Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The hero of Spain: El Cid

The romantic figure of El Cid Campeador leading his men in to battle fires up the imagination. Who was El Cid? Was it true that his dead body was strapped on his horse to lead his army? Cid roughly interpreted means ‘master’ or ‘lord’ and Campeador means ‘champion’ or ‘challenger’.

The real man, Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, was born in Vivar in 1043. Rodrigo’s father, Diego Lainez, was a military man and minor nobleman. At the time of Rodrigo’s birth, the population of Vivar was less than 200 residents. Vivar was part of Castillona de Bivar, north of Burgos.

Rodrigo trained as a military man, following his father’s footsteps. Diego sent his son to foster in Sancho II's household. Sancho II was one King Fernand's sons. At fourteen, Rodrigo was one of many serving under King Sancho II fighting at Zaragoza, a Moorish stronghold. Young Rodrigo impressed Sancho, and with his noble background, was appointed Commander of the Royal Troops and Standard Bearer in 1065 when he was in his 20's.

Sancho didn't like the fact that Fernand had divided his kingdom between his children (3 sons and two daughters, each 'ruling' independently). Sancho wanted to united the lands under one King.

It was in 1063, during one of the battles that Rodrigo and an Aragonese knight fought man-to-man. Rodrigo won the fight, and earned the title ‘Campeador’. After Sancho took on his brothers, defeating them soundly at Leon and Galicia. Sancho and Rodrigo then went to Toto where Sancho's sister, Elvira fell to her brother's army led by El Cid.

The next destination was Zamora, the realm of Urraca. This time fate was against Sancho. Not wanting to be in the trenches, Alfonso rode to Zamora to claim Sancho's lands and then to Toledo, where he was crowned King Alfonso VI. Fingers pointed and tongues wagged about the King having a great deal to do with his brother’s death: an accusation Alfonso denied. El Cid was starting to fall out of favor. Alfonso stripped El Cid of his position as Standard Bearer but allowed Rodrigo to marry his niece, Jimena.

In 1079, El Cid led his men in the Battle of Cabra. Without authorization, Rodrigo conquered Granada’s ruler, Emir Abdulallh. Without the royal permission, King Alfonso wasn’t amused; there were whispers that El Cid had dared keep some wealth for his own. The Campeador was exiled.

Rodrigo wandered foreign lands until he found a man willing to accept his service. Ironically, that man was Yusaf al-Mu’tamin ibn Hud, the Taifa of Zaragoza (also called Saragossa). El Cid led the Moorish forces until sometime around 1087m including a battle against King Alfonso in 1084 (a fight he won).

Fortune smiled on El Cid when documents show him back at court. With a truce, El Cid went on with his own agenda. He built up a force of his own men, made up of Moors and Christians with the goal of having his own piece of Heaven to rule: Valencia. First, he conquered Berenguer Ramon II, ruler of Barcelona in May of 1090. Next, he started a siege in October of 1092. Rodrigo successfully finished what he started in May of 1094, becoming the unofficial ‘ruler’ of Valencia, as a vassal to King Alfonso. In truth, Valencia was its own principality. Rodrigo and his wife, Jimena Diaz (married July 1074), were living the good life.

Poor Rodrigo, his plans were skewed when ‘El Cid Campeador’ was needed one last time. His city was attacked by the Almoravids (Berbers). Rodrigo was fatally wounded by an arrow. To rally his army, El Cid’s body was strapped on to his horse, Babieca, to appear as if he were alive and well. Despite the trick, and the orders for the city to be burned to keep the enemies from having anything to occupy, Valencia was captured on May 5, 1102. El Cid is now entombed at the Burgos Cathedral. His sword, Tizona, is on display at the Museum of Burgos and has been  through metallurgical testing. The results showed the weapon consisted of Damascus steel and was made in Moorish Cordoba in the 11th Century.

Rodrigo was known to sit down with his men and discuss tactics. He used brainstorming sessions, willing to listen to their ideas. He carried books on ancient battles and would even read sections about the battles, hoping to inspire his men to come up with fresh ideas.

Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, “El Cid Campeador”, is a national hero of Spain. A statue of El Cid riding Babieca is in Seville. There are many stories and chansons dedicated to the warrior, among the best known is El cantor de mio Cid (the Song of El Cid), which was composed in the twelfth century.

I haven’t listed my sources this time because I used books listed in prior posts.

Stay safe out there!

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