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?

  • 2
    This is explained in detail on Wikipedia. Please review that first and ask here if you have a specific, unanswered question. – Semaphore Oct 1 '15 at 11:58
  • 1
    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 '15 at 12:21
  • 5
    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 '15 at 16:47
  • 4
    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 '15 at 23:07
  • 3
    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 '15 at 0:43

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 '18 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).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.