"In this tiny mountain hamlet, history was about to be made."

In 722AD a Muslim army marched into the frosty mountains of Asturias. They were searching for the last holdout of Christian resistance, led by a shadowy figure named Pelayo.

Since the fall of his kingdom a decade earlier, Pelayo had become a rallying point for other vagrants. A thorn in the heel of The Caliphate.

As the invaders descended on the village of Covadonga, they had one goal: extinguish the last light of the old world...

The Reconquista was about to begin!

Additional Reading / Sources:


  • A huge thankyou to my generous patreons! You guys make the show possible! xo
  • 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.


It's 722 AD.

In the extreme north of Spain, the last remnant of Christianity clings to life in the Cantabrian

mountains of Asturias.

The people that had once controlled all of Iberia reduced to a tiny slither of land.

Those who once governed cities and circled the royal courts eked out an existence in

squat shanty towns.

Ten years earlier, an enormous Islamic army had crossed the Strait of Gibraltar from Northern


Scores of Berber horsemen under the command of the Umayyad Caliphate had charged through


Cities fell like dominoes, any resistance was easily crushed.

It was as if the apocalypse had come, and the population wondered, was this god's

punishment for their wicked ways?

In a final desperate attempt to save his realm, King Ruderick had convinced his noblemen to

put aside their squabbles and stand as one against the invaders, but it was not enough.

Even at this eleventh hour, in the twilight of their days, there were those who could

not look past their own vanity.

Ruderick was betrayed, and the last Gothic king perished beneath the hooves of the Berber


His death sealed the fate of the peninsula.

With each passing day, refugees drifted north to Asturias, the last safe haven.

Priests, soldiers, and common folk alike, hungry and scared, arrived with whatever meagre

possessions they had left.

Among them, one man had risen to distinction.

He was a natural leader, and his connection to King Ruderick's court had given him a

whiff of imperial authority.

In the cold, misty mountains, it was the closest thing these vagrants had to a commander.

Railing whatever men were left, he had slowly pushed the Muslim garrisons back from his


From the shadows, his men burned isolated outposts and ambushed scouting parties.

The jizya, a tax imposed on all non-Muslims, had been refused.

Those people would pay nothing to live in their own lands.

But today, he faced a challenge like no other.

A large Muslim army, returning from a raid in France, would soon be upon them.

With no treasure worth stealing, the invaders came for the glory of conquest, to extinguish

the last light of the old world.

As the ground began to rattle and the enemy came into view, Pelayo looked to his men.

Dressed up in a patchwork of armor, they looked tired, thin, and scared.

Kissing the oaken cross he carried with him, he murmured a prayer under his breath.

In this tiny mountain hamlet, history was about to be made.

My name's Elliot Gates and you're listening to Anthology of Heroes, the podcast sharing

the stories of heroes and villains from across the ages.

And this is Gothic Redemption, the story of Pelayo.

Hello everyone and welcome to season four of Anthology of Heroes.

It's a pleasure to be back with you all, sharing some of my favorite epic tales of history.

We're hitting the ground running today with the backstory of one of the most dramatic,

and in my opinion, misunderstood periods of history.

The so-called re-Christianization of Spain, La Reconquista.

I'm planning to make this a three-part series, but the episodes won't follow each other

directly like my multi-parties usually do.

They'll instead follow the lives of three very different men who lived hundreds of years


Each one of these guys were pivotal in their own way in shaping the Reconquista, and each

of them experienced it very differently.

In today's episode, we'll dive into the history that led us up to the scene we just


I mean, how exactly did Christianity get smooshed into a little tiny holdout in the northwest?

But before jumping into the life of Pelayo and his famous last stand, we'll spend most

of the episode wading through the murky history of his people, the Visigoths.

I'll dissect the lousy reputation history has branded upon these guys and trace their

journey from the icy wastes of Denmark down to the sunny shores of Spain.

And don't worry, it won't be me rattling off names of chieftains for 30 minutes.

From red wedding-style betrayals to selling their own children for dog meat, these guys

were dealt a rough hand by fate, and anyone reading ahead probably knows they gave as

good as they got.

In our next episode, I'll take you through the life of probably the most famous Spanish

hero of all time, a guy who was generally thought as the quintessential symbol of the

Conquista, a vanquisher of infidels, the Sword of Spain.

And together we'll tease out the real story behind this shining beacon of Christianity.

And finally, in our last episode, we'll follow the life of the last Moorish king of

Spain, the guy who was left holding the bill after everyone left.

He's often painted as this kind of pathetic, tragic figure, but his story too was much

more complicated than the crib notes give him credit for.

As a trigger warning for this episode, sexual assault is mentioned very briefly in passing

towards the end of the episode.

So without further ado, here we are for Gothic redemption and the story of Pelayo.

If you were to be transported back in time, let's say to 8th century Cordoba, you'd

find yourself in one of the most ethnically diverse cities on the planet at the time.

Through the twisted alleys you'd brush past Arab astrologists, Jewish moneylenders, Christian

pilgrims, and everything in between.

A dizzying aroma of cayenne peppers and bay leaves would be your first indication that

you were nearing the main square, where maybe you'd catch a glimpse of a snake charmer

entertaining passersby.

The sensory overload would continue with a din of street vendors flogging their wares,

selling everything from freshly caught prawns to freshly captured slaves.

If you were to head towards the lookout and survey the city, you couldn't help but notice

the abundance of churches and synagogues.

But as the distinct throaty call to prayer warbled across the metropolis, you'd know

instantly which religion reigned supreme.

Though this was just daily part of life for townsfolk in Cordoba, the capital of the Islamic

potential al-Andalus, it had not always been this way.

Only a few decades before, within the lifetime of many still living, Spain was the home of

the people known as Visigoths.

Goths generally do not get a good write-up historically.

When you think of the word, maybe you picture long black cloaks, heavy mascara.

If you're an architecture fan, maybe you think of those spirally pointy churches.

If you're interested in history, you probably associate them with other barbarians that

brought down the Western Roman Empire, like the Vandals or the Huns.

So who were they really?

Well, the Goths were a loose collection of tribes from Northern Europe.

We don't know where, exactly.

Jordannes, a 6th century historian, says they were from Scandinavia.

And Sweden's largest island, Gotland, which translates to Land of Goths, gives some weight

to this, I suppose.

But even the title, Goth, is misleading.

The name was really just the Roman Empire's way of having a file on them.

If you asked a Gothic man what race, I guess, he was, he'd probably give you his tribe.

He could say, I'm a Danan, or a Jutan, or an Arathi.

But the Roman governor would get his big red stamp out and say, sorry, overruled Goth.

As the Western Roman Empire began to fall apart in the 4th and 5th centuries, the Goths,

like many other tribes, ramped up the pressure at the borders, plying or forcing their way

into the greener pastures of the Roman world.

In the Empire's heydays, migrations like this were expertly managed.

The tribes would enter when and if the emperor gave them permission.

The tribes would be disarmed, the tribe members would swear an oath of loyalty to the emperor,

and they would agree to annul any old allegiances that they might have had to their chiefdom.

The rules were strict, and if you didn't like them, well, you could lug your ass back

up to the frigid north where you came from.

These rules helped break down the ethnic identities of the tribes by supplanting them into new

lands and severing ties with the old communities with any luck in a generation or two, their

kids would be obedient little, tax-paying Roman citizens.

But in the 5th century, man, it was a different story.

The Empire was struggling big time to manage so many migrations at once, and the groups

only seemed to be getting larger, getting more desperate.

The sheer number of gaunt faces at the border crossings, entire villages of people begging

to cross into the Empire, the numbers were just unprecedented.

Something sinister, something terrifying was causing this, and they were called Huns.

The origins of the Huns are even murkier than that of the Goths.

The Pontic Steppe, the area just above the Black Sea, modern-day Ukraine, is usually

given as a rough location of their homeland.

The Huns were like other tribes, but more so.

You might say more wild and less civilized, but I mean, don't take it from me.

Jordannes, who was their contemporary, talks of their grimy origins, starting with a group

of witches who were expelled from a Gothic tribe, quote, suspecting these women, he meaning

the Gothic king, expelled them from the midst of his race and compelled them to wander in

sultry exile from his army.

There, the unclean spirits who beheld them as they wandered through the wilderness bestowed

their embraces upon them and begat this savage race which dwelt at first in the swamps, a

stunted fowl and puny tribe, scarcely human and having no language save for one which

bore but a slight resemblance to human speech.

Such was the descent of the Huns who came from the country of the Goths, end quote.

So there you have it, witches bred with the things from Hills Have Eyes and Unleashed

the Huns.

Although the Hun to end all Huns Attila would not be unseen for another hundred or so years,

even when divided under many different chieftains, these guys were lethal and once they had a

footing in the region, they decimated the Gothic tribes that enabled them.

They were just more wild than the other tribes, much further distance from the taint of civilization.

All of a sudden, the Roman border lit up like a switchboard.

The emperor drowned in letters, petitioners from border commanders for more soldiers desperately

needed to deal with the masses of humanity that were gathering.

The commanders saw the desperation in them and knew desperate people sometimes do irrational


I mean, poorly armed or not, a mob was still a mob.

They outnumbered the guards many times over.

As more and more hungry mouths massed at the gates of civilization, it was a string of

powder kegs ready to go off and one greedy Roman official was about to set it all alight.

Emperor Lupus Senus knew there was always a buck to be made in a crisis.

Massing at his border checkpoint on the Danube River were somewhere between 90,000 and 200,000

Goths, mostly civilians.

All wanting desperately to escape the wrath of the Huns, there were technically two different

tribes who had arrived at the same time.

A migration of this scale would usually be top priority for the emperor, but he was busy

in the east preparing a campaign in Syria.

And not only was he away, before he'd left, he'd gutted the Rhine border posts, pulling

troops left, right, and center for the invasion force.

With only a skeleton crew now manning their posts, the situation needed to be dealt with


The first tribe, the Thevingi, led by a chieftain called Fritigin, were permitted to cross.

Timing their arrival well, they even got to pick out where in the empire they wanted to


The only compromise from their side was a vague hint that maybe later they would become



Fairing the groups across the river was painstakingly slow, so Lupicinus created a kind of refugee

camp for the rest of the group to wait until they had crossed.

Quickly, the early crosses grew tense and frustrated at sitting around and waiting.

Anyone with a weapon was supposed to be disarmed, but for a few coins under the table, most

Roman guardsmen were happy to look the other way.

But the main problem was food.

The emperor had set aside a reserve of food for the refugee camp to live on while the

crossing was conducted.

It wasn't going to be a feast, but if everyone shared evenly, it would have been enough for


But it wasn't shared evenly.

Lupicinus realized he could turn a tidy profit by selling off rations to the highest bidder.

As the wigs dragged on, supplies became scarcer, which set the going rate for food soaring


The Goths were at a crisis point.

Barred from trading at the Roman markets nearby, they sat starving in their squalid prisons

where the going rate for a loaf of bread or a few pounds of dog meat had risen so high

that they resorted to selling their children into slavery.

Lupicinus knew tension was growing, and to try and de-escalate, he moved the camp south.

Needing more guards to supervise the crossing, he scrapped even more bodies away from the


The Grithungi, that's the other tribe who had been detained at the river, now realized

there was virtually nothing stopping them crossing and began to force their way through.

When the Thirvingi and Fritigin heard about this, they slowed their march south, allowing

the tribal brothers to catch up.

Once the two bands rejoined, they no doubt shared stories of the shabby treatment they

had received under Lupicinus.

Thin, hungry, and humiliated, everyone was on edge and deeply distrustful of the empire

which had taken them in.


As tensions simmered amongst the Gothic chieftains, a summons was sent to Fridigen and his counsel.

It was an invitation to dinner.

A chance for Lupicinus and the tribal chieftains to sit down and talk, clear the air, and put

all the unpleasantness behind them.

Suspicious but equally eager to reconcile, Fridigen accepted.

That night his men dined with other Roman officers while he himself sat in an adjoined

room with Lupicinus and his guards.

Dining on the finest food served on fine Roman silver, Lupicinus would have chatted idly

to the Goth, wearing a forced smile that he hoped would mask the tension.

Fridigen's wine goblet, we can imagine, would never have been empty.

But midway through the meal, from the officer's hall came the sounds of a scuffle, creaking

furniture followed by shouting and a clash of steel.

Before Lupicinus could say anything, Fridigen was on his feet, barreling over the guards.

The chieftain stormed into the next room and, well, Jordanus tells us, quote, he drew his

sword and, with great courage, dashed quickly from the banqueting hall, rescued his men

from threatening doom, and incited them to slay the Romans.

Thus, these valiant men gained the chance they had longed for, to be free to die in

battle rather than perish of hunger, end quote.

It had all been a trap.

Shady old Lupicinus had hoped to murder the Gothic leaders.

Armed with whatever they could find, Fridigen and his men stormed the garrison, killing

them all.

By the end of the night, the banqueting hall and all its elegant silver finery was drenched

in Roman blood.

It seemed like Lupicinus managed to escape the slaughter, and while sources differ on

this and other details of the night, the bloody outcome was the same.

For the Goths, this latest actuary of treachery was the last straw.

Now in full damage control, Lupicinus hastily assembled an army to contain the rampaging


Lupicinus too gathered his forces, which came to around 7,000 men, and attacked the

Roman army of around 5,000.

Cobbled together at the last minute, the Roman army wasn't exactly a prime fighting force,

but hell, many of the Gothic troops may not have even had weapons.

The mistreated Goths threw themselves on the Roman lines, catching them before they had

formed up.

Just as cowardly as he was incompetent, Lupicinus fled the battle and the historical record.

This is the last we hear of him, so it's safe to say he was sacked, executed, or at

very least demoted.

Scooping up the weapons and armor left behind, Fridigen and his men took their anger out

on the countryside.

Slaves, who had been recently sold for food, escaped and rejoined his group, swelling the

size of his force.

The group had no way of taking walled cities, but towns, farms, anywhere where food or gold

was to be found was pillaged.

When news of this reached Syria, where Emperor Valens was campaigning against the Persians,

he was forced to quickly wrap up the war.

Agreeing to whatever terms were imposed, he rushed back east as quickly as he could.

Passing through cities, he was booed by his own population for abandoning them to the


He'd been in contact with his nephew and the emperor of the Western Roman Empire, a

man named Gratian.

And even though Gratian was having his own problems with other Germanic tribes, he agreed

to lead his own troops to help defeat Fridigen.

After all, rampage in Goths within the empire were bad news for both emperors, right?

Fridigen realized he'd kicked the hornet's nest and reached out to discuss a surrender,

but Valens wasn't having it.

From the wonky peace treaty with Persia to the bungled border crossing of the Goths,

his popularity was low and dropping by the day.

Emperors had been turfed out for less than this in the past.

He needed a big bang victory to restore his credibility.

And come to think of it, he reckoned he could do it without his nephew's help.

In an absolutely boneheaded display of overconfidence, the eastern emperor decided he would take

down the Goths solo.

After all, more glory to him, right?

Outside the city of Adrianople, Valens' Romans came face to face with Fridigen's


Luck was on the side of the Roman troops.

Despite their exhaustion from a long march, most of the heavy Gothic cavalry were out

looking for food.

Fridigen, with his eyes on the horizon no doubt, delayed the start of the battle as

long as he could.

He sent envoys back and forth with demands and counter demands, but Valens soon realized

he was just buying time.

As the battle kicked off, Fridigen's lightly armed foot soldiers struggled badly against

the Roman veterans.

We can imagine the Gothic chief erratically running up and down his battle line, desperately

promising his men that they just needed to hold out for a few minutes longer.

Then, like a miracle from God, they arrived.

Charging downhill, the Gothic cavalry plowed through the Roman wings.

The impact of the charge forced them into such a tight space, the Roman army had no

room to maneuver.

Two generals tried desperately to cobble together an orderly retreat, and according to Gibbons,

a Roman historian, they fought bravely but it was no good.

Usually in ancient battles the death count racks up when one side breaks and runs but

this was highly unusual.

In a demonstration of just how chaotic things had become, Valens himself was cut off from

the main body of troops before being abandoned by his own bodyguards.

Searching through the blood and muck he managed to find a Roman regiment, but as they retreated

the emperor was hit with an arrow and limped over to an old farmhouse, supported by a few


Gothic troops followed closely and, not knowing who was inside, torched the building.

As the flames engulfed the straw hut, one of his guards found his way through the smoke

and made it outside.

He screamed to the Goth that the emperor of Rome was inside, but at that point it was

too late.

The undignified death of Valens was fitting symbology for the ailing Roman Empire.

The Battle of Adrianople was an unmitigated disaster.

Two-thirds of the elite Roman troops lay dead on the field, most of its officers, most of

its generals, and the emperor himself.

Roman contemporary historian Ammianus Marcellinus called it the worst defeat since the Battle

of Edessa, which we covered in our last of the Romans Aurelian episode, while Gibbons

went a step further, stating that the consequences of Adrianople were worse than that of the

Roman Republic's loss to Hannibal at Cannae.

Fritigern and his Goths, for all the mistreatment they'd experienced, had dealt the empire

they wished to join a wound, which many would argue was terminal.

Fritigern had won his victory, but what now?

The empire was in turmoil.

He had utterly vanquished the army that he had hopes of joining.

For the next few decades, the Goths bounced around the countryside, sacking, looting,

and destroying.

In terms of damages, the impacts of such a large hostile force within the empire is incalculable


But I mean, strings of cities were cut off from the central government, taxation ceased,

crops were unable to be sold, and long-distance trade just died off.

In order to survive, cities looked to their governor, their general, or their bishop to

protect them.

With the state institutions weakening by the day, the population of the great empire became

more insular.

Local affairs occupied the thoughts of the people, and what their so-called emperor was

doing all the way down in Italy began to seem irrelevant.

Very slowly, new ethnic groups like the Franks of France or the Angles of England began to

take shape.

Eventually, the Visigothic band settled down in Thrace.

They quietened down on pillaging, but kept their finger firmly on the pulse in regards

to state affairs.

They wanted to make sure the emperor knew that their loyalty was a privilege, not a


In the good old days, the Roman government treated all these people as their subjects

– pawns to be moved around and killed when required.

But times had changed, and the Visigoths needed to send a message, a message that would clear

things up as to who was really running the show.

Well, they would certainly do that.

Under a man called Alaric, the Goths were about to do something big, something that

had not been done for almost a thousand years.


If you know one Gothic name, chances are it's this one.

It's a name that's become associated with barbarity, depravity, a rising ignorance,

and raw brutality triumphing over logic and reason.

But who was Alaric?

Alaric was a kid that had grown up sometime during the Goths' great migration into the


Perhaps he had been a child whose parents had managed to avoid selling him into slavery.

By the time of Adrian Opel, he would have been old enough to join his people in battle,

and would have learnt the complicated love-hate relationship that his people had with the

Empire, never good enough to be a Roman while feared enough to be placated.

He modeled his career on other prominent Gothic leaders who had risen to positions of great

power within the Roman army, which was becoming more quote unquote barbarian as time went


Alaric was a brave and born leader with a patriotic edge for the Gothic race.

Gibbon says of him, quote, the Goths, instead of being impelled by blind and headstrong

passions of their chiefs, were now directed by the bold and artful genius of Alaric, end


Alaric's first major victory was against a Frankish usurper in which he commanded the

Gothic regiment of the army fighting on behalf of Rome.

It was a victory, but a bloody one, at least it was for the Gothic contingent he commanded.

About 10,000 of them lay dead, while the Roman casualties were very light indeed.

Alaric himself barely survived, emerging from the war bloodied with a new world view.

The Emperor, Theodosius, had deliberately placed Alaric and his men in harm's way,

hoping his two enemies would really destroy each other.

For his efforts and the bloody spilt, Alaric got little more than, yeah, great, thanks

for that, from the Empire.

He probably had been hoping for a serious promotion, a senior position in the army in

either the West or Eastern Empire.

Furious and probably humiliated, he and his veteran army sacked the countryside.

Alaric's main opposition in the empire at this time was a man called Stilicho.

Now Stilicho is one of my favorite people in late Roman history.

He's a super interesting guy and I plan to cover his life in a later episode, but as

we're talking about the Goths, I'll keep this bio light.

Stilicho was a Roman military commander who kinda pulled the strings behind the scenes

of the government in the Western and sometimes Eastern Roman Empire during this time period.

Cunning and politically savvy, Stilicho cut an impressive figure against a backdrop of

talentless, money-grubbing bureaucrats.

If he was anyone else, he would have had a real shot at actually becoming Emperor, but

he wasn't anyone else, because Stilicho was a vandal.

Well, half-vandal technically, but anyway.

Blighted by his very own blood, Stilicho was barred from the top job, so instead he ruled

on behalf of emperors.

Kind of like a Japanese Shogun, I guess.

But there were still limits to his power.

Think of Alaric standing outside a castle in the rain, longingly wishing someone would

invite him in, while Stilicho looked down on him from his flat second to the top.

Even though he was never going to be allowed in the penthouse, it was still a pretty sweet


For eight or nine years, these two guys danced around each other.

Stilicho bested Alaric in a few battles, and Alaric would retreat before returning to pressure

Stilicho into paying him off.

More than once, Alaric and his men waited ominously outside the gates of Rome itself.

But slowly, the bile in the throats of the old Roman aristocracy, the indignation of

their proud empire being ruled by a barbarous vandal, became too much to bear.

After being chased into a church and finally finding himself in a situation that he was

unable to talk his way out of, Stilicho marched outside calmly and submitted his neck to his


There's a dab of irony in his death.

Despised by the Roman aristocracy for his barbarian blood, he died with all the dignity

that they themselves would have expected from a quote unquote true Roman.

I think it was Mike Duncan in his brilliant History of Rome podcast that said, about his

death, something like, as soon as he was gone, it was suddenly clear just how many balls

he'd been juggling.

Things immediately just went to hell.

To Alaric, it was clear that his coveted promotion wasn't happening.

He tried everything.

Serving loyally had it worked, extortion had it worked, negotiation had it worked.

So, on the 24th of October, 410 AD, a reluctant Alaric marched towards the city of Rome, the

queen of cities.

And as Gibbon so poignantly states, quote, Rome, the imperial city, which had subdued

and civilized so considerable a part of mankind, was delivered to the licentious fury of the

tribes of Germany and Scythia, end quote.

Rome was sacked.

Alaric demanded everything the city had.

According to the historian John Norwich, this turned out to be 5,000 pounds of gold, 30,000

pounds of silver, 4,000 silken tunics, 3,000 dyed hides and 3,000 pounds of pepper.

When the flabbergasted envoy asked Alaric, what would the people of Rome have left?

The barbarian responded grimly with, their lives.

Everyone was to contribute according to their own wealth.

And when the senators predictably hoarded their money, instead, the beautiful, ancient

and intricate statues that lined Rome's streets were broken down and turned into bullion,

with the glory of Rome quite literally melting before the eyes of its citizens.

A contemporary Roman historian tells us of the aftermath, quote, all that remained of

the Roman valor and intrepidity was totally extinguished.

While the city of Rome was no longer the capital of the empire, it was and would always be

its spiritual heart, the place where it all began.

The queen of cities, the eternal city, the marble city.

The last sacking she had endured was just shy of 800 years ago, 800, way back when Rome

was just another run-of-the-mill tribe squabbling over patches of dirt on the Italian peninsula.

While it's worth noting the sacking was light by standards of the day, it was still

a detestable act as far as the world was concerned.

Regardless of your disposition to the empire, you don't sack Rome.

It's like, I don't know, spitting in the face of the queen or something.

The deed was done, though.

Alaric had played his last trump card.

There was nothing else to do.

With all the riches that the eternal city could cough up, Alaric and his army had planned

to cross over to Africa, but a storm wrecked their ships and, while heading north through

Italy, he died of a disease or fever.

The legend goes that his people diverted a stream, dug his grave in the riverbed, and

then rediverted over the top, killing the workers that dug it so that their great and

terrible king could rest forever undisturbed.

All his life, Alaric had wanted recognition, recognition for himself and for the Goths.

And man, did he get it.

His name and the name of his people are eternally linked with barbarity and the downfall of

the civilized world, harbingers of the so-called Dark Ages Europe was heading towards.

While the deed was viewed with disgust by the rest of the world, to the Goth, Alaric

became a semi-mythical figure in their history.

His death gave way to the first real Gothic dynasty, and a descendant from his bloodline

would lead his people for the next 130 or so years.

Despite the utter destruction that the Goths had unleashed, believe it or not, they were

still considered one of the more friendly groups that now dominated the dying Western

Roman Empire.

Only eight years after the sacking of the Eternal City, the very same emperor awarded

the very same men land in southern France.

The grant was in recognition of their service to the empire, after they had helped subdue

another barbarian group.

Though this sounds scandalous, it's worth noting that the empire was so weak at this

point that the land they granted they really had no control over, was just theirs on paper.

A paper which no one was really reading anymore.

It was like being given a field covered with thorns, landmines, and toxic waste and being

told, hey, if you can clear it out, it's yours.

But clear it out they did.

Centered around the area of modern-day Toulouse in France, the Gothic martial spirit came

in handy, and their kingdom grew rapidly at the expense of their neighbors.

Pushing south into Spain, they made mincemeat out of what was left of the old Vandal kingdom.

The Vandals had been a local power for some time, and in case you're curious, the modern-day

Vandal, which literally means a person who deliberately destroys or damages property

belonging to others, was named after these guys.

With the Vandals gone, the Visigothic kingdom now stretched across the entirety of the Spanish

mainland and a good chunk of southern France, except for a tiny slither of land in the foothills

of the Cantabrian mountains in northern Spain.

Here, a few small tribes lived comfortably, the natural barrier allowing them to be kind

of indifferent to whatever was happening on the peninsula.

To show just how isolated it was, we can look at the Basque people.

The Basques did, and still do, speak a language that is classified as an isolate.

It has no existing similar language or linguistic similarities to anything in the world.

Whatever language group it came from has long ago died out.

It's so ancient that it even predates the Celtic languages that Roman and Latin replaced

in the early second century.

There are precious few examples of isolates like this left in the world today, and for

this language to remain dominant while the rest of Spain spoke Latin goes to show just

how formidable these mountain barriers were.

Anyway, after conquering the other groups, the realm of the Visigoths stretched virtually

from modern-day Orleans in France down to the Strait of Gibraltar.

How far they had come, from desperate refugees on the outskirts of the Roman Empire to the

owners of some of the most prosperous lands in Europe.

But without the threat of extinction hanging over their heads, the Goths did what almost

every other settled society did in peacetime, scheme.

To the south, there wasn't really a power large enough to challenge them.

So after Alaric's bloodline went extinct in 531 AD, the ruling class moved towards

an elective monarchy where, after a king died, a council would meet to decide who was next.

In the mid 6th century, during the reign of a king called Aguila, a rival of his stirred

up trouble in the southern part of the kingdom.

Quickly Aguila finds himself in over his head and outplayed and outmaneuvered by his rival.

He sends a letter requesting help to Constantinople, the capital of the enormous Byzantine Empire

or the Eastern Roman Empire.

At this point in time, the Byzantine Empire was led perhaps by its most famous ruler,

Emperor Justinian the Great.

I am 1000% sure I will cover Justinian in a future episode, but essentially he was an

emperor who had dreams of reconquering the old territory, the Roman Empire that had been

lost after the fall of the west.

And he was quickly making his dream a reality, having recently added Northern Africa and

most of Italy into the Roman fold again.

Have you ever been to a party where there's some bloke who no one knows hanging around

long after everyone has left?

Well that was the Byzantines.

Aguila would have known the dangers of inviting the Roman Empire to establish a permanent

base in Spain, but it was that or lose its kingdom.

Justinian, of course, was only too happy to help and predictably put down roots, establishing

a Roman presence that curved around the coastline.

Little more than a buffer state to protect his possessions in North Africa, but hey,

they were still there.

Meanwhile in the north, the disunited Frankish tribes had recently unified thanks to their

very own Alaric.

For any Francophiles, you know his name, Clovis, the first of the Mervinjians, and to some

the first king of France.

Under Clovis' leadership, the Franks had given the Visigoths an ass-whooping they probably

hadn't experienced for a century or two, and the peace treaty led to them ceding a

huge portion of their territory, almost everything north of the Pyrenees mountain ranges.

Part of the French king's reason for making war was the religion of the Visigoths.

You see, Clovis was a Catholic, but the Goths preferred a different flavor of Christianity.

While these bad boys had dropped their Thor's hammer amulet long ago, they practiced another

religion that was, well, probably not as offensive but still pretty offensive to the inhabitants

of Spain, Aryan Christianity.

Aryanism was an early schism from the main Christian dogma.

The main difference in belief was that, as God is the Father of Jesus Christ, then logic

states that there was a time when Jesus did not exist, which therefore meant Jesus was

subordinate to God, not equal to him, which throws out the whole balance of the Holy Trinity,

you know, the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit.

There's a lot more to it than that, but that's the main gist.

If you're thinking, man, that's really splitting hairs, isn't it?

Well, I'm with you there.

But most people at the time were willing, and many did die over this belief.

Do you ever see bishops make that funny symbol with their fingers when they're blessing


Well, look closely.

The thumb, the index, and the middle finger are pushed together into a point to symbolize

the Trinity, while the ring finger and the pinky finger are pushed flat against the palm

to symbolize the two natures of Christ, both divine and human.

Every time a parishioner did this, they reinforced the church orthodoxy.

That's some clever subconscious propaganda there, don't you think?

Anyway, the point I'm making is that people were really serious about this stuff, and

Visigothic kings began to come up against stiff resistance when going for diplomatic

marriages or military alliances.

Their heretical, foreign brand of Christianity was not welcome there.

So sometime after this defeat, the Gothic king formally converted his people to Catholicism,

which threw the doors open for further conquests.

Bishops also exercised much more influence in state affairs after this, and ratcheted

up pressure on the kingdom's large Jewish population.

Heavy taxation gave way to persecution, and most Jews were eventually told they needed

to be baptized or find somewhere else to live.

With the assimilation to the local religion, its culture, and its traditions, slowly but

surely a distinct ethnic identity emerged.

The old money of the senatorial Romans mixed with the old blood of German high chiefs and

a new aristocracy was born.

Old laws that distinguished between Goth and Roman were scrapped.

The hodgepodge of oral laws, Catholic laws, and Roman laws were replaced with a singular

rule of law known as the Visigothic Code, which we still have a few pages of today.

As time went on, associations to dead empires or ancestral homes were forgotten, and the

Goths, the very same people that had sacked the birthplace of modern civilization, helped

rebuild it.

From the fifth to the eighth centuries, they constructed four, possibly five new cities.

These would be the only cities constructed in Western Europe during this difficult time.

Gradually the Visigoths became the people of Hispania, Hispania being the old Roman

name for the province of Spain, which is sometimes still used today.

But all was not well in the lands of Hispania.

The elective monarchy system had given way to a weak central government.

An oligarchy of six or seven magnates ruled their lands with little regard for the national

interests or the concerns of the king.

In the year 710, a king called Watissa lost his throne in a coup.

The historical record gets really murky around here so take the following accounts with several

grains of salt, but it seems like Watissa was at first popular with the people but at

odds with the clergy, the leading bishops.

Wanting to curb their influence, he pushed through a few new laws which restricted their


As an interesting little tidbit, he also passed the so-called cauldron law where if you were

caught stealing something, you had to pull a ring or a bit of jewelry out of a cauldron

full of boiling water.

If your arm wasn't burnt, you were innocent, but if it was, you were guilty.

A bit rough, but hey, I bet there were less pickpockets in Barcelona than there are now.

Watissa sensed his position on the throne was under threat and deposed two men who he

believed to be his biggest rivals.

One of these men was killed and the other one was blinded.

They left behind two sons who would never forget the treatment that was shown to their


Their names were Rudrick or Rodrick and Pelayo or Pelagius.

Both these men were from leading families and well-connected should they ever wish to

take a run at the throne themselves.

That's exactly what Rudrick did.

With Watissa's popularity dropping by the day, the young man found support in the senators

and bishops and overthrew the unpopular monarch in a coup.

We don't really know what happened next, but it seems like Ousting, the rightfully

elected king, divided the kingdom.

The southern half remained loyal to Rudrick, but the northern half refused to accept him.

It was the year 710 AD.

Exactly 300 years ago, Alaric had sacked Rome.

The kingdom of the Visigoths had less than a year until it, too, would disappear into

the dustbin of history.

While society began to fragment on the mainland, across the Strait of Gibraltar an ex-Roman

governor named Julian pondered his options.

His little outpost of Ceuta was now all that remained of Emperor Justinian's ambitious

reconquest of Spain and Northern Africa almost 200 years ago.

Eventually cut off from the Roman world, the city and its handful of soldiers had sort

of become a vassal of the Visigoths.

Over time, a tradition had developed where governors like Julian would send one of their

children over to the Visigothic court for education.

But as legend goes, Rudrick became infatuated with Julian's daughter and ended up raping


Furious, Julian began to plot with the Berber tribes that surrounded his little outpost,

giving them insider gossip about how the kingdom was gripped by factionalism and how it was

very vulnerable at this exact time.

This man, Julian, is really just historical vapors.

No one can say if he's Roman, Gothic, Arab or Berber.

Likewise there's about five different names given to him.

The story about his daughter is also really suspect.

But despite that, the young woman known only as La Cava has inspired stacks of really impressive


In those famous painting shows, her and all her friends bathing naked in the forest, because

I guess that's what women did back then, with, and I'm not making this up, Rudrick

peeping at them from behind a tree.

In the year 2000, there was even a musical release based on her story, so I'll share

a few of these on our website.

After a small probing raid resulted in piles of treasure and virtually no opposition, the

governor of Africa, a talented Arab commander named Musa ibn Nusayr sent forward an invasion


Around 7,000 recently converted Islamic Berbers under the command of a guy called Tariq ibn


At this point in history, the Muslim world was almost completely unified under a single

dynasty which reached all the way from West India, across Persia, down the coast of Arabia,

all the way across Northern Africa until it met the Atlantic Ocean.

Tariq and his men crossed the thin 13 kilometer or eight mile strip of ocean between Africa

and Europe and consolidated their forces on a rocky hill, which he named Jabal Tariq,

the mountain of Tariq.

The modern Spanish name of Gibraltar is still derived from this original name.

According to legend, Tariq then had a dream in which the prophet Muhammad came to him

with a group of his companions.

The prophet then addressed him saying, quote, take courage, O Tariq, and accomplish what

thou art destined to perform, end quote.

Rudrick was in the North quelling rebellion to his rule when he first got news of the


In what should have been a big red flag to him, many of the men he was actively fighting

against simply agreed to lay down arms and join him.

I guess he figured that like him, they realized that the survival of their kingdom trumped

their petty domestic bickering.

Another red flag should have been raised when the sons of Wuthizzah also answered his call.

Yeah, you know, no stress about knocking off dad, mate.

You know us, always happy to lend a hand.

Moving south as quickly as possible, the Visigothic army swelled in size, and when Tariq heard

of this, he requested immediate reinforcements from Musa, who sent them over without delay.

Somewhere on a forgotten plain in southern Spain, the two armies lined up for battle.

Rudrick's army was larger, and the numbers vary widely, from 2,500 up to the fantastical


Tariq's army was perhaps half the size, but he held the advantage in quality.

A good portion of Rudrick's forces were recruits he'd conscripted on the way down,

mostly peasants carrying nothing except an old spear or a family heirloom sword.

On the other side of the plain were Tariq's army, hardened Berber cavalry, and while the

Islamic faith was still new to them, violence was not.

Reared on tribal blood feuds, violence and battles were nothing new to these guys.

Tariq also reportedly had a decently sized Jewish contingent made up of men who had been

booted out of their homes by Catholic persecution.

As Rudrick's mob charged towards Tariq's Berbers, Tariq turned to his men and reminded

them sternly of their position, quote, wither can you fly?

The enemy is in your front, the sea at your back.

By Allah, there is no salvation for you but in your courage and perseverance, and then

goes on to say, quote, it is my intention to attack the Christian tyrant Rudrick and

kill him with my own hand, if God be pleased.

When you see me bearing against him, charge along with me.

If I kill him, the victory is ours.

If I am killed before I reach him, do not trouble yourselves about me, but fight as

if I was still alive and among you, and follow up my purpose, for the moment they see their

king fall, these barbarians are sure to disperse, end quote.

The battle is poorly documented.

The more popular narrative says, as Rudrick led the central column into the charge, his

two wings led by Watizz's sons and other discontented noblemen just stood back.

Tariq, who may have even been in cahoots with defectors, didn't need to be told twice.

His cavalry outflanked Rudrick's lone contingent and realizing that he'd been betrayed, the

king and his guard went down fighting.

His body was never found, but one Muslim source says that his pristine war horse and one of

his sandals was found on the muddy banks of a stream nearby.

The route that followed was a particularly nasty one.

If Watizz's sons expected to be spared, well, that didn't happen.

By the end of the day, almost the entire army had been butchered.

Limping north, bruised and bleeding, came the tattered remains of the Visigothic kingdom.

The subsequent collapse of the state occurred at a breakneck speed.

When a monarch dies in battle, even if he has a nominated successor, this usually leads

to instability.

After all, there's always a chance another contender might try his luck.

In this case, not only did Rudrick not leave a clear successor, but a good chunk of his

kingdom were in open rebellion against him.

This meant a complete lack of unity after his death.

The cities of Hispania went into full damage control mode and made whatever deals they

could try to spare themselves.

Splitting his forces, Turik quickly took Malaga and then Grenada.

Cordoba, the grand city of the south, barred their gates and were besieged, but once it

became clear no one was coming, they surrendered.

Over in Africa, Musa was flabbergasted at how quickly this seemingly formidable kingdom

had just collapsed on itself.

Eager to get a share of the spoils, he jumped across the strait with more reinforcements

and ordered Tariq to hold up on raiding any more northern cities until he arrived.

Meanwhile, droves of refugees fled to the northern parts of the country.

Spelling over the meticulously built Roman roads that their forefathers had constructed,

they traveled with their meager possessions seeking safety within the walls of any city

that would take them.

There were pockets of resistance, a rebellion for instance was recorded in Sevilla, but

it was brutally put down once Musa and his army showed up.

From general to foot soldier, the burbs of North Africa became richer than their wildest


Slaves, gold, silk, weapons, horses, it was all for the taking.

But for Musa, the story of one particular piece of treasure made his heart skip a beat.

Rumors and stories began to trickle in of the so-called Table of Solomon, a golden table

encrusted with gems said to have belonged to the semi-mythical King Solomon, a figure

revered by both Jews and Muslims.

According to legend, the table was constructed by Solomon who stored it in the original temple

of Jerusalem in 950 BC.

King Solomon, known for his wisdom, was said to have inscribed all knowledge in the universe

upon its surface, including the very name of God.

Eventually the table finds its way to Rome where it sits for another 500 or so years

before making its way to the Gothic capital of Toledo.

Preoccupied by thoughts of glory and legacy, Musa races to Toledo, but the table, if it

was ever there, was long gone, the legend's talk of how it was secretly moved north and

hidden away in a cave somewhere in the mountains of northern Spain, where perhaps it still

rests to this day.

While Musa didn't get his table, he did get the capital.

When he arrived, the gates were open and the city virtually deserted.

Remaining behind was Rudrick's widow, who Musa marries, and his esteemed general, Tariq,

the man responsible for the rapid capitulation of the Visigothic kingdom.

Tariq approached his master but was met with a lashing from Musa's whip, his punishment

for continuing to raid despite his master's orders to wait for him.

And just like that, the 146-year-old Visigothic kingdom was gone.

Over the next six years, Musa settles down administering his newly conquered province.

There were no forced conversions or anything like that, but there was the jizya, the tax

imposed on all non-Muslim subjects.

Those that wished to avoid the tax converted.

Ambitious bureaucrats did the same, as Arabic slowly replaced Latin as the language of government.

Musa's envoys reached all corners of the land and told the governor who their new boss


No one resisted, I mean, why would they?

There was no Visigothic kingdom anymore.

Anyone who was anyone had died years earlier in Rudrik's last battle.

Well, maybe not everyone.

Marketplace gossip and courtroom whispers spoke of someone.

A single man commanding a handful of veteran soldiers still continuing the fight in the

far north mountains of the continent.

The man's name was Pelayo.

It's not clear how Pelayo came to be in the north, as both his own and Rudrik's

father had been killed by Wetiza, he likely would have not been positioned on the wings

that stood back during the fateful battle five years ago.

If he was there, he probably would have been in the center column where the fighting and

the casualties were heaviest.

Perhaps he even saw King Rudrik himself fall.

Whatever the case, he was a single beacon of hope for anyone clinging to the old way

of life.

A rallying point, a tiny spark of hope for the broken Goths.

This pocket of resistance didn't escape the notice of Musa.

He sent envoys to track this shadowy figure and when that didn't work, he sent a well-known

Gothic bishop instead.

Ordered to convince Pelayo of the futility of resistance, the bishop was sent into the

misty mountains of Asturias and never returned.

Century posts were erected all throughout the region to try and hem in this rebel kingdom

and from time to time, Musa would send in a larger force where perhaps they'd sack

a village or two before leaving behind an administration with a few guards.

Pelayo and his men couldn't give battle but as soon as the main army left, the screams

of the guardsmen left behind would echo through the valleys.

The rebel king could not adequately protect all the villagers of Asturias but neither

could Musa defeat him.

Marrying off family members to small community leaders, Pelayo's army began to form.

Sending perhaps around 300 men, his authority in the region grew.

With every region apart from this now pacified, Musa's raids began to push into southern


They had some success but the Franks were not Visigoths.

Decades upon decades of dog-eat-dog warfare with their neighbors had turned the kingdoms

into bristling porcupines of defense.

And sometime around 718 AD, a Muslim raiding party felt the brunt of this.

A thousand-strong army commanded by two men called Munuza and Alkama were defeated by

the Franks.

Their army limped back across the Pyrenees mountain ranges before one of them said to

the other, hey look we can't go back to Musa empty-handed, why don't we finally put

an end to the rebels hiding out in the mountains?

So detouring west, the army marched into the last refuge of the Goths, Pelayo's domain.

Four-fifths of Asturias is mountains and even today it's a difficult place to navigate.

Tight winding roads, curving around tall mountain peaks flanked by sheer cliffs.

As the convoys snagged through the mountain passes, Pelayo's guards probably peered

down at them from the tall oaken trees above.

This was probably the largest army to have ever entered the region.

Pushed from pillar to post over the centuries by Huns, Romans, Franks and Berbers, the last

Gothic kings back was against the wall.

He had a choice to make.

He could run, maybe they could find another refuge deeper in the mountains and hope that

Musa gave up or he could fight.

Outnumbered and outgunned, his men were a patchwork of Asturian or Goth, a militia really,

but they were his people and if this, if this was how they were to be remembered then let

it be so.

With a final demand to pay the Jizya rejected, Pelayo pulled his forces back to the tiny

mountain hamlet of Covadonga.

He knew however slim his chances were that at this point this narrow, rocky valley pocked

with caves was his best bet.

The Muslim army followed his troops in and Pelayo's archers and slingers rained down

arrows, stones and whatever they could find on the invaders.

Clawing their way up towards them, Alkuma and his men squeezed into the narrow pathway.

Somewhere behind them in one of the caves stood Pelayo with a couple of dozen veterans

from Rudrik's army.

He uttered a final desperate prayer recorded as, Matthew 13 31, the kingdom of heaven is

like a mustard seed which a man took and planted in his field.

Though it is the smallest of all seeds, when it grows it is the largest of all garden plants.

Then the last Goth raised a simple wooden cross and charged out screaming into the carnage

his men closed behind him.

Alkuma turned around to a fury of swords.

Realizing he'd been outflanked he frantically tried to pivot his troops, but they were so

packed in there was no room to move.

Cutting through the ranks came Pelayo.

In what must have seemed like seconds Alkuma was parrying the frantic blows of the Goth

but was quickly overwhelmed.

Seeing their commander fall and unable to ensure the withering hail of arrows, his troops

turned and tried to squeeze out of the mountain pass.

Bottlenecked at the tiny entrance, the retreat turned into a stampede.

Instinct kicked in as each man clambered desperately over the other's body to get out.

Word quickly spread of Pelayo's desperate victory as the army retreated off the mountain

in a frenzy, the villagers of Asturias so often targeted by Musa's men rose up.

As Munuza desperately tried to force his way through, his blood ran cold as shouts from

the rear came that Pelayo's army had caught up to them.

Right between the blockade and Pelayo's forces, the commander tried to break out but

he too was killed in the crush.

Losing their second and last commander, the rest of the army fled in all directions, desperately

trying to escape the accursed mountain.

Pelayo's unlikely victory, for all that it meant to him and his people, was a splash

in the ocean.

Musa and the Umayyad Caliphate's hold on Spain were still secure, it wasn't as if

the Visigoths were now in a position to retake their homeland.

Some sources barely even mention the battle at all, or if they do they don't call it

a battle but a skirmish, an unimportant event where two careless commanders lost their lives

due to their own incompetence.

But to the people of northern Spain today, it's something much more.

When I visited the little village of Covadonga a few years back, it was clear to me that

the battle and the man of the hour, Pelayo, were both still held in very high regard.

Snaking up through the same mountain passes that Musa and Aucuma ran in terror from, I

drove up the windy central road.

A huge statue of the man himself let me know immediately that I was in the right place.

Outside an impressive looking church, Pelayo stood tall, his hand outstretched as if saying,

see this, it's all ours, and with the other hand he held a wooden cross, the same one

he carried into the fray.

The ledge where his loyal men made their final stand has been turned into a quaint little

chapel with a shrine to the Virgin Mary, which Pelayo was said to have prayed to before

his victory.

The actual cross Pelayo carried into battle was later covered in jewels and now resides

in the main cathedral in the region's capital city, Oviedo.

In Oviedo, as with so many other cities in northern Spain, I came across numerous statues

and portraits of the Goth, always with the same flowing blonde hair, a heavy mustache

and sometimes a Viking helmet.

The region's iconic flag also features the yellow cross of Pelayo against a pale blue


I'll share a few pictures of these online.

After the battle, Pelayo would rule for about 20 years and the prestige he won at Covadonga

would provide the legitimacy he needed to start a dynasty.

While on a tactical level it achieved little, to the many Spanish and Portuguese scholars,

the unlikely victory heralded the beginning of something big, a new movement, la reconquista,

the reconquest, a term we now use to describe the 800-year so-called rechristianization

of the Spanish mainland.

Direct descendants of Pelayo himself would slowly but surely begin to assert themselves,

tentatively pushing the boundaries against the caliphate as they emerged from their mountain


And in 1043, the most famous of all Spanish heroes would take center stage, a man remembered

today as the face of the reconquista, a man named Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar.

And it's his story I'll be covering in the next episode as we peel back the layers

of this so-called Christian savior.

This has been Anthology of Heroes.

Thanks for tuning in.