The Chronica Adefonsi Imperatoris (ca. 1148): Cluniac Historiography and Imperial Sovereignty in 12th-Century Iberia

In my previous post, I attempted to highlight the significance of the imperial coronation of Alfonso VII in 1135 and highlight the various historiographical debates surrounding this moment in Iberian history ( In this piece, I want to shed further light on one particular text–the Chronica Adefonsi Imperatoris–which is essentially a pro-Alfonsine historical chronicle that can greatly illuminate how Alfonso VII and his court sought to represent the sovereign’s imperial claims in light of the complex cultural and geo-political reality of 12th-century Iberia.

The Chronica Adefonsi Imperatoris is one of the most extensive and detailed Latin chronicles from 12th-century Iberia. Not only does it provide a detailed narrative of the deeds of Alfonso VII between his accession to the throne in 1126 and his conquest of Almeria in 1147, but it is also contemporaneous with the events it describes, making it an invaluable source for understanding the attitudes and perspectives of the time.[1] The narrative is divided into three major sections: Book One, which deals almost exclusively with internal Leonese and Castilian politics, Book Two, which is devoted to a narrative of the conquests and battles of Alfonso VII (and his nobles) against the Almoravids in al-Andalus, and the Poem of Almeria, a versified panegyric of Alfonso VII and the 1147 Almeria campaign. With the obvious exception of the sections comprising the Poem of Almeria, the Chronica Adefonsi Imperatoris is an epic prose narrative which seeks to glorify the deeds of Alfonso VII and portray him as a powerful, capable ruler who was worthy of the epithet imperator totius hispaniae.[2] The text abounds with biblical passages and classical references, both of which strengthen the chroniclers attempt to depict Alfonso VII’s reign as providential and to represent the king as a just ruler who was the leader of a chosen people (a new Israel) fulfilling God’s will and plan through his actions.[3] In this regard, the Reconquista and the many battles that Alfonso VII fought against the Almoravids in the Iberian peninsula figure quite prominently within the narrative and the exercise of just sovereignty within the text is made dependent upon the ability and will of Alfonso VII to wage war against the Muslims and put an end to their rule in al-Andalus.[4]

In light of the specific historical (and geographical) context in which the text was produced, the emphasis on the war against the Muslims is not at all surprising. If we are to accept the date of composition as being around 1148, which most scholars agree to be the case, then this would make the text contemporaneous with the ongoing Second Crusade (1147–1149). This crusade is particularly important in connection with Iberia due to the influx of a large number of northern European knights (French and Anglo-Norman) into the peninsula to aid in the conquest of territory from the Muslims; in fact, the city of Lisbon was conquered from the Muslims by a coalition of Anglo-Norman crusader knights in 1147, while a Genoese fleet was instrumental in the fall of Almeria to Alfonso VII in the same year.[5] Although the participation of trans-Pyrenean nobles in the battles against the Muslims in Spain was hardly a new phenomenon (there is evidence for this as early as the mid-eleventh century), the Second Crusade had an increased importance for the Iberian peninsula following the issuing of the Divina dispensatione by Pope Eugenius III in 1147.[6] This essentially formalized the designation of Spain as a zone of crusading and the activities of Alfonso VII (rex Hispaniarum), who “often victoriously triumphed over the Saracens” (contra Saracenos de partibus illis potenter armature, de quibus iam per Dei gratiam saepius triumphavit) against the Muslims in Spain were explicitly compared and equated with those of the crusaders in the Holy Land.[7] The emphasis on the Reconquista and the war against the Muslims in the text can also be explained by the major campaigns undertaken in al-Andalus by Alfonso VII following the fragmentation and collapse of the Almoravid polity between 1144 and 1147.[8] Thus, both the environment of the Second Crusade and the wave of conquests in Andalusia which followed the collapse of the Almoravids were major factors in the Reconquista-centric orientation and triumphalist tone of the Chronica.

If we are to accept the date of the composition as being around 1148, the references within the Chronica which place emphasis upon the increasingly prominent role of Sayf al-Dawla ibn Hud (d. 1146)—acting, apparently, on behalf of Alfonso VII—in overthrowing Almoravid authority in Andalusia become particularly noteworthy. The description of Sayf al-Dawla (referred to as “Zafadola”) as an honorable warrior, a loyal vassal and, above, all a close confidant and “friend” of Alfonso VII, suggests that the Chronica takes a far more nuanced perspective towards the political reality in the Iberian peninsula—in which it was quite common to witness the alliance between Muslim and Christian princes, and even less strange for a Muslim prince to become the vassal of a Christian king—than would initially seem to be the case given the harsh and uncompromising tone which its author employs against Sayf al-Dawla’s co-religionists. Thus, there emerges a tension within the Chronica between the emphasis on the supreme value of the Reconquista as bellum sacrum on one hand and the appraisal of the role of Andalusi Muslim allies of Alfonso VII, such as Sayf al-Dawla, in facilitating Leonese sovereignty in al-Andalus on the other.

(Sayf al-Dawla depicted in the middle of the image among Alfonso’s vassals during the imperial coronation in 1135)

Among the many strategies employed within the Chronica to address this tension is to use two different terms to refer to the various Muslims being discussed. The much-hated Almoravids, whose presence in al-Andalus was perceived to be intolerable, were designated as Moabites, a highly-charged polemical term (possibly playing of the etymology of Murabit) which demonstrated the uncompromising hostility with which they were viewed. The native Andalusis—those populations whom the emperor tirelessly sought to incorporate into his empire as subjects and those princes who had submitted themselves to the authority of Alfonso VII—on the other hand were designated as Hagarenes, a more conventional medieval term for Muslims, which seemed to convey the recognition of the Andalusis as a people who were a legitimate, albeit inferior, community in medieval Iberia. The author’s decision to employ these two different terms indicates his recognition that the policies of Alfonso VII towards the Almoravids, on one hand, and various Andalusi communities, on the other, were quite different. Not all Muslims could be painted with the same broad brush.


The identity of the Chronica’s author may also shed additional light on the nature of the text. Although it has been difficult to ascertain its authorship with any certainty, several scholars—particularly Richard Fletcher and Simon Barton—agree that the style and content of the Chronica and the Poem of Almeria strongly point to the possibility that they were both penned by Bishop Arnaldo of Astorga (1144–1152).[9] The author explicitly claims direct knowledge of the events described, which is reinforced by the minute details provided about the Leonese court and the military campaigns undertaken by Alfonso VII and the Leonese nobility. Based on the existing evidence, it appears that Arnaldo was closely affiliated with the court of Alfonso VII, had been appointed by the king of León-Castile to various ecclesiastical positions (including the bishopric of Astorga), played an important role in organizing the wars against the Muslims, and even directly participated in several of the military expeditions into Andalusia, including the siege of Almeria in 1147.[10]


The role of the author as a churchman in the service of Alfonso VII is crucial to consider when assessing the Chronica due to the specific dynamic which existed between ecclesiastical officials and the monarchy in twelfth-century Spain, whereby the former usually identified themselves as agents of the latter and, as Peter Linehan has argued, can be viewed as “courtly clerics” (clericos aulicos) in the Ottonian sense.[11] The sympathies of the author are clearly with León and its aristocracy throughout the text, and the account is staunchly royalist, representing Alfonso VII’s every act as just and wise. Despite his royalist sentiments and staunchly pro-Leonese attitudes, it has been suggested by scholars that the author (whose name is neither Castilian nor Leonese) was not a native of Iberia, but probably one of the French clerics who had journeyed to the Iberian peninsula in the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries.[12] Moreover, there is a strong possibility that Arnaldo was closely affiliated with the great Burgundian monastic center of Cluny, which had established itself in northern Spain during the late eleventh century with the support and encouragement of Alfonso VI.[13]

The Cluniac connection is particularly important to consider when assessing the historical value of the Chronica and the perspective it presents due to the specific notion of kingship which was developed within twelfth-century Latin chronicles composed in Iberia by clerics closely affiliated with Cluny. Recent scholarship has provided insight into the relationship between Cluniac clerics and the writing of history in twelfth-century Spain, and has shown that Cluniac influence led to an increased focus on themes such as royal tyranny, justice, and crusading warfare, while downplaying the Visigothic tradition and legacy, the promotion of which was a hallmark of earlier Asturian and Leonese historiography in the early Middle Ages.[14] As such, the Cluniacs were instrumental in incorporating the historical tradition of trans-Pyrenean Europe and a particular conception of sovereignty into the writing of history in Castile and León. The particular influence of Cluny on the conception of kingship was in the emphasis on the sovereign as a virtuous, Christian prince.[15] The Christian dimension of kingship, with its emphasis on justice and humility, is present throughout the text and encourages us to think of the Chronica Adefonsi Imperatoris as one of the best representations of “Cluniac historiography” in twelfth-century Spain.[16] Although the ascription of authorship to Arnaldo of Astorga still remains tenuous, if we accept the possibility that he was responsible for composing the Chronica, it becomes clear that his ecclesiastical background, his proximity to the court and the monarch, as well as his participation in many of the events he describes allowed him to be well-placed to observe many of the key developments and personalities described in the chronicle.

The Chronica is a major literary monument of 12th-century Latin historiography that sought to enshrine the deeds of Alfonso VII as a testament of his just rule and legitimate sovereignty. Its authorship and content both demonstrate that the Chronica was intended as a proof-text of the deeds of Alfonso VII, who was represented as embodying the ideals of Christian kingship and leading the Christian people of the Iberian peninsula along the road of destiny through his conquests and wars against the Muslims of al-Andalus. Similar to other epic historical narratives composed during the twelfth century, its function was to celebrate the deeds of a particular king and sought to immortalize the battles against the Muslims in Spain as heroic, in order to inspire future generations. However, while keeping this all in mind, the Chronica should not be dismissed as mere dynastic propaganda. It is a very dynamic and multifaceted work, incorporating several, distinct influences and being composed at a significant juncture during the twelfth-century when the crusades were ongoing and the Almoravids collapsing. Thus, it provides insight into various aspects of the Iberian peninsula’s political and social realities during this crucial period in the history of the Iberian peninsula, when the military and political advantage had finally begun to swing in favor of the Castile and León. In my final blogpost on this subject (, I explore a bit more how exactly the various themes identified above played out within the text itself in order to discern how Arnaldo of Astorga sought to represent Alfonso VII as imperator totius hispaniae.

[1] Arnaldo of Astorga, “Chronica Adefonsi Imperatoris,” in The World of Cid: Chronicles of the Spanish Reconquest (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000), eds. Simon Barton and Richard Fletcher, pp. 162–263

[2] For an analysis of the structure and content of the Poem of Almeria, see Florentino Castro Guisasola, El Cantar de la conquista de Almeria por Alfonso VII (Granada: Instituto de estudios Almerienses, 1992), pp.18–44; H. Salvador Martínez, El “Poema de Almería” y la épica románica (Madrid: Editorial Gredos, 1975)

[3] M. Pérez González, “Influencias clásicas y bíblicas en la Chronica Adefonsi Imperatoris” in I Congreso Nacional de Latín Medieval (León: Universidad de León, 1993), ed. by M. Pérez González, pp. 349–355; Fletcher and Barton, The World of El Cid, pp. 151–152

[4] Fletcher and Barton, The World of El Cid, pp. 153–154

[5] Simon Barton, “A Forgotten Crusade: Alfonso VII of León-Castile and the Campaign for Jaén (1148),” Historical Research 73 (2000), p. 313; Giles Constable, “The Second Crusade as Seen by Contemporaries,” Traditio 9 (1953), p. 214; O’Callaghan, Reconquest and Crusade in Medieval Spain, pp. 41–44; Reilly, Contest of Christian and Muslim Spain, pp. 212–214

[6] Barton, “A Forgotten Crusade,” p. 313; O’Callaghan, Reconquest and Crusade in Medieval Spain, p. 43; Constable, “The Second Crusade as Seen by Contemporaries,” p. 255; Reilly, The Kingdom of León-Castile under Alfonso VII, pp. 95–96

[7] Barton, “A Forgotten Crusade,” pp. 313–314; O’Callaghan, Reconquest and Crusade in Medieval Spain, p. 45; Constable, “The Second Crusade as Seen by Contemporaries,” pp. 255–258; Reilly, Contest of Christian and Muslim Spain, p. 212

[8] Francisco García Fitz, Relaciones políticas y guerra: La experiencia castellano-leonesa frente al Islam, siglos XI–XIII (Seville: Universidad de Sevilla, 2002), pp. 98–107; Barton, “A Forgotten Crusade,” p. 314; Reilly, Contest of Christian and Muslim Spain, pp. 215–223; Astray, Alfonso VII, pp. 236–262; Barton, Aristocracy in Twelfth-Century León and Castile, pp. 16–17

[9] Fletcher and Barton, The World of El Cid, pp. 155–161; Barton, “A Forgotten Crusade,” p. 316; Rodríguez de la Peña, “Rex Strenuus Valde Litteratus,” p. 39; Martínez, El “Poema de Almeria,” pp. 109–122

[10] Fletcher and Barton, The World of El Cid, p. 160

[11] Rodríguez de la Peña, “Rex Strenuus Valde Litteratus,” p. 34

[12] Fletcher and Barton, The World of El Cid, pp. 157–159; Rodríguez de la Peña, “Rex Strenuus Valde Litteratus,” p. 36. For a comprehensive discussion of this phenomenon, see Bernard F. Reilly, “Santiago and Saint Denis: The French Presence in Eleventh-Century Spain,” The Catholic Historical Review 54 (1968), pp. 467–483

[13] Reilly, The Medieval Spains, pp. 92–93; Rodríguez de la Peña, “Rex Strenuus Valde Litteratus,” p. 36; Reilly, The

Kingdom of León-Castile under Alfonso VI, p. 95

[14] C.C. Smith, “Latin Histories and Vernacular Epic in Twelfth-Century Spain: Similarities of Spirit and Style,” Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 48:1 (1971), pp. 2, 5; Rodríguez de la Peña, “Rex Strenuus Valde Litteratus,” pp. 36–38

[15] Rodríguez de la Peña, “Rex Strenuus Valde Litteratus,” p. 38

[16] Rodríguez de la Peña, “Rex Strenuus Valde Litteratus,” p. 39

2 thoughts on “The Chronica Adefonsi Imperatoris (ca. 1148): Cluniac Historiography and Imperial Sovereignty in 12th-Century Iberia

  1. Pingback: Imperator Totius Hispaniae? Military Leadership, the “Reconquista” and Imperial Authority during the Reign of Alfonso VII (r. 1126-1157) « Ballandalus

  2. Pingback: What We’re Reading: Week of May 18 | JHIBlog

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