Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa: History of Al-ʿIqāb Battle

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Battle of the Navas de Tolosa: Battle of Al-ʿIqāb (Al-Uqab)

Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa: Armed confrontation that took place on July 16, 1212, near Jaén, in the South of present-day Spain, in the context of the Christian Reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula.

Date 1212
Place Jaén, in the south of present-day Spain
Belligerents Almohads vs. Castilla, Navarra and Aragon
Outcome Victory of Castilla, Navarra and Aragon

What was the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa?

The battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, also called the Battle of Úbeda, was an armed confrontation that took place on July 16, 1212, near Jaén, in the south of modern Spain, in the context of the Christian Reconquest of the peninsula Iberian.

The sides that faced each other in this battle were the following:

  • The caliphate of the Almohads: Which extended from North Africa to the south of present-day Spain. There were about 24,000 Muslims of different origins (Arabs, Berbers, Andalusians, Kurds, etc.) under the command of Caliph Muhammad-an-Nasir.
  • A coalition made up of the Christian kingdoms of Castilla, León and Aragon: This alliance was supported by the Knights Templar, the Order of Calatrava, the Knights Hospitallers, the Order of Santiago and French, Leonese and Portuguese volunteers, who responded to the call made by Pope Innocent III. It was made up of 4,000 knights and 8,000 pawns or infants. Its commanders were the kings Alfonso VIII of Castile, Sancho VII of Navarra and Pedro II of Aragon.

This battle was a great open field confrontation that ended with a decisive victory for the Christians. Many historians consider it as a turning point of the Reconquest, since from then on the decline of the Muslim occupation of the Iberian Peninsula began.

History of the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa

In 711, a Muslim army made up of Arabs and Berbers crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and destroyed the kingdom that the Visigoths had founded in Hispania in the early Middle Ages.

After occupying almost the entire Iberian Peninsula, the Muslims created the province of Al-Andalus, which was integrated into the Umayyad Caliphate, with its capital in Damascus, Syria.

In 750, the Abbasid family rebelled against the Umayyads and murdered all members of the ruling dynasty, with the exception of Prince Abderramán, who fled to the Iberian Peninsula and founded the Emirate of Córdoba. In 929, one of his descendants, Abderramán III, became independent from the Abbasids and founded the Caliphate of Córdoba, which reached its peak around the year 1000.

Starting in 1009, a ivil war put the caliphate in crisis, which in 1031 disintegrated into some thirty small states, known as the Taifa kingdoms. To face the attacks of the Christian kingdoms, the Taifa kingdoms called upon the Almohads of the Maghreb to their aid.

In 1145, they crossed the Strait of Gibraltar, but instead of helping the kingdoms of Al-Andalus they subdued them and integrated them into their caliphate, which extended over much of North Africa.

In 1195, the Almohads defeated the Christians in the Battle of Alarcos and threatened the city of Toledo. To stop his advance, Alfonso VIII of Castile summoned all the Christian kings of the Iberian Peninsula to form a great alliance that would put a brake on the advance of Islam.

Development of the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa

The battle began on the morning of July 16, 1212 with a charge from the first line of Christian troops, which put the Muslim vanguard to flight. The Christians went in pursuit of those who fled, but faced with the danger of being surrounded by the flanks of the enemy army, they stopped the persecution.

Caliph An-Nasir ordered the central body of his army to advance on the Christian vanguard, while the Muslim cavalry, located on both flanks, began to make an enveloping movement.

Alfonso VIII noticed the danger his men were running, so he ordered the advance of the cavalry, the Aragonese on the left flank and the Navarrese on the right. This attack was successful since the Christians managed to stop the Muslims and stabilize the battle front.

Late in the afternoon, Alfonso VIII ordered the advance of the entire Christian rear, which was made up of his best men. This advance made the Muslim lines give way until they were forced to withdraw. The Christians advanced until they reached the camp of An-Nasir, who fled towards the city of Jaén, leaving behind a great booty that fell into the hands of his enemies.

illustration of the battle of las navas de tolosa

The Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (1864). Painting by the Spanish artist Francisco de Paula Van Halen. It is exhibited in the Senate Palace, in Madrid.

Causes and consequences of the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa

Causes of the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa

Among the causes of the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa the following stand out:

  • The invasion of the Almohads of the Maghreb, who submitted and integrated the Taifa kingdoms to their caliphate and advanced on Christian territories.
  • The decision of King Alfonso VIII of Castile to force a decisive battle against the invaders, who had defeated him in 1195 and who threatened the south of his kingdom.
  • The negotiations carried out by the bishop of ToledoRodrigo Jiménez de Rada, who managed to convince the kings of Navarra and Aragon to join the fight against the Almohads.
  • The preaching of a crusade in the Iberian peninsula by Innocent III, who promised the forgiveness of sins to all who fought against the Almohads. The Pope also threatened with excommunication any Christian who attacked Castilians, Aragonese and Navarrese while fighting the Muslims.

Consequences of the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa

The main consequences of the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa were the following:

  • The total defeat of the Muslims, who lost a large part of the troops who fought in the battle.
  • The decline of the Almohads, whose caliphate disintegrated in the following decades.
  • The conquest by the Christians of the Sierra Morena passes. These opened the conquest of the Guadalquivir river valley. Alfonso VIII’s successor, Fernando IIIEl Santo“, took Córdoba in 1236, Jaén in 1246 and Seville in 1248.
  • The repopulation and evangelization of the territories conquered from the Muslims, a process that included the construction of new sanctuaries and the reconstruction of old Visigoth temples.
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