The People of Gibraltar
711 - Count Julian and Florinda - The King’s Poniard

The story of Count Julian's involvement in the history of Gibraltar is both obscure and indirect. In fact most serious historians think most of it is pure myth. Nevertheless, the man did exist and his odd intervention in the Moorish conquest of Spain is historically verifiable. Who was the man and what were his motives and where does the story come from? The quotes and comments below show how different historians have dealt with Count Julian and leave the reader to make up his or her own mind.

Florinda being spied upon by Roderick, King of the Visigoths   ( 1852 Franz Xaver Winterhalte )

1. Ibnu-l-Kuttiyyah  10th Century
. . . The cause of Tarik's entering Andalus was this: A foreign merchant, whose name was llyan, ( Julian ) was in the habit of crossing from Andalus to the country of the Berbers. The city of Tangiers was his residence, and he ruled in it as master; the inhabitants professed the Christian religion.

... This merchant used to bring to Roderic horses, hawks, and other productions of those countries. It happened, however, that the wife of the merchant came to die, leaving him one daughter, of great beauty; and Roderic having commanded him to repair to Africa, he excused himself with his wife's death, and his having no one to entrust with the care of his daughter while he was absent; upon which the King ordered that she should be lodged in his own palace.

But Roderic's eye having rested on her, he was taken in love with her charms, and he obtained the gratification of his wishes. Upon the return of Ilyan to court, the girl apprised him of what had taken place; and Ilyan said to Roderic, " I have in store for thee horses and hawks, such as thou never sawest before in thy life."

He then asked his permission to take away his daughter with him; and his request being granted, Roderic suffered her to depart, after loading her with presents and money. Ilyan then went to see Tarik,  . . . . . 

2. Ajbar Machmua - 10th Century
Dirigióse Musa contra las ciudades de la costa del mar, en que había gobernadores del rey de España que se habían hecho dueño de ellas y de los territorios circunvecinos. La capital de estas ciudades era la llamada Ceuta, y en ella y en las comarcas mandaba un infiel, de nombre Julián… 

Murió en esto el rey de España, Gaitixa (Witiza), dejando algunos hijos, entre ellos Oppas y Sisberto, que el pueblo no quiso aceptar; y, alterado el país, tuvieron a bien elegir y confiar el mando a un infiel llamado Rodrigo, hombre resuelto y animoso, que no era de estirpe real, sino caudillo y caballero.

Witizia King of the Goths ( Unknown )

Acostumbraban los grandes señores de España a mandar sus hijos, varones y hembras, al palacio real de Toledo, a la sazón fortaleza principal de España y capital del reino, a fin de que estuviesen a las órdenes del monarca, a quien sólo ellos servían. 

Allí se educaban hasta que, llegados a la edad núbil, el rey los casaba, proveyéndoles para ello de todo lo necesario, Cuando Rodrigo fue declarado rey, prendó se de la hija de Julián y la forzó. Escribiéronle al padre lo ocurrido, y el infiel guardó su rencor y exclamó: "¡Por la religión del Mesías, que he de trastornar su reino y he de abrir una fosa bajo sus pies!" 

Mandó en seguida su sumisión a Musa, conferenció con él, le entregó las ciudades puestas bajo su mando - en virtud de un pacto que concertó con ventajosas y seguras condiciones para sí y sus compañeros - y, habiéndole hecho una descripción de España, le estimuló a que procurase su conquista.

3. Juan de Mariana - Late 16th Century 

Juan de Mariana ( Unknown )

Mariana's story is generally as told by Howell. However he suggests that Florinda wrote to her father directly and without modesty about her rape without any reference to allegorical green apples. He also adds an interesting if confusing postscript. 

There is no certainty, what became of count Julian, but that it was a received opinion, without the testimony of any author to support it, that his wife was stoned to death, a son of his cast head-long from a tower at Ceuta, and that he himself was condemned to perpetual imprisonment by the Moors, whom he so much laboured to serve.

4. Al Makkari - Early 17th Century

There was in Tangiers a Rumi, (Roman) named Ilyan, who was Al-mukaddam of Roderick, King of Andalus, who held his court at Toledo. This monarch is the same under whose reign Andalus was invaded and subdued by the Arabs. One of the causes which is said to have contributed most efficaciously to that event is the following. 

There was at Toledo a palace the gate of which was secured with many locks, for every king who ruled over that country added a lock to the gate, and none ever dared to open it; nor did anyone know what it contained. The number of the locks had already reached to twenty, one for each of the kings who had governed that country when the said Roderick ascended the throne of Andalus. 

He then said, "I must have the gate of this palace opened, that I may see what is inside;" but his counts and bishops said to him, "Do no such thing, O King! Do not innovate upon a custom which thy predecessors have hitherto kept most religiously." But Roderick replied, "No, you shall not persuade me, I must have it opened, and see what it contains." 

He then caused the gate to be thrown open, but he found nothing inside save a large roll of parchment, on which were portrayed figures of turbaned men mounted on generous steeds, having swords in their hands, and spears with fluttering pennons at the end. The roll contained besides an inscription, purporting.

"The men represented in this picture are the Arabs, the same who, whenever the locks of this palace are broken, will invade this island and subdue it entirely." When Roderick saw this, he repented of what he had done, and ordered the gate to be shut.

It was then the custom among the Goths, for the princes of the royal blood, the great noblemen of the kingdom, and the governors of the provinces, to send to the supreme court at Toledo such among their sons as they chose to be promoted and advanced, and at the same time distinguished by the favour of their sovereign, under whose eye they were trained to all military exercises, and were afterwards appointed to commands in the army. 

In the same manner the daughters were sent to the king's palace, and educated with his daughters, and when grown up the king would marry them to the young noblemen at his court, according to their fathers' dignity, and bestow upon them marriage portions.

It happened that in compliance with this custom Ilyan, the Lord of Ceuta, a city then under the sway of King Roderic, and the inhabitants of which also professed the Christian religion, having a daughter, a beautiful and innocent creature, crossed the straits and took her to Toledo, then the court and capital of the kingdom. When Roderic beheld her, he was so much struck with her beauty that he fell desperately in love, and did not hesitate, when persuasion had failed, to obtain by violence the gratification of his wishes.

Florinda being spied upon by Roderick. A rather more prudish version of the picture by Franz Xaver Winterhalte  ( Unknown )

Some time afterwards the girl found the means of secretly acquainting her father with the treatment she had suffered at the hands of Roderic; and it is related that when Ilyan read his daughter's message he fell into a most violent rage, and swore to revenge the injury inflicted by Roderic, exclaiming,-

' By the faith of the Messiah! I will undermine his throne and disturb his dominions, until the whole is overturned and annihilated.' 

So there can be no doubt that the injury done to Ilyan's daughter was one of the causes of the conquest of Andalus  . . . 

Ilyan embarked immediately for Andalus  . . and hastening to Toledo presented himself before the king, who, not expecting him at so unseasonable a time, upbraided him for leaving his post, and addressed him in the following words: 

'What brought thee here? Thou knowest very well that this is neither the time nor the occasion for thy coming to court.' 

To which Ilyan answered, excusing himself by saying that his wife was dangerously ill, and desired greatly to see her daughter once more before she died, and had begged and entreated him to fetch her. He then asked Roderic to issue orders that his daughter should be delivered to him, and all her baggage prepared for - immediate departure.

Roderic granted his request, not without having previously made the daughter promise that she would keep their intercourse a secret from her father, but the girl preferred her father to the king, and informed the former of his conduct towards her. 

They say, on the authority of Ilyan himself, that when about to take leave of the king the latter addressed him as follows: 'O Ilyan ! I hope that I shall soon hear of thee, and that thou wilt endeavour to procure for me some of those very swift hawks which are such a source of pleasure and amusement to me',  to which Ilyan answered, 'Doubt not, O King! but that I will soon be back, and, by the faith of the Messiah! I will never feel satisfied until I bring thee such hawks as thou never sawest in thy life' -  meaning by this the Arabs, whom he already thought of bringing against his country. . . 

No sooner did Ilyan find himself safe in Africa than he repaired to the city of Cairwan, where the Arabian governor then held his court, and by his glowing descriptions of the fertility, wealth, and extent of the island of Andalus, by representing his countrymen as divided and weakened by internal divisions, and enervated by their luxurious habits and a long peace, prevailed upon Musa, as we shall presently relate, to send with him some troops under the command of one of his Berber freedmen, who, with the rapidity of the hawk pouncing upon his prey, subdued the whole kingdom, and added new and extensive dominions to those already subject to the sway of Islam.

5.  James Howell - Early 17th Century 

The treachery of Julian ( Unknown )

The Moors kept here about 700 years, and it is a remarkable story how they got in first, which was thus, upon good record. There reigned in Spain Don Rodrigo, who kept his Court then at Málaga. He employed the Conde Don Julian Ambassador to Barbary, who had a daughter - a young beautiful lady - that was maid of honour to the Queen. 

The King spying her one day refreshing herself under an arbour, fell enamoured with her and never left till he had deflowered her. She resenting much the dishonour, wrote a letter to her father in Barbary under this allegory, that there was a fair green apple upon the table, and the King’s poniard fell upon it and cleft it in two. 

Don Julian, apprehending the meaning,  got letters of revocation and came back to Spain, where he so complied with the King that he became his favourite. Among other things he advised the King that in regard he was now in peace with all the world, he would dismiss his galleys and garrisons that were up and down the seacoasts because it was a superfluous charge. 

This being done, and the country left open to any to invade, he prevailed with the King to have leave to go with his lady to see their friends in Tarragona, which was 300 miles off. Having been there a while, his lady made semblance to be sick, and so sent to petition the King that her daughter Doña Cava (whom they had left at Court to satiate the King’s lust) might come to comfort her awhile. 

Cava came, and the gate through which she went forth is called after her name to this day in Malaga. Don Julian having all his chief kindred there, he sailed over to Barbary and afterwards brought over the King of Morocco and others with an army, who suddenly invaded, Spain lying armless and open, and so conquered it. 

Don Rodrigo died gallantly in the field, but what became of Don Julian, who for a particular revenge betrayed his own country, no story makes mention.

6. Gerónimo Pujades - Early 17th Century 

. . . la reina mujer de Rodrigo, que ya he dicho se nombraba Egilona , criaba en su servicio á una hija del conde D. Julian : de la cual, comúnmente se dice, que se nombraba Cava. Verdad es que algunos han dicho que no era hija , sino es mujer del conde Julián, nombrada Fandina. 

Pero el moro Abulcazim la nombra Florinda , y por mal nombre la Cava. Y escribe lo que se tiene comúnmente, que era hija, y no mujer de Julián. Y como esta señora era hermosa y bizarra, el rey Rodrigo en el año 711 , según Esteban Garibay, se enamoró de su gracia y gentileza; y aunque era casado, siguiendo las malas costumbres del rey Witiza , prometiendo tomarla por mujer, ó según algunos forzándola , la gozó.

Otros han dicho que la promesa de casar Rodrigo con Florinda la hizo el Rey al conde Julián su padre, y no á ella. De lo que se comprendería que era hija y no mujer del conde Julián. Fuese este el trato, ó Florinda fuese forzada (que para fuerza basta una voluntad de un Rey determinada ) cumplido que hubo el Rey su apetito sensual, se olvidó de mirar por la honra de ella, y del cumplimiento de la palabra. 

The rest of Pujades's story follows traditional lines. 

7. Thomas James - 1772 
I am now come to treat of Gibraltar, a name derived from a Moorish general, and of the strange cause which introduced that barbarous multitude into Spain, who over-ran almost all Spain in three years ; in which recital we must not entirely rely on the story of king Roderic's deflowering count Julian's daughter, though undoubtedly that facilitated the descent. 

Historians relate this famous revolution in various ways . . . . relying too much on Mr. Howell's story of the beautiful Cava, assign no other cause: which letter is very erroneous from the beginning to the end: Emanuel de Faria y Susa, is as bad ; and Mariana, though otherwise a great historian, yet carries the air of the marvellous in many places of his history, as well as in this story. 

Sceptical or not, James treats his readers with a good dozen or more pages of repetitive prose. Howell is given the full treatment and very many other obscure sources are well paraphrased.

8. Ignacio López de Ayala - 1782 
O fuese combinado á la conquista de España por los hijos de Witiza , ó por el conde Don Julián , como generalmente se cree , irritado por la injuria de Florinda su hija , ó al fin que el espíritu marcial que agitaba á los Sarracenos , excitase en Tarik , general subordinado á Musa , el ambicioso designio de añadir á los dominios Arabes- una porción de Europa tan rica , abundante , i deliciosa como España ; Tarik ben Zaiad ó Zaide quiso tentar fortuna , i se dispuso para hacer en este reino un desembarco. 

9. Pascual de Gayangos - 1840 

Pascual de Gayangos y Arce ( Unknown )

The following are taken from Gayango's footnotes to his translation of various Arabic sources;

. . . . Most of the Arabian historians allude to some enmity having arisen between Roderic and Ilyan, which became the principal cause of the conquest. See Ibnu-l-khattib, the historians consulted by Conde, Cardonne, and Desguignes, and in general all those who wrote after the eleventh century of our Era. 

Those of an older date, if they mention llyan at all, say nothing about his misunderstanding with Roderic. This fable, which has found its way into most of the sober histories of Spain, was first introduced by the Monk of Silos, a chronicler of the eleventh century. There can be no doubt that he borrowed it from the Arabs, but it seems hard to believe that it was altogether a tale of their invention. 

There are facts in it which an Arab could not have invented unless he drew them from Christian sources; and . . . the Arabs knew and consulted the writings of the Christians. If Ilyan was Roderic's vassal,—if he was his 'Comes Spathariorum', or captain of his body-guard, . . . . there is nothing improbable in his daughter being educated in the royal palace.

Also - 

After the death of Ilyan, the Arabs took away Ceuta from his people [his heirs), and settled in it. 

10. Richard Ford - 1855 

Richard Ford dressed for Spain ( 1830s - Unknown )

'La Puerta de la Cava' - in Malaga - is connected by the vulgar with La Cava, Count Julian's daughter, whose violation by Don Roderick introduced the Moors into Spain, a questionable story at best; at all events La Cava is a corruption of Alcaba, the descent; and Cava herself is nothing but Cahba, which in Arabic signifies a lewd woman, a curse whence the old Spanish phrase gavasa bavasa. . . . 

That Don Julian  . .  assisted the Moorish invasion is certain, but  . .  his daughter is never mentioned, except in later ballads and sayings- 'Ay de España perdida por un gusto y por la Cava'

Ford, of course, was a born cynic. However, as modern Spanish historian Francisco Garcia Gomez has pointed out, it is rather odd that a Moorish gate should have been given a name before the Moors had actually arrived in Spain.

11. Frederic George Stephens - 1870s

Frederic George Stephens

The story which is thus variously told may or may not be  true, but there is very little doubt that, with or without a Cava or a Julian, some invasion would have been attempted by the Arabs, who had just before that time reached the western extremity of their prodigious line of conquests from the heart of Arabia. Invasions of comparatively unimportant character had been attempted unsuccessfully several years before Taric landed at Gibraltar. The story of Cava is told in many ways ; that which we have given is commonly accepted.

The one Stephens does give - and at great length - is the conventional one but including his own invented dialogue between the various characters. All of it is based on al-Makkari's effort.

12. Ernle Bradford - 1971
Ernle quotes Thomas James's History of the Herculean Straits' at great length but later hedges his bets with the following;

Whether the story is true or not, it was inevitable that in later centuries a number of legends should crystallise around the invasion of Spain . . .  it was natural and in true romantic vein, that a ravished daughter should have served as a spur that supposedly drove Count Julian to enter into a league with the Muslims. There does, indeed, seem little doubt that he did conspire with Musa ibn Nusair  . . .

13. George Hills - 1974 
No story at all, just a foot note. 

Julian may have had that personal grievance against Roderick which inspired so many Arabic and Spanish historians and poets in later centuries.

14. William Jackon  - 1987 
The Christian and Arab legends of the Moorish invasion tell how the last Visigoth king of Spain, Rodrigo, who had usurped the throne on the death of King Witiza in710, deflowered Princess Florinda, nicknamed Cava, the beautiful daughter of Count Julian, then a maid of honour to Rodrigo's queen. 

Determined to revenge his daughter, Count Julian allied himself with Moors and persuaded them to invade Spain rather than continue harassing Saepta ( Ceuta ). The real reasons were probably more prosaic  . . .

15.  Maurice Harvey - 1996
It was the usurpation of the throne by a noble, Roderick, which led directly to their downfall, for the disposed Aquila appealed to Count julian, the Vandal Governor of of Saepta ( Ceuta , for military aid to recover his throne.

It was not, however, Julian, who was to be instrumental in ridding Spain of the Visigoths for a far more powerful and explosive movement was taking place in north Africa  . . . the invasion of Islam . . . 

. . .Musa iby Nusayr took control of the whole of the north African littoral at the same time as Julian was being asked to intervene in Spain. Not surprisingly Julian, who was obviously keen to move the Arabs to other pastures suggested they might care to undertake the invasion instead. 

Roderick  ( 1900s Marcelino de Unceta Rodrigo )


1 Ibnu-l-Kuttiyyah  a tenth century Moorish writer and according to the Spanish Arabist  Gayangos perhaps more believable than most as he was a descendent of the Visigoth King Witiza on the female line.

2. Ajbar Machmua is the name given to an anonymous Berber manuscript of the 11th century. The text begins with the Moorish invasion of Spain in 711 and ends with the founding of the Caliphate of Cordoba in the early 10th century. 

3. Juan de Mariana - A Spanish Jesuit priest , scholar and historian wrote the multi-volume Historiae de rebus Hispaniae during the 16th and  17th century.

4. Ahmed ibn Mohammed Al-Makkari was an early seventeenth century Moorish historian from Tlemcen, Algeria. His best known book is The Breath of Perfume from the Branch of Green Andalusia which is a history of the Mohammedan Dynasties in Spain. (see LINK )

5. This is the  earliest English source I can find -  a 1620s letter by a certain James Howell to John Savage, the Viscount Colchester, a member of Parliament and a Catholic. The letter forms part of The familiar letters of James Howell.

6. Gerónimo Pujades or Jeroni Pujades, was a Catalan scholar and historian - Crónica Universal del Principado de Cataluña. 

7. Thomas James - British historian - The History of the Herculean Straits - 1772  (see LINK )

8 Ignacio López de Ayala - Historia de Gibraltar - 1782 ( see LINK )

9. Pascual de Gayangos - born in 1808 he was renown as an orientalist - His magnus opus was a translation of Al-Makkari's  work in 1840 under the title of History of the Mohammedan Dynasties in Spain.

10. Richard Ford  - British travelogue writer classified by many as a brilliant mind and by others as a nasty piece of work.  (see LINK )

11. Frederic George Stephens - Historian who produced several histories of Gibraltar, one of which is attributed here and there - erroneously - as having been written by the book's illustrator J. H. Mann. (see LINK )

12. Ernle Bradford  - Gibraltar - The History of a Fortress - 1971. Strong on British matters weak elsewhere. 

13. George Hills - The Rock of Contention - 1974 - Perhaps the definitive general history of Gibraltar in its scope, research, sources and attention to detail. Unfortunately looked upon with distaste by some Gibraltarians because of a perceived anti-Gibraltarian and pro-Spanish bias.

14. William Jackson  - The Rock of the Gibraltarians - 1987. Despite the name the book, as is the case with most British histories of the Rock hardly mentions the history of present day  'Gibraltarians' until well into the nineteenth century.

15. Maurice Harvey - Gibraltar - A History - 1996 - The latest rehash of the same material with hardly anything new to offer.