In the 1190s, Alfonso VIII of Castile (1158-1214) undertook a raid into the region around Seville, the Almohad capital of Spain. In retaliation, the Almohad ruler, Ya’qub (1184-99) went on his own campaign against Alfonso, leading to his victory at Alarcos on July 19, 1195. The writer of the following account, Al-Himyari, a 15th century author, had access to much original information from this period.
Al-Arak (Alarcos): an impregnable fortress near Qal’at Rabah (Calatrava), the first of Alfonso’s strongholds in al-Andalus. It is here that the disaster of Alarcos was suffered by the ruler of Castile and the Christian forces, at the hands of al-Mansur Ya’qub b. Yusuf b. `Abd al-Mu’min b. ‘Ali, ruler of the Maghreb, in 591 (1195). Al-Mansur Ya’qub had heard that the ruler of Castile had launched raids on the Muslim territories of al-Andalus, both to the east and west, on the same day, extending as far as Seville and its surrounding districts. He was angered by that, and left his capital at Marrakesh for al-Andalus. He established himself in Seville, where he reviewed the troops and distributed bonuses. On 11 Jumada II (23 May 1195) he set off, and reached Cordova, where he rested. The two sides met at the bridge of Alarcos and battle was joined. The enemy fled and were put to the sword, from early morning to midday on Wednesday 9 Sha`ban (19 July). The camp of the Christians was plundered and about 30,000 of them were killed. Fewer than 500 Muslims found martyrdom. Alfonso escaped and got through to Toledo with twenty knights, stopping for nothing. The Muslims besieged the remnants of their army, 5,000 men, in the fortress of Alarcos; terms were arranged [for the release of] the same number of Muslim prisoners.
I heard someone relate that this victory happened by chance, because the Christians had captured some of the standards of the Muslims and were marching with them held up high. This aroused the zeal of some of the tribes, when they saw the standards of their brothers raised ahead of the enemy, as they situation, they rushed to attack them. However it came about, it was a clear victory and a triumph assisted by God.
Al-Mansur [Ya`qub] then returned in triumph to Seville and stayed there for a while. Then he launched an expedition to the north; he besieged Tarjalah (Trujillo) and descended on Balansiyya (Plasencia, sic.), which he took by storm, capturing its governor along with 150 of its leading infidels. He sent them to work on the construction of the Friday Mosque at Sala (Sald) with the prisoners taken at Alarcos. He then turned on Talabira (Talavera) and Makkada (Maqueda) and destroyed them; then advanced against Toledo, against which he launched several assaults. Then he fell on Majrit (Madrid) and began the return home, starting with Jayyan (Jadn) and on to Cordova, Ecija and Qarmuna (Carmona), arriving in Seville in Ramadan (592)/August 1196.
This text was first published in Christians and Moors in Spain, edited by Colin Smith (Aris & Phillips: 1989-92). This three volume set can be purchased through Oxbow Books. We thank Aris & Phillips for their permission to republish this text.