This documentary circa 01:07:20 discusses the Renaissance in Toledo. To me that seems plausible. The knowledge and culture brought by the Moors seems a much better catalyzer to escape the dark ages' mindset than whatever happened in Italy that's said to have triggered the Renaissance. I've heard once even that the knowledge of ancient Greece came into Europe through the Moors, actually translated from Arab. The word 'alchemy' is a sign this might have been the case.

The fall of Granada - the last Islamic state in the Iberian Peninsula - dates 1492, the same year that Christopher Columbus reached the New World and 8 years before Brazil was discovered. Interestingly I don't remember my Brazilian history teachers saying anything about Muslims in Europe, and God forbid they had nothing to do with the discovery of a whole new continent...

How much of the success in the Spanish and Portuguese colonization can be attributed to the Moorish occupation and what they brought (culture and knowledge) to the Iberian Peninsula?

Update 8-12-21

Obviously I knew that the Renaissance referred to the Italian Renaissance. But the term Renaissance of the 12th century is also used. And it's not farfetched to think that the THE Renaissance was greatly influenced by the Renaissance of the 12th century. From wikipedia:

The Renaissance of the 12th century was a period of many changes at the outset of the High Middle Ages. It included social, political and economic transformations, and an intellectual revitalization of Western Europe with strong philosophical and scientific roots. These changes paved the way for later achievements such as the literary and artistic movement of the Italian Renaissance in the 15th century and the scientific developments of the 17th century

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    The fact that you're using the term "dark ages" in earnest seems to indicate to me that you're going into this question with some prejudices and assumptions that have been thoroughly debunked by historians. Also note that Columbus himself was Italian.
    – Mike L.
    Apr 11 '16 at 14:12
  • 3
    I'm here to learn actually... Until now this is the best way I could formulate this question of mine... Also I'm not a historian. Would you please explain why and how the term 'dark ages' was debunked by historians? Thanks for reminding me that Columbus was Italian. Apr 11 '16 at 14:16
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    Basically, the term was invented by Renaissance Italians so they could feel superior over the primitive West Europeans they no longer ruled. Wikipedia has a lowdown of the history of the term: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_Ages_%28historiography%29
    – Mike L.
    Apr 11 '16 at 14:39
  • @CGCampbell I just added the link, thank you for pointing it out Apr 11 '16 at 14:50
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    Just a note the youtube channel your question seems to be based on is gone...
    – justCal
    Dec 8 '21 at 16:02

I think you can talk about potential Moorish influences on Iberian nautical expansion in following three areas:


By the 9th/10th Century, al-Andalus (Islamic Spain + Portugal) was by far the most advanced and wealthiest part of Western or Central Europe. When the northern Christian kingdoms expanded south, they were generally conquering places that were wealthier, more populous, and more (for example) agriculturally sophisticated, and they were able to profit from this. This undoubtedly contributed to the relative wealth of 15th Century Portugal and Aragon/Castille/Spain -- though by then other parts of Western Europe were probably equally wealthy.

Science and Technology

Starting in the 12th Century, Christian Europeans started translating (or commissioning translations by Muslim and Jewish scholars of) Arabic works of philosophy, mathematics, and science. (This included the considerable expansion on ancient Greek knowlege carried out by Arab and Persian scholars, in addition to the actual ancient Greek works that had been translated into Arabic.) Most of this took place in Spain, in the newly conquered bits under Christian control, though some also took place in southern Italy. This helped kick-start the first European universities (which is why some scholars refer to this as the "Twelfth Century Renaissance"). However, this new knowledge spread very rapidly throughout Western and Central Europe (part of it was scholars from places like France and Italy travelling to Iberia to request translations), so it wasn't as though the Iberian kingdoms had any sort of monopoly on this.

There's also the possibility that Northwest African naval technology -- and further developments in al-Andalus -- may have contributed to the development of the Portuguese caravel, which was so important for Iberian exploration. (There were other important technological developments that came to Europe from the Islamic lands, but those spread through the Mediterranean, and were at least as available to Italians as they were to Iberians, so it doesn't directly relate to "Moors in Iberia".)

(A side comment: when people talk about "the Renaissance" starting in Italy, they're referring to the Italian Renaissance, which did indeed start in Northern Italy in the 14th Century. This certainly built on the Twelfth Century Renaissance in some respects, but was a separate development; so saying that "the Renaissance started in Toledo, not Italy" isn't really correct.)

Expansionist spirit or ideology

Talking about historical "spirits" gets a bit dodgy, since it's very hard to agree on definitions or examples. Nonetheless, some people have argued that the enthusiastic, militant energy and expansion that characterized the Reconquista "spilled over" into the voyages of discovery (and subsequent conquests). In this sense, the Moors served mainly as an inspiring target...


"Some people believe that Renaissance started in Toledo". Who are these people? I think the prevailing opinion is that Renaissance started in Italy. By the way, Columbus came from Italy too.

And notice that his first voyage started in exactly the same year when the last Moorish kingdom fell, and Jews were expelled from Iberian peninsula. (As it is mentioned in the comments Moors were expelled later).

Speaking of the knowledge of antiquity. Some part of it was continuously preserved in Europe. Other parts come from two sources: Byzantine Empire and Islamic world. It is difficult to compare the contribution of these two sources, but both were important. And I suppose Byzantine influence was larger in Italy. Some connection between the Eastern Empire and Italy always existed, but very important was the immigration of intellectuals from the Eastern Empire when Constantinople was conquered by the Turks in 1453. At this time, 39 years before Columbus' first voyage a lot of people and a lot of books moved to Europe.

But I can give some specific examples of Moors contribution to Columbus voyage, and other voyages of discovery.

Alphonsine tables were developed in 1252 in Toledo. They were made by Toledo School of translators, from Islamic sources. First printed edition 1483, second 1492. Columbus used them for navigation. Alphonsine tables were used until the early 17s century.

Research institute of Henri the Navigator was established in the first half of 15s century, and it probably employed some Moorish cartographers, and certainly used Arabian literature.

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    If you watch the the documentary I linked in my post you will understand why I said "some people"... Thank you for you answer. I didn't know about the existence of the Alphonsine tables.. Apr 11 '16 at 19:11
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    @yurihbss: I do not study history from the movies.
    – Alex
    Apr 11 '16 at 19:26
  • Saying the moors where finally expelled from Spain is wrong en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expulsion_of_the_Moriscos , as the final expulsion began 1609, and yes1492 Granada fell, but most other Moorish Emirates have fallen long before that date. But 1+ for pointing at the Alfonsine tables of Yehuda ben Moshe and Isaac ibn Sid ...
    – Medi1Saif
    Jun 8 '16 at 6:44

TL; DR: Yes, there is a relationship, but not of the kind you probably think.

A lot has been written on how Columbus' journey of discovery was only made possible by the fact that he was hilariously wrong about his estimates of the size of the Earth. The man himself being Genovese, his estimate would have been based largely on Italian science which yes, was influenced by Arabic and Byzantine scholars. His knowledge of seamanship as well as the technology used in his ships also came from the same sources, and all he got from Queen Isabella was financial sponsorship.

How do Moors factor into this? While they did have significant influence on Hispanic culture, having carried on some of the legacy of the Visigothic kingdoms, probably the most important role of the Umayyad Caliphate in facilitating the discovery of the New World was keeping the Spanish Christian kingdoms occupied, fractured and at times subjugated.

In practical terms, this meant that while the Holy Roman Empire, France, England, Hungary and many others were busily re-developing Roman territories or developing previously undeveloped ones for centuries on end, Spanish kingdoms were too busy fighting for their dear life. This in turn meant that by the time they managed to firmly establish themselves by the end of the 15th century, all the choice real estate in continental Europe was taken.

I can't back this up with a primary source, but I believe the argument could be made that with continental Europe taken, the Mediterranean divided between Italians and the Islamic kingdoms and North Africa being firmly in Arab hands, the opportunity of expansion into India seemed to the Spaniards an attractive proposition, even if the chance of success was a slim one.

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    I don't think the Spanish & Portugese presence in the New World had much to do with choice real estate in Europe being taken. Rather, the colonization was almost an unintended side effect of trying to find trade routes to the East that bypassed the Venetian & Genoese control of the eastern Mediterranean. So instead of finding a trade route, Columbus and his immediate successors found a continent with lots of gold & silver and natives less well armed & organized than the Europeans. What would you expect them to do?
    – jamesqf
    Apr 12 '16 at 18:26
  • @jamesqf Judging by the earlier takeover of the Canary Islands and Ceuta by the Spanish and the Portuguese respectively, I'm inclined to say that they always expected to claim at least some territory, if just for seafaring convenience. A lack of powerful and dedicated opposition in the New World just meant that they could do so much more extensively at the same expense.
    – Mike L.
    Apr 12 '16 at 21:42
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    I guess I wasn't clear. I meant that the purpose of the initial exploration couldn't have been colonization, because they didn't know the Americas existed until Columbus ran into them. Likewise, the exploration around Africa was originally for trade routes: colonization (other than bases) came much later.
    – jamesqf
    Apr 13 '16 at 5:53
  • @jamesqf Well naturally they couldn't have expected to colonize Americas they didn't know were there. The argument of the answer is that it was the lack of available space for expansion that made them go maritime (looking for trade routes) instead, but they certainly weren't averse to snagging up some territory if the opportunity presented itself.
    – Mike L.
    Apr 13 '16 at 7:25
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    I don't think the desire for territorial expansion was the motivation for Iberian exploration, or indeed for most early European exploration. Rather, it was the desire for trade. Like the Venetians & Genoese, they wanted access to goods, not territories. Colonization came later.
    – jamesqf
    Apr 13 '16 at 18:11

It had more to do with the Reconquista.

There was a social pattern that Aragon, Castile, and Portugal developed as they "reconquered" the Iberian Peninsula. This same pattern was how they colonized the new world very rapidly and very cheaply.

In Reconquista a captain would gather fighting men with the promise of shares of any wealth or land they would capture. The captain would then attack nearby Moreish lands or Caribbean islands and try to conquer them. If he succeeded, he would found a town and send a letter back to the king saying he had claimed the land for the king and offering the traditional Quito Reyal, a fifth of the loot. The rest was split among the troops the captain would become mayor / governor and the new town would become the jumping off point for the next set of expiations.

The reason this was key was the cost. The crown paid nothing to have lands conquered for it, only appointing governors from successful conquests. They could afford to conquer the new world, and this was the important point. Columbus was not the first to discover the Americas, but Spain and Portugal were the first to conquer them. The Reconquista let them succeed were the Norse, Incas and Aztecs(Mexica) had been defeated.

Also key were the advancements in navigation funded by Hendry the Navigator of Portugal.


The battle of las navas de tolosa was in 1212. The biggest battle of the reconquista. Crusade (all Christian kingdoms with french voluntarees) vs Yihad (Afrikan knights, marrocan infantry, Turkish soldiers, Black afrikan tribes infantry etc...) After this battle the moorish occupation entered in a big depression losing major Andalusian cities until the final of XIII. century with The almogavars unit of Christian army that was extremely aggressive against muslims taking advantage of their weak situation. The muslims totally sunk asked for peace treaty. A treaty of nearly two centuries of peace. The spanish Christian kingdoms decided The almogavars to sent to Italy freeing them from their pressure.

Once the treaty was signed, The muslims retreated to the safe province of Granada, the last muslim fortress.

In 1484,Colon arrived to spain in the middle of Granada War.


In a backhanded way, yes.

First of all, the Arabs and Moors were driven out of Iberia 300 years before Columbus set sail, so at that point the effects from the occupation were of a historical nature.

Columbus' family was from Genoa. In those days there were two maritime empires: Genoa and Venice. This is where the most advanced technology and culture was situated. So, you might ask why did not Venice or Genoa discover the new world?

The answer is that they did not have the energy and sense of adventure and freedom. Both Genoa and Venice were hidebound with tradition and conservatism. That is why adventurers like Columbus went to Spain: they were open to new ideas and freedom to do what you wanted. Venice had so many regulations and rules and petty bureaucrats an explorer could not even get started. In Spain and Portugal the sea was wide open and there few rules. If you had money you could do whatever you wanted to do.

Fighting off the Moors had engendered this sense of freedom and independent action in Iberia. So, indirectly the Moors could be said to have created the conditions for the Age of Exploration.

  • @yurihbss I did not say that. I said that Iberia gained a free and adventurous spirit by fighting off the Moors. Apr 11 '16 at 17:10
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    "Arabs and Moors were driven out of Iberia 300 years before Columbus" ??? Would you care to check any source, Wikipedia, for example, when the Moors were driven out of Iberia?
    – Alex
    Apr 11 '16 at 18:26
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    @Alex: Yes, the Reconquista was a centuries-long process, with the last Islamic forces having been finally driven out in 1491. And WRT Venice and Genoa, they already had an effective lock on the eastern trade routes to the Indies. If Spain and Portugal wanted to compete, they had to go south around Africa, or into the unknown west.
    – jamesqf
    Apr 11 '16 at 18:32
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    At the time of El Cid's death, Iberia was still about half under Islamic rule. If you want a "functional end", then I'd look to the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212, when the Almohads were defeated. After this, the remaining 1/4-1/3 of Iberia that was still Islamic-ruled rapidly shrank until only the Emirate of Granada was left. Apr 13 '16 at 7:56
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    Also, Genoa and Venice were not "hidebound with tradition and conservatism". We're talking about the Italian Renaissance! The reason that Venice and Genoa weren't interested in Columbus was because: A) They already had access to the Eastern trade via Constantinople, Alexandria, etc.; and B) They were trapped in the Mediterranean without the naval technology for Atlantic sailing (which they didn't need, because: Mediterranean). Apr 13 '16 at 8:01

The discovery of new world was nothing related with the moors. Spain with the most advanced army of europe by far that achieved to defeat the moors in Granada using the Arquebusier and cannons (western inventions) while the navy was as equal of any western countries.

Columbus was autorished to meet the Spanish Queen in order to convince her to make an expedition for a new commercial routes to Asia after several dissapoints with the Spanish University or other european kingdoms.

The three ships used were the caravels that were invented by Portuguese for long distance trips by sea (the relation with portuguese made improvements for spanish navy). The Italians were the ones who invented an improvement of the old "galley" warships that introduced the cannon (appeared in the battle of Lepanto), a predecessor of the future heavy spanish galleon.

The idea of the moors being more advanced that christians depends in which part. In armament the moors were behind. The moors didnt have any galleys or caravels.

Maybe, in science were advanced but they only could study when there wasnt a Calipha (a very conservative leader) in power. I recommend the film "The Physician" that appears the two sides of Islam. When in Spain was peace that meant that there wasnt any Calipha, but when there was, the christians had to fight to free Spain.

The battle of Las Navas the Tolosa in 1212, was The mother of all of battles of Spanish Reconquista.

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    – T.E.D.
    Jun 7 '16 at 18:40

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