Back to Main Entry

Reviews of Berber State to Moroccan Empire

“This book is the second edition of Shatzmiller’s 2000 monograph, The Berbers and the Islamic State. In addition to a new title, which better reflects the content of the work, this version also includes an updated introduction and a new chapter, connecting the medieval Marinids to the larger Mediterranean world. The book contains four sections: the Berbers in Islamic history, Marinid state formation, Islamic institutions, and trade and empire. Shatzmiller argues that the Berbers “participated in the process of the state’s formation” through “interaction and resistance, creativity and digression, evolution and disruption, a continuous process of negotiation between the individual and society over identity and state’s power.” Shatzmiller uses a variety of sources, from chronicles to legal materials, including new or under-studied manuscripts that revise previous arguments about medieval Morocco. For example, she challenges the assumption that the Berbers lacked their own intellectual and literary traditions by pointing to ways of reading Arab chronicles to reveal “‘unofficial’ Berber creativity.” The last chapter is a valuable addition to the book, illuminating the impact of the Black Death on the burgeoning Marinid state and the empire’s relationship with Europe via trade, particularly gold. While the assertion that the Marinids were a precursor to later Atlantic empires deserves further consideration, viewing the Marinids as part of the “global order” is an intriguing intervention. This book is suited for a scholarly audience, al-though individual chapters could be successfully integrated into upper-level courses. While the book focuses on the state, more attention to the culture(s) of the populace would have added to the work, particularly the roles of Sufism and saint-hood. However, the book makes a significant contribution to the fields of North African, Berber, and Islamic histories, illustrating the key importance of the Marinids not only for the study of Morocco but also, as she proposes in the new last chapter, for Mediterranean history more broadly.”–Religious Studies Review, Oct 2022

” Medieval Fez was a main center of education, art, and commerce from the 13th to the 16th centuries after the Berber tribe of the Marinids seized power in Morocco and moved the capital from Marrakesh to Fez. As non-Arabs they gained legitimacy by founding medresas, religious universities. They also supported the arts and commerce, and expanded their state into an empire. It was the Golden Age of Fez. Maya In “From Berber State to Moroccan Empire: The Glory of Fez Under the Marinids” academician and historian Maya Shatzmiller (University of Western Ontario) draws a historical panorama of this era, highlighting its movers and shakers in locations from North Africa to the Mediterranean world.”
“A masterpiece of historical scholarship, “From Berber State to Moroccan Empire: The Glory of Fez Under the Marinids” is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, community, college, and university library North African & Middle East History collections in general, and Berber/Marinid History supplemental studies reading lists in particular.”—-Midwest Book Review March 2020

“Books of an interpretive nature written in European languages and focusing on Moroccan history between 650 and 1500 are relatively few. If one narrows one’s compass to works in English, the number shrinks to the merest handful. Thus, the name of the Mannid family that dominated the Moroccan political scene from 1259 to 1550 is largely unknown beyond the fraternity of historians specializing on Muslim North Africa and Spain.

“Unlike their immediate predecessors, the religiously assertive Almoravids and Almohads, the Marinids have been seen as lacking the charisma of religious legitimacy that resumed with the Sharifian dynasties that succeeded them, and therefore not to fit well into the master narrative of Moroccan history that weds Islam with monarchy. Rather, they have been portrayed as unsophisticated Berber-speaking tribesmen conveniently filling the time between their charismatic predecessors and successors. That they are the last important Berber dynasty in Moroccan history has not been thought important.

“Against this background, Maya Shatzmiller’s insightful and provocative studies of Mannid history and Berber historical identity constitute a welcome new departure in the interpretation of North African history. Rarely does a collection of previously published articles flow so smoothly as to give the impression of being conceived together to be read in the current order; this is one of those rare compilations. However, the easy and logical transitions from chapter to chapter conceal a deeper structure that contributes to the book’s excellence.

“The three essays making up part 1, ‘The Berbers’ Search for Their Place in Islamic History’, were published between 1983 and 1989, well after four of the six subsequent articles on particular aspects of Marinid rule, which appeared between 1976 and 1979. The reader benefits, therefore, from Shatzmiller’s leisurely reflections on her detailed research on the Marinids. How many scholars wish they could add to their published books the afterthoughts of a decade later! Though the particular accounts of Jewish courtiers and Muslim divines, of religious schools and pious endowments, and of royal taxation and urban institutions are all of substantial interest to specialists, the thematic direction imparted in part 1 provides a cohesion they could not have had as independent journal articles.

“Morocco is today an integral part of the Arab world and the Muslim world. From time immemorial, however, its indigenous population spoke one or another Berber language or dialect, as a substantial proportion still does today; and it took several centuries for Islam to supplant the country’s preexisting faiths. The formation of Berber, Arab, and Muslim identities forms the theme of part 1. Shatzmiller presents three different approaches, primarily genealogical, to establishing Berber historical identity in written sources from the Middle East, Spain, and North Africa itself, each of them carrying different implications for the relationship of the Berbers to the Arabs and to the Islamic religion.

“Thus, Shatzmiller sets the stage for her examination of the Marinid practice of government in the following two parts, sparing us in the process a tedious narration of Marinid political history and military campaigns. Not surprisingly, though not as dramatically charismatic in its foundation as earlier and later Moroccan dynasties, the Marinid polity proves to have relied much more on Islamic values and themes than one would have surmised from a conventional reading of Moroccan history. And its introduction of madrasas, or colleges for the higher study of Islam, furthers a transition to more conventional Islamic institutions. Thus, Shatzmiller turns what was previously a near void in the interpretation of Morocco’s history into a complex period of transition.

“North African history in general, and Moroccan history in particular, have received far less attention in anglophone scholarship than the heartland of the caliphate from Egypt to Iran and Islamic Spain, with its connections to medieval Europe. This has encouraged largely separate interpretations of these two seemingly disconnected wings of medieval Islamic civilization. Shatzmiller has performed a valuable service in helping to fill in the space between those wings, and she has done so with an interpretive flare that should encourage more comparative study of Islamic societies, not to mention more study of Morocco in particular. Against the value of what she has accomplished in this short book, her sometimes capricious transliteration weighs as nothing.”

— Richard W. Bulliet, Columbia University, The International History Review

“This book represents one of the first attempts to reconsider Berber resistance and acculturation in the Islamic period. … An extremely important contribution to the study of North Africa in the Islamic period that consciously confronts enduring historical biases. Shatzmiller offers extraordinarily detailed research as well as admirable charts and appendices, which are invaluable guides to other scholars.”

— Arab Studies Journal

“For deep background of contemporary problems, The Berbers and the Islamic State is a good place to start. Shatzmiller’s work explains skillfully, based on much original research, the uneasy relations of Berbers to Islam and the state over the course of a millennium. Already by the eleventh century, she [Shatzmiller] notes, the Berbers had taken over the state in North Africa, but they also experienced a cultural alienation from what she calls the ‘intellectual onslaught of the Islamic and Arabic norms.’”

— Middle East Forum