The Golden Age of Spanish Jewry was a time when the Sephardic Jews of the Iberian Peninsula experienced unprecedented progress and prosperity, in economic, scholarly and cultural matters. Indeed, our previous Jewish travels through the Iberian Peninsula explored this progressive time in Sephardic Jewish history, alongside its inevitable decline and the resulting years of hidden legacy maintained by the Crypto-Jews of Portugal and Spain.

Beneath the rule of the Umayyads, the Jews of Iberia saw a much more favorable way of life compared to the preceding rule of the Visigoths and the following persecution of Spain and its Inquisition. While there were periods of violence and uncertainty that broke the general calm of that era, generally the Sephardic Jews were well-off, even occupying important positions in the government. One of them was Samuel ibn Naghrillah, later Samuel Hanagid, merchant, soldier, politician, poet and scholar.

From Merchant to Military Leader

Samuel ha-Nagid | Photo Credit:

Samuel was born in Merida, 993, and would later move to Cordoba to be a shopkeeper. Like Maimonides in later years, Samuel fled the city later on, because of a Berber invasion. He would then become a spice merchant in Malaga, setting up shop near the palace of the Vizier of Granada. Samuel was already quite fluent in Arabic and Hebrew and a master of Arabic calligraphy, and he caught the attention of the Vizier Abu al-Kasim ibn al-Arif, who hired him to work as his secretary. Before the latter died, he recommended Samuel’s skills and expertise to the King, who promptly appointed him Vizier. After he backed the King’s son Badis on the latter’s campaign for the throne, Samuel was appointed vizier once again, and also General of Granada’s armies. This was when he took the title of Nagid, meaning Prince. His death after 1056 was of natural causes, a peaceful resolution to a prosperous life.

The Legacy of Samuel

Samuel was a poet before he became a vizier, and he wrote excellent pieces of verse for hire before he became a vizier. His style of poetry combined Arabic and Hebrew styles in a cohesive and lyrical style. He was a patron of arts, and he would use his position of power to increase the discipline of knowledge in the Jewish community, sending books and donating money and funds for the study of the Talmud. He would continue to write poetry as a general and chief of staff, and although most of his works were lost over the centuries, a treasure trove of his works were found in a crate in 1924, ensuring that this statesman’s works persists in the modern day. Maybe one of our future kosher cruises will explore his legacy as we revisit the Iberian Peninsula.