Tuesday, May 9, 2023

The Reconquista—Covadonga

Long before the Crusades in the late 11th century decided to take control of the Holy Land, Christians and Muslims were clashing in the western end of the Mediterranean, in the Iberian Peninsula. The Umayyad Caliphate in Iberia had largely been a positive force in uniting the territories under organized rule, but the attempt in 721 to expand northward across the Pyrenees into Gaul led to the 721CE Battle of Toulouse, considered by many to be the first major clash between Muslims and Christians. A decade later, the Battle of Tours, fought by Charles Martel (see parts one and two), stopped the Muslim northward advance. Further attempts were thwarted by Charlemagne's establishing of the Marca Hispanica, the "Spanish March" ("march" in its political/military meaning of a "border").

The Reconquista—Spanish for "reconquest" and the term given by historians in the 19th century to the Christian attempts to reclaim lands from Muslim rulers—actually started a few years before the better-known Toulouse, with the Battle of Covadonga in 718. Covadonga is in northwestern Spain, and it is the site where the Umayyad Caliphate encountered the Visigothic prince Pelagius. Pelagius incited a rebellion against the Umayyads.

His army was filled with Visigothic and Hispano-Roman "refugees" migrating northward to get away from Umayyad rule. Finding themselves of common mind, they began their rebellion by refusing to pay the jizya, the tax on dhimmi (non-Muslims), required by Sharia Law. They also began harassing the smaller Muslim garrisons, eventually ousting a provincial governor, Munuza. Pelagius founded the Kingdom of Asturias, on the northwest coast. Occasional inroads made by Muslim forces were either repelled, or their control was thrown off again once they left the area to go back south. The capital in Cordoba was more focused on forcing its way into Gaul; Asturias was not at first a significant point of trouble.

Eventually, however, Asturias had to be dealt with. Munuza and a General Alqama took an army to Asturias. Pelagius' army retreated to a narrow mountain pass, where they were able to throw stones and rain arrows down on the Muslim army. The narrow pass and poor tactics led to great loss of life among the Muslims. Munuza retreated, and tried again with a larger army, but was once again defeated.

This was the first time a Muslim-controlled territory had been reclaimed by Christians. The Umayyads had a presence in southern Gaul, however, and leaders in Europe decided that had to change, leading to a large battle and the oldest surviving work of French literature. I'll explain tomorrow.

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