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Iberia -- Reconquista's Vertical Establishment


Poema de Mio Cid


By Michael Johnathan McDonald

Reconquista's Vertical Establishment

My Personal Notes on El Cid & the last quarter of the 11th Century of Iberia?

Posted: September 16 , 2006
1:30 p.m. Eastern

[update edit gram. 30 10 09]


Michael Report The Poema de Mio Cid is the most important text in medieval Christian Spain. The thematic supposition creates a vertical mobility of possibility in a world of horizontal proclivity.  This political narrative became a phenomenon in the 13th Century igniting generations of chivalros Spanish conquistadors that shaped the Iberian New World explorer and changed the world’s geopolitical climate. The poem, a little over 3700 lines, with hundred of lines missing, first saw its parts put together by an unknown author, most possibly a compendium of authors; including a legend that an oralist who had visited El Cid’s burial site, it had been suggested, began to recant some new oral stories in relations to the times of class and ethnic conflict and had placed them into song, which then had begun to be written down which by later unknown hands resulted in the legndy ( half truth half fantasy). Lines 3171 – 3735 state Per Abbat, wrote it down in the month of May, in the Year of The Lord 1207. However, in as much as a half of century earlier, oralists probably began to formalize an oral tradition of the knight’s life. Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (Vivar c.1040 – Valencia, 10 July 1099) is known by both his Arabic name, El Cid (sayyid, "sir" or "lord," a title of respect is derived from the word al-sīd in the Andalusi Arabic dialect), in which his Arabic subjects affectionately called him, and el campeador (the champion; Latin campidoctor), in which his Christian admirers called him.


El Cid was born in Vivar (Bivar), a small town about six miles north of Burgos, the capital of Castilla. He was a petty knight, although some say from a petty noble class. The poem makes a notable effort to show a low-born champion rising to the heights of wealth and fame, and respectively, in which his offspring marry into the high estates of Navarre and Aragon’s houses. This motif established a precedent that talent outweighed heritage, a theme which would be hammered home by many intellects and most notably Calvin’s Protestant Reformation which began a modern approach to talent as modernity ideology in which to focus on the correct path to Christianity. This of course, the talent aspect saw its final shaping in modern western democracy.


One must keep in mind that the period in question of El Cid Campeador played a crucial role in Iberian legacy of both Christians and Muslims legitimacy. Therefore, many Muslim historians discredit the  facts and became hostile to the text,  often citing it as a fictional piece all together. But the fact remains, El Cid a real character, or a compendium of characters, did live, and he or they were generally successful conquerors for Christendom. The fact also remains Valencia did fall to Christian forces, as well as many other towns and regions in the 11th century. These facts of the period are correct, but the notion of El Cid and the mythical marriages of his two daughters remains in dispute. El Cid is top-notch Spanish literature piece and possibly the oldest for Iberian chronicles.


Written during a period which still used-Latin for their correspondence ( notably for legal documents), the Castilian dialect began to be used more often. This was significant for a national-patriotic colloquialism. The language is simple, reads easily and possibly confers to language that knights in this time used in mannerism and culture. The poem is written in prevailing metre in the Alexandrine or fourteen syllabled verse with a caesural pause after the eighth. If copiers hacked up the beauty of the cantors, we could understand why some sections have longer or shorter syllabic sections.1  In all respect, the peoma flows and grips its intended audience.


Alfonso V, called the Noble, King of León, son of Bermudo II by his second wife Elvira of Castile, reigned from 999 to 1027, and was the first Spanish monarch to use the title of King of Castile. He began the work of reorganizing the Christian kingdom of the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula after a most disastrous period of civil war and Arab inroads. Enough is known of him to justify the belief that he had some of the qualities of a soldier and a statesman. 2


The Period was not as simple as the poem exhibits. Contests for domination for the peninsula dominated Iberia at this time. As for the poem, reconquest, consolidation and restrife are its general themes. Vassalage was also a dominate theme in the poem and El Cid is referred too as a good vassal often, but he never does give Valencia to Alfonso VI. The fact that the Christian princes fought not only the Moores and other Arab hosts, but also themselves which contradicts the poem’ structure of a good hero verses an autocratic king, creates a messy situation for any historian. Strange alliances preclude this historical period. Often Christian soldiers sold their services to Muslim lords, hired out as mercenaries to fight other Muslim lords. Then vice-versa alliances occur with free-booting Muslim soldiers. El Cid can also be looked upon as a free-booter, in a general sense.


Ferdinand I, at his death (1065), had divided his dominions between his three sons, Sancho, Alfonso, and Garcia, and his two daughters, Elvira and Urraca, exacting from them a promise that they would respect his wishes and abide by the division. But Sancho, to whose lot had fallen the Kingdom of Castile, being the eldest, thought that he should have inherited the entire dominions of his father, and he resolved to repudiate his promise, claiming that it had been forced from him. Stronger, braver, and craftier than his brothers, he cherished the idea of despoiling them and his sisters of their possessions, and becoming the sole successor of his father.


At this time, Rodrigo Diaz was quite young, and Sancho, out of gratitude for the services of Rodrigo's father to the State, had retained his son at the court and looked after his education, especially his military training. Rodrigo later rendered such distinguished services in the war in which Sancho became involved with Aragon that he was made alferez (standard-bearer or commander-in-chief) of the king's troops. After ending this war with Aragon, Sancho turned his attention to his plan of despoiling his brothers and sisters (c. 1070). He succeeded in adding to his dominion Leon and Galicia, the portions of his brothers, but not until in each instance Rodrigo had come to his rescue and turned apparent defeat into victory. The city of Toro, the domain of his sister Elvira, was taken without trouble. He then laid siege to the city of Zamora, the portion of his sister Urraca, and there met his fate, being treacherously slain before the gates of the city by one of Urraca's soldiers (1072). Learning this, Alfonso who had been exiled to the Moorish city of Toledo, set out in haste to claim the dominions of his brother, and succeeded him on the throne as Alfonso VI, though not without opposition, from his brother Garcia, in Galicia, and especially in Castile, the inhabitants of which objected to a Leonese king. The story is told, though not on the best historical authority, that the Castilians refused Alfonso their allegiance until he had sworn that he had no hand in his brother's death, and that, as none of the nobles was willing to administer the oath for fear of offending him, Rodrigo did so at Santa Gadea before the assembled nobility. If this be true, it would account in a great measure for the ill-will Alfonso bore Rodrigo, and for his subsequent treatment of him. He did not at first show his hatred, but tried to conciliate Rodrigo and the Castilians by bestowing upon him his niece Jimena in marriage (1074). It was not long, however, before he had an opportunity to satisfy his animosity. Rodrigo having been sent by Alfonso to collect tribute from the king of Seville, Alfonso's vassal, he was accused on his return, by his enemies of having retained a part of it. Whereupon, Alfonso, giving free rein to his hatred, banished him from his dominions (1076). Rodrigo then began his career as a soldier of fortune. 3


The poem begins with missing pages of Alfonso’s order of exile of the Cid. We do not know why, but we know he is in exile. The Cid then takes 100 soldiers with him and begins a journey out of the lands of Castile and León, where he will begin his adventure. It is the Cid’s career after 1081, he is about fifty-years old, when the story takes place. He is a seasoned knight by now, who associated with three successive kings of Zoragoza. To obtain artistic unity the poem covers only five years when in fact his career covers the years 1081-1094, a mere thirteen years. In fact the Cid is banished twice, but only once in the poem and we are never told why.


Alfonso VI was a Leonese- Castilian King (More Leonese than Castilian). Alfonso’s initial will toward the Cid can be considered as a symptom of a disease which at the time afflicted the Spanish Monarchy as an institution. 4  To begin, the poem takes us to a religious semblance of Christian as well as Islamic spiritual heritage. Lines 405- 406, Angel Gabrial says “All your life you will meet with success.” 5


We are then taken to victory after victory of towns and areas as Cid marches to his banishment. He begins the established 1/5 share of all spoils, but the poem describes he pays his men well and any man that is poor can come fight for him and get rich.  The first battle in Castejón, reaps 100 marks for each knight. The total take for Castejón was 3000 silver marks.  Cid scared the King Alfonso will come after him aligns himself with boarder Muslim towns. Alcocer, Ateca and Terrer pay tribute. The fall of Alcocer alarmed Valencia . Valencia was a Muslim trade city bordering the east coast of Iberia. Castejón military tactics employed tricking the opponents by leaving a tent of loot outside in the farming fields and the Cid’s men leaving in the opposite direction. This caused the citizens of the city, as described having greed, to come out of their gated walls in search of booty, in which left the gates wide-open, and the Cid’s men surprised the people by turning around and charging them when they were all out at the tent. 300 Castejónians perished, in a bloodbath.


Next, in the first of many pitched battles, the fall of Alcocer saw 1,300 Moors perish, while only 15 of Cid’s men died. Christians called upon St. James and the Moors on Muhammad for spiritual support. Cid’s third attempt at King Fáriz decided the battle. It is here we come to know Cid’s right hand man, Minayta Álvar Fāñez, Cid’s official general. Here, again the booty from victory acts as a benefice to enlist more men to Cid’s side as he treats all of his loyal soldiers and knights with plenty of rewards. Then, Minayta gets an order from Cid to take as gifts thirty horses to Alfonso, and gold and silver to the Church of Santa Maria at Burgos.


Alfonso accepts the gifts and pardon’s Minayta restoring his property and titles, but not giving into Cid as he thinks it is too early for forgiveness of Cid’s crimes. At this juncture in the poem, we have a key line, one of many to come, of interreligous sensitivity. Cantor 46, lines 855–860 describe the Moors of Alcocer were sadden to see Cid leave, “for he had treated them well. They wept.” 6 Romón Berenguer, Count of Barcelona, who had French mercenaries joining him got Christians and Moors to fight Cid. Franks attack the Cid, and of course, Cid wins and takes the Count prisoner. The Count refuses to take part in a ritual feast in which Cid promises to let him go if he eats. He doesn’t eat for three days, but relents and Cid keeps his promise. This prompts the famous line between 1077–1080 “Famous men […] never in his life did go back on his word.” Cid wins the Count’s sword, named Colada, worth more than a thousand silver marks.


From here the story becomes predictable as success after success follows the Cid and more men join his forces. He takes Huesa, Olocau pass, Montalbán, Jérica, Onda, Almenara, all of Burraina, Muruiedro and Cebella and all beyong it. Now the final focus of the book is on capturing Valencia. In the battle-plan his standard flank tactic, lead by Minaya and one–hundred men, while Cid faces them, demonstrates a simplistic logistical account of each battle.  The text derivates as it states it takes three years as the Cid takes roads and towns of Benicadell, conquering Moorish territory. In the farms surrounding Valencia he attacks them and deprives the city of its food source. The Valencia’s citizens begin to starve. During this time his men continue to attack the suburbs, and do not allow anyone in or out of the city. The siege tactic is standard, and again, the poem is short of in-depth description of logistics.


At the same time, Cid sends messengers to Argon, Navarre and Castile and in lines 1170 – 1190, he calls for “ anyone who want to exchange poverty for riches should come to the Cid.” 7 The second half of the sentence is contradictory, leading many to believe that this poem was written by more than one author and more than one reason. Cid uses Biblical narration, calls upon Mother Mary, and praises God consistently, and cites the reason to take Valencia in the second half of the sentence for the Christians. Many scholars see a contradiction of the period; if Cid was a real person then was he fighting for riches and fame, as the canters keep explaining or was his exploits bringing him a valuable Christian identity fighting for Christendom.  Most scholars take sides, but I see no contradiction here. Humans live out contradictions within themselves and a contradiction can have legitimate motive factors for action. This of course was the right course of action for the composer or composers of El Cid.  This was the beginning of the early of militant Christian period. In the 11th Century we will see the Crusades begin to take back the holy land, once inhabited by Christians before Islam conquered it and kicked out the Jews and Christians. To see Cid as only looking for wealth and fame contends with the times, and most Arab historians or commentators look here in the text of the rich and fame lines and exclude and claim the religious connotation was made up. They claim, Cid was like any other irreligious greedy- freebooter. It is suffice to say politics in this era were not so black-and-white.


Many headed the proclamation of Cid and showed up for the intending big battle for Valencia. The King of Morocco, involved in his own battles at that moment was concerned, nevertheless. The actual besiegement took none months and at the tenth month Valencia surrendered to the Cid. The Ruler, of Seville comes to the rescue of the Muslim Valencia, but Cid’s forces win again. This time a larger contingency of 30,000 Moroccan forces fell, and Cid fails to capture the leader, who runs off with three wounds.


At this point the booty was becoming so enormous that Cid ordered Minaya to begin to record all the loot so there would be no stealing. In this battle, there were 3,600 benefactors of Cid’s spoils.  Each common soldier received 100 silver marks, and others received homes and possessions. This time Cid sends Alfonso 1,000 horses and 1000 silver marks he sends to Abbot Don Sancho of the monastery of San Pedro. Cid asks the king’s permission if he could bring his wife Doña Jimena and his two daughters to Valencia. This time the king allows all that Cid asks, and is amazed at what he has done in the name of Christianity. For legitimacy, the Cid appoints a Frenchman, Don Jerome as the new Bishop of Valencia. “ I will establish a bishopric in Valencia,” Cid proclaims. Minaya tells Alfonso everything, including the success of five pitched battles.


King of Morroco, Yousef, was supposedly in real life a great military man, who at first thought Cid was really a small player in geopolitics. Anyway, he now takes concern, and heeds his Valencian companions to oust Cid and make battle. He brings 50,000 men, sailing up the eastern coasts,  and sets up camp in the faming fields of Huerta to do what Cid did to the Valencians.  However, Cid quickly moves in and wastes no time, as he takes 4,000 men and he takes 30 of these, as this time he takes the flank, and beats Yusef’s forces so bad that only 104 Moors remain by the second day. The King of Morocco had golden tent poles and enormous booty, which made Cid exclaim that with all the loot they gathered so far they would never be able to spend it all.  Alfonso now reestablishes all of Cid’s men who came to fight for him, their rights back and gives vassalhood back to the Cid. In a gesture fitted to epic chivalry, Cid gives Valencia to his faithful wife, who she claims rescued her from solitude, and to his two daughters. At this moment there is great rejoicing for Christendom in the poem. However this is where the text gets interesting.


El Cid meets Alfonso in a grand display, at neutral ground on the Tagus River, and on both sides , each display wealth and prestige in a pageantry of celebration. And the King pardon’s Cid, who does obeisance to his king. However, a jealous villain enters the story of the Infantes de Carrión, the Count García Ordóñez, the Cid’s mortal enemy. This was a high-ranking Noble house directly connected to the king’s court. They were higher socially than Cid, and felt jealous that Cid got all the attention from the king. Ordóñez fearing he would lose his power, asks the king for the hands of the two daughters for his own house. Diego and Ferdando were young princes and each had wealthy estates which meant that the Cid would rise in rank and his offspring would benefit socially from a heritage with this union. However, being smart as well as an awesome knight, he didn’t accept the offer and allowed only the king to make the decision. Was this forbearance? The king takes the charge of the matter.   


When El Cid returns to Valencia, his new two sons-in-law come and meet his daughters. Why Cid is sleeping in his house, one of his pet tigers gets loose at night to roam the halls. His men not wanting to disturb the Cid, form a human shield around the king until he decides to wake up. The two boys, also in the house, run and hide and act as cowards, inflaming later goading by the Cid’s servants about their cowardice. When the Cid wakes up he quickly causes the tiger to become docile and returns it to its net. This episode paints a clear picture of a gallant Midlevel warrior courage against that of the aristocracy ( the two sons-in-law) cowardness in the face of real danger. This, of course, is politically incorrect. This is a thematic approach to the poem. The boys claim the goading was an insult to their high-status. El Cid, the poem goes on to say, takes the boy’s side and makes nothing of their cowardice, hoping in the future the boys would turn out as real brave men of the likes of Spanish Warriors.   However, the episode is remembered by all his staff. Meanwhile, another army comes to dislodge the Christians from Valencia, and this battle will be the first for his family to go through, and El Cid citing the boys apprehensions to battle excuses them from fighting. However, he servants are more distrusting and keep an eye on the boys during the battle.


The battle takes place and Cid is in the field, and the boys decide to feign fighting, or so it seems, actually going out onto the battle field. When Cid comes back from vanquishing the leader, he finds the boys on the field and assumes they proved their bravery as Spanish Warriors. Cid does go on to boast how he will tell all back in Aragon, how valiantly the two boys fought at their father-in-laws side. Of course, he is fibbing, but he is also playing good politics.  However, in light of this, the boys decide that they no longer want to stay in Valencia, and want to take their dowries and much wealth back to their homes. Cid agrees but also forms a contingent to escort his daughters and his sons-in-law back to their estates. This marriage proves that Cid’s commoner status would elevate his offspring to Spanish Aristocracy. The boys, on the other hand speak about a plot to do away with their potential brides once they are far enough away from Valencia . A Arab citizens overheard the boys, in which he knew Castilian. He tells Cid’s people so the Cid sends some retainers to follow them on their trip hoping that this conversation was not real.


When the boys, their future wives, and many of the contingents camp for the night, they are next to a forest, and a grate plane. The boys act as if they will have tender moments with their soon to be brides, and in the morning ask the party to go on ahead as they stay behind to have some private time with the King’s two daughters. After the party leaves, the boys conspire with their plan to get rid of the two daughters. They take them into the forest full of wild beasts and tell them they are too low on the social ladder to be married to them. They in turn beat the girls savagely with spurs and leather belts, leaving them all but dead in the forest with hopes that when night falls, the beasts of the forest will devour them. Then, after they discard the unconscious girls, they trek back to meet up with their contingent, and boost of what they had did.


Needless to say the poem doesn’t go into great detail of why the boys were not taken immediately back to Valencia to face the Cid, but allowed to continue on to their estates, back to safety of their own peoples and house. But the issue will not end here. The poem’s point lays in this class-ranking struggle. On one side, you have selfish wealthy-by-birth high nobles, and are cowards only interested in self-preservation; and on the other hand you have a commoner rising to a great hero status for his nation, but not born into the aristocracy.  It is quite possible to understand the king’s hardships in being a mediator for this event. Heritage was the feudalist way in the medieval age.


The Girls are found before they die and rushed to safety and nurtured back to health, and when Cid hears of what happens, he demands justice by official channels, and calls on Alfonso to set in stone a court date for redress.  The court scene is amongst the favorite parts in the poem for me. The struggle for legitimacy and legacy are at hand. Legacy is important here because in this time one’s word meant respect and honor, and to avenge a misdeed, one needed to address the spoken word, for it meant everything in these times. What one said, is how the community judges one and partakes of judgment on one. If one’s words become less valuable, by backtracking or changing of the mind, one loses respect which also meant one loses wealth as no one believes one’s word any longer. To admit something in court meant everything to the King’s court, and how one is viewed in terms of legacy. That meant, if things could not be agreed upon in court by both sides ― resolving the issue ― a challenge could be offered as a solution on the battle field as a medieval duel.


All of Spanish nobility arrive for the proceedings which looks as it will turn out like a circus event. One can understand the nobles taking the Infantes de Carrión’s side as their main claim is they shouldn’t have been forced into such arrangements. We also, see why the Cid asked for the decision in the initial offer to of the King’s and not his own. Now the stage was set for the Cid to argue for his wealth ( Dowries), gifts ( Two priceless swords, one of Colada, and Tizón)  and respect back from the betrayal of the two former sons-in-laws which had benefited from the Cid’s generosity, we see the drama of the poem takes its full brunt of objectivity. The outstanding hero plays the cool of a passionate, cool and collective vassal and never loses his cool, why the prices and Carrión noble supporters show themselves as whiners and complainers. One humorous set of circumstances is that each time, the Cid makes a grievance and a plea offer, the other side thinks that the court-case is over and everything is settled. He does this three times until he asks for his 3000 gold and silver marks back in which the princes have already spent forcing them to give up possessions of their own and borrow money on the spot from their noble friends to satisfy the Cid’s debt, when he demands it right away. The court goes on for some time, and finally the truth comes out about the lion incident, the battle field trick, and the princes admitted to everything they did to the Cid’s daughters. The final account would take place as the word of honor becomes an issue only settled on the battlefield. If the young princes win, then everything is restored to them including their dignity.


Martín Antolínez, Pedro Bermúdez and Muño Gustioz, were three champions of the Cid, and he asks them to take part in medieval dispute-battle against his challengers, as he needed to go back and manage Valencia, because the boys had asked for three weeks to get ready for the challenge. Ansúr González, Diego González and Fernando González meet the three champions on an open field, demarcated with boundaries by the King, and rules of engagement. In ironic fashion, it is the Colada sword that his finally held over the wounded body of Diego before the vanquished prince pleads for mercy, as he loses the battle but his life is saved by his forfeit of his word. Fernando is forced to fight against the Tizón by Bermúdez’s wielding pleasures. His luck is no better than his brother’s. Symbolic by both falling to these swords that were once their gifts from the Cid, is that they were both from the Cid’s opponents, and if the young princes were actually brave, courageous, and gallant warriors, they would have no problem showing their worth on the battle field against theses artifacts.


Cid’s two daughter’s names are Doña  Elvira and Doña Sol. Between lines 3466 – 3452, The thematic thesis of a vertical mobility comes into full play and certainly is the gist of the poem as I see it. “Once you had them as wives and equals, but now you will kiss their hands and acknowledge them as your superiors.” 8 Vertical social mobility and its possibilities in this era reflect a progress as talent over right. The horizontal proclivity only sees its manifestations as suppressing progress by not cultivating the citizen solider to high – office. The manifest soldier of fortune, in a time most needed, as now the Turcomen were just beginning to establish themselves on the steeps east of Anatolia, which later became a breeding ground for the second wave of Islam. Without the consolidation that this book established, its rightful unity of individuality over heritage of feudal complacency, Islam may have survived in the peninsula and allowed Islam to further its European agenda, once the Ottomans decided to take as much of the earth’s land as they could. Iberia was a focal point of Ottoman trade and relationship. They were highly visible in this region, and in history one could see that if the reconquista had not established itself with its ideology of vertical mobility over horizontal proclivity and with vigorous speed, the Iberian plateau would have a different geopolitical climate than it does today. Poema de Mio Cid did just that.



1      Catholic Encyclopedia, “El Cid,” Vol. III [Accessed online, 2006]. 

2      Encyclopædia Britannica, “Alfonso V”, ed. xi [Accessed online, 2006]. 

3      Catholic Encyclopedia.

4     “The Poem of the Cid,” Edmund de Chasca ( Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1976), 135.

5       “The poem of the Cid: A new critical edition of the Spanish text,” trans. Rita Hamilton &

        Janet Perry ( Manchester: Manchester University Press,1975),19

6       Ibid., 67.

7       Ibid., 85.

8       Ibid., 201.

uploaded: Oct. 1, 2006

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