A Brief History of Spain (4)

The opening for the Muslim Era was provided by a major dispute within the Visigothic hierarchy. The Visigoths were Christinas, but subscribed to the Arian interpretation of the relationship between Jesus and God. As such they were considered heretics by Rome, and so whe the Visigothn King Recarold converted to catholicism in the 6th century this led to internal conflicts within the ruling families, conflict which came to a head on the death of Recarold’s son and successor, King Witiza in 710. Roderic, Duke of Baetica (an Arian) immediatelyseized the throne and installed himself as King. Witiza’s family then appealed for help to Tariq ben Ziyad, the Berber Governor of Tangier, and In April 711 he crossed the straits with an army estimated at between 7,000 and 12,000 men, establishing a beachhead near to Algeciras (Gibr al Tariq = Gibraltar). He rapidly advanced to Medina Sidonia where he defeated Roderic’s forces and carried on to take the Visigothic capital of Toledo. Over the next three years, the Berbers spread out across the Peninsula as far as the borders of Galicia in the west, and to the banks of the Ebro in the north and east. Generally at this stage, we are talking about taking control of the territory rather than actually occupying it. For the most part the local population stayed put, many converting to Islam, but many more not. Although nominally the Reconquest began almost immediately with the Battle of Covadonga (Asturias) at which the Christian, Pelayo defeated the invading Muslims, in truth this was no more than a little local skirmish between a Muslim raiding party and the local population defending their cattle and their women. The Christian kingdoms of the north of Hispania were too small, too weak and too disunited in the eighth century to put up any real resistance. Over the next 150 years these kingdoms gradually came together, the two main events bringing this about being firstly the claim in 791 of Alfonso II of Galicia to be the rightful successor to the Visigothic kings, with his sights set on Toledo, the Visigothic capital, and secondly, the ‘discovery’ around 830 AD of the long lost tomb of St James in present day Santiago de Compostela. The tomb rapidly became the third most important pilgrimage destination after Jerusalem and Rome, which in turn led to the Knights Templar establishing themselves along the route as protectors of the faithful, thus greatly increasing Christian military strength, and ushering in the beginning of the true process of reconquest, which even so would not be finally completed until the end of the fifteenth century. Meanwhile, the three hundred years from Tariq’s landing in 711 to the death of the Caliph of Córdoba, al-Mansur in 1031 represents the golden age of Al-Andalus, as the Muslims named those parts (most) of the Peninsula under their rule. The name, Al-Andalus harks back to the Germanic tribes driven out of tHispania in 429; Al-Andalus, the land of the Vandals.

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