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Las Navas De Tolosa
by [?]

On the 16th of July, 1212, was fought the great battle which broke the Moorish power in Spain. During the two centuries before fresh streams of invasion had flowed in from Africa to yield new life to the Moslem power. From time to time in the Mohammedan world reforms have sprung up, and been carried far and wide by fanaticism and the sword. One such body of reformers, the Almoravides, invaded Spain in the eleventh century and carried all before it. It was with these that the Cid Campeador had to deal. A century later a new reformer, calling himself El Mahdi, appeared in Africa, and set going a movement which overflowed the African states and made its way into Spain, where it subdued the Moslem kingdoms and threatened the Christian states. These invaders were known as the Almohades. They were pure Moors. The Arab movement had lost its strength, and from that time forward the Moslem dominions in Spain were peopled chiefly by Moors.

Spain was threatened now as France had been threatened centuries before when Charles Martel crushed the Arab hordes on the plains of Tours. All Christendom felt the danger and Pope Innocent III. preached a crusade for the defence of Spain against the infidel. In response, thousands of armed crusaders flocked into Spain, coming in corps, in bands, and as individuals, and gathered about Toledo, the capital of Alfonso VIII., King of Castile. From all the surrounding nations they came, and camped in the rich country about the capital, a host which Alfonso had much ado to feed.

Mohammed An-Nassir, the emperor of the Almohades, responded to the effort of the Pope by organizing a crusade in Moslem Africa. He proclaimed an Algihed, or Holy War, ordered a massacre of all the Christians in his dominions, and then led the fanatical murderers to Spain to join the forces there in arms. Christian Europe was pitted against Moslem Africa in a holy war, Spain the prize of victory, and the plains of Andalusia the arena of the coming desperate strife.

The decisive moment was at hand. Mohammed left Morocco and reached Seville in June. His new levies were pouring into Spain in hosts. On the 21st of June Alfonso began his advance, leading southward a splendid array. Archbishops and bishops headed the army. In the van marched a mighty force of fifty thousand men under Don Diego Lopez de Haro, ten thousand of them being cavalry. After them came the troops of the kings of Aragon and Castile, each a distinct army. Next came the knights of St. John of Calatrava and the knights of Santiago, their grand-masters leading, and after them many other bodies, including troops from Italy and Germany. Such a gallant host Spain had rarely seen. It was needed, for the peril was great. While one hundred thousand marched under the Christian banners, the green standard of the prophet, if we may credit the historians, rose before an army nearly four times as large.

Without dwelling on the events of the march, we may hasten forward to the 12th of July, when the host of Alfonso reached the vicinity of the Moorish army, and the Navas de Tolosa, the destined field of battle, lay near at hand. The word navas means “plains.” Here, on a sloping spur of the Sierra Morena, in the upper valley of the Guadalquiver, about seventy miles east of Cordova, lies an extended table-land, a grand plateau whose somewhat sloping surface gave ample space for the vast hosts which met there on that far-off July day.

To reach the plateau was the problem before Alfonso. The Moslems held the ground, and occupied in force the pass of Losa, Nature’s highway to the plain. What was to be done? The pass could be won, if at all, only at great cost in life. No other pass was known. To retire would be to inspirit the enemy and dispirit the Christian host. No easy way out of the quandary at first appeared, but a way was found,–by miracle, the writers of that time say; but it hardly seems a miracle that a shepherd of the region knew of another mountain-pass. This man, Martin Halaja, had grazed his flocks in that vicinity for years. He told the king of a pass unknown to the enemy, by which the army might reach the table-land, and to prove his words led Lopez de Haro and another through this little-known mountain by-way. It was difficult but passable, the army was put in motion and traversed it all night long, and on the morning of the 14th of July the astonished eyes of the Mohammedans gazed on the Christian host, holding in force the borders of the plateau, and momentarily increasing in numbers and strength. Ten miles before the eyes of Alfonso and his men stretched the plain, level in the centre, in the distance rising in gentle slopes to its border of hills, like a vast natural amphitheatre. The soldiers, filled with hope and enthusiasm, spread through their ranks the story that the shepherd who had led them was an angel, sent by the Almighty to lead his people to victory over the infidel.