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The Middle Age in Spain

Spain in the Middle Ages

Spanish History in the Middle Age. Find out information about the Spanish Middle Age such as Goths, Arabs & Reconquest.

Led by Ataulf (412) the Visigoths left Italy and marched into southern Gaul, from where they crossed the Pyrenees into northern Spain. The conquest of Spain was completed by King Euric (466-84), under whom Visigothic power attained maximum splendour. Toledo became the new capital of the kingdom, from which point on the history of the Visigoths would be essentially linked to that of Spain.

After being weakened by warfare with the Franks and the Basques, and by Byzantine penetration in southern Spain, in the late 6th century the kingdom recovered its vigour under kings Leovigild (568-586) and Recaredo (586-601), whose conversion to Catholicism favoured the unification of the Visigothic and the Hispano-Roman communities in Spain. Visigothic common law was imposed around the year 654 by King Recceswinth (653-672) upon Gothic and Roman subjects alike. The church councils of Toledo became the main force in the government, and royal power was accordingly undermined.

Civil war ensued, following which Recceswinth's successor King Wamba (672-680) was deposed. The next few years would be rife with civil disturbances, and when the throne was seized by the last king, Roderick (known as Don Rodrigo) in 710, his rivals appealed to the Muslim leader Tarik ibn Ziyad. The battle near Medina Sidonia won by the Muslims in 711 signalled the end of the Visigothic kingdom and inaugurated the Moorish period in the history of Spain.

Under the tolerant spirit of the Arabs Spain's prosperity flourished. Arab laws entitled the Christians to religious freedom, employment at court, public office, and military service. One third of the twelve thousand men forming the select and splendidly equipped guard of the Moorish caliph were in fact Christians. Nonetheless, some church leaders taught their congregations that religious tolerance was sinful. When Spain was first conquered, a number of Gothic nobles who had been too proud to submit had retreated to the northern regions of Cantabria and Asturias, taking sacred relics (supposedly the sudarium or holy shroud originally from Palestine and deposited in Toledo) with them. Determined to establish their own kingdom, these Christians chose a secluded spot in a mountainous area, surrounded by chestnut woods and rapids, where they founded a sanctuary. The cathedral in Oviedo that preserved the sacred relics would attract pilgrims from all over Europe, as well as discontent Christians fleeing from Moorish rule in other Spanish towns.

Spiritual and temporal powers were united in the figure of the Caliph of Cordova, Commander of the Faithful, who, unlike other caliphs, owed no obedience to the Turkish guards or Mamelukes. The custom of naming a successor from an extensive progeny provoked numerous court intrigues, as a result of which the caliphate broke up into small independent kingdoms (reinos de taifas). The continual feuds between these realms marked the onset of Christian 'reconquest'. The first successful plundering forays into Muslim territories were followed by the storming of castles, which were then garrisoned as Christian troops prepared to advance by land. They advanced steadily throughout the 9th century, arriving at the Douro and the Ebro rivers around 850. At the end of the 11th century they had reached the Tagus river at Toledo, under the banner of the national hero, El Cid (a Christian knight also known as El Cid Campeador, The Lord Champion), and by the 13th century the only kingdom still in Moorish possession was that of Granada. However, Granada would remain under Arab rule for a further two hundred years, for reasons similar to those explaining earlier Christian success. The rivalry between Portugal, Aragon, Leon and Castile was greater than their distrust of the last Moorish kingdom. Moreover, Granada was a peaceful and culturally tolerant region, and despite the differences in language, religion, and domestic institutions with regard to Christian territories, the manners and outlook of its peoples were similar. Although a cavalry of knights and a highland infantry staunchly defended Granada, the kingdom finally fell to Christian troops in 1492, bringing eight centuries of relentless warfare to an end. The marriage of the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella had managed to unite all the crowns of Spain, which could once again proclaim itself a Christian land. King Boabdil, stopping on the Cuesta de las Lágrimas (Hill of Tears), is supposed to have looked down for the last time on the city and the beautiful grounds of the Alhambra palace, its rose gardens and the cypress trees guarding the Muslim tombs. Legend has it that his mother reproached him for weeping as a woman for the kingdom he had not defended as a man. He then rode down to the coast and crossed the sea to Africa, which would be invaded by Christians a short time later.

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