Saturday, February 18, 2006

El Cid - your weekend history lesson

This is your weekend history lesson - the weather sucks (up there, down here it's great; that's why I'm writing this in the middle of the night) there's no football - so, pay attention. There will be a test.

The story of El Cid is one of those very rare legends where the facts of the man, his life and his accomplishments are far more intriguing and impressive than the legends. He was a very modern man in his thinking and, in his entire life, he never lost a fight on the battlefield or in man-to-man combat. His very real military accomplishments put even the legend of Lancelot du Lac to shame. This guy kicked butts all over Spain, butts both Spanish Christian and Muslim, or Moros (Moors), as they were called by the Spaniards. El Cid's problem was that he couldn't keep his mouth shut and had a habit of insulting and making enemies of the various powers-that-were in the Spanish court. Kind of a George S. Patton type, you might say.

Let's set the scene a little. In the Spain of those days, the Muslims, or Moors, from North Africa, what is now Mauritania, had invaded and conquered all of southern and much of central Spain and Portugal. Over the centuries they had carved up their territory into city states which then proceeded to make war on one another. They formed various pacts with one another and with Christian Spanish kings at various times for various reasons. It was not at all unusual for a Spanish king and a Moorish king to join forces against either another Christian king or another Muslim king, depending.

In Africa, another Muslim group called the Almoravids conquered and installed themselves in Marrakech, Morocco. They then overthrew the Moors in Mauritania and crossed at Gibraltar to take Al Andalus away from them also. All of this battling between the various Muslim groups gave the Christian kings an opportunity to begin winning back bits and pieces of Spain and Portugal. This the various kings proceeded to do, in spite of some failures along the way, until, in 1492, the last of the remaining Muslim caliphs or emirs or whatever were expelled from Spain.

Our Story:


El Cid, also called El Campeador (the Champion), Rodrigo (or Ruy) Díaz de Vivar -- b. c. 1043, Vivar, near Burgos, Castile, Spain -- d. July 10, 1099, Valencia, Spain. Castilian military leader and national hero. His popular name, El Cid (from Spanish Arabic as-sid, "lord"), dates from his lifetime. So, his name was either Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar or Ruy Díaz de Vivar. Today he is known as El Cid by everyone but in those days only his Muslim allies and subjects called him El Cid. The Spanish called him El Campeador.

Early life
Rodrigo's father was a member of the minor nobility (infanzones) of Castile. Legend has it that El Cid came from underprivileged roots - not so. His mother was a member of the aristocracy and Diego was raised in the household of King Ferdinand I himself, right alongside the king's own son, Sancho.

When Sancho succeeded to the Castilian throne (1065), he nominated the 22-year-old Rodrigo as his standard-bearer (armiger regis), or commander of the royal troops. In spite of the fact that the Cid and Sancho were childhood buddies, El Cid must have already proved his military prowess to have been named to so prestigious a position. In 1067 he led Sancho's forces on a campaign against the Moorish kingdom of Saragossa (Zaragoza) and was lead negotiator with its king, al-Muqtadir, who became a tributary of the Castilian crown.

Ferdinand I, on his death, had partitioned his kingdoms among his various children, leaving Leon to his second son, Alfonso VI. Sancho began in 1067 to make war on his brother with the aim of annexing Leon. Later legend was to make the Cid a reluctant supporter of Sancho's aggression, but it is unlikely the real Cid had any such scruples. He played a prominent part in Sancho's successful campaigns against Alfonso and so found himself in an awkward situation in 1072, when the childless Sancho was killed while besieging Zamora (ruled by his sister), leaving Alfonso, recently deposed by the Cid, as his only possible heir and the Cid's new boss. Oops!

The new King Alphonso VI appears to have done his best to win the allegiance of Sancho's most powerful supporter. Though the Cid now lost his post as armiger regis to a powerful noble, Count Garcí­a Ordoñez (whose bitter enemy he became), and his former influence at court naturally declined, he was allowed to remain there. In July 1074, he married the king's niece Jimena, daughter of the Count de Oviedo.

He thus became allied by marriage to the ancient royal dynasty of Leon. The couple had one son and two daughters. The son, Diego Rodrí­guez, was killed in battle against the Muslim Almoravid invaders from North Africa, at Consuegra (1097). Note: The movie El Cid, with Heston and Loren, shows that the Cid married the daughter of the new armiger regis, then killed him in a duel -- not true.

El Cid's position at court was, despite his marriage, precarious. He probably took advantage of the fact that many Castilians resented being ruled by the formerly deposed king of Leon. He also probably resented the influence exercised by the nobles over Alfonso VI where he had previously been able to exercise that type of influence over the now dead and buried Sancho.

Though his biographers would later present the Cid as the blameless victim of unscrupulous noble enemies and of Alfonso's willingness to listen to unfounded slanders, it seems likely that the Cid's penchant for publicly humiliating powerful men may have largely contributed to his downfall. Though he was later to show himself astute and calculating as both a soldier and a politician, his conduct in the court suggests that resentment at his loss of influence as a result of Sancho's death may temporarily have undermined his capacity for self-control. Kind of like Patton's reactions whenever some other general received another star.

In 1079, while on a mission to the Moorish king of Seville, he crossed swords with García Ordoñez, who was aiding the king of Granada in an invasion of the kingdom of Seville. The Cid defeated the markedly superior Granadine army at Cabra, near Seville, capturing Garcí­a Ordoñez, the Cid's boss' commanding general. This victory prepared the way for his downfall. Then, in 1081, he led an unauthorized military raid into the Moorish kingdom of Toledo, which was under Alfonso's protection, and the king exiled the Cid from his kingdoms. Several subsequent attempts at reconciliation produced no lasting results, and after 1081 the Cid never again was able to live for long in Alfonso VI's sight.

So, El Cid pays an unauthorized visit to Seville which was under attack from an army sent by, er, his boss, scrapes up a handful of local fighters, then goes out and defeats this giant army -- just for fun, apparently. Then, he decides to visit a neighboring kingdom under his boss's protection and do a little more unauthorized butt kicking -- again, apparently just for fun -- and gets booted out of the realm. Sounds just like George S. Patton (see Sicilian campaign).

Service to the Muslims - Have sword, will travel -- wire El Cid, Seville
The exile offered his services to the Muslim dynasty that ruled Saragossa and with which he had first made contact (by kicking their butts in battle) in 1065. The king of Saragossa, in northeastern Spain, al-Mu'tamin, welcomed the chance of having his vulnerable kingdom defended by so prestigious a Christian warrior. The Cid now loyally served al-Mu'tamin and his successor, al-Musta'in II, for nearly a decade, taking on and defeating all comers.

As a result of his experience he gained an understanding of the complexities of Hispano-Arabic politics and of Islamic law and custom that would later help him to conquer and hold Valencia. Meanwhile, he steadily added to his reputation as a general who had never been defeated in battle. In 1082, on behalf of al-Mu'tamin, he inflicted a decisive defeat on the Moorish king of Lérida and the latter's Christian allies, among them the count of Barcelona. In 1084 he defeated a large Christian army under King Sancho Ramírez of Aragon. He was richly rewarded for these victories by his grateful Muslim bosses.

In 1086 there began the great Almoravid invasion of Spain from North Africa. Alfonso VI was crushingly defeated by the invaders at Sagrajas (Oct. 23, 1086) and had to eat crow and recall El Cid from exile (see Patton, Battle of the Bulge).

We know the Cid was at Alfonso's court in July 1087. But for unknown reasons he was back in Saragossa and not a participant in the subsequent battles against the Almoravids in the strategic regions where their attacks threatened the existence of what was left of Christian Spain. The Cid had decided that he wanted Valencia and embarked on the lengthy and immensely complicated political maneuvering that was aimed at making him master of that rich Moorish kingdom. In other words, El Cid said adios to defending all of Christian Spain (what was left of it, that is) in favor of his own piece of the action. He must have known by that time that he simply could not be defeated in battle by Christian, Moor or Almoravid, so he could pretty well take whatever he wanted.

Conquest of Valencia
His first step was to eliminate the influence of the counts of Barcelona in that area. This was done when he defeated Ramón Berenguer II in a rout at Tábar, near Teruel (May 1090). During the next years the Cid gradually tightened his control over Valencia and its ruler, al-Qadir, was now his tributary.

His moment of destiny came in October 1092 when the qadi (chief magistrate), Ibn Jahhaf, with Almoravid political support, rebelled and killed al-Qadir. The Cid responded by attacking the rebel city. The siege lasted for many months. An Almoravid attempt to break it failed miserably (December 1093).

In May 1094 Ibn Jahhaf at last surrendered, and the Cid finally entered Valencia as its conqueror. To facilitate his takeover he characteristically first made a pact with Ibn Jahhaf that led the latter to believe that his acts of rebellion and regicide were forgiven; but when the pact had served its purpose, the Cid arrested the former qadi and ordered him to be burnt alive. A message to the Almoravids, no doubt. Well, El Cid was a man of his times, after all.

The Cid now ruled Valencia directly, himself acting as chief magistrate of the Muslims as well as the Christians. I know of no other Christian who has ever held such a post. This would make him the Mullah or qadi, or whatever. Nominally he held Valencia for Alfonso VI, but in fact he was its independent ruler in all but name.

The city's chief mosque was Christianized in 1096. A French bishop, Jerome, was appointed to the new see, and there was a considerable influx of Christian colonists. The Cid's princely status was emphasized when his daughter Cristina married a prince of Aragon, Ramiro, lord of Monzón, and his other daughter, Marí­a, married Ramón Berenguer III, count of Barcelona (whose father, as well as the father's predecessor, the Cid had humiliated in battle).

End Game
El Cid died a natural death (not in battle as the movie would have it -- by that time neither Christian not Muslim dared face El Cid in battle). He died in his Valencia in 1099 and with his death all that he had accomplished was soon lost.

After his death Valencia was besieged by the Almoravids, who no longer had to fear El Cid, and Alfonso VI had to intervene in person to save it. But the king decided that Valencia could not be held, evacuated the city and then ordered it to be burned. On May 5, 1102, the Almoravids occupied whatever remained of Valencia without a fight, and it remained in Muslim hands until 1238. The Cid's body was taken to Castile and reburied in the monastery of San Pedro de Cardeña, near Burgos, where it remains to this day the center of an active El Cid tomb cult.

The Cid was quickly elevated to the status of national hero of Castile and a complex heroic biography of him, in which legend played a dominant role, came into existence. The legend was further magnified by the influence of the 12th-century epic poem of Castile, El Cantar de Mío Cid (The Song of My Cid) and later by Pierre Corneille's tragedy Le Cid, first performed in 1637. And then, of course, came El Cid, with Charleton Heston and Sophia Loren and the dead-man-riding scene which made for good cinema but was far from fact.

To sum it up, El Cid was a political animal who also happened to be the most accomplished warrior and general of his day. He managed to take and hold by both force and political skill (most un Patton-like) his major goal in life. He made himself a king in practice, if not in name, and it is his name that is remembered and revered today, not those of the many kings he either served or defeated in battle. Kind of like Achilles.

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