Battle of Covadonga

Battle of Covadonga

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Covadonga
partof=the Muslim conquests and the "Reconquista"

caption=Don Pelayo, victor at Covadonga and first King of Asturias.
date=Summer of 722
place=Picos de Europa near Covadonga, present-day Spain
result=Decisive Asturian victory
combatant1=Kingdom of Asturias
combatant2=Umayyad Caliphate
commander1=Pelayo of Asturias
strength1=300 [Neither army strengths nor casualties are known with certainty. Asturian accounts stated that only 10 men survived with Pelayo.]
casualties1=289 dead
casualties2=600 dead
The Battle of Covadonga was the first major victory by a Christian military force in Iberia following the Muslim Moors' conquest of that region in 711. Taking place about a decade later, most likely in the summer of 722, [] the victory at Covadonga assured the survival of a Christian stronghold in northern Iberia, and today is regarded as the beginning of the "Reconquista".Fact|pro-spanish nationalists|date=November 2007

From the perspective of the following seven centuries, this view of the battle has some validity - since the battle assured the independence of the Kingdom of Asturias, and it is that kingdom which eventually became the nucleus of new Christian rule over the entire peninsula. There is no reason to assume, however, that contemporaries (either Christian or Muslim) regarded it as anything more than part of local rebellion in a marginal area. In evaluating the battle, care must be taken to distinguish the actual historical facts from the meanings read into it and the myths created around it by later Spanish and Portuguese generations.Fact|date=December 2007

According to texts written by Mozarabs in northern Iberia during the ninth century, noble Visigoths, in 718 AD, elected a man named Pelayo (681-737) as their leader. Pelayo, a son of Favila, who had been a dignitary at the court of the Visigoth King Egica, (687-700), established his headquarters at Cangas de Onís, Asturias and incited an uprising against the Umayyad Muslims.

From the beginning of the Muslim invasion of Iberia, refugees and combatants from the south of the peninsula had been moving north to avoid Islamic authority. Some had taken refuge in the remote mountains of Asturias in the northwestern part of the Iberian peninsula. There, from among the dispossessed of the south, Pelayo recruited his band of fighters. His first acts were to refuse to pay tribute to the Moors any longer and to assault the small Berber garrisons that had been stationed in the area. Eventually, he managed to expel a provincial governor named Munuza from Asturias. He held the territory against a number of attempts to re-establish Muslim control, and soon founded the Kingdom of Asturias, which became a Christian stronghold against further Muslim expansion.

For the first few years, this rebellion posed no economic or strategic threat to the new masters of Iberia, whose seat of power had been established at Cordoba. Consequently, there was only a quite perfunctory reaction. Pelayo was not always able to keep the Muslims out of Asturias, but neither could they defeat him, and as soon as the Muslims left, he would always re-establish control. Islamic forces were focused on raiding Narbonne and Gaul, and there was a shortage of manpower for putting down an inconsequential, albeit irritating, insurrection in the mountains. Pelayo never attempted to force the issue, and it was a Moorish defeat elsewhere that probably set the stage for the Battle of Covadonga. On July 9, 721, a Muslim force that had crossed the Pyrenees and invaded the Kingdom of the Franks was defeated by them in the Battle of Toulouse, in present-day France. This was the first serious setback in the Muslim campaign in southwestern Europe. Reluctant to return to Cordoba with such unalloyed bad news, the Ummayad Wāli, Anbasa ibn Suhaym Al-Kalbi, decided that putting down the rebellion in Asturias on his way home would afford his troops an easy victory and raise their flagging morale.

In 722, forces commanded by the Berbers Al-Kama and Munuza, accompanied by Bishop OppasFact|date=August 2007 of Seville, brother of the former Visigothic King Witiza, were sent to Asturias. As Al-Kama overran much of the region, Oppas attempted to broker the surrender of his fellow Christians, but he failed in the effort. Pelayo and his force retreated deep into the mountains of Asturias, eventually retiring into a narrow valley flanked by mountains, which was easily defensible due to the impossibility of launching a broad-fronted attack. Pelayo may have had as few as three hundred men with him.

Alqama eventually arrived at Covadonga, and sent forward an envoy to convince Pelayo to surrender. He refused, so Alqama ordered his best troops into the valley to fight. The Asturians opened fire from the slopes of the mountains, and then, at the climactic moment, Pelayo personally led some of his soldiers out into the valley. They had been hiding in a cave, unseen by the Moors. The Christian accounts of the battle claim that the slaughter among the Moors was horrific, while Moorish accounts describe it as a mere skirmish. Alqama himself fell in the battle, and his soldiers fled from the battlefield.In the aftermath of Pelayo's victory, the people of the conquered villages of Asturias now emerged with their weapons, and killed hundreds of Alqama's fleeing troops. Munuza, learning of the defeat, organized another force, and gathered what was left of the survivors of Covadonga. At some later date, he confronted Pelayo and his now greatly-augmented force, near the modern town of Proaza. Again Pelayo won, and Munuza was killed in the fighting. And although the Muslims in their own histories called Pelayo and his men "thirty Infidels left, what can they do", they never again seriously challenged the independence of the Kingdom of Asturias.Legend claims that Munuza fell in love with Pelayo's sister, Ormesinda, and kidnapped her. Supposedly, on her wedding day with Munuza, she took poison and died.


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