BRAMOULLE David (2007) Recruiting Crews in the Fatimid Navy (909-1171)

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Medieval Jewish, Christian and Muslim Culture Encounters in Confluence and Dialogue Medieval Encounters 13 (2007) 4-31 Recruiting Crews in the Fatimid Navy (909-1171) David Bramoullé University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, Doctoral Candidate Abstract Recruiting crews for the fleet was always problematic for medieval rulers. The Ismai’le Fatimids were no exception. In spite of every kind of adversity, from civil war to Sunni resistance and the crusades, they succeeded in buil
   Recruiting Crews in the Fatimid Navy (909-1171) David Bramoullé University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, Doctoral Candidate   Abstract  Recruiting crews for the fleet was always problematic for medieval rulers. Te Ismai’leFatimids were no exception. In spite of every kind of adversity, from civil war to Sunniresistance and the crusades, they succeeded in building one of the most powerful navies of their time (tenth-twelfth centuries). Te recruitment system, based mostly on financialattraction of crews and the organization of navies, partly explains both the success and thefinal failure of the Fatimids. Keywords Crew, Egypt, Fatimids, Fleet, Navy, North Africa, Syria, Slavs  Te actions of fleets navigating under the white pavilion of the Fatimidsmade a significant impact on Mediterranean maritime history. However,the history of the men serving on the bridge of different ships remainslargely unwritten. 1 Te study of the recruitment of crews and their compo-sition will open up a piece of this history. 2 Te Fatimid dynasty ruled over what were essentially two territories. FromIfriqiya first of all, between 909 and 969, in keeping with Fatimid religiousdoctrines, the aims of the dynasty were to take control of Egypt to march onBaghdad, and to drive out the Abbasids. 3 From 969 on, the Fatimids conquered 1 Ibn Khaldūn tells us that under the Fatimids and the Umayyads of al-Andalus, theMediterranean Sea was considered a Muslim lake. Ibn Khaldūn, Discours sur l’histoire uni-verselle: Al-Muqaddima  , ed. and trans. V. Monteil, 3rd ed. (Paris: Sindbad; Arles: Actes Sud,1997), 397. 2 We shall consider the term “crew” in a general sense: all the men who were employedon a Fatimid ship, sailors, rowers, captains, soldiers, and so on. 3 Farhat Daftary, Te Ismâ  h îlîs: Teir History and Doctrines  (New York: Cambridge Uni-versity Press, 1990), 144-255. © Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2007 DOI: 10.1163/157006707X173998  Medieval Encounters 13 (2007) 4-31 Medieval ewish, Christian and Muslim Culture  Encounters in Confluence and Dialogue  Egypt as well as part of the provinces of Palestine and Syria and temporarily imposed their domination over the holy cities of the Hajj. In the face of difficulty, the Fatimids abandoned their imperialist designs on Baghdad. 4 Tey concentrated more modestly on the maintenance of their domination in Egyptand on the coastal band of Syria and Palestine. Tey had to face a civil war(1062-1073) and then the arrival of the crusaders (1099), who deprived themof their eastern shores. In spite of all this, the Fatimids always had at their dis-position an important and effective fleet for fighting off enemy navies, be they Muslim, Byzantine, or European. 5 Depending on the particular period, theirnaval strategy and the organization of the fleet evolved. Essentially offensivefrom 909 until the conquest of the Syro-Palestinian littoral in the 990s, the fleetthen assumed a more passive role. Te Fatimids’ aggressive use of the fleet would only reappear after the fall of most of the Fatimid coastal cities into thehands of the crusaders between 1100 and 1110. 6 During its existence, the dynasty only rarely relied on the local Sunnitepopulations, though they were in the majority in both Ifriqiya and Egypt.Instead, the Fatimids sought faithful participants among the minority Chris-tian and Jewish populations or among the multiple slaves and freedmen underFatimid rule. Tis practice, as well as the religious differences and Fatimidfiscal pressure, occasioned some frustrations that could take the form of popu-lar revolts that were more or less violent and difficult to bring under control. 7 4 Al-Mu h ayyad fi-l-Dīn al-Shirāzī, Í  īrat al-Mu h ayyad fī-l-Dīn dā  a  īa l-du a  āt  , ed. Muham-mad Kamil Husayn (Cairo: Dar al-Katib al-Misri, 1949), 178-84; Verona Klemm,  Memoirs of a Mission: Te Ismaili Scholar, Statesman and Poet al-Mu h ayyad fī  h l-Dīn al- Shirāzī  (Lon-don: Institute of Ismaili Studies; auris Publishers, 2003), 85-6. 5 For a chronological summary of Fatimid naval activities, see Yaacov Lev, “Te FatimidNavy, Byzantium, and the Mediterranean Sea, 996-1036,” Byzantion 54 (1984), 220-52; William J. Hamblin, “Te Fatimid Navy during the Early Crusades: 1099-1124,”  AmericanNeptune  46 (1986), 77-83; David Bramoullé, “Activités navales et infrastructures maritimes:Les éléments du pouvoir fatimide en Méditerranée orientale (969-1171),” in Ports et naviga-tion en Méditerranée au Moyen Âge  , Actes du colloque de Lattes, Nov. 2004 (forthcoming). 6 Jaffa is lost in 1099, Haifa in 1100, Arsuf and Caesarea in 1101, Acre in 1104, ripoli in1109, and Sidon and Beirut in 1110. yre fell in 1124, and Ascalon resisted until 1153. 7 Heinz Halm, Te Empire of the Mahdi: Te Rise of the Fatimids  , trans. Michael Bonner(Leiden and New York: E. J. Brill, 1996), 239-47; Tierry Bianquis, “La prise de pouvoir parles Fatimides en Egypte (357-363/968-974),”  Annales Islamologiques  11 (1972), 49-108, esp.68-70; Elyahu Ashtor, “Républiques urbaines dans le Proche-Orient à l’époque des Crois-ades,” Cahiers de Civilisation Médiévale  18, no. 2 (1975), 117-28; Moshe Gil, “Te Sixty  Years War (969-1029 C.E.),” [in Hebrew] Shalem 3 (1981), 1-55; Gil,  A History of Palestine,634-1099  (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 358, 366-70, 418-20. D. Bramoullé / Medieval Encounters 13 (2007) 4-31 5  6 D. Bramoullé / Medieval Encounters 13 (2007) 4-31  In this context of relative hostility, the problem of recruitment of thesoldiers necessary for the realization of Fatimid political objectives wasacute. Tis issue has been the subject of several studies. 8 Te Fatimidsappealed widely to mercenaries or foreign slaves to fill their staffing needs.If questions regarding the Fatimid navy and army were inevitably inter-twined, the recruitment of sailors and their organization were undoubt-edly governed by specific rules. Te survival of troops transported on boardship depended on the quality of the navy and on the success of the Fatimidendeavors. It would thus be interesting to understand how the Fatimidssucceeded in putting together a naval organization capable of finding mento crew the ships but also to know who these men were to whom part of the fate of the dynasty was confided.Sailors have only marginally caught the attention of Arab authors. Tetexts of geographers and chroniclers furnish, for one group, information of a very general sort about the coastal populations and, for the other, infor-mation relative to the leaders of the naval expeditions. On the other hand,certain documents draw on Fatimid administrative archives. Te quality of information increases perceptibly in this case. A third category of docu-ments only offers information for the Maghrebi period of the dynasty (909-969). In question are the collections of Sunni saints’ lives that, onoccasion, related information that concerned sailors. Te nature of thesesources requires that they be used with great care. Finally, the letters of theGeniza of Cairo are of great help in regard to coastal life and naval experi-ence in the Fatimid period.Te pioneering works of Aly M. Fahmy, relative to the elaboration of a Muslim navy in the first centuries of Islam, have notably revealed that the Arab conquerors relied heavily on local Egyptian populations to constructand arm the fleets. 9 Nonetheless, the Fatimid navy received scant treatment. 8 Beshir J. Beshir, “Te Fatimid Military Organisation,” Der Islam 55 (1978), 37-53;Lev, “Te Fatimid Army,”  Asian and African Studies  14, no. 2 (1980), 165-92; Lev, “Army,Regime and Society in Fatimid Egypt (358-487/968-1094),” International Journal of Mid-dle East Studies  19 (1987), 337-65; Lev, “Regime, Army and Society in Medieval Egypt,9th-12th Centuries,” in War and Society in the Eastern Mediterranean, 7th-15th Centuries   (Leiden: Brill, 1997), 115-52; Hamblin, “Te Fatimid Army during the Early Crusades,”(Ph.D. diss., University of Michigan, 1985); Seta B. Dadoyan, Te Fatimid Armenians   (Leiden and New York: E.J. Brill, 1997). 9 Fahmy,  Muslim Naval Organisation in the Eastern Mediterranean (Cairo: National Pub-lication and Print. House, 1948); Fahmy,  Muslim Sea-Power in the Eastern Mediterranean  (Cairo: National Publication and Print House, 1980).  D. Bramoullé / Medieval Encounters 13 (2007) 4-31 7 Te dispersal of the sources and their thanklessness for the topic of thisarticle explain amply why modern research concerning the Fatimid navy treats only the naval operations with almost no focus on ships’ crews. 10 Tequestion of the srcin of the mariners was never really addressed in spite of many works on the Muslim navies and the Fatimid navy in particular.Nonetheless, following the example of the research of Christophe Picardon Muslim navigation in the Atlantic Ocean, a deeper analysis of the textsand especially of the vocabulary employed allows the establishment of hypotheses that are capable of shedding new light on the problem of recruitment of sailors and of their role. 11 If this study is complicated by thedivergence of terms that could exist in a geographic area or a chronologicalera, the problem can be overcome because the historians of the late Middle Ages drew their information, word for word, from certain of their counter-parts whose works have today disappeared.Tus, in keeping with the spirit of changes in strategy in the utilizationof the fleet and the multiple problems encountered by the Fatimids untiltheir disappearance in 1171, the sources permit a study of recruitment of sailors and of their ethnic srcins and their organization. Moreover, incertain rare instances, the composition of the troops destined for one oranother naval operation was the object of a particular mention and allowsus to establish a comparison with what we know of the composition of Fatimid troops in general. Finally, when the texts evoke sailors, in particu-lar, they always choose the powerful representatives—in this case, the lead-ers of the fleet. It is thus possible to understand the structure and theethnic srcin of command in the Fatimid navy. 10 A  ˙ mad M. Al- a  Abbadī and Al-Sayyid a  Abd al-Azīz Sālam, ārikh al-Ba  ˙ riyya al-Islāmiyya fî Mi  ß  r wa-l-Shām (Beirut: Jami a at Bayrut al- a  Arabiya, 1972), 63; Ó assan I. Ó as-san, ārīkh al-Dawla al-Fā  †  imīyya  , 3rd ed. (Cairo: Maktabat al-Nahda al-Misriya, 1964),100-8, 250-57; Abbas Hamdani, “Some Considerations of the Fatimids as a MediterraneanPower,” Congress Studi Arabi e Islamici  (Ravello: Instituto Universitario Orientale, 1966),385-6; Lev, “Te Fatimid Navy, Byzantium, and the Mediterranean Sea,” 220-52; Hamb-lin, “Te Fatimid Navy during the Early Crusades,” 77-83; Ayman F. Sayyid,  Al-Dawla al-Fā  †  imīyya fī mi  ß  r, tafsīr jadīd  (Cairo: Dār al-mi ß riyya al-lubnānīyya, 1996), 725-39. 11 Picard, L’océan Atlantique musulman: De la conquête arabe à l’époque almohade  (Paris:Maisonneuve et Larose, 1997), 323-36; Picard, La mer et les musulmans d’Occident au Moyen Age  (Paris: Presse Universitaire de France, 1997), 121-36.
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