Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar was a medieval Castilian military leader during the 11th century. Although he didn’t come from a rich or powerful family, Vivar established himself at the court of Ferdinand the Great through his valour and military prowess.
He later became the commander of the military under Ferdinand’s heir, Sancho, and launched a military career which would spanned several decades. His career was marked by victories against Christian and Muslim forces alike, and he would serve both sides during different parts of his life.
Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, also known as El Cid, first began attached to the Castilian court during the reign of Ferdinand the Great. Upon Ferdinand’s death, his son Sancho ascended to the throne. Sancho appointed Rodrigo as the commander of the Castilian army.
Rodrigo then led the Castilian campaigns against Muslim armies of Andalus as well as the armies of Sancho’s brothers in the neighbouring kingdoms. In doing so, he was critical in helping Sancho establish his control on the Castilian territories.
Sancho was murdered in 1072 and his brother Alfonso ascended the Castilian throne. Since Rodrigo had been an ardent supporter of Sancho, he soon lost the favour of the crown under Alfonso’s reign. Alfonso first stripped him of the command of the Castilian army and finally exiled him from Castile in 1081. Although he had led a number of battles against Muslim armies, he went over to the Muslim rulers of the taifa of Zaragoza.
After he was exiled from Castile, he offered his services to the Muslim ruler of Zaragoza in 1081. It was here at the Muslim court that he was given the title of El Cid which means “The Master”. He directly remained attached to Zaragoza until 1087. During this period, he led the multi-ethnic army of Zaragoza against Christian Sancho I of Aragorn as well as Muslim neighbours of the Zaragoza taifa.
When Yusuf ibn Tashfin launched his Iberian campaign to reinforce the Muslims in Andalus in 1086, Rodrigo was still leading the Muslim armies. He went on to command a major Moorish force at the Battle of Sagrajas where the combined might of the Muslim armies defeated a large combined force of Christian kingdoms.
In 1087, Rodrigo was recalled by Alfonso after he suffered a defeat at the hands of Almoravids. Although Rodrigo paid a visit to the Castilian monarch, he soon left the kingdom. In the conflict between Almoravids and Christian armies, Rodrigo was able to retain a combined Muslim and Christian army of his own.
He used this army to subdue the ruler of Barcelona in 1090. He then went on to gain control of a number of other towns, finally becoming the independent ruler of Valencia in 1094. The city had both Christian and Muslim populations, with both represented in the administration and army of the city. El Cid went on to rule the city until his death in 1099.