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a brief note on the role of Africans in the early Islamic expansion
an African kingdom in southern Italy.
The early period of Islamic expansion resulted in the creation of what was until then the largest empire in human history. In less than a century, the Rashidun caliphate and the suceeding Umayyad caliphate created a large empire that stretched from Spain to Central Asia, covering a vast territory from the Atlantic Ocean to the borders of China.
Yet despite their rapid success, the Islamic advance was halted in Nubia and Ethiopia where their armies suffered rare defeats and were forced to withdraw. A similar advance into west Africa through the oases of the Fezzan and Kawar was equally unsuccessful as local polities remained largely in control of the region.
Overextended and outnumbered, the Ummayad Arabs begun recruiting north-African Berbers to bolster their scattered armies. The addition of both free and enslaved Berber soldiers in the Ummayad forces proved decisive in the conquest and control of the empire's most distant provinces, especially in Spain.
As the pace of expansion begun to decline in the 8th and 9th century, more soldiers were recruited from outlying regions like west-Africa and Europe. With these armies, the Ummayads and their sucessors expanded their campaigns into southern Europe, beginning with the islands of Crete and Sicily, and eventually making landfall on southern Italy.
The Muslim kingdom in southern Italy was the furthest expansion of the early Islamic empires in mainland Europe outside Spain. In the 9th century, Italy was home to the only independent Muslim state in Europe that was ruled not by Arabs but by the contigents of Berbers and west-Africans whom they had recruited.
The kingdom of Bari is the subject of my latest Patreon article, exploring the history of this African kingdom in Italy, and its complex relationship with the neighboring Christian states.
Read about it here:
Battle between the Castilian armies and the armies of Muslim Spain, miniature from the Cantigas de Santa Maria of Alfonso X the Wise,13th Century, Spain. (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)
<Next week’s article will explore the historic links between Ottoman empire and Africa from the 16th century to the 19th century, focusing on diplomatic ties and intellectual exchanges of Africans in Ottoman Europe and Ottomans in Africa outside north-Africa.>
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