Menendo González

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Menendo González (Portuguese and Galician: Mendo Gonçalves) (died 6 October 1008) was a semi-autonomous Duke of Galicia[1] and Count of Portugal (997–1008) and a dominant figure in the Kingdom of León around the turn of the second millennium. He was the tutor and father-in-law of King Alfonso V from at least 1003. He maintained peaceful diplomatic relations with the Caliphate of Córdoba until 1004, after which there was a state of war. In his last years he had to deal with Viking raids, during one of which he may have been killed.


Menendo González was probably the eldest son and successor of Gonzalo Menéndez and his wife Ilduara Peláez.[2] Menendo's wife is variously known in contemporary sources as Toda, Tota, Todadomna, Tutadomna, Tutadonna, etc. One twelfth-century source calls her Mayor.[3]

Menendo had at least five sons and three daughters.[4] One son, Rodrigo Menéndez, was a direct ancestor in the maternal line of Urraca Fróilaz, wife of Pedro Fróilaz de Traba.[5] Another, Gonzalo (attested 1007–14), is cited with the title of count, and one Ramiro (attested 1005–14) was the armiger regis, or royal alférez, a post his father had also held. His other sons were Egas and Munio (both attested 1007–14). Besides his daughter Elvira (of whom more below), he had daughters named Ilduara (attested 1025–58) and Ildoncia/Eldonza (attested 1014). Ilduara married Nuño Aloitiz, a count in Portugal.[4]

Regency of Alfonso V[edit]

Alfonso V in the twelfth-century Libro de los Testamentos (fol. 53v).

Before 999 King Vermudo II placed his heir, Alfonso V, under the tutorship of his alférez Menendo.[6] Alfonso was only five at his father's death (September 999) and he spent the early years of his reign in the care of Menendo and his wife. The earliest act of Alfonso as king dates to 13 October 999, and it lists as confirmants first Count Menendo González ("Menendus Gundisaluiz, comes") and then "Duke" (count) Sancho García of Castile ("Santius, dux, Garsea prolis").[7] Menendo also appears in contemporary documents with the ducal title, as in dux domnus Menendus proles Gundisalvi.[8]

The young Alfonso always appears in his early charters beside his mother, Elvira García, a sister of the count of Castile and possibly exercising the regency under his influence. After 1003 Elvira no longer appears in royal charters; perhaps she was removed in a palace coup by Menendo. In subscribing one royal act Menendo went so far as to call himself "he who under the authority of the aforementioned king ordains and guides all things" ("qui sub imperio iam dicti regis hec omnia ordinavit et docuit").[9] In 1004 Sancho challenged the regency of Menendo. Both counts petitioned the Córdoban hajib al-Muzaffar to arbitrate the dispute.[7] According to Ibn Khaldun, a hearing took place and al-Muzaffar's deputy, the qadi of the Mozarabic community of Córdoba, Asbag bin Abd Allah bin Nabil, found in favour of Menendo. According to some sources this took place in Córdoba with the two disputant counts in attendance,[9] but according to others it took place in León.[6]

In 1000, as regent, Menendo confirmed the testament of Hilal, called Salvatus, the Mozarabic abbot of San Cipriano de Valdesalce, after the queen-regent Elvira and the young king and before five bishops of the realm.[10] A charter dated 23 December 1001 records the settlement of a dispute concerning the monastery of Celanova by Alfonso V and "his elder, the lord Menendo, son of Gonzalo" ("senatus sui domni Ermenagildi Gundisaluiz prolis"). Another charter dated 11 January 1002 records the donation of San Andrés de Congostro to the monastery of Celanova and was confirmed by "duke Menendo, son of Gonzalo" ("Menendus dux prolis Gundisaluiz").

Relations with Córdoba[edit]

The exterior of Great Mosque of Córdoba.

Menendo did not initially collaborate with the Córdobans, but after contingents were sent from Córdoba to reinforce Coimbra and the frontier with Portugal, Menendo entered into a pact with al-Muzaffar, which included a clause calling for military collaboration in 1003.[11] That year Leonese and Castilian troops assisted the Córdobans in their attack on Catalonia.[6] This pact seems to have been broken when, in 1005, a Córdoban army marched with the intent of taking Zamora. The city was not captured, but much territory was seized.[12] For the remainder of Menendo's regency there was no peace with the Córdobans.

There is an ivory pyxis containing a contemporary chalice and paten in the treasury of the Cathedral of Braga.[13] The pyxis has an inscription on the rim of its lid which allows it to be dated rather precisely to between 1004, when the hajib Abd al-Malik received the title he bears in the inscription, Sayf al-Dawla, and 1007, when he received the higher title of al-Muzaffar.[14] The pyxis had found its way into the hands of Menendo González sometime before his death, since an added inscription on the bottom of it relates its donation to the church by him and his wife, Toda. It reads: IN N[omi]NE D[omi]NI MENENDUS GUNDISALVI ET TUDAD[o]MNA SUM.[15] It has been suggested[16] that the chalice and paten, which appear to be made to fit the pyxis, were possibly commissioned by Menendo for the pyxis he obtained during a campaign against Córdoba, so to be donated to Braga. On the other hand, it has been suggested[6] that the pyxis was originally a gift from the court of Córdoba to the Leonese regent during diplomatic negotiations. Historian Serafin Moralejo sees it presented to Menendo by Asbagh the qadi as "a good-will gift ... a bitter one indeed and a warning oo, since the title of Sayf al-Dawla carved on its lid commemorated the raid the hajib had launched on León one year earlier."[17] The iconography of the pyxis is peaceful, and its original function could have been at a "marriage, or an occasion of a calendrical observance such as a summer of fall harvest festival".[18] The carvings of birds eating fruit may imitate a well-used Christian eucharistic motif dating back to Visigothic times.[19] If so, the piece may have been designed to serve as a diplomatic gift to a Christian ruler, perhaps Menendo.[6]


A medieval representation of Olaf Haraldsson.

The Islamic historian Ibn Khaldun, dating it by the anno Hegirae, places Menendo's death between 17 September 1007 and 4 September 1008. The Chronicon Lusitanum records Menendo's death under the year 1008 as taking place on 6 October (Æra 1046. II. Non. Octobris occisus fuit Comes Menendus).[20] The wording suggests that Menendo was assassinated.[9][21] He was succeeded as regent by the queen-mother Elvira and the count of Castile.[22] Towards 1013 Alfonso V, by then of age, married Elvira Menéndez, Gonzalo's daughter. She gave him a son, Vermudo III, his successor, and a daughter, Sancha, who married Ferdinand of Castile and passed the Leonese throne on to him. She died on 2 December 1022.[23] In 1014 Alfonso confirmed all the possessions of the monastery of Guimarães, founded by Menendo's grandmother, Mumadona Díaz.

It has been suggested that Menendo was perhaps killed defending Portugal from a Viking raid.[24] According to the later Icelandic saga Heimskringla, the Vikings under Olaf Haraldsson attacked Gunnvaldsborg, possibly to be identified as a descriptive toponym meaning "city of González" (in Latin *Gundisalvus-burgus) and indicating Tui, which was in Menendo's lordship and is independently known to have been destroyed by Vikings about this time.[25] In the words of the Heimskringla:

He [Olaf] conquered the castle called Gunnvaldsborg—it was large and old—and there he captured the earl who was in command there, called Geirfith. Then he had a meeting with the townspeople and imposed a ransom on them for freeing the earl—twelve thousand gold shillings; and that sum was paid by the townspeople as he had demanded. As says Sigvat:

A thirteenth time the Thronders'
thane did win a battle
south in Seljupollarin
sithen, with great carnage,
when to ancient stronghold
early at morn he marched, and
gallant Earl Geirfith of
Gunnvaldsborg made captive.[26]

There is a Latin document of 1024 titled “Tudensis sedes post Normannorum vastationem Ecclesiae Divi Jacobi attributa”: the see of Tui was assigned to the church of Santiago after being laid waste by the Northmen.


  1. ^ The title (dux de Galicia in medieval Latin) comes from posthumous charters. He is also sometimes referred to as Menendo González II or Mendo II Gonçalves to distinguish him from his grandfather, Hermenegildo González, since the name Mendo/Menendo/Menendus is derived from Heremengild/Hermenegildo/Hermenegildus.
  2. ^ For a full study of Menendo's family, cf. José Mattoso, A Nobreza medieval portuguesa: a família e o poder (Lisbon: 1981), 143–47.
  3. ^ Although her parents are unknown she is thought to have been granddaughter of count Fruela Gutiérrez, the brother of Menendo's maternal grandmother Hermesenda and of Saint Rudesend. The principal narrative source for this period in Leonese history is the early twelfth-century chronicler Pelayo of Oviedo, whose brief account of Menendo's regency goes like this: "On the death [of Bermudo II] his son Alfonso, aged five, succeeded to the kingdom in the Era 1037 [AD 999]; and he was brought up by Count Menendo González and his wife the Countess Mayor in Galicia. They gave him their daughter Elvira in marriage, from whom he bore two children, Bermudo and Sancha." (Quoted in R. A. Fletcher, The Quest for El Cid, 90.)
  4. ^ a b Ermelindo Portela Silva and María del Carmen Pallarés, "Elementos para el análisis de la aristocracía altomedieval de Galicia: Parentesco y patrimonio", I Coloquio de Historia Medieval: Galicia en la Edad Media, Santiago de Compostela, July 1987, 21, contains a genealogical schema.
  5. ^ Margarita Cecilia Torres Sevilla-Quiñones de León, "Relaciones fronterizas entre Portugal y León en tiempos de Alfonso VII: El ejemplo de la casa de Traba", Revista da Faculdade de Letras, 15:1 (1998), 302.
  6. ^ a b c d e Francisco Prado-Vilar, "Caliphal Ivory Caskets from Al-Andalus", Muqarnas, 14 (1997), 33–34.
  7. ^ a b Gonzalo Martínez Díez, El condado de Castilla, 711–1038: la historia frente a la la leyenda (Madird: 2005), 592–93.
  8. ^ Portela and Pallarés, 23 n. 6.
  9. ^ a b c Roger Collins, "The Spanish Kingdoms", The New Cambridge Medieval History: c. 900–c. 1024, ed. by Timothy Reuter and Rosamond McKitterick (Cambridge: 2005), 685.
  10. ^ Richard Hitchcock, "¿Quiénes fueron los verdaderos mozárabes? Una Contribución a la historia del mozarabismo", Nueva Revista de Filología Hispánica, 30:2 (1981), 585.
  11. ^ Martínez Díez (2005), 589.
  12. ^ Martínez Díez (2005), 595–96.
  13. ^ For an image of the pyxis, see the Museo Imaginado de Córdoba.
  14. ^ The hajib died anyway in battle in 1008. The inscription on the lid, quoted in Prado-Vilar, 33, reads:

    In the name of God. Blessings from God, prosperity and happiness to the hajib Sayf al-Dawla, may God increase his glory. From among what was ordered to be made under the supervision of the chief page [Zuhayr ibn Muhammad] al-Amiri.

    In Prado-Vilar, fig. 15 on p. 33 is a photograph of the pyxis and chalice, while fig. 16 on p. 34 is a closer view of its iconography of birds eating.
  15. ^ Prado-Vilar, 41 n. 85.
  16. ^ By Barbara Drake and Charles T. Little, Art of Medieval Spain, cat. no. 73, cited in Prado-Vilar, 41 n. 86.
  17. ^ Quoted in Prado-Vilar, 34. A warning because, as Moralejo notes, "León was to experience a further Muslim attack in the following year".
  18. ^ Prado-Vilar, quoting Holod, 34.
  19. ^ Mariam Rosser-Owen, "A Córdoban Ivory Pyxis Lid in the Ashmolean Museum", Muqarnas, 16 (1999), 23–24, accepts the conclusions of Prado-Vilar concerning the pyxis.
  20. ^ Enrique Flórez, España Sagrada (Madrid: 1796), XIV:417.
  21. ^ Bernard F. Reilly, The Kingdom of León-Castilla under King Alfonso VI, 1065–1109 (Princeton: 1988), 22.
  22. ^ Martínez Díez (2007), 74.
  23. ^ Martínez Díez (2007), 120–21. For the estimated dates of birth of these two grandsons of Menendo, cf. op. cit., p. 123.
  24. ^ A claim made, for example, by Marc Szwajcer, Chronique de Lusitanie, a French translation of the Chronicon Lusitanum.
  25. ^ Vicente Almazán, Francisco A. Cidrás Escáneo, trans. Gallaecia Scandinavica (Vigo: 1986), 115.
  26. ^ Snorri Sturluson, (Lee M. Hollander, trans.), Heimskringla: History of the Kings of Norway, University of Texas Press, 1991, pp. 257-8. Hollander identified Seljupollar with the Guadalquivir River.
Menendo González
Betótez family
Born: 945 Died: 8 October 1008
Titles of nobility
Preceded by
Gonçalo I
Count of Portugal
Succeeded by