“El Cid” (Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar)
The greatest hero of the Spanish Reconquista was born in Vivar, a small town near Burgos. Son of a minor landowner, Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar grew up in the court of King Ferdinand I of the Christian king¬ dom of Castile. Spain was divided between several Christian kingdoms and the Moorish (Spanish Moslem) caliphate of Cordoba. The Moors had invaded Spain in A.D. 711 under the leadership of Tariq ibn Ziyad (see no.
17), and a religious war between the Moslems and Christians had flared in Spain ever since Diaz grew up as a ward of Sancho, the eldest son of King Ferdinand. Upon Ferdinand’s death in 1065, his territories were divided among his three sons: Sancho received Castile, Alfonso took Leon, and Garcia received Galicia. Serving under Sancho, Diaz became the foremost knight in Castile; he was now called “El Cid” (ell-SID; sidi is Arabic for lord).
Sancho and El Cid expanded their hold¬ ings on the eastern section of Castile and then turned against the two younger brothers. By 1071 they had defeated Garcia, and Alfonso had been exiled. Their triumph was short¬ lived. Sancho was assassinated during the siege of Moslem Zamora, and Alfonso returned from exile to claim the thrones of Leon and Castile as Alfonso VI. El Cid had no choice but to become a leading knight in the forces of his former enemy.
For the next nine years, El Cid remained at court, surrounded by knights who had been his former foes. In 1081, he angered the king by capturing Garcia Ordonez, one of Alfonso’s favorites. King Alfonso banished El Cid from the kingdom of Castile.
El Cid’s life for the next nine years resem¬ bled that of Robin Flood. Leading a band of perhaps 300 men, he was an outlaw, living in the contested borderlands between the Christian kingdoms and Moslem areas. He offered his services to two Christian princes. After being rejected, he went to the Moslem city of Saragossa and led its forces for two years.
Am invasion of Moslem Spain by the new Almoravid dynasty in 1086 led King Alfonso to reconcile with El Cid. The Moslem city of Valencia revolted against its ruler, al-Kadir, and killed him in 1092. The inhabitants awaited a takeover by a new Moslem leadership, the Almoravids, but El Cid immediately placed the city under siege with his private army. His 20- month siege ended on June 17, 1094, when the starving inhabitants surrendered.
El Cid governed Valencia for the rest of his life. He allowed freedom of worship and con¬ firmed city dwellers in their property owner¬ ship, subject to tribute payments. He turned the great mosque of the city into a Christian church. He repulsed the Almoravid invaders outside on the plain of Cuarte, three miles west of the city in October 1094, and defeat¬ ed them again at the Battle of Bairen in 1097.
The “ Cantar de mio Cid,” one of the great epic poems of the Middle Ages, was written approximately 50 years after El Cid’s death.