Post-classical history

Warfare: Iberia

Until the tenth century, the army of the Christian kingdom of Asturias seems to have maintained some Visigothic military traditions, while also reflecting Muslim influence from al- Andalus. Nevertheless, a different army developed as the Christians pushed southward into Muslim-held territory. Towns as well as noblemen played a major role in both Leôn and Castile, with urban cavalry and infantry both existing by the tenth century. In eleventh-century Castile, the powerful magnates (Sp. ricos hombres) fought for their king, and many had their own masnada (military retinue). A lesser aristocracy (Sp. infanzones) consisted of warriors like the famous Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, better known as El Cid. Urban militias were divided into caballeria (cavalry) and peonia (infantry), the former including caballeros villanos (nonnoble cavalry). Soldiers from north of the Pyrenees played some role in the Spanish Reconquista (reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula from the Muslims), but the Christian states of northern Iberia received limited help from outsiders after the mid-twelfth century.

Recruitment and Military Service

A western European feudal structure of military obligation was never fully implemented in the Iberian Peninsula. Instead poorer peones (the nonnoble, or peasant, strata of society) paid taxes and fought as infantry; richer but still nonnoble caballeros villanos served as cavalry and were generally excused taxation; while many Muslim troops who served in Christian armies were listed as nonnoble cavallers (horsemen). Even in the early fourteenth century, the garrison of Mahon in Mallorca included so-called Turks, presumably remnants of the Muslim population. The almo- gavers (lightly equipped troops, from the Arabic al- mughâwar, “raiders”) clearly included both Christians and Muslims recruited from autonomous nonfeudal mountain pastoralists.

The small northern kingdom of Navarre had limited manpower, and perhaps as a result the late fourteenth-century local military elite (Sp. mesnaderos) included Muslim soldiers from around Tudela, each serving in person with an armed retinue for forty days a year. Castile became the most powerful state in the Iberian Peninsula, and despite the fact that the military religious orders provided a permanent army to defend Castile’s advancing frontier, urban militias played an increasingly vital role from the early twelfth century onward. Here again many Muslims transferred their loyalty to Christian kings. Portugal was the least influenced by French military systems among the Christian Iberian states. Nevertheless, a new military elite emerged, and by the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries most Portuguese troops were drawn from the military orders, the towns, the king’s own feudal following, and mercenaries paid through taxes. Richer farmers or peasants still had an obligation to serve as cavaleiros-vilāos (nonnoble cavalry, comparable to the Spanish caballeros villanos).

Andalusian Muslims were of very mixed origins; they included descendants of the original Muslim conquerors, of more recent Muslim immigrants, and of Iberian Christian or Jewish families that had converted to Islam. All played some military role, as did an indigenous aristocracy of Mozarabs (Arabized Christians), usually in regions where central authority was weak. The early eleventh century probably saw the peak of Berber recruitment in al-Andalus, but when Muslim Iberia fragmented into tiny states known as the Taifa kingdoms, most of the latter were too small to maintain large armies. Their recruitment patterns also tended to reflect the origins of their dynasties, being variously Arab, Berber, “Slav” (i.e., descended from European slaves), or merely Andalusian.

There was a second Taifa period after the collapse of the North African Almoravid domination in the twelfth century, during which most Andalusian troops were apparently mercenaries. A third Taifa period following the collapse of Almo- had domination was stifled by the Christian conquest of all Andalusia except the state of Granada. During this period, Andalusian military systems had more in common with those of Christian northern Iberia than those of Muslim North Africa. The army of Granada initially consisted of the ruler’s clan and its political clients, while refugees fleeing Christian conquest and Berbers from Morocco provided additional troops. In later years, large numbers of religiously motivated volunteers, including North Africans, continued to play a major role, while a bodyguard of Christian renegades plus mamluks (slave soldiers) drawn from Christian captives formed an elite light cavalry regiment.

The army of the Almoravids who ruled half of the Iberian Peninsula in the eleventh century was initially recruited from a Berber tribal confederation. Yet as the Almoravid Empire grew, so its army became more varied, including slave-recruited black African troops alongside an elite of Christian Iberian captives and mercenaries. The army of the subsequent Almohad rulers was initially a Moroccan rather than a Saharan tribal levy. Nevertheless, it again included slave-recruited Africans, Christian prisoners of war, and a guard of Christian mercenaries.

Military Organization

Military organization in Christian Iberia differed considerably from that farther north, while the states of northern Iberia also differed from one another. Asturias and Galicia retained strong Visigothic traditions; Leôn and Castile were superficially influenced by military developments in France, and Aragon and Catalonia were deeply influenced by France.

Two basic characteristics, however, distinguished the military organization of twelfth-thirteenth century Christian Iberia. The first was a looser command structure and inferior discipline when compared to Muslim forces from al-Andalus. The second was the extent of conquered land handed over to the military orders as the Christian frontier pushed southward. Meanwhile the old Pyrenean heartland of Aragon had never been fully feudalized, and by the thirteenth century the kingdom was dominated by its cities. Most soldiers were now apparently paid professionals, largely recruited from urban militias. Castles were held by officers of the king or his leading barons, while the latter also had their own professional armies. The newly conquered south was organized along similar lines, though the rugged mountains around Valencia were divided into military zones, often dominated by a free Christian and Muslim peasantry. Many of these mountaineers were led by their own Muslim military elites, some of whom controlled castles as late as 1276.

In Castile and Leôn, the traditional term apellido still meant a defensive operation, usually involving urban forces, while the fonsadera (the duty of taking part in offensive operations) had generally been commuted for a money payment. The French term hueste appeared in the thirteenth century, meaning a major expedition. By the fourteenth century, a hueste necessitated urban militias assembling according to their collaciôn (quarter) under a juez (town leader) appointed by the Crown. Among the most effective Castilian frontier forces, however, were almugavers comparable to the almogavers of Aragon. Until the fourteenth century, Portugal remained traditional in its military organization, the only consistent command position being that of alférez môr (army commander). Extensive changes came in the wake of English and French involvement in Iberian affairs in the late fourteenth century, and the Portuguese military system was overhauled in 1382, the alférez môrbeing replaced by a more typical constable and marshal on western European lines.

A link between military obligation and the possession of land seems to have been more characteristic of al-Andalus than elsewhere in the medieval Islamic world. Nevertheless, fortresses and fortified towns formed the framework of Andalusian military organization. In other respects the Umayyad rulers of Cordoba adopted the military systems of the ‘Abbāsid caliphate to the east. By the tenth century, the provincial armies, supported by elite units in the capital, were regulated by a government department (Arab. diwan) divided into three sections dealing, respectively, with mercenaries around Cordoba, provincial-territorial troops, and short-term volunteers. The highly regularized command structure was again similar to that of the ‘Abbāsid army. In the late tenth century, the ineffectiveness of such forces convinced the military dictator al-Mansûr to instigate ruthless reforms. Yet some Andalusian jund cavalry evolved into a provincial elite, maintained by iqta' (grants of revenue), organized into squadrons, and operating alongside a rag-tag army of largely infantry volunteers.

The organization of the Umayyad Andalusian frontier had been based upon large military provinces, each facing a Christian state. “Popular” military organizations, such as the urban futuwa (religiously motivated confraternity) or ahdath (urban militia) only developed in response to the massive Christian conquests of the late eleventh and twelfth centuries, although the militia of Cordoba did play a role in the emergence of a small Taifa state when Umayyad authority collapsed. Two types of Taifa state emerged in the eleventh century: relatively large ones in sparsely populated regions, usually close to the Christian frontier, and smaller statelets in the urbanized south. Most reflected the old jund (territorial military divisions), and their tiny armies generally used existing military systems. In later years the organization of indigenous rather than North African forces in al- Andalus had features in common with the Christian territories. Nevertheless, Andalusian society was not as differentiated along class lines as was the case in the Christian north. Instead it consisted of extended family networks and alliances. As a result, ordinary soldiers often garrisoned a castle held by a leader to whom they were related through shared or imaginary tribal origins. In Granada, however, this military structure was overhauled in the mid-fourteenth century, resulting in separate Andalusian and North African Berber armies under their own leaders. Theoretically an amir (senior officer) led 5,000 men, a middle-ranking qaid 1,000, while the junior-officer ranks of naqib led 200, an ‘arif led 40 and a nazir led 8, but it is unknown how far this classical Islamic ideal was reflected in reality.

Strategy and Tactics

Until the eleventh century, Christian Iberian warfare was modeled upon that of Islamic Andalusia, with raiding by light cavalry being the main form of offensive operation. At that time the high plains of La Mancha and Extramadura were not the cereal-growing regions that they are in modern times. Instead they were dominated by sheep ranching, raiding, and rustling. Meanwhile Christians and Muslims both made great efforts to control the passes through the sequence of mountain ranges that straddle the Iberian Peninsula.

Ecological factors continued to play a part in the strategy of the Christian states during the twelfth to fourteenth centuries. For example, control of winter and summer pastures was economically important for frontier communities on both sides, resulting in small-scale but sometimes far ranging campaigns. Offensive warfare largely consisted of such raiding, plus larger campaigns of conquest. Major operations usually took place in the dry summer and autumn, the Christian reconquest largely being channeled via the main bridges and passes. As a result, such choke points were defended by castles or fortified towns. Smaller raids took place at almost any time of year, the main concern being to keep escape routes open. The main problem with such a strategy was that it could leave an army’s own urban base vulnerable to an enemy counter-raid.

An early fourteenth-century book on military affairs by the Castilian prince Don Juan Manuel emphasized the significance of fortresses as bases for attack and as centers of resistance, but also indicated that the old raiding strategy still had a major part to play. Juan Manuel also emphasized the importance of sowing dissension within enemy ranks, adopting good defensive positions while moving through enemy territory, and using special large lanterns when marching at night. These preoccupations seem to stem from Islamic rather than western European military traditions.

The main thrust of Muslim operations in Iberia was against enemy fortresses and the towns from which Christian armies launched their raids. By and large the Muslim armies of North Africa and al-Andalus relied on superior mobility when compared to the Christians and habitually sent raiders far ahead of their main line of march. In later centuries, of course, the rump state of Granada relied on counter-raiding rather than full-scale invasions of its powerful Christian neighbors.

Most troop types seen in early medieval Christian Iberia were the same as those of al-Andalus, largely consisting of light cavalry armed with javelins and infantry using long spears. The little that is known of Christian Iberian battlefield tactics during this period indicates that cavalry still used the tactic of repeated charges and withdrawals (Sp. turna- fuye) that, once employed by Roman horsemen, had been continued by Arab cavalry, who knew it as karr wa farr. Paradoxically, western European heavy cavalry proved ineffective in the Near East because of their Muslim foes’ increasing ability to use their own relative lightness and notably superior maneuverability to evade such crusader cavalry charges. Nevertheless, heavily armored cavalry modeled upon the even heavier Western knightly horsemen became more widespread in Iberia, at least until the late thirteenth century. There then seems to have been a reversal, with the majority of fourteenth-century Spanish cavalry being lightly armored skirmishers fighting a la jineta (riding on the relatively light horse subsequently known in English as a jennet) as opposed to heavy cavalry fighting a la brida (riding a heavier horse, using a bridôn, “snaffle,” and a deeper saddle and with a straight-legged riding position). Clearly they were under military influence from Granada or North Africa.

As the frontiers of al-Andalus collapsed in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, there was a growth in the importance of small monastery-like ribāts: this term perhaps originally meant a group of religiously motivated frontier or coastal defenders, but now also referred to the small fortification in which they served. From such positions religiously motivated volunteers conducted small-scale counter-raids. Despite their Arabic name of al-Murābitūn (“those organized into ribāts”), the early Almoravid armies of the western Sahara and Morocco did not emerge from the same circumstances. During the eleventh century, they were largely infantry, including many camel-riding mounted infantry, whose animals were at first said to have terrified Spanish cavalry horses. In battle, North African and Andalusian armies traditionally relied on an infantry phalanx; cavalry made repeated charges and withdrawals, while also being expected to overthrow an exhausted enemy. The early Almoravids, who had few cavalry, introduced significant changes by relying on absolute discipline, neither advancing nor retreating but expecting their enemies to break against their own static formations.

During the late twelfth and thirteenth centuries, an elite of Muslim Andalusian cavalrymen were equipped much like their Christian opponents, perhaps because traditional military systems were failing and Andalusians now tried to adopt Christian cavalry styles. These even included the couched lance, as well as the deep saddle and a long-legged riding position. In the mid-fourteenth century, however, the horsemen of Granada abandoned Western fashions and largely adopted Berber-style weapons and harness, including lighter swords, leather shields, and heavy javelins. The only major difference between the armies of Granada and those of Morocco was that the former continued to make considerable use of crossbows, both on foot and on horseback.

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