Gateway to the Classics: Spain: A History for Young Readers by Frederick A. Ober
Spain: A History for Young Readers by  Frederick A. Ober

Decline of the Moors

The eleventh and twelfth centuries were momentous ones to Spain, and in the hundred years between 1000 and 1100 more battles were fought, perhaps, and more victories gained by the Christians, than in any equal period before. The great Almansor of Cordova, who had inflicted upon the Goths defeat after defeat, himself lost a battle, at Catalanazor, in the year 1001 or 1002, which caused his death. A rebellion in Morocco had compelled him to send an army thither, and the Christians had taken advantage of this weakening of his forces and fallen upon him at the Leon and Castile frontier.

Almansor's death weakened the Ommiade dynasty, and Cordova fell a prey to discord; in place of one strong ruler now were many petty chiefs, each one anxious to make himself supreme, but only succeeding in adding to the confusion then prevailing among the Moors. Before the middle of the century the crowns of Leon and Castile had been united under Ferdinand the Great, and in the year 1082 his son and successor, Alfonso V went down and besieged the ancient city of Toledo (which had been in Moorish possession four hundred years), taking it three years later. It was never recovered by the Moors, and the Moslems became alarmed at this signal instance of Gothic bravery and effrontery, and for a time ceased their dissensions. But, in their alarm at the aggressions of the Christian forces, they placed their necks within a yoke of slavery far worse than would have been forced upon them by the Goths. They conferred together, and, realizing their own weakness, sent over into Africa for assistance. There then reigned in Morocco the fierce Yussef, a fanatical Bedouin, who hated a Arabs almost as much as he hated the "Christian dogs." But he hastened to the relief of his fellow-Moslems with a great army of fanatics as fierce and uncouth as himself. He had hardly landed and learned of the fall Toledo, when he summoned King Alfonso either to embrace the faith of Mohammed, consent to pay tribute, or prepare for battle. Flushed with his successes, Alfonso chose to fight, and the two great armies met in the battle of Zallaca, in the month of October, 1086, when the Spanish army was utterly overthrown. Yussef pursued his advantage vigorously, and eventually all southern Spain was subjected to him, including the city of Seville, which was taken in 1091; and not only were the Christians themselves the object of his fury, but the Moslem chiefs who had sent for him to come to their aid, who were all either murdered or transported to Africa. Thus was the Almoravid dynasty established, with its capital at Cordova, and which lasted until 1147. Yussef died about twenty years later, leaving the kingdom to his son Ali, and the Spanish Moslems were oppressed by the Bedouin chiefs, who were as savage and illiterate as the Ommiades were gentle and refined. Cordova soon lost its libraries, its schools and universities, and became a place to be shunned, rather than sought, by scholars and men of letters.

Meanwhile the Gothic provinces, called kingdoms (sometimes united, sometimes divided), had not been blind to their advantage in pressing the Moors on every side, and the latter steadily, though slowly, shrank within more restricted confines, until the Tagus and the Guadiana were their most northern boundaries. Grim Yussef died in 1104, and the great Alfonso in 1109. The latter, under whom Castile had risen steadily to the first rank among the kingdoms of the north, and who was known as the "Buckler of the Faith" had been victor in thirty-nine battles, and had but twice suffered defeat.

The year 1104 saw the crown of Aragon pass to Alfonso I, who was married to a daughter of Alfonso VI of Castile. It has been said that if the two Alfonsos had but united their forces, while holding their respective kingdoms, the Moors might have been expelled from Spain three hundred years sooner than they were.

About this time rose to power in Morocco a fanatical Moslem known as Mohammed ben Abdullah, the son of a lamplighter in the mosque of Cordova. He was educated in Cordova and in Bagdad, but later went to Morocco, where he made his home in the Atlas Mountains and proclaimed himself the Mandi, or leader of the faithful. He soon had many followers, who called themselves Almohades, or followers of the one God. Raising an immense army, Mohammed came down from the mountains and besieged the city of Morocco, which was defended by Ali the son of Yussef. Both Ali and Mohammed died during the siege, and one Abdelmummen succeeded the Mandi in command. He took the city, driving out and killing the inhabitants, and repeopling it with Bedouins from the desert and the mountains.

Proclaimed sovereign of all Africa and Moslem Spain, Abdelmummen invaded the peninsula with an army so vast that two months were consumed in crossing the straits, and an alarm spread throughout all Europe; but the men of the new sect were more anxious, apparently, for converts to their creed than victories over the Christians, for in the end the Almoravides were either expelled, or converted, and the Almohades reigned supreme. Their dominion extended from the Atlantic to the Nile in Africa, and in Spain over all that the Christian arms had not wrested from their predecessors.

Abdelmummen died in 1162, leaving the kingdom to his son Cid Yussef, who built the mosque of Seville, the great aqueduct that brought water to that city, and the bridge across the Guadalquivir. He was killed in 1184 and his son Yacoub succeeded, who in the year 1195 won a great victory over Alfonso VIII, at the balttle of Alarcos. A little more than a century previously the Moslems had gained another victory, at Zallaca; but these two, vast as were their results, were to be avenged by an overwhelming defeat which the God of the Christians was preparing for them.

The chronicles of the eleventh century (turn back a moment) would not be complete without mention of the doughty deeds of the great Cid Campeador, who, like Count Fernan Gonzalez, was descended from Nuno Rastro one of the first judges of Castile.

His real name was Rodrigo or Ruy Diaz, and he was born at Bivar, near the city of Burgos, about the year 1040, although so much of myth envelops him that the exact date of his birth is uncertain. At all events he was a Castilian of noble birth, who at a early age commanded the forces of Sancho II of Castile, when that ruler deprived his brothers of their kingdoms of Leon and Galicia. According to the numerous "Ballads o the Cid," which were written and sung as early as the twelfth century, no hero of history ever performed more valiant deeds than, he, though he can hardly be held up to the world as a model of constancy and patriotism: for he fought, first on the side of his native Castile, then, becoming offended at a slight put upon him by King Alfonso (though he had led the army into Toledo), he went over to the Emir of Saragossa and battled stoutly for the Moors.

His first appearance seems to have been as the avenger of his father's death, when he challenges his slayer, Count Lozeno, to mortal combat, and leaves him dead on the field. Then at the command of the king he marries the count's daughter, the lovely Ximena, who has prayed her sovereign to avenge this deed; and yet when Rodrigo proposes, she consents to be his wife. The king argued, with true kingly logic, that "he whose hand had made her an orphan should of a right be her protector"; but the ballads do not tell us what Ximena thought about it. Still, they inform us often that he was in every respect a model husband, and that, more than all else in the world, he loved his gallant steed Babieca, his good sword Tizona, and his faithful wife Ximena—probably the order named being their rank in his affections.

Although he had fought against his king, yet in his latter years he made amends, became a terror to the Moors, and took the Moorish province of Valencia in 1088, which he held until his death in the year 1099. And, that we may be sure his devoted wife was faithful to the last, we are told that she held the city of Valencia for two years after her husband died, though surrounded by enemies, and then carried his embalmed body to Burgos, where for ten years it sat in state beside the high altar of a convent church.

The empty tomb, to which the Cid was borne upon his charger, and in which he and his wife rested for many years, may yet be seen in the old convent of San Pedro de Cardena, near to Burgos; and in that old Castilian city, preserved in a glass case in the town hall, are shown the veritable "bones of the Cid and his wife Ximena." Here also is the "solar del Cid," or the site of the house he lived in, now indicated by three obelisks of stone, which stand not far from a memorial arch erected to Count Fernan Gonzalez; And, moreover, in one of the cathedral cloisters, is still preserved an ancient iron-clasped trunk, which belonged to the Cid, and which, tradition states, he once filled with sand and; pledged to some wealthy Jews for an enormous sum, as full of priceless jewels. It is, also stated, to his credit, that he afterward redeemed his pledge and paid his debts in full.

The renowned Cid Campeador may or may not have performed all the valorous feats ascribed to him, but it is certain that Spain yet holds his name in grateful remembrance. When his end drew nigh (knowing that a battle was imminent), he ordered that his corpse should be placed erect upon his war horse, his sword in hand, and taken forth to fight a last battle for his country:

"'Bring in my Babieca'—the Cid a-dying lay

'That I may say farewell to him before I pass away.'

The good horse, strong and gentle, full quiet did he keep,

His large soft eyes dilating, as though he fain would weep.

I am going, dear companion, thy master rides no more,

Thou well deservest high reward, I leave thee this in store

Thy master's deeds shall keep thy name until earth's latest day;'

And speaking not another word, the good Cid passed away."

The ruined castle still stands, on a hill above the city of Burgos, in which Don Garcia was imprisoned in 958; where Alfonso of Leon was confined by the Cid, and where Edward I of England was married to Eleanor of Castile.

 Table of Contents  |  Index  |  Home  | Previous: Spain's Heroic Age  |  Next: Kings of Castile and Aragon
Copyright (c) 2005 - 2023   Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.