Isam al-Jaulani, aka Issam al-Khawlani or Isam al-Hawlani, was the first wali of the Umayyad dynasty of the Balearics. The Muslim occupation of Majorca and the Balearics is normally stated as having started in 902, which is true up to a point because of al-Jaulani’s accidental arrival in Majorca. His ships were on their way back across the Mediterranean from mainland Spain when a storm diverted them to Majorca. Some raids and minor incursions followed, but it wasn’t until late 903 that a successful invasion was completed, al-Jaulani having convinced the Emir of Cordoba of the value of conquering the island.
The occupation of Majorca was to last for more than three centuries. There is good reason to believe that the island was relatively peaceful for much of this time and that there was tolerant coexistence between Muslim, Jew and Christian. The Muslims introduced new crops, they were to be responsible for much of the hydraulic system in the Tramuntana and used dry-stone techniques to assist with crop-growing. In Madina Mayurqa (Palma), mosques, baths and the Almudaina were built.
The occupation came to an end when Jaume I and his forces arrived in 1229. Majorca and the Balearics were to become Catalan Christian islands, but it is just feasible that the Catalan part of this equation would have been lessened, had events in the early twelfth century turned out differently. Majorca might have been subject to Italian influence, and rather than there nowadays being the discussions about Catalan, Castellano and Mallorquí, the linguistic arguments might also involve the Pisanso-Livornese Tuscan dialect.
One of the final acts of Pope Gregory VII before he died in 1085 was to grant suzerainty over Majorca and the Balearics to Pisa, which was a great maritime force at that time. This suzerainty would have made the islands a semi-autonomous part of the Republic of Pisa: would have done, had it not been for the fact that the islands were occupied by Muslims.
Between 1117 and 1125, a grand chronicle was compiled. It was the “Liber maiolichinus de gestis Pisanorum illustribus”. The Majorcan Book of Deeds of Illustrious Pisans set out the expedition to conquer Majorca and the Balearics and drive the Muslims out. It was an expedition which was to meet with success but also failure, and its starting-point bore some similarity to what had happened to Isam al-Jaulani some two hundred years earlier. There was a storm.
The story may well be apocryphal in that one suspects that the Pisans may have had a better idea of the western Mediterranean - islands and the Iberian Peninsula. But according to the deeds of the illustrious Pisans, in September 1113 a Pisan fleet was heading to Majorca. It was blown off course by a storm and ended up at Blanes in Catalonia. It’s said that they mistook the Catalonia coast for Majorca. If so, their mistake was soon realised. Rather than being greeted by hostile Muslims, they met Ramon Berenguer III, the Count of Barcelona.
It was to prove to be a fortuitous storm and meeting. With the blessing of Pope Paschal I, there was to be a crusade to Majorca and the Balearics. The combined might of Pisa and lords in Catalan/Occitan lands were to set sail for the islands. They weren’t the only ones. They came from Florence, from Corsica, from Sardinia and from other places as well.
Although Berenguer could call on a vast army, the Pisa fleet was by far the biggest. So while Berenguer, for purposes of the Catalan version of history, has been lauded as the attempted but failed conqueror, there has to be some question as to who would have become the dominant force, had the crusade succeeded. Over a hundred years later, a copy of the treaty between Barcelona and Pisa, which resulted in the crusade, was inserted into a charter that Jaume I granted to Pisa in 1233. The charter was for trading purposes, but an interpretation placed on the insertion of the treaty is that it recognised a certain historical right that Pisa held. And it did; that suzerainty of Gregory VII.
In April 1115, the invasion force took over Madina Mayurqa. Muslims were enslaved, the ruler was captured, but the occupation was soon to be undermined by an Almoravid Muslim threat to Barcelona. Berenguer and his men left, and the Almoravids were to recapture Majorca in 1116.
Berenguer is always referred to as having been the leader of the crusade expedition. Even the illustrious Pisans, who made the first known reference to Catalans (“Catalanenses”) as an ethnic group in the “Liber”, might have conceded this. But they did have more ships in that invasion force, and they also had that suzerainty. Would Majorca have been Catalan or would it have been Pisan?