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Fatimid Egyptian

Page history last edited by PBworks 15 years, 4 months ago

Fatimid Egyptian, 969 - 1171 (III/65)


Proposer: Brendan Moyle


1. Drop the 'Abid al-shira Bw(X/O)
2. Replace Berber javelinmen with spearmen
3. Make the Armenian archers regular
4. Change Dailami guard to Bd (F)



Proposal 1. Regrade the `abid al-shira:



`Abid archers - Reg Bw half (X), half (O) 8-16

Other `abid archers - Reg Ps (O) or Reg Bw (O) 0-6

Lutat macemen – Reg Bd (X) **1-4

"Zanj" swordsmen – Reg Bd (I) or Irr Wb (F) 0-10



`Abid al-shira - up to 1/3 Reg Ps(O) archers, the rest either all spearmen, Reg Sp (I), or all with swords and javelins as Reg Bd(I) 8-24

Regrade Reg Bd(I) or Reg Sp (I) to either Reg Bd(O) with polearms or Reg Bd(X)

with lutat maces **1/6 to 1/4

Independent `abid archers - Reg Ps (O) or Reg Bw (I) 0-6




While there is a long-standing belief that the Sudanese in the Fatimid army were mostly archers (see for instance, Smail's Crusading Warfare) this is not supported by contemporary evidence.


While black troops did serve in the early Fatimid army, these were not distinguished from other Maghribi troops until the 11th C expansion. From the 11th C on, when the abid al-shira (or al-sudan or in one instance, zanj) are mentioned, the following information is relayed to us:


First, the Fatimid army in Palestine suffered from the archery of their opponents, and part of the drive to acquire eastern troops was to obtain "Turkish" archers to gain parity. The Abid al-shira was not seen as providing effective archers.


Second, the parades recorded of the Fatimid army do not describe the black troops as archers, but as either swordsmen or spearmen. There is one parade where 500 Black archers are mentioned but these formed the minority of the black troops present.


Third, the Latin accounts of battles with the black troops do not mention their archery. They are described as being armed with maces or flails, or javelins ("A countless host of infantry trained to throw the javelin..." says William of Tyre, and Baldwin I was wounded by such a javelin). This matches the descriptions of their equipment in the Fatimid parades above. Latin victories describe the war-litter of the black troops, and it is swords and spears that dominate ("Moorish" swords in particular, giving credence to this being a correct account).


Fourth, pictorial evidence (reproduced in Nicolle) does not show many archers, and those that are depicted are Eastern in appearance.


Fifth, in the battle in Cairo between the Syrian troops of Shirkuh and Saladin and the black troops, the archery that afflicted the Syrians was from the Armenians. The Armenians unlike the abid al-shira were regarded as excellent archers and are sometimes just referred to as "bows" (qaws). No such attributions are given to the black troops.


(DJH: As for the polearms, the evidence seems to be limited. Nicolle's "Arms & Armour of the Crusading Era..." v2. Figs 303 I and K, shows Fatimid wood-carvings from Egypt with what might be glaives, and these seem to be the source of the Syrian ahdath glaiveman reconstructed in "Armies of Islam", which he says is "probably the sabarbarah described in written sources". Fig 426a is a bladed and hooked weapon from a 12th-century Syrian Jacobite MS, which "might be the furayjiyah or faranjiyah of the 12th-century treatise on military equipment by al-Tarsusi".


None of this specifically shows polearms used by Sudani troops. One alternative would be to treat any polearms as mixed in with the macemen under the Bd (X) heading. - \DJH)


Hence, the Abid al-shira is best conceived as being either Maghribi in combat technique (spearmen supported by small numbers archers firing overhead) or as heavy-foot (blades supported by small numbers of archers firing overhead).


(DJH: I'm wondering if they should have a Sp option at all, or just be Bd. There are no references to thrusting-spears, just swords and javelins. If they are included in al-Qadi al-Nu'man's infantry who kneel with spears (which is perhaps supported by Albert of Aix's description of Sudanese kneeling) then it is very surprising that they only seem to be associated with swords and javelins (and maces), not as far as I can see with spears. \DJH)




Brendan Moyle, "Where Have All the Good Bows Gone: Sudanese Infantry in Fatimid Service" in Slingshot 238 (Jan. 2005) pp.13-14.


R C Smail, Crusading Warfare 1097-1193 (Cambridge UP, 2nd ed. 1995)


William J Hamblin, The Fatimid Army During the Early Crusades (Ph.D. Dissertation, U. of Michigan, 1984)


Yacov Lev, various articles



Proposal 2. Replace Berber javelinmen with spearmen




Berber javelinmen - Irr Ps (S) @ 3AP *10-16

Berber archers or slingers - Irr Ps (O) @ 2AP 0-6



Berber infantry, up to 1/3 archers Irr Ps (O), the rest armoured spearmen Irr Sp (I) *12-24


Berber Ps (O) may support Berber Sp.




The Fatimid army for the most part, used their Berbers as mounted (in the case of both the Kitama and Lewata). Their Berber troops were "imports" from the Maghrib, like the dynasty itself. The early Fatimid army in Egypt did not have numerous Berber foot-contingents, neither had they made the transition to the professional eastern army of the 11th C.


Such Berber foot as there were may have been equipped like those of the Berber armies of the Maghrib, which were based around stationary foot armed with spears and shields (supported by small numbers of archers firing overhead), supporting cavalry using karr wa farr tactics. (Note that in the published Early Muslim North Africa and Sicily list (III/33), Berber infantry become 1/3-2/3 spearmen as early as 711. In other words, the published lists would have the early Fatimids conquering Egypt with an infantry mostly of Berber spearmen, who would promptly all turn back into javelinmen again.)


Al Qadi al-Numan describes the Fatimid army in a text from the late 10th C, quoted in Hamblin's thesis. He states that the infantry in jawshan or mail, armed with shields and "pikes" should be placed in the front ranks of the infantry, behind whom were archers (al-rajjala al-nashiba). If attacked, the armoured infantry were ordered to kneel, hide behind their shields in tight solid ranks (saff mukham). They were required to hold their position until the enemy was in full retreat. So, pretty much the same foot-tactics as those used by other Maghribi foot.


At the moment the published DBM list contains no troops that fit this description, and the most likely candidates at this date are probably the Berbers. The Persian traveller Nasir-i Khusrau described Fatimid Masmuda infantry as armed with spear and sword (Yaacov Lev, "Army, Regime and Society in Fatimid Egypt, 358-487/968-1094", International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 19.3 (1987), p.342; although Nasir-i Khusrau for some reason describes them as black Africans, the Masmuda are a Berber confederacy).


(From Brendan's messages 2845 and 2848)



Proposal 3. Make the Armenian archers regular



Armenian mercenary archers - Irr Bw (O) @ 4AP 12-15



Armenian mercenary archers – Reg Bw (O) @ 4AP 12-16


The Armenians (unlike the Sudanese abid al-shira) were regarded as excellent archers and are sometimes just referred to as "bows" (qaws). They were permanently embodied regiments, with their own barracks – which seems to suggest regular status. They were of sufficient confidence to claim that a 1000 of them could conquer the world up to the walls of Constantinople. This may be indicative of their training.


(From Brendan's message 3377 and 6283)



Proposal 4. Change Dailami guard to Bd (F)



Dailami - up to 1/3 archers, Reg Ps (O) @ 2AP {can support Dailami Ax}, remainder with zupin, Reg Ax (S) @ 5AP 3-6

Extra to mount Dailami on camels or mules @ 1AP All/0



Dailami guards – Reg Bd (F) 3-6


See general considerations on Dailami Foot and in particular, the performance of the Dailami in Fatimid service who broke through the Byzantine centre in one engagement in Syria.


(From Brendan's message 4326, etc)

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