Reconquista of Spain

Spain had been conquered by the Moors in 711. After seven and a half centuries, Christians were finally able to take back the territory conquered by the Moors.

Invasion of Spain

Before 711, a group of people known as the Visigoths ruled the Iberian Peninsula. Today, the Iberian Peninsula is made up of Portugal and Spain. In 711, Muslim forces from North Africa (known as Moors) invaded the peninsula. There is some question as to why the invasion took place. It may have been by invitation or it may have been simply a drive to expand the Muslim empire.

According to some sources, Julian, a local leader in the Iberian Peninsula, contacted the Muslim governor of North African, Musa ibn Nusair. Julian asked Nusair for help fighting Roderick, the Visigoth ruler of Spain. Nusair sent one of his generals, Jabal At-Tariq, along with 7000 men to invade. The Moors had no problem defeating the Visigoth army and during one of the battles, the Visigoth king, Roderick, was killed. Over the course of the next nine years, the Moors conquered all of the Iberian Peninsula and even threatened to invade France.

The Reconquista (The Reconquest)

The Reconquista of Spain began around 722 and took a number of centuries before it was complete. The start of the Reconquista was the battle at Covadonga.

Covadonga and the Kingdom of Asturias

A number of rebellions began taking place in Moorish territory protesting a dramatic increase in taxes. The Moors had difficulty defeating these rebellions and in one instance, the Moors sent the army to put down the rebellion led by Pelayo of Asturias (also known as Pelagius). Pelayo was forced to retreat from the army to Covadonga in Northern Spain, a narrow valley where Pelayo could limit the advantage of the Muslim’s superior numbers. Pelayo was able to defeat the Muslim forces at Covadonga and despite repeated attempts later on, the Muslims were never able to defeat Pelayo.

This defeat of the Muslims is viewed as the beginning of the Reconquista of Spain although it took more than three centuries before interest in the Reconquista increased. Pelayo and his descendants used their new base to form a small kingdom, the kingdom of Asturias. They used this base to conduct attacks on Moorish occupied territory.

At around the same time, the Moors had begun to invade southern France. The invasion was stopped by Odo the Great. Another Moorish invasion took place in 732 but that was stopped by Charles Martel at Tours.

By 775, the Kingdom of Asturias controlled the northwest of Iberia. The ruler at that time, Alfonso II, was recognized as king of Asturias by both Charlemagne and the Pope.

In 924, the ruler of Asturias, Alfonso III, moved his capital to the city of Leon. His kingdom was subsequently renamed the Kingdom of Leon.

Different Kingdoms

The Franks in France needed to protect themselves from further invasion by the Moors so they began to build fortifications in the mountain passes of the Pyrenees. Charlemagne also resettled the area to increase the population and improve defenses. By 778, these settlements formed four different kingdoms. The two most important kingdoms were the kingdom of Pamplona, which would later become the kingdom of Navarre, and the kingdom of Aragon.

The two remaining kingdoms, the kingdom of Sobrarbe and the kingdom of Ribagorza did not play a big part in the Reconquista. These kingdoms were all in the northern part of Iberia, and they not only fought the Muslims but also fought each other in a bid for more territory and more power.

The population of these kingdoms continued to grow as did their wealth as trade began to be developed.


In 929, Abd-ar-Rahman III named himself the Caliph and asserted control over all Muslim-held territories in the Iberian Peninsula. He also tried to conquer the Christian kingdoms in the peninsula but was unsuccessful. After Abd-ar-Rahman’s death, power transferred to his son Al-Hakim II. Al-Hakim worked towards developing peace with the Christian kingdoms but when he died, his son became a puppet king. The puppet strings were held by Vizier Almanzor who initiated a number of attacks on the Christian kingdoms.

When Almanzor died, the Muslim-held territory broke up into individual territories called taifas. These taifas were small kingdoms, each hoping for its independence. At one point, there were thirty-two taifas and the rulers of these small kingdoms were more than willing to attack one another.


By the 11th century, both Catholicism and Islam became much more aggressive. This is the time of the Christian crusades and the conflict in the Iberian Peninsula became connected to the fervor for the Crusades and the battle against Islam. Many of the military orders, such as the Knights Templar, the Order of Santiago, and the Order of Calatrava, fought in Spain during the Reconquista.

The Christian states in the northern part of the Iberian Peninsula continued to attack the Muslim forces and expand their territories southward. This expansion was partially halted by the appearance of the Almoravids. The Almoravids were African and Berber Moors whose armies invaded the peninsula on a number of different occasions. Their aim was to unite the taifas into one entity. They stopped the Christian states attacking from the north and they were only defeated once in 1094 by El Cid.

The Almoravids were attacked by another Muslim group, the Almohads. The Almohads felt that the Almoravids were heretics. In 1070, the Almohads established their capital in Seville and ended up ruling Muslim Andalusia (the Muslin territory in Spain).

The Christian kingdoms finally set aside their differences and combined forces to attack the Almohads. The forces from Castile, Navarre, Aragon, and Portugal combined to defeat the Muslim forces in the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa. This battle occurred on July 16, 1212 and captured most of the territory held by the Muslims. The only territory the Muslims had left was Granada. They were able to hold on to this territory for over two hundred years.

The End of the Reconquista

The Muslims had lost most of their territory but were still holding strong in Granada. The territory was called the Nasrid emirate and over the past two hundred years, twenty different Muslim princes ruled the territory.
In 1469, the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile were united into the nation of Spain. The two kingdoms combined their forces and focused on throwing the Muslims out of their final foothold in Granada. On January 2, 1492, Muhammad XII (Boabdil) surrendered to the combined forces of Spain and the Muslims lost their last piece of territory in the Iberian Peninsula.

The Reconquista took 750 years to complete. It may have been completed much quicker if there weren’t such long periods of non-fighting between the various combatants. At times, the Christian nations were more interested in fighting one another than fighting the Muslims but in the end the Christians were able to put aside their differences and defeat the Muslim forces.