Berber Revolts

An 8th-century Description

This snippet is from the Chronicle of 754, written in Latin by a Mozarab (Arab Christian) in Spain. He describes here the second wave of revolts in the 730s.

He [the governor ʿUqba b. Hajjaj] also undertook an expedition against the Franks with a large army. He left proudly with his great army, heading toward the city of Zaragoza. But when he learned, by means of letters sent from Africa, of a rebellion on the part of the Moors, he returned to Córdoba without delay and as quickly as possible made his way through the Transductine mountains. Dispatching Arabs to the Moorish strongholds without success, he crossed the sea himself when the ships that he had been waiting for arrived. Whenever he encountered any rebels, traitors, evil-doers, or those heretics whom they call ‘Arures’, he decapitated them with the sword. Thus, disposing everything as best he could and guarding the Trinacrian ports, he clemently ascended his throne.

At that time, Hisham, seized by an iniquitous rage, loosed the bridle of his cupidity, leaving it unrestrained, and all the peoples under his power immediately flung themselves into civil war. All that vast desert, from which the Arab multitudes had arisen, was full of unrest, unable to tolerate the injustice of the judges. And in the western region, which extends to the southern zone and which is occupied more than any of the others by the Moors, the inhabitants openly shook their necks from the Arab yoke, unanimous and determined in their wrath. When Hisham realized the scale of the rebellion, he immediately sent powerful reinforcements of 100,000 soldiers to the African governor. After Kultum was given command over the armies of the east and the west, they made their way to African soil, organized into companies and phalanxes. They decided on their own initiative to hasten toward the sea, crossing the territory of the Moors to attack Tangiers with the sword. But the army of the Moors, realizing this, immediately burst forth from the mountains naked, girded only with loin-cloths over their shameful parts. When they joined with each other in battle at the Nava river, the Egyptian horses immediately recoiled in fright, as the Moors on their beautiful horses revealed their repulsive colour and gnashed their white teeth. The Arab cavalry launched another attack in despair but again recoiled instantly due to the colour of the Moors’ skin. The horses fled in fear, resulting in their death as well as the death of their riders. Hastening without restraint or rest through rough and out-of-the-way places, many perished in the vast desert. In this manner, all the forces from the east as well as the west were dispersed, slipping away in flight. Kultum, the commander, was decapitated by his exhausted allies. The whole army found itself divided into three groups: one part was held captive in the hands of the victors; another, like vagabonds, turned and fled, trying to return home. A third part, confused and not knowing where to go, headed for Spain – oh the pain! – with Balj, a man of good lineage and an expert in military matters, as their leader.

Source, pp. 118-20.

A 9th-century Description

This snippet is from the 9th-century historian ‘Abd al-Malik b. Habib. He records a conversation between the Umayyad caliph Sulayman b. ‘Abd al-Malik (r. 715-7) and his commander.

[Sulayman] said: “Tell me about the Berbers.” [The general] replied, “They are the non-Arabs who most resemble the Arabs [in their] bravery, steadfastness, endurance and horsemanship, except that they are the most treacherous of people–they [have] no [care for] loyalty, nor for pacts.”


A 9th-century Description

This snippet comes from the history of Baladhuri, a 9th-century Iranian Muslim who wrote a history in Arabic. It is about the first round of revolts in the 690s.

Source, pp. 360-1.

A 14th-Century Description

This description is from Ibn Idhari, a Moroccan who wrote a famous history of Morocco and Spain in Arabic.

The Arabs only want Ifriqiya for its cities and gold and silver while we only want agriculture and flocks. The only solution is the destruction [kharab] of the whole of Ifriqiya so that the Arabs lose interest in it and they never return again!’ Her audience approved, so they went away to cut down their trees and destroy their fortresses. It has been said that Africa was shaded from Tripoli to Tangier, villages were continuous and there were cities everywhere, to the extent that no area of the world was more prosperous, or favoured: no area had more cities and fortresses [husun] than Africa and the Maghreb and it went on for two thousand miles like it. The Kahina destroyed all of that.nMany of the Christians and Africans left seeking to escape from what the Kahina had done, going to Andalus [Spain] and the other islands in the sea.

Source, pp. 220-21.