Historical Tales: 7—Spanish - Charles Morris

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.

Visigoths in council


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.

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 regular siege.

While Abdul-Aziz was disposing his forces and making heedful preparations for the task he saw before him, be 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 be 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 sturdy warriors.

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 fêtes 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 danger.

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.