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Old December 20th, 2016, 01:56 AM   #1

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The Almohad Conquest of Ifriqiya


Ifriqiya corresponds with old Roman province, based on Eastern Algeria, Tunisia and Western Libya. Time-wise we are in the late 1140s/1150s

Ibn Tumart, El Mahdi and the theological creator and inspiration for the Almohad movement had died. The reins were taken by his comrade Abd Al-Mu'min, who showed himself to be a brilliant political and military strategist over the next 20 years, against the background of the rough and duplicitous berber tribes of the area.

After a ten year struggle to maintain their position entrenched in the Atlas against the hated Almoravid rulers, a brilliant movement along 'Morocco', through the mountain ranges and avoiding the plains where the Almoravid regulars would be too strong, led to campaigns around Oran and Tremecen and the ultimate defeat of the Almoravid armies under Tashufin and Reverter, followed by a lengthy and bloody conquest of Marrakesh, as a domino effect led to all tribes and towns gradually swearing allegiance to the Almohad fundamentalist cause.

Once established his rule as Caliph and following some ruthless suppressions of rebellions, Abd Al-Mu'min took the whole Almohad army on a campaign to the east to conquer Ifriqiya. This had been on the fringe of the Almoravid Empire, controlled by some autonomous arab rulers, with some coastal towns like Mahdia and Tripoli held by the Sicilian Normans.

This army was held to be very large - at a time when everyone was anxious to be seen to be enthusiastic to the cause - and we have details of the march order (often quoted in history books and novels), with a massive drum giving the signal to march each day - each Corps had it's own stopping place on a given day etc.

One by one the towns were taken, the sensible ones offering immediate allegiance, including Tunis after seeing the huge mass of tents before them - all their goods and food were seized and sold in the usual way. Whilst the population of Tripoli rose up against their Norman garrison, Mahdia held out in a very strong fortified position, for many months. Only when a large relief fleet approaching from Sicily carrying food and supplies was captured by the Almohad fleet were the Normans forced to ask for terms.

And here we can contrast the ruthless but honourable nature of Abd Al-Mu-min, in line with El Mahdi himself and also his successors. The Normans had defended honourably, without any sign of duplicity, and they were permitted to sail away with their lives (there were no supplies left to seize!), after politely declining an offer to remain and convert to Islam like everybody else.

After the Caliph's return to the west, the two sons of El Mahdi, who had really only survived previously because of their heritage, were involved in a plot to seize power and depose the Caliph, based on Marrakesh, whilst Abd Al-Mu'min was in Sale to the west. They killed the governor, who refused to hand over the keys to the Alcazaba, but the muezzin, alerted by the noise, shouted out warnings, the plot was folied by the people of Marrakesh and the two brothers killed in the streets.

When the Caliph's general (alerted earlier by the governor of Fez, from where the brothers had escaped observation), arrived to put down the rebellion, he found it already done and was handed letters implicating 300 people, including many former Almoravids.

The 300 were jailed and the Caliph, in another of his examples of great populist politics, thanked the people of Marrakesh and said they could administer justice. They were armed by the soldiers and lined up along the 'vestibule' of the Alcazaba. The 300 traitors were released, 10 at a time, and hacked to death, 'being first castrated'.

This is an example of the ruthlessness to be used by the Almohads over the next 100 years - 35,000 people had been put to death in purges after the fall of the Almoravids and initial minor rebellions.

But the Caliph's policy of appeasement toward the arab leaders conquered in the east, in Ifriqiya, appointing them to positions to create a more whole, united empire, for very good short term reasons, would sew the seeds for the gradual disintegration and ultimate destruction of the Empire many decades later. Much like their hated but more short-lived enemies the Almoravids.

Last edited by johnincornwall; December 20th, 2016 at 02:02 AM.
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Old January 11th, 2017, 07:22 AM   #2

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Footnote to the famous Catalan noble mercenary Reverter (son of the Viscount of Barcelona) who served the Almoravids with incredible distinctiom and died in their defence:

He had two sons, Berenguer and Ali, both of whom fought at his side in the Catalan mercenaries in the Almoravid army (but presumably weren't there at the end).

Ali b Reverter went on to serve the Almohads. No one knows exactly why (considering his father's death), but it is probably just a question either of pragmatism or merely declaring his loyalty to the new Caliph, like everybody else did, or maybe even love of war and adventure like his father. Neither does anyone know whether he converted to Islam. Some say yes, but Huici Miranda for one says there is no such evidence.

There was honour in plenty among these times as long as there was no double-dealing - Reverter senior had, shortly before his death, written to the Almohad Abd Al Mumin about a couple of members of a tribe who had just betrayed him, saying 'they will betray you just as they betrayed me'. Abd Al Mumin agreed and had them put to death.

Fast forward 30+ years and Ali b Reverter was sent to Almoravid Mallorca to treat with the Banu Ganiya, whose leader Muhammed was pledging allegiance. But Muhammed was deposed and his brothers were agressive to the Almohads, Ali Reverter being thrown in prison. Then the Banu Ganiya took it a step further, invading Ifriqiya, which was poorly garrisoned, and taking towns like Tunis, Bugia, Gafsa etc, causing much pillage and death, supported by the Abassids in the east, Saladin and one of his Armenian allies, who set himself up in Tripoli (the Almoravids, even at the height of their power, had always pledged allegiance to the Abassids in the east, under the 'one Caliph' principle).

Whilst the Banu Ganiya forces were fighting in North Africa, Ali b Reverter seems to have managed to gather support from Christian slaves, workers and mercenaries, and supporters of Muhammed b Ganiya, taken the fortress and, having held Ali b Ganiya's wife and children hostage, managed to at least get his own free passage and that of all his fellows, who went to their own countries.

Ali was received in Marrakesh with great homours. He then formed part of the Caliph Yacub Al Mansur's army to regain Ifriqiya, which lumbered it's way across the Magreb with a slowness only the Almohads could specialise in.

In 1181 Yacub sent too small a force to engage with the Banu Ganiya from his main force near Tunis, down toward the south. They were badly outnumbered and took refuge in Gafsa, which was eventually forced to surrender. Ali b Reverter was among the commanders taken and executed, then crucified (as was the fashion).

The Caliph Yacub, then, during the next few months, brought his whole army to bear and eventually reconquered the whole of Ifriqiya, beheading suitable targets who had betrayed him of the leaders of the enemy forces. He had sent letters into towns to promise reward and pardon for local folks who rose up against the sparse Banu Ganiya garisons, which they did.

The body of Ali b Reverter was taken back to Marrakesh with full honours. His brother Berenguer, now Viscount of Barcelona, travelled to Marrakesh to collect the body, he too being received with full honours.

The whole Reverter family history is a good example of how easy it was to cross religious lines to serve as mercenaries, as I have posted previously in Simon Barton's paper 'Traitors to the Faith'. The Almohads, who would not tolerate their subjects to be anything other than muslim, and very devout at that, had no problems using Christian mercenaries, initially some inherited from the Almoravids but also hiring their own. Geraldo Sempavor also served them, before betraying them with inevitable consequences.

As Barton's paper shows, the use of Christian mercenaries by the Almohad Empire would later become very extensive, particularly after 1212, when the economy of Castilla collapsed and the Almohads, also in deterioration, had greater need.

"No Christians or Jews must exist from Valencia to Tripoli - unless you fight in our army!!"
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Old January 11th, 2017, 11:06 AM   #3
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Christian mercenaries played also a considerable role in the army of the Hafsids, one of the Almohad successors. They were mostly tasked with guarding the sultan himself.
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Old January 11th, 2017, 11:52 AM   #4

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In this context, the Ayyubids attacked the Almohads.

An army crossed through modern Lybia and seized Tunisia, but an Almohad counterattack drove then back. In 1189, the two greatest Islamic rulers of the age, Al Mansur and Salah al Din, signed a truce by which Ifriquiya and Tripolitania remained in Almohad hands, east of which belonged to Ayyubids

http://al-qantara.revistas.csic.es/i...wnload/303/294
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Old January 11th, 2017, 11:57 PM   #5

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Frank81 View Post
In this context, the Ayyubids attacked the Almohads.

An army crossed through modern Lybia and seized Tunisia, but an Almohad counterattack drove then back. In 1189, the two greatest Islamic rulers of the age, Al Mansur and Salah al Din, signed a truce by which Ifriquiya and Tripolitania remained in Almohad hands, east of which belonged to Ayyubids

http://al-qantara.revistas.csic.es/i...wnload/303/294
Good stuff Frank, and a sensible outcome. Usually the North African border between a strong eastern Empire and a strong Western one was just a mess!

Much of our knowledge on the Almohads is based on surviving letters - they seemed a very letter-based regime, another difference to the Almoravid 'simple' basis. Somewhere among my current readings was reference to a 'letter from Saladin to the Almohads' - I think it was slightly prior to this episode - translated by a Frenchman (who wasn't Levi Provencal!). Obviously the French-Algeria/Morocco connection meant a lot of this work was done by french historians as well as Dozy and Huici Miranda himself.
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Old January 13th, 2017, 11:49 AM   #6

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Absolutelly, the same is true for most of old French colonies in Africa. Decolonization means a long period when studies in these areas stopped, and also research works were of limited circulation. So we're heavily in debt with French work before 1960 and historians of early post-colonization. Only recently, new French and English studies coming from native historians are coming out again.

I need to update my knowledge on these Maghrebian empires by reading them. This one is brand new and I'd like to read it

Saladin, the Almohads and the Ban? Gh?niya|The Contest for North Africa (12th and 13th centuries)**╗**Brill Online

Notice the primary sources he used, starting by the Almohad letters, but when he is dealing with the two groups of published letters, I can't read the second group apart of those of Levi Provenšal

Appendix: Primary Sources**╗**Brill Online
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Old January 14th, 2017, 11:02 PM   #7

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That looks interesting. I see it's 215 quid on Amazon, best read it online!

Just read that in 1189/90 Ya'cub Al_Mansur received word from the governors of Bugia and Ifriqiya of an embassy from Saladin, requesting an audience. Despite conflicting sources, Huici Miranda thinks he was granted access to the Caliph in Sevilla (on campaign) that winter, between the first and second Silves campaigns, and it was a request to borrow the Almohad fleet for a year for use against the crusaders. It was declined. We do not know the reason but again HM thinks the most likely is he needed it for the forthcoming Silves campaign, when Al-Mansur stamped his power on the Portuguese.
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Old January 17th, 2017, 03:36 AM   #8

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It seems that during the embassy to Al-Mansur, Saladin's Armenian man in Tripoli (can't remember the name, book is at home, began with 'Q') pledged allegiance to the Almohads for a period and was warmly received.

However it seems after it was declined he broke again and allied once more to the Banu Ganiya/Almotavids.

Maybe Ya'cub Al-Mansur just saw through it all?
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