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Ismaili History 540 - Military reforms

During the Fatimid expansion into Syria, the Fatimids were confronted with armies superior to their own which was mainly composed of Berber forces. In the Byzantine and Muslim armies which the Fatimids fought in Syria, the archers played prominent role. The Katama Berbers in general did not make use of the bow as a weapon. The absence of archers among the Fatimid ranks hindered their military performances. The only possible way for al-Aziz to overcome the military inferiority of his Berber troops was to incorporate ethnic groups skilled in archery into his army. This policy was inaugurated following al-Aziz's victory over an anti-Fatimid coalition in Palestine headed by Iftagin. Thus, the Turks and Iranians were introduced for the first time in the Fatimid army, who were skilled as mounted archers, while the Berbers were the horsemen carrying lances and shields.

In Egypt, these new elements were enlisted in the Fatimid army as professional soldiers and given special accomodation areas in Cairo, known as harat al-Atrak (barrack of the Turks), and harat al-Daylam (barrack of the Iranians). This new fighting element sponsored by al-Aziz, grew rapidly and before long its chiefs were appointed as commanders. In 381/991, the command of the Fatimid army was given to one of these men, called Manjutagin, with the title amir al-juyush al-mansura (commander of the victorious armies). He was charged to put down the disturbances in Syria, strike at the Byzantines in the north and bring Aleppo under the direct control of the Fatimids.

It must also be known that the Katama Berbers enjoyed special privileges in the Fatimid army since beginning and were exempted from taxation. In Egypt, they began to dominate almost in all state affairs and wielded political influences. They were known in Egypt as Maghriba (the westeners). In contrast, the Turks and Iranians were called as Mashriqa (the easterners), who were also a counterpoise against the growing influence of the Berbers.

In 380/990, al-Aziz also erected an army corp named al-Azizia. In 385/995, al-Azizia together with other corps, was dispatched to reinforce the Fatimid contingents in Syria.

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