El Cid

From New World Encyclopedia

Statue of El Cid in Burgos

Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (1040? – July 1099), was a Castilian military and political leader in medieval Spain. Born of the Spanish nobility and nicknamed El Cid Campeador, Rodrigo Díaz was educated in the royal court of the Kingdom of Castile and became an important general and administrator, fighting against the Moors in the early Reconquista. Later exiled by Afonso VI, El Cid left service in Castile and worked as a mercenary-general for other rulers, both Moor and Christian. Late in life, El Cid captured the Mediterranean coastal city of Valencia, ruling it until his death in 1099. Fletcher (2003) describes him as the “most famous Spaniard of all time” (72).

The nickname "El Cid Campeador" is a compound of two separate sobriquets. "El Cid" is derived from the word al-sidi in the Andalusian dialect (from the Arabic sayyid, "sir" or "lord," a title of respect), while the title el campeador (the champion) was granted by his Christian admirers. It is also a not so common fact that he has been referred to by some Andalucians as "El Raffi." These titles reflected the great esteem El Cid had among both Moors and Christians, as well as his fighting ability; Henry Edwards Watts wrote that el campeador "[m]eans in Spanish something more special than ‘champion’ ... A campeador was a man who had fought and beaten the select fighting-man of the opposite side in the presence of the two armies" (1894, 71).

He remains as iconic figure that lived an adventurous life in turbulent times and gained the respect of his enemies as well as his friends. His life shows that it is possible to cross barriers and even to work with people who one's own culture usually demonize and stereotype as different from ourselves. His honorific title, El Cid, by which he remains known, was given him by the Moors—who were hated and despised by Christian Europe. At a time of hostility between Christians and Muslims, El Cid dealt with both as equally human. The rights and wrongs of conquest and reconquest aside, this can be regarded as a positive quality in an age when too many people thought it a duty to slaughter the religious and cultural Other without any attempt to understand their faith, or even to persuade them to convert.

Early life

"El Cid" was pronounced /el tsið/ in medieval Castilian, but /el θið/ in modern standard Spanish (the c like the th in "thin" and the d like the th in "then"). The exact date of El Cid's birth is unknown. Based on his participation in 1063 at the Battle of Graus, however, most historians believe that El Cid was born eighteen to twenty years earlier between 1043 and 1045, in Vivar (Bivar), a small town about six miles north of Burgos, the capital of Castile. Historical records show that El Cid's father was Diego Laínez, who was part minor nobility (infanzones) of Castile. Diego Laínez was a courtier, bureaucrat, and cavalryman who had fought in several battles. Despite the fact in later years the peasants would consider him one of their own, El Cid's mother's family was aristocratic. However, his relatives were not major court officials: documents show that El Cid's paternal grandfather, Lain Nuñez, only confirmed five documents of Ferdinand I of Leon's; his maternal grandfather, Rodrigo Alvarez, certified only two of Sancho II of Castile's; the Cid's own father confirmed only one. This seems to indicate that El Cid's family was not comprised of major court officials.

One well-known legend about the Cid describes how he acquired his famous war-horse, the white stallion Babieca. According to this story, Rodrigo's godfather, Pedro El Grande, was a monk at a Carthusian monastery. Pedro's coming-of-age gift to El Cid was his pick of a horse from an Andalusian herd. El Cid picked a horse that his godfather thought was a weak, poor choice causing the monk to exclaim "Babieca!" (stupid). Hence, it became the name of El Cid's horse. Today, Babieca appears in multiple works about El Cid.

El Cid was educated in the Castilian royal court, serving the prince and future king Sancho II, the son of Ferdinand I of León (the Great). When Ferdinand died in 1065, he had continued his father's goal of enlarging his territory, conquering the Christian and the Moorish cities of Zamora and Badajoz.

By this time, the Cid was an adult. He had fought alongside Sancho against the Moorish stronghold of Zaragoza (Saragossa) in 1067, making its emir, al-Muqtadir, a vassal of Sancho. In the spring of 1063 he fought in the Battle of Graus, where Ferdinand's half-brother, Ramiro I of Aragon, had laid siege to the Moorish town of Graus which was in Zaragozan lands. Al-Muqtadir, accompanied by Castilian troops including the Cid, fought against the Aragonese. The party would emerge victorious; Ramiro I was killed, and the Aragonese fled the field. One legend has said that during the conflict El Cid killed an Aragonese knight in single combat, giving him the honorific title of "El Cid Campeador."

Service under Sancho

Early military victories

As a resident of Castile, the Cid was now a vassal of Sancho. Sancho believed that he, as Ferdinand's eldest son, was entitled to inherit all of his father's lands. Once he conquered Leon and Galicia, he began making war on his brothers and sisters. At this time some say that the Cid, having proved himself a loyal and brave knight against the Aragonese, was appointed as the armiger regis, or alferez (standard-bearer). This position entailed commanding the armies of Castile.

Victories over Afonso and Sancho's death

After defeating Sancho's brother Afonso at Llantada on the Leonese-Castillian border in 1068 and Golpejera over the Carrión River in 1072, Sancho and the Cid forced Afonso to flee to his Moorish city of Toledo under Al-Ma'mun. Toro, the city of Sancho's elder sister Elvira, fell easily, and for a while it seemed as though Sancho and the Cid were unbeatable. But during the siege of Zamora, the city ruled by Sancho's younger sister Urraca of Zamora, Bellido Dolfos assassinated Sancho with a spear on October 7, 1072.

Service under Afonso

Much speculation abounds about Sancho's death. Most say that the assassination was a result of a pact between Afonso and Urraca; some even say they had an incestuous relationship. In any case, since Sancho died unmarried and childless, all of his power passed to his brother, Afonso—the very person he had fought against. Almost immediately, Afonso was recalled from exile in Toledo and took his seat as king of Leon and Castile. While he was deeply suspected in Castile (probably correctly) for being involved in Sancho's murder, According to the epic of El Cid the Castilian nobility, led by the Cid and a dozen "oath-helpers", forced Afonso to swear publicly in front of St. Gadea's Church in Burgos on holy relics multiple times that he did not participate in the plot to kill his brother. This is widely reported as truth, but contemporary documents on the lives of both Afonso VI of Castile and Leon and Rodrigo Diaz do not mention any such event. This legend is believed because it adds to accounts of El Cid's bravery but there is no proof that it took place. El Cid's position as armiger regis was taken away, however, and it was given to El Cid's enemy, Count García Ordóñez. Later in the year, Afonso's younger brother, García, returned to Galicia under the false pretenses of a conference.

Battle tactics

During his campaigns, El Cid often ordered that books by classic Roman and Greek authors on military themes be read in loud voices to him and his troops, both for entertainment and inspiration during battle. El Cid's army had a novel approach to planning strategy as well, holding what might be called brainstorming sessions before each battle to discuss tactics. They frequently used unexpected strategies, engaging in what modern generals would call psychological warfare; waiting for the enemy to be paralyzed with terror and then attacking them suddenly, distracting the enemy with a small group of soldiers. El Cid had a humble personality and frequently accepted or included suggestions from his troops. He remained open to input from his soldiers and to the possibility that he himself was capable of error. The man who served him as his closest adviser was his nephew, Alvar Fáñez de Minaya.

Marriage and family life

The Cid was married in July 1074 to Afonso's kinswoman Jimena de Gormaz (spelled Ximena in Old Castilian), the daughter of the Count of Oviedo. This was probably on Afonso's suggestion; a move that he probably hoped would improve relations between him and El Cid. Together El Cid and Ximena had three children. Their daughters, Cristina and María, both married high nobility; Cristina, to Ramiro, lord of Monzón and bastard descendant of kings of Navarre; María, first to Infante of Aragon and second to Ramón Berenguer III, count of Barcelona. El Cid's son, Diego Rodríguez, was killed while fighting against the invading Muslim Almoravids from North Africa at the Battle of Consuegra (1097). His own marriage and that of his daughters increased his status by connecting El Cid to royalty; even today, living monarchs descend from El Cid, through the lines of Navarre and Foix.

Service as administrator

El Cid was a cultivated man, having served Afonso as a judge. He kept in life a personal archive with copies of the letters he mailed and important diplomas he signed as part of his cooperation in the king's administration.


In the Battle of Cabra (1079), El Cid rallied his troops and turned the battle into a rout of Emir Abd Allah of Granada and his ally García Ordóñez. However, El Cid's unauthorized expedition into Granada greatly angered Afonso, and May 8, 1080 was the last time El Cid confirmed a document in King Afonso's court. This is the generally given reason for El Cid's exile, although several others are plausible and may have been contributing factors: jealous nobles turning Afonso against El Cid, Afonso's own animosity towards El Cid, an accusation of pocketing some of the tribute from Seville, and what one source describes as El Cid's "penchant" towards insulting powerful men.

However, the exile was not the end of El Cid, either physically or as an important figure. In 1081, now a mercenary, he offered his services to the Moorish king of the northeast Spanish city of Zaragosa, Yusuf al-Mutamin, and served both him and his successor, Al-Mustain II. El Cid offered his services to the rulers of Barcelona, Ramón Berenguer II (1076-1082) and Berenguer Ramón II, Count of Barcelona (1076-1097), but they turned him down. He then journeyed to Zaragoza, where found himself more welcome. This was Muslim territory jointly ruled by Yusuf al-Mutamin (1081-1085) who ruled Zaragoza proper, and his brother al-Mundhir, who ruled Lérida and Tortosa. El Cid entered the service of al-Mutamin's and successfully defended Zaragoza against the assaults of al-Mutamdhir, Sancho I of Aragón, and Ramón Berenguer II. In 1082, he briefly held the latter captive.

In 1086 the great Almoravid invasion of Spain through and around Gibraltar began. The Almoravids, Berber residents of present-day Morocco and Algeria, led by Yusef I, also called Yusef ibn Tushafin or Yusef ibn Tashfin, were asked to help defend the Moors from Afonso. A great battle took place on October 23, 1086 at Sagrajas (in Arabic, Zallaqa). The Moorish Andalusians, including the armies of Badajoz, Málaga, Granada, and Seville, defeated a combined army of León, Aragón, and Castile. At first, the Christians seemed to be gaining the upper hand until Ibn Tashufin outflanked them. The Christians then started to retreat. Soon, the retreat became a rout. Afonso, along with five hundred knights, was able to escape.

This defeat actually served El Cid well. Terrified after this crushing defeat, Afonso recalled El Cid from exile, considering his services essential once again. It has been shown that El Cid was at court on July 1087. However, what happened after that is unclear.

Conquest of Valencia

Around this time, with a combined Christian and Moorish army, El Cid began maneuvering in order to create his own fiefdom in the Moorish Mediterranean coastal city of Valencia. Several obstacles lay in his way. First was Ramón Berenguer II, who ruled nearby Barcelona. In May 1090, he defeated and captured Berenguer in the Battle of Tébar. Berenguer was later ransomed, and his son, Ramón Berenguer III, married El Cid's youngest daughter Maria to ward against future conflicts.

El Cid gradually came to have more influence on Valencia, then ruled by al-Qadir. In October 1092 an uprising occurred in Valencia inspired by the city's chief judge, Ibn Jahhaf, and the Almoravids. El Cid began a siege of Valencia. The siege lasted several years; in December 1093 an attempt to break had failed. In May 1094, the siege ended, and El Cid had carved out his own kingdom on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

Officially El Cid ruled in the name of Afonso; in reality, he was fully independent. The city was both Christian and Muslim, and both Moors and Christians served in the army and as administrators. In 1096 Valencia's nine mosques were "Christianized"; Jérôme, a French bishop, was appointed archbishop of the city.

On July 10, 1099, El Cid died in his home. Though his wife Jimena would continue to rule for two more years, an Almoravid siege forced Jimena to seek help from Afonso. They could not hold the city but both managed to escape. Afonso ordered the city burned to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Moors. Valencia was captured by Masdali on May 5, 1109, and would not become a Christian city again for over 125 years. Jimena fled to Burgos with El Cid's body. Originally buried in Castile in the monastery of San Pedro de Cardeña, his body now lies at the center of the impressive cathedral of Burgos.


Legend has it that after El Cid died he was strapped onto his horse and ridden into battle. The enemy was so afraid of the invincible rider that they all went back to their boats and El Cid won the battle dead on a horse. The legend also tells that only his wife knew because she realized that if the men realized their beloved leader was dead, they would surely lose.


El Cid's sword, "Tizona," can still be seen in the Army Museum (Museo del Ejército) in Madrid. Soon after his death it became one of the most precious possessions of the Castilian royal family. In 1999 a small sample of the blade underwent metallurgical analysis that partially confirmed that it was made in Moorish Córdoba in the eleventh century, although the report does not specify whether the larger-scale composition of the blade identifies it as Damascus steel.


The famous Spanish epic, Poema de Mio Cid “presented its hero,” comments Fletcher (2003), in an “entirely different light.” All reference to his having served Muslims is now edited out from his biography. Now, he is “exclusively a Christian, crusading, Castilian patriot” (86). The crusading zeal launched by Urban II also had Spain firmly in mind; “It is not surprising that Urban's eyes should also have been on Spain…since the start of his pontificate he had enthusiastically supported…a drive to reoccupy Tarragona, a ghost town in no man's land fift miles down the Spanish coast from Barcelona” (Riley-Smith, 7). The crusaders took vows. Applying the term to El Cid is anachronistic, because the Crusades started after his death—but it also inaccurate because he never took a vow.

El Cid was living prove that the Christian-Muslim frontier could be crossed, but as hostility towards Islam intensified, that frontier-crossing became “unacceptable,” so El Cid's image was adjusted accordingly (Fletcher 2003, 89). Fletcher suggests that the ethos of El Cid's own time had been closer to one of “live and let live” (92). Later, the dominant attitude was one of hostility and outright “fanaticism,” yet the earlier period shows that “human moral relationships usually have fuzzy outlines” (92). Europe gained much from the often-tolerant rule of the Muslims in Spain, under whose patronage learning flourished. Christian, Jewish and Muslim scholars interacted and many valuable texts were translated from Arabic into Latin, including Aristotle, whose thought had been lost to Europe. The great Catholic theologian, Thomas Aquinas, was in many respects a product of this period of religious pluralism, since he drew both on Aristotle and on Muslim philosophy as well.


El Cid enjoyed the unusual honor of being respected by Christians and Muslims alike, an honor that few others can claim with the exception of such men as Saladin and Richard the Lionheart. At the time, Christians thought Muslims to be servants of Satan, and when the recovery of the whole of Spain was regarded as Christian duty. Success in winning back parts of Spain was a contributing factor in launching the Crusades, as success emboldened the pope to believe that the Holy Land could also be recovered. However, once the Crusaders had established a foothold in Palestine, and had recovered Jerusalem, the Christians who then settled there adopted a much more pragmatic attitude towards the Muslims. They quite often entered truces with them, and some, like El Cid, found themselves supporting some Muslims against others or against a common enemy.

El Cid may not have been a model character, yet he could see his enemy as equally human. Perhaps iconic figures that attract respect from both sides of traditionally opposed peoples can unite a world that is often divided. It was a fluid time, which, says Pierson (1999), allowed “a personality like El Cid to flourish” (34). The poem, El Cid, would serve as one of the founding discourses of modern Spain, although it lay for many years “in a remote monastery near Burgos.” It was a time when some people at least thought the motto “live and let live” was good advice. Border zones, such as Moorish Spain, could be imagined and constructed either as a barrier or as a bridge. For El Cid, the frontier between Islam and Christianity was a bridge; he could deal honorably with either side. His frontier-crossing example, though, has largely been obscured by the myth and legend that his life of high adventure generated.



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