III. The Postclassical Period, 500–1500 > B. The Middle East and North Africa, 500–1500 > 2. The Muslim Middle East and North Africa, c. 945–1500 > e. Egypt and Syria
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
e. Egypt and Syria
The IKHSHIDID DYNASTY in Egypt and southern Syria. The first of this line was Muhammad ibn Tughj, later known as the Ikhshid (r. 935–46); he arrived in Fustat in 935 as the new Abbasid governor. His outstanding accomplishments were the defense of Egypt against Fatimid raids and the reorganization of the government. Under the Ikhshidids, Egypt continued its reemergence, begun during the Tulunid period, as a political and economic center. Ties with the caliphal government in Baghdad were slowly loosening, allowing the Egyptian administration to retain more of the country's revenue, build a large army, and assume a more independent role in regional affairs. After the Hamdanid takeover of Aleppo in 945, the Ikhshidids retained a hold on the areas of Damascus and Palestine.  1
Reign of SAYF AL-DAWLA, emir of Aleppo and founder of the Syrian branch of the HAMDANID DYNASTY. At the time of his ascent to power, the city had nominally been under the rule of the Ikhshidids, based in Egypt. Formerly the commander of Hamdanid forces in Iraq, he was able to seize Aleppo for himself, thanks to support from the Banu Kilab, a local beduin tribe. The emirate of Aleppo, which embraced most of central and northern Syria, including Homs, functioned as a buffer state between the Ikhshidids, the Byzantine Empire, and the Iraqi states. During the final years of Sayf al-Dawla's reign, the Byzantines put increasing pressure on his state and occupied its northern and western provinces. The conflict with Byzantium conferred on Sayf al-Dawla a reputation as a Muslim crusader, a noble image that court poets such as al-Mutanabbi and Abu al-Firas helped to perpetuate.  2
Death of Abu al-Tayyib AL-MUTANABBI (b. 915), the most honored poet of medieval Arabic literature. He was most renowned for his panegyrics and masterful manipulation of language. He spent a good part of his career at the court of the Syrian ruler Sayf al-Dawla, whose exploits he immortalized in his poetry.  3
The FATIMID DYNASTY in Egypt. The Fatimids, who had already established an empire in North Africa, moved their base of operations to Egypt, which they invaded in 969. The dynasty was the chief exponent of a radical religious movement, the Isma’ili sect of Shi’ite Islam. The Fatimids denied the legitimacy of the Abbasid caliphate and sought to install themselves as the spiritual and temporal leaders of the Islamic world. But their bid to overthrow Abbasid power ended in failure, despite the extensive proselytizing that their Isma’ili missionaries conducted throughout the Islamic world. Their spiritual authority remained circumscribed even in Egypt, where Shi’ite Islam was confined largely to the ruling elites.  4
At its greatest extent, the Fatimid Empire embraced Egypt, North Africa, the Hijaz, and much of Syria. But North Africa gradually slipped away, and control of the remaining provinces was always infirm. On the whole, the Fatimid period was remembered as a time of general prosperity. Agriculture flourished, and Fatimid commercial policy succeeded in diverting the lucrative spice trade from the Persian Gulf to the Red Sea.  5
During the 11th century, various military cliques progressively usurped the caliphs' powers and reduced them to mere figureheads. By the middle of the 12th century, the Fatimid government had become so decrepit that it functioned as little more than a pawn in the power struggle that was then taking place in Syria.  6
The FOUNDING OF CAIRO under orders from the Fatimid conquerers of Egypt. The new city replaced adjacent Fustat (three miles south of Cairo) as the capital, a rank it has held into modern times. But during most of the Fatimid era, Fustat remained the center of commerce, industry, and population.  7
Byzantine capture of Antioch and the coastal lands of northern Syria (See 964–68), which remained in Christian hands until 1084. The Hamdanid emirate of Aleppo shrank to the city and its hinterland and became, in effect, a Byzantine satellite during the late 10th century. Riven by internal rivalries, the Hamdanids of Syria grew ever weaker until their line finally ended in 1016.  8
Opening of AL-AZHAR Mosque. It operated originally as a center for Shi’ite propaganda. After the fall of the Fatimids (1171), it was transformed into the premier Sunni religious college in the Muslim world.  9
Fatimid victory in Palestine over Turkish and Qaramita forces, which had seized control of southern Syria after the fall of the Ikhshidids. As a result the Fatimids were able, at least for a short time, to gain control of southern Syria, and the Qaramita were permanently cleared from Syria and its commercial routes. Equally significant was the introduction of Turkish slave recruits (mamluks or ghilman) into the Fatimid military and administration. The government in Egypt relied increasingly on slaves to serve as officials and troops. The Turkish presence among the elites, together with an influx of Iraqi bureaucrats and soldiers, served as a counterweight to North African contingents, which had formerly been dominant in the Fatimid state.  10
Rule of the Fatimid caliph al-Hakim, who vanished at the end of his reign. Al-Hakim is remembered for his eccentric and cruel behavior, repudiation of orthodox Islam, and persecution of non-Muslim subjects. His most devoted followers declared him to be an incarnation of God. After his mysterious disappearance (he was probably murdered), his followers formed their own sect of Islam and became known as the DRUZE. One of the chief missionaries of the radical doctrines was Hamza ibn Ahmad, who established the Druze in Syria, where they live to this day.  11
The MIRDASID DYNASTY in Aleppo. The Mirdasids were a prominent family from among the Banu Kilab, the most powerful tribe in the northern Syrian Desert. Backed by their fellow tribesmen and Fatimid allies, the Mirdasids overcame the successors of the Hamdanid dynasty (the general Lu'lu' and his Turkish troops), who had received unavailing support from the Byzantines. The state that the Mirdasids carved out for themselves occupied a territory not much larger than Aleppo and its extended hinterland. The Mirdasid regime owed its survival largely to skillful diplomacy, balancing Fatimid and Byzantine interests on the international scene and tribal and urban factions locally. For the people of Aleppo, the reign of the Mirdasids was remembered as a period of general prosperity. The Mirdasids were ousted from Aleppo only after the rise of the Seljuk Turks, who disrupted the fragile diplomatic equilibrium that had been maintained in Syria for more than half a century.  12
Death of Abu al-’Ala' al-Ma’arri, one of the most famous poets of medieval Arabic literature. He was noted for his ornate imagery, mastery of rhetoric, and highly refined verse. In tone, his poetry displayed an open irreverance and contempt for orthodox religion.  13
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.