Alternate History

Sheikh Abu I of Kairuoan (Yarmuk)

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Murabit Abu Wad was the son of Murabit Yusuf Abu Saed, the younger brother of the heir to the throne. Despite this obvious exclusion from the Almoravid inheritance, Abu Saed ultimately did gain land in the form of the Sheikhdom of Kairuoan following the break up of the Almoravid Empire in 1140. He ruled this land peacefully until 1180, when he died of natural causes. A year later, following clashes in succession, the land was annexed by the Byzantines Empire.


Murabit Abu Saed was born in 1125 in Fez to Murabit Yusuf Abu Saed, the younger brother of Murabit Yusuf Tariq II, the heir to the throne. His birth was a brief controversy within the royal family, but aside from this he lived in total obscurity throughout his childhood. His part becomes more important at the end of the reign of the current monarch.

Instability and Civil War

The monarch in question was Murabit Yusuf Haseem II, considered the last of the stable monarchs of the Almoravid Empire. This is a true, if unfair, observation; Haseem was only stable because he was ineffectual. All was quite in the Maghreb during his 8 year reign. However, Haseem died of an unknown illness whilst Abu Saed was aged only three and replaced by Murabit Yusuf Tariq II, who lasted only 3 years before his suicide after the fated Songhai invasion and rebellion that he faced after its failure. After that, it was downhill all the way - the reign of Murabit Yusuf Tariq Abdullah marked the end of the Almoravid hegemony over the Maghreb. During this time, Murabit Yusuf Abu Saed trained his son religiously in the art of war.


Aged only 12 years, Murabit Abu Saed lived up to more than his father could ever have expected. An exceptional commander of men, even at that young age, he won a crushing victory over the Byzantines at Sabratha in Libya. No doubt he had an enormous amount of assistance, but nonetheless it was a great feat. There was no saving the Almoravid monarchy, however, for a greater general in the form of Muwahhid Abdul Yusuf, who had marshalled a huge army from his former allies in the southern Maghreb.

Fall of Almoravid sovereignty

1138 saw an end to any hope for sustained power throughout the Maghreb; the fall of Bougie and Cirta to the Almohads showed Abu Saed that there was no turning back. Ironically, this coincided with the death of his father, which came as a terrible emotional blow. In 1139, he retired to the nearest city at Kairuoan, where his formidable army held the forces of Almohad and Byzantine at bay until a peace treaty was signed with both in 1140. During the territorial reassessment that followed, no one was going to contest Abu's position in Kairuoan, least of all the war-weary Byzantines, who for all their troubles gained not a thing! Abu's brother gained the neighbouring principality of Thapsus, whilst his other neighbour, Carthage, retained the land that corresponded to the former Roman province of Africa - and remained under its independent dynasty until 1154, when it was annexed by the Byzantines.

Early years in office

Peace descended on the Maghreb for the next 15 years, during which time Abu developed the resources of his kingdom. He was a firm, somewhat harsh ruler - and he ruled Kairuoan as a virtual despot. He was, however, surprisingly well liked by the citizens of Kairuoan and of neighbouring Thapsus, which he visited often to see his brother, Bomilcar. He was also on very friendly terms with King Jeheba Ali of the Almohad domain and made trade connections between the two nations very profitable.

Friction with Byzantium

In 1154, Nicodemus III of Carthago died, leaving no heirs. The only legal claim was held by the Byzantines, who sent troops in to occupy the city and its surroundings. Abu Saed, who was in Thapsus at this time, hurried back to his base at Kairuoan, sending urgent messages to his fellow Berber kingdoms of this change in proceedings. Byzantine interference in the area was a frightening thought to the divided kingdoms of the Maghreb, but ultimately, as there was no real pretext to commence hostilities, they did nothing.

The next year, however, Abu's brother, Bomilcar Abu Saed, died of a chill in his bed. He had been a popular ruler - and there was uproar in the streets of Thapsus as a result of his death. Stunned by the news of his brother's death and wary of the attitude of Thapsus' citesens, Abu waited patiently before he opened his claim to the principality. This, however, was to ignore the intrigues of others, namely the Byzantines, who marched troops in to quell the disorder. A month later, the principality had been annexed to Byzantium. This was not what Abu Saed wanted to hear. Angrily he sent an envoy to Carthage demanding that the Byzantines withdrew their troops from lands belonging to the Murabit family. Failing that he sent correspondence directly to the Byzantine Emperor in Constantinople. The letters he received from the Emperor were far from reassuring - and, not being a renownedly diplomatic man, Abu Saed sent messages to his fellow Berber rulers asking for support in his war against the upstarts in Byzantium.

It was bad timing to do so. The Almohad kingdom was in an unstable state following the sudden death of their own monarch, Jeheba Ali, and the Sharif in Fez was not prepared to send unsupported soldiers so far afield. Surprisingly, it was the Songhai who proved most useful, sending a detachment of fierce Berber tribesman (an expendable, but nonetheless useful force) to support Abu's claim. Abu then marched towards Thapsus with his army and lay in siege, defeating the force the Byzantine governor of Carthage had with ease. However, when he heard that another force, fresh from Anatolia had landed at Hadrumentum and was marching on Kairuoan, he sued for peace. The Byzantines were all to happy to oblige. It was hardly as if they had lost anything - after all.

Conversion to Christianity

In 1162, the newly established Almohad monarch, Muwahhid Murad Masood Ali, accepted a missionary's offer to convert to the Christian faith. Another ripple of unrest shook the Maghreb, with the Sharif in Fez making a particularly violent resistance. Abu Saed was initially against it too, until he suddenly realised how he could use this to his tactically to his advantage. Apart from anything else, he still had a score to settle with Murabit Yusuf Tariq Abdullah, who had failed to support him in his claim to Thapsus. Now it was Abu's turn; after consulting his advisors, then his people, he made a public announcement that he too was converting to Christianity. Such was the humiliation of Tariq Abdullah in Fez that Abu couldn't help thinking it was all worth it just for that. Also, relations with Byzantium greatly improved as a result.

End of Career

The rest of Abu Saed's reign in Kairuoan was quiet. His riches grew with every passing day, as did peaceful relations throughout the Maghreb. In 1164 war with the Sharifate of Fez (over religion) was brought to a swift conclusion by a general trade embargo against Morrocan merchants; only lifted in 1165 when the Sharif conceded that enough damage had been done to his economy.

However, Abu had not married and had no legal heirs, though his lack of chastity had brought him many illegitimate ones. At his death in 1180, civil war broke out between the different claimants, which numbered about a dozen, and was only ended in 1181 when the Byzantines moved in to annex the principality.

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