Musa ibn Nusayr

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Musa ibn Nusayr
Umayyad governor of Ifriqiya
In office
MonarchsAbd al Malik
Al-Walid I
Preceded byHassan ibn al-Nu'man
Succeeded byMuhammad ibn Yazid
Personal details
Bornc. 640
RelationsAbd al-Malik ibn Marwan ibn Musa ibn Nusayr (grandson)
Military service
AllegianceUmayyad Caliphate

Musa ibn Nusayr (Arabic: موسى بن نصير Mūsá bin Nuṣayr; c. 640 – c. 716) was an Arab general and governor who served under the Umayyad caliph Al-Walid I. He ruled over the Muslim provinces of North Africa (Ifriqiya), and directed the Islamic conquest of the Visigothic Kingdom in Hispania (Gibraltar, Spain, Portugal, Andorra and part of southern France).


Various suggestions have been made as to his ancestry. Some say his father belonged to the Lakhmid clan of semi-nomads who lived east of the Euphrates and were allies of the Sassanians,[1] while others claim he belonged to the Banu Bakr confederation.[2] One account stated that Musa's father was taken captive after the fall of the Mesopotamian city of Ayn al-Tamr (633). According to this account, he was an Arab Christian who was one of a number being held hostage there. However, al-Baladhuri, relating the same events,[3] states he was an Arab of the Balī tribe, from Jabal al-Jalīl in Palestine .[4]

As a slave, Musa's father entered the service of Abd al-Aziz ibn Marwan (governor of Egypt and son of the caliph Marwan I) who gave him his freedom.[5] He returned to Syria where Musa was born at a place called Kafarmara or Kafarmathra.[6] The date of his birth has been given as 640.[7]

Musa was made co-governor of Iraq by the caliph Abd al-Malik, together with the caliph's brother Bishr ibn Marwan. There was some quarrel over missing tax money, and Musa was given the choice: pay a huge fine, or pay with his head. His father's patron, Abd al-Aziz ibn Marwan, had a high opinion of Musa, and paid the ransom;[8] he was later responsible for appointing Musa to be governor of Ifriqiya.

Islamic conquest of Maghreb[edit]

Hasan ibn al-Nu'man was sent to continue the Islamic conquest in North Africa all the way to Morocco.He was relieved of his command for allowing continuing Byzantine attacks. Musa bin Nusayr was then sent to renew the attacks against the Berbers. But he did not impose Islam by force, rather, he respected Berber traditions and used diplomacy in subjugating them. This proved highly successful, as many Berbers converted to Islam and even entered his army as soldiers and officers,[9] possibly including Tariq bin Ziyad[10] who would lead the later Islamic expedition in Iberia.


In 698 Musa was made the governor of Ifriqiya and was responsible for completing the conquest of North Africa and of the Balearic Islands and Sardinia. He was the first governor of Ifriqiya not to be subordinate to the governor of Egypt. He was the first Muslim general to take Tangiers and occupy it;[11] his troops also conquered the Sous, effectively taking control of all of the northern half of Morocco. He also had to deal with constant attacks from the Byzantine navy and he built a navy that would go on to conquer the islands of Ibiza, Majorca, and Menorca.[citation needed]

Conquest of Al-Andalus[edit]

(Note: Most of what follows in this section is to be found first in Ibn Abd al-Hakam, then repeated by others, e.g. the Akhbār majmūʿa, with more detail but little real variation.)


Muslim and Christian sources quote that while Musa bin Nusayr was eager to cross the Straits of Gibraltar to Hispania, he determined to do so only when a Visigoth nobleman, Julian, Count of Ceuta, had encouraged him to invade Iberia, telling him of the people's sufferings and the injustice of their king, Roderic, while giving him cause for conquest by telling him of the riches that would be found, and of the many palaces, gardens and beauties of Hispania. Legend tells that Julian wished for the fall of the Visigothic kingdom because his daughter, Florinda la Cava, had been raped by Roderic.[12][13]


After a successful minor raid on the Spanish coast at Tarifa where the raiding force returned with a booty captured without any reported resistance, Musa decided to land a larger invasion force. Tariq bin Ziyad crossed the strait with approximately 7,000 Berbers and Arabs, and landed at Gibraltar (from Jebel Tariq, meaning Tariq's mountain in Arabic). The expedition's purpose must have been to conduct further raids and explore the territory. Tariq's army contained some guides supplied by Julian. Three weeks after his landing, the Muslims were faced with a superior Visigoth royal army of 100,000 troops under Roderic.[14] The Muslims won the Battle of Guadalete, and the entire Visigoth nobility was all but exterminated at the battle. The Muslims then marched towards Córdoba, bypassing several strong fortifications. The well-defended city fell, and Tariq established a garrison there consisting mainly of the city's Jews who welcomed the invaders, having been subjected to conversion from the Visigoths for centuries. Tariq then continued on his way to Toledo.

Musa, learning of Tariq's successes, landed in Iberia with an army of 18,000 Berbers and Arabs. He planned to rendezvous with Tariq at Toledo, but first proceeded to take Seville, which Tariq had bypassed, and where Musa met stiff resistance, and succeeded after three months of siege. He then campaigned in the province of Lusitania, eliminating the remaining Gothic resistance there. His last destination before meeting Tariq was to subdue Mérida, capital of Lusitania. After five months of siege and inconclusive fighting, a group of Ceutans pretended to be Christian reinforcements and managed to convince the guards into opening the gates. Once inside, the "reinforcements", nearly 700, overwhelmed the guards and managed to keep the gates open for the Muslims to enter the city and capture it.

After Mérida, Musa divided his forces, taking the majority with him to meet Tariq at Toledo where he would remain for winter. The remainder of his forces were led by his son 'Abd al-Aziz, who would return to Seville to deal with an uprising. 'Abd al-Aziz made short work of the rebellion. He then conducted several campaigns on the return journey in the territories of Lusitania. Coimbra and Santarém were captured in the spring of 714. 'Abd al-Aziz then campaigned in Murcia. The Duke of Murcia, Theodemir, or Tudmir as he was called by the Muslims, surrendered to 'Abd al-Aziz after several hard-fought engagements in April 713. The terms imposed on Theodemir declared that the duke would keep the citadel of Orihuela and several other settlements, including Alicante and Lorca on the Mediterranean, that his followers will not be killed, taken prisoner, forced into Islam, and that their churches will not be burned. It also demanded that Theodemir not encourage or support others to resist the Muslims, and that he and every citizen of his dominion pay an annual tax in money and other goods.

Musa finally met up with Tariq where there was an argument over the latter's booty, which reportedly included a gold table covered with gems and other precious stones that had reputedly once belonged to Solomon.[15] Meanwhile, Musa's messenger, Mughith al-Rumi (the Roman) who had been sent to Caliph al-Walid I to inform him of the situation in Hispania, had returned. The Caliph requested Musa to withdraw and to report in person to Damascus. Musa chose to ignore this order temporarily, knowing that if he did not continue his advance, Visigoth resistance may increase and turn the tables against the Muslims. Having done so, he continued with Tariq to the north; Musa heading for Zaragoza, to which he lay siege, while Tariq continued to the provinces of León and Castile, capturing the towns of León and Astorga. Musa continued after taking Zaragoza to the north, taking Oviedo and reaching as far as the Bay of Biscay. The Islamic conquest of Iberia now complete, Musa proceeded to place governors and prefects throughout the newly conquered Al-Andalus, before returning to Damascus with most of the booty captured from the Jihad.

Return to Damascus[edit]

Both conquerors of Spain were therefore summoned by the caliph to Damascus. Tariq arrived first, according to some accounts. But then the caliph was taken ill. So the caliph's brother, Sulayman ibn Abd al-Malik became temporarily in charge, and asked Musa, who was arriving with a cavalcade of soldiers and spoils, to delay his grand entry into the city. He most certainly intended to claim the glories brought from the conquest for himself. But Musa dismissed this request, triumphantly entered Damascus anyway, and brought the booty before the ailing Al-Walid I, which brought Musa and Tariq unprecedented popularity amongst the people of Damascus. Al-Walid I then died a few days later and was succeeded by his brother Sulayman, who demanded that Musa deliver up all his spoils. When Musa complained, Sulayman stripped him of his rank and confiscated all the booty, including the table which had reputedly once belonged to Solomon.

One of Musa's sons, Abd al-Aziz ibn Musa, married Egilona who was wife of Roderic. She asked 'Abd al-Aziz why his guests did not bow to him as they used to do in the presence of his father. It was reported that he began to force guests to bow to him. It was rumoured that he had secretly become a Christian, and a group of Arabs assassinated him, cut off his head and sent it to the caliph. Sulayman had Musa in his audience when the head arrived, and seeing whose it was, callously asked Musa if he recognized it. Musa maintained his dignity, saying he recognized it as belonging to someone who had always practiced the faith fervently, and cursed the men who had killed him.[16] Another son, Abd Allah, who had acted as governor of Ifriqiya after Musa, was executed on the orders of the caliph on suspicion of having had killed the man who had replaced him.[17]


Musa died naturally while on the Hajj pilgrimage with Sulayman in about the year 715–716. Because of his disgrace, and the misfortunes of his sons, there was a tendency among medieval historians of the Maghreb to attribute his deeds (the conquest of Tangiers and the Sous) to Uqba ibn Nafi.[18]

The Moroccan peak Jebel Musa is named for Musa bin Nusayr according to the 14th-century Berber Muslim geographer Ibn Battuta.[19]

Al-Bakri in his al-Maslik wa al-Mamalik, mentions that Musa Ibn Nusayr was buried in Zaragoza.[20]

In legend[edit]

Less than 200 years after his death, Musa ibn Nusayr became the subject of fantastic legends. These tales were first recorded in the late 9th or early 10th century by ibn al-Faqih, who wrote that Musa was ordered by the caliph to investigate reports of a strange city called al-Baht.[21] Musa marched from Qayrawan to the deserts of Spain and came upon a city that was surrounded by walls with no entrance. Those who attempted to look over the wall became entranced and jumped, laughing deliriously. Musa then proceeded to a nearby lake, which contained copper jars. When opened, a genie emerged from each one.

A more extensive version of the same legend is recorded in "The City of Brass," a tale in One Thousand and One Nights, in which Musa encounters many other marvels, such as a palace filled with jewels, whose only human occupant was the embalmed corpse of a beautiful woman, guarded by two robot warriors.[22]

The 17th-century historian Ibn Abi Dinar used Musa's decline in fortune as an object lesson in the vagaries of human existence, with some exaggerations: "Musa, who had conquered half the inhabited world, who had acquired so many riches, died in poverty, begging alms from passers-by, after having been abandoned by the last of his servants. Overcome by shame and misery, he wished for death, and God gave it to him. I only mention the details of Musa's death to give my contemporaries, who are poorly read, a striking example of the vicissitudes of human life".[23]

Probably the most extensive work to be inspired by the life of Musa is a section of the anonymous Kitāb al-imāma w'as-siyāsa, which contains a lengthy description of his deeds accompanied by many supposed speeches and sayings. Unlike many other authors, such as Ibn Abd al-Hakam, the work is entirely favourable to Musa.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Editor's note, p. 41 of the Spanish translation of Al-Bakri.
  2. ^ These conflicting accounts are mentioned by al-Baladhuri (p. 362 of English translation), Al-Bakri (p. 41 of Spanish translation).
  3. ^ English translation, p. 396-397.
  4. ^ Hitti, on p. 397 of his translation of al-Baladhuri, states this is Mt. Galilee, presumably intending the reader to infer the place of that name near Jerusalem. But according to Yaqut, Kitāb mu'jam al-buldān, the name applies to mountains which extend up the coast of Syria to Homs and across to Damascus.
  5. ^ al-Baladhuri, p. 397 of English translation; the same in other sources, although Al-Bakri (p. 41 of Spanish translation) says that some say he was liberated by Uthman.
  6. ^ al-Baladhuri, p. 397 of English translation, and editor's note.
  7. ^ Al-Bakri, p. 42 of Spanish translation.
  8. ^ Ibn Abd al-Hakam, p. 329 of the English translation, p. 203 of Torrey's Arabic text.
  9. ^ "".
  10. ^ It is not completely certain that Tariq was a Berber. See the article on Tariq bin Ziyad for a list of the several possibilities.
  11. ^ al-Baladhuri, p. 362 of English translation.
  12. ^ David Levering Lewis (12 January 2009). God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215. W. W. Norton. pp. 119–120. ISBN 978-0-393-06790-3.
  13. ^ The Sword of Islam: A.D. 565 to 740 : the Muslim Onslaught All But Destroys Christendom. Christian History Project. 2004. p. 243. ISBN 978-0-9689873-4-6.
  14. ^ Syed Ameer Ali (1899). A Short History of the Saracens (2004 ed.). Kegan Paul. p. 109. ISBN 978-0-7103-0918-1.
  15. ^ See the article on Tariq bin Ziyad for more details of the supposed disagreements, accounts of which vary considerably.
  16. ^ Ibn Abd al-Hakam, p. 212-213 of Arabic text, p. 51-52 of Spanish translation.
  17. ^ Ibn Abd al-Hakam, p. 213-214 of Arabic text, p. 55-56 of Spanish translation.
  18. ^ see e.g. article by Ahmed Benabbès cited below which analyzes this tendency. Brunschvig, cited below, has stated that medieval historians could be divided into those for or against Musa.
  19. ^ H.T. Norris, Ibn Battutah's Andalusian Journey", The Geographical Journal, 1959.
  20. ^ al-Bakri (c. 1048). المسالك والممالك (al-Masalik wa al-Mamlik).
  21. ^ Ibn al-Faqih al-Hamadānī, p. 108-112 of French translation.
  22. ^ The tale of "The City of Brass", in Burton's edition vol. 6 p. 86-121.
  23. ^ Ibn Abi Dinar, p. 60-61 of French translation.
  24. ^ It has been suggested that this life of Musa originated with an Egyptian descendant of his son Marwan, in the 2nd half of the 9th century: M. Makki, "Egipto y los orígenes de la historiografía árabe-española", Revista del Instituto Egipcio de Estudios Islámicos en Madrid, v. 5 157-248 (1957).


  • Al-Bakri, Kitāb al-masālik w'al-mamālik. Spanish translation of extracts relating to Spain, E. Vidal Beltran, Geografia de España, Textos Medievales vol. 53, Zaragoza, 1982.
  • al-Baladhuri, Kitab Futuh al-Buldan, translated by Phillip Hitti in The Origins of the Islamic State (1916, 1924).
  • Anon., Akhbār majmūa fī fath al-andalūs wa dhikr ūmarā'ihā. Arabic text edited with Spanish translation: E. Lafuente y Alcantara, Ajbar Machmua, Coleccion de Obras Arabigas de Historia y Geografia, vol. 1, Madrid, 1867.
  • Ibn Abd al-Hakam, Kitab Futuh Misr wa'l Maghrib wa'l Andalus. English translation by Torrey of portion of this 9th century work covering the period: "The Mohammedan conquest of Egypt and North Africa in the Years 643-705 A.D., translated from the Original Arabic of Ibn 'Abd-el Hakem'", Biblical and Semitic Studies vol. 1 (1901), 279-330 (covers North Africa only, not Spain). Critical Arabic edition of the whole work published by Torrey, Yale University Press, 1932. Spanish translation by Eliseo Vidal Beltran of the North African and Spanish parts of Torrey's Arabic text: "Conquista de Africa del Norte y de Espana", Textos Medievales #17, Valencia, 1966. An online copy of an older and less reliable (19th-century) English translation of the portion dealing only with Spain is at: Medieval Sourcebook: The Islamic conquest of Spain
  • A. Benabbès: "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)
  • Muhammad ibn Abi Dinar al-Qayrawānī, Al-Mu’nis fi Akhbar Ifriqiya wa Tunis (1681). French translation by E. Pellisier & E. Rémusat, Histoire de l'Afrique, Paris, 1845.
  • Ibn al-Faqih al-Hamadānī, Kitāb al-buldān. French translation by H. Massé: Abrégé du Livre des Pays, Damascus, 1973.
  • Pascual de Gayangos y Arce, The History of the Mohammedan Dynasties in Spain. vol. 1. 1840. English translation of al-Maqqari and other authors.
  • Anon., Kitāb al-imāma w'as-siyāsa (9th-10th century?). English translation: Appendix E of Gayangos' The History of the Mohammedan Dynasties in Spain.
  • Robert Brunschvig, "Ibn 'Abdalh'akam et la conquête de l'Afrique du Nord par les Arabes." Annales de l'Institut d'Etudes Orientales, v. 6 (1942–44) 108-155. Reprinted in Al-Andalus, 40 (1975), pp. 129–179.
  • M.J. Viguera Molina, "The Muslim settlement of Spania/al-Andalus", p. 13-38 in The Foundation of al-Andalus. Part 1: History and Society (ed. M. Martin), Ashgate, UK, 1998 (vol. 46 of The Foundation of the Classical Islamic World series). Reviews all Arabic sources.
Preceded by Governor of Ifriqiya
Succeeded by
Preceded by Governor of Al-Andalus
Succeeded by