The Rock of Gibraltar is located at the entrance of the Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean. In ancient times, it was known as one of the Pillars of Hercules. It is currently named after Tariq bin Ziyad, the Islamic general who was invited to come to help the Visigoth king in the eighth century. He “helped” the Visigoths by conquering their land. Gibraltar is a shortened form of “Jabal Tariq”, or “The Mountain of Tariq”, named after this “helpful” Islamic general.
The Visigoths are Divided
The Visigoths were one of the barbarian tribes that helped to destroy the Roman Empire. Over the years, this powerful group of barbarians settled down. They became Christians. They developed a governmental structure and named themselves a king. Their kingdom was located in what is now present-day Spain.
In 710 AD, all was not perfect in the Visigothic kingdom. The king died, and the Visigoths could not decide on who should become the next king. Some believed that the kingdom should go to one of the king’s sons. Others believed that a powerful warrior named Rodrigo should be named king instead. The noblemen decided to put Rodrigo on the throne. The former king’s sons were infuriated.
Tariq bin Ziyad is Invited to Help
The king’s sons did not have the military ability to drive Rodrigo out themselves. They thought that if they could get a strong general on their side to come help, one of them could be put on the throne. They decided to send messengers to North Africa to ask the great Moslem general, Tariq bin Ziyad, to come help them get Rodrigo off the throne, so that Rodrigo could be driven out. That was not a good idea.
Tariq bin Ziyad did come, but he had no interest in helping the former king’s sons. More than anything, Tariq was a Moslem general who was interested in taking territory for the Islamic Empire. Although he began his life as a slave, when the Islamic armies came to his town, he converted to Islam and joined the military. His skill and bravery had earned him promotions; he had already helped conquer most of North Africa. When he was invited into the land of the Visigoths, he was certainly willing to come; however, he came over with his own agenda in mind.
The Conquest Begins at Jabal Tariq
In 711, Tariq bin Ziyad sailed over the narrow waterway between North Africa and the country of the Visigoths. He climbed upon a large rock to watch his soldiers sail over. When all of his soldiers were ashore, he ordered all of the ships to be burned. There was no turning back now. He told his soldiers that they had come to conquer: “Behind you is the sea, before you the enemy. You have left now only the hope of your courage and your constancy”.
The strong warriors were easily able to conquer the divided Visigoths. The king’s sons, Rodrigo, and all the other inhabitants of the land succumbed to Islamic rule. The Moslems would continue to expand their territory for the next 21 years, until Charles Martel stopped them in 732 at the Battle of Tours, which kept them from conquering the Franks, located in present-day France.
The rock where Tariq bin Ziyad stood as his soldiers sailed across the Mediterranean was named Jabal Tariq after the conquering general. Over the years, the name Jabal Tariq became known as Gibraltar, which is the name that it is known by today.
“Al Maggari: Tarik’s Address to His Soldiers, 711 CE, from The Breath of Perfumes” Medieval Sourcebook.
Bauer, Susan Wise. The Story of the World Volume 2. Peace Hill Press, 2007, pp. 104-107.
Wikipedia. Charles Martel.
Wikipedia. History of Gibraltar.
Wikipedia. Tariq ibn Ziyad.