The Battle of the Three Kings -or Wad Al Makhazin
Compiled by: Syed Muhammad Bokreta
* Date: The 04th of August 1578
* Place: Wad Al Kabir, Tangier, Morocco
* Main Historic Figures: Sultan Abd Al Malik, Sultan Al Mutawakil and King Sebastian of Portugal.
It is worth noting that the history of the Maghrib (land of sunset) countries or North Africa is rich of passionate and landmark events that took place since the advent of Islam in the seventh century as the area was inhabited by three main Berber tribes which were already well established when Arab Muslims came in the Seventh century propagating Islam.
Their origins are uncertain but thought to be Euro-Asiatic, The generic name Berbers, was given to them by the Arabs meaning those who were not Arabs. As such the Sanhaja, Masmouda, and Zenata are the three tribes constituting the Berbers the Sanhaja, from which sprang the Al Mourabitoun (Almoravide) dynasty, the founders of Marrakech were nomads who in the 11C conquered the desert and much of the region to the south of it for Islam.
The Masmouda were quiet farming people who lived in the north and west and in the High Atlas mountains and it was they who gave rise from out Tin Mal, South of Marrakech to the Al Mouwahidoun (Almohade) Dynasty which displaced the Almoravides; the Zenata a sub-group of which the Beni Merin swept in from the empty region between the Tafilalet and Algeria to become the great Merinide dynasty, were tough, horse-riding nomads of the cold high plateaux of the interior.
Coming respectively after the following Muslim Dynasties: the Idrissides, the Al Mourabitoun, the Al mouwahidoun, and the Merinides; the Saadians (1520-1660) subject of our short survey were in reality descendants from the Beloved Prophet Mohamed‘s Ahl Al Bait (PBUH) They originally came from Ard Al Hijaz (Arabia) in the 12C , and settled in the valley of the Draa in the South of Morocco. They moved to Fez and were easily given power by the Wattasides. In the 16 C , they rebuilt the town of Taroudant as their capital.
Throughout this period the major centre of Portuguese activity was Morocco , where the main phase of Portuguese expansion had begun in 1471. After the conquest of Ceuta , the chief Portuguese target was the other important coastal city of northern Morocco , Tangier. The expedition of 1437 had ended in disaster, but Al Kasr Assaghir (Alcácer Ceguer), east of Tangier, was taken in 1458, and afterwards Acila (Arzila) to the southwest was seized in 1471, Tangier was abandoned to the Portuguese, leaving all the northwest coastal region of Morocco under Portuguese control.
Subsequently three of the ports on the southern Moroccan coast, only loosely associated with the Moroccan sultanate, accepted Portuguese suzerainty, and at this crucial time of History, Dom Sebastiâo or Sebastian was attempting to prepare an invasion of Morocco , but for ten years the steady decline of Portuguese resources made it impossible for him to mount an expedition. His opportunity increased after 1574 when the Sultan of Morocco, Moulay Mohamed Al Mutawakil was deposed by his uncle Moulay Abd Al-Malik.
In 1577 the port of Acila (Arzila), near Tangier, surrendered to Portuguese protection, and Moulay Mohamed Al Mutawakil sought Portuguese assistance to regain his throne. Dom Sebastiâo in turn tried to gain support from both the papacy and Castile against the "Turkish menace" in Morocco , while Moulay Abd Al-Malik endeavoured to buy peace by offering to return the port of Larache to the Portuguese, but Dom Sebastian ignored this offer, in order not to complicate his own invasion plans.
And so in 1578, with financial assistance from the church, he managed to assemble an expedition of perhaps 18,000 men, including many aristocrats. Hiding his true aim, which was an all-out battle with the Moroccans, he led this force inland from Arcila and on August 4, 1578 was met near the town of Wad al Kabir or Alcázarquivir by Moulay Abd Al-Malik's forces.
The Portuguese expedition and its foreign mercenary allies which included about 2000 Italian mercenaries had little chance in a desperate fight. Most were slaughtered, but many of the important nobles of Portugal were taken prisoners. In this " Battle of the three Kings" or “Battle of Wad Al Makhazin” all three Sovereigns died: the young ruler of Portugal , the elderly sultan, and his deposed nephew.
In the aftermath of this very decisive battle, the Saadian dynasty in Fez continued to rule Morocco until 1660 AD, while the death of King Sebastian and the slaughter or capture of the flower of the aristocracy threw Portugal into crisis, and there followed two years of confusion and growing economic distress. Collection of a huge ransom to gain the freedom of the captives in Morocco completed the exhaustion of financial resources; jewels, plate, and silverware had to be pawned on a large scale to raise the funds. Domestic leadership weakened which obviously was followed by a failure in the conduct of foreign relations that finally led to a power vacuum within the kingdom.
Many in the Portuguese lower classes, puzzled and amazed by the great extent of damage in this battle, responded to the loss of independence, and their own economic decline, with the development of a Messianic faith that their Young king was not dead but would return to lead them. Alternately, in later generations, it was hoped that a new saviour, the "desired" or "hidden" king, would restore his people to greatness and prosperity. These messianic hopes have been termed “Sebastianism”, and they lingered on in various forms into the early nineteenth century, with echoes in Portuguese literature almost to our present day.