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The Muslim Conquest of Sicily

Compiled by: Syed Muhammad Bokreta
Algiers, Algeria

* Date: 21st May 878
* Place: Syracuse, Sicily
* The Siege of Syracuse in 877–878 led to the fall of the city of Syracuse, the Roman/Byzantine capital of Sicily, to the Aghlabids. The Aghlabids had tried and failed to take the city soon after their initial landing on the island 50 years earlier, with the Siege of Syracuse (827-828). Despite their repulse, they had gradually taken over the western and central portions of the island, and in August 877, the Muslim commander Jafar ibn Muhammad al-Tamini led a large force against Syracuse. The city was left largely unsupported by the Emperor Basil I during the siege, and fell on the 21st of May 878.
* Only a few outposts remained in Byzantine hands thereafter, and the Muslim conquest of Sicily was completed by the fall of Taormina in 902. The siege and capture of Syracuse is narrated in detail by the eyewitness Theodosios the Monk.
* Furthermore it would be important to recall that In 826 Euphemius, the commander of the Byzantine fleet of Sicily, forced a nun to marry him. Emperor Michael II caught wind of the matter and ordered that general Constantine end the marriage and cut off Euphemius' nose. Euphemius rose up, killed Constantine and then occupied Syracuse; he in turn was defeated and driven out to North Africa He offered rule of Sicily over to Ziyadat Allah the Aghlabid ruler of Tunisia, in return for a place as a general and safety, a Muslim army was sent.
* The latter agreed to conquer Sicily, promising to give it to Euphemius in exchange for a yearly tribute, and entrusted its conquest to the 70-year-old qadi Asad Ibn Al Furat,the Muslim force counted 10,000 infantry, 700 cavalry and 100 ships, reinforced by Euphemius' ships and, after the landing at Mazara del Vallo, knights. A first battle against the loyal Byzantine troops occurred on July 15, 827, near Mazara, resulting in an Aghlabid victory.
* Asad subsequently conquered the southern shore of the island and laid siege to Syracuse and after a year of siege , and an attempted mutiny, his troops were however able to defeat a large army sent from Palermo, also backed by a Venetian fleet led by Doge Giustiano Participazio,but when a plague killed many of the Muslim troops, as well as Asad himself, the Muslims retreated to the castle of Mineo ,later they returned to the offensive, but failed to conquer Castro Giovanni (the modern Enna, where Euphemius died) and retreated back to Mazara.
* Paradoxically as it may seem Arab-Muslim-Norman art and architecture combined Occidental features (such as the Classical pillars and friezes) with typical Islmaic decorations and beautiful calligraphy, in succession Sicily was ruled by the the Aghlabid in Tunisia as well as the Fatimids in Egypt, while the Byzantines took advantage of temporary discord to occupy the eastern end of the island for several years.
* Historians are unanimous in asserting that the new Muslim rulers of Sicily initiated land reforms which in turn, increased productivity and encouraged the growth of smallholdings, a dent to the dominance of the landed estates. The Mulim Arabs further improved irrigation systems, and items such as oranges, lemons, pistachio and sugarcane were introduced to Sicily, in this context, a description of Palermo was given by Ibn Hawqal, a Baghdad merchant who visited Sicily in 950. A walled suburb called the Kasr (the palace) is the centre of Palermo until today, with the great Friday mosque on the site of the later Roman cathedral. The suburb of Al-Khalisa (Kalsa) contained the Sultan's palace, baths, a mosque, government offices, and a private prison.
* Ibn Hawqual reckoned 7,000 individual butchers trading in 150 shops. By 1050, Palermo had a population of 350,000, making it one of the largest cities in Europe, second only to Islamic Spain's capital Kortoba or Cordoba, which had a population of 450,000. In contrast, under the succeeding Christian Kingdom of Sicily, Palermo's population had dropped to 150,000, though it became the largest city in Europe due to the larger decline in Cordoba's population; by 1330, Palermo's population had declined to 51,000.
* As it always known in the cycle of History in terms of "the rise and decline" of great Empires and Civilizations, the The Muslim Emirate of Sicily is no exception to the rule, as intra-dynastic quarrels took place between the Muslim regime, in 1044, under Emir Hassan Al Samsam the island fragmented into four Qadits or small fiefdoms: the qadit of Trapani, Marsala, Mazara and Sciacca; that of Girgenti, Castrogiovanni and Castronuovo; that of Palermo and Catania; and that of Syracuse. By 1065, all of them had been unified by Ayyub ibn Tamim, the son of the Zirid emir of Ifriqiyya. In 1068 he left Sicily, and what remained under Muslim control fell under two qadits: one, led by Ibn Abbad (known as Benavert in western chronicles) in Syracuse, and the other under Hammud in Qasr Ianni (modern Enna).
* By the 11th century mainland southern Italian powers were hiring Norman mercenaries, who were Christian descendants of the Vikings and it was the Normans under Roger I who captured Sicily from the Muslims. The Norman Robert Guiscard, son of Tancred, invaded Sicily in 1060. The island was split between three Muslim Emirs, and the sizable Christian population rose up against the ruling Muslims. After taking Apulia and Calabria, Roger I occupied Messina with an army of 700 knights. In 1068, Roger de Hauteville and his men defeated the Muslims at Misilmeri ,but the most crucial battle was the siege of Palermo, which led to Sicily being completely in Norman control by 1091. After the conquest of Sicily, the Normans removed the local emir, Yusuf Ibn Abdallah from power, but did so by respecting Arab customs.
* However, once the Normans had conquered the island and the case was the "Spanish reconquista" of the 02nd January 1492, with a double-edge sword taste, Muslims were faced with the bitter choice of voluntary departure or subjection to Christian rule,many Muslims chose to leave, provided they had the means to do so. In fact, despite the presence of an Arab-speaking Christian population, Muslim peasants received baptism from the Roman and Greek Christians and adopted even Greek Christian names; in several instances, Christian serfs with Greek names listed in the Monreale registers had living Muslim parents.
* "Lombard pogroms" against Muslims started in the 1160s. Muslim and Christian communities in Sicily became increasingly geographically separated. The island’s Muslim communities were mainly isolated beyond an internal frontier which divided the south-western half of the island from the Christian north-east. Sicilian Muslims, a subject population, were dependent on the mercy of their Christian masters and, ultimately, on royal protection. When King William the Good died in 1189, this royal protection was lifted, and the door was opened for widespread attacks against the island’s Muslims. This destroyed any lingering hope of coexistence, however unequal the respective populations might have been.
* The House of Hohenstaufen and their successors (Capetian House of Anjou and Aragonese House of Barcelona gradually "Latinized" Sicily over the course of two centuries, and this social process laid the groundwork for the introduction of Catholicism (as opposed to Eastern Orthodoxy). The process of Latinization was fostered largely by the Roman Church and its liturgy. The annihilation of Islam in Sicily was completed by the late 1240s, when the final deportations to Lucera took place.
* List of the Muslim Emirs of Sicily.
• Hassan al-Kalbi (948–953)
• Ahmed I ibn Hasan al-Muizziyya (953-969)
• Yaish (usurper, 969)
• Ahmed I ibn Hasan al-Muizziyya (969-970)
• Abu Al Qassim (970-982)
• Jabir ibn 'Ali (982-983)
• Jafar I ibn Muhammad (983-986)
• Abd-Allah ibn Muhammad (986)
• Yusuf al-Kalbi (986–998)
• Jafar II (998-1019)
• Ahmed II al-Akhal (1017–1037)
• Abd-Allah Abu Hafs (1035-1040, usurper; defeated and killed Ahmed II in 1037)
• Hasan al-Samsam (1040–1044; died 1053).

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