Kingdom of Asturias

Kingdom of Asturias

Infobox Former Country
native_name = "Asturorum Regnum"
conventional_long_name = Kingdom of Asturias
common_name = Asturias
continent = Europe
region = Iberian
country = Spain
era =
government_type = Monarchy|
event_start =
year_start = 718
date_start =
event_end =
year_end = 925
date_end =
event1 = Hereditary monarchy
date_event1 = 842
event2 = Divided
date_event2 = 910
s1 = Kingdom of León
image_s1 = |

image_map_caption =
capital = Cangas de Onis, Langreo, Pravia, Oviedo
national_motto = Hoc Signo Tuetur Pius, Hoc Signo Vincitur Inimicus
("English": "With this sign thou shalt defend the pious, with this sign thou shalt defeat the enemy")
common_languages = Asturian, Latin
religion = Christianity|
leader1 = Pelayo of Asturias
year_leader1 = 718-737
leader2 = Fruela II of León
year_leader2 = 910-925
title_leader = King
footnotes =

The Kingdom of Asturias was the first Christian political entity to be established in the Iberian peninsula after the collapse of the Visigothic Kingdom. This followed the defeat of King Roderic at the Battle of Guadalete and the subsequent Islamic conquest of Hispania. The kingdom lasted from 718 until 925, when Fruela II became King of León.

Historical evolution

Indigenous background of the Kingdom of Asturias

The birthplace of the Asturian kingdom was the western and central territory of the Cantabrian Mountains, particularly the Picos de Europa and the central area of Asturias. The main political and military events during the first decades of the kingdom's existence took place in this region. According to the descriptions of Strabo, Dio Cassius and other Graeco-Roman geographers, the lands of Asturias were inhabited in the beginning of the Christian era by several peoples, amongst whom the more important were: the "Vadinienses", who inhabited the Picos de Europa region and whose settlement gradually expanded southward during the first centuries of the modern era; the "Orgenomesci", who dwelled along the Asturian eastern coast; the "Saelini", whose settlement extended through the Sella valley; the "Luggones", who had their capital in "Lucus Asturum" and whose territories stretched between the rivers Sella and Nalón; the "Astures" (in the strictest sense), who dwelled in inner Asturias, between the current councils of Piloña and Cangas del Narcea; and the "Paesici", who had settled along the coast of Western Asturias, between the mouth of the Navia river and the modern city of Gijón.

more eastwards: Julius Honorius stated in his "Cosmographia" that the springs of Ebro river were located in the land of the Astures ("sub asturibus"). In any case, ethnic borders in the Cantabrian mountains were not so important at that time, as all the peoples of Northern Iberia had similar culture and habits.

This situation started to change during the Late Roman Empire and the High Middle Ages, when an Asturian identity started to develop gradually: The centuries-old fight against Romans, Visigoths and Vandals forged a common identity among the peoples of the Cantabrian mountains. Several archaeological digs in the "castro" of La Carisa (municipality of Lena) have found remnants of a defensive line whose main purpose was to protect the valleys of central Asturias from invaders who came from the Meseta through the Pajares pass: Scholars think that the construction of these fortifications reveals a high degree of organization and cooperation between the several Asturian tribes, in order to defend themselves from the southern invaders. Carbon-14 tests have found that the wall dates from the period 675-725 AD, when two armed expeditions against the Asturians took place: One of them, headed by Visigothic king Wamba; the other by Muslim governor Musa bin Nusair, during the Islamic conquest of Iberia.

The Asturian identity that was gradually forming led to the creation of the Kingdom of Asturias after Pelayo's coronation and the victory over the Berbers in Covadonga. The Chronica Albeldense, in narrating the happenings of Covadonga, stated that "Regnum Asturorum divina providencia exoritur:" "Divine providence brings forth the King of Asturias."


and founded the Kingdom of Asturias. However, Pelayo's kingdom initially was little more than a banner for the existing guerilla forces.

Under his leadership, the attacks on the Berbers increased. In 722 (or possibly in 724 or as early as 718), the Emir sent a force led by Munuza to quell this rebellion and establish Moorish control of the region. This force was defeated in the valley of Battle of Covadonga. The most commonly accepted hypothesis for this battle (epic as described by Christian chronicles, but a mere skirmish in Muslim texts) is that the Moorish column was attacked from the cliffs and then fell back through the valleys towards present day Gijón, but was attacked whilst in retreat by the retinue and nearly destroyed. After this first battle, the Astures grew stronger. Once he had expelled the Moors from the eastern valleys of Asturias, Pelayo attacked León, the main city in the north-west of the Iberian Peninsula and secured the mountain passes, isolating the region from Moorish attack.

Pelayo continued attacking those Berbers who remained north of the Asturian Mountains until they withdrew. He then married his son Favila to Duke Peter of Cantabria’s daughter, a descendant of the former Astur dynasty.

Pelayo founded a dynasty in Asturias that survived for centuries and gradually expanded the kingdom's boundaries until all of northwest Iberia was included by roughly 775. The reign of Alfonso II from 791-842 saw further expansion of the kingdom to the south, almost as far as Lisbon, Portugal.


It was not until King Alfonso II of Asturias (791-842) that the kingdom was firmly established with Alfonso's recognition as king of Asturias by Charlemagne and the Pope. He conquered Galicia and the Basques. During his reign, the holy bones of St. James the Great were declared to be found in Galicia, at Santiago de Compostela (from Latin campus stellae, literally "the field of the star"). Pilgrims from all over Europe opened a way of communication between the isolated Asturias and the Carolingian lands and beyond.

The first capital city was Cangas de Onís. Then, in Silo's time, it was moved to Pravia. Alfonso II chose Oviedo as the definite capital of the Kingdom. The kingdom was known as Asturias until 924, when it became the Kingdom of León. It continued under that name until incorporated into the Kingdom of Castile in 1230, after Ferdinand III became joint king of the two kingdoms.


Remnants of Megalithic and Celtic Paganism

Although the earliest evidences of Christian worship in Asturias date from the 5th century, evangelisation did not really make any substantial progress until the middle of the 6th century, when hermits like Santo Toribio de Liébana and monks of the San Fructuoso order settled gradually in the lands of the Cantabrian mountains and started to preach the Christian doctrine to the locals.

According to other scholars, "deva" is just a common Celtic word which means "goddess," so it is possible that behind this name other divinities, like Briga and Navia, are hidden. In any case, Deva was a highly popular title in pre-Roman Asturias, and still today can be found in placenames like the Isle of Deva and the Güeyu of Deva well.

In the middle of the Sella valley (where Cangas de Onís is located) there was a dolmen area, which dated back to the megalithic era, and was built probably in the period 4,000 - 2,000 BC. In this place, particularly in Santa Cruz Dolmen, the ritual burials of the surrounding regions' chieftains were performed. Such practices survived the Roman and Visigothic conquests to a point that still in the 8th century king Favila was buried there, in the same place were the corpses of ancient tribal leaders had their final rest. Although the Asturian monarchy fostered the Christianization of this site (ordering the edification of a church), there are still today Pagan traditions linked with the Santa Cruz dolmen: It is said that "xanas" (Asturian fairies) appear to visitors, and magical properties are ascribed to the soil of the place.


The foundations of Asturian culture and that of Christian Spain in the High Middle Ages were laid during the reigns of Silo and Mauregato, when the Asturian kings submitted to the authority of the Umayyad emirs of the Caliphate of Córdoba. The most prominent Christian scholar in the Kingdom of Asturias of this period was Beatus of Liébana, whose works left an indelible mark in the Christian culture of the Reconquista.

Beatus was directly involved in the debate surrounding adoptionism, which argued that Jesus was born a man, and was adopted by God and acquired a divine dimension only after his passion and resurrection. Beatus refuted this theological position, championed by such figures as Elipandus, bishop of Toledo.

The adoptionist theology had its roots in Gothic arianism, which denied the divinity of Jesus, and in Greco-Roman paganism, with examples of heroes like Herakles who, after their death attained the apotheosis. Likewise, as Elipandus's bishopric of Toledo was at the time within the Muslim Caliphate of Cordoba, Islamic beliefs which acknowledged Jesus as a Prophet, but not as the Son of God, influenced the formation of adoptionism. However, the adoptionist theology opposed strongly by Beatus from his abbey in Santo Toribio de Liébana. At the same time, Beatus strengthened the links between Asturias, Rome, and the Carolingian Empire, and was supported in his theological struggle by the Pope and by his friend Alcuin of York, an Anglo-Saxon scholar who had settled among the Carolingian court in Aachen.

and fascinating illustrations.

In these "Commentaries" a new interpretation of the apocalyptical accounts is given: Babylon no longer represents the city of Rome, but Córdoba, seat of the Ummayad emirs of Al-Andalus; the Beast, once a symbol of the Roman Empire, now stands for the Islamic invaders who in this time threatened to destroy Western Christianity and who made raids on the territories of the Asturian Kingdom.

In the prologue to the second book of the "Commentaries" is found one of the best examples of a "Mappae Mundi" of the high medieval culture. The aim of this map was not to represent the world cartographically, but to serve as an illustration of the Apostles Diaspora in the first decades of Christianity. Beatus took data from the works of Saint Isidore of Seville, Ptolemy and the Holy Scripture. The world was represented as a land disc surrounded by the Ocean and divided in three parts: Asia (upper semicircle), Europe (lower left quadrant) and Africa (lower right quadrant). The Mediterranean Sea (Europe-Africa), the Nile River (Africa-Asia) and the Aegean Sea and the Bosphorus (Europa-Asia) were set as boundaries between the different continental masses.


Beatus was persuaded that the Apocalypse described in the book of Revelation was imminent, which would be followed by 1,290 years of domination by the Antichrist. Beatus followed the views of Saint Augustine whose work, the City of God influenced the "Commentaries" which followed the premise that the History of the World was structured in six ages: The first five ones extended between the creation of Adam, and the Passion of Jesus, while the sixth, subsequent to Christ and contemporary to us, had to end with the unleashing of the happenings prophetized by the book of Revelation.

Millennialist movements were very common in Europe at that time: Between 760-780 a series of cosmics phenomenons caused panic among the population of Gaul; John, a visionary monk, predicted the coming of the Last Judgement during the reign of Charlemagne. In this time appeared the Apocalypse of Daniel, a Syriac text redacted during the rule of the empress Irene of Byzantium wherein wars between the Arabs, the Byzantines and the Northern peoples were prophesized. These wars would end with the coming of the Antichrist.

Events taking place in Hispania (Islamic rule, the adoptionist heresy, the gradual asimilation of the Mozarabic people...) were, for Beatus, signals of the imminent apocalyptic aeon. As Elipandus describes in his "Letter from the bishops of Spania to their brothers in Gaul", the abbot of Santo Toribio went so far as to announce to his countrymen the coming of the End of Time in the Easter of the year 800. On the dawn of that day, hundreds of peasants met around the abbey of Santo Toribio, waiting terrified for the fulfilling of the prophecy. They remained in that place, without having had a bite to eat, during a day and half, until one of them, named Ordonius, exclaimed: "Let us eat and drink, so that if the End of the World comes we are full!".

The prophetic and millennialist visions of Beatus produced an enduring mark in the development of the Kingdom of Asturias: The "Chronica Prophetica", which was composed circa 880 AD, predicted the final fall of the Emirate of Córdoba, and the conquest and redemption of the entire Iberian peninsula by king Alfonso III. Millennialist imagery is also reflected throughout the kingdom in the [ Cruz de la Victoria] icon -the major emblem of the Asturian kingdom- has its origins in a passage of the Revelation book in which Saint John relates the following vision of the Parusia: He sees Jesus Christ seated in his Majesty, surrounded by clouds and affirming: "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty" [Revelation, 1.8.] . It is true that usage of the labarum was not restricted to Asturias, and, moreover, dates back to the time of Constantine the Great (who used this symbol during the battle of Battle of the Milvian Bridge). But it was in Asturias where the Cruz de la Victoria attained a general use: In nearly every Pre-romanesque church this icon is engraved [ [ "Cruz de la Victoria" engraved in stone] ] [ [ Pre-romanesque Museum of San Martín (Salas)] ] , often accompanied with the expression "Hoc signo tuetur pius, in hoc signo vincitur inimicus" ["With this sign thou shalt defend the pious, with this sign thou shalt defeat the enemy"] , that became the royal motto of the Asturian monarchs.

El Camino de Santiago

Another of the major spiritual legacies of the Asturian Kingdom is the creation of one of the most important ways of cultural transmission in European history: The Way of St. James. The first text which mentions St. James' preaching in Spain is the "Breviarius de Hyerosolima", a 6th-century document which stated that the Apostle was buried in an enigmatical place called "Aca Marmarica". Saint Isidore of Seville supported this theory in his work "De ortu et obitu patrium". One hundred fifty years later, in times of Mauregato, the hymn "O Dei Verbum" rendered St. James as "the golden head of Spain, our protector and national patron" and a mention is made of his preaching in the Iberian Peninsula during the first decades of Christianity. Some attribute this hymn to Beatus, although this is still discussed by historians.

The legend of St. James gained support during the reign of Alfonso II when the Galician herit Pelayo claimed to observe mysterious brightness during several nights over the wood of Libredón, in Iria Flavia diocese. Angelic songs accompanied the lights. Impressed by this phenomenon, Pelayo appeared before the bishop of Iria Flavia, Teodomirus, who -after having heard the hermit- visited the location with his retinue. In the depths of the forest, it was found a stone sepulcre with three corpses, which were identified which those of St. James, son of Zebedee, and his two disciples, Theodorus and Atanasius. According to the legend, king Alfonso was the first pilgrim in coming to see the Apostle: During the travel he was guided at night by the Milky Way, which from then on acquired in Spanish the name "Camino de Santiago".

The founding of St. James tomb was a formidable political success for the Kingdom of Asturias: Now Asturias could claim the honour of having a corpse of one of the apostles of Jesus, a privilege shared only with Asia (Ephesus) where Saint John was buried, and Rome, where the corpses of Saint Peter and Saint Paul rested. From this moment on, Santiago de Compostela became one of the three sacred cities of Christianity, together with Rome and Jerusalem. In later centuries, many Central European cultural influences travelled to Iberia through the Way of St. James, from the Gothic and Romanesque styles, to the Occitan lyric poetry.

However, the story of the "discovery" of the remains of the Apostle shows some enigmatic features. The tomb was found in a place used as a necropolis since the Late Roman Empire, so it is possible that the corpse belonged to a prominent person of the area: British historian Henry Chadwick hypothesized the tomb of Compostela actually hold the remains of Priscillian. Other scholars, like Constantino Cabal, highlighted the fact that several Galician places, such as Pico Sacro, Pedra da Barca (Muxía) or San Andrés de Teixido, were already in Pre-Roman times draws for Pagan pilgrimage. Pagan beliefs held these places as the End of the World, and as entrances to the Celtic Otherworld. After the discovery of Saint James' tomb, the gradual Christianization of those routes of pilgrimage began.


Since the Chronicles of the Asturian kingdom were written a century and a half after the battle of Covadonga, there are many aspects of the first Asturian kings that remain shrouded in myth and legend.

Although the historicity of Pelayo is beyond doubt, the historical narrative describing him includes many folktales and legends. One of them asserts that prior to the Muslim invasion, Pelayo went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the sacred city of Christianity. However, no evidence exists that confirms this.

, lord of clouds, rain and wind. On the other hand, the oak tree is the symbol of the Asturian royalty and in reliefs of the Abamia Church (where Pelayo was buried) leaves of that tree are shown.

, disguised as a pilgrim, is said to have visited that village and asked for food and shelter from every house of that village. She was rudely rejected by every person, except for a shepherd who gave her refuge and warmly shared everything he had. On the following day, as punishment for their inhospitality, a flood of divine origin devastated the village, which completely covered everything except the cottage of the good shepherd. In front of him, the mysterious guest started to cry, and her tears became flowers when they reached the floor. Then the shepherd realized that the pilgrim was actually the Virgin.

This is a Pan-celtic myth which is also found in other countries of the Atlantic Arch. In Galicia it is said that in the bottom of the Antela lake there are remnants of the ancient population of Antiochia, which vanished off the face of earth by a night deluge, in punishment for the sins of its inhabitants. On the other coast of the Biscay Bay, in Brittany, there are traditions related with the city of Ker-Ys, situated in the Douarnenez gulf, in lands claimed from the sea and protected by a dam. The daughter of the king, Dahud, gave the keys of the city to Satan, who had disguised himself as a beautiful prince: This resulted in the flooding of Ys by the waters of the Ocean.


cquote2|"I said in the cutting off of my days, I shall go to the gates of the grave: I am deprived of the residue of my years.
I said, I shall not see the LORD, even the LORD, in the land of the living: I shall behold man no more with the inhabitants of the world.
Mine age is departed, and is removed from me as a shepherd's tent: I have cut off like a weaver my life: he will cut me off with pining sickness: from day even to night wilt thou make an end of me.
I reckoned till morning, that, as a lion, so will he break all my bones: from day even to night wilt thou make an end of me.
Like a crane or a swallow, so did I chatter: I did mourn as a dove: mine eyes fail with looking upward: O LORD, I am oppressed; undertake for me.|Is. 38,10-14

This canticle was recited by Hezekiah, king of Judah, after his recovery from a serious illness. In these verses, the King regretted with distress his departure to sheol, the Jewish Underworld, a shady place where he would not see God nor men any more.

[In Medieval Spain it was commonly thought that it was the Asturians or the Moors (and not the Basques), the ones who beat the Franks in this battle] . After saying he had lived alone for centuries in that cave, he told the peasant: "Give me your hand, so that I can see how strong are men today". The shepherd, scared, gave him the horn of the cow, which, when seized by the giant man, was immediately broken. The poor villager ran away terrified, but not without hearing Bernardo say: "Current men are not like those who helped me to kill Frenchmen in Roncevaux" [ [ Bernardo del Carpiu y otros guerreros durmientes] Alberto Álvarez Peña] ["Los maestros asturianos" (Juan Lobo, 1931)] .

The are evident parallels between these stories and those which surround another medieval characters like Barbarossa or King Arthur. It is said that Barbarossa did not die, but retired to a cave in the Kyffhäuser mountain, and that one day, when the ravens no long fly around the mountain, he will awake and restore Germany to its ancient greatness. King Arthur, according to many traditions, lives in many hills and caves of the island of Great Britain. His most famous dwelling is the Eildon Hill in Scotland, where he took refuge after the battle of Camlann.


The Kingdom of Asturias was, in its infancy, an indigenous reaction of Astures and Cantabri peoples to a foreign invasion. These people had fought the Romans in the Astur-Cantabrian Wars, and initially resisted Romanisation. Although they preserved many characteristics of their pre-Roman culture, their Celtic languages were later lost in favor of Latin.

This kingdom is the birthplace of an influential European medieval architectural style: Asturian Preromanesque. This style of architecture was founded during the reign of Ramiro I.

This small kingdom was a milestone in the fight against Adoptionist heresy, with Beatus of Liébana as a major figure. In the time of Alfonso II, the shrine of Santiago was "found." The pilgrimage to Santiago, Camino de Santiago, was a major nexus within Europe, and many pilgrims (and their money) passed through Asturias on their way to Santiago de Compostela.


ee also

External links

* [ Information and virtual reconstructions of early monuments of Oviedo.]

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