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date: 06 December 2023

Italy and the Ḥafṣids in the Medieval Periodlocked

Italy and the Ḥafṣids in the Medieval Periodlocked

  • Joel PattisonJoel PattisonDepartment of History, Williams College


The Ḥafṣids were an Amazigh (Berber) Muslim dynasty who ruled in the territory of Ifrīqiya (including all of Tunisia and parts of Algeria and Libya) for over 300 years, from 1229 to 1574. They transformed the city of Tunis from a small port into a major Mediterranean metropolis and an important node in trade networks connecting the trans-Saharan trade with the central Mediterranean. However, as noted by historians, the family’s authority waxed and waned significantly over that period. Strong rulers were able to assert Tunis’s supremacy over the other cities of Ifrīqiya, appointing and dismissing local officials, and exacting obedience or at least passive acceptance from powerful Arab and Berber tribes in the hinterland. Weak or contested rule from Tunis led to the rise of semi-autonomous dynasties by rival family members in major cities, like Bijāya, Constantine, and Mahdia, and tribal rebellions. Despite the political vicissitudes facing the dynasty, its rulers benefited from and strongly encouraged trade across the Mediterranean, including tight links between Ifrīqiyan ports and Italy, especially with the “maritime republics” of Pisa, Genoa, and Venice but also with the nearby kingdom of Sicily. Such links, particularly with the northern Italian communes, were mostly free of attempts at political coercion or the imposition of tributary status on the local rulers, in contrast to attempts by the Crown of Aragon. By the end of the Ḥafṣid period, Italian merchants and sailors were a common presence across the coast of Ifrīqiya, despite the endemic threat of piracy and violence motivated by religious difference.


  • Colonial Conquest and Rule
  • North Africa and the Gulf

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