Remember that at the time, a different religión meant a completely different community (and laws and taxes), even within the same country, so those "limits" were very clearly cut out.
    – SJuan76
    Oct 1, 2015 at 16:47
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    Well, there is St. Benedict the Moor, who was most decidedly Christian, and got that moniker either due to his skin color or his heritage. So Christians could hold that designation.
    – T.E.D.
    Oct 1, 2015 at 23:07
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    I believe that Othello was only called a Moor because he was black and not because of his religion. There are several references in the play to the fact he is baptized.
    – SophArch
    Oct 2, 2015 at 0:43

4 Answers 4


As explained by Wikipedia, "Moors" are not a self-defined people, or reference to any one ethnicity, but a name used by (Christian) Europeans according to their own logic.

In the context of Spain, interestingly looking up the Royal Spanish Academy dictionary entry for moro gives us useful clues:

  • It is derived from the Latin "Maurus", in turn from Greek Μαῦρος "dark", which referred to the people of the Mauretania, an area roughly corresponding to today's Morocco and Algeria. They were called that due to their darker skin compared to Europeans.
  • Definition (1) and the related (2) in the dictionary refers to the people from "North Africa bordering Spain". This definition closely follows the original Latin definition.
  • Definition (3) refers to Muslims in general, but definition (4) and the related (5) refers to Muslim inhabitants of Spain "between the 8th and the 15th centuries". Note that this now includes Muslims native to the peninsula, who might or might not be dark-skinned or ethnically distinct from the Spanish Christians.

These definitions would later be expanded to cover more cases (e.g. Moros in the Philippines, or Indian "Moors" as called by the British, even any dark-skinned person in general). But for European context up to the medieval era, I believe the above definitions mostly suffice.

To cover corner cases brought up in comments and other answers:

  • Christians and Jews of Spain did not meet any of the above definitions (unless they come from or were associated with North Africa), so they were not called Moors as per SJuan76's observation.
  • Christians could be Moors if they're from North Africa, using the second definitions above. This explain Benedict the Moor as brought up by T.E.D.
  • I'm not sure what definition Shakespeare had in mind, but even if Othello was baptized he might still be a Moor in the sense of "North African" or even "dark skinned".
  • I read that the Word Moor is a derivative of the Greek word "Maurus" which meant "swarthy". So the North-african, Muslim or arab definitions alone do not suffice especially after Shakespeare used the term to describe Othello who is both dark skinned and non-muslim. Or what do you think.
    – user20490
    Aug 2, 2018 at 21:43

The term Moors refers to the Muslim inhabitants of the Maghreb, North Africa, the Iberian Peninsula, Sicily, and Malta during the Middle Ages, who initially were Berber and Arab peoples from North Africa.

Source: Wikipedia


The Moors were originally ethnic Arabs from the Arabian peninsula who captured and conquered both a Northwest African Berber land-(I do not know its original name) and renamed it, "Morocco", followed by the capture and conquest of the majority of Spain.

Religiously speaking, the original Arab/Moorish conquerors of Medieval Morocco and Spain were Muslim. Therefore, when referring to "The Moors" in historical terms, one is exclusively referring to the Arab Muslims of Morocco, much of Spain, (as well as a certain portion of Portugal,specifically, The Algarve/ Portuguese coast).


Complementing user6975 from the Portuguese side. There are two other Portuguese words that could help to separate the context, but in short, all these worlds can be loosely used and can mean anything. Moreover, never expect semantic precision from vendors of touristic stuff or lovers of the decorative arts. (In Spanish there are similar words, but I can not discuss nuances of Spanish):

Mourisco : the Muslims who converted to Christianity after the conquest of Granada; or Iberian artistic styles (mainly architecture) from the Muslim dominated period or influenced by them (today the word may be also loosely applied to any art with arabesques or oriental looking patterns). In Spanish there is a similar word

Mozarábico: a more specific word, it means the Christian people who lived under Muslim rule in Iberia - it may also refer to their dialects, arts or styles, and local church rite. If loosely used the meaning may include the Iberian Muslims too, or be synonym with mourisco. In Spanish there is also the word 'Mozarabe'.

Mouro is a much looser word - It certainly applies to the medieval Muslim invaders and rulers of Iberia, and to medieval North African Muslims, but it may be synonym with "Muslim", depending on context and speaker. It may even be the only word known for "Muslim" for uneducated people, often in the past before oil made the Muslim word more important and there were no TV or films. E.g., I would expect a early XX century poorly educated person be more likely to know the word "Mouro", from local historical tales or basic history at primary school, than the word "muçulmano" (Muslim), that he would not have a reason to hear, unless he reads or studies something about the world. Thus, I have seen old literature just use "Mouro" for "Muslim", as probably the writer would expect more people to understand.

There are place and surnames related to these words e.g., Mourinho (soccer coach), Mourão (Brazil's current vice-president),

  • Just a note on "moriscos": Although namely converted to Christianity, or at least forcefully baptised since 1492, most moriscos kept the Islamic religion and resisted assimilation until they were expelled in 1609-1614.
    – Pere
    Aug 14, 2023 at 14:36

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