718/722: The Battle of Covadonga as the Beginning of the Reconquista in the Iberian Peninsula
The Reconquista was a centuries long period in the history of the Iberian Peninsula that followed a surge of Muslim Berber invaders from northern Africa into what would eventually become Spain and Portugal. Also called Moors, the conquest of the Iberian Peninsula was nearly total by the year 718 and led to the establishment of the emirate of Al-Andalus.
The Reconquista itself is said to have begun with the victory of Pelagius of Asturias at the battle of Covadonga. The first monarch of the Asturian Kingdom, Pelagius was a Visigoth noble and a grandson of a former King of Hispania when it had still been a purely Visigoth posession. The battle itself was in response to a drastic increase in taxes by the Emir of the time, one Anbasa ibn Suhaym Al-Kalbi. Mobilizing many dispossessed refugees and combatants from the south, Pelagius refused to pay the taxes levied on non-Muslims and moved to assault Umayyad garrisons in the area. These successes would culminate with the expulsion of the Umayyad provincial governor and the Umayyad commanders Alqama and Munuza marching to put down the rebellion.
According to legend, the Bishop of Seville accompanied the Umayyad forces and exhorted his fellow Christians to lay down their arms in surrender. Outnumbered, Pelagius and his men retreated deeper into the mountains of Asturias, eventually ending up in an easily defensible valley flanked by mountains known as Covadonga. The Umayyad commander Alqama would eventually arrive and acted again to attempt to convince Pelagius to surrender.
In the face of Pelagius’ refusal to lay down arms, the Muslims launched their attack only to be subject to a barrage of arrows and stones from the slopes of the mountain. The battle turned fully against the Muslim forces when Pelagius led a force that had been hidden in a nearby cave. This last strike would see the death of Alqama himself and the retreat of the remaining Muslim forces from the field.
Word of Pelagius’ victory reverberated throughout the conquered villages of Asturias, and many surged forth with weapons to attack the retreating Muslim forces, killing hundreds. The other Umayyad commander, Munuza, organized another force to supplement the survivors of Covadonga and marched on Pelagius once more. Unfortunately for the Muslims, the Visigoth-led forces were greatly reinforced from the surrounding areas, and the eventual clash that took place near the modern town of Proaza would see Munuza dead as well and the Muslim forces broken. The nearly 800 year long Reconquista had officially begun.
Books and Movies About the Reconquista
- The History of Spain: Land on a Crossroad: An series on the history of Spain, from its time under the rule of Rome, through its period under the control of Islamic rulers, the Reconquista, and eventual emergence into the modern world. A great overview of Spanish history.
- Kingdoms of Faith: A New History of Islamic Spain: A complex portrait of the blended civilization of Muslims, Christians, and Jews that existed in Islamic Spain.
- The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians, and Jews under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain: A critical examination of life in Islamic Spain, paying particular focus to religious and cultural repression and the marginalization of non-Muslims that greater control over the Iberian Peninsula be maintained.
- Reconquest and Crusade in Medieval Spain: Drawing from both Christian and Islamic sources, this book demonstrates how the military clashes between Christians and Muslims begun in the 8th century gradually transformed into a crusade backed by the papacy during the 12th and 13th centuries. The author pays particular attention to the study of warfare, military finance, and the liturgy of reconquest and crusading as well. An informative read.
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