Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar was not called El Campeador (The Champion) or El Cid (The Lord) for no reason. He had excellent military skills, was never beaten in battles, and successfully repelled the Muslims from invading Spain… even as a corpse.

From the moment that Diaz de Vivar was born into a chaotic period in Spanish history in 1043, he was set to do great things. His father was a soldier in the battle at Atapuerco in 1054. Meanwhile, his mother was a niece of the Castilian diplomat. He was raised and received formal schooling in the court of King Ferdinand the Great when his father died. There, he learned how to read and write and was trained as a soldier. When King Ferdinand died, the kingdom was divided between his three sons: Sancho, who got Castile; Alfonso, who received Leon; and Garcia, who was given the region of Galicia. It turned out these brothers were not too fond of each other so they almost immediately went to war with each other with the goal of unifying the crown again under one ruler. First, it was Sancho and Alfonso versus Garcia. When they successfully drove him off, they battled each other. Now that’s some brotherly love.

Ferdinand the Great.
Ferdinand the Great. Minerva, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Working for Sancho…

Going back to Diaz de Vivar, he served as standard-bearer and commander of troops for Sancho, fighting against the Moorish Muslim invaders. Now, bear in mind that this was during the Reconquista period. It was a time when Christians and Muslims were fighting against one another as the Catholics of Spain tried to take back their country from the Moors. However, that’s not all. Cities and states were also battling, and rebellion was rampant. It was a chaotic period.

Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar
Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, el Cid Campeador. (Al pie de la imagen figuran los datos de su autor., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

…Then For Alfonso

With the help of Diaz de Vivar, Sancho successfully expanded his late father’s possessions and territory. During this time, Diaz de Vivar earned the title El Cid or in spanish, “The Champion.” Then in 1072, Sancho was assassinated. He had a gut feeling that it was Alfonso’s doing. Alfonso took over Sancho’s kingdom and possessions which out El Cid in a precarious position as he had to fought and crushed the forces of Alfonso in various battles. Backing El Cid, the Castilian nobility forced Alfonso to publicly swear in front of Santa Gadea Church and before God that he was not involved in his brother’s death.

El Cid worked under Alfonso until 1079, when El Cid made an unauthorized expedition in the Battle of Cabra, which angered Alfonso. Or perhaps Alfonso had some personal grudge against El Cid for accusing him of his brother’s death. Whatever it was, Alfonso exiled El Cid, who then found acceptance among his former Muslim enemies in Zaragoza. He served as a leader of Muslim troops and there fought battles over lines of succession among Muslim rulers. We did say it was a chaotic time, didn’t we?

Final Charge

The forces of Alfonso experienced defeat after defeat at the hands of the Moors finally compelling Alfonso to beg for El Cid’s return to the said of Catholic Spain. El Cid did not remain long in the court of Alfonso and instead raised his own army of Spanish Christians and Muslim Moors with the intent of conquering a kingdom for himself in Valencia.  As a result of his fame and reputation, fighting men flocked to his banners. El Cid’s army fought its way through Barcelona and the towns of El Puig and Quart de Poblet on the march to Valencia.  The Christians of this city hearing that El Cid was marching to liberate them revolted against their Muslim rulers. El Cid arrived to lay siege to a city in the midst of an internal uprising.  We did say things were chaotic, right?  After seven months the city finally surrendered to El Cid who was now the ruler of Valencia supposedly under the authority of Alfonso who he was supposedly serving, but El Cid governed this city independently for the most part.  In a country tearing itself apart in a religious war, Valencia’s population and the army was comprised of both Christians and Muslims whose loyalties were to him rather than King Alfonso. 

El Cid’s ruled Valencia peacefully for five years until 1099 when the Muslim Almoravids arrived and laid siege to the city themselves. In the course of the siege El Cid now 56 perished from a likely combination of disease and famine. In an attempt to break the siege, his wife, Jimena, ordered that his body be dressed in his armor and he be set upon his horse to lead his troops in one last charge. The Valencian Knights broke out of the gates with El Cid’s corpse in its saddle, the Muslims seeing the dread general coming at them, broke and fled as the Knights cut them down in numbers said to be in the thousands.  Horses now spent and their sword arms sore from overuse, the Valencians then encountered fresh Muslim troops rallying to counterattack and withdrew to the city gates again.  The Knights had won the battle but did not break the siege and the city fell in 1002 after a siege of three years.  El Cid’s wife Jemina was able to escape the city with El Cid’s body and rode into the city of Burgos in Castille with him still in his armor and on his horse where his remains, at last, found their final resting place some three years after his death.

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