Archive for November, 2017

Joseph’s journal: 39

12 Kislev, 4808 (November, 1059)

The most important spoils distributed to the troops after the battle with Muhktar’s army came from the tributes collected from the former territories of Seville, now annexed to Grenada. My father convinced King Badis to award colonels and captains, as well as the generals, confiscated farms and orchards. Some of these men became landowners for the first time. Those captured officers, who came from families of substance, were ransomed. Those profits, along with the king’s fifth of everything, all went to Badis.

Eleven years after the battle, I visited the site. While standing on the same ground I remembered portions of the poem my father wrote after a previous victory over Seville, a battle that took place twenty years ago. He wrote how the king of Seville had mocked Granada and its king. How we responded seeking to take back what Seville had taken and revenge for its brutality. How that army had prevailed, with vivid descriptions of Granada’s heroes and their deeds. The poem is one of my favorites.

Abu Nun, the leaders of the Carmona and Moron contingents, and those of their soldiers who managed to escape, retreated to their respective strongholds. One of the captured Sevillian officers, who had achieved his rank by virtue of ability rather than birth, was given his freedom, with the task of returning Muhktar’s head to Mutadid. I never found out if Mutadid rewarded him for this task, or had the brave man murdered.

My father with his army, minus those troops assigned to escort our wounded, the enemy captives, and wagons full of booty, back to Grenada, followed Abu Nun to Ronda. Once again that fortress was besieged. Within a week, the weather changed heralding a long winter. True to form, the Zanhadja chiefs were not willing to participate in a long winter siege. They had their victory and significant booty. They decided to spread out on the way home so they could collect more tribute from the towns, villages, and cities along the way. Father was forced to abandon the siege and return to Granada, realizing he had achieved a great tactical victory but suffered a strategic defeat by not taking Ronda.

Once he was home, Father explained to me that unless he could bring all of the smaller states in as allies of Granada, or neutralize them in some other way, Granada could not be secure and at peace. It was clear to him that Mutadid intended to fight.

He had two choices. The first was to build and maintain alliances that would eventually enable him to destroy Seville. The other option was to attack and kill all the leaders of the small states and absorb those lands. The later choice was beyond his resources. He explained to me that even if he had all the resources necessary, the task would be too difficult, and too risky. The other option, forming a coalition against Seville, would not be easy, and would be even more difficult to maintain. Father understood that any states who joined his alliance would probably desert the alliance as victory over Seville became more likely. Their ultimate goal of any city/state was to retain its autonomy. They would not want to risk being absorbed by Granada, despite their natural antipathy to Arab Seville. All of these potential allies harbored a realistic fear of Granadian hegemony, once Seville was neutralized. There was also the Berbers’ natural laziness, and inability to see and understand the large picture. He cautioned me to never admit to this evaluation, especially to any of the Zanhadja. Most especially not to Badis.

Father’s first task was to convince the independent rulers, their viziers, and tribal chiefs, that this war needed to be fought to prevent the hated Umayyads from conquering and reuniting all of Andalusia. The major historical motivations for the Berbers to go to war were the potential for looting and plunder. He patiently explained to them that this war had to be different. Its goal was to stop the Umayyads.

The king of Moron, and the chiefs of his tribal families, recognized the superiority of the Zanhadja military and the leadership of my father. With Father’s encouragement, they managed to conjure up memories of the humiliation of years of defeats by the Umayyads. It was to their advantage to rekindled their hatred of the Umayyad dynasty. They abandoned Mutadid and joined my father’s coalition.

Carmona, only thirty kilometers from Seville, was not happy with Mutadid’s leadership, and especially his megalomaniac behavior. Their leaders also paid homage to my father’s skill as a general. They signed on, as did the leaders of Arcos. The potential reward for these Zenata Berbers, who were still leery of the Zanhadja, was sweetened by the possibility of their being able to appropriate the riches of Seville. They anticipated that Seville, after this most recent defeat by my father, would be easier pickings than Granada had proven to be.

Huelva was a tiny village located at the confluence of the Odile and Tinto rivers in the delta opening to the Gulf of Cadiz. It was about a hundred kilometers west of Seville. This town was a gate to the back door of Seville and its Berber leaders couldn’t resist the symbolic and religious sanctification of the alliance Father offered. They also, of course, were interested in booty.

Father was also constantly on the lookout for a person with the necessary family background to instill as the titular Hammudite Caliph. Such a puppet Caliph would serve as a person all of the Berbers could provide lip service to, and rally around, while still maintaining their independence. The King of Malaga would have been ideal, but he was already aligned with Seville, and still nurtured a grudge against Badis and Grenada.

The head of a different branch of the Hammudite family ruled Algecira, a tiny port city located at the tip of the straits of Gibraltar. My father eventually managed to convince his new allies to accept this man as their Caliph. To sanctify this charade, Father arranged a solemn ceremony to invest the new Caliph, and convinced the kings of Granada, Carmona, Moron, and Arcos to attend. The rulers who attended the festivities didn’t come alone. Their families, their nobles, their tribal chiefs, and their viziers accompanied them. The kings of Badajoz and Huelva were unable to attend, citing ill health, but they sent high-ranking nobles and their entourages in their stead.

As a diplomat, Father was at the zenith of his power and prestige. For a Jew to play such a crucial role in organizing and maintaining a military and cultural alliance that would assure the survival of so many independent city/states, was a diplomatic success not previously known.

Abu Nun, secure in his fortress of Ronda, decided he had to establish complete independence from both Granada and Seville. He decided to wait for a clear indication of which of the two big powers would be successful before making any commitments. He knew very well the character of his Berber relatives. All of them worried about any single big state encompassing them. He also understood that the draw of easy plunder was too tempting for them to ignore. Abu Nun managed to convince his chiefs it would be wise to forego any temptation for easy pickings, and to sit on the sidelines for the time being.

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Ha Nagid’s journal: 38

15 Shevat 4796 (January, 1048)

I knew General Muhktar was confident, I hoped, over-confident. My spies informed me he commanded five regiments, all cavalry, except for one company of mounted archers, and two companies of infantry. I also knew he would be determined to fight on open ground. He would want the cavalry battle so loved by both his Berber and Arab troops. After Badis’ failure at Malaga, and the constant pressure of our having to respond to raids on our territories, he no doubt believed we were weary of fighting. The Zanhadja were no longer invincible.

My army travelled the hundred kilometers from Granada to Antequera in four easy stages. From there, we moved southwest, through a valley, following the river to the village of Valle de Abdalajis.

Valle de Abdalajis is situated at the western edge of a broad plain stretching over fifteen kilometers long and six kilometers wide. I moved my forces east from Valle de Abdalajis to the opposite end of the valley. I wanted Muhktar’s forces to be forced to attack us looking into the morning sun.

My spies reported that Abu Nun recalled all of his raiding parties and marched northeast from Ronda. Muhktar, with his regiments from Seville, were augmented by regiments from Moron and Carmona. This combined army travelled south from Osuna to join forces with Abu Nun, just west of El Chorro. They camped that night, held a strategy session, and the next day circled south through a low pass in the mountains and arrived at Valle de Abdalajis in the early afternoon, the day after we left that place, where they set up a base camp. I received almost hourly updates from my spies about all these movements. It was the 28th of Elul, 4796 (early September, 1047).

I stood outside my tent early the next morning. The morning air was clear and crisp. The sun was bright in the cloudless sky. The hills and mountains surrounding the broad valley were the color of a ripe lime, verdant green, covered by dense forests. Those forests, and the animals within, would be soon be non-participating witnesses to the clash of arms and cries of the wounded.

The previous evening I met with my generals and gave all the necessary orders for positioning our troops. The only discord during that planning session was the desire by each of the generals to have their regiment at the forefront of the battle. I placed the Nubian infantry in the center front, three ranks deep. Mounted Mamluks were on the right and left flanks of the infantry. Our own and the Almoravid archers and slingers were in the fourth and fifth ranks behind the Nubians, six ranks of Almoravids behind them. We split the Zanhadja cavalry units, both heavy and light, half on the far-right, and the other on the far-left flank, behind hills, hidden from sight. Each company, unit, and platoon were given explicit instructions for the part they were to play in the battle, and the drum signals that would tell them when to execute their role.

My horse was brought to me. I rode to the top of the highest nearby hill with my ten- member bodyguard, four drummers, and ten messengers mounted on fast horses. The hill I had chosen the previous day provided a panoramic view of the battlefield. The messengers were needed to relay instructions to my generals and colonels as the battle unfolded.

Muhktar advanced with the sun in his face, his cavalry spread across the entire width of the valley, three ranks deep. The air shimmered with the banging and clattering sounds of the equipment of war. Horses snorted, straining at the bits holding them back. These were warhorses, anxious to begin the charge that would fill the crisp air with battle cries, drums, men and horses screaming in pain, and the smell of blood, feces, urine, and fear. Dust kicked up from the iron-shod hooves of the sweating, armored horses of the heavy cavalry, additionally burdened with their armored riders. The leather-backed chain mail of horses and riders was soon hot enough to sear the skin. A slight breeze coming off the eastern hills carried only a small wisp of the dust rising from the horses hooves as they were spurred into a trot.

When Muhktar’s forces were five hundred meters away from our lines I raised my right hand. The drummers’ beat out the appropriate signal, repeated five times. The Mamluks charged forward from both flanks, galloping directly at the center of the approaching line, but when they were just out of range of Muhktar’s archers they whirled their horses, retreated and reformed, now in front of the Nubian infantry.

Muhktar, his Arab blood pounding in his ears, could not control himself. He screamed the command to charge and spurred his horse forward. The Mamluks executed a perfect retreat to their original positions on the flanks, allowing the Nubian infantry to take the brunt of the charge from the oncoming cavalry. They planted the butts of their large teardrop shields, next to the butts of their spears, into the ground. When anyone fell from the onslaught, another Nubian jumped forward to fill his place.

The charging horsemen were also met with barrage after barrage of arrows, slung rocks, and Greek fire grenades coming from the Almoravids aligned behind the ranks of infantry. The missals struck the charging cavalry before most of them could engage with the infantry units. Many fell wounded from the steady barrage, but the rest continued forward. The thunder of clashing lances and shields rose like a huge wave to engulf me.

On my order, the Mamluks charged into the melee from both flanks. Within minutes the fighting was hand-to-hand. Once the enemy was fully engaged I ordered half of the Zanhadja cavalry from each hidden flank to circle around and attack from the rear, the remaining Zanhadja were held in reserve, much to their disgust.

The superiority of the Mamluk and Almoravids was soon apparent. This made the Nubians fight even harder, determined to not be outdone. The regiments of Zanhadja Berbers who had circled around to attack from the rear were doubly motivated to match the intensity and determination of the mercenaries.

Muhktar went down and a tall Mamluk soon held his severed head high in the air. During the next hour of intense fighting, scattered but sizable units of Muhktar’s forces were able to gather themselves and fight their way free. Only those units with brave and competent commanders, maintaining control of their men, escaped the slaughter. I released the reserves to participate in the mop up.

The enemy dead were counted at five hundred and twelve, including those wounded so severely they were dispatched as an act of mercy. The enemy wounded, those who were still able to walk, were brought back to Grenada as captives, along with the many unwounded who surrendered. The walking-wounded and captured enemy soldiers totaled just over three hundred. I lost only seventy-two men killed. All of our wounded were well cared for, but another twenty subsequently died from their wounds. Our wounded survivors were transported home by wagon.

The enemy’s abandoned arms, armor, horses, wagons, and all their supplies were gathered as booty, along with anything of value taken from the dead and captured. All the victors shared in the prizes except me. I donated my share to our wounded, and to the families of those killed in the battle.

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