What was the civilization of Maghreb


Nora Lafi

To person

is a scientist at the Center for the Modern Orient in Berlin. Her research focus is the history of the Ottoman Empire. [email protected]

The region in North Africa, which stretches from Libya to Mauritania and also includes the present-day states of Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, is commonly referred to as "Maghreb". Although the borders date back to colonial times, the entire Sahara can be culturally included - right up to cities like Timbuktu and Gao as well as the areas where nomads live. The Arabic word "Maghreb" stands for the geographic west and literally denotes the "place of sunset". The term was first used in the Middle Ages to denote the areas west of Egypt. As the works of the geographer Muhammad Ibn Ahmad al-Muqaddasi, born in Jerusalem in 947, show, the term also included Sicily, the Iberian Peninsula and the Balearic and Canary Islands during Islamic rule (7th to 15th centuries). This makes it clear that the name "Maghreb" did not originally describe the North African coast or the southern coast of the Mediterranean, but rather the west delimiting the eastern Levant: the "Maschrek", literally the "place of sunrise". A limit can also be drawn in culinary terms: with the spread of couscous - a dish made from steamed wheat, barley or millet semolina. Couscous is the basis of North African dishes between the Atlantic and Libya as well as the Mediterranean and the Sahara. The Libyan city of Benghazi separates the Maghreb from the region where rice is mainly eaten: Egypt and the Levant.

Islamization of the Maghreb

Even before the Islamic conquest, the societies of the Maghreb consisted of different groups such as Berbers and other Mediterranean and African peoples. Jewish Berbers as well as Jews from Palestine, Yemen and the entire Middle East have lived here since ancient times. Mixed marriages created a true mosaic of populations.

After two centuries of rule by Germanic Vandals and Byzantine Greeks, the Islamization of the Maghreb took place in the 7th century with the arrival of armies from the Arabian Peninsula. However, this should not be interpreted as a chronology of successive, victorious civilizations: during the time of the Punians (between 814 and 146 BC) and the Romans, and for much of the following centuries, the Maghreb was integrated into a Mediterranean and Trans-Saharan economic system. Historians have also been able to demonstrate continuities across epochs: For example, parts of the local elite were made up of the same families over large historical periods. [1]

In the Middle Ages, the Maghreb was ruled by different dynasties that were closely related to the Iberian Peninsula until the 15th century. [2] Most of the dynasties were of Berber origin - such as the Almoravid dynasty (11th and 12th centuries) and the Almohad dynasty (12th and 13th centuries). In the eastern part of the region, the Hafsids ruled between the 13th and 16th centuries. [3] The domains of all these dynasties changed depending on alliances, wars and dynastic successions. At the same time there were individual autonomous regions. With the loss of the Iberian Peninsula in 1492 and the Spanish conquest of various port cities in the Maghreb, Muslim rule in the west felt threatened and incorporated into the Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the 16th century. [4] The integration followed a protection logic.

Imperial integration and local dynasties

The goal of the rapidly expanding Ottoman Empire was to stop Christian expansion in the western Mediterranean. The expansion threatened Muslim ports in North Africa and thus the trade routes of the Middle East. The elites of the Maghreb port cities promised security and prosperity when they were accepted into the Ottoman Empire. Algiers was the first city to be integrated in 1516. The integration was followed by decades of fighting with the Spanish fleet. [5] Local elites asked the Ottoman corsair Baba Oruç (corrupted as "Barbarossa" in Europe) for help to keep the city in the Ottoman Empire. In 1541 Algiers was completely incorporated; In 1551 and 1553 the city of Tripoli and its province as well as the area of ​​Cyrenaica followed. In 1574 the Ottomans ousted the Hafsids, supported by Spain, from Tunis. The Algerian Oran was under Spanish occupation until 1708 and again between 1732 and 1792. In Morocco, the Spaniards supported the rule of the Saadians (between 1554 and 1659) in order to prevent integration into the Ottoman Empire. The occupation of various cities on the Atlantic coast by the Portuguese began even earlier.

The incorporation of much of the Maghreb into the Ottoman Empire was the result of negotiations: each new province received codes of law (kanun name), in which individual duties and rights were recorded. Egypt kanun name - which came about on the basis of the recognition of local rights and privileges when the province was integrated into the empire in 1516 - served as a model for an administrative system that was used in the new Ottoman provinces of the Maghreb. The empire recognized local communities such as denominational parishes or professional organizations as well as civil, fiscal and commercial privileges of local dignitaries. The religion of the Ottoman state was Islam. The institution of the Hisba who organized the cities and trade. The Hisba was both a moral principle for human behavior and a guideline for precise treatises governing daily life, commercial trade, and collective interactions. [6] Local religious communities were given the right to self-government and civil society representation. All individuals, all recognized professional and denominational communities as well as the city administration had the right to petition the Sultan in Istanbul to negotiate whether their privileges were respected. [7] The Maghreb port cities quickly became havens for those fleeing the ethnic and religious cleansing in Christian Europe. Muslims and Jews from Spain were accepted into Maghreb cities as well as from the rest of the communities of the Ottoman Empire. For example, many Spanish Jews found refuge in Salonika. [8] Many Jews from the Spanish-occupied Oran fled to Algiers.

Migration added to the cosmopolitan dimension of the Maghreb port cities. Up to a quarter of the population of large cities was Jewish. All cities had at least one Jewish quarter called Hara. [9] The Jews were of various origins: Berber, Andalusian, Yemeni and Palestinian Jews lived in the neighborhoods. [10] The rest of the population was also characterized by diversity. There were numerous mixed neighborhoods in which members of different denominations lived together. The Berber population has been very diverse for centuries due to mixed marriages, their interaction with parts of the population of Arab and black African origin reinforced this aspect. The idea of ​​an ethnically homogeneous Berber people must therefore be contradicted. There were also numerous migrant converts and Christian prisoners in all port cities. These were triggered by the captivity of corsairs who hijacked ships in the Mediterranean in the service of the Europeans or the Ottomans. [11] The prisoners lived in their own quarters and built their own churches. The converts mostly migrated from Malta, Sardinia and Sicily. Even if Jews and Christians could not accept all public offices in the Ottoman Empire, they had the opportunity to rise to influential positions of power such as ministerial posts. [12]

The representatives of the Ottoman Empire were not only Turks, but also often Albanians, Serbs, Georgians, Armenians, Sardinians, Sicilians, Kurds and Greeks. [13] The fact that they converted to Islam in no way erased their complex identities and multilingualism. Many dignitaries of the Maghreb were sent on official missions to other provinces of the empire - whether to Sarajevo or Baghdad. Therefore one cannot speak of a colonial empire with the Ottoman Empire: The traditions of the different ethnic groups and religious communities were accepted and people from all corners of the empire were integrated into the administration of the empire's territories. The urban societies were even more diverse. Often families were made up of spouses of different origins and created multiple identities such as the so-called Kouloughlis: They came from marriages between Ottoman Janissaries and Maghreb women. [14]

The Maghreb hinterland was also incorporated into the empire. [15] The Ottomans secured the west-east pilgrimage routes to Jerusalem and Mecca as well as the north-south route to the Sahara. Between the 16th and 19th centuries there were also autonomous regions that were accepted by the empire - for example the local Qaramanli dynasty between 1711 and 1835 in Tripoli or the Muradite dynasty between 1613 and 1705 in Tunis. [16] These "regency", as they were called in European diplomacy, were an integral part of the empire. They paid taxes and participated in the wars as well as in the ceremonial of the Ottoman Empire.

Local administration in the cities was delegated to local dignitaries. City councils were made up of representatives from large Muslim families - the leader of the Jewish community also sat on the city council. The members were responsible for the public order and the regular administration at the level of the respective neighborhood. The administration of the cities therefore not only consisted of the presence of a governor and the imperial and customs officials as well as a janissary garrison, it was always composed of local dignitaries. [17] All the cities of the Maghreb have developed significantly under the Ottoman rule: New quarters were built as well as new markets and religious buildings. Tunis, Benghazi, Tripoli, Constantine, and Algiers were particularly wealthy. [18]