Al-Bakri’s Village of the Slavs

We have for a long time been receiving requests for the text about the “village of the Slavs” (Qarjat as-Saqaliba) near Nokour in Morocco.  We oblige.  The village is mentioned by the great historian and geographer Al-Bakri (Abū ʿUbayd ʿAbd Allāh ibn ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz ibn Muḥammad ibn Ayyūb ibn ʿAmr al-Bakrī, or simply Al-Bakri), a Spaniard by birth who worked primarily in Cordoba.  Al-Bakri (circa 1014 – 1094) wrote a number of works but only two have survived:

  • Kitāb al-Masālik wa-al-Mamālik (“Book of Highways and of Kingdoms”), and
  • Mu’jam mā ista’jam

It is the Book of Highways and of Kingdoms that contains the famous passages about the Slavs front he work/embassy of Ibrahim ibn Ya’qub.  The relevant passages to the present query also appear there in the translation of William McGuckin (also Mac Guckin and MacGuckin), aka Baron De Slane Description de L’Afrique Septentrionale par Abou-Obeid-El-Bekri published in 1911 (previously also in 1859) and in the French translation of the same published in 1913.

The references are to ancient Nokour or Nekor where Said ibn Salih (864-916) was ruler at the time of these events.  For more not the Kingdom of Nekor see here.

“…The Maknassi (Miknaça) having refused to pay Saleh the taxes they owed him, the prince [Saleh] wrote them a threatening letter and, having sealed it, he put it in a sack, which he bound on the back of his donkey.   He then said to one of his trusted men: ‘Take this animal to the middle of the land of the Maknassi; leave it there with this bundle, and then return.’  The order was executed.  The Maknassi found the donkey, recognizing it as Saleh’s.  They examined the packet, and, after reading the letter which was there, held counsel together.  At first an attempt was made to cut the hocks of the donkey, and to persist in the rebellion, but afterwards they resolved to collect the whole sum of money, to put it on the animal’s back with a fine cloth cover [Mervienne (r)] and bring everything back to Saleh.  At the same time they demanded the forgetting of their past and in fact were forgiven for their insubordination.  Saleh ibn Said died after a reign of twenty-eight years.”

“Said, his younger son, to whom authority was given, had scarcely established himself in the government, that the Slavs belonging to his family by right of purchase came to demand their emancipation.  He replied, ‘You are our militia and our servants; You are just like free men, since you are not counted among things that are inherited and the law governing the division of inheritance is not applied to you.  Why, then, do you wish to be freed?'”

It’s somewhere over there

“In spite of these observations, they persisted in their demand, and on his refusal to satisfy them, they uttered rude insults and took as their leader his brother Obeid Allah and his uncle Abu Ali er-Rida.  Attacked by these rebels even in his own palace, Said, who was supported only by his pages and by the women of his family, fought them from the top of the castle and forced them to depart.  Expelled from the city by the populace, the insurgents went to post themselves at the village of the Slavs, a village situated above Nokour.”

“They stayed there for seven days, when Said, having finally put together a few troops, went out to attack them.  After a battle he overcame the mutineers and imprisoned his brother Obeid Allah and his uncle Er-Rida, whose daughter he had as a spouse.  El-Aghleb, Abu’l-Aghleb, and the other cousins ​​of Said who had taken part in the revolt, were sentenced to death.  Obeid Allah was sent to Mecca under guard, and remained there until the end of his days.”

“Seada-t-Allah, son of Harun and cousin of El-Aghleb, was indignant at these executions: ‘How is this!?’ said he, ‘Said kills my cousins ​​and leaves life to his brother and his uncle who were as guilty as El-Aghleb!’  And he set to work to get help from the [tribe of the] Beni Islites who lived about the mountain of Abu ‘Hacen [and] he succeeded in winning them over despite the fact that he was from Nokour (and did so without Said having any knowledge of the plot).  The Islites revolted then.”

Nekor was a lush kingdom

“[In response,] Said gathered his followers and went out with Seada-t-Allah to punish the rebels. When the battle was joined, Seada-t-Allah betrayed his leader and went with his own men over to the side of the enemy.  Said fled, after losing a thousand of his followers and abandoned his flags and drums to the conquerors.  Having shut himself up in Nokour, he withstood a siege against the Islites commanded by Seada-t-Allah.  Victorious [Said] succeeded in repelling them.  Having then taken prisoner Memun, son of Harun and brother of Seada-t-Allah, he took his life.  Then he devastated and burned the houses belonging to Seada-t-Allah who had escaped to Temcaman.  Some time later, Seada-t-Allah made peace with his sovereign and returned to Nokour.”

“Filled with bravery and audacity, he went out again, accompanied by all who relied on him, and penetrated into the territory belonging to the Botovis and the Beni Ourledi.  Having obtained from these tribes the possession of Coloue Djara, he placed himself at their head and then invaded the districts occupied by the Mernica and the Zenata.  After having killed many and subjected all this region, he returned to Nokour, where he never ceased to serve Said with fidelity.  Ahmad, son of Idris, son of Mohammed, son of Soleiman, son of Abd-Allah, son of El-Hacen, son of Adam, Ali, son of Abu Taleb.  The marriage was celebrated at Nokur, and Ahmed spent the rest of his days with his wife.”

Saqaliba warrior scouting party

Later we also read the following where there is a reference to an assassination which may have perpetrated by Slavs or just by slave pages:

“El-Cacem, son of Obeid Allah, left a large family, whose members remain among the Zenata. The posterity of Mohammed es-Chehid also inhabits the territory of Zenata.  Abu’l-Aish, son of Obeid Allah, left two sons, Hammoud and Yahya.  The posterity of this one lives Tazeghedera. Hammoud had three children:  El-Cacem, Ali and Fatema.  Ali obtained the caliphate of Andalusia in the year 1016/1017.  He was killed in a bath at the palace of Cordova by two Slav pages. The assassins were subjected to the death penalty.  He left two sons, Yahya and Idris, the first of whom was his successor, the designe and lord of the Maghreb.  The second had the city of Malaga.”  

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January 19, 2017

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