The Slavs of Ibn al-Saghir’s Chronicle of Tahart

Moving West to East along the African coastline away from Al-Bakri’s Morocco and its Kingdom of Nekor, we next come to Tahart in Algeria in the Chronicle of Ibn al-Saghir which is one of two chronicles (the other being by Abu Zakariya) about the imams of Tahart (aka Tahert or Tihert, a city six miles west of today’s Tiaret) from the Rustamid dynasty.  The Rustamids were a Persian dynasty of the Ibāḍ complexion that ruled the Berber tribes in central Maghreb between 776/777 and 908/909.  Tahart was their capital.  The Rustamids appear to have been quite liberal with all kinds of cultures crossing their state (pre-Arab Christians (perhaps even Vandals and Alans?), Jews, etc).  It was also a prosperous seat of commerce (the writer of the Chronicle seems to have at one point in his life been a shopkeeper in a part of town called ar-Rahadina – perhaps a reference to the Radhanites).

The Chronicle (for lack of a better term) contains a few interesting mentions of the Slavs.  As a point of curiosity, its first edition was put together by a Slavic (Polish) Frenchman (born in Mascara, Algieria) – one Adolphe de Calassanti Motylinski  (Chronique d’Ibn Ṣaghir sur les imams Rostemides de TahertActes du 14e Congrès des Orientalistes (Algiers 1905), volume III/2; an earlier version in Bibliographie du Mzab, les livres de la secte abadhiteBulletin de correspondance africaine, (1885), volume III).  This was based on the only known “manuscript” copy that he located in M’Zab (the M’zabis are Ibāḍis so that may have helped the manuscript being preserved there – this copy was put together only in the 18th century by one Abu Bakr Ibn-Yusuf).  Motylinski supplemented this with a work that mentions pieces of Ibn al-Saghir’s Chronicle written by a 15th century writer al-Barradi (Kitab al-Gawahir al muntaqat).

So, thanks to the efforts of all these people in the middle of Algeria we can now read a little bit more about the Slavs!  The Slavs mentioned are those in Baghdad and in Tahart.  We also mention the ar-Rahadina quarter (in Tahart) references as these may have been named after the Radhanite merchants.

Incidentally, the M’Zab is a deep, narrow valley with five towns dominating it at different points.  The most important one is called… Ghardaïa (as per Wiki: Ghardaïa has its origins in a female saint named Daïa who lived in a cave (ghār) in the area before it blossomed into a town inhabited by Ibadite Muslims who came to escape persecution from Fatimite Muslims in the north).

Slavic Rebels in Baghdad

“When Aflah took over the reigns of government [872?], he proved himself to be full of energy and and decisiveness…  His son Abu ‘l-Jaqzan [ruled 874 – 894] was respected by all on account of his piety.  He begged his father to allow him to make a pilgrimage [to Mecca].  He left with a caravan and arrived at Mecca.  After he completed the ritual circling and runs [Tawaf], he was discovered by the agents of the Abbasids who had arrived [in the city] at the same time as he.  They were told that the son of the chief of as-Surat had arrived from Maghreb sent by his father so as to stock of the situation in the country and to send out his men in all directions [so as to make contact] with those people who held their views [of as-Surat] and tenets of their denomination, so as to prepare them for the time when his father would arrive from the Maghreb.”

“Abu ‘l-Jaqzan was carried off from Mecca together with a certain man from the Nafusa tribe who had been his servant and he came with him to Madinat as-Salam.  And the ruler at that time was al-Mutawakkil or some other ruler who lived at such time.  He gave the order to throw him [that is Abu ‘l-Jaqzan] in prison.  The one who told me this said: ‘I was told by my father repeating the words of Abu ‘l-Jaqzan ‘My imprisonment took place at the same time as that of the brother of the caliph who had been punished for reprimanding the caliph.’ and spoke further: ‘He gave the same order for each of us to be thrown into the same prison.  He also gave me a daily stipend of 120 dirrhems.’  And he spoke further: ‘These sums were paid to me for as long as I did not leave [the prison].  And when I finally left and they let me leave they said: ‘Think who should receive the stipend [for you, i.e., to take to you] that you’ve been receiving so that we do not lose track of you and your name does not get deleted from our records [as a person receiving/entitled to the money].”

“He spoke further: ‘The cause of my release, by the will of Allah, was that the caliph’s brother grew fond of me in prison and we became great friends.  He would not eat or drink anything without calling me over and I too repaid him the same.’  And he spoke: ‘While we remained so, we heard that matters took a new turn in the world and that there had been a revolution.  The caliph had been killed and my friend who had prison with me had been elevated [to caliph] in his place.'”

“[Abu ‘l-Jaqzan] spoke: ‘We did not even notice when Slavs entered our dwelling [prison] with soldiers and he [caliph’s brother] was taken [away from prison].'”

“The one who said this to us mentioned neither the name of the caliph who had been killed nor the caliph who took power [as a result of the revolution].”

“He spoke: ‘As soon as my companion had become the ruler and set up his government, I was set free from the prison and, on his orders, taken to the vezir, who had been ordered by the caliph to watch over me, treat me with dignity and take care of my needs until such time as I could be seen by the caliph…'”

“Thereafter, the caliph ordered the vezir to take care of me and prepare my equipment for the journey.  He ordered to give me a ten trade of fabric which was then pitched for me as well as money for my upkeep and clothes.  He also wrote letters for me addressed to the various governors resident in provincial capitals [ordering them] to take care of my safety, show me goodwill, deliver what I ask for and treat me with respect.  I began to set my matters in order and then got under way.'”

“As regards Aflah ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab, when he found out that he had lost his son and that he had been kidnapped and taken to Baghdad, he was greatly saddened at this and long worried.  He lived since that time constantly in sorrow and grief until his death which occurred when his son was still prisoner in Baghdad.”

Slavic Servants in Tahart 

“One day I asked Suleiman who was a freedman of qadi Muhammad ibn ‘And Allah: ‘What reason is there for Muhammad ibn ‘And Allah to have shown such disgust at [his] post as qadi* and to have given up his seal and chest for books and [to dare] to speak so to Abu ‘l-Jaqzan as he had done.  And he answered: ‘May God reward you in the life to come my son!  This [is what took place]: We were sitting on a certain night after the last prayer.  He [Muhammad ibn ‘And Allah] easily preferred me to the others as regards serving him.  And when we remained so, there was a rapid knock on our door.  He said to me: ‘Get up Suleiman! I fear something happened and news comes in the name of the sultan.”’

“And he [the freedman Suleiman] spoke: ‘I opened the gates and found myself in the presence of a woman catching her breath who was accompanied by a Slav carrying a lamp.’  And he spoke: ‘I said: ‘what is it that you wish woman?  She answered: ‘I wish [to speak with] the qadi.’  So I returned to him and informed him of this.  And he said: ‘Bring her in.’  I brought her in.  When she stood before him, he said to her: ‘What do you wish woman and what brings you here at this hour?’  She answered: ‘Gladly.  Just now the servants sent by Zachariah, the son of the emir forced their way into my house and took in before my very eyes my daughter.  So I said to my son: ‘Get up and chase them!’  He answered: ‘I am afraid that they might kill me should I wish to do that. And if they themselves would not kill me, I am afraid that they will have some of their mercenaries lay an ambush for me or bandits serving them so as to kill me…” [so presumably she sought help with the qadi]

* Qadi meaning a magistrate or judge.

Radhanite Quarters?

“…At this I got up and said to him: ‘Let God grant you prosperity!  I own a store at ar-Rahadina where I buy and sell…”

“…One day when I as at a mosque in ar-Rahadina, a man who was an outstanding personality among the  Ibāḍites – Suleiman, who came from the Huwwara [tribe] – spoke to me thus…”

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January 23, 2017

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