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The Almoravid and Almohad Empires

Amira K. Bennison

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A comprehensive account of two of the most important empires in medieval North Africa

This is the first book in English to provide a comprehensive account of the rise and fall of the Almoravids and the Almohads, the two most important Berber dynasties of the medieval Islamic west, an area that encompassed southern Spain and Portugal, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. The Ṣanhāja Almoravids emerged from the Sahara in the 1050s to conquer vast territories and halt the Christian advance in Iberia. They were replaced a century later by their rivals, the Almohads, supported by the Maṣmūda Berbers of the High Atlas. Although both have often been seen as uncouth, religiously intolerant tribesmen who undermined the high culture of al-Andalus, this book argues that the eleventh to thirteenth centuries were crucial to the Islamisation of the Maghrib, its integration into the Islamic cultural sphere, and its emergence as a key player in the western Mediterranean, and that much of this was due to these oft-neglected Berber empires.

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List of Figures
List of Abbreviations
Note on Transliteration
Chapter 1. Introduction
Chapter 2. The Almoravids: Striving in the path of God
Chapter 3. The Almohads: Revelation, revolution and empire
Chapter 4. Society in the Almoravid and Almohad eras, 1050-1250
Chapter 5. Economy and trade within and beyond imperial frontiers, 1050-1250
Chapter 6. Malikism, Mahdism and Mysticism: Religion and learning, 1050-1250
Chapter 7. ‘The most wondrous artifice’: Art and Architecture of the Berber empires
Chapter 8. Conclusion
Chronological Outline
List of Place Names in Latin and Arabic forms
Glossary of Arabic terms

About the Author

Amira K. Bennison is a Reader in the History and Culture of the Maghrib at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Magdalene College.. She is author of The Great Caliphs: The Golden Age of the 'Abbasid Empire (2009) and co-editor (with Alison L. Gascoigne) of Cities in the Premodern Islamic World (2007).


Given the importance of the subject, it is astonishing that this is the first full length study in English of these two empires. Bennison’s thoughtful and well researched book marks a major advance in our understanding of this important period in the history of the Maghreb and the Iberian peninsula. It will be widely appreciated by scholars and students alike.

- Hugh Kennedy, SOAS University of London

'Bennison bases her book on three particular premises: that the Almoravids and Almohads should be considered major contributors to Islamic civilization more broadly; that they were in many ways quite distinct groups and should not be lumped together simply as two examples of Berber empires; and that the relationship between Andalusia and Maghrebi parts of their empires was much more complex than has often been presented. She succeeds on all fronts over the course of the book, and gives a sense of the scale of the Almoravids’ and Almohads’ achievements together with the complexities of their distinct endeavors.'

- Harry Munt, Times Literary Supplement
'Every scholar of the Islamic West should read this. Most importantly, the book is free of the various biases that have up to now conspired to marginalise the history of these two important medieval dynasties: these are dynasties which deserve to be studied in their own right, and not as mere appendages to Islamic or European history. Bennison does them justice in a book that will certainly remain for some time the standard English-language treatment of the subject.'
- Brian A. Catlos (University of Colorado at Boulder), The English Historical Review

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