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Al Andalus Paradox Mega-LP

by Hashim

Part 26: The Pilgrimage of 1399

Chapter 26 – The Pilgrimage of 1399 – 1385 to 1405

As the fourteenth century gradually nears its end, the political landscape across the Mediterranean continues to morph and change, with Muslim and Christian powers clashing from Jerusalem to Tulaytullah. The most recent setback was the fall of Jerusalem to the Egyptian Crusaders, now poised to roll over the Levant, but the next few years would see challengers rise up in all directions.

First amongst these challengers had to be Armenia. Threatened by the rising power of Crusader Egypt, the Sharif of Hejaz agreed to swear vassalage to the powerful Sultan of Armenia, who went on to claim the title of Caliph.

This announcement doesn’t cause so much as a ripple throughout the rest of the Muslim world, however. If Sultan Zarmihr wanted to revive the Caliphate, then he would have to enforce his claim on the battlefield, like the Khalifas of old.

Across the Mediterranean, meanwhile, the Jizrunid kingdom was quickly recovering from the Second Crusade for Al Andalus. Sultan Ma’n was determined to rebuild his army and patch up relations with his vassals, but late in 1387, news of a sudden development in Castille changed everything.

King Cyneric – who unified the thrones of Castille, Portugal, León and Aragon through marriage and conquest – died whilst battling rebels in Catalonia. With his sudden departure from this world, the entire weight of the unified Christian state was thrust onto the shoulders of his nephew, a mere babe by the name of Lop.

Sultan Ma’n could not let such an opportunity slip past. Within days, he had his armies raised and marching northward, vowing to reclaim the former Andalusi territory of Baja.

The Castilians are able to throw together a large army, but its weak leadership is made evident when a 5000-strong scouting force entered Andalusi territory without any reinforcements nearby. Ma’n pounced on the small army and, in a short and decisive battle, utterly annihilated it.

The Sultan then pushed north, splitting his forces and besieging to nearby fortresses. Before any could be captured, however, the regency ruling in Castille send another army to confront the Muslims.

This time significantly larger, the 23,000-strong force engaged the Andalusi army not far from Évora. Ma’n was able to make good use of a nearby river and his terrain to repel the initial attack, however, fending off the Christians long enough for reinforcements to pour onto the battlefield and reinforce the thick fighting.
Now hopelessly outnumbered, the Christians were quickly overwhelmed, with thousands cut down in the frenzy of the battle. Once broken and fleeing, thousands more drowned to death in the flooding river, utterly destroying the rest of the Castilian army.

Facing certain defeat, the Castilians were forced to turn to other powers for help. After securing a marriage contract, an Occitan duke agreed to contribute some of his forces to the defence of Castille, and a 10,000-strong force is thrown at the Andalusi a few weeks later.

Sultan Ma’n had already proven his worth on the battlefield - and against far greater odds than this - and the Christians are once again routed.

With that, the Muslims are able to spread out and besiege nearby fortresses, scaling and capturing several within months. Once the provincial capital at Elvas succumbed, all of Castille’s options were finally spent, and they were forced to the negotiation table.

The Catholic kingdom was forced to cede a large stretch of land in Portugal to Al Andalus, including the city of Lisboa, a densely-populated coastal centre of trade. The consequences of Castille's defeat would go far beyond this, however, as revolts began sprouting up from Galicia to Aragon.

One thing that all the recent Andalusi-Christian wars made clear was that the Andalusi army had a definite, if narrow, edge over its Christian counterparts. A large part of this came down to the discipline and effectiveness of the Mubazirun, so Sultan Ma'n decided to expand the elite force, using the spoils of his victory to fund the construction of new barracks and training grounds.

With that, some much-needed peace descends over Al Andalus. Ma'n returns to his capital a few days later, and whilst Qadis is thriving in population and income, the Sultan is not impressed with its defenses. After consulting his viziers, he began investing large sums of money into the city's fortifications, building new watchtowers and repairing its surrounding walls over the next few years.

Sultan Ma'n doesn’t simply focus on the military, however, he also began to actually rule for the first time in his life. Hoping to solidify relations with his vassals, Ma’n invited emirs and sheikhs to feast with him in Qadis, gaining friends and allies in the Majlis al-Shura.

Eventually, Ma'n managed to convince the Majlis to pass an act further restricting the autonomy of the Taifas, whose land and personal power were gradually shrinking. In exchange, they gained influence in the Majlis itself, which served as the only check on the Sultan’s power by that point.

As the months turn into years, Ma'n proves himself a capable monarch, juggling his different administrative, diplomatic and military duties with admirable skill. Unfortunately, the exhausting days take a toll on his health, as they do on any good ruler.

And of course, it became expected that Ma'n would finally take wives and concubines, and hopefully father sons soon enough. Curiously, however, Ma'n had never found the charms of women particularly... appealing, he had always preferred the company of his soldiers and officers, spending the long hours of the night swapping tales and riding mounts.

Nonetheless, he did take a highborn lady to wife, with courtiers and servants whispering that they'd never seen their Sultan look so fearful as when he marched into his wedding bed. And before very long, he had twin princes running about the palace - Sayf and Khudayr - born within minutes of each other, and both viable heirs to the throne.

These years of peace did the realm good, but peace always comes to an end, and it can only end with war. In the Mediterranean, conflict broke out between the Sultanate of Algeria and the Duchy of Sicily, with the powerful Izri Sultan declaring a holy war for the island.

Sultan Ma’n saw opportunity in this. He had never forgotten his vows to retake Jerusalem some day, but he could not do it without establishing a permanent presence close to Egypt, and Sicily was a constant threat to that presence.

After consulting the Majlis, the call for war was once more taken up in every mosque and court across Al Andalus, and ships were on their way to Palermo carrying declarations of war.

Within a year, Sultan Ma’n managed to put together a fairly substantial army, with 25,000 men landing at Reggio in the winter months of 1395. After resting his troops for a few days, Ma’n led them in a dangerous crossing across the Straits of Messina, engaging the Sicilian army on the other side.

The Sicilians were weak in numbers and morale, and after a short but bloody battle, their army was surrounded and wiped out by the Andalusi.

Ma’n then led his army to the island’s capital at Caltabellotta, which quickly succumbed after a few weeks of being surrounded and blockaded.

With the destruction of his army and the fall of his capital, the duke of Sicily was forced to abandon his island, fleeing overland to his last holdings at Bari. The Andalusi quickly subjugated the rest of Sicily after that, sieging down and capturing Palermo within weeks, thus bringing the war to an end.

Sultan Ma'n keep his army raised for a few weeks more, crushing any Catholic and Orthodox rebellions that sprouted up across the island.

Further south, meanwhile, the powerful Izri Sultanate was in a state of crisis. After suffering a few losses to the Duke of Sicily, revolts began breaking out all across North Africa, and they quickly spiralled out of control. Before long, the empire had been carved up between rival tribes and emirs, bringing the brief Izri hegemony over North Africa to an end.

At the same time, in the Near East, Sultan Zarmihr finally decided to cement his hold on the Caliphate by recapturing Jerusalem, declaring jihad on Crusader Egypt.

This was exactly what Sultan Ma'n had been waiting for. Within months, he managed to assemble an ever larger army at Sicily, and 50,000 Andalusi levies embark from Palermo...

He had performed the pilgrimage to the Holy Land several times, but never with his sword and never with an army. Until now.

Sultan Ma’n had spent years planning for such a war, agonising over different tactics, brooding over countless approaches, testing and discarding dozens of different strategies. Eventually, he decided that the best way to cripple the Crusaders was by hitting them at the centre of their power – Egypt itself.

The Christians evidently didn’t expect to suffer an amphibious assault, because the Andalusi were easily able to make the landing. The next few weeks passed in a blur as coastal forts were quickly besieged and captured, and because the Crusaders were busy fighting the Armenians in the Holy Land, all of this was done without any opposition.

By late 1399, Sultan Ma’n had a firm hold over the northern coast of Egypt. It was only then that the Crusaders were able to defeat the Armenians, sending the so-called Caliph packing after the decisive battle of Antioch, before marching back down to lift the occupation of Lower Egypt.

The Crusaders were a famously disciplined and well-organised fighting force, but the countless battles in the Holy Land had bled them dry, and their numbers didn't exceed 15,000 soldiers. Sultan Ma’n pounced on them whilst they were still weak, and in just three hours of fighting, most of the Crusader army was destroyed.

Sultan Ma’n even distinguished himself in the fighting, leading a near-suicidal charge into the enemy pavilion and cutting down several high-ranking officers and generals.

With the Crusaders demolished, the road to Jerusalem lay empty and clear, and Ma’n led his army to the city of Prophet Isa unopposed. Facing no prospects of victory, King Mei agreed to cede the entirety of the Holy Land over to Sultan Ma’n, in return for his withdrawal from Egypt and peace.

With that, the turn of the century sees Ma'n fulfil his vows and reclaim Jerusalem for Islam. The next few years would see the warrior-king become a legend in the flesh, with stories of his grand exploits told over campfires and bound in books, and with time he would even come to be immortalised as Sayfullah - the Sword of Allah.

Ma'n's conquests haven’t been the only wars of note, however. Even before the Andalusi and the Egyptians clashed, wars had been raging all across the Near East, beginning with the fall of Rûm and the rise of Nicaea.

Despot Eustratios, a follower of Iconoclast Orthodoxy, managed to partly revive the legacy of the Roman Empire by conquering the Sultanate of Rûm, reducing it to a rump state in northern Anatolia. Eustratios didn’t stop there, however, he went on to declare war on the Latin Empire, vowing to reconquer Constantinople and restore the Eastern Roman Empire.

Meanwhile, closer to Jerusalem, war erupted between the Sunni Otaybahids and the Shia Fatimids. The once-dominant Fatimids had been in steep decline for the past few decades, but Caliph Ali sensed weakness within the Otaybahid Emirate, and was determined to reconquer all of Syria.

Both of these developments were overshadowed by what was happening further east, however. Hailing from a small town in Isfahan, a young soldier named Ismail Farzadid somehow managed to claw his way to power within his local emirate, before usurping the throne and embarking on a conquering spree. Within a scant few years, he had somehow managed to create a vast empire that stretched from the wide plains of Khorasan to the rugged mountains of Trebizond, all under his personal rule.

Back in Jerusalem, meanwhile, Sultan Ma’n had appointed local governors and was preparing to return to Al Andalus. Ma'n departed from Acre late in 1404, but when his ships docked at Qadis a few months later, the Sultan’s body was cold and unbreathing. The sailors swore that he died in his sleep, but they were tried and executed nonetheless, and Ma'n's rotting corpse was swiftly prepared for burial.

The reign of Sultan Ma’n is highlighted by his many accomplishments, but his greatest legacy will surely be his conquests. He ensured the survival of his kingdom by defeating the Second Crusade for Al Andalus, he reconquered vast tracts of land from the united kingdoms of Christian Iberia, he fought and defeated the Egyptian Crusaders when no one else could…

But these conquests came at a price. Ma’n spent so much time on the march that he fathered his sons very late in life, and with his sudden death at sea, a mere child is crowned as his successor in Qadis. To make matters worse, the regency will be made up of powerful members of the Majlis al-Shura, made up of power-hungry nobles and ambitious opportunists...

The next few years will undoubtedly prove to be rocky and unstable, but as the Middle Ages draw to a close, it is quickly becoming clear that only the strongest of the strong will survive, with everyone else resigned to the pages of history.