The Fatimid Caliphate was an Ismaili Shia caliphate of the 10th to the 12th centuries AD. Spanning a large area of North Africa, it ranged from the Red Sea in the east to the Atlantic Ocean in the west. The Fatimids, a dynasty of Arab origin, trace their ancestry to Muhammad's daughter Fatima and her husband ‘Ali b. Abi Talib, the first Shi‘ite imam. The Fatimids were acknowledged as the rightful imams by different Isma‘ili communities, but also in many other Muslim lands, including Persia and the adjacent regions.
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The Shi'a opposed the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphate, whom they considered usurpers. Instead, they believed in the exclusive right of the descendants of Ali through Muhammad's daughter, Fatima, to lead the Muslim community. This manifested itself in a line of imams, descendants of Ali via al-Husayn, whom their followers considered as the true representatives of God on earth.
At the same time, there was a widespread messianic tradition in Islam concerning the appearance of a mahdī ("the Rightly Guided One") or qāʾīm ("He Who Arises"), who would restore true Islamic government and justice and usher in the end times. This figure was widely expected—not just among the Shi'a—to be a descendant of Ali. Among Shi'a, however, this belief became a core tenet of their faith.
While the awaited mahdī Muhammad ibn Isma'il remained hidden, however, he would need to be represented by agents, who would gather the faithful, spread the word (daʿwa, "invitation, calling"), and prepare his return. The head of this secret network was the living proof of the imam's existence, or "seal" (ḥujja). The first known ḥujja was a certain Abdallah al-Akbar ("Abdallah the Elder"), a wealthy merchant from Khuzestan, who established himself at the small town of Salamiya on the western edge of the Syrian Desert. Salamiya became the centre of the Isma'ili daʿwa, with Abdallah al-Akbar being succeeded by his son and grandson as the secret "grand masters" of the movement.
In the last third of the 9th century, the Isma'ili daʿwa spread widely, profiting from the collapse of Abbasid power in the Anarchy at Samarra and the subsequent Zanj Revolt. Missionaries (dā'īs) such as Hamdan Qarmat and Ibn Hawshab spread the network of agents to the area round Kufa in the late 870s, and from there to Yemen (882) and thence India (884), Bahrayn (899), Persia, and the Maghreb (893).
Qarmatian RevolutionSalamiyah, Syria
A change in leadership in Salamiyah in 899 led to a split in the movement. The minority Ismā‘īlīs, whose leader had taken control of the Salamiyah centre, began to proclaim their teachings - that Imām Muḥammad had died, and that the new leader in Salamiyah was in fact his descendant come out of hiding. Qarmaṭ and his brother-in-law opposed this and openly broke with the Salamiyids; when ‘Abdān was assassinated, he went into hiding and subsequently repented. Qarmaṭ became a missionary of the new Imām, Abdallah al-Mahdi Billah (873–934), who founded the Fatimid Caliphate in North Africa in 909.
Al Mahdi Captured and FreedSijilmasa, Morocco
Due to persecution from the Abbasids, al-Mahdi Billah is forced to flee to Sijilmasa (today's Morocco) where he starts spreading his Ismaili beliefs.
However, he was captured by the Aghlabid ruler Yasah ibn Midrar due to his Ismaili beliefs and thrown into a dungeon in Sijilmasa. In early 909 Al-Shi'i sent a large expedition force to rescue Al Mahdi, conquering the Ibadi state of Tahert on its way there. After gaining his freedom, Al Mahdi became the leader of the growing state and assumed the position of imam and caliph. Al Mahdi then led the Kutama Berbers who captured the cities of Qairawan and Raqqada. By March 909, the Aghlabid Dynasty had been overthrown and replaced with the Fatimids. As a result, the last stronghold of Sunni Islam in North Africa was removed from the region.
Century of TerrorKufa, Iraq
The Qarmaṭians instigated what one scholar termed a "century of terror" in Kufa. They considered the pilgrimage to Mecca a superstition and once in control of the Bahrayni state, they launched raids along the pilgrim routes crossing the Arabian Peninsula. In 906, They ambushed a pilgrim caravan returning from Mecca and massacred 20,000 pilgrims.
Fatimid CaliphateRaqqada, Tunisia
After a succession of victories, the last Aghlabid emir left the country, and the dā'ī's Kutama troops entered the palace city of Raqqada on 25 March 909. Abu Abdallah established a new, Shi'a regime, on behalf of his absent, and for the moment unnamed, master. He then led his army west to Sijilmasa, whence he led Abdallah in triumph to Raqqada, which he entered on 15 January 910. There Abdallah publicly proclaimed himself as caliph with the regnal name of al-Mahdī.
Abu Abdallah al-Shi'i executedKairouan, Tunisia
Al-Shi'i had hoped that al-Mahdi would be a spiritual leader, and leave the administration of secular affairs to him, his brother al Hasan instigated him to overthrow Imam Al Mahdi Billah but he was unsuccessful. After disclosing the plot against al-Mahdi by the Kutama Berber commander Ghazwiyya, who then assassinated Abu abdallah on February 911.
First Sicilian revoltPalermo, PA, Italy
Rejecting the Fatimids' Shi'a regime, on 18 May 913 they raised Ibn Qurhub to power as governor of the island. Ibn Qurhub quickly rejected Fatimid suzerainty, and declared for the Fatimids' Sunni rival, the Abbasid caliph al-Muqtadir at Baghdad. The latter recognized Ibn Qurhub as emir of Sicily, and in token of this sent him a black banner, robes of honour, and a gold collar.
In July 914, the Sicilian fleet, commanded by Ibn Qurhub's younger son Muhammad, raided the coasts of Ifriqiya. At Leptis Minor, the Sicilians caught a Fatimid naval squadron by surprise on 18 July: the Fatimid fleet was torched, and 600 prisoners were made. Among the latter was the former governor of Sicily, Ibn Abi Khinzir, who was executed. The Sicilians defeated a Fatimid army detachment sent to repel them, and proceeded south, sacking Sfax and reaching Tripoli in August 914.
Sicily was subdued by a Fatimid army under Abu Sa'id Musa ibn Ahmad al-Daif, which besieged Palermo until March 917. The local troops were disarmed, and a Kutama garrison loyal to the Fatimid was installed, under the governor Salim ibn Asad ibn Abi Rashid.
First Fatimid invasion of EgyptTripoli, Libya
The first Fatimid invasion of Egypt occurred in 914–915, soon after the establishment of the Fatimid Caliphate in Ifriqiya in 909. The Fatimids launched an expedition east, against the Abbasid Caliphate, under the Berber general Habasa ibn Yusuf. Habasa succeeded in subduing the cities on the Libyan coast between Ifriqiya and Egypt, and captured Alexandria. The Fatimid heir-apparent, al-Qa'im bi-Amr Allah, then arrived to take over the campaign. Attempts to conquer the Egyptian capital, Fustat, were beaten back by the Abbasid troops in the province. A risky affair even at the outset, the arrival of Abbasid reinforcements from Syria and Iraq under Mu'nis al-Muzaffar doomed the invasion to failure, and al-Qa'im and the remnants of his army abandoned Alexandria and returned to Ifriqiya in May 915. The failure did not prevent the Fatimids from launching another unsuccessful attempt to capture Egypt four years later. It was not until 969 that the Fatimids conquered Egypt and made it the centre of their empire.
New capital at Al-MahdiaMahdia, Tunisia
Al-Mahdi built himself a new, fortified palace city on the Mediterranean shore, al-Mahdiyya, removed from the Sunni stronghold of Kairouan. The Fatimids construct the Great Mosque of Mahdia in Tunisia. The Fatimids found a new capital city. A new capital city, al-Mahdia, named after al-Mahdi, is founded on the Tunisian coast due to its military and economic significance.
Second Fatimid invasion of EgyptAlexandria, Egypt
The second Fatimid invasion of Egypt occurred in 919–921, following the failure of the first attempt in 914–915. The expedition was again commanded by the Fatimid Caliphate's heir-apparent, al-Qa'im bi-Amr Allah. As during the previous attempt, the Fatimids captured Alexandria with ease. However, while the Abbasid garrison in Fustat was weaker and mutinous due to lack of pay, al-Qa'im did not exploit it for an immediate attack on the city, such as the one that had failed in 914. Instead, in March 920 the Fatimid navy was destroyed by the Abbasid fleet under Thamal al-Dulafi, and Abbasid reinforcements under Mu'nis al-Muzaffar arrived at Fustat. Nevertheless, in the summer of 920 al-Qa'im was able to capture the Fayyum Oasis, and in the spring of 921 extend his control over much of Upper Egypt as well, while Mu'nis avoided an open confrontation and remained at Fustat. During that time, both sides were engaged in a diplomatic and propaganda battle, with the Fatimids' in particular trying to sway the Muslim populace on their side, without success. The Fatimid expedition was condemned to failure when Thamal's fleet took Alexandria in May/June 921; when the Abbasid forces moved on Fayyum, al-Qa'im was forced to abandon it and flee west over the desert.
Qarmatians sack Mecca and MedinaMecca Saudi Arabia
Qarmatians sacked Mecca and Medina. In their attack on Islam's holiest sites, the Qarmatians desecrated the Zamzam Well with corpses of Hajj pilgrims and took the Black Stone from Mecca to al-Hasa. Holding the Black Stone to ransom, they forced the Abbasids to pay a huge sum for its return in 952.
The revolution and desecration shocked the Muslim world and humiliated the Abbasids. But little could be done; for much of the tenth century the Qarmatians were the most powerful force in the Persian Gulf and Middle East, controlling the coast of Oman and collecting tribute from the caliph in Baghdad as well as from a rival Isma'ili imam in Cairo, the head of the Fatimid Caliphate, whose power they did not recognize.
Abu Al-Qasim Muhammad Al-Qaim becomes caliphMahdia, Tunisia
In 934 Al-Qa'im succeeded his father as Caliph, after which he never again left the royal residence at Mahdia. Nevertheless, the Fatimid realm became an important power in the Mediterranean.
Fatimid sack of GenoaGenoa, Metropolitan City of Ge
The Fatimid Caliphate conducted a major raid on the Ligurian coast in 934–35, culminating in the sack of its major port, Genoa, on 16 August 935. The coasts of Spain and southern France may also have been raided and the islands of Corsica and Sardinia certainly were. It was one of the most impressive accomplishments of the Fatimid navy.At the time, the Fatimids were based in North Africa, with their capital at Mahdia. The raid of 934–35 was the high point of their domination of the Mediterranean. They never again raided so far afield with so much success. Genoa was a small port in the Kingdom of Italy. How wealthy Genoa was at the time is not known, but the sack is sometimes taken as evidence of a certain economic vitality. The destruction, however, set the city back years.
Rebellion of Abu YazidKairouan, Tunisia
From 937, Abu Yazid began to openly preach holy war against the Fatimids. Abu Yazid conquered Kairouan for a time, but was eventually driven back and defeated by the Fatimid caliph al-Mansur bi-Nasr Allah. Abu Yazid's defeat was a watershed moment for the Fatimid dynasty. As the historian Michael Brett comments, "in life, Abu Yazid had brought the Fatimid dynasty to the brink of destruction; in death he was a godsend", as it allowed the dynasty to relaunch itself following the failures of al-Qa'im's reign.
Reign of Al-MansurKairouan, Tunisia
At the time of Al-Mansur's accession, the Fatimid Caliphate was undergoing one of its most critical moments: a large-scale rebellion under the Kharijite Berber preacher Abu Yazid had overrun Ifriqiya and was threatening the capital al-Mahdiya itself. He succeeded in suppressing the revolt and restoring the stability of the Fatimid regime.
Battle of the StraitsStrait of Messina, Italy
In 909, the Fatimids took over the Aghlabid metropolitan province of Ifriqiya, and with it Sicily. The Fatimids continued the tradition of jihad, both against the remaining Christian strongholds in the northeast of Sicily and, more prominently, against the Byzantine possessions in southern Italy, punctuated by temporary truces.
The Battle of the Straits was fought in early 965 between the fleets of the Byzantine Empire and the Fatimid Caliphate in the Straits of Messina. It resulted in a major Fatimid victory, and the final collapse of the attempt of Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas to recover Sicily from the Fatimids.
This defeat led the Byzantines to once more request a truce in 966/7, resulting in a peace treaty leaving Sicily in Fatimid hands, and renewing the Byzantine obligation to pay tribute in exchange for the cessation of raids in Calabria.
Cairo foundedCairo, Egypt
Under Al-Mu'izz li-Din Allah, the Fatimids conquered the Ikhshidid Wilayah, founding a new capital at al-Qāhira (Cairo) in 969. The name al-Qāhirah, meaning "the Vanquisher" or "the Conqueror", referenced the planet Mars, "The Subduer", rising in the sky at the time when the construction of the city started. Cairo was as a royal enclosure for the Fatimid caliph and his army—the actual administrative and economic capitals of Egypt were cities such as Fustat until 1169.;
Fatimid conquest of EgyptFustat, Kom Ghorab, Old Cairo,
The Fatimid conquest of Egypt took place in 969, as the troops of the Fatimid Caliphate under the general Jawhar captured Egypt, then ruled by the autonomous Ikhshidid dynasty in the name of the Abbasid Caliphate.
The Fatimids launched repeated invasions of Egypt soon after coming to power in Ifriqiya (modern Tunisia) in 921, but failed against the still strong Abbasid Caliphate. By the 960s, however, while the Fatimids had consolidated their rule and grown stronger, the Abbasid Caliphate had collapsed, and the Ikhshidid regime was facing prolonged crisis: foreign raids and a severe famine were compounded by the death in 968 of the strongman Abu al-Misk Kafur. The resulting power vacuum led to open infighting among the various factions in Fustat, the capital of Egypt.
Led by Jawhar, the expedition set off from Raqqada in Ifriqiya on 6 February 969, and entered the Nile Delta two months later.
Abu Ali al-Hasan al-A'sam ibn Ahmad ibn Bahram al-Jannabi was a Qarmatian leader, chiefly known as the military commander of the Qarmatian invasions of Syria in 968–977. Already in 968, he led attacks on the Ikhshidids, capturing Damascus and Ramla and extracting pledges of tribute. Following the Fatimid conquest of Egypt and the overthrow of the Ikhshidids, in 971–974 al-A'sam led attacks against the Fatimid Caliphate, who began to expand into Syria. The Qarmatians repeatedly evicted the Fatimids from Syria and invaded Egypt itself twice, in 971 and 974, before being defeated at the gates of Cairo and driven back. Al-A'sam continued fighting against the Fatimids, now alongside the Turkish general Alptakin, until his death in March 977. In the next year, the Fatimids managed to overcome the allies, and concluded a treaty with the Qarmatians that signalled the end of their invasions of Syria.
Battle of Alexandrettaİskenderun, Hatay, Turkey
The Battle of Alexandretta was the first clash between the forces of the Byzantine Empire and the Fatimid Caliphate in Syria. It was fought in early 971 near Alexandretta, while the main Fatimid army was besieging Antioch, which the Byzantines had captured two years previously. The Byzantines, led by one of Emperor John I Tzimiskes' household eunuchs, lured a 4,000-strong Fatimid detachment to attack their empty encampment and then attacked them from all sides, destroying the Fatimid force. The defeat at Alexandretta, coupled with the Qarmatian invasion of southern Syria, forced the Fatimids to lift the siege and secured Byzantine control of Antioch and northern Syria.
The first clash between the eastern Mediterranean's two foremost powers thus ended in a Byzantine victory, which on the one hand strengthened the Byzantine position in northern Syria and on the other weakened the Fatimids, both in lives lost and in morale and reputation.
Siege of AleppoAleppo, Syria
By the 980s, the Fatimids had subdued most of Syria. For the Fatimids, Aleppo was a gateway for military operations against both the Abbasids to the east and the Byzantines to the north.
The siege of Aleppo was a siege of the Hamdanid capital Aleppo by the army of the Fatimid Caliphate under Manjutakin from the spring of 994 to April 995. Manjutakin laid siege to the city over the winter, while the population of Aleppo starved and suffered from disease. In the spring of 995, the emir of Aleppo appealed for help from Byzantine emperor Basil II. The arrival of a Byzantine relief army under the emperor in April 995 compelled the Fatimid forces to give up the siege and retreat south.
Battle of the OrontesOrontes River, Syria
The Battle of the Orontes was fought on 15 September 994 between the Byzantines and their Hamdanid allies under Michael Bourtzes against the forces of the Fatimid vizier of Damascus, the Turkish general Manjutakin. The battle was a Fatimid victory.
Shortly after the battle, the Fatimid caliphate took control of Syria, removing the Hamdanids from power they had held since 890. Manjutakin went on to capture Azaz and continued his siege of Aleppo.
Revolt of TyreTyre, Lebanon
The Revolt of Tyre was an anti-Fatimid rebellion by the populace of the city of Tyre, in modern Lebanon. It began in 996, when the people, led by an ordinary sailor named 'Allaqa, rose up against the Fatimid government. The Fatimid caliph al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah sent his army and navy to retake the city under Abu Abdallah al-Husayn ibn Nasir al-Dawla and the freedman Yaqut. Based in the nearby cities of Tripoli and Sidon, the Fatimid forces blockaded Tyre by land and sea for two years, during which a Byzantine squadron's attempt to reinforce the defenders was repulsed by the Fatimid navy with heavy losses. In the end, Tyre fell in May 998 and was plundered and its defenders either massacred or taken captive to Egypt, where 'Allaqa was flayed alive and crucified, while many of his followers, as well as 200 Byzantine captives, were executed.
Battle of ApameaApamea, Qalaat Al Madiq, Syria
The Battle of Apamea was fought on 19 July 998 between the forces of the Byzantine Empire and the Fatimid Caliphate. The battle was part of a series of military confrontations between the two powers over control of northern Syria and the Hamdanid emirate of Aleppo. The Byzantine regional commander, Damian Dalassenos, had been besieging Apamea, until the arrival of the Fatimid relief army from Damascus, under Jaysh ibn Samsama. In the subsequent battle, the Byzantines were initially victorious, but a lone Kurdish rider managed to kill Dalassenos, throwing the Byzantine army into panic. The fleeing Byzantines were then pursued, with much loss of life, by the Fatimid troops. This defeat forced the Byzantine emperor Basil II to personally campaign in the region the next year, and was followed in 1001 by the conclusion of a ten-year truce between the two states.
Baghdad ManifestoBaghdad, Iraq
The Baghdad Manifesto was a polemical tract issued in 1011 on behalf of the Abbasid caliph al-Qadir against the rival Isma'ili Fatimid Caliphate.
The assembly issued a manifesto denouncing the Fatimids' claims of descent from Ali and the Ahl al-Bayt (the family of Muhammad) as false, and thus challenge the foundation of the Fatimid dynasty's claims to leadership in the Islamic world.
Based on the work of the earlier anti-Fatimid polemicists Ibn Rizam and Akhu Muhsin, the manifesto instead put forth an alternative genealogy of descent from a certain Daysan ibn Sa'id. The document was ordered read in mosques throughout the Abbasid territories, and al-Qadir commissioned a number of theologians to compose further anti-Fatimid tracts
Zirids declared independenceKairouan, Tunisia
When the Zirids renounced Shia Islam and recognized the Abbasid Caliphate in 1048, the Fatimids sent the Arab tribes of the Banu Hilal and the Banu Sulaym to Ifriqiya. The Zirids attempted to stop their advance towards Ifriqiya, they sent 30,000 Sanhaja cavalry to meet the 3,000 Arab cavalry of Banu Hilal in the Battle of Haydaran of 14 April 1052. Nevertheless, the Zirids were decisively defeated and were forced to retreat, opening the road to Kairouan for the Hilalian Arab cavalry. The Zirids were defeated, and the land laid waste by the Bedouin conquerors. The resulting anarchy devastated the previously flourishing agriculture, and the coastal towns assumed a new importance as conduits for maritime trade and bases for piracy against Christian shipping, as well as being the last holdout of the Zirids.
Hilalian invasion of IfriqiyaKairouan, Tunisia
The Hilalian invasion of Ifriqiya refers to the migration of Arab tribes of Banu Hilal to Ifriqiya. It was organised by the Fatimids with the goal of punishing the Zirids for breaking ties with them and pledging allegiance to the Abbasid Caliphs.
After devastating Cyrenica in 1050, the Banu Hilal advanced westwards towards the Zirids. The Hilalians proceeded to sack and devastate Ifriqiya, they defeated the Zirids decisively in the Battle of Haydaran on April 14, 1052. The Hilalians then expelled the Zenatas from southern Ifriqiya and forced the Hammadids to pay an annual tribute, placing the Hammadids under Hilalian vassalage. The city of Kairouan was looted by the Banu Hilal in 1057 after it was abandoned by the Zirids.
As a result of the invasion, the Zirids and Hammadids were expelled to the coastal regions of Ifriqiya, with the Zirids being forced to move their capital from Kairouan to Mahdia, and their rule limited to a coastal strip around Mahdia, meanwhile the Hammadid rule was limited to a coastal strip between Ténès and El Kala as vassals of Banu Hilal and eventually being forced to move their capital from Beni Hammad to Béjaïa in 1090 following increasing pressure from Banu Hilal.
Battle of HaydaranTunisia
The Battle of Haydaran was an armed conflict which took place on 14 April 1052 between the Arab tribes of Banu Hilal and the Zirid dynasty in modern-day South-East Tunisia, it was part of the Hilalian invasion of Ifriqiya.
Seljuk TurksBaghdad, Iraq
Tughril entered Baghdad and removed the influence of the;Buyid dynasty, under a commission from the Abbasid caliph.
Civil WarCairo, Egypt
The tentative balance between the different ethnic groups within the Fatimid army collapsed as Egypt suffered an extended period of drought and famine. Declining resources accelerated the problems among the different ethnic factions, and outright civil war began, primarily between the Turks under Nasir al-Dawla ibn Hamdan and Black African troops, while the Berbers shifted alliance between the two sides. The Turkish forces of the Fatimid army seized most of Cairo and held the city and Caliph at ransom, while the Berber troops and remaining Sudanese forces roamed the other parts of Egypt.
Fatimid region shrinksSyria
The Fatimid hold on the Levant coast and parts of Syria was challenged first by Turkic invasions, then the Crusades, so that Fatimid territory shrank until it consisted only of Egypt.
Civil war suppressedCairo, Egypt
Fatimid Caliph Abū Tamīm Ma'ad al-Mustansir Billah recalled general Badr al-Jamali, who was at the time the governor of Acre. Badr al-Jamali led his troops into Egypt and was able to successfully suppress the different groups of the rebelling armies, largely purging the Turks in the process. Although the Caliphate was saved from immediate destruction, the decade long rebellion devastated Egypt and it was never able to regain much power. As a result, Badr al-Jamali was also made the vizier of the Fatimid caliph, becoming one of the first military viziers who would dominate late Fatimid politics.
Seljuk Turks take DamascusDamascus, Syria
Tutush was a brother of the Seljuk sultan Malik-Shah I. In 1077, Malik-Shah appointed him to take over the governorship of Syria. In 1078/9, Malik-Shah sent him to Damascus to help Atsiz ibn Uvaq, who was being besieged by the Fatimid forces. After the siege had ended, Tutush had Atsiz executed and installed himself in Damascus.
Fatimids lose SicilySicily, Italy
By the 11th century mainland southern Italian powers were hiring Norman mercenaries, who were Christian descendants of the Vikings. It was the Normans, under Roger de Hauteville, who became Roger I of Sicily, that captured Sicily from the Muslims. He was in total control of the entire island by 1091.
Nizari schismAlamut, Bozdoğan/Aydın, Turkey
From early in his reign, the Fatimid Caliph-Imam Al-Mustansir Billah had publicly named his elder son Nizar as his heir to be the next Fatimid Caliph-Imam. After Al-Mustansir died in 1094, Al-Afdal Shahanshah, the all-powerful Armenian Vizier and Commander of the Armies, wanted to assert, like his father before him, dictatorial rule over the Fatimid State. Al-Afdal engineered a palace coup, placing his brother-in-law, the much younger and dependent Al-Musta'li, on the Fatimid throne.
In early 1095, Nizar fled to Alexandria, where he received the people's support and where he was accepted as the next Fatimid Caliph-Imam after Al-Mustansir. In late 1095, Al-Afdal defeated Nizar's Alexandrian army and took Nizar prisoner to Cairo where he had Nizar executed. After Nizar's execution, the Nizari Ismailis and the Musta'li Ismailis parted ways in a bitterly irreconcilable manner. The schism finally broke the remnants of the Fatimid Empire, and the now-divided Ismailis separated into the Musta'li following (inhabiting regions of Egypt, Yemen, and western India) and those pledging allegiance to Nizar's son Al-Hadi ibn Nizar (living in regions of Iran and Syria). The latter Ismaili following came to be known as Nizari Ismailism.
Imam Al-Hadi, being very young at the time, was smuggled out of Alexandria and taken to the Nizari stronghold of Alamut Castle in the Elburz Mountains of northern Iran, south of the Caspian Sea and under the regency of Dai Hasan bin Sabbah. Over the following decades, the Nizaris were among the most bitter enemies of the Musta'li rulers of Egypt. Hassan-i Sabbah founded the Order of Assassins, which was responsible for the assassination of al-Afdal in 1121, and of al-Musta'li's son and successor al-Amir (who was also al-Afdal's nephew and son-in-law) in October 1130.
First CrusadeAntioch, Al Nassra, Syria
The First Crusade was the first of a series of religious wars, or Crusades, initiated, supported and at times directed by the Latin Church in the medieval period. The objective was the recovery of the Holy Land from Islamic rule. While Jerusalem had been under Muslim rule for hundreds of years, by the 11th century the Seljuk takeover of the region threatened local Christian populations, pilgrimages from the West, and the Byzantine Empire itself. The earliest initiative for the First Crusade began in 1095 when Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos requested military support from the Council of Piacenza in the empire's conflict with the Seljuk-led Turks. This was followed later in the year by the Council of Clermont, during which Pope Urban II supported the Byzantine request for military assistance and also urged faithful Christians to undertake an armed pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
Fatimids take JerusalemJerusalem, Israel
While the Seljuks were busy against the Crusaders, the Fatimid caliphate in Egypt sent a force to the coastal city of Tyre, a little more than 145 miles north of Jerusalem. The Fatimids took control of Jerusalem in February 1098, three months before the Crusaders had their success at Antioch. The Fatimids, who were Shia, offered the Crusaders an alliance against their old enemy the Seljuks, who were Sunni. They offered the Crusaders control of Syria with Jerusalem to remain theirs. The offer didn't work out. The Crusaders were not going to be deterred from taking Jerusalem.
First Battle of RamlaRamla, Israel
After the First Crusade captured Jerusalem from the Fatimids, vizier al-Afdal Shahanshah mounted a series of invasions "almost annually" from 1099 to 1107 against the newly established Kingdom of Jerusalem. Egyptian armies fought three major battles at Ramla in 1101, 1102 and 1105, but they were ultimately unsuccessful. After this, the vizier contented himself to launching frequent raids on Frankish territory from his coastal fortress of Ascalon.
The First Battle of Ramla (or Ramleh) took place on 7 September 1101 between the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Fatimids of Egypt. The town of Ramla lay on the road from Jerusalem to Ascalon, the latter of which was the largest Fatimid fortress in Palestine.
Second Battle of RamlaRamla, Israel
The surprising victory of the crusaders at the first Battle of Ramla the previous year, al-Afdal was soon ready to strike at the crusaders once again and dispatched around 20,000 troops under the command of his son Sharaf al-Ma'ali.
Due to faulty reconnaissance Baldwin I of Jerusalem severely underestimated the size of the Egyptian army, believing it to be no more than a minor expeditionary force, and rode to face an army of several thousand with only two hundred mounted knights and no infantry. Realizing his error too late and already cut off from escape, Baldwin and his army were charged by the Egyptian forces and many were quickly slaughtered, although Baldwin and a handful of others managed to barricade themselves in Ramla's single tower. Baldwin was left with no other option than to flee and escaped the tower under the cover of night with just his scribe and a single knight, Hugh of Brulis, who is never mentioned in any source afterwards. Baldwin spent the next two days evading Fatimid search parties until he arrived exhausted, starved, and parched in the reasonably safe haven of Arsuf on May 19.
Third Battle of RamlaRamla, Israel
The Third Battle of Ramla (or Ramleh) took place on 27 August 1105 between the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Fatimids of Egypt. The town of Ramla lay on the road from Jerusalem to Ascalon, the latter of which was the largest Fatimid fortress in Palestine. From Ascalon the Fatimid vizier, Al-Afdal Shahanshah, launched almost annual attacks into the newly founded Crusader kingdom from 1099 to 1107. Of the three battles the Crusaders fought at Ramla early in the twelfth century, the third was the most bloody.
The Franks appear to have owed their victory to the activity of Baldwin. He vanquished the Turks when they were becoming a serious threat to his rear, and returned to the main battle to lead the decisive charge which defeated the Egyptians." Despite the victory the Egyptians continued to make annual raids into the Kingdom of Jeruselum with some reaching the walls of Jerusalem itself before being pushed back.
Battle of YibnehYavne, Israel
After the First Crusade captured Jerusalem from the Fatimids, vizier al-Afdal Shahanshah mounted a series of invasions "almost annually" from 1099 to 1107 against the newly established Kingdom of Jerusalem.
In the Battle of Yibneh (Yibna) in 1123, a Crusader force led by Eustace Grenier crushed a Fatimid army from Egypt sent by Vizier Al-Ma'mun between Ascalon and Jaffa.
Siege of AscalonAscalón, Israel
Ascalon was Fatimid Egypt's greatest and most important frontier fortress. The Fatimids were able to launch raids into the kingdom every year from this fortress, and the southern border of the crusader kingdom remained unstable. If this fortress fell, then the gateway to Egypt would be open. Therefore, the Fatimid garrison in Ascalon remained strong and large.
In 1152 Baldwin finally demanded full control of the kingdom; after some brief fighting he was able to accomplish this goal. Later that year Baldwin also defeated a Seljuk Turk invasion of the Kingdom. Encouraged by these victories, Baldwin decided to make an assault on Ascalon in 1153 resulting in the capture of that Egyptian fortress by the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
Crusader invasions of EgyptDamietta Port, Egypt
The Crusader invasions of Egypt (1163–1169) were a series of campaigns undertaken by the Kingdom of Jerusalem to strengthen its position in the Levant by taking advantage of the weakness of Fatimid Egypt. The war began as part of a succession crisis in the Fatimid Caliphate, which began to crumble under the pressure of Muslim Syria ruled by the Zengid dynasty and the Christian Crusader states. While one side called for help from the emir of Syria, Nur ad-Din Zangi, the other called for Crusader assistance. As the war progressed, however, it became a war of conquest. A number of Syrian campaigns into Egypt were stopped short of total victory by the aggressive campaigning of Amalric I of Jerusalem. Even so, the Crusaders generally speaking did not have things go their way, despite several sackings. A combined Byzantine-Crusader siege of Damietta failed in 1169, the same year that Saladin took power in Egypt as vizier. In 1171, Saladin became sultan of Egypt and the crusaders thereafter turned their attention to the defence of their kingdom.
Battle of al-BabeinGiza, Egypt
Amalric I was the king of Jerusalem, and held power from 1163 to 1174. Amalric had been an ally and nominal protector for the Fatimid government. In 1167, Amalric wanted to destroy the Zengid army sent by Nur al-Din from Syria. Because Amalric was an ally and protector of the Fatimid government, fighting in the Battle of al-Babein was in his best interest.
Shirkuh was almost ready to establish territory of his own in Egypt when Amalric I invaded. Another key participant in the battle of al-Babein was Saladin. At first Saladin was reluctant to go with his uncle, Shirkuh, to take over Egypt. Saladin only agreed to this because Shirkuh was family. He took thousands of troops, his bodyguards, and 200,000 gold pieces to Egypt, to take over the nation.
The Battle of al-Babein took place on March 18, 1167, during the third Crusader invasion of Egypt. King Amalric I of Jerusalem, and a Zengid army under Shirkuh, both hoped to take the control of Egypt over from the Fatimid Caliphate. Saladin served as Shirkuh’s highest-ranking officer in the battle. The result was a tactical draw between the forces, however the Crusaders failed to gain access to Egypt.
End of Fatimid DynastyEgypt
After the decay of the Fatimid political system in the 1160s, the Zengid ruler Nūr ad-Dīn had his general, Shirkuh, seize Egypt from the vizier Shawar in 1169. Shirkuh died two months after taking power, and rule passed to his nephew, Saladin. This began the Ayyubid Sultanate of Egypt and Syria.
Battle of the BlacksCairo, Egypt
The Battle of the Blacks or Battle of the Slaves was a conflict in Cairo, on 21–23 August 1169, between the black African units of the Fatimid army and other pro-Fatimid elements, and Sunni Syrian troops loyal to the Fatimid vizier, Saladin. Saladin's rise to the vizierate, and his sidelining of the Fatimid caliph, al-Adid, antagonized the traditional Fatimid elites, including the army regiments, as Saladin relied chiefly on the Kurdish and Turkish cavalry troops that had come with him from Syria.
According to the medieval sources, which are biased towards Saladin, this conflict led to an attempt by the palace majordomo, Mu'tamin al-Khilafa, to enter into an agreement with the Crusaders and jointly attack Saladin's forces in order to get rid of him. Saladin learned of this conspiracy, and had Mu'tamin executed on 20 August. Modern historians have questioned the veracity of this report, suspecting that it may have been invented to justify Saladin's subsequent move against the Fatimid troops.
This event provoked the uprising of the black African troops of the Fatimid army, numbering some 50,000 men, who were joined by Armenian soldiers and the populace of Cairo the next day. The clashes lasted for two days, as the Fatimid troops initially attacked the Vizier's palace, but were driven back to the large square between the Fatimid Great Palaces. There the black African troops and their allies appeared to be gaining the upper hand, until al-Adid came out publicly against them, and Saladin ordered the burning of their settlements, located south of Cairo outside the city wall, where the black Africans' families had been left behind. The black Africans then broke and retreated in disorder to the south, until they were encircled near the Bab Zuwayla gate, where they surrendered and were allowed to cross the Nile to Giza. Despite promises of safety, they were attacked and almost annihilated there by Saladin's brother Turan-Shah.
Under the Fatimids, Egypt became the centre of an empire that included at its peak parts of North Africa, Sicily, the Levant (including Transjordan), the Red Sea coast of Africa, Tihamah, Hejaz, Yemen, with its most remote territorial reach being Multan (in modern-day Pakistan). Egypt flourished, and the Fatimids developed an extensive trade network both in the Mediterranean and in the Indian Ocean. Their trade and diplomatic ties, extending all the way to China under the Song Dynasty (r. 960–1279), eventually determined the economic course of Egypt during the High Middle Ages. The Fatimid focus on agriculture further increased their riches and allowed the dynasty and the Egyptians to flourish under the Fatimid rule. The use of cash crops and the propagation of the flax trade allowed Fatimids to import other items from various parts of the world.
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