The period in the history of the Iberian Peninsula of approximately 780 years between the Umayyad conquest of Hispania in 711 and the fall of the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada to the expanding Christian kingdoms in 1492 is called the Reconquista. The complete conquest of Granada marks the end of the period.

Traditional historiography uses the term “Reconquest” from the 19th century onwards for what was previously known as the “restoration” of the Visigothic Christian kingdoms, understood as the conquest of new lands by new monarchies that sought to re-establish a pre-existing political and religious order.

The beginning of the Reconquest is marked by the Battle of Covadonga (718 or 722), the first known victory of Christian military forces in the Iberian Peninsula since the military intervention of the combined Arab-Berber forces of 711. In that small battle, a group led by the noble Pelayo defeated a Muslim patrol in the mountains of the Cantabrian range and established the independent Christian kingdom of Asturias. The Reconquista ended with the conquest of the emirate of Granada, the last Muslim state on the peninsula, in 1492, the conquest and fall of which was preceded by the Capitulations of Granada or Treaty of Granada (1491).

After 1492 the entire peninsula was controlled by Christian rulers. The Reconquista was followed by the Edict of Granada (1492) that expelled Jews from Castile and Aragon who did not convert to Christianity, and a series of edicts (1499-1526) that forced the conversions of Muslims in Spain, and in 1609-1610, their banishment. From the mid-19th century, the idea of a “reconquest” took root in Spain associated with its growing nationalism and colonialism.

The term “Reconquest” has been much discussed by some scholars and even its use has been questioned for supposedly not responding to the medieval peninsular historical reality.

The “Reconquest” constituted for the different kingdoms and lordships that arose in the isolation of the mountainous north of the Peninsula a restorative and liberating process, not only of the territory, but also of the numerous Christian Hispano-Visigothic population (Mozarabs), who remained for centuries in the occupied territory. They turned out to be the true heirs of the Visigothic kingdom, and their constant appeal to the help of the Christian kingdoms meant for the Muslim authorities a problem that arose periodically and that was solved with persecutions and deportations of different degrees.

According to this same traditional vision, the early reaction in the Cantabrian coast against Islam (Don Pelayo rejected the Saracens in Covadonga only seven years after they crossed the Strait of Gibraltar), and the rejection of the currently French territory after the battle of Poitiers in 732, support the idea that the Reconquest follows almost immediately after the Arab conquest. In fact, “a large part of the Cantabrian coast was never conquered”, which justifies the idea that the Arab conquest and the Christian reconquest, of very different duration (very short the first and very long the second), overlap. Taking into account this possible overlapping, it could be considered as a single historical stage, especially if we take into account that the battle of Guadalete, the first battle to defend the Visigothic kingdom in 711, marks the beginning of the Muslim conquest.

However, some scholars, such as historians Abilio Barbero and Marcelo Vigil, have stated that the term “Reconquest” could be inaccurate, since the Christian kingdoms that “re-conquered” the peninsular territory were constituted after the Islamic invasion, despite the attempts of these monarchies to present themselves as direct heirs of the ancient Visigothic kingdom. It would be rather a question of an eagerness of political legitimization of these kingdoms, that in fact were considered real heirs and descendants of the Visigoths, as well as an attempt on the part of the Christian kingdoms to justify their conquests, on the other hand this version clashes with the indisputable fact of the religious purpose of the reconquest to reestablish Catholicism in the whole peninsula.

On the other hand, the term seems confusing, considering that after the collapse of the Caliphate at the beginning of the 11th century, the Christian kingdoms opted for a policy of tributary domination -parias- over the taifas instead of a clear expansion towards the south, and the struggles between the different crowns -and their dynastic struggles-, which only reached agreements of collaboration against the Muslims at specific moments.

During the Golden Age some poets defined and called the Spanish as “Goths” (as Lope de Vega said: “eah, blood of the Goths”), and during the wars of independence in America, they were also so called by the American independence fighters (hence the derogatory use of the term in the Canary Islands to refer to peninsular Spanish). That is why critics of the term consider it a partial concept, since it only conveys the Christian and European vision of this complex historical process, ignoring the point of view of the Andalusian Muslims; it can also be said that on the Christian side there was an awareness of “reconquest”.

The historiographic debate on the “Reconquest”.

In his España invertebrada (1922), José Ortega y Gasset, from philosophy, affirmed that “A breath of African air sweeps them from the Peninsula (…) It will be said to me that, in spite of this, we knew how to give summit to our glorious eight centuries of Reconquest, and to this I naively answer that I do not understand how one can call reconquest something that lasts eight centuries”. Eloy Benito Ruano, Spanish medievalist, contradicted Ortega by affirming that the long duration, eight hundred years, is not a weighty argument to invalidate the Reconquest as a phenomenon: “An argument that, in our opinion, can be refuted with the invocation of so many historical processes and phenomena such as Christianity, feudalism, the monarchical institution…. Subjects all today includable in the modern Braudelian (Braudel”s) conception of the longue durée.”

In 1965 the historians Marcelo Vigil and Abilio Barbero de Aguilera proposed that the peoples of the northern peninsular presented in the High Middle Ages a low level of Romanization and Christianization. According to these authors, these peoples, who had resisted both Romans and Visigoths, would reject the Arab invasion in the same way. Taking this into account, these authors affirmed that: “the historical phenomenon called reconquest did not obey in its origins to purely political and religious motives (…). Although it had some acceptance among some Spanish historians of the time, such as José Luis Martín Rodríguez, others, such as Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz, rejected this proposal from the very moment of its publication. In 1992, José Miguel Novo Güisán published a work in which he affirmed that there was a high degree of Romanization in the peoples of the northern peninsular in the Lower Roman Empire, contradicting the proposal of Marcelo Vigil and Abilio Barbero.

Writers such as Ignacio Olagüe Videla, in La revolución islámica en Occidente (1974), consider the Arab military invasion to be a myth and maintain that the creation of Al-Andalus was the result of the conversion of a large part of the Hispanic population to Islam. These theses have been studied by the well-known Arabist González Ferrín in his work Historia general de Al-Andalus, in which he says about the Reconquest “that in truth it never existed”. He also states that al-Andalus “constitutes an irreplaceable link in European history”. Olagüe states in La revolución islámica en Occidente: “Historians believe that Spain was invaded by nomads arriving from the Hedjaz, without having occurred to them to measure on a map the road that had to be traveled, nor to study in works of geography the obstacles that had to be overcome in such a long journey”. Olagüe”s hypotheses do not have any significant support in current historiography. Olagüe”s work has been described as “history fiction” and rejected in academic circles. Archaeology and ancient texts disprove this theory, since there are abundant classical sources and archaeological remains that prove that the Islamic conquest was violent, with numerous battles and sieges, with entire populations exterminated by the Islamic armies, as in Zaragoza or Tarragona during the Conquest of the north. In addition, in both Christian and Muslim sources, there are numerous quotations about the high special taxes that only non-Muslims had to pay, such as the gizya, harag, as well as laws that treated non-Muslims with inferiority.

The French medievalists Charles-Emmanuel Dufourcq and Jean Gautier-Dalché, in their work La España cristiana en la Edad Media (1983) qualify the process of conflicts between Christians and Muslims as reconquest:

Between the 8th and 15th centuries, the history of the Iberian Peninsula is largely the history of the struggle against the Muslims by those pre-Islamic nuclei that had not been subdued or had soon escaped their domination: nuclei that were gradually consolidated as States, each one receiving a particular name. On the contrary, its inhabitants called Spania to the whole area – whatever its variable extension – that Islam dominated; the Arabs, for their part, designated it with the name of Al-Andalus. The struggle between both parts of the Peninsula – that is, the Christian, fragmented, and the Muslim, as soon united as crumbled into various kingdoms – became the reconquest: it is understood, reconquest of the Muslim part by the Christians.

Derek William Lomax, a British writer and Hispanist specializing in medieval Spanish literature, wrote in his book La Reconquista (1984).

The Reconquista is a conceptual framework used by historians. But, unlike the concept of the Middle Ages, it is not an artificial concept. On the contrary, the Reconquista was an ideology invented by the Hispano-Christians shortly after 711, and its effective realization meant that it has been maintained ever since as a historiographical tradition, becoming also an object of nostalgia and a rhetorical cliché of both traditional and Marxist publicists.

The Arabist professor Serafín Fanjul, in his books Al-Andalus against Spain (2000) and The Chimera of Al-Andalus (2004), dismantles the myths of a non-violent invasion, the idealization of the coexistence of cultures or religions in Al-Andalus and uses the term reconquest, understanding it as the recovery by the Christian communities of the territory invaded by the Muslims. In Al-Andalus against Spain, Fanjul states: “But it will be in the reign of Alfonso III (866-911) and in the wake of the incipient reconquest, when the prophetic Chronicle announces the return of the kingdom of the Goths and the recovery of all the soil of Spain under the aegis of the same king”.

Eloy Benito Ruano, Spanish medievalist historian, wrote in 2002: “Exalted in general its valuation throughout the centuries, as much by its own chronistics as by the simple intuition of the Spanish masses, this version has been the object of a generalized in naive (sincere) “patriotism”, in general perfectly licit”. Regarding the reaction against the traditional vision of the Reconquest, he believes that the long duration of the process is not a valid argument, since other historical phenomena have been just as long, nor the supposed absence of a vindicating ideology in the elite, since it was present in writing from the Chronicle of Albeldense (year 833), nor the lack of continuity in the process, since the spirit of confrontation, in his opinion, was always present. Eloy quotes the French-Belgian historian Adeline Rucquoi “The Reconquest is a reality and has its history”.

Julio Valdeón Baruque, medievalist and professor of Medieval History at the University of Valladolid, defines the Reconquest in his work El concepto de España (2006) as “recovery”:

The term “Reconquest”, as is well known, refers to the military activity carried out by Christian fighters throughout the various centuries of the Middle Ages, with the aim of recovering all those territories that fell, during the first decades of the eighth century, in the hands of Muslim invaders from the western lands of North Africa. In fact, with the exception of the territories located on the other side of the Cantabrian Mountains and the Pyrenees Mountains, the rest of the Iberian Peninsula, as well as the adjacent lands (Balearic Islands), had been occupied with great ease by the Islamist armies. In any case, the term “Reconquest”, which means recovery, and we are not discovering any secret with it, is only applicable to the scope of Christian Spain and has no relation with what happened in those times in the territories of al-Andalus.

The historian Domínguez Ortiz, in his work España. Three millennia of history (2000), explains the length of the process with a lack of solidarity of the Christian world in the peninsular cause against the Muslims: “The Conquest and subsequent Reconquest (…) four years of Conquest, six centuries of Reconquest. (…) such a striking dissymmetry is to be found not only in the different attitudes of the populations concerned, but also in the greater solidarity of the Muslims on either side of the Strait of Gibraltar as opposed to the very little aid (…) that reached Christian Spain through the Pyrenean passes”.

Medievalists García de Cortázar and Sesma Muñoz, in their work Manual de Historia Medieval (2014), point out: “Understood as a process of colonization, the Reconquest was the result of a combination of demographic, economic, ideological, political and military stimuli, and took place between the beginning of the 11th century and the end of the 13th century.”

The Spanish medievalist Ladero Quesada writes about the term reconquest that, although the word began to be used at the beginning of the 19th century, there was already an ideology related to this concept used by the monarchies of the medieval Christian kingdoms in their peninsular advance:

Although the word “reconquest” is a neologism, spread in the first decades of the 19th century, the concept has been a main core of interpretation of Spanish history since the 12th century, and even before, until recent times. (…) the concept of recovery

And in his work Lecturas sobre la España histórica (1998), Ladero states.

“Currently, many consider the term Reconquest spurious to describe the historical reality of those centuries, and prefer to speak simply of conquest and replacement of a society and a culture, the Andalusian, by another, the Christian-Western; but although this was so, it is also true that the concept of Reconquest was born in the medieval centuries and belongs to its reality in that it served to ideologically justify many aspects of that process”.

Manuel González, a Spanish historian, pointed out in 2005: “The Reconquista in the hands of some and others had become a rhetorically exalted topic and an object of worship or one of those concepts that had to be extirpated and fought against. I believe that both positions are equally erroneous, because both suffer from the same defect: that of reducing the enormous complexity of the historical fact of the Reconquest to only one of its multiple facets”. And he sentences: “The idea of reconquest, despite modern theories and even the discredit that in certain academic and intellectual circles it may have had or still has, still stands”.

Federico Ríos Saloma, PhD in Society and Medieval Culture, affirms in an article published in 2008 that the concept of reconquest appeared for the first time in 1646 in the work Histórica relación del Reyno de Chile y de las misiones y ministerios que exercita la Compañía de Jesús. Although he recognizes that in the prophetic Chronicle of the year 883 a desire to expel the Muslims from the Iberian Peninsula is already being considered, he believes that the project of Alfonso III had more of a restorative than a recuperative character. Federico points out three current currents in the debate about what the reconquest was: The first current is represented by Derek Lomax and Manuel González. They consider that the military conquest of the Andalusian territory should be interpreted as a reconquest, since since the reign of Alfonso III “the reconquest was something more than a nebulous project” and, in addition, a historical fact with a spiritual, material and economic dimension. The second current is defended by Thomas Deswarte: he deduces that the military conquest was a phase prior to the political and ecclesiastical restoration promoted by the Asturian-Leonese monarchs, clinging to a singular conception of the world due to the Visigothic political heritage and with elements of late Roman and Augustinian thought. The third current, conceived from a materialist (Marxist) approach, is represented by Abilio Barbero, Marcelo Vigil, José María Mínguez and Joseph Torró, and understands the military conquest of al-Andalus as one more phase of the general process of expansion of the Christian West that occurred throughout the high and full centuries of the Middle Ages.

In 2010 Eduardo Manzano Moreno stressed that the chronicles of the time of Alfonso III of Asturias were written at a time -the second half of the ninth century and the beginning of the tenth century- when Al-Andalus was going through a deep crisis, which made the chroniclers think that the end of the Muslim presence in the Iberian Peninsula was near. “When those circumstances were frustrated, the program was readjusted according to the new conditions that the history of the subsequent centuries was bringing, although it is clear that the idea of “loss” and “recovery” of what was lost continued to be present throughout the centuries.” But these later mentions “attenuated very considerably the religious component. Thus, in the 14th century Don Juan Manuel said that there is war between the Christians and the Moors and there will be until the Christians have taken the lands that the Moors have captured, but he denied that the conflict had a religious background since neither by law, nor by the sect that they have, would there be war between the two”.

Years later, the same Eduardo Manzano Moreno defended that the term “reconquest” wrongly presupposes the continuity between the Christian kingdoms and counties of the north and the Visigothic Monarchy prior to the Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula, with which Al-Andalus would have been simply a historical parenthesis in the peninsular evolution. This historian also questions the use of the term “repopulation” as he adds the notion that Al-Andalus “was conveniently erased in a sudden and radical way after the Christian occupation”. Thus, Manzano Moreno proposes abandoning the binomial “reconquest”.

In 2018 the journal Al-Ándalus y la historia organized a debate on the use of the term “Reconquista” in which Alejandro García Sanjuan, from the University of Huelva, and Carlos de Ayala Martínez, from the Complutense University of Madrid, participated. The former rejected the use of the term due to its “national-Catholic” ideological charge that makes its application to the medieval peninsular reality impossible. The latter, after recognizing the limitations posed by the use of the term, defended its validity, understood not as a historical fact, but as the ideology created by the Christian kingdoms of the north to legitimize their conquests over the Andalusian territory.

On the other hand, for the peninsular Christians the reconquest did not end with the conquest of Granada, but continued in North Africa. In order to “restore” the territory of Hispanic Mauritania, which had been part of Hispania since the division of Diocletian. The conquests of the Catholic Monarchs in North Africa (Melilla, Cazaza, Mazalquivir, Oran), and previously those of the Portuguese kings, (Ceuta, Tangier) were also based on the same principle of restoration. However, the Spanish romantic historiography of the 19th century omitted the continuity that North Africa had for the peninsular Christians, restricting the concept of Hispania to “the peninsula” and as a consequence the reconquest ended when the city of Granada was taken.

The British Hispanist Henry Kamen denies the term Reconquista claiming that “no military campaign lasts eight centuries” and that the term does not appear until 1796 when conservatives begin to use it “to underline the supposed glory of Spain, using a wrong concept to serve an ideology”.

In 711 the first Muslim incursion into the Iberian Peninsula took place, composed of 7000 Berbers sent by the governor Musa ibn Nusair and commanded by Tárik. They sailed from North Africa and entered the Iberian Peninsula through Gibraltar (which owes its present name to Tárik, “Jebel al-Tarik”). Roderic or Roderic (Don Rodrigo), one of the last Visigothic kings, tried to repel this incursion, being defeated and losing his life in the battle of Guadalete (or Laguna de la Janda). That same year Tarik entered Toledo, the capital of the Visigoths. Tarik was called to report to the caliphate, traveling to the capital Damascus, and never returned. His place was taken by the governor Abd al-Aziz, better known to historiography as “Musa”. In 712 Musa crossed the strait with more than 18,000 Muslim warriors, both Arab and Berber, and conquered Seville, Mérida and Zaragoza, also making incursions into Galicia, León and Asturias. Musa marked the beginning of what is known as the dependent Emirate. The invaders used the Roman road system to advance through the territory between 711 and 714, leaving garrisons at key points.

From this moment the Muslims began a policy of treaties with the Visigothic nobles, such as that of Teodomiro in Murcia, which together with a relatively tolerant policy with Jews and Christians, allowed them to control most of the peninsula in a few years. The pact between Teodomiro and Abdelaziz, signed on April 5, 713, where the old Hispanic-Gothic authorities were kept in power in exchange for some concessions, loyalty to Damascus and the payment of tribute:

In the Name of God, the Gracious, the Merciful. Edict of ”Abd al-”Aziz ibn Musa ibn Nusair to Tudmir ibn Abdush . The latter obtains peace and receives the promise, under the guarantee of God and His Prophet, that his situation and that of his people will not be altered; that his subjects will not be killed, nor made prisoners, nor separated from their wives and children; that they will not be prevented from practicing their religion, and that their churches will not be burned nor dispossessed of the objects of worship therein; all this as long as he satisfies the obligations we impose upon him. Peace is granted to you with the surrender of the following cities: Uryula , Mula, Villena, Lurqa and Ello. Furthermore, he must not give asylum to anyone who flees from us or is our enemy; nor produce harm to anyone who flees from us or is our enemy; nor produce harm to anyone who enjoys our amnesty; nor conceal any information about our enemies that may come to his knowledge. He and his subjects shall pay an annual tribute, each person, of one dinar in cash, four measures of wheat, barley, grape juice and vinegar, two measures of honey and two measures of olive oil; for servants, only one measure. Given in the month of Rayab, year 94 of the Hegira . As witnesses, ”Uthman ibn Abi ”Abda, Habib ibn Abi ”Ubaida, Idris ibn Maisara and Abu l-Qasim al-Mazali.

Shortly after the beginning of the invasion there appeared within the victors various disputes between Arabs and Berbers, and within the Arabs, between Qaysids and Yemenis. In 716 Abd al-Aziz was assassinated in Seville and such a crisis began that in the following forty years (until 756, with the arrival of Abderraman I), twenty governors succeeded one another, a period known as the dependent Emirate. In order to put an end to a Berber revolt, who felt marginalized by the Arab majority, Arab troops were sent from Syria with the purpose of putting down the revolt.

In 716, with the center of power already established in Cordoba, the Arabs began to direct their forces towards the Pyrenees to try to enter the territory of ancient Roman Gaul. Between 711 and 725 the Muslims occupied the Peninsula except for small Christian nuclei in Asturias and the Pyrenees. In 720 they even took the city of Narbonne. However, their advance through the Frankish kingdom was halted by the defeat at Poitiers in 732. Between 751 and 756, a series of bad harvests forced the withdrawal of the Muslim troops to the south of the Douro, allowing the reorganization and recovery of the Christians in the north.

Mozarabic chronicle of the year 754 where the experience of the Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula is narrated from the Christian point of view:

At this time, in the era 749, fourth year of the empire of Justinian, ninety-second of the Arabs, (…) Musa himself, as the columns of Hercules directed him towards this wretched (…), crossing the strait of Cadiz penetrates into it -unjustly destroyed since time before and invaded- to ruin it without any compassion whatsoever. After razing it to the ground as far as Toledo, the royal city, and mercilessly scourging the surrounding regions with a deceptive peace (…) And so, with the sword, hunger and captivity he devastates not only the outer Hispania but also the citerior to beyond Zaragoza, a very ancient and flourishing city, little has been devoid of defenses because God wanted it that way. With fire he leaves beautiful cities devastated, reducing them to ashes; he orders the lords and nobles to be crucified and the young and infants to be stabbed to death. In this way, sowing panic in all, the few remaining cities are forced to ask for peace, and immediately, complacent and smiling, with a certain cunning, they grant the requested conditions.

The rapid and forceful Islamic invasion, in addition to the factors that favored the worldwide expansion of Islam, can be explained by the weaknesses that affected the Visigothic kingdom:

After the invasion, the Christian resistance crystallized in two foci of which Asturias was the earliest.

The Asturian focus

After the Islamic invasion, a Christian minority escaped to the north of the Iberian Peninsula. From the Asturian nucleus arose a monarchy whose power would allow them to advance in the following years to the line of the Duero, In the year 718 a nobleman named Pelayo (718-37) revolted. He failed, was taken prisoner and sent to Cordoba (the writings use the word “Cordoba”, but this does not imply that it was the capital, since the Arabs called the whole caliphate Cordoba). However, he managed to escape and organized a second revolt in the mountains of Asturias, which began with the battle of Covadonga in 722. This battle is considered the beginning of the Reconquest. The interpretation is disputed: while in the Christian chronicles it appears as “a great victory over the infidels, thanks to the help of God”, the Arab chroniclers describe it as a confrontation with a small group of Christians, whom after winning the battle they desisted from pursuing, considering them harmless. Probably it was a Christian victory over a small contingent of exploration. The reality is that this victory of Covadonga, no matter how small the opposing forces were, was so important that it created around Don Pelayo, a focus of independence from the Muslim power that allowed him to remain independent in Oviedo and to incorporate new lands to his domains. With Alfonso I of Asturias (739-757) the kingdom benefited from the difficulties of al-Andalus and the immigration of Christians from the Duero valley, which was practically depopulated. This human contribution allowed the kings of Asturias to expand their domains.

In any case, the Arabs desisted from controlling the northernmost part of the peninsula, since in their opinion, dominating a mountainous region of limited resources and extreme winters was not worth the effort. In addition, the strong resistance of the Franks in Aquitaine and Septimania prevented them from assigning forces to the Cantabrian coast. The Christians in the area did not represent a danger, and controlling the farthest tip would mean more costs than benefits. The Asturian and Cantabrian populations undertook a campaign of resistance and depredation against the lands of the Duero. Pelayo”s son-in-law, Alfonso I of Asturias, took advantage of the internal crisis of the emirate of Cordoba to extend control from Galicia to Alava. The surprising expansion and consolidation of the tiny kingdom with the long reign of Alfonso II (791-842), who was already able to defeat the Muslims in pitched battle, consciously recovered the Visigothic heritage (officium palatinum), favored the creation of monasteries and established the capital in Oviedo. This situation worried the caliphal authorities, so successive raids were carried out (in the time of Alfonso II, one was made every year in Asturian territory), but the kingdom survived and continued to expand, with resounding victories such as the battle of Lutos, Polvoraria and the capture of Lisbon in 798. The appearance of the presumed tomb of the apostle Santiago in Compostela served to strengthen the identity and ideology of the kingdom.

The kingdom of Asturias was initially of Asturian character, but was subjected in its last decades to a successive gotification due to the influence of immigrants of Hispano-Gothic culture who fled from the south. It was also a reference for part of the European cultural space with the battle against adoptionism, breaking with the bishopric of Toledo. The kingdom was for periods closely linked to the kingdom of the Franks, especially following the “discovery” of the alleged tomb of the apostle St. James. This “propagandist” idea succeeded in linking Christian Europe with the small northern kingdom, as opposed to the Islamized south. The emigration of Mozarabic clerics to Asturias allowed the creation of the doctrine that considered the king as the heir of the Visigoths, with the right to advance southwards over the territories of Al-Andalus. This doctrine provided the new monarchy with elements of the Gothic traditions.

Alfonso the Great reigned for fifty-one years. In the eleventh year of his reign he was deposed by a rebel and imprisoned in the monastery of Ablaña. Released by a certain Teuda and other faithful, he was restored to the throne of the kingdom of Oviedo. Alfonso built in Oviedo an admirable church of stone and lime dedicated to San Salvador and the twelve apostles and built the church of Santa Maria with its three altars. He also built the basilica of San Tirso, an admirable building, and carefully adorned these houses of God with arches and columns of marble, gold and silver and, as he did with the palaces of the king, he decorated them with paintings. He established in Oviedo all the ceremonial of the Goths, as it had been developed in Toledo, both in the organization of the Church and the palace.

The Pyrenean focus: formation of kingdoms

It originated from the Carolingian resistance (the Frankish leader Charles Martel had repulsed the Muslim invasion of Aquitaine in the battle of Poitiers in 732). Later his successor, Charlemagne, tried to push back the Muslims by means of an expedition in the valley of the Ebro, managing to conquer Barcelona and Gerona. However, the expedition was a disaster after the defeat by the Basques in the battle of Roncesvalles, as narrated in the Chanson de Roland. After this failure, he created the Marca Hispanica as a defensive barrier (southern military frontier), which eventually gave rise to other Christian centers in the peninsula: the kingdom of Pamplona, the now called Catalan counties, and those of Aragon, Sobrarbe and Ribagorza.

The territory located between the east of Navarre and the sea was divided into counties subject to the Franks. The Catalan counties were divisions of the western zone of the Hispanic Mark and the counties of Aragon, Sobrarbe and Ribagorza occupied the intermediate zone. It was a zone of military containment that the Franks took to stop the Saracen incursions. Although the initial intention of these was to bring the borders to the Ebro, the Mark was delimited by the Pyrenees in the north and the Llobregat River in the south. The Franks favored the arrival of Mozarabs, among whom a sentiment against Frankish rule arose over time. Later it became independent from Frankish rule thanks to the actions of the Counts Aznar Galindez, Count of Aragon from 809 to 820 and Wilfred the Hairy, who in 874 reunited and governed the Catalan counties autonomously and then bequeathed it to his descendants Borrell II (947-92) and Ramon Borrell (992-1018).

In the area of the Catalan counties, the County of Barcelona soon became the dominant one in the area. After the dynastic union between the Kingdom of Aragon and the group of counties linked to the County of Barcelona, the Crown of Aragon was born, which extended its dominions to the south and the Mediterranean.

The advance of the Christian kingdoms in the Iberian Peninsula was a slow, discontinuous and complex process, in which periods of expansion alternated with others of border stabilization and in which many times the different Christian kingdoms or nuclei also followed different rhythms of expansion, at the same time that they were remodeled internally, with unions, divisions and territorial regroupings of dynastic sign, and the form and strength of the peninsular Muslim power they faced also changed internally, experiencing different phases of centralized power and periods of disintegration.

The conquering expansion was punctuated by continuous conflicts and changing pacts between Christian kingdoms, negotiations and agreements with Muslim regional powers and, occasionally, broader Christian alliances, such as the one that took place in the battle of Simancas (or the most famous (for its exceptionality) and wider flights in the battle of Navas de Tolosa in 1212, which marked the beginning of the end of the Almohad presence in the Iberian Peninsula. The study of such a long and complex process involves the establishment of different phases in which historians have established differentiated profiles in the rhythms and characteristics of conquest, occupation and repopulation.

8th to 10th centuries

Once the Visigothic kingdom of Toledo was defeated between 711 and 714, only a narrow mountainous strip in the north of the peninsula remained outside the invasion. The main effort of these first nuclei of resistance until the 10th century was aimed at consolidating new political-institutional structures on a socio-economic reality in transformation (the massive settlement of a population fleeing the Muslim advance), configuring the bases of feudalism in the Iberian Peninsula. To the west the Asturian kingdom was consolidated, extending between Galicia, the Duero and the Nervion. To the east, the Carolingian defensive Mark will germinate in different Christian nuclei in the Pyrenees. Their precarious situation was demonstrated during the reign of Abd al-Rahman III (912-961), when they recognized the sovereignty of the Caliphate and became tributary states.

During the ninth and early tenth centuries, the Christian territories witnessed an increase in population and the development of colonization and land exploitation. The progress of the conquests was slow at first, during the last years of the reign of Alfonso II (Brañosera, 824), and then accelerated from the middle of the 9th century, during the reigns of Ordoño I and Alfonso III (Braga, Tuy, Astorga, León, Amaya, Briviesca, Miranda, Oporto (868), Simancas (889) and Zamora (893). In the Castilian area would be incorporated into Christian territory: Clunia, Roa, San Esteban de Gormaz (912) and Osma. In 914, during the reign of Sancho Garcés I, the upper area of La Rioja would be added.

The advance over the Duero valley throughout the 9th century seems to confirm the Gothic vision initiated with Alfonso III the Great (866-910). In 856 León was taken as the new seat of the monarchs in order to better administer the new territories. With Alfonso III, the frontier was fixed on the Duero thanks to the colonization policy carried out with inhabitants of the mountains and Christian refugees from the Islamic area. The repopulated lands became the property of the peasants in what is known as presuras. These peasants led a rudimentary life, based mainly on livestock and agriculture, forming small villages.

The Kingdom of Asturias had several splits. The first, at the death of King Alfonso III the Great, who divided his dominions among three of his five sons: García, Ordoño and Fruela. These domains included, in addition to Asturias, the counties of Leon, Castile and Galicia and the marks of Alava and Portugal (the latter, at that time, was only the southern border of Galicia). García took León, Álava and Castile, founding the Kingdom of León. Ordoño took Galicia and Portugal, and Fruela took Asturias.

In the first half of the 10th century, the Duero line was surpassed, advancing as far as Salamanca and Coimbra. In the area east of the Duero there were harder clashes against the Muslims, among which we highlight the defeat of the joint forces of Ordoño II of León and Sancho Garcés I of Pamplona in Valdejunquera (920) against the emir Abderramán III and the victory of Ramiro II (931-951) in Simancas (939). Ramiro II repopulated Sepúlveda and the basin of the Tormes. Ordoño III of León (951-956) was succeeded by Sancho I (956-958) under pressure from the Navarrese faction, whose influence culminated with Ramiro III.

The Christian advance south of the Duero did not end up being consolidated due to the reunification of al-Andalus by Abderramán III, who in 929 proclaimed himself caliph, initiating the Caliphate of Córdoba. It will be under his rule that the Islamic peninsular area will reach its political, economic and cultural zenith. The Christian territory suffered attacks with the aceifas of Almanzor, chancellor of the Caliphate of Cordoba and Hayib or chamberlain of the caliph Hisham II (976-1009). All of the towns located south of the Duero were lost and most of the important cities in the north of the peninsula, such as Santiago, León and Barcelona, suffered assaults and significant damage.

Castilla (territorium Castellae) was mentioned for the first time in a document in the year 800. It was the easternmost area of León and exposed to Islamic incursions from the Ebro valley and corresponded to the upper valley of the river Trueba, to the north of the province of Burgos and at the foot of the Cantabrian Mountains. It was a county populated mainly by Christianized Vascones that had been acquiring autonomy as the power of the kings of León declined. A lifestyle typical of the frontier zone was consolidated: a strongly hierarchical military society (with counts very autonomous with respect to the power of the kings of León), accustomed to war and booty on the one hand and to mercantile relations with al-Andalus on the other. The county of Castile became hereditary for the first time with Fernán González (930-970). The Castilian expansion, both warlike and peaceful, had as a distant result the construction of a wide range of territories from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. In its advance towards unpopulated territories in the south during the 9th and 10th centuries, two zones were defined: “Old Castile”, which would correspond to the territories north of the Duero, and what would remain south to the Cordillera Central or Extrema Dorii, which for a long time would conserve its own law and particular urban institutions.

The Kingdom of Pamplona, later called the Kingdom of Navarre, had its origin in the ruling family itself, which had agreed to the expulsion of the Frankish troops from Pamplona with the Muladis of Tudela, the Banu Qasi family. Its first king was Íñigo Arista (820-851). After him, the new kingdom managed to maintain its autonomy with García Íñiguez (851-70) and Fortún Garcés (870-905). At the beginning of the 10th century, the Jimena family replaced the Arista family and the first king was Sancho Garcés I (905-26), who had great military success.

Reference to Sancho Garcés I in the Chronicle of Albeldense (881):

In the year 944 a king by the name of Sancho Garcés arose in Pamplona. He was a man of unwavering veneration for the faith of Christ, pious with all the faithful and merciful with the Catholic primitives. Why say much? In all his actions he was a magnificent warrior against the people of the Ishmaelites; he caused multiple disasters to the Saracens. He himself conquered, in Cantabria, from the city of Nájera to Tudela, all the strongholds. Of course the land of Degio, with its villages, he possessed the whole of it. The land of Pamplona he subjected to his law, and he also conquered all the territory of Aragon with its fortresses. Then, after eliminating all the infidels, in the twentieth year of his reign he departed from this world.

He was followed by García Sánchez I (926-70), Sancho Garcés II (970-94) and García Sánchez II (994-1000). The economy of the kingdom was based fundamentally on agriculture and pastoralism, with some commercial contacts with the Muslims. Pamplona came to control what is now Navarre (its origin), La Rioja (then called “Kingdom of Nájera”) and what is now the Basque Country, and to dynastically unite the counties of Castile, dependent on León but very autonomous, and Aragon (after having been constituted as a hereditary dynasty with Count Aznar Galíndez), Sobrarbe and Ribagorza in the Pyrenees in the time of Sancho the Great (1004-1035). On his death, he bequeathed his patrimonial kingdom (the Kingdom of Pamplona) to García Sánchez III of Pamplona (1035-54), to whom, de jure, the lieutenants of the other areas of his kingdom should be subordinated: Fernando, who received the County of Castile, Ramiro, who received the County of Aragon and Gonzalo, the youngest of the brothers, who inherited Sobrarbe and Ribagorza. After annexing Sobrarbe and Ribagorza in 1045, Aragon became independent.

11th and 12th centuries

The disintegration of the Caliphate into some thirty taifas coincided with the reorganization and political consolidation of the Hispano-Christian kingdoms and facilitated a slow Christian advance through the northern Meseta and the Ebro valley. This will be financed with the tax impositions (parias) to which the Muslim kingdoms were subjected by Ferdinand I of Castile and Leon (1035-1065), Sancho Garcés IV of Pamplona (1054-1076), Sancho Ramírez of Aragon (1064-1094) and Ramón Berenguer I of Barcelona (1035-1076), converting them virtually into protectorates. It is a period of Europeanization, with the opening to continental cultural currents (Cluny, Cistercian) and the acceptance of the religious supremacy of Rome. The war with al-Andalus is already considered a war of reconquest, causing the frontier to acquire a character of permanent provisionality. The Castilian-Leonese advance (Toledo, 1085) provoked successive North African invasions – Almoravids and Almohads – which prevented the collapse of Muslim Spain. The repopulation between the Duero and the Tajo took place with free settlers forming councils with broad autonomy (fueros), while in the Ebro, the Christian lordships exploited the Muslim agricultural population.

The Kingdom of Aragon has its origin in a county belonging to the Marca Hispánica. After the death of Sancho III of Navarre in 1035, he bequeathed to his son Ramiro (1035-63) the dominion of the county of Aragon. After annexing the counties of Sobrarbe and Ribagorza, Ramiro I established a de facto kingdom that included the three former counties and occupied the central Pyrenees. In 1076, during the reign of Sancho Ramirez of Aragon, Navarre was annexed. During the reign of Alfonso I the Battler and after a hard fight with the taifas of Zaragoza, the Aragonese kingdom reached the Ebro, conquering the capital in 1118. After the death of Alfonso I, the kingdoms of Aragon and Navarre split, each electing its own ruler.

It includes Castile, Leon, Navarre and lower Aragon. Between 1000 and 1035, Sancho el Mayor subjected the Church to Rome with the Benedictine reform with Cluny as a reference. After García Sánchez (1035-54) the kingdom was divided between Castilians and Aragonese.

After being a hereditary county under Fernán González (923-970), it became a kingdom under Fernando I (1032-1065). He was followed by Sancho II (1065-72) and Alfonso VI (1072-1109). Romanesque boom.

XIII and XIV centuries

The alliance between the Christian kingdoms (Navas de Tolosa, 1212) achieved the definitive collapse of Al-Andalus, conquering with great speed the south of the peninsula (except Granada), highlighting the battle of the Strait where the last North African people to intervene in the peninsula, the Benimerines, came into play. This expansion, led by the crowns of Castile and Aragon, will generate problems due to the absorption of an enormous territorial and population volume. In Andalusia and Murcia, the imposition of great lordships -noble warriors and military orders-, the expulsion of the native populations -agricultural and artisan-, the economic crisis of the 14th century and the civil wars that bled the Castilian kingdoms in the late medieval period, led to the economic decline of the territory. In Valencia and Alicante, the Christian lordships, of lesser extension, will be superimposed on a Muslim population that will maintain the economic prosperity. In this way, Spain was consolidated as the nation that resisted and contained the Muslim attacks in the West, just as the Kingdom of Hungary was established as the guardian of Europe in the East before the arrival of the Turks.

Commentary by Antonio Ubieto Arteta on the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, in 1212, which opened access to the Guadalquivir valley for the Christian kingdoms:

The battle was fought on July 16, 1212, and the Christians used the same tactic that the Almohads had used for the first time in Alarcos. The Almohad Miramamolín (emir-Al-muminin, or emir of the believers) fled on horseback, and that same night arrived in Jaén. The booty taken by the Christians is incalculable. Suffice it to say that the price of gold immediately plummeted at the Champagne fairs and that King Sancho VII the Strong became the richest banker in the western world after that battle. His fabulous loans were made on the basis of the gold taken in this battle. If economically the battle was a disaster for the Muslim world, from the demographic point of view its army practically disappeared. The figures given by chroniclers close to the events are very disparate, but it seems that between one hundred thousand and one hundred and fifty thousand Muslim soldiers died. Although the numerical strength of the Muslim army is not known, it is evident that the casualties suffered were almost the total of the people capable of bearing arms. Such a considerable mass of unburied corpses, on which the Andalusian summer heat acted, immediately produced an epidemic of dysentery, which prevented the Christians from occupying the entire Muslim kingdom. Moreover, the few cities that were immediately taken, or that were left empty by the flight of the Muslims (Úbeda, Baeza), had to be abandoned. The only thing missing was that the following year 1213 was one of drought, scarcity and hunger so that the logical consequence of the success of the Navas de Tolosa could not be carried out.

The dynastic union that occurred with the marriage of Petronila (only daughter of the King of Aragon, years 1157-1164) and Ramon Berenguer IV, Count of Barcelona (1131-1162), formed the Crown of Aragon, grouping the kingdom and the counties. In spite of this, each territory maintained its customary uses and customs.

The Crown would eventually unify what is now Catalonia, taking the rest of Catalonia, the New Catalonia, from the Arabs and annexing the remaining territories.

It is known to all that I Ramiro, by the grace of God king of the Aragonese, gave my daughter to Ramón, count of the Barceloneses together with all the honor of my kingdom. Now also, with free will and strong mistress of heart, I will, I command and command all my men, knights, clerics and peons, that the castles and fortifications and all other honors have and possess hereafter by the same count Ramon as by king they should have and possess, and that they keep obedience and fidelity to him continually in all things so as king. And in order that against this nothing may be thought or contrived by anyone, I give, grant and concede to him all that I had reserved to myself in that same letter of gift which I had first made to him, in giving him my daughter. I, Ramiro, king of the Aragonese give and grant all that I have mentioned, and firmly ratify it to the aforesaid Ramón, count of the Barceloneses, so that what I now give him and what he already had he may perpetually retain in my service and fidelity.

The counts of Castile extended their control over Alava and Guipuzcoa, incorporated in the 13th century. Both territories retained their language and broad autonomy. Vizcaya would be incorporated into Castile in 1379, also retaining its own charters.

XV Century

The survival of the Emirate of Granada responds to several reasons: its status as a vassal of the Castilian king, its convenience as a refuge for the Muslim population, the mountainous character of the kingdom (complemented by a consistent network of border fortresses), North African support, the late medieval Castilian crisis and the indifference of Aragon, which was busy in its Mediterranean expansion. In addition, cultural and religious homogeneity (no Mozarabic population) gave the State of Granada a strong cohesion. Its disappearance at the end of the 15th century – in addition to its endless dynastic struggles – was part of the context of the construction of a modern state carried out by the Catholic Monarchs through territorial unification and the reinforcement of the sovereignty of the Crown.

Sicily was incorporated into the Crown of Aragon in 1479. This annexation coincided with the policies of rapprochement between Castile and Aragon that took place with the marriage of Isabella I in 1469. The Catholic Monarchs developed an authoritarian internal policy which included the incorporation of the military orders into the Crown, the reduction of the autonomy of the municipalities with the appointment of the corregidores and the increase in the powers of the Cortes, the strengthening or expansion of the Councils, the creation of the Accounting Chamber (Treasury), the military reform (new recruitments), the improvement of public security with the Santa Hermandad and the reform of justice. On January 2, 1492, Granada was taken, putting an end to the last Islamic kingdom in the Iberian Peninsula. On March 31 of the same year the expulsion of the Jews took place except for baptism. The converts gave rise to a new minority called crypto-Jews, persecuted by the Holy Office.

Parallel to the military advance, a process of repopulation took place with the settlement of the Christian population in conquered territories, which could come from the northern nuclei (from mountainous, poor and overpopulated lands), from the Mozarabic communities of the south that migrated to the north due to the increase of religious repression (Mozarabic art is also called repopulation art), and even from areas of Europe north of the Pyrenees, which were generically called Franks. The settlement modality of this population varied in its characteristics according to the way in which the conquest took place, the rhythm of the occupation and the volume of the pre-existing Muslim population in the territory. In the areas that were the frontier between Christians and Muslims, there was never a “demographic vacuum” or “unpopulated area”, despite the fact that some documents (which claimed so, thus justifying the legitimacy of the appropriations) gave rise to the concept of “Duero desert”, coined by the historiography of the early twentieth century (Claudio Sánchez Albornoz).

The valleys of the great rivers that cross the Iberian Peninsula from east to west serve as dividing landmarks, and certain types of repopulation have been defined, each one carried out by different institutions and social agents in successive periods.

Sampiro was a chronicler of the kingdom of León who wrote the well-known Chronicle of Sampiro, from the 11th century. This text is important because the Chronicle of Albelden ends its account in the year 883:

Then Abderramán, king of Cordoba, quickly approached Simancas with a large army. Our Catholic king, hearing this, set out to go there with a large army. And, after fighting one against the other, the Lord gave victory on the second day eve of the feast of Saints Justus and Shepherd, 80,000 of them were annihilated. Abohahia himself, the Agarene king, was also captured there by our people, taken to Leon and put in prison: because he lied, he was taken prisoner by Don Ramiro, according to the right judgment of God. But those who had remained in their place, taking a road, took to flight. But the king pursuing them as soon as they came to a city called Alhandega, they were overtaken there and there by our own and annihilated. But King Abderraman himself escaped half dead. From there our forces took many spoils, of course, gold, silver and valuable clothes. The king, now safe and secure, went home in peace after his great victory. Then, in the second month he set out to go to the banks of the Tormes in military expedition and there he populated abandoned cities. These are: Salamanca, former camp headquarters, Ledesma, Ribas, Baños, Alhandega, Peña and many other castles, which it is long to enumerate.

The peninsular Christian communities, both in Muslim and Christian territory, developed their own rite different from that of the rest of Christianity in the West. This would be reproached by the papacy in the 11th century, as expressed by Gregory VII:

Since the Blessed Apostle Paul clearly declared that he had gone to Spain and that afterwards, from the city of Rome, seven bishops had been sent by the Apostles Peter and Paul who, idolatry being destroyed, founded Christianity, implanted religion, showed the order and office of divine worship, founded churches and consecrated them with their blood, there can be no doubt how much unity Spain had with the city of Rome in religion and the order of the divine offices. But after the kingdom of Spain was for a long time sullied by the folly of the Priscillians, depraved by the perfidy of the Arians, and separated from the Roman rite by the invasion of the Goths first, and finally of the Saracens, not only did the practice of religion diminish, but also the works were perversely destroyed. Therefore as beloved sons I exhort and warn you that, as good sons also after a great rupture, you may at last acknowledge as true mother your Roman Church and at the same time join us, your brethren, and receive and have, like the remaining kingdoms of the East and West, the order and office of the Roman Church, not that of Toledo or of any other part.

The Catholic Monarchs ended the reconquest of Spain on January 2, 1492 with the capture of Granada. This gave rise to a holiday that takes place on January 2 every year. The emir Boabdil, of the Nasrid dynasty, had to abandon Granada. The religious tolerance that had existed until then ceased with the expulsion of the Jews in 1492, and with the prohibition of Islamic worship in Granada in 1500, against the agreed terms. It ended a century later with the expulsion of the Moors, thus homogenizing the entire peninsula.

Conversions and expulsions

As in other parts of the Muslim world, Christians and Jews were allowed to retain their religions, with their own legal systems and courts, by paying a tax, the yizia. The penalty for not paying it was imprisonment.

The new Christian hierarchy demanded heavy taxes from non-Christians and granted them rights, as in the Treaty of Granada (1491) only for the Moors in what had been the recent Islamic Granada. On July 30, 1492, the entire Jewish community, some 200,000 people, were forcibly expelled. The following year, the Alhambra decree ordered the expulsion of practicing Jews, leading many to convert to Catholicism. In 1502, Queen Isabella I declared conversion to Catholicism obligatory within the Kingdom of Castile. King Charles I did the same with the Moors in the Kingdom of Aragon in 1526, forcing the conversions of its Muslim population during the Germanías rebellion. Many local officials took advantage of the situation to confiscate property.

Moorish situation

The Moriscos, descendants of those Muslims who underwent conversion to Christianity, rather than going into exile, during the early days of the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisition were expelled from Spain after severe social upheaval, when the Inquisition was at its height. The expulsions were most severely carried out in eastern Spain (Valencia and Aragon) due to local animosity towards Muslims and Moriscos, where local workers regarded them as economic rivals, as they were seen as cheap labor that undermined their bargaining position with landowners. The exactions imposed on the Moriscos paved the way for a major revolt of the Moriscos that took place in 1568, which ended with the definitive expulsion of the Moriscos from Castile in 1609, being expelled from Aragon at almost the same time.


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