When Charlton Heston rode on to the big screen in the role of a lifetime as Rodrigo Diaz in the film adaptation of El Cid it brought to life one of histories least remembered military leaders. Like Alexander The Great and Charlemagne before Rodrigo Diaz has to rank right up there with these great military figures. All left lasting impressions that played a large part in shaping world history. It seems that in almost every century there are great leaders both military and statesmen who contributed lasting accomplishments that are forever remembered. Was it fate or destiny that led Rodrigo Diaz to forge a lasting friendship with the leaders of the Moors at a time of continued hostilities?
To answer that we have to go back over 900 years of history to the mid 11 century. Born a member of the minor Spanish nobility Rodrigo was raised in the court of Ferdinand the 1st. Unlike in the movie when Ferdinand died Sancho, Ferdinands eldest son appointed Rodigo el Cid as commander of the royal troops and it’s standard bearer. The movie on the other hand had El Cid named as the Kings Champion. The movie made for great story telling but strayed a little from the actual accounts of the life of El Cid.
When Sancho died leaving his brother Alfonso King, Rodrigo became the natural leader of the Castilians who weren’t particularly enthralled to have Alfonso as their ruler. Having lost favor with King Alfonso because Alfonso felt that he had been publicly humiliated. This, because in public display Rodrigo had the king swear he had no implications in King Sancho’s death. On a mission to Seville, Rodrigo encountered Count Garcia Ordonez. As history recounts Ordonez replaced Rodrigo when Alfonso became King as the kings standard bearer. It was Rodigo’s belief that Count Ordonez killed King Sancho. This betrayel made the two bitter enemy’s. In the heat of battle the Cid captured the Count and in 1081 the Cid led a military raid into Toledo, a Moorish kingdom that was under Alfonso’s protection. When king Alfonso foud out he orderd the Rodrigo be banished from his court placed in exile. It was then that Rodrigo offered his services to the Muslim ruler of Saragossa. For more than a decade the Cid served Mu’tamin and his successor, al-Musta’in. Military victories continued to mount especially against the Moorish king of Lerida and their Christian allies.
In 1086 King Alfonso was defeated by the Moors under Almorvids who came from North Africa. It was after this defeat that King Alfonso literally had a change of heart and overcame his bitter antagonism against the Cid. With Almoravids still a real threat to all of Christian Spain El Cid set out to gain control of Valencia, a wealthy Moorish stronghold that held the key to the gateway for the Moors to continue to invade and gain control of Spain. El Cid gradually gained control over Valencia while establishing alliances with it’s ruler al-Qadir. More bloodshed was to follow when in October of 1092 Almoravids invaded Valancia resulting in the death of al-Qadir. With Valancia back in the hands of the Moors El Cid laid siege to the city which lasted for almost two years. It was during those years of the siege that Rodrigo managed to reestablish himself the great protector of Spain. He stayed on the coast of the Mediterranean until he died in 1099.
Rodrigo Diaz and his wife had two daughters and one son. Today, some of the nobility of Spain are direct descendants of El Cid and his wife Jimena. The Cid’s only son died in battle in 1098 just a year before Rodigo’s own the death. It is thrilling to see in the movie El Cid where legend has it Jimena ordered the body of El Cid to be fitted with all his armor and set atop his horse to bolster the morale of his troops. Just like in the movie the dead Rodrigo came charging out with his knights winning a thundering battle against the Moors. This depiction was probably the result that of Jimena upon leaving Valencia and entering Burgos accompanied with the body of El Cid. The Cid is now lying at the center of the Burgos Cathedral.
What made El Cid such a great military leader was his understanding of the knowledge gained from having books from the classic Greek and Roman authors on military tactics read to him. His innovative approach to hold planning strategy and «brainstorming» sessions before each battle often proved the difference in the many victories El Cid won. El Cid was probably the first military leader to incorporated what is called today psychological warfare. That is waiting for the enemy to be paralyzed with terror [much like «shock and awe» strategy used in the first Gulf War] and then attacking them suddenly. It was Rodigo’s innate ability to attract and inspire the very best subordinates who would remain loyal even if they weren’t Christian. He understood that the Moors even though were of a different religion he was wise enough to gain valuable life long friendships and loyal followers. These qualities along with El Cid’s natural abilities have made Rodigo Diaz one of histories great military leaders.
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