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  Nevertheless, though largely superseded by the Roman Rite, the ancient Mozarabic Rite is still celebrated in Spain today.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.

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.

Greed
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

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