Thoughts on Reading
1. The Muslims, mainly Berbers from nearby Morocco, invaded Spain in the year
711 and, within five years, had gained control of almost the entire peninsula. Not
all of the conquest was a matter of force; several local leaders accepted Islam
along with their people and even aided in the conquest. The Muslims did not
particularly encourage such conversions, since they hoped to become rich in the
new land, and fellow Muslims even new converts paid no taxes and were free men.
Consequently, there was a large Christian population in Muslim lands
) who adopted much Muslim culture and customs but clung to
their Christian faith. There were some regions that the Muslims were unable to
subdue, such as the Basques in the rugged Pyrenean lands of the North.
The most important Christian center, however, was in the Cantabrian Mountains,
where, according to legend, a number of Visigothic warriors and clerics had taken
refuge. Again according to legend, a group of these warriors met in a cave at
Covadonga to decide what to do. They agreed to choose a king to lead them to the
reconquest of their lands and to follow him as long as he respected them and
observed their customs. Their choice was a fellow warrior named Pelayo (the same
as Pelagius), and Pelayo and his successors established the Kingdom of Asturias.
The Asturians operated much as bandits, raiding from their mountain fastnesses,
but they slowly extended the area of their control until they finally captured the
city of León. León had been the chief military center in the North under the
Romans (its name was "city of the legion") and it was extremely well-fortified.
The Asturian monarchs transferred their capital to León, and their realm became
known as the Kingdom of León.
In the 800's, they gained control of Galicia, the land to their west, and the kings
claimed to have discovered there the tomb of Saint James the disciple and apostle.
Saint James, as Santiago, became the patron saint of the Spanish Christians, and a
great pilgrimage route to his tomb at Santiago de Compostela began to attract
pilgrims from all over western Europe. At about the same time, the counts that
Charlemagne had established along his Spanish frontier, led by the famous
Raymond of Toulouse, established counties south of the mountains. The most
important of these was in the northeast of the peninsula, Cataluña, with its capital
of Barcelona. Finally, the kings of León established a heavily fortified district to
the southeast, building castles and establishing garrisons to defend their kingdom
from Muslim attacks from that direction.
This fortified district became known as
, "The Land of Castles." The lands
of Castile were not very fertile and there was almost continual skirmishing along
the frontier, so, while the nobility of León grew rich and secure, Castile remained a
land of numerous minor nobles with small holdings accustomed to hard fighting
and constant danger. The Leónese nobles held their Castilian brothers-in-arms in