Don Rodrigo is, at the same time, the most famous and the most mythified of the Gothic kings. Who has not heard of his defeat in the battle of the Guadalete River in July 711? That day, the destruction of his army before the troops of General Tariq ibn Ziyad opened the doors to the Muslim domination of the Peninsula and caused – in the long run – the destruction of a three centuries old kingdom. However, and despite the fact that his name is repeated to satiety in textbooks, this character is still surrounded by the thick fog of ignorance. From his birth, to the way he arrived at the throne. However, it is the last part of his life that harbors more enigmas. And, more specifically, how he left this world.
His death has become, more than a millennium later, a true historical mystery. Some chronicles are in favor of which Don Rodrigo passed away while fighting with the same Tariq in a singular fight; others say that he drowned in a stream while fleeing with his horse, and the more rocambolescas are in favor of escaping to the north of the Iberian Peninsula and was buried in Viseu (Portugal). The question remains unanswered, as the historian José Ignacio de la Torre Rodríguez points out in his work «The Spanish Reconquest. 50 places »(edited by Cydonia). “It is unknown what his destiny was, […] although most likely he died on the battlefield, ”reveals the expert in the late medieval period.
From the throne to battle
But let’s travel to the origin of the conflict that led our protagonist to what was his last battle. This sinks its roots in the death of its predecessor, King Witiza, in 710. A godo monarch who, as the Spanish author explains in his work, left this world without leaving anyone associated with the throne. His sad departure began, as if that were not enough, a confrontation between his family and the then Duke of Bética, Don Rodrigo, for taking over the poltrona. As you may have guessed, the reader won the second, and did so thanks to the support of a good part of the nobility and clergy.
Although his reign was not exactly as we have been told. Basque revolts, direct confrontation against the Jews … His passage through the armchair region aroused more tensions than praises, everything is said.
With this curriculum, it does not seem strange that Witiza’s supporters and relatives sought their own allies to overthrow Don Rodrigo and win the throne again. Although why they did it is still debated between reality and legend. The myth states that Don Julián, governor of Ceuta, asked the Arabs for help after his daughter, Florinda la Cava, confessed by sending him a basket of rotten eggs that the monarch had raped. Historical logic, on the contrary, seems to indicate that the motives were less honorable. This is: power and wealth.
Anyway, in the pages of the books it has been printed that – after some initial skirmishes – a large army in front of the governor of Tangier, Tariq ibn Ziyad (subject of Muza ibn Nusair), crossed the strait with goda help and arrived at Gibraltar with thousands of men.
They painted a lot of money for Don Rodrigo, who was hit by fright while suffocating – by a sword strike – an uprising of the revolting vascones. The time it took to equip his soldiers, turn the rump of his horse and gallop southward with all that man capable of carrying a sword was one of his perditions, as it gave Tariq time to raze and rob the Andalusian lands. “Don Rodrigo arrived in the Strait at the beginning of July 711 with an army of between 10,000 and 12,000 men, about three or four times larger than the Muslim,” says the historian. The victory seemed on a plate, so he started the steel dance that same month.
The exact point of the battle is unknown. Some authors speak of western Algeciras; others on the outskirts of Medina Sidonia. You know. What we can say is that “the battle as such did not exist, but since July 19 both armies began to harass each other.” And the truth is that, during these initial skirmishes, our good Rodrigo did not go wrong. But what decreed the balance in favor of Tariq was the innocence of the king, who made the mistake of positioning the forces of the Witiza brothers on the flanks of the formation.
Sisberto and Oppas forgot at full speed their oath of fidelity and, in the middle of the cakes, they passed to the enemy eager to win the throne again for his family. That sentenced the monarch and condemned him – attending to most sources – to death.
Death in combat, escape from the battlefield … The fate of Don Rodrigo, the last king godo according to tradition, is still a mystery. There is only one accepted truth, and it is the one that De la Torre exposes in his work: the one that explains that, once the invaders and the traitors were proclaimed victors after several days of struggle, they found the monarch’s horse covered with arrows, but Not his body. From this point on, the versions are as many as authors have investigated the event throughout history. The Islamic chronicles, for example, agree that the remains of the monarch disappeared, although they maintain that life was not left in combat, but that he did so after turning around his cock and sinking into a nearby creek that he was trying to cross.
This is explained by a period text (by an unknown author) replicated in the work «Collection of traditions: anonymous chronicle of the eleventh century» (published in 1867): «Rodrigo disappeared, without knowing what had happened to him, because the Muslims they found only his white horse, with his gold chair, trimmed with rubies and emeralds, and a woven mantle of gold and embroidered with pearls and rubies. The horse had fallen into a quagmire, and the Christian who had fallen with him, by taking his foot, had left a booty in the mud. Only God knows what happened, because there was no news of him, nor was he found alive or dead.
In any case, today there are so many different versions of what happened to the unfortunate Don Rodrigo after the mythical contest. The first above the hand of the “Mozarabic Chronicle of 754”, qualified by experts as the main Latin source for the knowledge of the Visigothic kingdom and the Muslim conquest of the Peninsula. This text, after explaining the defeat of the defending army in the battle of the Guadalete River, states that the monarch died in the contest: «[El rey] He died in this battle, fleeing the entire army of the Goths who, moved by the ambition of the kingdom, enviously and fraudulently had come with him. In this way he unfortunately lost the throne and homeland.
De la Torre is of the same opinion, and this is evident in his work: “Most likely, Rodrigo died on the battlefield and his body was there along with those of the other dead in the race.” In this sense, the Spanish author sentences that, despite its royal importance, “his remains no longer served anyone”, so it is not strange that “could be treated like any other fallen.” How he left this world that day depends on the source to which he goes. One of the most epic versions in this regard is the one that states that it fell under the spear of Tariq himself in a singular combat. This, not content to kill him, would have decapitated his body and sent his head to Musa. This is collected by Domingo Domené Sánchez in «Year 711. The Muslim invasion of Hispania».
«The cause of Ruderico’s death is not known; In our times, when we repopulated the city of Viseo and its surroundings, a monument was found in a basilica in which an epitaph was written that said: “Here rests Ruderico, king of the Goths” »
Another version, which appears in the “Chronicle of Alfonso III”, departs from this idea. This work (dated in the ninth century) states, to begin with, that «Ruderico went out to fight them [a los musulmanes] with the whole army of the Goths, ”but that he could not do anything before the Muslim push or prevent them from“ passing his men by knife ”. «The cause of Ruderico’s death is not known; In our times, when we repopulated the city of Viseo and its surroundings, a monument was found in a basilica in which an epitaph was written that said: “Here rests Ruderico, king of the Goths” ». According to these words, the monarch would have escaped to this Portuguese town, where there would be death soon after. In any case, De la Torre is in favor of “it has never been possible to find an inscription” discovered, presumably, in the year 868.
More remote is the theory that he escaped in a hurry to Salamanca, where Muza captured him and ended his life. The last possibility was recorded in the 18th century, and in writing, in the Huelva town of Sotiel Coronada (on the banks of the Odiel River, in Huelva). Those who are supporters of this version argue that Rodrigo fled the battle and arrived dying to the area. In turn, tradition explains that a hermitage (that of the Virgin of Spain) was built on the land where she died. Beyond the infinite number of plausible locations, the reality is that, although more than a thousand years have passed, we still don’t know exactly what happened. And that enigma increases the charm of the history of the monarch godo.
Rodrigo lost the contest and, either with his run galloping or with his death, the few forces that were still under his command disintegrated. Tariq, anxious to wipe out the remains of the defeated contingent, disregarded Muza’s orders and entered with his men in the scimitar territory in hand. Far from his superior, he hardly encountered serious opposition. Not only that, but some old inhabitants of the Peninsula joined them. “The Jews, so persecuted by the Visigoths, massively supported the Muslims, whom they saw as liberators,” Domené reveals. In a few decades his domination of the entire territory was already a fact. Guadalete was, therefore, not only the tomb of the monarch, but also that of his kingdom and, de facto, the first agitated piece of a domino whose fall did not stop until 780 years later, when the Reconquest ended. .