'Saviour' of The Reconquista: El Cid (Part 2)

April 25, 2022

'Saviour' of The Reconquista: El Cid (Part 2)
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"In Spain's rich history, El Cid is remembered above all others".

El Cid was down but not out!
After sacking King Alfonso's lands he was in exile, barred from returning to his home and family.

But, his deeds had made him famous and he soon found employment in the pay of al-Mu'taman, Lord of Zaragoza.

As The Cid eyed off a city to call his own, an old enemy would return from across the straits of Africa.

And, with nowhere else to turn, King Alfonso would beg El Cid to return...

The second and final part of The Life of Rodrigo Diaz: El Cid, 'Christian Saviour' Of The Reconquista.


  • Did El Cid pull the beard of García Ordóñez?
    • There is no historical proof for this taking place.

  • What does ‘El Cid’ mean?
    • ‘The Lord’. It is a corruption of the Arabic term ‘Sayyid’ which El Cid was likely referred to by his Moorish soldiers (though there is no Islamic sources that support this).

  • Was El Cid from poverty?
    • His family were well-to-do. They were not rich, but were not peasants.

  • Did the infantes of Carrion marry El Cid’s daughters?
    • This story comes from ‘The Poem Of El Cid’. It has no historical accuracy.

  • Was El Cid’s dead body mounted on a horse to lead his men into battle?
    • No. The story likely originates from his wife, Ximena bringing his body back to Castile.

  • Did El Cid fill a treasure chest with sand, and trick his debtors into believing it was filled with gold?
    • This story comes from ‘The Poem Of El Cid’. It has no historical accuracy.

  • Did the swords: Colada and Tizona really belong to El Cid?
    • These swords exist (currently in the Museum of Madrid) but whether they were owned by El Cid is dubious.

  • Was El Cid loyal to King Alphonso VI?
    • El Cid’s loyalty swayed back and forth over his lifetime.

Additional Reading / Sources:


  • A huge thankyou to my generous Patrons! You guys make the show possible!
    • Malcolm G
    • Tom G
    • Claudia K
  • All images are public domain unless stated otherwise.
  • Paid Artlist.io license for 'Anthology Of Heroes Podcast' utilised for numerous sounds/music
  • The Ice Giants by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.



Hello and thank you for tuning in to Anthology of Heroes.

I'm your host, Elliot Gates, and this is part two of the story of the Spanish hero, El Cid.

This episode begins just after the moment Rodrigo had gained his famous nickname, El Cid,

in the service of the Taifa king of Zaragoza.

In part one of the episode we walked through the rough and tumble world that Rodrigo grew up in.

Ever shifting borders built on ever shifting alliances, we talked about how the world had changed

since the fall of the Visigothic kingdom 300 or so years earlier.

We spoke about how Islamic Spain became wealthy and prosperous

and how that wealth had slowly floated north to the battered Christian kingdoms in the mountains.

We followed Rodrigo as he grew into manhood,

where he quickly realized his prowess on the battlefield could only get him so far.

We covered Rodrigo's exile from the Christian lands by King Alfonso

and left the episode with El Cid in the pay of the king of Zaragoza.

As I read all that aloud it sounds a little confusing

and while we covered a lot, the first episode walked through all this at a comfortable pace,

so I would really encourage you to listen to that episode first if you haven't

because almost all of our main characters have been introduced in that episode.

Anyway, let's get into it.

Part 2 of The Man of Many Faces, El Cid

King Alfonso began his conquests with zeal.

As a guide on where all this is happening, if you split Spain into four quarters,

Alfonso, or his vassals, owned the top left quarter of it

and the main military power of Islamic Spain was centered around the south.

So in the middle were a bunch of small taifa kingdoms with loose alliances to each other.

That's an oversimplification, but hey, it's a podcast. I can only do so much without a map.

Anyway, these small Islamic kingdoms, known as taifas, were quickly gobbled up by Alfonso.

When diplomacy would work he sent envoys, where intimidation was needed he sent knights

and when a more delicate touch was needed he sent spies.

Time and time again his puppet rulers would be almost turfed out by the population they ruled,

the people being unhappy with the rising taxes that were being demanded by a foreign, Christian king.

When the rebellions rose up, Alfonso the Brave was only too happy to help his vassals.

Guys, come on, that's what I'm here for, don't even worry about it.

His knights would stampede through the streets, murder the leaders and restore order,

but I mean, you know, nothing in life is free, is it?

So, to cover the cost of bringing his army in, Alfonso would help himself to a few castles.

His vassals would shrink and shrink and slowly they would be pushed out of the picture.

His ambitions were laid bare when he soon began to use the title,

Imperator Teutis Espanié, Emperor of All Spain.

As the emboldened king edged ever closer to Zaragoza,

El Cid was finding himself in an increasingly awkward position.

Even though he was employed and paid well by Al Mutamán, the king of Zaragoza,

the two knew this was a temporary arrangement.

Rodrigo's life, family and community ties with the Castile,

and was any luck one day he would return.

In 1083, Alfonso sent a delegation to an important fortress that belonged to Al Mutamán.

The exact details of this mission are unclear, but it looks like Alfonso had a mole on the inside of the castle,

who, with the help of hired muscle, had planned to kill the commander and flip the castle into the hands of the Christian king.

Something went very wrong once they arrived though.

Far from making a quiet back entrance and waiting for a signal,

Alfonso's men entered and found themselves at the mercy of an angry mob.

Furious at the continual Christian aggression into their realm,

the townsfolk had heard stories of the rising taxes and of the curtailed privileges for Muslims that came with Alfonso's reign,

and the soldiers there were pelted with rocks and stones.

As the mob gathered in size, the delegation tried to slip away but were cornered,

and virtually all of them were just straight up murdered.

This was a big deal.

These were very high ranking men, with ties, some even blood ties, to King Alfonso himself.

It doesn't seem like Rodrigo had any hand in planning the event,

but he was very aware how his court rivals could spin it to make it look like he did.

After all, he was effectively in control of the whole defence of the realm where this happened.

So as fast as he could, he jumped on his horse and rode to Castile to assure the king that he had no part in this massacre.

The ever fantastical poem of El Cid really paints a vivid picture of this meeting.

He knelt down on his hands and knees on the ground, and with his teeth he pulled out a mouth full of grass.

With tears of joy streaming down his face, he showed in this way his complete submission to his liege lord.

End quote.

I don't really know what to say about that. Definitely a submissive sign I guess.

Whether or not Alfonso believed him immediately, we're not sure, but it didn't matter.

Because very soon he would have need of Rodrigo.

Very soon history would repeat itself.

Just shy of 400 years ago, Visigothic king Ruderick had sighted more ships setting out across the Strait of Gibraltar towards Spain.

Barely a year later, the Visigoth other people were scrubbed off the face of the earth,

utterly vanquished by the men who disembarked those ships.

And now they were back.

As the self-declared emperor of all Spain began to topple city after city, steamrolling his way south,

the Typhon rulers were shaken back to reality.

Shelving their plans for the next book or mathematical theory, they began to assess their options with a sense of urgency.

Ancient grudges held by the rulers of these little kingdoms stopped them from uniting as one,

so they instead looked south to their homeland of Africa.

Northern Africa had changed a lot since Tariq and Musa's lightning conquest 300 years back.

Since their departure, a conservative Islamic reform movement had taken the hearts of native Berbers.

It was known as Murubitan, which means something like those who hold fast,

a reference to a line in the Quran requiring Muslims to hold fast to Allah.

Firas al-Khatib, an author and PhD student in Islamic thought, claimed that the movement's simplicity was its strength.

While Berbers of the past had already embraced Islam, many had done so in name only and still retained many pre-conversion beliefs.

By providing these people a school of Islam that was suited to their nomadic lifestyle,

there was much less resistance and movement spread quickly and organically.

That name, Murubitan, would eventually be corrupted to Almoravid in the west, which is the term I'll use for simplicity.

Leading the Almoravids was a man named Yusuf ibn Tashfin.

Yusuf is a main character in our story, so I want to give a kind of idea of what this guy was like.

If I was to describe this guy in three words, I would use grim, aesthetic and devout.

His upbringing was night and day different to the pampered and educated Taifa kings.

He and his brethren were hard and tough.

These were men raised to endure the choking desert heat and long marches through it.

With a thin beard, black eyes, hooked nose, contrasted by a soft, controlled voice,

Yusuf was a man of action with great confidence in himself and in his God.

Every step up for him was one earned in blood or sweat.

Tribal feuds and violent overthrows were an everyday occurrence,

and he'd watch brothers disemboweled in front of him amongst the red dunes of the Sahara.

Though both the Almoravids and the Taifa kings were Muslims,

they had about as much in common as a merchant in Florence would have had to a Viking in Sweden.

Nothing makes this clearer than the record of the friendly correspondence between the Taifa king of Seville and Yusuf.

These guys have been chatting for a while, and after one of his visits to Spain,

Taifa king sends back a kind of thank you for visiting us message that went like this.

Quote, You left and I left, yet my longing was not calmed in my heart.

Nor were my tear ducts dry. My losing you completely changed my days and turned them black.

With you, my nights were white. End quote.

It's a bit sweet, right? A bit over the top, but, you know, nice sentiment.

So Yusuf, who was probably literate but nowhere near as educated as his pen pal,

reads this letter a few times, you know, squints at it, kind of turns it up and down,

like, what is this, what is this man talking about, and finally goes,

Ah, I see. He wants us to send him black and white slave girls.


As chest of chest of shining gold tribute made its way into the coffers of King Alfonso,

he became more emboldened.

In 1085, after a lengthy siege, one of the wealthiest and largest Taifa kingdoms fell to his army.

The Taifa of Toledo.

Many of the troops who participated in this multi-year siege were Muslims

who had been conscripted into the Christian king's army as part of their vassalage.

The fall of this strong, wealthy kingdom sent shockwaves through the peninsula.

If a state this big, this powerful, was not safe,

every minor kingdom knew they could easily be next.

The moderates, who may have pushed a reconciliation,

went silent after Toledo's main mosque was converted into a church.

As the new altar was dragged through the main prayer hall,

the new firebrand archbishop addressed a crowd and told them, quote,

Once the abode of demons had now become a tabernacle of the celestial virtue for all Christian people.

End quote.

This animosity towards the Muslim population was a real contrast to the Taifa kingdoms,

who generally left the Christians to do their own thing.

They were now in a tough position.

Should they invite a strong foreign power from Africa into the home?

Should they just hunker down and try and secure the best deal they could with Alfonso?

Finally, the ruler of Seville pulled the trigger and formally requested Yusuf to send troops to Spain.

His son was flabbergasted and criticized his father,

shaming him and insisting that this invitation would be the ruin of their family,

to which the old Taifa king shot back at his son, quote,

I have no desire to be branded by my descendants as the man who delivered Alain de Luz as prey to the infidels.

I am loath to have my name cursed in every Muslim pulpit,

and for my part I would rather be a camel driver in Africa than a swineherd in Castile.

End quote.

So, for the glory of Islam, Yusuf answered the call,

and near the modern border of Portugal, north of Seville,

the battle-hardened Islamic Berbers destroyed Alfonso's army.

To give you an idea of casualties, the Muslim chronicles refer to this battle as azalaka,

meaning slippery grounds, slippery because of the bloodshed.

The battle was a cold shower of reality to the Christian king's ambition.

Though this was not exactly the decisive battle that had wiped the Visigoths off the map 400 years earlier,

the similarities are hard to miss.

A Muslim power from North Africa overthrowing Christian realm at its height?

But Alfonso was not Ruderick, and Yusuf was not Tariq.

After his victory, Yusuf departed for Africa to deal with a succession crisis.

Alfonso's aggression had been checked, and the Taifa rulers had just been thrown a life preserver.

But what would they do with the time they bought?

So I know we've swayed a little away from El Cid,

so let's take a moment to get our bearings on what the landscape looked like.

I'll upload a few maps in our show notes to give you an indication,

but basically, Alfonso now had control either directly or indirectly to around half of the Spanish mainland.

Pretty much everything north of Toledo, that's the dead center of Spain, was his.

To the east of his domains, the Taifa king of Zaragoza, Al Mutamán, maintained independence.

And to the south of that lay Valencia, a strong fortress ruled by a vassal of Al Mutamán.

With good King Alfonso humbled by his recent defeat, he was in urgent need of talented commanders.

You could probably say he was desperate for them.

All of a sudden it was a vassal's market, and El Cid held all the cars.

Rodrigo, my old friend, how are you? How's the family? Good? That's good.

Remember that nasty exile business where I said you could never return home?

How about we both just do a favor and put that behind us, eh?

Rodrigo wound the king around his finger.

He'd come back, sure he would, but I mean, if you want him to defend your realm,

he's going to need a few castles to operate from.

And so El Cid returned to Castile, bunny hopping his old court rival,

Garcia Ordóñez, back into the limelight, wrangling three castles from the king,

as well as an agreement that any territory he conquered from the Muslim taifas would be his and his alone.

To a man that had been looking at lifelong exile in a foreign land barely a year ago,

this full 180 shows just how much the situation had changed.

With a few kisses of the royal hand, the campeador was back, baby.

But boy, oh boy, would he have his work cut out for him.

After sorting out his succession crisis back home, Yusuf was back in Spain,

and Alfonso had not been sitting idle.

Splashing out on mercenaries, repairing relationships with distant vassals,

marriages, smiles, bags of cash, whatever it took, he wasn't about to be caught out again.

He was ready for the wise and old desert nomad.

Well, he would have been if things went to plan.

El Cid was put in command of one wing of his army and was to rendezvous at a particular location

so that Alfonso and him could link up and engage Yusuf and his Almoravids as one.

When Alfonso got to the spot, Rodrigo was nowhere to be found.

Though in this case the Almoravid army retreated rather than giving battle, the king was furious.

He was gambling everything you had on a pitched battle like this,

and this vassal who he'd only just forgiven couldn't even show up?

With García Ordóñez and Count Berenguer whispering in his ear, the king slapped Rodrigo in chains.

He, his wife, and two daughters were thrown in jail.

For once, this event did seem to be a genuine misunderstanding rather than the campeador trying to pull a fast one.

A change of orders at the last minute seemed to be the reason for this no-show at the meeting point,

and eventually he was cleared of the charges, but the damages to his reputation was done.

El Cid retreated to a quiet corner of Alfonso's domain and laid low for a while,

hoping the whole thing would eventually blow over when a new crisis came along.

During this time, a good deal of his knights who had been with him through thick and thin

decided that finally El Cid was really done this time.

His reputation in such tatters as sticking to him would only damage their own.

His loyal followers left in droves searching for a new liege elsewhere.

But it was at moments like this that the campeador shone the brightest.

When lesser men would have buckled and given up, he took it as a challenge.

To the north of his position lay rich, unspoiled lands.

Lands owned by a vassal of none other than Count Berenguer.

This scheming count had been a long cause of Rodrigo's misfortunes.

Just like old crooked mouth Ordonez, Berenguer had used his position as close confidant to the king

to exaggerate and spin lies against Rodrigo.

Time and time again he had gotten away with it. It was time to give some back.

The count's lands were ransacked. The countryside was stripped and the cities were held up for ransom.

The point of the attack was to create a rift between the Taifa lord who owned the land

and Count Berenguer who was meant to be protecting him against raids exactly like this one.

As town after town paid off El Cid, his wealth began to return.

He wrote letters to his nemesis trying to goad him into battle.

He called the count a coward, a brother murderer, and reminded them that he had already captured him once in battle

and he could do it again.

The count shot back at Rodrigo, drawing attention to his low birth and lack of respect for the church property,

which was probably a fair call as Rodrigo seemed to have no issue pillaging church, mosque, or anything in between.

But behind the count's letters was an underlying fear.

Rodrigo may have been a thug and a brigand, but you don't get named master of the battlefield for no reason.

With Alfonso busy with Yusuf, it dawned on the count that he would soon have to face El Cid in battle.

Not wanting a repeat of last time, Berenguer dug deep and recruited men from everywhere he could.

Roughly doubling El Cid's forces, he ordered a dawn attack on Rodrigo, which caught his army off guard.

But Rodrigo, who had camped further up the plain, had the advantage.

In a testament to his leadership, the Cid rallied his frazzled men and led a counter charge, punching through the count's lines.

Meanwhile, the other division of the count's army approached from the rear in an attempt to flank him.

But this was held back by the Muslim contingent of El Cid's army, who stubbornly resisted while El Cid scrambled together a reserve force to counterattack.

In the heat of the battle, the 47-year-old campeador was pulled from Barbueca and while on the ground, stabbed, probably by a spear.

But as they say, fear rules the battlefield, and biting through the pain, he wrenched himself back atop his stallion to prove to his men that he still lived.

Charging back in, perhaps he shouted his famous war cry, quote,

For the love of Kreator, smite them my gallants. I am Roy Diaz of Bivar, the Cid, the campeador, end quote.

With the count's surprised attack blunted, the tide began to turn, and by the end of the day it was a clear victory for Rodrigo.

Among the chests of armor, troop payment, and horses captured during the battle sat a battered, dirty, and sullen Count Berenguer.

El Cid had made good on his threat.

The campeador had done it again. He had proved to the world he was not a man to be underestimated.

The string of ransoms and loot made him rich beyond belief, and the men that stuck with him were rewarded in kind.

As part of the peace agreement, Count Berenguer signed over his protectorate status, meaning Rodrigo became the new lord of the lands he'd just spent the last few months trashing.

Alongside the hefty ransom, the count must have felt a pang of humiliation when he read that his son was to be wedded to Rodrigo's daughter.

That same low birth that he had just mocked his enemy for was now tied to him.

As far as rivalries went, Berenguer was well and truly broken.

As news of the victory trickled in, over in the courts of Castile, brave King Alfonso brooded over the Cid's growing power on his eastern flank.

What could he do with a man like this?

Undoubtedly he was brilliantly skilled and brave, but completely uncontrollable.

Though still, he was technically his vassal, it was clear that any orders he issued him, he would be followed only if it benefited him.

It was definitely a cause of concern, but ultimately he had bigger fish to fry at the moment.

Yusuf had returned and this time he wasn't planning on heading back.

With his hold on Marrakesh now secure, Yusuf came to Spain for conquest and he was in no mood for playing games.

The Taifa kingdoms were given a much sterner ultimatum this time around, except vassalage or face destruction.

He had no patience for Islamic amirs that sided with Christians against their Muslim brothers or even those who wanted to remain neutral.

This time around, if you weren't with him, you were against him.

This was a turning point. No longer would Alfonso be able to play these minor kings off against each other.

The ever-shifting frontier was crystallizing to two regions, a Christian north and a Muslim south.

In the margin of both, however, was the Taifa of Valencia.

Sitting on the east coast of Spain, Valencia and its countryside were some of the most splendid in the land.

Rich farmlands of rolling green hills, fruit trees as far as the eye could see, and a pleasant climate.

There wasn't much more you could ask for.

As part of his victory over Count Berenguer, the Cid had become the new protectorate of this Taifa kingdom.

And when his puppet ruler was killed in rebellion, the new guy quickly declared for Yusuf.

And this gave Rodrigo the pretext he needed for an invasion.

As Alfonso and Yusuf battled for honor and glory, Rodrigo began the long siege of Valencia.

It was a hard one. The city was a natural fortress, with strong walls and a sharp rocky cliff.

It had been besieged many times and held out.

Yusuf sent a relief force in hope of scattering Rodrigo, but they were beaten back and after that he had no more men to spare.

With no help coming, after almost two years of deprivation, the Taifa king of Valencia surrendered to El Cid.

For the first time in his life, Rodrigo of Diaz de Vivar had a city of his own.

A strong kingdom, independent of Yusuf, Alfonso, or anyone else.

He had taken it, but now he had to hold it.

The Cid's entrance to Valencia was one of the proudest moments of his life, according to his anonymous biographer.

Welcomed in open arms by both Christians and Muslims alike, his mythical biography says, quote,

Great is the rejoicing in the place, when my Cid took Valencia and entered the city. Those who had gone on foot became knights on horses.

My Cid rejoiced, and all those who were with him, when his flag flew from the top of the Moorish palace. End quote.

He then goes on to describe how El Cid climbed the tallest tower he could find, with his lustrous beard blowing in the cool coastal air he surveyed his new kingdom.

Quote, My Cid and they went to the fortress. There he, meaning the ruler who had just surrendered to El Cid, led them up to the highest place.

Then fair eyes gaze out on every side. They look on the farmlands, wide and thick with green, and all other things which give delight.

They raise their hands to give thanks to God for all that bounty so vast and so splendid. End quote.

While the 1961 movie has another take on this, where the blonde-haired blue-eyed Cid reluctantly accepts the crown, before turning to a cheering crowd of both Muslim and Christian alike, triumphantly announcing, quote,

Valencia for Alphonso, by the grace of God, King of Spain! End quote.

One of the most famous legends of El Cid's life come to us during this time from Rodrigo's anonymous biographer.

The story goes that upon hearing of this stunning victory at Valencia, a blue-blooded Castilian family petitions King Alfonso to allow their two sons to marry El Cid's two daughters.

Alfonso asks Rodrigo, who protests a little, claiming that his girls were too young, but says to the king, you know, you're my king, if you say that's what's happening, that's what's happening.

So the king arranges marriage to these kind of delinquent princes who are, you know, cowardly and bumbling.

During all battles El Cid fights during this time, they're always hiding and away from the action.

And of course, even though El Cid knows this, he's gracious enough never to point this out and instead honors them by giving them his two favorite swords, Tizona and Colada.

Tizona especially is written about as if it's almost magical. When it's drawn, one account has El Cid's enemy literally cowering in fear and admitting defeat just from seeing it.

So anyway, one day El Cid is taking a nap in his palace and his pet lion. Oh, did I not mention he has a pet lion in this story? Well, he does.

Anyway, so his pet lion manages to escape its cage and the two cowardly princes see the thing and just scream and hide behind the curtains, dirtying their expensive clothing on the dust while, you know, El Cid's written, you kind of laugh at them and, you know, mock them.

So El Cid wakes up from the commotion and just comes over and goes, you know, hey, who let my lion out of the cage? And the lion, so enamoured and just in awe of this man, bows down before Rodrigo before allowing him to lead him back to the cage.

Because that's what lions do, right?

Very long story short, the princes are so embarrassed by this affair that they start to plot about how to humiliate their gracious father-in-law that's shown them nothing but kindness.

Knowing how much Rodrigo adores his daughters, they take them both out to the forest and just beat the crap out of them.

They strip the two girls naked and then just leave them before returning to their homelands.

Once El Cid finds out, he's absolutely livid and wants these guys dead, of course, but in the end he agrees to a cash payment and a few other retributions because that's what King Alfonso decided was fair.

This story has no historical basis but I want to include it to highlight this recurring theme in almost every portrayal of Rodrigo.

This kind of unflinching loyalty to his rightful liege no matter what.

In every book, in every poem, in every movie, no matter what the stakes, El Cid always puts his king and his god above his desire for revenge, above his family and above his life.

But as usual, the reality was more different.

After a two-year-long siege, Rodrigo was in no mood for theatrics, games or thanking anyone.

The taifa king of Valencia, who was led to believe he would be allowed to live in exchange for his surrender, was burnt at the stake.

A shocking sight that served to show the public there was a new sheriff in town who had big changes in store.

Geographically, Valencia stuck out like a sore thumb from the rest of the Christian states.

Jutting out from the coast, it was far enough away from Alfonso's territory to make it difficult to supply and reinforce.

And that's assuming the king even wanted to.

Truth be told though, Alfonso probably was fairly content with Rodrigo holding Valencia.

Despite having stolen it from another more loyal vassal of his, with any luck the campeador would defend his city like a cornered pit bull.

And that's exactly what he did.

It was not a good time to be a Valencian citizen. Their new lord was nervous, and with good reasons.

Rodrigo was well aware of the precariousness of his position and sent out his army of tax collectors into the provinces to shake down the peasants.

Defense was his greatest priority.

Yusuf ibn Tashfin, for the time being, was swallowing up the Taifa kingdoms that had resisted him, but it wouldn't take him long to turn his attention to the great city of Valencia, where this cocky, Christian pretender had made himself a little too comfortable.

And in late October 1094, his time was up.

Outside his capital city, outside of Valencia, assembled the Almoravid army.

Yusuf was not leading the army in person.

Instead he left this key battle to his nephew, Muhammad.

Perhaps he had thought that, like his earlier one-on-ones with Christians, this would be a pushover, a conflict that didn't really warrant his leadership.

Yusuf assembled the army for his nephew and then sent them forth, with the explicit order that this Christian bandit, the so-called campeador, was to be brought back to him, alive.

Like Rodrigo, Yusuf made good use of psychological warfare.

The unending din of war drums was the first sign that the army was assembling.

After them came his shock troops, soot black men from Senegal sitting atop pure white stallions.

Christians and Muslims alike, the men of Valencia, had probably never seen people this dark.

The contrast of pure white to pure black must have been eye-catching, to say the least.

Along the way, Muhammad had taken levies from the Taifa kingdoms he had recently conquered.

Some of these Taifas were so small and insignificant that they were contributing something like five or six men, but it was the symbolism that was important.

Muhammad was making sure these men knew that they now answered to him, or his uncle.

The Sid had done everything he could to secure alliances before this day came, but he wasn't exactly the most popular man in Spain, was he?

Count Berenguer  was closest to him geographically, but he was as eager to see Rodrigo disgraced as anyone was.

One forced marriage between the children didn't exactly make up for decades of bad blood, did it?

El Sid's old master, Al-Multimán, the mathematician king of Zaragoza, had died a few years earlier, so he was out.

So all that was left, the only one that could help him, was King Alfonso.

The soap opera between these two had been going on for years now.

Both had tried to use the other for their own gains, and both had seen their efforts blow up in their faces.

So it may surprise you to learn that Alfonso was sympathetic.

The king had always been pragmatic, able to put his dreams of conquest before his own pride.

A semi-rebellious vassal was better than an outright hostile enemy, but in the end, although he expressed sympathy,

nothing came from this as he was busy gathering all the troops he could for his next big bash with Yusuf, which was sure to come soon.

And so Rodrigo was alone.

In the final days coming up to the battle, the campeador was clearly concerned about treachery within the walls of Valencia.

His city was full of Almoravid sympathizers. The keys to the gate were changed regularly, as were the guards.

He was well aware he ruled over a Muslim majority, a majority that he had recently bled dry with heavy taxes.

So he even went as far as to forcibly confiscate all sharpened tools that could be used against his troops in the event of a rebellion.

The campeador knew it was morale that won sieges. And before the enemy had even arrived, he had spread propaganda far and wide.

Rumors circulated that if the city fell, he would command every Muslim murdered, and that three different Christian kings were currently marching to his aid at this very moment.

This forced Muhammad to play carefully, and he broke off a division of his troops to protect his rear.

We don't know exactly the number of the forces, but it's likely El Cid was outnumbered. The Almoravids probably had no more than 8,000 men, about half of them were probably veteran heavy cavalry.

Soon the probing attacks started, and the beautiful orchards of the Valencia countryside were ransacked.

Any surrounding suburbs were burnt to the ground, and the encircling began.

The luscious green hills slowly turned sickly grey.

From the highest tower of his kingdom, the campeador watched the events unfold.

A week had passed, and the noose had tightened. No matter the gossip that he had spread through the city, Rodrigo himself knew that more than likely no one was coming to help.

And the longer the events dragged on, the less fighters men would have in them.

And then he noticed something. To the southwest of the city a tiny gap had formed in the encirclement.

Though he didn't know it, this was where the troops of one of the Taifa kings should have been.

But fearing the arrival of this phantom relief army, this division had snuck away and headed home.

Well, if they were expecting a relief army, he better give it to them.

Before sunrise the next day, the campeador strapped up and mounted Bavieca.

Bursting forward from the strangled city, he drove a division of his heavy cavalry out and into the countryside, taking a wide berth out and around the Almoravid siege camp.

Not long after another smaller group charged out from Valencia and engaged Muhammad's army.

Slowly retreating away from the fortress, they drew the Almoravid cavalry away, leaving the siege camp dangerously exposed.

From the distance El Cid watched the attackers being led away from the field, and then like a bolt of lightning he struck.

Spurring Bavieca into action, El Cid raised his honor above his head and charged forward.

He and his heavy cavalry slammed into the siege camp.

To the panicked Almoravid troops, this must have seemed like the relief army that they'd been warned about.

As fast as they could, the troops scattered in all directions.

Muhammad's wobbly authority over the Taifa kings evaporated in seconds as all cohesion was lost.

Leaving behind everything, the army fled and by midday it was clear that Rodrigo had once again been victorious.

This unlikely victory is Rodrigo's crown jewel in his military career.

Just as before when it seemed to all others that he was down and out, he rose back to the top.

This was the first major defeat the Almoravid army had suffered in mainland Spain.

Alfonso was stoked.

A disloyal vassal of his had dealt his arch-rival a huge blow and he didn't even have to lift a finger.

The air of invincibility the invaders had had been broken, El Cid's little kingdom had withstood its first test.

The victory gave him breathing room but if his citizens thought that maybe now their lord would relax a bit on the taxes and all that, they were mistaken.

All Rodrigo thought of was defense.

And for the citizens of Valencia whose concerns were day-to-day living rather than the survival of El Cid's dynasty, it would not have been a nice place to live.

His most loyal men were sent to occupy key fortresses around the countryside.

The small villagers used to quiet and simple living were shaken down for meat, grain, oil and anything else they had.

And if they were suspected of hoarding anything, there was to be no mercy shown to them.

Ponies and horses were stolen from stables all to ensure the key fortresses on the way to the capital were adequately supplied to resist invasions.

As historian Richard Fletcher puts it, quote,

there was nothing pretty or romantic about the Cid's rule in Valencia, end quote.

But pretty or not, it got results.

Strong mountain holdouts that wouldn't recognize his authority were slowly ground into submission.

As the Cid's realm began to shape up, another Almoravid army was sent under Yusuf's nephew Muhammad, the same Muhammad who Rodrigo had bested a few years back.

Supplied from the sea and supported by the Almoravid navy, the invaders had put Rodrigo in a tough place.

His army was harassed from all sides and with each day his options were disappearing.

But in what must have been a stirring speech, the Cid emboldened his men to fight

and in the early morning, the thundering of Baviaka's hooves woke up an unprepared Almoravid army.

The cavalry charge punched right through the still forming front lines.

Those that stuck around were hit like bowling pins and before the army had even formed up, the rout had begun.

Two-zero to the campiodor.

After this battle, a quote that was surely invented long after his death has Rodrigo musing on, you know, a reconquest of all Spain.

Quote, a Rodrigo had lost this country. Another Rodrigo should recover, end quote.

The first Rodrigo being Rudrick, the last Visigothic king we covered in part one.

But the second Rodrigo was not long for this world.

A few writers speculate that by this point in his life, the Cid was dying and he knew it.

Perhaps it was an old wound that had been acting up, perhaps it was sickness or perhaps it was just a feeling.

But by this point the campiodor was in his mid-sixties.

His iconic cropped black beard that framed his face was now grey and wispy.

The man had lived a hard life, perhaps he was just finally slowing down.

Possibly hoping to square his bill up with the man upstairs, some of Rodrigo's last orders were the conversion of many mosques into churches

and to offer discounted farmland around Valencia to encourage new Christian settlement.

In 1097, his only son Diego was killed fighting in Alfonso's army.

I haven't mentioned Diego before because there's virtually no information on this guy.

But whatever the relationship these two had, the blow must have landed particularly harsh on the aged campiodor.

With no male heir, his hard-fought independent kingdom would pass out of his bloodline.

Perhaps this weighed heavily on him.

His whole life he had fought hard and what did he have to show for it?

With that, the ever restless Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar closed his eyes for the final time.

He was 66 years old and had been the ruler of Valencia for just over five years.

Thanks to the campiodor's intensive fortifications and network of castles, Valencia would hold out for a number of years.

Ximena, Rodrigo's widow, became Lady Ximena of Valencia and for a year she was actually the de facto ruler.

But without her firebrand husband at the helm of defense, she realized that her position was untenable and handed over the keys of the city to Alfonso.

But before she did, perhaps the most famous El Cid story of all was to take place.

As the legend goes, Rodrigo, knowing his end was near, stopped drinking or eating, no more food and no more water.

Instead each day he would ingest a spoonful of myrrh and balsam, a kind of embalming fluid.

After a week the deadly mixture killed him but it also warded off the post-mortem decay that usually sets in, so he just looked like he was sleeping.

In accordance with the dead lord's final wishes, his eyes were propped open and for the last time the old campiodor was set upon his darling horse, Babieca.

And with that, El Cid, a hero in both life and death, charged out of Valencia and into the sunset.

But even this didn't go far enough for modern screenwriters.

In the 1960s he did this while leading an army.

After his final ride his body is propped up on an ivory chair in a monastery and over the next 12 years his flesh slowly rots away until only his illustrious beard remains clinging defiantly to his leathery skeleton.

One night a Jewish man sneaks into the chapel and cautiously approaches the long dead campiodor.

Sneaking up close he prepares to pluck out one of his beard hairs as a talisman, but as soon as he touches the beard, the Cid's bony hand springs to life and pulls his sword a few inches out of its scabbard, as if saying, go on, try it.

The Jewish intruder is so scared that he converts to Christianity.

A sprinkler of antisemitism never goes astray in a good story, does it?

In truth, Rodrigo's body would be interred at Bivar, his hometown, with his beloved wife and equally beloved horse.

The legend about him riding Babieca into battle post-mortem probably stems from his wife's entourage bearing the body of the Cid as they entered Castile.

In 1921 both Rodrigo and his wife's body were moved to the cathedral of Burgos, the closest, I guess, major city to Bivar, his birthplace.

You can visit the remains of the couple, the gravestone is modest and a little easy to miss, but take it from me, it's an eerie feeling that the physical body of a man whose life has become so legendary is just sitting beneath your feet.

Babieca apparently remains behind, but an exhumation of the supposed spot in 1948 found no equine remains, so where she ended up is a mystery.

What I loved so much about the story of El Cid's life was the rich and interesting cast of characters.

They reminded me a lot of Game of Thrones where each person was using another person to advance themselves all while trying to hide their true ambitions and all while crisscrossing over each other in this ever-changing game of personal interests and rivalry.

So what happened to everyone else?

Not long after El Cid's death, King Alfonso, who was being checked by Yusuf at every turn, realized that his resources were spread too thin to be able to hold on to Valencia, and in a move that I'm sure the campeador would have nodded an approval to from up above, the beautiful city of Valencia was torched, burnt to the ground, and the ruins were left for Yusuf.

His widow, Ximena, lived out the rest of her days comfortably, probably up a little closer to her family in Asturias.

King Alfonso, Alfonso the Valiant, Alfonso the Brave, lived out another ten years or so longer than the Cid, Yusuf's invasions keeping him on his toes till his dying day.

His remains now reside in the small town of Sahagún, near León, in northern Spain.

Calberenga, Rodrigo's lifelong rival and, I guess, brother-in-law, died around about the same time as Rodrigo.

In a great example of the complicated mesh of loyalties of 11th century Spain, his son and Rodrigo's daughter's husband would fight a few skirmishes to try and defend Valencia in his wife's name.

As part of his dowry payments, El Cid was said to have gifted his favorite sword to Zona to the boy, so the son of El Cid's arch-rival ended up defending his lands and brandishing his magic sword while he did so.

Yusuf ibn Tashfin, the devout and determined ascetic Almoravid leader, like Alfonso would maintain his vice grip on power until his death about five years after Rodrigo's.

His heir had big shoes to fill, and though equally as devout as his father, he would struggle to hold back the tide in Spain.

Ultimately, Yusuf's timely invasion, however disliked it may have been by a few Taifa kings, bought the Islamic emirate's breathing room.

But the time of Christians being confined to a tiny mountain holdout in Asturias were over.

And although some innovations in science, agriculture, literature and technology were still to come from the Taifa kingdoms, the glory days of Islamic Spain were behind them.

As we've seen, the Reconquista as a binary Christian vs Muslim cross vs crescent narrative is deeply flawed.

Though there were those like Yusuf ibn Tashfin who were motivated by religious zeal, the majority of the players, big or small, were in it for themselves.

El Cid's legacy is unlike any I've encountered. I don't know if hero-washing is a word, but if it isn't it needs to be invented.

In the same way as a wave smooths over a rocky cliff face with each passing century, since his death all the man's rough edges have been sanded back.

In pay of a Muslim? Nah, we don't need that. Let's replace that with a tenderness to his wife and family.

Making war against Christians? Who wants to read that? Let's put in a story about him helping out lepers on a pilgrimage.

Disloyalty to the king? Alright, we'll keep that, but make it so he really, really regrets it and tells everyone about it all the time.

Then we get a little later into the 17th century. You know what Spaniards love? Bullfighting.

I reckon El Cid was a bullfighter. Do you reckon maybe he was the first bullfighter? Yeah, I think so. Let's add that in.

And any critics that dared to point out these cracks in this two-dimensional cardboard cut-out hero were dismissed as cidophobic.

Yeah, that's the real word they used.

Then in the 20th century nationalist dictator Francisco Franco comes along and thinks, yeah, I'm a bit like El Cid myself, but dying in his bed? Nah, that's no good.

Let's have him stapled to a horse and riding into battles. That's bad ass. That's what Spain needs to see.

And this is certainly not me knocking the guy. There's a fantastically gifted and ruthless commander who managed again and again to pull himself up from his bootstraps and flip the odds against his enemies.

His psychological warfare and getting inside the headers of his enemies, that was ahead of his time.

At the end of the day though, Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, El Cid, was his own man.

He grew up in a hard world where loyalty was fleeting and legitimacy was constantly teetering.

The only thing that balanced it out was gold and an uninterrupted flow of victories, both of which he managed to provide in droves.

In the ever shifting frontiers of the 11th century Spain where every second person was called Sancho, Alfonso or Mohamed, it's Rodrigo Diaz, El Cid who is remembered above all others.

It's a name linked forever to the Reconquista regardless of his role in it.

And in a weird sort of ironic way, the falsified account of his life fits so well with the popularist idea of the Reconquista.

A mythical story needs its mythical hero, right?

I'll take us out today with a Muslim account describing Rodrigo, whom just after referring to him as a Galician dog, couldn't help but offer respect.

This man, the scourge of his time, by his appetite for glory, by the prudent steadfastness of his character and his heroic bravery, was one of the miracles of God.