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Murabit Yusuf Khalifah, later to be Grand Sharif Yusuf I of the Almoravid Empire was, by the standards of both previous and successive Berber rulers, a great man. During the 15 years that he ruled the Maghreb, conquered in its entirety by 1062, he set the foundations for a great and wealthy state, that was set to dominate the Maghreb for 80 years.
Murabit Yusuf Khalifah was born in 1045, the only son of the ambitious leader of the Almoravid sect, Murabit Yusuf. The Almoravids inhabited a northern area of the Empire of the Songhai until a failed rebellion led by Murabit Yusuf caused them to be expelled from the Songhai empire and hunted down by their former overlords. Murabit Yusuf managed to deny the Songhai emperors the pleasure of destroying the Almoravids completely and clung to the semi desert lands that he now controlled with unusual tenacity.
Establishment of the Almoravid Empire
By the time of his father's death in 1058, Murabit Yusuf Khalifah was a boy of 13 - and already a better leader than his father. Murabit Yusuf had always professed to be a strictly military man, but even in that department he boasted only the talent of a tribal chieftain. His son, Murabit Yusuf Khalifah, was a man of intellect in all fields of government. He knew that, if the sect were to survive, they were not to stay put in the vicinity of the Songhai. Being a fiercely religious member of his shamanist sect - one of his few controlling vices - he followed the advice of his soothsayers to lead his tribe north. Arriving at the Berber trading post at Sijilmasa Oasis, Yusuf Khalifah then proceeded to take control of the oasis. Having won the resulting battle against the small Berber garrison, he then settled down his warriors and their families around the oasis. Despite carefully calculated administration on the part of Yusuf Khalifah, the once wealthy trading post failed to cater such a volume of people. So, in early 1060, the Almoravids set off again, still drawn by the Land of Gold promised to them by the soothsayers. Having found no gold by 1060, Yusuf Khalifah instead found the main bulk of Mauretanian territory and proceeded to dismember it. At the Battle of Marrakesh and the carefully coordinated capture of Fez (both during 1060) this job was half done and an Almoravid Kingdom established. By 1061, their principal rivals, the Kingdom of Mauretania had been destroyed. By 1062, the whole of the Maghreb (bar the vassal Principality of Carthago) lay in Yusuf's hands.
The Golden Rule
From the battle of Kairuoan onwards, Yusuf Khalifah did not command a battle again; instead he set himself the task of turning the barren lands formerly ruled by Mauretania into a great kingdom. This was not an easy task - even the greatest of Yusuf's cities (Fez) had fallen into dilapidation after years of poor rule. Yusuf's policies of strict taxation and enforcement of labour made his irrigation policies a great success and brought about a population boom. Thereby, Yusuf relaxed his forced labour policy (but not the strict taxation, which was not cut until the rebellion quelled by Yusuf's great great great grandson Murabit Yusuf Tariq Abdullah. Capitalism also boomed, as Yusuf made sure to utilise the skills of his vassals in Carthage. The Carthaginian Grand Company was formed as a result. It remained a powerful economic force until the annexation of Carthage by Byzantium in 1154. In his time on the throne, he also improved the condition of the Almoravid army and had constructed a fleet of fine condition to defend the merchant fleets that roamed the Western Mediterranean. Like many of his successors, however, he often overestimated his own strength. His dealings with Byzantium over the Carthage Crisis of 1066 certainly showed his arrogance; though he never met the Byzantine envoys in person, his orders were clearly those of hostility towards the mighty Byzantine state. Only the timely Seljuk war of 1070 saved the Almoravids from humiliating defeat by the highly trained Byzantine army.
Death and Legacy
Murabit Yusuf Khalifah died in the Spring of 1075, aged 30 years. His tireless energy over his 15 year reign (and 17 years in control of the Almoravids) finally began to tell on the Grand Sharif, who collapsed from a stroke whilst surveying a mining operation south of Fez. His arrogance and diplomatic incompetence were more than outweighed by his economic genius, his patience and his meticulous planning in all areas of his work. The last 9 years of his reign were uninterrupted by any strife; by 1070 nearly all Mediterranean monarchs knew his name. It is also to be remembered that, whilst he was a great military commander, he was averse to the battlefield, particularly in the later years of his reign. His place on the throne was taken by his capable son Murabit Yusuf Tariq, who continued similar policies to his father until his death in 1092.