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Baldwin, M. W. (ed.) / The first hundred years

II: Conflict in the Mediterranean Before the First Crusade,   pp. [30]-[79] PDF (19.6 MB)

Page 32

 The earliest firm tradition of a victory by Christian remnants and refugees
after the final defeat of the Visigothic monarchy is localized in the Asturias,
a region lying in the rugged terrain between the Cantabrian mountains and
the north coast of the peninsula. It is adjacent to Galicia on its west and
is separated from Cantabria to its east by the Picos de Europa. To the south
of the Asturias, across the Cantabrian mountains lies Leon, early an object
of Asturian conquest. 
 According to the tradition, after the defeat and death of king Roderic a
certain Pelayo was acclaimed as king, and thereafter led his followers to
victory over a Moslem force in the valley of Covadonga near his capital at
Cangas de Onis. Although the earliest written account of the battle of Covadonga
which has reached our time dates from some two centuries after the event,
it is recorded by several Arabic historians unlikely to have made use of
the Latin chronicle, and is so firmly established in tradition that there
seems no reason for denying its foundation in fact. After allowance is made
for exaggeration in numbers and embellishment with the miraculous or with
supernatural interpretation of natural phenomena—arrows turning back
from the mountain wall against the enemy, a mountain moving to engulf the
retreating foe—the account may be accepted as the record of a successful
skirmish fought by local inhabitants, Visigothic and other Christian refugees,
following a long series of defeats. It is generally believed that Pelayo,
whether or not that was his true name, was a member of the Gothic aristocracy,
if not of royal blood. There is a tradition that he was in Cordova, presumably
to attempt a negotiated settlement with the Moslem rulers, a year before
the traditional date of the battle (718). At least this establishes at an
early date the pattern of the frontier caudillos, often ready to treat with
the Moslem in terms of alliance or feudal submission if such were the surest
means for securing possessions and authority. 
 Pelayo was succeeded by his son, and subsequent successors are traced to
relationship with him by blood or by marriage. The third prince in the succession,
Alfonso I (737—756), son of the duke of Cantabria and son-in-law of
Pelayo, broadened the base of operations by bringing the adjacent provinces
into personal union with the Asturias and by moving westward into Galicia.
In the latter move, he was able to take advantage of a Berber revolt which
drew southward the scant Berber garrisons with which the Moslems had sought
to hold the northwest of the peninsula. Although Alfonso I was able to strengthen

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