Open main menu
This page needs to be proofread.
398
TUNISIA

mountains, who had never been latinized and never really Christianized, accepted Islam without difficulty, but showed Arab Conquest and Berber Dynastles. their stubborn nationality, not only in the character of their Mahommedanism, which has always been mixed up with the worship of living as well as dead saints (mar abouts) and other peculiarities, but also in political movements. The empire of the Fātimites (q.v.) rested on Berber support, and from that time forth till the advent of the Turks the dynasties of North Africa were really native, even when they claimed descent from some illustrious Arab stock. When the seat of the Fātimite Empire was removed to Egypt, the Zirïtes, a house of the Sanhaja Berbers, ruled as their lieutenants at Mahdia, and about 1050 Mo'izz the Zirïte, in connexion with a religious movement against the Shi'ites, transferred his very nominal allegiance to the Abbasid caliphs. The Fātimites in revenge let loose upon Africa about a.d 1045 a vast horde of Beduins from Upper Egypt (Beni Hilal and Solaim), the ancestors of the modern nomads of Barbary. All North Africa was ravaged by the invaders, who, though unable to found an empire or overthrow the settled government in the towns, forced the agricultural Berbers into the mountains, and, retaining from generation to generation their lawless and predatory habits, made order and prosperity almost impossible in the open parts of the country until its effective occupations by the French. The Zirïte dynasty was finally extinguished by Roger I. of Sicily, who took Mahdia in 1148 and established his authority over all the Tunisian coast. Even Moslem historians speak favourably of the Norman rule in Africa; but it was brought to an early end by the Almohade caliph Abd ul-Mumin, who took Mahdia in 1160.

The Almohade Empire soon began to decay, and in 1336 Abū Zakariyā, prince of Tunis, was able to proclaim himself The Hafsltes. independent and found a dynasty, which subsisted till the advent of the Turks. The Hafsites (so called from Abū Ḥafṣ, the ancestor of Abū Zakariyā, a Berber chieftain who had been one of the intimate disciples of the Almohade mahdi) assumed the title of Prince of the Faithful, a dignity which was acknowledged even at Mecca, when in the days of Mostansir, the second Hafsite, the fall of Bagdad left Islam without a titular head. In its best days the empire of the Hafsites extended from Tlemgen to Tripoli, and they received homage from the Merinids of Fez; they held their own against repeated Frankish invasions, of which the most notable were that which cost St Louis of France his life (1270), and that of the duke of Bourbon (1390), when English troops took part in the unsuccessful siege of Mahdia. They adorned Tunis with mosques, schools and other institutions, favoured letters, and in general appear to have risen above the usual level of Moslem sovereigns. But their rule was troubled by continual wars and insurrections; the support of the Beduin Arabs was imperfectly secured by pensions, which formed a heavy burden on the finances of the state[1] and in later times the dynasty was weakened by family dissensions. Leo Africanus, writing early in the r6th century, gives a. favourable picture of the “great city” of Tunis, which had a flourishing manufacture of fine cloth, a prosperous colony of Christian traders, and, including the suburbs, nine or ten thousand hearths; but he speaks also of the decay of once flourishing provincial towns, and especially of agriculture, the greater part of the open country lying waste for fear of the Arab marauders. Taxation was heavy, and the revenue very considerable: Don Juan of Austria, in a report to Philip II., states that the land revenue alone under the last Hafsite was 375,935 ducats, but of this a great part went in tribute to the Arabs.

The conquest of Algiers by the Turks gave a dangerous neighbour to Tunisia, and after the death of Mohammed the Turkish Conquest. Hafsite in 1525 a disputed succession supplied Khair-ad-Dīn Barbarossa with a pretext for occupying the city in the name of the sultan of Constantinople. Al-Ḥasan, the son of Mahommed, sought help from the emperor, and was restored in 1535 as a Spanish vassal, by a force which Charles V. commanded in person, while Andrea Doria was admiral of the fleet. But the conquest was far from complete, and was never consolidated. The Spaniards remained at Goletta and made it a strong fortress, they also occupied the island of Jerba and some points on the south-east coast; but the interior was a prey to anarchy and civil war, until in 1570 Ali-Pasha of Algiers utterly defeated Hamid, the son and successor of Hasan, and occupied Tunis. In 1573 the Turks again retreated on the approach of Don juan, who had dreams of making himself king of Tunis; but this success was not followed up, and in the next year Sultan Selim II. sent a strong expedition which drove the Spaniards from Tunis and Goletta, and reduced the country to a Turkish province. Nevertheless the Spanish occupation left a deep impression on the coast of Tunis, and not a few Spanish words passed into Tunisian Arabic. After the Turkish conquest, the civil administration was placed under a pasha; but in a few years a military revolution transferred the supreme power to a Dey elected by the janissaries, who formed the army of occupation. The government of the Rise of the Beys. Deys lasted till 1705, but was soon narrowed or overshadowed by the authority of the Beys, whose proper function was to manage the tribes and collect tribute. From 1631 to 1702 the office of Bey was hereditary in the descendants of Murad, a Corsican renegade, and their rivalry with the Deys and internal dissensions kept the country in constant disorder. Ibrahim, the last of the Deys (1702-1705), destroyed the house of Murad, and absorbed the beyship in his own office; but, when he fell in battle with the Algerians, Hussein b. 'Ali, the son of a Cretan renegade, Was proclaimed sovereign by the troops under the title of “Bey,” and, being a prince of energy and ability, was able to establish the hereditary sovereignty, which has lasted without change of dynasty to the present time.[2]

Frequent wars with Algiers form the chief incidents in the internal history of Tunisia under the Beys. Under Deys and Beys alike Tunisia was essentially a pirate state. Occasionally acts of chastisement, of which the bombardment of Porto Farina by Blake in 1655 was the most notable, and repeated treaties, extorted by European powers, checked from time to time, but did not put an end to, the habitual piracies, on which indeed the public revenue of Tunis was mainly dependent. The powers were generally less concerned for the captives than for the acquisition of trading privileges, and the Beys took advantage of the commercial rivalry of England and France to play off the one power against the other. The release of all Christian slaves was not effected till after the bombardment of Algiers; and the definite abandonment of piracy may be dated from the presentation to the Bey in 1819 of a collective note of the powers assembled at Aix-la-Chapelle. The government had not elasticity enough to adapt itself to so profound a change in its ancient traditions; the finances became more' and more hopelessly embarrassed, in spite of ruinous taxation; and attempts at European innovations in the court and army made matters only worse, so long as no attempt was made to improve


once powerful Church. Traces of Christianity remained among the Kabyles till after the conquest of Granada (1492), when the influx of Andalusian Moors from Spain completed the conversion of those tribes. It may be added that down to the early years of the 19th century it was alleged that some of the Tuareg tribes in the Sahara proxzessed Christianity (see e.g. Hornemann's Travels). For the North African Church after the Moslem conquest, see Migne, Pat. lat.; and Mas Latrie, Afrique septentrianale. Their information is summarized in the introduction to vol. ii. of Azurara.'s Discovery and Conquest of Guinea, Hakluyt Society's edition (1899).—ED.]


  1. In the 13th and 14th centuries the Hafsites also paid tribute to Sicily for the freedom of the sea and the right to import Sicilian corn—a clear proof of the decline of Tunisian agriculture.
  2. Muhammad Vl. es Sadok, the reigning Bey at the time of the French occupation, died in October 1882, and was succeeded by his brother Ali IV. This prince reigned until 1902, the throne then passing to his son Muhammad VII. el Hadi, who died in 1906, when his cousin Muhammad VIII. en Nasr (b. 1855) became Bey.