Child's History of Spain - John Bonner

The Conquest

A.D. 711-717

You read in the chapter before the last that, after the battle in which King Roderick lost his life, Tarik swiftly moved forward and captured city after city. Malaga made no resistance, Granada was stormed; against Cordova Tarik sent seven hundred cavalry, who found a breach in the walls, and broke into the place. The Jews, who were numerous, sided with the Moors, and the Christians made but a feeble resistance. So the city fell, the governor and bishop fled for refuge to a convent, where they stood a three months' siege, and the Jewish rabbi was set in their place.

At only one town was any semblance of resistance. This was Orihuela. The Christian commander was one Theodemir. He sallied forth, gave battle to the Moors, and lost his whole army. Returning to the town with a single page, he closed the gates and bade every woman in the place dress in the attire of a man. He placed sticks in their hands to resemble lances, and had each draw her long hair under her chin so that as the Moors approached in the dusk of the evening it resembled a beard. Then he paraded his female army in a long line on the parapet. Surprised at the appearance of troops they had not expected, the Moors halted and camped for the night.

Before they slept Theodemir entered the camp under a flag of truce. Stating that he came on behalf of the commander of the city, he offered to evacuate it next morning, provided the army and the inhabitants were allowed to go out with all their property. If this were denied, they would fight till the last man fell. The Moors accepted the offer.



Next morning they were surprised to observe Theodemir, followed by a single page and a crowd of women, emerge from the gate. They asked him where was his army that was going to fight to the death.

"There," replied Theodemir, patting his page on the head, "is my army."

The Moors admired his stratagem so much that they made him Moorish Governor of Murcia.

On from Orihuela the Moors pushed to Toledo, the Gothic capital. There they expected resistance. But the Jews, who had been so cruelly persecuted there, took up arms and opened the gates; the Christian nobles and churchmen fled to the mountains, and Tarik found himself in possession of the most splendid and the strongest city of Spain without striking a blow. It was there that Musa, who bad stopped on his way to capture Seville, rejoined his disobedient lieutenant and disgraced him, as you read in the third chapter of this Child's History.

From that time all Southern Spain, from the Guadarrama Mountains to the Cape of Gibraltar, fell under Moorish control. Here and there a band of Christians, under a darČing leader, would rise against the invaders, but after a few skirmishes the uprising would be quelled. The Moors held all of Andalusia, with the fertile valleys of the Guadalquivir and the Guadiana, and the fine cities of Cadiz, Malaga, Granada, Seville, and Cordova; all the country afterwards known as New Castile, with the valley of the Tagus and the cities of Toledo and Madrid; all of Murcia, Aragon, and Catalonia, with the valley of the Ebro, and the towns of Carthagena, Valencia, and Barcelona. The Christians were driven back into the northern provinces of Galicia, the Asturias, Leon, Old Castile, and Navarre—a region which was cold, bleak, and broken. All of Spain that was worth having belonged to the Moors.

I must say that in the beginning they governed it well. They laid a poll-tax on Christians and Jews, but afterwards both were placed on the same footing as Moslems. The Christians had their own churches. Their priests and their bishops, their magistrates and their judges were of their own choosing. The land-tax was the same for Moslem, Christian, and Jew. Every man, whatever his religion, could own his land and sell it. Under the Gothic rule the Christians had owned large numbers of slaves, some of whom were sold with the farms on which they worked, and could not be separated from them. The Moslem faith did not approve of slavery. Any Spanish slave could obtain his freedom by going before a magistrate and saying, with his right hand uplifted,

"There is no God but God, and Mahomet is his prophet."

I am not surprised to learn that conversions among the slaves were frequent.

But the splendid victory of the Moors did not benefit those who had planned it and carried it out. Tarik, with the sting of Musa's whip still tingling on his cheek, sent trusty messengers to the Caliph at Damascus to complain of tithe treatment he had endured. The Caliph ordered Musa to repair to Damascus forthwith, to justify himself, if he could. He went, laden with treasures. Scores of wagons, filled with gold and silver ornaments; four hundred Gothic nobles forming his body guard, and several thousand male and female slaves of matchless beauty followed him to the city of the Caliph. He fancied that he could buy his grace; but the Caliph saw in the conqueror of Spain a dangerous rival.

Musa was heard, and bidden to await his sentence. Meanwhile trusty officers were sent to Spain with a message for Musa's son, Abdelaziz. They found him at the palace at Cordova, struck him down, cut off his head, embalmed it, and bore it to Damascus. Next day Musa was sent for, and shown his son's head.

"Dost thou recognize him?"

"I do," said the father. "He was innocent, and I invoke God's curse on his assassin."

He was an old man. His head, which was snow-white, he dyed, after the fashion of his times, with a red powder. In battle he was as fierce and valiant as he had been in his youth. But at the sight of the head of his dearly loved son he broke down and buried his face in his robe. The Caliph was not moved by his grief. He sentenced him to pay a fine which took everything he had. Then he ordered him to go in exile to Mecca. There he died of a broken heart.

Nor did his enemy Tarik meet a much better fate. He, too, was ordered to Damascus to give an account of Iris doings in Spain. He was acquitted of wrong, and as a mark of favor was allowed to become one of the Caliph's slaves in the palace.

After Musa several Moorish governors, some appointed by the Caliph, others selected by their tribes, ruled over Spain. The news of the wealth of the new Moslem province drew to it Moslems from far and wide. Bodies of fighting men from Syria, from Egypt, from Damascus, from North Africa poured into Spain and fought with each other for the rich valleys. In their fights governor after governor was killed. None of them claimed to rule the whole country; the authority of many did not extend beyond a bowshot from the castle where they lived.

About the only one who deserves your attention was named Abderrahman. He led an army of Moors into France in 730, and captured cities and spoil. He had planned the conquest of the country to the shore of the Baltic, and resolved that he would not rest till there was not a ChrisČtian left in Western or Southern Europe. Unluckily for him, when he got as far as the valley of the Loire, in France, in 732, he ran against an army of Franks and Gauls, under the command of Charles Martel or Charles the Hammer. Where the two armies met is not now exactly known. It was somewhere near Tours. But wherever it was, Charles the Hammer hammered the Moors with such tremendous blows, and so many other stalwart Franks and Gauls hammered after him, that when the sun went down the followers of Mahomet were flying in all directions, and when the sun rose again nothing was to be seen of them anywhere. Abderrahman was killed in the battle, and his Moors made the best of their way back again to Spain, having concluded to postpone the destruction of Christianity till a more convenient season.

Forty-five years afterwards the grandson of Charles the Hammer, who is known in history as Charlemagne, undertook to avenge the Moorish invasion of France by a Frank invasion of Spain. He crossed the Pyrenees in 777, there expecting to find allies among the Moors who were fighting among themselves. But bitterly as the Moorish chiefs bated each other, they bated the Christian Franks more bitterly, and Charlemagne was disappointed in their aid. He did not stop to give battle but faced north and recrossed the mountains; there, in the pass of Roncesvalles, his rear guard fell into an ambuscade, and was cut off to a man. It is, said that thirty thousand were destroyed by rocks and darts and arrows, which the Spaniards poured upon them from the mountain heights as they wound through the defile beneath.

The Spaniards who planned this ambuscade and destroyed the Franks were largely from the province of Leon, and were probably not Moors. They fought simply for their country. They have an old legend which says:

"With three thousand men of Leon,

From the city Bernard goes,

To protect the Spanish soil

From the spear of Frankish foes;

From the city which is planted

In the midst between the seas,

To preserve the name and glory

Of old Pelayo's victories.

At least King Charles, if God decrees

He must be lord of Spain,

Shall witness that the Leonese

Were not aroused in vain;

He shall bear witness that we died

As lived our sires of old

Not only of Numantian pride

Shall minstrel tale be told."

You will not read of another invasion of Spain by the French till near the close of this history.

At the fountain, Cordova.