Pelagius of Asturias

Pelagius of Asturias
King of the Asturias
Monument in memory of Pelagius at Covadonga, site of his famous victory
Reign 718-737
Coronation 718
Successor Favila
Father Fafila
Born c. 370
Toledo, Spain
Died 410 (aged 40)
Cangas de Onís, Spain
Burial Iglesia de Santa Eulalia (Abamia), Spain
Religion Roman Catholic

Pelagius (Spanish: Pelayo; c. 685 – 737) was a Visigothic nobleman who founded the Kingdom of Asturias, ruling it from 718 until his death. Through his victory at the Battle of Covadonga, he is credited with beginning the Reconquista, the Christian reconquest of the Iberian peninsula from the Moors, insofar as he established an independent Christian state in opposition to Moorish hegemony, but there is no strong evidence that he either intended to resuscitate the old Visigothic Kingdom or was motivated by any religious desire.

The chief sources for Pelagius' life and career are two Latin chronicles produced in the late ninth century in the kingdom he founded. The earlier is the Chronica Albeldensia, written at Albelda towards 881, and preserved in the Codex Vigilanus with a continuation to 976.[1] The later is the Chronicle of Alfonso III, which was revised in the early tenth century and preserved in two textual traditions, called the Chronica Rotensis[2] and the Chronica ad Sebastianum,[3] which diverge in several key passages.[1] The only likely earlier sources from which these chroniclers could derive information are regnal lists.[4]

Pelagius was a Visigoth nobleman, the son of Fafila. The Chronica Albeldensis states that this Fafila was a dux of Gallaecia who was killed by Wittiza.[4] The Chronicle of Alfonso III calls Pelagius a grandson of Chindasuinth and says that his father was blinded in Córdoba, again at the instigation of Wittiza.[5] Wittiza is also said to have exiled Pelagius from Toledo upon assuming the crown in 702. All of this, however is a late tradition.[5]

According to the late tradition, Munuza, the Berber governor of Iegione (either Gijón or León), became attracted to Pelagius' sister and sent word to Tariq ibn Ziyad, who ordered him to capture Pelagius and send him to Córdoba.[6] That Munuza's seat was at Gijón or León is sufficient to demonstrate that the Arabs had established their rule in the Asturias and that Pelagius was not therefore the leader of a local resistance to Arab conquest.[7] Rather, Pelagius may have come to terms with the Arab elite whereby he was permitted to govern locally in the manner of the previous Visigoths, as is known to have occurred between Arab rulers and Visigothic noblemen elsewhere, as in the case of Theudimer.[8]

At some point Pelagius is said to have rebelled, but for what reasons is unknown and such rebellions by local authorities against their superiors formed a common theme in Visigothic Spain. An army was sent against him under the command of Alkama and the Christian bishop of Seville, Oppa. That Alkama was the general and that there was a bishop of Seville named Oppa among his ranks is generally accepted.[6] A battle was fought near Covadonga (in monte Auseva or in monte Libana) and Alkama was killed and Oppa captured.[6] Moorish chronicles of the event describe Pelagius and his small force as "thirty wild donkeys."[9] The battle is usually dated to 718 or 719, between the governorships of al-Hurr and as-Sham, though some have dated it as late as 722 and the Chronica Albeldensia mis-dates it to the 740s.

After his election as princeps (prince, principal leader) of the Asturians by the local magnates in the Visigothic manner,[8] Pelagius made his capital at Cangas de Onís. The Chronica Rotensis says about this election:

And he [Pelagius], going to his mountainous lands, gathered all those who were going to council and ascended a big mountain named Assevva. He spread his orders between all the Astures, who gathered in council and elected Pelagius as their princeps.

Chronica Rotensis[10]

His kingdom, firstly centred on the eastern Asturias, soon grew. He married his daughter Ermesinda to his eastern neighbour, Peter of Cantabria. Pelagius reigned for eighteen or nineteen years until his death in 737, when he was succeeded by his son Fafila.[11] He was first buried in the church of Santa Eulalia de Abamia, located in the surroundings of the village of Corao, near Cangas de Onís. His remains were transferred by King Alfonso X of Castile to the Holy Cave of Covadonga, as were those of his wife Gaudiosa and his sister.[12]


  1. ^ a b Collins, The Arab Conquest of Spain, 142.
  2. ^ Gil Fernandez, Juan, ed (1985). "Cronica Rotensis" (in Latin). Crónicas asturianas. Oviedo: Universidad de Oviedo. pp. 114–149. ISBN 846004405X. 
  3. ^ Gil Fernandez, Juan, ed (1985). "Cronica Ad Sebastianum" (in Latin). Crónicas asturianas. Oviedo: Universidad de Oviedo. pp. 114–149. ISBN 846004405X. 
  4. ^ a b Collins, The Arab Conquest of Spain, 143.
  5. ^ a b Collins, The Arab Conquest of Spain, 144.
  6. ^ a b c Collins, The Arab Conquest of Spain, 145.
  7. ^ Collins, The Arab Conquest of Spain, 148.
  8. ^ a b Collins, The Arab Conquest of Spain, 149.
  9. ^ "Extract from C. Sánchez Albornoz and M. Antuña's Fuentes de la historia hispano-musulmana del siglo VIII featuring a translation of an excerpt from Al Maqqari's Nafh al-Tib" in the on-line Biblioteca Cervantes (Spanish)
  10. ^ Chronica Rotensis (latin original), (Gil Fernandez, Juan. "Cronicas asturianas", Oviedo, Universidad de Oviedo, 1985. pp. 151-188)
  11. ^ Collins, The Arab Conquest of Spain, 150.
  12. ^ "ASTURIAS, LEON". Foundation for Medieval Genealogy.,%20LEON.htm#_Toc111995032. 


New title King of Asturias
Succeeded by

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