The monarchs Isabel and Ferdinand (commonly known as the Catholic monarchs) signed the Edict of Expulsion in 1492 (commonly referred as the Alhambra decree).It established the expulsion of the communities of Jews of their kingdom.In 1609 another monarch published a decree establishing the expulsion of the members of Muslim communities. The publication of these decree was the last step. Since the 12th century the authorities  at the local and national level passed several laws and status such as the status of the purity of blood  or the pragmatics of Ayllon. These laws and economic reforms changed how the society perceived the Jews and Muslims and established the basis for future repressive systems such as the one in Germany before the Second World War.


What comes to your mind when someone says the forced expulsion of the Jews or forced conversion? In Spain , the majority will answer the Edict of Expulsion ( commonly known as the Alhambra Decree) (1462) which is a legal document issued on  31 March 1492 by the Catholic monarchs  Isabel of Castille and  Ferdinand II of Aragon  that order the expulsion of Jews and Muslim  from the mentioned territories.The monarchs also passed a decree years later establishing the expulsion of the members of the Muslim community.They are normally mentioned as one and in this text it will be same for simplification.  At the school level, usually they  only teached as an important event in the Spanish historiography but fail to mention its causes and effects.The reality is more complex. The Jews and Muslim communities were persecuted all across Medieval Europe for a long time. The process was similar to the years before the Holocaust and other posterior prosecution of minorities.It started with some changes in the use of the language and then the passing of different laws. The data shows the slow introduction of terms such as “moros” in the Castillan and Aragonese legislation of the time. (Carrasco,2003)The last stage was the passing of the Edict of Expulsion in 1462.

Document 1: Copy of the Edict of Expulsion ( commonly known as the Alhambra decree)

What is the historical context?

In 711 A.C  several tribes of the Northern part of Africa invaded the Iberian Peninsula and remained for seven centuries. The former Christian kingdom started what is called The Reconquest which ended with the Conquest of Granada  in 1492.This Campaign was fuelled by an anti Muslim sentiment which became prevalent in some areas of the political and economical elite in the 12th century onward in the Iberian Peninsula.

Another important factor was The Crusades in which the European Kingdoms fought for what they considered their Holy land. It promoted several expulsions of Jews occurring all across Europe for several centuries. For example, the English crown expelled the Jews in 1290. The Jews did not return to England until the 1650s, when they were invited to resettle by Oliver Cromwell. The map below includes the dates of the different expulsions of Jews.

Map 1:  Map  expulsion of Jews in Europe (1100-1600) (Wikipedia)

Laws and their effects in the society

The Medieval Society in Spain and Europe was predominantly Christian which resulted in strong connection between the Church and the legal institutions.The second born sons became part of the church and were encouraged to become more powerful within the church( Adrian , 2023). The increasing power of the Church and the economic interest of their members from powerful families  from the 12th century onward  had dramatic effects on the new laws.

The existence of different tax  and legal systems in the Crown of Aragon  and Castille influenced  different conflicts and relational dynamics within the different ethnic groups.The minorities used to live in closed neighbourhoods called aljamas which were obligated to pay the “service and half service”( latter called the Service of the Golden Castilians) tax to the king (Vinuales,2003). However, they were exempted to pay the tithe which resulted in unrest in the Church. As a result,the King Sancho VI passed a decree in 1293 in the Court of Valladolid  which prohibited jews and muslims to own land and sell the land they already owned within a year. These laws were not fully in force because some areas  were fully dependent on the activities of these minorities so they were granted a royal exception( Carrasco, 2012).

The previous protection of the king decreased as time elapsed.Phillip the second approved several laws  that prohibited arabic in written or oral format ,  the moorish dress code, the use of the hijab , moorish celebrations ( songs and dances , musical instruments included) and the use of arabic names ( Dopico, 2003).He also regulated  how the different communities should dress and interact after some members of the Church asked him.

Christian authorities discriminate against the jews in different aspects such as housing, food , laws  & employment.  For example,Christian authorities limited Jewish access to the most lucrative jobs and compelled them to do all kinds of servile jobs. A Christian woman could not work as a nurse in Muslim or a  Jewish household. The Valencian Muslims were prohibited to be near the sea due to a fear of plotting with the Ottoman Empire ( Dopico .2003).

After an anti jewish revolt in 1449 the status of the purity of blood was applied all across Europe  even though the Pope published the bula humani generis in which he said that converted Muslims should be treated as all other “pure” christians. At the beginning, they established  the status of the purity of blood and the city of Toledo passed  it  as a law in 1547.  The cities all across the Iberian peninsula followed  quickly (Dopico ,2003). The table down shows easily the timeline of the events before and after the edict.

Date Laws / event
1293 The king passed a law establishing  that prohibited Jews and Muslims could not   own land
1412 The Pragmatics of Ayllon
1457 The first status of the purity of blood was passed in Toledo (Spain)
1476 The Catholic King ordered the forced separation between Jews and Christians in  Caceres and Soria
1480 Publication at the Court of Toledo of the law establishing forced segregation of minorities of the courts of Toledo
1482 The Pope Sixto IV published a document confirming the law published in Toledo
1492 Edict of Expulsion (Alhambra Decree)
1567 Phillip II approved several laws in Granada that prohibited Arabic in written or oral format ,  the Moorish dress code, the use of the hijab , moorish celebrations (  songs and dances , musical instruments included) and the use of Arabic names
1668 Alpujarra Revolt
1609 Expulsion of Muslims
1609 Philip III sent a letter / order to Valencian Archbishop  Juan de Ribera  establishing the terms of the separation of muslim children and their parents under any circumstance even if the parents refused.

Table 1: Year and event before  and after the publication of the Edict of Expulsion (1492)

  • The legacy of the Edict of Expulsion and the previous laws 

The Edict of Expulsion (1492) ( commonly known as the Alhambra decree) established that the members of the Jewish community were forced to convert to Christianity or leave their hometowns with only the things they could carry by hand. Their homes and properties were acquired by the local authorities.They only had three days to solve their  affairs and move to their assigned ports (Dopico 2003). Some people could not reach their assigned ports on time and were burned at the stake. Philip III sent a letter / order to Valencian archbishop  Juan de Ribera  establishing the terms of the separation of children and their parents under any circumstance even if the parents refused.As a result of this letter some women killed their kids and themselves (Carrasco , 2003). The people who choose to leave their homes were prohibited to carry money and jewelry but manage to do so.Some of them were scammed along the journey and became penniless. Most of the exiled arrived in a variety of places such as Portugal,  tetuan, tunez , argel  and other places across the Mediterranean and rebuilt their lives there.  On the other hand, Some people decided to remain  and became catholic due to a variety of circumstances and struggle to recover their properties.(Viñuales, 2003)

In 2015, The Spanish government passed a law that allowed the descendants of the expelled jews to acquire a dual citizenship as a way to compensate for shameful events in the country’s past. The descendants of the exiled Jews can also apply for Portuguese citizenship

In 1924, the regime of Primo de Rivera granted Spanish citizenship to a part of the Sephardic Jewish diaspora, though few people benefited from it in practice. The edict was then formally and symbolically revoked on 16 December 1968 by the regime of Francisco Franco.


The Edict of Alhambra was a result of  a long process  that started with a political move. Then , it resulted in the passing of several laws at the local and national level. The idea of the historical narrative is deeply reliant on the idea of Catholicism as the backbone of Spanish national identity (Garcia Sanjuan, 2023). . Spain lacks training and public awareness of the persecution of the Jews and Muslims and the darker side of our history. For example,the laws passed before the edicts of expulsion of the jews and muslims are never taught in   Spanish high schools.The country and the world should be aware of how the pattern repeats and applies to any minority  persecution such as the one that occurred in Germany before the Second World War (1939-1945).


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