Friday, April 29, 2011

April 29, 711 - Visigoths Notice Umayyad Invasion

The Gothic kingdom of Hispania had fallen to a time of all but straightforward civil war. King Wittiza had become sole ruler upon the death of his father, Egica, in AD 702. Initially, Wittiza looked to be a good king as he “redressed grievances, moderated the tributes of his subjects, and conducted himself with mingled mildness and energy in the administration of the laws", but after consolidating his powerful, he "showed himself in his true nature, cruel and luxurious," according to biographer/storyteller George Irving. Roderic, a young nobleman who had been exiled to Italy, invaded the kingdom at the behest of the people and usurped Wittiza in 710. Roderic worked to subdue the kingdom, many in the northwest supporting Wittiza's young son Achila II as king, the Basque in the north rebelling, and some in Toledo even supporting Wittiza's half-brother Oppas.

Amid the chaos, the Umayyad Caliphate province to the south watched carefully. Governor Musa bin Nusair decided to test the Goths for weakness, ordering an expedition by his Berber general Tariq ibn Ziyad, whose armies had recently converted to Islam and had taken a small foothold at the southern tip of Hispania in a raid months before. Tariq began transporting thousands of troops across the strait from Africa, which the locals took as merchant parties until they noticed the war horses and weapons of an invading army. Word was sent to King Roderic, who was fighting the Basque in the north. Rather than finishing his campaign, he set immediately for the south. On his travels, he realized that the growing might of the unified Muslims could not be stopped by his few loyal lords alone. Over the past decades, the Umayyad Caliphate had swept westward and had taken Tangiers in 705, which allowed them to raid the south of Hispania with immunity. If Roderic's civil war continued, his kingdom would be utterly lost.

Instead of facing the Muslim army alone, Roderic called council in Toledo with his lords and those of the young king Achila as well as the political supporters of other campaigning parties. Since he had invaded Hispania to liberate it from tyranny, Roderic decided he could not hold power in his own hands. Rather than fighting to consolidate, he determined to share strength in a confederation of lords with a dual kingship of himself and Achila. With the army of Tariq marching northwest, the lords agreed, and a charter was drawn up (notoriously as anti-Jewish as it was anti-Muslim) out of organization, self-protection, and unity that would be similar to works achieved by the Franks in later years.

In 712, Tariq's force (estimated by various sources to be between 2,000 and 100,000) met with Roderic's unified army (between 2,900 and 200,000). Although the Berber cavalry were much feared, the larger Goth force cut off their supply trains and slew nearly the whole Muslim force as it retreated back to Africa. Musa bin Nusair determined Hispania's weakness to be solved, and he spent much of the rest of his career maintaining defense from Gothic raids.

Hispania, which would later transition to the Empire of Spain, became a center of strength rivaling the Kingdom of the Franks. As the Viking influence spread over Europe, the Spanish, especially their Gothic ruling minority, adapted to their naval techniques as an invasion force. They expanded through exploration and conquest, such as domination of the Canary Islands as well as wresting the Balearic Islands from the Byzantine Empire. In the Viking/Gothic fashion, they sailed southward for trade and domination, eventually coming to a long series of wars with the Forest Kingdoms of Western Africa.

The Franks, later to be known as French, were caught between the post-Crusade trade dominations of the Spanish to the south and the Italians in the Mediterranean until their own discovery of a New World to the west, where they would build an enormous empire through conquest of the Maya, Aztec, and Inca.


In reality, the locals in Hispania (soon to be dubbed al-Andalus as it was conquered), according to historian Ibn Abd-el-Hakem, took no notice of the Muslim expedition, "thinking that the vessels crossing and recrossing were similar to the trading vessels which for their benefit plied backwards and forwards." By the time King Roderic turned south with his army in 712, Tariq's forces were well readied, and they utterly routed the Goths at the Battle of Guadalette, slaying King Roderic (whom many historians considered abandoned on the field by feudal lords hopeful to take up an empty throne). Order was restored on the tumultuous peninsula, now in the hands of the Caliphate. Centuries later, American Washington Irving would write about the campaign in his Legends of the Conquest of Spain.

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