Berbers or Imazighen, (Berber languages: ⵉⵎⴰⵣⵉⵖⵏ, ⵎⵣⵗⵏ, romanized: Imaziɣen; singular: Amaziɣ, ⴰⵎⴰⵣⵉⵖ ⵎⵣⵗ) are an ethnic group of North Africa and West Africa, specifically Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Mauritania, northern Mali, and northern Niger. Smaller Berber populations are also found in Burkina Faso and Egypt's Siwa Oasis.[29]

Historically, Berber nations spoke the Berber languages, which are a branch of the Afroasiatic language family.[3] The majority of North Africa's population west of Egypt is believed to be Berber in ethnic origin, although due to Arabization and Islamization some ethnic Berbers identify as Arabized Berbers.[30] Large immigrant Berber communities are living in France, Spain, Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Italy, and other countries of Europe.[31][32]

An old Amazigh room in Morocco

New frontier settlements were built for the Berber mercenaries who arrived in the 900s. Written sources state that some of Abd ar-Rahman's new Berber mercenaries were placed in Calatrava, which was refortified.[91]:168 Another Berber settlement called Calatrava, which was refortified.[91]:168 Another Berber settlement called Vascos, west of Toledo, is not mentioned in the historical sources, but has been excavated archaeologically. It was a fortified town, had walls, and a separate fortress or alcazar. Two cemeteries have been discovered also. It was established in the 900s as a frontier town for Berbers, probably of the Nafza tribe. It was abandoned soon after the Castilian occupation of Toledo in 1085. The Berber inhabitants took all their possessions with them.[91]:169[96]

In the 900s, the Umayyad caliphate faced a challenge from the Fatimids in North Africa. The Fatimid caliphate was founded by Ubayd Allah al-Mahdi Billah after his disciples gained a large following among the Kutama Berbers in what is today eastern Algeria and western Tunisia. After taking the city of Kairouan and overthrowing the Aghlabids in 909, the Mahdi Ubayd Allah declared himself caliph, which represented a direct challenge to the Umayyad's own claim to the caliphate.[91]:169 The Fatimids gained overlordship over the Id

In the 900s, the Umayyad caliphate faced a challenge from the Fatimids in North Africa. The Fatimid caliphate was founded by Ubayd Allah al-Mahdi Billah after his disciples gained a large following among the Kutama Berbers in what is today eastern Algeria and western Tunisia. After taking the city of Kairouan and overthrowing the Aghlabids in 909, the Mahdi Ubayd Allah declared himself caliph, which represented a direct challenge to the Umayyad's own claim to the caliphate.[91]:169 The Fatimids gained overlordship over the Idrisids, then launched a conquest of the Maghreb. To counter the threat, the Umayyads crossed the straits to take over Ceuta in 931,[91]:171 and actively formed alliances with Berber confederacies such as the Zenata and the Awraba. Rather than fighting each other directly, the competition of Fatimids and Umayyads played out as a competition for Berber allegiances. In turn, this provided a motivation for the further Islamic conversion of Berbers, many of whom, particularly farther south away from the Mediterranean, were still Christian and pagan.[91]:169–170 In turn, this would contribute to the development of Almoravids and Almohads, which would have a major impact on al-Andalus and contribute to the end of the Umayyad caliphate.[91]:170

With the help of his new mercenary forces, which were mainly composed of recent Berber arrivals, Abd ar-Rahman launched a series of attacks on parts of the Iberian peninsula that had fallen away from Umayyad allegiance. In the 920s he campaigned against the areas that rebelled under Umar ibn Hafsun and still refused to submit. These he submitted in the 920s. He conquered Mérida in 928–929, Ceuta in 931, and Toledo in 932.[91]:171–172 In 934 Abd ar-Rahman III began a campaign in the north against Ramiro II of Leon and Muhammad ibn Hashim al-Tujibi, the governor of Zaragoza. According to Ibn Hayyan, after inconclusively confronting al-Tujibi on the Ebro, Abd ar-Rahman briefly forced the Kingdom of Pamplona into submission, ravaged Castile and Alava, and met Ramiro II in an inconclusive battle.[91]:171–172 From 935 to 937, Abd ar-Rahman confronted the Tujibids, defeating them in 937. In 939, Ramiro II defeated the combined Umayyad and Tujibid armies in the Battle of Simancas.[91]:146–147

Umayyad influence in western North Africa spread through diplomacy rather than conquest.[91]:172 The Umayyads sought out alliances with various Berber confederacies. These would declare loyalty to the Umayyad caliphate in opposition to the Fatimids. The Umayyads would send gifts including embroidered silk ceremonial cloaks. During this time, mints in cities on the Moroccan coast (Fes, Sijilmasa, Sfax, and al-Nakur) occasionally issued coins with the names of Umayyad caliphs, showing the extent of Umayyad diplomatic influence.[91]:172 The text of a letter of friendship from a Berber leader to the Umayyad caliph has been preserved in the work of 'Isa al-Razi.[97]

During the reign of Abd ar-Rahman III tensions increased between the three distinct components of the Muslim community in al-Andalus: Berbers, Saqaliba, and those of Arab or mixed Arab and Gothic descent.[91]:175 Following Abd ar-Rahman's proclamation of the new Umayyad caliphate in Cordoba, the Umayyads placed a great emphasis on the Umayyad membership of the Quraysh tribe.[91]:180 This led to a fashion in Cordoba for claiming pure Arab ancestry as opposed to descent from freed slaves.[91]:181 Claims of descent from Visigothic noble families also became common.[91]:181–182 However, an "immediately detrimental consequence of this acute consciousness of ancestry was the revival of ethnic disparagement, directed in particular against the Berbers and the Saqaliba".[91]:182

When the Fatimids moved their capital to Egypt in 969, they left north Africa in charge of viceroys from the Zirid clan of Sanhaja Berbers, who were Fatimid loyalists and enemies of the Zenata.[91]:170 The Zirids in turn divided their territories, assigning some to the Hammadid branch of the family to govern. The Hammadids became independent in 1014, with their capital at Qal'at Beni-Hammad. With the withdrawal of the Fatimids to Egypt, however, the rivalry with the Umayyads decreased.[91]:170

Al-Hakam II sent Muhammad Ibn Abī ‘Āmir to north Africa in 973–974 to act as qadi al qudat to the Berber groups that had accepted Umayyad authority. Ibn Abī ‘Āmir was treasurer of the household of the caliph's wife and children, director of the mint at Madinat al-Zahra, commander of the Cordoba police, and qadi of the frontier. During his time as qadi in north Africa, Ibn Abi Amir developed close ties with the North African Berbers.[91]:186

On the death of Al-Hakam II, the heir Hisham II was underage, and the position of hajib was occupied by a Berber named al-Mushafi. However, general Ghālib ibn ʿAbd al-Raḥmān and Muhammad Ibn Abī ‘Āmir formed an alliance, and in 978 they overthrew al-Mushafi and his sons and other family members, who had received offices. Al-Mushafi was imprisoned for five years before being killed, and his family was stripped of property and titles.[91]:187 In 980, Ibn Abī ‘Āmir fell out with his ally Ghalib, and a civil war began.[91]:187–188 Ibn Abi Amir called on the Berbers he had lived with in 973–974 to come help him.[91]:188 His Berber ally Jafar ibn Hamdun crossed the straits with his army, whereas Ghalib allied with the Kingdom of Navarre. These armies fought several battles, in the last one of which Ghalib was killed, bringing the civil war to an end. Ibn Abī ‘Āmir then took on the name al-Mansur (Almanzor) ('the victorious'), by which he is more commonly known.[91]:188

Having won the war, al-Mansur no longer needed his Berber ally Ibn Hamdun, who instead became a threat due to his substantial army. Ibn Hamdun was murdered in 983, having been made drunk at a feast held in his honor, then murdered as he departed.[91]:188 According to Ibn Idhari, his head and one hand were then presented in secret to al-Mansur.[91]:188

Employing large numbers of Berber and Saqaliba mercenaries, al-Mansur initiated a series of highly successful attacks on the Christian portions of the peninsula.[91]:191 Among the most memorable campaigns were the sack of Barcelona in 985, the destruction of Leon in 988, the capture of Count Garcia Fernandez of Castile in 995, and the sack of Santiago in 997.[91]:191–192 Al-Mansur died in 1002. He was succeeded as hajib by his son, Abd al-Malik. In 1008, Abd al-Malik died and was succeeded as hajib by his half-brother, Abd ar-Rahman, known as Sanchuelo because his mother was Navarrese.[91]:196 Meanwhile, Hisham II remained caliph, though this had become a ceremonial position.

Considerable resentment arose in Cordoba against the increasing numbers of Berbers brought from north Africa by al-Mansur and his children Abd al-Malik and Sanchuelo.[91]:198 It was said that Sanchuelo ordered anyone attending his court to wear Berber turbans, which Roger Collins suggests may not have been true, but shows that hostile anti-Berber propaganda was being used to discredit the sons of al-Mansur. In 1009, Sanchuelo had himself proclaimed Hisham II's successor, and then went on military campaign. However, while he was away a revolt took place. Sanchuelo's palace was sacked and his support fell away. As he marched back to Cordoba his own Berber mercenaries abandoned him.[91]:197–198 Knowing the strength of ill feeling against them in Cordoba, they thought Sanchuelo would be unable to protect them and so they went elsewhere in order to survive and secure their own interests.[91]:198 Sanchuelo was left with only a few followers, and was captured and killed in 1009. Hisham II abdicated and was replaced by Muhammad II al-Mahdi.

Having abandoned Sanchuelo, the Berbers who had formed his army turned to another ambitious Umayyad, Sulayman, whom they supported. They obtained logistical support from Count Sancho Garcia of Castile. Marching on Cordoba, they defeated Saqaliba general Wadih and forced Muhammad II al-Mahdi to flee to Toledo. They then installed Sulayman as caliph, and based themselves in the Madinat al-Zahra to avoid friction with the local population.[91]:198–199 Wadih and al-Mahdi formed an alliance with the Counts of Barcelona and Urgell and marched back on Cordoba. They defeated Sulayman and the Berber forces in a battle near Cordoba in 1010. To avoid being destroyed, the Berbers left Cordoba and fled towards Algeciras.[91]:199

Al-Mahdi swore to exterminate the Berbers and pursued them. However, he was defeated in battle near Marbella. With Wadih, he fled back to Cordoba while his Catalan allies went home. The Berbers turned around and besieged Cordoba. Deciding that he was about to lose, Wadih overthrew al-Mahdi and sent his head to the Berbers, replacing him with Hisham II.[91]:199 However, the Berbers did not end the siege. They methodically destroyed Cordoba's suburbs, pinning the inhabitants inside the old Roman walls and destroying the Madinat al-Zahra. Wadih's allies killed him, and the Cordoba garrison surrendered with the expectation of amnesty. However, "a massacre ensued in which the Berbers took revenge for many personal and collective injuries and permanently settled several feuds in the process".[91]:200 The Berbers made Sulayman caliph once again. Ibn Idhari said that the installation of Sulayman in 1013 was the moment when "the rule of the Berbers began in Cordoba and that of the Umayyads ended, after it had existed for two hundred and sixty eight years and forty-three days".[91]:200[98]

During the Taifa era, the petty kings came from a variety of ethnic groups; some—for instance the Zirid kings of Granada—were of Berber origin. The Taifa period ended when a Berber dynasty—the Moroccan Almoravids—took over al-Andalus; they were succeeded by the Almohad dynasty of Morocco, during which time al-Andalus flourished.

After the fall of Cordoba in 1013, the Saqaliba fled from the city to secure their own fiefdoms. One group of Saqaliba seized Orihuela from its Berber garrison and took control of its entire region.Saqaliba fled from the city to secure their own fiefdoms. One group of Saqaliba seized Orihuela from its Berber garrison and took control of its entire region.[91]:201

Among the Berbers who were brought to al-Andalus by al-Mansur were the Zirid family of Sanhaja Berbers. After the fall of Cordoba, the Zirids took over Granada in 1013, forming the Zirid kingdom of Granada. The Saqaliba Khayran, with his own Umayyad figurehead Abd ar-Rahman IV al-Murtada, attempted to seize Granada from the Zirids in 1018 but failed. Khayran then executed Abd ar-Rahman IV. Khayran's son, Zuhayr, also made war on the Zirid kingdom of Granada, but was killed in 1038.[91]:202

In Cordoba, conflicts continued between the Berber rulers and those of the citizenry who saw themselves as Arab.[91]:202 After being installed as caliph with Berber support, Sulayman was pressured into distributing southern provinces to his Berber allies. The Sanhaja departed from Cordoba at this time. The Zenata Berber Hammudids received the important districts of Ceuta and Algeciras. The Hammudids claimed a family relation to the Idrisids, and thus traced their ancestry to the caliph Ali. In 1016 they rebelled in Ceuta, claiming to be supporting the restoration of Hisham II. They took control of Málaga, then marched on Cordoba, taking it and executing Sulayman and his family. Ali ibn Hammud al-Nasir declared himself caliph, a position he held for two years.[91]:203

For some years, Hammudids and Umayyads fought one another and the caliphate passed between them several times. Hammudids also fought among themselves. The last Hammudid caliph reigned until 1027. The Hammudids were then expelled from Cordoba, where there was still a great deal of anti-Berber sentiment. The Hammudids remained in Malaga until expelled by the Zirids in 1056.[91]:203 The Zirids of Granada controlled Malaga until 1073, after which separate Zirid kings retained control over the taifas of Granada and Malaga until the Almoravid conquest.[99]

During the taifa period, the Aftasid dynasty based in Badajoz controlled a large territory centered on the Guadiana River valley.[99] The area of Aftasid control was very large, stretching from the Sierra Morena and the taifas of Mertola and Silves to the south, to the Campo de Calatrava in the west and the Montes de Toledo in the northwest and nearly as far as Oporto in the northeast.[99]

According to Bernard Reilly,[99]:13 during the taifa period genealogy continued to be an obsession of the upper classes in al-Andalus. Most wanted to trace their lineage back to the Syrian and Yemeni Arabs who accompanied the invasion. In contrast, tracing descent from the Berbers who came with the same invasion "was to be stigmatized as of inferior birth".[99]:13 Reilly notes, however, that in practice the two groups had by the 11th century become almost indistinguishable: "both groups gradually ceased to be distinguishable parts of the Muslim population, except when one of them actually ruled a taifa, in which case his origins were well publicized by his rivals. Nevertheless, distinctions between Arab, Berber, and slave were not the stuff of serious politics either within or between the taifas. It was the individual family that was the unit of political activity."[99]:13 The Berber that arrived towards the end of the caliphate as mercenary forces, says Reilly, amounted to only about 20 thousand people in a total al-Andalusi population of six million. Their high visibility was due to their foundation of taifa dynasties rather than large numbers.[99]:13

In the power hierarchy, Berbers were situated between the Arabic aristocracy and the Muladi populace. Ethnic rivalry was one of the most important factors driving Andalusi politics. Berbers made up as much as 20% of the population of the occupied territory.[100] After the fall of the Caliphate, the Taifa kingdoms of Toledo, Badajoz, Málaga and Granada had Berber rulers.[citation needed] During the Reconquista, Berbers in the areas which became Christian kingdoms were acculturated and lost their ethnic identity, their descendants being among modern Spanish and Portuguese peoples.[citation needed]

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