Algeria’s Historic Hammadid Dynasty

In a period of North African history during which dynasties rose and fell, overlapped one another, or the strong displaced those less strong, the Hammadids ruled an area now known as north-eastern Algeria for around one and a half centuries, from 1008 to 1152. This Berber dynasty rose to power under Hammad ibn Buluggin, who had been given authority over central Maghreb. Soon after becoming the leader of this portion of the Maghreb – a historical region covering Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Mauritania and Western Sahara – Hammad ibn Buluggin declared himself independent of the Zirid dynasty, which at the time ruled the portion of the Maghreb stretching from Morocco to Tunisia.

The Zirids sent an army to attempt to force the Hammadids to conform, but Hammad ibn Buluggin had already obtained recognition of his independence from the Abbasid Caliph of Baghdad. Consequently, a peace treaty was agreed upon between the Zirid and Hammadid dynasties, with the Zirids recognizing the Hammadids as being a legitimate dynasty in 1018. The Hammadids followed the Maliki form of religious law within Sunni Islam, and spoke classical Arabic and Berber, as well as an Indo-European dialect known as Mozarabic.

With the dispute between the two dynasties settled, Hammad founded a fortified city in the mountains northeast of M’Sila. The ruins of the Beni Hammad Fort remain standing today and are noted as an authentic example of a fortified Muslim city on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. Excavation of the site has unearthed jewelry, coins, ceramics and other items which archeologists believe indicate that the Hammadid dynasty was socially advanced.

The Hammadids were obliged to move their capital when a confederation of Arab Bedouin tribes known as Banu Hilal invaded the area, reportedly spurred on by the Fatimid Caliphs of Egypt who were rivals of the Abbasid Caliphs. The Hammadids settled on the Mediterranean coast at the Gulf of Béjaïa. With its strategic position on the coast, Béjaïa became one of the most prosperous cities on the Mediterranean in the 11th century. Following a succession of rulers, with the last one being Yahya ibn Abd al-Aziz from 1121 to 1152, the Hammadids were conquered by the Berber-Muslim Almohad dynasty and ceased to exist.