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History of the Emirate of Sicily

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The Sicilian emirate was a Muslim state that controlled the entire island of Sicily from 965 to 1072. The Muslim community remained on the island until the 1240s, after which it was deported to the continent.

By the end of the 7th century, the Arabs conquered all of North Africa. The capture of Carthage allowed them to build a strong fleet and create a permanent base for controlling maritime routes. In 805, Ibrahim I ibn Aglab concluded a truce and a 10-year treaty with the ruler of Sicily, Constantine. The Byzantines violated the most important part of the agreement. They did not allow Muslim prisoners to return to their homeland. The treaty was broken. In 812, the Aglabids sent a fleet against the Byzantines, capturing several islands belonging to Sicily. They could not capture the island, but successfully liberated the captive Muslims.

The Mutiny of Euphemia

In 826, the commander of the Byzantine fleet in Sicily tried to force a nun to marry him. Emperor Michael II ordered another commander, Constantine, to break off the marriage and cut off Euphemia’s nose. Euthymius raised an uprising and fled to Sicily, where he took Syracuse. He was followed by Constantine, and a battle was fought between them, but Constantine lost and fled to the city of Catania. Euthymius sent his army after Constantine. Constantine tried to escape, but he was caught and executed. After this, Euthymius declared himself the ruler of Sicily. At the head of a part of the island, he put a man named Balta, but between him and Euthymius, were problems. Balta made an alliance with his nephew Michael, the ruler of Palermo, and they gathered a large army and opposed Euthymius, who fled to North Africa. Balta captured Syracuse.

In North Africa, Euthymius offered his services to conquer the island for the caliphate, in exchange for security and the post of commander. The Aghlabids sent a Muslim army to conquer the island, commanded by the seventy-year-old Asad ibn al-Furat. An agreement was reached that Euphemius would become the ruler of Sicily and pay an annual tribute to the Aglabids.

On June 17, 827, Assad ibn al-Furat landed 100 ships near Mazara del Vallo, with an army of about 10,000 infantrymen, 700 horsemen, and troops loyal to Euphemia also joined them. The first battle took place on July 15, 827, near Mazara, and ended with the victory of the Muslim army.

Arab Conquest

Then Assad conquered the southern coast of the island and took Syracuse in a siege. The siege of Syracuse lasted from winter 827, until the summer of 828. The troops were able to defeat a large army sent from Palermo supported by the Venetian fleet. Then, the Muslim army suffered greatly from famine and the plague, from which Assad died, and was forced to withdraw to Mineo. Going on the offensive, they could not take the fortress of Castrojovanni, where Euthymius was killed.

In 830, the Muslims received reinforcements of 30,000 soldiers from Africa and Andalusia. In July and August, Andalusian troops defeated the Byzantine army under the command of Theodotus, but a new plague forced them to retreat to Mazara and then return to Africa. Berber troops went to the siege of Palermo and occupied the city after a year of siege in 831. Palermo, called Al-Madina, became the Muslim capital of Sicily.

The Arabs took more than a hundred years to fully conquer the island. In 902, Taormina was taken, and by 965, after the fall of the Byzantine fortress of Rometta, Muslims controlled all of Sicily. From 901 to 956 Sicilian Muslims also controlled the city of Reggio, the capital of the Byzantine duchy of Calabria, located on the mainland of the Strait of Messina, although the Sicilian emirate itself was not formally proclaimed at that time.

Emirate

The first rulers of Sicily were the Sunni dynasty of the Aglabids from Tunisia, then the Shia dynasty of the Fatimids from Egypt. In 948, the Fatimid Caliph al-Mansur appointed Hassan al-Qalbi emir of Sicily. The latter was able to defeat the Byzantines and founded the Calbit dynasty. Kalbits attacked southern Italy and in 982, the army of Holy Roman Emperor Otto II was defeated by Muslims near Crotone in Calabria.

The period of decline of the emirate began with the reign of Emir Yusuf al-Kalbi (990-998). Under Al-Akhal (1017-1037), dynastic strife intensified, so that part of the ruling family entered into an alliance with Byzantium and the Berber dynasty of the Zirid. By the beginning of the reign of the Emir of Hasan al-Samsam, the emirate had virtually disintegrated into tiny princedoms.

The Arabs carried out land reform in Sicily, which increased productivity and stimulated the development of small farms, in contrast to the large plantations that had existed since the time of the Roman Empire. They also improved the irrigation system and began cultivating oranges, lemons, almonds and sugar cane. The city plan of Palermo is generally preserved from Arab times, and the cathedral stands on the site of the former mosque.

Population

The population of Sicily, conquered by Muslims, was mostly Christian and spoke Greek. There was also a significant number of Jews. Freedom of religion existed in the Sicilian emirate, but non-Muslims had fewer civil rights. Discrimination could be avoided by converting to Islam, which was happening in large numbers. By the middle of the 11th century, more than half of the island’s population professed Islam. However, by the end of the emirate’s existence, there were still significant non-Muslim communities, especially in the northeast of the island. This contributed to the Norman conquest and the fall of the emirate.

The Decline of the Emirate

In the 11th century, various rulers of Southern Italy, which Muslims constantly threatened with their raids, began to resort to Norman mercenaries. As a result, it was the Normans, led by Roger I, who conquered Sicily, ending the emirate. In 1060, Roger’s older brother, Norman knight Robert Guiscard, who received the title of Duke of Sicily from Pope Nicholas II, invaded Sicily. The Christian population of Sicily welcomed the Normans. Roger I, fulfilling the mission of his brother, engaged in the conquest of Apulia and Calabria, and with an army of 700 knights, conquered Messina and after the key battle for Palermo, Sicily almost completely passed under the control of the Normans. In 1091, the last Muslim cities, Butera and Noto, as well as Malta, surrendered to Christians, and the Sicilian emirate formally ceased to exist.

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