Biography of El Cid, Medieval Spanish Hero

The statue of El Cid in Burgos, Spain

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El Cid (1045–July 10, 1099), whose birth name was Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (or Bibar), is a Spanish national hero, a mercenary soldier who fought for the Spanish king Alfonso VII to liberate parts of Spain from the Almoravid dynasty and eventually captured the Muslim caliphate of Valencia and ruled his own kingdom.

Fast Facts: El Cid

  • Known For: National hero of Spain, mercenary soldier against Christian and Muslims, ruler of Valencia
  • Birth Name: Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (or Bibar)
  • Born: c. 1045 near Burgos, Spain
  • Parents: Diego Lainez and a daughter of Rodrigo Alvarez
  • Died: July 10, 1099 in Valencia, Spain
  • Education: Trained in the Castilian court of Sancho II
  • Spouse: Jimena (m. July 1074)
  • Children: Cristina, Maria, and Diego Rodriguez

Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar was born into a chaotic period in Spanish history when much of the southern two-thirds of the Iberian peninsula had been conquered by Islamic forces during the Arab conquest beginning in the 8th century CE. In 1009, the Islamic Umayyad Caliphate collapsed and disintegrated into competing city-states, called "taifa." The northern third of the peninsula was broken into principalities—León, Castile, Navarre, Barcelona, Asturia, Galacia, and others—who fought each other and their Arab conquistadors. Islamic rule in Iberia varied from place to place, as did the borders of the principalities, but the last city to be liberated by the "Christian Reconquista" was the Emirate of Granada in 1492. 

Early Life

El Cid was born Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar or Ruy Díaz de Vivar in the town of Vivar in the Castilian principality near Burgos, Spain in about 1045. His father was Diego Lainez, a soldier in the battle at Atapuerco in 1054, which was fought between the brothers King Ferdinand I of León (Ferdinand the Great, ruled 1038–1065) and King García Sánchez III of Navarre (r. 1012–1054). Some sources report that Diego was a descendant of Lain Calvo, a legendary duumvir (magistrate) in the Court of Ordoño II (King of Galacia, ruled 914–924). Although her name is not known, Diego's mother was a niece of the Castilian diplomat Nuño Alvarez de Carazo (1028–1054) and his wife Doña Godo; she named her son after her father, Rodrigo Alvarez.

Diego Laniez died in 1058, and Rodrigo was sent to be the ward of Ferdinand's son Sancho who resided at his father's court in Castile, then part of León. There Rodrigo likely received formal schooling in the schools which had been built by Ferdinand, learning how to read and write, as well as training in the use of arms, horsemanship, and the art of the chase. He may have been trained to arms by Pedro Ansurez, a Castilian count (1037–1119), known to have been in residence at Ferdinand's court at the time.

Military Career

In 1065, Ferdinand died and his kingdom was divided up between his sons. The eldest, Sancho received Castile; the second, Alfonso, León; and the region of Galicia was carved out of the northwest corner to create a separate state for García. The three brothers proceeded to fight one another for the entire kingdom of Ferdinand: Sancho and Alfonso together fended off Garcia and then fought each other.

El Cid's first military appointment was as standard-bearer and commander of troops for Sancho. Sancho emerged victoriously and reunited their father's possessions under his control in 1072. Sancho died childless in 1072, and his brother Alfonso VI (ruled 1072–1109) inherited the kingdom. Having fought for Sancho, Rodrigo now found himself in an awkward situation with the Alfonso administration. According to some records, the breach between Rodrigo and Alfonso was healed when Rodrigo married a woman named Jimena (or Ximena), a member of a high-ranking Asturian family in the mid-1070s; some reports say she was Alfonso's niece.

A 14th-century romance written about El Cid said he killed Jimena's father the Count of Gomez de Gormaz in battle, after which she went to Ferdinand to beg for redress. When Ferdinand refused to pay, she demanded Rodrigo's hand in marriage which he willingly gave. El Cid's main biographer, Ramón Menéndez Pidal, thinks that is unlikely since Ferdinand died in 1065. Whoever she was and however their marriage came about, Ximena and Rodrigo had three children: Cristina, Maria, and Diego Rodriguez, all of whom married into royalty. Diego was killed at the battle of Consuega in 1097.

Despite his presence serving as a magnet for Alfonso's opponents, Díaz served Ferdinand loyally for several years, while Ferdinand waged war against Almoravid invaders. Then, after leading an unauthorized military raid campaign into the Muslim-controlled taifa Toledo, which was a tributary kingdom of Leon-Castile, Díaz was exiled.

Fighting for Saragossa

Upon exile, Diaz went to the Muslim taifa Saragossa (also spelled Zaragoza) in the valley of the Ebro, where he served as a mercenary captain with considerable distinction. Saragossa was an independent Arab Muslim state in Al-Andalus, which at the time (1038–1110) was ruled by the Banu Hud. He fought for the Huddid dynasty for almost ten years, scoring significant victories against both Muslim and Christian foes. Famous battles which El Cid is known for were the defeat of Count Berenguer Ramon II of Barcelona in 1082, and of King Sancho Ramirez of Aragon in 1084.

When the Berber Almoravids invaded the peninsula in 1086, Alfonso recalled Diaz from exile. El Cid willingly returned and was instrumental in the defeat at Sagrajas in 1086. He stayed in favor with Alfonso for only a brief time: in 1089 he was exiled again.

Rodrigo gained his nickname "El Cid" at some point during his military career, perhaps after his battles at Saragossa. The name El Cid is a Spanish dialect version of the Arabic word "sidi," meaning "lord" or "sir." He was also known as Rodrigo el Campeador, "the Battler."

Valencia and Death

After being exiled from Alfonso's court for the second time, El Cid left the capital to became an independent commander in the eastern part of the Iberian peninsula. He fought and extracted enormous amounts of tribute from the Muslim taifas, and, on June 15, 1094, he captured the city of Valencia. He successfully fought off two Almoravid armies who attempted to dislodge him in 1094 and 1097. He established himself as an independent prince in the region based at Valencia.

Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar ruled Valencia until his death on July 10, 1099. The Almoravids recaptured Valencia three years later.

El Cid's Legends

There are four documents which were written about El Cid during his lifetime or shortly thereafter. Two are Islamic, and three are Christian; none are likely to be unprejudiced. Ibn Alcama was a Moor from Valencia, who witnessed and wrote a detailed account of the loss of that province to El Cid called "Eloquent Evidence of the Great Calamity." Ibn Bassam wrote a "Treasury of the Excellences of the Spaniards," written in Seville in 1109.

The "Historia Roderici" was written in Latin by a Catholic cleric sometime before 1110. The poem "Carmen," written in Latin about 1090, extols the battle between Rodrigo and the Count of Barcelona; and the "Poema del Cid," was written in Spanish about 1150. Later documents written long after El Cid's life are even more likely to be fabulous legends rather than biographical sketches.


  • Barton, Simon. "'El Cid, Cluny and the Medieval Spanish' Reconquista." The English Historical Review 126.520 (2011): 517–43.
  • Barton, Simon and Richard Fletcher. "The World of El Cid: Chronicles of the Spanish Reconquest." Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000.
  • Fletcher, Richard A. "The Quest for El Cid." New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
  • Pidal, Ramón Menéndez. La España Del Cid. Trans. Murray, John and Frank Cass. Abington, England: Routledge, 2016.
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Snell, Melissa. "Biography of El Cid, Medieval Spanish Hero." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Snell, Melissa. (2020, August 28). Biography of El Cid, Medieval Spanish Hero. Retrieved from Snell, Melissa. "Biography of El Cid, Medieval Spanish Hero." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 20, 2023).