A Vanished World

by Chris Lowney
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What are some of the cultural characteristics of Spain before Islam as presented in A Vanished World by Chris Lowney?

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Chris Lowney’s novel A Vanished World focuses on Spanish history from the Muslim conquest of 711 to the destruction of the last Muslim Kingdom in 1492. The story, told in the form of minibiographies, explores how Muslim, Christian, and Jewish communities interacted and influenced each other.

Because the book begins with the Muslim invasion of Spain, it does not dwell long on the cultural characteristics of Spain prior to Muslim influence. Prior to the Moors’ arrival in Spain, the Visigoth kingdom ruled the Iberian Peninsula, Hispania, from the years 415 to 711. The early Visigoths were Arian Christians who segregated themselves from the local Catholic population. Culturally, the Visigoth ruling class was influenced by the styles and technology of Constantinople. An effect of Visigoth rule was a depopulation of cities as people relocated to the countryside.

In 587, the Visigoth king Reccared converted to Catholicism and sought to unify Spain under this faith. Church councils became the most powerful institution in the region with Toledo as the new capital city. This period saw a reversal of the typically tolerant practices of earlier Visigoth rulers regarding Jewish people. King Sisebut in 616 ordered that Jews be forcibly baptized or exiled. 

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