The late 12th and 13th centuries were a warlike era, not only between two faiths but also between Christian states as they squabbled over their spoils. The destruction, depopulation and agricultural decline of huge areas in what had been Muslim Andalus lasted well beyond the Middle Ages. Further south and east much of the Muslims and Mozarab peasantry remained, yet a massive exodus by the Andalusian elite left great gaps in the population. Everywhere the Iberian Military Orders were in the forefront, dealing with such situations. Famous Orders like the Templars and Hospitallers came early on the scene, but tended to regard Iberia as a source of revenue for operations in the Holy Land. Consequently they were driven from Castile and replaced by purely Spanish Orders such as those of Calatrava, Santiago and Alcantara. Hospitallers and Templars played a more enduring role in Aragon, and survived for some time in Portugal until being replaced by national Orders.
After 1148 the Iberian kingdoms got virtually no help from the rest of Europe, Crusading energies being channelled to the east. The Spaniards were left alone to cope with the problem of their own success. A great military breakthrough occurred following victory over the Almohads at Las Navas to Tolosa in 1212. Portugals drive southward was equally dramatic and had a similarly profound effect on the countrys military, cultural and naval future. Again, however, the conquest at first brought problems, up to half of some towns fleeing to Granada or North Africa.
In Aragon and Catalonia, united since 1162, the old semi feudal structure had been defensive. What was needed now were readily available armies to hold down huge new territories. In the deep south, around Valencia, there was little Christian settlement until the Muslim risings of the 1260’s. Aragon-Catalonia’s defeat in southern France (albigensian Crusade) and the death of king Peter at the battle of Muret were serious blows to a crown already beset by problems.
A lack of fully developed feudal attitudes in 13th century Aragon obviously influenced the countries military organizations. Most soldiers were paid professionals. Militias, including fully armed citizen cavalry, were effective, while the cities and church had more real power than the barons. The role of Iberian urban militias wasimportant, particularly in castile. Such troops were present at the great victory of Las Navas de Tolosa, in the capture of Cordova in 1236, Valencia in 1238 and Seville in 1248. Militias along the frontier were also strengthened and reorganised in the late 12th and 13th centuries. Regulations concerning equipment became more specific: horses had to be of a minimum quality, caballeros had to have shields, lances, metal helmets, swords,mail hauberks and padded perpunt soft armour plus arm and thigh defences. Certain troops such as standard bearers must also have horse-armour. Other regulations dealt with the weaponry of infantry and mounted crossbowmen.
Some militias were now involved in the protection of great herds that migrated to and from seasonal pasturesin central Spain. Until the Muslims were driven into their last mountain fastness around Granada they had used these grasslands. Both sides raided each others herds; and there was also competition beween southern and Northern Castilian cities. While the high sierras provided summer grazing, the rich southern grasslands were vital as winter pasture.So important were the herdsmen that they were exept from military duties. The ranching system had a profound impact on Castillian military developments. By the end of the 13th century the overall command structure was being modernised, as were tactics. Alfonso X advocated a cone formation for armoured cavalry that was almost certainly based on a Byzantine original, probably via Arabic military manuals.Armour and weapons grew heavier, horse armour was common, soft armour was worn over rather than under mail, and a greater use of scale armour reflected the threat from brossbows. Hardened leather armour for the limbs and coats-of-plate for the body were increasingly popular, but all-enveloping great helms and heavy iron plate never became as widespread as in neighbouring France. This presumably reflected climatic as much as tactical considerations. Islamic influence could still be seen in helmet decoration. The mace was perhaps more of a symbol of rank than a real weapon, while in Iberia the sword and its hilt were widely regarded as a symbol of the cross. Paradoxically some surviving examples are decorated not only with Islamic arabesque designs but even with Koranic quotes trandlated into Latin. It is also suggestted that a Sdpanish type of single edged falchion with an angled back showed Eastern influence via Islamic Andalus. This weapons was certainly popular and has survived into modern times as the machete.
The distinction between armoured and light horsemen, both in their tactical roles and equipment, was becoming more distinct. The importance of infantry was yet to decline, despite the fact that some peasant auxiliaries were armed with primitive slings as late as the mid-14th century. Javelin-armed mountaineers from Navarre and the Basque country were in wide demand as mercenaries well into the 14th century while Catalonia was famous not only for the manufacture of crossbows but also for its crossbowmen.
Aragon, however, was also the homeland of a distinctive warrior – the almugavar. His name again comes from Arabic ( al mughawir – raiders) and he formed the professional backbone of the 13th and 14th century Aragonese armies. Some almugavars were cavalry but most fought on foot. All were lightly armed with swords, javelins or crossbows and wore forms of leather armour. Many were of ‘moorish’ origin and some may still have been Muslim. They formed the bulk of the famous Catalan Grand company, a mercenary unit that rampaged across greece and Anatolia early in the 14th century, where their background probably accounted for their ability to get on so well with Muslim turks. At home their guerrilla tactics broke the back of a French invasion early in the 13th century and they also served in Aragon’s growing empire in Sicily, Sardinia and elsewhere. A peasant militia or sometent was similarly raised in many parts of Aragon-Catalonia to maintain the king’s ‘Peace and truce’, while various cities, including those of Catalonia, developed new militias called hermandades to police an increasingly turbulent age.