War of Barbastro

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The War of Barbastro (also known as the Siege of Barbastro) was an international expedition, sanctioned by Pope Alexander II, to take the Spanish city of Barbastro from the Moors. A large army composed of elements from all over Western Europe took part in the successful siege of the city (1064). The war was part of the Reconquista, but in its international and papal character it presaged the Crusades of the next two centuries. Ramón Menéndez Pidal famously described the expedition as "a crusade before the crusades".[1]


Alexander II first preached the Reconquista in 1063 as a "Christian emergency."[2] It was also preached in Burgundy, probably with the permission of participation of Hugh of Cluny, where the abbot's brother, Thomas de Chalon, led the army.[2] Certainly zeal for the crusade spread elsewhere in France, for Amatus of Montecassino notes that the "grand chivalry of the French and Burgundians and other peoples" (grant chevalerie de Francoiz et de Borguegnons et d'autre gent) was present at the siege.[2] Thus, a large army, primarily of Frenchmen and Burgundians, along with a papal contingent, mostly of Italo-Normans, and local Spanish armies, Catalan and Aragonese, was present at the siege when it began in 1064. The leader of the papal contingent was a Norman by the name of William of Montreuil.[3] The leader of the Spaniards was Sancho Ramírez, King of Aragon, whose realm was greatly threatened by the Moors to the south. The largest component, the Aquitainian, was led by the Duke Guy Geoffrey, whom one historian calls the "Christian generalissimo".[2] Though the makeup of this grand army has been subject to much dispute, that it contained a large force of Frankish knights is generally agreed upon.[3]

The duke of Aquitaine led the army through the Pyrenees at Somport. He joined the Catalan army at Girona early in 1064. The entire army then marched past Graus, which had resisted assault twice before, and moved against Barbastro, then part of the taifa of Lleida ruled by al-Muzaffar.[2] The city was besieged for forty days until it surrendered according to both Muslim and Christian sources.[4]


Terms were given by the Christians to spare the lives of the Muslims and respect their properties, but the pact was quickly broken.[4] Another source tells us that the garrison offered to surrender their property and families in exchange for letting them leave the town, and so it was agreed with the besiegers.[5] However, the Crusaders didn't honour the treaty and killed the soldiers as they came out. Crusade soldiers plundered and sacked the city without mercy.[4] Thousands of Muslims, i.e. residents and what little garrison remained, were massacred (reportedly 50,000) and the victors divided an enormous amount of booty.[6]

The Andalusian Muslim jurist Ibn 'Abd al-Barr was among the witnesses of the fall of Barbastro. He described the aftermath as follows:

What can be your opinion, O Muslims, when you see mosques and oratories, that once were witness to the recitation of the Qur’ān and the sweetness of the call to prayer, immersed in polytheism and slander, loaded with bells and crosses in place of the followers of the Merciful: imāms and pious men, vergers and muezzins...are dragged away by the infidels like animals for sacrifice, they are brought to the butcher, they prostrate themselves humbly in the mosques which are then burnt and reduced to ashes while the infidels laugh and insult us, and our religion wails and weeps.[1]

Not only that, the plight of the women seem to have been especially tough as a consequence of the siege and victory of the crusaders. During the siege an indefinite large amount died of thirst related diseases and were subjected to degrading treatment after victory, converting them into servant and sex slaves, or sometimes even exposing them to the torture of their husbands.[5]

The crusaders made off with a lot of booty. The Kitab al-Rawd al-Mitar records the capture of a good many Saracen girls and Saracen treasures.[7] Armengol III of Urgel was given the lordship of the city. In 1065, in a counterattack, the Moors easily retook the city and undid all the crusaders' work, massacring the small garrison.[2] Thibaut, the Burgundian leader, died, possibly of wounds received on campaign, while returning to France after the loss of the city in 1065.[2]


Historian Reinhart Dozy first began a study of the War in the mid-nineteenth century based on the scarce primary sources, mainly Amatus and Ibn Hayyan.[8] Dozy first suggested the participation of a papal element based on Ibn Hayyan's reference to the "cavalry of Rome."[9] Subsequent historiography has stressed the Cluniac element in the War, primarily the result of Ferdinand I of León's recent attempts to introduce the Cluniac reform to Spain and inspired by the death of Ramiro I of Aragon following the failed Siege of Graus.

This interpretation has been criticized in more recent decades, especially the papal connection and Italian involvement.[8] It has been suggested that Alexander was preoccupied with the Antipope Cadalus at the time and did not preach a plenary indulgence for warriors of the Reconquista until the 1073 campaign of Ebles II of Roucy. It has also been theorized that it was not William of Montreuil, but Guy Geoffrey, who was the "Roman" leader implied by Ibn Hayyan.[8]



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  • Boissonnade, Pierre (1932). "Cluny, la papauté et la première grande croisade internationale contre les sarrasins d'Espagne: Barbastro (1064–1065)". Revue des questions historiques. 60: 257–301.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  • ibn Hayyan (1981). "La Cruzada contra Barbastro (1064)". In Ubieto Arteta, Antonio (ed.). Historia de Aragón: La formación territorial. Anubar Ediciones. pp. 53–67. ISBN 8470131818.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Marín-Guzmán, Roberto (1992). "Crusade in al-Andalus: The Eleventh Century Formation of the Reconquista as an Ideology". Islamic Studies. 31 (3): 287–318.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Menéndez Pidal, Ramón (1971). The Cid and his Spain. Translated by Harold Sunderland. London: F. Cass.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  • Sarrió Cucarella, Diego (2012). "Corresponding across Religious Borders: Al-Bājī's Response to a Missionary Letter from France". Medieval Encounters. 18 (1): 1–35. doi:10.1163/157006712X634549.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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