Pelagius of Asturias

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Pelagius (Spanish: Pelayo, Portuguese: Pelágio) (died 737) was the founder of the Kingdom of Asturias, ruling from 718 until his death. He is credited with beginning the Reconquista, the Christian reconquest of the Iberian peninsula from the Moors, insofar as he established an independent Christian state in opposition to Moorish hegemony, but there is no strong evidence that he either intended to resuscitate the old Visigothic Kingdom or was motivated by any religious desire.

The chief sources for Pelagius' life and career are two Latin chronicles produced in the late ninth century in the kingdom he founded. The earlier is the Chronica Albeldensia, written at Albelda towards 881, and preserved in the Codex Vigilanus with a continuation to 976.[1] The later is the Chronicle of Alfonso III, which was revised in the early tenth century and preserved in two textual traditions, called the Chronica Rotensis[2] and the Chronica ad Sebastianum[3], which diverge in several key passages.[1] The only likely earlier sources from which these chroniclers could derive information are regnal lists.[4]

Pelagius was a Visigoth nobleman, the son of Fafila. The Chronica Albeldensis states that this Fafila was a dux of Gallaecia who was killed by Wittiza.[4] The Chronicle of Alfonso III calls Pelagius a grandson of Chindasuinth and says that his father was blinded in Córdoba, again at the instigation of Wittiza.[5] Wittiza is also said to have exiled Pelagius from Toledo upon assuming the crown in 702. All of this, however is a late tradition.[5]

According to the late tradition, Munuza, the Berber governor of Iegione (either Gijón or León), became attracted to Pelagius' sister and sent word to Tariq ibn Ziyad, who ordered him to capture Pelagius and send him to Córdoba.[6] That Munuza's seat was at Gijón or León is sufficient to demonstrate that the Arabs had established their rule in the Asturias and that Pelagius was not therefore the leader of a local resistance to Arab conquest.[7] Rather, Pelagius may have come to terms with the Arab elite whereby he was permitted to govern locally in the manner of the previous Visigoths, as is known to have occurred between Arab rulers and Visigothic noblemen elsewhere, as in the case of Theudimer.[8]

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