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The Almoravids are a Berber dynasty of Sahara, which lived between the current Senegalmarker and south of the current Moroccomarker

It is affiliated to the Berber tribe of Sanhaja and Lamtuna. From the eleventh century to the twelfth century, they ruled the Sahara, part of North Africa and part of the Iberian Peninsulamarker.

In his book "The Muslim conquest and settlement of North Africa and Spain", the author Abd al-Wahid Dhannūn Taha, based on several sources including bibliographic of Ibn Khaldun, providing 26 and 29 pages of his book (freely available on the net) information on the geographical distribution of tribes Sanhaja. It does the same for the different tribes and tribal Berber branch of the Maghreb and information on the different tribes or ethnic groups (Arabs, Berbers and sub-African) who participated in the Muslim conquest of Visigoth Spain .

Under this dynasty the Moorish empire was extended over present-day Moroccomarker, Western Saharamarker, Mauritaniamarker, Gibraltarmarker, Tlemcenmarker (in Algeriamarker) and a great part of what is now Senegalmarker and Malimarker in the south, and Spainmarker and Portugalmarker to the north in Europe. At its greatest extent, the empire stretched 3,000 kilometres north to south (an all-time latitude spanner until Spanish America).

“Almoravids” is a Spanish transcription of “Al-Murabitun”. The exact meaning of "Murabit" is a matter of controversy. Some have suggested that the word might be derived from the Arabic ribat meaning fortress (a term with which it shares the root r-b-t). Most historians, however, now believe that it refers to ribat meaning "ready for battle" (cf. jihad).


When the Almoravids began their political rise, the Kingdom of Fez (Morocco's first name) of the Idrisid dynasty was split into a series of small emirates located mainly north of the country, and headed by relatives of the royal family.

According to French historian Bernard Lugan and others, the lure of wealth from trade in the South (Sahara) and marketed to the North (the West) attracted various tribes to crossroads city such as Marrakechmarker, which become the capital of various dynasties, especially those from the South (Almoravids, Almohades, Saadian).

The current name of Morocco derives in fact from Marrakesh role as the Almoravid capital.


The most powerful of the tribes of the Sahara near the Sénégal River was the Lamtuna, whose culture of origin was 'Wadi Noun' (Nul Lemta). They later came together as the upper leger River culture, which founded the city of Aoudaghostmarker. They converted to Islam in the 9th century.

About the year 1040 (or a little earlier) one of their chiefs, Yahya ibn Ibrahim, made the pilgrimage to Makkahmarker. On his way home, he attended the teachers of the mosque at University of Al-Qayrawan, today's Kairouanmarker in Tunisiamarker; the first Arab-Muslim city in North Africa, who soon learnt from him that his people knew little of the religion they were supposed to profess, and that though his will was good, his own ignorance was great. By the good offices of the theologians of Al Qayrawanmarker, one of whom was from Fezmarker, Yahya was provided with a missionary, Abdallah ibn Yasin, a zealous partisan of the Malikis, one of the four Madhhab, Sunni schools of Islam.

His preaching was before-long rejected by the Lamtunas; so on the advice of Yahya, who accompanied him, he retired to Saharan regions from which his influence spread. His creed was mainly characterized by a rigid formalism and a strict adherence to the dictates of the Qur'an, and the Orthodox tradition.

Abd-Allah ibn Yasin imposed a penitential scourging on all converts as a purification, and enforced a regular system of discipline for every breach of the law, including the chiefs themselves. Under such directions, the Almoravids were brought into excellent order. Their first military leader, Yahya ibn Ibrahim, gave them a good military organization. Their main force was infantry, armed with javelin in the front ranks and pike behind, which formed into a phalanx; it was supported by camelmen and horsemen on the flank.

Military successes

The Almoravid dynasty at its greatest extent
From the year 1053, the Almoravids began to spread their religious way to the Berber areas of the Sahara, and to the regions south of the desert. They converted Takrur (a small state in modern Senegalmarker) to Islam, and after winning over the Sanhaja Berber tribe, they quickly took control of the entire desert trade route, seizing Sijilmasamarker at the northern end in 1054, and Aoudaghostmarker at the southern end in 1055. Yahya ibn Ibrahim was killed in a battle in 1056, but Abd-Allah ibn Yasin, whose influence as a religious teacher was paramount, named his brother Abu-Bakr Ibn-Umar as chief. Under him, the Almoravids soon began to spread their power beyond the desert, and subjected the tribes of the Atlas Mountains. They then came in contact with the Berghouata, a branch of the Zenata of central Morocco, who followed a "heresy" founded by Salih ibn Tarif, three centuries earlier. The Berghouata made a fierce resistance, and it was in battle with them that Abdullah ibn Yasin was killed. They were, however, completely conquered by Abu-Bakr Ibn-Umar, who took the defeated chief's widow, Zainab, as a wife.

In 1061, Abu-Bakr Ibn-Umar made a division of the power he had established, handing over the more-settled parts to his cousin Yusuf ibn Tashfin, as viceroy, resigning to him also his favourite wife Zainab. For himself, he reserved the task of suppressing the revolts which had broken out in the desert, but when he returned to resume control, he found his cousin too powerful to be superseded. He returned to the Sahara, where, in 1087, having been wounded with a poisoned arrow, he died.

Yusuf ibn Tashfin had in the meantime brought what is now known as Morocco, Western Saharamarker and Mauretania into complete subjection. In 1062 he founded the city of Marrakechmarker. In 1080, he conquered the kingdom of Tlemcenmarker (in modern-day Algeriamarker) and founded the present city of that name, his rule extending as far east as Oranmarker.

Ghana Empire

There has been a belief by some that the Almoravids conquered the Ghana Empire sometime around 1075 AD. According to Arab tradition, the ensuing war pushed Ghana over the edge, ending the kingdom's position as a commercial and military power by 1100, as it collapsed into tribal groups and chieftaincies, some of which later assimilated into the Almoravids while others founded the Mali Empire. However, the Almoravid religious influence was gradual and not heavily involved in military strife, as Almoravids increased in power by marrying among the nation's nobility. Scholars such as Dierk Lange attribute the decline of ancient Ghana to numerous unrelated factors, only one of which can be likely attributable to internal dynastic struggles that were instigated by Almalvorid influence and Islamic pressures, but devoid of any military conversion and conquest.

Conquest of southern Iberia

Map of Iberia at the time of the Almoravid arrival
In 1086 Yusuf ibn Tashfin was invited by the taifa Muslim princes of the Iberian Peninsulamarker (Al-Andalusmarker) to defend them against Alfonso VI, King of Leónmarker and Castile. In that year, Yusuf ibn Tashfin crossed the straits to Algecirasmarker, inflicted a severe defeat on the Christians at the Battle of az-Zallaqah (Battle of Sagrajas). He was prevented from following up his victory by trouble in Africa, which he had to settle in person.

When he returned to Iberia in 1090, it was avowedly for the purpose of deposing the Muslim princes, and annexing their states. He had in his favour the mass of the inhabitants, who had been worn out by the oppressive taxation imposed by their spend-thrift rulers. Their religious teachers, as well as others in the east, (most notably, al-Ghazali in Persiamarker and al-Tartushi in Egypt, who was himself an Iberian by birth, from Tortosamarker), detested the native Muslim princes for their religious indifference, and gave Yusuf a fatwa -- or legal opinion—to the effect that he had good moral and religious right, to dethrone the rulers, whom he saw as heterodox and who did not scruple to seek help from the Christians, whose habits he claimed they had adopted. By 1094, he had removed them all, except for the one at Zaragozamarker; and though he regained little from the Christians except Valenciamarker, he re-united the Muslim power, and gave a check to the reconquest of the country by the Christians.

After friendly correspondence with the caliph at Baghdadmarker, whom he acknowledged as Amir al-Mu'minin ("Commander of the Faithful"), Yusuf ibn Tashfin in 1097 assumed the title of Amir al Muslimin ("Commander of the Muslims"). He died in 1106, when he was reputed to have reached the age of 100.

The Almoravid power was at its height at Yusuf's death, and the Moorish empire then included all North-West Africa as far as Algiersmarker, and all of Iberia south of the Tagusmarker, with the east coast as far as the mouth of the Ebro, and included the Balearic Islandsmarker.


Three years afterwards, under Yusuf's son and successor, Ali ibn Yusuf, Sintra and Santarém were added, and Iberia was again invaded in 1119 and 1121, but the tide had turned, the French having assisted the Aragonese to recover Zaragozamarker. In 1138, Ali ibn Yusuf was defeated by Alfonso VII of León, and in the Battle of Ourique (1139), by Afonso I of Portugal, who thereby won his crown. Lisbonmarker was recovered by the Portuguese in 1147.

Ali ibn Yusuf was a pious non-entity, who fasted and prayed while his empire fell to pieces under the combined action of his Christian foes in Iberia and the agitation of Almohads (the Muwahhids) in Morocco. After Ali ibn Yusuf's death in 1142, his son Tashfin ibn Ali lost ground rapidly before the Almohads, and in 1146 he was killed by a fall from a precipice while attempting to escape after a defeat near Oranmarker.

His two successors were Ibrahim ibn Tashfin and Is'haq ibn Ali, but their reigns were short. The conquest of the city of Marrakechmarker by the Almohads in 1147 marked the fall of the dynasty, though fragments of the Almoravids (the Banu Ghaniya), continued to struggle in the Balearic Islands, and finally in Tunisiamarker.

Interestingly, family names such as Morabito, Murabito and Mirabito are common in western Sicily, the Aeolian Islandsmarker and southern Calabria in Italymarker. These names may have appeared in this region as early as the 11th century, when Robert Guiscard and the Normans conquered the Muslim emirate of Sicily. In addition to southern Italy, there are also sizable populations of Mourabit (also spelled Morabit or Murabit or Morabet) in modern-day Moroccomarker, Tunisiamarker, Egyptmarker and Mauritaniamarker.


See also

External links


  • General History of Africa, Africa from the Seventh to the Eleventh Century, Ed. M. Elfasi, Ch. 13 I.Hrbek and J.Devisse, The Almoravids (pp. 336–366), UNESCO, 1988

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