The Zirid dynasty (Arabic: زيريون /ALA-LC: Zīryūn; Banu Ziri or الدولة الزيرية: al-dawlat alzayria) was a Sanhaja Berber dynasty from modern-day Algeria which ruled the central Maghreb from 972 to 1014 and Ifriqiya (eastern Maghreb) from 972 to 1148.
Descendants of Ziri ibn Menad, a military leader of the Fatimid Caliphate and the eponymous founder of the dynasty, the Zirids were Emirs who ruled in the name of the Fatimids. The Zirids gradually established their autonomy in Ifriqiya through military conquest until officially breaking with the Fatimids in the mid-11th century. The rule of the Zirid emirs opened the way to a period in North African history where political power was held by Berber dynasties such as the Almoravid dynasty, Almohad Caliphate, Zayyanid dynasty, Marinid Sultanate and Hafsid dynasty.
Continuing their conquests to Fez and much of modern-day Morocco in 980, the Zirids encountered resistance from the local Zenata Berbers, who gave their allegiance to the Caliphate of Cordoba. Various Zirid branches did however rule the central Maghreb and during their reign the Zirids were able to gain control over territories from the Atlantic coast of Morocco to Ajdabiya in Libya as well as control over territory in Spain and suzerainty over the Emirate of Sicily. One branch of the Zirids, at the beginning of the 11th century, following various family disputes, broke away as the Hammadids and took control of the territories of the central Maghreb. The Zirids proper were then designated as Badicides and occupied only Ifriqiyah between 1048 and 1148. Part of the dynasty fled to al-Andalus and later founded, in 1019, the Taifa of Granada on the ruins of the Caliphate of Cordoba. The Zirids of Granada were again defeated by the expansion of the Almoravids, who annexed their kingdom in 1090, while the Badicides and the Hammadids remained independent. Following the recognition of the Sunni Muslim Abbasid Caliphate and the assertion of Ifriqiya and the Central Maghreb as independent kingdoms of Sunni obedience in 1048, the Fatimids reportedly masterminded the migration of the Hilalians to the Maghreb. In the 12th century, the Hilalian invasions combined with the attacks of the Normans of Sicily on the littoral weakened Zirid power. The Almohad Caliphate finally conquered the central Maghreb and Ifriqiya in 1152, thus unifying the whole of the Maghreb and ending the Zirid dynasties.
The Zirids were Sanhaja Berbers originating from the area of modern Algeria. In the 10th century this tribe served as vassals of the Fatimid Caliphate, defeating the Kharijite rebellion of Abu Yazid (943-947), under Ziri ibn Manad (935-971). Ziri was installed as the governor of central Maghreb and founded the gubernatorial residence (his capital) at Ashir, south-east of Algiers, with Fatimid support. In 959 Ziri successfully conquered Fez and Sijilmasa in Morocco. On his return home he paraded the amir of Fez as well as the “Caliph” Ibn Wasul of Sijilmasa in cages in a very humiliating manner.
When the Fatimids moved their capital to Egypt in 972, Ziri's son Buluggin ibn Ziri (971-984) was appointed viceroy of Ifriqiya. He conquered Fez and held most of Morocco by 980. Most of Morocco which was obtained through the conquest by Jawhar the Sicilian, Ziri Ibn Manad and a Sanhaja army, had already previously been under the rule of the Zirids after the Fatimids left the eastern Maghreb to the Bani Ziri, this lasted until it was taken by an Umayyad general in 973. Buluggin ibn Ziri had also led a successful expedition to Barghawata in which he brought back a large number of Moroccan slaves; when his lieutenant paraded them in the streets the people of Ifriqiya were shocked as they had never seen such a large number of slaves before. In 984 Buluggin died in Sijilmasa from an illness and his successor decided to abandon Morocco in 985.> The removal of the fleet to Egypt made the retention of Kalbid Sicily impossible, while Algeria broke away under the governorship of Hammad ibn Buluggin, Buluggin's son.
Map showing territories that were controlled by the Zirid Dynasty
The relationship with their Fatimid overlords varied - in 1016 thousands of Shiites lost their lives in rebellions in Ifriqiya, and the Fatimids encouraged the defection of Tripolitania from the Zirids, but nevertheless the relationship remained close. In 1049 the Zirids broke away completely by adopting Sunni Islam and recognizing the Abbasids of Baghdad as rightful Caliphs, a move which was popular with the urban Arabs of Kairouan.
The Zirid period of Tunisia is considered a high point in its history, with agriculture, industry, trade and learning, both religious and secular, all flourishing, especially in their capital, Kairouan. Management of the area by later Zirid rulers was neglectful as the agricultural economy declined, prompting an increase in banditry among the rural population.
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 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.
After the loss of Kairouan (1057) the rule of the Zirids was limited to a coastal strip with Mahdia as the capital, while several Bedouin Emirates formed inland. In 1087, the Zirid capital, Mahdia, was sacked by the Pisans. According to Ettinghausen, Grabar, and Jenkins-Madina, the Pisa Griffin is believed to have been part of the spoils taken during the sack. Between 1146 and 1148 the Normans of Sicily conquered all the coastal towns, and in 1152 the last Zirids in Algeria were superseded by the Almohad Caliphate.
The Zirid realm (dark green) after the secession of the Hammadids
(1018) and before the influx of Banu Hilal
The Zirid period was a time of great economic prosperity. The departure of the Fatimids to Cairo, far from ending this prosperity, saw its amplification under the Zirid and Hammadid rulers. Referring to the government of the Zirid Emir al-Mu'izz, the historian Ibn Khaldun reports: "It [has] never [been] seen by the Berbers of that country a kingdom more vast and more flourishing than his own." The northern regions produced wheat in large quantities, while the region of Sfax was a major hub of olive production and the cultivation of the date was an important part of the local economy in Biskra. Other crops such as sugar cane, saffron, cotton, sorghum, millet and chickpea were grown. The breeding of horses and sheep flourished and fishing provided plentiful food. The Mediterranean was also an important part of the economy, even though it was, for a time, abandoned after the departure of the Fatimids, when the priority of the Zirid Emirs turned to territorial and internal conflicts. Their maritime policy enabled them to establish trade links, in particular for the importation of the timber necessary for their fleet, and enabled them to begin an alliance and very close ties with the Kalbid Emirs of Sicily. They did, however, face blockade attempts by the Venetians and Normans, who sought to reduce their wood supply and thus their dominance in the region.
The Arab chronicler Ibn Hawqal visited and described the city of Algiers in the Zirid era: "The city of Algiers is built on a gulf and surrounded by a wall. It contains a large number of bazaars and a few sources of good water near the sea. It is from these sources that the inhabitants draw the water they drink. In the outbuildings of this town are very extensive countryside and mountains inhabited by several tribes of the Berbers. The chief wealth of the inhabitants consists of herds of cattle and sheep grazing in the mountains. Algiers supplies so much honey that it forms an export object, and the quantity of butter, figs and other commodities is so great that it is exported to Kairouan and elsewhere".
Abd al-Aziz ibn Shaddad was a Zirid chronicler and prince. He wrote Kitab al-Jam' wa 'l-bayan fi akhbar al-Qayrawan (كتاب الجمع والبيان في أخبار القيروان) about the history of Qayrawan.
Architecture under the Zirids of North Africa
The Zirid dynasties were responsible for various constructions and renovations throughout the Maghreb and in Al-Andalus. Zirid and Hammadid architecture in North Africa was closely linked to Fatimid architecture,:83 but also influenced Norman architecture in Sicily.:100 The Zirid palace at 'Ashir, built in 934 by Ziri ibn Manad (who served the Fatimids), is one of the oldest palaces in the Maghreb to have been discovered and excavated. As independent rulers, however, the Zirids of Ifriqiya built relatively few grand structures. They reportedly built a new palace at al-Mansuriyya, a former Fatimid capital near Kairouan, but it has not been found by modern archeologists.:123 In Kairouan itself the Great Mosque was restored by Al-Mu'izz ibn Badis. The wooden maqsura within the mosque today is believed to date from this time.:87 It is the oldest maqsura in the Islamic world to be preserved in situ and was commissioned by al-Mu῾izz ibn Badis in the first half of the 11th century (though later restored). It is notable for its woodwork, which includes an elaborately carved Kufic inscription dedicated to al-Mu'izz.
The Hammadids, for their part, built an entirely new fortified capital at Qala'at Bani Hammad, founded in 1007. Although abandoned and destroyed in the 12th century, the city has been studied by modern archeologists and is one of the best-preserved medieval Islamic capitals in the world.:125
Architecture under the Zirids of Granada
Several structures in southern Spain today have been dated, or tentatively dated, to the time of the Zirid Taifa kingdom. In Granada, the Bañuelo, a public baths complex originally known as the Hammam al-Yawza, is traditionally dated to the time of the Zirids in the 11th century, during the reign of Badis ibn Habus or Abdallah, based on an early study by Leopoldo Torres Balbás.:127 (Although more recent studies have argued that the building dates from the 12th century or later.) The Alcazaba of Granada, a fortress on the Sabika hill, was first built under the Zirids. Although it was later rebuilt and incorporated into the Alhambra of the Nasrids, traces of the original Zirid fortress remain.:127:127 The original palace of the Zirids, the al-Qasaba al-Qadima, was located on the hill that is now the Albaicin neighborhood, but it has not been preserved.:127 Nearby, however, the inner northern walls of the city, which run along the top of the Albaicin today, still date from this period.:115 Also in the same area, the bell tower of what is now the Church of San José was originally a minaret, traditionally dated to the Zirid period.:329
Elsewhere, the Alcazaba of Malaga was also built during the Taifa period in the 11th century, though it was significantly remodeled under the later Nasrids.:152 The limited elements that have survived from the 11th century were likely built by both the Zirids and by the Hammudids from whom they conquered the city.:52
The regnal dates of rulers are indicated first according to the Islamic calendar and then with the corresponding Gregorian dates in parentheses.
Offshoots of the Zirid dynasty
Zirids of Granada
Map of the Taifa of Granada in the first half of the 11th century
The Zirids were also the ruling dynasty of the Taifa of Granada, a Berber kingdom in Al-Andalus. The founder was the brother of Buluggin, Zawi ben Ziri, a general of the Caliphate of Córdoba under Caliph Hisham II.
After the death of Almanzor in Medinaceli on 12 August 1002 (25 Ramadan 392), a civil war broke out in Al-Andalus, and General Zawi ibn Ziri destroyed several cities, such as Medina Azahara in 1011 and Córdoba in 1013. He founded the Taifa of Granada and the city of Granada itself, and then declared himself its first emir. He died of poison in Algiers in 1019.
In 1013 the Zirids founded the Albaicín District in Granada which is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. During the rule of Zawi, an Umayyad pretender al-Murtada attempted to conquer Granada, however he was defeated.
During the reign of Badis Ibn Habus he defeated the Abbadids of Seville one of the strongest taifas and also defeated the taifa of Almeria and took control of its territory. He also defeated the Hammudids and conquered the Taifa of Malaga.
The arts and civil construction under the rule of the Zirid governors and emirs in Al-Andalus, mainly in the Taifa of Granada, were very important. An example is the Cadima Alcazaba in Albayzin, Granada, and part of the old wall surrounding Granada.
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