EAA Research Consultant
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Route 66
The Mystery of El Cid's Swords Tizona and Colada
While researching material with the early cutlass and scimitar, and the discussion reviewing medieval and earlier Spanish swords, I became caught up in trying to discover more on the famous swords that were El Cid's.
El Cid (El Sayyid= the Lord), Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar (1043-1099) was a famed Castilian heroic figure, immortalized in Spanish history and legend, as well of course as the Hollywood epic "El Cid" with Charleton Heston and Sophia Loren.
These two swords seem to have become even more fabled than El Cid himself, and what they might have looked like, how El Cid acquired them, and what became of them has become a mystery. Some versions claim Tizona was taken in battle with a Moorish opponent in battle, and was passed down to El Cid's som in laws, some say he was awarded both of the swords.Another account suggests Tizona was part of a ransom for Berenguer Ramon II. I found one account that claimed Tizona was buried with him.
Most confusing is that both swords, or examples stated to be them, are today in museums in Spain.
The name 'Tizona' means literally burning stick, firebrand (=a person who stirs revolt or trouble).
It is said that the blade was forged in Cordoba, and was of damascus steel. Could this be a metaphor for the carbon used in forging the steel? With 'Colada' , while the term literally means 'strained' (as in the fruit used in the well known cocktail), as used for the sword (according to Sebastian de Covarubias, writing in 1611) referred to the acero colado process of producing alloyed steel without impurities. This would seem to support the concept, and naming of swords for these factors as well as often where or who made them was a well known Muslim practice.
While Tizona was said to be a single hand sword, it is often claimed that Colada was a two hand sword. According to most resources, this would seem unlikely, as the two hand swords, at least of larger size and extended grip, were not used until at least 1300, and then not popular until much later, about 16th century. This leaves the identity of Colada even more confusing.
Returning to Tizona, in considering the swords in use during the 11th century, it seems likely that it may well have been of the forms used by the Almoravides, double edged and likely hilted much like the early Islamic swords or even with simple straight crossguards and 'Viking' style hilts. The Frankish blades were much in use not only in Andalusia, but Morocco, and the hilts resembling the Viking style seem to have been often used as well.
In 2007, the Spanish noble owning Tizona, though it had been on display in the Royal Armoury in Madrid since 1944, decided to sell it to the Cultural Ministry to display in Burgos near El Cids burial location. The authenticity of the sword was contested, much likely due to the hilt form which was of style much later, 14th to 15th century in Hispano-Moresque fashion. As that battle ensued, the metal of the blade was tested metallurgically, and again...one version claims the metal corresponds to 11th century Cordoba, while other views hold to the 14th-15th century assessment.
The Colada, also in Hispano-Moresque mounts of that period, remains at the Royal Palace, seeming to attract much less conflict, as it seems generally held that its authenticity is probably questionable at best.
In 1839, there was a fire in the Royal Armoury in Madrid, and according to accounts, including Sir Guy Laking, many of its holdings ended up in London auctions subsequently. Nothing was actually written or inventoried as far as I am aware, until Albert Frederick Calvert wrote "Spanish Arms and Armour" in 1907. Many of the swords and weapons shown instantly reflect doubtful attribution. In this inventory, Calvert describes 'Colada' being there, and that the Conde de Valencia believes it belongs to the 13th c. but notes he also thinks that the blade (#G180) may be 11th century. It is noted that both Colada and Tizona had been included in inventories of the treasury of Ferdinand and Isabella at Segovia.
This suggests perhaps that these two escaped the apparant 'deaccessing' of 1839.
In another curious reference titled "Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey" (1856), the accounts written by his son in law J. Warter, note a letter of 1827, where someone he knew had stolen the sword Tizona from the castle of Bejar, leaving another in its place. The figures involved and the ultimate outcome are left muddled in a mess of letters, but the implication seemed worthy of note.
These are the proceeds of notes I gathered and some observations which I feel has given me a better understanding of the history of these famous swords, and I hope others will add comments and hopefully additional information.
All best regards,