1902 Encyclopedia > Spain > Spanish History - 11th-13th Centuries. The Christian vs Arab Struggle.

(Part 22)


11th-13th Centuries. The Christian vs Arab Struggle.

States of Castile and Aragon formed. It was of additional moment that this disruption of the Mussulman power was contemporary with the formation of the great Christian states of Aragon and Castile. They were not slow to profit by the opportunity held out to them. It was in this century that the Christian cause found a champion in the famous Ruy Diaz Campeador, who under the name of "The Cid" became the traditional hero of Spanish mediaeval history. Ferdinand I. of Castile (1037-1067) captured the strong places of Viseu, Lamego, and Coimbra, and was only diverted from the conquest of Toledo by the humble submission of the emir, who undertook to pay tribute to the Christian king. The unfortunate division of his territories between his three sons gave occasion to civil wars, which were only terminated in 1072 by the reunion of the whole kingdom under Alfonso VI. Following up his father's successes, Alfonso made himself master of Toledo, which once more became the capital of a Christian state. Meanwhile Ramiro I. of Aragon (1035-1063) drove the Moors from their last possessions in the counties of Aragon and Sobrarbe. His son, Sancho Ramirez (1063-1094), joined Alfonso VI. in an attack on Navarre which resulted in the partition of that state between the two kings, and commenced a war against the emir of Saragossa which ended, under his successors Pedro (1094-1104) and Alfonso I. (1104-1136), in the conquest of Huesca and Saragossa. The latter town became henceforth the recognized capital of Aragon.

Relations with Rome. This period is also important in another aspect. Hitherto the Christian kingdoms of Spain had been naturally isolated from the rest of Europe. But the papacy, under the guiding hand of Hildebrand (Gregory VII.), was now making its ecclesiastical supremacy a reality, and was not likely to tolerate independence even in the most distant members of the church. Aragon, which lay nearest to the other states of Western Christendom, made little difficulty about complying with the papal demands. Ramiro not only agreed to adopt the Roman ritual in his kingdom, but even sent tribute to Alexander II. Castile, lying farther distant, was more inclined to resent dictation. At a council at Burgos (1077) it was formally decided to retain the Gothic ritual. But Alfonso VI. realized the danger of isolating his state from the rest of Europe, and of his own accord conceded the demands of Gregory VII. From this time Christian Spain was directly connected with Rome, and became the most faithful, if not the most servile, of Roman Catholic countries.

Almoravid campaigns in Spain (1069-91). The Christian victories of the 11th century seemed likely at one time to annihilate the Mohammedan power in Spain. From this fate, however, it was saved, not by any internal strength, but by the arrival of assistance from Africa. The emir of Seville, Al-Mo'tamid, the powerful of the Moslem princes, watched with profound misgiving the progress of the Castilian arms. When Toledo fell before Alfonso VI. he determined to appeal to Yúsuf b. Táshufín, the king of the Almoravids,—a confederation of Berber sectaries that had recently established a vast empire reaching from the Senegal to Algiers. Yúsuf, who had established his capital at Morocco in 1069, was at this time eighty years of age, but he did not hesitate to accept the prospect of a new field of conquest and adventure. In 1086 he sailed from Ceuta to Algesiras, the cession of which he had demanded as the price of his aid, and was at once joined by the forces of the emirs of Andalusia. Alfonso VI. hastened to obtain assistance from the king of Aragon and the count of Barcelona, and with a larger force than had ever before been assembled in the Christian cause he met the Moors in the battle of Zallaka (Sacralias), a few miles from Badajoz (October 1086). After an obstinate struggle victory declared for the infidels, and Alfonso had great difficulty in escaping with his life. Luckily for the Castilians, Yúsuf was recalled to Africa by the death of his eldest son, whom he had left at Ceuta, and his victory, which might have been as decisive as that of Tarik, was not followed up. Alfonso even ventured to resume his aggressions, and laid siege to the important towns of Murcia and Almeria. Mo'tamid, seeing that the danger was as great as ever, proceeded to Africa in person in order to urge the return of Yúsuf. The Almoravid prince, on whom the attractions of Andalusia had made a profound impression, crossed again to Algesiras (1090), and this time the predictions of the princes who had foreseen the risk of calling in so powerful an ally were fully verified. Postponing the task of resisting Alfonso, Yúsuf set to work to make himself master of Andalusia. Mo'tamid himself had to fly from his territories, after a futile appeal for aid to the king of Castile. Captured by the Africans, the emir of Seville was condemned to end his life in close imprisonment. In the course of a few years the whole of Moslem Spain was reunited under the king of Morocco, and the death of the Cid in 1099 enabled the Moors to recover Valencia, which he had taken in 1094. This was the last event of the reign of Yúsuf, who in 1103 handed over the government to his son 'All and returned to Africa, where he died three years later at the ripe age of a hundred years.

Alfonso VI. of Castile. Alfonso VI. of Castile had raised his kingdom to such pre-eminence in the Peninsula that he had assumed the title of " emperor of Spain." But a great disaster clouded his later years. In 1108 his only son Sancho perished with the flower of the Castilian chivalry on the fatal field of Ucles, and most of Alfonso's conquests passed into the hands of the victorious 'Ali. In 1109 the emperor died, leaving the succession to his daughter Urraca, the widow of Count Raymond of Burgundy.

Temporary union of Castile and Aragon. In order to secure the unity of the Christian kingdoms, Urraca was married to Alfonso I. of Aragon (1104-1134), who imitated his father-in-law in assuming the imperial title. But the marriage failed to produce the desired result. Urraca induced the Castilian nobles to revolt against the Aragonese rule and to set up Alfonso VII., her son by her first marriage. A civil war ensued, which was only ended in 1127 by the separation of the kingdoms. Alfonso I. retained Aragon and Navarre, while Castile, with Leon and Galicia, passed to Alfonso VII. Alfonso of Aragon renewed the war against the Moors which he had so gloriously begun by the capture of Tudela and Saragossa, but in 1134 he was completely defeated in the battle of Fraga, a disaster which hastened his death. As he had no children, he bequeathed his territories to the great crusading order of the Templars. The Aragonese, however, refused to recognize this testament, and gave the crown to his brother, Ramiro II. (1134-1137), who was brought out of a monastery to continue the dynasty. Ramiro fulfilled his duties by marrying a sister of the duke of Aquitaine, who bore him a daughter, Petronilla. At the age of two the child was betrothed to Raymond Berengar IV. of Barcelona, and Ramiro, leaving the administration of the kingdom to his son-in-law, hastened to return to his cloister. Thus a permanent union was effected between Aragon and Catalonia, both of which passed in 1162 to Petronilla's son, Alfonso II. But, if Catalonia was gained, another province, Navarre, was lost.

Navarre independent. The Navarrese had long desired to recover their independence, and on the death of Alfonso I. they refused to acknowledge Ramiro, and chose a ruler of their own, Garcia Ramirez. Ramiro, who needed Garcia's generalship against a threatened attack from Castile, recognized him, first as a vassal of Aragon and afterwards as an independent king. Thus Navarre regained its place among the kingdoms of Spain, though it never enjoyed its old importance.

Crusading orders. The main interest of Spanish history in the 13th century centres round the war against the Moors, which was beginning to attract the interest and assistance of the other European states. It was the age of the great crusades, and Christendom was absorbed in the struggle against the infidel, both in the East and West. Spain, like Palestine, had its crusading orders, which vied with the Templars and Hospitallers both in wealth and military distinction. The order of Calatrava was founded in 1158, that of St James of Compostella in 1175, and the order of Alcantara in 1176. The kingdom of Portugal, which had risen with great rapidity in the 12th century, had a no less distinguished order, that of Evora. These military priests, debarred by their profession from the ordinary interests of humanity, gave a firmness and consistency to the Christian cause which had too often been sacrificed to the dynastic quarrels of the temporal princes.

Struggles of Almoravids and Almohades. The empire of the Almoravids, like so many of its predecessors, had soon begun to fall to pieces. It was too large and unwieldy for permanence. Its real centre was at Morocco, and the attention of the caliphs was absorbed in the affairs of Africa, while the extortion and misgovernment of their viceroys excited discontent among the Mohammedans of Spain. This state of things gave a great advantage to Alfonso VII. of Castile, who revived the title of emperor of Spain, allied himself with Raymond Berengar of Barcelona and Aragon, and sought to emulate the achievements of his grandfather. For the second time the Moorish power in Spain was only saved from dissolution by the arrival of reinforcements from Africa. As happened so often in Mussulman history, a movement which began with religious reform ended with the formation of an empire. Mohammed b. 'Abdallah, an Arab from Mount Atlas, gave himself out as the expected Mahdí, and formed a sect known as the Almohades (Unitarians). His disciple, 'Abd al-Mu'min, was chosen as his successor, and soon overthrew the power of the Almoravids. Táshufin, 'Alí's son, made a vigorous but ineffectual resistance, and the conqueror crossed the sea to complete his work by the reduction of Spain (1146). The success of 'Abd al-Mu'min, if less rapid than that of Yúsuf, was quite as complete. The Almoravids appealed to the Christians, and both Castile and Aragon came to their aid. Alfonso VII., with the help of the Genoese and Pisan fleets, besieged and took Almeria, while Raymond Berengar captured Tortosa. But these successes were only temporary. In ten years the Almoravids had been driven from the mainland, and only a small remnant found refuge in the Balearic Islands. Almeria was again wrested from the Castilians, and in 1157 Alfonso VII. died, the last of the series of "emperors of Spain."

Separation of Castile and Leon. His territories were divided between his two sons, the elder, Sancho, succeeding to Castile, while Leon went to his brother Ferdinand. The quarrels which resulted from this partition would probably have been fatal to the Christian cause but for the exertions of the great knightly orders. The successors of Abd al-Mu'min (d. 1163), Yúsuf and Ya'kúb Almansór, continued to advance the power of the Almohades, and the latter inflicted a crushing defeat at Alarcos (1195) upon Alfonso VIII. of Castile, who had succeeded his father Sancho in 1158. Castile was at this time distracted by the feuds of the great families of Lara and Castro, and the count of Castro, who had been worsted by his rival, rendered conspicuous service to the infidels in the battle. Even Sancho of Navarre, out of jealousy of the rival kings, concluded an alliance with the Almohades.

Downfall of the Almohades. Luckily for the Christians Ya'kúb, the most formidable opponent they had had to face since the great Almansór, died in 1199, and his death was followed by a rising of the Almoravids which took five years to suppress. Meanwhile successful efforts had been made by the pope and clergy to arrange the differences among the Christian states, and a confederation was formed between the five kings of Castile, Aragon, Leon, Navarre, and Portugal. When Ya'kúb's successor, Mohammed al-Násir, had succeeded in restoring order in Andalusia and prepared to march against the Christians, he was confronted by the allies in the famous battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, in the Sierra Morena (July 16, 1212). After an obstinate struggle the Christians gained a decisive victory, and their success decided the fate of Spain. The religious impulse which had constituted the original strength of the Almohades had come to an end; they were regarded as infidels by the orthodox Moslems, and the first failure necessarily led to their downfall. The cruelties with which they sought to repress the rising discontent only excited popular feeling against them, and when Al-Motawakkil, a descendant of the family of Ibn Húd which had once ruled in Saragossa, raised the standard of revolt in Andalusia, the bulk of the population joined him, and Al-Ma'mún, the last of the Almohades who held any power in Spain, fled to Africa in 1232. The chief result of their rule was to depress the Arab element in the Mussulman population of Spain. Hitherto the Arabs, though numerically in a minority, had retained the preponderance due to their original prestige. Henceforth the infidels of Spain can only be considered and spoken of as Moors.

Castile and Leon reunited. After the fall of the Almohades the triumphs of the Christian arms were rapid and decisive. The separation of Castile and Leon, which had been productive of so much disaster, was finally terminated in 1230 by the accession of Ferdinand III., the son of Alfonso IX. of Leon and Berengaria of Castile. The province of Estremadura had been annexed to Leon by Alfonso IX., and now formed part of the united kingdom which under Ferdinand III. rapidly extended itself southwards. In 1233 the Castilian army won a great victory over the Moors under Al-Motawakkil, and three years later Ferdinand himself captured Cordova, so long the capital of the Mohammedan rulers and one of the most wealthy and beautiful cities of Europe. In 1237 Al-Motawakkil was assassinated, and with him perished the last semblance of Moorish unity. The numerous emirs became independent rulers, and the most powerful of them, Mohammed Ibn al-Ahmar of Granada, became a tributary of Castile and ceded the strong town of Jaen (1246). In 1248 Seville, the second of the Mohammedan cities, submitted to Ferdinand, who within a few years annexed Xerez de la Frontera, Medina Sidonia, and Cadiz. By these acquisitions the frontier of Castile was extended to the southern coast before Ferdinand III.'s death in 1252. A considerable number of Moors submitted to the rule of Castile, but the Christians had become intolerant during the long war, and most of the conquered population sought a new home either in Granada or in Africa.

Successes of Aragon. Meanwhile Aragon had taken a no less important part in the struggle. Pedro I. (1196-1213), the successor of Alfonso II., had excited the discontent of his subjects, partly by seeking coronation from Pope Innocent III., and partly by his excessive taxation. The "union" of nobles and towns compelled the king to diminish his exactions. Pedro took part in the battle of Navas de Tolosa, but his attention was diverted from Spanish affairs by his relationship with Raymond of Toulouse, which involved him in the Albigensian crusade, where he met his death. His son James I. (1213-1276), however, resumed the war against the infidels, and won in it the title of "The Conqueror." With the help of his Catalonian subjects, at that time perhaps the most accomplished sailors in the world, he conquered the Balearic Islands (1229-1233), which had long been a stronghold of the Moslem and a centre for piratical attacks upon the Christian states. Still more important was his reduction of Valencia (1238), which had once before been conquered by Ruy Diaz. The last achievement of the great king was the conquest of the province of Murcia (1266), the last of the Moorish territories in Spain except Granada. Murcia, though reduced by Aragon, was handed over to Castile. By the acquisition of Algarve Portugal had already acquired frontiers which correspond roughly to those which it has at the present day.

Cessation of the crusade. From the latter half of the 13th century the crusading energy of the Spaniards came to a sudden standstill, and the Moors were allowed to retain possession of Granada for more than two centuries. The causes of this abrupt termination of the war before it had reached what seemed to be its natural and legitimate end have often been discussed. In the first place Castile was henceforth the only state which was directly interested in the war. By the acquisition of Seville and Murcia it had separated Granada both from Portugal and Aragon, neither of which states had henceforth any conterminous frontier with the Moors. The state of Granada, though small when compared with Castile, was by nature easily defensible, as was made amply apparent in the last campaigns under Ferdinand and Isabella. The attention of Castile was often distracted by foreign interests or by internal dissensions. Again, the Moors were more concentrated and homogeneous in Granada than they had been when their rule was more extensive. The large subject population, many of whom were Christians or renegades, had been a great source of weakness, and this no longer existed. They, like their opponents, had given up the tolerance that had once distinguished them, and hardly any but true Mohammedans can have remained in Granada. Something, too, must be attributed to the wily policy and well-timed submission of Mohammed Ibn al-Ahmar, who even gave assistance to Ferdinand III. against the other Moorish emirs.

With the termination of the crusade Spanish history loses what little unity it had possessed for the last two centuries, and it becomes necessary to follow the fortunes of each state separately.

Moorish Granada. Into the history of Granada it is as impossible as it would be tedious to enter within the limits of this article. It is a long record of revolution and civil war, in which nothing above the most petty personal interests are concerned. There an no change of dynasty, but one perpetual struggle between members of the same family. It would not be easy to enumerate even the names of the successive rulere, many of whom were several times deposed and restored to power. Even during the final struggle, when the existence of the kingdom was at stake and the one hope of resistance lay in unity, the national cause was sacrificed to the jealous rivalry of three claimants of the throne. The history of Castile and Aragon, on the other hand, assumes a new character and interest when the attention of kings and people ceased to be absorbed in the overwhelming excitement of a great religious war.

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