Origins of the Almohads


1106 Jan 1
, Baghdad

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, western Algeria and Spain (al-Andalus), were under the rule of the Almoravids, a Sanhaja Berber dynasty. Early in his life, Ibn Tumart went to Córdoba, 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 teacher al-Ghazali. He soon developed his own system, combining the doctrines of various masters.

Preaching and Expulsion | ©Angus McBride

Preaching and Expulsion

1117 Jan 1
, Fez

Ibn Tumart spent some time in various Ifriqiyan cities, preaching and agitating, heading riotous attacks on wine-shops and on other manifestations of laxity. His antics and fiery preaching led fed-up authorities to move him along from town to town. In 1120, Ibn Tumart and his small band of followers proceeded to Morocco, stopping first in 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 ʿAli ibn Yusuf, in the streets of Fez, because she was going about unveiled, after the manner of Berber women. The emir decided merely to expel him from the city.

Mahdi Revelation

Mahdi Revelation

1121 Jan 1
, Ouad Essafa

After a particularly moving sermon, reviewing his failure to persuade the Almoravids to reform by argument, Ibn Tumart 'revealed' himself as the true Mahdi, a divinely guided judge and lawgiver, and was recognized as such by his audience. This was effectively a declaration of war on the Almoravid state.

Almohad Rebellion | ©Angus McBride

Almohad Rebellion

1124 Jan 1
, Nfiss

Ibn Tumart abandoned his cave in 1122 and went up into the High Atlas, to organize the Almohad movement among the highland Masmudatribes. 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, animpregnable fortified complex, which would serve both as the spiritual center and militaryheadquarters of the Almohad movement. For the first eight years, the Almohad rebellion was limited to a guerilla war along thepeaks and ravines of the High Atlas. Their principal damage was in rendering insecure (oraltogether impassable) the roads and mountain passes south of Marrakesh – threatening theroute to all-important Sijilmassa, the gateway of the trans-Saharan trade. Unable to sendenough manpower through the narrow passes to dislodge the Almohad rebels from their easilydefended mountain strong points, the Almoravid authorities reconciled themselves to settingup strongholds to confine them there (most famously the fortress of Tasghîmût that protectedthe approach to Aghmat, which was conquered by the Almohads in 1132), while exploringalternative routes through more easterly passes.

Battle of al-Buhayra

Battle of al-Buhayra

1130 May 1
, Marrakesh

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, and the survivors only just managed to scramble back to the mountains.

Ibn Tumart dies

Ibn Tumart dies

1130 Aug 1
, Nfiss

Ibn Tumart died shortly after, in August 1130. Ibn Tumart's death was kept a secret for three years, a period which Almohad chroniclers described as a ghayba or "occultation". This period likely gave Abd al-Mu'min time to secure his position as successor to the political leadership of the movement.

Almohads defeats the Almoravids

Almohads defeats the Almoravids

1147 Jan 1
, Tlemcen

Under Abd al-Mu'min, the Almohads swept down from the Atlas mountains, eventually destroying the power of the faltering Almoravid dynasty by 1147. Abd al-Mu'min created his empire by first winning control of the high Atlas Mountains, then the Middle Atlas, into the Rif region, eventually moving into his homeland north of Tlemcen. In 1145, after the Almoravids lost the leader of their Catalan mercenaries, Reveter, the Almohads defeated them in open battle. From this point the Almohads moved west onto the Atlantic coastal plain. After laying siege to Marrakesh, they finally captured it in 1147.

Seville captured | ©Angus McBride

Seville captured

1148 Jan 1
, Seville

The Almohads' involvement in Al-Andalus began as early as 1145, when Ali ibn Isa ibn Maymun, the Almoravid naval commander of Cadiz, defected to 'Abd al-Mu'min. In the same year, Ibn Qasi, the ruler of Silves, was one of the first Andalusi leaders to appeal for Almohad intervention in Al-Andalus in order to stop the advance of the Christian kingdoms, whom the faltering Almoravids were unable to contain. In 1147 Abd al-Mu'min sent a military force led by another Almoravid defector, Abu Ishaq Barraz, who captured Algeciras and Tarifa before moving west to Niebla, Badajoz, and the Algarve. The Almoravids in Seville were besieged in 1147 until the city was captured in 1148 with local support.

Rebellion and Al-Andalus Consolidation

Rebellion and Al-Andalus Consolidation

1150 Jan 1
, Seville

Around this time a major rebellion centred in the Sous valley, led by Muhammad ibn 'Abd Allah al-Massi, shook the Almohad Empire and took on religious dimensions, rallying various tribes to counter the Almohads. After initial Almohad setbacks, the rebellion was eventually suppressed thanks to Abd al-Mu'min's lieutenant, Umar al-Hintati, who led a force that killed al-Massi.

The rebellion had taxed Almohad resources and resulted in temporary reversals in Al-Andalus too, but the Almohads soon went on the offensive again. Responding to local appeals from Muslim officials, they took control of Cordoba in 1149, saving the city from the forces of Alfonso VII. The remaining Almoravids in Al-Andalus, led by Yahya ibn Ghaniya, were by then confined to Granada. In 1150 or 1151 Abd al-Mu'min summoned the leaders and notables of Al-Andalus under his control to Ribat al-Fath (Rabat), where he made them pledge loyalty to him, apparently as a political demonstration of his power. The Almoravids in Granada were defeated in 1155 and retreated thereafter to the Balearic Islands, where they held out for several decades more.The Almohads transferred the capital of Muslim Iberia from Córdoba to Seville.

Expansion East

Expansion East

1159 Jan 2
, Tripoli

For much of the 1150s, however, Abd al-Mu'min concentrated his efforts on expanding eastwards in North Africa. 1151, he had reached Constantine where he confronted a coalition of Arab tribes that had been marching through Berber lands. Rather than the destruction of these tribes, he utilized them for his campaigns in al-Andalus and they also helped to quell any internal opposition from the family of Ibn Tumart. Abd al-Mu'min led his forces to conquer Tunis in 1159, going on to progressively establish control over Ifriqiya by conquering the cities of Mahdia (then held by Roger II of Sicily), Kairouan, and other coastal cities as far as Tripoli (in modern-day Libya). He then returned to Marrakesh and left for an expedition to Al-Andalus in 1161. Abd al-Mu'min had ordered the construction of a new citadel at Gibraltar, where he based himself during his stay in Al-Andalus.

Reign of Yusuf and Yaqub | ©Angus McBride

Reign of Yusuf and Yaqub

1163 Jan 1
, Marrakesh

The Almohad princes had a longer and more distinguished career than the Murabits. The successors of Abd al-Mumin, Abu Yaqub Yusuf (Yusuf I, ruled 1163–1184) and Abu Yusuf Yaqub al-Mansur (Yaʻqūb I, ruled 1184–1199), 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 Murabits, and Ya'qub al-Mansur was a highly accomplished man who wrote a good Arabic style and protected the philosopher Averroes. His title of "al-Manṣūr" ("the Victorious") was earned by his victory over Alfonso VIII of Castile in the Battle of Alarcos (1195).



1163 Jan 2
, Alcázar

In 1163 the caliph Abu Ya'qub Yusuf made the Alcazar his main residence in the region. He further expanded and embellished the palace complex in 1169, adding six new enclosures to the north, south, and west sides of the existing palaces. The works were carried out by architects Ahmad ibn Baso and 'Ali al-Ghumari. With the exception of the walls, nearly all previous buildings were demolished, and a total of approximately twelve palaces were built. Among the new structures was a very large garden courtyard, now known as the Patio del Crucero, which stood in the old Abbadid enclosure. Between 1171 and 1198 an enormous new congregational mosque was built on the north side of the Alcazar (later transformed in to the current Cathedral of Seville). A shipyard was also built nearby in 1184 and a textiles market in 1196.

Conflict with the Wolf King

Conflict with the Wolf King

1165 Oct 15
, Murcia

The Battle of Faḥṣ al-Jullāb was fought on Thursday 15 October 1165 between the invading Almohads and the king of Murcia, Ibn Mardanīsh. An Almohad army under sayyids Abū Ḥafṣ ʿUmar and Abū Saʿīd ʿUthmān, the brothers of the Caliph Abū Yaʿḳūb Yūsuf, went on the offensive against Ibn Mardanīsh in the summer of 1165. They captured Andújar in September, harried Galera, Caravaca, Baza and Sierra de Segura, then captured Cúllar and Vélez on their approach to Murcia.

Invasion of Iberia | ©Angus McBride

Invasion of Iberia

1170 Jan 1
, Catalonia

Abu Yaqub Yusuf invaded Iberia, conquering al-Andalus and ravaging Valencia and Catalonia. The following year he established himself in Seville.

Battle of Huete | ©Angus McBride

Battle of Huete

1172 Jan 1
, Huete

Yusuf I transported twenty thousand soldiers across the Strait of Gibraltar, aiming to firm up his hold on the Muslim territories. Within the year, he had whipped most of the Muslim cities into line. In 1172, he made his first foray against the Christian position. He laid siege to the city of Huete—and failed.

There were multiple reasons for the failure. At least one eyewitness suggests that Yusuf I . . . Wasn’t particularly engaged in the siege; . . . When the news went around the Almohad camp that Alfonso VIII of Castile (now eighteen and ruling in his own name) was approaching to lift the siege, the Almohads gave up their position and retreated. It was an embarrassing defeat for Yusuf I, although not fatal; he would soon regather himself and relaunch the war.

But Huete was a turning point for the Christian kingdoms, which now began to readjust their attitudes towards each other. By 1177, all five of the Christian kings had sworn out treaties or created marriage alliances. The political unity of Alfonso the Battler had become a unity of purpose; and the latticework of allegiances woven by the Christian enemy would prove almost impossible for the Almohads to penetrate.

Banū Ghāniya | ©Angus McBride

Banū Ghāniya invades North Africa

1184 Jan 1
, Tunis

The Banū Ghāniya were descendants of the Almoravids who established a principality in the Balearic Islands after the fall of the Almoravid state in the mid-twelfth century. In 1184 they invaded North Africa and fought against the Almohads in a struggle which lasted until the 1230s and ranged from Tripoli to Sijilmāsa under the amirs ʿAlī (1184-1187) and Yaḥyā b. Ghāniya (1188-1235?).

The arrival of the Banū Ghāniya in North Africa coincided with the conquest of Almohad Ifrīqiya (Tunisia) by the Ayyubid amir Sharaf al-Dīn Qarāqūsh. For several years Ayyubid forces fought side by side with the Banū Ghāniya and various Arab tribes against the Almohads until Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn made peace with the latter in 1190. The tenacious resistance of the Banū Ghāniya and their allies, though ultimately unsuccessful, put an end to Almohad dreams of an empire embracing all of northwest Africa and forced them to eventually relinquish their hold on Ifrīqiya and the Central Maghrib which passed under the rule of the local Hafsid and Zayyanid dynasties in the first half of the thirteenth century.

Siege of Santarém | ©Angus McBride

Siege of Santarém

1184 Jul 1
, Santarem

The siege of Santarém, lasted from June 1184 to July 1184. In the spring of 1184, Abu Yaqub Yusuf assembled an army, crossed the straits of Gibraltar and marched to Seville. From there he marched towards Badajoz and headed west to besiege Santarém, Portugal, which was defended by Afonso I of Portugal. Upon hearing of Abu Yusuf's attack, Ferdinand II of León marched his troops to Santarém to support his father-in-law, Afonso I.

Abu Yusuf, believing he had sufficient troops to maintain the siege, sent orders for part of his army to march to Lisbon and lay siege to that city too. The orders were misinterpreted and his army, seeing large contingents of men leaving the battle, became confused and started to retreat. Abu Yusuf, in an attempt to rally his troops, was wounded by a crossbow bolt and died on 29 July 1184.

Battle of Alarcos

Battle of Alarcos

1195 Jul 18
, Alarcos Spain

Battle of Alarcos was a battle between the Almohads led by Abu Yusuf Ya'qub al-Mansur and King Alfonso VIII of Castile. It resulted in the defeat of the Castilian forces and their subsequent retreat to Toledo, whereas the Almohads reconquered Trujillo, Montánchez, and Talavera.

Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa | ©Francisco de Paula Van Halen

Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa

1212 Jul 1
, Santa Elena

The Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa was an important turning point in the Reconquista and in the medieval history of Spain. The Christian forces of King Alfonso VIII of Castile were joined by the armies of his rivals, Sancho VII of Navarre and Peter II of Aragon, in battle against the Almohad Muslim rulers of the southern half of the Iberian Peninsula. The caliph Muhammad al-Nasir led the Almohad army, made up of people from all over the Almohad Caliphate.

Almohad Succession Crisis

Succession Crisis

1224 Jan 1
, Marrakech

Yusuf II died suddenly in early 1224 – accidentally gored while playing with his pet cows. Lacking heirs, the palace bureaucrats, led by Ibn Jam‘i, quickly engineered the election of his elderly grand-uncle Abd al-Wahid I as the new caliph in Marrakesh. But the hastiness and probable unconstitutionality of the Marrakesh proceedings upset his uncles, the brothers of al-Nasir, in al-Andalus.

The Almohad dynasty had never had a disputed succession. Despite disagreements, they had always loyally lined up behind the elected caliph, so rebellion was no casual matter. But Abdallah was soon visited in Murcia by the shadowy figure of Abu Zayd ibn Yujjan, a former high bureaucrat in Marrakesh, whose fall had been engineered some years earlier by al-Jami'i, and was now serving a sentence of exile nearby in Chinchilla (Albacete). Ibn Yujjan persuaded Abdallah to contest the election, assuring him of his high connections in the Marrakesh palace and among the Masmuda sheikhs. In consultation with his brothers, Abdallah soon declared himself as the new Almohad caliph, taking up the caliphal title of "al-Adil" ("the Just" or "the Justicer") and immediately seized Seville, and began make preparations to march on Marrakesh and confront Abd al-Wahid I. But Ibn Yajjan had already pulled on his Moroccan connections. Before the end of the summer, Abu Zakariya, the sheikh of the Hintata tribe, and Yusuf ibn Ali, governor of Tinmal, declared for al-Adil, seized the Marrakesh palace, deposed the caliph and expelled al-Jami'i and his coterie. The fallen caliph Abd al-Wahid I was murdered by strangulation in September 1224.

End of Almohad rule in Spain

End of Almohad rule in Spain

1228 Jan 1
, Alange

The departure of al-Ma'mun in 1228 marked the end of the Almohad era in Spain. 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), Cordova 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 most 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.

Hafsid Caliphate founded

Hafsid Caliphate founded

1229 Jan 1
, Tunis

In 1229 Ifriqiyas governor, Abu Zakariya returned to Tunis after conquering Constantine and Béjaïa the same year and declared independence. After the split of the Hafsids from the Almohads under Abu Zakariya (1228–1249), Abu Zakariya organised the administration in Ifriqiya (the Roman province of Africa in modern Maghreb; today's Tunisia, eastern Algeria and western Libya) and built the city of Tunis up as the economic and cultural centre of the empire. At the same time, many Muslims from Al-Andalus fleeing the Christian Reconquista of Iberia were absorbed. He subsequently annexed Tripoli in 1234, Algiers in 1235, Chelif River 1236, and subdued important tribal confederations of the Berbers from 1235 to 1238.

He also conquered the Kingdom of Tlemcen in July 1242 forcing the Sultan of Tlemcen his vassals.

Collapse in the Maghreb | ©Angus McBride

Collapse in the Maghreb

1269 Jan 1
, 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.


1270 Jan 1
, Marrakech

The Almohad ideology preached by Ibn Tumart is described by Amira Bennison as a "sophisticated hybrid form of Islam that wove together strands from Hadith science, Zahiri and Shafi'i fiqh, Ghazalian social actions (hisba), and spiritual engagement with Shi'i notions of the imam and mahdi". In terms of Muslim jurisprudence, the state gave recognition to the Zahiri (ظاهري) school of thought, though Shafi'ites were also given a measure of authority at times.

The Almohad dynasty embraced a style of cursive Maghrebi script known today as "Maghrebi thuluth" as an official style used in manuscripts, coinage, documents, and architecture. Scribes and calligraphers of the Almohad period also started to illuminate words and phrases in manuscripts for emphasis, using gold leaf and lapis lazuli. During the Almohad dynasty, the act of bookbinding itself took on great importance, with a notable instance of the Almohad caliph Abd al-Mu'min bringing in artisans for a celebration of the binding of a Qur'an imported from Cordoba. Books were most frequently bound in goatskin leather and decorated with polygonal interlacing, goffering, and stamping.

The Almohads initially eschewed the production of luxury textiles and silks, but eventually they too engaged in this production. Almohad textiles, like earlier Almoravid examples, were often decorated with a grid of roundels filled with ornamental designs or Arabic epigraphy.

Along with the Almoravid period preceding it, the Almohad period is considered one of the most formative stages of Moroccan and Moorish architecture, establishing many of the forms and motifs that were refined in subsequent centuries. The main sites of Almohad architecture and art include Fes, Marrakesh, Rabat and Seville.


References for Almohad Caliphate.

  • Bel, Alfred (1903). Les Benou Ghânya: Derniers Représentants de l'empire Almoravide et Leur Lutte Contre l'empire Almohade. Paris: E. Leroux.
  • Coppée, Henry (1881). Conquest of Spain by the Arab-Moors. Boston: Little, Brown. OCLC 13304630.
  • Dozy, Reinhart (1881). History of the Almohades (Second ed.). Leiden: E. J. Brill. OCLC 13648381.
  • Goldziher, Ignác (1903). Le livre de Mohammed ibn Toumert: Mahdi des Almohades (PDF). Alger: P. Fontana.
  • Kennedy, Hugh N. (1996). Muslim Spain and Portugal: A Political History of al-Andalus. New York: Longman. pp. 196–266. ISBN 978-0-582-49515-9.
  • Popa, Marcel D.; Matei, Horia C. (1988). Mica Enciclopedie de Istorie Universala. Bucharest: Editura Politica. OCLC 895214574.