The balance of payments that was in deficit for Western Europe in the siglo XI, it would improve over the years until it became a surplus. And such a great event was possible thanks to the technical advances that were taking place both in ships and in the art of sailing, which was increasing the competitiveness of maritime transport and reducing its costs, until the term trade became synonymous with navigation. From 1212 and as a result of the battle of the Battle of the Navas de Tolosa, the collapse and fragmentation of Almohad power in Al-Andalus, led in the following decades, the general advance of the borders of the Christian kingdoms towards noon. In the second quarter of the 13th century, as the master Pierre Chaunu pointed out, the pace of the reconquest multiplied by five.
In that context Jaime I, who after all was always a crusader, caressed an ambitious program of objectives that sought to expand his kingdoms and extend the Catholic faith where destiny had led him: the sea and the noon. The French north was closed after the crushing defeat suffered by his father Pedro II in the battle of Muret in 1213. The west was not a viable option before the powerful Castile and the east was still neither possible nor achievable. And such remarkable ambitions were curtailed by the limitations presented by the small crown of Aragon.
In the intricacies of this historical crossroads, Jaime I understood that the desired expansion towards the south, would be maritime or not. The Balearic Islands were presented as the first strategic objective. Thus, follow the steps of the campaigns of Jaime I it is to follow a systematic plan of naval siege of Valencia, a methodical process of neutralization of all the points that could help the capital of the Valencian kingdom from its strongest point: the sea. Along this line, the Balearic Islands would fall in 1229, thanks to a fleet that sailed from Salou, not far from what had been the best shipyards of the Muslim East, those of Tortosa. And with Mallorca the Muslim squad that exists there fell. One of the fundamental milestones for the conquest of Valencia had been fulfilled.
Well advised, the king sought new positions on the littoral plain by north of Valencia and thus it was fixed in Burriana, accessible by land and by sea. Reinforced with the best of its troops, by the last Walí de Valencia, the walled city of Burriana, put up a tenacious resistance to the siege to which Jaime I subjected it in 1233, so that the siege was prolonged, forcing troops to provide a long period of military service that would reveal the limitations of traditional recruitment systems, through citizen militias and vassals. The distance from the bases of origin of the troops, the volume and complexity of the supply that made it had to be maritime, inexorably led to a new recruitment system: payment or welded.
The king needed money especially for offensive naval warfare, who was to be the protagonist of his adventure to the south. Large outlays were required that the royal coffers were unable to bear. Those coffers had to be filled and for that, more maritime bases were needed, more ports from which to increase the presence of the crown in the Mediterranean trade routes, which in turn required fleets and armies. That was the formidable challenge, to establish a virtuous economic circle that would catapult the naval and military power of the Crown of Aragon.
With this perspective, Jaime I managed to extend his Mediterranean commercial networks and pay tribute to the kingdoms of Morocco, Tremecen and Tunisia, which provided him with healthy income. But let’s go back to Burriana. Despite the powerful quarrying machines, not much progress was made, because the city was supplied by sea. Jaime I He describes the movements of these wooden siege machines, built by sailors with materials from the fleet (ropes, ropes and pulleys), recounting how during them, the usual songs were sung to beach or launch ships.
And just then, when the place was bogged down, two galleys came to the beach one of Bernardo de Santa Eugenia and another by Pedro Martel, both prominent protagonists in the expedition to Mallorca, both passing at the service of the King and turning the situation around. In this way the numerous army was comfortably supplied by the vessels of the fleet, while the besieged began to suffer deficiencies of all kinds.
In the world of James I, as the Muslim chronicler reminds us Ibn Jaldún: “The Christians then returned to their old customs, made to the life of the sea, working with great constancy and studying everything that referred to the navigation of the ships”. If we stop briefly in that Mediterranean of the conquering king, we will verify that the ships were still sailing with rudder-oars, although the axial or codaste rudder was about to arrive, that the pulley systems were complicated to make the sails more easily dizzy. , that the poles were much better fixed to the resistant structure of the vessel by means of a strong firm rigging, among which the shroud stood out. And in that world of Jaime I, taridas, celandrías, galleys and ships, plowed the waters of the Mediterranean and filled its ports with prosperity. Afternoons moved by rowing, destined exclusively to the transport of horses, very little seaworthy according to the chronicles, which present them towed by galleys in the conquest of Mallorca. Celandrías, an evolution of the ancient Byzantine dromones, with more oars and more sailors. And also the ships, of which in the Games of Don Alfonso X the Wise, son-in-law of Jaime I, you can read: “the largest (ships) that go to wind are called ships and of these there are two mastes and one”, being the transport ships par excellence.
On the other hand, the ships destined for naval combat that were firstly the galleys and to a lesser extent the logs, although also had a sail and oars. The galleys were ships of little beam and a lot of length, equipped with sail and oars, fast and maneuverable. They were the most used warships in the Mediterranean. The larger ones had two decks, the lower one for stowage of cargo and food and the upper one used by warriors and crossbowmen during combat.
Jaime I was making the sea girdle the land and the rey Zaen Seeing that Burriana was going to fall, with what this meant, he offered a large amount of money to the king to lift the siege of Burriana. Some Christian gentlemen with Blasco de Alagón At the head, paradoxically the same one who had suggested the conquest of the city, they were tempted by the offer and acted deaf, so that the site failed. But the king did not give up his efforts and ordered his uncle Bernardo Guillén de Entenza to tighten the fence. One night Entenza attacked, managing to crown the wall. The reaction of the Moors drove the assailants back and he himself received a bolt to the thigh. At the noise, the king came to the fight, healing his faithful uncle himself. However, many knights did not go to combat, perhaps their warrior ardor was mitigated by the brilliance of the vile metal. Only the continuous supply by sea of the troops, was going to save the operation. Without forgetting the iron will of the king, who persevered in the endeavor against everything and everyone, with admirable tenacity. The quarrying machines did not stop and when a tower was demolished, the trumpets sounded at dawn and the attack began, although the stones and arrows thrown from the wall made the assault fail.
However, the besieged seeing that he was painting very badly, finally reached an agreement that they would all leave within 4 days and could go to Nules. Thus on July 16, 1233 the king entered Jaime I of Aragon in the reconquered town of Burriana.
The taking of Burriana cut the Muslim territory in two. The crusader king was now ready to deliver the final and unstoppable blow. The cavalcades through Valencian territory began to reduce the vital space of the capital of the Turia. So in 1235 the king tries to take CulleraBut as there was rough seas and the logs could not come with their vital supplies, the king had to lift the siege. In 1237 he seized El Puig, just 15 km north of Valencia, which replaced Burriana as the most advanced position and which endured the counterattacks from Valencia thanks to the maritime support received. We see how at every step, Jaime I, keeps the course, seeking to girdle and tame Valencia from the sea. First Balearic Islands, Second Burriana, Third Cullera, Fourth El Puig, finally Valencia. With the sea in the hands of the Aragonese fleet, without the possibility of maritime aid and without being able to feed itself in the fertile field of Burriana, the victory of the crusader king was sung. The castles north of Burriana, surrendered: Chivert, Cervera, Pulpis, Alcalatén and Vilafamés, Albocácer, Peñíscola. Next, Benicarló and Vinaroz.
And the conqueror held the rudder steady. Therefore, to support the conquest of the capital of Turia, left Tortosa in the Summer of 1238: 27 ships, 7 large logs and 3 galleys. During the siege of Valencia, the king would repeatedly travel to Tortosa to ensure the quartermaster of the troops involved in the conquest of the capital of his new kingdom. The conqueror saw to it that the logs carried bread, wine, barley and meat for at least two months. The defensive seams of Valencia were loosening, although in a last and desperate attempt to help, the King of Tunisia sent 12 galleys and 6 zabras to the aid of the square besieged by the Christians, who did not dare to disembark when they saw the squad Aragonese who went to the Grao, loaded with troops of refreshment, siege machines, food and ammunition.
The many hogueras lit in the Grao by the King’s troops, they ended up dissuading the Tunisian squadron that did not dare to engage in a combat of uncertain outcome with the Christian ships. The Tunisians then tried to disembark in Peñíscola, where they also failed, finally being able to do so in Denia without relevant consequences. Shortly after, the relief fleet had to withdraw and Muslim Valencia was left to its own devices. The sea had tamed the land and Valencia sealed its fate in the sea. The kingdom of Valencia was configured from its origins as a space turned to the sea, the cartographic representations of the kingdom of Valencia well into the modern age, that is, the end of the seventeenth century, present us with a kingdom from a maritime perspective “viewed from a ship , with north on the right of the plane and south on the left ”. And it is no coincidence that the first coat of arms of Valencia after the reconquest, which can be seen in the images, shows us a city on the water.
At the end of the century, Italy would go to the commercial conquest of Flanders. And in that adventure, we will find that Valencia with a maritime heart that was to become an essential node on the Italy-Flanders route. A stopover strategically located on a commercial route that would move traffic 40 times higher than the volume displaced by the Italy-Flanders land trade route. And as we continue to delve into the peculiar nuances of that Valencia with a maritime soul, we will find ourselves face to face with a dynamic commercial pole connected to the four cardinal points, which would become the fundamental pillar of the naval expeditions of the Crown of Aragon in its Mediterranean expansion. But that is another story.