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Encyclopedia > Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar

Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (c. 1044–July 1099), nicknamed El Cid Campeador, was a Castilian military and political leader in medieval Spain. Born of the minor nobility, El Cid was educated in the royal Castilian court and became an important general and administrator, fighting against the Moors in the early Reconquista. Later exiled by King Alfonso VI, El Cid left service in Castile and worked a a mercenary general for other rulers, both Moor and Christian. Late in life, El Cid captured the Mediterranean coastal city of Valencia, ruling in until his death in 1099.

This is a compound of two separate sobriquets. The "El Cid" is derived from the word sidi in the Andalusi Arabic dialect (from the Arabic sayyid—"sir" or "lord," a title of respect) while the title el campeador (the champion) was granted by his Spanish admirers. These titles reflected the great esteem El Cid had among both sides, as well as his fighting ability; Henry Edwards Watts wrote that el campeador "[m]eans in Spanish something more special than "champion" ... A campeador was a man who had fought and beaten the select fighting-man of the opposite side in the presence of the two armies."

"El Cid" was pronounced /el tsið/ (IPA) in medieval Castilian, but /el θið/ in modern standard Spanish (the c like the th in "thin" and the d like the th in "then.")


Early life

The exact date of the El Cid's birth is unknown. Based on his participation 1063 Battle of Graus, however, most historians believe that El Cid was born between 1043 and 1045, in Vivar (Bivar), a small town about six miles north of Burgos, the capital of Castile. Historical records show that El Cid's father was Diego Laínez, who was part minor nobility (infanzones) of Castile. Diego Laínez was a courier, bureaucrat, and cavalryman who had fought in several battles. Despite the fact in later years the peasants would consider him one of their own, El Cid's mother's family was aristocratic. However, his relatives were not major court officials: documents show that El Cid's paternal grandfather, Lain Nuñez, only confirmed five documents of Ferdinand I's; his maternal grandfather, Rodrigo Alvarez, certified only two of Sancho III's; the Cid's own father confirmed only one. This seems to indicate that El Cid's family was not comprised of major court officials.

One well-known legend about the Cid describes how he acquired his famous war-horse, the white stallion Babieca. According to this story, Rodrigo's godfather, Pedro El Grande, was a monk at a Carthusian monastery. Pedro's coming-of-age gift to El Cid was his pick of a horse from an Andalusian herd. El Cid picked a horse that his godfather thought was a weak, poor choice causing the monk to exclaim "Babieca!" (stupid!) Hence, it became the name of El Cid's horse. Today, Babieca appears in multiple works about the Cid.

El Cid was educated in the by Castilian royal court, serving the prince and future king Sancho II, the son of King Ferdinand I ("the Great"). When Ferdinand died in 1065, he had, in the steps of his father, significantly enlarged his territory, conquering the Christian and the Moorish cities of Zaragoza (Saragossa), Badajoz, Seville, and Toledo. By this time, the Cid was a full adult. He had in 1067, fought with Sancho against the Moorish stronghold of Zaragoza (Saragossa), making Zaragoza's emir (king) al-Muqtadir, an official under Sancho. He had also, in the spring of 1063, fought in the Battle of Graus, where Ferdinand's half-brother, Ramiro I of Aragon, had laid siege to the Moorish town of Graus which was in Zaragozan lands. Al-Muqtadir fought against the Aragonese, accompanied by a Castillian unit, which included the Cid. The party would emerge victorious, Ramiro I was killed, and the Aragonese fled the field. One legend has said that during the conflict the Cid killed an Aragonese knight in single combat, giving him the honorific title of "El Cid Campeador."

Service under Sancho

Division of Ferdinand's lands

Like his own father, Ferdinand had partitioned his lands on his death (December 28, 1065) between his children. His sons divided up most of the land: Sancho II “the Strong” received Castile and the tribute from Zaragoza; Alfonso VI “the Brave” received León and the tribute from Toledo; and García received Galicia. His daughters, Elvira and Urraca, received Tora and Zamora respectively. Although Ferdinand had made his children promise to live in peace with one another, it was not to be.

Early military victories

As a resident of Castile, the Cid was now a vassal of Sancho. Sancho believed that he, as the King's eldest son, was entitled to inherit all of his father's lands. Once he conquered Leon and Garcia, he began making war on his brothers and sisters.

At this time some say that the Cid, having proved himself a loyal and brave knight against the Aragonese, was appointed as the armiger regis, or alferez (standard-bearer). This position entailed commanding the armies of Castile.

Victories over Alfonso and Sancho's death

After defeating Alphonso at Llantada on the Leonese-Castillian border in 1068 and Golpejera over the Carrión River in 1072, Sancho forced his brother to flee to his Moorish vassal city of Toledo under Ma'mun. Toro, the city of Sancho's sister Elvira, fell easily, and for a while it seemed as though Sancho was unbeatable. But in a siege of Zamora, Urraca's city, he was assassinated on October 7, 1072.

Service under Alfonso

Much speculation abounds about Sancho's death. Most say that the assassination was a result of a pact between Alfonso and Urraca; some even say they had an incestuous relationship. In any case, since Sancho died unmarried and childless, all of his power passed to his brother, Alfonso—the very person he had fought against.

Almost immediately, Alfonso was recalled from exile in Toledo and took his seat as king of Leon and Castile. While he was deeply suspected in Castile (probably correctly) for being involved in Sancho's murder, a legend states that the Castillian nobility, led by the Cid and a dozen "oath-helpers," forced Alfonso to swear publicly in front of St. Galeas's Church in Burgos that he did not participate in the plot to kill his brother. This underscores the Cid's bravery, for none of the other nobles would dare do this for fear of offending their new king. This oath did little in settling the Castillian suspicions, and much animosity existed between Castile (and the Cid) and Leon (and Alfonso). The Cid's position as armiger regis was taken away as well; it was given to the Cid's enemy, Count García Orduñez. Later in the year, Alfonso's younger brother, García, returned to Galicia under the false pretenses of a conference, he was imprisoned for 18 years until his death.

Battle tactics

During his campaigns, the Cid often ordered that books by classic Roman and Greek authors on military themes be read in loud voices to him and his troops, both for entertainment and inspiration during battle. El Cid's army had a novel approach to planning strategy as well, holding what might be called brainstorming sessions before each battle to discuss tactics. They frequently used unexpected strategies, engaging in what modern generals would call psychological warfare; waiting for the enemy to be paralyzed with terror and then attacking them suddenly, distracting the enemy with a small group of soldiers, etc. El Cid had a humble personality and frequently accepted or included suggestions from his troops. He remained open to input from his soldiers and to the possibility that he himself was capable of error. The man who served him as his closest adviser was Minaya Alvar Fánez, a close relative.

Marriage and family life

The Cid was married in July 1074 to Alfonso's niece Jimena (sometimes spelled Ximena), the daughter of the Count of Oviedo. This was probably on Alfonso's suggestion, a move that he probably hoped would improve relations between him and the Cid. Together the Cid and Ximena had two children. Their daughters, Christina and Maria, both married nobility; Christina, to Ramiro, the infante (prince) of Aragon; Maria, to Ramon Berenguer III, count of Barcelona. The Cid's son, Diego Rodriguez, would be killed while fighting against the invading Muslim Almoravids in North Africa at the Battle of Consuegra (1097). His own marriage and that of his daughters increased his status by making the Cid connected by marriage to royalty; even today, living monarchs are distantly related to El Cid.

Service as administrator

He was a cultivated man, having served Alfonso as a judge. He kept in life a personal archive with copies of the letters he mailed and important diplomas he signed as part of his cooperation in the king's administration.


In the Battle of Cabra (1079), the Cid rallied his troops and turned the battle into a rout of Emir Abd Allah of Granada and his ally García Ordíñez. However, the Cid's unauthorized expedition into Grenada greatly angered Alfonso, and May 8, 1080, was the last time the Cid confirmed a document in King Alfonso's court. This is the generally given reason for the Cid's exile, although several others are plausible and may have been contributing factors: jealous nobles turning Alfonso against the Cid, Alfonso's own animosity towards the Cid, an accusation of pocketing some of the tribute from Seville, and what one source describes as the Cid's "penchant" towards insulting powerful men.

However, the exile was not the end of the Cid, either physically or as an important figure. In 1081, the Cid, now a mercenary, offered his services to the Moorish king of the northeast Spanish city of Zaragosa, al-Mu'tamin, and served both him and his successor, al-Mu'tamin II:

At first he went to Barcelona where the brothers, Ramon Berenguer II (1076-1082) and Berenguer Ramon II (1076-1097), refused his offer of service. Then he journeyed to Zaragoza where he received a warmer welcome. That kingdom was divided between al-Mutamin (1081-1085) who ruled Zaragoza proper, and his brother al-Mundhir, who ruled Lérida and Tortosa. The Cid entered al-Mutamin's service and successfully defended Zaragoza against the assaults of al-Mtmdhir, Sancho I of Aragon, and Ramon Berenguer II, whom he held captive briefly in 1082. (O'Callaghan)

In 1086, the great Almoravid invasion of Spain through and around Gibraltar began. The Almoravids, Berber residents of present-day Morocco and Algeria, led by Yusef I, also called Yusef ibn Tushafin, were asked to help defend the Moors from Alfonso. A great battle took place on Friday, October 23, 1086, at Sagrajas (in Arabic, Zallaqa). The Moorish Andalusians, including the armies of Badajoz, Malaga, Granada, and Seville, defeating a combined army of Leon, Aragon, and Castile:

The Andalusians encamp separately from the Murabitun. The Christian vanguard (Alvar Fañez) surprise the Andalusian camp before dawn; the men of Seville (Al-Mutamid) hold firm but the remaining Andalusians are chased off by the Aragonese cavalry. The Christian main body then attacks the Murabitun, but are held by the Lamtuma, and then withdraw to their own camp in response to an outflanking move by ibn Tashufin. The Aragonese return to the field, don't like what they see, and start a withdraw which turns to a rout. The Andalusians rally, and the Muslims drive Alfonso to a small hill. Alfonso and 500 knights excape in the night to Toledo. (Thomas)

Terrified after his crushing defeat, Alfonso recalled the best Christian general from exile – the Cid. It has been shown that the Cid was at court on July 1087. However, what happened after that is unclear.

Conquest of Valencia

Around this time, the Cid began maneuvering in order to create his own fiefdom in the Mediterranean coastal city of Valencia. Several obstacles lay in his way. First was Ramón Berenguer II, who ruled nearby Barcelona. In May 1090, the Cid defeated and captured Berenguer in the Battle of Tébar. Berenguer was later ransomed, and his son, Ramón Berenguer III married Maria, the Cid's youngest daughter, to ward against future conflicts. The Cid gradually came to have more influence on Valencia, ruled by al-Qadir. In October 1092, an uprising occurred in Valencia, inspired by Ibn Jahhaf, the city's chief judge, and the Almorivids, the Cid began a siege of Valencia. The siege lasted several years; in December 1093 an attempt to break it failed. In May 1094, the siege ended, and the Cid had carved out his own kingdom on the coast of the Mediterranean. Officially the Cid ruled in the name of Alfonso; in reality, the Cid was fully independent. The city was both Christian and Muslim, and both Moors and Christians served in the army. In 1096, Valencia's nine mosques were "Christianized"; Jérôme, a French bishop, was appointed.

On July 10, 1099, the Cid passed away. Though his wife Jimena would continue to rule for two more years, an Almoravid siege forced Jimena to seek help from Alfonso, though they managed to escape, they could not hold the city. Ordered by Alfonso to burn the city to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Moors, Valencia was captured by Masdali on May 5, 1109, not to become a Christian city again until for over 125 years. Jimena fled to Burgos, her husband's hometown, with the Cid's body. Originally buried in Castile in the monastery of San Pedro de Cardeña, his body now lies at the center of the impressive cathedral of Burgos.


El Cid's sword "Tizona" can still be seen in the Army Museum (Museo del Ejército) in Madrid. Soon after his death it became one of the most precious possessions of the Castilian royal family. In 1999, a small sample of the blade was subjected to metallurgical analysis which partially confirmed its provenance as probably having been made in Moorish Cordoba in the eleventh century, although the report does not specify whether the larger-scale composition of the blade identifies it as Damascus steel.

Modern audiences may know a romanticized story of the Cid from the 1961 film starring Charlton Heston as the title character.

El Cid in literature, film and other media

Literally dozens of works were written about the Cid, which include Le Cid by French playwright Pierre Corneille in 1636; and the three-part Spanish cantar de gesta epic Cantar de Mio Cid, also called The Lay of the Cid, The Song of the Cid, or El Poema del Cid.

There have been modern-day films about the Cid, such as El Cid (1961, starring Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren) and El Cid (La Leyenda) (2003, animated).

Computer games in theFinal Fantasy series traditionally feature a character named "Cid", though he is usually an engineer and bears little resemblance to the historical figure.

El Cid as a symbol

Joaquín Costa, a Regenerationist intellectual of the 19th century asked for "seven keys for the tomb of El Cid". Spain had to leave the empire dreams and rebuild itself a modern country.


  • "El Cid." The Catholic Encyclopedia. (http://newadvent.org/cathen/03769a.htm)
  • "Cid Campeador." The Columbia Encyclopedia. (http://www.bartleby.com/65/ci/Cid.html) 6th ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.
  • "Ferdinand I, Spanish king of Castile and León." The Columbia Encyclopedia. (http://www.bartleby.com/65/fe/Ferdi1Sp.html) 6th ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.
  • "Ramiro I." The Columbia Encyclopedia. (http://www.bartleby.com/65/ra/Ramiro1.html) 6th ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.
  • "Sancho III, king of Castile." The Columbia Encyclopedia. (http://www.bartleby.com/65/sa/Sancho2-Nav.html) 6th ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.
  • "Sancho III, king of Navarre." The Columbia Encyclopedia. (http://www.bartleby.com/65/sa/Sancho3-Nav.html) 6th ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.
  • Simon Barton and Richard Fletcher. The world of El Cid, Chronicles of the Spanish reconquest. Manchester: University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-71905225-4 hardback, ISBN 0-71905226-2 paperback.
  • Gonzalo Martínez Díez, "El Cid Histórico: Un Estudio Exhaustivo Sobre el Verdadero Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar," Editorial Planeta (http://www.editorial.planeta.es) (Spain, June 1999). ISBN 84-08-03161-9
  • Richard Fletcher. "The Quest for El Cid". ISBN 0195069552
  • Kurtz, Barbara E. El Cid. (http://lilt.ilstu.edu/bekurtz/elcid.htm) University of Illinois.
  • I. Michael. The Poem of the Cid. Manchester: 1975.
  • C. Melville and A. Ubaydli (ed. and trans.), Christians and Moors in Spain, vol. III, Arabic sources (711-1501). (Warminster, 1992).
  • Nelson, Prof. Lynn Harry. "Thoughts on Reading El Cid." (http://kuhttp.cc.ukans.edu/kansas/medieval/108/lectures/cid-info.html).
  • Joseph F. O'Callaghan. A History of Medieval Spain. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1975
  • Peter Pierson. The History of Spain. Ed. John E. Findling and Frank W. Thacheray. Wesport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1999. 34-36. Questia Online Library (http://www.questia.com/)
  • Bernard F. Reilly. The Kingdom of León-Castilla under King Alfonso VI, 1065-1109 (http://libro.uca.edu/alfonso6/) Princeton, New Jersey: University Press, 1988.
  • R. Selden Rose and Leonard Bacon (trans.) The Lay of the Cid. (http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/OMACL/Cid) Semicentennial Publications of the University of California: 1868-1918. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1997.
  • Steven Thomas. 711-1492: Al-Andalus and the Reconquista. (http://www.balagan.org.uk/war/0711/index.htm)
  • Henry Edwards Watts. “The Story of the Cid (1026-1099).” in The Christian Recovery of Spain: The Story of Spain from the Moorish Conquest to the Fall of Grenada (711-1492 AD). New York: Putnam, 1894. 71-91. Questia Online Library (http://www.questia.com/)

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