Fatimid Caliphate




Summary of Rise of Empire and Major Military and Political accomplishments.

The Fatimids were a medieval Shii dynasty who came to North Africa from Arabia in 909 CE and gained power over land that expanded from Tunisia in North Africa to Egypt, the Red Sea region (including Mecca and Medina), Palestine, and Syria. (Facts on File) The Fatimids tried to overthrow the Sunni Dynasties, the Abbasids and the Umayyads in Spain (Al Andalus). These attempts were unsuccessful, and the Sunni Dynasties remained intact. While expanding their territory, for a time, they successfully ruled over Egypt, which brought forth much prosperity. The Fatimids greatest militant strength was their navy. The Navy was a vital part of the Fatimid’s success when it came to controlling the central Mediterranean and the Red Sea trading routes. The Fatimids traded valuable goods and agricultural products with the west and east as far as India. To strengthen the military, the Fatimids imported and freed Turkish soldiers. However, once the Fatimids started relying so heavily on outside parties their empire started to lose their strength. Because of this gradual weakness, Saladin and the Ayyubids faced no great challenge in overthrowing the Fatimids and returning the territories to the Sunni Dynasty’s rule in 1171. (Facts on File)

Art, Music, Literature, Religious Ideas and Culture.

The Fatimid capital of Cairo, due to its role in Indo-Mediterranean trade, soon became saturated with wealth. Through this prosperity, Cairo established itself as a major center of Islamic culture. The part of the city known as Old Cairo was the center of metalwork, pottery, glass, carving, and textiles. Lusterware, woodcarvings, and jewelry were all made by highly skilled artisans whose skills could be matched nowhere else. What was strange, at least as far as Islamic Art goes, was the increase in the use of figural forms, or depictions of worldly figures. What made these forms unique was their visual style. These artists used intricate designs and calligraphy to create these living forms. This synthesis of traditional Islamic Calligraphy and more western imagery set these works apart from those of much of the rest of the Middle East (see example below, a wooden beam from Fatimid Palace in Cairo depicting musicians.)

In a similarly tolerant vein, music was also encouraged by the Fatimid caliphate. Music was heavily used in celebrations, ranging to those of a caliphate’s recovery from sickness, to victory parades; the bands often times even accompanied the army itself into battle. Some Caliphates even drank wine in special chambers in which a band would perform for them. The Fatimid Caliphate showed itself to be no enemy of the arts, even when they disagreed with some doctrine.

Cairo also boasted of its mosques and buildings that used similar styles as the local art. The al-Azhar mosque and its University became the Educational and Spiritual Centers of the area. The Religion centered around orthodox Sunni Beliefs. The Al-Azhar had a library of 200,000 manuscripts concerning law, logic, mathematics, astronomy, physics, and theology, all freely open to the public. Al-Azhar still stands as Cairo’s forefront university.
The Islamic world was in discourse at the time much like in Umayyad times. The Islamic World needed a unifying force as the Abbasid Caliphate began to crumble. The Fatimid Caliphate answered this need with new knowledge and hopefully long lasting influence.

Why This Empire did not Conquer the World and, instead, fell.
Although the Fatimid Caliphate enjoyed its heyday, it slowly began to fall down due to many factors.
One of the major reason was corrupted tax system. "Taxation was the main source of government income, but Fatimid tax system was rife with corruption" (Page). Fatimid Berbers were allowed to tax their region if they paid the caliph, but Berbers often could not pay the caliphs, "leaving him unable to pay for even the upkeep of his army"(Page). Also, trade and farming were disrupted by the violence among Mamluks, Berbers, and Sudanese weakened the Fatimid Caliphate. Also, the Fatimid dynasty suffered from "natural catastrophes, dynastic disputes, ethnic and religious factionalism, opposition from powerful Sunni rulers in Syria and Iraq, and the invasion of the first crusaders from Europe in 1096" (Campo). "In 1171, Kurdish military leader Salah al-Din (1138–1193), known in the West as Saladin, seized control of Egypt and brought an end to the Fatimid Dynasty" (Doak). The reason why the Fatimid Caliphate could not conquer the world was because the dynasty itself was suffering from both internal and external crises. The government was not strong enough to prevent corruption, like in the tax system, and prevent the attacks from the outside ㅡ Seljuk Turks, Saladin, and Crusades. Ultimately, the Fatimid Caliphate fell because it could not keep up with both internal and external damages.

Campo, Juan E. "Fatimid Dynasty." Facts on File. Facts on File Inc. , n.d. Web. 5 Apr 2010. <http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?>.

Doak, Robin. "Islamic Empire, 750-1260." Facts on File. Facts on File, Inc. , n.d. Web. 5 Apr 2010. <http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?>.

Page, Willie F, and Davis Hunt. "Fatimid Dynasty." Encyclopedia of African History and Culture: African Kingdoms (500 to 1500. 2. New York: Web. <http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?>.

Works Cited:

Virani, Hanif. "The Rise and Decline of The Fatimid Empire."
Ismaili.net. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Apr 2010.

Yalman, Suzan. "The Art of the Fatimid Period (909-1171)."Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.
New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000. Web.