03/26 – The Siege of Al-Jazeera Al-Khadra

One of the many battles of the Reconquista, painted in 1837 by Charles Auguste Guillaume Steuben. (History Net)

On this day in 1342, Muslim defenders in the city of Al-Jazeera Al-Khadra surrendered to the attacking Castilian Christians. The city – located on the southern coast of modern-day Spain – was a stronghold in the Muslim Marinid Empire. Since 711, much of the Spanish Iberian Peninsula had been in Muslim hands despite the best efforts of native Spanish forces. Tensions came to a head between the Marinids and various European factions in 1341, and Castilian king Alfonso XI decided to attack Al-Jazeera Al-Khadra. If the port city remained open, Alfonso feared, massive numbers of Muslim soldiers would be able to arrive in Europe from Morocco and reinforce the already-dominant Marinids there.

The Muslim territory in Spain at its largest point in roughly 1000 CE. The peninsula changed hands several times between the various European factions and Muslim caliphates. (Wikimedia Commons)

For nearly 2 years, Alfonso (nicknamed el Justiciero, or the Avenger) besieged the walled city with assault towers and prevented Moroccan troops from reinforcing the Muslim defenders. The Muslims dug in, and thousands fell to disease, starvation and arrow barrages on both sides. The defenders managed to cut down huge numbers of Castilians with their bombards, primitive gunpowder-actuated indirect-fire weapons that launched cannon balls over long ranges. As with most sieges, however, the attackers’ blockade took its toll and the Muslims eventually began running out of food and water. After 21 months, a treaty was signed and the Marinids finally laid down their arms.

An Islamic court pictured during the Reconquista period. As much of Europe struggled through the so-called “Dark Ages”, Muslim Spain was viewed as a bastion of civilization and stability. (Youtube)

Following the Christian victory – a part of the Spanish Reconquista, or effort to re-conquer the region – Al-Jazeera Al-Khadr became known as Algeciras and was absorbed into the Crown of Castile. Infighting broke out after the bubonic plague killed Alfonso, however, and Algeciras was destroyed. Despite the loss of the crucial city, the Castilian victory over the Marinids marked a decisive turning point in the Reconquista. It is also significant for being one of the first battles in Europe during which gunpowder weapons were successfully used.

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