Sunday, June 17, 2007

Two Christian Views of Islam: The Historia Roderici, The Song of El Cid, and The Song of Roland

The political fortunes of the Christian kingdoms of Asturias-Leon were greatly enhanced by the fragmentation of the Cordoban Caliphate into small Taifa kingdoms. Oviedo itself had replaced Leon as the Asturian capital under Ordono II around 910, but after the last major Christian victory of Simancas in 939, a crisis of succession weakened the kingdom, making it more vulnerable to Andalusian raids, especially those of Al-Mansur (978-1002). The fortunes of the kingdom of Asturias changed with the reign of Sancho III Garces of Navarre (1000-1035). With his death, the succession is passed on to his three sons: Garcia III, who inherits the kingdom of Navarre; Fernando I (1035-1065), who rules the kingdom of Castille; and finally Ramiro I, who rules over the newly established kingdom of Aragon. Fernando's career saw the absorption of the Leon (after he had killed Vermudo III) and the establishment of the county of Portugal through the conquest of Coimbra. At his death, his kingdom would be divided between Sancho II (who inherited Castille and the Zaragozan paria) and Alfonso VI (who inherited Leo and the Toledo paria) With the assassination of Sancho, Alfonso also rules over Castille. Alfonso eventually absorbs the Toledo paria in 1085, prompting the invasion of the Almoravids.
Under Sancho II, a knight by the name of Rodrigo Diaz (El Cid) would begin his career as the king's field marshal (alferez). After the assassination of Sancho, he served under his brother Alfonso, but their relationship was cordial, but distant, especially when Rodrigo forced an oath upon Alfonso that he had no complicity in Sancho's death. The accounts of his subsequent adventures are rehearsed in the Historia Roderici and the Poema del Mio Cid, as well as the Chronicon Regum Legionensium. In each of these, the problem of religious identity becomes more confusing. In the Historia Roderici, while one might find an occasional reference to the traditional Christian nomenclature may occur (i.e. "Saracen", etc.) the force of the narrative is much more "secular". Rodrigo forges a strong relationship to Al-Mutamin of Seville, and generally fights to represent the Taifa kings. This takes on even a more bizarre twist when the Count of Barcelona accuses El Cid of not being a good Christian, an unusual charge given that his own tributary was the Taifa king of Zaragoza, for whom Count Ordonez is fighting. The narrative begins to change a little with the invasion of the Almoravids. With the siege of Valencia, Rodrigo, overwhelmed by the "vasr and innumerable" multitude of the Almoravid camp, calls down divine help, "trusting in God and His mercy" (Historia Roderici, chapt.5). Here the narrative shifts from the largely political and pragmatic concerns of Rodrigo, to a general representation of a good Christian knight. A "holy war" imagery emerges here, but the overall tenor of the chronicle treats the Taifa kings (who are Muslim) in more friendly and familiar terms than the Almoravids. This overall tension and confusion of religious identity is not quite as palpable in CRL, an account of the kings of Leon from Vermudo to the reign of Alfonso VI. It opens with the reign of Vermudo, king of Leon, whom the chronicler describes as a "foolish" and a "tyrant". The key and decisive moment of reckoning for this evil king comes, according to Bishop Pelayo, at the moment when, on account of the king's sins, Al-Mansur and his son Abd al-Malik (with two exiled Christian counts), lay siege to the kingdom of Leon. The irony of this scenario consists in the fact that retribution comes in the form of a combined Islamic and Christian invading force, an irony that can to some extent fit a sort of "chosen people" narrative. Just as the kingdom of Judah ultimately succumbs to superior Babylonian strength because of its sins, so divine retribution can be visited upon an evil Christian king. The chronicler, however, does not draw upon this imagery, only making use of the word "Hagarene" to describe Al-Mansur and thereby highlighting the fact that the wickedness of Vermudo brought about this invasion. The only other place we might find a sort of "chosen people" and "holy war" narrative is in Bishop Pelayo's account of the reign of Alfonso VI, but even here the emphasis is not so much on the military expansion of the kingdom of Leon, but on the gradual integration of the Spanish church into western Christendom, a program pushed by the reforming Popes under the influence of the Hildebrandian reforms. Bishop Pealyo exemplifies this point through his account of Alfonso VI's efforts to seek closer collaboration with Pope Gregory VII.
A more militant form of "reconquest" imagery takes place in portions of El Cantar del Mio Cid. This romance poem recounts the life and career of Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar in light of the chivalric expectations of the twelfth century, casting him as the ideal Christian knight. It does that in the most curious fashion, as it juxtaposes Rodrigo's confusing and pragmatic relationships with A-Mutamin and the Taifa kingdoms with the Almoravids. In the case of the Almoravids, like the Historia Roderici, the tone of the poem reverts to a "holy war" rhetoric. The poem exemplifies this in two instances: when it portrays him as a just ruler of the Moors (Cid: 46), and when the French cleric Jerome appeals to "crusader ideology" in describing El Cid's career (78). In the latter instance, the bishop has a thoroughgoing "black and white" ideology, in contradistinction to the confused politics of the Taifa kingdoms and their relationship with Alfonso VI. The bishop's more militant crusader posturing has much to do with the fact that he, unlike El Cid, has had no contact with Muslims. This only highlights even more the peculiar character of religious identity in eleventh and twelfth century Iberia. Crusader ideology may be called upon when faced with militant foreign forces (as with the Almoravids), but no such rhetoric is applied to Muslims in the Taifa kingdoms.

The involvement of French crusaders in peninsular affairs added a new dimension to the ideological construction of the Reconquista-the crusading ideal. The promulgation of the Crusade in the Council of Clermont in 1095 by Pope Urban II also identified Spain as a crusading territory; he granted papal indulgences to those who would take part in helping the Christian kingdoms repel the Almoravids.
The Almoravids themselves would play a dominant role in uniting the Taifa kingdoms under one rule, but the successors of Ibn Yusuf could not quite retain effective rule (nor his strict observance of Islamic law), and soon they would divide into petty kingdoms by the middle of the twelfth century. This would allow Alfonso VII to aggressively establish the kingdom of Leon as the dominant "imperial" domain, and Alfonso I of Aragon to make incursions into Zaragoza, eventually conquering it in 1119. The successes of the Christian kingdoms would halt with the arrival of the Almohads, who defeated the Almoravids in North Africa, and would supplant them as the dominant Islamic power in the Iberian Peninsula.
The addition of the crusading element gives rise to a new paradigm in Christian and Muslim relations in Spain, in that whereas previous chronicles and epic poems (like El Cantar del Mio Cid) would make definite distinctions between Taifa kings and the Almoravids, French knightly literature such as the Chansons de Geste would make no such differentiation. This is especially the case with The Song of Roland, part of the Geste cycle, composed in the mid- to late eleventh century. Many of these tales recount stories of knightly prowess, most of them framed in the context of the reign of Charlemagn. The Song of Roland recounts the deeds of Roland, Chralemagne's nephew, in his battle against King Marsila of Zaragoza and his confederates, resulting in Roland's death (though Ganelon's treachery) at the battle of Roncevalles in 778. The remarkable thing about this epic poem is the fact that it provides an interesting "extra-peninsular" view of the Islamic presence in Spain. Again, unlike El Cantar del Mio Cid, it does not quite differentiation between Islamic allies and enemies (perhaps a function of the fact that it is looking back at a time when Islamic Spain was unified under the Cordoban caliphate). The refernces to the forces of Marsila as paynims (pagans), worshippers of "Mahound and Apollo", gives us a strong indication that there is very little attempt, if any, to recognize Islam as either a "Christian heresy", or any kind of Abrahamic faith whatsoever. There are occasional references to them as "Saracens", but "pagan" is much more prominent. The nature of the struggle is defined by Archbishop Turpin of Rheims (who is also takes part in the battle!), when he frames it as a "struggle to uphold Christianity". He further promises absolution to those who would fight bravely: "Certes, ye shall have battle, for here before you are the Saracens. Confess your sins and pray God's mercy, and that your souls may be saved I will absolve you. If ye are slain ye will be holy martyrs, and ye shall have seats in higher Paradise". The tone of this sermon is clear-it is a crusading rhetoric, one which will give shape to the contours of the developing Reconquista ideology.

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