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Battle of Roncevaux Pass (824)

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Title: Battle of Roncevaux Pass (824)  
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Subject: Aeblus, Navarre, 824, Pamplona, 820s
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Battle of Roncevaux Pass (824)

2nd Battle of Roncevaux Pass
Part of Louis the Pious' attempt to control the Marca Hispanica and Vasconia
Location Roncevaux Pass in the Pyrenees
Result Basque victory
Franks, Basques (Gascons) Basques (Navarrese, Aragonese and the Banu Qasi)
Commanders and leaders
Count Aeblus, Duke (Count) Aznar Sánchez Unknown
(speculated: Eneko Arista)
Unknown Unknown (guerrilla party)
Casualties and losses
Carolingian expedition crushed, commanders captured Unknown

The Battle of Roncevaux Pass was a battle in which a Basque army defeated a Carolingian military expedition in 824. The battle took place only 46 years after the first Battle of Roncevaux Pass (778) in a confrontation showing similar features: a Basque force engaging from the mountains a northbound expedition led by the Franks, and the same geographical setting (the Roncevaux Pass or a spot near-by). The battle resulted in the defeat of the Carolingian military expedition and the capture of its commanders Aeblus and Aznar Sánchez in 824. The clash was to have further reaching consequences than those of the 778 engagement: the immediate establishment of the independent Kingdom of Pamplona.


After Louis the Pious' half-hearted expedition to Pamplona circa 814, Eneko Arista, who held strong family ties with the Banu Qasi led by his half-brother Musa, prevailed in the fortress circa 816 (or earlier) after news of Charlemagne's death (814) spread and a Frankish vassal, Belasko of Pamplona—"Velasco", cited as "Balask al-Yalaski" in Muslim sources—was defeated in the Battle of Pancorbo. In 816 the revolt in Pamplona extended north across the Pyrenees, and in 816 Louis the Pious deposed Seguin (Sihimin) Duke of Vasconia and count of Bordeaux, who had been created duke of Vasconia in 812, for failing to suppress or sympathising with the rebellion, so triggering a widespread revolt.

The Basque lords both sides of the Pyrenees rebelled but were soon subdued in Dax by the Carolingian king Louis (817). Lupus Centullo was then appointed duke (818), but this too was immediately deposed after he rebelled. Meanwhile, in Aragon (Jaca) the pro-Frankish count Aznar Galindez was overthrown by Eneko´s allied count Garcia Malo (Garcia, 'the young' in old Basque) in 820. All Vasconia remained at this point in a shaky state of rebellion and the Frankish tenure on the Hispanic Marches was shifting out of control.

The battle

Roman watchtower of Urkulu next to the Roncevaux Pass

In 824 an expedition was mustered by the Carolingian king in the Vasconia remaining under Frankish overlordship (north of the Pyrenees). The military force was headed by the Duke of Vasconia Aznar Sanchez (maybe son of the Basque duke Lupo), who led Basque troops hailing from current Gascony, and count Aeblus ("Aeblus et Asinarius comites cum copiis Wasconum ad Pampilonam missi"), commanding a Frankish army. The military force headed south with a view to quashing the Basque rebellion centred in Pamplona. The expedition arrived in the Basque stronghold, but found no resistance and with the expedition having accomplished its goals they made their way back north with goods looted on the town.

However, on the sinuous narrow passes of the region of Cize (according to Umayyad chroniclers), a joint force including Navarrese (Eneko Arista), Banu Qasi and Aragonese awaited them hidden in the forests. The Basques engaged the two columns in their terrain and the Carolingian forces were severely crushed. Not only were the troops routed, but the two commanders of the expedition were captured by the assailants.


The Cize mountain passes

After the Carolingian defeat, the two commanders followed a different fate: while the Frankish count Aeblus was sent prisoner to Córdoba, Aznar Sánchez was released thanks to his kinship with the captors ("Asinarius vero misericordia eorum, qui eum ceperant, quasi qui consanguineus eorum esset") a fact that evidenced the good relations entertained at that moment by the joint Banu Qasi - Arista tandem with the Cordovan Umayyad, maybe after the accession to the throne of Abd ar-Rahman II in 822.

Eneko Arista came up victorious after the battle and became the undisputed ruler of Pamplona. The new independent Basque kingdom brought about the definite detachment of the territories south of the Pyrenées from the Duchy of Vasconia suzerain to the Franks, as well as the loss of control over the Hispanic Marches for them and the start of an on-off alliance between the kings of Pamplona and the muwallad Banu Qasi.


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