Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa 1212 AD - The Reconquista (718-1492 AD)
The battle of Las Navas de Tolosa was a major battle fought in medieval Spain in the year 1212 AD between an alliance of Hispanic Christians and the Muslim Almohad caliphate during the Reconquista. at the turn of the millennium the land of Iberia called Hispania by the romans was part of the roman empire when the western empire collapsed in 476 the land was then invaded and occupied by an Arian Christian Germanic tribe known as the Visigoths establishing the vici gothic kingdom the Visigothic kingdom would last around 200 years until in 7 11 when the rapidly expanding Muslim Umayyad caliphate launched an invasion of Hispania the Muslim commander Tariq Ibn Ziyad with a Moorish army of Arabs and Berbers defeated the vici gothic king Roderic at the battle of Guadalete. the Visigothic kingdom rapidly collapsed and the Umayyads swiftly conquered the entire peninsula in just seven years now under the yoke of Islamic rule many Christian refugees began fleeing to mountainous regions in the north one mountainous region Asturias clinging to the northern coast of Hispania continued to resist and took up arms against the moors led by Hispano-Gothic nobleman Pelagius of Asturias they crushed a Moorish army at the battle of Covadonga in 718.
This marked the beginning of an era known to history as the Reconquista or the reconquest in which Christians struggled to regain the lost territory during the Reconquista Christian and Muslim forces would clash over control of the Iberian peninsula for 800 years the forces of Islam were unable to pacify the isolated kingdom of Asturias as they were handicapped by the steep mountainous terrain they opted for a policy of containment instead bypassing asterisk the moors continued north invading southern France they were defeated at the battle of Toulouse and Aquitaine in 721 and again in 732 by the franks led by Charles Martel the grandfather of Charlemagne at the famous battle of tours the latter battle was significant as it marked the northernmost point of Islamic expansion and it halted the northern expansion of the Muslim empire after this the Umayyads realized they were overextended and so they retreated back across the Pyrenees mountains to consolidate their gains in Hispania the land of Hispania was known to the moors as Al-Andalus it was made a province of the massive Muslim Umayyad empire which now stretched from Iberia and the Atlantic to Persia and the edge of the Indian subcontinent The city of Cordoba was declared as the capital of the new province and emirates was established many churches were converted to mosques and Christians and Jews were obligated to pay the jizya attacks for non-Muslims the slave trade also flourished under the moors in which many Christian European slaves were taken from the newly conquered territories by Muslim masters as part of the Arab Slave Trade. One weakness of the moors and Al-Andalus was ethnic tension between Arabs and Berbers. the Berbers were indigenous inhabitants of north Africa who only recently converted to Islam and were considered second-class citizens compared to the Arabs this internal conflict would persist and prove to jeopardize Umayyad unity. by 756 the Umayyad dynasty was overthrown replaced by
the Abbasids and the land of Al-Andalus formed an independent Muslim state the emirates of Cordoba by 929 it became powerful enough to declare itself a caliphate by now the Christians had retaken Galicia, Leon, Pamplona and, Barcelona. the Frankish Carolingian empire crashed the Pyrenes and created the Spanish march creating a critical buffer zone between Muslim Al-Andalus and Christian Europe the Spanish march also created an important avenue for European settlers to begin flowing in as Christians began to start repopulating the peninsula eventually the kingdom of Navarre was founded around the city of Pamplona. Galicia would become part of the kingdom of Leon. Asturias and north central Hispania would become the kingdom of castile, and the Spanish march as well as the city of Barcelona would eventually become the kingdom of Aragon. The 11th century marked a period of internal strife for the moors the caliphate descended into civil war and split up into several small taifas or tribes in addition to the weakened state of Al-Andalus the Christian kingdoms of Hispania somewhat struggled to unite as well and there was infighting between the Christians also the land was divided between many Christian and Muslim factions during this time with neither side totally united against the other. by the early 12th century Muslim Al-Andalus had been united once more by a dynasty of Muslim Berbers from morocco known as the Almoravids. in 1139 the kingdom of Portugal gained independence from Leon and with the help of crusaders from the second crusade they recaptured Lisbon in 1147.
also in 1147 the Almoravid dynasty was overthrown and Marrakesh by a zealous fanatical group of Muslims known as the Almohads. by 1172 all of Muslim Iberia and the Maghreb was under Almohad rule meanwhile in the north the kingdom of castile led by king Alfonso viii launched a campaign against the Almohads. he was defeated at the disastrous battle of Alarcos in 1195 and the Almohads then captured several important cities including Trujillo, Plascencia and Talavera. following this defeat king Alfonso was determined for redemption his goal was ultimately to unite the Christian kingdoms of Iberia against the Almohads and in 1209 he ordered his men to resume raiding the Andalusian lands to the south. in response in 1211 the Almohad caliph Muhammad al-Nasir crossed the strait of Gibraltar with a massive army seventy thousand strong and invaded Christian territory capturing Salvaterra castle. the Muslim army threatened the Hispanic Christian kingdoms so greatly that Pope Innocent III decided to call a crusade.
The pope called on the Christian kingdoms of Europe to take up arms against the "enemies of the cross of the lord who not only aspire to the destruction of the Spains but also to threaten to vent their rage on Christ's faithful in other lands and if they can which god forbid oppress the Christian name. knights from all over western Europe answered the call and began traveling to Hispania by the spring of 1212 an army of 40 000 crusaders had gathered at the city of Toledo. this army was led by the Castilian king Alfonso viii who was eager to avenge his prior defeat at Alarcos. Alfonzo was joined by his allies Pedro ii the king of Aragon and the count of Barcelona as well as Sancho the seventh the king of Navarre. crusading orders such as the knights templar the knights Hospitaller as well as the knights of Santiago and the order of Calatrava also accompanied the army.
the army was also joined by crusaders from many other territories including the kingdom of France the viscount of Narbonne the kingdom of Portugal and the kingdom of Leon. on June 20th the crusader army left Toledo and marched south taking the cities of Calatrava and Alarcos and continuing on to the paths of despenaperros meanwhile the Islamic forces led by caliph al-Nassir set out north from Seville and arrived at the town of las Navas de Tolosa by July 13th blocking the mountain pass. now in a favorable position al-Nasir intended to simply wait and guard the pass he knew that the Christians would eventually run out of supplies and be forced to withdraw or choose to attack through the narrow mountain pass the latter option would have put the Christians at a serious disadvantage as this was the very same path where Alfonzo had been defeated at the battle of Alarcos decades prior and so both sides were hesitant to attack king Alfonzo as he pondered his next move was then approached by a young shepherd the shepherd told him of a secret pass which was not monitored by the moors known as the Puerto del Muradal which would enable the crusaders to launch a surprise attack on the Moorish camp convinced the crusaders then traversed the mountain pass guided by the shepherd and marched on Las Navas de Tolosa. after successfully crossing the crusader army made battle preparations on the eve of the battle the Castilian archbishop Rodrigo gathered the men to confess their sins and receive communion Pedro ii of Aragon took up the left flank, Sancho the seventh of Navarre was positioned on the right flank the Castilian king himself Alphonso viii commanded the center. each section of the army had placed their heavy cavalry in the front with their infantry placed behind.
the Almohads positioned their army on a hill with light infantry in the front and cavalry behind they heavily outnumbered the Christians by a ratio of two to one the caliph himself al-Nasir commanded the Muslim army from the rear on top of a hill surrounded by his elite black guard. on July 16 12 12 AD, king Alfonzo ordered his army to attack and the crusader cavalry smashed into the Moorish lines. the initial cavalry charge by the crusaders was very effective and the Almohads were pushed back however as the secondary lines joined the battle the line began to stabilize and the moors held firm as the exhausting fight dragged on the Christians were starting to waver now at this critical moment king Sancho the seventh of Navarre noticed a gap forming in the line the Navarrese king boldly charged through the gap charging directly at the caliph. the Navarrese force led by their king Sancho the seventh broke through the caliph's bodyguard who was slaughtered by the Basque and Spanish knights and the caliph was forced to flee and barely escaped with his life seeing their leader flee the field of battle morale collapsed and the rest of the Moorish army were routed this was a glorious victory for Christendom and the Reconquista the victorious crusaders seized many prizes of war from the Muslim camp including the caliph standard and tent which were delivered to Pope Innocent III as trophies according to legend the caliph's tent was covered with chains which the knights had to cut in order to attack him it is believed that because of this the new coat of arms of navarre became golden chains on a red background replacing the old black eagle on a gold background. the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa was a disastrous defeat for the moors what remained of the Almohad army fled to Marrakesh where the caliph Muhammad al-Nasir died shortly afterwards this crushing defeat of the Almohads significantly hastened their decline it was a major turning point in the Reconquista that gave the Hispanic Christian kingdoms a renewed sense of momentum shortly after the battle the Castilians took Baeza and Ubeda major fortified cities near the battlefield and gateways to invade Andalusia Alfonzo the eight's grandson Ferdinand iii of castile took Cordoba in 1236 and Seville in 1248 while James the first of Aragon conquered Valencia in 1238. by 1292 Grenada, Almiera and Malaga
were the only major Muslim cities remaining in the Iberian peninsula these cities made up the emirate of Granada which became a vassal state of the crown of castile until it was finally taken by the catholic monarchs Ferdinand ii of Aragon and Isabella the first of castile in 1492. the Reconquista had a profound effect on the history of Europe and the world the Spaniards and Portuguese had come a long way from second-class citizens under Islamic rule the Christians had now reclaimed their land in full for Christendom this experience cultivated a warrior spirit in the hearts of every Portuguese and Spaniard and they were now poised to expand all over the world and destined to build empires. by 1516 Castillon navarre and the crown of Aragon were united into a single kingdom the kingdom of Spain laying the foundation for the modern nation of Spain and ultimately the Spanish empire. and in 1492 the very same year the Reconquista was officially completed Christopher Columbus would embark on his famous journey to the new world beginning a new era known to history as the Age of Discovery.