It is the year 711. In the wake of the power struggle among the ruling class, the internally weakened Visigothic Kingdom faces probably the most challenging threat in its history. The invading force, commanded by Berber general Tariq ibn Ziyad, exploits the crumbling Visigothic army and deals a decisive blow in the Battle of Guadalete. The betrayed Visigothic king, Roderic, together with a good part of the royal dignitaries lose their lives. Unexpectedly, following this single defeat, his kingdom is on the brink of destruction. Shortly after the battle, Tariq proceeds north and, thanks to minimal opposition, captures Cordova, and the capital in Toledo, where he claims the royal treasury. Tariq’s progress to the capital was surprisingly unhindered, especially when given his army’s relatively low numbers. The Visigothic Kingdom, unlike their northern neighbours the Franks – who held annual military assemblies – had only to focus on defending against Basque raids and supervising their north-eastern borders along the Pyrenees. Thus, the quality of the Visigothic military was directly influenced by the limited threats that their geographical boundaries allowed. For the Visigoths at the time, there were few opportunities for military growth. What’s more, the combination of a severe lack of unity among the nobles, together with a highly centralized government, resulted in the surprisingly fast rupturing of Roderic’s kingdom. The almost complete conquest of the Visigoth kingdom by the Moors, was spearheaded by Tariq, together with his supervisor Musa bin Nusayr, the governor of North Africa. Upon hearing the news of Tariq’s initial successes in Europe, Musa landed with another contingent in Algeciras. In the course of the next six years these two leaders captured the lion’s share of the peninsula, from Algeciras up to the river Duero in the North. Many of the local nobles submitted to the new rulers in order to preserve their positions and their land holdings. Others, like count Theudimer, were forced to submit after a brief military defiance. Some remaining Visigoths, however, ran north, seeking refuge in Asturias, protected as it was by the barely accessible Cantabrian Mountains. The mountainous region of Asturias was always considered marginal and remote. Although it had been subdued by the Romans centuries earlier, it had never been fully conquered by them or by the later Visigoths. The fierce and unruly Astures were not the only challenge for the Umayyads, as the region lacked roads and much of the infrastructure of neighbouring areas. While Musa managed to subdue the region, the Muslims had a tough time trying to hold it, because the Astures frequently launched surprise attacks on the Umayyad garrisons. With Asturias being one of the very few regions of the Iberian Peninsula partially resisting Muslim conquest, it served as a zone of refuge for surviving Visigothic nobility. One of the nobles, a man named Pelagius (who was a relative of King Roderic’s), managed to attract both Astures and Visigoths to his command, which gradually allowed him to raid the invaders’ posts in the area. Conflict escalated with the arrival of new administrators for the freshly established Al-Andalus province. The two conquerors of the Visigoth Kingdom, Tariq and Musa, together with pillaged Visigothic treasuries, had been summoned back to Damascus by the Umayyad caliph, and the new administrators had doubled the jizya tax – the tax on non-Muslim citizens of the caliphate. The increased taxes caused major unrest in Asturias. Pelagius’ increasingly popular guerrilla campaign attracted many new soldiers, discontented by the harsh policy of Muslim rulers. Growing defiance in the region ultimately forced the new local governor, Munuza, to retreat south. Regardless of the problems faced by the Umayyads in trying to hold onto the Asturias, they still persisted in their expansion beyond the Pyrenees. By 719, the Umayyads had overrun Septimania and began raiding Frankish Aquitaine. In 721, they besieged Toulouse, one of the most formidable strongholds in Gaul. But this ended disastrously for them. After three months of inconclusive Moorish attacks, Duke Odo of Aquitaine struck the unsuspecting Muslims in a surprising attack and annihilated their force in the ensuing Battle of Toulouse. The unexpected defeat in Aquitaine forced Al-Kalbi, the new governor of Al-Andalus, to find a way to raise the morale of his troops at the same time as raising his own reputation. He decided that putting down the rebellion in Asturias would do nicely to mitigate the defeat at Toulouse. The Umayyad force under commanders Al-Qama and Munuza entered the mountainous lands of Asturias in early summer of the year 722. Pelagius, who had just several hundred men at best under his command, was aware of the Muslim numbers and so avoided pitched battle. Knowing that he needed a suitable place to set up his defence, he retreated to a narrow valley, close to the village of Covadonga. When Al-Qama arrived in the area, he sent an envoy to Pelagius, requesting his surrender. Pelagius refused. Al-Qama, despite probably being aware of the likelihood of an ambush, marched his best men into the constricted valley. Asturian fighters, hiding on the slopes above, soon attacked with arrows, stones and a range of other projectiles. The rest of Pelagius’s men, hiding in nearby caves, waited until the time was ripe and then struck down into the valley in a frenzied attack on the invaders. Al-Qama hurriedly ordered a retreat, but the lack of discipline and the inability of his forces to manoeuvre in the narrow valley, allowed Pelagius the slaughter of the majority of the invaders. Only a handful managed to retreat unscathed. As a result of this victory over Al-Qama, Pelagius’s popularity in the Asturias grew quickly and he received both the recognition and the support of Galician and Asturian nobles. Buoyed by his victory, the nobles reinforced his guerrilla troops. A few months later, with his numbers considerably augmented, Pelagius went on to defeat yet another Umayyad force moving through the Asturian valleys. In wiping out these two armies, Pelagius ensured that the Umayyads ceased their attempts to subdue the region and he secured the independence of the Asturias. The emerging Kingdom of Asturias, with Pelagius elected as its first king thanks to his astute achievements, became a safe haven for all Christians from Al-Andalus seeking refuge. Pelagius’ resistance, peaking in two victorious clashes in the narrow valleys of the Cantabrian Mountains, preserved Christian independence in Iberia and is regarded as the first act of a centuries-long fight, which eventually became known as Reconquista – the “reconquest” of Spain.