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Copyright permission has been sought from the aforementioned publisher.
The use of materials published on the Institute of Ismaili Studies website indicates an acceptance of
the Institute of Ismaili Studies’ Conditions of Use. Each copy of the article must contain the same
copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed by each transmission. For all published work, it
is best to assume you should ask both the original authors and the publishers for permission to (re)use
information and always credit the authors and source of the information.
© 2013 The Institute of Ismaili Studies
The Institute of Ismaili Studies
Title: Al-‘Aziz bi’llah
Author: Shainool Jiwa
Source: Daʼirat al-maʻarif-i buzurg-i Islami, The Encyclopaedia Islamica,
Vol 3.
Publication: This is an edited version of an article that was originally
published in Daʼirat al-maʻarif-i buzurg-i Islami, The Encyclopaedia
Islamica, Vol 3, p. 988-997 ed. Wilferd Madelung & Farhad Daftary, Brill
(London, 2011).
Al-‘Aziz bi’llah
Dr. Shainool Jiwa
This is an edited version of an article that was originally published in Daʼirat al-maʻarif-i buzurg-i
Islami, The Encyclopaedia Islamica, Vol 3, p. 988-997 ed. Wilferd Madelung & Farhad Daftary,
Brill (London, 2011).
Table of Contents:
Al-‘Aziz bi’llah, the first Fatimid Caliph of Egypt
Expanse of the Fatimid Caliphate by the time of Al-‘Aziz
Fatimid Empire and the cosmopolitan Mediterranean milieu
Governance Policies of Al-‘Aziz
The Fatimid judiciary
The Ahl Al-Kitab (People of the Book)
Da‘wa
Vizerate
North Africa and Sicily
Syria and Palestine
The Conquest of Damascus
Fatimid Expansion to Southern and Central Syria
Fatimid Expansion to Northern Syria
Trade and Diplomacy
Cairo
Portrayals of Al-Aziz
Bibliography
Al-‘Aziz bi’llah, the first Fatimid Caliph of Egypt
Al-‘Aziz bi’llah Abu Mansur Nizar b. Abu Tamim Maadd al-Muizz li-Din Allah (955996 CE), the
fifth Fatimid imam-caliph was the first sovereign of his dynasty to begin his rule in Egypt. Al-
Aziz’s reign epitomises the cultural, intellectual and architectural efflorescence of Fatimid rule in
Egypt. It also established the Fatimids as a vibrant Mediterranean Empire, pursuing trade, diplomacy
and warfare with their Byzantine, Abbasid and Andalusian Umayyad counterparts.
Al-Aziz bi’llah was born on 14 Muharram 955 CE at al-Mahdiyya, the first purpose built capital of
the Fatimid state in Ifriqiya. He was among the retinue that accompanied his father, al-Muizz li-Din
Allah, on his journey from al-Mansuriyya to al-Qahira (Cairo) in 973 CE, an event which marked the
transference of the Fatimid seat of authority from Ifriqiya to Egypt. As the third son of the Imam-
Caliph al-Muizz, al-Aziz is unlikely to have been groomed for public office during his early life.
Al-Muizz bypassed his eldest son, Tamim, for succession either due to his inability to conceive or
because of his political inclinations, designating instead his second son Abd Allah as his heir
apparent.
Abd Allah’s sudden death during his father’s lifetime led to Nizar’s designation as heir to the
Fatimid caliphate on 4 Rabi al-Thani 975 CE (dates ranging from 423 Rabi al-Thani 976 CE are
provided in the sources concerning Nizar’s accession; Idris ‘Imad al-Din, 6/432455; al-Antaki, 371;
Ibn Khallikan, 5/371; al-Maqrizi, Ittiaz, 1/236237). He assumed the regal title al-Aziz bi’llah. A
week later, al-Muizz passed away. The public declaration of al-Mu‘izz’s death and al-Aziz’s
succession was deferred for some eight months, a practice that was fairly common across all dynastic
appointments at the time to ensure the stability and continuity of state governance. Al-Aziz formally
announced his own succession at the celebration of ‘Id al-Nahr on 10th Dhu al-Hijja 365AH/9th
August 976 CE.
Expanse of the Fatimid Caliphate by the time of Al-‘Aziz
Although the Fatimid presence in Egypt was nascent, the empire which al-Aziz inherited was on the
whole politically stable and geographically extensive, spanning Ifriqiya, Sicily, Egypt, the Hijaz and
parts of Syria. By the end of his reign, the legitimacy of his caliphate had been acknowledged in the
symbolic Friday prayers in both Yemen and Mosul in Northern Iraq. Through its dawa network, the
Fatimid sphere of influence also extended to swathes of Iran and India including Khurasan and
Sijistan, as well as Makran and Sind.
Fatimid Empire and the cosmopolitan Mediterranean milieu
Reflecting the cosmopolitan Mediterranean milieu of its age, the Fatimid Empire during al-Aziz’s
time was inhabited by a populace which was ethnically and religiously diverse. Egypt, the centre of
Fatimid rule, exemplified this diversity. Ethnically, the empire’s subjects included Arabs, Berbers,
Greeks, Turks, Armenians and Sudanese. Religiously, Sunni Muslims constituted the majority of the
populace in Egypt, with an established Ithna Ashari and Ismaili Shii presence. Sizeable, indigenous
non-Muslim denominations were also present throughout the empire, in particular, Christian Copts,
Melkites and Nestorians, as well as a number of Jewish communities. Judicious governance of this
multi-religious and multi-ethnic populace proved to be one of the perennially challenging features of
Fatimid rule. As such, it engaged al-Aziz’s effort through the duration of his reign.
Governance Policies of Al-‘Aziz
In the governance of his empire, al-Aziz built upon the policy of his father, al-Muizz, which had
been informed by decades of experience of their dynasty’s rule over North Africa. Drawing upon the
Fatimid claim to the universal imamate, al-Muizz invoked the notion of dhimma (legal protection) as
one that encompassed all their subjects, irrespective of their race, ethnicity or belief. This invocation
culminated in the proclamation of the aman (protection) document which was issued following the
Fatimid conquest of Egypt in 969 CE.
The principles which were vouchsafed by al-Muizz in the aman document came to underpin al-
Aziz’s framework of governance. Whilst reiterating the Fatimid claim to the sole legitimate spiritual
and temporal authority over the Muslim umma, the aman document nonetheless guaranteed the
customary and legal legitimacy of the various Sunni madhhabs. The mechanisms of the judiciary
provide an illustrative example of the negotiation between the Ismaili claim to supreme religious
authority while maintaining the legal validity of the other Muslim schools of law, thus ensuring
religious and social cohesion.
Underwriting the link between the principles of righteousness and justice, the holder of the highest
rank in the dawa organisation, the da‘i al-duat, was also invested with the responsibility of being
the qadi al-qudat (chief justice) of the Fatimid Empire. One such appointee was Ali b. al-Nu man,
the son of the renowned Ismaili jurist and scholar, al-Qadi al-Numan. However, he shared the post
of the chief qadi with the seasoned Sunni Maliki jurist, Abu Tahir, who had been the chief justice of
the Ikhshidid judiciary. Abu Tahir’s continuing leadership within the Fatimid judiciary was
predicated on the condition that on matters related to public law, he would adjudicate according to
the Fatimid madhhab. It is only when Abu Tahir was unable to continue in this role due to his
advanced age and infirmity that Ali b. al-Numan was confirmed as its sole occupant.
The sources record that on his appointment as the chief justice, Ali b. al-Numan, nominated two
deputies: his own brother, Muhammad b. al-Numan as well as a Sunni Shafii jurist Hasan b. Khalil.
Muḥammad b. al-Numan in turn appointed a Hanafi jurist, Ibn Abi al-Awwam, as the qadi for al-
Fustat. The appointment of Ithna Ashari Shii jurists to the Fatimid judiciary is also recorded. In 991
CE qadi Abd al-Aziz, the son of qadi Muhammad b. al-Numan appointed a body of ashraf
(descendants of the family of the Prophet) to pronounce judgements in the Mosque of Amr based on
the madhhab of the ahl al-bayt. The following year, another Jafari is noted to have been
commissioned with a similar responsibility.
The Fatimid judiciary
These references demonstrate that the Fatimid judiciary drew upon scholars from a variety of Shii as
well as Sunni madhhabs. On matters related to personal or family law, they could pronounce
judgement according to their preferred madhhab, Sunni or Shii, but on matters related to social
governance and public order, their pronouncements had to be based on the Fatimid legal code.
Similarly, Fatimid doctrine had precedence in the performance of public ritual, notably those
concerning communal prayers and worship.
The safeguarding of public order was also reinforced by ensuring that the most senior Fatimid
officials personally administered the cases presented at the mazalim courts. These sessions provided
a formal mechanism for any subject to present a grievance against the state or its bureaucrats. The
sources note that after commander Jawhar al-Siqqilli had established Fatimid control in Egypt, he
used to personally hear the mazalim twice a week. Similarly, in al-Aziz’s reign, the vizier Ya‘qub b.
Killis is recorded to have adjudicated the mazalim cases every day after the morning prayers. In the
later years of al-Aziz’s rule, Muhammad b. al-Numan assumed that function.
The Ahl Al-Kitab (People of the Book)
An attested feature of al-Aziz’s governance is the fostering of cordial relations between the Fatimid
state and the substantial Christian and Jewish minority communities of his empire. Al-Mu‘izz’s aman
declaration stipulated those regulations accorded through custom to the ahl al-kitab would be upheld.
Fatimid policy under al-Muizz and al-Aziz extended such privileges notably by granting permission
for the renovation and upkeep of Christian houses of worship. Al-Aziz permitted the Copts, the
largest indigenous Egyptian Christian community, to rebuild the Church of St. Mercurius near al-
Fustat even though this was opposed by some Muslims.
Al-Aziz also established familial relations with the Melkite Christian community, a minority
Christian confession in Egypt which had a significant following in Syria. Al-Aziz’s most favoured
consort was a Melikte Christian who was the mother of the famous Fatimid princess, Sitt al-Mulk.
Sitt al-Mulk’s two uncles, and al-ʿAziz’s brothers-in-law, Arsenius and Orestes, were subsequently
appointed as Melkite Patriarchs of Alexandria and Jerusalem respectively. Towards the later part of
his reign, in 994 CE, al-Aziz promoted the Christian bureaucrat ‘Isa b. Nasturus to assume
responsibility for the overall administration of the state having earlier been an overseer of the
financial bureau. ‘Isa, in turn appointed the Jewish administrator, Manashsha b. Ibrahim, as financial
controller over Syria.
These appointments led to disquiet among some Muslims who felt that their privileged status was
being displaced. Excesses committed by a number of non-Muslim officials seem to have similarly
contributed to the tensions. Sporadic outbursts of opposition to church restoration were followed by
direct accusations concerning the conduct of ‘Isa b. Nasturus and Manashsha b. Ibrahim. Both were
accused of dismissing Muslim officials from their posts and replacing them with their co-religionists.
Da‘wa
The Ismaili daʿwa network which had been instrumental in establishing Fatimid authority in North
Africa and subsequently in Egypt became an integral part of the state administration under Fatimid
rule. Cairo became the headquarters of the Fatimid dawa and in time Ismaili da‘is from far flung
regions came to the city to pay homage to the Fatimid imam-caliph as well as to study at its various
seminaries. The al-Azhar Mosque, founded under al-Muizz, became a centre of learning and
instruction for Fatimid da‘is under al-Aziz. Thirty-five scholars were appointed to teach at al-Azhar
and were housed adjacent to it.
The Fatimid dawa appears to have thrived in Syria with centres such as Damascus, Sur (Tyre),
Ramla and Asqalan each having their own resident da‘i. The appeal of the Fatimid dawa similarly
spread beyond the urban centres into the rural fabric of the region. The anti-Ismaili qadi of Rayy,
Abd al-Jabbar (d. 1024 CE) mentions Fatimid dawa activity in the Jabal al-Summaq, the
mountainous region located south-west of Aleppo and north of Maarrat al-Numan, indicating that
the Fatimid dawa had established a footing in the villages of this area. Dawa activity in this vicinity
seems to have secured sustained support, as Jabal al-Summaq is noted to have been a bustling centre
of Ismaili activity in the following century. The other known areas of dawa activity in al-Aziz’s
reign include Baghdad, Balochistan, Khwarazm, Kirman, Sind and Yemen. It is not coincidental that
many of these places where the da‘is established themselves were also flourishing centres of trade
and enterprise.
Vizerate
The Fatimid vizierate was formally instituted during the reign of al-Aziz. Abu al-Faraj Yaqub b.
Killis, the first Fatimid vizier, was among the most illustrious administrators of his age. Having
converted to Islam from Judaism in 942943 CE, Yaqub’s exceptional acumen led to his rapid
promotion through the Fatimid state bureaucracy. In 973974 CE, al-Muizz appointed him
alongside Usluj b. al-Hasan, a senior Ifriqiyan administrator, to oversee and reform the collection of
the Egyptian revenues. Their stringent fiscal monitoring yielded such remarkable results that the
Mamluk historian al-Maqrizi (Ittiaz, 1/147) states that their efficiency in tax-collection had been
unheard of in Egypt prior to this time.
Following this accomplishment, al-Mu‘izz extended Ibn Killis’ role to provide oversight of the entire
Fatimid administration, which was formalised on 18 Ramadhan 979 CE. Ibn Killis regulated the
fiscal system and streamlined the collection of taxes. He broadened the Fatimid state’s sources of
revenue and encouraged state ownership of certain lucrative industries such as the manufacture of the
prestigious tiraz fabrics, while also creating incentives for private trade and enterprise.
North Africa and Sicily
Ifriqiya had been the centre of Fatimid rule for the first sixty years of their caliphate (909969 CE).
Following the transference of the Fatimid seat of power to Egypt, administration of the region was
delegated to the Zirids, a vassal dynasty of the Fatimid caliphs. Upon al-Aziz’s succession, Yusuf
(Buluqqin) b. Ziri was reconfirmed as the Fatimid governor of Ifriqiya and was granted control over
a number of additional towns including Tarablus, Surt and Ajdabiya (Ibn al-Athir, 8/264; al-Maqrizi,
Ittiaz, 1/2378; Ibn Khaldun, 4/51, wherein Ajdabiya is named Jarabiya).
However, the geographical as well as ideological distance between Ifriqiya and Egypt led to a
gradual move towards autonomy by the Zirids, causing occasional fissures between them and their
Fatimid sovereigns. Publicly, cordial relations were upheld, with the Zirids maintaining protocol by
sending valuable gifts and tributes to the Fatimid imam-caliph. Yet tentative attempts by the Fatimids
to re-establish direct control met with stiff opposition. The most notable example was al-Aziz’s
dispatch of the da‘i Abu al-Fahm Hasan al-Khurasani in 987 CE to recruit from amongst the Kutama
Berbers, the tribal group who had been the mainstay of Fatimid rule in Ifriqiya.
Having secured Kutama support, Abu al-Fahm began to gather an army, mint coins and prepare
banners. Yusuf b. Ziri, alarmed by these threats to his sovereignty, marched personally against the
da‘i and had him killed on 3 Safar 988 CE. Yet, this debacle strained relations between the Fatimid
ruler and his Zirid governor for a limited period only. Moreover, the Zirids continued to prove
instrumental in checking the recurrent insurgencies in North Africa sponsored by the Umayyads of
al-Andalus. In 992 CE Badis b. Ziri, a brother of Yusuf, was appointed by al-Aziz himself to quell
an Umayyad-led uprising in the region. In that same year, al-Aziz confirmed Yusuf b. Buluqqin’s
choice of the latter’s son, Abu al-Fath Mansur, as successor to the governorship of Ifriqiya. This
conferred hereditary status to Zirid rule in Ifriqiya, thus contributing to their eventual independence
from Fatimid rule.
As with the Zirids in Ifriqiya, the Fatimids retained their hold over Sicily through the appointment of
dynastic governors from a local elite family, the Kalbids. Accordingly, al-Aziz confirmed the
appointment of Abu al-Qasim Ali b. asan as the Fatimid governor of Sicily, an appointment which
al-Muizz had initially made in 970 CE. An intrepid soldier, Abu al-Qasim Ali extended Fatimid
influence into Italy, fortified his hold over Rametta and expelled the Byzantines from Messina. He
also repeatedly raided their lucrative bases in Calabria and Apulia. Although Ali b. Hasan died while
battling Germanic forces led by their Emperor Otto II in 982 CE, the Sicilians emerged victorious.
This momentous victory assured Kalbid rule over Sicily and ensured Sicilian dominance in the
central Mediterranean over the course of the next half century, which only subsided following the
Norman incursions into the island in the 1060s CE.
Syria and Palestine
Syria’s strategic value to Egypt necessitated the inevitable and inextricable Fatimid involvement in
the region. In the 4th/10th century Mediterranean littoral, Syria became a buffer between the major
powers of the time: Byzantium to the north, the Abbasids (under their Buyid amirs) to the east, the
Hamdanids in Northern Iraq and Syria and the Fatimids to the south-west. Consequently, it was the
scene of frequent battles and struggles for supremacy between these rival dynasties. The local Syrian
overlords and tribal chieftains safeguarded their survival by aligning themselves with whichever
power served their interests at the time. This contributed to the political volatility in Syria which
permeated al-Mu‘izz’s short rule in Egypt and dominated the course of al-Aziz’s entire reign. As
such al-Aziz expended considerable resources in the complex and protracted struggle to establish
Fatimid supremacy over Syria and Palestine.
No sooner was the conquest of Egypt completed in the reign of al-Muizz when the Fatimid general
Jawhar al-Siqilli sent an expedition to Syria. The seasoned Maghribi commander, Jafar b. Falah, was
selected to lead this military encounter. Yet forced to fight for a prolonged period in terrain that was
geographically and militarily unfamiliar to the Fatimid armies, Jafar was compelled to withdraw in
971 CE.
Immediately on becoming caliph, al-Aziz turned his personal attention to Syria, where the Turkish
commander Alp Takin (also known as Alptegin or Aftakin), had secured control over Damascus.
After his expulsion from Buyid Iraq along with his Turkish troops, Alp Takin entered Syria at a time
when the Byzantine Emperor, John Tzimisces, was pursuing a campaign of aggressive expansion.
The Emperor marched as far south as Caesarea on the coast of Palestine and in 975 CE, seized
control of Baalbak and Tiberias, towns which had been previously occupied by the Fatimids. The
deaths of both Tzimisces and al-Muizz in 975 CE emboldened Alp Takin who, having established
his authority over the Damascenes, now proceeded to secure the support of the Qaramita of Bahrain,
who were active at the time in Iraq and the Arabian peninsula, and were militantly opposed to the
Fatimids. Together, they set out to occupy the Syrian coastlands that had recently come under
Fatimid control.
The Conquest of Damascus
Upon al-Aziz’s accession, he sent his most senior general, Jawhar al-Siqilli, with a large force to
fight Alp Takin and retrieve Damascus. Seventeen months of fighting followed during which Jawhar
secured some initial success. However, the failure of the Fatimid troops to withstand their opponents
forced Jawhar to eventually accept a humiliating surrender. Success in Syria was considered critical
for the Fatimids such that al-Aziz decided to take to the field in person. The ensuing Fatimid force
defeated Alp Takin and subdued the Qaramita. By Muharram 368 AH / August 978 CE, Alp Takin
had been taken prisoner and was presented to al-Aziz, who treated him magnanimously. In
recounting this incident, Ibn Khallikan notes that the new sovereign ‘forgave him after defeating
him’ (Ibn Khallikan, 5/371).
While the Fatimids had developed a honed army of Maghariba (westerners, that is, North African)
soldiers of whom the Kutama were the mainstay, the repeated failures of this army in Syria
highlighted the necessity for a revised military strategy. Whereas the Maghariba fought as an
infantry-heavy force whose strength was to provide a solid, central flank to the army, warfare in
Syria required composite armies with aggressive cavalries. The Turkish ghilman who dominated the
Syrian battlefields were adept armoured cavalrymen and became much sought after as an effective
fighting force. In pardoning Alp Takin and commissioning him to galvanise Turkish forces, al-Aziz
sought to introduce this critical element into the Fatimid armies.
The introduction of Turkish troops into the Fatimid armies became a marked feature of the reign of
al-Aziz, a policy that had significant short and long term consequences for the Fatimid state, as it set
in motion the decline of the dominance of the Kutama and led to subsequent bifurcation of the
Fatimid armies based on the ethnic distinctions of the Maghariba and the Mashariqa (easterners).
Fatimid Expansion to Southern and Central Syria
Over the next ten years, al-Aziz was gradually able to bring southern and central Syria under
Fatimid control. However, the local potentates who utilised the rivalries of the regional dynasties to
bolster their own position posed a significant and recurring challenge to the establishment of Fatimid
control. Qassam, the leader of the Syrian urban militia (ahdath), controlled Damascus while al-
Mufarrij b. al-Jarrah, the bedouin chieftain of the Banu Tayy, maintained a firm grip over Palestine.
Both feigned nominal allegiance to the Fatimids. Nonetheless, their tenuous allegiance required
several unsuccessful expeditions before the Fatimids, under their Turkish commander Yal Takin,
were finally able to oust Qassam from Damascus in 372 AH/982 CE and Ibn al-Jarrah from Ramla in
the following year.
Bakjur, the governor of Hims, typified the tendency amongst the local Syrian potentates to vacillate
in seeking patronage and protection. Originally a client of the Hamdanid dynasty, Bakjur reneged
from his Hamdanid overlords and sought to secure the governorship of Damascus through al-Aziz.
Though the latter acceded, Bakjur proved a callous and tyrannical custodian over the city and was
eventually removed by Munir (also known as Munis) al-Saqlabi who had been sent from Cairo in
988 CE to restore order. However, within three years, Munir himself had transferred his allegiance to
the Abbasids and their Buyid overlords. After being accused of treasonable dealings, Munir was
defeated in 991 CE by Mangu Takin, another Fatimid Turkish commander who arose as a protégé of
Alp Takin. Upon securing his footing in Damascus, Mangu Takin set out towards northern Syria. His
march at the head of a well-equipped force reflected al-Aziz’s ambition of establishing Fatimid
hegemony over Aleppo, the doorway to Iraq, whose conquest had remained of prime interest to the
Fatimids.
Fatimid Expansion to Northern Syria
Northern Syria, however, had numerous stakeholders. The Hamdanids had been firmly established as
rulers over the area and exhibited increasing co-operation and alliance with the Byzantines, their
once erstwhile foes. For the Byzantines, control of the permeable border region of Northern Syria
was militarily imperative to their security and economic prosperity. It was in cognisance of these
factors that al-Aziz ordered Mangu Takin’s march to Aleppo. Mangu Takin set out in 992 CE,
following the news of the death of the Hamdanid Sad al-Dawla and with the knowledge that the
Byzantine Emperor Basil II was occupied with fighting the Bulgars in the Balkans. Beginning his
campaign in spring, Mangu Takin occupied Hims and Hama and subsequently took possession of
Shayzar and Apamea. By 994 CE, he arrived in the vicinity of Aleppo, equipped for a lengthy siege
of the city.
The Fatimid conquest of Aleppo was considered to be a threat of such magnitude that the notables of
Hamdanid Aleppo sent urgent appeals to the Byzantine Emperor. Basil II immediately responded,
and his march across Anatolia compelled Mangu Takin to lift the siege and withdraw from the city.
Having entered the region, Basil restored Byzantine control over Aleppo. He then marched across
central and southern Syria to restore Byzantine authority over that region. The Byzantine Emperor’s
incursions into southern Syria and his sacking of the Fatimid towns were perceived as military
belligerency by the Fatimid sovereign, who announced his decision to personally lead an army
against the Byzantines. Accordingly, al-Aziz commissioned a major mobilisation of his land and sea
forces and set out for Syria. However, as preparations were underway, al-Aziz fell ill with severe
colic and gall stones and died at his encampment at Bilbays on 8 Ramadhan 386 AH/996 CE. He was
42 years, 8 months and 14 days old at the time. His death brought the Fatimid war effort to a
temporary halt.
Trade and Diplomacy
The efficient governance of the Fatimid state under al-Aziz not only secured their political and naval
dominance across the North African littoral, but also initiated a period of economic prosperity that
came to define Fatimid administration in this period. Administrative stability catalysed trans-
Mediterranean trade, laying the foundations for Fatimid Egypt to become the entry point between the
Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean via the Red Sea over the following century.
The growing strategic and economic importance of the Fatimid empire amidst the political instability
and turbulence in the region galvanised the neighbouring dynasties, namely the Byzantines and the
Buyids, to send diplomatic delegations to the Fatimid court. The renowned Buyid emir, Adhud al-
Dawla, is noted to have initiated contact with al-Aziz in 367-368 AH/977978 CE. In his
correspondence addressed to al-Aziz, he referred to him as al-hadra al-sharifa, implicitly
acknowledging his Alid lineage from the ahl al-bayt. Al-Aziz responded positively to his overtures.
However, the Buyid-Fatimid honeymoon waned within three years. Once Adud al-Dawla had
secured his supremacy over all the other Buyid contenders and had consolidated his position at the
Abbasid court, he assumed a more threatening posture towards the Fatimids. In time, Buyid hostility
and opposition to the Fatimids on the Syrian battlefield overshadowed their diplomatic overtones at
the Egyptian court.
While Fatimid forces had encountered Byzantine armies in Syria from the inception of al-Aziz’s
reign, it was in 987 CE that the first recorded Byzantine embassy arrived at al-Aziz’s court. At that
time, the Byzantine Emperor Basil II was beset by various challenges. Byzantine forces were facing
reversals in Bulgaria and Basil’s own authority was undermined by rebellions led by the veteran
generals, Bardas Phocas and Bardas Skleros. Hence, Basil sought an alliance with al-Aziz to bolster
his position in the face of internal and external foes. The terms of the Byzantine truce were
particularly favourable to the Fatimids: the Byzantines would release all the Muslim prisoners held
by them; the khutba in the congregational mosque of Constantinople would henceforth be
pronounced in the name of al-ʿAziz, instead of the ʿAbbasid caliph, and the Byzantines would
guarantee the supply of all the provisions that al-ʿAziz sought from them.
The truce was to last for seven years. In addition to the significant political and diplomatic
advantages, the Fatimids reaped substantive economic benefits. The truce lifted the embargo which
the previous Byzantine Emperor, John Tzimisces, had imposed in 361 AH/971 CE, forbidding
Venetian merchants from carrying essential maritime supplies such as iron, arms and timber to
Fatimid lands. This invigorated the Fatimid ship-building industry, thus enhancing its naval
capability as well as its capacity for seafaring trade across the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.
Cairo
The political stability and economic prosperity of al-Aziz’s reign generated remarkable wealth in the
Fatimid Empire. This was manifest in the opulence of al-Aziz’s court in Cairo and in his own
affinity for luxurious rarities which included precious stones, crystal ware, finely-spun embroidered
cloth and rare animals. Fatimid Cairo itself flourished under al-Aziz’s patronage of urban
construction, which included an array of mosques and mausoleums, palaces and pavilions, as well as
bastions, bridges and baths. The most enduring of these buildings is the Jami al-Anwar (al-Maqrizi,
Ittiaz, 1/267), popularly called the Jami al-Hakim, as it was completed in the reign of al- Aziz’s
successor, al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah. This continues to function as a mosque in the Cairo metropolis to
this day.
The regal processions and royal ceremonials which al-Aziz instituted as public symbols of the
imam-caliph’s authority subsequently became part of the Fatimid repertoire of celebrations, which
included indigenous agrarian as well as religious festivals. In reflecting on the grandeur of al-Aziz’s
reign, the Fatimid author al-Qurti is quoted by al-Maqrizi, as stating: ‘Al-Aziz’s days in Egypt were
pointed out as a model, for each day was like an Id festivity and a wedding celebration’ (al-Maqrizi,
Ittiaz, 1/295).
Portrayals of Al-Aziz
Citing the eye-witness description of the Egyptian historian al-Musabbihi (d. 420 AH/1030 CE), the
sources provide a vivid description of this Fatimid sovereign noting that al-Aziz was tall and broad
shouldered, with a tawny complexion, auburn hair and large, deep blue eyes. He was generous, brave
and forgiving and was just and humane to the people. He was fond of horses and falcons and was
knowledgeable about them. He excelled at lion-hunting. He was also a connoisseur of jewellery and
furniture and a man of culture and refinement (Ibn Muyassar, 175; Ibn al-Athir, 9/81; Ibn Khallikan,
Wafayat, 3/371372; al-Maqrizi, Ittiaz, 1/245). His mother was an umm walad called Durzan
Taghrid.
She was the first lady from the Fatimid house to commission a mosque and a mausoleum in the
Qarafa cemetery, which subsequently became a sought-after site for royal tombs. Al-Aziz
introduced a number of measures to ensure the just and efficient governance of his empire: he
maintained rigorous supervision of the state finances and even subjected his household expenses to
scrutiny. He provided regular and fixed salaries to all his officials including his palace staff and made
provisions for their family members as well. He deterred his officials from accepting bribes and
stipulated that payments were to be made to them only upon the production of documentary proof.
While al-Aziz’s death was unexpected, the state apparatus that he had fostered during the course of
his 21-year reign appears to have been sound enough to withstand his sudden demise. In Shaban 383
AH/993 CE, he had designated his son al-Mansur, with the regnal title al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, as his
successor and had it affirmed by the state officials and Ismaili notables just prior to his death. Unlike
his own succession which was kept a secret for over eight months, al-Aziz’s death was not
concealed. Ibn Khallikan noted that at al-Aziz’s death, ‘perfect order reigned’ (Wafayat, 5/375). In
the words of Ibn Taghribirdi: ‘al-Aziz was the best of the Fatimid sovereigns, in comparison to his
father, al-Muizz li-Din Allah and his son al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah.’ (2/10).
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Article
Fatimid history is a chapter of both Mediterranean and Islamic history. In the period covered by the book (10th-12th centuries) profound changes took place in the Eastern Mediterranean affecting the history of the region. Divided into three parts this study deals with the political history of the Fatimid period, the structure of the Fatimid state and the interplay between state and society. The book is a contribution to the study of Islamic military history addressing such topics as: the formation and upkeep of black slave armies, the role of Christian-Armenian troops in twelfth-century Egypt and military and naval aspects of the Fatimid wars with the Crusaders. Other topics examined are the internal policies of the Fatimid state: notably, among them, the religious policies of the Fatimid regime, the involvement of the state in the urban life of the Fatimid capital city, Fustat-Cairo, and Fatimid attitudes toward non-Muslim communities.
Die Fatimiden in Ägypten
  • Heinz Halm
  • Die Kalifen Von Kairo
Halm, Heinz, Die Kalifen von Kairo. Die Fatimiden in Ägypten 973-1074 (Munich, 2003);
Kamal al-Din, Zubdat al-halab min Ta'rikh Halab
  • Ibn Al-'adim
Ibn al-'Adim, Kamal al-Din, Zubdat al-halab min Ta'rikh Halab, ed. Sami Dahhan (Damascus, 1951–1968);
Abd al-Rahman, Kitab al-'Ibar wa diwan al-mubtada' wa alkhabar
  • Ibn Kathir
Ibn Kathir, al-Bidaya; Ibn Khaldun, 'Abd al-Rahman, Kitab al-'Ibar wa diwan al-mubtada' wa alkhabar (Bulaq, 1867);
  • Ibn Muyassar
  • Muntaqa Muhammad
  • Min Akhbar
  • Misr
Ibn Muyassar, Muhammad, Muntaqa min Akhbar Misr, ed. A. F. Sayyid (Cairo, 1981);
Abu al-Mahasin, al-Nujum al-zahira fi muluk Misr wa al-Qahira
  • Ibn Taghribirdi
Ibn Taghribirdi, Abu al-Mahasin, al-Nujum al-zahira fi muluk Misr wa al-Qahira, ed. W. Popper (Berkeley, CA, 1909);