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Umayyad Conquest of Hispania (Saracen Jihad)

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Umayyad Conquest of Hispania
Saracen Jihad
Date 711 - 788
Location Hispania
Result Decisive Umayyad Victory
  • Muslim conquest of Hispania
  • Collapse of the Visigoths
Belligerents
Visigothic Kingdom
Umayyad Flag Umayyad Caliphate
Commanders and leaders
Achila II

Ardo

Umayyad Flag Tariq ibn Ziyad

Umayyad Flag Musa ibn Nusayr

Battles
Guadalete


The ‘’’Umayyad Conquest of Hispania’’’ refers to the initial Islamic Umayyad Caliphate's conquest, between 711 and 788, of the Christian Visigothic Kingdom of Hispania, centered in the Iberian Peninsula, which was known to them under the Arabic name al-Andalus.

The invasion of Hispania began in 711 lead by an army of largely Berber Northwest Africans under the command of Tariq ibn Ziyad, who landed at Gibraltar and campaigned their way northward. The invaders combated the usurper Roderic at the decisive Battle of Guadalete, with support provided to the Saracens by the legitimate heirs to the throne. After establishing a foothold in the region, the initial raids began, leading to the successful conquest of much of Hispania.

Under the pressure of invasion, the Visigothic kingdom splintered into client-dominions of the Umayyads. Over the following decade, most of the Iberian Peninsula was further occupied and brought under Umayyad sovereignty. In 714 Musa ibn Nusayr led an army to the northwest, up the Ebro river to overrun the western Basque regions and the Cantabrian mountains as far as Gallaecia, with no major opposition. Many of these areas drew little interest from the invaders, who found them hard to defend and for little benefit. This led to much of the high western and central sub-Pyrenean valleys remaining unconquered.

With Hispania largely under their control, in 717 the Muslim invaders launched an invasion of Gaul to the north. The region of Septimania was occupied, then under the control of the client-king Ardo, allowing the Muslim invaders to continue north until being temporarily halted by Odo the Great's Aquitanians in the Battle of Toulouse in 721.

The Muslim invaders withdrew to amass a larger army and in 732 the combined Arab-Berber forces defeated Odo at the Battle of the River Garonne. Odo was forced to allied with his foe Charles, the effective ruler of Francia (Neustria, Austrasia and Burgundy), who led an army against the Saracens before being defeated and killed at the Battle of Tours in 732.

Background

Prior to the Muslim invasion, the region of Hispania was in a period of instability. Wittiza, the Visigothic King of Hispania had died, creating a succession crisis among several claimants. An usurpation led by Roderic and a faction of nobles had overthrown the legitimate ruler and had led to a division within the kingdom, with Roderic controlling the south of the nation, primarilly around the provinces of Lusitania and western Carthaginiensis around the capital Toledo, and Achila II holding the provinces of Tarraconensis and Narbonensis in the northeast.

Invasion

In 711 a small raiding force of approximately 1,700 Berbers under the command of Tariq Ibn Ziyad departed from Septem (Ceuta) and landed at the Rock of Calpe, the later Gibraltar, which Arabic sources derive from Jebel Tariq, "Rock of Ṭāriq", to serve as a reconnaissance force which would test the strength of the Visigothic Kingdom and plunder treasure. From Gibraltar forces under the command of Tariq moved to conquer the region of Algeciras and then followed the Roman road that led to Seville.

Roderic was fighting the Basques when he was recalled to the south to deal with an invasion. Hoping to establish himself as a strong ruler and the legitimate king, he gathered a force to oppose the Arabs and Berbers (Mauri) who were raiding in the south of the Iberian peninsula, shortly after secure his throne. Roderic’s army destroyed several towns under the occupation of Tariq ibn Ziyad and other Muslim generals.

Roderic made several expeditions against the invaders before he was deserted by his troops and killed in battle in 712. By then many nobles who had once supported the king desired the throne for themselves, and Roderic’s offense fell apart, combined with low morale amongst the soldiery because of Roderic's disputed succession.The majority of Roderic's soldiers were poorly trained and unwilling slave conscripts, with only a few freemen left fighting for the Goths.

Musa ibn Nusayr, Tariq’s superior, crossed the Gaditanum fretum (Strait of Cádiz) with a large force in 711 and remained in Hispania for fifteen months. This larger army would later contribute to a full scale invasion of Hispania.

Battle of Guadalete

See: Battle of Guadalete

Near the lake La Janda among the plains of Southern Spain Tariq’s forces met against Roderic’s engaging in a number of short, inconclusive skirmishes. Ṭāriq was marching from Cartagena to Córdoba, after defeating a Gothic army that tried to stop him, when he met Roderic’s main army on the field of battle.

Ṭāriq’s army mainly consisted of Berber cavalry, gathered from his initial landing group and a few reinforcements from Musa. The Visigothic forces were far smaller and under equip, emphasising that the Visigothic kingdom had been relatively peaceful and not, like Francia to its north, organised for war. What small organized forces that Roderic possessed were comprised of a small number of elite clans, their warrior followings, the king and his personal following, and the forces that could be raised from the royal fisc constituting the troops upon which Roderic could draw.

The superior Muslim cavalry engaged Roderic’s army in a series of hit and run attacks, while Roderic's men attempted to maneuver en mass. During the battle a cavalry wing that had secretly pledged to rebel against Roderic stood aside, allowing the Muslims an opening to attack. Ṭāriq's cavalry, the mujaffafa, forming as much as a third of his total force and armored in coats of light mail and identifiable by a turban over a metal cap, exploited the opening and charged into the Visigothic infantry, soon followed by the infantry.

The Christian army was routed and the king slain in the final hours of battle. The engagement was a bloodbath, with Visigothic losses estimated to be extremely high. Muslim losses were also substantial, losing about a fourth of their overall army. With Roderic killed in battle, the crushing defeat left the Visigoths largely leaderless and disorganized. The defeat of the royal army left the entire region open to the invaders, who were also aided by the Hispano-roman peasants who were disillusioned by the prominent social divide between them and the 'barbaric' and 'decadent' Visigoth royal family.

The principal urban centers of Catalonia surrendered during the period of the Arab governor Abd al-Aziz ibn Musa, and in 714 his father Musa ibn Nusair advanced and raided Asturias via Soria and Palencia, all the way to the coastal town of Gijón, where a Berber governor was appointed. Also during this time Muslim troops reached Pamplona, a Basque town which submitted to Muslim rule after a compromise was brokered with Arab commanders to respect the town and its inhabitants, a practice that was common in many towns of the Iberian Peninsula.


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