Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Iberia (part 8) – The Legendary El Cid

Originally published in Slingshot, issue 294, May/June 2014 - the magazine of the Society of Ancients

Equestrian statue of El Cid in Balboa Park, San Diego
During Alfonso VI’s long reign (1072-1109 AD), Christian Iberia experienced a constantly expanding influence from beyond the Pyrenees.  Frankish knights came in large numbers, seeking fame and fortune, while Frankish monks introduced the Cluniac observance into many Iberian monasteries.  In addition there was a rapidly increasing influx of pilgrims journeying to Compostela.

This development was enhanced by a policy of reconquest developed under the leadership of Pope Gregory VII (1073-85 AD).  Along with this, the pope endeavoured to establish his sovereignty over the peninsula by substituting the indigenous “tainted and unorthodox” Mozarabic/Visigothic liturgy by the Roman one.
When in 1090 AD a council held at León ordered the elimination of the Visigothic script from all ecclesiastical books, the Mozarabic Rite was gradually replaced by the Roman Rite. The simultaneous introduction of the Carolingian script meant that the books written in the traditional peninsular script eventually became unintelligible to later generations trained to read a more modern hand.  Nevertheless, though largely superseded by the Roman Rite, the ancient Mozarabic Rite is still celebrated in Spain today.

Pressing South
Dissatisfied with the failure of taifa king al-Mu’tamid of Seville to pay the required taxes, King Alfonso VI of Castile and León had launched a major expedition which ravaged the Seville countryside as far as Tarifa on the southernmost tip of al-Andalus.  On 25 May 1085 AD he conquered Toledo and subsequently took control of most of the Toledan kingdom.  In the spring of 1086 AD Alfonso began to besiege Zaragoza.  Unable to withstand the pressure of the Christian king, a group of taifa kings invited the Moroccan Almoravids to organise a campaign against Alfonso and assume supreme power in the Peninsula.  When news arrived of the Almoravid invasion at Algeciras, the monarch, who had meanwhile assumed the title imperator totius Hispaniae, had to lift the siege of Zaragoza in September and to prepare for what was to come.

Invasion of the Almoravids (1086 AD)

The movement of the Almoravids (from al-Murābitūn , Arabic for people of the ribat, a community of quasi-monastic character) arose in the Western Sahara. Here the Moroccan ‘Abd Allāh bin Yāsin preached a reformist Islamic message to the Berbers that demanded strict adherence to the tenets of Islam, coupled with less tolerance for non-Muslims.  The movement controlled most of Morocco by 1080 AD.
On 30 July 1086 the Almoravids crossed the strait of Gibraltar under their leader Yūsuf bin Tāshfīn with an army of maybe 12,000 men, complete with camels and drums, and advanced to Seville. They were greeted with enthusiasm by the local people, who set up markets for them.
The appeal of the Almoravids was simple and effective. With the slogan “The spreading of righteousness, the correction of injustice and the abolition of unlawful taxes” they claimed that they would abolish the non-Quranic taxes in all the areas submitted to their rule. This meant that its inhabitants would only be submitted to the tithe.  Moreover, after the death of the founding father ‘Abd Allāh bin Yāsin, none of the Almoravid leaders had claimed a religious authority, nor styled themselves as Caliph as the Umayyads of Córdoba had done before.  This clearly had a positive impact on their reputation.

The Almoravid Empire c.1100 AD
From Seville, accompanied by the taifa kings of Seville, Granada and Málaga, the Almoravids continued to Badajoz, where they routed the Castilians in a battle at Zallaqa (Sagrajas) on 23 October 1086 AD.  King Alfonso, himself wounded, narrowly escaped with 500 of his knights. Reportedly, after the battle, piles of heads severed from bodies of defeated Christians were loaded onto carts and sent to the cities of al-Andalus as a testimony of the completeness of the victory. However, instead of pursuing the enemy, Yūsuf bin Tāshfīn immediately returned to Africa, apparently because of the death of his eldest son Sīr. Also, he may have been concerned that another of his sons, Ibrāhīm, would make a bid for the throne.
Though Alfonso VI had been beaten badly, he had not lost any territory and remained firmly in possession of the newly acquired kingdom of Toledo.  From the fortress at Aledo Alfonso’s garrison raided Muslim territory at will, while Valencia was being threatened by Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, better known to most of us as El Cid.

The Invaders Return
When Yūsuf returned to Iberia in June 1089 AD, only al-Mu’tamid of Seville and some lesser lords joined him in an attempt to expel the Christians from the castle of Aledo.  During the siege of this fortress, the Almoravids had to rely on the expertise of the people of Murcia to provide siege engines, as they had none, which proved to be a great weakness when they attempted to regain Toledo and other towns in al-Andalus that had been taken by the Christians.
Learning that Alfonso VI was preparing to relieve the castle, Yūsuf decided to abandon the siege and returned to Morocco again.  Here he prepared to depose all taifa kings for the good of Islam.  This was not without good reason, since, whereas initially the Iberian taifa kings had clearly supported the Almoravid campaign of 1086 AD, they showed increasing interest to ally with the Christian Leonese against their local Muslim rivals rather than to fight King Alfonso.  Worse, complaining about the financial burden that the Almoravid invasion imposed on them, by 1090 AD they had even started to turn against their Moroccan allies.
Castle of Aledo today

The End of the Taifa Kingdoms

Consequently, when Yūsuf bin Tāshfīn returned to the Peninsula in 1090 AD, he began the process of direct annexation.  He deposed the kings of Granada and Málaga and sent them as prisoners to Morocco. By the end of the year Ibn Tāshfīn returned to North Africa, leaving his nephew Sīr bin Abī Bakr to continue his work.  When Sīr took Córdoba in 1091 AD and besieged Seville, King Alfonso called upon his subjects to make an extra tribute to enable him to take the necessary measures to check the enemy advance.  However, Sīr’s troops took Seville by assault in November 1091 and its king, al-Mu’tamid, ended his days a prisoner in Morocco.
While many taifas accepted the inevitable, Valencia, Zaragoza and Badajoz chose to fight for their independence.  Sīr seized Badajoz in 1094 AD and executed its king al-Mutawakkil, who had attempted to gain Christian support by ceding Lisbon and other places to Alfonso VI. Thereupon the Almoravids recovered the cities that had been handed to the Christians.  The elimination of the taifas ended with the conquest of Zaragoza in 1110 AD, after which Ibn Tāshfīn resorted to familial rule, distributing the governorships largely among his sons and grandsons.
In spite of their military successes, even for the Almoravids the peninsula proved difficult to conquer. In their move northwards, the Almoravids failed to win back Toledo and could not retake lands that Christian rulers had fully occupied and repopulated. However, they did manage to reclaim Valencia in 1102, eight years after it had been taken by El Cid.  Islamic Iberia was once again a unified entity, as it had been in the 10th century under ‘Abd ar-Rahmān III and Almanzor, but there were significant differences: al-Andalus was no longer the dominant force that it had been in the 10th century, raiding Christian lands at will, nor was it as large as it had been during that period.  Above all, and it was no longer independent but in effect a colony ruled from Marrakesh.

Al-Andalus between 800 and 1300 AD
The Almoravids continued to control much of al-Andalus for some fifty years.  Given their intolerant attitude towards non-Muslims, many Jews began to move north, where they were welcomed into the Christian kingdoms.  This migration was stimulated by a growing intolerance against Jews in general. There had been anti-Jewish riots in Granada in 1066 AD, for instance, during which a large number of Jews had been murdered.  The background of this event was that in Granada a certain Samuel Ha-Nagid was first minister, who even regularly commanded Granadan armies in the field, which made him the first Jew in Western Europe to command troops for nearly a thousand years.  As under Muslim law it was forbidden for a Jew to exercise civil or military power over Muslims, this led to anti-Jewish protests.
Matters did not take such a violent course elsewhere, but contemporary opinion seems to have been critical of the taifa rulers for their employment of Jews in their service, which was seen as further evidence of their slackness in religious observance.
All in all, when by 1145 AD the Almoravid Empire had fallen apart, religious hostility on both sides of the Muslim-Christian divide had clearly increased.

Almoravid Military Equipment and Tactics

The most characteristic feature of Almoravid equipment was the litham, or face veil, which also was part of Sanhajah (or Iẓnagen) Berber identity. In fact, the litham was such a distinguishing feature of their appearance that the Almoravids were also known as al-mulaththamūn, “those who wear the litham.” A minority wore mail hauberks, while all carried curved daggers for close combat.
Different from normal nomad tactics, which avoided casualties due to scarce manpower, these inhabitants of the deep desert put the emphasis on stern discipline, solid formations and accepted heavy losses. They were trained to attack in mixed teams and organized to move en masse. From the earliest days flags and drums played a leading part in battlefield control. While early Almoravid leaders regarded war-drums as pagan devices, later Almoravid armies made great use of them, particularly in Iberia, where they terrified the Christians and panicked their horses. As a result, the Almoravids proved to be virtually invincible for years. What may have helped, too, is that the Almoravids were religious fanatics who, assured of eternal reward in the hereafter, were prepared to fight to the death. Christian noblemen, meanwhile, typically surrendered when faced with hopeless circumstances, expecting to be ransomed.

Phalanx formations
Originally the Almoravids adopted phalanx formations in which a front rank, holding long spears, knelt behind tall almost body-covering leather shields made from the skin of a gazelle-like animal called a lamt, while rear ranks threw javelins (mizraq). It is thought that in al-Andalus decorative tassels were fastened to these shields.  Almoravid tactics were essentially static and supposedly they never retreated, nor even pursued a defeated a foe. While later Almoravids reportedly had 30,000 thoroughbred camels, saddled and ready for war, camel-mounted infantry would usually dismount in battle to join the phalanx formation.  Later, when cavalry was more actively used to break and pursue a weakened enemy, the phalanx also served as a safe haven for mounted troops, from where they could emerge and to which they would return.
Modern Moroccan veiled Berber
Yūsuf bin Tāshfīn reorganised the Almoravid armies.  He abolished the tribal structure, changed the command system and created a personal force of black slaves and foreigners.  His body guard (hasham) consisted of 500 non-Berber horsemen, including Arabs, Ghuzz (or Oghuz) Turks and Europeans, supported by another 2,000 black African cavalry. Christian mercenaries (rumi) as well as converted Iberian prisoners fought for the Almoravids in both al-Andalus and North Africa throughout the late eleventh and twelfth centuries.
Cavalry became more important than camel-mounted troops, especially in al-Andalus. Here the high number of black Africans in the Almoravid armies, many recruited from Senegal on the southern frontier of the empire, had a terrifying effect on Christian morale, together with the massed drums, unusual forms of bow, the enormously long leather shields, bamboo spears and other unusual weapons.

The Christian Armies

Iberian warfare differed from that in the rest of Western Europe in that its emphasis lay on light cavalry, light infantry including archers, a lack of body armour and on raiding rather than pitched battles. As the Christians pushed south into the high plains, long-distance raiding cabalgadas (cavalcades) by cavalry forces increased in importance. Such cavalry raids were very similar to the Muslim razzias and suitable in a landscape which had been a cavalry arena since the Celtiberians. As the frontier areas between Christians and Muslims were not rigidly defined, the heavily raided zones fell to whoever was stronger at the time.  Longer-term campaigns were intended to seize and hold territory and in such cases more troops were involved, as well as siege engineers.

French military influence was now also felt, most strongly in Catalonia. The cavalry elite adopted the tall saddle, straight-legged riding position plus couched lance, typical for the later 12th century knights, and close-packed formations with shock-cavalry tactics designed to break enemy lines by weight or momentum. Tall saddles and long stirrups, however, did complicate remounting, and brought many a horseman in trouble when facing lighter and more agile Muslim cavalry.   
Though scale armour remained in use, mail hauberks became more common, while quilted armour, alone or with mail, clearly reflected Muslim influence.  Other regional peculiarities on the Christian side included a custom of raising newly proclaimed leaders on two spear-shafts, and a strong, almost anti-feudal clan spirit which echoed the tribalism of al-Andalus.


Arms and Armour of a Christian knight
In the eleventh century the equipment of a West European knight would have been a helmet, a mail-coat, a shield and a sword. The mail-coat, or lorica, was a long-sleeved, knee-length garment, sufficiently loose to be worn over a padded tunic underneath. Horsemen and sometimes foot soldiers, too, had it slashed below the waist before and behind, for greater ease of movement. Sometimes the lower half took the form of knee-breeches.
The more expensive mail-coats consisted of thousands of tiny steel rings, riveted together. Cheaper versions were made of overlapping steel rings sewn onto leather.  W
eapons like maces, cavalry axes, sophisticated infantry weapons, composite bows and a continued use of javelins, set Iberia apart from the rest of Western Europe.  A significant military development was the widespread adoption of cross-bows during the eleventh century. 

Christians vs. Muslims, Las Cantigas de Santa Maria
In terms of armour, Iberia also differed slightly from the countries to the north. Separate mail coifs, round helmets of one-piece construction or extended to protect the sides and back of the head were quite advanced and probably betrayed Middle Eastern influence.  The helmet was a conical iron or steel cap, with a projecting piece, the nasal, to give protection to the nose, and sometimes with earflaps or cheek-guards, or a curtain of mail at the back to protect the neck. While such iron helmets were rare and expensive in the Christian states, hardened leather defences were widespread on both sides of the frontier.  Shields were either kite-shaped or round, made of wood or boiled leather stretched on a wooden frame, and strengthened with metal hubs, spokes, studs, or all of these.  
Swords with double edged blades, designed for slashing and cutting, were ideally suited to be used on horse-back against an enemy on foot. Iberian sources refer to these swords as spathae francae optimae, or infrayi. Swords were often richly decorated around the hilt and the pommel. Sword-belts too were richly adorned.
The spear was a much cheaper weapon than the sword and could be either hurled as a projectile or held over- or under-arm to deliver a thrust, or couched firmly under the right armpit, while the left arm was left free to handle shield and reins.  For cavalry shock attacks a heavier type of lance was used, as normal spears would simply shatter on impact.  Such lances were often flanged with horizontal lugs or wings beneath the blades.  Though it is often suggested that these lugs were there to prevent the point from penetrating too deep into the victim, it is more likely that they were mainly used to parry cuts by other weapons, almost as in fencing.
A knight would have had a string of horses. A palfrey for everyday travel, a war-horse for combat – the immensely heavy horses of later medieval warriors did not exist yet -, mounts for servants and mules for baggage. Mules consume less water, which during the long hot summers of Iberia is an asset.  With the development of heavier charging spears, saddles were tending to become heavier and developed prominent saddle-bows to help to fix the rider more firmly in his seat and lessen the risk of his being hurled off on impact.

The Organisation of the Christian Armies
In El Cid’s day and age, the Castilian army basically consisted of noble caballeros hidalgos, who fought as vassals in return for pay.  Many had their own private armies, or mesnadas, who were led by members of the infanzones or lesser nobility, such as El Cid. Of increasing importance were non-noble but prosperous caballeros villanos, who fought in return for tax exemptions.  They could, however, lose this status, if they failed to attend - properly equipped and mounted - a twice yearly military inspection.
Urban infantry (pedones) also fought in return for privileges.  The iudex (judge, or juez in Spanish), the leader of an urban force, was usually appointed by the king, though each city section elected its own alcalde (a term which derives from the Arabic al-qādī and is still used in modern Spanish for mayor) when it joined a campaign.  Scouts (atalayeros, from Arabic al-talāyi) were something of an elite, mounted on the swiftest horses and who were paid a special salary.  The algara, or raiders (from Arabic al-gārah), rode on to do what damage they could.  Rules governing a city’s warfare were laid down in a charter (fuero), covering information-gathering, espionage, the division of spoils, compensation for death or injury and the exchange of prisoners.
Military developments in Aragón were different in that men from southern Francia played a significant role in the reconquest and colonisation of eastern Iberia until around 1150 AD.  This foreign involvement, however, did have nasty side-effects.  When the Muslim frontier town of Barbastro was captured in 1064 AD, for instance, which was largely the work of Norman, French and Italian crusaders, the aggressors broke the surrender terms and slaughtered not only the defenders, but also some 6,000 male inhabitants whose women and children were then divided among the conquerors as concubines and slaves. Thousands more were sent to the Byzantine emperor as a gift.
Caballeria Villana
A year later Barbastro was retaken by the Andalusian rulers of Zaragoza.
Catalonia’s culture was different from those of the other Christian kingdoms.  It was a region of small and often poor fiefs, where military obligation was based on personal fidelity and property, rather than true feudalism.  In some areas service seems to have been purely voluntary.  After 1200 AD, however, this had changed, as by then the concept of vassalage had been strongly influenced by French culture.
In Portugal, which was not recognised as a separate political entity until the thirteenth century, the military organisation remained true to old Arab-Andalusian tradition until the fourteenth century. The army commander had an Arabic title alférez mor, as did the governors of castles and fortified cities (alcaldes).  Portuguese costume remained influenced by Mozarab-Andalusian styles and the continued use of longbows, though also crossbows had come into fashion.

El Cid

In the eleventh century Castile was steadily prospering as the dangers posed by Muslim al-Andalus had receded after the disintegration of its political power. For the Castilians the Muslim gold whetted appetites and the south no longer represented danger, but opportunity.  This then was the Castile in which round about 1048 AD Rodrigo Díaz was born into an aristocratic family in the tiny village of Vivar (nowadays called Vivar del Cid), situated about 9 kilometres north of Burgos. His later nickname El Cid derives from the North-African Arabic al-sidi, or al-sayyid in the eastern Arabic dialects, and means lord or chief.
"ego ruderico" - signature of El Cid
His father, Diego Laínez, was a distinguished soldier, who defeated the Navarrese in battles in the late 1050s.  Nothing at all is known about his mother, though his maternal grandfather, Rodrigo Alvarez, was certainly a man of note, who held the important fortress of Luna north of Miranda de Ebro and also administered the regions dependent on Mormojón, Moradillo, Cellorigo and Curiel.
At the age of about fourteen, the young Rodrigo was placed in the household of King Fernando’s eldest son Sancho, the heir to the throne of Castile, who would “gird him with the belt of knighthood”.
The first significant military campaign in which Rodrigo Díaz served was that in 1063 AD, led by Sancho against his uncle King Ramiro I of Aragon.  Ramiro had attacked the Pyrenean town of Graus, which belonged to the taifa kingdom of Zaragoza.  Since for the Castilians the balance of power in the Peninsula required that Zaragoza be protected, the king of Castile sent his eldest son Sancho to assist King al-Muqtadir of Zaragoza to recover Graus. What made the campaign memorable was the death of King Ramiro in the battle.

El Cid Campeador
When King Fernando I of Castile died on 29 December 1065 AD, he left Castile to Sancho, who would become known as King Sancho II. His second son Alfonso, King Alfonso VI, received León, while García, the youngest, became king of Galicia.  As Rodrigo Díaz witnessed a number of Sancho II’s charters between 1066 and 1071 AD, we may assume that he continued to remain prominent at the royal court. The author of the Historia Roderici tells that Rodrigo was given the office of armiger regis, the bearer of the royal arms, or alférez, the bearer of the royal standard in the royal household, a position that later came to be known as constable in feudal France and England.
In this position Rodrigo Díaz was responsible for overseeing the king’s household militia, who were the king’s escort and formed the nucleus of the royal army. This job was normally held by fairly young men to train them for independent command.  It may have been during this period that Rodrigo Díaz became known by another title, that of campi doctor, or campeador in Romance.  The literal meaning of this title is “teacher of the (military) field” and is used in Vegetius's popular fourth-century Roman treatise De re militari. In the late Roman army a campi doctor seems to have been a regimental drill-instructor, which basically characterises the duties of a royal armiger.  The Arabic sources of the eleventh and twelfth centuries refer to Rodrigo either as Rudriq al-Kanbiyatur or Ludriq al-Qanbiyatur.
The partition of Castile had not been an equitable one. With León Alfonso had received a better deal than either of his brothers. As a result, hostilities broke out between Castile and León in 1068 AD, but peace between the brothers was patched up. However, in 1071 AD Sancho and Alfonso turned on García of Galicia, who was defeated and went into exile in Seville, while his kingdom was divided between his brothers.
King Alfonso VI with his "armiger regis" on the right
Hostilities between the two victors broke out early in January 1072 AD. Alfonso was defeated and sent to exile at the court of al-Ma’mun of Toledo. Sancho had thus reunited his father’s dominions and the responsibilities and rewards of his armiger Rodrigo Díaz increased correspondingly.
King Sancho II’s rule, however, would last only nine months. On 7 October 1072 he was killed outside the Leonese town of Zamora, where he had travelled to put down an insurrection against him. It is reasonably certain that his murder involved treachery and may even have been planned by his brother Alfonso.  After this, Alfonso made his way to the royal city of León, where Rodrigo Díaz transferred his loyalties to his new king, Alfonso VI, even though he would be replaced by the Leonese armiger Gonzalo Díaz.  The public record establishes Alfonso VI as one of the greatest rulers of his age, who would remain in power for forty-four years.

Banished from Court
When in 1080 AD Rodrigo led a raid deep into the territories of Toledo, then allied with Castile and León under the freshly installed puppet taifa king al-Qādir, King Alfonso VI found it necessary to discipline him by sending him into exile in eastern Iberia. This decision may have been influenced by Rodrigo’s enemies at court. In any case, to have ignored El Cid’s raid would be to have encouraged the same sort of recklessness on the part of rest of Alfonso’s fractious nobility. It would also have raised the question among the taifas of the ability of their overlord to protect them and hence the very utility of paying taxes.
Rodrigo went into exile at the head of a small army. At first he went to Barcelona, where the brothers Ramon Berenguer II and Berenguer Ramon II refused his offer for service. Then he journeyed to the taifa of Zaragoza, whose interests he very successfully served from 1081-1087 AD, which mostly coincided with the interests of Castile and León as well.
However, after the conquest of Toledo by King Alfonso in 1085 AD and the subsequent appearance of the Almoravids in the Peninsula, the political situation changed in Iberia.  As a result, from the spring of 1088 AD El Cid chose to operate independently and to serve his own interests. His nickname probably originated in this period.  Since he had to procure an income that would allow him to support a force of about 700 horse and 2,500 auxiliaries, El Cid started to extract parias from all the 13 still independent taifa kingdoms in the east, including Valencia.  He made an exception for Zaragoza, as this taifa was too powerful. The parias generated a princely income of 100,000 dinars annually.

Reconciliation and Accused Again
Around 1087 AD Rodrigo Díaz and King Alfonso seem to have been reconciled again. In the spring of 1089 Rodrigo crossed the Duero near Gormaz and went on to Calamocha to celebrate Pentecost. Here he received a delegation from the taifa kingdom of Albarracín, with whom he negotiated a treaty by which the kingdom became a tributary of King Alfonso.
In the same year the second Almoravid invasion took place.  When Rodrigo and Alfonso’s armies failed to converge at Aledo, which was besieged by the Muslim invaders, El Cid’s enemies were quick to claim that his failure to join forces with the king was deliberate and that he thereby had treacherously endangered the royal army.  Believing the accusation, Alfonso confiscated all Rodrigo’s property and imprisoned his wife and children.  El Cid offered to defend himself by the judicial process of trial by combat, which had been recently introduced from Francia in the circles of the military aristocracy.
Apparently this trial by combat never took place and, reunited with his family, Rodrigo spent Christmas at Elche, where he laid plans for the coming year of 1090 AD. Most of all he needed cash for his army and he decided to get it from the taifa kingdom of Denia. After he had been bought off, he moved on to Valencia and exacted “very great and innumerable gifts of money” from its ruler al-Qādir.  In the meantime, Denia invoked the help of its protector Count Berenguer of Barcelona. There was a battle in the mountainous area of “the pinewood of el Tévar”, on the boundary of the modern provinces of Castellón and Teruel, probably between the villages of Herbés and Monroyo.  Though El Cid was simultaneously attacked from above and from below on a mountain slope, he was able to rally his men and gain a victory.  Count Berenguer was taken prisoner, as were all his leading vassals “and many other most noble men”, while the Catalan camp was plundered. The count and his men were ransomed for enormous sums of money.
Coat of arms of Count Ramon Berenguer
In the winter of 1090-91 AD El Cid and King Alfonso had reconciled again and went on campaign together against the Almoravids.  They met at Martos and went on to camp near Granada. When the enemy did not offer battle, the king ordered his army back to Toledo.  The new reconciliation did not last long, as outside Granada there was a quarrel about precedence – a matter of where Rodrigo chose to pitch his tents in relation to the king’s.  The quarrel was so vehement, that the king was planning to arrest Rodrigo, but the latter managed to escape. The king went back to Toledo and El Cid returned to the Levante, where he spent Christmas at Morella in 1091 AD.  El Cid made his way to Zaragoza and renewed his alliance with al-Musta’in. Then he negotiated an alliance with King Sancho Ramírez of Aragon and his son Pedro, and finally acted as an intermediary in bringing about peace between Zaragoza and Aragón.
Wanting to show that he was the real master of the Levante, Alfonso approached the most prominent maritime cities of northern Italy, Genua and Pisa, and proposed a joint attack on Valencia by sea. Though the old city centre of modern Valencia lies a mile inland, the coastline used to be much closer to the city in El Cid’s time than it is today.  However, King Alfonso had barely settled down to besiege the city, before he was called to Castile by disturbing news. El Cid had invaded the kingdom, savagely laying waste to the Rioja, taking both Alberite and Logroño with the help of a small force of Almoravid troops, before retiring laden with booty to the castle of Alfaro.
The action was not so much directed against the king, but more against García Ordóñez, whose county it was and who at the time was the most prominent magnate of Castile. His advice to the king might well have lain behind the troubles suffered by El Cid over the last three years.  El Cid’s raid made clear for all to see that García was unable to uphold his public duty of defending his country and maintaining order in it. Worse, when García finally got an army together, he did not dare to fight.
When Rodrigo returned to Zaragoza, Alfonso had abandoned his siege of Valencia and the Italian fleets drifted off up the coast to help the count of Barcelona in an abortive siege of Tortosa.
In the south the Almoravids inflicted further humiliation on Alfonso by taking Murcia and the castle of Aledo in the spring of 1092 AD.   In the late summer and autumn they captured Denia, Játiva/Xàtiva and Alcira, twenty-two miles south of Valencia.

In the same year the Valencian Muslims, contemptuous of their leader al-Qādir, who had been imposed on them by King Alfonso, staged a coup under the prominent and well-respected qādī Ibn Yahhāf, hoping that their revolt would be supported by the Almoravids, who were advancing from the south.  The Christians were driven out of the city, while al-Qādir tried to escape disguised as a woman, but he was captured and executed.
News of these developments was brought to El Cid while he dwelled in the taifa of Zaragoza.  Now his dominant position in the Levante was threatened by the Almoravid advance and the coup in Valencia, he hastened south-eastwards and laid siege to Cebolla, about nine miles north of Valencia, which was soon captured. He refortified it and established a base for further operations there. In July 1093 he laid siege to Valencia and cut off the supplies to the city by systematically ravaging the surrounding lands.
Historia Roderici, copy written in the first half of the 13th century
The relieving Almoravid army led by Abū Bakr bin Ibrāhīm finally arrived in September 1093 AD. For reasons that are not clear, the liberating Almoravids retreated without striking a blow when they had come within sight of the city walls. Perhaps Yūsuf bin Tāshfīn had underestimated the strength of El Cid’s forces.
Rodrigo continued to press his blockade ever more closely in the winter months of 1093-94 AD and food-shortages began to be felt in the city.  When no new relief force appeared, Ibn Yahhāf opened negotiations with El Cid and when the terms of surrender were agreed, El Cid made himself the master of Valencia.   On Thursday, 15 June 1094, he entered the city of Valencia as its conqueror and took up his quarters in the palace of its taifa rulers.
Following the surrender, he expelled part of the Muslim population of Valencia and replaced it with Mozarabs from the suburbs.  The property of the expelled Muslims was handed over to his troops. A minority of the Muslim population was allowed to stay and was guaranteed the possession of its property and the exercise of its religion, while Ibn Yahhāf was allowed to continue as its qādī.

In a Fix
When a large Almoravid relief army finally arrived early October of that year under Muhammad bin Ibrāhīm, El Cid was in a fix and appealed to King Alfonso for assistance.  The atmosphere of the crisis can be sensed from the reports of Ibn ‘Alqama.  Panicky measures for the defence were taken.  All tools of iron were to be surrendered to El Cid on pain of death and property was sequestrated.  As the Christian conquerors put little trust in the indigenous Muslim population, a trick was used to entice the able-bodied male population out of the city to the coast. Potential troublemakers were sent off to fend for themselves elsewhere.
Hostilities started after the month of Ramadan. According to the author of Historia Roderici, the Almoravid army lay about Valencia in the level plain of Cuarte – where Valencia’s airport now is – for ten days and nights, and each day its soldiers went around the city shrieking and shouting, while shooting fire arrows at the tents and dwellings of Rodrigo and his soldiers.  Ibn ‘Alqama tells us that Rodrigo had divided his forces into two parts. Observing lax discipline and even desertion in the Muslim camp, El Cid executed a night-time attack which was as carefully planned as it was bold.  A sudden sortie was made in strength, suggesting that El Cid himself led it. Meanwhile, commanding the other body of soldiers, Rodrigo left the city by different gate and fell upon the defenceless Muslim camp, routing the Muslims and forcing them to retreat to Játiva, while their camp and its treasure taken. It was the event of the year and the first Almoravid reverse since their initial invasion in 1086 AD. El Cid’s victory gave a boost to the morale of the Christians of Iberia, showing that the Almoravids were not invincible.  El Cid summoned his family from the Castilian monastery of Cardeňa and they installed themselves in the royal palace. Until his death in 1099 AD, Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar would be prince of Valencia.

More Victories
After the repulsion of the Almoravid Muslims El Cid revenged himself savagely on what he took to be the treachery of the qādī of Valencia, Ibn Yahhāf , by having him burned to death.  In 1097 AD, another Almoravid force under Alī bin al-Hājj was defeated at Bairén, some 50 km south of the Valencia. King Pedro I of Aragon, an ally of El Cid’s, had conquered Huesca in November 1096 AD and came south, presumably to inspect his outposts near Castellón, after which he went on to meet Rodrigo at Valencia. Here the two men decided to use the large force thus assembled to reinforce the southern frontier fortress of Benicadell in the foothills of the sierra of that name between Játiva and Denia.
Advancing southward, they ran into an Almoravid army led by Ibn al-Hājj and found themselves pinned between two Muslim armies, one who occupied higher ground in the west and one on the sea in the east.  Subjected to arrow fire from Muslim ships and cavalry attacks from the slopes, Rodrigo rode between his troops, delivering a rousing harangue to raise their morale. Then battle was joined and in the end the Almoravid army was defeated and turned to flight.
In the same year, Rodrigo managed to defeat the governor of Játiva, who, in a daring move, had led a force across the surrounding lands of Valencia and had established himself at the castle of Sagunto (called Murviedro until 1877 AD, from muri veteres, “old walls”), located where once the coastal Celtiberian city of Saguntum had been. El Cid dislodged the aggressor from the castle and pursued him further north up the coast to Almenara. After a siege of three months, Almenara fell to Rodrigo. Sagunto itself would be taken in 1098 AD.
After these humiliating defeats, Yūsuf bin Tāshfīn decided to organise another invasion in person in the summer of 1097 AD. Muhammad bin al-Hājj, a cousin of the Alī that had been defeated at Bairén, was sent out against Toledo and defeated King Alfonso at Consuegra, killing, amongst others, El Cid’s son Diego.  However, while ravaging the lands of Valencia, the Almoravid forces did not manage to take a single fortress of importance and their victories would prove to be ephemeral.

Not much is known about the administration of Valencia between 1094 and 1099 AD, but there is reason to believe that Rodrigo’s government was harsh and propelled by an unceasing quest for money.  After the battle of Cuarte before Valencia in 1094 AD, El Cid assembled all the richest citizens of Valencia at his palace and announced that they would remain imprisoned until they had ransomed themselves for 700,000 mithqals (1 mithqal = 1 gold dinar). When this breath-taking sum appeared to be beyond their capacity it was subsequently reduced to 200,000. Apparently this lower sum of money was raised and paid over.

Ibn Yahhāf, who was burned to death by El Cid for reasons of treason, had been tortured shortly before his death. Rodrigo, who had been promised the treasure of Ibn Yahhāf’s predecessor al-Qādir, suspected that Ibn Yahhāf was holding some of the treasure back and he wanted to force him to reveal its whereabouts. He was only with difficulty restrained from inflicting the same death to Ibn Yahhāf’s wife and children.
Nevertheless, when El Cid died on 10 July 1099, contemporaries recognised that the world had lost a hero. Ibn Bassam, who hated him, wrote of him that “this man, the scourge of his time, by his appetite for glory, by the prudent steadfastness of is character, and by his heroic bravery was one of the miracles of God.” The author of the Historia Roderici ended his account of him as follows: “While he lived in this world, he always won a noble triumph over his enemies: never was he defeated by any man.”
However, Valencia proved impossible to hold, despite the valiant efforts of El Cid’s wife Jimena, who would rule the city for another three years, and the city was finally evacuated by the Christians and left to the Almoravids in May 1102 AD. Valencia would continue as a Muslim city for more than a century and a quarter.  
The reputation of El Cid, who had defied, bluffed and beaten kings, counts and emirs, incited a legend in which he would eventually become incomparably more significant than in real life.

Sources and Further Reading
  • Fletcher, Richard, The Quest for El Cid, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1991
  • Kennedy, Hugh, Muslim Spain and Portugal, Longman, London & New York, 1996
  • Kennedy, Hugh, The Armies of the Caliphs, Routledge, Abingdon & New York, 2001
  • Nicolle, David, The Moors - The Islamic West, 7th-15th Centuries AD, Men-at-Arms 348, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, 2001
  • Nicolle, David, El Cid and the Reconquista, Men-at-Arms 200, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, 1988
  • O’Callaghan, Joseph F., A History of Medieval Spain, Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London, 1983
  • Reilly, Bernard F., The Contest of Christian and Muslim Spain 1031-1157, Blackwell, Oxford UK & Cambridge MA USA, 1992
  • Phillips, William D. Jr. and Carla Rahn Phillips, A Concise History of Spain, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2010

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Iberia – part 7: The Beginnings of the Reconquista

Originally published in Slingshot, issue 293, March/April 2014 - the magazine of the Society of Ancients

The Birth of the Christian Kingdoms

In the remote regions of north-western Iberia and the middle Pyrenees the power of the Muslims in the south was scarcely felt. It was here that the foundations of the Christian kingdoms of Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia were laid and from where the reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula would start.  However, no coordinated attempt would be made to drive the Moors out. Like the Visigoths, the Christian kingdoms were mainly focussed on their own internal power struggles. As a result, the Reconquista took the greater part of eight hundred years, in which period a long list of Alfonsos, Sanchos, Ordoños, Ramiros, Fernandos and Vermudos would be fighting their Christian rivals as much as the Muslim invaders.

Further east, local Christians - with some help from the Carolingians - were able to take over Girona in 785 AD and Barcelona in 801 AD. Pamplona (Iruña, “the city” in Basque) was taken from the Banū Qasī by the Basques in 799 AD. Snatched away by the Franks in 806 AD, Pamplona was retaken by the native Basques in 810 AD, after which it gradually became the nucleus of the new Kingdom of Navarra under Iñigo Arista (Eneko Aritza in Basque), who died 851 AD. Incorporated into the Carolingian empire, Barcelona and Girona evolved into the centres of the Spanish March (Marca Hispanica).  Simultaneously, in the course of the ninth century the counts of Barcelona became increasingly estranged from Frankish control. As Catalonia had gradually been repopulated and the Muslims been driven south of Barcelona, the county was effectively independent by the time of Count Wilfred the Hairy’s rule (Guifré el Pilós in Catalan) from 873-98 AD.


The first and most well-known leader of the Christian resistance was the legendary Pelayo, or Pelagius, whose earliest testimony is given by the ninth-century Chronicle of Albelda. Allegedly a grand-nephew and spatiarius of the Visigothic King Roderic, he was expelled from Toledo by King Wittiza (died 708 AD) to settle in Asturias, where he had been elected princeps and organised a revolt against the Muslim invaders, possibly in 718 or 722 AD. To make Pelagius the legitimate successor of the last Visigothic King Roderic, the later Chronicle of Alfonso III, composed in the early tenth century, asserted that he was of royal blood. However, it is much more likely that he was simply the leader of an uprising by the Asturians and had no intention to resurrect the defunct kingdom of the Visigoths.
The chronicles record that a Muslim expedition was sent to punish the revolting Asturians, who had fled to the cave of Covadonga on mount Aseuva to make their last stand. In the battle that followed, probably on 28 May 722 AD, Pelagius routed his enemies, killing the Muslim governor of Gijón. In the wake of this the Muslim invaders evacuated their northernmost province and retired south of the Cordillera Cantábrica to the plain of León. Although later writers magnified the victory out of proportion, the immediate military consequences were minimal. Since the Chronicle of 754 has nothing to say about Pelagius or this event, it must have been regarded as a minor skirmish. Among the Asturians, however, Covadonga became the symbol of Christian resistance against Islam.

Alfonso I (739-57 AD)

Under Pelagius’ son-in-law Alfonso I the kingdom of Asturias became reality. The revolt of the Berbers in 740 AD (see part 4 of this series) and the withdrawal of many Muslims from the northern reaches of Iberia enabled Alfonso I to establish the kingdom on firm foundation. He was able to extend his rule to Galicia, the north of modern Portugal, Cantabria, Alava and la Rioja. The line of demarcation between Christian and Muslim territories followed the course of the Duero River from Porto in modern Portugal to Osma in the current Spanish province of Soria, and ran then northward into the Basque country. 

Pope Gregory VII
Lacking sufficient forces to occupy the whole region abandoned by the Muslims, Alfonso I systematically laid waste the Duero valley, which for many years remained a great area of no-man’s land separating Asturias and al-Andalus. Almost a century later, while Emir al-Hakam I (d.822 AD) was occupied with domestic strife, King Alfonso II (d.842 AD) would make a conscious effort to restore in Asturias the civil and ecclesiastical order of the Visigothic monarchy. Alfonso II used the characteristic titles of the Visigothic kings and surrounded himself with palatine officials whose offices were reminiscent of the Visigothic court. 
To the east of the kingdom of Asturias were the Christian kingdom of Navarra, the counties of Aragon, Sobrarbe, and Ribagorza, and the Catalan counties of Pallars, Urgel, Cerdagne, Roussillon, Besalú, Amurias, Ausona (Vich), Gerona and Barcelona. These Christian states expanded slowly, principally in times of disorder in al-Andalus. The greatest advance was made in the west where the rulers of Asturias occupied and colonized vast areas abandoned by the Muslims. Early in the tenth century the Asturian seat of government was moved from Oviedo in the north to León, which enjoyed better communication with the repopulated areas.
In the first half of the eleventh century, Sancho the Great, king of Navarra, united the counties of Aragon, Sobrarbe and Ribagorza, as well as Castile and León and upon his death in 1035 AD bequeathed these dominions to his sons. In the second half of the eleventh century, the Church of Rome began to become actively interested in organising the Reconquista of Iberia for the Christian faith. Pope Gregory VII (1073-85 AD), well-known for the legendary “Walk to Canossa” forced on the German King Henry IV, would attempt to a French crusade into Iberia in 1074 AD, led by Count Ebles of Roucy in Normandy, the brother-in-law of King Sancho Ramírez of Aragón.

The Asturian Kingdom (791-910 AD)

Almost all we know about the emergence of the Asturian kingdom comes from the evidence of later periods. The earliest document to bear the name of one its rulers was the grant of land to three priests and a group of monks to found a monastery, made on 23 August 775 AD by a certain Silo (774-83 AD), which survives as a very early copy of the lost original. Remarkably, this Silo bears no title, neither does a certain “Adefonsus”, almost certainly Alfonso II, whose name appears at the bottom of the charter as a later confirmation, again with no royal title attached to the name, unlike the royal documents of the Visigothic and Frankish periods, which always emphasized the king’s status and included his title along with his name.

Alfonso II (791-842 AD)
Alfonso II is recorded to have ruled for fifty years over the small Christian kingdom of Asturias in the recently created town of Oviedo, which would remain its capital until 910 AD. The long reign of Alfonso II is sparsely recorded in both chronicles and charters. To make things worse, hardly any of the remaining documents are completely genuine. As an extreme example, virtually all of the royal charters fall into the category of complete forgeries. The Asturian chronicles, written up to a century after the time of Alfonso II, however, have never been seen as fabrications, though their origins and compositional processes remain debatable.
For political reasons, Alfonso was denied the succession of his father Fruela I four times in a row and he must have been well into his twenties before obtaining the throne in 791 AD. Unsurprisingly in this context, he was deposed in 801/2 AD and entered the monastery of Ablania (modern Ablaña) in the centre of Asturias, but was restored after the usurper was killed in a counter coup. The unnamed ruler who replaced Alfonso after the coup was probably a member of his own family. Some military activity is described in Arab sources, but these probably cared less about purely internal events in the still small Asturian kingdom. Apparently, Alfonso II was not married and had no offspring.

Royal coat of arms of Asturias

Santiago de Compostela
An important event during Alfonso’s reign was the “discovery” of the tomb of St. James the Apostle (Santo Iago) by a hermit in a field near the town of Iria Flavia, at the site later known as Santiago de Compostela (Campus Stellae, Field of Stars) in about 830 AD. How the stone coffin got there is a story too wild to relate in this context. Anyway, it was a brilliant marketing move and provided the small kingdom with a powerful patron saint and a secure source of income as a place of pilgrimage. Santiago de Compostela would become one of the most popular and important centres of Christian pilgrimage in all of medieval Europe, outranked only by Rome. The ninth-century growth of the town indicated the strengthening of Christian control in the area

Ramiro I (842-50 AD)
When Alfonso II died, Ramiro staged a coup against the Count of the Palace Nepotian, who had taken the throne.  After a battle on a bridge over the river Narcea, Nepotian was captured in flight, blinded and then forced into monastic life.  Despite claimed victories over Muslim and Viking raiders, however, Ramiro would face rebellions led by two other Counts of the Palace, who were also severely punished.

Ordoño I (850-66 AD)
When he succeeded his father Ramiro, Ordoño was faced by a major revolt amongst the Basques in the east of the kingdom, which was successfully repressed. He had the advantage that his kingship coincided with an increasingly divided and weakened al-Andalus. This is illustrated by the frequent regional revolts in the three marches and requests for Asturian support by the local regimes. In the Chronicle of Alfonso III it is stated that Ordoño occupied the (originally Roman) cities of León, Astorga, Tuy and Amaya, which had long been abandoned. He fortified them with new high walls and gates and repopulated them with a mixture of his own people and immigrants from Spania (i.e. al-Andalus).
In 859 AD Ordoño besieged the fortress of Albelda built by Mūsa bin Mūsa of the Banū Qasī, who had rebelled against Córdoba and had been able to become master of Zaragoza, Tudela, Huesca and Toledo. Mūsa attempted to lift the siege in alliance with his brother in law García Iñiguez, the king of Pamplona, whose small realm was threatened by the eastwards expansion of the Asturian monarchy.

Gradual reconquest of northern Spain between 750 and 913 AD

In the battle that followed, Mūsa was defeated and lost valuable treasures in the process, some of which were sent as a gift to Charles the Bald of Francia. Seven days after the victory Albelda fell and, as the chronicler records that “its warriors were killed by the sword and the place itself was destroyed down to its foundations.” Mūsa was wounded in the battle and died in 862/3, soon after Mūsa’s son Lubb (Lupus), governor of Toledo, submitted himself to the Asturian king for the rest of Ordoño’s reign.
Other victories are recorded which suggest that Ordoño was not only the dominant power on the Meseta, but was raiding with great success as far south as the Guadiana River (wādī-yānah), which starts at around 100 km south of Toledo and flows into the Mediterranean on the Spanish-Portuguese border.

Alfonso III (866-910 AD)
Following the death of Ordoño, the throne was seized by a Galician count called Froila (Fruela), whereupon his son, the 13 year old Alfonso, was forced to take refuge in Castile until his followers succeeded in killing the usurper in Oviedo. The considerable territorial expansion of the Asturian kingdom under Alfonso III was largely made possible by the collapse of Umayyad control over many parts of al-Andalus at this time. Between 870 and 880 AD the Lower March (capital Mérida) and the Central or Middle March (capital Toledo) were in turmoil, so that campaigns were needed to repress revolts in Mérida, Toledo, Soria and elsewhere.
By the end of the decade a revolt in the province of Málaga opened a new front and intensified the crisis faced by the Umayyad regime. This is why Emir Muhammad was willing to negotiate a peace treaty with the Asturian king in 882 AD, which was concluded two years later. As part of the negotiations, the body of the Cordoban martyr Eulogius, executed in 859 AD (see part 5 of this series, under “People of the Book”), was sent to Oviedo as a diplomatic gift.
Between the years 866 and 881 AD, the western frontier of the kingdom in Galicia was expanded into what is now Portugal. Amongst other settlements, the towns of Braga, Oporto, Lamego and Coimbra were captured and repopulated. A number of towns in the middle of the Duero valley are also known to have been taken, such as Cea (875 AD), Burgos (884 AD), Zamora (893 AD), Simancas (899 AD) and Toro (900 AD).
In 878 AD a certain “Abuhalit” (Abū Walīd?), described as the consul of Spain and counsellor of King Muhammad, was captured in a failed raid in Galicia. He had to leave two brothers and a son as hostages, while he went back to collect a ransom of one thousand solidi in gold. The same year saw a Muslim assault on the towns of Astorga and León. The expedition consisted of two detachments, one of which was decisively defeated a Polvoraria (modern Polvorosa in the province of León) on the river Orbigo, with an alleged loss of 13,000 men. Thereupon the other detachment withdrew, opening the way for a three-year peace.
In 881 AD, Alfonso took the offensive, leading an army deep into the Lower March, crossing the Tagus River to approach Mérida. Then miles from the city the Asturian army crossed the Guadiana River and defeated the Umayyad army on “Monte Oxifer”, allegedly leaving 15,000 Muslim soldiers killed. Returning home, Alfonso devoted himself to building the churches of Oviedo and constructing one or more two palaces (aulas regias) for himself.

Santa María del Naranco, Oviedo, built in 848 AD as a royal palace; used as a church in the 13th C

Interestingly, the comments of the Arabic sources on these conflicts are rather muted. A certain Ibn al-Athīr mentions an expedition in 878 AD on “the city of Jilliqīya (Galicia)”, almost certainly León, which supposedly led to a battle with significant losses on both sides. Another source, Ibn ‘Idhāri, only speaks of a Muslim raid, which was a complete success, with no battle mentioned. In the last part of his reign Alfonso faced more difficulties, including an attempt by “a great army of Arabs” to take Zamora in 901 AD, the revolt of his brother Vermudo in Astorga, and various obscure plots against his life or throne, one of which his eldest son García was involved. García’s capture and imprisonment seems to have precipitated a revolt by all three of Alfonso’s sons, leading to the king’s enforced abdication.

The Kingdom of León (910-1037 AD)

Shortly after Alfonso’s death, the capital of the kingdom of Asturias was transferred from Oviedo to León, which had been resettled and refortified under King Ordoño in 855 AD.   This move marks the transition between the Asturian kingdom and that of León and followed a previous phase of gradual resettlement of the valleys that ran down from the mountains of the north onto the Meseta. The valleys and partly abandoned sites were resettled by new populations coming from the north and by Christian refugees from al-Andalus in the south.

The sons of Alfonso III (910-925 AD)
García is the first of the kings described by the charters as reigning in León. It is generally assumed that the old Asturian kingdom was divided between the three sons of Alfonso: García (León), Ordoño (Galicia) and Fruela (Asturias), as all three participated in the deposition of their father.  When García died in 913 AD, León went to Ordoño, who now ruled both León and Galicia as Ordoño II.  With the help of Sancho I Garcés, king of Navarra, Ordoño attempted to conquer La Rioja, the region between Castile and Navarra and won a substantial victory over the Muslims I 917 AD at San Esteban de Gormaz, which formed a major link in the defences of the Duero valley.  Encouraged by this success, the Christians made repeated incursions into La Rioja, attacking Nájera, Tudela, Arnedo and Calahorra.

Punitive expedition
In the summer of 920 AD ‘Abd ar- Rahmān III decided to punish the aggression of the kings of León and Navarra and advanced to the north, seizing Osma, Gormaz and Calahorra and routed the Christian kings on 26 July at Valdejunquera, southwest of Pamplona.  After ravaging Navarra, he returned to Córdoba believing that his enemies would refrain from attacking again. However, when the Christians renewed their raids, he returned and thoroughly sacked Pamplona in 924 AD.  After the destruction of Pamplona, Sancho’s chief stronghold in Navarra, the latter was reduced to impotence for the remainder of his career.  His son García Sánchez (-ez means “-son”) married the heiress of Aragon, linking the county to the kingdom of Navarra in a union that was to last for a century.

At Ordoño’s death in 924 AD, the throne went to his brother Fruela II (924-5 AD), who died of leprosy a year later.  His death was seen as a punishment for the killing of his first cousins Aresindo and Gebuldo, the sons of one of Alfonso’s brothers, who was a powerful figure in the Tierra de Campos, south of León.  Fruela’s death in 925 AD was followed by a civil war, after which Alfonso, the eldest son of Ordoño II, emerged as the new king Alfonso IV, ruling from 925–932 AD.

After a further power-struggle, Ramiro, the younger brother of Alfonso IV, became king in 932 AD, having captured his brother Alfonso, as well as the three sons of Fruela II – Alfonso, Ordoño and Ramiro (the list of popular boy names was very short in those days).  King Ramiro had the sons of Fruela and his brother, the former King Alfonso IV, blinded, thereby eliminating all potential rivals. Subsequently they were confined, together with various unnamed “other cousins”, in the Leonese monastery of Ruiforco. Alfonso IV may have died soon after, but he left two infant sons, called (as you had probably already guessed) Ordoño and Fruela.
Iberian peninsula around 1030 AD

A new frontier zone
The new king, Ramiro II (d.951 AD), proved to be one of the most effective of the Leonese monarchs.  He led various triumphal expeditions, including a victory over an Umayyad raid directed at Castile, followed by a successful expedition into the Ebro valley in 933 AD.  This led to the governor of Zaragoza Abū Yahya submitting himself. However, once Ramiro had returned to León, Abū Yahya promptly reverted to Umayyad allegiance.  In 939 AD ‘Abd ar-Rachmān III launched an invasion of the Kingdom of León, allegedly with an army 80,000 strong.  This raid was spectacularly defeated by the Christian forces in the Battle at Simancas, 10 km to the south-west of modern Valladolid.
The confrontation took place at an unidentified place called Alhandega in Spanish (from al-Khandaq,”the ditch” in Arabic) on the Duero River.  
‘Abd ar-Rachmān escaped only “half-alive” (semivivus), while most of his troops were slaughtered as they fled.  To vent his rage, ‘Abd ar-Rachmān had 300 of his officers crucified as traitors of the faithThe result was that a new frontier zone developed in the valley of the Río Tormes, some 40 km south of the river Duero.

In 944 AD Count Diego Muñoz and Count Fernán González of Castile (923-970 AD), who had ambitions of their own, rebelled against Ramiro II, but the revolt was quickly suppressed.  When Ramiro died in 951, he left two sons by two different wives.  When the elder son Ordoňo III, who ruled from 951-56 AD, suddenly died aged little more than thirty, he was succeeded by his younger half-brother Sancho I “The Fat” (956-66 AD), as Ordoño had failed to produce a legitimate heir.
The overweight Sancho could no longer mount a horse, which undermined his credibility as a war leader.  When early 958 AD an Umayyad raid into the Leonese kingdom in 957 AD brought back four hundred human heads and a large number of horses and beasts of burden to Córdoba, this military disaster prompted a revolt.  Sancho, who fled to his relatives in Pamplona, was replaced by Ordoño IV “The Bad”, the elder son of Alfonso IV.  Sancho’s grandmother Queen Toda of Navarra sent him to Córdoba by to request military assistance from the caliph, which was granted.  While there, he was cured from his obesity by the caliph’s personal Jewish physician Hasdai ben Yitzhak ben Shaprut.

A joint Umayyad and Navarrase invasion of León drove the bad Ordoño to flight into Asturias in 959 AD, whence he was ejected two years later and finally went into exile in Córdoba himself.  Sancho died in 966 AD, aged about thirty-one, in the course of an expedition against Count Gonzalo Menéndez, a leading magnate in the frontier region of the Duero in Galicia.  According to the Chronicle of Sampiro, Count Gonzalo had sent him a poisoned apple in the course of peace negotiations, thus putting a final end to Sancho’s weight problems.

Ramiro III (966-85 AD)
Sancho’s son Ramiro had been born in 961 AD and was only about five years old when his father died.  He was also the only legitimate member of the direct family line. His mother Teresa Ansúrez had retired into the recently founded monastery of San Pelayo, of which her sister-in-law Elvira was the abbess. Another nun, Sancho’s full sister Elvira Ramírez emerged as regent during his long minority. She sometimes features in Ramiro III’s documents with the title regina until Ramiro attained majority in 975 AD.  When León was besieged by the Moors in 982 AD, it turned to Vermudo, the son of Ordoño III, who had been proclaimed king of Galicia in December 982 AD. As from this time Vermudo (II) seems to have gradually replaced Ramiro III, who was finally driven out of León in 985 AD and retreated to Astorga, where he died soon afterwards, in circumstances about which we have no information.

Vermudo II (982/5-999 AD)
The reign of Vermudo II saw a sustained series of raids on his kingdom led by Almanzor.  These campaigns, which included the Muslim sack of Coimbra (987 AD), León (988 AD) and of Astorga (996 AD), as well as the defeat and death of the Count of Castile in 995 AD, climaxed with the destruction of the cathedral of Santiago de Compostella in 997 AD and the bells and doors of the cathedral being carried off to Córdoba.  Unable to mount and effective resistance to these attacks, Vermudo II took refuge in Zamora in 988 AD and then in Lugo.   Facing also internal revolts in both Galicia in 993 AD and in León, Vermudo saw the need to improve relations with the Navarrase kingdom, which shared a similar threat.
To fortify his alliance with Pamplona and reinforce ties with Castile, Vermudo repudiated his Galician wife to marry Elvira Garcés, the daughter of Count Garcia Fernández of Castile (970-95 AD) and niece of King Sancho Garcés II of Navarra. Elvira would provide Vermudo with the male heir - the future Alfonso V - that his Galician wife had failed to produce.  At the time of Vermudo’s death in 999 AD, the city of León was still in the same ruined state that Almanzor had left it in after his raid on the city eleven years earlier. I t had to wait restoration in the reign of Vermudo’s son Alfonso V
Portrait of Alfonso V by Mino da Fiesole (Louvre)

Alfonso V (999-1028 AD)
Born in 994 AD, the later Alfonso V was, at the age of five, doomed to a lengthy and contested period of regency. Initially exercised by his mother queen Elvira, the responsibility for the young king’s military upbringing had been entrusted to Count Menendo González of Porto, the most powerful member of the Galician aristocracy.
In 1003 AD something of a coup seems to have taken place, after which Elvira retired into monastic life.  In 1004, Elvira’s brother, Count Sancho Garcés of Castile (died 1017 AD), challenged the right of Menendo González’ to act as a regent
.  Because the treaties with the Muslims of 1003 AD had made León and Castile effectively dependencies of Córdoba, the case was brought before the judge of the Christians in Córdoba, who applied Visigothic law.  A compromise was eventually reached in 1007 AD, leading to the reappearance of the dowager queen Elvira at court until her death at 1017 AD. Count Menendo had been killed in 1008 AD, in unknown circumstances.

King Alfonso V took advantage of the collapse of Umayyad rule after 1008 AD to recover land lost in the west and extending the Galician frontiers southwards. While besieging the fortress of Viseu, 100 km southeast of modern Porto, in 1028 AD he died from an arrow wound.

Vermudo III (1028-1037 AD) and the Kingdom of Castile and León
After having been in power for six years, Alfonso’s son Vermudo III saw much of his kingdom overrun by his sister’s father-in-law King Sancho III of Navarra, who took over León in 1034 AD. Vermudo had to withdraw into Galicia and Asturias, until he regained control of León following Sancho’s death in 1035 AD.  He launched a war against his brother-in-law Fernando, Count of Castile, to recover other lost territory.  Killed in the battle of Tamarón in 1037 AD his kingdom was inherited by his sister Sancha, who was married to the above Fernando. Thus, the kingdom of León passed into the hands of the Count of Castile, thereby creating the new kingdom of Castile and León.

The Kingdom of Navarra (799-1035 AD)

The native inhabitants of Navarra, the Basques, always resisted assimilation to other cultures.  The impact of Roman culture on the region had not been negligible, but had left a much fainter impact on Basque lands than it did on other parts of Iberia.  Also Christianity made slow headway among the Basques.  Unsurprisingly, like the Visigoths, and later the Franks, the Arabs never succeeded in subduing the Basques.  Hence, the origins of the kingdom of Pamplona (Navarra) are badly documented and the initially very small realm produced no chronicle of itself earlier than the twelfth century.  The first royal dynasty was replaced by another around 905 AD, which seemed to have had no interest in preserving the memory of its predecessor.

Being a strategic settlement on the route from the fertile and prosperous Ebro valley into Aquitaine via the Pass of Roncesvalles, the former Roman civitas of Pompeiopolis (after its founder Pompey the Great), later corrupted into Pompaelo, was occupied and garrisoned by Berber troops somewhere between 714 and 741 AD. This is testified by a cemetery containing 190 burials of individuals buried according to Islamic custom. A smaller adjacent Christian graveyard of similar date contains ceramic pieces and finger rings of Muslim origin, suggesting rapid cultural assimilation between the two communities.

Early flag of Navarra
Christian enemies
During the sixth and seventh centuries, the Basque tribes were expanding southwards into Iberia and northwards into Gascogne  (Vasconia).  From the Navarrese perspective, their Christian neighbours in the north (the Franks) and to the west (the expanding Asturian/Leonese kingdom) were as much threats as were the Umayyads.  Probably even more so, as the latter were further away and after 799 AD showed no interest in imposing their rule of Pamplona.

This Christian threat is clearly illustrated by Charlemagne’s campaign against Zaragoza in 778 AD.  Failing to take this town Charles was forced to retreat.  On his way back to Francia, he subdued the Basques, took Pamplona and levelled its walls.  In retaliation, the Basques destroyed the Frankish rearguard in the Pyrenees near Roncesvalles.  In this fight several Frankish commanders, amongst whom the well-known Count Hruodland (Roland) perished with their men.  Pamplona was then ruled by the Banū Qasī, until in 799 AD a revolt took place in Pamplona and the Muslim governor was killed.  What prompted the revolt and its immediate effects is unknown, as there are no further references to Pamplona before 806 AD, when the city was taken by the Franks again.

Four years later Pamplona was retaken by the Basques and a certain “Velasko the Basque” (Balask al-Galaskī in Arabic) became lord of Pamplona and governor of the region.   When in 816 AD a Muslim expedition was sent against him, Velasko and his allies were defeated after thirteen days of daily fighting.  After this battle Velasko is not heard of again.  By 824 AD Pamplona emerged as a kingdom under its first ruler Eneko Aritza, or Iñigo Arista, after which Frankish involvement came to a decisive end. Iñigo’s son and successor García Iñiguez was taken prisoner by Viking raiders in 859 AD.

The third king, Fortún Garcés, may have succeeded his father in 880 AD, having endured a period of possibly as much as twenty years as a hostage in Córdoba following his capture in 860 AD.  Fortún’s reign probably came to an end in 905 AD in circumstances that are unknown.  According to the genealogies, he had four sons, but since the Arista dynasty seems to end here, he and his line were probably overthrown in a coup.

Sancho Garcés I (905-25 AD) was the founder of a new line of kings, who would rule Navarra in unbroken succession until Sancho Garcés IV, nicknamed “the Noble” (1054-76 AD) and his brother Ramón, nicknamed “the Fratricide”, in case you wonder how Sancho Garcés IV’s succession came to pass.  Sancho Garcés changed the alignment of his kingdom from alliance with the terminally declining Banū Qasī to military alliance and cooperation with León.  He expanded his kingdom into the upper Ebro valley, largely at the expense of the Tujibids, who replaced the Banū Qasī as the dominant Muslim dynasty in the Upper March.  Taking Arnedo in 908/9 AD and Nájera in 924 AD, he was faced with a major retributive raid from Córdoba in 924 AD, in which Pamplona was taken and sacked.

Sancho III (1004-35AD) “the Great” became the principal beneficiary of the collapse of Umayyad rule in al-Andalus.  Moreover, his reign also coincided with a time of weakness and division in the Leonese kingdom.  Marriage ties, military intervention, and, as Collins puts it, “perhaps also a well-chosen assassin”, also resulted in the annexation of Ribagorza by 1025 AD and then by his securing control over Castile in 1029 AD.  In his last years Sancho drove the last of the Leonese dynasty, Vermudo III (d. 1037 AD) from most of his kingdom, taking León itself in 1034 AD, and exercised a de facto hegemony over both Gascony and the Catalan counties, now almost united under Berenguer Ramón I (1017-35 AD).  However, the short-lived Navarrese “empire” evaporated on Sancho’s death when it was divided between his sons.


In 797 AD the governor of Barcelona Zeid rebelled against the Umayyad authority in Córdoba and, failing to establish an independent county, he handed Barcelona to the Franks.  The Umayyads, however, recaptured the city in 799 AD.  As a reaction, Charlemagne’s son Louis the Pious, king of Aquitaine, marched the entire army of his kingdom, including Gascons, Provençals and Goths over the Pyrenees and besieged the city for two years, wintering there from 800 to 801.  He conquered Barcelona in 801 AD and re-asserted Frankish authority over Pamplona and the Basques south of the Pyrenees in 813AD.  Attempts to occupy Tarragona and Tortosa in the years 808 and 810 AD were repulsed, as were similar attempts by the counts of Barcelona one century later.
Arms of Ramón Berenguer IV of Barcelona
Nevertheless, as the land to the south of Barcelona began being resettled, the frontiers of the county were slowly extended southwards, requiring the construction of local defences against frequent Muslim raids.  Throughout this period all of the Catalan counties remained formally subject to the Frankish kings of the Carolingian and later the Capetian dynasties.  Until 987 AD, when Count Borrell II refused to recognise Hugh Capet as king of France and thus became de facto independent of the French crown.  Bera, the first count of Barcelona from 801 to his deposition in 820 AD, was of local origin.  In 878 AD the local Guifré, or Wilfred, was appointed, who later received the nickname “the Hairy” and who controlled all of the Catalan counties south of the Pyrenees.

Guifré the Hairy

Under Guifré the resettlement of the largely depopulated and devastated valleys of the Ter and Llobregat began to accelerate.  Guifré was a major monastic founder and his interests lay firmly in this region and not in the politics of the Frankish court, to which he always remained loyal. He died in 897 AD, following a defeat at the hands of Lubb bin Muhammad, the Banū Qasī lord of Lérida (Lleida), whom he tried to prevent from building a strategic new fortres.

The county of Barcelona would exist for over nine centuries.  Martí I the Humanist would be the last direct descendant of Guifré the Hairy to rule, until he died without legitimate heirs in 1410 AD.  From then on the County of Barcelona formed a constituent part of the Spanish Crown under the rule of the House of Habsburg until 1716 AD, when Philip de Bourbon declared that all the territories from the Crown of Aragón (with which Barcelona formed a political union since 1162 AD) should merge into Castile, building the centralized Kingdom of Spain.


Castile had its origins in the Basque speaking region known to classical authors as Vardulia (or Bardulia), which included most or all of the present provinces of Vizcaya and Guipúzcoa on the Biscay coast and at least some of that of Alava to the south of it.  As in Asturias in the eighth and ninth centuries, the period of territorial expansion and resettlement involved the foundation of numerous small monasteries, many of whom were later absorbed into a limited number of large onesMany of the immigrant settlers came from the Basque country and have left traces in the landscape in the form of place names such as the modern settlements of Ezcaray, Uyarra, Zorraquin, Azarrulla and others. Most minor names of fields, streams hills, etc. are Basque, too.

In the ninth century, numerous castles that gave the province its name (in territorio Castelle or al-Qilā in Arabic) were erected as a buffer against Muslim expeditions against Asturias and León.  By the middle of the ninth century Castile formed a county of the kingdom of Asturias and in 882 AD the district around a small fort or burgus, the nucleus of the future town of Burgos, was repopulated.  It is perhaps ironic that the earliest references to Castile can be found in Arabic rather than in Latin narrative sources.

Flag of Castile

The earliest ruler of Castile for whom we have a name is Eylo, or Geylo, who led a revolt against Alfonso III (866-910 AD) early in his reign. Another recorded ruler is Count Rodrigo (d. 873), whose son Diego Rodríguez (d. 885 AD) founded Burgos in 884 AD.  Although technically subject to the authority of the kings of León until 1037 AD, its counts allegedly did not acquire their office by royal appointment, but received it by virtue of election by the freemen of the county, until it became hereditary in the family of Count Fernán González (932-970 AD), the most famous hero of Castilian legend before El Cid (d.1099AD).

In 1009 AD Count Sancho García of Castile responded positively to the appeal of Sulaymān, a descendent of ‘Abd ar-Rahmān III and rival caliph of Muhammad II al-Mahdī (“the rightly guided one”) to join forces and to march on Córdoba.  They defeated the badly trained and equipped Cordovan town militia of Caliph Muhammad II in November of that year, whereupon Sulaymān entered the city and was proclaimed caliph with the title al-Musta’īn (“he who asks [Allah] for help”).  Muhammad fled to Toledo and in his turn appealed for aid to another quarter of the Christian north.  In response to his appeal, the two most prominent figures of Catalonia, the count of Barcelona and the count of Urgel were willing to help.  They supplied 9,000 troops at the exorbitant pay of 2 dinars a day, in addition to supplies, while the counts were to receive 200 dinars each.  Leading their armies to ‘Aqabat al-Baqar, the current El Vacar, 30 km north of Córdoba, they defeated Sulaymān and his Berbers in May 1010 AD and again in June near the river Guadiaro near RondaMuhammad retook possession of Córdoba, but was murdered in July, whereupon the deposed Hishām II al-Mu’ayyad was reinstated as caliph. But this would only be the beginning of the end.

Rampaging Berbers

Thereupon Sulaymān and his Berbers gained possession of the palace of Medīnat az-Zahrā, where he established a base for his troops, while Córdoba was besieged by the Berbers from 1010 and 1013 AD. Simultaneously, they rampaged uncontrollably over the south-eastern parts of al-Andalus, doing untold damage and extorting protection money from the cities.  When Córdoba surrendered in 1013 AD, the city was wrecked and plundered and enormous numbers of citizens were massacred. Among them, over sixty distinguished scholars met their deaths. The same Berbers had already wrecked the palace at Medīnat az-Zahrā.

Caliph Hishām II disappeared from view, presumably murdered, and Sulaymān presided as caliph for three years, though it cannot be said that he ruled. His Berbers followers treated Córdoba as a city under occupation and instituted a reign of terror, killing and looting as they pleased.  This situation would last for a further fifteen years, during which a number of short-lived caliphs came and went, until in 1031 AD the last of them, Caliph Hishām III was expelled from Córdoba and disappeared into obscurity. He was not replaced and with his disappearance the caliphate of Córdoba had come to an end, making room for a shift in the balance of power between Muslims and the Christians in the peninsula.

The Taifa Kingdoms (1031-1086 AD)

After al-Andalus had lapsed into a state of anarchy between 1008 and 1031 AD, the frail unity of the peninsula eventually disintegrated into a number of regional successor-states known to historians as the Taifa Kingdoms, or taifas. The Arabic word tā’ifa stands for “faction” or “party”. Some taifa kingdoms controlled only a principal city and its immediate surroundings, while others controlled large regions. The most important taifas were Seville, Zaragoza, Toledo and Badajoz, which were ruled by Arabs. Granada was ruled by Berbers and Valencia by military kings, descendents of Slavic slaves.
This disintegration of the state of al-Andalus was to the irreversible advantage of the Christian realms in the north. Christian leaders intervened in the squabbles among the taifas, forming alliances with some against others, or launching attacks to sack cities and capture territories, or coercing vulnerable taifas into paying protection money. Religious differences were secondary motivations in the conflicts of the eleventh century and during peaceful intervals there were social, cultural and political exchanges across religious frontiers. The Christian states also disputed amongst themselves a lot, while, like the Franks, its rulers had a tendency to divide the new territories among their heirs, thus dissipating part of their power. Sancho III the Great (see the section on “The Kingdom of Navarra”) is a good example of this. 

Taifa of Seville in the 11th century
The taifa period produced a brilliant cultural flowering, as their kings prided themselves on maintaining glittering courts. They built palaces and civic buildings, amassed large libraries and recruited distinguished scholars in contention with their rivals. While the Córdoba area remained desolate after it had been wrecked by the Berbers, other areas maintained or increased their prosperity, such as Valencia. In the eleventh century this city became an important power base, while Seville almost certainly became the largest city in al-Andalus and came to eclipse Córdoba as a centre of regional power in the Guadalquivir area.
Granada, close to the old abandoned settlement of Elvira in the plain some six miles away to the north-west, became a major city when the later seat of power was moved to a more defensible site on a mountain in 1013 AD. The rulers of Zaragoza, who were able to defend their kingdom from the Christians, built themselves a sumptuous new palace.

Initially there existed some three dozen taifa principalities, but by the mid-century half a dozen larger states had swallowed the smaller ones and stood out as pre-eminent: Seville and Granada in the south, Badajoz in the west, Toledo in the centre, Valencia in the east and Zaragoza in the north-east.

Castile and León

García Sánchez II (died 1029 AD) would be the last male descendent of Fernán González. During his reign Castile became a protectorate of Navarra, whose king Sancho III was married the García Sánchez II’s sister. García Sánchez was murdered on a visit to the royal palace in León, as he was about to enter into a marriage with Sancha, the sister of Vermudo III. Sancho the Great’s son Fernando I (died 1065 AD) turned Castile into a kingdom through his conquest of León, conveniently replacing the murdered Count García by marrying Sancha of León in 1037 AD (see above under “Vermudo III and the Kingdom of Castile and León”). Fernando I converted Castile into the most powerful of the Christian states, capturing the towns of Viseu and Coimbra and forcing the Muslim rulers of Toledo, Badajoz, Zaragoza and Seville to pay him tribute.
When he died, he divided his holdings, giving Castile to his eldest son Sancho, who ruled it as Sancho II. Alfonso got León and García Galicia. He left cities to his daughters: Urraca received Zamora, Elvira got Toro and both secured income from monasteries throughout their father’s lands. 

Sancho II (1065-72 AD) seized Galicia and León from his brothers, but died at the hands of an assassin while laying siege to his sister’s town Zamora on the Duero. Alfonso, who had gone into exile in Muslim Toledo, then succeeded Sancho as Alfonso VI of Castile.

Turning the odds
In the meantime, Christian power had become pretty wide-ranging. For example, when al-Mu’tamid (”the one who relies on [Allah])”, the taifa king of Seville, tried to pay his tribute to Alfonso in debased coinage and had Alfonso’s Jewish envoy Ibn Salīb crucified when he protested, Alfonso raided deep into the lands of Seville in revenge, until he reached Tarifa, overlooking the Straits of Gibraltar.  The highlight of his reign was the conquest of Toledo on 25 May 1085 AD, the very city that had kindly offered him shelter when he had been driven from his kingdom León by his late brother. Taking possession of the city without any serious resistance, however, the people of the city were assured that they would keep their lives, property and their mosques. He took control of most of the Toledan kingdom and established a far south-eastern outpost at Aledo, 60 km west of Cartagena, where his castle could dominate the important road from the Muslim south to the Muslim Levante. In the spring of 1086 AD Alfonso began to besiege Zaragoza, while the troops of one of his nobles reinstalled the deposed al-Qādir in Valencia. 

Call the Almoravids!
The Christian capture of Toledo marked the beginning of a new stage in Christian-Muslim relations. As military victory was backed up by expanding Christian settlement in the Tagus valley, al-Andalus lost its geographical heart and its kingdoms were now scattered on the southern and eastern frontiers of the meanwhile vast domains of the king of Castile and León. No part of the country could be wholly secure of Christian raids and no Muslim force would ever again penetrate north of the Sistema Central, the mountain chain that runs north of Madrid, from Siguenza in the east to Coimbra in the west.
In 1086 AD, when Alfonso besieged Zaragoza and had al-Qādir reinstalled in Valencia, a group of surviving taifa kings swallowed their misgivings and their pride and turned to the Berbers of Morocco for help against the expanding Christian power. This was not an easy decision, because the newly established and militant fundamentalist regime of the Almoravids had taken power in the Maghreb and the Muslim rulers of al-Andalus knew about their fanaticism. For them it was a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils. In making up his mind, al-Mu'tamid of Seville is reported to have said that he preferred to be camel driver in Morocco than a swineherd in Castile. Eventually, he would indeed end up in Morocco, be it as a captive rather than as a camel driver.

The next and last instalment will feature the legendary El Cid.

Sources and Further Reading

  • Collins, Roger, The Arab Conquest of Spain, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford, UK, 1989, 1994
  • Collins, Roger, Caliphs and Kings, Spain 796-1031, Wiley- Blackwell, Chichester, UK  2012
  • DESPERTA FERRO, No 7, Al-Andalus, de la conquista a la quiebra del califato, Desperta Ferro Ediciones, SLNE, Madrid, 201
  • Fletcher, Richard, The Quest for El Cid, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1991
  • Fletcher, Richard, Moorish Spain, Orion Books Ltd., London, 2001
  • Hattstein, Markus and Peter Delius, Spanje en Marokko, Islam - Kunst en Architectuur, pp. 208-278, Könemann Verlagsgesellschaft mbH, Köln, 2000
  • Kennedy, Hugh, Muslim Spain and Portugal, Longman, London & New York, 1996
  • Kennedy, Hugh, The Armies of the Caliphs, Routledge, Abingdon & New York, 2001
  • O’Callaghan, Joseph F., A History of Medieval Spain, Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London, 1983
  • Phillips, William D. Jr. and Carla Rahn Phillips, A Concise History of Spain, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2010
  • Reilly, Bernard F., The Contest of Christian and Muslim Spain 1031-1157, Blackwell, Oxford UK & Cambridge MA USA, 1992
  • Wasserstein, David J., Inventing Tradition and Constructing Identity: The Genealogy of ‘Umar ibn Hafsūn between Christianity and Islam, Tel Aviv University, al-Qantara XXIII, 2, 2002 pp. 269-97,