The Deepest Border
The Strait of Gibraltar and the Making of the Modern Hispano-African Borderland
Sasha D. Pack



THE STRAIT OF GIBRALTAR defines one of the modern world’s paradigmatic borders. This forty-mile-long, ten-mile-wide waterway at the far western corner of the Mediterranean Sea demarcates a series of commonplace historical binaries: it separates Spain from Morocco, Christendom from Dar al-Islam, imperial Europe from colonial Africa, the great ocean from the inland sea. In addition to a north-south border, this peculiar geopolitical space is also an east-west passage. It forms a junction in a major maritime thoroughfare, one that became global in 1869 with the opening of the Suez Canal at the opposite end of the Mediterranean. The Strait of Gibraltar not only facilitates passage between far-flung points like Mumbai and London but also connects its own northern and southern shores, both to one another and to the wider material and political worlds. The many peoples and polities gathered in this bicontinental space have shared in a common history, marked by their position at the extreme limits of two great landmasses and at the heart of a prized maritime corridor.

This book grants the ethnically and politically pluralistic space at the western corner of the Mediterranean a discrete historical identity, adapting it to a single coherent narrative divided into distinct periods. It is the history of a regional order, that is, of a shifting balance of forces that provided some framework for orderly coexistence but also implied the ever-present threat of violence and occasionally erupted in war.1 Those who were especially engaged in the ongoing process of ordering the trans-Gibraltar region may be divided into three categories: (1) local political authorities, civic figures, and agents of multiple empires—Britain, France, Spain, Morocco, and Germany—stationed on or near the shores of the Strait and the narrow western Mediterranean channel, roughly to the Cartagena-Oran axis, and running some distance into the Spanish and Moroccan interiors; (2) the numerous clans, tribes, brigands, migrants, mariners, and trade networks ranging across these lands and waters; and (3) governments in distant imperial capitals engaged in strategic positioning on and around the Strait.

Although individual elements of this order emerged at different historical moments, the overall matrix examined in this book took shape in the middle decades of the nineteenth century. As European navies learned to neutralize piracy, new patterns of circulation and settlement became possible in the western Mediterranean. A combination of migration, imperial positioning, and environmental pressures drew greater attention to its shores. As multiple states and empires began to operate there with greater intensity, the long arm of centralized administration began to meddle more directly in older political, legal, and commercial systems, creating opportunity for some and provoking resistance from others.

This constricted space of multiple borders and diverse imperial claims experienced considerable violence, originating from within and without, over the long narrative arc of this book. It therefore provides an interesting context in which to analyze endemic civil conflict and its fluid relationship to international war.2 Low-level violence prospered on both shores of the Strait throughout the nineteenth century. State forces entered the fray alongside populist gangsters, brigands, and revolutionaries, who themselves sometimes acted in collusion with other rival states, beginning a cycle of patronage that culminated with the brutal Rif War (1921–1926). The violence of colonial Morocco soon boomeranged across the Strait when the Spanish colonial army rebelled against its government to provoke the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939).3 Yet despite its evident potential as a geopolitical flashpoint, the Ibero-Moroccan zone remained a marginal theater in the two world wars.

The three postwar decades brought deep structural change and an entirely new conjuncture of regional order and mobility. The European colonial empires withdrew, and “Atlantic Eurafrica”—the western fringes of southern Europe and North Africa—fell under American hegemony. The Jewish Moroccan descendants of Sefarad (the Hebrew term for Roman Hispania) departed, and the dominant vectors of migration turned northward. Although the borderland built over the previous century fragmented, it left behind the legacy of a relatively stable and resilient international order in the western Mediterranean. Despite a few lingering problems, the new Ibero-Maghribian space appeared to reach a new, mostly peaceful stasis. It resisted joining Samuel P. Huntington’s well-known list of contemporary Islam’s “bloody borders,” although revelations of trans-Gibraltar jihadi networks in the early twenty-first century indicate that the postcolonial world of nation-states has not eradicated mobile brigandage but merely altered the context in which it operates.4 In any case, the breadth and generality of global models can risk obscuring the depth and historical specificity of conflict, its origins, and its management. As an alternative, this book examines the dynamics that facilitated and shaped these processes, seeking a longue durée perspective on the collective (not always collegial) sovereign exercise of governing so crucial and complex a region.

A Border and a Preponderance of Borders

The fundamental challenge to writing the history of the trans-Gibraltar region, and the Mediterranean world in general, is to reconcile narratives of imperial and religious conflict with the countervailing image of a zone characterized by unbridled mobility, migration, and exchange.5 A key naval choke point and putative frontier of civilizations, the Strait has played a correspondingly key role in international histories as a focus of geopolitical tension. In the age of European seaborne empire, the British naval base at Gibraltar formed a “lion in the path” of continental powers seeking to unite their Mediterranean and Atlantic fleets, and later helped guarantee communication with India.6 Spanish nationalists came to regard the Strait as a thin line of defense against a range of African and Asian despots aiming to “encircle Europe from the south,” and many of their counterparts across the Arab world harbored nostalgia for a bygone age when Islamic civilization blossomed astride this key nexus.7 Yet historians of both Iberia and the western Maghrib have also depicted the territories adjacent to the Strait as “a separate world” of fragmented political authority, steeped in piracy and brigandage, a magnet for human diversity remote from the sinews of imperial power.8 None of these narratives is complete without the others; the goal here is to mingle them and examine the ways they have mutually conditioned one another.

One measure of creeping imperial interest is the proliferation of many types of polities and boundaries in the region over the modern period. Four coastal exclaves dotted the littoral, serving as access points for global exchange and imperial power. On the north shore of the Strait stood British Gibraltar (1713–present), a two-and-a-half-square mile promontory rising to a rocky peak 1,400 feet over the southern Spanish coastline between Cádiz and Málaga. On the African side, the “international city” of Tangier (1923–1956) and the Spanish possession of Ceuta (1668–present) lay on the southwestern and southeastern corners of the Strait. Another key Spanish holding in North Africa was Melilla (1497–present), some two hundred miles to the east. Somewhat beyond Melilla began the French settler colony of Algeria (1830–1962), also a major factor in regional affairs. This arrangement of imperial positions was framed by southern Spain and northern Morocco, the neglected peripheries of two kingdoms whose power centers lay distant from the Strait. Spanish Andalusia—successor to al-Andalus, the southern Iberian foothold of successive Islamic dynasties—was conquered by Christian armies from the thirteenth through fifteenth centuries and, apart from the Atlantic-bound Guadalquivir Valley, became a stagnant region of large estates and landless peasants. Morocco, a sprawling composite governed from the Atlantic plain, faded into a patchwork of clans and tribes that enjoyed considerable autonomy in the country’s mountainous north and east. When the sultanate fell under the colonial protection of France (1912–1956), a peculiar caveat designated Spain to control the northern sliver, further complicating the region with yet another border.

The region’s many borders, including seaports, became key sites of negotiation in the regional dialectic of territoriality and mobility. For this reason, borders serve as a crucial starting point to gain appreciation for the region’s complex political geography. Although they do not all serve an identical purpose, borders tend to draw from a common repertoire of practices and relationships related to regulating limits—territorial, but also jurisdictional, ethno-religious, or otherwise. They defined who could operate where. They could be tools of statecraft and tools for private individuals trying to escape the reach of state power. They mediated relations between the networked world of the coastal exclaves and the remote Andalusian and Moroccan interiors.

The most straightforward function of a border is to mark a territorial claim—drawing lines on the map, determining who belongs within them and under what circumstances they may be crossed. Assets like natural resources or sheltered harbors sometimes entered in these calculations, but the region’s border politics centered more frequently on the regulation of movement in and out of a territory. Border officials played a key role here. Even when a boundary’s legal terms were established by international treaty, local authorities exercised considerable discretion, granting favored syndicates or tribes license to traffic goods and currency (and sometimes people and armaments) obtained from overseas in exchange for payment, political favor, or a combination of both. This kind of activity occurred in significant proportion at every border in the trans-Gibraltar region.

Borders themselves projected power onto neighboring realms. They created safe havens, giving cover to a range of political or commercial activities that were illegal on the other side—illustrating how, as the anthropologist James Scott observed, “an external frontier conditioned, bounded, and in many respects constituted was what possible at the center.”9 For example, in both southern Andalusia and northern Morocco, banditry thrived on its ability to operate in multiple jurisdictions, sometimes obtaining legal protection from authorities in the coastal exclaves. Local political bosses and tribal leaders often collaborated more closely with neighboring polities like Gibraltar or Melilla than with their nominal leaders in Madrid or the sultan’s court.10 The power to designate extraterritorial legal protection across borders became a central component of interimperial politics, creating what Lauren Benton and Lisa Ford have called a “legal force field” of influence radiating across multiple jurisdictions.11 Laws governing migration and trade could thus become difficult to enforce without risking international conflict.

The many sovereign entities coloring the regional map must therefore be understood as aspirational claims rather than literal monopolies on political power. As scholars have come to adopt a critical approach to territoriality, they have examined how multiple political and legal regimes frequently operated within the same borders—a phenomenon that became particularly intense in such a constricted and contested space as the trans-Gibraltar.12 Sovereignty itself was not the monopoly of the state, but it must be regarded as a divisible aggregate of political and administrative powers that can be distributed among multiple authorities in a single bounded space: thus, Tangier could remain the spiritual and juridical patrimony of the Moroccan sultan even while its budgets and municipal code were administered by a committee of European consuls, each answerable to the hierarchy of his own national government. Or, to provide another example, a private French company possessed the authority to concede the tobacco monopoly over Spanish Morocco to a Spanish robber baron, Juan March, who registered his operations in Gibraltar and Algeria to avoid scrutiny by his own government.

These types of convoluted arrangements gave rise to a special kind of borderland politics. Throughout this book, readers will become acquainted with networks and individuals who made it their specialty to exploit geopolitical frictions in order to carve out their own independent spheres of power. Operating in territorial or juridical spaces to which sovereignty was ambiguously assigned, they learned to mediate—even control—the terms of local relations and exchange that historians have increasingly placed at the center of the borderland dynamic.13 Some established direct political relationships with officials from multiple governments, often serving as proxies in interimperial struggles, advancing in the slipstream of imperial power while avoiding falling under its control. A few amassed considerable power in this way, rewarding their entourage and shifting their allegiances as would any deft practitioner of statecraft. These groups and individuals must, like states and empires, be considered crucial actors in the regional order. As such, they form a key substantive link between borderland society and the geopolitics of the Strait. The historiography of colonial frontiers has generated several archetypes for local figures whose activities factored in geopolitics, from the man on the spot who precipitated colonial expansion to the go-between who facilitated contact between alien peoples.14 The concern here, however, is rather different. The central process described in this book is not so much the expansion of a colonial frontier but the development of a multilateral regional order in the Hispano-African borderland over a long historical period. As often as not, the main role of the “slipstream potentates” and other powerful local networks in this narrative was to draw rival powers into cooperation in order to defeat them.

The matter of borders and their transgression also extended, if in a more metaphorical sense, to the region’s ethno-religious communities as they came into increasing contact with one another. For the past half millennium, the Strait of Gibraltar has formed a basic line of demarcation between the Euro-Christian and Afro-Muslim worlds. Its violation has often sent scholars into the totalizing analytical frameworks of imperialism, colonialism, and the “Orientalist” paradigm. Yet a recent flowering of Hispanist scholarship has cautioned against reducing the Strait to a horizon for a common European project of colonial expansion. Although the narrative of the Christian Reconquest remained important in popular and intellectual discourse on Spain’s southern borderland, scholars have also identified the emergence of a contrary myth depicting deep affinities between the lands and peoples of southern Andalusia and northern Morocco.15 As interest in racial origins challenged the primacy of the religious frontier in some circles, a number of fin-de-siècle nationalists began to theorize the Hispanic essence of Sephardic Jews and of the descendants of Muslim al-Andalus. Spanish philologists developed the concept of Hispano-Muslim civilization, vestiges of which endured in long-term exile south of the Strait.16 Some of Morocco’s noblest families descended from al-Andalus. Men bearing Hispanic names like Vargas and Torres became ministers to the sultan, and today many Moroccan elites claim Andalusi ancestry.17

One potential basis for this bond was the role shared by Spain and North Africa as exotic Others of European culture. Andalusians in particular were often rendered as cousins of the “Moors”—an ancient term that in this context encompassed the various Arab and Amazigh (Berber) peoples of the Maghrib. Much as Moroccan Islam figured for some Spaniards as a degenerate version of medieval Andalusi splendor, many Moroccans denigrated modern Andalusians as dregs that remained after the Muslim departure.18 By 1900, some 180,000 Spaniards lived in North Africa, mainly French Algeria, drawn mostly from the ranks of impoverished day laborers of Andalusia. Unlike most French and British colonials, they did not remain in comfortable enclaves but shared with the “Moors” their neighborhoods, work sites, and often a common antipathy toward Jews as well. They adopted a lingua franca combining Arabic, Berber, and Romance languages, and their French bosses sometimes had difficulty distinguishing them from Maghribian workers.19 Some converted and took Muslim spouses.

Once established in the colonial protectorate of Morocco after 1912, Spanish authorities labored to forestall the tendency toward “hybridization” that is often associated with borderlands. Instead, they recognized the value of respecting inviolable social, legal, and sexual boundaries among Christians, Muslims, and Jews, “in the interest,” as the medievalist David Nirenberg aptly phrased it, “of freeing space for other forms of interaction.”20 These other forms included normal exchanges like trade and neighborliness but also came to encompass deeper sentiments, such as mutual respect and even a sense of common mission. Considered heretical in an earlier age, such feelings were tentatively explored by certain Spanish Romantics and stirred by the brief Hispano-Moroccan War of 1859–1860.21 The discourse of solidarity between Catholic Spain and Muslim Morocco was especially prevalent in Spanish military circles. Francisco Franco, the Spanish Civil War leader and dictator from 1939 to 1975, sought to harness the energy of this putative alliance of God-fearing peoples in order to expel liberalism, atheism, and Anglo-French imperialism from the trans-Gibraltar sphere altogether. Rather than draw from the rhetorical repertoire of Christian crusade or French-style civilizing mission, the Spanish attitude toward Morocco developed on a trajectory similar in some respects to Imperial Germany vis-à-vis the Ottoman Empire: good will “spurred on by a sense of shared threat of Entente encirclement.”22

The regional perspective therefore also adds an interpretive dimension to the study of Spanish foreign relations and their role in forging the contemporary western Mediterranean order. Modern Spain’s engagement in European affairs has taken place almost entirely on its southern borderland—putatively colonial space. Spain may be unique in this respect among large European nations, for which imperial struggles usually involved a significant continental component. Even when two world wars engulfed Europe, Spain was tied in only by a fine thread running through Gibraltar and Morocco (excepting its limited participation in the German war against the Soviet Union in 1941–1943).23 After some three centuries of Atlanticism, the Mediterranean regained its primacy in Spanish foreign affairs progressively but tentatively over course of the nineteenth century. Fernando VII’s passive reaction to the French invasion of Algeria in 1830 and an allegedly rudderless imperial strategy in Morocco would draw fierce criticism from twentieth-century Spanish nationalists. But avoiding encirclement from the south was a subtle task to perform without becoming mired, as one diplomat wrote in 1882, in colonial “adventures, when we are not yet prepared.”24 In the latter decades of the nineteenth century, British and French imperial geometries appeared to be on a collision course in the western Mediterranean, and in 1905, Spain’s prime minister predicted that “an Anglo-French struggle inevitably would finally be fought out on Spanish soil.”25 Another respected voice of the era, the polymath Joaquín Costa, warned that without cultivating a strong ally in Morocco, Spain risked becoming “another Poland, dismembered, cut to pieces to satisfy the voracious appetites of two or three powers.”26

In short, where other European powers construed a colonial space, the Spanish increasingly saw their “vital space,” to apply a term current in European geopolitical discourse of the day.27 Saddled with the fear of becoming a colonial subject—not entirely unfounded, as it turns out—the Spanish government ordered a disastrous attempt to occupy northern Morocco after World War I. Similar anxieties influenced the radical prescriptions of the insurgent regime of General Francisco Franco in the late 1930s, which sought to align its geopolitical revisionism in the Strait and northwest Africa with the broader Axis struggle against the British and French empires.28 Although this project failed by 1942, the Franco regime remained heavily invested in the continuity of the Moroccan Alawite dynasty, remaining alongside the United States as a resolute counterweight to successive French, Soviet, and pan-Arabist attempts to subvert it. As a result, Morocco became one of few modern states to reemerge with its precolonial ruling dynasty intact.

With the passing of the colonial age, it may seem that most of the actors on the trans-Gibraltar stage have departed, leaving only a civilizational binary—an echo of the popular moros y cristianos battle reenactments staged in Mediterranean Spain (and much of the Hispanic world) for centuries.29 It is important to recall, however, that the relationship between Spain and Morocco—as states and as communities of people—was not a novelty of the postcolonial era but had gradually been reconstituted over two centuries, especially from the mid-nineteenth century on. After a long period of hostility or at best limited engagement, the two empires became parties to a common regional order. No longer could a “Moors and Christians” paradigm exist independent of the system of states and sovereignty that sought to govern their relations. With this in mind, our method instead takes a cue from a rather different spectacle of local popular culture: in the mid-twentieth century, in the Spanish border town of La Línea, lying within the shadow of British Gibraltar, with the North African coast visible on the horizon, children played a version of hide-and-seek known as contrabandistas y carabineros (smugglers and sentries).30 This game reenacts the struggle between mobile networks and territorial law, between an intensively bordered space and the international system of sovereignty attempting to dominate it. By considering the accretion of such struggles over the long century from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, we can aspire to understand the present regional conjuncture and identify lessons valuable for understanding new regional challenges.

Early Modern Inheritances, circa 1500–1850

The Strait of Gibraltar first acquired its identity as a border at the end of the fifteenth century, when Catholic Spain emerged as a major power and Morocco a haven for its first enemies. For the earlier Mediterranean empires of Carthage, Rome, Byzantium, and successive Caliphates, the western periphery had usually included territories on both shores.31 Although east-west passage through the Pillars of Hercules marked the junction of the known and unknown seas, the short south-north crossing was routine and unremarkable. The climate and natural landscape on opposite shores were more similar to each other than to other parts of Spain or Morocco. Features characteristic of a border began to accrue in the high medieval period. The Christian monarchs of Castile and Aragon gradually shifted away from a fractious system of alliances involving Muslim states throughout the Mediterranean world, instead adopting a stance of crusade. Increasingly they united under the banner of common Hispano-Visigoth heritage to confront neighboring Islamic domains. It was during this period of fierce religious wars that northern Morocco’s coastal mountain range acquired the name Rif, from the Moroccan Arabic word for “parapet,” signaling the rhetorical invention of a new defensive front.32

The newly united Spanish Crown’s conquest of Muslim Iberia’s last remaining stronghold at Granada in 1492 marks a culmination only in retrospect. Many Christian contemporaries hoped to continue southward into Mauritania Tingitana, recalling the ancient name of the African dependencies of Roman Hispania. In a bull of 1495, Pope Alexander VI proclaimed the Spanish rulers “Monarchs of Africa.”33 Iberian Christians captured the African coastal promontories of Ceuta (1415), Tangier (1471), Melilla (1497), Oran (1509), and as far east as Tripoli (1510), but these outposts remained oriented toward the sea, not bridgeheads for interaction with an inhospitable interior. Efforts to continue inland proved a costly distraction from new oceangoing missions in the Atlantic and the competition for influence in Rome. Rather than pursue a bicontinental Euro-African kingdom, the Catholic Monarchs instead focused their energies on Italy and America.

The far western Mediterranean thus became a “forgotten frontier,” as the historian Andrew Hess memorably termed it—no longer the focus of active expansion, but a new fulcrum for the great ethno-religious sorting of the long sixteenth century.34 Spain cultivated a national identity closely tied to Catholic imperialism, cleansed of Judaism and engaged in global struggle with Islam. The Spanish Crown expelled Jews who refused to convert to Christianity in 1492 and presented Hispano-Muslims with a similar choice over subsequent decades. Moriscos, the converted descendants of Muslims who retained elements of Arab culture, never escaped the reputation of internal enemies and were expelled after 1609. As the landing point for much of this exile, Morocco in turn became a bulwark against Habsburg-Spanish expansionism. Amid political fragmentation following the final collapse of al-Andalus, a legal consensus emerged that collaborating with Christians was an act of apostasy and treason when carried out on African soil.35 Such collaboration had once been an unavoidable fact of life for Muslims in medieval Iberia, but this new doctrine in effect posited a new religio-political line of demarcation in the Strait that had not hitherto existed. By 1666, the Alawite dynasty claimed the mantle of Sharifian lineage descended directly from the Prophet Muhammad, but the Arab-Berber nobility of the Atlantic coast exerted little authority over the tribes and charismatic religious mystics that populated the Moroccan north and east. The Alawite sultans could aspire to spiritual leadership over these crucial realms only by remaining hostile toward Christian Spain.

Although the ethno-religious cleansing of the sixteenth-century might resemble a characteristic component of modern state building, one consequence, paradoxically, may have been to exacerbate a set of conditions unfavorable to it. The frequently violent persecutions turned the trans-Gibraltar region into a kind of “shatter zone” in which the dynamics of circulation and conflict functioned mainly outside state authority. As persecuted people abandoned their homelands en masse, many fled across the Strait. Those who reached Moroccan shores frequently became ready recruits for the piracy and privateering of Barbary that disrupted cross-channel exchange, left coastal settlements of Andalusia vulnerable to raids, and suffused Spanish Renaissance society with a mix of fascination and horror. The refugees fueled social and political dynamism in their adoptive country but also division. Shut out from tribal lands of the Mediterranean coast, Jewish and Morisco exiles settled in cities like Tétouan and Fez, sparking a wave of urbanization that challenged an older social order.36 Others remained in Spain, attempting to blend quietly into urban life or to head for the hills. Some Moriscos took to the Alpujarras range of Granada and organized armed resistance, inciting suspicions that they might be fifth columnists in support of Ottoman-Barbary coastal assaults. Bounty hunters combed forests in search of rebel Moriscos to sell at the Málaga slave market.37

While the Atlantic empire invigorated Seville and Cádiz, southern and western portions of Andalusia stagnated and fell into endemic civil conflict. The lands on both sides of the Strait were increasingly marked by vast depopulated stretches interspersed with a few dynamic port cities and way stations. In this atmosphere, brigandage provided an appealing means for ambitious youths to escape poverty, build private militias, and even amass political power. The Moroccan government (known as the Makhzan) administered its far-flung provinces as a “patrimonial bureaucracy,” in which local elites purchased government positions, often with funds raised through brigandage.38 In Andalusia, bandits were frequently emboldened by the protection of powerful seigniorial masters or, in a desperate situation, by access to safe havens across the waters.39 Efforts by the Spanish royal administration to neutralize the free reign of bandits by repopulating vacated lands with pious sedentary landholders met with little success.40

With the Atlantic turn of Spain and Portugal and the chronic Barbary raiding, more distant maritime powers asserted a presence. British and French naval activism in the western Mediterranean reached new heights during the late seventeenth century. Both powers gained trading concessions from North African potentates in exchange for access to European weaponry.41 Britain assumed possession of Tangier from Portugal in 1661, only to abandon the recalcitrant town to the sultan in 1684—a key milestone in the consolidation of the fledgling Alawite state. Soon after, the War of Spanish Succession presented Britain with an opportunity to capture an equivalent position on the opposite shore of the western Mediterranean choke point—Gibraltar—where its forces landed in 1704. Over the course of the eighteenth century, European navies gradually eroded the dominance of the Barbary corsairs. British Gibraltar and Moroccan Tangier became increasingly cosmopolitan hubs on opposite shores of the Strait. Gibraltar, though now an Anglo-Protestant fortress, attracted Catholic and Jewish migrants from throughout the Mediterranean and housed resident Muslim consuls of the Moroccan sultanate.42 Tangier, long a safe harbor for European fugitives, became the sultanate’s diplomatic capital by the late eighteenth century. At arm’s length from the empire’s traditional capitals of Fez and Marrakesh, the northern outpost became a crucial contact point between European officials and their Muslim interlocutors, who were usually forbidden from living under Christian jurisdiction. Europeans also attempted to exert more direct influence over the Makhzan. King Carlos III of Spain sent Jorge Juan on an extraordinary diplomatic mission to the court of Sultan Muhammad III in 1767, the same year French warships bombarded Morocco’s Atlantic coast. Both initiatives yielded trade concessions from the Alawite sultan. While the Spanish pursued further diplomatic ties with the sultan and the beys of Ottoman Algeria, France continued on its imperialist course, making its decisive entrée into the region with the invasion of Algeria in 1830. Together, these developments not only raised the stakes of imperial competition in the western Mediterranean channel but also opened intensive new patterns of migration and circulation around the region, which would soon be further enhanced by the rise of steam locomotion over land and water. The modern trans-Gibraltar order that is the subject of this book was born of this conjuncture.

Sources and Organization

Despite the cartographic saliency of the Strait of Gibraltar, borders and borderlands are not natural features but historical processes, driven by the ongoing negotiation among multiple polities or groups occupying or vying to occupy a particular space. The record of this negotiation does not reside in any single archival collection or type of source material; it must be assembled from a broad range. French and Spanish diplomatic and military archives contain reports of government and military officials on matters related to border management, smuggling, and imperial jockeying throughout the region. In the urban milieu, Melilla and Tangier played particularly significant roles in the construction of the trans-Gibraltar, and their municipal archives (including those of the Tangier International Zone, today housed at Alcalá de Henares) have been consulted extensively. Because of the sizable secondary literature, primary documents from Gibraltar have been consulted on a more limited basis, although records of legal and political disputes arising from the British colony’s jurisdictional ambiguities help more precisely identify what was at stake in how its border functioned. A number of memoirs and travel narratives are valuable for reconstructing borderland society, as are works by contemporary and historical ethnographers on the social dynamic of colonial Tétouan and other Moroccan towns. Biographies of key figures of the period have also been of great value. This book thus aims for a broad synthesis of new historical research and recent secondary literature on individual polities within the trans-Gibraltar space. Bringing these strands together reveals themes and patterns often imperceptible to national and mono-imperial histories. Through this process a borderland history acquires its substance.

Part 1 of this book, “From Shatter Zone to Borderland, 1850–1900,” examines the formation of the modern regional order during the second half of the nineteenth century. Although our starting point of 1850 corresponds to no particular milestone in the national histories of Spain and Morocco, or in the imperial trajectories of France and Britain in the Mediterranean, the vantage point of the regional order draws attention to a number of common patterns and new pressures. Advances in steam-powered transport facilitated migration and commerce on a greater scale, and accelerated the disastrous spread of cholera, the epidemic par excellence of nineteenth-century global exchange. It was, moreover, during the third quarter of the nineteenth century that “territorial boundaries along which states claimed sovereignty became more sharply defined in both law and practice,” as James Sheehan has put it.43 Articulation of more precise borders was a sovereign response to escalating challenges posed by the transnational phenomena of epidemic disease, trade, and banditry. This process forms the subject of Chapter 1, which analyzes the transformation of the vaguely defined neutral ground between British Gibraltar and the adjacent Spanish lines into a modern regulated border.

The invention of the Gibraltar-Spain border was just the first manifestation of a dawning era in which states and empires would assert a more active and thoroughgoing presence in the Strait. Competition for influence in the densely trafficked trans-Gibraltar zone was heightened by new geopolitical imaginings of the broader Mediterranean, either as thoroughfare or lake.44 The French Empire of Napoleon III launched a series of initiatives in Italy, the Levant, the Maghrib, and Suez, auguring a clash with Britain for control of the Mediterranean corridor. British and French imperial tensions resembled an existential threat both to the Moroccan dynasty and to the troubled Spanish empire, which signaled its alarm with a small but pivotal invasion of Morocco in 1859 that historians have sometimes unjustly dismissed as a trumped-up war driven by domestic concerns. Chapter 2 employs correspondence of Spanish military and consular officers in Melilla and Tangier to reexamine the Hispano-Moroccan War of 1859–1860 as a response to the growing British and French influence in the region. Significant territorial acquisition was never an option, but Spanish officials converted a limited victory into a mechanism for pulling Moroccan tribes and merchants into the orbit of Melilla. The proliferation of these types of “imperial borders” forms the subject of Chapter 3, which considers how vectors of imperial influence emanated from the emerging nodes of regional power at Tangier, Gibraltar, Melilla, and Oran onto their Moroccan and Andalusian “hinterlands”—this last concept itself being a neologism of the era.45 The new imperial dynamism turned both shores of the trans-Gibraltar region into magnets for travelers and permanent settlers. Drawing from an array of European travel narratives, memoirs, and periodicals, Chapter 4 describes the formation of a new bicontinental, multiethnic conurbation centered on the Strait. The result was a notable degree of colonial conviviality, but one that also invited brigandage and rebellion on its fringes.

The particular challenges arising from borderland governance are crucial for understanding the region’s major conflicts of the era. Part 2, “Between Borderland and Empire, 1900–1939,” invites readers to set aside familiar narratives of colonialism and resistance but instead consider how the intensive patchwork of administrative and legal boundaries defined the region’s experience during the first decades of the twentieth century. To reduce the risk of conflict, European diplomats agreed on a new system of borders and spheres of influence. By 1912, they devised an elaborate protectorate system designating France to be the protector of the sultan and the entirety of his realm, but to satisfy British demands, they also left Morocco’s northern coast to be administered by a Spanish-appointed “caliph.” This resolved one set of imperial tensions but also created a new set of ambiguities. The arrangement opened new avenues for enterprising brigands, gangsters, rebels, and agents-provocateurs to exert political power disproportionate to their means. Chapter 5 profiles the exploits of three particularly successful “slipstream potentates”—Bu Hmara, Raisuni, and Juan March, all of whom became key regional figures. Chapter 6 turns to World War I. The trans-Gibraltar remained in the Entente sphere throughout that conflict, but with the anomaly that neutral Spain oversaw the northern coast of Morocco and the abundance of maritime smuggling networks, autonomous brigandage, and safe havens operating there. French and Spanish military intelligence reports indicate the extent to which German agents exploited this legal and political gray zone to infiltrate the pro-Entente sultanate. Although this amounted to only a minor tactical advantage for Germany during the war, it sowed bitter and violent resentments between the Spanish and French colonial armies in Morocco.

This regional context adds a significant interpretative dimension to the region’s years of violence between World War I and World War II. Inflamed by the pro-German activities of some Spanish colonial officers during World War I, the French government launched a campaign to expel Spain from Morocco entirely. Sensing danger, Madrid ordered hasty military action in its zone of the Moroccan protectorate, a provocation that enabled the enterprising nobleman Abd el-Krim el-Khattabi to build a resistance movement and wage a violent campaign for an independent Riffian state in 1921. Drawing on unpublished French and Spanish military sources, Chapter 7 reconsiders standard interpretations of the Rif rebellion as a protonationalist anticolonial movement, instead emphasizing how the conflict arose from a form of political entrepreneurship typical of the borderland slipstream. Only in 1926, during a fleeting moment of cooperation, did Spanish and French forces suppress the Rif revolt. The way was thus opened for Spanish colonial administration and settlement in northern Morocco. Chapter 8 examines how, as the physical border between Spain and Morocco disintegrated, Spanish colonial administrators sought to mediate relations between the two peoples in an effort to present a common project of liberation from the yoke of French colonialism. Meanwhile, in the nearby exclaves of Tangier and Gibraltar, working-class Spanish border settlements emerged within colonial societies. Chapter 9 considers this juxtaposition of a conservative colonial elite to a Spanish community tied to the republican left and to the economic and revolutionary undergrounds. As the Spanish Civil War broke out, colonial elites favored the side of Franco’s military rebellion against the Republic of 1931, even as the future dictator pledged to conquer them.

Part 3 begins with the Spanish Civil War and the early phase of World War II (1939–1942). The existing order proved remarkably resilient despite efforts by Franco’s Spain and the Axis to topple it, as argued in Chapter 10, but events nevertheless set in motion a long transition during the postwar decades. As the Mediterranean lost relevance in the emerging postwar geopolitics, the Strait’s meaning changed. The Rock of Gibraltar did not lose its sublime majesty, but the American naval presence at nearby Rota (near Cádiz) after 1953 rendered it strategically obsolescent while the dynamics of a north-south, Euro-African, postcolonial relationship gained relevance. In the context of this changing conjuncture in the trans-Gibraltar, Chapter 11 offers new perspectives on the regional context in which two varieties of authoritarian nationalism developed, first in Spain and later in Morocco. The postwar era of decolonization also resulted in the isolation of Gibraltar from its Spanish neighbor, the departure of Europeans and Jews from Morocco, and the start of a new era of northward migration. Chapter 12 chronicles this new ethno-religious sorting, concluding with some reflections on the crucial lessons and legacies of the region’s modern history.


1. For two helpful perspectives on the intertwined processes of order and conflict, see Stathis N. Kalyvas, Ian Shapiro, and Tarek Masoud, “Introduction: Integrating the Study of Order, Conflict, and Violence,” in Order, Conflict, and Violence, ed. Stathis N. Kalyvas, Ian Shapiro, and Tarek Masoud (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 1–14; and Paul W. Schroder, “Does the History of International Politics Go Anywhere?” in Systems, Stability, and Statecraft: Essays on the International History of Modern Europe, ed. David Wetzel, Robert Jervis, and Jack S. Levy (New York: Palgrave, 2004), 267–84.

2. In this vein, see Robert Gerwarth and John Horne, eds., War in Peace: Paramilitary Violence in Europe After the Great War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012); and Eric D. Weitz and Omer Bartov, eds., Shatterzone of Empires: Coexistence and Violence in the German, Habsburg, Russian, and Ottoman Borderlands (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013).

3. Sebastian Balfour, Deadly Embrace: Morocco and the Road to the Spanish Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).

4. Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 254–58.

5. Fernand Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, 2 vols., trans. Siân Reynolds (New York: Harper & Row, 1972). More recent explorations of this tension in modern Mediterranean history include Julia A. Clancy-Smith, Mediterraneans: North Africa and Europe in an Age of Migration, c. 1800–1900 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010); and Mary Dewhurst Lewis, Divided Rule: Sovereignty and Empire in French Tunisia, 1881–1938 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014).

6. The words of Alfred Thayer Mahan, in Allan Westcott, ed., Mahan on Naval Warfare: Selections from the Writings of Rear Admiral Alfred T. Mahan (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1941), 154. Also see S. W. C. Pack, Sea Power in the Mediterranean (London: Arthur Baker, 1971); and Reynolds M. Salerno, Vital Crossroads: Mediterranean Origins of the Second World War, 1935–1940 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2002).

7. Fernando María Castiella, Spanish Foreign Policy, 1898–1960 (Washington, DC: Georgetown University, 1960), 13. On nostalgia for al-Andalus (Muslim Spain) in modern Arab cultures, see, for example, Jonathan Holt Shannon, Performing Al-Andalus: Music and Nostalgia Across the Mediterranean (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2015).

8. The phrase belongs to Braudel, Mediterranean, 1:117. Also notable is the extensive work of Juan Bautista Vilar, cited throughout this book. For an essay on the Moroccan perspective, see C. R. Pennell, “The Discovery of Morocco’s Northern Coast,” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 20, no. 2 (1993): 226–36.

9. James C. Scott, The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009), 27.

10. Francisco Garrido, Bandidos, bandoleros, y contrabandistas en la Serranía de Ronda (Málaga: Diputación de Málaga, 2001), 117–18; and Henk Driessen, On the Spanish-Moroccan Frontier (Oxford, UK: Berg, 1992).

11. Lauren Benton and Lisa Ford, Rage for Order: The British Empire and the Origins of International Law, 1800–1850 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016), 24.

12. For example, see Lauren Benton, The Search for Sovereignty: Law and Geography in European Empires, 1400–1900 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010); and Charles S. Maier, “Consigning the Twentieth Century to History: Alternative Narratives for the Modern Era,” American Historical Review 105, no. 3 (June 2000): 807–31.

13. Examples of this tendency include Tamar Herzog, Frontiers of Possession: Spain and Portugal in Europe and the Americas (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015), and Hal Langfur, The Forbidden Lands: Colonial Identity, Frontier Violence, and the Persistence of Brazil’s Eastern Indians, 1750–1830 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006).

14. Such figures abound, for example, in Richard White, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650–1815 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991). For an overview of older literature, see William Roger Louis, ed., Imperialism: The Robinson and Gallagher Controversy (New York: New Viewpoints, 1976).

15. For a full study of this phenomenon in Spain and Morocco, see Eric Calderwood, Colonial al-Andalus: Spain and the Making of Modern Moroccan Culture (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018). Also see Joshua Goode, Impurity of Blood: Defining Race in Spain, 1870–1930 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2009), 86–91; Geoffrey Jensen, Irrational Triumph: Cultural Despair, Military Nationalism, and the Ideological Origins of Franco’s Spain (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2002), esp. 89–98; and Susan Martin-Márquez, Disorientations: Spanish Colonialism in Africa and the Performance of Identity (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008).

16. Patricia Hertel, The Crescent Remembered: Islam and Nationalism on the Iberian Peninsula, trans. Ellen Yutzy Glebe (Brighton, UK: Sussex Academic, 2015), 44–49.

17. See the essays in José Antonio González Alcantud and Sandra Rojo, eds., Andalusíes: Antropología e historia cultural de una élite magrebí (Madrid: Abada, 2015); and Calderwood, Colonial al-Andalus, 286–98.

18. Josep Lluís Mateo Dieste, La “hermandad” hispano-marroquí: Política y religión bajo el Protectorado español en Marruecos (1912–1956) (Barcelona: Bellaterra, 2003), 226; and Mateo Dieste, “De los ‘remendados’ al Hajj Franco: los españoles en el imaginario colonial marroquí,” Illes e imperis: Estudios de la historia de los sociedades en el mundo colonial y post-colonial 7 (2004): 67, 75.

19. Juan Bautista Vilar, Los españoles en la Argelia francesa (Murcia: CSIC, 1989), 332–33.

20. David Nirenberg, Neighboring Faiths: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism in the Middle Ages and Today (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014), 113.

21. Andrew Ginger, “Some Cultural Consequences in Spain of the Spanish Invasion of Morocco, 1859–60,” Journal of Iberian and Latin American Studies 12, nos. 2–3 (August 2006): 147–58; and Ginger, Painting and the Turn to Cultural Modernity in Spain: The Time of Eugenio Lucas Velázquez (1850–1870) (Selinsgrove, PA: Susquehanna University Press, 2007), 285–95.

22. Sean McMeekin, The Berlin-Baghdad Express: The Ottoman Empire and Germany’s Bid for World Power (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010), 4.

23. José María Jover develops this idea in his essay “La percepción española de los conflictos europeos,” Revista de Occidente 57 (February 1986): 5–42.

24. Wenceslao Ramírez de Villa-Urrutia, Una embajada á Marruecos en 1882: Apuntes de viaje (Madrid: Impresores de la Real Casa, 1883), 64.

25. Segismundo Moret, 27 December 1905, quoted in Courtenay DeKalb, “The Shadow of the Mogreb,” unpublished manuscript of 15 December 1924, 14, Series 3, Box 6, f. 58, AHS.

26. Joaquín Costa, Los intereses de España en Marruecos son harmónicos: Discurso pronunciado por Joaquín Costa (Madrid: Imprenta de España en África, 1906), 5, 23–24. Also see, for example, Tomás García Figueras, La acción africana de España en torno al 98 (1860–1912) (Madrid: CSIC, 1966).

27. James Derrick Sidaway, “Iberian geopolitics,” in Geopolitical Traditions: A Century of Geopolitical Thought, ed. Klaus Dodds and David Atkinson (London: Routledge, 2000), 120–22; Gonzalo de Reparaz, Geografía y política (Barcelona: Editorial Mentora, 1929); and Jaime Vicens-Vives, España: Geopolítica del estado y del imperio (Barcelona: Editorial Yunque, 1940).

28. The classic treatise on this position is José María Areilza and Fernando María Castiella, Reivindicaciones de España (Madrid: Editora Nacional, 1941).

29. See Marlène Albert-Llorca and José Antonio González Alcantud, “Metáforas y la-berintos de la alteridad,” in Moros y cristianos: Representaciones del otro en las fiestas del Mediterráneo occidental (Toulouse: Presses Universitaires du Mirail, 2003), 9–21.

30. Enrique Sánchez-Cabeza Earle, La Línea de mis recuerdos (La Línea de la Concepción: self-published, 1978), 192–93; Gareth Stockey, Gibraltar: “A Dagger in the Skull of Spain”? (Portland, OR: Sussex Academic Press, 2008), 59–60.

31. The exception is the period from 625, when the Visigoths expelled the Byzantines from southern Hispania, to 675, when they crossed the Strait to occupy Ceuta, before being overrun by the Umayyad Caliphate in 711.

32. María Rosa de Madariaga, “El Rif y el poder central: Una perspectiva histórica,” Revista de estudios internacionales mediterráneos 9 (2010): 2; Joseph F. O’Callaghan, The Gibraltar Crusade: Castile and the Battle for the Strait (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011).

33. Andrew W. Devereux, “North Africa in Early Modern Spanish Political Thought,” Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies 12, no. 3 (2011): 278–79.

34. Andrew C. Hess, The Forgotten Frontier: A History of the Sixteenth-Century Ibero-African Frontier (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978).

35. Jocelyn Hendrickson, “Muslim Legal Responses to Portuguese Occupation in Late Fifteenth-Century North Africa,” Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies 12, no. 3 (2011): 309–25.

36. Hess, Forgotten Frontier, 120–21, 129–30; and Francisco Márquez Villanueva, Moros, moriscos y turcos de Cervantes (Barcelona: Bellaterra, 2010).

37. Julio Caro Baroja, Los moriscos del Reino de Granada, 5th ed. (Madrid: Istmo, 2000), 164–72; and Garrido, Bandidos, 100–104.

38. David M. Hart, Banditry in Islam: Case Studies from Morocco, Algeria, and the Pakistan Northwest Frontier (Cambridge, UK: Menas Press, 1987), esp. 6–7.

39. José Manuel Cuenca Toribio, Andalucía: Una introducción histórica (Córdoba: Publicaciones del Monte de Piedad, 1980), 61–74.

40. Hess, Forgotten Frontier, 147; Rafael Sánchez Mantero, Historia breve de Andalucía (Madrid: Silex, 2001), 117.

41. F. Robert Hunter, “Rethinking Europe’s Conquest of North Africa and the Middle East: The Opening of the Maghreb, 1660–1814,” Journal of North African Studies 4, no. 4 (1999): 1–26.

42. Stephen Constantine, Community and Identity: The Making of Modern Gibraltar Since 1704 (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2009), 20–30; and James A. O. C. Brown, Crossing the Strait: Morocco, Gibraltar and Great Britain in the 18th and 19th Centuries (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 125.

43. James J. Sheehan, “The Problem of Sovereignty in European History,” American Historical Review 111, no. 1 (February 2006): 8–9.

44. On the role of straits in this era of European history, see Johannes Paulmann, “The Straits of Europe: History at the Margins of a Continent,” Bulletin of the German Historical Institute 52 (Spring 2013): 7–28.

45. See Douglas Kerr, Eastern Figures: Orient and Empire in British Writing (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2008), 11.