Al-Mustansir (Fatimids)

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A gold dinar of the caliph al-Mustansir struck in Cairo.

Abu Tamim Maadd ibn az-Zahir ( Arabic أبو تميم معد ابن الزاهر, DMG Abū Tamīm Maʿadd b. aẓ-Ẓāhir ; * July 2, 1029 ; † December 29, 1094 ) was from 1036 until his death under the ruler name al-Mustansir billah (المستنصر بالله / al-Mustanṣir billāh  / 'the God begs for assistance'), briefly called al-Mustansir in German-language literature , the eighth caliph of the Fatimids , as well as the eighteenth and last common Imam of the Ismailis' Shia before their split.


The only known child of Caliph az-Zahir was Prince Maadd born on July 2, 1029 in Cairo . Contemporary observers particularly noted the strikingly dark complexion of the Crown Prince, who was the son of a black (sūdān) concubine called the "Talisman" (Raṣad) . Apart from that, the prince, who was enthroned as a seven-year-old a few days after the death of his father on June 16, 1036 under the ruler's name "the god begs for assistance" (al-Mustanṣir billāh) , has remained a neuter in history, both in character and as in political terms. And this despite the fact that his fifty-nine year reign - the longest of all Fatimids - was marked by the near triumph of their cause and the near end of their own caliphate that followed. In fact, recent historians tend to associate the actual end of the Fatimid Caliphate, founded in 909, with the era of al-Mustansir, since after him it only lasted a hundred years of shadowy existence before it went out without a sound or a singing in 1171.

Like his father, al-Mustansir was deliberately kept away from his courtly environment from day-to-day politics and left to his personal amusements. Like his father, he was under the influence of others throughout his life, first under that of the handless vizier al-Jardjarai , who had put him on the throne, then under that of his mother and her favorites. Apparently no one had even thought of giving him a certain statesmanship training, since al-Mustansir is also the first caliph who is not known to have ever had his own teacher ( ustāḏ ) . The caliph remained a pawn in the hands of others and could at best observe the events taking place around him, but hardly influence himself, with which he sketched the character of the caliphate of his dynasty for the last hundred years of its existence. Only once did al-Mustansir take the initiative to save his caliphate, which was on the brink of the abyss, and at the same time to make it insignificant.

The first years

The rulership of the Fatimid Caliphate in the first years of al-Mustansir.

The overall successful record of the first twenty-five years of al-Mustansir's rule was able to seamlessly build on that of his predecessors, even if they were the first symptoms of the crisis. Just a few days after his enthronement, the caliph was almost hit by the javelin of an angry Sudanese soldier during the obligatory army muster. The act happened before the context of a general uprising in the army, which had ignited the low wages paid recently. The favoritism that had been rampant for a long time at the court of Cairo had allowed funds intended for the army to flow into foreign pockets, which the soldiers no longer wanted to endure. But before the mood threatened to change completely, the vizier al-Jardjarai was able to put a stop to the mismanagement and raise the outstanding pay, which quickly calmed the situation down. In 1036 the negotiations with the Byzantine Empire to extend the armistice by ten years were successfully concluded, but the unauthorized action of the Fatimid governor of Syria Anushtegin ad-Duzbiri threatened to disturb the peace with Constantinople . In May 1038 the governor conquered the autonomous principality of Aleppo in the name of his caliph, but without having been authorized to do so. According to the treaty with Byzantium, the principality had taken on the status of a buffer state between the two empires, but this became obsolete with the conquest of Anushtegin. In Cairo, the governor was suspected of pursuing selfish goals, which is why Vizier al-Jardjarai remained inactive within the meaning of the treaty when Byzantium declared war on Anushtegin. But it was not until Anuschtegin's death in January 1042 that the problem resolved, whereupon the princely family of the Mirdasids could be restored in Aleppo and the relations with Byzantium again corresponded to the contractual conditions.

The death of al-Jardjarai on March 27, 1045 is generally regarded as the beginning of the decline of the Fatimid caliphate, since after him the court party of the caliph mother Rasad took over the control of the state and thus an era of rampant self-enrichment and territorial disintegration followed, which finally collapsed the ruling authority. In fact, however, al-Yazuri (d. 1058), who was appointed vizier on June 1, 1050, was once again an energetic, if unscrupulous, power man who took charge of state affairs . He was immediately confronted with the defection of the "West" ( al-maġrib ) from the caliphate. As early as March 1049, the governor of Africa ( Ifrīqiyā ) al-Muizz az-Ziri had given up his loyalty to Cairo and placed himself under the suzerainty of the Sunni caliphs of the Abbasids . He did not encounter much resistance, as the Maghreb was predominantly Sunni. Al-Yazuri reacted immediately by issuing a license to conquer and colonize the West for the Bedouin tribes of the Banu Hilal and Banu Sulaim, who have been nomadic in Egypt for generations , whereupon the tribes migrated in droves. By 1057 the Bedouins were able to smash the renegade Zirid principality by conquering Kairouan and found their own small states on its territory. The gain for the Fatimids was small; the new principalities of the Bedouins recognized their sovereignty, but in reality remained in fact autonomous. The Sunni dynasty of the Almoravids , who were rising in the far west in what is now Mauritania and Morocco , were able to benefit from the end of the Zirid principality, who were able to use the resulting power vacuum to expand their territory. For the Fatimids, however, the West, where their caliphate once started, was lost forever. The most lasting consequence of the “Arab migration” forced by Cairo, however, was the Arabization of the Maghreb that began with it in what is now Tunisia and Algeria , whose indigenous Berber population has been decimated by the long-term struggles and displaced into geographical peripheral areas The Arab Bedouins occupied and permanently settled the rooms.

Roger the Norman triumphs over the Saracens in the Battle of Cerami. Historicizing painting by Prosper Lafaye , around 1860.

With the loss of the West came that of Sicily . The governorship of the Kalbites had sunk into anarchy here in previous years due to internal disputes and was threatened from outside by a Christian reconquista carried out by the Byzantine Empire . The landing of a Byzantine army in 1038 could not be prevented, but it had no serious consequences. But the attacks by the Christians repeated themselves in the following years, while the internal order on the island began to erode. After a cry for help sent to Cairo, the Calbian dynasty was deposed in 1051 on the instructions of al-Yazuri and deported to Egypt. In their place, a governor appointed directly by Cairo took over the administration of the island, but even he could no longer avert the downfall of Islamic Sicily. While the Fatimids in the Far East had to concentrate all their forces for their own struggle for survival against the Seljuks , in 1060 - al-Yazuri was already dead - there was a Christian force in the form of a Norman army of conquest under the leadership of “Count Roger, the son des Tankred ” (al-qumṭ Ruǧǧar ibn Tanqar) landed on the coast in front of the seaport of Messina , which was taken by the conquerors the following year. In June 1063 the Normans triumphed at Cerami over the last contingent of the Sicilian Muslims; In 1072 the capital Palermo fell . With the fall of Noto in 1091, Caliph al-Mustansir saw the end of the almost two hundred and sixty-five year rule of Islam in Sicily.

Last triumph in the shadow of the Turks

The fate not only of the Fatimid caliphate but of the entire Arab world was to be decided in the East, where that epochal ethnographic upheaval began during the lifetime of al-Mustansir, the effects of which can still be heard in modern history. In 1043, a Turkmen army of conquest passed through the central Iranian province of Kerman , which conquered the Persian royal cities of Rey and Isfahan by 1051 . The troops were led by the Seljuk clan in the person of Prince Toghril Beg . The Turks, who originally lived in the steppes of Central Asia, had long since ceased to be a stranger to the Arab world. For generations, this warlike horsemen had played a prominent role in the army of the Arab-Muslim rulers, as their captured warriors were offered for sale on the Persian slave markets and sold as military slaves ( mamlūk ) . After the Abbasid caliphs had first discovered this new military potential for themselves, from the late 10th century Turks were also recruited by the Fatimids in large numbers. In the 11th century, Turkish associations represented the military backbone of every significant political power in the Middle East, while Arabs hardly played a relevant role in the warfare of that time. But the advance of the Seljuks in the middle of the 11th century had a completely different quality. Whole Turkmen peoples followed in the slipstream of their horsemen, revealing a real Turkish migration behind the conquest , at the end of which there should be no new influx of slaves for the Arab world, but the establishment of a new political and ethnographic entity with a claim to power. For all the established powers of the Near East, the Turkish migration to the west had brought about irreversible upheaval with far-reaching consequences. The Byzantine Empire was to perish after a long defensive struggle and for centuries it cost the Arab-speaking world the loss of the political hegemony in the Middle East, which it had gained in the course of the Islamic expansion in the 7th century.

The threat posed by the Seljuks had been recognized by the rulers of the time in Baghdad and Cairo and had encouraged them to consider things that had hitherto been unthinkable. Skipping the rigid barriers of the old dynastic and confessional strife, the court in Cairo had established diplomatic contacts on behalf of its Shiite caliph with the patron of the Sunni caliphs of Baghdad, the Buyidenemir Abu Kalidschar , who were supposed to lead to a kind of pan-Arab alliance to ward off the looming Turkish threat . However, these considerations came to an abrupt end with the death of the ruler of Baghdad in 1048, whereupon the large emirate of the Buyids, which until then had served as a buffer between the Seljuks and Fatimids, collapsed. In order to save his caliphate, which was on the edge of the abyss, the largely powerless Abbaside al-Qaim threw himself into the arms of Toghril Beg, who marched into Baghdad on December 20, 1055, removed the last remnants of the Buyid government and made himself the new patron of the Sunni caliphate swung up. For the inner constitution of the Islamic faith these events had consequences that should not be underestimated. A few generations before, they were adherents of a pagan shaman cult themselves, but the Seljuks adopted Islam in a Sunni interpretation, which was now in addition to their legitimation as patrons of the Sunni caliphate. Their commitment ( ǧihād ) to the newly discovered Islamic faith had led Sunniism to a previously unknown dogmatically rigid orthodoxy that recognized excesses of apostate heresies in all other interpretations of the divine revelation recorded in the Koran . Since then, the Sunni jihad began to turn increasingly not only against the world of the “infidels” of the Koranic revelation, but also against the Shiite followers of the Koranic revelation. For the Shiites within the Seljuk territory, especially in Persia and Iraq , this had a direct impact on their existence. If they were still able to live and proselytize here among the Buyids - who were Shiite themselves - they were now exposed to a wave of persecution led by the Seljuks in the sense of Orthodox Sunniism, in which a certain historical point was expressed, knew and knows precisely Shi'aism Ismaili in its voluntary assumption itself no form of forced conversion. But the Persian Ismailis in particular should soon invent their own methods to counter the Seljuk threat.

The Fatimids did not intend to leave the overthrow in Baghdad unanswered; on the contrary, they saw in it the chance of realizing the ultimate goal they had pursued from the beginning of overcoming the Abbasid caliphate and thus the unification of the Islamic world ( umma ) under their dynasty. A Turk, of all people, asked them to use them as a tool for this project. In the spring of 1056, Vizier al-Yazuri made contact with the Turkish general Arslan al-Basasiri , who had led an existence as a riot in the Jazira area since he had fallen out of favor with his Buyid master in Baghdad in 1054. Al-Basasiri now willingly placed himself in the service of the Fatimids, from whom he formally received the rank of general, including funds, horses and weapons for the recruitment of a force. In fact, the general was able to quickly assemble an army consisting of other displaced Turks, northern Iraqi Arab princes and Bedouin warriors, with which he began the fight against the Seljuks. On January 9, 1057, in a field battle near Sinjar , he won his first victory over a Seljuk contingent, which was fought by his warriors under the telling battle cry "Victory for the Arabs!" (Yā lil-ʿarab!) . Borne by the euphoria of this victory, Mosul and Kufa were captured in quick succession after Baghdad had been bypassed in a wide arc. An attack on the power center of the Abbasids seemed possible, but then the diplomacy of Toghril Beg unfolded its effect, who was able to bribe the Bedouins to abandon the Fatimid cause and thus rob the army of al-Basasiri of its clout. The disappointment in Cairo about this development was great and cost the vizier al-Yazuri office and life. Although he had succeeded in taking Aleppo for the Fatimid caliphate in the first days of 1058 - he had been able to persuade the last Mirdasidenemir to voluntarily renounce power - on February 28, 1058 his enemies at the court accused him of the treacherous conspiracy with the Seljuks and afterwards executed in a lengthy dungeon.

A gold dinar struck in Baghdad between December 1058 and December 1059 (450/451 AH) with the title of the Fatimid caliph al-Mustansir.

Quite unexpectedly, in the same year, the Fatimid's white banner with the name of al-Mustansir described was hoisted over Baghdad without its ministers having contributed in any way. Al-Basasiri was able to take Mosul again in the spring of 1058, but immediately had to withdraw to Damascus before the numerically superior Toghril Beg. But then the Seljuk ruler received the news of the revolt of his half-brother Ibrahim Inal in the Iranian highlands, whereupon he withdrew there with his entire army and left his needy caliphs, like all of Iraq, defenseless. On Sunday, December 27, 1058, al-Basasiri was able to move into Baghdad with his relatively small force and hoist the white banner. He immediately introduced the Shiite call to prayer and had the name of the Fatimid caliph al-Mustansir read out at the next Friday sermon on January 1, 1059 in the mosque of al-Mansur . Soon afterwards the minting of new dinars with the ruler's name of the Fatimid began. The deposed Abbasid caliph al-Qaim received a guarantee of protection for his life and was placed under arrest in Ana on the central Euphrates . His palace was sacked and the Abbasid rulers' insignia were sent to Cairo as a token of victory. The joy at the court of the Fatimids over this completely unexpected triumph of their cause, which Ibn Muyassar (d. 1278) later described as their last significant success, was accompanied by feasts that lasted for days. The eschatological event propagated by all caliphs since al-Mahdi (d. 934) of the elimination of all usurpers and the sole rule of the descendants of Ali and the daughter of the prophet Fatima seemed to have occurred. In fact, after one hundred and fifty years - the Umayyad Caliphate of Córdoba had already expired decades before - there was again only one caliphate that ruled the Muslim world alone.

The rule of the Fatimids in Baghdad, however, was based on the force of General al-Basasiri, who were only six hundred men strong and who knew that he would not be able to hold out against the expected return of Toghril Beg. Especially after Cairo, where the state had already slipped into crisis after the end of al-Yazuri, refused to send him reinforcement troops and fresh funds, he began to act on his own behalf, with the captured al-Qaim as a bargaining chip. But it was of no avail when in late 1059 the victorious Toghril Beg returned to Iraq with his vastly superior Turkish army and freed al-Qaim from his prison. On December 15, 1059, al-Basasiri had to flee Baghdad, where on January 3, 1060 the Seljuq and his protégé moved in triumph and restored the Sunni Abbasid caliphate. The sole rule of the Fatimids over the Ummah lasted exactly one year to the day in the Islamic lunar calendar (8th Dhu l-qada 450 to 7th Dhu l-qada 451 AH). The fleeing al-Basasiri was put to an unequal fight by the Seljuks on January 18, 1060 near Kufa and killed with his few remaining men.


When al-Basasiri had hoisted the white banner of the Fatimids over Baghdad in December 1058, their caliphate in Cairo had entered a phase of decline, which later Egyptian chroniclers referred to as "the great calamity " (aš-šidda al-ʿuẓmā) , or "the test" (fitna) was called. The state of al-Mustansir was gripped by a serious crisis that ultimately led to its collapse. The overthrow of vizier al-Yazuri in February 1058 had robbed the caliphate of its last servant of statesmanlike stature . After him, this office was filled in rapid succession for the next sixteen years by no fewer than thirty holders, all of whom lacked assertiveness. Since the same was true for the person of the caliph, a real state failure must be established for this period .

The Egyptians were already used to the nepotism that is obligatory for oriental courts, but the extent of the unrestrained self-enrichment by the officials now exceeded all previously known levels. The rampant mismanagement had a direct impact on the most vital functions of the state, reigniting old concerns about the military budget. The recent decline in wages led to renewed resentment among the warriors, which, in combination with the ethnic tensions that had long prevailed in the army, resulted in a violent uprising. Especially at the instigation of the Sudanese caliph mother Rasad , the Fatimid army had been supplemented for some time with contingents of black merchant slaves (ʿabīd aš-širāʾ) from their Nubian homeland, which created a competitive situation in the army with the Turkish military slaves ( mamlūk ) , who had previously served as the military backbone , who now feared for their privileges. When a drunken Turkish guardsman attacked a Sudanese man in front of al-Mustansir during a pleasure excursion by the court in the summer of 1062 and was then killed by his comrades, the situation escalated into a real Turkish-Sudanese civil war on Egyptian soil. While the court camarilla, led by the caliph's mother, forced the recruitment of Sudanese in order to finally break the power of the Turks, the latter increased their wages from 28,000 to an astronomical 400,000 dinars. Meanwhile, there was incessant fighting between factions in and around Cairo, accompanied by the collapse of public security and trade. The result was a new famine and increasing desertification of the capital, even though the water level of the Nile had never fallen below normal in those years. The whole of Egypt sank into anarchy and lawlessness, the rural population was robbed by Bedouins and ownerless mercenaries, which also caused the harvest to collapse. In 1067 the Turks at Giza achieved a decisive victory over the Sudanese associations, which had to retreat to Upper Egypt.

The Turkish general Ibn Hamdan had become the actual ruler of Cairo, whose loyalty to Caliph al-Mustansir was no longer far. The caliph had to open the treasure chambers of his palace to satisfy the demands of the Turks more than he had asked for, after which a plundering of the immeasurable treasures accumulated over eight generations by the Fatimids began, which lasted more than a year. After the treasure chambers, the looters who proceeded according to plan went on to strip the palaces and mausoleums of their jewelry and melt down the interior. There was also no stopping at the imperial insignia such as the golden parasols ( miẓalla ) , canopies and diadems (tāǧ) . Within a few months the caliphate, once admired for its wealth, was impoverished. After all precious metals had been plundered, the country's cultural and spiritual treasures were brought to bear in November 1068. In addition to the palace and private libraries, the writing inventory of the House of Wisdom built by al-Hakim was also looted during these days , with the looters aiming at the material value of the precious manuscripts rather than their contents. While the gold and silver book fittings were being melted down, the pages deemed worthless were thrown into the Nile and the bindings were being processed into sandals. Writings with decidedly Ismaili content were deliberately burned by Sunni zealots, which resulted in the loss of a significant part of the scriptural heritage of the Ismaili Shia.

The territory of the Seljuks in the late 11th century shortly before the beginning of the first crusade. At that time, the Fatimid caliphate was limited to what is now Egypt, and it also had supremacy over the Hejaz and Yemen.

In December 1068, the current vizier, a son of al-Yazuri, tried to master the anarchy and to disempower Ibn Hamdan. Even if it cost him his life, his playing off of disputes between the Turks had undermined the power of Ibn Hamdan when his subordinates turned against him. But Ibn Hamdan was able to flee Cairo and establish his own domain in the delta in league with the Bedouins, with the two important seaports Alexandria and Damiette as cornerstones, with which he was able to cut off the supply of food to Cairo. He now completely gave up the last remnant of loyalty to the Fatimids and established contacts with the Seljuk Sultan Alp Arslan , to whom he vowed submission and, as a token of his recognition of the Sunni caliphate of Baghdad, asked to be sent black standards. For the first time since 973, Friday sermons were held in Egypt in the name of the Abbasid caliph and at the same time the Hejaz with the holy places Mecca and Medina had fallen away from the Fatimids, where on April 15, 1071 the Abbasids were preached for the first time since 969. Thereupon the Seljuks under Alp Arslan crossed the Euphrates into Syria in the spring of 1070 , to which the Prince of Aleppo submitted immediately. From there, a smaller group under General Atsiz moved southwards, which until 1071 largely took up Ramla and Jerusalem , which were still partially destroyed by an earthquake in 1068, and in 1072 even advanced to Bilbeis , but moved from there Retreated to Palestine for lack of food. Only in the strongly fortified coastal cities such as Acre , Tire , Sidon , Caesarea , Tortosa and Ashkelon , as well as in the Syrian capital Damascus were the Fatimid occupations able to hold their own for the time being. The hopes in Cairo now rested on the military power of the old ally, the Byzantine Empire , which felt no less threatened by the Turkish threat and, under Emperor Romanos IV. Diogenes, began the march into eastern Asia Minor in the summer of 1071. Under these circumstances Alp Arslan refrained from making a direct move to Egypt in order to face the more dangerous opponent first in full strength. On August 19, 1071, the Seljuks won the decisive battle at Manzikert over the Byzantines, whose emperor fell into captivity.

The almost hundred years of comparatively peaceful and stable conditions in Syria and Palestine under Fatimid rule have given way to an epoch of continuous war in which all local sections of the population suffered severely due to the Turkish invasion. But the religiously tinged conditioning of the Seljuk campaign, which they also understood as a “commitment” ( jihād ) to Sunni orthodoxy, had made the situation considerably worse, especially for religious minorities in the region, which was not poor in this regard . Shiite Muslims, Christians and Jews now saw themselves openly discriminated against by the new masters and restricted in their religious practice. The pilgrimages by Christians to Jerusalem, which had been possible up to now and were regularly undertaken, were hardly feasible under these circumstances, which was also noticed in distant Europe. There the voices of those who sought a direct takeover of rule in the Holy Land by the followers of the cross increased in order to be able to guarantee the free passage of the pilgrimage routes in the future, the security of which one no longer wanted to entrust the "unbelievers".

According to Manzikert, the Fatimid caliphate actually seemed doomed; The Turkish troops in Cairo, meanwhile themselves suffering from hunger, surrendered again to the orders of their old general Ibn Hamdan and let him enter the city under the black banner in May 1072. The Caliph al-Mustansir, who he found in his deserted palace, is said to have been surrounded by only three servants; he was even abandoned by his mother and the rest of the relatives, who had gone into safe exile at the court of Baghdad. Ibn Hamdan had made no secret of his intention to put an end to the Shiite caliphate soon, but he waited for the time being to take this step. He even granted al-Mustansir, imprisoned in his own palace, a generous monthly allowance. But the end abruptly overtook the general himself when, in March / April 1073, he fell victim to an assassination attempt by the last devotees loyal to the caliphate.

The new ruler

The shrine built by Chalaf ibn Mulaib in Salamyya for the founder of the Ismaili mission, Abdallah al-Akbar.

Freed from his prison master, al-Mustansir now took the first and only initiative of his rule by calling General Badr al-Jamali , who was staying in Acre, for help in a letter . He promised the belligerent Armenian general, formerly a slave himself, undivided rule in his name if he came to Cairo with his Armenian troops and freed the caliphate from the mischief of one-day viziers as well as the Turkish soldiers. As early as December 1073, the general landed with his entire garrison, consisting mainly of Armenian military slaves, on a hundred ships in Damiette, but entered Cairo on January 27, 1074 with only a small troop under cover of darkness. There he first organized a banquet, to which he invited the Turkish officers who had ruled Cairo up to that point. When they said goodbye one after the other late at night, Badr had them strangled one by one when they left. Afterwards he was formally invested by al-Mustansir as vizier, whereupon a period of several years of cleansing spread across the entire country, in which Badr severely destroyed the marauding Turkish and Sudanese troops and had each of the previously incumbent viziers beheaded. He carried out bloody campaigns against the Bedouin tribes that had ruled the Nile Delta in previous years until they again submitted to the authority of the central state. By 1078 at the latest, he had pacified Egypt, which had fallen into disrepair after almost twenty years of anarchy, and had been able to create the conditions for its economic recovery. These successes also favored the steadily growing power position of Badr, who was ultimately able to have al-Mustansir transfer the three most important civil offices in the Fatimid state hierarchy. In addition to the vizier, this also concerned the office of the chief judge and the chief missionary of the Ismaili mission, the "caller of the callers" (dāʿī d-duʿāt) , which he also combined with the military supreme command in his person. In the Muslim state theory therefore had the "Wesirat execution" (wizārat at-tanfīḏ) in which the vizier only executive organ was the really ruling caliph, change for the "Wesirat of authorization" (wizārat at-tafwiḍ) know where the vizier has unlimited power to govern. In the assessment of modern historical research, the Armenian has thus become the first purely secular “ruler” ( sulṭān ) in the history of Muslim Egypt. Even if the establishment of his own hereditary dynasty ultimately failed, the character of the vizier's newly defined by him was also adopted by all successors in office, compared to whom the dignity of the Fatimid caliphate and its owner declined to a mere tool for the formal legitimation of rule, such as it had happened before with the Abbasids in Baghdad against the Buyids and Seljuks. Badr's viziero became the prototype of the Sunni sultan dynasties of the Ayyubids and Mamluks that would rule Egypt in the future .

The military reserves needed by Badr for the internal pacification of Egypt could only be raised by surrendering his outermost territorial outposts. In June / July 1076 the Fatimid occupation of Damascus surrendered to the Atzis. In February 1077 the Turk made another advance into Egypt, but Badr was able to repel it in a hard defensive battle near Cairo. This victory had encouraged the citizens of Jerusalem, tired of Turkish rule, to successfully revolt, but Atzis succeeded in storming the city again that same year, causing a massacre among the residents. Then he also destroyed Gaza and took the sea fortress Jaffa . In return, Badr made two attempts to retake Damascus, which failed, however. The new Seljuk Sultan Malik Shah I disliked the activities of Atzis in Syria, who appeared far too independent for him, and ousted him in the late year 1078 through his brother Tutusch I , with which now all of Syria was lost forever to the Fatimid caliphate and as a secondary school of the Seljuks was returned to the Sunnah. Likewise, Ramla and Jerusalem in Palestine have now remained permanently under the rule of the Turks, only in the heavily fortified port cities along the Levant coast and in some castles on the Orontes the Fatimid occupations were able to hold out. The Fatimid governor Chalaf ibn Mulaib was also able to stay in Homs , who in the midst of the Seljuk-Sunni onslaught on Syria in Salamiyya, the founding father of the Ismaili mission and ancestor of the Fatimid caliphs Abdallah al-Akbar, built a shrine that is now one of the most important pilgrimage sites of the Ismailis counts. In 1081 the Fatimids lost Tortosa to the Seljuks, while the governor of Tripoli , although a Shiite, began to maneuver between the two powers. In 1084 Tutusch completed the Seljuk conquest of northern Syria by taking the formerly autonomous Aleppo and the last Byzantine stronghold of Antioch . In 1090 Homs was also taken from them. The geopolitical map of the Orient had thus assumed the shape found by the first crusaders when they arrived in 1097. Until then, the region had remained a permanent theater of war between the Fatimids and the Seljuks.

While Syria had to be abandoned, Badr was able to achieve success elsewhere. Through bribery and extortion by withholding the necessary deliveries of grain, the vizier had been able to persuade the Sherif of Mecca to return under the suzerainty of the Fatimid caliphate and thus to restore the supremacy of the caliphate over the Hejaz after its defection four years earlier. On the festival of sacrifice in July 1075, preaching in the name of the Fatimid was again held in the holy places. Furthermore, thanks to the Ismaili vassal dynasty of the Sulaihids, Yemen had remained a reliable pillar of the caliphate.

Succession and Division

The prayer niche ( miḥrāb ) in the Ibn Tulun mosque built by vizier al-Afdal Shahansah in the name of al-Mustansir . Cairo, 1094.

In August 1078, when Egypt was pacified and the rule of Badr al-Jamali was established, the Ismaili missionary Hasan-i Sabbah (Arabic Ḥasan aṣ-Ṣabbāḥ ) , who came from Persia, reached the capital Cairo on a kind of educational trip. Here in the residence of the Imam of his Shia, he intended to deepen his faith during his studies and to get ideas about new strategies of the Shia in dealing with the Seljuk rulers in Persia, among whom the Shia were exposed to severe persecution there. According to his own autobiography, his stay in Cairo with Hasan had mainly left negative impressions. The spiritually and organizationally neglected state of the Shia in Cairo had filled the missionary with horror, for which he primarily blamed the fact that Badr al-Jamali, a religious layman, was the chief missionary responsible for the organization and responsible for the religious sensitivities the believer showed neither intuition nor interest. When asked about the succession of the Imamate, Hasan had finally drawn the vizier's displeasure, who forbade any interference in it. Although Hasan had probably not had a personal audience with al-Mustansir, he was already convinced then of his designation (naṣṣ) in favor of the oldest of the still living Prince Nizar , for whom he then openly sided at the court in Cairo. Since the prince cultivated an intimate hostility towards the vizier family, he and his avowed supporters were consequently non grata with them . After about three years, Hasan was expelled from the country on the instructions of the vizier. He returned to Persia, where in the following years he became the undisputed leading authority of the local Ismaili Shia. In the resistance against the Seljuks, he shifted to the occupation of hilltop castles in the Elburs Mountains , which are difficult to access and far from the ruling centers , where he created a safe refuge for the Persian Shia with Alamut as a center, which he was able to defend against several attacks by the Seljuks. In order to be able to counter the militarily overpowering enemy, Hasan began with the recruitment of "sacrificial" ( fidāʾī ) of the Shia, who were willing to carry out knife attacks against the leadership of the Seljuks at the risk of their lives. They were able to successfully liquidate the first target they had selected, the Seljuq vizier Nizam al-Mulk , in 1092. Such attacks, which were increasingly carried out in the course of the 12th century, left a lasting impression especially on the European crusaders, for whom the Ismailis of that time were remembered as " assassins ".

Badr al-Jamali died in the spring of 1094, after which his son al-Afdal Shahanshah was able to succeed him in the office of vizier without any problems. Only a few months later, al-Mustansir died on December 29, 1094, the Shiite festival commemorating the Pond of Chumm (18th Dhu l-Hijah 487), at the age of sixty-five. His death was the first to be noticed by the vizier, who immediately put the younger prince Ahmad on the throne, proclaimed him the new caliph under the ruler name “the one exalted by God” (al-Mustaʿlī billāh) and extorted their homage from the older princes . Prince Nizar, however, denied the successor to his brother and claimed it himself, having been designated as his successor years earlier by his father, but only one year later the Shahan Shah and his puppet caliph were able to prevail in the succession struggle and destroy Prince Nizar. But in spite of the so quickly decided struggle it was accompanied by a split in the Ismaili Shia that continues to this day. Because the Persian Ismailis under the leadership of Hasan-i Sabbah refused to recognize the succession to the throne in Cairo, which they regarded as a usurpation, and spoke out in favor of the imamate of Prince Nizar and his descendants as the only legitimate one. Since then, the Egyptian and Persian Ismailis each followed their own line of imams, which resulted in an additional weakening of the future Fatimid caliphate.

Less than a year after the death of al-Mustansir, in November 1095 in the distant French town of Clermont, Western Christendom was called to the first crusade to liberate the Holy Sepulcher from the rule of Muslim "infidels".


  • Ibn Challikan : "The Death of Eminent Personalities and the News of the Sons of Time" (Wafayāt al-aʿyān wa-Anbāʾ abnāʾ az-zamān) , ed. by William Mac Guckin de Slane : Ibn Khallikan's biographical dictionary, Vol. 3 (1868), pp. 381-384.


  • Delia Cortese, Simonetta Calderini: Women and the Fatimids in the World of Islam. Edinburgh University Press 2006.
  • Ulrich Haarmann: History of the Arab World. CH Beck, Munich 2001, ISBN 3-406-47486-1 .
  • Heinz Halm : The Caliphs of Cairo. The Fatimids in Egypt 973-1074. CH Beck, Munich 2003, ISBN 3-406-48654-1 .
  • Heinz Halm: Caliphs and Assassins. Egypt and the Middle East at the time of the First Crusades 1074–1171. Munich: CH Beck, 2014.
  • Heinz Halm: princes, princesses, concubines and eunuchs at the Fatimid court. In: Maurice A. Pomerantz, Aram A. Shahin (eds.), The Heritage of Arabo-Islamic Learning (2015), pp. 91–110.
  • Yaacov Lev: The Fatimids and Byzantium, 10th – 12th Centuries. In: Graeco-Arabica, Vol. 6 (1995), pp. 190-208.


  1. See Halm (2003), p. 420.
  2. See Halm (2014), p. 35 f.
  3. Cf. Keppel Archibald Cameron Creswell : The Muslim Architecture of Egypt, I: Ikhshīds and Fātimids, AD 939–1171. Oxford 1952, pp. 220-226.
predecessor Office successor
az-Zahir Single Color Flag - FFFFFF.svg
Caliph of the Fatimids
az-Zahir Ruler of Egypt
az-Zahir 18. Imam of the Ismailis
( Mustali Ismailis )

( Nizari Ismailiten )