Asturias and the Battle of Covadonga

In 711, the Islamic Umayyad Caliphate invaded Iberia, quickly overwhelming the Visigothic Kingdom that occupied the region and killing their king. By 718, virtually the whole Iberian Peninsula was under Islamic rule.

However, in the northwest, a region called Asturias revolted against the Umayyads. Elected to lead the new kingdom was Pelayo, a nobleman and the grandson of a Visigothic king. For its first years, the Umayyads neglected to put down the Asturian rebellion, as it wasn’t a danger to them.

By 722, the Umayyads had enough, sending an army commanded by the governors Munuza and Al Qama to quell the revolt. As their forces flooded the Asturian countryside, Pelayo and his much smaller army retreated into the mountains. They eventually came across a valley near the town of Covadonga, that would be easy to hold when attacked.

Once Al Qama army, ~1,400 men strong, confronted Pelayo’s army, with little more than 300 soldiers, he sent a messenger forward demanding the Asturians to surrender. Pelayo refused, starting the battle. Al Qama sent his soldiers charging towards the Asturian army. Unknown to Al Qama, part of Pelayo’s army was hiding in a cave. They jumped out and cut into the Umayyad ranks, massacring their army, including Al Qama. It was a spectacular success for the Asturians. At the end of the battle, over 1100 Umayyad soldiers were dead. More amazing than that is that only a few dozen of Pelayo’s soldiers remained.

When Munuza heard of Al Qama’s defeat, he assembled an even larger army to fight Pelayo, but once again they were defeated with Munuza dying in battle as well.

The Battle of Covadonga was the first victory by Christian forces against the Umayyads since they invaded Iberia, and it is generally recognized as the start of the Reconquista. Asturias continued to expand the Muslims in Iberia, but the Reconquista would not conclude for another 750 years, in 1492.

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