The betrayal of Count Don Julian

By the end of the seventh century the Visigothic Kingdom was debating its usual and bloody struggles for power. King Égica tried to avoid the Germanic custom of choosing monarchs, trying to secure the throne for his son Witiza.

For this he took several measures, the first was to share the throne with his offspring, so that – from a position of shared authority – both could end those who were suspected of disloyalty. In a frame of great cruelty, one of his less sanguinary decisions was to take away the sight of Teodofredo (son of King Recesvinto). The blind man went off to Córdoba with his son Rodrigo.

In 702, when Égica died of natural death – something unusual among the Gothic Kings – his son Witiza remained as the sole monarch and tried to consolidate his position, naming Rodrigo to the important role of Duke of the Bética region (the present Andalusia).

La traición del Conde Don Julian

From this position Rodrigo soon became the leader of the tycoons who were unhappy with the King, and when Witiza tried to capture him to take away his sight (as he had done with his father) the Duke of Bética organised an army that defeated the King. When Rodrigo had Witiza in his hands, Rodrigo ordered that his eyes be removed as he had done with his father and that he be sent into exile in Cordoba, where Rodrigo himself had lived many years with his blind father. Rodrigo was then proclaimed King by his followers; in the year 710. Don Rodrigo, following custom, devoted himself to pursue the sons of Witiza who had decided to flee to North Africa taking refuge in Tangier, the city where ruled Count Ricila, a friend of his father.

Rey Don Rodrigo leyendas
Rey Don Rodrigo

Count Ricila shared with another nocle the responsibility of defending the cities that the Visigoths had in the Gibraltar Strait, which were subject to increasing military pressure by the Muslims who dominated almost all of North Africa; this other warrior was the Count Don Julian.

In those times, it was customary for the nobles to send their children to be educated in the Court, close to the King; it was the way they received some training and made friendships that could be useful to them in the future, in addition to the possibility of meeting someone to marry. Count Don Julian had taken his daughter Florinda to the Court of Toledo. Florinda was chosen, among the maidens of the royal retinue, as the one destined for Rodrigo’s personal service, entrusted with the delicate task of extracting scabies, a task she performed daily with a gold pin. So much intimacy with the monarch resulted in the rape of Florinda. Outraged, the young woman wrote to her father, telling him what had happened. Count Don Julian came to Toledo to look for her and took her to Ceuta with him.

Count Don Julian – determined to take revenge as soon as he returned to his fortress – contacted Muza (the Muslim ruler of the region) whom he had often confronted. He explained the ongoing internal struggles between the Goths and promised that with his help and that of his friends Rícila and the sons of Witiza they could invade the Peninsula and obtain a great booty.

After consultation with the Caliph of Damascus, Muza offered Count Julian the help of Commander Tarif ben Malluk and a contingent of one hundred knights and three hundred foot-soldiers.

Count Don Julian and his people, supported by the Muslims, disembarked in Gibraltar, then plundered Algeciras and other places along the coast. Then they returned with the booty. Considering the success of the expedition, Muza decided to extend the aid to Count Don Julian. On this occasion, he provided twelve thousand warriors. Count Don Julian and Tarif transmitted their army in merchant ships, trying not to attract the attention of the Goths.

La traición del Conde Don Julian

King Rodrigo, aware of the disembarkation of this army, sent his nephew Iñigo against Count Don Julian, who would be defeated repeatedly until he died in combat. The invading troops, having arrived in Seville plundering as much as possible, returned to Africa. Reunited Muza, Tariq and the Count Don Julian, decided to make a new invasion. This time they did not include Count Rícila – the Governor of Tangier – because they considered him a problematic ally. The distrust caused the children of Witiza to return to the Peninsula.

The Muslim army crossed the Strait and went to the rich valley of the Guadalquivir where, once again, they plundered the lands. Later the Muslims went to Jerez, aware that Don Rodrigo was progressing from the south, at the head of a powerful army. Both armies were located on the opposite banks of the river Guadalete. The great Visigothic army, over a week’s struggle, killed about sixteen thousand Moors. Tarif, concerned, asked to meet in secret with the two sons of Witiza, who were leading two wings of Don Rodrigo’s army. During the meeting, Tarif offered them the royal crown if they took off during the battle. On the eleventh day of the month, which the Muslims call Chawal, a final clash took place.

La traición del Conde Don Julian

The sons of Witiza deserted, making it easy for Count Don Julian and his soldiers to break the ranks of Don Rodrigo. The Gothic King fought to the end, encouraging troops who were increasingly becoming weaker and weaker, and finally ended up fleeing. When the war was over, some survivors found Don Rodrigo’s horse on the bank of the river; as well as his crown, his luxurious clothes and his shoes, but not his corpse.

A long time later, in the city of Viseu (Portugal) a tomb was found with the following inscription:

“Here lies Rodrigo, the last King of the Goths.”

Texto de Ignacio Suárez-Zuloaga e ilustraciones de Ximena Maier

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