The loose feudal structure of Spanish military organization is refelected in troubadour epics of the period, including the Poema del Cid. Even the area’s frontiers, particularly those between Christendom and Islam, were not rigidely defined, each side holding towns while the heavily raided zone between fell to whoever was stringer at the time.

On the other hand French militar influeence was now felt, most strongly in Catalonia. A cavalry elite adopted the tall saddle, straight- legged riding position and couched lance typical 12th century knights, plus shock cavalry tactics of close-packed formations designed to break enemy ranks by weight or momentum. Mail hauberks became more common, though scale armour probably remained in use and may indicate a survival of Arab-Islamic ideas. Quilted armour was certainly used, either alone or with mail, and clearly reflected Islamic influence. Brightly coloured cloaks were a mark of military class but were normally removed before combat. The adoption of ‘modern’ cavalry tactics was not always an advantage, however. The difficulty of remounting when using a tall saddle and long stirrup landed many horseman in trouble when facing lighter and more agile Muslim Cavalry.

Another, perhaps more significant military development was the widespread adoption of the crossbow during the 11th century: Spaniards probably led the way but Andalusians were only a few years behind. As elsewhere in Europe this led to a decline in ordinary archery; yet for various reasons, such as remoteness of some regions and continued influence from North Africa, simple archery survived right up to the 15th century. Morale and fighting spirit were strengthened by a canador who rode ahead of the troops, singing heroic tales such as that of El Cid.

The Christian offensice which began in the mid 11th century followed the tradition of earlier wars and involoved two forms of campaign. First there were raids of varying magnitude designed to seize valuables, livestock and prisoners; such expeditions were carried out by mounted troops, and were of limited duration. Then there were longer-term campaigns intended to seize and hold territory; more troops were involved, and naturally included infantry, siege engineers, baggage trains and the wherewithal to resist counter-attack. Muslim armies operated in the same way and both sides developed systems to exchange or ransom prisoners. By the 1130’s christian frontier towns incorporated such regulations in their charters and most of the Military orders also had special centres for the purpose. Early in the 13th century a special Order of St.Mary of Mercy was created specifically to negotiate ransoms. Muslim, Christian and Jewish doctors servd on both sides, while towns built hospitals to care for the wounded. Such concerns may habe made Iberian warfare more civilised than elsewhere in Europe, but there were many darker sides.


By the 12th century the Spanish kingdoms assumed that a total Reconquista was inevitable. Each kingdom claimed legal descent from the Visigothic state overthrown by Muslims Arabs in the 8th Century, but Leon claimed more; its rulers projected themselves as ‘emperors’ over all Iberian states, Christian and Muslim. Leon had indeed taken the lead against Andalus, but its claim to empire sounded increasingly hollow as the 11th century drew to a close. Never the less Leon remained a potent force and its military aristocracy became increasingly feudalised. Fiefs became hereditary, through in the 12th century a knight could still pass on his arms, armour and horse to an heir only if he died in action—if he died in bed his gear reverted to the king. Urban militia infantry forces were, however, relatively undeveloped in Leon by the 13th Century.


The military systems of neighbouring Castile were rooted in those of Leon. In the late 11th century a king or Baron could give arms to any free man in return for military service, while equipment could be captured directly from the foe or purchased with the profits of booty. The division of spoils was in fact, carefully regulated throughout Castile. Different forms of warfare were reflected in summons to service. Fonsado or hueste were formal expeditions on horseback, while defensive actions against enemy raids were called apellido. Anubda and arrobda entailed siege, pitch battle, frontier guard or garrison work. Failure to answer any such summons led to a fine or fonsadero, this eventually evolving into a form of tax with which a ruler could pay professional troops.

From the mid 11th century to mid 12th centuries the Castilian army basically consisted of noble caballeros hidalgos who fought as vassals in return for fiefs or pay. Many, like the king himself, had their own professional private armies or mesnadas. These in turn were led by members of the infanzones or lesser nobility such as El Cid. Of increasing importance were non-noble but prosperous caballeros villanos who fought in return for tax exemptions. They could, however, lose such status if they failed to attend a twice yearly military inspection properly equipped and mounted. Urban infantry pedones also fought in return for privileges. The juez or leader of an urban force was usually appointed by the king, but each city section elected its own alcalde or leader when it joined a campaign. Other vital militia auxiliaries included the atalayeros scouts. They were something of an elite, mounted on the swifted horses and paid a special salary. Like many Spanish military terms these titles often come from Arabic. During a raid these forces were divided into two parts, one of which built and defended a base camp while the rest, the algara or raiders, rode on to do what damage they could. Rules governing a city’s involvement in warfare were enshrined in its fuero charter; these covered information-gathering, espionage, the division of spoils, compensation for death or injury, and the exchange of prisoners.

As new territory was overrun so new towns had to be created and conquered ones repopulated. At first such colonization was spontaneous, only later being formilised by the government. For much of the 11th century lands between the Douro River and high sierras were bandit country to which outlaws and escaping serfs fled from both sides. Yet the role of urban militias was so important in the Reconquista that Castilian kings eagerly granted new charters, gave new freedoms and encouraged the colonization of such new territories. The sierras then remained a battle zone between Christendom and Islam until, with the fall of Toledo in the late 11th century, the frontier was again pushed south, away from the mountains and onto the high plains of New Castile. Raiding now took a new turn with large-scale cattle rustling virtually being invented in 12th century Toledo. Desire for the rich winter grazing land of La Mancha also played its part in a frontier socieity for whom cattle represented an obvious form of wealth. Such a military system was highly effective when facing fragmented Muslim city states with comparable militias. It failed, however, against united foes like the Almoravids and Almohads.


Military developments differed in Aragon. Men from southern France played a significant role in the reconquest and colonization of eastern Spain, though official French participation ceased by the mid 12th century. Foreign involvement did not, however, get off to a happy start. The capture of the Muslim frontier town of Barbastro in 1064 was largely the work of Norman, French and Italian Crusaders who broke the surrender terms and slaughtered not only the defenders but also some 6,000 male inhabitants whose women and children were divided amongst the conquerors as concubines or slaves. Thousands more were sent to the Byzantine Emperor as a gift and only a year later Barbastro was retaken by the Andalusian rulers of Saragossa.

Saragossa was itself the key to north-eastern Andalus and its seizure by Alfonso I of Aragon in 1118 opened the entire region to gradual conquest. Its fall followed a long hard siege against a garrison with 20 mangonels plus an even more determined citizen militia. Many starved before surrendering and even then the survivors only capitulated after the defeat of an Almoravid relief force. Unlike events at Barbastro, the Muslim inhabitants of Saragossa were given a surburb in which to live and, what is more, these terms were kept though most Saragossans still preferred to leave for Muslim-held territory. Alfonso I of Aragon, ‘The Battler’ as he became known, died after falling into an ambush while raiding Muslim Lerida in 1134.


Catalonia and Aragon were to unite under one crown and become the second biggest power in Spain; but Catalonia’s culture, as the easternmost Iberian state, was different from those of other Christian kingdoms. Effectively unified under Count berenger I in 1064, its name like that of Castile originally meant land of Castles, or more accurately of castle0holders. This was a region of numerous small and often poor fiefs. Military obligations were based on personal fidelity and property rather than true feudalism, though after 1200 concepts of vassalage did develop under strong French influence. Nevertheless Catalan military obligation remained confused and unclear, the great vassals of Barcelona clearly owing the count some military duties while other areas service seems to have been purely voluntary.


Portugal, as the westernmost state in Christian Iberia, also differed from the general pattern. It was not, in fact, fully recognised as a separate entity by the others until the 13th century, and much of Portugals effort went into preserving its independence from Leon and Castile. The country’s military organization was old-fashioned, or at least remained true to an Arab-Andalusian tradition, until 14th century. The army commander had an Arabic title, alfers mor, as did the alcalde governors of castles or fortified cities. Portuguese costume continued to be influenced by Mozarab-Andalusian styles while an even older tradition may have lain behind a continued use of longbows, though crossbows had also come into fashion.