El Cid

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El Cid and also "El Cid Campeador" is the name commonly used for the main medieval Spanish knight and hero, whose real name was Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (born in Vivar, Burgos, Spain circa 1045, died in Valencia, Spain in July 1099). He was born a lower nobleman, although his mother was a close relative of King Alfonso VI of Castile. As a grown-up his merits gave him an outstanding position among other higher noblemen, which made them resentful towards him.

Don Rodrigo's (Don is an honorific, similar to Sir or Mr.) life is one of those cases when reality matches fiction. The king unfairly exiled him twice, deprived him of his property and illegally imprisoned his wife and daughters due to palace intrigues. He marched to exile with his men, and with tears in his eyes (as told in the magnificent "Cantar de Mio Cid", a poetry book written shortly after his death). He never fought back against his king as an exiled lord, which he had the right to, according to law. Instead, he made his living capturing land from the Arabs, but he was open-minded and also loyally and respectfully served some Arab kings in Spain. The Arabs respected and admired him, calling him "Al Sayiddi" (sir) which is the origin of his nickname.

He was never defeated in battle, and he made huge progress in the reconquest of Spain from the Islamic forces. He conquered many cities in the east of Spain, and finally Valencia. After capturing it, El Cid ruled the territory around this major city, establishing what could have been called a kingdom but which he always called part of Castile, declaring the territory as belonging to his king. There the king allowed him to meet his wife and daughters, and they lived happily there until his death.

He was a cultivated man, having served the king as a judge. He kept in life a personal archive with copies of the letters he mailed and important diplomas he signed as part of his cooperation in the king's administration. During spare time in his campaigns there was obviously no TV or radio, so he ordered books from classic authors (romans and greeks) on military themes be read in loud voice to him and his troops, both for entertainment and inspiration during battle, which seems was a very good idea to match their adversaries. They always had creative approaches to battles, discussing the strategy beforehand in a sort of "brainstorming". They frequently used unexpected strategies, like waiting for the enemy as being paralized with terror and then attacking them suddenly, distracting the enemy with a small group of soldiers, etc. El Cid had a humble personality and frequently accepted or included suggestions from his troops. Also he would make up his mind when his soldiers made him see he was in an error, very unfrequent for the time, and probably a reason for his success as a person.

The man who served him as his right arm was Minaya Alvar Fáñez, a close relative. His sword "Tizona" can still be seen in the Army Museum at Madrid. Soon after his death it became one of the most precious possessions of the Spanish royal family. This is a very special, well-forged sword he captured from the Arabs, and only recent studies have recreated a metal-forging process that came close to the excellent properties of the steel. His battle horse was called "Babieca". They had a horse for battles and another one for travelling, and would change horses quickly if they had to fight, so that their best one would not be tired of the journey.

His daughters married noblemen and his blood became a part of the foundation of the oldest noble families. It is said that the present heir to the French throne has family ties with El Cid, among many others.

Because of his noble spirit, intelligence, generosity and battlefield excellence, his fame has been passed down all the generations to contemporary Spaniards. His figure is outstanding, above his contemporaries, and he is like a lighthouse for generations to come. It should be noted that his image was later distorted by the powers of that time (the crown and the church) to their own benefit, making him appear more like an over-religious man, and example of how to serve a king, and less a fair, noble-spirited but down-to-earth man. He was also called "El que en buena hora nació" ("The one born in a lucky hour")

Bibliography:

"The world of El Cid, Chronicles of the spanish reconquest", Simon Barton and Richard Fletcher, Manchester University Press. (Manchester, 2000). ISBN 0 71905225 4 hardback, 0 71905226 2 paperback. www.manchesteruniversitypress.co.uk

"El Cid histórico. Un estudio exhaustivo sobre el verdadero Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar", Gonzalo Martínez Díez, Editorial Planeta (Spain, june 1999). ISBN 84-08-03161-9 www.editorial.planeta.es

Fear, A. T. (trans.), "Lives of the Visigothic Fathers", Translated texts for historians, vol 26 (Liverpool, 1997).

Melville, C. and A. Ubaydli (ed. and trans.), "Christians and Moors in Spain", vol. III, Arabic sources (711-1501) (Warminster, 1992).

Menéndez Pidal, R. (ed.) "Cantar de Mio Cid", 3 vols (3rd edn, Madrid, 1954-6).

Michael, I. "The poem of the Cid" (Manchester 1975).

Wolf, K.B. (trans), "Conquerors and Chroniclers of Early Medieval Spain", Translated texts for historians, vol. 9, (Liverpool, 1990).