The fascinating story of Egilona, The Last Visigoth Queen of Hispania

Egilona or Egilo, also called Ailo or Ayluna by Arab chroniclers (Toledo, c. 659 – ibidem, 718), was the last Visigoth queen of Hispania and a close relative of Count Cassius. She was a maiden raised at the court of Toledo, where she shared adolescent games with Pelayo, and from there they developed a fondness for each other, first, and soon after, a deep love. But this relationship would not end in a legitimate union, Pelayo had to leave the court of Toledo to follow his lord and future king Rodrigo, who had fled after the murder of his father by order of Witiza.

 

Egilona was the wife of Rodrigo, the last Visigoth king of Toledo. After his death in 711, Egilona was captured in Mérida by Abd al-Aziz ibn Musa, son of Muza and the first Vali of the Iberian Peninsula, who took her as his wife in an attempt to give continuity to his rule by attracting the Visigothic nobility.

In 713, Egilona witnessed the arrival of the Arab leader Musa ibn Nusair, who conquered the city after 14 months of resistance by its inhabitants, and it became the capital of the Cora of Mérida, one of the largest and most powerful in the peninsula. At the beginning of the 9th century, the Mozarabs of the city successively rebelled against the central power of Cordoba, which required successive military campaigns to reduce it between 805 and 835, until Abderraman II ordered the construction of the Alcazaba and the dismantling of the Roman-Visigothic walls that defended the city, leaving its population and power severely diminished. Even so, it was the capital for most of the Mussulman period in what is now Extremadura, specifically until the fall of the Caliphate of Cordoba. Mérida was the Metropolitan See until 1119, when it was transferred to Santiago de Compostela.

Some historians maintain that Egilona became a Muslim, adopting the name Umm Asim, “the mother of Asim” from the moment she married Abd al-Aziz, a name that appears in Arabic texts such as the anonymous chronicle Fath al-Andalus (Conquest of al-Andalus), due to the birth of a son. The adoption of the name, common in the family of the descendants of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab, confirms ‘Abd al-‘Aziz as one of the descendants of the second Caliph of Islam. However, according to Christian sources, Egilona would have continued to practice the Catholic religion. According to the Chronicle of the Pacense, Egilona’s influence over ‘Abd al-Aziz ibn Musa would have worried the Muslims because of the possibility that he might end up converting to Christianity. This would have led to her assassination by order of the Caliph of Damascus, Suleiman, who sent five officers to Seville to kill her.

Her husband Don Rodrigo’s infidelity and the loss of Spain

There are much later accounts originating in Egypt from an unreliable oral tradition, which link Don Rodrigo with the Count of Ceuta, Don Julian, who sent his daughter Florinda la Cava to the court of Toledo to be educated, and also with the idea that it was a good place to find a husband among the sons of other nobles.

At that time, the Visigoth king Don Rodrigo was suffering from scabies and Florinda was chosen to clean his scabies with a delicate golden pin. This is how King Don Rodrigo began to take notice of her, wanting to possess her, but not in marriage. Eventually, guided by lechery, he forced himself on the young woman. After consummating the act, she sent her father a series of gifts, including a rotten egg. Don Julián, on receiving it, understood what had happened. He went to Toledo to reclaim his daughter, although in order not to arouse suspicion, he says that he should take Florinda with him, as his wife was terribly ill and only the sight of his daughter could bring her back to some semblance of health. Don Rodrigo was not suspicious and gave the girl to her father. Don Julián returned to Ceuta and, more offended than ever, entered into talks with Musa ibn Nusair to disembark on the Iberian Peninsula to dethrone Rodrigo.

Musa ibn Nusair

In North Africa, the pacification that would later allow him to make territorial advances was not without its difficulties, which stemmed mainly from the resistance of the Berbers (submission was achieved by taking the sons of notables and chiefs hostage) and from the Christian Maghreb area (whose leaders ended up opting to accept agreements that confirmed him in their domains, such as Don Julián, lord of Ceuta).

In 698 he became governor or viceroy of Ifriqiya in North Africa, and was responsible for putting down a Berber rebellion. He had to fight off attacks by the Byzantine army and built up a naval force that conquered the islands of Ibiza, Mallorca and Menorca.

Visigothic Hispania was immersed in an internal struggle for the throne between Agila II (son of the previous king, Witiza) and Rodrigo. The latter was elected thanks to the support of most of the Visigoth aristocracy, so Agila’s supporters sought the help of Musa ibn Nusair, through Don Julián, governor of Ceuta or perhaps (less likely) of Tangier, to oppose this by force of arms. Musa sent Tariq ibn Ziyad, who landed at Gibraltar on 30 April 711, at the head of 7,000 Berbers and 5,000 Africans. Tariq defeated Rodrigo at the Battle of Guadalete and advanced rapidly across the peninsula.

In 712 Musa, accompanied by his son Abd al-Aziz ibn Musa and with an army of 18,000 men, crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and proceeded to conquer the rest of Visigothic territory. He occupied Medina-Sidonia, Carmona and Seville and then attacked Merida, laying siege to the city, which held out for a year (30 June 713). From Mérida, Musa headed for Toledo.

In 714, Musa and Tariq took Saragossa and advanced towards Lleida. Called to Damascus, the two invaders separated and Musa headed for Asturias to take León, Astorga and Zamora, and to reach Lugo.

On his return to Seville, Musa was summoned to Damascus by the new Caliph Suleiman I to render an account. Before leaving, as if it were his own property rather than that of the Islamic community, Musa divided the government of the different territories he administered among his sons: Abd al-Aziz, his fourth son, as governor of al-Andalus; Abd al-Malik (also called Marwan) ibn Musa, who was the second, of Ceuta and Tangiers; and Abd Allah ibn Musa, who was the eldest, of Ifriqiya. Their third son Marwan ibn Musa accompanied Tariq ibn Ziyad in the first offensive in 711. They were children of his marriage ca. 678 to Amina bint Marwan (born 664?), daughter of Marwan I and Ruqayya bint Umar, daughter of Umar ibn al-Khattab and Umm Kulthum bint Ali, daughter of Ali ibn Abi Talib and Fatima az-Zahra, daughter of Muhammad and Khadija.

Back in Damascus, Suleiman sentenced Musa to death for the recidivist crime of embezzlement. His sentence was commuted to the payment of a considerable sum of money, but he was not allowed to return to al-Andalus. Shortly afterwards he was assassinated in a mosque in Damascus in around 716, some sources say around 718.

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