The Reconquista period refers to a period of nearly 750 years stretched between the earliest resistance to the expanding Moorish rule in the Iberian region and the eventual end of all Muslim rule in Iberia with the fall of Granada in 1492.
The Omayyad Caliphate rapidly expanded its reign into the Iberian region during the early 8th century under the Moorish leader Tariq ibn Ziyad. Ziyad was successful in overrunning the Visigothic Hispania but the Muslim armies were successfully halted in northern Iberia.
They were first defeated at the Battle of Covadonga in 718 and subsequently routed at the Battle of Tours by Frankish military leader, Charles Martel, in 732. This was followed by the establishment of different Christian kingdoms on the border of the Muslim-controlled regions. These kingdoms would then continued to push into Muslim territories, eventually taking back the control of the whole of Iberia by 1492.
The Muslim conquest of Iberia began in 711 when Tariq ibn Ziyad crossed the Strait of Gibraltar with a Moorish army. In a series of battles, he was able to subdue the might of the then Visigothic Hispania and bring most of southern Iberia under Muslim control. While Muslims successfully expanded their reign all the way to Valencia in the East and Zaragoza and beyond in the North, their advance further towards the Northern Europe was decisively blocked.
Beginning of the Reconquista
The earliest effective resistance to Muslim expansion in Iberia came when an Omayyad army attempted to take the city of Toulouse in 721. The army laid siege to the city under the command of the Andalusian governor.
Duke Odo of Aquitaine rallied forces to create a Christian army which he then led to relieve Toulouse. Outside the city gates, Odo’s army was successful in enveloping the Omayyad forces and routing them. Only a few Omayyad officials and soldiers managed to escape. This was the first battle in Iberia where the Muslims were decisively defeated. And it halted the Muslim attempts to expand northwards, at least for the time being.
Battle of Covadonga
The Battle of Covadonga took place in northwest Iberia in the mountains of Asturias. In 718, a Visigothic nobleman named Pelagius was elected to lead the local Christian population. Pelagius refused to bow to Muslim authority and refused to pay taxes to the Omayyad caliph in Cordoba. He also assaulted the Muslim garrison in the region and expelled the Muslim governor.
In 721, a sizable Muslim army confronted Pelagius and his band of men who had retreated into the mountains of Asturias. Although heavily outnumbered, Pelagius was able to take advantage of his position and decisively routed the Muslim force. This led to the establishment of the Christian kingdom of Asturias, a prelude to numerous other kingdoms in the Iberian north.
Battle of Tours
The Battle of Tours was another decisive victory against the Muslim armies in the north of Iberia. The battle took place between the Frankish army under Charles Martel and the emir of Al-Andalus, Abdul Rahman. In 732, the two armies engaged in battle resulting in a decisive defeat for the Muslim army whereby the Andalusian emir was killed. Martel then went out to march southwards, reaching as far as Nimes and ravaging Muslim strongholds along the way. The battle marked a decisive halt of Muslim military campaigns into the north of Iberian and into Frankish regions.
Kingdom of Asturias
Once the Muslim campaigning into northern Iberia was decisively halted as a result of aforementioned events, independent Christian principalities in the north began to emerge. The earliest of these was the kingdom of Asturias under Pelagius.
The kingdom successfully fought off Muslim raids and by the 9th century, Asturian kings were raiding into Muslim territories and had established diplomatic ties with the Carolingian Empire as well as the Papacy. It was in the originally Asturian territories that Castile, Leon and Galicia came into being as the countryside was rapidly repopulated. By the 10th century, the kingdom of Asturias had turned into the Kingdom of Leon.
Kingdom of Navarre
The Kingdom of Navarre was another Christian principality that emerged in northern Iberia during the 9th century and became one of the key entities exerting the Reconquista effort southwards into Muslim territories. Navarre was more involved in absorbing the Christian territories which would later shape up into the kingdoms of Leon, Castile and Aragorn.
Kingdom of Leon
The Kingdom of Leon was established in the 10th century and formed a vital bulwark against Muslim rule in southern Iberia. In 920, the kingdom suffered a major defeat at the hands of the Caliphate of Cordoba and went on to suffer from internal unrest for the rest of the century. Despite this, Leon played a vital part in the Reconquista by defeating the Muslim forces in alliance with Castile in 939.
Role of Christian kingdoms in Reconquista
The emergence, integration and re-emergence of Christian kingdoms in northern Iberia was an ongoing process which began in 8th century and continued well until the end of Reconquista in the 15th century. These kingdoms were frequently marred by internal unrest, external threat from Muslim armies and attempts to expand their territories at each other’s expense. Ultimately, the merger of different kingdoms into larger political entities eventually consolidated the Reconquista efforts and was vital in successfully diminishing Muslim rule in southern Iberia.
Repopulation in southern Iberia
Repopulating conquered Muslim territories was a vital part of the Reconquista effort. It ensured that the conquered territories decisively came to have a Christian identity and the populations brought to the region, being loyal to a Christian king, also acted as a formidable frontier bulwark against the Muslims.
Decline of Muslim rule and Conclusion of Reconquista
The Muslim rule in Iberia had begun to weaken following the fall of the Cordoba Caliphate in the early 11th century. Many smaller polities were established in the Muslim territories and the lack of a centralised authority allowed Christian kingdoms in the north to encroach on these territories.
The Almoravids revived Muslim control in the late 11th century by defeating Christian kingdoms in many battles but by 13th century, civil unrest again plagued Muslim territories. By 1252, only the Emirate of Granada remained as the sole Muslim territory in the region. It was ultimately conquered by Castilian forces in 1492, marking the end of Reconquista period and the reassertion of Christian control over all of Iberia.