Almoravid Empire

Almoravid Empire (1054-1147)was an empire founded and dominated by the Sanhaja Berbers, in modern day Mauritainia, Morocco, Algeria, and southern Spain. Its capital was Marrakech. 

Origins and Ideology

The empire had its begining with the muslim cleric Abdallah ibn Yasin, who wanted to bring about a purer form of Islam among the Sanhaja Berbers(Lamtuna, Gudula, Massufa). In 1039, Yasin declared jihad on the Sanhaja for practicing an impure Islam. Like the Soninke,  the Sanhaja practiced an Islam, mixed with indigenous religious belief.

Yasin was able to convert powerful Sanhaja Berber leaders, Yahya ibn Umar and Abu Bakr both sons of the Lamtuna king. They forged a powerful unified Sanhaja Berber army. Yasin made use of black slave soldier. The latter made up a 2,000 special unit of his personal bodyguards.

Conquest and Expansion

In 1054, the Almoravid initiated military expansion. They took Awdaghust from the Ghana Empire, effectively controlling the trans-Saharan trade.  They conquered Sijilmisa, Morocco in 1056. Tragedy struck in 1057, with the death of Yahya and in 1059, with the death of Abdallah in battle. Abu Bakr was the only remaining leader. Almoravid territory had expanded, vastly from Morocco to Awdaghast, beyond the control of one man. He left the northern conquest to Yusuf ibn Tashfin and pursued southern expansion against the Ghana Empire. In 1062, the Almoravid conquered Marrakech. Marrakech was then made the capital of the empire. By 1082, they bring Algiers under their control.

Spain became their focus of attention after 1086. Emir Yusuf ibn Tashfin received a request from Muslim rulers of Spain for military aid against Christian ruler Alfonso VI of Castile and Leon. While defending the muslim kingdoms, Yusuf relized the Iberian muslim kingdoms were divided and lax on muslim principles. Yusuf became determined to conquer all of muslim Spain. In 1090, he began an aggressive policy of expansion in muslim Spain. By 1093, Granada, Malaga, Badajoz, Almeria, and Seville were conquered. The final muslim enclave of Valencia and Saragossa was brought under Almoravid control. In Spain, the Almoravids were force to use non-Berber muslim troops and Christian guards to achieve military victory. By 1118, the tides began to turn, Saragossa was retaken by the Christian Kingdom of Spain. In the Atlas Mountain, at Tin Mal the Almohad began a religious rebellion against Almoravid excess. In 1147, they took over Marrakech and later moved to Spain. 

Political Organization

Almoravid took on the title of emir (amir) or military commanders who viewed themselves as fuqaha or jurist. They acknowledged the Abbasid Caliph in Baghdad.


Almoravid Architecture is marked by practicality, simplicity, and ascetism, very little ornate or decorative element, characteristics shunned upon. Palace and monuments were rarely elaborate and ostentatious. Almoravid architecture was marked by the unique horseshoe arch. Almoravid architecture was also marked by square undecorated minarets. The Great Mosque at Tlemcen, built in 1082, is most representative of Almoravid architecture.

Emirs (Amirs) of the Almoravid Empire

  1. Yahya ibn Ibrahim (1031- ?)
  2. Yahya ibn Umar (? -1056)
  3. Abu Bakr ibn  Umar (1056 - 1061)
  4. Yussuf ibn Tashufin (1061 -1106)
  5. Ali ibn Tashufin(1106-1042)
  6. Tashufin ibn Ali (1142-1145)
  7. Ibrahim ibn Tashufin (1145-1146)
  8. Ishag ibn Ali(1146-1147)

tags: berber empire kingdom sultanate north africa