Leon (Old Kingdom)

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One of the two kingdoms that merged into Castile and León. The other was Castile.


León was founded as a city by the Roman Seventh Legion (Legio Septima Gemina, or 'twin seventh legion'). These headquarters were a center for trade in gold mined nearby. This city fell to the Visigoths and their King Leovigild in 540, but fell a second time in 717 to the moors. This was short-lived as a short quarter century later in 742 it was recaptured by the Kingdom of Asturias.

The independent Kingdom of León was formed in 914 by Christian princes of Asturias on the northern coast who had shifted their capital from Oviedo to León. Leaving behind the unnavigable Atlantic which was infested with Vikings and supposed sea monsters, they settled on the high tableland of Iberia, or the meseta.

In this time when clashes happened between poor and isolated cultures, where salt-making and blacksmithing were considered large industries, the armies that decided kingdoms numbered in the hundreds at best. From that time forward León sought to expand south and east, filling the newly gained territories with castles. This newly acquired land was the County of Burgos until the 930s, when Count Fernán González sought to expand Burgos and make it independent and hereditary. Taking the title King of Castilla because of the plethora of castles he expanded the Kingdom of Castilla at the expense of León through his alliance with the Caliphate of Cordoba. He was stopped by Sancho the Fat of León in 966.

This rift between León and Castilla was exploited constantly by outsiders. Sancho the Great of Navarra (1004-35) succeeded in absorbing Castilla in the 1020s and León in 1034, thus sparing Galicia's independence for a time.

Fernando, his son took the county of Castilla, and conquered León and Galicia in 1037. He ruled over this Kingdom of León -Castillafor thirty years until he died in 1065.

Due south lay the rich and decadent Caliphate of Cordoba, like Byzantium, waiting to be sacked. Suffering from internal dissensions, the Andalusians were impoverished because of tribute demanded by the incalculably rich, sophisticated and powerful Caliphate of Cordoba, like a western Byzantium. Internal dissensions divided Andalusian loyalties in the 11th century, so that the impoverished Christians who had been sending tribute to the Caliphate were eager for a change of government. At Ferdinand’s death his lands were split among his sons, and Garcia emerged victor of the fratricide.

In 1085 Toledo was captured and thus New Castilla was added to the territories. The battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212 marked the Moorish loss of most of the South. León was finally reunited with Castile in 1230, and quickly in succession fell Córdoba (1236), Murcia (1243) and Seville (1248) to Castilla-León hands.

The sack of Toledo on May 6, 1085, by Alfonso VI was a turning point in the growth of León-Castilla and the first milestone of note in the Reconquista. Christian Mozarabs from Al-Andalus had come north to populate the deserted frontier lands, and the traditional view of Spanish history has been that they brought with them the remains of Visigothic and Classical culture, and a new ideology of Reconquista, a crusade against the Moors. The fall of Toledo is viewed as marking a change in relations to the Moorish south, ending the tribute payments and taking land instead. Alfonso was drawn into local politics by strife within Toledo, but then found himself facing unfamiliar problems of settling garrisons in the small Muslim strongholds dependent on Toledo, which had fallen to him with the city, and appointing a Catholic bishop. Revised definitions of the role of a Catholic king faced with the independent Muslim client-states that bought him off with gold had to be worked out in timely fashion by a Catholic king now governing sophisticated urban Muslim subjects.

León-Castilla was again partitioned in 1195, when a major defeat of Alfonso VIII weakened the authority of Castilla, but the breach was healed in 1230 under Ferdinand III. At this time the coastal province of Lusitania was separated as the independent Kingdom of Portugal. Though later kings of Castile continued to take the title King of León as the superior title, and to use a lion as part of their standard, the history of Leon after 1230 can be followed at "Castile", and locally at entries for the individual cities of León. The Romance Astur-Leonese language was being replaced by Castillian. Under a unified Spanish kingdom in the 16th century León became a captaincy-general.

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