The Genoese expedition to Almeria (1147)

The Amloravid empire collapsed in 1145, leading to al-Andalus fragmenting into a new collection of taifa states. Alfonso VII was able to exploit this situation by capturing Cordova in 1146. He then organized another expedition with Genoa and Pisa to attack Almeria. While Catalan and Aragonese accounts give most of the credit for the capture of Almeria to Alfonso, this version by Cafarro offers a different version of events. Caffaro was a writer, diplomat and soldier, who commanded a genoese expedition to Minorca and Almeria in 1146. His account was written before 1154.

View of Almería and its port, Spain.

It is plain to almost the whole world that for a long time past Christians have been captured, and others killed, in many regions far and wide by sea and by land by the Saracens of Almeria, and that many have been imprisoned and tormented with divers kinds of martyrdom and sufferings. Many of them, from fear of torture, have abandoned the true faith and have invoked the devilish name of Muhammad. On this account God cannot at last fail to exact vengeance for so much outpouring of blood.

The Genoese therefore, inspired and called by God through the Holy See, had their forces sworn in for an expedition against the Saracens of Almeria, and held a council in which six consuls for the body of chief citizens, and four by the votes of the city, were elected, according to whose decisions and leadership the city and its forces should for that period be governed. […]

After their election, the aforementioned consuls at once held a council, at which they ordered that peaceful settlements should be sworn to all disputes. Then, with the Holy Ghost guiding them, all those who intended to go off to war confirmed the peace of the consuls and the archbishop, and in their turn received the kiss of peace. Men and women rejoiced greatly, and unanimously urged the consuls to take money with which to pay the army.

The consuls, aware of God’s will and knowing the wish of the people, ordered all the men of the region of Genoa, under an appropriate oath, to bring, each one with all due speed, such things as are necessary for an army: an abundance of food supplies (without creating want at home), many weapons and goodly tents, handsome and honourable banners, and all things that are needful for such an enterprise, such as towers and engines and all kinds of machines for capturing a city.

When the soldiers heard the orders of the consuls of the city, they equipped themselves with weapons and tents and all things needful, so that for a thousand years past such splendid and goodly and numerous things had not been seen or heard of in one army.

Then after everything had been prepared as we have said, they set sail in 63 galleys and with 163 other vessels. This was all made ready, and the voyage begun, in five months.

After they reached Barcelona, Baldwin the consul went on from there with 15 galleys to Almeria as an advance party, until the main body of the force should join him.

After he reached the Gata headland the Genoese, not finding the Emperor [Alfonso VII] there, stayed a month in great fear, since they were outside the harbour. They sent Otto de Bonovillano as emissary to the Emperor, who was at Baeza, and who had given leave to his army, having with him no more than 400 horsemen and 1000 foot-soldiers. When he learned that the Genoese fleet had arrived, he regretted that he had given his troops leave, and he said he would come, but then he delayed.

Meanwhile the Saracens of Almeria were in good spirits and sallied forth frequently from the city, trying to get the 15 galleys to engage in battle. Then Baldwin the consul, who was keeping watch with the galleys, sent a message to his colleagues, that is to Oberto Turris and Philip and Ansaldo de Auria, telling them to join him for the attack on Almeria. This the colleagues were not prepared to do until they had their troops with them. Meanwhile, the Count of Barcelona arrived with a large fleet, bringing with him soldiers and knights to the number of 53. Then they ordered Baldwin to approach the mosque early in the morning with his galleys, acting as though he were about to launch an attack, so that when Saracens came out, the Count and his men would at first light be at Lena, on land close to the river, with 15 galleys beyond Lena, and one galley at the Lena headland; after the Saracens came out to fight, that galley would send a signal to the soldiers and the 25 galleys; and so it was done.


The Saracens, when they saw the men from the 15 galleys coming up the beach as though about to launch an attack, suspected that something further was being planned. Accordingly they sent out two soldiers, one white and one black, who climbed a hillock and looked around. Since they could not see any troops in hiding, they made a signal with their flags, to tell the Saracens to come out of the city and start the battle. Immediately, 1040 rushed out fully armed, and began to attack the men from the 15 galleys. In this way the Genoese from the galleys drawn up to the beach lost eight’ of their men killed. Meanwhile Ansaldo de Auria the consul, from the single galley left on watch, sent a signal, not a moment too soon. The 25 galleys and their men began to move, and these galleys meeting others, all stayed together. The consuls Oberto Turris and Philip, who were at the Gata headland, having advanced with the whole fleet, and those consuls who had earlier arrived by sea with 12 galleys, and the soldiers on land, and the 12 galleys joining the others which were at the mosque, all went forward to the docks. Our soldiers blocked the way of the Saracens emerging from the city and, with God’s help, bravely began to attack them; and the Saracens, from fear of the galleys, began to flee towards the city, with our men after them. Among the latter one of the Genoese, by name William Pellis, without waiting for his commander’s order, rushed ahead of the others, and first killed one Saracen in the front line with his lance, then, like a lion among cattle that tears at their bodies with his claws, killed many others on Almeria beach by cutting off their heads with his sword. At once the consuls with the men from one galley landed to attack the Saracens, and together with the men from the galleys at the mosque who also landed, killed 5,000 Saracens, strewing the shore with corpses. The galleys still at sea joined in the battle, killing the Saracens who tried to escape by water.

Since a strong wind was, getting up, the consuls ordered the men in the ships and the soldiers to go to Lena harbour; this they did, and pitched camp on the shore. There they held a council, and gave thanks to God for their great victory. When the council was concluded, the consuls ordered the galleys to be drawn up to the beach of Almeria. Then they ordered the engines and siege-towers and catapults to be drawn up. While they were doing this, the Saracens emerged and came towards the galleys, three times, but they were beaten back and some of them were killed, the rest fleeing back into the city.

After they had set up the mangonels and siege-towers and catapults, the Emperor arrived with 400 horsemen and 1,000 foot-soldiers. At once we drew a siege-tower and battering-rams up to the city wall and positioned them in strategic places. The Saracens, many times beaten back as they rushed out at us, attacked our siege-towers with fire and weapons and mangonels by day and night. But the Genoese persevered, fighting off the Saracens, killing many of them, and always forcing them back into the city. With their siege-towers the Genoese captured two towers and destroyed eighteen yards of the wall.

Meanwhile the Saracens, now really terrified, held a secret parley with the representatives of the Emperor, Armengol of Urgel and King Garcia Ramirez [of Navarre], agreeing to pay them 100,000 maravedis and more beyond that. In exchange for this, the Emperor should withdraw and abandon the Genoese. When the consuls heard this, they called a council as quickly as possible. With God’s aid, their decision was to attack and enter the city early next day. When morning came, on the day before St Luke’s Day [18 October], they immediately held a council of war, and formed up in twelve companies each with a banner, each company consisting of 1,000 armed men; and the consuls gave orders about the plan of attack. The consuls went many times to the Emperor and the Count of Barcelona, urging them to order their men to arm and join in the attack to capture the city; but the Emperor came only reluctantly, and when he did, found the Genoese companies already armed in the field.

The consuls ordered their men to begin the attack on the city in silence, without battle-cries, as soon as they should hear the sound of the trumpets. This they did, and the horsemen followed them. After a short time, in less than three hours, with God’s help, and after a great deal of Saracen blood had been shed, the whole city was taken right up to the citadel. On that day 20,000 Saracens were killed, and in one part of the city alone 10,000 were cut down, and near the citadel 20,000. Our men took 10,000 women and children back to Genoa. Within four days the Saracens surrendered the citadel and their persons and handed over 30 million maravedis in order that their lives should be spared. The consuls kept 60,000 maravedis of the money that was taken for the common good, and they paid off the debt of the community to the extent of 17,000 pounds. Then they divided up the rest of the money among the galleys and other ships.

To garrison the city they left Otto de Bonovillano with 1,000 men. After holding a council, they ordered everybody to withdraw from the city with their galleys and vessels, and so it was done. They then returned in triumph safely to Barcelona, put the galleys and ships into port, and elected new consuls.

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.

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