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El Cid, the freelance warrior.
19 September 2020 @ 05:00

Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar: El Cid

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.

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 King Ferdinand I of León under the wing of one of his sons, Prince Sancho. Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar showed his military abilities from an early age. In 1057, Rodrigo fought with Sancho against the Moorish stronghold of Zaragoza, making its emir, al-Muqtadir, a vassal of the king. In the spring of 1063, he fought in the Battle of Graus, where Ferdinand's half-brother, Ramiro I of Aragon, was laying siege to the Moorish town of that name. Al-Muqtadir, aided by Castilian troops including El Cid, fought against the Aragonese. During the battle Ramiro I was killed, and the fight turned into rout. One of the stirring legends surrounding El Cid was that during the conflict he killed an Aragonese knight in single combat, thereby receiving the honorific title "Campeador".

When King Ferdinand 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. Rodrigo, grew in Sancho’s court and rose to become a military commander and the royal standard-bearer for Castile.

After the death of Ferdinand, Sancho continued to enlarge his territory, conquering the Moorish strongholds of Zamora and Badajoz. He also fought in many major battles against Sancho’s brothers, and his reputation grew as a general. But when Sancho learned that Alfonso was planning on overthrowing him in order to gain his territory, it was El Cid that he sent to bring Alfonso to his court so that Sancho could speak to him. The avaricious Alfonso evaded all charges made by his brother, but the jealousy between them increased and during a siege at Zamora, Sancho was lured into a private meeting and murdered. El Cid was now in the centre of a royal murder trial.

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

Rodrigo was now in the difficult position of having bear witness against Alfonso who was 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.

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 dukes, 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 soon found that he was under attack from other Muslim states, and was forced to ally himself with Alfonso to defend himself from 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. His use of Hispania was the first time that the namehad been used in the context of a unified country of kingdoms.

The taifas were worried now about the Christian incursions into their caliphates. They were weak and disorganised after their own bouts of civil war, and asking for help from the Almoravids, though not entirely popular, seemed like a good idea. The Almoravids arrived and Alfonso met them near to Badajoz at the Battle of Sagrajas. Alfonso lost the battle, but retained all his lands. Unfotunately for the caliphates, they had allowed a greedy and very powerful emir and his army into al-Andalus.

Alfonso now realised that the game had just changed for the worse, and he needed all the allies that he could muster. Rodrigo was not easily bought, and began to strengthen his ties with the kingdom-city of Valencia, operating more or less independently of Alfonso.  He began supporting the Banu Hud and other Muslim dynasties who opposed the Almoravids and gradually increased his control over 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 of Valencia, al-Qadir was killed and El Cid took control and created an independent principality with the full 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 all of Muslim Iberia.

El Cid and much more about the history of Spain can be seen on my website at:


Like 0


pjck said:
26 September 2020 @ 11:11

Yes, I have always seen him as a kind of "freelance" knight.
But I don't fully understand the text. Did he have his own army? As who? What was his "base", his own castle or lands?

animate said:
26 September 2020 @ 11:49

Hi, pjck.
Rodrigo made alliances with Muslim taifas who were powerful and had standing armies of their own. They would fight against the Almoravid' s cruel rule, but needed a "gunfighter" who would lead them. They would rather pay a "tame" Christian general who was friendly to fight for them. Rodrigo had the reputation and the ability. In the end, it became a personal vendetta by Yusuf ibn Tashfin and his son to take Valencia from El Cid. My next post covers this event.

pjck said:
26 September 2020 @ 12:07

But did he have any personal forces? Anything more than some "Sancho Panza"?
What troops did he use to "control" Valencia?


Did he own any land or castle originally?

animate said:
26 September 2020 @ 19:20

He was more or less exiled after giving evidence against King Alfonso, but as a mercenary, and a popular and successful one, he could ask his own price. This was often paid by giving land and the taxes from cities. When Alfonso asked him to return and fight for him, the offer must have come with quite a bonus. however, he did not stay long, so he must have had a better offer. He was most probably able to raise and pay for his own army by now, and the caliphs of the taifas would be happy to pay him and let him lead their own soldiers to fight the Almoravids. This way the Christian kings would leave them alone and so would the Almorovids.

marelison said:
28 September 2020 @ 18:03

Interesant as always.

Mar Elison

animate said:
29 September 2020 @ 09:40

Thank you Mar. Glad you like the stories.

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