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The Praefatio De Almaria
Alfonso VII's expedition against Muslim-held Almería in 1147 CE
The Praefatio De Almaria (literally: “The Preface Concerning Almería”) forms the final part of the works of an anonymous 12th century CE author documenting the life of Alfonso VII, who bore the title of emperor and waged many battles and wars with both rival Christian rulers in Iberia and also the Muslim forces in the peninsula. This poem specifically concerns his 1147 CE expedition against the Muslim-held city of Almería on the southern coast. As noted in the second book of the prose chronicle, Almería had become a base for Muslim pirates to engage in raiding throughout much of the Mediterranean, and so Alfonso VII agreed on a joint expedition with forces from Spain, France, Genoa and Pisa. The expedition was a success for the Christian forces as the city was taken out of Muslim hands, though the Almohads- the Berber dynasty that overthrew the Almoravids in Iberia and North Africa- regained control of the city in 1157 CE.
It would appear that the poem as it has come down to us was either incomplete when the author wrote it or has been lost in significant part, as the poem ends mid-way through the exhortation of a speech by the bishop of Astorga. Much of the surviving poem outlines and hails the various forces accompanying Alfonso VII, and also mentions some localities in southern Spain that were conquered prior to the assault on Almería. While the poem alludes to the final victory and conquest of Almería on more than one occasion, it says little about the actual battle itself, which would no doubt have been the high point of the poem.
Below is my full translation of the surviving poem with annotations. The edition used is that of Juan Gil contained in Corpus Christianorum.
Fort of Almería (photo by me: September 2022 CE).
Praefatio de Almaria
Oh pious king, oh brave king, for whom the ultimate lot of death remains,
Give us peace and provide a talkative tongue,
So that, singing eloquently and abundantly of your admirable deeds,
I may describe the renowned wars of your just men.
The teachers wrote of the battles of the old kings;
We also ought to write of the famous battles of our emperor,
Because they are not tedious.
May the best rights be rendered unto the writer, if it pleases the emperor,
That he may write of the future wars.
The labourer’s pious right-hand hopes for the gifts of the Thunderer[i]
And seeks the warrior’s gift at all hours.
Therefore I will describe what I have chosen, the wars waged under Urgi,[ii]
Because at that time the people of the pagan men were defeated.
The Spanish and Frankish leaders came together.
By sea and through the lands of the Moors they sought out wars.
The leader of all was the king of the Toledan empire;
This man was Alfonso,[iii] and he held the title of emperor,
Following the deeds of Charles,[iv] to whom he deserves to be compared:
They were equals in mind, equals in force of arms,
Equal was the glory of the wars these men waged.
Also the evil pestilence that befell the Moors was a witness,
For neither the swelling of the sea nor their land protected them.
They could not plunge underwater, nor could they be elevated on high in the air,
For their wicked way of life was vanquished.
They did not recognise the Lord, they deservedly perished.
These creatures were deservedly going to perish:
While they worshipped Baalim,[v] Baalim did not free them.
Such a barbarian people was deadly to itself.
But the month of Āḏār[vi] announced that the swords would come.
Whatever evil these people had done before did not go unpunished:
The divine sword destroyed both the greater and lesser in wars,
Not even sparing the girls.
The rest of the people were slaughtered by the swords like animals for sacrifice,
Nor did any young who could be found remain.
The terrible heavenly anger was let upon them.
May neither a long delay nor a rather later hour disturb us,
We must return to the lofty heights of the labour we have begun.
With the divine and corporeal sword unsheathed,
All the bishops of Toledo or Leon prayed,
And called on the greater and lesser ones,
To come to the battles, all of them being brave and secure.
They absolved their sins, raised their voices to the stars,
Promised the reward of both lives for all men.
They promised gifts of silver, and with victory
Whatever gold the Moors had was also promised.
So great was the shouting of the bishops, and so pious was their eagerness,
Then in promising, and then in calling out with their tongue,
That the young could now hardly be held back by their mothers.
Like a hind that was agitated by the dogs in the woods,
And thus sought the springs, leaving behind the mountains on all sides,
So the common people of the Spaniards desired battles with the Saracens,
And thus did not sleep by night or day.
The beneficial trumpet resounds through the regions of the world.
The name of terrible Almeria became recognisable to all.
There is nothing sweeter than this word, it is a word that has echoed through the ages.
This word is the food of young men, it is the flowering gift of the elderly;
It is the leader of the small, it is the pious light of the adolescents;
It is the law of the bishops, it is the ultimate death for the Moabites.
It is the lot of the Franks, it is the Moors’ evil death;
This strife is peace for the Franks, while it is a renowned torch for the Moors,
It is dew for the Spaniards, in short it is the custom of those waging war.
The allotment is a part of the silver, and it is the promise of gold.
Long rest is affliction, while the glory of waging war is light.
It was the month of May, the Galician proceeded,
After first coming to know the sweetness of Saint James.[vii]
Like stars in heaven, thus did a thousand spears glow,
And a thousand shields shone, with their weapons being powerfully sharp.
This was the armed common people, but all were helmeted.
Through the ringing of the iron and certainly the roaring of the horses
The mountains grew deaf. The springs dried up everywhere.
The flowery earth lost its fleece because of grazing.
Because of the excessive dust, the moonlight became worthless
And the brightness of the sky was obscured by the light of the iron.
The strenuous consul Ferdinand followed this throng
Administering the Galicians’ laws with regal care.
He was supported by his tutelage of the emperor’s son,[viii]
If you had seen this man, you would have already thought he was a king:
He simultaneously glowed with the glory of a king and a count.
Behind these men the flourishing army of the city of Leon
Broke forth like a lion, bearing the standards.
This army holds the heights of the entire Spanish realm,
And observes the king’s laws with regal care.
Through his judgement, the country’s laws are defined with boundaries,
Through the army’s help, the fiercest wars are prepared for.
Just as a lion rightly conquers all animals,
So this army utterly conquers all cities with honour.
There was an ancient law: the first battles belong to it.
The emperor’s signs are in its standards and arms,
Protecting against all evils;
They are covered with gold whenever they are brought to the wars.
The group of the Moors was laid low on seeing these standards,
And terrified they could not stand in a small field.
Just as the wolf drives on sheep, and just as the wave of the sea presses down on lions,
So this light crushed the Ishmaelites who wear headbands.
The court of pious Mary[ix] was first consulted in the voice of prayer,
Indulgence of sins was granted in accordance with the custom of ancestors,
And with extended sails the flaming sword proceeded,
And their very powerful strength occupied the whole land.
The grasses were grazed, the chaff was endlessly threshed.
Count Radimirus, wondrous in rank, followed these men,
Prudent and gentle, caring for Leon’s well-being.
Outstanding in form, born from the royal seed,
He is dear to Christ, preserving the regulations of the laws,
At all hours he abides by the emperor’s order
With diligent care, serving him with a benevolent mind.
This man was the flower of flowers, and fortified with a fortress of good things,
Taught in arms, entirely full of sweetness,
Flourishing in counsel, glowing with just moderation.
He excels all the bishops in the rank of the kings,
And he surpasses his equals in balancing the limits of the laws.
What more am I to say? His rights surpass all.
No one is sluggish for such a faithfully-serving count.
With such a great consul, Leon seeks wild wars.
Meanwhile not last did indefatigable Astur[x] press the attack,
These people are not loathsome or irksome to anyone.
Never are the earth and sea able to overcome these men.
They are brave in strength, not trembling at the cups of death.
Handsome in appearance, they scorn the tombs.
Capable of waging war with ease, through hunting they search out
Prizes no less suitable, and recognise the mountains and springs in succession.
They look down on the waves of the sea as though they were clods of earth.
They are overcome by no one, and overcome whatever they see.
These people seek the Saviour’s help at all hours
And leave behind the swelling waves by riding them
And with wings stretched out, they are joined to their other allies.
The illustrious leader of these men was Peter Alfonso,
He was not yet consul, nonetheless he was equal to all in merits.
He makes no one sad, and is honourable in all matters.
He glows with honour and surpasses his equals in his goodness,
Handsome like Absalom,[xi] powerful in strength like Samson,
And instructed in good ethics, he keeps hold of Solomon’s teachings.
He was made consul on return: thus through his great merits
Did he obtain the position of consul. Endowed with honour
He is venerated among colleagues by the emperor,
Glowing with his regal, pious wife Mary:
She was a count’s daughter, and deservedly she will become a countess.
Thus she will be the gem of her people, a phoenix throughout the ages.
Behind these men proceeded the thousand spears of Castile,
The famous citizens, powerful throughout long ages.
Their camp glowed like the stars of heaven.
They glowed with gold, they carried silver vessels.
There is no poverty among them, but rather great wealth.
There is no beggar, weakling or badly sluggish man among them:
They are all brave, they are secure in the struggle.
Meat and wine were unexpected in their camp.
An abundance of corn was given to all who willingly asked for it.
The lights of their arms were as numerous as those of the stars.
Their many horses were supported with iron and bread.
Their language resounds like a tambourine.
They were very much elated, they were endowed with riches.
The strength of Castile was rebellious over the centuries.
Renowned Castile was thirsty for very savage wars
And hardly wanted to submit her neck to any of the kings.
She lived untamed as long as the light of heaven shone.
At all hours the emperor’s fortune managed to subdue her.
He alone subdued Castile as though she were a small she-ass,
Placing new treaties of law on her untamed neck.
Nonetheless remaining unviolated in her virtue
Brave Castile proceeded to the heart of the wars
With sails raised high. Fear arose for the Ishmaelites,
Who, as the matter subsequently turned out, were slain by the sword.
Countless, invincible and without worry
Extremadura knew of all things to come,
Having been taught by prophecy that the wicked people would perish,
After seeing so many standards, she boldly joined up with the men of Castile.
If anyone knew in order the stars of the troubled sky or the waves of the sea,
The drops of rain, and the grasses of the fields, that person could count her people.
Drinking much wine, supported with abundant bread,
she can bear the burden, and looks down on the summer heat.
These people of hers cover the earth like countless locusts.
Neither the sky nor the sea can sufficiently satiate these men.
They shatter the mountains, dry out the springs one after another.
When they rise up, they take away the lights of the skies,
A wild people, a brave people not fearing the cups of death.
The noble Count Pontius rules these columns with his spear.
This man was the strength of Samson, the sword of Gideon,[xii]
He was comparable to Jonathan,[xiii] distinguished like Joshua,[xiv]
He was the guide of the people, like the very brave Hector.[xv]
Splendid and truthful like the invincible Ajax,[xvi]
He yields to no one, and never retreats while waging war,
He does not turn back, and he never flees backwards,
He is unmindful of his wife or love, when there is a fight:
Base things are rejected, when the struggles are waged,
The tables are rejected, he rejoices more while he strikes with his sword.
While his spear is shaken, the wicked people are laid low in their exhaustion.
This man, never sorrowful, endures the struggles of the heat.
His brave right-hand strikes, his voice resounds, the enemy is laid low,
While he gives counsel, he preserves the teachings of Solomon.
He exchanges his swords for forks,[xvii] and counting the months,
He prepares the foods, and he himself offers his wine
To his weary soldiers, while his horrid helmet is taken off.
He is a pestilence for the Moors, Urgi was later a witness to this.
This consul Pontius desires more to become an exile in the time of waging war
Than to abandon possession of his sword.
On account of such merit he is always pleasing to the emperor:
On account of the wars he won, he is endowed with the king’s favour
And subdues all the realms through his supreme courage.
Added to all these men was Ferdinand John,
Renowned for his military service, never overcome in war.
The king of Portugal feared being overcome by him,[xviii]
When he saw him gleaming in the field and waging wars;
For whithersoever he turned or whithersoever he came,
He would terrify all, and he would crush all at once with his sword.
No one whom he struck at close quarters with his spear remained on his saddle.
This man quite often defeated the Moors in fierce wars
And he did not hesitate to attack many of them with a few of his own men.
For all who knew that this Ferdinand would come would flee.
But his noble offspring were present for the massive war,
And the heroine married to him gave birth to many sons,
Who take well after their father and butcher the Hagarenes with the sword.
Such a secure father is he who rouses the swords.
All of Limia, moved by war, followed this man.
He rejoices in joining many peoples of Extremadura to himself.
The king welcomes receiving so many soldiers,
And magnificently took up this man, wondrous in rank.
Behold, Alvar the son of the noble Roderic[xix] rushed forth,
This man brought joy upon many and held Toledo,
And his father is lauded in his son, and the son in him.
The father was brave, and the son’s glory did not recede.
Great because of his father, the son nonetheless flourished more than his grandfather.
The grandfather Alvar was known to all: a citadel of uprightness,
And in the same way he is no less compassionate to the enemy: a city of goodness.
I hear that it is thus said: that Alvar Fannicus[xx] also
Subdued the peoples of the Ishmaelites
And their towns and strong towers could not resist.
He broke the well-fortified places, and thus the brave man crushed them.
If there had been a third Alvar in the time of Roland
After Oliver (I profess this truth without fault)
The people of the Hagarenes would have come under the Franks’ yoke
And their dear allies would not have fallen, slain in death.
And there was no better spear under the serene sky.
Roderic, often called Mio Cid,[xxi]
About whom it is sung that he is not overcome by the enemy,
Who subdued the Moors, and also subdued our counts,
Extolled this man,[xxii] and hastened with lesser praise,
But I profess to be true what none of the days will take away:
Mio Cid was first, and Alvar second.
With the death of her friend Roderic, Valencia wailed
And could not be retained further for Christ’s servants.[xxiii]
Oh Alvar,[xxiv] the young men weep for you and adorn you with tears.
You raised them well, and in your compassion you gave them arms.
You cherished the small, while strengthening the great through struggle.
Behold how Alvar, influenced by such great noble forefathers
Rages, because the upright man hates the Moors.
Navia gives strength, Mons Niger[xxv] also gives more strength,
And the land of Lugo provided the defences of the sword.
Horsemen are not lacking, because the rich land gave much wealth.
With all drawn up and the provisions skilfully prepared
They ascend their mules and also the unsaddled horses proceed,
Led by squires who place the shields on their shoulders
Now they approached the camp and saw the smoke.
The king saw that a cloud of dust was seizing the whole land
And ordered his whole guard to embark
And thus at last he magnificently received these men.
Fernandus’ son called Martinus ordered for the arms to be taken from the homes:
He will give great blows to the Moors.
Fita was pleased with this man, because he held lordship over this locality.
Snow-white in his face, large in limbs and body,
Handsome, brave, he is upright and cared for his cohort.
The Moors flee in different directions, terrified, when he intones with his voice.
This man armed handsome youths with beautiful arms,
And the camp resounded with Martinus’ young throng.
These men scorn death, and thus also become bold,
They rejoice more in war than a friend rejoices in a friend.
They enter the king’s tents with standards raised high
And urged the leaders to the wars: “Why are you slacking here?”
After such words were said, which they swear were not fabricated,
All came down, and together sought the king in order,
And bending the knee, they said: “Oh good king, goodbye.”
And thus they eventually established an abode in new meadows.
I do not want the renowned Count Ermengod to be forgotten.
This man fights among his fellow cohorts like a star
And is dear to the Saracens and the Christians.
If I could say, he can be compared to all as equal
Except the kings. This man, taking up arms in his usual manner,
Relying on a large company with God’s virtue,
Came to the fight, where he killed many by the sword.
And Guterrius Ferdinand did not come any more sluggishly
To the war, for he relied on the king’s protection.
When the emperor’s first son Sancho[xxvi] was born,
He was handed to this man to be educated.
He nurtured him dearly, as he wanted the boy to surpass all.
Guterrius is a partner in the greater honours.
He himself hurried with his battalions and came to the battles.
The emperor’s dear son-in-law hurries to the war
And bears the royal standards, having loosened the reins.
He is called García. But all of Pampona is joined to Alava,
And Navarra glows with the sword.
Supported by all these regions, Radimirus’ son
Safely rejoices in the struggle, but later he was united with the king.
On the arrival of this man, all Spain received him as lord,
For she knew that he would be pleasing to the king:
Not unequal to the kings, but also comparable to the hurling of the spear.
The royal camp is filled with such auxiliary forces.
Spain was supported by such great columns
And with standards raised, she occupied the regions of Andújar.
Andújar tasted the wines of pain for the first time
And was surrounded by order of the majestic emperor.
This fort was laid low, but also Urgi was laid low.
The fort also shouted to Baalim, but Baalim was deaf to these shouts,
And refused help, because it could not give any to these people.
Thus through three successive months they lost their harvests,
And they lost everything that had been produced by their labour.
With their strength exhausted, and all their food consumed
They now sought a peace treaty after giving hostages.
Since they could not live, they also surrendered themselves to the king.
Bannos, a noble fort, was also handed over.
Renowned Bariona was handed over to the emperor’s unconquered standards
Though regal authority was not imposed by its own free will.
Another noble city, which is called Baeza,
Was struck with great trembling when it saw so many standards
And so it laid aside its ancient honour and submitted its neck
And rejoiced in being handed over, since it could not be rebellious.
The Moors handed over all the other forts around them,
And when they did so, they demanded life in exchange for the gift.
With life granted, they reinvigorated their tired bodies.
The consul Malric, strenuous in arms, not a feigned friend of Christ,
Was put in charge of all of these cities.
It was pleasing to all, and at the same time it was pleasing to the emperor
That he should preside over the Saracens and the Christians.
Outstanding in reputation, he was also dear to all,
Splendid and generous, niggardly to no one through the ages.
He flourished in arms, he had the mind of a wise man.
He rejoiced in war, he kept hold of the teachings of war.
This man followed his father’s ways in everything he did.
Peter de Lara the consul was this man’s father.
He ruled his own land through many generations,
And the son followed his father’s footsteps in everything.
Endowed with honour because of this in the first flower of his youth,
And respected by the emperor in his own manner,
He was a witness of the law, and an evil pestilence for the Moors.
When all the things we have mentioned were done and accomplished,
When the time had passed, in the manner of their ancestors
The citizens returned with victory to the city walls of their forefathers
With the exception of a few. The king in his wisdom retained these few there.
It was the beginning of August, when the renowned messengers of the Franks
Came by sea, though they were bitter to many.
And greeting the emperor in the usual ways
The messengers thus said: “Oh glory of the entire realm,
Oh outstanding honourable one, the tawny youth of the Franks
Greet you in a clear voice with their sails spread out
And wait with expectation at the seashores with their armed soldiers.
Your kinsman Raymond, as he promised,
Is hastening against the enemy with great fury,
And the Pisan and Genoan people are also coming.
Duke William of Montpelier, great in rank,
Is following these men on board a high and strong ship.
They are very heavily armed, they are ready for the fierce wars,
They are mindful of the pact: in short they have now reached a harbour
And are also bearing hard stones to be used against the Moors.
They are leading a thousand boats, and now they say you will be late.
Loaded with ornate arms and sweet foods,
They will form an army and fight for the stolen gold
And will certainly and gladly afflict your enemies.
The fine throng lacks no one’s help,
If it is supported with the present light.”
Such words did the messengers thus speak, and they fell silent.
Hearing such words, the emperor’s mind smiled,
But the brave cohorts trembled under such a voice.
Weeping, one man said to his companion friend next to him:
“Until now the wars have been mixed with wars everywhere.
The messages are dear to the king, but bitter to us.
The enemy are everywhere on the journey like posts;
It is a very long route, planted with various thorns.
No food or drink remains in the sacks,
The bellicose sword is pursuing us from all sides.
Alas oh light of dear silver or glow of the talent,
If only you were not joined to our left sides!
For little gold we will die by the swords in the plain,
And our wives will certainly marry other husbands
And our children will weep, while others will take hold our beds,
And the birds of the sky will tear apart our flesh.”
Among the bishops who were present, the bishop of Astorga
Noticed this discourse. His renowned sword shone more than the others.
He strengthened the cohorts with his voice,
And addressed the people who were now utterly failing.
Through his voices and right-hand great silence arose.
“May glory sing in the highest heavens,” he said.
“May there also be peace on earth for the people serving the Lord.
Now each person must confess well and fairly,
And know that the sweet gates of Paradise have been opened.
Trust in God, I beseech. He is certainly the God of gods
And remains the Lord of all lords,
Who alone has happily wrought miracles for us,
And the heavens stand…”
[i] i.e. God.
[iii] i.e. Alfonso VII.
[iv] i.e. Charlemange.
[v] The Hebrew plural form of Baal, a pagan god referenced in the Bible.
[vi] A month used in Arabic calendars, equating to March.
[vii] i.e. The Galician forces first performed a pilgrimage at Saint James’ shrine in Santiago de Compostela.
[viii] The emperor’s son being Ferdinand II.
[ix] Referring to the church of Saint Mary in Toledo.
[x] Referring to the Asturian forces.
[xi] A son of King David, renowned for his beauty.
[xii] The Israelite king who defeated the Midianites.
[xiii] Probably referring to Jonathan who appears in 1 Samuel, renowned for his great strength.
[xiv] Moses’ successor who led the Israelite conquest of Canaan.
[xv] The brother of Paris. He was the key defender of Troy against the attacking Greeks.
[xvi] A renowned warrior on the Greek side in the Trojan War.
[xvii] Latin: furcis (nominative singular: furca). Two-pronged fork used in agriculture.
[xviii] Cf. The first book of the prose chronicle (1.75 etc.).
[xix] El Cid Campeador.
[xx] El Cid’s father and the grandfather of the Alvar participating in this campaign against Almería.
[xxi] i.e. “My Cid” (“my lord”).
[xxii] i.e. El Cid’s father.
[xxiii] Referring to the fact that El Cid conquered Valencia, but soon after his death in 1099 CE it was conquered by the Almoravids.
[xxiv] Addressed to El Cid’s father.
[xxv] “Black Mountain.”
[xxvi] Sancho III, who later became king of Castile and Toledo in the period 1157-1158 CE.