January 2, 1492 La Reconquista

A Christian military force under Pelagius,(aka “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 tell the tale about the outcome, of the battle.

The manner by which Roderic ascended 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 Roderic an illegitimate King.

al-andalusThat someone appears to have gone to Mecca looking for help from the BanūʾUmayya, the “Sons of Umayya”, the second such center of Islamic power since the time of Muhammad and known to history as the Umayyad Caliphate.

In 711AD, a force of some 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 know as 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.

The first significant Christian victory and what may constitute the beginning of reconquest, “La Reconquista”, took place along that northern fringe. That sliver of Christianity was the Kingdom of Asturias. The 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, (aka “Pelayo”), the future first King of Asturias, met the invaders at a place called “Covadonga”, meaning “Cavern of the Lady”.  The Arabic name for the place is “Sakhrat Bilāy” “the Rock of the Affliction”.  The two names tell a tale about the outcome, of the battle.

covadonga
Covadonga

The Arab chronicles record Covadonga as a small skirmish while the Spanish record a great victory, but two things are near certain. In 770 years, no Muslims force ever returned to Asturias.  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 Iberian Kings. With help from the Knights Templar and Hospitaller. Alfonso VI captured Toledo in 1085, beginning a long period of gradual Muslim decline.

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The Portuguese nation was a mere county in the early 12th century, dependent on 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 on July 25, 1139.

Portugal would be annexed to Spain in 1580, regaining its independence sixty years later and leading many to believe that Portugal is the younger between the two countries. It isn’t so. Portugal was an independent, self-governing nation, more that 350 years before her Spanish neighbor.

Following 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.  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.

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Ferdinand & Isabella. March 31, 1492 Edict of Expulsion

For the six years I’ve written “Today in History”, the first thing I do is search on a date, and select an interesting topic from the list.  To date, I’ve written about seven hundred. 

As I review these lists, I am perpetually surprised and not a little horrified, at the never ending recurrence of barbarity against the Jews of the world. It’s not the pogroms and the massacres which surprise me, but rather their appalling frequency, over 2,000 years.

The paroxysm of cruelty and paranoia now known 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, resulting in the forced conversion of some quarter-million Spanish Jews, the “conversos“, and the expulsion of as many as 100,000 more.

Untold numbers lived lives of “marranos” (from the Hebrew marit ayin: “the appearance of the eye”), secretly practicing Jews forced on pain of death, to adopt the outward signs of Christianity.

Maimon-Marrans

This date, originally selected to signify Ferdinand and Isabella’s final defeat of the Islamic conquest of Spain, has yet 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.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.
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June 9, AD721 Odo

The story is familiar.  Despite all odds, the Frankish force emerged victorious.  Charles “The Hammer” Martel had saved western civilization.  Forgotten in this narrative, is the story of the man who made it all possible.

In AD732, a Frankish military force led by Charles Martel, the illegitimate son of Pippin II of Herstal, met a vastly superior invading army of the Umayyad Caliphate, led by Abd Ar-Rahman al Ghafiqi.

The Umayyad Caliphate had recently defeated two of the most powerful militaries of the era.  The Sassanid empire in modern day Iran had been destroyed altogether, as was the greater part of the Byzantine Empire, including Armenia, North Africa and Syria.

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As the Caliphate grew in strength, European civilization faced a period of reduced trade, declining population and political disintegration, characterized by a constellation of new and small kingdoms, evolving and squabbling for suzerainty over the common people.

The “Banu Umayya”, the second of four major dynasties established following the death of Muhammad 100 years earlier, was already one of the largest, most powerful empires in history. Should it fail, no force stood behind the Frankish host, sufficient to prevent a united Islamic caliphate stretching from the Atlantic coast of Spain to the Indian sub-continent, from Sub-Saharan Africa to the North Sea.

 

Carolingian Empire Map

With no cavalry of his own, Charles faced a two-to-one disadvantage in the face of a combined Islamic force of infantry and horse soldiers.  History offers few instances of medieval armies withstanding the charge of cavalry, yet Charles had anticipated this moment. He had trained his men, they were ready.

The story is familiar.   Charles “The Hammer” Martel met the invader, at a spot between the villages of Tours, and Poitiers.  Despite all odds, the Frankish force emerged victorious, from the Battle of Tours (Poitiers). Western civilization, was saved.

Battle of Tours, 732

Forgotten in this narrative, is the story of the man who made it all possible.

Twenty years earlier, a combined force of 1,700 Arab and North African horsemen, the Berbers, landed on the Iberian Peninsula led by Tariq Ibn Ziyad.  Within ten years, the Emir of Córdoba ruled over most of what we now call Portugal and Spain, save for the fringes of the Pyrenean mountains, and the highlands along the northwest coastline.

In AD721, Al-Samh ibn Malik al-Khawlani, wali (governor) of Muslim Spain, built a strong army from the Umayyad territories of Al-Andalus, and invaded the semi-independent duchy of Aquitaine, a principality ostensibly part of the Frankish kingdom, but for all intents and purposes ruled as an independent territory.

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Duke Odo, I

Duke Odo of Aquitaine left his home in Toulouse in search of help, from the Frankish statesman and military leader, Charles Martel.  This was a time (718 – 732) of warring kingdoms and duchys, a consolidation of power in which Martel preferred not to step up on behalf of his southern rival, but to wait, and see what happened. Odo, Duke of Aquitaine, was on his own.

At this time, Toulouse was the largest and most important city in Aquitaine.  Believing Odo to have fled before their advance, the forces of al-Andalus laid siege to the city, secure in the belief that their only threat lay before them.  For three months, Odo gathered Aquitanian, Gascon and Frankish troops about him, as his city held on.

Overconfident, the besieging army had failed to fortify its outer perimeter, or to scout the surrounding countryside.  On June 9 with Toulouse on the verge of collapse, the armies of Duke Odo fell on the Muslim rear, as defenders poured from the city gates, an avenging army.    Sources report Duke Odo’s forces numbered some 300,000, though the number is almost certainly exaggerated.

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Caught at rest without weapons or amour, the surprise was complete.  Some 350,000 Umayyad troops are said to have been cut down as they fled, but again, the number is probably inflated.  Al-Samh himself was mortally wounded, and later died in Narbonne.

Be that as it may, the battle of Toulouse was an unmitigated disaster for the Arab side.  Some historians believe that this day in 721 did more to check the Muslim advance into western Europe, than did the later battle at Tours.  For 450 years,  Muslim chroniclers at Al-Andalus described the battle as Balat al Shuhada (‘the path of the martyrs’), while Tours was remembered as a relatively minor skirmish.

Ch-MartelOne of those to escape with his life, was a young Abd Ar-Rahman al Ghafiqi.  Eleven years later in 732, the now – governor of Al-Andalus would once again cross the Pyrenees, this time at the head of a massive army of his own.  Al Ghafiqi’s legions laid waste to Navarre and Gascony, first destroying Auch, and then Bordeaux.  Duke Odo “The Great” would be destroyed at the River Garonne and the table set for the all-important decision of Tours.

In history as in life, time and place is everything.  Today, Duke Odo of Aquitaine is all but forgotten. We remember Charles “The Hammer” Martel as the savior of western civilization, as well we should. Yet, we need not forget the man who made it possible, who gave Martel time to gather the strength, to forge the fighting force which gave life to such an unlikely outcome.

 

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.