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Wolff, R. L.; Hazard, H. W. (ed.) / Volume II: The later Crusades, 1189-1311

I: The Norman Kingdom of Sicily and the Crusades,   pp. 2-43 PDF (56.8 KB)

Page 23

probably demanded as guarantee the proceeds from customs duties collected
in the ports of Mahdia and Susa. He also secured the right to conquer any
places that might revolt against the Zirids. 
 From 1143 on, no year went by without a Norman attack on the African coast.
In June 1143 a Sicilian fleet attempted to take the city of Tripoli, which
was ruled by the Arab house of the BanĂ¼ Matruh. The attack failed because
the Arab tribes of the neighbor hood made common cause with the inhabitants
and forced the "Franks" to sail for home. In the main, however,
the attacks hit points along the coasts from Bougie to Mahdia, being launched
each summer during the years 1143-1146 and probably with some regularity
each year thereafter, and do not fit into any strategic pattern. They seem
to have been intended to frighten the inhabitants or to reconnoiter and test
the strength of possible naval resistance. The Normans must soon have found
that the Zirid navy, once formidable, had dwindled away. The Zirid state
was povertystricken and unable to maintain ships or to employ the services
of corsairs on any large scale. Whatever barges were left were used in the
grain traffic with Egypt and Sicily. Clearly the control of the sea had passed
to Sicily. But Roger needed African bases, and in the summer of 1146 a Sicilian
fleet of two hundred ships under the command of George of Antioch again appeared
before Tripoli. A few days before their arrival, the government of the Banu-Matruh
had been overthrown by a Murabit chieftain returning to Morocco after a pilgrimage
to Mecca. The turmoil that followed weakened resistance, and the city fell
to the Normans within three days. After several days of plundering, George
declared an amnesty and immediately began to fortify and reorganize the place.
 The capture of Tripoli by the Sicilians made a great impression on Christians
and Moslems alike. For the time being, Roger did not follow up his great
victory with an attack on Mahdia as might have been expected. The Second
Crusade, and his efforts in connection with it, may have had something to
do with the delay. But in 1147 famine in North Africa had reached a stage
beyond en durance. Some Arab historians report cases of cannibalism committed
in desperation. There was an exodus from Tunisia to Sicily of nobles and
wealthy citizens, some of whom urged Roger to take over Tunisia entirely.
Many who did not emigrate were ready to surrender the cities to him. They
pointed to the tempting example of Tripoli: after its occupation by the Normans
it had made a remarkable recovery. Naturally, Roger and George of Antioch
welcomed this mood. Ibn-'Idhari emphasizes George's role: 

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