Atlas Trekking
A brief history

In Leo's days the Sultans of Fes were part of the Wattasides family- a dynasty which ruled for a period of 80 years, from 1472 to 1554 (remember that Leo was born around the fall of Granada in 1492 and disappears from all records in the late 1520s). A 'transition dynasty' between the Merinides (1258-1472) and the Sa'dis (1554-1659), their rule was unstable, as illustrated by many of Leo's political and military stories.The Sultan Leo most frequently refers to is Muhammed el Bortugali (Mohammed the Portuguese)- so called for having spent his childhood in captivity in Portugal. It was during his reign that Leo fulfilled most of his diplomatic missions- including the one which had him as mediator between the Wattasides and the rising Sa'dians in the South.

As Leo writes:

"At that time I was traveling to Marrakech as an envoy of the Fassi army dispatched to warn the Lord of Marrakech [a nobleman who would soon be overthrown by the Sa'dians] and the Sharif Prince[probably the eldest of the two Sa'dian princes] that the army would arrive soon so that they could start preparing for the attack against the Portuguese" (Leo, 125)

Originally sanctioned by the Wattasides as the official leaders of the Jihad against the Portuguese in the Southern parts of Morocco, the Sa'dians soon claimed to be the legitimate rulers of Morocco. Having taken control of Marrakech in 1523, they named themselves Sultans of Marrakech, waging a full scale war against the weakening Wattasides. They finally succeeded to capture Fes, in 1554- marking the end of the Wattaside rule (though these would briefly return to power at the end of the 16th century, under Turkish protection- a short lived interruption to Sa'dian dominance).

For a view of Portuguese, Wattaside and Sa'dian zones of influence in 1516, click here.

To fully understand the Sa'dian conquest, one must take three factors into consideration:

1. The presence of the infidel Portuguese on Moroccan lands.
The Christian threat and the Wattaside inaction before this threat infuriated most of the population which quickly joined the Sa'dian cause, and glorified this family for fighting the infidels. To learn more about the Portuguese and other Christian presence on the Moroccan coast, take the Pirate Trip.

2. The role of Religon and Myth making
The Sa'dians exploited both the concepts of Ji'had (religious war) and Sharif (descendants of the Prophet Muhammad) to legitimize their claim to power. The support of Sufi Muslim brotherhoods in the South brought them many followers. Different myths woven around the 'destiny' of the two Sa'dian princes (who were brothers) lent an almost divine nature to their fate.

3. The Sa'dian armies and their reliance on Berber valor and trustworthiness.
Dynasties in Morocco have always taken power through conquest. Hence the importance of their armies. The Sa'dians recruited heavily from the mountain regions around Marrakech, drawing mostly Berber men, whose courage and trustworthiness was legendary.

Embark on this "Atlas Trek" to learn more about the Sa'dian conquest and their understanding of the Berber 'way of life'.