BiographyRodrigo Diaz de Vivar, known as El Cid ("the Lord") was a Castilian warrior who fought on behalf of both Christian and Muslim rulers in 11th-century Spain, and later in life fought chiefly for his own interests. He has achieved near legendary status as a Castilian national hero, despite his ambivalent position as an honorable maverick during the Reconquista. Indeed, his life story shows the shifting complexity of relations between Spanish Christian and Muslim states at that time. Son of a minor official at the Castilian court at Burgos, El Cid served in wars fought by King Sancho II of Castile in the 1060s. In the most famous action of the period, the battle of Graus, Sancho was allied with the Muslim ruler of Zaragoza against the Christian army of Aragon. El Cid made a name for himself, reportedly killing one of the leading Aragonese knights in single combat. Besides his martial prowess, he proved an intelligent tactician and a natural leader of men. But, in 1072, Sancho was assassinated and succeeded by Alfonso VI. El Cid had a difficult relationship with the new king and was eventually exiled from Castile. He found employment at Muslim Zaragoza, which he defended ably against Christian attacks, again defeating the Aragonese at the Battle of Morella in 1084.
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The situation changed radically in 1086 when the Almoravids, fervently Muslim Berber warriors from Morocco, invaded the Iberian Peninsula, reigniting the holy war and defeating Alfonso VI at Sagrajas. Alfonso recalled El Cid to his court, but the general did not stay for long. Assembling an army of Christians and Muslims nominally in the service of Castile but actually owing personal loyalty to him, El Cid embarked on a complex series of campaigns against the crucial Muslim city of Valencia. After a long siege, the city fell to El Cid in June 1094. The ensuing ambush and defeat of a counterattack outside Valencia in December sealed El Cid's independent rule over the city. After his death in 1099, Valencia continued to be ruled by his widow Ximena for three more years, before falling to the Almoravids.