By: AndalusianWorld Staff
The tale is perhaps best described as a story rather than a legend, since El Cid and his famous white steed are not just legendary characters in half forgotten myth. They actually lived and died on Spain’s embittered battlefields during the Reconquista of Andalucia from the Muslims almost one thousand years ago.
El Cid, born Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (1043–1099) was a Castillian nobleman during the reign of Emperor Ferdinand the Great. He is considered to be the National Hero of Spain for his bravery and military genius on the battlefield. Exactly how much of the tale of the two warriors is myth or historical fact is unknown, but we do know that El Cid and Babieca were indeed war heros, and their tombs remain intact to this day. A true man of Spain, during his lifetime he fought against both the Christian kings and the Muslim invaders, most notably, retaking Valencia, and a number of years later, saving it from a siege in his most famous battle.
The legend begins with young Rodrigo coming of age. As a gift, his uncle, a Carthusian monk by the name of Pedro El Grande, bade him to select a young colt from his stables. Of all the fine Carthusian colts, Rodrigo selected what his uncle considered to be a weak and inferior animal, and exclaimed “Babieca!”, or “Stupid!”. The name stuck, but the gray colt grew into a fine white war horse, a typical Carthusian horse noted for his docility, loyalty, striking appearance, and nimble feet. This story has some distinctive similarities to the story of how Alexander the Great came to questionably choose the easily spooked and gangly Bucephalus as his own, who also later became one of the most famous war horses in history.
El Cid’s sword, equally legendary, was called Tizona. In an attempt to at least partially authenticate its identity, as several purported
Tizonas have turned up over the centuries, the sword has recently undergone metallurgical analysis which confirmed that the blade was in fact made in Moorish Córdoba in the eleventh century and was in fact partially forged with Damascus steel. Damascus steel has its own mysterious allure, as the methods for producing it have disappeared without a trace. Although superficially similar looking steel has been recreated in modern times, it is not the same. The steel is identified by dark ripples and unusual durability of the blade.
El Cid was noted for his unusual tactical brilliance. His plans were immaculate, and his ability to inspire courage in his troops and terror in his enemies became famous far and wide. Modern generals describe some of his tactic as psychological warfare, and El Cid used it to great advantage. He insisted upon having Roman books on military tactics read aloud to his unlettered troops, both to boost their morale as well as to educate them. He accepted suggestions and ideas from his troops as well, another unusual strategy.
However, the story that truly elevated El Cid and fearless Babieca into legends, was said to have happened after the Hero’s death during the siege of Valencia. El Cid was killed, and today it is not known exactly what killed him. Regardless, his men were in dire straits and without their leader to inspire fear in the hearts of their enemies and courage in their troops. Drawing from his almost otherworldly reputation, legend has it that they strapped his fully armored body to Babieca’s saddle, and fixed his right arm pointing into the air, grasping Tizona. The invaders, hearing of his death, boldly amassed their forces to take the city. Babieca understood what was required of him, and led El Cid’s knights on a thundering charge that scattered their enemies in a blind terror, believing him risen from the dead, and saved Valencia.
Eventually, Spain was fully reclaimed from the invaders. El Cid’s tomb is located in the Burgos Cathedral, and Babieca’s tomb is in the monastery of San Pedro de Cardeña (Left). El Cid so loved his brave Babieca, that before his death, he expressed his wish to be buried with him, though these wishes were not fulfilled.
Interestingly, Babieca’s story draws even more parallels to the story of Bucephalus. Like Alexander the Great’s famous charger, Babieca remained strong and fit, and was his master’s favorite and primary charger well into his old age. He outlived his master by two years, and was never mounted again following his legendary charge into the Moorish army, bearing his dead master. He remarkably lived until the age of 40, while Bucephalus lived until 30, both unusually long lived for war horses.
El Cid and Babieca are immortalized in several impressive bronze statues, in both Spain and the US.