This week in history, in the year 1094, a small force of Christian knights destroyed a massive Muslim horde in Spain, where the Jihad and Reconquista had been raging for years.
Earlier, the Almoravids, a North African group committed to jihadist teaching and led by the emir Yusuf bin Tashfin, began pouring into Spain to aid their Islamic counterparts, the Moors, who had suffered several significant defeats to the Christians in recent years.
In 1086, the Muslims and Christians clashed at Sagrajas. The Christians were annihilated; their king barely managed to escape with a dagger stuck in his thigh. Afterwards, in a typical gesture of Islamic supremacy, Yusuf had some 2,400 Christian heads decapitated and assembled into a pyramid, atop which the muezzin called the faithful to prayers.
Following the disaster at Sagrajas, one by one, Muslim kingdoms that had been liberated during the Reconquista—even a few Christian strongholds—fell back under Islamic control.
When, however, the Muslims overran Valencia in 1093, its lord, Roderick (or Rodrigo) Díaz of Vivar—better known to posterity as “the Cid”—returned and laid siege to Valencia for nearly 19-months, finally reconquering it.
As a result, the pride and prestige of the glorious jihadist victor of Sagrajas, who had subsequently unified virtually all of Muslim Spain under his authority, was shaken to its core: “He has forcibly invaded my territory and he attributes all his success to Jesus Christ!” blurted Yusuf, who, on hearing of the fall of Valencia, “was powerfully moved to anger and bitterness.”
He was, accordingly, “determined to recover the city at all costs,” writes the contemporary Muslim, Ibn Bassam, before adding that “the news of the fall of Valencia filled every Moor in Spain with grief and humiliation.”
A showdown was inevitable: “Islam and the Occident were now each represented by an outstanding personality,” writes historian Ramón Menéndez Pidal: “Yusuf the Saharan and the Castilian Cid stood face-to-face in the struggle between the two civilizations.”
The emir responded by sending the supreme Almoravid general of Spain, his nephew, Muhammad, “with an infinite number of barbarians and Moabites [Almoravids] and Ishmaelites [Moors] drawn from all over Hispania to besiege Valencia and to bring Roderick to him captive and in chains,” wrote one contemporary. Reportedly consisting of some 50,000 fighters, the Almoravids dwarfed the Cid’s Valencian garrison of 4,000 men. By late 1094, “the infidel hordes” had arrived and “pitched their tents and encamped” at Cuarte, three miles from Valencia.
The final showdown between the Cid and his African adversaries had come and is recorded in both song and chronicle. According to the Historia Roderici,
This Moabite army lay about Valencia for 10 days and as many nights, and remained inactive. Every day indeed they used to go around the city, shrieking and shouting with a motley clamor of voices and filling the air with their bellowing [references to the takbir, i.e., spasmodic cries of “Allahu Akbar”]. They often used to fire arrows… But Roderick … comforted and strengthened his men in a manly fashion, and constantly prayed devoutly to the Lord Jesus Christ that he would send divine aid to his people.
The sources emphasize the ominous beat of the African drums, the thundering roll of which seemed to rend the earth asunder. It filled the hearts of all—especially those unacquainted with its booming sounds, such as Roderick’s wife and daughters, who were then holed up with him in Valencia—with dread and consternation.
With every day that the Cid remained in a defensive posture, the Muslims became more emboldened and encroached closer to his city’s walls. Before long they had surrounded Valencia’s gates in very tight formations—precisely what the Cid was waiting for.
And so, on October 21, 1094 , when “the enemy were as usual going around outside the city yelling and shouting and scrimmaging, confident in the belief that they would capture it,” Roderick Díaz, “trusting with his whole mind in God and his mercy, courageously made a sortie from the city,” whereupon “a major encounter ensued.”
Thus, at the height of Muslim confidence, heavily armored knights astride even heavier steeds of war burst out of one of the gates, taking the jihadists by complete surprise. Before they could effectively retaliate, another Christian sortie burst out from another gate. Though unclear which, the Cid led one of these two forces which now crisscrossed each other in a medieval style blitzkrieg, causing mass confusion and carnage among the densely packed Muslims. After a “multitude” of Almoravids “fell to the sword,” the panicked Africans “turned their backs in flight,” the Historia concludes, many of them falling and drowning in the Jucar river.
The battle of Cuarte was a shattering blow to the hitherto undefeated Almoravids: though outnumbered by twelve-to-one, the Spanish knights had defeated and driven off 50,000 jihadists. Christians all throughout Western Europe wildly celebrated.
Historian James Fitzhenry summarizes the Cid’s strategy:
The maneuver Rodrigo used that day has come to be known as “la tornada,” or, the tornado. Once the Christian knights had charged through the enemy lines in one direction, they turned and passed through again in a different direction. Whole units were disrupted, broken apart and irreversibly separated. The Africans were packed so tightly together, and their shouts and screams and the clash of steel so loud, that few commands could be heard over the din of battle. Besides, the attack was so swift that there was no tactic that could be successfully employed to neutralize it.
After the battle, and now “sated with slaughter,” the twelfth century Poem of the Cid resumes the narrative: “the Cid returned to his wife and daughters, his helmet gone, the hood of his coat of mail thrown back and the linen under-cap pushed over his brow. His sword was dripping with blood, which had run up the blade to the hilt and along his arm up to the elbow.”
With the other arm he hurled a mutilated drum at their feet, crying “Thus are Moors vanquished!” In terror and awe, they fell to the ground before him—“We are thy servants!”
For the full story of the Cid—as well as several other Christian heroes who stood against Islamic jihad—see Raymond Ibrahim’s Defenders of the West, from which the above account was excerpted.