ALMOHADES & ANDALUSIANS 1120-1270
The Muwahhidum, or Almohades as they were known in Spain, originated as a reformist Islamic sect in the mountains of Morocco. Unlike the nomadic Afro-Berber Almoravids, who they overthrew, the Almohades were strictly Berber and evolved in a partially urbanised region.
The Almohads entered Spain at the invitation of the Andalusian amirs, who had risen against the Almoravids there. The Almohads took control of Morocco in 1146, captured Algiers around 1151, and by 1160 had completed the conquest of the central Maghrib and advanced to Tripolitania. Nonetheless, pockets of Almoravid resistance continued to hold out in the Kabylie for at least fifty years
The Almohade military structure was consequently quite sophisticated from an early stage. The Almohade army was, however, still organised on a tribal basis though it soon included black slaves and Almoravid deserters. The blacks included Itabbalan drummers responsible for huge kettledrums. In fact, the Almohades made even greater use of war-drums than had their predecessors, the biggest being several yards in circumference with its skin stretched over a gold and green wooden case. Other elite troops included archers of Ghuzz Turkish origin.
Though Almohad tactics were similar to those of early Almoravids, a description by one warrior indicates significant differences. He wrote:
‘We formed a square in the flat land. On all four sides we places a rank of men with long spears in their hands. Behind them stood a second line with spears and javelins while behind them were men with bags of stones (slingers). Behind all stood archers while cavalry were in the middle of the square. Whenever the Almoravid horsemen charged towards us they met only the long bladed spears, the javelins, the stones and the arrows. Some died in the charge and the others turned to flee but then the Almodae cavalry charged through lanes which the infantry made in their ranks, striking upon the enemy’s wounded or fallen. If the Almoravids attacked again then our cavalry withdrew within the forest of spearblades.’ Such tactics were refined still further in Andalus and at the decisive but close-run battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, the Almohades reinforced their field defences with a chained palasade. This entered the mythology of the Reconquista as chains with which the Almohade rulers guards were supposedly fastened together. Another characteristic feature of the purely berber warrior was an ancient habit of shaving his head before battle. The growing isolation of these western lands from Arab Middle East started in the 11th century and led not only to the disappearance of Arab costume but also to a period of Berberization in Andalusian styles. The puritanical Almohades were not, however, well received in Andalus. Almohade rule also seems to have been deeply unpopular and was largely maintained by force.
For the Christians, there was to be no more retreat. The thrust of the reconquista had established it’s momentum. The main Muslim centres fell successively: Mallorca in 1229, Cordoba in 1236, Valencia in 1238, Seville in 1248 and Murcia in 1269.
The Almohad state in Andalus fell with the fall of Seville after having bestowed upon Andalus, especially it’s capital Seville, an aura of glory, with a remarkable political status, supported by a formidable naval force, and crowned with a brilliant cultural heritage. The Almohads take the credit of bestowing upon Andalus the status of a great state to which many a diplomatic mission was sent from European countries including one by King Henry II of England and one by King Sancho of Navarre. However, with the fall of Seville and the Almohad state, the giant image of the great Muslim state was thinning into a pale shadow in the fading sun of their long long sunset.
As the Christian conquest pressed south, so more and more areas were treated as frontier zones. These military regions were governed by a wali and each city had a governor with an average standing garrison of around 100. Following defeat at Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212, the spell of Almohade power was broken and local rulers reasserted their independence in many parts of Andalus. This was to be the third and final taifa period.
The second lasted for only a few years between the collapse of the Almoravids and the coming of the Almohades. Yet in both these later taifa periods small local armies emerged, well trained and determined to preserve an Andalusian identify. During this same chaotic period Lisbon fell to a combined force of English Crusaders and Portuguese. In Castile the advancing Christians treated the native Andalusians with respect while slaughtering Almoravids. They even sent the son of the last independent king of Saragossa south in an attemp to raise a general revolt against the Almoravids. The rise of petty rulers following the Almohades decline involved civil wars that made the Christian advance much easier, and this time there was no North African empire ready to reimpose Muslim central rule. Local forces may have been dedicated and well trained, but they were few. Only those nearest the frontier put up much resistance, and once they had been defeated the whole of Andalus lay open to conquest.
Out of such confusion one strong state emerged: the kingdom of Granada. The area’s population had naturally increased as refugees fled before the Christian advance. Many of the newcomers were warriors, eager for revenge and determined to preserve this last bastion of Iberian Islam. Yet this did not stop such troops from being sent to serve Castile, as Granada had been a vassal of castile ever since 1246. In North Africa another powerful dynastry had emerged from the Almohade wreck. These were the Marinids, who also became involved in Iberian affairs, unlike their predecessors they were never powerful enough to conquer what was left of Andalus nor to drive back the Christian reconquista.
In the very North of Morocco the port of Ceuta had a special role to play in the survival of Granada. Not only was it a base for pirates, but its defences were virtually impregnable before the days of gunpowder. Ceuta was the key to naval communication between North Africa and Granada, and while its fleet remained powerful, Berber recruits and even whole armies could be shipped to Andalus.