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The Almohad Dynasty (Berber: Imwe??den, from Arabic ???????? al-Muwa??idun, "the monotheists" or "the Unitarians"), was a Moroccan Berber-Muslim dynasty founded in the 12th century that established a Berber state in Tinmel in the Atlas Mountains in roughly 1120.
The movement was started by Ibn Tumart in the Masmuda tribe, followed by Abd al-Mu'min al-Gumi between 1130 and his death in 1163, the Almohads defeated the ruling Almoravids, extending their power over all of the Maghreb. Al-Andalus, Moorish Iberia (southern Portugal and southern Spain) under the Almoravid dynasty, followed the fate of Africa.
The Almohad dominance of Iberia continued until 1212, when Muhammad III, "al-Nasir" (1199–1214) was defeated at the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in the Sierra Morena by an alliance of the Christian princes of Castile, Aragon, Navarre, and Portugal. Nearly all of the Moorish dominions in Iberia were lost soon after, with the great Moorish cities of Córdoba and Seville falling to the Christians in 1236 and 1248 respectively.
The Almohads continued to rule in Africa until the piecemeal loss of territory through the revolt of tribes and districts enabled the rise of their most effective enemies, the Marinids in 1215. The last representative of the line, Idris II, "El Wathiq"' was reduced to the possession of Marrakesh, where he was murdered by a slave in 1269; the Marinids seized Marrakesh, ending the Almohad domination of the Western Maghreb.
The holy place and the tomb of the Almohads remains in Morocco, along with the tomb of their rivals and enemies, the Almoravids.
The Almohad movement originated with Ibn Tumart, a member of the Masmuda, a Berber tribal confederation of the Atlas Mountains of southern Morocco. At the time, Morocco, and much of the rest of North Africa (Maghreb) and Spain (al-Andalus), was under the rule of the Almoravids, a Sanhaja Berber dynasty. Early in his life, Ibn Tumart went to Spain to pursue his studies, and thereafter to Baghdad to deepen them. In Baghdad, Ibn Tumart attached himself to the theological school of al-Ash'ari, and came under the influence of the great teacher al-Ghazali. He soon developed his own system, combining the doctrines of various masters. Ibn Tumart's main principle was a strict unitarianism (tawhid), which denied the independent existence of the attributes of God as being incompatible with his unity, and therefore a polytheistic idea. Ibn Tumart represented a revolt against what he perceived as anthropomorphism in the Muslim orthodoxy. His followers would become known as the al-Muhawwadin ("Almohads"), meaning those who affirm the unity of God.
After his return to the Maghreb c.1117, Ibn Tumart spent some time in various Ifriqiyan cities, preaching and agitating, heading riotous attacks on wine-shops and on other manifestations of laxity. He laid the blame for the latitude on the ruling dynasty of the Almoravids, whom he accused of obscurantism and impiety. He also opposed their sponsorship of the Maliki school of jurisprudence, which drew upon consensus (ijma) and other sources beyond the Qur'an and Sunnah in their reasoning, an anathema to the stricter Zahirism favored by Ibn Tumart. His antics and fiery preaching led fed-up authorities to move him along from town to town. After being expelled from Bejaia, Ibn Tumart set up camp in Mellala, in the outskirts of the city, where he received his first disciples - notably, al-Bashir (who would become his chief strategist) and Abd al-Mu'min (a Zenata Berber, who would later become his successor).
In 1120, Ibn Tumart and his small band of followers proceeded to Morocco, stopping first by Fez, where he briefly engaged the Maliki scholars of the city in debate. He even went so far as to assault the sister of the Almoravid emir `Ali ibn Yusuf, in the streets of Fez, because she was going about unveiled, after the manner of Berber women. After being expelled from Fez, he went to Marrakesh, where he successfully tracked down the Almoravid emir Ali ibn Yusuf at a local mosque, and challenged the emir, and the leading scholars of the land, to a doctrinal debate. After the debate, the scholars concluded that Ibn Tumart's views were blasphemous and the man dangerous, and urged him to be put to death or imprisoned. But the Almoravid emir decided to merely expel from the city.
Ibn Tumart proceeded to take refuge among his own people, the Hargha, in his home village of Igiliz (exact location uncertain), in the Sous valley. He retreated to a nearby cave, and lived out an ascetic lifestyle, coming out only to preach his program of puritan reform, attracting greater and greater crowds. At length, towards the end of Ramadan in late 1121, after a particularly moving sermon, reviewing his failure to persuade the Almoravids to reform by argument, Ibn Tumart 'revealed' himself as a descendent of the Prophet and the true Mahdi, a divinely-guided justicer, and was recognized as such by his audience. This was effectively a declaration of war on the Almoravid state.
On the advice of one of his followers, Omar Hintati, a prominent chieftain of the Hintata, Ibn Tumart abandoned his cave in 1122 and climbed up the High Atlas, to organize the Almohad movement among the highland Masmuda tribes. Besides his own tribe, the Hargha, Ibn Tumart secured the adherence of the Ganfisa, the Gadmiwa, the Hintata, the Haskura and the Hazraja, to the Almohad cause. Around 1124, Ibn Tumart erected the ribat of Tinmel, in the valley of the Nfis in the High Atlas, an impregnable fortified complex, which would serve both as the spiritual center and military headquarters of the Almohad movement.
For the first eight years, the Almohad rebellion was limited to a guerilla war along the peaks and ravines of the High Atlas. Their principal damage was in rendering insecure (or altogether impassable) the roads and mountain passes south of Marrakesh - threatening the route to all-important Sijilmassa, the gateway of the trans-Saharan trade. Unable to send enough manpower through the narrow passes to dislodge the Almohad rebels from their easily-defended mountain strongpoints, the Almoravid authorities reconciled themselves to setting up strongholds to confine them there (most famously the fortress of Tasghimout that protected the approach to Aghmat), while exploring alternative routes through more easterly passes.
Ibn Tumart organized the Almohads as a commune, with a minutely-detailed structure. At the core was the ahl ad-dar (house of the Mahdi, composed of Ibn Tumart's family), they were supplemented two councils, an inner Council of Ten, the Mahdi's privy council, composed of his earliest and closest companions, and the consultative Council of Fifty, composed of the leading sheikhs of the Masmuda tribes. The early preachers and missionaries (talba and huffaz) also had their representatives. Militarily, there was a strict hierarchy of units. The Hargha tribe coming first (although not strictly ethnic; it included many "honorary" or "adopted" tribesmen from other ethnicities, e.g. Abd al-Mu'min himself). This was followed by the men of Tinmel, then the other Masmuda tribes in order, and rounded off by the black slave-fighters, the abid. Each unit had a strict internal hierarchy, headed by a mohtasib, and divided into two factions, one for the early adherents, another for the late adherents, each headed by a mizwar (or amswaru); then came the sakkakin (treasurers), effectively the money-minters, tax-collectors and pursars, then came the regular army (jund), then the religious corps - the muezzins, the hafidh and the hizb - followed by the archers, the conscripts and the slaves. Ibn Tumart's closest companion and chief strategist, al-Bashir, took upon himself the role of political commissar, enforcing doctrinal discipline among the Masmuda tribesmen, often with a heavy head.
In early 1130, the Almohads finally descended from the mountains for their first sizeable attack in the lowlands. It was a disaster. The Almohads swept aside an Almoravid column that had come out to meet them before Aghmat, and then chased their remnant all the way to Marrakesh. They laid siege to Marrakesh for forty days until, in April (or May) 1130, the Almoravids sallied from the city and crushed the Almohads in the bloody Battle of al-Buhayra (named after a large garden east of the city). The Almohads were thoroughly routed, with huge losses, half their leadership was killed in action, the survivors only just managed to scramble back to the mountains.
Ibn Tumart died shortly after, in August, 1130. That the Almohad movement did not immediately collapse after such a devastating defeat and the death of their charismatic Mahdi, is a testament to the careful organization Ibn Tumart had built up at Tinmel. There was probably a struggle for succession, in which Abd al-Mu'min prevailed. Although a Zenata Berber from Targa (Algeria), and thus an alien among the Masmuda of southern Morocco, Abd al-Mu'min nonetheless saw off his principal rivals and hammered wavering tribes back to the fold. In a ostentatious gesture of defiance, in 1132, if only to remind the emir that the Almohads were not finished, Abd al-Mu'min led a audacious night operation that seized Tasghimout fortress and dismantled it thoroughly, carting off its great gates back to Tinmel.
Abd al-Mu'min then came forward as the lieutenant of the Mahdi Ibn Tumart. Between 1130 and his death in 1163, `Abd-el-Mumin not only rooted out the Murabits, but extended his power over all northern Africa as far as Egypt, becoming amir of Marrakesh in 1149.
Al-Andalus followed the fate of Africa. Between 1146 and 1173, the Almohads gradually brought the various principalities under Almoravid rule under their control. The Almohads transferred the capital to from Cordoba to Seville, a step followed by the founding of the great mosque, the tower of which, The Giralda, they erected in 1184 to mark the accession of Abu Yusuf Ya'qub al-Mansur.
The Almohad princes had a longer and more distinguished career than the Murabits (or Almoravids). Yusuf I or Abu Yaqub Yusuf (1163–1184), and Ya'qub I or Yaqub al-Mansur (1184-1199), the successors of Abd al-Mumin, were both able men. Initially their government drove many Jewish and Christian subjects to take refuge in the growing Christian states of Portugal, Castile and Aragon. Ultimately they became less fanatical than the Almoravids, and Ya'qub al-Mansur was a highly accomplished man who wrote a good Arabic style and who protected the philosopher Averroes. His title of "al-Mansur," "The Victorious," was earned by the defeat he inflicted on Alfonso VIII of Castile in the Battle of Alarcos (1195).
From the time of Yusuf II, however, the Almohads governed their co-religionists in Iberia and Central North Africa through lieutenants, their dominions outside Morocco being treated as provinces. When their amirs crossed the Straits it was to lead a jihad against the Christians and to return to their capital, Marrakesh.
However, the Christian states in Iberia were becoming too well organized to be overrun by the Muslims, and the Almohads made no permanent advance against them.
In 1212, the Almohad Caliph Muhammad 'al-Nasir' (1199–1214), the successor of al-Mansur, after an initially successful advance north, was defeated by an alliance of the four Christian princes of Castile, Aragón, Navarre, and Portugal, at the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in the Sierra Morena. The battle broke the Almohad advance, but the Christian powers remained too disorganized to profit from it immediately.
Before his death in 1213, al-Nasir appointed his young ten-year old son as the next caliph Yusuf II "al-Mustansir". The Almohads passed through a period of effective regency for the young caliph, with power exercised by an oligarchy of elder family members, palace bureaucrats and leading nobles. The Almohad ministers were careful to negotiate a series of truces with the Christian kingdoms, which remained more-or-less in place for next fifteen years (the loss of Alcácer do Sal to the Kingdom of Portugal in 1217 was an exception).
In early 1224, the youthful caliph died in accident, without any heirs. The palace bureaucrats in Marrakesh, led by the wazir Uthman ibn Jam'i, quickly engineered the election of his elderly grand-uncle, Abd al-Wahid I 'al-Makhlu', as the new Almohad caliph. But the rapid appointment upset other branches of the family, notably the brothers of the late al-Nasir, who governed in al-Andalus. The challenge was immediately raised by one of them, then governor in Murcia, who declared himself Caliph Abdallah al-Adil. With the help of his brothers, he quickly seized control of al-Andalus. His chief advisor, the shadowy Abu Zayd ibn Yujjan, tapped into his contacts in Marrakesh, and secured the deposition and assassination of Abu al-Wahid I, and the expulsion of the al-Jami'i clan.
This coup has been characterized as the pebble that finally broke al-Andalus. It was the first internal coup among the Almohads. The Almohad clan, despite occasional disagreements, had always remained tightly knit and loyally behind dynastic precedence. Caliph al-Adil's murderous breach of dynastic and constitutional propriety marred his acceptability to other Almohad sheikhs. One of the recusants was his cousin, Abd Allah al-Bayyasi ("the Baezan"), the Almohad governor of Jaén, who took a handful of followers and decamped for the hills around Baeza. He set up a rebel camp and forged an alliance with the hitherto quiet Ferdinand III of Castile. Sensing his greater priority was Marrakesh, where recusant Almohad sheikhs had rallied behind Yahya, another son of al-Nasir, al-Adil paid little attention to this little band of misfits.
In 1225, Abdallah al-Bayyasi's band of rebels, accompanied by a large Castilian army, descended from the hills. They raided throughout the regions of Jaén, Cordoba and vega de Granada and, before the end of the year, al-Bayyasi had established himself in the city of Cordoba. Sensing the vacuity, both Alfonso IX of León and Sancho II of Portugal opportunistically ordered their own raids into Andalusian territory that same year. With Almohad arms, men and cash dispatched to Morocco to help Caliph al-Adil impose himself in Marrakesh, there was little means to stop the sudden onslaught. In late 1225, with surprising ease, the Portuguese raiders reached the environs of Seville. Knowing they were outnumbered, the Almohad governors of the city refused to confront the Portuguese raiders, prompting the disgusted population of Seville to take matters into their own hands, raise a militia, and go out in the field by themselves. The result was a veritable massacre - the Portuguese men-at-arms easily mowed down the throng of poorly-armed townsfolk. Thousands, perhaps as much as 20,000, were said to have been slain before the walls of Seville. A similar disaster befell a similar popular levy by Murcians at Aspe that same year. But Christian raiders had been stopped at Cáceres and Requena. Trust in the Almohad leadership was severely shaken by these events - the disasters were promptly blamed on the distractions of Caliph al-Adil and the incompetence and cowardice of his lieutenants, the successes credited to non-Almohad local leaders who rallied defenses.
But al-Adil's fortunes were briefly bouyed. In payment for Castilian assistance, al-Bayyasi had given Ferdinand III three strategic frontier fortresses: Baños de la Encina, Salvatierra (the old Order of Calatrava fortress near Ciudad Real) and Capilla. But Capilla refused to pass over, forcing the Castilians to lay a long and difficult siege. The brave defiance of little Capilla, and the spectacle of al-Bayyasi's shipping provisions to the Castilian besiegers, shocked Andalusians and shifted sentiment back towards the Almohad caliph. A popular uprising finally broke out in Cordoba - al-Bayyasi was killed and his head dispatched as a trophy to Marrakesh. But Caliph al-Adil did not relish this victory for long - he was assassinated in Marrakesh in October 1227, by the partisans of Yahya, who was promptly acclaimed as the new Almohad caliph Yahya "al-Mu'tasim".
The Andalusian branch of the Almohads refused to accept this turn of events. Al-Adil's brother, then in Seville, proclaimed himself the new Almohad caliph Abd al-Ala Idris I 'al-Ma'mun'. He promptly purchased a truce from Ferdinand III in return for 300,000 maravedis, allowing him to organize and dispatch the bulk of the Almohad army in Spain across the straits in 1228 to confront Yahya.
That same year, Portuguese and Leonese renewed their raids deep into Muslim territory, basically unchecked. Feeling the Almohads had failed to protect them, popular uprisings ensued throughout al-Andalus. City after city deposed their hapless Almohad governors and installed local strongmen in their place. A Murcian strongman, Muhammad ibn Yusuf ibn Hud al-Judhami, who claimed descendance from the Banu Hud dynasty that had once ruled the old taifa of Zaragoza, emerged as the central figure of these rebellions, systematically dislodging Almohad garrions through central Spain. In October 1228, with Spain practically all lost, al-Ma'mun abandoned Seville, taking what little remained of the Almohad army with him to Morocco. Ibn Hud immediately dispatched emissaries to distant Baghdad to offer recognition to the Abbasid Caliph, albeit taking up for himself a quasi-caliphal title, 'al-Mutawwakil'.
The departure of al-Ma'mun in 1228 marked the end of the Almohad era in Spain. But Ibn Hud and the other local Andalusian strongmen were unable to stem the rising flood of Christian attacks, launched almost yearly by Sancho II of Portugal, Alfonso IX of León, Ferdinand III of Castile and James I of Aragon. The next twenty years saw a massive advance in the Christian reconquista - the old great Andalusian citadels fell in a grand sweep: Mérida and Badajoz in 1230 (to Leon), Majorca in 1230 (to Aragon), Beja in 1234 (to Portugal), Córdoba in 1236 (to Castile), Valencia in 1238 (to Aragon), Niebla-Huelva in 1238 (to Leon), Silves in 1242 (to Portugal), Murcia in 1243 (to Castile), Jaén in 1246 (to Castile), Alicante in 1248 (to Castile), culminating in the fall of the greatest of Andalusian cities, the ex-Almohad capital of Seville, into Christian hands in 1248. Ferdinand III of Castile entered Seville as a conqueror on December 22, 1248.
The Andalusians were helpless before this onslaught. Ibn Hudd had attempted to check the Leonese advance early on, but the bulk of his Andalusian army was destroyed at the battle of Alange in 1230. Ibn Hud scrambled to move remaining arms and men to save threatened or besieged Andalusian citadels, but with so many attacks at once, it was a hopeless endeavor. After Ibn Hud's death in 1238, some of the Andalusian cities, in a last-ditch effort to save themselves, offered themselves once again to the Almohads, but to no avail. The Almohads would not return.
With the departure of the Almohads, the Nasrid dynasty ("Banu Nazari" (Arabic: ??? ????)) rose to power in Granada. After the great Christian advance of 1228-1248, the Emirate of Granada was practically all that remained of old al-Andalus. Some of the captured citadels (e.g. Murcia, Jaen, Niebla) were reorganized as tributary vassals for a few more years, but most were annexed by the 1260s. Granada alone would remain independent for an additional 250 years, flourishing as the new center of al-Andalus.
Collapse in the Maghreb
In their African holdings, the Almohads encouraged the establishment of Christians even in Fez, and after the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa they occasionally entered into alliances with the kings of Castile. They were successful in expelling the garrisons placed in some of the coast towns by the Norman kings of Sicily. The history of their decline differs from that of the Almoravids, whom they had displaced. They were not assailed by a great religious movement, but lost territories, piecemeal, by the revolt of tribes and districts. Their most effective enemies were the Banu Marin (Marinids) who founded the next dynasty. The last representative of the line, Idris II, 'al-Wathiq' was reduced to the possession of Marrakesh, where he was murdered by a slave in 1269.
Almohad universities continued the knowledge of Greek and Roman ancient writers, while contemporaries cultural figures included Averroes and the Jewish philosopher Maimonides.
The style of Almohad art was essentially an oriental one, although most of the workers were from al-Andalus. The main sites of Almohad architecture and art include Fes, Marrakech, Rabat and Seville. Figurative arts suffered somewhat from the orthdox interpretation of the Quran, which forbade human representation, and thus the genre of art which flourished mostly in the Almohad lands was architecture, although it also did not reach peaks of originality.
The Almohads reduced decorations, and introduced the use of geometrical holes, following in general the principle of expressing a certain degree of magnificence. As centuries passed, the buildings had increasingly oriental appearance and similar structures: mosques with rectangular plans, divided into naves with pillars, as well as a wide use of horseshoe-shaped arches. The most common building material was brickwork, followed by mortar. Foreign influence can be seen in domes of Egyptian origin and, in the civil sector, the triumphal arches inspired by those in the same country. The construction of fortifications with towers was also widespread.
The main Almohad structures include the Giralda of the former mosque of Seville (founded in 1171), the Koutoubia Mosque and the Kasbah of Marrakech, the Hassan Tower of Rabat and the Atalaya Castle in Andalusia.
Status of the Jews
The Almohads, who had taken control of the Almoravids' Maghribi and Andalusian territories by 1147, treated the dhimmis (non-Muslims) harshly. But while reports of violent and intolerant attitudes towards non-Muslims exist, the sources for these are very limited and subject to interpretation. During the Almohad and Almoravid reign Jewish culture experienced a Golden Age. María Rosa Menocal, a specialist in Iberian literature at Yale University, has argued that "Tolerance was an inherent aspect of Andalusian society". Menocal's 2003 book, The Ornament of the World, argues that the Jewish dhimmis living under the Caliphate, while allowed fewer rights than Muslims, were still better off than in other parts of Christian Europe. Jews from other parts of Europe made their way to al-Andalus, where in parallel to Christian sects regarded as heretical by Catholic Europe, they were not just tolerated, but where opportunities to practise faith and trade were open without restriction save for the prohibitions on proselytism. However tolerance dropped under Almohad rule and many Jews were also forced to convert or to wear identifying clothing so that their religion would be known. Many Jews and Christians emigrated. A few, like the family of Maimonides, eventually fled east to more tolerant Muslim lands,
Fossatum Africae ("African ditch") is a linear defensive structure claimed to extend over 750 km or more in northern Africa constructed during the Roman Empire as a measure to defend and control the southern borders of the Empire in Africa. It is considered to have many similarities of construction to Hadrian's Wall at the northern border of the Empire in Britain.
There is only a single mention of the Fossatum (as such) in historical literature prior to the 20th century. This is in the Codex Theodosianus of 312 where it speaks of the fossatum as having been established by the "ancients". The reference is in a letter from co-Emperors Honorius and Theodosius warning the Roman citizens of Africa that if they did not maintain the limes and fossatum then the job (with associated land rights and other advantages) would be given to friendly barbarian tribes.
Consequently, it is not known with certainty when the Fossatum was constructed. Of course, a structure of this size would be the work of centuries, and the archaeological excavation of the many forts and towns along its route has yielded many dates from the reign of Hadrian in the 2nd century to Constantine in the 4th century. Current opinion has not advanced since the discussion by Baradez in 1949, who concluded that construction probably began after the first visit of Hadrian to Africa in 122 (and before or after his second visit in 128). This conclusion is based on the similarities with Hadrian's Wall in Britain and with what is known about Hadrian's concern to protect the Empire. Baradez also postulated a pulse of construction during the reign of Gordian III in the 3rd century, and finally abandonment of the Fossatum in 430-440 after the Vandal invasion.
Having been built in an arid region of strong winds and blowing sand, the Fossatum quickly eroded and only traces remain. During the Middle Ages, Arab nomads of the Banu Hilal occupied much of the area and noticed southwest of Biskra a ditch which they called a saqiya (irrigation canal) and attributed it to a legendary Arab queen Bint al-Khass (or al-Krass), who was supposed to have built it to supply pilgrims to Mecca with water. Elsewhere the remains of a wall associated with the Fossatum was attributed to al-Fara'un (Pharaoh).
Historians and archaeologists in the 19th century continued to believe that it was an irrigation canal, until at the beginning of the 20th century Gsell correctly identified it with the fossatum of the Codex Theodosianus.
However, the full extent of the Fossatum was not known until after World War II, when the use of aerial photography to locate archaeological sites was pursued by Col. Jean Baradez. He followed up the aerial work with traverses on the ground and excavations at many sites along its route. His resultant book, with many aerial and ground photographs, remains the standard work of reference.
Ideas on the purpose of the Fossatum have evolved since Baradez' time. Whereas Baradez was a military man, and World War II just having finished with the military use of ditches very much in mind, the military aspect of the Fossatum was emphasized. In the more peaceful modern era, the use of the Fossatum as a customs and migration control has been brought to the fore, suggested by inscriptions at Zaraï giving long lists of products and tariffs.
The Fossatum as proposed by Baradez consisted of at least 4 segments:
There may also be a further segment north of Tobna.
Generally the Fossatum consists of a ditch and earth embankments on either side using the material from the ditch. Sometimes the embankments are supplemented by dry stone walls on one or both sides; rarely, there are stone walls without a ditch. The width of the Fossatum is generally 3–6 m but in exceptional cases may be as much as 20 m. Wherever possible, it or its highest wall is constructed on the counterscarp. Excavations near Gemellae showed the depth there to be 2–3 m, with a width of 1 m at the bottom widening to 2–3 m at the top.
The Fossatum is accompanied by many small watchtowers and numerous forts, often built within sight of one another.
There are similar, but shorter, fossatae in other parts of North Africa. Between the Matmata and Tabaga ranges in modern Tunisia there is a fossatum which was duplicated during World War II. There also appears to be a 20-km. fossatum at Bou Regreg in Morocco although this would not have been within the scope of the proclamation of the Codex Theodosianus because at that time the province was not in Africa, administratively speaking.
This article uses material from the Wikipedia article "Almohad Caliphate" and "Fossatum Africae", which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.