The Zirids of Ifriqiya and the Normans of Sicily maintained regular contact during the mid-late eleventh century. Their respective capitals of Mahdia and Palermo were separated by only 220 miles, a voyage navigable by boat along well established commercial lanes. The close proximity of the Zirid and Norman dynasties during this time, however, belies the far-flung origins of both groups. The Zirids emerged from the Sanhaja tribal confederation at the doorstep of the Sahara Desert that entered into a larger conflict between rival Ismaʿili and Sunni dynasties in North Africa and al-Andalus. The Normans of Sicily, meanwhile, had their origins over one thousand miles away in the Duchy of Normandy in northern France, and before then, on Viking ships that sailed from Scandinavia to mainland Europe and the British Isles. The process through which the Zirids and Normans came into contact with each other took the better part of a century. This chapter explores the emergence of these two dynasties, with a particular emphasis on the site of their first meetings—on the battlefields of a politically fractured Sicily.
The Zirids first came to power in the late tenth century as emirs of Ifriqiya ruling on behalf of the Fatimid imam-caliph. Governing Ifriqiya proved a difficult task. The Zirids waged frequent campaigns in western Ifriqiya against Zanata Berbers who were supported by the Umayyad caliphate of Córdoba, and fought to suppress internal revolts led by Sunni jurists in Kairouan. When the Zirid emirs delegated military authority on Ifriqiya’s western frontier to their Hammadid cousins, these commanders promptly seceded and carved a division between western and eastern Ifriqiya that persisted for over a century. Although the Zirid court of the early to mid-eleventh century was renowned for its cultural output and ceremonies, beneath this outward display was an economy that was suffering from repeated droughts, emigration, and the eroding of agricultural infrastructure that had sustained Ifriqiya for hundreds of years.
These long-standing issues made the Zirid regime vulnerable to external invaders, who emerged in the 1030s and 1040s in the form of the confederation of tribes known as the Banu Hilal. Although initially allies of the Zirid emirs, the armies of the Banu Hilal eventually conquered large swaths of land in Ifriqiya for themselves, driving the Zirids (and Hammadids) to the coast and vastly reducing the extent of their territories. Nonetheless, the Zirid emirs retained in their new capital of Mahdia some of their treasury and a sizeable fleet, which they used to campaign actively across the Mediterranean. They focused much of their attention on Sicily in the hopes of establishing a foothold on an island that was as politically fractured as it was economically productive.
These campaigns brought the Zirids into conflict with another group that similarly sought to leverage political disunity on the island to their own advantage: the Normans. As the Zirids traced their dynastic origins to the south, the Normans traced theirs to the north. Enterprising waves of Norman mercenaries from northern France, particularly the sons of Tancred de Hauteville, sailed to the Italian Peninsula to fight on behalf of Lombard lords against their Byzantine rivals. These mercenaries eventually began to carve out territories of their own as they both assimilated to many of the cultural norms of southern Italy and drew the ire of local populations who resented the destruction that came with their arrival. As the Norman grip on the peninsula strengthened, one subset of Normans led by Roger I and his brother Robert Guiscard saw an opportunity to further extend the bounds of their power in nearby Sicily. After the Normans made an alliance with a local Sicilian Muslim noble in the early 1060s, they began a thirty-year campaign that eventually saw the entirety of the island fall under Norman control.
Initial contacts between the Zirids and Normans in Sicily were hostile. Armies from both sides, each with their respective local allies, met in pitched battle on a handful of occasions. The Normans emerged triumphant in these encounters and managed to win nominal control of Sicily by 1091. The Zirids, despite their best efforts, were unable to secure a lasting foothold on the island and instead opted to conduct state-sponsored raids against southern Italy and Sicily. As the Normans solidified control over Sicily, however, the competing dynasties realized it was more advantageous for both groups to cease hostilities in favor of a peaceful commercial partnership. Subsequent treaties led to a fruitful trading relationship between the two powers that persisted into the twelfth century.
The Origins and Rise of the Zirids
The Zirid emirs of Ifriqiya were part of a group of indigenous African peoples that fall under the umbrella category “Berber”—a term that has had varied definitions in the ancient, medieval, and modern worlds. Broadly speaking, Berbers are an amorphous ethno-linguistic group from Africa who speak Berber languages, most of whom have origins in northern and western Africa. These Berber dialects are classified as part of the Afro-Asiatic (Hamito-Semitic) language family and are still actively spoken in countries across northwestern Africa, most prominently in Morocco and Algeria.1 The term “Berber” itself, though, has its origins outside of Africa. It was first used in antiquity by the Greeks and Romans, who used it to refer to the incomprehensible languages spoken by outsiders, whether located in North Africa or northern Europe.2 The word “barbarian” in modern English has its root in this conception of the “Berber” as an uncivilized outsider. Today, North Africans who identify as Berber prefer to call themselves “Imazighen,” which means “free people” in the Tamazight language and does not have this historically negative connotation.
Medieval Arabic writers transformed the term “Berber” into a more specific designator by using it to refer to groups of non-Arab indigenous inhabitants of North Africa whom Arab authors sought to categorize.3 No cohesive definition of the Berbers existed in the centuries after the Muslim conquests of North Africa—instead, various perceptions of the Berber emerged from diverse political, social, and religious circumstances in the Muslim Mediterranean. There were “multiple sites of Berberization and thus multiple historical origins” for these peoples.4 Some authors thought that Berbers were those who lived across the Red Sea from neighboring Arabia. Others thought they lived among those in the Sudan (a geographic term indicating the place where people with dark skin lived).5 In the face of this ambiguity, medieval authors categorically sorted Berbers into tribes to make sense of their internal hierarchies, the names of which are still used to identify Berber groups today.
Ibn Khaldun’s genealogical interpretation of Berber origins and tribal identifications, which were fundamental to his overarching theory of history, has had an outsized impact on modern understandings of medieval Berbers.6 In his Kitab al-ʿIbar (Book of examples), Ibn Khaldun divides the Berbers into three main tribal confederations: the Masmuda, Zanata, and Sanhaja.7 Each of these three confederations had a unique ancestry, dialect, and broad stretch of African territory under their control. The Masmuda were based in Morocco, primarily in mountainous areas along the Atlas Mountains. The Zanata were broadly dispersed across North Africa but were most numerous in the central Maghreb in Algeria. Finally, the Sanhaja confederation of tribes, to which the Zirids belonged, were concentrated near the northern edge of the Sahara Desert.8
Ibn Khaldun estimates that nearly seventy branches of the Sanhajan confederation stretched across Ifriqiya and the Maghreb. Although these tribes had their origins in the Sahara Desert, part of this confederation—a branch called the Talkata—migrated north to help the Fatimids in their wars against Zanata tribesmen. One of the leaders of this group was Ziri ibn Manad, whose military exploits on behalf of the Fatimids led him to be recognized by the Ismaʿili dynasty.9 In 324H (935–36), the Fatimids appointed him governor of the city of Achir in north-central Algeria, a location from which Ziri could launch campaigns near the western borders of Fatimid territory.10 Ziri directed these campaigns against Zanata Berbers fighting on behalf of the Umayyad caliphate of Córdoba. In effect, the Sanhajan Zirids and the Zanata served as proxy armies for the Fatimids and Umayyads on their western and eastern frontiers, respectively. Ziri ibn Manad was also instrumental in helping the Fatimids suppress the revolt of Abu Yazid during the 940s. His loyalty and success on the battlefield led the Fatimid imam-caliph to appoint his equally capable son, Bulukkin ibn Ziri, to be emir of Ifriqiya when the Fatimids relocated to Cairo in 358H (968–69).11
When the Fatimids departed Ifriqiya, they left their Zird lieutenants to fend for themselves.12 Fatimid officials in Cairo had little interest in the internal affairs of Ifriqiya. Their preoccupations with the region revolved around the tax revenues that the Zirids supplied to them, the occasional lavish exchange of gifts with their vassals, and the ceremonial appointment of new emirs to ensure continued loyalty to the Fatimid administration.13 To this end, they left a handful of administrators in Ifriqiya to aid the Zirids in their governance, though this did little to address political fractures between the Ismaʿili Fatimids, Sunnis in Kairouan, Kharijite Muslims, and Zanata Berbers that persisted across Ifriqiya and often led to conflict.14 Although the Zirids were largely successful in campaigns against their political rivals, they nonetheless ruled over lands with meaningful divisions that would lead to the fracturing of the Zirid emirate at the beginning of the eleventh century.
Despite these political divisions, the economy of Ifriqiya was productive. In the tenth century, Ifriqiya was strategically positioned to be an entrepôt for the myriad of goods that circulated across commercial routes that ran north–south from northern Europe to sub-Saharan Africa and east–west across the Mediterranean.15 The hub of trade in Ifriqiya was Kairouan and nearby Sabra al-Mansuriya, with Mahdia serving as the coastal port for traffic passing through them. The geographer al-Bakri, writing in the eleventh century on the basis of earlier sources, describes the extent of commercial traffic in the Zirid port: “The port [of Mahdia] is used by ships from Alexandria, Syria, Sicily, al-Andalus, and other places. Its harbor, excavated from hard stone, has room for thirty ships. Two towers stand on either side of it and between them is a chain made of iron. If I wanted to enter the port, I would send to the guards of the two towers, who would remove the chain until the ship entered. Then, they would stretch it back as it was. This provides us safety if the ships of the Rum were to attack the city.”16 Trade passing through Ifriqiyan markets provided substantial revenues to the Zirid emirs. According to al-Bakri, customs duties from the bustling markets of Kairouan and Sabra al-Mansuriya amounted to around twenty-six thousand dirhams per day.17 In addition, the steady stream of Muslim pilgrims traveling to and from Mecca fed an economic system that required networks of caravanserai, inns, and associated industries.18 Bulukkin ibn Ziri and his successors governed over markets that were part of this larger commercial system and reaped the financial benefits of this trade through customs duties.
The volume of commercial traffic that passed through Ifriqiya provided substantial wealth to Bulukkin ibn Ziri and his successors, but it did little to address systemic changes to the underlying economic infrastructure of the region. In the years after the Islamic conquests of the seventh century, Muslim lords of Ifriqiya used slave labor to produce a surplus of goods that fueled prosperity into the tenth century.19 These slaves were acquired primarily through military conquest, a reality that proved a problem when the conquests ceased in the tenth century. The system of agricultural lands that had once produced cereal grains, wine, and olive oil was slowly replaced with a different economic system. Nomadic pastoralism increased, particularly in inland Ifriqiya, and the irrigation infrastructure of Ifriqiya fell into a state of disrepair. Nearer to the coast, the cultivation of cereal grains persisted but with the inclusion of other crops like date palms, vegetables, and citrus fruits.20
Bulukkin ibn Ziri inherited this changing economy, although his administration was focused more on military conquest than economic policy.21 During his reign, Bulukkin campaigned across the Maghreb and expanded his holdings in modern-day Algeria and Morocco, particularly at the expense of Zanata groups allied with the Umayyad caliphate of Córdoba. These victories were enough for the Fatimid imam-caliph al-ʿAziz to grant him rule over all of the dynasty’s western dominions except for Sicily, which was governed by the Kalbid dynasty, and the city of Tripoli, which was governed by another Berber dynasty.22 Although Bulukkin excelled on the battlefield, his campaigns came at a heavy financial cost. In 366H (976–77), Bulukkin and his administrators levied a particularly heavy tax on the people of Ifriqiya in an apparent attempt to raise funds for the Zirid army in the face of declining revenue because of substandard agricultural production.23 This financial hardship was compounded by internal dissent within the administration of the Zirid regime. Bulukkin had delegated much of the quotidien responsibilities of Ifriqiyan governance to Fatimid-appointed chancellors, some of whom had ambitions of their own. The power of these bureaucrats caused Bulukkin to fear that they might try to push him out of the region’s financial center (Kairouan, Sabra al-Mansuriya, and Mahdia) and relegate him to the western city of Achir, which had been the base of operations for his father.24
This tension between the Zirid emirs of Ifriqiya and their chancellors came to a head during the reign of Bulukkin’s son, al-Mansur, who rose to power after the death of his father in 373H (983–84). Al-Mansur sought to assert the power of the Zirid dynasty and to minimize its dependency on the Fatimids.25 He ordered the assassination of two assertive Fatimid officials living in Ifriqiya in order to take more direct control over the government. He further announced that his son, Badis, would be his heir apparent, a move that broke with the Fatimid tradition of appointing the next Zirid emir. Al-Mansur also moved his court from Achir to Sabra al-Mansuriya, solidifying Zirid control over the most prosperous area of Ifriqiya and allowing the emir to showcase his wealth through a series of building projects in and around the city. Al-Mansur’s attitude toward his Fatimid lords is best seen in his declaration to the nobles of Kairouan, reported by Ibn ʿIdhari: “I am not one of those who gets appointed and dismissed by a stroke of the pen, for I have inherited the kingdom from my father and my ancestors.”26
The Fatimids chose not to react with violence against al-Mansur for these acts of insubordination, busy as they were with their campaigns in the Mashriq. Instead, they allowed the situation to calm over the course of several years as the Zirids campaigned on their western frontier.27 In 382H (992–93), relations between the Fatimids and Zirids normalized when the former acknowledged Badis as heir apparent. This inaction on the part of the Fatimids showed their desire to formally mark Ifriqiya as part of their lands under the administration of the Zirids, even if the imam-caliph had little control over them. The Fatimids were more concerned with tax revenues they could extract from the Zirid emirs than control over the daily operations of the Ifriqiyan bureaucracy.28
Al-Mansur was succeeded in 386H (996) by his son Badis, who pledged his loyalty to the Fatimids in a lavish ceremony. During this ostentatious display, a Fatimid envoy invested Badis with customary robes of honor and a contract that invested in him the right to rule Ifriqiya as emir of the Fatimids.29 In the tradition of his father and grandfather, Badis campaigned against rival Zanata groups in modern-day Algeria for much of the first ten years of his reign. During these campaigns, Badis required the support of his uncle Hammad, to whom he promised lands conquered at the expense of the Zanata. Hammad founded the city of Qalʿa in 398H (1007–8) and soon after, revolted against Badis in 405H (1014–15) by transferring his allegiance to the Abbasids of Baghdad.30 Badis responded to the Hammadid revolt by laying siege to Qalʿa and winning an initial victory over his uncle. This campaign came to a sudden end, however, when Badis died unexpectedly in his sleep, forcing the Zirids back to Sabra al-Mansuriya. Ifriqiya was thus divided between the Hammadid dynasty to the west and the Zirid dynasty to the east—a schism that persisted until the fall of the Hammadids in the twelfth century.31
The city of Tripoli in eastern Ifriqiya also proved a problem for the Zirids. At the beginning of the eleventh century, the Zirids and Fatimids became involved in a dispute over who had the right to appoint the city’s governor.32 The assertive Zirids thought that they had the right to dictate internal affairs in Ifriqiya and should therefore control succession in the city, while the Fatimids looked to retain control over the governor’s appointment. The resulting civil unrest provided an opportunity for a group of Zanata warriors, who had been displaced as a result of previous campaigns in western Ifriqiya, to seize the city. The so-called Banu Khazrun remained major players in Tripoli across the eleventh century.
Al-Muʿizz and the Banu Hilal
The Zirid emir Badis ibn al-Mansur died while campaigning against the Hammadids in late 406H (1016) and was succeeded by his son, al-Muʿizz ibn Badis. The reign of al-Muʿizz proved decisive in the history of the Zirid emirate, for it saw the arrival of the Banu Hilal into Ifriqiya. The conquests of this confederation of tribes resulted in the realignment of the political structure of the region from one based around the Zirid court of Sabra al-Mansuriya to one in which lords governed from individual cities. Al-Muʿizz became one such ruler when the Banu Hilal displaced the Zirid emir from his capital to the coastal stronghold of Mahdia, where he and his successors reigned until the middle of the twelfth century.
The eventual displacement of al-Muʿizz from his ancestral throne was by no means inevitable when the young emir rose to power at the age of nine. Nonetheless, the early years of his reign were marked by religious violence. On his succession, al-Muʿizz was faced with widespread anti-Ismaʿili pogroms that led to the massacre of the Ismaʿili population in Kairouan and other cities in Ifriqiya.33 Al-Muʿizz himself was nearly assassinated—twice—by Sunni conspirators in Kairouan, which led him and his advisers to crack down on dissent in the city with an iron fist.34 In Shawwal 407H (March–April 1017), Zirid forces besieged the mosque of a prominent Sunni leader in Kairouan and executed him. The army then set fire to the commercial center of the city and looted merchants’ goods as they found them. This destruction of Kairouan put an end to anti-Ismaʿili pogroms during the reign of al-Muʿizz.
With internal dissent in Kairouan crippled, the Zirid emir moved to finish the expedition his father had started against the Hammadids. After a bloody campaign in the summer and autumn of 408H (1017), the two sides made peace with a deal that included a marriage alliance between the two dynasties.35 With his western border secure, al-Muʿizz looked to the two other theaters through which he could expand his dynasty: to the Banu Khazrun in the southeast and to Sicily, where the ruling Kalbid dynasty was waning in popularity and power.36 The results of these campaigns were mixed. He managed to subdue the Banu Khazrun at Tripoli and to retain control over the eastern reaches of Ifriqiya, a feat that led H. R. Idris to call al-Muʿizz the first “truly Ifriqiyan Zirid.”37 Al-Muʿizz was less successful in Sicily, where his expeditions (considered in more detail later) were unable to establish a lasting foothold on the island.
By all accounts, al-Muʿizz presided over a wealthy court that sponsored poetry, music, calligraphy, and ornamental works in the style of the Fatimid court in Cairo.38 Beneath the surface of this gilded court, however, was a troubled economy.39 The apparent neglect of aqueducts and other systems of irrigation that had been essential to the Ifriqiyan economy had dire consequences for the Zirids and their people, especially those in rural areas. Ifriqiya was hit with a severe famine in 395H (1004–5), which caused a wave of emigration.40 The region suffered from five more famines from 1018 to 1056, which brought more emigration, disease, starvation, and a decline in agricultural production.41 Fatwas indicate that those who remained in Ifriqiya needed to import Sicilian grain (paid for primarily with gold) for their own consumption.42 In addition, merchants navigating the network of trade routes that connected sub-Saharan Africa to the Mediterranean increasingly began to focus on western and eastern termini in the Maghreb and Egypt, respectively, which decreased the amount of trade goods coming into Zirid lands.43
Evidence of commercial troubles in Ifriqiya during the reign of al-Muʿizz ibn Badis is explicit in a handful of merchant letters from the Cairo Geniza. Some merchants wrote negatively of Ifriqiya because of confusion stemming from military campaigns. Ephraim ibn Ismaʿil al-Jawhari, for example, wrote a letter to a contact in Kairouan that mentions “bad news” from the city about a revolt against Zirid rule and says that “bad rumors abounded.”44 This conflict had negative consequences for the markets of Ifriqiya, as testified by another letter from the same time, which tells of a merchant being unable to sell flax at a profit in Mahdia and moving his business to Sicily.45 Other merchants mention stagnation in the marketplaces of Ifriqiya. In a letter from 1049, Barhun ibn Isaac Taherti laments that Mahdia “is poor and anything that arrives in large quantities has no market.”46 Another letter reports delays in setting sail to Mahdia because the armed guard boats that had to escort the merchants had yet to be properly equipped.47
Despite the issues that these merchants encountered in Ifriqiyan markets, there are a number of other letters from the 1030s and 1040s that provide no evidence of problems doing business in the region. In the above letter from 1049, for example, Barhun’s critique of Mahdia can be juxtaposed with his statement that some items in short supply will nonetheless “sell well and be in demand.”48 Other merchant letters discuss Ifriqiya as a market for goods including flax, oil, pearls, indigo, pepper, soap, spices, textiles, silk, tin, carpets, hides, and saffron.49 Although the economy of al-Muʿizz suffered from conflict and larger economic trends, merchants still conducted business in Zirid cities with some degree of regularity.
Widespread economic changes in Ifriqiya during the eleventh century were complemented by political ones. During the tenth and eleventh centuries, a confederation of Arab tribes called the Banu Hilal gradually began to migrate from Egypt into Ifriqiya.50 The timeline for their movements is unclear.51 Ibn Hawqal describes the Banu Hilal being present at the oasis of Farafra west of the Nile River sometime in the tenth century.52 Over the next hundred years, these tribes slowly moved westward until they reached Ifriqiya. They are first mentioned being in the region in the late 1030s, when members of a Hilalian subdivision called the Banu Zughba served in the army of emir al-Muʿizz ibn Badis before becoming entangled in the internal politics of Tripoli.53 Over the next decade, they continued to expand westward, which eventually brought them into conflict with the Zirids.
As the Banu Hilal moved west into Ifriqiya, meaningful changes in the Zirid dynasty caused further changes to the region’s geopolitical landscape. Al-Muʿizz had maintained an amiable relationship with the Fatimids during the first several decades of his reign.54 As the years progressed, however, Zirid loyalty to the imam-caliphs in Egypt began to falter. Spurred by anti-Ismaʿili pogroms of the mid-1010s, the people of Ifriqiya were increasingly split between those loyal to the Ismaʿili doctrine of the Fatimids and those who adhered to the tradition of Maliki Sunnism based in Kairouan. The rise of Maliki Sunni ideology in the court of al-Muʿizz put pressure on him to disown the Shiʿa Fatimids. So too were the Zirids obliged to provide tribute to their Fatimid lords in Cairo, which put a burden of taxation on an already fragile economy, with few immediate benefits for the emirs or people of Ifriqiya. These circumstances led al-Muʿizz to renounce his allegiance to the Fatimids of Cairo in favor of their rival dynasty, the Abbasids of Baghdad. The date of the Zirid break from the Fatimids is uncertain, but it must have occurred by the end of the 1040s, when coins were minted in the name of the Zirid emir and the khutbah was read in name of the Abbasid caliph.55 This change of loyalty effectively made the Zirids an independent dynasty with the Abbasid caliph used as a legitimizing figurehead.
The Zirids’ break from Cairo meant that they needed to marshal support among various Berber groups in Ifriqiya to combat the ascendent Hilalians. This proved a difficult task. Ifriqiya was in the midst of a substantial drought in the late 1040s and early 1050s due to years of below-average rainfall, which spurred emigration and limited the military capacity of local lords.56 When the Banu Hilal clashed against the Zirids and their allies at the Battle of Haydaran in the spring of 443H (1052), the result was a decisive Hilalian victory.57 Al-Muʿizz attempted to salvage his emirate by marrying his daughters to leaders of the Banu Hilal, but this had little effect. The Banu Hilal sacked Kairouan in Ramadan 449H (November 1057), and al-Muʿizz retreated to the coastal stronghold of Mahdia. Rival poets in the Zirid court, Ibn Rashiq and Ibn Sharaf, composed poems dedicated to the fall of the glorious city, with the former mourning that the city had once outshone both Cairo and Baghdad in splendor.58 Once the emirs of Ifriqiya, the Zirids were reduced to governing Mahdia and its suburb of Zawila. The Hammadids, too, lost much of their inland territory to the Banu Hilal, and they relocated their capital to the port of Bougie in modern-day Algeria.59
The Fatimids of Cairo took advantage of the victories of the Banu Hilal by dispatching an envoy to Ifriqiya amid these conquests. The envoy received the submission of the defeated Zirids, who were forced to renounce their loyalty to the Abbasids and once again submit to the Fatimids. In the decades after the defeat of the Zirids, the Fatimids consciously manipulated their role in the Hilalian conquests by claiming that the arrival of the Banu Hilal in Ifriqiya was their own doing—a punishment for the Zirids’ insubordination in the 1040s.60 This narrative was a carefully constructed fabrication that helped to bolster the standing of the Fatimid dynasty, which was suffering from civil and economic strife in the middle of the eleventh century. It was this propagandizing narrative that gained traction in a number of later Arabic chronicles, most prominently that of Ibn Khaldun, who described the invasion of the Banu Hilal as a swarm of locusts upon Ifriqiya sent by the Fatimids.61
While the Banu Hilal did not bring wholesale destruction, they nonetheless facilitated economic change. Conflict in the 1050s had an adverse impact on traders in Ifriqiya. One letter from the Cairo Geniza describes how Muslim traders fleeing Kairouan in 1053 were killed and had their stomachs searched because the “Bedouin” (i.e., Banu Hilal) thought that the traders had swallowed dinars.62 The same letter also reports the plundering of shops and a caravanserai near the city. Another letter from 1058 mentions that a recent loss of twenty dinars “does not compare with the losses we suffered in Kairouan.”63 For some merchants, economic troubles persisted in Ifriqiya into the 1060s as well. Salama ibn Musa Safaqusi, for example, writes that one of his partners should have “congratulated [him] on [his] escape from Mahdia” and from “annihilation and the terrible situation, which I should not want anyone to endure.”64 Letters like these testify to the negative impact of the Hilalian invasions on merchants.65 In the face of this violence and risk to the lives of merchants, commerce nevertheless persisted in Ifriqiya’s cities. Despite the dangers of travel to Ifriqiya (and Sicily) in the middle of the eleventh century, the promise of wealth in their markets was enough to motivate some merchants to continue trading there.66
Rural production also changed as a result of the arrival of the Banu Hilal. Since these tribes were predominately pastoralists, they repurposed much of the lands of Ifriqiya (particularly inland areas) to accommodate their lifestyle. The production of cereal grains and other foodstuffs in inland Ifriqiya, which had already been declining in quantity due to drought and the disintegration of inland infrastructure, suffered another setback. Al-Idrisi, for example, notes the economic erosion caused by the Banu Hilal in his description of a road leading from inland Ifriqiya to Tripoli. He writes that “all of the places that we have recounted on this road are deserted.… [Their] structures were destroyed, their people wiped out, and their goods have disappeared.”67 These economic changes forced local lords on the Ifriqiyan coast to import additional foodstuffs—particularly Sicilian grain—in order to feed their people.68
The Zirids witnessed these changes to Ifriqiya’s economy and society from their new capital of Mahdia. Emir al-Muʿizz died shortly after his relocation there in 454H (1062–63). His reign of forty-seven years had seen a fundamental change in the political and economic geography of the region. In the early years of his reign, the Zirids had been the dominant force in Ifriqiya. By the end of his reign, however, the dynasty was only one of many Berber and Arab families that were competing for supremacy in a politically decentralized landscape of local rulers governing over (for the most part) individual city-states. Nonetheless, the Zirids had at their disposal a degree of wealth, commercial contacts, and military infrastructure that would allow them to continue vying for control over Ifriqiya and the other territories in the central Mediterranean in the decades after the death of al-Muʿizz.
The Normans in Southern Italy and Sicily
As the reign of al-Muʿizz ibn Badis in Ifriqiya drew to a close, the reign of the Normans in southern Italy and Sicily was just beginning. This group of so-called Normans had its origins in northern France and, before then, in Scandinavia. During the eighth century, Norse Viking raiders launched attacks across northwestern Europe from their feared longships.69 The size and frequency of these raids intensified in the ninth century, especially in northern France, until these Vikings established permanent settlements in the region. The Carolingians formally acknowledged the presence of these invading north-men (hence “Norman”) in 911 when Charles the Simple signed a treaty with the Viking leader Rollo, in which he was granted control of the territory of Normandy. In subsequent decades, the Normans absorbed various elements of Carolingian culture—including their language and religion—into their territories and proved themselves capable governors.70
Although isolated episodes of Viking/Norman raiding occurred in the Mediterranean as early as the ninth century (the specifics of which are unclear), Norman involvement in southern Italy began in earnest at the beginning of the eleventh century.71 At the time of the Normans’ arrival, governance in southern Italy was divided. Byzantine governors ruled over the regions of Apulia and Calabria at the behest of the emperor at Constantinople.72 Lombard lords, meanwhile, administered to the western coastal area of Campania through a patchwork of relatively fragmented principalities.73 It was common for Lombard lords to fight against familial rivals, at times dragging Byzantine governors into conflict as well. Added to this political unrest were attacks from Muslim governors in Sicily, which strained the resources of lords ruling on the western coasts of Italy.
The Normans entered this milieu around the year 1000, when a Lombard lord recruited Norman pilgrims returning from Jerusalem to fight against his Muslim rivals.74 Successive waves of Normans migrated to Italy to fight on behalf of the Lombards and, eventually, to govern their own territories. By the middle of the eleventh century, the Normans had become potent forces on the peninsula—due in no small part to their military prowess and their frequent intermarriages with Lombard elites.75 A handful of the most successful Normans were sons of a petty lord from Normandy named Tancred de Hauteville, including the brothers Robert Guiscard and Roger I, whose careers in southern Italy were central to the later Norman conquest of Sicily.
Rapid Norman expansion in southern Italy came at a cost. Lombard and Byzantine lords despised these invaders for conquering lands that were once theirs, the nearby papacy was wary of the Normans’ expansionist tendencies, the Holy Roman Empire resented the Normans for conquering lands that they claimed as their own, and many in southern Italy resented the looting that came part and parcel with the Normans’ conquests.76 These varied grievances against the Normans came to a head at the Battle of Civitate in 1053, when the Normans defeated a coalition of Papal, Lombard, and German forces. This victory led Pope Leo IX, who had been captured in the battle, to sign treaties that were favorable to the Normans. Six years later, Pope Nicholas II invested Robert Guiscard with the lands of Apulia, Calabria, and (once the Normans conquered it) Sicily. Roger was appointed (in theory) as the count of Sicily and a vassal of Robert. The brothers wasted little time in beginning their conquests. In 1061, they landed on Sicily’s eastern shores—the first step in a thirty-year series of campaigns that would bring the island under Norman control.
When the Normans set foot on Sicily, the island was divided among a number of Muslim lords who ruled in the wake of the disintegration of the Kalbid dynasty.77 This process of political decentralization was over a century in the making. During the tenth century, the Fatimids engaged in prolonged campaigns in Sicily that eventually brought the island under their nominal control. In 948, they appointed a member of the Banu al-Kalb (hence “Kalbid”) tribe to govern the island on their behalf. The rise of the Kalbids in Sicily bore some similarities to the rise of the Zirids in Ifriqiya. Both dynasties distinguished themselves through military prowess on behalf of the Fatimids, particularly at their most vulnerable hour during the revolt of Abu Yazid. While the Zirids clashed with Fatimid administrators within a generation of the Fatimids’ departure for Egypt and eventually broke with them entirely, however, no such conflict occurred in Sicily. The Kalbids served as loyal emirs for the Fatimids by developing infrastructure, reaping the profits of the trade routes that ran through their ports, and waging campaigns against Christian lords when it was advantageous to do so.78 Nonetheless, the Kalbids struggled to exercise authority over the entirety of Sicily, especially in its rugged interior and eastern parts.
Centuries of Islamic rule in Sicily spurred Islamization and the spread of the Arabic language.79 The Aghlabids, Fatimids, and Kalbids enacted laws that favored their coreligionists at the expense of Christians, such as levying the jizya head tax on non-Muslims, which spurred the conversion or emigration of Christians. The Fatimids and Kalbids also invested in the construction of mosques and waged campaigns against Christian lords in eastern Sicily and southern Italy, further alienating Christians living under their rule. Islamization was further accelerated at the beginning of the eleventh century by the migration of Muslims from North Africa who were fleeing economic hardship due to famine and whose presence is evident from toponyms in the southwestern part of the island.80 By the middle of the eleventh century, Christians tended to be clustered toward the eastern edge of Sicily, where they were closest to their coreligionists in southern Italy.81 Christianity persisted in pockets of inland Sicily, too, where it was sometimes syncretized with Islamic devotional practices.82
The economy that the Kalbids cultivated and that the Normans later inherited included agricultural production in rural areas, manufacturing in cities, and revenue generated from commercial networks that passed through Sicily’s ports. By the time of the Normans’ arrival on the island, laborers on the island produced a variety of goods including grain, rice, sugarcane, dates, citrus fruits, papyrus, silk, and cotton.83 Kalbid Sicily also benefited from being at the intersection of trade routes that were essential to the exchange of agricultural products, industrial goods, and luxuries.84 The expanding economy of Sicily led to population growth, particularly in the capital of Palermo, which may have grown to one hundred thousand people by the eleventh century.85 Although the Kalbid emirs of Sicily profited from the fruits of the Sicilian economy, they were unable to unite the island under their rule.86 Beginning in 1015 and extending until the end of the dynasty in 1053, the Kalbids were confronted with internal revolts and external invasions that destabilized their dynasty. The disintegration of Kalbid central authority eventually led to the creation of small lordships across the island that historians have compared to the ṭaʾifa principalities of al-Andalus.87
Thus, in 1061 Robert Guiscard and his brother Roger set foot onto an island without a centralized political authority but with substantial economic infrastructure. The brothers exploited this disunity to their advantage from the very beginning of their conquest in 1061 to take Messina, which secured their foothold on the island. While some Muslim Sicilian rulers were content to capitulate to these invaders, others resisted them. Muslim governors forged alliances with their coreligionists based not only in Sicily, but also in Ifriqiya, where the Zirids were happy to use this political unrest to expand their own influence. The stage was set for first contact between the Zirids and the Normans.
The Zirids and Normans Clash in Sicily
During the 1060s and 1070s, the Zirids and Normans fought over territories in Sicily, each seeking to leverage local alliances and rivalries to their advantage. The eventual Norman conquest of the island was by no means a forgone conclusion in these decades. Instead, both dynasties looked to make the most of their military resources through diplomacy, raiding, and (on occasion) open combat. Despite some Zirid success in the western half of Sicily, it was the Normans who succeeded at establishing their authority on the island. Norman armies under the command of Roger I conquered the entirety of Sicily by 1091, marking the permanent end of Muslim rule on the island and halting Zirid attempts at expansion across the Strait of Sicily.
During the first hundred years of Zirid rule in Ifriqiya, its emirs had shown limited interest in Sicily.88 They certainly had knowledge of the political situation on the island, as bouts of emigration between the two regions punctuated the early eleventh century.89 Relations between the Zirids and Kalbids nonetheless appear to have been peaceful, as both dynasties were vassals of the Fatimid imam-caliph in Cairo and benefited from trade that circulated between the ports of Mahdia, Palermo, and Alexandria. The strength of their relationship was such that in 416H (1025–26), al-Muʿizz ibn Badis sent a fleet to Sicily to help repel a Byzantine invasion of the island, but it was destroyed by a winter Mediterranean storm.90
The defensive alliance between the Zirids and Kalbids against the Byzantines did not last. The Zirids under al-Muʿizz ibn Badis—increasingly seeing themselves as independent from the Fatimids and thus not bound to assist the Kalbids—soon began to interfere in Sicilian affairs expressly for their own benefit. The most substantial Zirid intervention in Sicily during the reign of al-Muʿizz came in the 1030s, when a rebellious group of Kalbid nobles sought Zirid military aid to dethrone the Kalbid emir.91 Al-Muʿizz accepted this invitation, and the Zirid army under the command of a son of al-Muʿizz succeeded in defeating the emir, who was promptly executed. This victory was short lived. For unknown reasons, the Zirids and their Sicilian Muslim allies turned on each other and the outnumbered Zirid army was forced to flee. In the following decades, the disintegration of the Kalbid state and subsequent political unrest among ṭaʾifa rulers in Sicily precipitated further Zirid intervention. The results were disastrous for al-Muʿizz. In the winter of 444H (1052), his fleet was destroyed by a Mediterranean storm, striking another blow to a Zirid military that was already stretched thin after the Battle of Haydaran.92
After his displacement to Mahdia, al-Muʿizz looked to Sicily as a possible point of expansion for his fledgling emirate.93 His first opportunity came in 1061, when he sent an army to Sicily at the request of Ibn al-Hawwas to fight the invading Normans. The Latin chronicle of Geoffrey Malaterra mentions a “multitude of Africans and Sicilians” that confronted the Norman army of Roger I near the town of Castrogiovanni (modern Enna).94 The result of this battle—the first recorded interaction between the Zirids and Normans—was a decisive Norman victory. The Zirids and their allies were routed and the spoils of the Normans were such that “anyone who had lost his horse in the battle could expect … ten horses in exchange.” This victory was the first in a series of pitched battles in Sicily that resulted in Norman triumphs over coalitions of Sicilian Muslims and the Zirids.
Emir al-Muiʿizz ibn Badis died in 454H (1062–63) after a reign of over forty years. He was succeeded by his son Tamim ibn al-Muʿizz, who continued the expansionist policies of his father in Sicily.95 The surviving medieval sources provide only snapshots of the Zirid presence on Sicily, although from these sporadic narratives there emerges a picture of an Ifriqiyan dynasty that was heavily involved on the island across the 1060s. Tamim’s first excursion into Sicily came in 455H (1063) when he sent an army to the island under the command of his sons Ayyub and ʿAli. In the summer of 1063, an army comprising Zirid soldiers and their Muslim allies marched against the Normans. They met at Cerami in northeastern Sicily. The result of the battle was another Norman victory. Seeking revenge for their defeat, a coalition of “Africans and Arabs” launched a surprise raid on the Normans, although this ambush was ultimately unsuccessful due to the battlefield heroics of Roger I.96
These defeats led the Zirid princes to avoid direct confrontation with the Normans for the time being and instead to look toward western Sicily to expand their authority. Ayyub established himself in Palermo and ʿAli did so in Agrigento. The brothers ruled these cities for the better part of five years, but their governance was unpopular. Medieval sources are unclear about the cause of popular unrest against the Zirid princes, but modern historians have speculated that the presence of an outside power, especially one from an external Berber dynasty, precipitated conflict.97 After another Norman victory against Muslim forces in 1068, this time at Misilmeri near Palermo, the Zirid princes were ousted from power and sent back to Ifriqiya. Nonetheless, it is likely that the Zirids retained some presence in Sicily after the departure of Ayyub and ʿAli. For example, Malaterra tells of a successful raid that Saracen forces carried out in 1072 near Cerami that resulted in the death of Serlo II of Hauteville. According to this narrative, the victorious Saracens ate Serlo’s heart and then sent the heads of his men “for the honor” of the king of Africa.98 Although this story may have been embellished for dramatic effect, the specific mention of the king of Africa (i.e., Tamim ibn al-Muʿizz), shows that Malaterra suspected continued cooperation between the Zirids and Sicilian Muslims.
Meanwhile, the Normans continued to extend their control over Sicily and laid siege to Palermo in 1071.99 The loss of Palermo, which was by far the largest and most resplendent city in Sicily, would strike a serious blow to the future of Muslim rule on the island. Tamim therefore attempted to break the Norman siege by sending a fleet to Sicily, but he was unable to dislodge the Normans.100 Palermo fell to the Normans in January 1072, which prompted a changed in Zirid policy toward the Normans. Instead of engaging them in pitched battle on Sicily, Tamim began a campaign of maritime raiding that made the Zirids infamous to Christian rulers in the central Mediterranean.101 In 1074, a Zirid fleet sacked Nicotera (southern Italy) on the feast day of Saint Peter, after the people of the city had overindulged in wine. The next day, the fleet negotiated ransoms for some of their captives before returning to Mahdia.102 A year later, the Zirid fleet sacked the city of Mazara in southwest Sicily. This time, though, members of this expedition lingered in the city in an attempt to take its fortified citadel. Roger I took advantage of the vulnerable Zirid position. His soldiers snuck into the city under the cover of darkness and ambushed the unsuspecting Zirids. The result of the ambush was a Norman victory, which sent the Zirids back to Mahdia and preserved the Normans’ hold on the southwest coast of Sicily.103
The picture that emerges from these encounters is one of Zirid intervention in Sicily that evolved from land campaigns on the island in the 1060s to raiding expeditions in the 1070s. Over time, however, Tamim decided that conflict with the Normans was not in his best interest. The Normans arrived at a similar conclusion. The two sides therefore negotiated a truce and trade agreement sometime in the late 1070s or early 1080s—neither Latin nor Arabic sources provide an exact date. The reason for the eventual reconciliation of the two rival dynasties was economic. As is evident from commercial sources like the letters of the Cairo Geniza, the first two decades of the Norman conquest of Sicily had negative effects on trade in and around the island. One merchant who was forced to emigrate from Sicily to Tyre in the 1060s wrote that “nothing good has remained in Sicily.”104 Other merchants mention the perils of conducting trade on the island, as in a letter in which a merchant informs his friend that the Normans had conquered most of Sicily and left the island in a “bad and deplorable state,” and that many Jews there had sought to flee to North Africa.105
With this decrease in merchants frequenting Sicilian (and in all likelihood Ifriqiyan) ports, the Zirids and Normans decided that peaceful cooperation would be more beneficial than continued conflict. The details of these commercial treaties are unknown but implied by later episodes in which the Normans declined to collaborate with Christian powers to attack the Zirids. The treaties must have outlined terms of peace between the two dynasties and established the protocol for a trading relationship between the courts of Mahdia and Palermo. This commercial partnership provided clear benefits for both sides, as safer waters across the central Mediterranean allowed for increased maritime traffic and encouraged further investment in trade. The Zirids also stood to gain from the guaranteed and regular importation of Sicilian grain (among other goods), which was reciprocated by the Norman desire for gold and olive oil.106
The Zirid emirate of Ifriqiya underwent meaningful changes in the tenth and eleventh centuries that set the stage for their later involvement in Sicily. The substantial territories that the Zirids controlled when the Fatimids appointed them as governors eroded in the face of both internal and external pressures. Berber tribes in western Ifriqiya loyal to the Ummayad caliphate of Córdoba fought frequently against the Zirids and their Fatimid overlords. Likewise, Sunni Muslims clashed with the Ismaʿili Zirids and their supporters. These divisions—when combined with an economic system that was suffering from eroding agricultural infrastructure, drought, and emigration—proved unsustainable. The revolt of the Hammadids and the gradual migration of the Banu Hilal reduced Zirid control in Ifriqiya substantially. By the middle of the eleventh century, the Zirids were forced from their inland capital of Sabra al-Mansuriya to the coastal stronghold of Mahdia.
Prior to the 1050s, Zirid interest in Sicily had been limited. The dynasty’s involvement in the island grew, however, after the dynasty was displaced to Mahdia and forced to look to new frontiers for expansion. Zirid military expeditions in Sicily brought them into contact with the Normans, who similarly looked to expand their power on the island. Both the Zirids and Normans made alliances with lords in Sicily to further their own political ends, the Normans concentrating on the east of the island and the Zirids on the west. While the Zirids were able to gain control over Palermo, the most populous and profitable port of Sicily, for about five years in the 1060s, they were ultimately unable to overcome both the military cunning of the Normans and the volatile internal politics of Sicily. The Zirids were effectively driven out of Sicily by the early 1070s, at which point they focused their larger Mediterranean policy on a campaign of maritime raiding. The Normans, however, spared themselves from Zirid galleys by signing a commercial treaty with the court of Mahdia near the end of the eleventh century. The resulting trading partnership between Mahdia and Palermo was foundational to the dynasties’ peaceful relationship that extended into the twelfth century, although it was soon to be tested by other Christian powers who sought to destroy the Zirid emirs and their marauding navies.
1. Brett and Fentress, Berbers, 3.
2. Abderrahman El Aissati, “Ethnic Identity, Language Shift, and the Amazigh Voice in Morocco and Algeria,” Race, Gender & Class 8, no. 3 (2001): 58–59.
3. Ramzi Rouighi, “The Berbers of the Arabs,” Studia Islamica 1 (2011): 100–101.
4. Rouighi, Inventing the Berbers, 9.
5. H. T. Norris, The Berbers in Arabic Literature (New York: Longman, 1982), 33–35; Rouighi, “Berbers of the Arabs,” 86–87.
6. Rouighi, Inventing the Berbers, 86–87.
7. Irwin, Ibn Khaldun, 54. A fourth group, the descendants of Butr—comprising the Nefzawa, Luwata, and Banu Fatan—also feature in Ibn Khaldun’s history. Allen Fromherz, Ibn Khaldun, 137.
8. The origins of the Sanhaja are disputed. Some scholars have attempted to compare sources beginning with Herodotus to look for consistencies in their descriptions of the indigenous inhabitants of North Africa. Others have focused on how Arabic-language sources of the Middle Ages interpreted the origins of the Sanhaja. For an example of the former, see Richard L. Smith, “What Happened to the Ancient Libyans? Chasing Sources across the Sahara from Herodotus to Ibn Khaldun,” Journal of World History 14, no. 4 (December 2003): 459–500. For examples of the latter, see Idris, Berbérie orientale, 1:3–7; Helena de Felipe, “Berber Leadership and Genealogical Legitimacy: The Almoravid Case,” in Genealogy and Knowledge in Muslim Societies: Understanding the Past, ed. Sarah Bowen Savant and Helena de Felipe (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014), 55–70.
9. Ibn Khaldun, Kitab al-ʿIbar, 6:205–6; Ibn ʿIdhari, Al-Bayan al-Mughrib, 1:245–46; Brett, Rise of the Fatimids, 322–23.
10. Lucien Golvin, “Le palais de Ziri à Achir (Xe siècle J. C.),” Ars Orientalis 6 (1966): 47–76.
11. These campaigns are considered in Idris, Berbérie orientale, 1:28–30.
12. Brett, Rise of the Fatimids, 353.
13. Michael Brett, “The Diplomacy of Empire: Fatimids and Zirids, 990–1062,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 78, no. 1 (February 2015): 149–59.
14. Idris, Berbérie orientale, 1:39–126.
15. Brett, “Ifriqiya as a Market,” 354–60; Davis-Secord, Where Three Worlds Met, 149–65.
16. Al-Bakri, Al-Masalik wa-l-Mamalik, 2:203.
17. Al-Bakri, Al-Masalik wa-l-Mamalik, 2:198; Laroui, History of the Maghrib, 145.
18. The Zirids inherited a Fatimid tax system that included customs duties, the zakat, taxes on caravans, and taxes on goods produced on large agricultural estates. Idris, Berbérie orientale, 2:603–27; Heinz Halm, The Fatimids and Their Traditions of Learning (New York: I. B. Tauris, 1997), 355–65.
19. Mohamed Talbi, “Law and Economy in Ifrīqiya (Tunisia) in the Third Islamic Century: Agriculture and the Role of Slaves in the Country’s Economy,” in The Islamic Middle East, 700–1900, ed. A. L. Udovitch (Princeton, NJ: Darwin Press, 1981), 237–39.
20. Idris, Berbérie orientale, 2:622–41; Brett, Rise of the Fatimids, 258–59.
21. Brett describes Bulukkin as a “warrior belonging to the distant and different world of the central Maghrib, who of necessity left the administration of the heartland of Ifrīqiya to the wide discretion of the officials in charge.” Brett, Rise of the Fatimids, 324.
22. Daftary, Ismā’īlīs, 162.
23. Talbi, “Law and Economy in Ifrīqiya,” 249.
24. Brett, “Fatimid Revolution,” 624.
25. Idris, Berbérie orientale, 1:66–78.
26. Ibn ʿIdhari, Al-Bayan al-Mughrib, 1:259. Translation is from Amin Tibi, “Zīrids,” EI2.
27. The Fatimids bestowed on al-Mansur the honorific title ʿUddat al-ʿAziz (Instrument of al-ʿAziz), a title that flew in the face of the actions of the Zirid emir. Brett, “Fatimid Revolution,” 626.
28. Idris, Berbérie orientale, 2:513–18; Brett, Rise of the Fatimids, 359.
29. Ibn ʿIdhari, Al-Bayan al-Mughrib, 1:268–69; Idris, Berbérie orientale, 1:88.
30. H. R. Idris, “Ḥammādids,” EI2. See also Lucien Golvin, Recherches archéologiques a la Qal’a des Banu Hammad (Paris: G. P. Maisonneuve & Larose, 1965).
31. Another offshoot of the Zirid dynasty in Ifriqiya was the Zirids of Granada, who carved out territory in southern al-Andalus during the eleventh century (c. 1013–91). The originator of this dynasty was Zawi ibn Ziri, who was the brother of Bulukkin ibn Ziri. Although Zawi and Bulukkin had initially worked together on campaigns in western Ifriqiya, Zawi opposed the succession of his grand-nephew Badis and acknowledged the authority of the Umayyad caliphate of Córdoba. Zawi and his loyal followers arrived in al-Andalus at the beginning of the eleventh century, initially under the service of the Umayyads of Córdoba. Eventually, Zawi turned on his lords and ended up settling in the environs of Granada, where they remained in power until the end of the eleventh century. Although Zawi tried to convince his followers to return to Ifriqiya and claim the land that was (in his mind) rightly theirs, he was unable to persuade them to do so. On this narrative history, see Idris, Berbérie orientale, 1:91–95; Hugh Kennedy, Muslim Spain and Portugal: A Political History of al-Andalus (New York: Longman, 1996), 141–43; Brian Catlos, Infidel Kings and Unholy Warriors: Faith, Power, and Violence in the Age of Crusade and Jihad (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014), 26–28.
32. Michael Brett, “The City-State in Medieval Ifriqiya: The Case of Tripoli,” Cahiers de Tunisie 34 (1986): 80.
33. Mohamed Talbi, “al-Muʿizz b. Bādīs,” EI2.
34. Talbi speculates that the Hammadids might have been behind these revolts to keep the Zirids distracted from campaigning against them. Talbi, “al-Muʿizz b. Bādīs,” EI2.
35. The Zirids and Hammadids remained at peace until the death of Hammad in 419H (1028–29). Hammad’s successor, al-Qaʾid ibn Hammad, broke this peace and fought against the Zirids for several years. The two rivals made peace in 434H (1042–43). Idris, Berbérie orientale, 1:158.
36. During the early years of al-Muʿizz’s reign, much of Zirid policy was formed by an inner council of advisers to the child emir. One overbearing vizier, Abu ʿAbd Allah Muhammad ibn al-Hasan, was executed 413H (1022) at the order of the fifteen-year-old emir. Ibn Khaldun, Kitab al-ʿIbar, 6:211.
37. Idris, Berbérie orientale, 1:165.
38. Notable Zirid court figures from the eleventh century include Ibn Sharaf, Ibn Rashiq, and al-Raqiq. D. J. Wasserstein, Julie Scott Meisami, and Paul Starkey, “Ibn Sharaf Al-Qayrawānī,” in Encyclopedia of Arabic Literature, ed. Julie Scott Meisami and Paul Starkey (New York: Routledge, 1998), 1:371; G. J. H. Van Gelder, Julie Scott Meisami, and Paul Starkey, “Ibn Rashīq Al-Qayrawānī,” in Meisami and Starkey, Encyclopedia of Arabic Literature (New York: Routledge, 1998), 1:363; Russell Hopley, “Raqiq al-Qayarawani, al-,” in The Dictionary of African Biography, ed. Emmanuel Kwaku Akyeampong and Henry Louis Gates (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 182–83. See also Idris, Berbérie orientale, 2:771–823; Bouyahia, “Vie littéraire en Ifriqiya,” 133–34, 286–92; Laroui, History of the Maghrib, 144–46.
39. Al-Muʿizz himself wrote on the practice of bookmaking, which still survives today. See Martin Levey, “Mediaeval Arabic Bookmaking and Its Relation to Early Chemistry and Pharmacology,” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 52, no. 4 (1962): 1–79.
40. Ibn al-Athir, Al-Kamil fi al-Tarikh, year 395H, 9:88.
41. Metcalfe, Muslims of Medieval Italy, 75.
42. At the same time, Sicilians required Ifriqiyan imports of olive oil for their consumption. Idris, Berbérie orientale, 2:655–56, 665–68; Brett, “Ifriqiya as a Market,” 348–49.
43. Brett, “Ifriqiya as a Market,” 348; Devisse, “Trade and Trade Routes,” 403–26.
44. Simonsohn, Jews in Sicily, document 47. On the movement of Geniza communities from Ifriqiya to Egypt, see Goitein, Mediterranean Society, 1:31–33.
45. Simonsohn, Jews in Sicily, document 48.
46. Simonsohn, Jews in Sicily, document 69. Some Geniza merchants blamed al-Muʿizz for the suffering of Jews in the region. One letter refers to him as “the evildoer.” Moshe Gil, “The Jewish Merchants in the Light of Eleventh-Century Geniza Documents,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 46, no. 3 (2003): 311.
47. Simonsohn, Jews in Sicily, document 52.
48. Simonsohn, Jews in Sicily, document 69. Even during times of conflict and bad markets in Ifriqiya, it was still common for Geniza merchants to ship staple goods (like flax) to the region. One letter, for example, relates a merchant loading 180 bales of flax at Mahdia despite the turmoil in nearby Kairouan. Goldberg, “Use and Abuse of Commercial Letters,” 145.
49. See, for example, Simonsohn, Jews in Sicily, documents 51, 52, 54, 60, 69, 77, 86.
50. Another tribal confederation called the Banu Sulaym also took part in this migration, though they initially only went as far as modern-day Libya. Later, in the thirteenth century, they migrated west into modern-day Tunisia and displaced many Hilalian lords. Brett, “Way of the Nomad,” 262; Michael Lecker, “Sulaym,” EI2.
51. Brett, “Zughba at Tripoli,” 41–42.
52. Ibn Hawqal, Kitab Surat al-Ard, 155–56; Brett, “Way of the Nomad,” 258.
53. Al-Tijani, Al-Rihla, 267; Metcalfe, Muslims of Medieval Italy, 92–93.
54. Al-Muʿizz received customary gifts and honorary titles from his Fatimid overlords during the first ten years of his reign. Brett, “Diplomacy of Empire,” 151–58.
55. Hazard, Numismatic History, 53–56, 90–93. Epigraphic evidence likewise confirms this Zirid break from the Fatimids. Lotfi Abdeljaouad, “Les relations entre les Zirides et les Fatimides à la lumière des documents épigraphiques,” Revue du Monde Musulman et de la Méditerranée 139 (April 2015): 147–66. See also Norman D. Nicol, A Corpus of Fāṭimid Coins (Trieste: G. Bernardi, 2006), 307–13.
56. Ronnie Ellenblum, The Collapse of the Eastern Mediterranean: Climate Change and the Decline of the East, 950–1072 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 155–58; King, “Sword and the Sun,” 232–34.
57. The threat of the Banu Hilal was such that the Zirids and Hammadids, perennial rivals up to this point, joined forces at Haydaran. Idris, “Ḥammādids,” EI2; Michael Brett, “Fatimid Historiography: A Case Study—The Quarrel with the Zirids, 1048–1058,” in Medieval Historical Writing in the Christian and Islamic Worlds, ed. D. O. Morgan (London: School of Oriental and African Studies, 1982), 47–60.
58. Michael Brett, “The Poetry of Disaster: The Tragedy of Qayrawān 1052–1057 CE,” in Continuity and Change in the Realms of Islam: Studies in Honour of Professor Urbain Vermeulen, ed. Kristof d’Hulster and Jo Van Steenbergen (Leuven, Belgium: Peeters, 2008), 77–90; Nizar F. Hermes, “ ‘It Eclipsed Cairo and Outshone Baghdad!’: Ibn Rashīq’s Elegy for the City of Qayrawan,” Journal of Arabic Literature 48, no. 3 (2017): 270–97.
59. The history of Bougie is exhaustively documented in Dominique Valérian, Bougie: Port maghrébin, 1067–1510 (Rome: École Française de Rome, 2006).
60. Brett, “Way of the Nomad,” 258.
61. Ibn Khaldun, Kitab al-ʿIbar, 6:20.
62. Davis-Secord, Where Three Worlds Met, 186.
63. Simonsohn, Jews in Sicily, document 122.
64. Simonsohn, Jews in Sicily, document 151.
65. Another letter from 1056 mentions that “a whole group of our men died in North Africa.” Although the reason for the death of these merchants is not explored, it is likely that they fell victim to the endemic violence of the 1050s between the Zirids and Banu Hilal. Simonsohn, Jews in Sicily, document 108. Jessica Goldberg argues that during the eleventh century, there was an increase from 1 to 5 percent in the nonarrival of goods “due to port closings, ship diversions, piracy, and seizure caused by political events.” Goldberg, Trade and Institutions, 325.
66. The quantity of surviving Geniza letters decreased rapidly during the second half of the eleventh century. The reason for this decline is likely tied to a decrease in trade for merchants from this community, although this does not necessarily indicate a decline in overall trade. Goitein, “Medieval Tunisia,” 310–12; Nef, “Sicile dans la documentation,” 278.
67. Al-Idrisi, Nuzhat al-Mushtaq, 1:297.
68. A study by Jean-Louis Ballais found that soil erosion, a process associated with agricultural use, was limited during the time of the Hilalian conquests. Thus, it is likely that the Banu Hilal’s main effect in the region was “to substitute pastures for cultivated fields” in order to support their livestock. Ballais does note, however, that urban areas with access to irrigation did not see this change in soil erosion, which indicates that agricultural production continued in coastal cities, including those like Tripoli and Gabès. Ballais, “Conquests and Land Degradation,” 133–34.
69. Marjorie Chibnall, The Normans (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2000), 3–37. On Norman identity in Normandy, see Elisabeth van Houts, “Qui étaient les Normands? Quelques observations sur des liens entre la Normandie, l’Angleterre et l’Italie au début du XIe siècle,” in Bates and Bauduin, 911–2011, 129–46.
70. On Norman ethnic identity, tradition, and heritage, see Stefan Burkhardt and Thomas Foerster, “Tradition and Heritage: The Normans in the Transcultural Middle Ages,” in Burkhardt and Foerster, Norman Tradition and Transcultural Heritage, 1–18.
71. Ann Christys, Vikings in the South: Voyages to Iberia and the Mediterranean (New York: Bloomsbury, 2015).
72. For overviews of the Norman conquests of southern Italy and Sicily, see Donald Matthew, The Norman Kingdom of Sicily (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 9–32; Loud, Age of Robert Guiscard, 60–185; Nef, Conquérir et gouverner la Sicile, 60–233.
73. The term Lombard comes from the Germanic peoples who invaded Italy during the sixth century. Their gradual assimilation into the society of southern Italy was such that by the eleventh century, they can “can be considered as, in our terms, native Italians.” Loud, Age of Robert Guiscard, 12.
74. The Latin chronicles of Geoffrey Malaterra, Amatus of Montecassino, and William of Apulia provide the most detailed accounts of the arrival of the Normans in southern Italy. John France, “The Occasion of the Coming of the Normans to Southern Italy,” Journal of Medieval History 17, no. 3 (1991): 185–205; Loud, Age of Robert Guiscard, 4–8; Graham Loud, “Southern Italy in the Eleventh Century,” in The New Cambridge Medieval History, vol. 4, c.1024–c.1198, ed. David Luscombe and Jonathan Riley-Smith (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 2:97–102.
75. It is unclear how long the Normans remained attached to their northern French heritage and how long the Lombards felt separate from the Normans. On the integration of Norman lords in southern Italy, see Graham Loud, “Norman Traditions in Southern Italy,” in Burkhardt and Foerster, Norman Tradition and Transcultural Heritage, 35–56; Rosa Canosa, “Discours ethniques et pratiques du pouvoir des normands d’Italie: Sources narratives et documentaires (XIe–XIIe siècles),” in Bates and Bauduin, 911–2011, 341–56.
76. These communities and their responses to Norman aggression are considered in Barbara Kreutz, Before the Normans: Southern Italy in the Ninth and Tenth Centuries (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991), 150–58.
77. The Arabic chronicles of Ibn Khaldun, Ibn al-Athir, Ibn ʿIdhari, and al-Nuwayri are the most informative texts for the history of Muslim Sicily, though there are numerous lacunae and contradictions in these sources. Metcalfe, Muslims of Medieval Italy, 25–69.
78. Muslim Sicily and its larger Mediterranean connections (including the Kalbid-Fatimid relationship) are considered in Davis-Secord, Where Three Worlds Met, 116–65; Bramoullé, Fatimides et la mer, 471–91.
79. Metcalfe, Muslims and Christians, 18. See also Dominique Valérian, ed., Islamisation et arabisation de l’Occident musulman (VIIe–XIIe siècle) (Paris: Éditions de la Sorbonne, 2011).
80. Kennedy, “Sicily and al-Andalus,” 667; Metcalfe, Muslims of Medieval Italy, 38.
81. Houben, Ruler between East and West, 12. Metcalfe argues that “it is likely that, by the mid-eleventh century, Sicily was mainly Muslim and almost everyone understood Arabic.” Metcalfe, “Muslims of Sicily,” 290. See also Annliese Nef, “La désignation des groupes ethniques de la Sicile islamique dans les chroniques en langue arabe: Source d’information ou topos?,” Annales Islamologiques 42 (2008): 57–72.
82. Ibn Hawqal noted this practice with disdain in his description of Sicily. Ibn Hawqal, Kitab Surat al-Ard, 118–31. He likewise disparagingly wrote about the coast of Sicily being a haven for “the unemployed and the godless” as well as “pimps and perverts.” See also Metcalfe, “Muslims of Sicily,” 289–93; William Granara, “Ibn Hawqal in Sicily,” Alif: Journal of Comparative Politics 3 (Spring 1983): 94–99.
83. The idea of Muslim rule in Sicily causing a “green revolution” in the countryside is disputed and, in recent years, has been the subject of scrutiny. The original argument is found in Andrew M. Watson, “A Medieval Green Revolution: New Crops and Farming Techniques in the Early Islamic World,” in The Islamic Middle East, 700–1900, ed. A. L. Udovitch (Princeton, NJ: Darwin Press, 1981), 29–58; Andrew M. Watson, Agricultural Innovation in the Early Islamic World: The Diffusion of Crops and Farming Techniques, 700–1100 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983). A discussion of this idea’s legacy and refutation can be found in Horden and Purcell, Corrupting Sea, 257–63; Michael Decker, “Plants and Progress: Rethinking the Islamic Agricultural Revolution,” Journal of World History 20, no. 2 (June 2009): 187–206; Paolo Squatriti, “Of Seeds, Seasons, and Seas: Andrew Watson’s Medieval Agrarian Revolution Forty Years Later,” Journal of Economic History 74, no. 4 (2014): 1205–20.
84. Nef, “Sicile dans la documentation,” 282–91.
85. Kennedy, “Sicily and al-Andalus,” 668.
86. Metcalfe theorizes that Kalbid taxation practices contributed to their unpopularity on the island. Nef and Prigent, however, see continuity in taxation practices between Byzantine and Islamic Sicily, thus pointing to other potential causes for unrest on the island. Metcalfe, Muslims of Medieval Italy, 62–63; Nef and Prigent, “Contrôle et exploitation,” 354–55.
87. Metcalfe, Muslims of Medieval Italy, 82–85.
88. There is no trace of Zirid interference in Sicily up to the reign of al-Muʿizz ibn Badis. Idris, Berbérie orientale, 1:126.
89. In early 1015, disaffected Kalbid nobles led a major revolt in Sicily supported by Berbers and slaves on the island. Kalbid forces defeated this uprising and expelled many Berbers from the island, likely those from the Kutama tribe. It is likely that at least some of these Berbers migrated back to Ifriqiya and the lands of al-Muʿizz ibn Badis. Metcalfe, Muslims of Medieval Italy, 73–79.
90. Ibn al-Athir is the only author to mention this event. Idris posits that Ibn al-Athir might have conflated the sinking of these ships with a similar catastrophe in 1052. Ibn al-Athir, Al-Kamil fi al-Tarikh, year 416H, 9:164; Idris, Berbérie orientale, 1:168.
91. Metcalfe, Muslims of Medieval Italy, 84–85.
92. The timeline of this sinking is controversial. Ibn al-Athir reports in an entry for the year 484H (which discusses much of the history of Norman-Muslim conflict in Sicily) that the Zirid fleet sank in the month of Rajab 444H (1052). Amari argues, however, that the destruction of this fleet occurred some ten years later in 1061 because Ibn al-Athir’s entry on this sinking is located next to his description of the Battle of Castrogiovanni, which other sources agree happened in 1061. Cobb and Loud echo Amari in their own works, and I echo Idris’s skepticism of this thesis, though I am uncertain why he has chosen to date this sinking to the year 1051. Amari, Storia dei musulmani di Sicilia, 3:82–85; Paul M. Cobb, The Race for Paradise: An Islamic History of the Crusades (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 53; Loud, Age of Robert Guiscard, 156; Idris, Berbérie orientale, 1:171.
93. Davis-Secord, Where Three Worlds Met, 185–89.
94. Malaterra’s mention of “Africans” in this context almost certainly refers to the Zirids, while “Sicilians” refers to Muslim Sicilians. Malaterra, De rebus gestis Rogerii Calabriae, 5:34; Malaterra, Deeds of Count Roger of Calabria, 93–94. The translation of Lucas-Avenel is useful for the first two books of this text. Malaterra, Histoire du Grand Comte Roger, vol. 1. chap. 17.
95. The Zirids under Tamim also campaigned in Ifriqiya during the 1060s and 1070s, often against the Hammadids and their allies in coastal cities near Mahdia. For example, Tamim vied for control in the cities of Tunis, Sousse, and Sfax. In these campaigns, Tamim forged alliances with sympathetic local rulers. This included one pact with a branch of the Banu Hilal against the Hammadids. In 470H (1077–78), however, Tamim and the Hammadids made peace through another marriage alliance. The details of these campaigns are explored in Idris, Berbérie orientale, 1:251–74.
96. Malaterra, De rebus gestis Rogerii Calabriae, 5:41–46; Malaterra, Deeds of Count Roger of Calabria, 107–8; Malaterra, Histoire du Grand Comte Roger, vol. 2, chap. 35.
97. Metcalfe, Muslims of Medieval Italy, 95–97.
98. Malaterra, De rebus gestis Rogerii Calabriae, 5:54; Malaterra, Deeds of Count Roger of Calabria, 127.
99. On the response of Muslim authors to the Norman conquest and rule over Sicily, see Annliese Nef, “Dire la conquête et la souveraineté des Hauteville en arabe (jusqu’au milieu du XIIIe siècle),” Tabularia 15 (2015): 1–15.
100. Idris, Berbérie orientale, 1:285.
101. Many scholars have referred to Zirid “piracy.” I prefer to use the term “raiding” because piracy implies a lack of accountability to a government or administration. By all accounts, Zirid raiding was an integral part of their foreign policy after the Hilalian invasions. “Privateering” is another potential alternative. Abulafia, “Norman Kingdom of Africa,” 30; Brett, “Muslim Justice under Infidel Rule,” 333.
102. Malaterra, De rebus gestis Rogerii Calabriae, 5:61; Malaterra, Deeds of Count Roger of Calabria, 138.
103. Amari speculates that Tamim might have lost up to 150 ships in this attack. Amari, Storia dei musulmani di Sicilia, 3:151.
104. Simohnson, Jews in Sicily, document 131.
105. Simohnson, Jews in Sicily, document 158. See also documents 161–64.
106. Brett, “Ifriqiya as a Market,” 348–49.