Muhammad I of Granada

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Muhammad I
Mohammed I ibn Nasr.jpg
Muhammad I embracing his Castilian ally during a siege of a castle. Contemporary depiction from Cantigas de Santa Maria
Sultan of Granada
Reign 1232 (as ruler of Arjona) – 1273
Successor Muhammad II
Born Muhammad ibn Yusuf
Died 22 January 1273
Issue Muhammad II; others
House Nasrid dynasty
Religion Islam

Abu Abdullah Muhammad ibn Yusuf ibn Nasr (1195–1273), also known as Ibn al-Aḥmar (Arabic: ابن الأحمر‎) and by his epithet al-Ghalib billah ("The Victor by the Grace of God"),[1][2] was the first ruler of the Emirate of Granada, the last independent Muslim state on the Iberian Peninsula, and the founder of its ruling Nasrid dynasty. He lived during a time when Iberia's Christian kingdoms—especially Portugal, Castile and Aragon—were expanding at the expense of the Islamic territory in Iberia called Al-Andalus. Ibn al-Ahmar took power in his native Arjona in 1232 when he rebelled against the de facto leader of Al-Andalus, Ibn Hud. During this rebellion, Ibn al-Ahmar was only able to take control of Córdoba and Seville briefly, before he lost both cities to Ibn Hud. Forced to acknowledge Ibn Hud's suzerainty, Ibn al-Ahmar was able to retain Arjona and Jaén. In 1236, he betrayed Ibn Hud by helping Ferdinand III of Castile take Córdoba. In the years that followed, Ibn al-Ahmar was able to gain control over the southern cities, including Granada (1237), Almería (1238) and Malaga (1239). The emirate that Ibn al-Ahmar established during the period was to be Spain's last Muslim state. In 1244, he lost Arjona to Castile. Two years later, in 1246, he agreed to surrender Jaén and accept Ferdinand's overlordship in exchange for a twenty-year peace.

In the 18 years that followed Ibn al-Ahmar consolidated his domain by maintaining relatively peaceful relations with the Crown of Castile; in 1248 he even helped the Christian kingdom take Seville from the Muslims. In 1264, however, he turned against Castile and assisted the unsuccessful rebellion of Castile's newly conquered Muslim subjects. In 1266 his allies in Málaga, the Banu Ashqilula, rebelled against the Emirate. When his former allies sought assistance from Alfonso X of Castile, Ibn al-Ahmar was able to convince the leader of the Castilian troops, Nuño González de Lara, to turn against Alfonso. By 1272 Nuño González was actively fighting Castile. The Emirate's conflict with Castille and Banu Ashqilula was still unresolved in 1273, when Ibn al-Ahmar died after falling off his horse. He was succeeded by his son, Muhammad II.

Origin and early life[edit]

Arjona, today in the Province of Jaén, Spain, Muhammad I's hometown and where he first established his rule

Muhammad ibn Yusuf was born in 1195[3] in the town of Arjona, then a small frontier Muslim town south of the Guadalquivir,[4] now in Spain's Province of Jaén. According to Castilian sources, he came from humble background and initially had "no other occupation than following the oxen and the plough". According to later Granadan historian and vizier Ibn al-Khatib, his family was descended from a prominent companion of the Islamic prophet Muhammad known as Sa'd ibn Ubadah of the Banu Khazraj tribe; Ubadah's descendants migrated to Spain and settled in Arjona as farmers.[5] During his early life he became known for his charisma, leadership activity in the frontiers, as well as for his ascetic image which he maintained even after becoming ruler.[4]

Muhammad was also known as Ibn al-Ahmar,[6] and had the kunya Abu Abdullah.[2]

Rise to power[edit]

Before Ibn al-Ahmar's rise to prominence, Ibn Hud was the de facto ruler of Al-Andalus. Taking advantage of the succession dispute following the death of Almohad caliph Yusuf al-Muntansir, Ibn Hud had revolted against the Almohads, nominally proclaiming the authority of the Abbasid caliphate but in practice ruling independently from Murcia.[7][2] Despite his popularity and his success in Al-Andalus, Ibn Hud had suffered defeats against the Christians, including at Alanje in 1230 and at Jerez in 1231, followed by the loss of Badajoz and Extremadura.[8] These defeats eroded Ibn Hud's authority; rebellion broke out in parts of his domain, including ibn al-Ahmar's small town of Arjona.[6] On July 16, 1232, a mosque assembly in Arjona decided to declare independence. This proclamation took place on 26 Ramadan 629 in the Islamic calendar, after the final Friday prayer of the holy month.[6][9] The assembly sided with Ibn al-Ahmar, who was known for his piety and his martial reputation in previous conflicts against the Christians. Ibn al-Ahmar also had the support of his clan, the Banu Nasr (also known as Banu al-Ahmar)[10] and an allied Arjonan clan known as the Banu Ashqilula.[11][12][4]

In that same year, Ibn al-Ahmar took Jaén—an important city close to Arjona. With help from Ibn Hud's rivals, the Banu al-Mawl, Ibn al-Ahmar briefly seized control of the former caliphal seat of Córdoba. He also took Seville in 1234 with help from the Banu al-Bajji family, but he was only able to hold it for one month. Both Córdoba and Seville, unsatisfied by Ibn al-Ahmar's ruling style, returned to Ibn Hud's rule shortly after being taken by the Nasrids. After these failures, Ibn al-Ahmar once again declared his allegiance to Ibn Hud and kept his rule over a small region containing Arjona, Jaén, Porcuna, Guadix and Baeza.[13][14][4]

Ibn al-Ahmar turned against Ibn Hud again in 1236. He helped Ferdinand III of Castile take Córdoba and end centuries of Muslim rule in the city.[13] In the following years, Ibn al-Ahmar took control of important cities in the south. In May 1237 (Ramadan 634 AH), by invitation of the city's notables, he took Granada, which he then made his capital.[15] He also took Almería in 1238 and Malaga in 1239.[13][16] He did not take these cities by force, but through political maneuvering and the consent of the inhabitants.[13][14]

Ruler of Granada[edit]

Settling in Granada[edit]

Ibn al-Ahmar entered Granada in May 1238 (Ramadan 635) and took up residence the alcazaba built by the Zirids in the 11th century.[17] He inspected an area known as al-Hamra, where there was a small fortress, and laid foundations there for his future residence and fortress.[18][19] Soon work began on defensive structures, irrigation dam, and a dike. The construction would last into the reigns of his successors, and the complex would be known as the Alhambra and would become the residence of all Nasrid rulers up to the surrender of Granada in 1492.[20] He pressured his tax collector to collect the necessary funds for the construction, going as far as executing Almeria's tax-gatherer Abu Muhammad ibn Arus to enforce his demands. He also used money sent by the Hafsid ruler of Tunis—intended for the defense against the Christian—to extend the city's mosque.[21]

Initial conflict with Castile[edit]

Ferdinand III of Castile (r. 1217–1252), Ibn al-Ahmar's contemporary, and at different times his enemy, his ally and his overlord

By the end of the 1230s, Ibn al-Ahmar had become the most powerful Muslim ruler in Iberia. He controlled the major cities of the south, including Granada, Almería, Malaga and Jaén. In the early 1240s, Ibn al-Ahmar came into conflict with his former allies, the Castilians, who were invading Muslim territories. Contemporary sources disagree about the cause of this hostility: The Christian First General Chronicle blamed it on Muslim raiding, while Muslim historian Ibn Khaldun blamed it on Christian invasions of Muslim territories. In 1242, Muslim forces successfully raided Andújar and Martos near Jaén. In 1244, Castile besieged and captured Ibn al-Ahmar's homeland of Arjona.[22]

In 1245, Ferdinand III of Castile then proceeded to besiege the heavily fortified Jaén. Ferdinand did not want to risk assaulting the city, so his tactic was to cut it off from the rest of the Muslim territory and starve it into submission. Ibn al-Ahmar tried to send supplies to the important city, but these efforts were thwarted by the besiegers. Due to Ibn al-Ahmar's difficulty in defending and relieving Jaén, he agreed to terms with Ferdinand. In exchange for a twenty-year peace, Ibn al-Ahmar surrendered the city and agreed to pay Ferdinand an annual tribute of 150,000 maravedies.[23] This agreement was made in March 1246, seven month into the siege of Jaén. The Castilians then entered the city and expelled its Muslim inhabitants.[24][25]


The peace agreement with Castile largely held for almost twenty years. In 1248, Ibn al-Ahmar demonstrated his commitment to Ferdinand by sending a contingent to help the Castilian conquest of the Muslim-held Seville. In 1252, Ferdinand III died and was succeeded by Alfonso X. In 1254, Ibn al-Ahmar attended a Cortes, or an assembly of Alfonso's vassals at the royal palace in Toledo, where he renewed his promise of loyalty and tributes as well as paid homage to Alfonso's newborn daughter Berengaria. During his reign, Alfonso was more interested other enterprises—including a series of unsuccessful campaigns in Muslim North Africa—rather than renewing conflict with Granada. Ibn al-Ahmar used the ensuing peace to consolidate his new emirate. Though small in size, the Emirate of Granada was relatively wealthy and densely populated. Its economy was focused on agriculture, especially silk and dried fruit; it traded with Italy and Northern Europe. Islamic literature, art and architecture continued to flourish. The mountains and desert that separate the kingdom from Castile provided natural defenses, but its western ports and the northwestern route to Granada were less defensible.[26][27][28]

During his rulership, Ibn al-Ahmar placed loyal men in castles and cities.[29] His brother Isma'il was governor of Málaga until 1257.[29] Following Isma'il's death in 1257, Ibn al-Ahmar appointed his nephew, Abu Muhammad ibn Ashqilula, as governor of Málaga.[29]

Revolt of the Mudéjars[edit]

The relative peace was broken in 1264 when Muslims in the territories recently conquered by Castile and Aragon ("Mudéjars") rebelled, with support from Ibn al-Ahmar I as well as volunteers from North Africa who crossed over through Ibn al-Ahmar's territories. Initially the rebellion went well: Murcia, Jerez, Utrera, Lebrija, Arcos and Medina Sidonia were taken into Muslim control. However, counter-attacks by James I of Aragon and Alfonso X retook these territories, and Alfonso even invaded Granada's territory in 1265. Ibn al-Ahmar soon sued for peace, and the resulting settlement was devastating for the rebelling Muslims: Muslims of Andalusia suffered mass expulsions and their home towns settled by the Christians.[30][31]

For ibn al-Ahmar, the defeat had mixed consequences. On one hand, it was soundly defeated, and according to the peace treaty signed at Alcalá de Benzaide had to pay an annual tribute of 250,000 maravedís to Castile—much larger than what it paid before the rebellion.[32] On the other hand, the treaty ensured its survival, and it emerged as the sole independent Muslim state in the peninsula.[33] Muslims who were expelled by Castile immigrated to Granada, strengthening the Emirate's population.[33]

Conflict with Banu Ashqilula[edit]

Banu Ashqilula was a clan who—like the Nasrids—were also from Arjona. They had been the Nasrids' most important allies during their rise to power. They supported Ibn al-Ahmar's appointment as leader of Arjona in 1232, and helped with acquisition of cities like Seville and Granada. Both families were intermarried and Ibn al-Ahmar appointed members of the Ashqilula as governors in his territories. The Ashqilula's center of power was in Malaga, where Ibn al-Ahmar's nephew Abu Muhammad ibn Ashqilula was governor. Their military strength was the backbone of Granada's power.[34]

By 1266, however, Malaga and the ruling Ashqilula clan were in rebellion against Granada.[35][36] Sources are scarce about the beginning of the rebellion and historians disagree about the cause of the rift between the two families. Rachel Arié (es) suggested that contributing factors may have been the 1257 declaration of Ibn al-Ahmar's son as heir and his 1266 decision to marry one of his daughters to a Nasrid cousin instead of to one of Banu Ashqilula. According to Arié, these decisions alarmed the Banu Ashqilula because Ibn al-Ahmar had previously promised to share power with them and these decisions excluded them from the Nasrid dynasty's inner circle. In contrast, María Jesús Rubiera Mata (es) rejected these explanations; she argued that Banu Ashqilula were worried about Ibn al-Ahmar's decision to invite North African forces during the 1264 Revolt of the Mudéjars because the new military power threatened Banu Ashqilula's position as the strongest military power in the Emirate.[37]

Ibn al-Ahmar besieged Malaga but failed to overpower the Ashqilula military strength. The Banu Ashqilula sought assistance from Alfonso X of Castile, who was happy to support the rebellion because it undermined Ibn al-Ahmar's authority. Alfonso X sent 1,000 soldiers under Nuño González de Lara and Ibn al-Ahmar was forced to break the siege of Malaga. At a disadvantage, Ibn al-Ahmar entered into negotiations with Alfonso X. In the resulting agreement of Alcalá de Benzaide, Ibn al-Ahmar renounced his claims over Jerez and Murcia—territories not under his control—and promised to pay an annual tribute of 2,500,000 maravedies. In exchange, Alfonso abandoned his alliance with the Banu Ashqilula and acknowledged Ibn al-Ahmar's authority over them.[36]

Alfonso X was reluctant to enforce the last point and did not move against the Banu Ashqilula. Ibn al-Ahmar countered by convincing Nuño González, the commander of the Castilian forces sent to support Banu Ashqilula, to rebel against Alfonso X. Nuño González, who had grievances against his king, agreed; in 1272 he and his Castilian noble allies began operations against Castile from Granada. Ibn al-Ahmar had successfully deprived Castile of Nuño González's forces and gained allies in his conflict against the Banu Ashqilula. The Banu Ashqilula agreed to negotiate under the mediation of Al-Tahurti from Morocco. Before these efforts bore fruit, Ibn al-Ahmar suffered fatal injuries after falling from a horse on 22 January 1273.[38][35] He was succeeded by his son Muhammad II.[23]


By the time of his death, Ibn al-Ahmar had already secured the succession for his son Muhammad, known by the epithet al-Faqih (the canon-lawyer). On his deathbed, Ibn al-Ahmar advised his heir to seek protection from the Marinid dynasty against the Christian kingdoms.[23] The son, now Muhammad II, was already 38 years old and experienced in the matters of state and war. He was able to continue Ibn al-Ahmar's policies and would rule until his death in 1302.[39][35]


The Emirate of Granada which Muhammad I founded.
Muhammad I started the construction of the Alhambra (pictured).

His main legacy was the founding of the Emirate of Granada under the rule of the Nasrid dynasty, which on his death was the only independent Muslim state remaining in the Iberian peninsula,[40] and would last for several centuries before its fall in 1492. The Emirate spanned 240 miles (390 km) between the Tarifa in the east and eastern frontiers beyond Almeria, as well as around 60 to 70 miles (97 to 113 km) from the sea to its northern frontiers.[40]

While during his lifetime, Muslims of al-Andalus suffered severe drawbacks, including the loss of the Guadalquivir valley including his hometown of Arjona, according to professor of Spanish history L. P. Harvey, he "managed to snatch from disaster ... a relatively secure refuge for Islam in the peninsula".[41] His rule was characterized both by his "unheroic" part in the fall of Muslim cities like Seville and Jaén, as well his vigilance and political astuteness which ensured the survival of Granada.[41] He was willing to enter into compromises, including accepting vassalage to Castile, as well to switch alliances between Christians and Muslims to preserve the emirate's independence.[41][4] The Encyclopaedia of Islam commented that while his rule didn't have any "spectacular victories", he did create a stable regime in Granada and start the construction of the Alhambra, a "lasting memorial to the Nasrids".[4]

His religious views appeared to transform during his career. At the beginning, he displayed an outward image of an ascetic religious frontiersman, like a typical Islamic mystic. He maintained this outlook during his early rule in Granada, but as his rule stabilized, he began to embrace the mainstream Sunni orthodoxy and enforced the doctrines of the Maliki fuqaha. This transformation and his commitment to mainstream Islam brought Granada in line with the rest of the Islamic world, and were continued by his predecessors.[4][41]



  1. ^ Vidal Castro 2000, p. 802.
  2. ^ a b c Fernández-Puertas 1993, p. 1020.
  3. ^ Vidal Castro 2000, p. 798.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Fernández-Puertas 1993, p. 1021.
  5. ^ Harvey 1992, pp. 28–29.
  6. ^ a b c Kennedy 2014, p. 274.
  7. ^ Kennedy 2014, p. 265.
  8. ^ Kennedy 2014, pp. 268,274.
  9. ^ Vidal Castro 2000, p. 806.
  10. ^ Harvey 1992, p. 21.
  11. ^ Harvey 1992, pp. 20–21.
  12. ^ Kennedy 2014, pp. 267,274.
  13. ^ a b c d Harvey 1992, p. 22.
  14. ^ a b Kennedy 2014, pp. 275–276.
  15. ^ Fernández-Puertas 1993, pp. 1020–1021.
  16. ^ Kennedy 2014, pp. 275.
  17. ^ Terrasse 1991, p. 1016.
  18. ^ Terrasse 1991, pp. 1014,1016.
  19. ^ Fernández-Puertas 1993, p. 1028.
  20. ^ Terrasse 1991, p. 1016–1017.
  21. ^ Terrasse 1991, p. 1014.
  22. ^ Harvey 1992, pp. 22–23.
  23. ^ a b c Miranda 1970, p. 429.
  24. ^ Harvey 1992, pp. 23–24.
  25. ^ Kennedy 2014, p. 276.
  26. ^ Kennedy 2014, p. 277–278.
  27. ^ Harvey 1992, p. 25.
  28. ^ Doubleday 2015, p. 60.
  29. ^ a b c Fernández-Puertas 1997, p. 1.
  30. ^ Kennedy 2014, p. 278–279.
  31. ^ Harvey 1992, pp. 53–54.
  32. ^ Doubleday 2015, p. 122.
  33. ^ a b Harvey 1992, p. 51.
  34. ^ Harvey 1992, pp. 31–33.
  35. ^ a b c Kennedy 2014, p. 279.
  36. ^ a b Harvey 1992, p. 38.
  37. ^ Harvey 1992, p. 33.
  38. ^ Harvey 1992, p. 38–39.
  39. ^ Harvey 1992, p. 39.
  40. ^ a b Watt 1965, p. 127.
  41. ^ a b c d Harvey 1992, p. 40.


Muhammad I of Granada
Cadet branch of the Banu Khazraj
Born: 1191 Died: 22 January 1273
Regnal titles
New title Sultan of Granada
Succeeded by
Muhammed II al-Faqih