The Visigoths and Spain

The Visigoths and Spain


The Visigoths ruled a large kingdom in southern France in the fifth century but they also make raids across the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain.

In both contexts that as rulers of their large southern kingdom in France and as raiders into Spain they are acting as allies of the great Roman Empire.

Towards the end of the 5th Century in 475 AD the then Visigothic King, Euric, declares full independence from Rome and the Roman Empire and then begins to extend his own kingdom and land that he controls naturally for his own personal gain and benefit.

Spain when Euric declared independence from Rome was of only secondary importance to the very substantial territory that was already occupied and controlled by the Visigoths in France which was much larger and at that time of much more value to Euric’s empire.

But at the start of the 6th Century in the year 507 AD Euric’s son is defeated by the King of the Franks, Clovis just north of Poitiers in France.

This effectively reduces the territory and and that they control to the narrow strip from the mountains of the Pyrenees to the Rhône River.

Naturally having now lost a very considerable part of their original territorial Kingdom in the 6th Century they are now intent to extend and expand the territory that they control in Spain.

As with all empires theat expand quickly they have rises and falls in their expansion plans and there is a hold up in the south of Spain from 554 A.D. when the Byzantine emperor Justinian uses his military strength to re-capture the area from Cadiz on the Atlantic coast in the South West to Cartagena on the Mediterranean in the east.

This is a narrow coastal strip that runs more or less West to East of the Southern tip of Spain and represents less than 5% of the Country.

But within the relative short time span of only some 3 score years and ten all the territory has been recovered to be under Visigoth control.

In fact it is fair to say that all of Spain is controlled by the Visigoths during the seventh century.

They have an outstanding capital at Toledo just to the South and slightly to the West of the modern Capital Madrid.

During this time there are continuing hostilities between different tribes of Visigoth’s so they are having internal power struggles not only between fellow Visigoth’s but also with the original local population which would have included Huns and Catholic Christians.

Undoubtedly these would have been very interesting and some what turbulent times to say the least.

However history takes an interesting turn when the Moors are invited by the Byzantine General Julian for help in what was virtually a civil war between the various factions of the successors of the late Visigoth King Wittiza.

The Governor of North Africa Musa agreed to Julian’s request for help and sent his deputy commander General Tariq bin Ziyad with a military army which landed at Gibraltar on April 30, 711.

The Umayyad General Tariq bin Ziyad led mainly an army that was composed of Berber’s

They sailed from Ceuta in Morroco across the Straits about 17 miles or 27 Kilometres.

He first attempted to land on Algeciras but failed.

Upon his failure, he landed with out being soon at the southern point of the Rock from present-day Morocco.

The current flows eastwards and and this would probably have helped his army with their landing.

This is how Gibraltar gets its name deriving from the Arabian words Gabal-Al-Tariq (the mountain of Tariq).

As I have stated the Moors did not arrive in Spain initially simply to extend the territory that they already controlled.

However Tariq had a major victory later in the September of 711 when his Umayyad army defeated Roderic of the Visigoths at the Guadalete River.

The Guadalete River is located in the Spanish province of Cádiz, the source of thr river lies in the Grazalema Mountains at a height of about 1,000m, and it flows for some 172 km into the Atlanic Ocean in the Bay of Cádiz at El Puerto de Santa Maria, which is to the south of Cádiz.

The name of the river derives from the arab „River of Forgefullness“ it flows by some of the famous white villages including Arcos de la Frontera.

As a result of that Victory and in accordance with the agreement that had been made by Julian they accepted land as a reward for their successful military service.

From here on in from a relatively small toe hold in the South west tip of Spain Islam begins to expand over the majority of Iberia including Portugal.

The Algarve a beautiful part of Portugal and it too derives its name from the Arabic for the west as it was the most western area in their sphere of influence.

The short journey across the straits of Gibratar in 711 which at its closest point is approx 8 miles or 14 kilometres is the start of Arab influence in Europe.

Whilst the distance is short the currents are strong and generally flow towards the East into the mediterrean due to the high evaporation so the Atlantic provides a continous supply of water.

There are strong tidal currents and to cross this Strait in 711 would have invlved some professional sailing and perhaps and element of good luck as well.

The bay of Gibraltar is a natural safe harbour for Ships and indeed the British Royal Navy have found it rather useful over hundreds of years and two World Wars. Nelson

As an aside in many English Church’s the arches are often known as the Norman arch the type that the Normans took to England after 1066. However the Norman Knights found their Norman Arches in the Temples that the Arabs built in Spain.

As has often happened in History the invited Army take overall control and then divides and conquers.

Within a few months the Arabs drive the Visigoths from their own capital in Toledo.

Soon local governors are appointed by the caliph in Damascus who is now ruling much of Spain.

The Arabs continue to press on north and to the east as they gain control of the whole of Spain.

Their armies advance out of Spain and into Gaul in France, and here at long last they come up against determined opposition and are stopped in their tracks – near Poitiers in 732. The very same city where some 200 years before where the Franks defeated Euric’s son is 507. It was of course the Franks who stood their ground and repulsed the Invaders.

In less than some 20 years the whole of the Iberian penisular that is both Spain and Portugal had fallen.

In real terms it is fair to say that the Invasion and occupation of Spain was not really opposed.

Indeed how can it of been an invasion when they where initially invited.

The Moslems respected the indigenous people as being people of the book meaning the bible. Jesus is regarded highly in the Muslim religion and there are very many links between the three largest religions of the world if one cares to look a little beneath the surface.

Indeed in those times these three religions co-existed very well to-gether often sharing places of worship and attending each others festivals and holy days. After all most of them all work around more or less similar timing in their events.

The social intercourse between the various religious groups helped considerably to minimize tension in the early centuries.

However in time as the years gently pass to centuries it does sadly provide many opportunities for persecution.

It is said that there were reduced taxes and incentives to those in Spain who did actually convert.to Islam.

Also the original local people were probably more worried of the war like Franks who lived above the Pyrenees than they were of the Berbers from North Africa whom they had known for many years as trading partners and people of commerce.

Similar again in History to the Roman invasion of Southern England in Ad 43 where the local population whose leader was known by an adopted Roman name the local population had traded with and had known the Romans for some two hundred year as in indeed the Spanish population had known and traded with the noble Berbers for many hundreds of years.

Conquering the rest of Spain back to Christian rule was the intention of the Christians immediately from the time of the occupation of the Muslims from the beginning of the Eighth century.

This is the time when the Visigoths who were Christians were confined to Asturia a small Kingdom in the North.

The idea of regaining Spain as a Christian country becomes the only aim of the medieval noble knight hood in Spain.

It takes many hundreds of years in deed some seven hundred years until at last Granada is finally handed over in 1492.

This is but one in a series of many articles and in a brief article such as this one can only highlight some of the key points.




Source by John Lewis