AGHLABIDS - Ibrahim II ibn Ahmad
The Aghlabids were an Arab dynasty of emirs, who ruled Ifriqiya, nominally on behalf of the Abbasid Caliph, for about a century, until overthrown by the new power of the Fatimids.
In 800, the Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid appointed Ibrahim I ibn al-Aghlab, son of a Khurasanian Arab commander, as hereditary Emir of Ifriqiya as a response to the anarchy that had reigned in that province following the fall of the Muhallabids. He was to control an area that included eastern Algeria, Tunisia and Tripolitania.
A new capital, al-Abbasiyya, was founded outside Kairouan, partly to escape the opposition of the Malikite jurists and theologians, who condemned what they saw as the godless life of the Aghlabids, and disliked the unequal treatment of the Muslim Berbers.
Under Ziyadat Allah I (817-838) there was a revolt of Arab troops in 824, which was not quelled until 836 with the help of the Berbers. The conquest of Byzantine Sicily from 827 under Asad ibn al-Furat was an attempt to keep the unruly troops under control, but the last Byzantine outpost was not taken until 902. Plundering raids into mainland Italy, which included the sack of Rome in 846, took place until well into the 10th century.
The Aghlabid kingdom reached its high point under Ahmad ibn Muhammad (856-863). Ifriqiya was a significant economic power thanks to its fertile agriculture, aided by the expansion of the Roman irrigation system. It became the focal point of trade between the Islamic world and Byzantium and Italy, especially the lucrative slave trade. Kairouan became the most important centre of learning in the Maghreb, most notably in the field of Theology and Law, and a gathering place for poets.
The decline of the dynasty began under Ibrahim II ibn Ahmad (875-902).
Abu Ishaq Ibrahim was the son of the Aghlabid emir Ahmad of Ifriqiya. After his father's death in 863, the emirate of Ifriqiya passed to his father's brother Ziyadat Allah II, but he died shortly after, and the succession passed back to the main line, to Ibrahim's brother Abu 'l-Gharaniq Muhammad II. However Muhammad II died prematurely in February 875 and the emirate passed to Ibrahim II.
Although Ibrahim II inherited a kingdom depopulated by the plague of 874, his reign was economically prosperous. He revived the religious police and is said to have rid the roads of banditry and secured the safety of commerce. A coinage reform he undertook in 888-89 provoked riots in Kairouan which had to be suppressed, but it also resulted in an influx of precious metal from the eastern caliphate. He sought to develop agriculture by building up the irrigation system. Among his public works, Ibrahim completed the Zaytuna mosque of Tunis, enlarged the Uqba mosque of Kairouan, built a vast new water reservoir for the city, erected the walls of Sousse, and established a line of new naval signal towers along the Ifriqiyan coast. In 876, Ibrahim erected a new palace-city, Raqqada ("the Somnolent") just a few miles southwest of Kairouan.
At the beginning of his rule, Ibrahim II was well-regarded as a just and enlightened ruler, but this eventually gave way to a more tyrannical and gruesome reputation. A centralizing ruler, Ibrahim mistrusted the old Arab high aristocracy of Ifriqiya, which had often been a thorn in the side of prior Aghlabid emirs. He held open court in Raqqada every week, after Friday prayers, when the common poor people of Ifriqiya were invited to present petitions directly to the emir. Identifying himself with the people, Ibrahim treated any report of mistreatment of a commoner by a noble as a case of lese-majesty, and handed out severe penalties to the offender, even members of his own family.
Ibrahim sought to undermine the semi-autonomous Arab regiments (junds) which were the basis of the aristocracy's power, by supplanting them with loyal black African slave-soldiers ("Abid" or "Sudan") at the core of the Ifriqiyan army. At the inauguration of Raqqada in 878, Ibrahim had the palace guard of his predecessor massacred at the tower of Abu al-Feth in order to make way for his own new Sudanese guard. Ibrahim expanded the Sudanese regiments (later supplemented by white European Slavs or Saqaliba) to as much as 10,000. The Arab nobility resented not only being eclipsed, but also the hefty taxes and requisitions imposed by Ibrahim to maintain such a large standing army and there were revolts in 893-894.
Ibrahim II entered into a conflict with the ambitious Turkic dynasty of the Tulunids, who had seized control of Egypt in 868, and Syria and the Hejaz in 878. The hot-headed son of the Tulunid emir Ahmad ibn Tulun, invaded Ifriqiya. The Egyptian army marched as far as Tripoli but were defeated by the Nafusa, an independent Berber Kharijite (Ibadite) tribe, allied with the Rustamids of Tahert.
In 896, following the assassination of the Tulunid emir Khumarawaih, Ibrahim II moved to recover his eastern borders. He attacked and defeated the Ibadite Nafusa at a great battle at Manu (south of Gabès), ending their independence . In the aftermath, Ibrahim II is reported to have ordered the Nafusa prisoners paraded before him one by one so that he could kill each prisoner himself with his lance. He is said to have personally executed 500 prisoners this way before he got tired. At Ajdabiya, on the borders of Barqa, he is reported to have cooked and eaten the heads of fifteen of his enemies.
As his emirate advanced, Ibrahim acquired a grisly reputation not only as a tyrant, but also more personally as a homicidal sadist. He is said to have ordered the execution of 300 palace servants after discovering at dinner that a napkin had been mislaid. His family wasn't spared. He executed eight brothers and his own son Abu al-Aghlab on a vague suspicion. He had several of his wives executed by strangulation, immurement, dismemberment and other means.
At the time of Ibrahim's ascension in 875, most of Sicily was already in Aghlabid hands. During Ibrahim's emirate, there was little stability in the provincial government of Aghlabid Sicily, governors were appointed and switched almost yearly.
In 877, Ibrahim II's deputy in Sicily, Jafar ibn Muhammad al-Tamini overran the Byzantine-held eastern part of the island. After a lengthy siege the important citadel of Syracuse fell in May 878, bringing the Muslim conquest of Sicily to near completion.
The fall of Syracuse seemed to clear the way for an Aghlabid invasion of the Italian mainland, on which the Aghlabids already had a foothold. However, in 880, a Byzantine fleet assembled by Emperor Basil I, trapped and destroyed the Aghlabid fleet at the naval Battle of Methone (off Methone in southern Greece).
A rising internal conflict in Sicily itself soon took up most of the attention of Ibrahim's Sicilian governors. Since the beginning of the Ifriqiyan conquest of the island in the 820s, Arab and Berber colonists had been at odds with each other. With the Aghlabid army of Sicily weakened, in December 886, the Arab lords of Palermo revolted, expelled Sawada, and elected one of their own as governor. However, the uprising was short-lived, and the Aghlabid governor returned the next year.
In 888, with the Aghlabid fleet reconstituted, Ibrahim II ordered a massive raid on the coast of Calabria. The Byzantine fleet was dispatched by Emperor Leo VI to confront them, but it was destroyed by the Aghlabids in the Battle of Milazzo in September 888.
The 893-94 nobles' revolt in Ifriqiya absorbed Ibrahim's attentions, and left the Sicilians to fight it out among themselves for the next few years. A forty-month truce was negotiated with the Byzantines in 895-6. In the summer of 900, Ibrahim was finally ready. A strong Ifriqiyan expeditionary army, under his son Abu al-Abbas Abdallah, was dispatched to recover Sicily. By 901 Sicily had been recovered.
Reports of the cruel atrocities of Ibrahim II reached Baghdad, leading the Abbasid Caliph al-Mu'tadid to deprive him of the governorship of Ifriqiya, appointing in his stead his son Abu al-Abbas Abdallah. Ibrahim complied, and apparently penitent, abolished illegal taxes, opened his jails, manumitted his slaves, and delivered a large chunk of his treasury to be distributed to the needy. He declared himself a mujahideen, seeking to expiate his crimes by pursuing holy war on the Christians. He took an army to Sicily in 902 and finally recovered Taormina. He marched to Messina and ferried his army across the straits to Calabria, where he laid siege to Cosenza. Taken suddenly ill with dysentery, Ibrahim II died on October 23, 902.
Ibrahim II's reign proved to be the beginning of the end of Aghlabid emirate.