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Myth / Battle of Clavijo

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Tympanum of the Battle of Clavijo in the Santiago da Compostela Cathedral, depicting Saint James mounted on a horse surrounded by the 100 maidens

"Ay, this is a knight, and of the squadrons of Christ! This one is called Don Saint James the Moorslayer, one of the bravest saints and knights the world ever had or heaven has now."

The Battle of Clavijo was an epic clash, believed for many centuries to have been historical fact, between the Christian Kingdom of Asturias and the Islamic Emirate of Cordoba where one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ, James the Greater, descended from Heaven to assist the Christians in battle against their enemies and earn a decisive victory. Saint James (or as he is referred to in Spain, "Santiago") is revered as the patron of Spain and many countries it has colonized such as Guatemala, Nicaragua, and some parts of Mexico (where Our Lady of Guadalupe is the national patron) and the Philippines (where Lorenzo Ruiz is national patron). According to Christian tradition, he traveled west to evangelize the Iberian Penisula and after his return to Jerusalem, he became the first Apostle to be martyred when King Herod ordered his beheading. The Spaniards say his remains where later ferried to Northern Spain where they built his Cathedral of Compostela, though the Armenians claim his head is preserved inside their Apostolic Church in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem.

The supposed date when this event took place was 23 May 844, though the first mention of it was 300 years later by Pedro Marcio, who claimed to have copied another document from the 9th Century in which King Ramiro I makes a series of donations to Compostela as a thanksgiving after the battle. The legend goes that in 783, the Asturian bastard Mauregatus usurped the throne of his brother with the help of Cordoban emir Abdul Rahman I in exchange for annually paying him a tribute of 100 virgin maidens — 50 noblewomen and 50 common-born. Mauregatus agreed to this, much to the Christian nobles' disgust; they revolted and killed him in 788 (though sources claim Mauregatus died of natural causes). His successor Bermudo negotiated instead to pay money to the Moors to keep his head from rolling next, but they kept demanding the 100 tribute be reinstated, until Ramiro I ascended the throne. He denied them any sort of tribute and prepared to fight against the Emirate, which was much greater and dominant over the Asturians. In the night before the battle, James appeared to Ramiro in his dreams telling him that God chose him to be the patron of the Hispanic peoples and that he needed to invoke him when the time came. The Apostle appeared on the killing fields of Clavijo to lead the Christian host into victory. The devastating victory ensured that their enemies never demanded such tribute again and in gratitude, Ramiro established the Vote of Santiago and created a military order named after the saint whose purpose was to protect the pilgrims from invaders.

While the historical consensus is that the battle never happened, there is some grain of truth as it was inspired by some other factual and historical events that came after which helped build the myth. It's true that Ramiro also spent a lot of time fighting the Moors himself and while the region of Clavijo was the focus of several battles between Christians and Muslims, neither Spanish or Arab historians ever mention this specific battle. It's generally agreed that the Battle of Monte Laturce was the most likely inspiration, setting up Ramiro's son Ordoño against tribal lord Musa ibn Musa ibn Qasi. Nobody really knows it's exact date and it's basically a footnote in the long struggle, but it was confirmed to have happened and that it was a Christian victory that helped build this story. While the "tribute of 100 virgins" is most definitely fabrication (as no such specific demand were being imposed on the Spaniards, especially by Abdul Rahman I), there were cases of Spanish ladies being carried off to harems as right of conquest and that the Córdoban emir that ruled during the battle of Clavijo, Abdul Rahman II, wasn't very well-liked: he had a philandering reputation and his reign was marked by a brutal persecution of Christians which served well into constructing this tale.

The Battle of Clavijo provided one of the strongest and enduring symbols of Spanish nationalism, specially during the Reconquista with Santiago becoming the Spaniards' war cry not only against the Moors, but also by Hernán Cortés' conquistadors during the colonization. Miguel de Cervantes of Don Quixote fame also admired Saint James and referenced him in his magnum opus. To this day, Spanish soldiers have used Santiago's cross as badges, specially when deployed during The War on Terror.


  • Adaptation Distillation: The battle such as described was won in practically under a day, while the real siege which served as inspiration could have taken up to 7 years.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Seven maidens from Valladolid had their hands amputated by their families as a show of defiance against the emir.
  • Atop a Mountain of Corpses: James is typically depicted as galloping on horseback over several defeated Moors.
  • Badass Preacher: James originally came to preach Christianity on Hispania, but he returns to defend it.
  • Battle Cry: ¡Dios ayuda a Santiago! - "God help Saint James" for the Asturians.
  • Call on Me: As James instructs Ramiro in the night before the battle, according to Pedro Marcio.
    "Did not you know that my Lord Jesus Christ, while distributing the other provinces in the world to my brothers, the other apostles, luckily entrusted me the guardianship of all Spain and placed it under my protection? (…) Keep your courage, because I will come to assist you tomorrow, God willing, to vanquish all that big crowd of enemies surrounding you. However, many of your soldiers will be destined for eternal rest and will receive the crown of martyrdom during your struggle for the name of Christ. And so that there is no doubt you will see me dressed in white on a white horse, holding in my hand a white banner. Therefore, at dawn, after receiving the sacrament of penance with the confession of sins, after receiving the Communion of the Body and Blood of the Lord in the Mass, do not be afraid to challenge the Saracens’ squadrons, invoking God’s name and mine, and taking for certain they will fall to the edge of the sword".
  • The Chosen One: Jesus anointed James to protect Spain.
  • Church Militant: Saint James himself. To further hammer the point, his personal cross looks like a sword.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Presumably, the losses on the Asturian side was minimal while the Moors is said to have anywhere in the five thousand.
  • Damsel in Distress: A hundred of them to be precise, who are demanded as price from the Spaniards.
  • Droit du Seigneur: The tribute of a hundred maidens, which supposedly signified Christian submission to the Muslims, though there are no historical proof that it happened.
  • Heroes Prefer Swords: James is almost always depicted wielding a sword, unlike Saint George who is sometimes using a lance to slay the dragon.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: It's highly unlikely that the Emirate of Córdoba ever demanded such lofty price on the Spaniards, much less Abdul Rahman I being the one to start it.
  • Honor-Related Abuse: It's said that the townsfolk of Valladolid accepted to pay the tribute, but to show their defiance to the Emirate, they sent just seven of their girls with their left hands cut off.
  • Knight in Shining Armor: Saint James is depicted similarly to Saint George as an knight mounted on a white horse with a sword and banner in head, only slaying Moors instead of dragons.
  • Foil: According to some Spanish sources, its stated the Moors also rallied under a wali, the Islamic equivalent to a Christian saint in Sufi tradition.
  • Nature Adores a Virgin: No matter how highborn or lowborn, the ladies are cherished specifically for their virginity. Unless if Beauty Is Never Tarnished...
  • One-Man Army: Sometimes, Saint James is attributed to have slain hundreds of enemies (if not all of them by himself) by himself.
  • Red Baron: Saint James is also referred to as "Matamoros", which translates to "The Moor-Slayer".
  • Retcon: The year originally assigned was 834, but it was adjusted to a decade later since Ramiro wasn't ruling as king in that time.
  • Royal Bastard: Mauregatus was the illegitimate son of the Asturian king Afonso I and his Moorish concubine.
  • Sex Slave: What would have most likely happened to the 100 maidens if they were handed over to the Moors.
  • Shrouded in Myth: The circumstances behind the creation of the original document. Did Ramiro actually write this or was this was all made up by Pedro and later writers added more details into the story?
  • The Siege: The historical basis for the myth was around a sustained Asturian assault on a Moorish fortification known as the Battle of Monte Lauterce that lasted seven years.
  • Tarnishing Their Own Beauty: Invoked by the city of Valladolid that provoked the Moors by submitting to the tribute, but only delivering seven maidens with their hands amputated knowing that the emir would refuse them out of disgust.
  • White Stallion: James is always mounted on one, to add his Knight in Shining Armor image.