Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar

Whilst the looters were still ransacking the remains of The Shining City, a young boy born to minor nobility was working in the court of Ferdinand I of León under the wing of one of his sons, Prince Sancho. When the king died in 1064, his will divided the kingdom between his three sons. Sancho’s brothers became Alfonso VI of León and García II of Galicia and Sancho became king Sancho II of Castile. Sancho immediately began a series of campaigns during which he captured land from his two brothers as well as the Muslim kingdoms in al-Andalus. The young boy, Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, grew in Sancho’s court, and rose to become a military commander and the royal standard-bearer for Castile. He fought in many major battles against Sancho’s brothers, and his reputation grew as a general.  But he found himself at the centre of a royal murder trial when Sancho was lured into a private meeting and assassinated in 1072 at the siege of Zamora. 


This statue of El-Cid  stands in Seville on El Parador de San Sebastian next to the Plaza de Espña. It is one of 5 editions sculpted by Anna Hyatt Huntington in 1927. The others are located in Valencia, Lincon Park San Francisco, Balbao Park San Diego and Buenas Airies, Argentina. She also sculpted the four Castilian warriors around the statue.

El Cid

Rodrigo was now in the difficult position of having bear witness for Alfonso who had been accused of killing his own brother. Alfonso was cleared of the charges, and became King Alfonso VI of Castile and León, but Rodrigo was never fully trusted again, and was demoted in the new king’s court. He carried on serving the king for a while, but finally in 1081, he was forced into exile.

Allegiances had to be fluid to survive in those times, and Rodrigo went to fight for the Muslim rulers of Zaragoza, who were warring against the Christian states of Aragon and Barcelona. He distinguished himself as a general during campaigns against the Muslim rulers of Lérida and their Christian allies. It was around about now that he earned his Arabic nickname, al-Sayyid; the Lord. It was corrupted by Christian tongues into El Cid, and the name was carried into history along with the fame of Rodrigo.

This depiction of the "Santa Gadea Oath" was painted by Armando Menocal in 1889 and is one of several paintings showing the famous trial. Armando was a native of Cuba, but came to Spain in 1880 where he discovered the work of Joaquin Sorolla and others. He exhibited in Spain, winning several awards before returning to Cuba to become the director of the Academy of San Alejandro  


 The Almoravids 

King Alfonso strengthened his borders with the caliphates which were organised into separate, autonomous taifas led by local lords. Castile had the same system, where the fueros were administered by a local duke, and Alfonso fed them arms and soldiers until they were ready to creep forward and take Muslim lands. He repopulated the cities of Segovia, Avila and Salamanca, but his biggest prize was the conquest of the taifa of Toledo.  

Alfonso was a very clever king, who used all diplomatic means to achieve his aims and only used force as a last resort. His taking of Toledo was over several decades and Alfonso played the infighting lords of the Muslim city-states against each other and encouraged Christian settlers to move into Muslim lands until there was a mix of both living in the Muslim controlled city. The most powerful of the Islamic leaders was al-Quadir of Toledo, but he found that he was under attack from other Muslim states and was forced to ally himself with Alfonso to defend them. The inhabitants of Toledo, now sick of the constant power-plays, gladly allowed the Christians to “take” Toledo, even staging a fake siege to let everybody keep face. In fact, the capture of Toledo was entirely bloodless.  


Toledo had been an important Visigoth city, and was still powerful under the Arabs. Its inclusion into Castile earned Alfonso great respect throughout the Christian world. He added Galicia and León to his kingdoms, and began a campaign to take Zaragoza, too. As his power and fame spread, he gave himself the title of Emperor of all Hispania instead of just King of Castile. This was the first time that the title Hispania had been used in the context of a unified country of kingdoms.

Alfonso’s campaigns into Muslim lands greatly worried the taifas, and they realised that they needed help to defend their lands. There had been a vicious civil war amongst the taifas resulting in the destruction of Córdoba which had left them isolated and weak. They sent a request for help to the powerful African Almoravids, and their emir, Yusuf ibn Tashfin, crossed the straits to Algeciras and from there to Seville, where he set up a base camp. He was joined by the caliphs of Málaga, Seville and Granada and their troops marched as one army to Badajoz where they were joined by the troops of that taifa. The Muslim army now numbered between 60,000 to 80,000 men and Alfonso quickly abandoned the siege of Zaragoza and marched his army toward Badajoz. He sent out a request for assistance to Sancho I of Aragon for help, but when he met the Muslim force north-east of the city, he had only 2,500 troops under his command, many of whom, incongruously, were Jewish.

The Battle of Sagrajas took place after a brief period of negotiations. Alfonso asked for terms, and Tashfin offered to allow the Christians to convert to Islam, pay a crippling tribute, or fight. Alfonso chose to fight. The battle began at dawn, and an initial charge by the Christians resulted in the sacking of one of the taifa camps and the killing of several of their leaders. By the afternoon, however, Alfonso was encircled by the superior forces, and the battle was clearly lost. By the evening, half the Christian army lay dead on the battlefield.

The losses were heavy on the Muslim side, too, and this prevented the Moors from capitalising on their gain. Castile had not lost the psychologically important city of Toledo, and many of the taifas had lost so many leaders and troops that it would take months to rebuild their armies. At this crucial time, Tashfin had to return to Morocco because his son and heir had died. Though a decisive battle had been won at great cost by the intervention of the Almoravids, it would prove to be indecisive in the long term war. It was the first battle in a war of attrition that would only end four hundred years later. Now known as The Battle of Sagrajas, it took its name from the Arabic description of the battlefield, az-Zallaqah, or "slippery ground" because the warriors had difficulty fighting on the bloody soil.

Alfonso returned to Toledo and immediately swallowed his doubts about El Cid. He asked him to join his army as a general. They fought many campaigns together against the Moors, but El Cid began to distance himself from Alfonso and concentrate his efforts on the city of Valencia. By 1092 the city was under his control and the Islamic ruler, al-Qadir was forced to pay him parias, or tribute.

The Almoravids by now controlled many of the smaller city-states and stirred up an uprising against El Cid. In the battle to regain control Valencia, al-Qadir was killed. El Cid took control and created an independent principality, with the support of both Muslims and Christians. When the troubled Muslim princes had asked the Almoravids to intervene on their behalf, they had made a big mistake. The Arab princes who ruled al-Andalus had been replaced by Almoravid leaders, and by 1094 the Almoravid lord, Ibn Tashfin ruled Muslim Iberia. They had only been invited to help as a last resort. Even other Berber tribes thought them ruthless uncultured radicals.

 The Almohads 

In their homeland of western Africa, another Muslim faction was growing and gnawing at the Almoravid’s power base. The Almohads began their climb to ascendancy in the Atlas Mountains led by Ibn Tumart. They were a coalition of the Masmuda tribes from southern Morocco, who by 1147, had overthrown the Almorovid leaders and controlled Morocco under their Caliph, Abd al-Mu’min al-Gumi. By 1172 they had extended their dominion to al-Andalus as well where they encountered a coalition of Christian kingdoms and were defeated in 1214 at the battle Las Navas de Tolosa. Christian forces pushed back the Moors taking Córdoba in 1236 and Seville in 1248.

Whilst all this had been going on in al-Andalus, across the straits in North Africa, a civil war was eroding the Almohad control, and yet another tribe was rising to dominance. The Marinids gradually gained control of all the districts, finally cornering the last Almohad lord in Marrakesh, where he was murdered by a slave. The Almohad dynasty was over, and Marinid power spread into al-Andalus during the next decade.