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Siege of Coria
Part of the Reconquista
Murallacoriadet.jpg
The wall of Coria as it was when it kept out Alfonso in 1138
DateJuly 1138
LocationCoria, Cáceres
Result siege lifted
Belligerents
Kingdom of León–Castile Almoravid Empire
Commanders and leaders
Alfonso VII of León and Castile
Rodrigo Martínez
unknown

The short first Siege of Coria by Alfonso VII of León took place in July 1138, on the heels of a successful razzia (raid) deep into al-Andalus (the Islamic south of Spain). The main source for the siege is the second book of the contemporary Chronica Adefonsi imperatoris.[1]

Coria had previously been reconquered just after 1085 by Alfonso VI. It was lost to the Almoravids not long after Alfonso's death in 1109.[2]

Preparations[edit | edit source]

Besides the knights of the royal household, the king was accompanied by the private followings (mesnadas) of his leading barons, such as the brothers Count Rodrigo Martínez and Osorio Martínez, and by a contingent of militia from the nearest Christian city, Salamanca.[3] The king also brought with him physicians and surgeons. (Possibly one of these, a certain medicus and canon of Toledo named Hugo, was rewarded by Alfonso for his prior services in 1152.[4]) Before investing Coria Alfonso "sent plundering companies to the city to capture the men, women and all the livestock in the fields [outside the walls]." The Corians responded ("bravely" in the words of the Chronica) with a sally, but the plundering troops feigned retreat and led the Muslims into an ambush prepared by Alfonso, where they were all cut down.[5] The city responded by shutting its gates and fortifying them with timbers; Alfonso moved his camp close by the city.

The besieging forces were inadequate for the task and Alfonso sent messengers into the Extremadura and the Province of León threatening to confiscate the property of any "knights and foot soldiers [who] did not come [and] offended the emperor."[6]

Siege[edit | edit source]

The conduct of the infantry armed with spears, swords and clubs, and also of the archers, crossbowmen and slingers, was distinguished in light of the paucity of cavalry, but not enough to alter the result.[7] Siege engineers also played a prominent role, but they played an even greater part in the second siege of Coria in 1142.[8] The machines present are described by the Chronica as "high wooden towers that actually reached above the city walls", "engines" and "mantlets". The town was successfully shut off and nobody was said to have been able to either leave or enter.[9]

The day before the actual assault on the walls had began, Alfonso decided to go into the mountains to hunt deer, boar and bear, leaving Rodrigo Martínez in command of the siege.[10] The next morning the magnate led an unsuccessful assault on the walls, in which he was wounded by an arrow while climbing one of the siege towers.[11] The arrow pierced both his headpiece and his corselet and the iron head struck his neck.[12] Although Rodrigo was able immediately to remove it, the surgeons were unable to staunch the hemorrhaging and he succumbed some hours later:

Neither the conjurers nor the physicians could stop the bleeding. Finally Rodrigo said to those around him, "Take off my arms, for I am extremely disheartened." Immediately they removed his arms and carried him to his tent. Throughout the entire day they attempted to cure his wound. Around sunset all hope in medicine was lost, and he died. As soon as the news had spread through the camp, there was tremendous mourning—more than anyone had imagined. Upon returning from the mountains, the Emperor was informed of the Consul's death. He learned the cause upon entering the camp. Alfonso gathered all of his advisors, and in their presence, he appointed Osorio, Rodrigo's brother, to be consul in his place.[13]

The next day Alfonso "realizing his many misfortunes ... yielded to fate" and lifted the siege.[14] The noblemen each returned to their homes while the king accompanied the militia to Salamanca. Rodrigo's brother, now Count Osorio, and the former's retainers carried Rodrigo's body back to León.[15]

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. Written in medieval Latin, probably by Bishop Arnold of Astorga, the Chronica is an account of the reign of Alfonso VII. The second book details several of the major campaigns of Reconquista from this time. The siege of Coria is the subject of §§39–43 (the sections are numbered from one [1] for each book). The edition of the Chronica used throughout is G. E. Lipskey, The Chronicle of Alfonso the Emperor, PhD thesis (Northwestern University, 1972), who numbers all the sections of both books consecutively (book II beginning with §96).
  2. Simon Barton, "Two Catalan Magnates in the Courts of the Kings of León–Castile: The Careers of Ponce de Cabrera and Ponce de Minerva Re-examined", Journal of Medieval History 18:3 (1992) 241; Chronica, II, §13.
  3. Simon Barton, The Aristocracy in Twelfth-century León and Castile (Cambridge: 1997), 160.
  4. Barton, Aristocracy, 145.
  5. Chronica, II, §39.
  6. Chronica, II, §40: “Misit nuntios in omnem terram Extermature et in terram Legionis, ut tam omnes milites quam etiam pedites uenirent ad obsidionem ciuitatis, et qui non uenisset imperatorem offenderet et domus eius publicaretur” (He dispatched messengers throughout all the territory of Extremadura and the territory of León, so that all the knights and foot soldiers might come to the siege of the city and whosoever did not come would offend the emperor and his property would be confiscated), quoted and translated in Barton, 160. Compare the translation of Lipskey, 124–25: "He sent messengers throughout Extremadura and León with instructions that all cavalry and infantry should come to assist in the blockade of Coria. If anyone refused to come, that man would greatly displease the Emperor, and his entire home would be confiscated."
  7. Barton, 163, although this opinion was contemporary, cf. Chronica, II, §42.
  8. Barton, Aristocracy, 164.
  9. Chronica, II, §40.
  10. Barton, "From Tyrants to Soldiers of Christ: The Nobility of Twelfth-century Léon–Castile and the Struggle Against Islam", Nottingham Medieval Studies 44 (2000) 28–48; Chronica, II, §41, which mentions "commanders" just before specifying "Consul Rodrigo Martínez" as the one who led the assault.
  11. Accompanied by "many knights, archers and slingers" according to the Chronica, II, §41.
  12. According to the Chronica, II, §41, it was shot "by pure chance" and it hit its target "because of our sins".
  13. Chronica, II, §42.
  14. Chronica, II, §43
  15. Barton, Aristocracy, 45–46.

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