July 16, 1212
Near Las Navas de Tolosa, Jaén, Andalusia,
Decisive Christian victory
(1)Alfonso VIII of Castile
Sancho VII of Navarre
Peter II of Aragon
(1)~50,000 some sources suggest it was between 50,000 - 80,000
(2)~125,000 - 150,000
Casualties and losses
(1)~2,000 dead or wounded
(2)~100,000 dead, wounded, or captured
In 1195 the Castilians, under Alfonso VIII, met the combined armies of the Muslims at Alarcos, south of the city of Toledo. Details of the battle indicate just how hard it was fought. The initial Castilian charge was successful and drove back the Muslims, breaking their line, and killing the general, Abu Hafas, who died trying to rally the broken Muslim infantry. The tribe of Henteta, Muslims from North Africa, was surrounded and cut to pieces. However, the battle suddenly turned when the Muslims of al-Andalus charged striking where Alfonso VIII stood with his bodyguard. The Spaniards broke and fled, losing thousands. The battle of Alarcos, near Ciudad Real, was thus an overwhelming Muslim victory. It was also the beginning of the end for Muslim Spain. Castile's defeat at Alarcos made the various Christian states understand that only cooperative action would defeat the newly unified Muslim power. They began to forget their jealousies and concentrate on the reconquest. Following up on their victory, the Moors invaded Castile, but Alfonso VIII repulsed them.
By 1212, the Christians were ready to strike in force. Under Alfonso VIII they marched into the heart of Moorish Spain and offered battle at Las Navas de Tolosa. Alfonso's army of 2,000 French knights, 10,000 Spanish horse, and 50,000 infantry advanced south and was confronted by the Almohad Muhammad I, with perhaps 200,000 men. Shortly before the battle, however, the French abandoned Alfonso VIII, complaining of the effect of the heat and their armor. When Muhammad I learned of the French departure, he moved briskly north to intercept the now weakened Christian army. The two armies met with the Moors massed in the narrow entrance of the Losa canyon. In a repetition of the events at Thermopylae, where the Spartans faced the Persians, a Spanish shepherd led the Christian army through an otherwise unknown mountain path that brought them into the Moorish rear. The stunned Moors found Alfonso VIII's army deployed behind them on the plain of Mesa Del Rey, and blocking their front at the narrows of the pass. Both sides rested their armies until July 16, when the battle was joined. The Spaniards attacked and overwhelmed the Muslim light infantry forming the first line. The heavily armored Christian knights pushed back the two wings of the Almohad Moorish army, but the Moorish center, mostly cavalry, held fast and launched repeated counterattacks. The end came when these failed and the whole army suddenly broke and fled the field. Muhammad I fled all the way to Jaen as the Moorish cavalry and infantry became thoroughly mixed and confused. A massacre followed, and 150,000 Muslim warriors are reputed to have died that day. The Moorish defeat gave Alfonso VIII control of central Spain.
The Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa can fairly be considered among the most important in history. It was not the end of Moorish Spain, but it marked the defeat of the last great Muslim army, and the occupation of the heart of the Peninsula by the Christians. If it was not the end, it was certainly the beginning of the end.
The war continued until 1235, when Ferdinand III of Castile recaptured Cordoba. Seville was taken in 1248 and Jaen in 1246. Valencia fell to King Jaime I of Aragon. Though infighting troubled both sides, it was far worse among the Moors. Fractured by internal dissent, they were steadily driven back by the Spanish.
In 1340 Alfonso XI of Castile, supported by Alfonso IV of Portugal, routed a considerably larger Moorish force at Rio Salado, near Tarika. The Moorish army was formed of warriors who had recently arrived from Morocco where the general idea of a holy war against the Christians provided the Marinid Moorish armies of Spain with a constant supply of Berber and Arab recruits. Despite this, all that remained of Muslim Spain was a region along the Mediterranean coast extending from near Gibraltar to the northeast near, but not including, Cartagena. This last Granadan stronghold would not last long.
In 1487 the Christians captured the city of Malaga, in the province of Granada. They then pushed against and laid siege to the capital, Granada itself. No major assaults were made, as both sides knew that a Muslim surrender was inevitable. No relief could be hoped for from North Africa. A capitulation signed in November 1491 set the date of surrender at January 2, 1492. When January 2 arrived, the gates were opened and the Muslim occupation of Spain ended.