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(909–1171) Isma'ili Shi'ite dynasty of North Africa and the Middle East. Its members traced their descent from Fatimah, a daughter of the Prophet Muhammad. As Shi'ite Muslims, they opposed the Sunnite caliphate of the 'Abbasid dynasty, which they were determined to supplant. From Yemen they expanded into North Africa and Sicily, and in 909 their imam emerged to proclaim the new dynasty. The first four Fatimid caliphs ruled from Tunisia, but the conquest of Egypt in 969 occasioned the building of a new capital, Cairo. At its height, the dynasty controlled Mecca and Medina, Syria, Palestine, and Africa's Red Sea coast. Seeking to overthrow the 'Abbasids, the Fatimids maintained a network of missionaries and agents in 'Abbasid territories (seeAssassin). In 1057–59 the Fatimid caliph was briefly proclaimed in Baghdad, the 'Abbasid capital, but Fatimid fortunes declined thereafter. Attacks by Crusaders, Turks, and Byzantines and factionalism in the armed forces weakened the caliphate; disputes over succession to the title of caliph led to the dynasty's final end, however, as many of the Asian missionaries broke away, and the central government came to rely on non-Isma'ili troops. The last caliph died in 1171, and the dynasty was succeeded by the Sunnite Ayyubid dynasty.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on Fatimid dynasty, visit Britannica.com.
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