Ismail I of Granada

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Ismail I
Sultan of Granada
ReignFebruary 1314 – 8 July 1325
PredecessorNasr of Granada
SuccessorMuhammad IV of Granada
Born3 March 1279
Died8 July 1325(1325-07-08) (aged 46)
FatherAbu Sa'id Faraj
MotherFatima bint al-Ahmar

Abu'l-Walid Ismail I (born 3 March 1279, reigned February 1314 – 8 July 1325) was the fifth Nasrid ruler of the Emirate of Granada in Al-Andalus on the Iberian Peninsula in 1314–1325. As he was not a male-line descendant of the previous Sultans, He was the first of the lineage now known as the al-dawla al-isma'iliyya. Historians characterised him as an effective ruler who improved the Emirate's position with military victories during his relatively brief reign.

A grandson of Sultan Muhammad II from the side of his mother Fatima, he claimed the throne during the reign of his maternal uncle, Sultan Nasr. His forces defeated the unpopular Nasr and was proclaimed Sultan in the Alhambra in February 1314. Ismail spent the early years of his reign fighting Nasr, who attempted regain the throne from Guadix, where he was initially allowed to rule as governor. Nasr enlisted the help of Castile, who then secured a papal authorisation for a crusade against Ismail. The war continued with intermittent truces and reached its climax in the Battle of the Vega, 25 June 1319, which resulted in a complete victory of Ismail's forces against Castile. The death of Infante Peter and Infante John, the two regents for Castile's infant King Alfonso XI, during the battle left Castile leaderless and forced it to end support for Nasr.

After an initial truce, Ismail followed up his victory with the capture of castles in the Castilian border in 1324 and 1325, including Baza, Orce, Huéscar, Galera, and Martos. This campaign included the first use of cannons in a siege on the Iberian peninsula, and atrocities during the assault of Martos which became infamous in Muslim chronicles. He was murdered by his relative, Muhammad ibn Ismail, on 8 July 1325, in personally motivated assassination. During his life he added buildings to the Alhambra palace complex, its Generalife palace, and the Alcázar Genil.


A map of the Emirate of Granada, depicting relevant towns and cities

Abu'l-Walid Ismail ibn Faraj was the son of Fatima bint al-Ahmar and Abu Said Faraj ibn Ismail. Fatima was the daughter of Sultan Muhammad II (r. 1273–1302), sister of the sultans Muhammad III (r. 1302–1309) and Nasr (r. 1309–1314), the two immediate successors and sons of Muhammad II. Abu Said was another member of the dynasty, the son of Ismail ibn Nasr, who was a brother of the dynasty founder Muhammad I (r. 1238–1273). In other words, Ismail was related to the ruling dynasty in two ways: through his mother he was the grandson of Muhammad II and great-grandson of Muhammad I, while through his father he was a great-nephew of Muhammad I.[1] Abu Said married Fatima during the reign of her father, Muhammad II, for whom he was a trusted advisor as well as a cousin. Abu Said was appointed governor of Málaga by the same Sultan.[1] Málaga was the second largest city of the Emirate after the capital and its most important Mediterranean port, without which "Granada was no more than an isolated mountain-girt city", according to historian L. P. Harvey.[2] Abu Said's father, Ismail ibn Nasr, also served as its governor until he died in 1257.[3]

The Emirate of Granada was the last Muslim state on the Iberian peninsula, founded by Muhammad I in the 1230s.[4] Through a combination of diplomatic and military manoeuvres, the kingdom succeeded in maintaining its independence, despite being surrounded by two larger neighbours, the Christian Crown of Castile to the north and the Muslim Marinid Sultanate in Morocco. Granada intermittently entered into alliance or went to war with either of these powers, or encouraged them to fight one another, in order to avoid being dominated by either.[5] From time to time, the Sultans of Granada swore fealty and pay tributes to the Kings of Castile, which represented an important source of income for the Christian monarch.[6] From Castile's point of view Granada was a royal vassal while Muslim sources never described the relationship as such, and Muhammad I, for instance, on other occasions declared his fealty to other Muslim sovereigns.[7]

Early life[edit]

Ismail was born on 3 March 1279 (17 Shawwal 677 AH), shortly after his father was sent to Málaga as governor (11 February). He was likely born in the Alhambra, the royal palace complex in Granada, because his mother was late into her pregnancy at the time of Abu Said's departure, and the Nasrid rule in Málaga was still unstable due to having just been recaptured after a long rebellion by the Banu Ashqilula.[8] During his youth he was said to be well-loved by his father as well as by his maternal grandfather, Sultan Muhammad II.[8][9]

Ismail's uncle Sultan Nasr became unpopular at court in the last years of his reign.[10] Ibn Khaldun writes that this was due to his and his vizier's "tendencies towards violence and injustice", while Harvey rejected this explanation as a possible propaganda and writes that "exactly why Naṣr fell is not clear".[11] Antonio Fernández-Puertas linked Nasr's unpopularity to his activities in science, especially astronomy, which was deemed excessive by his nobles, as well as the suspected pro-Christian tendencies of the sultan and the vizier.[12] Harvey also opines that Nasr was blamed "perhaps unfairly" for Granada's losses in the war that occurred during his reign against the Marinid Sultanate as well as the Christian kingdoms of Castile and Aragon.[11] Initially, he faced an attempt to restore his predecessor, the dethroned Muhammad III in November 1310.[13] That attempt failed, but Abu Said Faraj, encouraged by an anti-Nasr faction he met at court, started another rebellion in the following year in the name of his son Ismail, who had a stronger legitimacy to the throne thanks to the lineage of his mother.[12][14] The pro-Ismail rebels took Antequera, Marbella and Vélez-Málaga, advanced to the Vega of Granada and defeated Nasr’s forces at a place called al-Atsha by Arabic sources, possibly today’s Láchar.[12][15] Abu Said proceeded to besiege the capital but lacked necessary supplies for a protracted campaign.[12] Castile's forces under the brother of King Ferdinand IV, Infante Peter, defeated Abu Said and Ismail on 28 May 1312.[16] Abu Said sought peace, which was signed on 5 August,[8] under which Abu Said was able to retain his post as governor of Málaga and resumed paying tributes to the Sultan.[12]

Rise to power[edit]

The Gate of Elvira, where Ismail I entered Granada in 1314

Fearing the Sultan's vengeance, Abu Said sent his katib (secretary) Ibn Isa to negotiate a secret deal with the Marinids, in which he were to yield Málaga in exchange for the governorship of Salé in North Africa. This became known to the people of Málaga and was considered a treachery; the citizens then rose up and deposed him as their leader in favour of Ismail.[17] Ismail did not arrest his father but kept him under watch in Málaga. During a visit outside the city, Abu Said was suspected to attempt to flee and then captured by Málaga's citizens. Ismail arrived before his father was harmed, then ordered his imprisonment in the castle of Cártama. Later, during Ismail's reign, he was moved to the castle of Salobreña.[17]

Opposition to Nasr continued, and members of the anti-Nasr faction fled the court to Ismail's Málaga.[15] Soon Ismail restarted the rebellion, with help from his mother Fatima and Uthman ibn Abi al-Ula, the commander of the North African Volunteers of the Faith garrisoned in the city.[18] As Ismail moved towards Granada, his army swelled and the capital's inhabitants opened the city gates for him. Ismail entered the city from the Elvira (Ilbira) Gate and besieged Nasr who remained in the Alhambra complex.[19] Nasr tried to request help from Infante Peter, one of the regents of Castile after the accession of the infant King Alfonso XI (r. 1312–1350), but Castilian help did not come in time.[16] Meanwhile Ismail took residence in the old castle (qasba qadima) of the Albayzín district, and declared himself Sultan on 14 February 1314 (27 Shawwal 713 AH).[8] Subsequently, Ismail and Nasr agreed to a settlement by which the former Sultan abdicated and surrendered the Alhambra to his nephew.[10] Ismail entered the palace complex on 16 February, and an accession ceremony for Ismail took place in the Alhambra on 28 February (12 Dhu al-Qaida).[8] Nasr was permitted to leave for the eastern city of Guadix at the night of 19 February,[8] and rule there as governor.[10][19]


Defending the throne[edit]

Granada and the surrounding kingdoms, 14th century

The first years of Ismail's reign was marked by conflict with the deposed Nasr, who called himself "King of Guadix" and ruled the city independently.[8] He accused Ismail of violating his promise of guaranteeing Nasr's security and enlisted the help of his relatives and servants to regain the throne. Ismail laid siege to Guadix in May 1315 but left after 45 days.[8] Nasr requested help from Castile and Aragon: King James II of Aragon did not pledge any specific assistance, but Infante Peter summoned the nobles of Castile in the spring of 1316, securing an agreement and support for a military campaign in Granada.[20] Castile sent a supply column to Nasr, again besieged in Guadix, but it was intercepted by Granadan forces led by Uthman ibn Abi al-Ula, resulting in a major battle on 8 May at Guadahortuna/Wadi Fortuna near Alicún.[8][20] Muslim and Christian sources disagreed on the victor of this battle, but modern historians concluded that Castile won the battle: Harvey and Fernández-Puertas surmise that the Christians achieved a narrow victory based on the fact that they advanced closer to Granada after the battle,[21][10] while Joseph F. O'Callaghan writes that it was a "complete victory" which resulted in the death of 1,500 Muslims.[22] Ismail was forced to lift the siege and withdraw to Granada, and in the following month Infante Peter captured various castles, including Cambil, Alhamar, and Benaxixar, and burned the outskirts of Iznalloz.[22][21] Meanwhile, Ismail allied himself with Yahya ibn Abi Talib, the Azafid governor of Ceuta, who defeated Castile in a naval battle and then laid siege to Gibraltar. The siege was abandoned when Castile sent a relief force.[8][23] Subsequently, Peter and Ismail agreed to a truce until 31 March 1317.[22]

Peter invaded Granada again in 1317, pillaged the countryside in the plain of Granada in July, and then captured Bélmez. Ismail then agreed to pay tributes to Castile in exchange for a truce.[23] War resumed in the spring of 1318, and by September Ismail and Peter agreed to another truce.[24] Ismail expected another attack to be imminent: Castile and Aragon had secured a crusading bull in 1317 from Pope John XXII, who also authorised the use of funds levied by the church.[25] Ismail sought help from the Marinid Sultan Abu Sa'id Uthman II (r. 1310–1331), who required that Ismail handed over Uthman ibn Abi al-Ula, who previously attempted to claim the Marinid throne for himself. Ismail rejected this condition. Peter began preparation for another invasion and informed Ismail that he had to break the truce and stop receiving Granadan money because of the bull of crusade from the Pope, while the Ismail denounced this act as a betrayal.[26] At this point, Peter's intention is likely not just the restoration of Nasr but rather the total conquest of Granada, and he declared "I would not be a son of King Don Sancho, if, within a few years, if God gives me life, I did not cause the house of Granada to be restored to the Crown of Spain".[27][26] Peter invaded Granadan territories in May and captured Tíscar on the 26th. Peter was then joined by his co-regent, Infante John, and they advanced to Granada in June. Ismail's troops under Uthman ibn Abi al-Ula began engaging the invading army's rear guard on 25 June.[28] The Battle of the Vega of Granada resulted in a complete Muslim victory. Infante Peter and Infante John died, apparently from natural causes, demoralising the Christian troops whose remaining commanders began a disorderly retreat.[29] The Granadan forces, thinking that the Christians were preparing for battle, attacked their camp, killing and capturing the enemy as well as taking their properties. Authors from both sides considered this outcome a judgement from God, with Ibn Khaldun declaring it "one of the most marvelous of God's interventions in favor of the true faith".[30][31]


A poem in honour of Ismail carved in the Palace of the Generalife

The death of the two Castilian regents at the Vega and the thorough defeat of their forces ended the threat to Ismail's throne. With Castile's court in disarray, the Hermandad General de Andalucía—a regional "brotherhood" of frontier towns—acted to negotiate with Granada.[32] A truce was agreed by the hermandad and Ismail at Baena on 18 June 1320, meant to last for eight years, and ended Castile's support for Nasr.[33][10] Each town of the hermandad sent representatives to sign the treaty and pledged to only accept a new regent if he or she accept the treaty.[33] James II of Aragon, who also received papal authorisation and funds for a crusade against Granada, initially rebuked the hermandad for making a treaty which is a "disservice to God" and not authorised by the crown, but finally made a treaty with Ismail in May 1321, lasting for five years. Ismail also negotiated peace with the leader of Murcia, part of the Castilian realms which separated between Granada and Aragon. The terms include a provision that Granada may use Murcian territories in case of war against Aragon, in which case Murcia must not warn Aragon of its troops movement. However, peace between Granada and Aragon held and the truce would later be renewed in 1326.[32] Nasr died without heir in Guadix in 1322, and Ismail reunited territories under his former control to the Emirate. Nasr's death eliminated any contention to Ismail's throne and paved the way for a new lineage of Sultans beginning with Ismail I, later called al-dawla al-isma'iiyya al-nasriyya, "the Nasrid dynasty of Ismail".[19]

Despite the treaty at Baena, some truces between Granada and Castile expired, and conflict restarted. A Castilian fleet under Jofre Tenorio defeated Granada at a naval battle, and according to Christian records captured 1,200 Muslims who were then shipped to Seville. Meanwhile, emboldened by the end of the threat from Nasr and the lack of leadership in the Castilian court, Nasr crossed the land border with Castile in order to strengthen his control over the frontiers and recapture border fortresses. In July 1324 he recaptured Baza, near Guadix. In either 1234 or 1235, he took Orce, Huéscar, Galera, and used cannons during one of the sieges.[a] It was the first recorded military use of the cannon in the peninsula, and the defenders surrendered quickly upon seeing its effects.[34][35][8] Ismail ordered the rebuilding of defences in the conquered places, and worked on the moat of Huéscar by his own hands.[8] Poems celebrating some of Ismail's military accomplishments were written in the Dar al-Mamlaka al-Saida (Happy Gate of the Kingdom) in the Generalife of the Alhambra.[36] Ismail's last campaign was the siege of Martos, from 22 June to 6 July 1325. During the assault Ismail lost control of his troops, who proceeded to sack the city and committed a massacre of its inhabitants. The resulting atrocities were roundly condemned by Muslim chroniclers.[8]


Ismail was assassinated on 8 July 1325 (Monday 26 Rajab 725 AH), by a relative, Muhammad ibn Ismail, son of the Sultan's cousin (also named Ismail) which was known as the sahib al-Jazira (Lord of Algeciras).[8][37] Ibn al-Khatib wrote that the Sultan had previously censured Muhammad due to a negligence that was unnamed by the sources, and that the rebuke wounded him so much that he decided to murder the Sultan. Christian sources reported another motive for the assassination: according to the Chronicles of Alfonso XI, Muhammad ibn Ismail captured a Christian woman at Martos, whom the Sultan wanted to be given to him. When Muhammad rejected, the Sultan spoke in a manner that Muhammad considered disrespectful. The royal relative then discussed this with the military chief Uthman ibn Abi al-Ula, who agreed to join the plot to kill the Sultan.[38][39] Harvey cautions that an outsider's account with such colourful details on "what went on behind close doors" might not be reliable, especially as it differs from other sources.[40]

Puertas de las Armas of the Alhambra, initially built by Ismail I.


A cultured and refined man, during his life Ismail I significantly added to the Alhambra complex and the palace of Generalife.[41] He added to the Alcázar Genil after his victory in 1319, and built what is now Puertas de las Armas in Granada's alcazaba, which would later be developed into the Comares Palace, part of the Alhambra complex.[41]

Ismail I was succeeded by his son Muhammad IV, a boy of ten.[41] Another son of Ismail would succeed Muhammad IV as Yusuf I.[1] The lineage of Sultans beginning with Ismail is now called al-dawla al-isma'iliyya al-nasriyya, "the Nasrid dynasty of Ismail", in contrast to al-dawla al-ghalibiyya al-nasriyya, "the Nasrid dynasty of al-Ghalib", named after Muhammad I's nickname al-Ghalib billah ("The Victor by the Grace of God") and to which the first four Sultans belonged.[42]

Historian Joseph O'Callaghan called him "one of the most effective kings of Granada",[34] while Francisco Vidal Castro characterised his reign as "very active and belligerent, which brought al-Andalus to a stronger position against its enemies".[8] Hugh N. Kennedy called him "a vigorous and effective ruler" and "might have achieved much more had he not been assassinated".[43] Similarly, L. P. Harvey writes that he "seemed [...] destined to enjoy a long and successful reign" after his success in the Battle of the Vega, if not for his early death.[35]



  1. ^ Sources differ on the details of the conquests: Vidal Castro writes all three were captured in 1324 and the cannons were used against Huescar. Latham & Fernández-Puertas (1993), p. 1023 gives 1325 as the date of these conquests. O'Callaghan (2011), p. 149 writes that the cannons was used against Galera. Harvey (1992), p. 184 says that the cannons–or possibly Greek fire–was used against Huescar in 1324.


  1. ^ a b c Fernández-Puertas 1997, p. 2.
  2. ^ Harvey 1992, p. 158.
  3. ^ Fernández-Puertas 1997, p. 1.
  4. ^ Harvey 1992, pp. 9, 40.
  5. ^ Harvey 1992, pp. 160, 165.
  6. ^ O'Callaghan 2013, p. 456.
  7. ^ Harvey 1992, pp. 26–28.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Vidal Castro.
  9. ^ Boloix Gallardo 2016, p. 279.
  10. ^ a b c d e Latham & Fernández-Puertas 1993, p. 1023.
  11. ^ a b Harvey 1992, p. 180.
  12. ^ a b c d e Fernández-Puertas 1997, p. 4.
  13. ^ Vidal Castro 2004, p. 361.
  14. ^ Rubiera Mata 1975, pp. 131–132.
  15. ^ a b Rubiera Mata 1975, p. 132.
  16. ^ a b O'Callaghan 2011, p. 134.
  17. ^ a b Fernández-Puertas 1997, pp. 4–5.
  18. ^ Catlos 2018, p. 343.
  19. ^ a b c Fernández-Puertas 1997, p. 5.
  20. ^ a b O'Callaghan 2011, pp. 138–139.
  21. ^ a b Harvey 1992, p. 181.
  22. ^ a b c O'Callaghan 2011, p. 139.
  23. ^ a b O'Callaghan 2011, p. 141.
  24. ^ O'Callaghan 2011, p. 142–143.
  25. ^ O'Callaghan 2011, pp. 139–143.
  26. ^ a b O'Callaghan 2011, p. 143.
  27. ^ Al-Zahrani 2009, p. 357.
  28. ^ O'Callaghan 2011, p. 144.
  29. ^ O'Callaghan 2011, p. 144-145.
  30. ^ Harvey 1992, p. 182.
  31. ^ O'Callaghan 2011, p. 145.
  32. ^ a b O'Callaghan 2011, pp. 147–148.
  33. ^ a b O'Callaghan 2011, p. 147.
  34. ^ a b O'Callaghan 2011, p. 149.
  35. ^ a b Harvey 1992, p. 184.
  36. ^ Fernández-Puertas 1997, p. 6.
  37. ^ Vidal Castro 2004, pp. 371-372.
  38. ^ Vidal Castro 2004, p. 375.
  39. ^ Harvey 1992, p. 185.
  40. ^ Harvey 1992, p. 185, 187.
  41. ^ a b c Fernández-Puertas 1997, p. 7.
  42. ^ Fernández-Puertas 1997, pp. 1, 5.
  43. ^ Kennedy 2014, p. 287.


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Ismail I of Granada
Cadet branch of the Banu Khazraj
Born: 1279 Died: 6 June 1325
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Sultan of Granada
Succeeded by
Muhammed IV