The Invasion of Morocco in1591 and the Saadian Dynasty [J. Michel]

The Invasion of Morocco in1591 and the Saadian Dynasty [J. Michel]

An Examination of The Role of Europe in the Morocco Invasion of 1591 and the Rise to Power of the Saadian Dynasty

Jonathan Michel

December 1, 1995
In the following pages the evidence pertaining to the causes, nature and events of the Moroccan invasion of the Sudan are analyzed from a historical and international perspective. Under consideration will be the role of Europe in the rise to power of the Saadian Dynasty and the role of Islam as the root of Al-Mansur desire to establish himself as the Caliph of the Sudan. The paper will examine the people and events, bo th inside and outside of Morocco, which effected the invasion of the Empire of Songhai in 1591.
The procession of the paper will proceed as follows: The structure of the invading army will be exmained first. The composition of the army will be scrutinized as to it peculiar dispostion and equipment. Then the events of the long travel across the S ahara will be outlined and the battles of the invasion detailed. These facts are required to show how massive the military undertaking was. After the actual e vents of the invasion have been studied the work will chronicle the rise to power of the Saadian dynasty. The events of their advancement will be examined with in the framework of world events to demonstate how greatly the events in Europe influenced pol itics of Morocco. The trends of the dynasty are highlighted as further evidence the changes caused by the European presence in Morocco. Finally, the paper will conclude with the aftermath of the invasion and the final power struggle of the Saadian dynas ty. In presenting these events I will attempt to demonstrate how the influence of Europe unknowingly contributed to the conflict between Morocco and Songhai by changing the balance of power in Africa.
The invasion of Sudan began from Marrakech on October 16, 1590. Al-Mansur, the Shariff of Morocco, ordered his best warriors to invade the Songhai Empire and capture the source of gold. Mulai Ahmad al-Mansur (the victorious) also known as al-Dhahabi (the golden one) was the ruler of Morocco from 1578 -1603. Under the command of Pasha Judar the troops marched south toward the desert. After a long and dangerous journey across th e Sahara they arrived in the Empire of Songhai. There the soldiers would enter in a series of battles adventures and emerge victorious. The well equipped Moroccan army captured many of the Empire's principal cities and forced the the Songhai leader to sur render. The source of gold remained outside their reach. The location of the mines were a secret known only to one tribe which lived along the southern Niger River and guarded by the silent trade.
The number of troops which made up the massive invasionf orce is a matter of minor controversy. According to Bovill the invasion force consisted of four thousand soldiers and an additional two thousand non-combat troops. Julien's account disagrees, in History of North Africa , he asserts that the army contained three thousand fighting troops. Regardless of the actual number of troop which left Marakesh, the force knew that it would be dramatically outnumbered when it finished crossing the Sahara. The troops relied on the ben ifits of European military technology and Turkish military tactics for victory.
According to Bovill the troops sent were specially trained elite, hand picked from the ranks. The soldiers, he writes, were men "chosen for their discipline, hardiness and courage." Bovill E.W. The Golden Trade of the Moors . Oxford. The Oxford University Press,
1968. p.167 Most of those chosen by al-Mansur to take part in the invasion were not of Moroccan origin. The force was so overwhelmingly extranational in origin that the official language of the expedition was Spanish. Op Cit Bovill p.168. In The Golden Trade of the Moors Bovill breaks down the force by both profe ssion and nationality. He concluded that the constitution of the force demonstrates that Al-Mansur lacked faith in his countrymen as soldiers. Of the four thousand who left Morocco only fifteen hundred light cavalry men were Moroccan. The remainder of the force included two thousand footmen, half of which were armed with the arquebus and an additional five hundred mounted arquebusers. The strength of the force came from later twenty-five hundred troops which was composed of Aldalsians and renegades. Spanish Moors who had migrated to Morocco T his group provided the stability, power and structure for the army. The large numbers of troops present required the immense numbers of camels brought to transport the munitions, food, water, and other supplies for the long march and the following battl e. A number of historians wrote that an earlier invasion attempt may have taken place in which al-Mansur sent more troops and less supplies. If the rumors of an earlier invasion are accurate, the men send died in the desert except for a single survivor. Some records indicate that al-Mansur se nt a large number of soldiers in to the desert as a punishment for transgressions and historians believe that these records are the cover up of the earlier failed invasion attempt. The invasion force also brought with it six cannons and a team of Spanish gunners to fire them. In Mali; A Search For Direction , by Pascal James Imperato the author asserts that the invasion force brought with it ten mortars which fired stone balls. Otherwise Imperato's version of the mission agrees with Bovill's. These were weapons of great destructive power for their time.
Al-Mansur aquired the canon through his trade relationship with England. Many of the facto rs which led to the Morcoaan victory were extra-national in origin. The knowledge of advanced military tactics, training, and coordination came from the European members of the force. Knowledge of those modern skills by the small invasion force were ess ential for traveling across the Sahara in force. The possession of the European designed hand weapons was vital to the three year occupation of Timbuktoo. During the occupation the weapons helped the small force hold the populous through fear. The arti llery pieces gained from England were essential to the Moroccan's initial defeat of the Songhai imperial army. Even the arquebus would not have been sufficient alone to rout the overwhelmingly larger force. The arquebus is an early form of the musket and was nearly as dangerous to its users as to their opponents because it had a defect of blowing up when fired. When it did work, the weapon was slow to fire and difficult to reload. Reloading required the gu n power, shot and a slow burning cord to be manipulated before the soldier can aim at a target. The reloading procedure is so long that only experts can use the weapons effectively during battle. During battle of Alcazar the Portuguese force armed with arquebuses were out flanked and annihilated by the Moroccans, in spite of their technological advantage, because the gunners were out flanked and unable to reload in time to stand a second charge . Bovill, E.W. The Battle of Alcazar. London. The Batchworth Press, 1952.
The cannons fired against the Songhai forces never had to be reloaded. The initial volley made so much noise and did so much damage that the Songhia force fled back to the water without attempting to charge. Only zealot bowmen who fought with one leg tied to their thigh withstood the initial char ge and explosions.
The initial invasion force was commanded by Pasha Judar of Granada. Judar, like many of Al-Mansurs officers, was an enuch. He was appointed to the rank of Pasha in order to lead the battle. Under him were ten Kaids, or Lieutenants, four of whom were renegades. Captured Europeans who had converted to Islam. Additionally, Judar brought a special force of eighty Christian body guards. He felt that these would give him a great deal of additional safety and requested specifically them from Al-Mansur. Bovill. The Golden Trade of the Moors. p.168 It is unknown why Al-Mansur chose Judar to lead the force, no records have revealed any that Judar had the proper training or suggest that he was unusually skilled. Perhaps Al-Mansur trusted Judar, who had been captured while still a baby, and was rais ed in the royal palace. Bovill c ontends that the surprising choice was made because of Judar's organizing ability and integrity. Judar's organizing ability equipped him to lead a force so far from home.Judar's integrity was such that Al-Mansur trusted him to properly lead an army so fa r from Al-Mansur's control. According to Bovill, more contemporary accounts of the invasion cite the youth of Judar as a primary reason for his selection as the leader of the invasion force. Whatever the reasons were for his selection it is worthy of re peating that Judar was not of Moroccan origin.
The actual events of the march toward Songhai are not known in detail. The army train included over eight thousand camels and their drivers, one thousand high bred horses and force of six hundred sappers. This multitude required an immense quantity of food, water, dried dates, tents, military provisions, shelter, and innumerable other necessities. Ibid p.169 The fifteen thousand mile route they followed across the Sahara to the Niger River was ordained by limited num ber of places that they could replenish their water supply. They traveled a path which was the same or very similar to that which was used by the merchant caravans. An accounting of this route and some of the difficulties and dangers of travel along it can be found in the well known works by Ibn Battuta and Leo Africanus. The invasion force was acompanied by an anonymous Spaniard, his accounting of the actual journey can be found according to Bovill, in 'La ConquÍte du Soudan par El- Mansour (1591). Op Cit. Bovill p.263 It is possible that the account came from Juan de Medina or one of the other emissaries of King Phillip II who are known to have been at the palace of Al-Mansur a round that time. The casualties lost during the 135 day march are known to be quite heavy. Julian, in his History of North Africa and J.O. Hunwick in Ahmad Baba and the Moroccan Invasion fo the Sudan (1591) agree that Judar lost at least one half of his force along the journey. Julien, Charles-Andre. History of North Africa . Trans. John Petrie. Ed. C.C. Stewart. New York: Praeger
Publishers, 1970. p.223 Bovill's account of the journey, in the Golden Trade of the Moors , is more specific but less definitive. He cites the evidence showing the size of the initial force which met with the troops of Songhai and the lack of any eviden ce that any other portion was held in reserves. Regardless of the actual number who survived the long journey; the army of Al-Mansur arrived greatly outnumbered.
According to Bovill's account the invasion force arrived at Lekatwa (now Dra'a) and Hunwick places the arrival site at Karabara (now Bamba). Hunwick, J.O.. "Ahmad B'b' and the Moroccan Invasion of the Sudan (1591)." Journal of the Historica l
Society of Nigeria II. Ibadan, (1962) : 311-328.. op cit p.318 Which ever source is correct, the arrival of the invaders so close to Gao came as a surprise to the Songhai army who expected them to turn westward after leaving the desert and head toward Timbuktu. As a r esult Askia Ishak, the King of Songhai, send a message to the clans and tribes to inform them of the nearness of the invading army. According to Bovill's account a group a Tuareg tribesman, enemies of Songhai, killed the messengers before they arrived at the destination. It has also been suggested that the leaders were unable to conceive of an serious attack coming from across the desert and that this lack of faith led to their unpreparedness. In any case the confusion and disbelief on the part of the Songhai leaders translated into fear and a hasty retreat when the Moroccan army came into sight.
The forces of Songhai were no stranger to battle, and the Niger River itself acted to defend them as they withdrew to their small island retreats. The Moroccan army had no boats and couldn't follow them. The invaders, now low on food and water, went to Tondibi where the Songhai army was waiting. Tondibi was a cattle pasture outside of the city of Gao. Hidden hehind a wall of cattle for protection and armed with sabre, spear, and bow the defending forces were a m atch for any of the desert tribesman. Unfortunately, the tactics of the Songhai forces were not made to withstand gun fire, nor were there walls a match for cannon balls. The noise of the gun fire caused a stampede of cattle and the defending forces ran away in fear. The poor people of Gao were helpless to slow the onslaught and surrendered to the invaders. In spite of their easy victory, Judar and his forces were greatly disappointed by Gao which did not possess the wealth of gold they expected to fin d. The continuous debilitating effects of desert life, the toll of disease, malnutrition and heat exhaustion only magnified their disappointment. The army, which had lost three quarters of its strength in travel would have been whittled down by the effec ts of occupation had they not moved (on April 25, 1591) to Timbuktoo where the conditions were better. When they moved Judar did not leave behind a garrison to hold Gao; an oversight that Al-Mansur did not enjoy.
The terms of the surrender of Gao were quite lucrative in view of the invaders situation. Askia Ishak offered Judar 100,000 pieces of gold and 1000 slaves if the army would leave. Ibid p.319 The invasion force was already weakened by lack of food and supplies and in no position to search for any hidden gold supply. Judar send a request to accept the surrender back to Al-Mansur and was angrily refused. Al-Mansur had more on his agenda then wealth, he wanted the power and prestige to command the title of Caliph of the Sudan. As a result of Al-Mansur sent second invasion force across the Sahara to take control of the expedition and complete the conquest.
The actions of Al-Mansur in Morocco after the launching of the second mission might lead one to believe that the notion of power had driven him insane. He kept secret the reports of despair sent from Judar. He also proclaimed to the people of Morocco t hat complete victory was already at hand and that the source of gold had been found. To complete the illusion of victory Al-Mansur paraded around a sku ll that he falsely claimed was taken from the head of Askia Ishak, the King of Songhai. These perditious actions were motivated by the instabilities in Morocco and the need of Al-Mansur to maintain his grip on the throne. Admitting a set back would have left him more vulnerable to a revolt by his son, an uprising by the merchants or to an insurrection by the outlanders. Al-Mansur was forced to anticipate many possible causes of unrest. The people were taxed heavily to support the expensive war effort. Op Cit Bovill p.178 The taxes were collected by military force because no civil government could control the outlying areas. Dissidence among the people was increased by the growing influence of the English trade company. The English were still seen as the infidel by many Maraboutic and traditionalist Islamic leaders in the countryside. The state of affairs in the low lands of Morocco during the invasion is well known. The beginning of the Maraboutic crisis were beginning to show. Additionally, there were elements in Mor oc co that were troubled by the possible effects of the war on the Trans-Sahaaran trade. These men, mostly merchants, new more about the nature of the gold supply then Al-Mansur. Acquainted with the hidden nature of the gold source and aware of the difficu lties of Saharan travel they had never supported the war. They were fearful that failure would interrupt the gold trade which was the source of their livelihoods. As a result the pretence of victory may have been required to maintain order with so much o f Al- Mansur's military strength of his army in the field and so much dissent in his kingdom.
The reinforcements that Al-Mansur sent to actualize his claimed victory were as well trained and equipped as their predecessors and possessed more initiative and creativity. Their leader, Mohammed, was formerly the leader of all the renegades in Morocco. Mohammed, like Judar, was an enuch. The supporting forces are said to have crossed the Sahara in seven weeks. Ibid p.180. Once they arrived in Timbuktoo, on August 17, 1591, Op Cit Hunwick p.319 the new leader learned much of his foe from the experiences of Judar who Mohammed appointed to be his second in command. Realizing that the unconquered Songhai forces would again retreat to their water enshrouded refuge he ordered the boats be built fro m the few available trees and the doors and door frames so that his forces would be able to pursue their opposition along the water.
Three weeks after his arrival Mohammed had constructed three barges from the conscripted supplies and, leaving a force behind to maintain the fortress Judar had built in Timbuktoo, went south to re-attack Askia Ishak. Ibid p.319 The battle of Gurma was a complete victory of the invaders. The Songhai forces fled the field and the disorderly retreat led to the death of Iskia Ishak who was cut of from his troops and then murdered by Taureg tribesmen. Following the victory, large n umbers of Songhai deserted the kingdom. Victory for Mohammed was still out of reach. Op Cit Bovill p.183
The military successes were valuable but the lack of food, troops and resources prevented the army from directly controlling such a large area. While the majority of his troops were chasing the Songhai army across the Dendi Forest a revolt occurred in Timbuktoo. The rebelling people of Songhai successfully restricted the Moroccan's to their fortress where the supply of food and water was sharply limited. Word of the siege reached Mohammed and he sent a relief force to assist his troops in breaking free. The leader of the rescue mission was Kaid M'mi. The Kaid is described as "a farsighted man" and is credited with making peace with the people of Timbuktoo. Op Cit Hunwick p.320 After the siege was broken M' mi convinced the people of the city to swear allegiance to Al-Mansur and requested that Askia Ishak's successor, Askia Mohammed Gao, provide food for them as a gesture of good faith. The temporary peace he established coul d not solve the essential problems of the invaders; they were too small a force, far from home, trying to subdue a much larger area of land then they had anticipated, and running fearfully short on supplies. As the problem of food became more immediate Bovill notes that there was a famine that year and that food was unusually scarce. Kaid M'mi convinced Mohammed that the breadth of the desert prevented Moroccan rule over the Songhai people by force alone. Op Cit p.320
The Askia agreed to provide food and when he arrived Mohammed ordered the massacre of his men as a reprisal for the deaths incurred during the march across the desert. Op Cit Bovill p.181 Mohammed next attempted to create a puppet ruler to establish a hold over the country. His efforts were frustrated by rebellio n in the south, which was still beyond his reach and Mohammed led his army back out into the field.
In the southern rain-forests of Songhai, Askia Nuh, became the new leader of the defense forces. Using a combination of guerrilla tactics and an alliance with one of the war tribes he was able to mount a few small victories against the invaders. Aft er two years of chase Mohammed gave up attacking the guerilla forces and returned to Timbuktoo in 1594 with a new plan. After his arrival he successfully plotted to gather the wealth of the city and managed to send 100,000 mithqual A mithqual is equal to 1/8 of an ounce of gold. of gold back to Al-Mansur. Op Cit Hunwick p.322
Al-Mansur was at last convinced that the chance for control over the gold supply was impossible. The gold supply which was never discovered during the invasion was nearly depleted in any case. Al-Mansur accepted the profits of victory and received a hu ge tribute of gold. For further details on the following seventy years of the partial Moroccan occupation of Songhai see Mali; A Search For Direction by James Pascal Imperato p. 27-28.
Op Cit Bovill p.190
Op Cit Hunwick p.317
Op Cit Bovill p.160-162
Op Cit Hunwick p.318
Op Cit Bovill p.160-162
Op Cit Hunwick p.317
In 1583 Askia Daoud died an d a power struggle ensued among his sons which weakened the military power of Songhai. Additionally, the western coast of Africa was suffering from the attrition of the Spanish and British slave trade and the combination of internal and external ailments left Songhai ripe for invasion.
Op Cit Hunwick p.320
The Almoravids did attack across the Sahara, in 1052 a Jihad attacked the Empire of Mali in hope of making religious conquests in the name of Islam. There action was not an invasion by a governmen t supplied military however so Al-Mansur is technically correct.
Op Cit Bovill's account of the invasion records witnesses to caravans of tribute arriving in Morocco heavily laden with gold. vill p.165-166
Tim He used the wealth for non military ventures such as the building of an opulent palace and an elaborate mosque.

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar
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