A powerful dynasty
of the minority Shiite
branch of Islam
, who ruled a large part of the Islamic
world between 969 and 1169, from their capital at Cairo
, a city they founded.
They began their rise in about 910, establishing a caliphate in the Maghreb or North Africa, overcoming the Shiite Idrisid Caliphate, based in Fez in Morocco, and the Sunni Aghlabid Emirate, based in Kairouan in Tunisia. The Fatimids claimed descent from Fatima, daughter of the Prophet Muhammad, and were Arabs, though living at this time in mainly Berber lands, and enlisting the Berbers to their armies. They wanted to return eastward to their Arab heartlands.
Egypt and the Middle East were at this time ruled by the Abbasid Dynasty. Fatimid attacks on Abbasid Egypt eventually resulted in success in 969. They founded a new city of Cairo as their capital, to be distinguished from nearby Fustat or Old Cairo, the place from which the cloth fustian gets its name. They moved onward to take Syria and Arabia, bringing Abbasid power to an end, while abandoning Morocco to the Umayyad Emirate of Spain.
Here from Egypt they reigned supreme until 1049, when the Zirid Emir of Kairouan renounced his allegiance and his membership of the Shia faith. The Fatimids engaged some tribes to Arabia to move across and occupy most of Libya and Tunisia. Kairouan being lost, the Zirids moved to a new coastal town called Mahdiya.
However, soon afterwards the Seljuk Turks from Central Asia came down on the Middle East like a wolf on the fold, capturing Baghdad in 1055, and Syria and Arabia by 1070. The Seljuk rulers called themselves sultans, a purely temporal authority: they did not claim the spiritual jurisdiction of the caliphate. At first the Seljuks swept across all of Palestine too, but by dint of their superior naval power the Fatimid Caliphate was able to recapture the coastal towns, as far inland as Jerusalem. Indeed, when the First Crusade went through Muslim lands it was mainly the Seljuk Sultanate they fought, until finally reaching and capturing Fatimid Jerusalem in 1099.
The Seljuks were displaced by one Zangi of Mosul, who formed a Zangid Sultanate, capturing Edessa from the Crusaders and prompting the Second Crusade. His son Nureddin weathered the crusade, conquered Syria in 1154, and moved against Fatimid Egypt, which they took over in 1169 deposing the Fatimids in 1171. Zangid rule didn't last beyond Nureddin's death five years later, when his Kurdish governor of Egypt, the great Saladin, took over the whole empire.
Ubaydallah al-Mahdi 910-934
al-Qaim 934-946 (son?)
al-Hafiz 1130-1149 (gr. of al-Mustansir)
al-Adid 1160-1171 (gr. of al-Hafiz)
Rulers were sons of previous except where noted. Al-Hafiz was regent until 1132.
Colin McEvedy, The New Penguin Encyclopedia of Medieval History
John Morby, The Wordsworth Handbook of Kings and Queens