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Statue of Pelayos in Covadonga , Asturias

Pelayo ( Portuguese : Pelágio; Latin : Pelagius; * around 685 ; † 737 in Cangas de Onís , Asturias ) was the founder of the Kingdom of Asturias , the first Christian state to emerge on the Iberian Peninsula after the Muslim conquest . From there the reconquest by the Christians ( Reconquista ) began.

Asturian chronicles of the 9th and 10th centuries reported on the origin of Pelayos as well as the prehistory and the course of his rebellion ( Chronicon Albeldense , editors A and B of the Chronicle of Alfonso III ). These springs exalted, exaggerated and adorned his deeds. Jan Prelog proved in 1980 that these chronicles were forged.

Origin and life in the Visigoth Empire

Pelayo - actually: Pelagius  - came, as the late sources claim, from an elegant, Romanized Visigothic family of the military nobility. His name was purely Roman ( St. Pelagius was a popular soldier saint) and shows how much the Visigoth upper class had now merged with the late antique culture. A report that he was even of royal descent may be an invention, as Ludwig Vones wrote in 1993, but it should be noted that many Visigoth nobles had members of one of the royal families among their ancestors, according to Yves Bonnaz.

His father's name was Fafila and he had the Latin title dux . When the son and future successor of King Egica (687-702), Witiza , still resided under the rule of his father in Tui in Galicia , he slew Fafila in a dispute, as reported by the Chronicon Albeldense . According to the same source, Witiza later, when he was king, exiled Pelayo from the capital Toledo “because of the said father's affair”. Apparently he wanted to prevent a revenge Pelayos would have had, since he was a member of the royal bodyguard, which at that time consisted of aristocrats. When in 710 after the death of Witizas Roderich , who came from a rival noble family, was elected king, Pelayo was again bodyguard ( spatharius ). But already in July 711 Roderich died in the battle of the Río Guadalete in the fight against the Muslim invasion force made up of Berbers and Arabs , which conquered the Iberian Peninsula in the following years.

Life under Muslim rule

Pelayo now went to Asturias, where his family seemed to be rooted and respected. The following events cannot be reconstructed with certainty. Asturias was now ruled by a Muslim governor named Munuza, in whose service Pelayo entered; Like other Visigoth nobles of the time, Pelayo probably first came to terms with the new rulers. What happened in the following is unclear, since the sources are of dubious value in this respect too. They say that Munuza wanted to marry Pelayo's sister, probably in order to increase his reputation among the population through such a connection with a prominent gender in the region. When Pelayo did not agree to this plan, Munuza is said to have sent him to Córdoba and carried out the marriage in his absence. After his return, Pelayo, according to tradition, did not want to put up with this and planned an uprising. When the Muslims found out, they wanted to arrest him, but he managed to escape.


The tomb of Pelayo in the shrine of Santa Cueva de Covadonga.

Pelayo gathered his followers in a remote mountainous area of ​​Asturias and was elected by them in 718 either as king ( rex ) or "prince" ( princeps ). Apparently it wasn't until four years later, in 722, that the Muslims made a serious attempt to quell the rebellion; the battle of Covadonga took place , which may have been a rather small battle, but early on in Christian tradition it was charged with enormous symbolic significance. Covadonga is a rock cave at the foot of the Auseba mountain, southeast of Cangas de Onís , where a late antique-Visigoth rock church was located.

However, the reports of the Muslim and Christian sources differ widely about the course of the struggle. The Chronicle of Alfonso III. According to 124,000 Muslim soldiers died in the battle and a further 63,000 during the subsequent flight; soon after, the governor Munuza, who did not take part in the battle, was killed while fleeing, and not a single Muslim was left alive north of the passes of the Cantabrian Mountains . The Muslim sources, however, report that the Christian force consisted of 300 fighters and was besieged and almost completely wiped out; Pelayo was able to keep up with only 30 men. This insignificant crowd was allowed to escape because fighting them in the mountains did not seem worthwhile. According to Yves Bonnaz, both representations, but especially the Asturian one with its completely implausible figures, are far removed from historical reality. Pelayo then made Cangas de Onís his capital and gradually expanded his sphere of influence from there in the following years without the Muslims being able or willing to prevent him.


Pelayo had a son, Fafila , who succeeded him, and a daughter, Ermesinda , who married one of his commanders who would later become King Alfonso I of Asturias . Pelayo's wife is said to have been called Gaudiosa, but her name appears only in late sources of dubious credibility.


The Christian Spaniards made Pelayo a national hero in the Middle Ages. As a noble Visigoth, he embodied for them the continuity between the lost Visigoth Empire and the Asturian Empire, which he founded and from which the Christian kingdoms of the Middle Ages emerged. The opinion that the Asturian Empire was a restoration of the Visigoth Empire (Neo-Gothic) was propagated by the Asturian court as early as the 9th century. The question of whether there was actually a more or less strong continuity between the Visigothic and the Pelayos empire or whether an artificial, propagandistic link to Visigoth tradition took place late in the Asturian empire is controversial in research.

The name Pelayos has enjoyed considerable popularity in recent history to indicate continuities. The Spanish liner Pelayo , launched in 1887, was named after him. The youth organization “Pelayos”, which played a role on the side of the Franquists in the civil war, was also linked to the Reconquista and Visigoth ideology simply by naming it.

Source editions

  • Yves Bonnaz (Ed.): Chroniques asturiennes . Éditions du CNRS, Paris 1987, ISBN 2-222-03516-3 (Latin text of the most important sources with French translation and detailed commentary).
  • Juan Gil Fernández (Ed.): Crónicas asturianas . Oviedo 1985, ISBN 84-600-4405-X (Latin text and Spanish translation).


  • Paulino García Toraño: Historia de el Reino de Asturias . Oviedo 1986, ISBN 84-398-6586-4 , pp. 55-79.
  • Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz: Orígenes de la nación española , Volumes 1 and 2, Instituto de Estudios Asturianos, Oviedo 1972–1974 (basic research including Arabic sources).
  • Jan Prelog: The Chronicle of Alfonso III. Investigations and critical edition of the four editors , Frankfurt 1980 (evidence of forgery).
  • José M. Alonso Núñez: Pelayo . In: Lexicon of the Middle Ages (LexMA). Volume 6, Artemis & Winkler, Munich / Zurich 1993, ISBN 3-7608-8906-9 , Sp. 1863.

Web links

Commons : Pelayo  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. Jan Prelog: The Chronicle of Alfonso III. Investigations and critical edition of the four editors , Frankfurt 1980, p. 154 f.
  2. Ludwig Vones: History of the Iberian Peninsula in the Middle Ages (711-1480) , Sigmaringen 1993, p. 36.
  3. Yves Bonnaz: Chroniques Asturiennes , Paris 1987, p 142nd
  4. Chronicon Albeldense 34, ed. by Yves Bonnaz, Chroniques asturiennes , Paris 1987, p. 23; see also ibid. p. 79f.
  5. Chronicle of Alfonso III. (Editor B) 6.1, ed. by Yves Bonnaz, Chroniques asturiennes , Paris 1987, p. 38; see also ibid. p. 142.
  6. Jan Prelog (ed.): The Chronicle of Alfonso III. , Frankfurt a. M. 1980, pp. 154f .; Roger Collins : The Arab Conquest of Spain, 710-797 , Oxford 1989, pp. 147f.
  7. Collins p. 149, Bonnaz p. 142f.
  8. Vones p. 35f.
  9. Chronicle of Alfonso III. (Editor B) 6.1, ed. by Yves Bonnaz, Chroniques asturiennes , Paris 1987, p. 38f .; on credibility Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz: Orígenes de la nación española , Vol. 2, Oviedo 1974, pp. 86–89, 105–111.
  10. This dating from Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz is predominant today. However, some researchers advocate early dating (718/719). In this sense, among others, Collins p. 82f. and 150 and Bonnaz pp. 152f .; see also Alexander Pierre Bronisch: Reconquista und Heiliger Krieg , Münster 1998, p. 95. Luis A. García Moreno represents an extremely late dating (around 737): Covadonga, realidad y leyenda , in: Boletín de la Real Academia de la Historia 194 (1997) pp. 353-380.
  11. Chronicle of Alfonso III. (Editorial offices A and B) 6.1, ed. by Yves Bonnaz, Chroniques asturiennes , Paris 1987, pp. 40-44; see also ibid. p. 148.
  12. Vones p. 35.
  13. Bonnaz p. 154.
  14. ^ Paulino García Toraño: Historia de el Reino de Asturias , Oviedo 1986, p. 78f.
  15. Collins p. 50.
  16. Vones p. 35; Bonnaz S. LXXXVIII-XCIII; José Antonio Maravall: El concepto de España en la Edad Media , Madrid 1954, pp. 319–329.
  17. Alexander Pierre Bronisch: The Visigoth imperial ideology and its further development in the empire of Asturias , in: Franz-Reiner Erkens (ed.): Das earlymedalterliche Königtum, Berlin 2005, p. 161-189, especially p. 182f. and note 82.
  18. Pelayus
predecessor Office successor
- King of Asturias