Basque Fact of the Week: The Earliest Documentation of the Word “Euskara” is in the Name of a Basque-Muslim

We all know how central language is to the identity of the Basques. Indeed, the Basque word for a Basque person, euskaldun, means one who has, or speaks, Euskara, the Basque language. However, given that Euskara has not been a written language for very long, it isn’t clear exactly where the word Euskara comes from. It seems that the very earliest record of the word, as chronicled by Ahmad ibn Umar al-Udrí (1003-1085), comes from the name Marzuq ibn Uskara, a Basque that had converted to Islam during the Muslim conquest of Spain.

Drawing of Bahlul ibn Marzuq by Arantzazu Blanco Grañera.
  • Marzuq ibn Uskara means Marzuq son of Uskara. Marzuq, it seems, was a local ruler. He had settled in the Castle Muns or Muñones, in what is now La Puebla de Castro, having come “from the north.” Likely to preserve his power when the Muslims invaded, he became a muladi, or a converted Muslim, himself. (Though, maybe Uskara himself had already converted to Islam.)
  • The historian Alberto Cañada Juste has suggested that this name might mean that Marzuq was son of a Basque named Uskara while the historian and writer Txomin Peillen has argued that Uskara can’t be an Arabic or Berber name, that it must have been indigenous, and, at that time, meant euskaldun (from the Uxue blog).
  • Some sources say that Marzuq ibn Uskara had three sons, others thirty. The most important of these was Bahlul ibn Marzuq, born in what is now Puebla de Castro. Bahlul led a popular revolt against the Arab-Muslim rulers. In 798, he rebelled against Al-Andalus in Zaragoza and in 800 he conquered the town of Huesca, which had been ruled by the Banu Salama family.
  • Bahlul created an independent kingdom that barely lasted 4 years (798 to 802), but was of such impact that its feats and ideal of justice were told and recreated throughout the northern area of the peninsula for decades, passed down from generation to generation by oral transmission: “…Bahlul, a rebel prophesied and sent by God to free his people from the tyranny of the Banu Salama rulers, who snatched the city of Zaragoza and the lands of the rich Ebro Valley from the powerful Emirate of Cordoba…” (from La Puebla de Castro blog).

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