Giovanni Dalla-Valle | Official Website | Study | The Ruby Cross

Study - The historical controversy of the battle of Covadonga

The major controversies are undoubtedly about the year of the battle of Covadonga.

The battle is mentioned in the Asturian chronicles, which are the Cronaca Albeldense ( finished in year 833), the Cronaca Profetica and the  Cronacae Alfonsinae ( so called after King Alfonso III, 866-910) which includes the Cronaca Rotense and the Cronaca ad Sebastianum. A reference can also be found in the Cronaca Silense ( early medieval time). A 733 war campaign described in Cronaca Mozaraba led some people to believe this could include the date for the battle of Covadonga. However historians rejected this hypothesis after they realised the campaign mentioned by the Islamic code happened in the Pyrenees ( and this would coincide with a possible southbound retreat following the defeat of Poitiers in 732).

Well known Spanish historian Sanchez Albornoz1 ( see below bibliography) concluded that the majority of codes would point at 28th May 722, challenging the traditional notion of 718. But historians like Montenegro and Castillo2 never accepted his argument and insisted 718 was the precise year when Cordoba’s authorities set a punitive mission against rebel Pelayo and some Al Qama, a lieutenant officer of the Valì of Cordoba, took charge of it

Other sources suggest the battle happened before as Munuza (which the Chronicles confirm having taken part in the expedition) was made governor of  Gijón from his friend Tariq ibn Ziyad, while this, the Emir of North Africa, Musa ibn Nusayr and his son, Abd el Aziz were near to complete the conquest of Asturias in 714. And by then Pelayo must have been already known by Munuza who had fallen in love with his sister Ormosinda and hoped to marry her, perhaps in exchange for peace. Recently some historians deny that the battle took place. This possibility should not be underestimated, because at that time many Asturian Chronicles were commissioned by the royal courts for praising their origins, thereby creating a propaganda useful to unite Christians of those lands under one flag.    Accordingly, in the absence of objective data and in the presence of many contradictions, I chose to set the events around 714 , because this year coincided with the end of the war campaigns of Musa and Tariq (some sources say he too knew well Pelayo) and one cannot figure out why the Muslims, after so much hard work, would have abandoned the idea of taking the last morsel of that huge territory without at least try to conquer it. Also this choice allows to group the most relevant (and fascinating) characters at the beginning of the invasion (Tariq and Musa left Spain at the end of that year, called urgently to Damascus to render account of the excessive expenditures of their campaigns; the son of Musa, El Abziz became Governor of Andalusia but was assassinated in 716, apparently by killers sent from Damascus). Instead characters like Al Qama and Ambasa, mentioned by some of the Chronicles, are here reduced to minor extras. As in the tradition of historical novel, it is clear that this is a work of fiction and it is not an essay. I tried to be probable rather than true and in any case, despite many academic efforts, it seems to me that we are still in the context of a legend, and then, pending a better agreement among historians, there is still much room for subjectivity.

However, in order not to provoke other disputes and also to respect the sensibility of  Spanish readers, I chose not to make precise reference to the year of the battle. Indeed, the novel opens with a generic day of spring at the dawn of the 8th century and there is only one cue (in the The Red Lion chapter) that can make people understand the exact year I have chosen. As with regard to the reconstruction of the first stages of invasion I largely relied on the studies of Abdulwahid Dhanun Taha3 which I found very serious and detailed. Reading his book, I came to the conclusion that the mythical battle occurred around 714, although it is likely that other smaller clashes may have followed in the following years and  therefore ended in the Alfonsine Chronicles (written anyway one hundred and fifty years after) causing huge uncertainty about the precise dating of the event. Taha often mentions a chronicle of 754 that Western authors seem to ignore. Furthermore, he also cites the researches of Garcia Domingues, who hypothesizes that the campaign of Musa had joined that of son in the Asturias. This does not seem to be supported by documentary evidence, but to me it seemed useful to bring together all these characters. Finally from this Islamic historian I learned of the character of Tudmir (Teodomir), the lieutenant who gave the shocking news to King Roderic that thousands of Saracens were invading the South of the peninsula. It must be noted that this Teodomir (the imaginary Froliuba's father, in the novel) has nothing to do with Count Tudmir that during those years had created an independent Government around Cartagena. Abdulwahid Dhanun Taha was Professor at the University of Mosul in Iraq, at least in the 80s. I have no track of further activities.

Bibliography:

  1. Claudio Sanchez Albornoz, El reino de Asturias. Idea, Oviedo, 1983.
  2. Julia Montenegro y Arcadio Del Castillo, En torno a la conflictiva fecha de la batalla de Covadonga, Anales de la Universidad de Alicante, Historia Medieval,N.8. Alicante.1990-91, pag 7-18. Insisten en Pelayo y Covadonga: una revision historiografica, pag.116 y 117.
  3. Abdulwáhid Dhanún Táha, The Expansion of Islam, Routledge, 1989.

Other sources:

  1. Francisco Ballesteros Villar, El libro de Covadonga y su entorno. Ediciones Madu, luglio 2003.
  2. Jesús Evaristo Casariego: Historias asturianas de hace más de mil Años. IDEA, Oviedo, 1990.
  3. Julio Somoza García Sala: Gijón en la historia general de Asturias, 2 volumenes. Gijón, 1908.
  4. José-Luis Martín, Carlos Martínez Shaw y Javier Tusell, HISTORIA DE ESPAÑA.Taurus, Madrid, 2002.
  5. José Angel García de Cortazar, HISTORIA DE ESPAÑA, Vol 2, La epoca medieval. Alianza Editorial, Madrid,1988.