The Fall of Visigothic Hispania

Nov 2010
7,648
Cornwall
#1
Sources are largely the books of Garcia Moreno, Javier Arce, Alvarez jimenez plus earlier historians. Little time is actually devoted to discussion of this, despite it actually being one of the greatest mysteries in all history. One reason for this is a lack of contemporary evidence, coupled with the vacuum being filled by all sorts of mad fantasies from both the Muslim and Christian worlds over the subsequent 3 or 4 centuries, much of which has passed into common parlance (or Wikipaedia) as fact. Some of the greatest historical minds over the last century have examined this and re-examined original sources, applied new translations, new archeology and new thinking, produced very learned works etc. But no one has ever been able to caregorically answer the basic question (and probably never will) of:

How did a fairly monstrous political and military machine like the Visigoths, established for around 200 years, get defeated by and lose it's country to, what was initially a comparitively small force of Berbers/Mauri in 711?

Government
Hispania was a factional Romanised society ruled by a king, some more effective than most, who was usually rather ruthless in order to be effective. Since the conversion to Catholicism this was largely through an annual Synod of bishops (Roman and Goth), largely modelled on the Council of Nicea in 325 where the king would first address the Synod (a la Constantine in 325) with a list of his concerns for the Synod to address (sort out basically). From that much seems to have been transmitted and ruled by the church, in a joyless society where partying, fiestas and even dancing were banned and punishable (unlike Roman society) as 'Godless'. Obviously things like adultery, abortion and any form of veering off the line was frowned upon heavily.

Some Issues to be addressed
If we look at the later kings prior to Witiza and Rodrigo (Chindasvinto, Recesvinto, Wamba, Ervigio, Egica), these are the sort of subjects that were legislated upon: (all adding laws to the earlier codexes of Leovigildo and Suintila)
Decline in smaller churches and consequent revenues
The Jewish problem. Judaism wasn't allowed at all by Egica's time, but was still present
Homosexuality (perceived or actual as a problem)
Assembly of the army and the requirement to send troops/retainers/slaves
'Desperates' and suicides - the large number of people who, because of punishments, confiscations and exiles, became desperate enough to want to kill themselves as their lives had become unbearable - the church wasn't concerned with the cause of these suicides (draconian laws), merely the crime against God which was suicide

Bearing in mind the concurrent number of political exiles and apparent grumbles in the country, it's difficult to imagine how all the laws were 'policed' throughout the land. But policed they were and lashings were carried out. Though the constant recurrence of the same things in the Synod and increasingly rabid nature of the measures passed suggests that laws were incapable of being enforced.

The army
Not professional in the true sense of the word but nobles were required to send their people when required and double-quick. Originally a major part of the Roman army in Hispania, with the forces of the likes of Valia making absolutely short work of Vandals, Alans and anyone else in the way, Swabians, Vascones, Astures. Even as late as Wamba the army made short work of rebel forces in the east, under Dux Paulus, defeating the Vascones on the way. There were incursions of Mauri troops destroyed under Wamba and of Imperial troops destroyed and burnt under Egica (by Dux Teodomiro of later Orijuela fame). All in all the Visigoths should have been able to raise in theory something in the 70-80,000 range without much effort, with Goths and retainers/slaves

But - Hispania was a vast country in which they were spread out all over, including the Narbonense province in southern France. There were the Franks to be watched and there was the south coast to be watched from unannounced Imperial then (later) Mauri raids. There were regular punitive raids against northern Vascones and Asturs (commonly 'Basques'). Wamba obviously had great difficulty raising troops and the punishments for not sending them became harsh. This problem obviously persisted as Ervigio, then Egica enhanced them - exile and death could face nobles who failed. And yet this is probably one clue to 711. One main factor is probably the increasing number of 'bandits' roaming around - disenfranchised and outlaws, jews, escaped slaves, 'deperates' as defined above - increasing numers of people with no means of support - how can a landowner march off to the other side of the country with his soldiers and his slaves and leave his family and his farm and all his possessions undefended? A real Catch 22.

Known problems
Without much dispute, these factors existed:

Difficulty in gathering the army
Bubonic plague outbreaks
Locust outbreaks
Devastating floods
Criminal bands and outlawed jews
Reduction in trade with the east (arab advance)
Huge political rivalry and dissension - reason for and cause of, increasingly dictatorial kings and ever harsher rule

Leaving aside the fanatasy theories about somebody's daughter and miraculous cavalry, there are two general theories about the Visigothic state:

Theory 1 - the decadent and declining state

Probably the majority view. After many decades over 100 years of existence as a static country, depending on when you take the starting point, increasingly draconian laws and measures, increasing numbers of exiles, bandits and dissenters, failing economy, natural disasters, rebel-inspired plots and disputes over the crown, the Tariq/Berber invasion, in league with and assisted by exiled Goths from Ceuta was met by with Rodrigo, leading a divided country. He had not been expecting it and was fighting the vascones in the far north. The small guard force was defeated and he had to cross the country quickly, unable to raise an army large enough to over-whelm the Mauri invasion force. Rodrigo died and the lack of unity and cohesion meant no force was ever able to be assembled again of enough weight to resist berber and arab forces as the whole country was defeated in detail over the next 7 years.

Theory 2 - the accident of history

This theory expounds the importance of 2 things to the whole existence of the Kingdom. Firstly the Thesaurus or kings treasure - and there are examples of it's significance throughout known Visigothic history (no treasure no valid king)- and secondly the increasingly powerful Catholic church as the only thing that actually held the realm together. In this theory the military prowess of the kingdom was just as much as ever, if not more and the problems with criminals are nothing new. Increasingly powerful and strong kings like Chindasvinto, Wamba and Egica were not to be messed with and any attempt at rebellion or invasion was crushed. Crucial to this theory is that when Rodrigo hurried back from the troubles in the north east he did not have/did not need such a large force and was assuming/told that it was a force of Mauri raiders (which it probably was), similar in size (as known to us)to those experienced in the reigns of Marcus Aurelius and Commodus and really, in true Custer style, not something that would give much bother to the military might of the Visigoths - even with the reduced numbers in the field. As in theory 1, once the damage was done each town and area was defeated or pacted in detail and no significant force was gathered agin - but, the Thesaurus was lost - partly at Guadalete and partly around Toledo, with the Table of Solomon on it's way to Damascus, the major Bishop hot-footed it to Rome and there was no way of forming a new king/government as everyone looked after their own town. In this theory Ceuta was an impassive witness which may have rented out it's ships to allow the Mauri to cross.

In both theories hostages and pacts/conversions ensured complete takeover. In both, the military ability of Rodrigo has to be questioned hard, both tactically and strategically.

Rodrigo/Roderic
Apart from potentially being incompetent, Rodrigo is treated harshly by the legends that followed. He is said to be a usurper, snatched the throne from 'sons of Witiza' etcetc. and all sorts of rubbish about potential impropriety with a daughter of the ruler/governor of Ceuta (who may or not have existed).

But Garcia Moreno's recent analysis (Espana, 701-718) is compelling for me - when you look at the number of nobles exiled by Egica and by extension his son Witiza, of the Chindasvinto/Ervigio line, Rodrigo was a high-ranking noble/general of the Wamba-Egica line who appears in history under Egica and Witiza - IE he wasn't exiled or disgraced, he held rank and possibly fought off earlier invaders, he was of the Wamba/Egica clan, not a rival

Witiza disappears from history sometime in 710 - a sure sign that he had an unremarkable death in Visigoth-watcher terms, possibly of plague or something similar. His sons would be very, very young and not for ruling consideration. Moreno considers that Rodrigo was asked/persuaded/elected (in traditional style) to take charge, with Witiza dead and rebellion looming in the north and east and strange things lurking in Africa. Poisoned chalice indeed.

Conduct of the invasion and battle known as Guadalete, 711

There are signs of a smaller battle with a southern protection force prior to, and also of the remnants of the army gathering at Ecija subsequent to, Guadalete. Both of course were defeated. In the previous 20 years or so invasions of Imperial troops and of Mauri, including a small invasion in 710 possibly defeated by Rodrigo, had been squashed. In one of his Synod speeches in favour of more Anti-Jewish laws, Egica had quoted that they were in league with the arab invaders crossing North Africa to takeover the Visigothic kingdom - this did come to pass, whether cause or effect who knows? Ceuta itself was possibly almost awash with exiled and dissenting Goths. So there shouldn't have been any surprise.

So a force of Mauri, led by someone named Tariq (about which little is really known - Tariq/Taric???) crossed the sea possibly as early as April 711. Undoubtedly the only ships around would have been used - those in Ceuta, which was either still tenuously Imperial or an extension of the Visigothic Kingdom. Also rather inevitably there was a southern guard force (too small for this task) which was defeated in the Campo de Gibraltar, possibly under a young Egica, nephew of Rodrigo, conveniently furnishing the invaders with horses.

Rodrigo was known to be campaigning in the north-east, either against the vascones in general or the rebel Agila II and had to move quickly across country.
Did he under-estimate the threat?
Did he bother to gather more troops?
Could he?
Why the rush? The natural instinct is to rush to quickly entinguish any internal or external threat. This is a constant factor which has led to catastrophe in later Castille several times, when faced with invaders. With wonderful hindsight it is almost certain that, had Rodrigo held off, he would have gathered more troops, become in a position to strike, whilst the unsupplied and unsupported invaders faded away and starved into the winter, unable to leave Algeciras and the threat faded away or crossed back with loot at least until some future point. Which may never ever have come because once the threat was known an opposed sea crossing would be almost impossible.

Leaving aside location considerations (I did a thread on this a couple of years ago), the battle took place in a hot July of 711, near-contemporary sources all talk of 7 days (c.20th-27th July), though this has later been corrupted as a swift glorious battle.
The Visigoths would have had their Romanised weapons and tactics, honed over many years, horses etc. The invaders probably contained a few rebel Visigoths, but were largely Mauri - capable and feared enough, possibly former employees of the Empire and possibly attired as such but equally possibly some with slingshots and loin cloths.
What happened? God knows quite frankly. There seems (universally) to have been some dissension or rebellion within Rodrigo's army during the battle, which was extinguished but even so caused enough distraction to cause his demise by drowning in the lake by enemy action. The legend around this grew, but it may simply have been arguments over tactics and situation and when to charge - he may well not have been universally elected. Moreno theorises that this 7-day battle was about tit for tat skirmishes around hilltops and lake lands, back and forth, until the invaders were able to cause the death of the king One could also argue (me) that without proper reconaissance he got himslef in an almighty mess against a larger force and that the Visigoths were 'holding on' for a week being chased from here to there.

Either way from there a lot of pacting subsequently went on and the whole country was 'divvied up' by Tariq and the remaining nobles of the ruling clan. It is very very likely that it was only in 712, with Musa's invasion, that they knew there was an islamic takeover involved, and probably Musa only came because of the unexpected success of Tariq's force of assorted Mauri of assorted religion. How chance affects history!

During the subsequent 7 years there was some violent resistance,but not too much. Many ruling nobles were still in place, notably the ruler of Orijuela/Murcia/Valencia, Teodomiro, the rulers of Merida, of Zaragoza and many other places who would form the patchwork of islamic Hispania and subsequent dissensions therein. It became a promised land for immigrants, initially and notably berbers but then many clans from as far as Yemen, Sudan, Arabia and all North Africa, as well as soldiers of course. Towns in Spain today can often trace their name back to the ruling family who immigrated in these times EG Alcala de los Gazules - fortress of the Gazules or Yazules (from Yemen?). Immigration together with islamisation - remember how horrific and funless the Catholic Church was under the previous rulers - quite swiftly created a largely islamic state. By the milennium 300 years later almost a wholly islamic state. But the Visigoths and Hispano-Romans hadn't moved out - as so often, the base population was still there. Indeed some of them - whilst blended, diluted and mixed, 'clan types' have a habit of sticking together - would have descendents thrown out basically as 'evil aliens' almost 1000 years later! Whilst the 'Spanish' that threw them out were very largely of immigrant stock from Europe!!

Visigoth kings, Leovigildo onward, ignoring post-Rodrigo part-kings, in English not Spanish

Liuvigild (569–586), ruled only south of the Pyrenees until 572
Hermenegild (580–585), sub-king in Baetica
Reccared I (580–601), son, sub-king in Narbonensis until 586, first Catholic king
Segga (586–587), rebel
Argimund (589–590), rebel
Liuva II (601–603), son
Witteric (603–610)
Gundemar (610–612)
Sisebut (612–621)
Reccared II (621), son
Suintila (621–631)
Reccimer (626–631), son and associate
Sisenand (631–636)
Iudila (632–633), rebel
Chintila (636–640)
Tulga (640–641)
Chindasuinth (641–653)
Recceswinth (649–672), son, initially co-king
Froia (653), rebel
Wamba (672–680)
Hilderic (672), rebel
Paul (672–673), rebel
Erwig (680–687)
Egica (687–702)
Suniefred (693), rebel
Wittiza (694–710), son, initially co-king or sub-king in Gallaecia
Roderic (710–711)
 
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May 2015
1,301
Germany
#2
It became a promised land for immigrants, initially and notably berbers but then many clans from as far as Yemen, Sudan, Arabia and all North Africa, as well as soldiers of course.
The country or the region?

But the Visigoths and Hispano-Romans hadn't moved out - as so often, the base population was still there. Indeed some of them - whilst blended, diluted and mixed, 'clan types' have a habit of sticking together - would have descendents thrown out basically as 'evil aliens' almost 1000 years later!
No wonder, during the later stages of the Reconquista they were not only Islamized, but also Arabized.
 

Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
5,555
Portugal
#3
Great post, John! And this is one of your favourite themes.

As for the explicative theories, I, due to my own bias and the authors that I read, I am in what you call “Probably the majority view”, so always tended much more to the “Theory 1 - the decadent and declining state”, but as I said to you several times, if there is a period of history that I never look too much in the Iberian Peninsula is the Visigothic one, or better between the fall of Rome and the beginning of the Reconquista.

I hope that someone can had some more good posts to this thread.

The country or the region?
The region. Sudan in its Medieval ambiguous meaning, “lato sensu”.

No wonder, during the later stages of the Reconquista they were not only Islamized, but also Arabized.
With my readings, I got the idea that the Arabization happened more intensely then the Islamization, even if it was a parallel phenomenon. But I don’t have solid ground here, besides the fact that in the high middle ages there was still a huge group of “Mozárabes”, Christians that spoke Arabic and dressed like heavily influenced by the Arabs and Berbers. It is a pertinent issue.
 
May 2015
1,301
Germany
#4
As for the explicative theories, I, due to my own bias and the authors that I read, I am in what you call “Probably the majority view”, so always tended much more to the “Theory 1 - the decadent and declining state”, but as I said to you several times, if there is a period of history that I never look too much in the Iberian Peninsula is the Visigothic one, or better between the fall of Rome and the beginning of the Reconquista.
That the Muslims invaded just after one year after an illegitimate usuper seized the throne certainly helped the conquest.

The region. Sudan in its Medieval ambiguous meaning, “lato sensu”.
As expected. The Arabs didn't became a major player in the country Sudan until the 14th century, when the Reconquista was already pretty much accomplished. Concerning the individuals originating from the region Sudan I suppose that they predominantly descended from west African slaves or the Almoravids/Almohads.

With my readings, I got the idea that the Arabization happened more intensely then the Islamization, even if it was a parallel phenomenon. But I don’t have solid ground here, besides the fact that in the high middle ages there was still a huge group of “Mozárabes”, Christians that spoke Arabic and dressed like heavily influenced by the Arabs and Berbers. It is a pertinent issue.
Not sure either. According to Fernandez-Morera's "The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise", Christianity pretty much died out in Andalusia during the 12th century. Apparently there were no more Christians to be found when the regions were conquered from the Muslims from the 13th century onwards. It was also in the 12th/13th century when Christianity died out in North Africa.
 
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Jan 2013
887
Toronto, Canada
#5
One variant of the decadent and declining state theory is that Hispano-Romans were divided between the people who hated the Visigoths and the people who were indifferent.

When Arab forces swept through, most people just shrugged.
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
4,710
Sydney
#6
.
Very interesting post !

the comparison with the Saxons during the Normand conquest spring to mind
even the military movement of Harold fit quite well
 

Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
5,555
Portugal
#8
Criminal bands and outlawed jews
Do you still recall who and in what circumstances mentions the (outlawed) Jews?

I am relating this with the other thread that we talk when the Jews helped to save Fernando II and his mother during the siege of Girona.

Their military value and influence in the Iberian Peninsula still seems quite understudied, probably because they were ignored by the sources, that always seemed to focus in other Jewish activities. But even if these two references are quite far in the chronology, we can have some other minor references and see that they were armed and active.

Not sure either. According to Fernandez-Morera's "The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise", Christianity pretty much died out in Andalusia during the 12th century. Apparently there were no more Christians to be found when the regions were conquered from the Muslims from the 13th century onwards. It was also in the 12th/13th century when Christianity died out in North Africa.
Never read that book, or other of Dário Fernández-Morera, but I read a good review (https://www.unav.edu/publicaciones/revistas/index.php/myc/article/download/8243/7347 )

Don’t know/recall about Andalusia, but since it was the region that was much more time under Muslim rule, that could have deviated later historiography, since there was a crescent religious tension with the Almoravids/Almohads and with the crusades that it is natural that was some internal migration, Christians to the North, Muslims to the South, but in the territory that today is Portugal in the middle of the 12th century (1147) there were still “many” Christians in Lisbon and Santarém. In Lisbon many were butchered by the Northern Crusaders to discontempt of the Portuguese king, and Santarém was taken with 50 men with inside help. Later, if my memory doesn’t betray me, they were still relevant in the sieges in Silves (1189 and/or 1250[?], have to check).
 
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Nov 2010
7,648
Cornwall
#9
That the Muslims invaded just after one year after an illegitimate usuper seized the throne certainly helped the conquest.

As expected. The Arabs didn't became a major player in the country Sudan until the 14th century, when the Reconquista was already pretty much accomplished. Concerning the individuals originating from the region Sudan I suppose that they predominantly descended from west African slaves or the Almoravids/Almohads.

Not sure either. According to Fernandez-Morera's "The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise", Christianity pretty much died out in Andalusia during the 12th century. Apparently there were no more Christians to be found when the regions were conquered from the Muslims from the 13th century onwards. It was also in the 12th/13th century when Christianity died out in North Africa.
First para - Musa's 712 force was arabic, as was the 'ruling elite' throughout this period. A class above!! I believe if you leave aside the issues around the muladi revolt, Christianity started to come under real pressure under the Caliphate of Abderraman III, an incredibly capable, powerful and unfortunately unpleasant individual. Though Alhaken II was generally held to be the absolute reverse, the dictatorship of Almanzor, taking the iron rule of Abderraman to new levels, was an unpleasant time for Christians in any Spanish kingdom. The Almoravid invasion of the 1080s brought a new fundamentalism - but there is evidence that churches were allowed to exist within this rule and not really too much of the 'persecution' evidence makes the annals. The Almohads on the other hand were a whole new level. Christianity and Judaism were banned throughout the Empire - convert, leave or die, along with severe punishments for muslims. At this time there was extensive jewish emigration to now-Christian Toledo. Christianity was not tolerated, which is why it 'died out'. This was anywhere from Tripoli to the Moroccan coast to Lisbon to just south of Tortosa. The only exceptions were Castillian and Leonese mercenaries serving the Almohads and Genovese merchants trading.

Brian Catlos asserts that by the milennium everything up to and including the Ebro region was speaking and working entirely in arabic.

Also on 'arabs' - the Almohad Empire was founded on strong, berber Almohad troops and doctrine, seconded by less reliable and more 'flakey' arab tribes originally from the Ifriqiya area. Abd Al Mumin created the collosal strategic mistake which would come home to roost 100 years later, of physically moving a lot of arab tribes from that region toward the central and western regions particularly around Marrakesh, partly to reduce trouble in that region, partly to booster his own close-to-home forces. The political consequences were tremendous as the Empire weakened much later. I would strongly recommend Huici Miranda's 2-volume 'Historia Politica del Imperio Almohade' which, despite it's title, is a political and miliatry history of great value.

The 'Sudan' - as Tulius says it refers to that of the time, but this immigration is certainly pre-Caliphate, when everyone came in to grab a piece of action. Other major influxes were around the Caliphal armies. Almanzor relied almost totally on mercenaries. Partly Slavic, obtained from the Franks, and partly Berber/Mauri - from North Africa, as distinct from the large berber immigrations in the 8th century. All this went into the mix when the Caliphate collapsed

One variant of the decadent and declining state theory is that Hispano-Romans were divided between the people who hated the Visigoths and the people who were indifferent.

When Arab forces swept through, most people just shrugged.
I think there's a lot in this, in the spread of islam. I've read the same of the Byzantines in certain African regions. In Spain although the Visigoths were around a long time and therefore the join may be difficult to see, they seem to have been incredibly haughty and aloof and, as I said above, ruthless Catholic puritans (if it suited) ruling what seems a joyless and pretty horrible state. The jews are known to have physically aided in the initial garrison and administration of Granada and it's easy to see how the whole population, Goth and Hispano-Roman, flipped over to islam for an easier and better life and to keep their lands and property where possible. It's uncanny how swiftly it took hold.

If anything life for a Gothic noble was more precarious than the workers and slaves, with exile and confiscation never too far away. It's not impossible that something like this began in the actual battle of Guadalete

Damn you. Now I have to read it all and start thinking about Visigoths.
See you in about 7 or 8 years :)

Edit - thinking about it 'Gold from the Sudan' was a major factor in the Caliphal economy of the 10th century. More detail I know not. Immigrants would not have been black African at this time.

Another edit - I've just been trying to look up about Alcala de los Gazules, but most things just talk about muslims or arabs. I know where it is, it's in the section on that town in my Guia Total de Andalucia, by Anaya publishing. This was common - Almanzor's own father was thought to be a local lord at Torrox, family originating from the Yemen.
 
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May 2015
1,301
Germany
#10
First para - Musa's 712 force was arabic, as was the 'ruling elite' throughout this period. A class above!! I believe if you leave aside the issues around the muladi revolt, Christianity started to come under real pressure under the Caliphate of Abderraman III, an incredibly capable, powerful and unfortunately unpleasant individual. Though Alhaken II was generally held to be the absolute reverse, the dictatorship of Almanzor, taking the iron rule of Abderraman to new levels, was an unpleasant time for Christians in any Spanish kingdom. The Almoravid invasion of the 1080s brought a new fundamentalism - but there is evidence that churches were allowed to exist within this rule and not really too much of the 'persecution' evidence makes the annals. The Almohads on the other hand were a whole new level. Christianity and Judaism were banned throughout the Empire - convert, leave or die, along with severe punishments for muslims. At this time there was extensive jewish emigration to now-Christian Toledo. Christianity was not tolerated, which is why it 'died out'. This was anywhere from Tripoli to the Moroccan coast to Lisbon to just south of Tortosa. The only exceptions were Castillian and Leonese mercenaries serving the Almohads and Genovese merchants trading.
But at least the Jews came back to Andalusia after the fall of the Almohads. I guess that is because at the time of their fall, the position of the Jews already started to decline in Christian Spain, right?

Brian Catlos asserts that by the milennium everything up to and including the Ebro region was speaking and working entirely in arabic.
According to this website, Mozarabic was still spoken as late as 1300.

It's uncanny how swiftly it took hold.
Ten years were needed to conquer the entirety of the Visigothic kingdom. Hardly a swiftly conquest.