Monday, August 19, 2013

El Cid (1043-1099)

Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar (1043-1099) was born in 1043 into a minor oligarchic family in the small town of Vivar just outside of Burgos in northern Iberia. At 14 he fought in a battle between the Christian state of Castile and the Islamic capital of Zaragoza. At 20 he joined the Christians of Castile and the Muslims of Zaragoza attacking the Christians of Aragon. During that battle, Rodrigo met a fearsome hero of the Aragonese army in single combat, killed him, and was hailed El Compeador (The Champion) ever after.

Ferdinand, ruler of León and Castile, died in 1065. He divided control of his lands between his three sons and two daughters. His eldest son Sancho immediately started fighting the others for control of the lost whole. Rodrigo had always fought for Ferdinand and maintained that loyalty by fighting for his oldest son Sancho. By 1072, he had helped Sancho defeat his younger brother Alfonso and win control of the lost whole except for the city of Zamora held by his sister Urraca. Then an oligarch of Zamora assassinated Sancho and control of northern Iberia passed to Alfonso.

That made life interesting for Rodrigo. He and other Castilian oligarchs hesitated to give their loyalty to Alfonso because they suspected him and his sister in Zamora of organizing the murder of their overbearing brother. To overcome their suspicion, Alfonso had to publicly swear, on a Bible atop a stack of holy relics in front of the Church of St. Gadea (Agatha) in Burgos, that he had had nothing to do with his brother's death. Alfonso hated doing this and hated Rodrigo for making him do it. Although Rodrigo served him loyally, envious courtiers persuaded an already biased Alfonso to exile Rodrigo in 1080.

The Muslim ruler of Zaragoza happily hired Rodrigo to lead his armies and gave him the title of El Cid (The Master). Rodrigo, an incomparable warrior and military leader, energetically led his ruler's armies to significant victories whether against other Muslims or former Christian colleagues.

Disliking Rodrigo but hating to lose battles against him even more, Alfonso recalled Rodrigo to his service in 1087. Rodrigo returned but, while serving in Zaragoza, he had decided to be his own man. With Alfonso's permission, Rodrigo began a siege of the port city of Valencia in 1092 and it fell to him in 1094. Rodrigo, while in theory responsible to Alfonso, in reality independently ruled Valencia. He happily lived there with his wife and daughters until his death in 1099.

Rodrigo's character and achievements so charmed the people of Iberia that an epic poem about him circulated across the peninsula as little as 50 years after his death. It remains popular even today.

Copyright (c) 2013 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved.