Post-classical history


Frontier Crusades 1: Conquest in Spain

To the Damascus scholar al-Sulami in 1105, the recent arrival of the western armies in Syria formed part of a wider Christian attack on Islamic lands. Everywhere encouraged by Muslim disunity, the Franks had conquered Sicily and made extensive conquests in Spain, where they had ‘gained possession of town after town’, before descending on the Near East.1 Al-Sulami’s vision mirrored Urban II’s encouragement for certain Catalan counts to restore the town and church of Tarragona rather than depart for Jerusalem: ‘it is no virtue to rescue Christians from the Saracens in one place, only to expose them to the tyranny and oppression of the Saracens in another’.2 To both, the First Crusade formed part of a larger political struggle between the two religions in which control of territory and lordship stood as a vindication and imperative of faith. While the Muslim concept of umma, the universal community of the faithful, derived from the religion’s earliest days, its rough Christian equivalent, the idea of Christendom, Christianitas, inhabited by a homogeneous Christian people or race (gens), was markedly consolidated by the papal reforms of the eleventh century. This emphasized doctrinal and devotional uniformity. Where opponents were of different faiths, the material could be associated with the transcendent. Configuring frontier conflicts in terms of religious identity allowed the language and institutions of holy war to be applied to frontier wars against Muslim and pagan neighbours.


19. The Spanish Reconquista

This was no new phenomenon in the late eleventh and twelfth centuries. Christian rhetoric had surrounded the wars of Charlemagne against the then pagan Saxons in the eighth century and those against Vikings, Magyars and Saracens in the ninth and tenth centuries. In the eleventh century, certain frontier conflicts became suffused with doctrines of penitential warfare developed by the reformed papacy for the spread (dilatio) as well as defence of Christendom. The dynamic image of an embattled faith challenging enemies on all sides excited the imagination of recruits on the First Crusade. Within half a century, the ideology and formulae of Pope Urban’s Jerusalem war found expression in the campaigns of Christian lords against their non-Christian neighbours throughout the Iberian peninsula and in the Baltic. Nonetheless, despite the obvious analogies, in one central aspect these frontier wars, to which popes applied or locals assumed the privileges of the war of the cross, differed from the eastern crusades. Political exchange along and across Christendom’s immediate frontiers was a constant, regardless of new-fangled ways of justifying violence. Competition for land and resources, conflicts of lordship, culture and religion were inescapable features of Christendom’s borderlands, long predating Urban II’s penitential war. In Spain and the Baltic political expansion and settlement drove the crusades, not, as in the Near East, vice versa. Western Christendom had no frontier with the Muslim Near East except in the collective imaginative empathy of a religious culture fed by endless repetition of Bible stories in preaching, the liturgy and art. No strategic or material interest compelled the presence of western knights in the Judean hills. Easier if not always richer pickings for settlers, colonists and conquerors lay along the contested marches in Spain, Sicily, Pomerania, Prussia, Livonia or even Greece and the Aegean. The presence of western warriors and settlers on these frontiers made some economic and political sense, whereas the western adventures to Palestine, Syria and Egypt are only satisfactorily explicable in terms of a religious mission, however material the means used to achieve and sustain it. German expansion in the Baltic or the integration of Denmark and Sweden into the polity of western Europe were not dependent on crusade ideology and practices, even if they received important support from them. In Spain, conflict between Muslims and Christian rulers long predated the arrival of crusade indulgences. As with the colonization wars in the Baltic, the so-called Reconquest (reconquista) of Spain by Christian powers in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, even where embracing the spiritual, legal and fiscal benefits of the negotium crucis, retained distinct characteristics unmediated by the idea of the crusade.3


The political history of early medieval Spain bore closer similarities with the experience of north Africa, the Levant and the Mediterranean islands than with western Europe north of the Pyrenees. Indeed, it has been argued that the application of crusading formulae to the wars in the peninsula provided a barometer of northern influences and the integration of Spanish society and culture within the norms of Latin Christendom. By the early eighth century, the former Roman province of Hispania was dominated by a Christian Visigothic kingdom based at Toledo, which had emerged two centuries earlier. This Visigothic kingdom was then destroyed by a power that owed nothing either to the Roman or Germanic inheritance. In 711 largely Berber armies led by Arab generals invaded the peninsula, defeating and killing the last Visi-gothic king, Rodrigo, at the battle of the Guadelete (711). Rapidly, the political structure of Spain was transformed. The Visigothic state imploded, to be replaced by a Muslim emirate (756–1031) with its capital at Cordoba, transformed in 929 into an autonomous caliphate, under the descendants of the earlier seventh- and eighth-century Um-mayyad caliphs of the whole Islamic empire. The new rulers asserted their political authority over almost all of the Iberian peninsula, with the exception of the far north beyond the Duero valley, in the Cantabrian mountains and the Basque country. There some enduring Christian lordships coalesced during the century and a half following the Arab invasion. More slowly, the Arab conquest led to the creation of an Islamicized and Arabized culture in the lands they occupied. Berber settlers assumed the orthodoxy of their Muslim Arab commanders and gradually, over many generations, significant numbers of the indigenous Romano-Hispanic population that had not emigrated adopted the customs, language, laws and religion of the conquerors. Although by 900 only about 25 per cent, in 1000, perhaps about 75 per cent of the population of Muslim Spain, al-Andalus, ‘the land of the West’, may have been Muslims.4

This produced neither cultural apartheid nor an Eden of multicultural harmony. As elsewhere under Islamic rulers, Jews and Christians were afforded subordinate status as people of the Book, liable to the habitual poll tax. They lived side by side with Muslim neighbours and adopted the customs and language of their masters, Arabic-speaking Christians being known as Mozarabs. Early medieval Spain under the Ummayyads of Cordoba was a land of diversity as well as convivencia (literally ‘living together’), but not always harmony. Central authority was often patchy, cultural identity frequently confused by conversion, intermarriage and ambition. Claiming Arab ancestry, even if ersatz, was almost a sine qua non for political success under the Cordoba caliphate. The peninsula was crossed by a series of political, social and cultural frontiers to match its intractably divisive physical geography. Such frontiers produced synthesis and contact alongside competition and hostility. The independence of the northern Christian enclaves centred initially around Orviedo in the Asturias largely depended on the early Muslim withdrawal from the region rather than any resilience of their own. Only by the early tenth century had this principality expanded southwards into the wide frontier zone south of the Cantabrian mountains to incorporate a new capital, León, as well as the county of Castile around Burgos and the headwaters of the Ebro. By this time another murkily identifiable lordship had coalesced around Pamplona in the western Pyrenees, later known as Navarre. South-east of Navarre, the valley of the river Aragon, a tributary of the Ebro, also became a focus of power that grew into a separate kingdom in the eleventh century. At the eastern end of the Pyrenees, Catalonia, a political and cultural link with the Christian shores of the Mediterranean and conduit for people and ideas from southern France, had been established by Louis the Pious, Charlemagne’s son, in the early years of the ninth century. Charlemagne’s own attempts to create a Frankish march further south around Zaragoza on the Ebro failed dismally in 778, a campaign made famous by the defeat of its rearguard at Roncevalles.

With the exception of Catalonia, whose counts remained in the orbit of trans-Pyrenean Frankish politics, these tiny Christian principalities remained insular, locked in a close dependency on rivalries between each other and raiding across the long and wide frontier with the caliphate of Cordoba, bandits and rustlers, not warriors of God. The transformation in the Song of Roland of the disastrous massacre of a Frankish regiment by Pyrenean Basques in 778 into an epic contest pitting Christian chivalry against the massed exotic malignity of Spanish and north African Islam owed everything to religious rhetoric, social values, cultural experiences and imaginative constructions north of the Pyrenees. The development of the Song of Roland, its earliest written version only surviving from the early twelfth century, after the First Crusade, in no way reflected Iberian realities. However, the idea of the immediate Iberian military frontier with Islam played its part in the formation of Urban II’s world-view. In the second half of the eleventh century, Spanish frontier wars attracted recruits from southern France and, possibly, even papal indulgences a generation before the Council of Clermont, signs, at the least, of greater interest from outside the region. When and how far these wars of survival, profit and conquest were regarded by those engaged in them as possessing any transcendent religious purpose or spiritual value remains both unclear and controversial.

Most national identities rest in part on a series of shared pseudo-historical myths. Christian Spain, that of Ferdinand and Isabella, Philip II or General Franco, defined itself in the context of the Recon-quest from the Moors (literally people from the old Roman province of Mauretania, i.e. Berbers from what are now coastal Morocco and Algeria), a process begun with the eighth-century Asturian resistance to the Muslim conquerors and finding its culmination in the capture of Granada in 1492. This construct gave shape to an otherwise messy political history; it explained and justified the elements of religious, even racial exclusivity in early modern and modern Spanish culture; it provided a link between late medieval Christian rule and its remote Visigothic predecessor; and it lent to Spanish history the aura of providential destiny. Holy war operated at the centre of the Reconquest myth. The leading patron saint of Spain, St James, became an archetype of holy warrior. In war as in peace, church marched in militant step with state. It was no coincidence that Spanish bula de la cruzada, papally sanctioned grants of spiritual privileges in return for cash payments to secular or ecclesiastical authorities, a direct legacy of medieval crusade instruments, resisted many attempts at their abolition from the sixteenth century onwards. Only with the Second Vatican Council (1962–5) were these crusading remnants finally laid to rest.5

However closely associated, the Reconquest and crusading were not synonyms. The conquest of Muslim Spain by Christian princes was a long political process; regarding it as a re-conquest, a state of mind. A crusade was an event, Spanish crusades punctuating the larger narrative of conquest and settlement. Crusaders conquered but if subsequently they settled in these newly acquired lands, they did so not as crusaders per se. Frontier settlements may have been established by warriors of the cross but they were not ‘crusading communities’, with the possible exception of those areas and castles controlled by the military orders. Some historians have designated certain regions in terms of the ideology of conquest, as in the thirteenth-century ‘Crusader Kingdom of Valencia’.6This may appear something of a misnomer. The ideology of penitential warfare lent an edge to pre-existing reconquest mentalities, but it is notable that the development of communal and religious intolerance and the rise of a new biological racism that marked the persecution of Jews, Muslims and Muslim converts (moriscos) in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries post-dated the period when crusades were a regular feature of Iberian politics.

Early versions of the Reconquest myth emerged among propagandists associated with the royal court of the Asturias in the late ninth century. Their object lay in asserting a legitimate continuity for Asturian kingship from the Visigothic past, the purging of the former sins that had lost Spain to Christendom and the providential mission to restore Christian rule and liberty to the peninsula. Ninth-century concerns fashioned accounts of the creation of the Asturian kingdom by a King Pelayo, ostensibly of Visigothic royal blood, after a victory over the Moors in 722. In this triumph against the odds, so the myth insisted, the inevitable recovery of Christian Spain was born. Although such claims were fictive, this fashioning of perceptions established important and lasting traditions. Wars of defence and conquest against the Moors were projected as possessing a fundamental religious purpose, the salvation (salus) of Spain.7 Aggression, portrayed as recapturing territory lost by Visigothic predecessors, was intrinsically just. The struggle with Muslim neighbours became elevated into a sort of Manichaean contest of religions and cultures which bore very little actual relation to the nature of frontier competition and exchange, still less to the continuous internecine conflicts between the Christian lordlings of the north. As elsewhere in western Europe, the church, its bishops and its saints became intensely involved in promoting political identity. The permanent presence of the infidel aided the development of religious warfare, in ways parallel to contemporary war rhetoric in Alfredian Wessex or late Carolingian Francia. Religious symbolism and church liturgy had long been incorporated into the rituals of war. There was an elaborate liturgy blessing a departing warrior king in the Visigothic Liber ordinum, and it is possiblethat the tradition of bearing into battle a cross, or a relic of the True Cross, survived in the Christian kingdoms.8

However, warfare framed by religious language is hardly the same as a self-conscious religiously backed Reconquest or even religious war. Religious approval of war was a commonplace to inspire loyalty, establish united purpose, salve consciences and assuage doubts on both sides of the Iberian frontier. The great Cordoban vizier al-Mansur (i.e. ‘the Victorious’, 976–1002) attacked churches and monasteries during his devastating raids into Christian territory (985–1102), in which he plundered from Barcelona and Pamplona to León, the Duero valley and Coimbra. In 997, he carried off the bells of the basilica of St James at Compostela to adorn the mosque at Cordoba. Al-Mansur made a public virtue of his piety, allegedly carrying his own autograph fair copy of the Koran on campaigns, which he publicized as jihad. This did not prevent him from employing Christians as mercenaries and guides or being remembered by his own people as ‘our provider of slaves’.9 All Iberian rulers conducted aggressive warfare for profit. Although by 1000 much of this was conducted across the frontier region around the Duero valley stretching north-east towards the Upper Ebro and the foothills of the Pyrenees, there existed many petty frontiers in early eleventh-century Iberia, those caused by religion only the most obvious. The political authority and material resources of the Cordoban caliphate rather than its religious complexion made it a threat and a target for its Christian neighbours. Competition for resources and power pitted Christian against Christian and induced political alliances across religious divides. This was not how it looked to later observers and some foreign contemporaries, such as the Burgundian monk Ralph Glaber (c.980–1046), who wrote of resistance to al-Mansur in terms of faith and heavenly reward.10However, recourse to the encouragement of religion in an idealized vision of a conflict of faiths ignored the realities of eleventh-century Spain.

Politics and cash, not religion, provided the impetus for the Reconquest. The collapse of the Cordoban caliphate through internecine feuding in the generation leading to its extinction in 1031 and its replacement by a patchwork of so-called taifa or ‘party’ kingdoms provided Christian rulers with a chance to intervene in affairs of the south, a reversal of the politics of al-Mansur’s time. Muslim Spain was transformed into competing principalities, many no stronger, some weaker than their Christian counterparts: Badajoz, Seville, Granada, Malaga, Toledo, Murcia, Valencia, Denia, Zaragoza, Lerida and the Balearic Islands. Strong Christian rulers, such as Ferdinand I of León-Castile, his son, Alfonso VI, and Ramon Berenguer I count of Barcelona (1035–76), exploited these divisions by establishing a network of proprietorial protection rackets. Formal treaties were drawn up under which the Christian ruler would agree to defend his taifa client in return for vast quantities of the key commodity that fuelled these relationships, gold. Although the material weakness of taifa emirs allowed for territorial expansion, such as Ferdinand I’s annexation of Coimbra in 1064, intense competition revolved around taifa gold through annual tributes, or protection money, known as parias. Historically, the prosperous urban economy of al-Andalus had been rich in gold that came from the west African Gold Coast across the Sahara to the Mediterranean. Now the Christian kings managed to harness this wealth for themselves. By the 1060s, Ferdinand I, for example, enjoyed parias from Zaragoza, Toledo and Badajoz. Control over Zaragoza had been contested between León-Castile, Navarre and Barcelona. On Ferdinand’s death, it passed briefly to Sancho IV of Navarre. Al-Andalus became the milch-cow for Christian assertiveness. The wider circulation of large quantities of gold, in the rest of western Europe a very scarce commodity, funded the consolidation of royal power, the formation of stable states and the expansion of Christian frontiers. As well as enriching those in military, religious, civilian or commercial royal service, the influx of gold to the Christian realms attracted interest from beyond the Pyrenees, both military adventurers and diplomatic allies. In that indirect fashion, the parias system contributed to opening Spain to ideas of holy war increasingly fashionable north of the Pyrenees.11

Religion was no determinant in these arrangements. In his deal with the emir of Zaragoza for the year 1069, Sancho IV of Navarre explicitly agreed not to assist any ‘people from France or elsewhere’ crossing his kingdom to attack Zaragoza or ally with any Christians or Muslims against the emir, with whom the king would be bound ‘in one brotherhood’. For these promises, the emir agreed to pay 1,000 gold pieces a month.12 These deals rightly assumed an inherent instability that allowed entrepreneurial freebooters to sell their swords and armed following to the highest bidder or even to establish themselves as independent rulers. This occurred across the peninsula, making it, for the first time in centuries, a single, if chaotic political system. One Muslim political entrepreneur from the south, Ibn Ammar (1031–84), had won and lost control of Murcia. After years in exile at the court of Zaragoza, he was murdered by his former boss, the emir of Seville, using an axe given by Alfonso VI of León-Castile. The most famous example of a freelance taking advantage of this fluidity of preferment and power was the Castilian nobleman Rodrigo Diaz, El Cid (c.1045–99). A valued general and diplomat under Ferdinand I, after falling out with Alfonso VI, Rodrigo served the emir of Zaragoza (1081–6), becoming rich from his victories over Catalans and Aragonese. After a brief reconciliation with Alfsonso, from 1089 Rodrigo maintained a private army through successful and lucrative campaigning against Christian as well as Muslim rulers in eastern Spain before establishing his own independent taifa lordship at Valencia (1094–9), which survived until 1102.13 Such were the opportunities of political instability.

These opportunities stimulated the ideology of Reconquest, not vice versa. Instead of relying solely on indirect exploitation, racketeers like Alfonso VI, partly to secure their income, looked to run their client states themselves. The strand of Reconquest justification came in useful, particularly, it seems, for Alfonso VI. When gathering parias, his agents talked of the strategy of ultimate recovery of lands that ‘originally belonged to the Christians’. When establishing the new archbishopric at Toledo in 1086, a year after its capture, Alfonso VI talked of restoring the city, after 376 years, ‘under the leadership of Christ… to the devotees of His faith’. Muslim rule was described as usurpation by blasphemers; the conquest of Toledo as a recreation of ‘a holy place’. Sancho I of Aragon echoed this theme, talking of his conquests as ‘the recovery and extension of the Church of Christ’. Both Gregory VII and Urban II, who like many popes of the eleventh and twelfth centuries displayed particular concern for Iberian Christianity, picked up the theme of the liberation of former Christian lands. Toledo, Urban purred, was ‘restored’ by Alfonso VI ‘to the law of the Christians’.14 The Reconquest was not a war of conversion but conquest and, in places, expulsion. Yet, despite the realities of inter-faith political collaboration, the language and symbols of religion came in useful. When Peter I of Aragon attacked Zaragoza in 1101 he was described as bearing a cross (crucifer).15 By then he had a grander model to copy: the expedition to Jerusalem.


While the convenient idea of the just political and religious war of Reconquest may be traced to indigenous peninsula origins, the stimulus to the application of holy war was probably a foreign import. In tune with papal policy elsewhere, Alexander II may have offered ‘knights destined to set out for Spain’ remission of penance and confessed sin in 1063, although the authenticity of his bull has been questioned.16 Whether or not Alexander was suggesting that war against the Moors was itself penitential, a Catalan-Aragonese campaign that briefly occupied Barbastro, north-east of Zaragoza, in 1064–5 attracted troops from Burgundy, Normandy, Aquitaine and possibly Norman Sicily who, in their short occupation of the town, committed the sort of atrocity for which western knights became notorious in the Muslim world. The Barbastro expedition, while hardly meriting the title of a ‘crusade before the crusades’,17 showed increased trans-Pyrenean interest in Spanish affairs. In its wake came harsher attitudes towards Muslims based on ignorance, unfamiliarity and the martial spirituality of the reformed papacy. Spain became something of a testing ground for the Roman church’s claims to leadership of Christendom on two fronts: the imposition of a Roman rather than Mozarab liturgy on the Spanish church and the struggle against Islam. In 1073, Gregory VII characteristically asserted that Spain ‘from ancient times belonged to St Peter’. Despite long occupation by the Moors ‘it belongs even now… to no mortal but solely to the Apostolic see’. Small wonder four years later Alfonso VI began to style himself ‘emperor of all Spain’ to retain freedom of action.18 Ecclesiastical interest was supported by the penetration of Cluniac monasticism into northern Spain during the eleventh century. In another sign of quickening religious and cultural transmission across the Pyrenees, in 1064 Ramon Berenguer I of Barcelona promulgated the Peace and Truce of God.

By the 1080s, foreign military participation in the profitable Iberian wars had become familiar, as had the habit of Spanish princes and princesses seeking spouses north of the Pyrenees. In 1068, Sancho I Ramirez of Navarre married the sister of Count Ebles of Roucy, perhaps as part of a deal to attract the count’s military support against the taifa kings, a scheme still being promoted by the papacy five years later. Alfonso VI managed five wives over an extended and complicated marital career: a daughter of the duke of Aquitaine (William VIII, a veteran of the Barbastro campaign, 1064–5), a sister of the duke of Burgundy as well as two further Frenchwomen and an Italian. His daughters’ husbands (he had no legitimate surviving sons) included two close members of the ducal house of Burgundy and Roger II of Sicily. Of his illegitimate daughters, one married Raymond IV of Toulouse, veteran of Spanish wars and a leader of the First Crusade, another the nephew of the duke of Burgundy. Dynastically, León-Castile had entered the family of western European rulers, even if domestically Alfonso retained local tastes; one of his mistresses, Zaida, was the daughter-in-law of the emir of Seville.19

Two events transformed the redefinition of the Reconquest apparent in some later eleventh-century texts into a tradition of holy war; the invasion of Spain by the Moroccan fundamentalist Almoravids and the development of the papal policy of penitential war that led to the First Crusade. From their original base on the fringes of the Sahara, by the early 1080s the Almoravids, a sect of austere Islamic fundamentalists, had conquered Morocco. Representing a very different cultural perspective than the Arabic Mediterranean sophistication of the rulers of al-Andalus, the Almoravids combined the fanaticism of converts with the militancy of outsiders. They were the al-Murabitun, ‘people of the ribat’, armed monasteries on the frontiers of Islam, who imposed strict observance on their followers, subjects and neighbours by force of piety and arms. Religion lay at the heart of their aggressive politics. By the mid-1080s they were ready to extend their authority across the Straits of Gibraltar into al-Andalus whether the local Muslim rulers welcomed them or, as was almost universally the case, not. The Almoravids regarded what they saw as the corrupt decadence of the taifa kings with as much contempt as they despised the Christian infidels. In return, the emirs of al-Andalus no less than their Christian neighbours and partners saw the Moroccan invaders as threatening their power and the whole mutually beneficial political system. However, with the pressure growing from the north, in the aftermath of Alfonso VI’s capture of Toledo in 1085, the taifa emirs, led by Seville, had little option but to invite Almoravid aid. The invasion, led by Yusuf Ibn Tashfin, led to the defeat of Alfonso at Sagrajas in 1086. Over the next quarter of a century, by force, coercion and diplomacy, the Almoravids absorbed remaining taifa emirates into their empire, the last, Zaragoza, falling in 1110. The adoption of a newly aggressive idea of Christian holy war came in direct response to this new threat to territory and the cosy system of parias. However, despite official ecclesiastical pronouncements, this was not perceived as a simple blanket religious conflict. Twelfth-century Christian Spanish writers repeatedly drew the distinction between the Muslims of al-Andalus, sometimes called ‘Hagarenes’, with whom business could be done, and the alien invaders, referred to as ‘Moabites’, with whom it could not.20

Into this new political situation arrived foreign soldiers with the ideology and institutions of penitential warfare. In 1089, perhaps in response to news of the Almoravid invasion of that year, Urban II offered the same remission of sins to those who helped rebuild the city and church of Tarragona as that granted to those on penitential pilgrimage to Jerusalem, an offer repeated in 1091. Contributing to the defence of Tarragona, over the border on the coast fifty miles south of Barcelona, constituted a penance, as the city was intended as a ‘wall and bastion (literally ‘ante-mural’) against the Saracens for the Christian people’.21 Such mingling of defensive religious just war and remission of sins defined by analogy with the extreme penance of the Jerusalem pilgrimage showed how papal ideas were moving. The launch of the First Crusade did not deflect Urban from support of the Tarragona enterprise. He tried to insist that local counts should not fulfil their Jerusalem vow in the east but fight the Muslims nearer home. This hope was not entirely successful. There is little evidence that the cause of Tarragona proved popular but rather more for Spanish involvement in the Jerusalem campaign itself. However, the success of the First Crusade had its impact on Spain as elsewhere. Peter I of Aragon had taken the cross to go to Jerusalem in 1100. A year later, still trying to annexe Zaragoza, he displayed banners of the cross at the siege of the city and built a castle to intimidate the citizens nicknamed ‘Juslibol’, i.e. ‘God Wills It’, the slogan of Clermont.22

The incorporation of the formal apparatus of crusading – bull, indulgence, temporal privileges, cross – sprang from the wider, older association of Christian conquest and religious war. The past, as revealed by twelfth-century accounts of earlier campaigns against the Moors, was reconfigured to include holy war. From c.1115, the patronal saint, James the Apostle, began to be referred to as a ‘knight of Christ’, apparently shocking a visiting Greek, a story that suggested the novelty of the saint’s new role.23 Other saints, such as George in Aragon and Catalonia, and even, bizarrely, the seventh-century scholar Isidore of Seville, popular in León, were recruited to the providential mission of reconquest, as was the cult of the Virgin Mary. These local or adopted celestial allies outflanked papal arguments promoting St Peter as the peninsula’s proprietary saint. There were other limits to the acceptance of the crusade. Twelfth-century writers close to the action continued to chronicle the non-violent interaction between Christian and al-Andalus Muslims. Even the early thirteenth-century epic on Rodrigo Diaz, the Poema de Mio Cid (The Poem of the Cid) admits to the hero’s friendship with Muslims and catalogues the deficiencies of Rodrigo’s Christian associates as much as those of the Moors. As with the Historia Roderici of a century before, this is hardly ‘crusading’ literature.24 Despite the trickle of papal bulls from the early decades of the twelfth century, holy war was grafted on to the Spanish conflicts only gradually and, from an Iberian perspective, incompletely. Not all subsequent wars against Muslims were crusades. Crusading did not, as often in the eastern Mediterranean, set the military and political agenda but followed it, shaping mentalities, not strategy. The association of holiness to defence and conquest paid practical dividends, in the use of military orders in front-line settlements as well on campaign, or in the access to ecclesiastical and lay taxation. However, Iberian Muslims rarely attracted from Iberian Christians the consistent demonization concocted by western rhetoric far from the crusade frontier. Spanish convivencia, while never the Edenic state of multicultural harmony some have imagined, precluded the worst excesses of religious hatred in the contest for supremacy that rumbled and spat for a century and half after the First Crusade. The tainted legacy of entrenched intolerance and the racist persecution and expulsion of non-Catholic Spaniards belonged more to the period after the effective completion of the Reconquest, Granada excepted, in the mid-thirteenth century than to the previous period of active crusading.25 Nonetheless, crusade stereotypes did influence the creation of Spanish Catholic exceptionalism in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, providing a justification for internal discrimination with an abiding external incentive, the recovery of Jerusalem. The self-image of warriors of Christ, specially favoured and specially commissioned, that permeated Spanish official culture by 1500 was thus an indirect product of the historical Reconquest crusade experience.26


By analogy, the First Crusade lent definition to the application of holy war to the Spanish Reconquest. While remissions of sins were attached to various Spanish campaigns by Paschal II, the full panoply including cross-giving was applied to the ephemerally successful Pisan-Catalan-southern French assault on the Balearic Islands in 1113–14, and possibly to the unrealized attack on Tortosa planned in 1115. The successful siege of Zaragoza by Alfonso I of Aragon in 1118 drew a papal indulgence for those who died or, in the tradition of Urban II’s Tarragona appeal of 1089, contributed to the establishment of the city’s new church and clergy. The consistent papal line was that the Spanish war against Islam was as useful and therefore as meritorious as the wars for the Holy Land, even in the absence of equivalent symbols and privileges. The First Lateran Council of 1123, summoned by Calixtus II, a former papal legate to Spain, confirmed the equation by lumping together those who had taken the cross for Jerusalem and Spain (Canon XI).27At the same time, Calixtus granted to crucesignati in Spain ‘the same remission of sins that we conceded to the defenders of the eastern church’ for an expedition planned in Catalonia under the legates of the archbishop of Tarragona.28 On the other side of the peninsula, in 1125, Archbishop Diego Gelmirez of Santiago took up the linguistic and theological association in a grandiose scheme apparently aimed at reaching Jerusalem via north Africa: ‘let us become soldiers of Christ… taking up arms… for the remission of sins’.29 However, as with the papal plan for a general crusade in Spain in 1123, the archbishop’s ambition proved stillborn. In general, crusading apparatus was most effective when it fitted existing plans rather than of itself stimulating action in the manner of many eastern Mediterranean campaigns. It is notable how regularly papal crusade grants came in response to requests from local Iberian rulers. Perhaps of greater significance than the operation of the formal paraphernalia of the Jerusalem holy war in Spain was its influence on aspirations. Increasingly, wars in Spain were regarded by their promoters in terms of the wider conflict defined by the Jerusalem war. This redefinition was neither universal nor constant. Yet its penetration was evident in Leonese and Castilian chronicles and, most startlingly, in the 1131 testamentary arrangements of Alfonso I of Aragon-Navarre (d. 1134), who left his kingdom jointly to the Templars, Hospitallers and the Canons of the Holy Sepulchre. Ten years before his death Alfonso had attempted to found a militia Christi, modelled on the Templars, entrusted with the task of fighting all Muslims and, in the fashion of Archbishop Gelmirez, cutting a new path to Jerusalem.30

The experience of the late 1140s emphasized how Iberian holy war was influenced by local demands coinciding with grander crusading designs, in this case the Second Crusade. In 1146, the Genoese had attacked the port of Almeria on the southern coast of Granada, an expedition described by contemporaries in wholly secular terms. The following year, in alliance with Alfonso VII of Castile, a renewed Genoese attack had been elevated into a holy war, complete with remission of sins. Alfonso attracted allies to join the venture with promises of ‘redemption of souls’ before he obtained from Eugenius III retrospective confirmation of the status of the new attack on Almeria in the bull Divina dispensatione (April 1147).31 Almeria fell to the Christians in October 1147. In conception and execution, the Almeria campaign had no direct connection with the larger eastern expedition beyond the availability of crusade privileges. In 1148, a further papal grant of crusader indulgences ‘which Pope Urban established for all those going for the liberation of the eastern church’ was applied to the Catalan-Genoese attack on Tortosa at the mouth of the Ebro, which fell after a five-month siege in December 1148.32 Among others, the Tortosa campaign recruited veterans from Almeria and the successful siege of Lisbon (July–October 1147). However, it is notable that, unlike the Aragonese and Catalan ventures of 1147–8, the Lisbon enterprise seems not to have elicited an explicit, separate papal crusade bull, the Portuguese invitation to the Holy Land crusaders, however long contemplated, appearing by comparison rather more opportunist.

The failure of the Second Crusade in the east dampened papal and probably popular enthusiasm for crusading holy war. However, local conditions, in Spain as in the Baltic, encouraged continued identification of secular conflict with religious war. This was lent added force by a new threat to Christian gains from the Almohads, al-Muwahhidun, the ‘Upholders of the Divine Unity’. These fundamentalist unitarians, originating like the Almoravids in southern Morocco, sought to purge the increasingly corrupt Almoravid regime and restore to the Maghrib and al-Andalus the spiritual purity and intensity of early Islam. The Almoravids had emphasized legalistic rules and operated a very loose theocratic regime even before they declined from their initial austerity. The Almohads, under their founder Muhammed Ibn Tumart (declared the mahdi by his followers in 1121, d. 1130) and his successor ‘Abd al-Mu ‘min (1130–63) destroyed Almoravid power in the Mahgrib and, from 1146, began to infiltrate across the Straits into Spain. (They founded a town at Gibraltar in 1159.) While initially a threat chiefly to the emirs, who had regained a measure of autonomy as the authority of the Almoravids had decayed from the 1120s, soon the Christian rulers felt the force of this new power. By 1173, mainland al-Andalus had been annexed by the Almohads under Yusuf I (1163–84). In the next quarter of a century, the Almohads reversed many of the Christian advances of the previous generations. In 1195 they defeated Alfonso VIII of Castile at Alarcos on the river Guadiana and proceeded to raid into the Tagus valley. Yet, even here, the complexity of Spanish politics overlay any religious conflict. At least one disaffected Castilian noble fought for the Almohads at Alarcos and in 1196 led a Muslim regiment in the army of Alfonso IX of León which invaded Castile.33 The Almohad advance served only to add another potential ally for the warring Christian kings. In an attempt to impose Christian unity, in 1197 the nonagenarian pope, Celestine III, was even induced to authorize the full eastern crusading privileges for those who fought against the renegade Alfonso IX.34 Only in gilded memory was the Spanish crusade a simple religious war.

Celestine III’s use of the crusade against the Christian Alfonso IX, although eliciting little obvious response, demonstrated how far the mechanics of the Jerusalem war had come to dominate church-sanctioned violence. In 1166, a church council at Segovia had proposed Jerusalem indulgences for those who defended Castile from invasion. By the early thirteenth century, crusade privileges became a regular, accepted element in church warfare. However, Celestine had a more personal concern with Iberian politics. As Cardinal Hyacinth he had twice been on legatine missions to the peninsula, in 1154–5 and 1172–3. On each occasion he had promoted the Reconquest as a crusade, an association he revived during his pontificate, when he sent his nephew, Gregory of Sant’ Angelo, as legate to Spain.35 While Celestine’s commitment exposed the contrast between the rhetoric of holy war and the reality of secular politics, his long career witnessed the consolidation of a crusading tradition which, although reflecting both the general absence of crusading between 1149 and 1187 and its revival and extension thereafter, presented distinctive features.

Most obvious was the use of international and local military orders to garrison the frontier regions from southern Aragon to Portugal.36 As recipients of alms, estates, villages and castles, the military orders played a central role in the politics as well as campaigning of the Reconquest, a position reflected in successive rulers’ determination to control them. Each kingdom created its own orders, as well as patronizing the Templars and Hospitallers, who stood as the models for the rest. In the 1140s, these two international orders had begun to be employed in a military capacity as opposed to merely receiving grants of land. Within thirty years, every kingdom except Navarre had established their own orders, while retaining the services of the Temple and Hospital, especially in Aragon and Catalonia. Among the lasting foundations were Calatrava (1158) in Castile; Santiago (1170) and St Julian of Pereiro, later known as Alcantara (by 1176), in León; Evora, later Avis (by 1176), in Portugal. During the same periods a number of more ephemeral orders were established, each, like the more permanent orders, based on frontier castles which, in many cases, gave them their names as well as headquarters. One order, of La Merced (c.1230), was founded in Barcelona to ransom captives of the Moors, a task it shared with the French Order of the Trinity.37 Although the details are often obscure, the initiative to found these orders appears to have come from pious noblemen (or in the case of the Mercedarians a wealthy merchant), with the encouragement and patronage of kings and ecclesiastical hierarchies. The larger orders soon began to resemble the Holy Land military orders in attracting international investment; by 1200 the Order of Santiago held estates from the British Isles to Carinthia. The chronology of foundation, the second half of the twelfth century, suggests that the institutionalization of holy war was not an immediate consequence either of the Reconquest successes of the previous century or of the First Crusade. The presence of these orders influenced the way the Reconquest was pursued, as well as playing a prominent role in national politics and internecine warfare between Christian rulers. However, only when the major conquest in al-Andalus were nearing completion did the Orders of Alcantara (1238) and Calatrava (1240) receive permanent privileges from the pope granting indulgences to any who fought with them against the Moors, creating for them the sort of ‘eternal crusade’ seen later in the thirteenth century, applied to the activities of the Teutonic Knights in the Baltic. Consistently, Spanish crusading, while providing a framework for lay enthusiasm and, in the military orders, institutions for maintaining conquests, remained secondary or complementary to secular considerations and an older association of Christian conquest with religious war.

Another characteristic of Spanish crusading lay in the two distinct audiences courted by papal grants. Within the peninsula, crusading privileges merely underpinned the pre-existing sense of mission and righteousness involved in fighting armies of infidels and winning land ostensibly for Christianity. It is difficult to gauge the autonomous effect of such appeals on recruits. The wars would have been fought in any case, their cause identified as religious and just. Raising armies followed secular patterns of military obligations and clientage. Troops were summoned as to any other war, their terms of service, chronological and financial, being the same as for secular or non-crusading warfare. Pay or shares in booty held the armies together. The church may have felt more obliged to contribute to crusading ventures as it stood to gain new bishoprics and lands. Crusade privileges, especially those contained in general appeals of the kind instituted by Calixtus II in 1123, were also designed to attract foreign assistance, the crusade as an international recruiting device constituting one of its chief roles in the Spanish Reconquest. Certain areas, such as southern France, were also specifically targeted. There were exceptions, as in 1189–90 and 1217, when crusaders en route to the eastern Mediterranean assisted locals rulers in new conquests along the southern coastline of the peninsula on the pattern familiar from 1147–8. Even so, the significance of cross-Pyrenean aid was largely limited to the period up to the greatest Reconquest victory at Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212. Thereafter, although foreigners continued to campaign in the peninsula and to settle in new conquests such as Seville (conquered in 1248), the crusades were increasingly overt adjuncts to national territorial expansion and internal state building. The failure of successive rulers in Catalonia and Languedoc to create a unified kingdom stretching from the Ebro to the Rhône compounded this patriation of the Spanish crusade.

The Las Navas de Tolosa campaign was instrumental in this process. The battle of 16 July 1212 was won by a coalition of Spanish kings, Alfonso VIII of Castile, Peter II of Aragon, and Sancho VII of Navarre. Although a few northern allies under Archbishop Arnaud Amaury of Narbonne remained in the Christian army for the battle, the bulk of the French recruits had deserted the campaign a fortnight earlier, disappointed at the lack of action or booty and oppressed by the summer heat, while the duke of Austria had not yet arrived. The victory over al-Nasir (1199–1214) and his large Almohad force could thus be proclaimed as a specifically Spanish achievement and fitted into a providential narrative of Spanish revenge for the ‘Spanish’ defeat of 711. Although surrounded by the panoply of crusading, the campaign relied on the secular resources of Castile. Alfonso VIII bankrolled the whole enterprise, paying for the bulk of the coalition troops, including stipends for Peter II and his Aragonese army, and providing the unreliable French with horses. To allow him to do this, Alfonso had extracted a massive forced aid of 50 per cent of annual revenues from the Castilian church. The muster had been fixed at Castilian Toledo for Pentecost 1212. The consequences of the Las Navas campaign were profound, if equivocal. The Reconquest’s association with crusading institutions failed to disguise the dependence for success on the national strength of, in particular, Castile, re-emphasized following the death during the Albigensian crusade at Muret in 1213 of Peter II, a crusader killed by crusaders. The victory of Las Navas opened Andalucia to Castilian aggression. It fatally undermined Almohad prestige and power both in Spain and Morocco, where a demoralized al-Nasir died in 1214. The financial precedent exerted possibly the most direct material influence as successive Iberian monarchs exploited the church to fund their wars, in particular appropriating a third of ecclesiastical tithe income (tercias) as well as attempting to syphon off clerical taxation designed to help the Holy Land. Combined with a range of extraordinary lay levies and forced loans, the needs of the Reconquest materially strengthened the fiscal and hence political power of the state in thirteenth-century Iberia, a lasting legacy of the expedients that won the triumph at Las Navas.38

Within forty years, all that remained of Muslim al-Andalus politically was the emirate of Granada, reduced to a Castilian tributary. As the disintegrating Almohad empire fell with accelerating rapidity into Christian hands, crusading in Spain adopted a settled local flavour. There were no more Muslim counter-attacks to excite the fear of all western Christendom. When the kingdom of Navarre devolved on to Theobald IV count of Champagne (1201–53) in 1234, its new French ruler preferred to take the cross for the Holy Land, not Andalucia. The great warrior kings of the thirteenth century, Ferdinand III of Castile (and of León from 1230) and James I, ‘the Conqueror’ of Aragon, rolled back the Muslim frontier self-consciously in the name of God. Each flirted with carrying the fight beyond the peninsula, to Africa or Palestine. Yet neither found the commitment that led their contemporary Louis IX of France to the Nile (1249–50), even though, as Christendom’s elder statesman, James I sent an Aragonese regiment east in 1269 and played a central if hardly positive role in plans for a new eastern crusade in 1274. Some conquests were accompanied by gestures of religious restoration and purification, with a stated goal of extending the Christian faith. When Ferdinand III captured Cordoba in 1236, he returned to the cathedral of St James in Compostela the bells al-Mansur had seized in 997, which had been housed in the Cordoban great mosque ever since. Elsewhere, the siege of Valencia (1238) attracted English and French recruits and Seville (captured 1248), was partly settled by foreign Christians to replace the expelled Muslims. Yet much of the Reconquest involved negotiation and accommodation of the religious, legal and civil liberties of the conquered, as with James I’s annexation of Mallorca (1229) and Valencia (1231–8) and Ferdinand III’s occupation of Murcia in 1243. In the kingdom of Valencia, the majority Muslim population remained, despite James having taken the cross in 1232 to symbolize his religious credentials. The few attempts at conversion amounted to little, although some Muslims apostatized, such as Abu Zayd, the king of Valencia deposed in 1229 and ally of James I. He adopted the Christian name Vincent. In 1245, his son, al-Hasan, by then governor of the Moroccan Atlantic port of Sale, abortively offered to convert and turn his city over to the Order of Santiago as a start to the conversion of the Maghrib.39 In many ways, after the conquests, Muslims and Christians changed roles, the mudejars now becoming the protected second-class citizens. The sound of calls of the muezzin to prayer persisted in some areas for centuries, to the growing annoyance of their Christian neighbours. Although new sacred and secular landscapes and spaces were created, from encouraging Christian immigration and changing Arabic place names to converting mosques into churches, initially, at least, holy war did not impose a holy settlement on the ancient Muslim communities of conquered al-Andalus. Accommodation survived. In regions such as Valencia, non-Christian communities negotiated their own futures, their subordinate status only very slowly succumbing to concerted discrimination. However, the status and rights of the mudejars did deteriorate, until the recrudescence of militant neo-crusading led to the imposition of intolerant and increasingly racist Christian uniformity under the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella of Castile and their heirs Charles V and Philip II. Yet, the expulsions and persecutions of mudejars and moriscos testified to the hold not of the crusading ideals familiar to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, but to a newly configured aggressive militancy that engaged the crusade tradition as well as the Reconquest myth to drive its chariot’s wheels.

With the fall of Seville in 1248, the main thrust of the Reconquest had been completed. Thereafter, and arguably for years before, the crusade in Spain was almost entirely subsumed in the mainstream of Spanish life, distinguishable largely in name only as a separate exercise of religious devotion, military enterprise or financial expedient. The occasional recrudescence of war, such as the campaign against the Marinid invaders from Morocco, which ended with their defeat by Alfonso XI of Castile at the river Salado in 1340, still elicited crusade bulls. The religious mentality crusading fostered and bequeathed to the conquerors was more truly reflected in the fiscal and penitential instruments it had created, such as the bula de la cruzada. These became obstinately cherished elements of Spanish public life, especially in Castile, after the early thirteenth century the only Christian kingdom with a land border with the Moors of Granada. The ideology of crusade and Reconquest, reflected in the continued material prominence of the military orders, induced a providential tinge to the rhetoric of state power and national identity.

Although the decline in active frontier militarism after c.1300 may be traced in the fading of the cult of Santiago before that of the Virgin Mary, the holy war tradition remained available in its crusading wrapping. Despite intimate social and economic exchange across confessional divides in Andalucia, Murcia and Valencia, for the knightly and noble classes and their royal and ecclesiastical sponsors engaged in wars against infidels – Muslim or heathen – in Granada, the Mediterranean, north Africa or the Atlantic, identification with the crusade remained a living cultural force as well as a stereotype. While his captains were observing west Africans outside the straitjacket of crusading aesthetics, the Portuguese prince Henry the Navigator (1394–1460) embraced crusading aspirations and campaigned in north Africa.40 As late as 1578, a Portuguese king, Sebastian, died commanding an international force, armed with indulgences and papal legates, fighting the Moors of Morocco at the battle of Alcazar. The penetration of Latin Christendom into the islands of the eastern Atlantic in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries attracted papal grants for the extension of Christianity.41 The Iberian tradition ensured a sympathetic hearing for the Genoese crusade enthusiast Christopher Columbus. The crusade provided one strand in the conceptual justification for the conquest of the Americas and, more tenuously, in the mentality of the slave trade, which some saw as a vehicle for expanding Christianity. This was made possible by the idea popular by c.1500 that Spain itself constituted a Holy Land, its Christian inhabitants new Israelites, tempered and proved in the fire of the Reconquest, champions of God’s cause against infidels outside Christendom or heretics within.42

In the later fifteenth century, a revival of the crusading mission, with papal bulls for the war against Granada in 1485, depended as heavily on this recasting of, in particular, Castile, as itself a new Holy Land with a providential task as it did on genuine Aragonese and Castilian crusading traditions. The fall of Granada in 1492 and persistent attempts in the sixteenth century to conquer the coast of Morocco and Tunisia breathed new life into the myth of the Reconquest and the manifest destiny of Catholic Spain. Domestically, this was turned to justify the expulsions of Moors, Jews and moriscos and underpinned the development of an openly exclusive and racist sectarian society. Externally, the appropriation of crusading into the projection of national identity informed the creation of the Spanish empire, sometimes with bizarre consequences. In faraway central America, local allies of the conquistadors at Tlaxcala, a city state east of Mexico, marked the treaty of Aigues Mortes between Charles V and the French king Francis I in 1538 with a lavish pageant showing the anticipated conquest of Jerusalem by the king of Spain. On Corpus Christi Day 1539, in the presence of the consecrated host, a lavish display included two Christian ‘armies’ laying siege to the Holy City, one comprising Europeans, the other commanded by the Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza, with the Tlaxcalans and other ‘New Spaniards’ in their own war costumes, complete with ‘feathers, devices and shields’. Seemingly, a good time was had by all. A few weeks earlier, the Mexicans to the east had laid on a similar show depicting the Turkish siege of Rhodes.43 Through these traditional images of past and future crusading, New Spain was being assimilated into the culture and faith of the old. The association was not accidental. Peace between the great Christian powers of early sixteenth-century Europe habitually came with hopes of a new holy war against the Turks. For some Spanish propagandists, the duty to defend and extend Christendom had devolved uniquely on to Spain, ‘Mother of the heroes of war, confidant of Catholic soldiers, crucible in which the love of God is purified, land where it is seen that Heaven buries those who to Heaven will be borne as defenders of the purest faith’.44 The words are those of Miguel de Cervantes. The crusade and Reconquest fed a new national messianism that became inextricably bound into Spanish imperial ideology and, more diffusely, into cultural identity. Further in time than Mexico was in space from the medieval battlefields of the cross, but oddly closer in sentiment, the power and longevity of the Spanish crusade myth, and its practical social and political implications, still found mighty confirmation in the twentieth century through its insidious but effective appropriation by General Franco and his fascist apologists.

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