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El Cid "Campeador"

The Great Knight of the Reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula

By A HistóriaPublished 10 months ago 7 min read

The life of Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, better known as El Cid Campeador, is an epic saga that took place in medieval Spain during the 11th century. He is one of the most iconic and revered figures in Spanish history and was a legendary hero both in real life and in literature. His story is a mixture of military bravery, shrewd diplomacy and complex political relationships. El Cid was born Rodrigo Díaz circa 1043 in Vivar, also known as Castillona de Bivar, a small town about ten kilometers (or six miles) north of Burgos, the capital of Castile. His father, Diego Laínez, was a courtier, bureaucrat, and cavalryman who had fought in several battles. Despite the fact that El Cid's mother's family was aristocratic, in later years the peasants would consider him one of their own. However, his relatives were not major court officials; documents show that El Cid's paternal grandfather, Laín, confirmed only five documents of Ferdinand I's; his maternal grandfather, Rodrigo Álvarez, certified only two of Sancho II's; and El Cid's father confirmed only one. As a young man in 1057, El Cid fought against the Moorish stronghold of Zaragoza, making its emir al-Muqtadir a vassal of Sancho. In the spring of 1063, El Cid fought in the Battle of Graus, where Ferdinand's half-brother, Ramiro I of Aragon, was laying siege to the Moorish town of Graus, which was fought on Zaragozan lands in the valley of the river Cinca. Al-Muqtadir, accompanied by Castilian troops including El Cid, fought against the Aragonese. The party slew Ramiro I, setting the Aragonese army on the run, and emerged victorious. One legend has said that during the conflict, El Cid killed an Aragonese knight in single combat, thereby receiving the honorific title "Campeador".

When Ferdinand died, Sancho continued to enlarge his territory, conquering both Christian strongholds and the Moorish cities of Zamora and Badajoz. When Sancho learned that Alfonso was planning on overthrowing him in order to gain his territory, Sancho sent Cid to bring Alfonso back so that Sancho could speak to him. Sancho was assassinated in 1072, during a siege of his sister's town of Zamora. Since Sancho died unmarried and childless, all of his power passed to his brother Alfonso who, almost immediately, returned from exile in Toledo and took his seat as king of Castile and León. He was, however, deeply suspected of having been involved in Sancho's murder. According to the 11th century epic poem Cantar de mio Cid, the Castilian nobility led by El Cid and a dozen "oath-helpers" forced Alfonso to swear publicly on holy relics multiple times in front of Santa Gadea (Saint Agatha) Church in Burgos that he did not participate in the plot to kill his brother. This is not mentioned in the more reliable 12th century chronicle Historia Roderici, however. El Cid's position as armiger regis was taken away and given to his enemy, Count García Ordóñez.

In 1079, El Cid was sent by Alfonso VI to Seville to the court of al-Mutamid to collect the parias owed by that taifa to León–Castile. While he was there Granada, assisted by other Castilian knights, attacked Seville, and El Cid and his forces repulsed the Christian and Grenadine attackers at the Battle of Cabra, in the (probably mistaken) belief that he was defending the king's tributary. During the aftermath of this battle the Muslim troops under El Cid's command would hail him as Sayyidi. Count García Ordóñez and the other Castilian leaders were taken captive and held for three days before being released. In the Battle of Cabra in 1079, El Cid rallied his troops and turned the battle into a rout of Emir Abdullah of Granada and his ally García Ordóñez. This unauthorized expedition into Granada, however, greatly angered Alfonso and May 8, 1080 was the last time El Cid confirmed a document in King Alfonso's court. The most likely reason was El Cid's incursion into Toledo, which happened to be under the control of Alfonso’s vassal, Yahya Al-Qadir. Alfonso's anger over El Cid's unsanctioned incursion into his vassal's territory would lead him to exile the knight. This is the generally accepted reason for the exile of El Cid, although several others are plausible and indeed may have been contributing factors to the exile: jealous nobles turning Alfonso against El Cid through court intrigue, and Alfonso's own personal animosity towards El Cid. The song of El Cid and subsequent tales state that Alfonso’s and his court’s animosity toward Rodrigo was the primary reason the expulsion of the knights from León, as well as a possible misappropriation of some of the tribute from Seville by El Cid. At first he went to Barcelona, where Ramon Berenguer II refused his offer of service. The exile was not the end of El Cid, either physically or as an important figure. After being rejected by Ramon Berenguer II, El Cid journeyed to the Taifa of Zaragoza, where he received a warmer welcome. In 1081, El Cid went on to offer his services to the Moorish king of the northeast al-Andalus city of Zaragoza, Yusuf al-Mu'taman ibn Hud, and served both him and his successor, al-Musta'in II. He was given the title El Cid (The Master) and served as a leading figure in a diverse Moorish force consisting of Muwallads, Berbers, Arabs, and Malians within the respective Taifa. In 1084, the army of the Taifa of Zaragoza under El Cid defeated the Aragonese at the Battle of Morella near Tortosa, but in autumn the Castilians started a loose siege of Toledo and later the next year the Christians captured Salamanca, a stronghold of the Taifa of Toledo.

In 1086, the Almoravid invasion of the Iberian Peninsula, through and around Gibraltar, began. The Almoravids, a Berber dynasty from North Africa, led by Yusuf ibn Tashfin, were asked to help defend the divided Moors from Alfonso. The Almoravid army, joined by that of several Taifas, including Badajoz, Málaga, Granada, Tortosa and Seville, defeated a combined army of León, Aragón, and Castile at the Battle of Sagrajas.

In 1087, Raymond of Burgundy and his Christian allies attempted to weaken the Taifa of Zaragoza's northernmost stronghold by initiating the Siege of Tudela and Alfonso captured Aledo, Murcia, blocking the route between the Taifas in the eastern and western Iberian Peninsula. Terrified after his crushing defeat, Alfonso recalled El Cid, rewarding him lavishly with lands and lordships, such as the fortress of Gormaz. In the year 1087 Alfonso sent him to negotiate with the emboldened Taifa kingdoms.

El Cid returned to Alfonso, but now he had his own plans. He only stayed a short while and then returned to Zaragoza. El Cid was content to let the Almoravid armies and the armies of Alfonso fight without his help, even when there was a chance that the Almoravids might defeat Alfonso and take over all of Alfonso's lands. El Cid chose not to fight because he was hoping that both armies would weaken themselves. Around this time, El Cid, with a combined Christian and Moorish army, began maneuvering in order to create his own fief in the Moorish Mediterranean coastal city of Valencia. Several obstacles lay in his way. First was Berenguer Ramon II, who ruled nearby Barcelona. In May 1090, El Cid defeated and captured Berenguer in the Battle of Tébar (nowadays Pinar de Tévar, near Monroyo, Teruel). Berenguer was later released and his nephew Ramon Berenguer III married El Cid's youngest daughter Maria to ward against future conflicts.

Along the way to Valencia, El Cid also conquered other towns, many of which were near Valencia, such as El Puig and Quart de Poblet.

El Cid gradually came to have more influence in Valencia, then ruled by Yahya al-Qadir, of the Hawwara Berber Dhulnunid dynasty. In October 1092 an uprising occurred in Valencia, inspired by the city's chief judge Ibn Jahhaf and the Almoravids. El Cid began a siege of Valencia. A December 1093 attempt to break the siege failed. By the time the siege ended in May 1094, El Cid had carved out his own principality on the coast of the Mediterranean. Officially, El Cid ruled in the name of Alfonso; in practice, El Cid was fully independent. The city was both Christian and Muslim, and both Moors and Christians served in the army and as administrators. Jerome of Périgord was made bishop. El Cid and his wife Jimena Díaz lived peacefully in Valencia until the Almoravids besieged the city. But he defeated them and died 5 years later, on July 10, 1099.

Afterward Valencia was captured by Mazdali on May 5, 1102. Jimena fled to Burgos, Castile, in 1101. She rode into the town with her retinue and the body of El Cid. Originally buried in Castile in the monastery of San Pedro de Cardeña , his body now lies at the center of Burgos Cathedral. The life of Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, El Cid Campeador, is a tale of courage, loyalty, and resilience in a tumultuous period of Spanish history. His prowess as a warrior, his determination in the face of exile, and his ability to unite different cultures in Valencia made him a legendary figure still admired and celebrated in Spain and beyond. His story also serves as a testament to the complexity of political and cultural relationships in the Iberian Peninsula during the Middle Ages.

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About the Creator

A História

"Hi. My name is Wellington and I'm a passion for general history. Here, I publish articles on different periods and themes in history, from prehistory to the present day.

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Comments (1)

  • Alex H Mittelman 10 months ago

    Very interesting! Great work!

A HistóriaWritten by A História

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