La rendición de Granada (1882) by Francisco Pradilla Ortiz

The Reconquista (Spanish: [rekoŋˈkista], Portuguese: [ʁɛkõˈkiʃtɐ], Galician: [rekoŋˈkista]; Catalan: Reconquesta, IPA: [rəkuŋˈkɛstə]; "Reconquest"; Arabic: الاسترداد‎ trans. al-ʾIstirdād, IPA: [æl ʔɪstɪrˈdæːd]; "the Recapturing") was a period of almost 800 years (539 years in Portugal) in the Middle Ages during which several Christian kingdoms succeeded in retaking the Muslim-controlled areas of the Iberian Peninsula broadly known as Al-Andalus. The Reconquista of Al-Andalus began soon after the Islamic conquest with the formation of the Kingdom of Asturias by the Visigoths under the leadership of the nobleman Pelagius.[1]

The Islamic conquest of the Christian Visigothic Kingdom in the 8th century (begun 711)[2] extended over almost the entire peninsula. After 500 years, in the 13th century, the last remaining Moorish government was the Nasrid dynasty in the Kingdom of Granada in southern Iberia. With its defeat in 1492, the entire Iberian Peninsula was brought back under Christian rule, thus completing the Reconquista.

The Reconquista of Al-Andalus began soon after the Islamic conquest of the Visigothic Kingdom[1] The victory over the Moors at the Battle of Covadonga in 722 was a major formative event. Charlemagne (768–814) reconquered the western Pyrenees and Septimania and formed a Marca Hispanica to defend the border between Francia and the Muslims. After the advent of the Crusades, much of the ideology of reconquista was subsumed within the wider context of crusading. Even before the Crusades, there was a steady trickle of soldiers arriving from elsewhere in Europe to participate in the Reconquista as an act of Christian penitence. Crusaders arrived in the County of Portugal, to be led by Afonso Henriques. By 1249, the reconquest of Portugal was complete and the Moors banished.

The Reconquista, being of such great duration, is much more complex than any simple account would allow. Christian and Muslim rulers commonly became divided among themselves and fought. Alliances across faith lines were not unusual. The fighting along the Christian–Muslim frontier was punctuated by periods of prolonged peace and truces. Blurring matters even further were the mercenaries who simply fought for whoever paid the most.

The main phase of the Reconquista was completed by 1249, after the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, when the sole remaining Muslim state in Iberia, the Emirate of Granada, became a vassal state of the Christian Crown of Castile. This arrangement lasted for 250 years until the Castilians launched the Granada War of 1492, which finally expelled all Muslim authority from Spain. The last Muslim ruler of Granada, Muhammad XII, better known as King Boabdil, surrendered his kingdom to Isabella I of Castile, who with her husband Ferdinand II of Aragon were known as the Catholic Monarchs (los Reyes Católicos).


Major dates

The Reconquista, 790-1300
  • 711: The Muslim conquest of Iberia begins.
  • 718: Moorish Islamic rule is at its widest extent, covering almost all of the Iberian Peninsula, the Pyrenees, and part of today's southern France.
  • 722:Battle of Covadonga in the north-west of Iberia. The Christian Reconquista begins.
  • 739: Moorish garrison driven out of Galicia by Asturian-Galician forces.
  • 800: The Franks complete the reconquest of all of today's southern French territory and the Pyrenees and establish the Spanish March.
  • 801: The Franks reconquer Barcelona.
  • 914: Completion of the reconquest of the north-west. Muslims briefly retake Barcelona.
  • 1085: Toledo reconquered by Castilian forces.
  • 1236: Half of Iberia has been reconquered by the Christians. Cadiz seized by Castilian forces attacking from the sea.
  • 1249: King Afonso III of Portugal takes Faro (in the Algarve), ending the Portuguese part of the Reconquista in 1250.[3] The Emirate of Granada remains the only Muslim state in Iberia.
  • 1300s and 1400s: Marinid Muslims seize control of some towns on the southern coast but are soon driven out.
  • 1492: Treaty of Granada completes the Reconquista.



Early Christianity

Arian Christianity, a sect which had been condemned as heretical by the Catholic Church and largely been eliminated in Europe, found a safe haven in the Iberian peninsula. The Visigoths had traditionally been Arian Christians, and it was the official religion of the Spanish Visigothic Kingdom until the conversion of Visigothic King Reccared I in 587 nominally eliminated it. However, because the Visigothic Monarchy (now Catholic) was detached from the public (Arian), the Arian undercurrent remained.

After a quick succession of battles in the 8th century the Franks created a series of feudal counties which would later form the Principality of Catalonia and the kingdom of Aragon. Possibly the emirate's largest failing was the inability to eradicate resistance of Christians in the Basque country and the Cantabrian mountains. The two resistances (in Basque Navarre and Cantabrian Asturias), despite their extremely small size, demonstrated an ability to maintain independence. The Moors made the same failing as the Visigoths and the early Romans, namely the inability to finish off rebel hideouts.

Because the Umayyad rulers based in Córdoba were unable to extend their power into Frankish territory, they decided to consolidate their power within the Iberian peninsula. Therefore, Muslim forces made periodic incursions into Asturias. Indeed, an earlier attempt to conquer the area might have succeeded, but now the momentum was turning. The prime reasons the Emirate did not invade earlier were that it suffered from poor industrial capacity, and the Umayyads believed the Asturian forces posed a minor threat.

722 saw one of the first Asturian victories. In the late summer, a Muslim army overran much of Pelayo's territory, forcing him to retreat deep into the mountains. Pelayo and a few hundred men retired into a narrow valley at Covadonga. There, they could defend against a broad frontal attack. From here, Pelayo's forces routed the Muslim army, inspiring local villagers to take up arms. Despite further attempts, the Muslims were unable to conquer Pelayo's mountain stronghold. Pelayo's victory at Covadonga is hailed by some as the first stage of the Reconquista.

During the first decades, Asturian control over the different areas of the kingdom was still weak, and for this reason it had to be continually strengthened through matrimonial alliances with other powerful families from the north of the Iberian Peninsula. Thus, "Ermesinda, Pelayo's daughter, was married to Alfonso, Peter of Cantabria's son. Alphonse's children, Froila and Adosinda, married Munia, a Basque from Alava, and Silo, a local chief from the area of Pravia, respectively." (quote from 'The making of medieval Spain')

After Pelayo's death in 737, his son Fafila was elected king. Fafila, according to the chronicles, was killed by a bear during a trial of courage.

Pelayo's dynasty in Asturias survived for centuries and gradually expanded the kingdom's boundaries until all of northwest Iberia was included by roughly 775. However, credit is due not to him but to his successors. Alfonso I (king from 739-757) managed to conquer Galicia and an area of what was to be Leon. The reign of Alfonso II from (791-842) saw further expansion of the kingdom to the south, almost as far as Lisbon.

It was not until Alfonso II that the kingdom was firmly established with Alfonso's recognition as king of Asturias by Charlemagne and the Pope. During his reign, the holy bones of St. James the Great were declared to have been found in Galicia, at Santiago de Compostela. Pilgrims from all over Europe opened a channel of communication between the isolated Asturias and the Carolingian lands and beyond.

Islamic conquest

From 711 to 756, the Moors (mainly North African Berber warriors) swept over the Iberian Peninsula coming mostly from Morocco across the Strait of Gibraltar, conquering nearly all of it and establishing a foothold north of the Pyrenees in Narbonne. They put down local rebellions and established the Emirate of Córdoba. At no point did the Islamic armies exceed 60,000 men.[4] This launched 800 years of Islamic rule.

Franks invade Al-Andalus

The takeover of Al-Andalus by Abd ar-Rahman I was not unopposed. Certain local wālis decided to oppose him, but instead of appealing to the distant Caliph, they decided to enlist the Franks, their Christian opponents.

According to Ali ibn al-Athir, a Kurdish historian of the 12th century, Charlemagne received the envoys of Sulayman al-Arabi, Husayn, and Abu Taur at the Diet of Paderborn in 777. These rulers of Zaragoza, Girona, Barcelona, and Huesca were enemies of Abd ar-Rahman I, and in return for Frankish military aid against him offered their homage and allegiance.

Charlemagne, seeing an opportunity of conquest and annexation of new territories, agreed upon an expedition and crossed the Pyrenees in 778. Near the city of Zaragoza Charlemagne received the homage of Sulayman al-Arabi. However the city, under the leadership of Husayn, closed its gates and refused to submit. Unable to conquer the city by force, Charlemagne decided to retreat. On the way home the rearguard of the army was ambushed and destroyed at the Battle of Roncevaux Pass. The Song of Roland, a highly romanticized account of this battle, would later become one of the most famous chansons de geste of the Middle Ages.

Charlemagne decided to organize a regional subkingdom in order to secure the southern border of his Carolingian Empire. In 781 his three year-old son Louis was crowned king of Aquitaine and was nominally in charge of Spanish March.

Around 788 Abd ar-Rahman I died, and was succeeded by Hisham I. In 792 Hisham proclaimed a jihad, advancing in 793 against the Kingdom of Asturias and the Franks. In the end his efforts were turned back by William of Gellone, Count of Toulouse.

Barcelona, a major city, became a potential target for the Franks in 797, as its governor Zeid rebelled against the Umayyad emir of Córdoba. An army of the emir managed to recapture it in 799 but Louis, at the head of an army, crossed the Pyrenees and besieged the city for two years until the city finally capitulated on December 28, 801.

The main passes were Roncesvalles, Somport and Junquera. Charlemagne established in them the counties of Pamplona, Aragon and Catalonia (which was itself formed from a number of small counties, Pallars, Gerona, and Urgell being the most prominent) respectively.

Four states appeared: the kingdom of Pamplona (later known as Navarre) and the counties of Aragon, Sobrarbe and Ribagorza. Navarre emerged as a kingdom around Pamplona, its capital, and controlled Roncesvalles pass. Its first king was Iñigo Arista. He expanded his domains up to the Bay of Biscay and conquered a small number of towns beyond the Pyrenees, but never directly attacked the Carolingian armies, as he was in theory their vassal. It was not until Queen Ximena in the 9th century that Pamplona was officially recognised as an independent kingdom by the Pope. Aragon, founded in 809 by Aznar Galíndez, grew around Jaca and the high valleys of the Aragon River, protecting the old Roman road. By the end of the 10th century, Aragon was annexed by Navarre. Sobrarbe and Ribagorza were small counties and had little significance to the progress of the Reconquista.

The Catalan counties protected the eastern Pyrenees passes and shores. They were under the direct control of the Frankish kings and were the last remains of the Iberian Marches. Catalonia included not only the southern Pyrenees counties of Girona, Pallars, Urgell, Vic and Andorra but also some which were on the northern side of the mountains, such as Perpignan and Foix.

In the late 9th century under Count Wilfred, Barcelona became the de facto capital of the region. It controlled the other counties' policies in a union, which led in 948 to the independence of Barcelona under Count Borrel II, who declared that the new dynasty in France (the Capets) were not the legitimate rulers of France nor, as a result, of his county.

These states were small and with the exception of Navarre did not have the same capacity for expansion as Asturias had. Their mountainous geography rendered them relatively safe from attack but also made launching attacks against a united and strong Al-Andalus impractical. In consequence, these states' borders remained stable for two centuries.

Islamic rule

After the establishment of a local Emirate, Caliph Al-Walid I, ruler of the Umayyad caliphate, removed many of the successful Muslim commanders. Tariq ibn Ziyad, the first governor of the newly conquered province of Al-Andalus, was recalled to Damascus and replaced with Musa bin Nusair, who had been his former superior. Musa's son, Abd al-Aziz ibn Musa, apparently married Egilona, Roderic's widow, and established his regional government in Seville. He was suspected of being under the influence of his wife, accused of wanting to convert to Christianity, and of planning a secessionist rebellion. Apparently a concerned Al-Walid I ordered Abd al-Aziz's assassination. Caliph Al-Walid I died in 715 and was succeeded by his brother Sulayman ibn Abd al-Malik. Sulayman seems to have punished the surviving Musa bin Nusair, who very soon died during a pilgrimage in 716. In the end Abd al-Aziz ibn Musa's cousin, Ayyub ibn Habib al-Lakhmi became the emir of Al-Andalus.

The conquering generals were necessarily acting very independently, due to deficient methods of communication. Successful generals in the field — and in a very distant province to boot — would also quickly gain the loyalty of their officers and warriors and their ambitions were probably always watched by certain circles of the distant government with a certain degree of concern and suspicion. Old rivalries and perhaps even full-fledged conspiracies between rival generals may have had influence over this development. In the end, the old successful generals were replaced by a younger generation considered more loyal by the government in Damascus.

There was a serious weakness among the Muslim conquerors. Ethnic tensions existed between the Berbers and the Arabs. The Berbers were the indigenous inhabitants of North Africa who had been recently converted to Islam and had provided the bulk of the manpower for the invading Islamic armies. However they felt the Arabs discriminated against them. This latent internal conflict would jeopardize Muslim unity.

After the Islamic Moorish conquest of the majority of the Iberian Peninsula in 711 Arian Christianity was devastated[citation needed][dubious ]. The Moorish success and establishment of Al-Andalus left the Visigothic kingdom stuck between Moors in the south and the Carolingian empire (Franks) in the north, which led to the quick destruction of the last remaining Visigothic province in the north of the peninsula at the hands of the Franks. The emirate chose to press forward into Gaul. At the Battle of Tours in 732 the Moors were defeated. This was the high water mark of the Islamic conquests in Europe and the expansion of Al-Andalus. A slow decline in the Moorish reach, taking eight centuries, began.

Military culture in medieval Iberia

Forces of Muhammed IX, Nasrid Sultan of Granada, at the Battle of La Higueruela, 1431

In a situation of constant conflict, warfare and daily life were strongly interlinked during this period. Small, lightly equipped armies reflected how the society had to be on the alert at all times. These forces were capable of moving long distances in short times, allowing a quick return home after sacking a target. Battles which took place were mainly between clans, expelling intruder armies or sacking expeditions.

The cultural context of the Christian Kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula was different than that of the rest of Continental Europe in the Middle Ages, due to contact with the Moorish culture and the isolation provided by the Pyrenees. These cultural differences implied the use of doctrines, equipment, and tactics markedly different from those found in the rest of Europe during this period.

Medieval Iberian armies mainly comprised two types of forces: cavalry (mostly nobles, but including commoner knights from 10th century on) and infantry, or peones (peasants). Infantry only went to war if needed, which was not common.

Iberian cavalry tactics involved knights approaching the enemy and throwing javelins, before withdrawing to a safe distance before commencing another assault. Once the enemy formation was sufficiently weakened, the knights charged with thrusting spears (lances did not arrive in Hispania until the 11th century). There were three types of knights: royal knights, noble knights (caballeros hidalgos) and commoner knights (caballeros villanos). Royal knights were mainly nobles with a close relationship with the king, and thus claimed a direct Gothic inheritance. Royal knights were equipped in the same manner as their Gothic predecessors — braceplate, kite shield, a long sword (designed to fight from the horse) and as well as the javelins and spears, a Visigothic axe. Noble knights came from the ranks of the infanzones or lower nobles, whereas the commoner knights were not noble, but were wealthy enough to afford a horse. Uniquely in Europe, these horsemen comprised a militia cavalry force with no feudal links, being under the sole control of the king or the count of Castile because of the "charters" (or fueros). See "Repopulating Hispania — the origin of fueros", below. Both noble and common knights wore leather armour and carried javelins, spears and round-tasselled shields (influenced by Moorish shields), as well as a sword.

The peones were peasants who went to battle in service of their feudal lord. Poorly equipped, with bows and arrows, spears and short swords, they were mainly used as auxiliary troops. Their function in battle was to contain the enemy troops until the cavalry arrived and to block the enemy infantry from charging the knights.

Typically armour was made of leather, with iron scales; full coats of chain mail were extremely rare and horse barding completely unknown. Head protections consisted of a round helmet with nose protector (influenced by the designs used by Vikings who attacked during the 8th and 9th centuries) and a chain mail headpiece. Shields were often round or kidney-shaped, except for the kite-shaped designs used by the royal knights. Usually adorned with geometric designs, crosses or tassels, shields were made out of wood and had a leather cover.

Steel swords were the most common weapon. The cavalry used long double-edged swords and the infantry short, single-edged ones. Guards were either semicircular or straight, but always highly ornamented with geometrical patterns. The spears and javelins were up to 1.5 metres long and had an iron tip. The double-axe, made of iron and 30 cm long and possessing an extremely sharp edge, was designed to be equally useful as a thrown weapon or in close combat. Maces and hammers were not common, but some specimens have remained, and are thought to have been used by members of the cavalry.

Finally, mercenaries were an important factor, as many kings did not have enough soldiers available. Norsemen, Flemish spearmen, Frankish knights, Moorish mounted archers and Berber light cavalry were the main types of mercenary available and used in the conflict.

This style of warfare remained dominant in the Iberian Peninsula until the late 11th century, when couched lance tactics entered from France and replaced the traditional horse javelin-shot techniques. In the 12th and 13th centuries, soldiers typically carried a sword, a lance, a javelin, and either bow and arrows or crossbow and darts. Armor consisted of a coat of mail over a quilted jacket, extending at least to the knees, a helmet or iron cap, and braces protecting the arms and thighs, either metal or leather. Shields were round or triangular, made of wood, covered with leather, and protected by an iron band; the shields of knights and nobles would bear the family's coat of arms. Knights rode in both the Muslim style, a la jineta (i.e. the equivalent of a modern jockey's seat), a short stirrup strap and bended knees allowed for better control and speed, or in the French style, a la brida, a long stirrup strap allowed for more security in the saddle (i.e. the equivalent of the modern cavalry seat, which is more secure). Horses were occasionally fitted with a coat of mail as well.

Beginning the Reconquista

Around 718 Pelagius (or Pelayo in modern Spanish), a Visigothic noble, began a rebellion against Munuza, a local Muslim governor. One of his most important allies was Duke Pedro of Cantabria.

The main part of the Moorish forces was off invading southern France; under the command of Al-Samh ibn Malik al-Khawlani, emir of Al-Andalus, it had crossed the Pyrenees and overrun Septimania. This invasion was defeated in 721 by Odo the Great, the Duke of Aquitaine, in the Battle of Toulouse, and the commander Al-Samh was mortally wounded.

A drastic increase of taxes by the new emir Anbasa ibn Suhaym Al-Kalbi provoked several rebellions in Al-Andalus, which a series of succeeding weak emirs were unable to suppress. Around 722 a military expedition was sent into the north to suppress Pelayo's rebellion, but his forces prevailed in the Battle of Covadonga.

  • This battle, at the time probably considered little more than a skirmish, would be considered by later Christian historians as the starting point of the Reconquista. Pelayo's victory secured his independent rule over the local area. The date and circumstances of this battle are very unclear. Among the possibilities are that the rebellion of Pelayo unfolded precisely because the greater part of the Muslim forces were gathering for the invasion of France, that it unfolded during this invasion, or even a bit later as the battered and weakened expedition returned and all available garrisons and reinforcements were probably recalled to bolster the army for a reinvasion.

Meanwhile Odo had married his daughter to Uthman ibn Naissa, a Berber and the Wāli - deputy governor of Septimania, fostering yet another rebellion. However, a major punitive expedition led by Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi, the latest emir of Al-Andalus, defeated and killed Uthman. Abdul Rahman later managed to defeat Odo in the Battle of the River Garonne in 732. A desperate Odo turned to his rival Charles Martel, who decisively beat the Muslims at the Battle of Tours in 732, killing Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi.

Meanwhile Pelayo began raiding the city of León, the main city in the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula. He was crowned king and successfully established the small Kingdom of Asturias. He also established a royal dynasty, marrying his son and heir Favila to Duke Pedro's daughter.

Expansion into the Crusades and military orders

In the High Middle Ages, the fight against the Moors in the Iberian Peninsula became linked to the fight of the whole of Christendom. The Reconquista was originally a mere war of conquest. It only later underwent a significant shift in meaning toward a religiously justified war of liberation (see the Augustinian concept of a Just War). The papacy and the influential Abbey of Cluny in Burgundy not only justified the acts of war but actively encouraged Christian knights to seek armed confrontation with Moorish "infidels" instead of with each other. From the 11th century onwards indulgences were granted: In 1064 Pope Alexander II allegedly promised the participants of an expedition against Barbastro (Tagr al-Andalus, Aragon) a collective indulgence 30 years before Pope Urban II called the First Crusade. The legitimacy of such a letter establishing a grant of indulgence has been disputed at length by historians, notably by Ferreiro. Papal interest in Christio-Muslim relations in the peninsular are not without precedent - Popes Leo IV (847-855), John VIII (872-882) and John XIX (1024–33) are all known to have displayed substantial interest in the region. Whilst there is little evidence to invalidate the letter as a whole, both the recipient(s) of the letter and whether such a letter actually nominates Barbastro as the first 'crusade' are still a matter of dispute. Neither is there evidence to support the contention that the Cluniacs publicised the letter throughout Europe. It was addressed to the clero Vulturnensi. The name has been associated with the castle of Volturno in Campania but even this is not concrete. Baldwin, for example, stipulates that the name is simply "garbled" and that it was intended for a French bishopric. Not until 1095 and the Council of Clermont did the Reconquista amalgamate the conflicting concepts of a peaceful pilgrimage and armed knight-errantry.

But the papacy left no doubt about the heavenly reward for knights fighting for Christ (militia Christi): in a letter, Urban II tried to persuade the reconquistadores fighting at Tarragona to stay in the Peninsula and not to join the armed pilgrimage to conquer Jerusalem since their contribution for Christianity was equally important. The pope promised them the same rewarding indulgence that awaited the first crusaders.

Later military orders like the Order of Santiago, Montesa, Order of Calatrava and the Knights Templar were founded or called to fight in Iberia. The Popes called the knights of Europe to the Crusades in the peninsula. After the so called Disaster of Alarcos, French, Navarrese, Castilian, Portuguese and Aragonese armies united against the Muslim forces in the massive battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (1212). The big territories awarded to military orders and nobles were the origin of the latifundia in today's Andalusia and Extremadura, in Spain, and Alentejo, in Portugal.

Northern Christian kingdoms

The Islamic Almohad dynasty and surrounding states, including the Christian Kingdoms of Portugal, Kingdom of León, Castille, Navarra, and Aragon c. 1200.

Kingdom of Asturias

The Kingdom of Asturias was located in the Cantabrian Mountains, a wet and mountainous region in the north of the Iberian Peninsula.

By the end of the 15th century there had been a myriad of Christian autonomous kingdoms and principalities. The first Christian power was Asturias. The kingdom was established by a nobleman, Pelayo, who had returned to his country after the Battle of Guadalete in 711 where he was elected leader of the Asturians and founded the Kingdom of Asturias. However, Pelayo's kingdom initially was little more than a gathering point for the existing guerilla forces.

During the reign of King Alfonso II (791–842), the kingdom was firmly established. He is believed to have initiated diplomatic contacts with the kings of Pamplona and the Carolingians, thereby gaining official recognition of his crown from the Pope and Charlemagne. Alfonso II also expanded his realm westwards conquering Galicia. There, the bones of St. James the Great were proclaimed to have been found in Compostela (from Latin campus stellae, literally "the star field") inside Galicia. Pilgrims came from all over Europe creating the Way of Saint James, a major pilgrimage route linking the Asturias with the rest of Christian Europe.

Alfonso's military strategy consisted of raiding the border regions of Vardulia (which would turn into the Castile). With the plunder gained further military forces could be paid, enabling him to raid the Moorish cities of Lisbon, Zamora, and Coimbra. For centuries the focus of these actions was not conquest but raids, plunder, pillage and tribute. He also crushed a Basque uprising, during which he captured the Alavite Munia; their grandson is reported to be Alfonso II.

During Alfonso II's reign a series of Muslim raids caused the transfer of Asturian capital to Oviedo.

Despite numerous battles the populations of neither the Umayyads — using the southern part of old Gallaecia (today's northern Portugal) as their base of operations — nor that of the Asturians, was sufficient to effect an occupation of these northern territories. Under the reign of Ramiro, famed for the legendary Battle of Clavijo, the border began to slowly move southward and Asturian holdings in Castile, Galicia, and León were fortified and an intensive programme of repopulation of the countryside begun in those territories. In 924 the Kingdom of Asturias became the Kingdom of León.

Kingdoms of León and Galicia

Alfonso III of Asturias repopulated the strategically important city León and established it as his capital. From his new capital, King Alfonso began a series of campaigns to establish control over all the lands north of the Douro. He reorganized his territories into the major duchies (Galicia and Portugal) and major counties (Saldaña and Castile), and fortified the borders with many castles. At his death in 910 the shift in regional power was completed as the kingdom became the Kingdom of León. From this power base, his heir Ordoño II was able to organize attacks against Toledo and even Seville. The Caliphate of Córdoba was gaining power, and began to attack León. Navarre and king Ordoño allied against Abd-al-Rahman but were defeated in Valdejunquera, in 920. For the next 80 years, the Kingdom of León suffered civil wars, Moorish attack, internal intrigues and assassinations, and the partial independence of Galicia and Castile, thus delaying the reconquest, and weakening the Christian forces. It was not until the following century that the Christians started to see their conquests as part of a long-term effort to restore the unity of the Visigothic kingdom.

The only point during this period when the situation became hopeful for Leon was the reign of Ramiro II. King Ramiro, in alliance with Fernán González of Castile and his retinue of caballeros villanos, defeated the Caliph in Simancas in 939. After this battle, when the Caliph barely escaped with his guard and the rest of the army was destroyed, King Ramiro obtained 12 years of peace, but had to give González the independence of Castile as a payment for his help in the battle. After this defeat, Moorish attacks abated until Almanzor began his campaigns.

It was Alfonso V in 1002 who finally regained the control over his domains. Navarre, though attacked by Almanzor, remained.

Kingdom of Castile

Ferdinand I of León was the leading king of the mid-11th century. He conquered Coimbra and attacked the taifa kingdoms, often demanding the tributes known as parias. Ferdinand's strategy was to continue to demand parias until the taifa was greatly weakened both militarily and financially. He also repopulated the Borders with numerous fueros. Following the Navarrese tradition, on his death in 1064 he divided his kingdom between his sons. His son Sancho II of Castile wanted to reunite the kingdom of his father and attacked his brothers, with a young noble at his side: Rodrigo Díaz (later known as El Cid Campeador). Sancho was killed in the siege of Zamora by the traitor Bellido Dolfos (also known as Vellido Adolfo) in 1072. His brother Alfonso VI took over León, Castile and Galicia.

Alfonso VI the Brave gave more power to the fueros and repopulated Segovia, Ávila and Salamanca. Then, once he had secured the Borders, King Alfonso conquered the powerful Taifa kingdom of Toledo in 1085. Toledo, which was the former capital of the Visigoths, was a very important landmark, and the conquest made Alfonso renowned throughout the Christian world. However, this "conquest" was conducted rather gradually, and mostly peacefully, during the course of several decades. It was not until after sporadic and consistent population resettlements had taken place that Toledo was decisively conquered. Alfonso VI was first and foremost a tactful monarch who chose to understand the kings of taifa and employed unprecedented diplomatic measures to attain political feats before considering the use of force. He adopted the title Imperator totius Hispaniae ("Emperor of all Hispania", referring to all the Christian kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula, and not just the modern country of Spain). Alfonso's more aggressive policy towards the Taifas worried the rulers of those kingdoms, who called on the African Almoravids for help.

Kingdom of Navarre

The Kingdom of Pamplona was the second Christian great power in the Iberian Peninsula. Although relatively weak up until the early 11th century where it peaked under the Sancho III (1004–1035), Navarre took upon a dominant Christian role after the late 9th century. The Kingdom of Pamplona (after 12th century, Navarre), was a European kingdom which occupied lands on either side of the Pyrenees alongside the Atlantic Ocean.

The kingdom was formed when local leader Íñigo Arista was elected or declared King in Pamplona (traditionally in 824) and led a revolt against the regional Frankish authority.

Throughout early history of the Navarrese kingdom, there were frequent skirmishes with the Carolingian Empire, and their fierce spirit of independence was the key feature in their history that helped them maintain independence until 1513. The reign of Sancho the Great not only expanded their dominions when they absolved Castile, Leon, and what was to be Aragon in addition to other small counties which would also unite and become the Principality of Catalonia, but it helped form the Galician independence. The conquest of Leon did not consume Galicia, as the Leonese king retreated and was left to temporary independence. Galicia was conquered soon after (it was conquered by Sancho's son Ferdinand around 1038) however this small period of independence meant that it was fashioned as its own kingdom and the subsequent kings named their titles as king of Galicia and León, instead of merely king of León, even though Galicia was never to be independent again.

Kingdom of Aragon

Christian In-fighting

The quest against the Moors did not keep the Christian kingdoms from battling among themselves or allying with Muslim kings. Some Moorish kings had Christian-born wives or mothers.

Also some Christian champions like El Cid were contracted by Taifa kings to fight against their neighbours. Indeed, El Cid's first battle experience was gained fighting for a Muslim state against a Christian state, at the Battle of Graus in 1063, where he and other Castilians fought on the side of al-Muqtadir, Muslim sultan of Zaragoza, against the forces of Ramiro I of Aragon. There is even an instance of a Crusade being declared against another Christian king in Spain. Following the disastrous defeat of Alfonso VIII, King of Castile, at Alarcos, Kings Alfonso IX, of Kingdom of León, and Sancho VII, of Navarre, entered an alliance with the Almohads and invaded Castile in 1196. By the end of the year Sancho VII had dropped out of the war under Papal pressure. Early in 1197, at the request of Sancho I, King of Portugal, Pope Celestine III declared a Crusade against Alfonso IX, and released his subjects from their responsibilities to the king, declaring "the men of his realm shall be absolved from their fidelity and his dominion by authority of the apostolic see."[5] Together the Kings of Portugal, Castile, and Aragon invaded León. In the face of this onslaught combined with pressure from the Pope, Alfonso IX was finally forced to sue for peace in October 1197.

In the late years of Al-Andalus, Castile had the might to conquer the remains of the kingdom of Granada, but the kings preferred to claim the tribute of the Muslim parias. The trade of Granadan goods and the parias were a major means by which African gold entered medieval Europe.

Christian repopulation of the Iberian Peninsula

The Reconquista was a process not only of war and conquest, but also repopulation. Christian kings took their own people to locations abandoned by the Berbers, in order to have a population capable of defending the borders. The main repopulation areas were the Douro Basin (the northern plateau), the high Ebro valley (La Rioja) and central Catalonia.

The repopulation of the Douro Basin took place in two distinct phases. North of the river, between the 9th and 10th centuries, the "pressure" (or presura) system was employed. South of the Douro, in the 10th and 11th centuries, the presura led to the "charters" (forais or fueros). Fueros were used even south of the Central Range.

The presura referred to a group of peasants who crossed the mountains and settled in the abandoned lands of the Duero Basin. Asturian laws promoted this system with laws, for instance granting a peasant all the land he was able to work and defend as his own property. Of course, Asturian and Galician minor nobles and clergymen sent their own expeditions with the peasants they maintained. This led to very feudalised areas, such as León and Portugal, whereas Castile, an arid land with vast plains and harsh climate only attracted peasants with no hope in Biscay. As a consequence, Castile was governed by a single count, but had a largely mostly non-feudal territory with many free peasants. Presuras also appear in Catalonia, when the count of Barcelona ordered the Bishop of Urgell and the count of Gerona to repopulate the plains of Vic.

During the 10th century and onwards, cities and towns gained more importance and power, as commerce reappeared and the population kept growing. Fueros were charters documenting the privileges and usages given to all the people repopulating a town. The fueros provided a means of escape from the feudal system, as fueros were only granted by the monarch. As a result, the town council was dependent on the monarch alone and had to help their lord (auxilium). The military force of the towns became the caballeros villanos. The first fuero was given by count Fernán González to the inhabitants of Castrojeriz in the 940 s. The most important towns of medieval Iberia had fueros or foros. In Navarre, fueros were the main repopulating system. Later on, in the 12th century, Aragon also employed the system; for example, the fuero of Teruel, which was one of the last fueros, in the early 13th century.

From the mid-13th century on no more charters were granted, as the demographic pressure had disappeared and other means of repopulation were created. While presuras allowed Castile to have the only nonfeudal peasants in Europe other than Scandinavians and Frisians, fueros remained as city charters until the 18th century in Aragon, Valencia and Catalonia and until the 19th century in Castile and Navarre. Fueros had an immense importance for those living under them, who were prepared to go to war to defend their rights under the charter. In the 1800s the abolition of the fueros in Navarre would be one of the causes of the Carlist Wars. In Castile disputes over the system contributed to the war against Charles I (Castilian War of the Communities).

Muslim decline and defeat

Fall of the Caliphate

The 9th century saw the Berbers return to Africa in the aftermath of their revolts. During this period, many governors of large cities distant from the capital (Córdoba) planned to establish their independence. Then, in 929 the Emir of Córdoba (Abd-ar-Rahman III), the leader of the Umayyad dynasty, declared himself Caliph, independent from the Abbasids in Baghdad. He took all the military, religious and political power and reorganised the army and the bureaucracy.

After regaining control over the dissident governors, Abd-ar-Rahman III tried to conquer the remaining Christian kingdoms of the Iberian peninsula, attacking them several times and forcing them back beyond the Cantabric range. His Christian subjects were largely left in peace, however.

Christian political forces then accused Abd-ar-Rahman III of pederasty with a Christian boy who was later canonized Saint Pelagius of Cordova for his refusal of Abd-ar-Rahman's advances. As part of a pattern of portraying Islamic morality as inferior,[6][7] the story provided political strength and popular support to the Reconquista for centuries.

Later Abd-ar-Rahman's grandson became a puppet in the hands of the great Vizier Almanzor (al-Mansur, "the victorious"). Almanzor waged several campaigns attacking and sacking Burgos, Leon, Pamplona, Barcelona and Santiago de Compostela before his death in 1002.

Between Almanzor's death and 1031, Al-Andalus suffered many civil wars which ended in the appearance of the Taifa Kingdoms. The taifas were small kingdoms, established by the city governors establishing their long wished-for independence. The result was many (up to 34) small kingdoms each centered upon their capital, and the governors, not subscribing to any larger-scale vision of the Moorish presence, had no qualms about attacking their neighbouring kingdoms whenever they could gain advantage by doing so. This split into the taifa states caused Islamic presence to be greatly weakened in the face of the strengthening Christian kingdoms to the north. When Alfonso VI brought Toledo under his authority in 1085. Mortified by the concept of being surrounded by the enemy taifa rulers sent a desperate appeal to the Berber chieftain Yusuf b. Tashufinleader of the Almoravids.

The Almoravids

The Almoravids were a Muslim militia, their ranks mainly composed of African and Berber Moors, and unlike the previous Muslim rulers, they were not so tolerant towards Christians and Jews. Their armies entered the Iberian peninsula on several occasions (1086, 1088, 1093) and defeated King Alfonso at the Battle of Sagrajas in 1086, but initially their purpose was to unite all the Taifas into a single Almoravid Caliphate. Their actions halted the southward expansion of the Christian kingdoms. Their only defeat came at Valencia in 1094, due to the actions of El Cid.

Meanwhile, Navarre lost all importance under King Sancho IV, for he lost Rioja to Sancho II of Castile, and nearly became the vassal of Aragon. At his death, the Navarrese chose as their king Sancho Ramirez, King of Aragon, who thus became Sancho V of Navarre and I of Aragon. Sancho Ramírez gained international recognition for Aragon, uniting it with Navarre, expanding the borders south, conquering Wasqat Huesca deep in the valleys in 1096 and building a fort, El Castellar, 25 km away from Saraqustat Zaragoza.

Catalonia came under intense pressure from the taifas of Zaragoza and Lérida, and also from internal disputes, as Barcelona suffered a dynastic crisis which led to open war among the smaller counties; but by the 1080s, the situation calmed, and the dominion of Barcelona over the smaller counties was restored.

The Almohads

Extent of the Reconquista into Almohad territory as of 1157.

After a brief period of disintegration (second Taifa period), the rising power in North Africa, the Almohads, took over most of Al-Andalus. But they would be decisively defeated at the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (1212) by a Christian coalition, losing almost all the remaining lands of Al-Andalus in the following decades. By 1252 only the Kingdom of Granada remained as sovereign Muslim state in the Iberian peninsula.

Granada War and the end of Muslim rule in Iberia

Ferdinand and Isabella completed the Reconquista with a war against the Emirate of Granada that started in 1482 and ended with Granada's complete annexation in early 1492. The Moors in Castile previously numbered "half a million within the realm." By 1492 some 100,000 had died or been enslaved, 200,000 had emigrated, and 200,000 remained in Castile. Many of the Muslim elite, including Granada's former Emir Muhammad XII, who had been given the area of the Alpujarras mountains as a principality, found life under Christian rule intolerable and emigrated to Tlemcen in North Africa.[8]

Conversions and expulsions

Moor head featured on a Majorca family shield.

During the Islamic administration, Christians and Jews were allowed to retain their religions by paying a tax (jizya). Penalty for not paying it was death: It was considered as an attack on the supremacy of Islam, and since the tax was for protection from outside invasions, refusal to pay was considered to weaken the empire. Attitudes towards dhimmis were variable, as well. During the time of the Almoravids and especially the Almohads some were treated badly, in contrast to the policies of the earlier Umayyad Caliphs and later Emirs.[citation needed]

The new Christian hierarchy demanded heavy taxes from non-Christians and gave them rights, such as in the Treaty of Granada (1491) only for Moors in recently Islamic Granada. It expelled the Jews. In 1496 the Alhambra decree under Archbishop Hernando de Talavera dismissed the Treaty of Granada and now the Muslim population of Granada was forced to convert or be expelled. In 1502, Queen Isabella I declared conversion to Catholicism compulsory within the Kingdom of Castilian. King Charles V did the same to Moors in the Kingdom of Aragon in 1526, forcing conversions of its Muslim population during the Revolt of the Germanies.[9] These policies were not only religious in nature but also effectively seized any wealth of the exiled.

Most of the descendants of those Muslims and Jews who submitted to compulsory conversion to Christianity rather than exile during the early periods of the Inquisition, the Moriscos and Conversos respectively, were later expelled from Spain and Portugal when the Inquisition was at its height. The expulsion was carried out more severely in Eastern Spain (Valencia and Aragon), due to local animosity towards Muslims and Moriscos where they were seen as economic rivals by the citizenry. A major Morisco revolt happened in 1568, and the final Expulsion of the Moriscos from Catilan in 1609, and from Aragon in 1610.

Because some Muslims and Jews shared ancestors in common with some Christians, it was difficult to expel all of those with any non-Christian ancestors from Castile or Aragon. However the Crowns, with the techniques of the Spanish Inquisition, killed, imprisoned, or expelled the converso "Moriscos" and Marranos. Those descended from Muslims or Jews practicing at the time of the Reconquista's close were perpetually suspected of various crimes against the Spanish state including continued practice of Islam or Judaism, and any survivors were finally all expelled by the close of the next century.

Classifications and consequences post-Reconquista

The many advances and retreats created several social types:

  • The Muladi: Christians who converted to Islam after the arrival of the Moors.
  • The Renegades: Christian individuals who embraced Islam and often fought against their former compatriots.
  • The Mozarabs: Christians in Muslim-held lands. Some of them migrated to the north of the peninsula in times of persecution bringing elements of the styles, food and agricultural practices learned from the Moors, while they continued practicing their Christianity with older forms of Catholic worship and their own versions of the Latin language.
  • The Marranos: Jewish conversos. Jews who either voluntarily or compulsorily converted to Catholicism. Some were Crypto-Jews who continued practicing Judaism secretly. All remaining Jews were expelled from Spain in Treaty of Granada of 1491, and Portugal also. Converso Jews often became victims of the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions.
  • The Mudéjar and Moriscos: Muslim conversos. Muslims who were compulsorily converted to Catholicism. Most were Crypto-Muslims who continued practicing Islam secretly. They ranged from successful skilled artisans, valued and protected in Aragon, to impoverished peasants in Castile. After the Alhambra Decree the entire Islamic population was forced to convert or leave, and within a century most, if not all, were expelled.


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Real, legendary, and fictional episodes from the Reconquista are the subject of much of medieval Galician-Portuguese literature, Spanish literature, and Catalan literature, such as the cantar de gesta.

Some noble genealogies show the close relations (although not very numerous) between Muslims and Christians. For example, Al-Mansur Ibn Abi Aamir, whose rule is considered to have marked the peak of power for Moorish Al-Andalus Iberia, married Abda, daughter of Sancho Garcés II of Navarra, who bore him a son, named Abd al-Rahman, and commonly known in pejorative sense as Sanchuelo (Little Sancho, in Arabic: Shanjoul). After his father's death, Sanchuelo/Abd al-Rahman, as a son of a Christian princess, was a strong contender to take over the ultimate power in Muslim al-Anadalus. A hundred years later, King Alfonso VI of Castile, considered among the greatest of the Medieval Spanish kings, designated as his heir his son (also a Sancho) by the refugee Muslim princess Zaida of Seville.

It has also been proposed that the war left the Iberian kingdoms with deep economic crises, leading to the expulsion of the Jews (who had lived in the Iberian Peninsula for over ten centuries) in order to confiscate their funds and property. It can be questioned due to the Portuguese Reconquista that had ended in 1249, and both the Castillian and Portuguese kingdoms that may have begun profiting from maritime expansion along Africa before the Jews and Moors were expelled. The huge wealth from the Americas was still to arrive as Columbus' first voyage and the surrender of Granada were both in 1492.

The Reconquista was a war with long periods of respite between the adversaries, partly for pragmatic reasons, and also due to infighting among the Christian kingdoms of the North spanning over seven centuries. Some populations practiced Islam or Christianity as their own religion during these centuries, so the identity of contenders changed over time.

Earlier Christians fighting the Moors, such as Pelayo, could plausibly be described as natives opposing foreign invasion and conquest; however, by the time most parts of Muslim Iberia were (re)conquered by Christian forces, the Muslim population there was centuries old, and much of it undoubtedly composed of converted Iberians rather than migrants from other Muslim lands. Granada at the time of its conquest in 1492 was as thoroughly Arab and Muslim a city as were Cairo or Damascus at the time.

Moreover, the ease with which the Reconquista in the Iberian Peninsula was directly and immediately continued by the exploits of conquistadors beyond the Atlantic clearly shows that for Spaniards at the time, conquest of non-Christian territory and its transformation into a Catholic, Spanish-speaking land were legitimate, whether or not a claim of prior possession of the land could be advanced.

Nevertheless, the expression "Reconquista" continues to be used to designate this historical period by most historians and scholars in Spain and Portugal, as well as internationally.

Reconquista recreations in modern Spain

Currently, the festivals of moros y cristianos (Castilian), moros i cristians (Catalan), mouros e cristãos (Portuguese) and mouros e cristiáns (Galician), these meaning "Moors and Christians", recreate the fights as colorful parades with elaborate garments and lots of fireworks, especially on the central and southern towns of the Land of Valencia, like Alcoi, Ontinyent or Villena.



  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ Fletcher, Richard (2006). Moorish Spain. Los Angeles: University of California Press. p. 1. ISBN 0-520-24840-6. 
  3. ^ Setton, Kenneth Meyer, A History of the Crusades: The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries, (University of Wisconsin Press, 1976), 432.
  4. ^ Fletcher, Richard (2006). Moorish Spain. Los Angeles: University of California Press. p. 43. ISBN 0-520-24840-6. 
  5. ^ Joseph O'Callaghan, Reconquest and Crusade in Medieval Spain, (Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press 2003), 62.
  6. ^ Walter Andrews and Mehmet Kalpaklı, The Age of Beloveds, Duke University Press, 2005; p. 2.
  7. ^ Greg Hutcheon "The Sodomitic Moor: Queerness in the Narrative of the Reconquista" in Glen Burger and Stephen Kruger (eds.) Queering the Middle Ages: Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press: 2001.
  8. ^ Kamen, Henry. "Spain 1469 - 1714 A Society of Conflict." Third edition. pp. 37-38
  9. ^ Censorship and Book Production in Spain During the Age of the Incunabula, Ignacio Tofiño-Quesada. Graduate Center, CUNY.


  • Bishko, Charles Julian, 1975. The Spanish and Portuguese Reconquest, 1095–1492 in A History of the Crusades, vol. 3: The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries, edited by Harry W. Hazard, (University of Wisconsin Press) online edition
  • Lomax, Derek William: The Reconquest of Spain. Longman, London 1978. ISBN 0-582-50209-8
  • Nicolle, David and Angus McBride. El Cid and the Reconquista 1050-1492 (Men-At-Arms, No 200) (1988), focus on soldiers
  • O´Callaghan, Joseph F.: "Reconquest and crusade in Medieval Spain", Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002, ISBN 0-8122-3696-3
  • Payne, Stanley, "The Emergence of Portugal", in A History of Spain and Portugal: Volume One.
  • Reuter, Timothy; Allmand, Christopher; Luscombe, David; McKitterick, Rosamond (eds.), " The New Cambridge Medieval History", Cambridge University Press, Sep 14, 1995, ISBN 0-521-36291-1.
  • Riley-Smith, Jonathan, The Atlas of the Crusades. Facts On File, Oxford (1991)
  • Watt, W. Montgomery: A History of Islamic Spain. University Press of Edinburgh (1992).
  • Watt, W. Montgomery: The Influence of Islam on Medieval Europe. (Edinburgh 1972).

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