It will come as a surprise to even the most ardent learners of African and world history when they find out that the term ‘Moors’ does not refer to an exact group of people but rather as a summary reference for peoples scattered over across the Mediterranean and in the Gulf region.
What ‘Moor’ stood for widened over time so that between the 6th and 15th century, both the peoples of the former Roman colony of Mauretania and Middle Easterners, including Arabs, were called Moors by the Europeans of the Mediterranean.
The Byzantine scholar, Procopius, in Book IV of History of the Wars, taught us the visible difference between the Vandals who had settled in North Africa and the people who were native to the land. He noted that the Vandals were not “black-skinned like the Maurusioi (Moors)”.
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By the beginning of the 15th century – for specificity, by 1492 when the Moorish stronghold of Granada fell in the Reconquista – the Europeans were referring to Arabs as Moors. Richard Fletcher notes this in his book, Moorish Spain.
Recorded history identifies ‘Moors’, Μαυρούσιοι in Greek (Maurusioi), as early as the first century through the work of the geographer Strabo, as he described the dark-skinned people who inhabited the lands south of Europe. The famous Roman statesman Tacitus also wrote of rebellious ‘Moors’ in his Annals.
However, the point must be made that the Moorish army that crossed the Strait of Gibraltar in the 7th century and obliterated the opposition on the Iberian peninsula consisted of both Arabs and Berbers. The latter, of course, is also an umbrella term for various North African ethnic groups who had been so christened by the Greeks as the “barbarians” (barbaroi).
The Maghreb region, at the end of the 6th century, had effectively fallen under Arabic control and influence. By the middle of the 7th century, North Africa had been incorporated into the Islamic and indeed, the Arab world.
Fletcher literally described the invaders of Iberia as “a Berber army under Arab leadership”. It is then even hard to call those Moors a uniquely African people although the facts are open to a variety of interpretations.
In short, it is a little more effective for historical purposes to see the Moors as the Europeans saw them. They were the Islamized, darker-skinned peoples who were considered alien to Europe.