The Reconquista In A Nutshell

By Robert Munson

Remember, this little nutshell has generated thousands of books covering 800 years of history. It is strictly a “quick facts” of the basics of an event which defined the Spanish character, created many of its ingrained values, and laid the groundwork for the opening of the western hemisphere.

711 AD Arabs and Berbers from Morocco land at Gibraltar. Moslem conquest of the Christian Visigothic kingdoms of Spain begins.

Islamic tide stopped by the northernmost Christian kingdoms of Galicia, Cantabria, and Asturias, bypasses the Christian kingdom of Navarra in the Pyrenees Mountains. Islam occupies Catalonia and sweeps into southern France.

730 AD Cantabria absorbed as a Duchy by the Kingdom of Asturias.

732 AD Islam is stopped at the Battle of Tours in southern France and withdraws to Catalonia, satisfied that it has effectively occupied the entire Iberian Peninsula (including Portugal).

750-755 AD Islamic Spain is united under the Islamic Umayyid dynasty established in Cordoba. It will be known under the title of Al-Andalus.

The Christian kingdoms hang on by teeth and toenails. Galicia and Asturias unite in a loose confederation 725-910. The union solidifies in 910 when the whole thing becomes the Kingdom of Asturias. During this solidification G & A begin the conquest of what will become the new Christian Kingdom of Leon in 982. While all this is going on, a Viking fleet under Gundered ravages the coast of Asturias in 966.

809 AD Christian Carolingians from France take a portion of Catalonia and establish it as the County of Aragon under Aznar Galindo I (who rules 809-820). The French also nominally rule the County of Barcelona from 801-1162.  Aragon keeps nibbling away at Catalonia until 1162 when Barcelona becomes part of the Kingdom of Aragon.

The Kingdom of Navarra in the Pyrenees Mountains pretty much keeps to itself–unmolested by Islam or the Christian Kingdoms (except 1304-1349 when the King of France said it was his.)  It becomes a stronghold of the Euskeran (Basque) native peoples until it is annexed by Spain in 1512.

While Aragon was nibbling away at Catalonia, Asturias was not only creating the Kingdom of Leon; 850 AD Asturias also began nibbling away on lands which would become the Kingdom of Castile.

Initially Asturias established the Counts of Alava, Cerezo, and Lantaron, which it turned over to Leon; the Counts of Burgos became the hard core of what was becoming Castile in 899. 

930 AD the Counts of Alava, Cerezeo, Lantaron, Burgos, and Castile turned out to all be the same man, Fernan Gonzales, and became the united Counties of Castile.

1035 AD The County of Castile became the Kingdom of Castile under Fernan Jimenez as Fernando I “The Great”.  This was the time of the great Spanish hero “El Cid” (Rodrigo Diaz del Bivar, 1043-1099).

While all the nibbling was going on, Islamic Al-Andalus was largely unaffected by the back-room brawls to the north; it had achieved a stable, unified, and peaceful Kingdom.

1009 AD  A pivotal year in Spanish history: Fanatical hardline Islamic purists, the Almoravids, invaded from Morocco to destroy the Umayyids (whose love of books, science, and learning, had led them astray from the intent of Allah). Cordoba, its magnificent libraries and architecture, were destroyed and Al-Andalus disintegrated into a dozen or more independent city states, the Taifas, each struggling to stave off the Almoravids. In this effort some Taifas allied themselves with the Christians to the north, the lesser of two evils. Others hired mercenaries from Morocco, the Almohads. The balkanization of Islamic Spain lasted only 103 years, but it was a chaos of constantly shifting alliances, civil wars, treachery and massacre; a time when Christian and Moor fought each other to the death, but allied with each other the next year to fight the Almohads who had turned out to be even more fanatical than the Almoravids.

1212 AD A fatal year in Spanish history: Pope Innocent III declared a Holy Crusade in Spain to crush the Moslem Infidels. In response the Almohads declared a Jihad. Now it became a war of “there is, and can be, only one true faith, we are it and everyone else are devils.”  It was a war of foreign intervention, as both sides began recruiting troops from outside the Iberian Peninsula.

Now the “Reconquista” was not just nibbling chunks of territory and border raiding. Now it was human and spiritual, with no option but total victory.

On July 16, 1212 at Las Navas de Tolossa the two self-righteous armies collided. Incredibly tough Berbers who refused to wear armor (Allah is my protection), black slaves chained together (the “Imesebelen”) to form an unbreakable wall that could not run, Arabs, Turkish horse-archers, descendants of Romans, Visigoths, Arabs, Berbers fighting on both sides, Christian and Islamic defectors on both sides, mercenaries of any type, mujahideen jihadists from as far away as Persia, Basques from Navarra, Catalans, knights from all over Europe, militias from towns all over Europe, members of the great Christian Fighting Orders; Santiago, Calatrava, and The Templars. Although outnumbered 4-to-1, the Christians achieved surprise. The kill rate was five Moors dead for every Christian killed. When the dust finally settled on the blood-soaked field of slaughter, the army of Islam had been smashed and completely routed. The Christians had proven their god was the only God. The Moslem survivors celebrated the martyrdom for paradise of their fallen comrades, unshaken in their knowledge the only god was Allah.

The tenor for the true “Reconquista” had been set. Islamic rule in Spain was irreparably shattered by the time the Taifa of Sevilla was taken in 1248. Only 36 years after Tolosa, exactly one Taifa was left in Moslem hands—Granada. The Granadine Wars became a slogging match lasting 144 years, until the official end of the “Reconquista” with the surrender of the 22nd Sultan of Granada, Muhammad XII, “Boabdil the Little”, to Their Catholic Majesties Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492.

The Myth of God’s Holy Will to drive the infidels from Spain had established a warrior caste which formed the best trained and equipped, most professional standing army in the known world. Now, what do you do with an unemployed army? The discoveries of Christopher Columbus revealed God’s will: the land to the west across the Atlantic was His next assignment. To the west, across the Atlantic, there were people drowning in idolatry, cannibalism, and human sacrifice, minions of the devil who desperately needed the saving light of The True Faith, even if they didn’t know it.

I recommend the following as basic sources for studying this subject further:

Fernandez-Morera, Dario, The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise, Intercollegiate Studies Institute  Wilmington, DEL  2016

Garcia Fitz, Francisco,  Las Navas de Tolosa, 1212. Ariel, Barcelona  2005

Menocal, Maria Rosa, The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain. Little, Brown, & Co., New York   2002

O’Callaghan, Joseph,  Reconquest and Crusade in Medieval Spain. University of Pennsylvania Press 2004


Last revised 09-Jan-18