The University of Castilla-La Mancha culminates the extraction of the remains of 200 Castilian soldiers killed in front of the Almohad troops in 1195 and that allowed the salvation of Alfonso VIII


Remains of one of the Christian soldiers who participated in the battle of Alarcos (1195)

On July 19, 1195 Alfonso VIII did not want to wait for the help of the King of Navarre who came with his army at forced marches from the north. Victory would be only for him: he felt strong. He believed that his heavy cavalry, between 800 and 1000 horsemen, and the almost 5,000 infantry under his command would be more than enough to defeat the numerous hosts of the caliph Abu Yaqub al-Mansur (the miramamolin, as the Christians called the prince of the believers). He left the castle of Alarcos he was building and extended the army at the foot of the unfinished fortress. He was wrong. It turned out a butcher shop for the Castilians. The University of Castilla-La Mancha has finished the excavation campaign of the moat pit of the castle that has included the exhumation of the bodies of those who resisted in the fortress to facilitate the escape of the king: 200 Christians have returned to the light more 800 years later. Many of them are now under the microscope of the laboratories.

Antonio de Juan, professor of Medieval Archeology at the University of Ciudad Real, lights up his face when he recalls the battle of Alarcos at the foot of the castle that his team excavates. "There, in Poblete, the Almohads set up their camp," he says with his arm. "Here, under the castle, the Christians. And the fight was right here, on those farms across the street that are cultivated, with two arrow shots, as the chronicles pointed out. We are treading the field of the battle of Alarcos. " And he mixes with equal passion the history of the struggle and his desire to introduce new technologies -including virtual reality- in the site of a battle that delayed 18 years the Christian advance towards the capital of al-Andalus.


General view of the castle of Alarcos.

The excavations, that began in 1984 and that extend until the present time, have allowed to recover a historical deposit of 22 hectares, besides the creation of a visitable archaeological park, that includes rest of a first Iberian establishment of the centuries V to the III Before Christ, the walls of a Muslim fortification of the X, the castle and the unfinished city of Alfonso VIII and the construction of an Almohad neighborhood (houses and streets) inside the fortress after the Christian defeat. In addition, and in perfect condition after its restoration, you can visit the hermitage of the Virgen de Alarcos, with Romanesque elements and Gothic style.


The latest research has focused both on the interior of the castle and on its walls, which has made it possible to find a perfectly dated Almohad trousseau, since the Muslim occupation of the fortress only lasted 17 years. In this period, the inhabitants generated numerous ceramic pieces, of which there is a large jar that has been restored and that specialists describe as "exceptional". This jewel has been exhibited in Talavera de la Reina in the sample ATempora this month and will move to Burgos in April.


Remains of the wall next to which the remains of the soldiers have been found.

The battle began on July 18 with the Christians coming out onto the battlefield, protected by their heavy armor under a scorching sun. The Muslims did not respond. They remained quartered in their camp. The Christians waited, exhausted and thirsty, for hours, until they decided to return to their quartering. The next day, the troops of Al-Mansur deployed in orderly ranks. The vizier, Abu Yahya, stood at the center, with the main body and carrying the Caliphal banner to attract the Castilians. Behind, the Caliph with selected men of the Black Guard.

The Christians, deployed by the hills, launched the heavy cavalry - with the knights of Calatrava and Santiago and the hosts of Archbishop Martin in front - against the Almohad army: hundreds of horses "covered with iron" against the fast Hispano-Muslim movements supported by archers and crossbowmen. Abu Yahya died after enduring the Christian attacks. The Muslim rear guard attacked then by the wings. They caught the unsuspecting Christians and "sowed panic," De Juan explains.


Interior of the church of the Virgen de Alarcos

Alfonso VIII had to flee. To facilitate their march, a group of knights was in the castle delaying the Muslim troops. They could not resist much. The excavation now completed has culminated the recovery of a total of 200 bodies, which were not in anatomical position, but huddled together forming a kind of common grave, on the outside of the wall, and mixed with animals. In the last excavation campaign, a large amount of weapons was also found: different types of arrows, darts, spearheads (some up to 56 centimeters), knives, sickles and short swords.

After the battle, the Christians, who lost most of their noble elite, retreated to Toledo, but the Muslims did not take advantage of their advantage. In 1212, in nearby Navas de Tolosa, Alfonso VIII managed to regroup forces with other Christian kings, "and with well-learned Muslim tactics," says De Juan, achieved a decisive victory: the Christian kingdoms would advance southwards in the following three centuries.


View of the battlefield, traversed by the Guadiana River

Alarcos and its unfinished castle, given its already scarce strategic value, was dismantled, but the archaeological works will extend for decades. Their stones served to raise the nearby Villa Real (current Ciudad Real). In fact, among the oldest buildings in the capital, the best ashlars of the castle of Alarcos are discovered, where 200 soldiers died to allow the salvation of their king.


THE FIGURES OF THE BATTLE



Horse found in the excavations of the wall of Alarcos

There are no safe numbers about the battle of Alarcos. The Arab chronicler Ibn Idari said that 30,000 Christians died and 5,000 were taken prisoner, compared to 500 Muslims killed in battle. Ibn al Atir, on the other hand, speaks of 146,000 deaths of Alfonso VIII and 24,000 Mohammedans.

The archaeological data, explains Antonio de Juana, have not yet allowed to establish precise calculations, but the professor believes that the figures of both armies would not exceed 5,000 or 6,000 soldiers on the Christian side and between 8,000 and 10,000 in the hosts of Al Mansur.

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