Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, also known as "El Cid," was a medieval Spanish military leader who gained fame by taking the city of Valencia from the Spanish Muslims and defeating a large Almoravid invasion force. Although the real El Cid was a mercenary who fought for both Christian and Muslim leaders at different points in his career, his defeat of a powerful Muslim army made him a symbol of the Christian reconquest of the Iberian peninsula. He was reverenced as a hero to both Moorish and Christian Spaniards. El Cid's military victories and courageous, noble character gained him respect as a hero for 11th century Spaniards and as a heroic figure in Spanish history.
The Rise of El Cid
In 711 A.D., a Muslim army from North Africa invaded and conquered most of the Iberian peninsula leaving only a few small Christian kingdoms in the north. For the next several centuries, both religions coexisted in Spain. Eleventh-century Spain became a patchwork of independent or semi-independent city states and feudal lordships with some made up of Christians and some of Muslim inhabitants and rulers. It was not at all uncommon for Christian soldiers to fight in the armies of Muslim rulers. The Muslim title "sayyid" means "master" or "lord." The title was often applied to mercenary bosses who led their own small armies of soldiers for hire. The most famous and successful of these mercenary commanders was Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar who was nicknamed "El Cid" or "the Boss."
Career of El Cid
El Cid began his career as a soldier for Sancho II, one of two claimants for the throne of the Christian kingdom of Leon-Castile. When Sancho II was killed and replaced by his brother Alfonso VI, El Cid served the new king for several years but was then sent into exile. He next led an army of 2,000 Christian knights for the Muslim ruler of Zaragoza, al-Mu'tamin. Alfonso later decided to employ him again and send him against the Muslim rulers of southern Spain. El Cid agreed on the condition that he could keep any lands that he conquered.
Hero el Campeador
El Cid took the city of Valencia in 1094 and then defeated a numerically superior force of Almoravids who had come over from North Africa to reverse Christian gains. Unlike the Spanish Muslims, the Almoravids were fanatically religious and had the added reputation of being invincible in battle. El Cid's victory over the Almoravid army made him a hero to the Spanish Christians. The Spanish of that era referred to him as the "hero el campeador" or "battle planner" referring to his habit of studying ancient Roman military treatises for tips on battle strategy.
Hero's Poems for El Cid
El Cid's military achievements, although impressive, had little to do with the much later Christian reconquest of Spain. The Spanish Christians did not succeed in driving the Muslims out of Spain for another 400 years. However, El Cid did become the hero subject of the epic poems called "Poema de Mio Cid" and in "Cantar de Mio Cid." This idealized depiction of his career and his victory over powerful Muslim forces made him a symbol of unity and heroism for Spanish Christians. The Christian soldiers who waged the "reconquista" or wars of reconquest against the Spanish Muslims saw El Cid as a symbol of what they were fighting for.