January 2, 1492 La Reconquista

Without Pelagius’ victory at Covadonga, we’d almost certainly never have heard of Ferdinand and Isabella, let alone a certain Italian explorer whom the pair sent off in 1492, in search of a sea route to China

The manner in which Roderic came to the throne of the Visigothic Empire is unclear. His history, as any other, was written by the victors.  Unbiased contemporary sources do not appear to exist. What Is known is that someone in the early 8th century Iberian Peninsula thought him an illegitimate King.

That someone appears to have gone to Mecca looking for help from the Banū ʾUmayya, the “Sons of Umayya”, the second caliphate since Muhammad and known to history as the Umayyad Caliphate.

In 711AD, a combined force of 1,700 Arab and North African horsemen, the Berbers, landed on the Iberian Peninsula led by Tariq Ibn Ziyad.  384 years before the first Christian Crusade, the Umayyad conquest of Hispania was on.  Within ten years, most of what we now call Portugal and Spain had become “al-Andalus”; five administrative districts under Muslim rule, save for the fringes of the Pyrenean mountains, and the highlands along the northwest coastline

don_pelayoThe first significant Christian victory and what might have been the beginning of “La Reconquista”, took place along that northern fringe. That sliver of Christianity was the Kingdom of Asturias. Their refusal to pay the Jizya, the Muslim tax on “unbelievers”, brought them into conflict with an Umayyad force in the summer of 722. A Christian military force under Pelagius, or “Pelayo”, the future first King of Asturias, met the invaders at “Covadonga”, meaning “Cavern of the Lady”. The Arabic name for the place is “Sakhrat Bilāy” “the Rock of the Affliction”, the two names telling a story about the outcome of the battle.

The Arab chronicles record Covadonga as a small skirmish while the Spanish record it as a great victory, but two things are near certain. In 770 years the Muslims never came back.  Without Pelagius’ victory at Covadonga, we’d almost certainly never have heard of Ferdinand and Isabella, let alone a certain Italian explorer whom the pair sent off in 1492, in search of a sea route to China.

It was close to 400 years before the crusading knights of Europe came to the aid of the al-andalusIberian Kings. With help from the Knights Templar and Hospitaller, Alfonso VI captured Toledo in 1085, beginning a long period of gradual Muslim decline.

Portugal was a mere county in the early 12th century, dependent upon the Crown of León and Castile, one Alfonso VII. His cousin, three year old Alfonso Henriques, followed his father as the Count of Portugal in 1122. At the age of 14, the age of majority in the 12th century, the boy proclaimed himself a knight and raised an army against his cousin. The county’s people, church and nobles were demanding independence when, his cousin vanquished, Alfonso Henriques declared himself Prince of Portugal. Following ten years of near-constant fighting against Moors and rival Christian Kingdoms alike, Alfonso was unanimously proclaimed the King of an Independent Portugal.  It was July 25, 1139.

Portugal would be annexed to Spain in 1580, regaining its independence in 1640 and leading many to believe that Portugal is the younger country. It isn’t so. Portugal was an independent, self-governing nation, over 350 years before Spain.

After the Christian re-conquest of Córdoba in 1236, the Emirate of Granada was all that was left of al-Andalus. Granada became a tributary state to the Kingdom of Castile two years later, and finally, on this day in 1492, Emir Muhammad XII surrendered the Emirate of Granada to Queen Isabella I of Castile, and her husband King Ferdinand II of Aragon.

The first thing I do in preparing these essays is to search on a particular date, and pick a topic that interests me. I am perennially surprised and not a little horrified, at the tedious regularity with which barbarity committed against the Jewish people, appears on these lists. It’s not the pogroms and the massacres that are surprising, as much as their appalling frequency, over 2,000 years.

The paroxysm of cruelty and paranoia which we now know as the Spanish Inquisition, begun in 1478, was not a standalone event. In part, this passion for religious unity was the result of 700+ years of Muslim domination of the Iberian Peninsula. One of the early results of this manic drive for ideological purity was the Edict of Expulsion of 1492, effectively banishing between 165,000 and 800,000 Jews from Spain.

This date, originally selected to signify Ferdinand and Isabella’s final defeat of the Islamic conquest of Spain, has another significance. It is only within living memory that descendants of Spanish Jews, the Sephardim, have returned in any significant numbers to their homeland. The first native Jewish child born in Spain since Christopher Columbus discovered America, was born on this day, January 2, 1966.

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Author: capecodcurmudgeon

I'm not a "Historian". I'm a husband, father and grandfather, a history geek and sometimes curmudgeon, who still likes to learn new things. Four years ago, I began writing a daily "Today in History" story, as sort of a self-guided history course.  At some point I committed to myself to write 365.  The leap year changed that to 366. I make every effort to get my facts straight, but Lord knows I'm as good at being wrong as the next guy. I offer these "Today in History" stories, in hopes that you'll enjoy reading them as much as I have in writing them. Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share. Rick Long

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