In the middle of the twelfth century, Muslims in Spain were vexed in between ambitious Christian kingdoms intent on expanding their domains and Muslim mini states all representing their own interests.
It was a sad and distressful sight and illustrated just how small and insignificant the once great Islamic Spanish Caliphate created by Tariq Ibn Ziyad and Musa Ibn Nusayr in the Eighth Century now seemed.
However, events had not always been so low as much as now. Only some generations before, Islam had been re-ignited by a torchlight from Morocco, Yusuf Ibn Tashfin, an African Emperor of the Murabitun Empire (Al Moravids), who himself lived in a mud hut and not a castle, fortress or palace had crossed over from the Maghreb and won back most of Spain in a space of just sixteen years.
In 1100, he was still on the Spanish throne and only after his death did disintegration and dismal leadership set in. His empire was absorbed and replaced by another in Morocco and under them Spain again rose to its former glory.
The first such ruler in the new dynasty (Al Mohad Empire), Abdul Mumin (ruled 1146-1163) appeared in Spain following an appeal by the Ulema to save the Muslims in Spain from Christian control.
Abdul Mumin was in Morocco at the time and had never been to nor was interested in travelling to Spain himself. The Christians had captured several cities following the change in government and empire and the Ulema wished to see a strong caliphate rescue them.
In a series of campaigns that lasted some years, Abu Amr Musa, a general sent by Abdul Mumin, captured Badajoz, Seville and Malaga. Abu Saeed, another general, occupied Cordova, Almeria and Nibela and Granada the following year.
By 1148, the entire Iberian Peninsula was cleared of Christian control. The Muslims were masters of Spain once more. During the remainder of his reign, no further revolts occurred and peace prevailed over the caliphate once more.
After the brief reign of Abu Muhammad, a son of Abdul Mumin, Abu Yaqub Yusuf, another son of Abdul Mumin, assumed leadership and embarked on a career of conquests lasting twenty-one years.
Valencia, Murcia and Lorca were the first cities to be occupied in the opening year of his reign. Toledo and the Tagus Valley in the north were seized and some of its resources added to the state treasury. A small number of forts were erected and garrisoned.
Following a spell of success, Abu Yaqub Yusuf returned to Morocco. No sooner had he left Spain, local Muslim rulers and the Christians rose once more and in a memorable battle in 1184, Abu Yaqub Yusuf, was slain and his forces suffered defeat at Santeran.
Yusuf Yaqub, was next to assume leadership of Spain on the throne. The success at Santeran persuaded local Muslim leaders to assemble larger military columns and invite additional forces from abroad to participate against what seemed like a fast dissolving state.
The Third Crusade (1189-92) in Palestine had just ended. Richard I of England, Philip II of France and other major European leaders had returned to their homes after an unsuccessful three year struggle with Sultan Salahudeen Yusuf Bin Ayyubi, known to the Christians more popularly as Saladin.
The vast majority of the returning troops were French soldiers (also known as Franks) and Spain as an existing battleground was as good a place as any for replenishing their skills, military expertise and confidence against a different kind of Muslims.
A kind they knew, that enjoyed less international support, possessed fewer resources and wealth, was smaller in size, had less unity and was known to suffer from internal intrigue.
In July 1195, led by King Alphonso VIII of Castile, all the Christian states in Spain, large numbers of French knights from the Third Crusade and a sizeable number of mercenaries and volunteers assembled in Badajoz for the historic Battle of Alarcos.
Yusuf Yaqub took to the field in person representing the Muslim side and in the battle that followed the Christians suffered nothing short of complete and total annihilation. One hundred and fifty thousand Christians were slain and it is said another thirty thousand were taken prisoner.
The vanquished forces retreated in embarrassment to Calatrava and fortified themselves until something else eased their tension. The Muslims stormed Calatrava and after capturing further forts and cities along the way progressed to Toledo, the capital of Castile, where the Christians now took refuge.
In the battle just outside Toledo, the Christians again suffered defeat and the city was besieged. Yusuf wanted nothing short of capitulation and the annexation of Castile itself as the result of the expedition.
Unable to defeat the Muslims the conventional way on the battlefield, the King of Castile resorted to another method to save his kingdom. The mother and wives of Alphonso VIII of Castile, with their heads shaved, wearing drab costumes and with overflowing tears from their eyes, arrived at the Sultan’s palace and sought mercy from the Muslim monarch and requested he lift the siege.
Seeing the pathetic condition Alphonso had put himself in and un-shameful manner he had made his family beg for forgiveness and feeling sorry for him, the Sultan duly ordered a withdrawal from Castile and returned to Cordova.
Embassies from across the Iberian Peninsula also arrived at his palace and sought his blessing to rule thereafter. It now seemed he would dissolve all of Christian Spain if he so wished.
The Sultan had successfully annexed city after city following the invasion of his own kingdom and Christian monarchies within Spain in fear of complete encirclement and deposition by him wished to co-exist in peace along as he lived. The Sultan passed away in 1199.
The Sultan, who was a contemporary of Salahudeen Yusuf Bin Ayyubi, had been approached by the latter for arms against the Christians in Jerusalem and was happy to supply him with what he required.