Almoravid Conquest of West Africa
PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Almoravids vs. West African
PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): West Africa
MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: The Almoravids sought to
conquer West Africa.
OUTCOME: The Almoravids overran West Africa and
controlled it through the early 1100s; in the Ghana
Empire, Almoravid control was clearly less than absolute.
APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS:
During 1054–1056, the Tuaregs, a Berber people of the
Sahara, under the leadership of Yana ibn Omar (fl. 1050–
1076), conquered most of the oases of the western Sahara.
From this basis Omar established the Almoravid confederation
of Berber tribes, including the Lamtu¯ nan, Guda¯lah,
and Massu¯ fah. They were united in their militant adherence
to Islam and a desire for stringent religious reform.
While best known for their conquest of Morocco and
western Algeria, beginning in 1054 the Almoravids also
invaded West Africa, subjugating one tribal group after
another. The culminating conquest was the invasion,
occupation, and sacking of Kumbi Saleh, the capital of the
Ghana Empire, in 1076. Although Omar forced the conversion
of the West African rulers to Islam during the
period of his conquests, the Almoravids either never tried
or never fully succeeded in totally subjugating the people
of Ghana, who continued to worship their ancestors and
traditional agricultural spirits. By 1076 the Almoravids
controlled most of northwestern Africa and, apparently,
even arrived at a modus vivendi with Ghana. However,
Almoravid influence over Ghana waned during the early
years of the 12th century. This was not accompanied by a
rise in Ghanian power, however, and, indeed, the Ghanian
influence throughout West Africa also began to diminish
by the early 1100s.
Further reading: Olivia Remie Constable, ed., Medieval
Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish
Sources (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press,
1997); Bernard F. Reilly, The Medieval Spains (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1993).