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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 31

people of Sfax had hoped to take Mahdia by surprise. They only succeeded,
however, in penetrating into the commercial suburb of Zawila, because there
the number of Christian residents was small. Their attempt to take the fortress
itself was thwarted. The Sicilian government, it would appear, made great
efforts to hold this important maritime center against heavy odds. Having
just driven the Byzantines from Apulia, king William and Maio sent twenty
galleys with men, arms, and supplies to Mahdia. With their help the Norman
garrison took the offensive, reconquered Zawila, and even extended Norman
rule as far as Cape Bon. William organized Zawila as a center for fugitive
Christians, those who had fled from Algeria after its conquest by 'Abd-al-Mu'min
and those ousted from the rebellious cities of Tunisia. According to Robert
of Torigny, he even established an archbishop there, but if so, this arrangement
was of short duration. Early in 1 159 the Muwahhid caliph 'Abd-al-Mu'min
led a well-trained and well-equipped army of 1 00,000 into Tunisia, and received
the surrender of Sfax, Tripoli, and other cities from Roger's former 'amils,
whom he confirmed in their offices. Then, seeing that he could not take Mahdia
by assault, he drew a tight blockade around the town with his army and navy.
About six months later, in January or February 116o, he forced the Sicilian
garrison to surrender. Tunisia was restored to the Moslems.38 
 Contemporaries were quick to accuse Maio of deliberately abandoning the
garrison of Mahdia to its fate and of betraying the cause of Christendom.
They charged him, among much else, with advising the king to give up Mahdia
and the other African outposts in order to free the treasury from a "useless
and costly burden". This and other practical considerations may indeed
have played a part. The relief of Mahdia would not inevitably have led to
the reconquest of the African coast. There were too many hazards involved
in an all-out war with 'Abd-al-Mu'min, especially at a time when Sicily was
threatened by an invasion from the north led 
 38 On the loss of the African cities, see the sources listed above, notes
25 and 32. Of the Latin writers, Hugo Falcandus is the most important, but
his account of the fall of Mahdia and the revolution in the kingdom that
followed is distorted by his bias against Maio. On Maio's responsibility
for the loss of Mahdia see also Chronica Ferrarensis (ed. A. Gaudenzi, Monumenta
historica ed. dalla Societd napoletana di storia patria, ser. I, Naples,
1888), p. 29. On the events, compare Chalandon, Domination normande, II,
236-244, and Amari, Storia dei musulmani, III, 474-502. For the reconquest
of Zawila ("Sibilla") and the alleged establishment of an archbishop
there, see Robert of Torigny (MGH, SS., VI), p. 506; note also Amari, Storia
dei musulmani, III, 483-484. After the fall of Mahdia, bishop Cosmas of Mahdia
took refuge in Palermo. He was buried in the cathedral, where an inventory
of his treasures and books is still preserved. See La Mantia, "La Sicilia
ed il suo dominio nell' Africa," Archivio storico siciliano, n.s., XLIV,
168, note I. 

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