Born and educated as a nobleman in the Royal Court of the Castile, Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar became a famous military leader and diplomat. He was King Alfonso VI’s greatest general in the war against the Moors and is widely considered to be a National Hero of Spain. Known as El Cid Campeador (or El Cid), this honourable nickname translates as the ‘Lord of Military Arts’, or ‘The Champion’, and reflects his innovative techniques on the battlefield.
Rodrigo Diaz was born in 1040 in Vivar, a small town north of Burgos – then the capital city of the ancient Castilian kingdom – to an aristocratic mother and a father in the cavalry.
During his youth, he fought with the Castilian troops in military campaigns against the Moors. Legend has it that he killed an Aragonese knight in single combat, beginning his exemplary career as the ‘Campeador’. When Alfonso VI took the throne of Castile and Leon in 1072, suspicion clouded the Royal Court – he was strongly believed to have ordered his brother’s assassination so he could assume power.
Although Rodrigo Diaz continued to serve under the new king, his expedition into Granada at the Battle of Cabra (1079) marked the start of Alfonso’s animosity and jealousy against El Cid. Only a year later, Rodrigo Diaz was exiled from his homeland by the king. However, this was certainly not the end of El Cid’s career. He became a mercenary for the Moors, moving around Spain defeating the armies he had once fought alongside.
In 1086, Alfonso suffered a crushing defeat – terrified, he recalled his best general from exile to fight by his side once more.
Rodrigo Diaz’s military success stemmed from his approach to strategy – his initiatives included holding planning sessions before the battle and using very modern psychological approaches, such as distracting the enemy with a small group. Together, these tactics made his army intelligent and inspired, and fueled El Cid’s reputation. After several years of loyal service to Alfonso, El Cid began to look for his own territory and laid siege to Valencia in 1092.
He conquered the city and, although he was officially ruling in the name of Alfonso, successfully governed Valencia as an independent principality. He lived out the rest of his life in peace here, but was buried back in his homeland of Castile. His body now lies in Burgos Cathedral. After his death is 1099 he was the subject of many legends, poems, and stories. The people of Spain held him in high regard, although some of the stories presented questionable character. He remains a great historic figure.