Almoravids Conquer Morocco and Establish the Almoravid Empire Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Almoravid conquest of Morocco was inspired by the desire to spread a fundamentalist interpretation of the teachings of Islam. The year 1062 marks the founding of Marrakesh, the Almoravid capital city, from which the Almoravids governed Morocco, Algeria, parts of the Sahara Desert region, and Spain.

Summary of Event

The Islamic Almoravid Dynasty ruled northwestern Africa and parts of southern Spain from 1056 to 1147. In contrast to the eastern Arab dynasties that had dominated these regions in preceding centuries, the Almoravids were Berbers Berbers , an ethnic group indigenous to North Africa. They are traditionally considered to have lived in the region since Neolithic times, and were originally from the Sahara region, in what is now Mauritania. [kw]Almoravids Conquer Morocco and Establish the Almoravid Empire (1062-1147) [kw]Morocco and Establish the Almoravid Empire, Almoravids Conquer (1062-1147) [kw]Almoravid Empire, Almoravids Conquer Morocco and Establish the (1062-1147) Almoravids Morocco, Almoravid conquest of Africa;1062-1147: Almoravids Conquer Morocco and Establish the Almoravid Empire[1610] Expansion and land acquisition;1062-1147: Almoravids Conquer Morocco and Establish the Almoravid Empire[1610] Religion;1062-1147: Almoravids Conquer Morocco and Establish the Almoravid Empire[1610] Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;1062-1147: Almoravids Conquer Morocco and Establish the Almoravid Empire[1610] Yaḥyā ibn Ibrāhīm Ibn Yāsīn Yūsuf ibn Tāshufīn ՙAlē ibn Yūsuf

They were converted to Islam at the time of the Arab conquest of North Africa in the seventh century. The Berber tribes retained a common language and some cultural ties, though their political fragmentation and disparate economic interests impeded the unity required for sustained military conquest.

In 1035, the chief of the Sanhaja Berber tribe, Yaḥyā ibn Ibrāhīm Yaḥyā ibn Ibrāhīm , made a pilgrimage to Mecca Mecca;Yaḥyā ibn Ibrāhīm[Yahya ibn Ibrahim] (the hajj). His experiences on his journey, as well as the influence of the holy man and teacher Ibn Yāsīn Ibn Yāsīn , whose acquaintance he made on the trip, inspired him to implement a reform movement among the people of his tribe when he returned home, with the help of Ibn Yāsīn. The two men and their followers emphasized simplicity and asceticism and a return to a strict interpretation of Islamic teaching, in contrast to the perceived incorrect beliefs and lax practices of their fellow Berber Muslims.

Fourteenth century historians report that the converts to the fundamentalist reform movement established a fortress (or ribat) on an island in the Senegal River that increasingly attracted followers from the surrounding region. The residents of the fortress became known as the al-Murābitūn or, in Spanish, Almoravids. It is also possible that the Berber warriors were thus named because of their militant religious practices, and the legend of the ribat grew out of this reputation.

Fortified by religious zeal and an economic interest in controlling the trans-Saharan trade, the Almoravids set out to proselytize and conquer the inhabitants of the western Sahara and Morocco. The rapid Almoravid advance was made possible by their intense interest in religious reform, because this common religious belief had the effect of uniting the otherwise historically fragmented Berber tribes. Religion;Africa Africa;religion

The greatest military successes of the Almoravids took place during the long and prosperous reign of the leader Yūsuf ibn Tāshufīn Yūsuf ibn Tāshufīn , who was responsible for the conquest of the Maghreb Maghreb and southern Spain. (Maghreb is a term derived from the Arabic word for “west”; it describes the region that today comprises Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia.) Yūsuf founded a new capital city, Marrakesh, in Morocco in 1062. He occupied the city of Fās (Fès) in 1069 and in the 1070’s extended his empire to include Algeria.

After the fall of the Spanish city of Toledo to a Christian army from Castile in 1085, the Islamic kings of Al-Andalus (the Islamic-controlled area of Spain) requested the military intervention of the Almoravids. Yūsuf obliged, defeating a Christian army at the Battle of Al-Zallāqah Al-Zallāqah, Battle of (1086)[Al Zallāqah, Battle of (1086)] in 1086. By 1090, the rest of Al-Andalus had come under Almoravid control. The Almoravid Dynasty had also amassed great wealth through its control of the western Mediterranean and trans-Sarahan trade routes.

Mosques built under the Almoravids were sober in their decoration, reflecting Almoravid asceticism and an interest in simple piety. Yūsuf was also impressed by the rich traditions of art and culture that he had encountered in Islamic Spain, and he contributed significantly to cultural exchange between the Maghreb and southern Europe through his importation of Andalusian artists to work at his courts in Fās and Marrakesh. In this period Spanish decorative forms such as the horseshoe arch began to appear in architecture of the Maghreb, in, for example, the Great Mosque of Algiers. It has been argued that the Algiers mosque as well the mosque at the city of Tlemcen, both built during the reign of Yūsuf, were modeled after the Great Mosque (built in the late eighth century) in the Spanish city of Córdoba. In addition, the minbar (pulpit) intended for an Almoravid mosque at Marrakesh has an inscription that reports that it was constructed in Córdoba. Architecture;Andalusia Andalusia;architecture

The Almoravid Empire reached its greatest extent during the reign of Yūsuf’s son, ՙAlī ibn Yūsuf ՙAlī ibn Yūsuf , though it was also during his reign that a rebellion by another Berber dynasty, known as the Almohads Almohads , set into motion the decline of the Almoravids. The Almohads were also motivated by a desire for religious reform, as they believed the Almoravids had succumbed to the temptations of imperial wealth and luxury. Military setbacks in Spain further weakened the Almoravids, and the capital of Marrakesh fell to the Almohads in 1147.


The Almoravids succeeded in uniting the Berber tribes of North Africa under one cause. They were exceptionally successful in a relatively short period of time because this cause, the promotion of a strict interpretation of the principles of Islam, inspired great religious fervor among its followers. The Almoravids were one of the two great Berber reforming dynasties, along with the Almohads, that rose up from origins in the Sahara to rule the Maghreb.

The Berbers had been superficially Islamicized by their Arab conquerors in the preceding centuries, but the Almoravids developed an indigenous Islamic empire in northwestern Africa with an accompanying indigenous north African culture that was increasingly isolated in its interests and cultural practices from the Islamic Arab dynasties in the east.

The Almoravid conquest of Spain created strong cultural ties between the Maghreb and southern Europe. The compelling stylistic relationships between the art, architecture, and literature of southern Spain and the Maghreb as a result of Almoravid rule has meant that the artistic styles of northwestern Africa and southern Europe are much more closely related to each other than either is to any other region.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Abun-Nasr, Jamil M. A History of the Maghrib in the Islamic Period. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987. A comprehensive survey of the region from its earliest history to the present day, with a chapter devoted to the Almoravid Empire.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bloom, Jonathan, et al. The Minbar from the Kutubiyya Mosque. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1998. An in-depth study of one example of artistic exchange between the Maghreb and Islamic Spain: the minbar created for the Great Mosque of Marrakesh by artists in Córdoba.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bosworth, Clifford Edmund. The New Islamic Dynasties: A Chronological and Genealogical Manual. 1967. Rev. ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996. A historical and genealogical accounting of the Islamic dynasties, including those in Spain and Africa. Bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brett, Michael. “The Arab Conquest and the Rise of Islam in North Africa.” In The Cambridge History of Africa, edited by J. D. Fage. Vol. 2. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1979. One of the best analyses available of the conquests and their consequences written by the field’s leading authority.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brett, Michael. “The Islamisization of Morocco from the Arabs to the Almoravids.” Journal of the Society for Moroccan Studies 2 (1992): 57-71. A study of the process whereby North Africa developed a distinct Islamic character.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brett, Michael, and Elizabeth Fentress. The Berbers. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1996. This study focuses on the history of the Berber-speaking peoples. The authors establish the identity of the Berbers and analyze their traditions, while tracing their political and social history up until the twentieth century. The Almoravids are studied as one of the two major Islamic Berber dynasties of the Middle Ages. Maps, bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Clancy-Smith, Julia, ed. North Africa, Islam, and the Mediterranean World: From the Almoravids to the Algerian War. Portland, Or.: Frank Cass, 2001. Early chapters explore the Almoravid Empire’s influence in North Africa, including Morocco, and Spain. Illustrations, maps, bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Eickelman, Dale F. Moroccan Islam: Tradition and Society in a Pilgrimage Center. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1976. The author takes an anthropological approach to the study of the history of Islam in Morocco. Bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Knapp, Wilfrid. North West Africa: A Political and Economic Survey. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1977. A chapter is devoted to the history of each of the modern countries in the region: Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, and Mauritania. Bibliography, index.
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    xlink:type="simple">Power, Daniel, and Naomi Standen, eds. Frontiers in Question: Eurasian Borderlands, 700-1700. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999. Chapter 2 explores the conflicts and tensions between the overlapping “borders” and “boundaries” of Muslims and Christians in Muslim-Christian Spain. Bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Reilly, Bernard F. The Contest of Christian and Muslim Spain, 1031-1157. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1995. This work is a more complete coverage of the rise of Christian Spain and deals extensively with military struggles and dynastic history. Illustrations, maps, bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Schatzmiller, Maya. The Berbers and the Islamic State: The Marinid Experience in Pre-protectorate Morocco. Princeton, N.J.: Markus Wiener, 2000. A detailed study of the history of the Berbers in North Africa and Morocco. Includes discussion of acculturation and its legacy, developing an Islamic state and institutions, Jews in the region, and more. Bibliography, index.

Categories: History