Watershed moments in history

Posted in Medieval, Reading by Alex L. on March 11, 2009

There are events in the past – a few days, hours, or minutes even – which determine the course of history for centuries to come. This statement is banal without adding to it an appreciation for just how arbitrary those fateful moments are at times. On the whim of a general or the passing mood of an army or the momentum of herd mentality, the course of a country’s future can be decided. One such event occurred at the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212 AD. For five-hundred years prior to the battle, Muslims had shared the Iberian peninsula with Christians in a relationship that ranged from tolerant to brutally violent. At the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, the Muslim armies were delivered a death blow by the Christian Spaniards united thanks to the saber rattling of Pope Innocent III. Christianity would become the dominant religion in Spain to this day as a result of the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa.  But for a few desperate moments on Monday, July 16, 1212, the path of Spanish history hung in the balance. Stephen O’Shea in Sea of Faith writes:

“The day seemed to be going for the caliph. Battle standards wavered in the dust and shouting, as the Christians desperately tried to hold their ground but seemed poised to desert en masse. From his vantage point atop the Mesa del Rey, King Alfonso is supposed to have turned away from the disheartening spectacle and said to Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada, ‘Archbishop, let us die here, you and I'” (226).

The outcome of the battle turned out quite differently. A group of Christian knights from the rear guard thundered into the battle and, almost inexplicably, broke through and routed the whole Muslim army. And the confessional geography of Spain would never be the same again.

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