Kusaila

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Kusaila (berber:Aksel)
Aksel (ⴰⴽⵙⴻⵍ)
Reign Early VIIth Century
Buried Khenchela, Algeria
Predecessor Yabdas
Successor Dihya ⴷⵉⵀⵢⴰ
Religious beliefs Christian

Kusaila[1] (Berber: Aksil or Aksel, ⴰⴽⵙⴻⵍ, died in the year 690 AD) was a 7th-century leader of the Awraba tribe of the Berber people and Christian head of the Sanhadja confederation. He is known for prosecuting an effective Berber resistance against the Muslim Arab expansion into North Africa in the 680s.

Historical importance[edit]

Initially the Romano-Berber states were able to defeat the Arabs at the Battle of Vescera (modern Biskra in Algeria), that was fought in 682 AD between the Berbers of Christian king Kusaila and their Byzantine allies from the Exarchate of Carthage against an Umayyad Arab army under Uqba ibn Nafi (the founder of Kairouan).[2] Uqba ibn Nafi had led his men in an expedition across north Africa, eventually reaching the Atlantic Ocean and marching as far south as the Draa and Sous rivers. On his return, he was ambushed by the Berber-Byzantine coalition at Tahuda south of Vescera, defeated and killed. As a result of this defeat, the Arabs were expelled from the area of modern Tunisia and eastern Algeria for more than a decade.[3]

Biography[edit]

His homeland was Tlemcen in modern Algeria, according to Ibn Khaldun. However, this account dates from the 14th century, some 700 years later. Indeed Kusaila -according to historian Noe Villaverde[4]- was probably a king of the Kingdom of Altava. Other sources closer to Aksel's time (9th century are the earliest available) associate him only with the Awras area.[1] Aksel grew up in Berber tribal territory during the time of the Byzantine exarchate.

Kusaila professed to be Christian since childhood. According to historian Camps, his name was a possible translation in berber of the Latin name "Caecilius", showing that he was from a noble Romano-Berber family.[5] His name even intrigued Orientalists; unlike other Romano-Berber kings, like his predecessors Masuna, Masties, Mastinas and Garmul, Kusaila is not named after a Berber sounding. Arab chroniclers likely transmitted us -according to Camps- a name of another language: Latin Caecilius, a common name found in the graves of Volubilis.

However Kusaila had suffered much at the hands of the Muslims. He was captured by Oqba, put in chains and paraded throughout North Africa. But in AD 683 he succeeded in escaping and raised against his tormentors a large force of Christian berber and Byzantine soldiers. The Arabs were taken by surprise. From the beginning they had been more a collection of heavily armed individuals than a disciplined army, and the weakness of their organization was now for the first time put to a serious test. Oqba was defeated and killed. Aksel captured Kairouan itself and for a while he seems to have been, in name at least, the master of all North Africa. But the respite was to be short-lived. Five years later Aksel was killed in battle against fresh Arab forces led by a Muslim general from Damascus. This soldier was himself ambushed and put to death by Byzantine sea-raiders shortly afterwards. For a while confusion reigned, but the Awreba recognized the weakness of their position and eventually capitulated to the newly re-organized and reinforced Arab army. With the death of Aksel, the torch of resistance passed to a tribe known as the Jerawa, who had their home in the Aurès mountains.

According to late Moslem accounts (11th century through to Ibn Khaldun in the 14th century) the amir of the invading Arabs, who was then a freed slave called Abu al-Muhajir Dinar, surprisingly invited Kusaila to meet with him in his camp. Abu al-Muhajir convinced him to accept Islam and join his army with a promise of full equality with the Arabs (678). Abu al-Muhajir was a master in diplomacy and thoroughly impressed Aksel with not only his piety but with his high sense of respect and etiquette. Aksel incorporated the Awraba-Sanhajda into the conquering Arab force and participated in their uniformly successful campaigns under Abu al-Muhajir. This amir was then forcibly replaced by Uqba ibn Nafi who treated Kusaila and his men with contempt. Eventually Uqba's disrespect enraged Kusayla and provoked a plot of revenge. On the army's return from Morocco, Uqba allowed his troops to break up and go home. The remainder, about 300, was vulnerable and exhausted. On the return march to Kairowan, Aksel joined with the Byzantine forces and organised an ambush. The Christian-Berber force, about 5000 strong, defeated the Arabs and felled Uqba at Tahudha near Biskra (683). Aksel now held undisputed mastery over North Africa and marched to Kairowan in triumph.[3]

The above account is disputed by some historians, who prefer the earlier 9th-century sources.[1][6] According to these, Abu al-Muhajir had no connection with Kusaila, nor did Uqba ibn Nafi until he was ambushed at Tahudha. These earlier sources also describe Aksel as a CHRISTIAN, not a Muslim convert. They do agree, however, that he led a combined Byzantine-Berber force when he defeated Uqba.

In 688 AD Arab reinforcements arrived under Zuhair ibn Kays. Aksel met them in 690b AD at the Battle of Mamma. Vastly outnumbered, the Awraba were defeated and Kusaila was killed. It was not the last instance of Berber resistance, however (see al-Kahina).

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c article by Modéran cited below
  2. ^ McKenna, Amy (2011). The History of Northern Africa. Britannica Educational Publishing. p. 40. ISBN 1615303189. 
  3. ^ a b Conant, Jonathan (2012). Staying Roman : conquest and identity in Africa and the Mediterranean, 439-700. Cambridge New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 280–281. ISBN 0521196973. 
  4. ^ Noé Villaverde, Vega: "El Reino mauretoromano de Altava, siglo VI" (The Mauro-Roman kingdom of Altava) p.355
  5. ^ Camps: Rex gentium Maurorum et Romanorum. Recherches sur les royaumes de Maurétanie des VIe et VIIe siècles. pg 218
  6. ^ article by Benabbès cited below

Sources[edit]

  • Benabbès, A. Les premiers raids arabes en Numidie Byzantine: questions toponymiques. In Identités et Cultures dans l'Algérie Antique, University of Rouen, 2005 (ISBN 2-87775-391-3)
  • Camps, G. Rex gentium Maurorum et Romanorum. Recherches sur les royaumes de Maurétanie des VIe et VIIe siècles
  • Hrbek, I., ed. General History of Africa III: Africa From the Seventh to the Eleventh Century.
  • Modéran, Y. Kusayla, l'Afrique et les Arabes. In Identités et Cultures dans l'Algérie Antique, University of Rouen, 2005 (ISBN 2-87775-391-3).
  • Conant, Jonathan (2012). Staying Roman : conquest and identity in Africa and the Mediterranean, 439-700. Cambridge New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 280–281. ISBN 0521196973. 

See also[edit]