Warfare in Eleventh-Century Spain (Al-Andalus), according to The Tibyan

The Tibyan is considered to be one of the most important sources of information about events in Muslim controlled Spain (al-Andalus) during the eleventh century, when the peninsula was divided up into various Ta’ifa states. This work is an autobiography by ‘Abd Allah bin Buluggin, who was the Amir of the Taifa kingdom of Granada from 1073 until his exile in 1090. His account includes many episodes of warfare against Christians and other Muslim states. The section republished below, chapter seven of his work, deals with the Almoravids crossing into the Iberian peninsula from North Africa to fight against the Castillian king Alphonso VI. This would lead to Almoravid victory at the battle of Zallaqa (Sagrajas) in 1086, and the subsequent siege of Aledo. ‘Abd Allah was an eyewitness to both of these events, and his writings on both of them are relayed below.

Map of Iberia in 1037 - Courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin

Everything went very well indeed and I attained the limits of my aspirations until the Almoravid business came up. We had seen how the Christian [king] wanted to get his hands on the Peninsula and how he had taken Toledo and his unfriendliness after gaining the satisfaction of receiving tribute (jizya) from us. Now, however, he began to seek to capture the main cities. His seizure of Toledo, we noted, resulted from its progressive decline year by year. His tactics for conquering the rest of the country were the same. His policy was not to lay siege to a fortress or to order his troops to attack a city because it would have been too difficult to achieve and because these places were inhabited by people of a different religion from his own. His policy was to exact tribute from a city year after year and to harass it with various forms of aggression until it weakened and succumbed, as Toledo had done.

The fall of Toledo sent a great tremor through al-Andalus and filled the inhabitants with fear and despair of continuing to live there. A large number of disputes arose between al-Mu’tamid [prince of Seville] and Alphonso [VI, King of Castile] who had asked al-Mu’tamid to cede him a number of fortresses. Al-Mu’tamid, however, would rather die than surrender them. He was, nevertheless, overcome with fear of Alphonso and sought to defeat him with the help of Almoravid contingents battering the one against the other according to the fate decreed by God. As the poet. says:

If a man is not succoured by God
The greater will be his suffering as a result of his own striving.

Because of the trouble between me and my brother, the ruler of Malaga, he had already contacted the Almoravids [under the rule of Yusuf bin Tashufin] and appealed for their assistance in the hope that, through them, he would be able to get his own back on me and that the Almoravids would enable him to get that part of his grandfather’s kingdom which he had failed to obtain. He thought that, in the event of their success, they would divide the property between myself and him. All this discord worked to the great advantage of the Amir of the Muslims [Yusuf] who perceived that, in view of our disunity, it would not be difficult for him to play one off against the other whenever he felt like it. The Amir, therefore, did not accede to my brother’s request, nor indeed was it the right moment, even though my brother, with his lack of experience, kept pressing the matter.

Before this, al-Mu`tamid had sent his envoys to the Amir asking him to prepare for the jihad, with the promise that Algeciras would be ceded to him and stating that al-Mu’tamid would hand it over to the Amir as soon as he arrived at Ceuta. On arrival at Ceuta fully prepared for action with his assembled troops, the Amir sent his envoys, who included the qadi `Abd al-Malik and Ibn al Ahsan, to al-Mu`tamid. These envoys were, however, detained by al-Mu’tamid in Seville for quite some time, a fact which made the Amir somewhat anxious at their failure to return. Eventually, however, al-Mu’tamid sent with them a number of Sevillan shaykhs whom he in structed to convey the following message to the Amir: “Wait in Ceuta for thirty days until we can clear Algeciras for you.” The Amir agreed to this, and the envoys asked for a written undertaking that he would wait at Ceuta. The Amir was, however, warned against this arrangement and was told: “Ibn `Abbad only wants to involve you in this predicament because he proposes to get in touch with Alphonso and inform him of your arrival, thereby hoping to obtain what he wants from him by threatening to summon you. He will then ask him to conclude a treaty with him whereby he will pay Alphonso a tribute for a number of years. If Alphonso is agreeable, al-Mu’tamid will mobilize his troops at Algeciras and prevent you from crossing. So forestall him. If, on the other hand, al-Mu’tamid fails to secure help from the Christian, he will ask you to cross.”

When the envoys had left the Amir after having obtained his agreement to wait until Algeciras could be evacuated within thirty days, the Amir prepared an advance party of some 500 horsemen whom he immediately dispatched in their wake. Hardly had the envoys arrived at Algeciras at the end of that day before the force followed them across and landed at the naval shipyard. The party soon noticed that a contingent of horsemen had pitched camp but could not make out when the men had arrived. On the following morning, another contingent and yet another arrived, one after the other, until the whole army was concentrated outside Algeciras, under the command of Dawud b. ‘A’isha, surrounding the city and keeping it under guard. Dawud then sum moned al-Radi and said: “You have promised to let us have Algeciras. We have not come to seize a city or to do harm to a prince. We have come only for the jihad. And so you either evacuate it by noon today or else! Do what you can about it.”

The Amir wrote to Ibn ‘Abbad to let him know what he had done, with the message: “We have relieved you of the expense of supplying vessels and provisions for our troops as you promised.” Al-Mu’tamid then told his son al-Radi to surrender Algeciras to them, and Dawud took possession of it. The Amir arrived at Algeciras, entered and inspected it, and then returned to Ceuta where he stayed until he was ready to cross again to al-Andalus. He ordered Dawud to advance towards Seville, and it was at Seville that all his troops later massed.

My envoys, along with those of al-Mu’tamid, had gone to see the Amir of the Muslims, for the two of us were bound by a genuine agreement. We concluded a treaty with the Amir to the effect that we should join forces to wage war on the Christians with his assistance, that he would not interfere with any of us in our own territories, and that he would not render any assistance to any of our subjects who might seek to cause either of us any trouble.

On arriving at Seville, the Amir of the Muslims sent for all the various rulers. Ibn Sumadih, however, refused to come and kept waiting to see how matters would develop and how things would turn out with the Christians. He excused himself on the grounds of old age and debility and sent his son to convey his apologies. I, however, proceeded without delay to meet him and was pleased to do so. With men and money I made whatever preparations I could for the jihad. I presented the Amir of the Muslims with a gift and, the moment he informed me of his arrival in the Peninsula, I ordered that drums be beaten and that plans for rejoicing be made. I thought his arrival in al-Andalus a blessing from God which was particularly important for me, especially in view of our blood relationship and of widespread reports of their good deeds, their zeal for the hereafter and their justice. I, therefore, decided to devote my life and property to the cause of the jihad by taking my place at his side every year so that those who lived might live with honour in safety and protection, and those who died might die as martyrs. During that campaign, the remarkable thing was that our intentions were so noble and our minds so sincere that it seemed as though our hearts were united in our endeavour.

I met the Amir of the Muslims at Jerez de los Caballeros on his way to Badajoz. The kindness and welcome he extended to me so increased my feeling for him that, had I been able to give him my flesh and blood in addition to my possessions, I would have done so. We then met al-Mutawakkil b. al-Aftas who had assembled his troops. Each prince was eager to take part in the jihad and, towards this end, each one had spared no effort and had reconciled himself to the idea of death.

We lingered in Badajoz for some days until we were reliably informed that Alphonso was advancing with his hosts seeking to do battle with us and thinking, with his lack of experience of the army, that he would defeat it. Fate led him to penetrate deep into Muslim territory and stray far from his own domain. Meanwhile, we waited for him close to the city so that if we won, all well and good, and if not, we would have the city behind us as a sanctuary and fortress in which we could seek shelter. Throughout, the Amir of the Muslims in his wisdom was directing the whole operation and holding back in the hope that the encounter would take place in that area without the need for him to penetrate deep into their country. As they had just arrived in al-Andalus, the Almoravids were not sure who were with them and who were against them. The Amir hoped that no one would come out to fight the Christian [king] who might then turn back, but that God would spare the Believers the necessity of doing battle until the situation became clearer. News soon went round that the Amir was waiting because of some lassitude that had overtaken him and, but for that, he would have been in Christian territory subjugating it. In the meantime, the Christian [king] was approaching arrogantly without giving so much as a thought as to who might lose. If the day went against him he would be far from his own territory and his army would be put to the sword; and even if he were not, the long march and distance would take its toll of him.

Alphonso now sent a message, through Ibn al-Aftas, to the Amir of the Muslims saying: “I have come with the intention of engaging you but you are lingering and keeping well into the city.” Thus the Amir had no option but to move towards him so that the army would be near enough to Alphonso. They agreed that the encounter should take place on a specified day. The two camps were only some three miles apart. The Muslims were pleased with the arrangement and the troops relaxed. As it turned out, it was a good thing for, had the two armies fought a pitched battle there and then, it would have ended only in the loss of a greater number of Muslim troops, because of the need to stand firm in battle.

The Christian’s troops then made a surprise attack on the Muslims who were not yet ready. He was making a lightning strike and taking only those whom he could find at that particular moment. The brunt of the attack fell on the baggage train and, as a result, many who were unable to defend themselves perished. No sooner was the battle cry given to the army than the men mounted I in pursuit of the Christians who laboured under the weight of their arms and the long distance they had covered. The Muslims set off in pursuit and were hot on their heels. A large part of the Christian army perished and were left scattered along the road: some of them had been slain, while others had died beneath the weight of their arms. Had the battle taken place after due preparation on both sides and after a fierce struggle between them, more of the two armies would have perished as would have been called for by the occasion. But “God is gracious unto His slaves.” (Quran, XLII, 19). Muslim losses were few. The Amir of the Muslims then returned to Seville safe and victorious.

At the end of his expedition, the Amir called us, that is to say the various rulers of al-Andalus, to his audience and ordered us to agree among ourselves, to cooperate with one another and to close our ranks. He remarked that the Christians had been able to exploit us simply because we were divided and because we sought Christian help against one another. We all said that his advice would be heeded and that his victory would unite everyone in obedience and pursuit of the right course.

At that time, my brother, the prince of Malaga, came forward and said indiscreetly to the Amir: “I am in straits because of my brother’s encroachment upon my territory and the inheritance I received from my grandfather.” He was seeking thereby to persuade the Amir to regain him his rights from me. When the prince of Malaga had finished, the Amir of the Muslims said to him: “Have you discussed the subject with your brother and have you sought his assistance before raising the matter with me?” On receiving a negative reply, the Amar said to him: “We must not interfere without his consent.” At that moment, I could no longer keep silent because I just had to thank the Amir. I took this opportunity to explain my evidence and give my reasons lest responsibility for this business should be laid at my door. So I said to my brother: “The Amir of the Muslims’ aim is simply to prosecute the jihad for which purpose he came here. He has no desire to reverse the decision of our ancestors regarding the division of their country among their descendants. None of us has secured anything by virtue of his own efforts. We each got what we have by the will of God and, after Him, that of our ancestors, to say nothing of the unanimous acceptance by Muslims of those whom they have chosen. The shaykh, our grandfather, had all this arranged and decided that Malaga was indispensable to Granada and, for this reason, he left Malaga for me to administer after his death, just he made, you have severed relations with me and have falsely and unjustifiably sought to secure absolute power. Had your grandfather seen fit, he would have made arrangements enabling you to dispense with me. Time and again you have been the aggressor and I have sought to restore the situation more in accordance with the arrangements made by our grandfather, but I have been unable to achieve as much as I should because of your obstruction and uncooperative attitude. That’s the whole story. If, however, the Amar of the Muslims wishes to start afresh and rescind the shaykh’s arrangements, he occupies the same position in my eyes [as did our grandfather] and his orders will be carried out. If, on the other hand, the Amir decides that what our grandfather did was right and proper, why should you burden him with problems which are not deserving of his attention?” My remarks were greeted with silence and the Amir told us to leave and held no further meeting to discuss the matter until the execrable campaign of Aledo.

The Amir of the Muslims made for home once he had heard and seen for himself such disagreement among us that he could visualize no prospect of our survival in the Peninsula. He was on good terms with all and decided not to linger in the country lest he should alienate its various princes because of their fears that their subjects might join him. So any of their subjects who complained to him at that time received the reply: “We have not come here for this kind of thing. The princes know best what to do in their own territories.” This attitude made him all the more popular with us and heightened our confidence in, and affection for, him. Each of us then returned to his own domain.


For some time the situation remained unchanged. The Christians were utterly terrified and had recoiled within themselves as a result of that battle. So all was well until the campaign of Aledo.

Once he saw Ibn Rashiq in rebellion against him and had set out to install his son al-Radi as governor of Murcia in compensation for Algeciras, al -Mu’tamid b. `Abbad proceeded in person to the A mfr of the Muslims. He crossed the Straits to show that he had confidence in him and to conclude with him the kind of action he wished to be taken in Murcia and other places. He exaggerated to the Amir the importance of Aledo, saying that it lay at the heart of the country and that there could be no peace for the Muslims unless it was wrested [from the Christians]. He concluded a treaty with the Amir on the basis that the latter would lead his men in person against Aledo so that the princes of al-Andalus could prepare to attack it with all the men and equipment they could muster and thereby ensure that they would not be forced to withdraw from it.

We received letters from the Amir ordering us to prepare for the fight and so on as soon as he had crossed the Straits. This I did without delay because of my desire to participate in the jihad and out of love and affection for the Amir. I went out and met him in a part of my territory and offered him gifts and presents worthy of a person of his standing. We unanimously decided to march on Aledo.

We attacked the place with all the men and equipment we could muster. Each prince took as much part in the operations as he could and to the very limit of his capacity and contrivance. The fortress was full of subjects from the area all of them Christians who, with the deliberation of men who could afford to take their time in preparation, had stocked it with everything they needed. They threatened us with the arrival of Alphonso and resorted to the ruse of lighting up the place every night. Meanwhile, they came under ceaseless attack every day, and outworks were put up at those spots I which left them vulnerable to attack. Mangonels and siege engines were set up, and nothing that is usually put into operation for cracking strongholds was overlooked. Ibn Sumadih brought in and set up an extraordinary “elephant” which was hit and burned down by a firebrand hurled from the fortress. In spite of all this no success was achieved, and the Muslims obtained no opportunity to defeat their enemies, for it was God’s will that they would disagree among themselves.

That was a campaign in which God brought to light the princes’ spiteful feelings towards one another. Their subjects came in droves at that time to lay their complaints against their rulers. Contented subjects looked for more, while the discontented hoped for vengeance. These subjects made their jurists their in­termediaries and fell back on them. One of these was the faqih Ibn al-Qulay whose tent in that camp was like a magnet for all comers, and these people he used as a means for working all manner of mischief, in accordance with the destiny ordained by God.

The princes of al-Andalus at that time witnessed such insubordination on the part of their subjects, who refused to meet their tax obligations a at a time when their masters needed money to meet their expenses, that they became worried and suspicious. For the princes were under an obligation to provide an army every year as well as extending many necessary courtesies to the Almoravids and proffering continual presents. Should they fail to carry out any of these obligations, it would go hard with them. But here were their subjects refusing to make the necessary contributions to meet the obligations. In these circumstances, the princes had no option but to put up with their lot, in which case the result would be culpable reproach. Or else they would refuse to honour their obligations, in which case the consequence would be their extermination, as was in fact to happen later.

In the meantime, I was receiving reports that the inhabitants in the various districts under my jurisdiction were uttering menaces and threatening revolt. This displeased me because under such circumstances no kingdom could be upheld nor could any obligations be met. This man al-Qulay’i used to write from that camp to his friends in my capital, telling them not to give me anything and promising them what has in fact come to pass. And so whenever I urged my subjects to pay their taxes, they would fail me at a time when I was in dire need of money to meet my expenses, especially in that camp where foodstuffs could only be obtained on the basis of daily purchase. As a result, I was most outrageously ill-used.

That wretched siege dragged on, but it was as good as a touchstone for distinguishing good from bad and revealed the weaknesses. Consequently, the various rulers became all the more estranged, their subjects all the more domineering and the participants in such a gamble all the more avid. And this was to be expected when the rulers were in such disarray while they stood on the very brink of destruction. One ruler would be foolish enough to set on another, without realising that it was he who was the intended victim of another, and this sort of thing would divert him from his purpose. Some other ruler might be more discerning but he would find himself isolated without any support until he found himself in deep water and engulfed by the waves. This sort of thing foreshadowed the disaster ahead of them. It was a time that weighed heavily on the princes but augured well for the Almoravids.

At that juncture Ibn Rashiq interfered hoping, as he thought, to undermine the agreement which Ibn ‘Abbad had concluded with the Amir. He lavished riches on the Almoravids and met their every need with all haste. He ingratiated himself with the amir Sir and pinned his faith in him and so showed him a loathsome kind of honour. Likewise, Ibn ‘Abbad threw himself into the arms of Garur, on whom he relied in the question of Murcia, and poured out vast sums of money on him. However, one who pays more has the advantage over one who pays less, even if the difference be slight. Ibn Rashiq received an assurance of safe conduct and so much kindness that he deluded himself I and grew contentedly self-confident. He began to treat Ibn `Abbad with disdain and was openly disobedient and hostile towards him, declaring his allegiance to the Amir and looking to him for support. This eventually led Ibn Rashiq to order that the Friday sermon in Murcia be delivered in the name of the Amir of the Muslims rather than that of Ibn ‘Abbad.

Throughout all this, al-Mu’tamid experienced great anger and distress at Ibn Rashiq’s behaviour and was deeply grieved – and rightly so. But al-Mu’tamid did not let the matter rest there. He secured the support of the jurists and based his case against him on the provisions of the Sunna. One of the jurists whose support in the matter al-Mu’tamid had secured was Ibn al-Qulay’i, who would boast to me about it and say: “Ibn Rashiq will soon see what’s going to happen to him. I have been consulted about him, and if I am consulted about anyone else, I will do the same to him.” This remark was one of the things that turned me against him and soured my feelings towards him. Add to which his threats uttered throughout that campaign, to say nothing of the proverbs he cited, his use of harsh words and the arrogance of his tongue. This was something of which the Amir of the Muslims was completely unaware, nor could I complain against Ibn al-Qulay’i without giving my evidence or proof for, otherwise, Ibn al-Qulay’i would have the better case and it is I who would have been disgraced, especially since he was, by profession, a religious scholar.

On seeing the state of relations between Ibn ‘Abbad and Ibn Rashiq and their dissension, the Amir of the Muslims thought the matter over carefully and gave it due deliberation. “We must not,” he said to himself, “get on the wrong side of Ibn ‘Abbad because of Ibn Rashiq since we need Ibn ‘Abbad in our present undertaking as long as we have to face possible danger from the Christian [king]. The best step for us to take at this juncture is to play up to Ibn ‘Abbad until we can see how things will turn out.” The Amir, therefore, took Ibn Rashiq to task for his revolt against his prince. “You ought not,” he told him, use allegiance to my cause for the sole purpose of rebelling against your own ruler and so create enmity between him and me.” “Ibn Rashiq, ” mused the Amir, “has not done this out of preference or affection for me. He has just done his best to stir up fire for his prince and to use me to divert his attention from himself. And he has all the more reason since his [Ibn Rashiq’s] assistance to the Christians in Aledo is no secret to any one – [and he’s only got involved in that because] he believed his position in Murcia would be consolidated by Aledo remaining [in Christian hands}.” The fact is that he was always supplying the Christians of Aledo with provisions and furnishing them with the supplies they were unable to obtain in order to keep them going and for fear of the predicament he would find himself in should they disappear from the scene.

The Amir became aware of the truth of this and, in the meantime, al-Multamid was not sleeping on the problem of Ibn Rashiq. He requested the jurists to make a legal pronouncement (fatwa) on the duplicity of Ibn Rashiq following his declaration of allegiance to him on the morrow of his seizure of Murcia. The tide now turned completely against Ibn Rashiq, and a council of jurists, which was convened to consider his case, declared their legal opinion that Ibn Rashiq should be relieved of his command over Muslims and be handed over to his prince. Thereupon, Ibn Rashiq sought the assistance of the Amir who replied: “Had you had a claim upon me, I would have acceded to your request but these are judgments delivered in accordance with the Sunna and I have no power to interfere with their provisions.” And so the Amar ordered Ibn Rashiq to be arrested and handed over to al-Mu’tamid. He was put in irons and subjected to great humiliation. Al-Mu’tamid ordered his son, al-Radi, to assume command in Ibn Rashiq’s camp and to do so forthwith. One would never have thought that Ibn Rashiq had been in power only the day before. The Amir sent a message to the people of Murcia ordering them to go back to their prince and to obey him. But all Ibn Rashiq’s sons and relatives in Murcia disobeyed him, put their city in a state of defence and rudely ignored everyone who approached them. Despite many repeated efforts at mediation, the situation remained thus and he could do nothing with them.

The investment [of Aledo] dragged on for some considerable time and besiegers grew weary and were filled with misgivings on learning that Alphonso was marching towards it. It was the opinion of the Amir of the Muslims that to call off the siege and leave [Aledo] would be the wisest policy considering the protracted nature of the siege and the weariness of the besiegers, to say nothing of the large number of Christian reinforcements and of Murcia’s hostile stand. [For he was afraid] lest the Murcians should be tempted to supply it with provisions and other wants, I since they had invited Alphonso to come to their assistance at the time they had taken their hostile stand. The Amir, therefore, began to withdraw.

Some fruitless quarrels and altercations also took place between al-Mu’tamid and al-Mu’tasim, prince of Almeria, over Sorbas and a number of fortresses in the district of al-Jabal. These culminated in a complaint being submitted to the Amir. So both of them went their own ways without having reached any agreement. All this was because they were doomed to disaster.

I had the same sort of trouble with my brother, the prince of Malaga, who began to reiterate what he had said about that district during the Badajoz campaign. Because of his lack of experience and prompted by his first attempt, he said to me: “I was prevented from doing anything about this during the first campaign only by the fact that I had raised the question at the time of the Amir’s departure and neither he nor I could do anything [in the time available]. Now, however, the point must be raised with him at leisure. If this doesn’t appeal to you, a settlement must be reached between us.” I was not worried by what he said nor did I argue with him because I knew that the Amir would not pay the slightest attention to any of all this. On seeing that my brother persisted in his complaints against me, the Amir of the Muslims sent Garur who said to me: “Don’t let your brother’s complaint worry you. [At the moment] the Prince is not in a position to tell him to shut up with his grumbling, but at the same time he won’t support him against you. We shall spin the case out, stage by stage, until we are ready to leave.” I thanked Garur for this, and he added: “Granada is more important to him than Malaga because he has to pass through it on his campaigns against the Christians and he needs other facilities there. So you go ahead now and do your very best to make the necessary preparations for entertaining the Prince as he will be calling on you when he passes through Granada on his way back.” I was pleased with this and went on to Guadix and made fitting arrangements for the Amir.

This text is from The Tibyan: Memoirs of ‘Abd Allah b. Buluggin, Last Zirid Amir of Granada, translated by Amin T Tibi (Leiden: Brill, 1986). We thank Brill Academic Publishers for their permission to republish this section.

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