Historic Tales The Career Of A Desert Chief
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The Stratagem Of Theodomir
The defeat of the Guadalete seemed for the time to have robbed the Goths
of all their ancient courage. East and west, north and south, rode the
Arab horsemen, and stronghold after stronghold fell almost without
resistance into their hands, until nearly the whole of Spain had
surrendered to the scimitar. History has but a few stories to tell of
valiant defence by the Gothic warriors. One was that of Pelistes, at
Cordova, which we have just told. The other was that of the wise and
valorous Theodomir, which we have next to relate.
Abdul-Aziz, Musa's noble son, whose sad fate we have chronicled, had been
given the control of Southern Spain, with his head-quarters in Seville.
Here, after subduing the Comarca, he decided on an invasion of far-off
Murcia, the garden-land of the south, a realm of tropic heat, yet richly
fertile and productive. There ruled a valiant Goth named Theodomir, who
had resisted Tarik on his landing, had fought in the fatal battle in which
Roderic fell, and had afterwards, with a bare remnant of his followers,
sought his own territory, which after him was called the land of Tadmir.
Hither marched Abdul-Aziz, eager to meet in battle a warrior of such
renown, and to add to his dominions a country so famed for beauty and
fertility. He was to find Theodomir an adversary worthy of his utmost
powers. So small was the force of the Gothic lord that he dared not meet
the formidable Arab horsemen in open contest, but he checked their advance
by all the arts known in war, occupying the mountain defiles and gorges
through which his country must be reached, cutting off detachments, and
making the approach of the Arabs difficult and dangerous.
A COUNCIL OF THE VISIGOTHS.
His defence was not confined to the hills. At times he would charge
fiercely on detached parties of Arabs in the valleys or plains, and be off
again to cover before the main force could come up. Long he defeated every
effort of the Arab leader to bring on an open battle, but at length found
himself cornered at Lorca, in a small valley at a mountain's foot. Here,
though the Goths fought bravely, they found themselves too greatly
outnumbered, and in the end were put to panic-flight, numbers of them
being left dead on the hotly contested field.
The handful of fugitives, sharply pursued by the Moorish cavalry, rode in
all haste to the fortified town of Orihuela, a place of such strength that
with sufficient force they might have defied there the powerful enemy. But
such had been their losses in battle and in flight that Theodomir found
himself far too weak to face the Moslem host, whose advance cavalry had
followed so keenly on his track as to reach the outer walls by the time he
had fairly closed the gates.
Defence was impossible. He had not half enough men to guard the walls and
repel assaults. It would have been folly to stand a siege, yet Theodomir
did not care to surrender except on favorable terms, and therefore adopted
a shrewd stratagem to deceive the enemy in regard to his strength.
To the surprise of the Arab leader the walls of the town, which he had
thought half garrisoned, seemed to swarm with armed and bearded warriors,
far too great a force to be overcome by a sudden dash. In the face of so
warlike an array, caution awoke in the hearts of the assailants. They had
looked for an easy victory, but against such numbers as these assault
might lead to severe bloodshed and eventual defeat. They felt that it
would be necessary to proceed by the slow and deliberate methods of a
While Abdul-Aziz was disposing his forces and making heedful preparations
for the task he saw before him, he was surprised to see the principal gate
of the city thrown open and a single Gothic horseman ride forth, bearing a
flag of truce and making signals for a parley. A safe-conduct was given
him, and he was led to the tent of the Moslem chief.
"Theodomir has sent me to negotiate with you," he said, "and I have full
power to conclude terms of surrender. We are abundantly able to hold out,
as you may see by the forces on our walls, but as we wish to avoid
bloodshed we are willing to submit on honorable terms. Otherwise we will
defend ourselves to the bitter end."
The boldness and assurance with which he spoke deeply impressed the Arab
chief. This was not a fearful foe seeking for mercy, but a daring
antagonist as ready to fight as to yield.
"What terms do you demand?" asked Abdul-Aziz.
"My lord," answered the herald, "will only surrender on such conditions as
a generous enemy should grant and a valiant people receive. He demands
peace and security for the province and its people and such authority for
himself as the strength of his walls and the numbers of his garrison
justify him in demanding."
The wise and clement Arab saw the strength of the argument, and, glad to
obtain so rich a province without further loss of life, he assented to the
terms proposed, bidding the envoy to return and present them to his chief.
The Gothic knight replied that there was no need of this, he having full
power to sign the treaty. The terms were therefore drawn up and signed by
the Arab general, after which the envoy took the pen and, to the
astonishment of the victor, signed the name of Theodomir at the foot of
the document. It was the Gothic chief himself.
Pleased alike with his confidence and his cleverness, Abdul-Aziz treated
the Gothic knight with the highest honor and distinction. At the dawn of
the next day the gates of the city were thrown open for surrender, and
Abdul-Aziz entered at the head of a suitable force. But when the garrison
was drawn up in the centre of the city for surrender, the surprise of the
Moslem became deep amazement. What he saw before him was a mere handful of
stalwart soldiers, eked out with feeble old men and boys. But the main
body before him was composed of women, whom the astute Goth had bidden to
dress like men and to tie their long hair under their chins to represent
beards; when, with casques on their heads and spears in their hands, they
had been ranged along the walls, looking at a distance like a line of
Theodomir waited with some anxiety, not knowing how the victor would
regard this stratagem. Abdul might well have viewed with anger the
capitulation of an army of women and dotards, but he had a sense of humor
and a generous heart, and the smile of amusement on his face told the
Gothic chief that he was fully forgiven for his shrewd stratagem.
Admiration was stronger than mortification in the Moslem's heart. He
praised Theodomir for his witty and successful expedient, and for the
three days that he remained at Orihuela banquets and fetes marked his
stay, he occupying the position of a guest rather than an enemy. No injury
was done to people or town, and the Arabs soon left the province to
continue their career of conquest, satisfied with the arrangements for
tribute which they had made.
By a strange chance the treaty of surrender of the land of Tadmir still
exists. It is drawn up in Latin and in Arabic, and is of much interest as
showing the mode in which such things were managed at that remote date. It
stipulates that war shall not be waged against Theodomir, son of the
Goths, and his people; that he shall not be deprived of his kingdom; that
the Christians shall not be separated from their wives and children, or
hindered in the services of their religion; and that their temples shall
not be burned. Theodomir was left lord of seven cities,--Orihuela,
Valencia, Alicante, Mula, Biscaret, Aspis, and Lorca,--in which he was to
harbor no enemies of the Arabs.
The tribute demanded of him and his nobles was a dinar (a gold coin)
yearly from each, also four measures each of wheat, barley, must, vinegar,
honey, and oil. Vassals and taxable people were to pay half this amount.
These conditions were liberal in the extreme. The tribute demanded was by
no means heavy for a country so fertile, in which light culture yields
abundant harvests; the delightful valley between Orihuela and Murcia, in
particular, being the garden spot of Spain. The inhabitants for a long
period escaped the evils of war felt in other parts of the conquered
territory, their province being occupied by only small garrisons of the
enemy, while its distance from the chief seat of war removed it from
After the murder of Abdul-Aziz, Theodomir sent an embassy to the Caliph
Soliman, begging that the treaty should be respected. The caliph in reply
sent orders that its stipulations should be faithfully observed. In this
the land of Tadmir almost stood alone in that day, when treaties were
usually made only to be set at naught.
Next: The Cave Of Covadonga
Previous: Pelistes The Defender Of Cordova