El Cid

A Concise Biography

El Cid
Medallion bearing the likeness of El Cid in the Pavilion of San Martin, Plaza Mayor of Salamanca, Spain. Photo by Basilio, made available through the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (or Ruy Díaz de Vivar; also spelled Bivar), also known as El Campeador ("the Champion"), was a notable military leader and the national hero of Spain. His title of "the Cid" comes from a Spanish dialect of Arabic, sidi, meaning "sir" or "lord," and was a title he acquired during his lifetime. El Cid is the subject of many legends, stories, and poems, including the 12th-century epic El cantar de mío Cid ("The Song of the Cid").

Born a member of the minor nobility, Díaz was brought up at the court of Ferdinand I in the household of the king's eldest son, Sancho. When Sancho succeeded Ferdinand as King Sancho II in 1065, he appointed el Cid as commander of the royal troops and standard-bearer. In 1067 Sancho made war on his brother Alfonso, who had inherited Leon, and the Cid played an important part in the successful campaigns of his king.

This put Díaz in a difficult position when, in 1072, Sancho died without having fathered any children, leaving Alfonso as his only heir. However, though Díaz lost his position as standard-bearer, Alfonso allowed him to remain at court; and in July of 1074, the Cid married Jimena, Alfonso's niece. Still, his position at court was precarious, and he became regarded as a natural leader to those Castilians who weren't particularly happy about being governed by a king of Leon.

In 1079, while on a mission to Seville, Díaz encountered Count García Ordóñez, who had supplanted him as standard-bearer and who had become his bitter enemy.

El Cid defeated the superior army and captured the count. In 1081, he led an unauthorized military raid into Toledo, a Moorish kingdom which was under Alfonso's protection. King Alfonso thereupon exiled Díaz, and although there were several attempts at reconciliation, never again was the Cid able to stay for very long in Alfonso's lands.

Díaz then offered his services to the Muslim ruler of Saragossa. The Cid served al-Mu'tamin and his successor, al-Musta'in II, loyally for almost a decade. He was victorious in battles against the Moorish king of Lérida and his Christian allies, as well as against a large Christian army under King Sancho Ramírez of Aragon.

In 1086, Alfonso was defeated by Almoravids from North Africa, and he overcame his antagonism to the Cid long enough to recall him from exile. Although his presence at Alfonso's court in July 1087 is documented, Díaz was soon back in Saragossa, and he did not participate in the ensuing conflict whereby the Almoravids threatened the survival of Christian Spain. Instead, the Cid began a long, complex political campaign to gain control of the wealthy Moorish kingdom of Valencia.

The Cid gradually increased his control over Valencia's ruler, al-Qadir, who became his tributary. When in October of 1092, Almoravids and the city's chief judge, Ibn Jahhaf, instigated an uprising which resulted in the death of al-Qadir, el Cid responded by laying siege to the city. The siege lasted a year and a half. By this time Díaz had established his own kingdom on the coast of the Mediterranean; he ruled it in the name of Alfonso, but in actual fact he was its independent ruler until his death in 1099.

Not long after his death, Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar became the subject of an admiring biography, and soon thereafter the hero of the epic poem El cantar de mío Cid. The actual facts of his life and career were quickly obscured amidst his lionization as a national hero. Historians must turn to the few contemporary documents available, including the Arab historian Ibn 'Alqamah's detailed, eyewitness account of the Cid's conquest of Valencia.

Who's Who Profile of el Cid