El Cid (Spanish; originally from the Arabic al-sīd, "lord"; in full El Cid Campeador, "lord champion"), byname of Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar (1043-1099), military leader and mercenary of 11th century Spain, whose prowess in battle and code of honor grew to legend within a few years of his death.
Diaz was born in 1043 in the Castilian city of Vivar; his father was of minor nobility, while on his mother’s side he was part of the landed aristocracy, and through this he was essentially brought up in the court of Ferdinand I, king of Castile. In 1065 Sancho II became king on his father’s death, and Diaz was appointed commander of the royal troops with the title of armiger regis (standard bearer), and at the age of 22 it is suggestive of his own growing reputation as a military leader. Two years later he accompanied Sancho in arms against Zaragoza and its Moorish king Muqtadir, successfully making that kingdom a Castilian tributary. It was in this campaign as a victor and negotiator that Diaz earned the respect of the Moors, who gave him his title of "El Cid."
Upon his death Ferdinand had his kingdom divided among his children; his three sons, Sancho, Alfonso, and Garcia were given Castile, Leon and Galicia respectively; his two daughters, Elvira and Urraca, were given Toro and Zamora. However, Sancho, first-born and believing himself to be the heir to all of the kingdom, declared war on the others in 1067. Leon, Galicia, and Toro fell with relative ease, and Alphonso escaped to Toledo and exile. The siege of Zamora was to prove fatal; in 1072 Sancho was killed near the city’s gate – possibly by treachery involving Urraca – and since Sancho was childless his brother was able to take the throne as Alphonso VI. Despite the Cid’s presence in battle against him, albeit reluctantly, Alphonso did what he could to win his allegiance, although the Cid would lose his title of armiger regis (to Count García Ordóñez) and his influence in the court was reduced. It is speculated that the Cid was allowed to remain at the king’s court through his marriage to Jimena, the daughter of the Count of Oviedo (July 1074), but this is not known.
His position in the king’s court was precarious. He was known to be a leader of Castilians who refused to submit to a king from Leon; he did not like the influence over Alphonso by the landed aristocracy. But above all was a habit of humiliating powerful men in public for wrongs committed against the kingdom; chief among them was King Alphonso himself who, to placate the Castilians, was forced by the Cid to swear on a Bible that he had no involvement in Sancho’s death. This, plus his defeat of a Granadine army (capturing Count Ordóñez with it) while in defense of Sevilla (1079); as well as an unauthorized raid into the Moorish kingdom of Toledo (which had Alphonso’s protection), caused the Cid’s exile from his kingdoms.
While in exile the Cid, already respected by the Spanish Muslims, offered his services to al-Mu’tamin of Zaragoza, who welcomed the opportunity of having his weak kingdom defended by a powerful Christian warrior. For nearly a decade the Cid served al-Mu’tamin and his successor, al-Musta’in II, while at the same time increasing his own knowledge of Muslim life and politics with reference to Spain; this knowledge he would use to his advantage later in Valencia.
He also added to his military reputation, and reaped the rewards from his Muslim benefactors. In 1082 he conquered the Moorish king of Lerida and his Christian allies. In 1084 he defeated an Aragon army under the Christian King Sancho Ramirez. He served petty rulers - whether they were Moor or Christian made no difference to him - and became in essence a soldier of fortune. Each time he added a victory, the Cid added to his own reputation of never having been defeated.
The great Almoravid invasion from North Africa began in 1086; on October 23 of that year, the invaders defeated an army under Alphonso VI at Sagrajas. Chastened by his defeat, Alphonso swallowed his pride and recalled the Cid; although it is documented that the Cid was in Alphonso’s court in July, 1097, the Cid did nothing. He was back in Zaragoza shortly afterwards, establishing the intricate details and maneuvers aimed at the conquest of the Moorish kingdom of Valencia. Alphonso was left on his own, and without the most powerful Christian general in Spain his later battles against the Almoravids grew desperate.
In May 1090 the Cid defeated Berenguer Ramón II, the count of Barcelona, at Tébar, beginning his first steps at taking Valencia. As he tightened control over the area, Valencia’s ruler, al-Qādir, became a tributary; within Valencia the chief magistrate, Ibn Jaḥḥāf, would lead a coup against al-Qādir and have him killed. The Cid responded with a full siege against the city (October 1092), defeating an Almoravid attempt to lift it in December of the following year. In May, 1094, the city surrendered, and the Cid entered in triumph. Among his first tasks was to have Ibn Jaḥḥāf burned alive for his treachery.
Although nominally part of Alphonso's kingdom, Valencia was governed by the Cid directly, acting as both chief magistrate and independent ruler. In 1096 he brought in a French bishop to oversee new arrivals of Christians within the city, as well as to take control of the city's large church, which was recently Christianized from the chief mosque. His daughter Christina married Ramiro, the infante of Navarre; his other daughter, Maria, married Ramón Berenguer III, the count of Barcelona; both confirmed the Cid's princely status. The Cid ruled Valencia until his death in bed, July 10, 1099.
Shortly after his death the Almoravids laid siege to Valencia; temporarily the invading army was beaten back by the arrival of Alphonso. Judging Valencia to be indefensible unless a large garrison was installed (which Alphonso needed elsewhere), the king ordered the city abandoned and burned. Jemina had the body of the Cid placed on a wagon, which was taken for reburial in Burgos, within the monastery of San Pedro de Cardeña. The Almoravids moved into Valencia in May, 1102.
Within a few years of his death legends grew about the Cid's life. He came from humble beginnings, rather than from Ferdinand's court. He was placed among the purest of knights, similar to King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. He would humiliate a king, yet be humble enough to let a leperous man drink from his canteen (the most famous legend has Lazarus, the same man Christ rose from the dead, as the leper). And in death his body was not taken quietly away on a wagon, but placed erect in the saddle of his war horse to lead his men in a successful final battle against the Almoravids at Valencia.
The Cid's legend only grew with the publication of one of the oldest monuments of Spanish literature, the 12th century epic poem El Cantar de Mío Cid (“The Song of the Cid”), and later by a tragic play Le Cid (1637) by Pierre Cornielle. Few contemporary documents exist for historians; an eyewitness account of the Valencia conquest by an Arab historian, Ibn ʿAlqāmah, and a Latin chronicle of the 12th century (Historia Roderici) are among the few.