Marinid Sultanate

John Florens | Apr 16, 2024

Table of Content


The Merinids (Berbers: ⵉⵎⵔⵉⵏⴻⵏ, Imrinen Arabic: المرينيون, Al Marīniyūn) were a Berber Muslim dynasty that ruled Morocco and areas of southern Spain, Algeria and Tunisia from 1244 to 1465.

Toward the end of Almohad rule, the Merinids, a tribe of the Zenata Berbers, conquered all of Morocco in 1269 and established their own dynasty there. Not only Fez, where they founded the city district of Fes Jdid ("new Fes") in 1270, but also other Moroccan cities were graced by them with magnificent structures.

The history of the dynasty can be divided into three periods. The first was characterized by their struggle against the Almohads and ended with the capture of Marakech. The second period is characterized by military undertakings, urban development and administrative stability. This was followed by a period of internal conflict, and the erosion of political structures and the national territory. This period also saw the rise of a new Moroccan power, that of the Wattasids.

Growth (before 1269)

The Banu Marin (Ait Mrin) were a nomadic Zenata tribe from the vicinity of Tlemcen and Tiaret. According to Ibn Khaldun, the tribe had previously lived in the Moroccan desert region between Sijilmasa and Figuig. At some point they moved up to eastern Morocco, where they initially joined the Almohads. After successfully contributing to the Battle of Alarcos, in central Spain, the Merinids began to establish themselves as a political force. Starting in 1213, they began to tax inhabited territories in northeastern Morocco (Nador and Berkane region). The relationship between the tribe and royalty was difficult, and from 1215 they regularly came into conflict with the Almohads. In 1217 they tried to take southern Morocco, but were driven out of there, after which they advanced north and settled in the Rif Mountains. From the Rif they were able to take Taza and Meknes in 1244, and four years later Fes, their new capital. From Fes, the Merinids declared war on the Almohads, which would lead to the capture of Marrakesh, the ancient capital of their predecessors, in 1269.

High Point (1269-1358)

In a short time, they had managed to add all of Morocco, Algeria and parts of Tunisia to their empire (although it lost the latter territories shortly thereafter), while Algeciras was given to them by the Nasrids. After this, they would also be active in the conflict between Muslims and Christians in Spain. In order to gain absolute control over trade in the Strait of Gibraltar, they began the conquest of several southern Spanish cities from Algeciras: by the year 1294, they had taken Rota and Gibraltar.

Despite a fierce internal power struggle, Abu Said Uthman II (1310-1331) embarked on a large-scale construction project in Fes. Several madrassas were built there to train bureaucrats for the state. These were necessary to promote centralization in the country to undermine the various semiondependent marabutas.

The Merinids had much influence on the policies of the Emirate of Granada. It was during this period that the Spanish powers managed to bring combat to Morocco for the first time: the country was attacked by Castilian forces in 1260 and 1267, both attacks could be repelled.

At its peak, during the reign of Abu al-Hasan 'Ali (1331-1348), the dynasty had at its disposal a large and disciplined standing army, at the time the largest in the Muslim world. Abu al-Hasan 'Ali's army included 40,000 Zenata horsemen. In addition, it had at its disposal Arab cavalry, while Andalusian Muslims were recruited as archers. The sultan's personal bodyguard consisted of 7,000 men, and included Spanish-Christian, Kurdish and black-African elements.

In 1337, the Merinids made another attempt to conquer the Maghreb. First they conquered the empire of the Zianids, followed by the territories of the Hafsids in 1347. Thus they ruled from Morocco to Tunisia. In 1340 they were devastatingly defeated in Adalusia by a Spanish-Portuguese coalition at the Battle of Salado, after which the Merinids had to withdraw from Spain. In the same year, they also lost their eastern territories, following a revolt by Arab tribes against the sultan's economic reforms. The next sultan, Abu Inan Faris, tried to recapture Algeria and Tunisia, but although he had several successes, the sultan was killed by his vizier in 1358.

Downfall (1358-1465)

After this the dynasty entered a long phase of decline. After 1358, real power in Morocco was exercised by the viziers of the Wattasids.

Meanwhile, troublesome Arab nomadic tribes of the Banu Hilal threw large parts of Morocco into anarchy, accelerating the decline of the dynasty. A financial crisis hit the country in the 15th century, after which the state stopped funding the various marabutas (typical Moroccan religious orders) and sharifan families. The political support of those marabutas waned and the empire then splintered into several small kingdoms and city-states.

In 1415 the Portuguese were able to take Ceuta, and by 1513 they had occupied all the major ports on the Atlantic coast. After Sultan Abdalhaqq II (1421-1465) tried to break the power of the Wattasids, he was executed in 1465.

A typical architecture developed under the Merinids, best described as a cross between Andalusian and Almohad traditions. Their most notable contribution to Moroccan architecture are the many learning schools (madrassas) they had built in cities all over Morocco. It is these madrassas that are often associated with Merinid architecture.

In a number of gigantic projects, the Merinids founded about four new cities or districts: Madinat al-Baydah (today's Fez Jdid), al-Mansura (just outside Tlemcen), Afrag (in the mountains above Ceuta) and al-Binya (today part of Algeciras, Spain). The ruins of these cities are among the most interesting from this period. Madinat al-Baydah was founded in 1270 as the new center of the Merinid kingdom, but soon grew attached to nearby Fez. Today it is one of three districts of the city of Fez, Fez Jdid ("new Fez"). al-Mansoura was built as a base for the conquest of the central Maghreb, and served as its capital for decades. In a short time it developed into a large city, with tens of thousands of inhabitants and magnificent buildings. When the Merinids finally gave up their claim to Tlemcen and the middle Maghreb, the city was abandoned. Today, the magnificent minaret of the Grand Mosque and part of the city walls still stand.

In Spain, little of their architecture can be found. There, the Moorish Castle of Gibraltar is considered their most important structure. Further interesting are the baths of Algeciras. Other important Moroccan building marks include their zawiyas, the necropolis of Sala, the arsenals of Meknes and Salé and a number of mosques, including those of al-'Ubbad and Taza.

In many areas, the Merinids can be seen as the founding fathers of present-day Morocco. Several crucial aspects of Moroccan society and politics have their origins in this period.

Moroccan identity

Although Moroccan-Islamic history can be traced back to the Umayyad rule (700-750) and the local successor states (Idrisids, Barghawata and the Midrarids of Sijilmasa), it was at the time of the Merinids that a Moroccan consciousness and specific culture emerged. Where the Idrisid state was little centralized and only really ruled over a few cities, and where, on the contrary, the Almoravids and Almohads did much for the integration of Morocco into neighboring Maghreb and Al-Andalus, it was the Merinids that created an entirely distinct Moroccan character and identity. This process was greatly influenced by interactions with neighboring states in Algeria, Spain and Tunisia.

Marabut and sharifen

Marabutts were Islamic scholars who often led a zaouïa (or Islamic order). The Almoravids were originally marabutists, who wielded political and military power in the 11th century. So although a very old phenomenon in Morocco, with Berber pre-Islamic influences, it was at the time of the Merinids that maraboets were used by the state as social and political tools.

Unlike their predecessors (the Almoravids and Almohads), the Merinids had no theological or philosophical motives in establishing their rule. The Merinids were simply a large tribe that saw an opportunity to amass royal power. Whereas the Almohads were much loved by the rural and urban masses, the same was not true of the Merinids. Under these circumstances, it was important to legitimize their rule. The later sultans sought that legitimacy from so-called sharifs, families believed to be descended from the Prophet Muhammad. They did so by maintaining and parading those families. Often they came to head zaouias. During the 14th century, they would grow into a wealthy and powerful group. This would eventually lead to the rise of the Saadi dynasty and the Alaoui dynasty, both Arab sharif families from the south of the country. Although Berber remained the main language at the court of the Merinids well into the 14th century, this development would contribute to the linguistic and political Arabization of the country.

Another cause of the rise of the Maraboets was the destruction caused from the 13th century onward by itinerant Arab nomadic tribes of the Banu Hilal. In response to this violence, an emotional and xenophobic Islam developed from the 14th among Berber communities, often preached by an imam who took it upon himself to protect his community militarily. In areas such as the Middle Atlas and the Rif, these imams would have a high degree of independence. A similar situation took place in the Middle Atlas, just south of Meknes and Fes, where a Berber zaouia leader was able to conquer the entire northern part of the country in the 17th century and compete for kingship with the emerging Arab Alaoui dynasty.


The Merinids were the founders of the first madrassas, independent Islamic higher educational institutions, in Morocco. As early as the 9th century, degree-granting institutions existed in cities such as Fes and Sijilmasa, but they were always attached to a mosque. Madrassas were an old phenomenon in the East, where they had been prevalent in Iraq, Syria and Iran since the 11th century, but had never existed in Egypt, the Maghreb and Spain. The first Maghreb madrassa was built in Tunis by the Hafsids in the 1252s. In 1282, the Merinids followed with the madrassa Al-Saffarin in Fes. With the introduction of the madrassa comes an explosion of scientific activities. The Merinids are known for the many madrassas they built (and the beauty of the architecture). For example, the 11th Sultan Abu al-Hasan 'Ali (1331-1348) founded fourteen madrassas in thirteen different cities in Morocco and Algeria. Establishing madrassas gave the Merinids the opportunity to create a new, Berber-speaking scholarly elite. Establishing such a class was necessary to undermine the old, Arabic-speaking elite of Fes. From all over Morocco and Algeria, Berber-speaking students were encouraged to apply to the madrassas, which were also usually run by Berber scholars. Like the rise of the zaouias, the introduction of the madrassas had the effect of making it easier to study and gain knowledge.

Makhzen and bled siba

The concept of bled al-makhzen (land of state) and bled siba (land of unrest) has its origins with the Merinids, who first made this division. Although the first half of their rule was characterized by a strong central government, the policies of the later sultans were characterized by tribal alliances. By the later Merinid sultans, the population was divided into friendly (the Zenata and Arabian nomadic tribes) and dominated groups (the urbanites) on one side and hard-to-control groups (the large sedentary Berber Masmuda and Sanhaja mass of the mountains) on the other. This division would play a crucial role in domestic Moroccan politics until the end of the 20th century.

The Merinids are called Benimerín in Spanish.


  1. Marinid Sultanate
  2. Meriniden
  3. ^ Sluglett, Peter; Currie, Andrew (2014). Atlas of Islamic History. Routledge. p. 49. ISBN 9781317588979.
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  7. '«Copia archivada». Archivado desde el original el 25 de junio de 2013. Consultado el 25 de junio de 2013.
  8. V. Piquet, Les civilisations de l'Afrique du nord: Berbères-Arabes Turcs, Ed. Colin, 1909
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  10. ^ Idris El Hareir, p. 420

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