Battle of Covadonga

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Battle of Covadonga
Pelayos statue in Covadonga
Pelayos statue in Covadonga
date 722
place Covadonga , southeast of Cangas de Onís
output Asturian victory
Parties to the conflict

Emblema del Reino de Asturias.svg Kingdom of Asturias

Umayyad Flag.svg Umayyads




Troop strength
unknown unknown



The battle of Covadonga took place near the rock cave of Covadonga in Asturias (southeast of Cangas de Onís in the Picos de Europa Mountains ). There in (718 or) 722 Asturians, led by Pelayo, defeated a Moorish force. This first military success of Christian troops after the Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula is traditionally considered to be the beginning of the Christian reconquest ( Reconquista ). In modern research, the historicity of the struggle, which is also mentioned in Muslim sources, is not doubted; it was possibly more of a skirmish than a battle. The portrayal of Muslim losses in Christian historiography (“Covadonga myth”) is now considered to be greatly exaggerated.


After the victory of the Muslim troops in the decisive battle on the Río Guadalete (July 711), in which the Visigoth king Roderich fell, the Visigothic empire was destroyed. The Muslim invasion force (Berbers and Arabs) from North Africa conquered the Iberian Peninsula in just a few years. According to Asturian tradition, Pelayo (Latin Pelagius) was a noble Visigoth who had belonged to Roderich's bodyguard as spat (h) arius ("sword-bearer"). He went to Asturias, where his family appeared to be rooted and respected. There he entered the service of the Muslim governor Munuza, so came to terms with the new rulers. Munuza wanted to marry Pelayo's sister, probably to secure his power in the region through a connection with this prominent gender. However, Pelayo refused to consent. When Munuza overrode it, a rift broke out, and Pelayo fled to a remote mountain area to start a riot. In 718 he was elected king or "prince" ( princeps ) by his followers . Apparently, the Muslims who were then busy with their expansion north of the Pyrenees did nothing about it and did not send a force until four years later, in 722, to put down the insurrection.


The information provided by Muslim and Christian sources about the course of the struggle diverges widely; even in modern research, almost everything except the site of the battle is controversial. Even the date is not clear. The prominent Spanish historian Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz came to the conclusion in a thorough investigation that the battle was dated to 722. Although this view has prevailed, some researchers have recently advocated an earlier date (718). The only thing that can be certain is that an attempt by Muslim troops to destroy Pelayo's armed forces failed near Covadonga.

The main sources for the events are a chronicle that King Alfonso III. of Asturias (866–910), and the Crónica Albeldense, also created at the court of this ruler and completed in 883 . It is uncertain whether - as in the Chronicle of Alfonso III. is reported - negotiations took place before the battle, with the Muslims offering the Asturians favorable terms of peace through a bishop called Oppa whom they had brought with them. According to this, Pelayo would not only have kept his property under Muslim rule, but could also have retained a certain contractually guaranteed political independence. According to the chronicle, Pelayo refused the offer and the battle began, in which 124,000 Muslim soldiers were allegedly killed, including the commanding general named Alqama; A further 63,000 are said to have died in the subsequent escape. As a result, according to this account, the situation of Governor Munuza, who had not participated in the battle, became untenable; he had to give up his residence in Gijón and was killed while trying to escape. According to this, not a single Muslim is said to have survived north of the passes of the Cantabrian Mountains .

The (also not contemporary) Muslim sources, on the other hand, portray the fighting as an insignificant battle. According to them, a crowd of 300 Christian rebels was surrounded and almost completely wiped out. After all, Pelayo were only left with 30 starved fighters. These were allowed to escape, as their destruction in the difficult terrain would have required a disproportionate effort.

Both representations are obviously far removed from historical reality. In Christian historiography, Covadonga was mythically exaggerated from the perspective of later centuries, while in Muslim history it was trivialized. The Asturian portrayal is shaped by "Neo-Gothic", the view of the Asturian royal family, which viewed and legitimized its rule as a continuation or re-establishment of the Visigoth Empire. The enormously exaggerated numbers of losses suffered by the enemy were supposed to show Christian victory as a miracle, as a result of divine help. The Muslim account is also unbelievable, because if you follow their information, it is incomprehensible that Pelayo was able to consolidate his Asturian empire from the capital Cangas de Onís after the battle without the Muslims being able to prevent him.

It should be noted that a fight took place and that it was evidently a military success of the rebels, the extent and significance of which, however, cannot be determined more precisely due to a lack of reliable sources. Apparently, the Muslims underestimated the scope of Pelayo's uprising and therefore failed to vigorously suppress it after the defeat at Covadonga. Reports from both sides assume that the Muslim forces outnumbered Covadonga. The Asturians, on the other hand, had the advantage of better knowledge of the difficult terrain for the attacker.

Covadonga Cave


Even before the battle, there was a Marian shrine in the Covadonga cave. According to the Christians, this place was under heavenly protection and could therefore not be taken by the Muslims. Therefore, the sanctuary became a Marian pilgrimage site. There the "Virgin of Covadonga" is venerated as the patroness of Asturias.


  • Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz: El reino de Asturias. Orígenes de la nación española. Estudios críticos sobre la historia del reino de Asturias. Volume 2. Instituto de Estudios Asturianos, Oviedo 1974, ISBN 84-00-04032-5 (basic work; the chronological results are controversial).

Web links

Commons : Covadonga  - album with pictures, videos and audio files


  1. For topography, see the maps and illustrations in: Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz: Orígenes de la nación española , Vol. 2, Oviedo 1974, next to p. 56 and next to p. 160.
  2. 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.
  3. Collins p. 149; Yves Bonnaz: Chroniques asturiennes , Paris 1987, pp. 142f.
  4. Ludwig Vones: History of the Iberian Peninsula in the Middle Ages (711-1480) , Sigmaringen 1993, p. 35f.
  5. Chronicle of Alfonso III. (Editor B) 6.1, ed. by Yves Bonnaz, Chroniques asturiennes , Paris 1987, p. 38f .; on credibility see Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz: Orígenes de la nación española , Vol. 2, Oviedo 1974, pp. 86–89, 105–111.
  6. Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz: Orígenes de la nación española , Vol. 2, Oviedo 1974, pp. 97-135.
  7. Collins pp. 82f. and 150, Bonnaz p. 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.
  8. Prelog pp. 22-27, 155; Bonnaz p. 150.
  9. Chronicle of Alfonso III. (Editorial offices A and B) 6.1, ed. by Yves Bonnaz, Chroniques asturiennes , Paris 1987, pp. 40-44, 148.
  10. ^ Spanish translation of the Arabic texts in Sánchez-Albornoz, pp. 140f. Note 10.
  11. Sánchez-Albornoz pp. 144–146; Bonnaz p. 154.