Subh of Cordoba: The Basque who ruled Cordoba

In Cordoba, capital of Andalusia under the Umayyad Caliphate, a girl from the Basque region, north of the Iberian Peninsula, ascended to the highest circles of influence. She was called Aurora, but in Cordoba, she was known as Subh the Basque.

Subh was brought from northern Spain to Andalusia as a slave and was sold more than once before she came to the attention of Crown Prince Al-Mustansir al-Hakam, one of the strongest rulers in tenth century Europe.

Al-Hakam was impressed by Subh, so he bought her and she became the closest person to his heart, especially after giving birth to his son, Hisham II Al-Mu′ayed.

The Caliph′s gift to Subh after the birth of their first son in 966 (source: National Archaeological Museum of Spain in Madrid)
Beloved of the Caliph: the silver casket illustrated above was the ruler's gift to Subh on the birth of their first son in 966. She was destined to play an active role in affairs of state and on the death of her husband, became one of three guardians entrusted with holding the throne for his son and heir, Hisham II

After the death of ′Abd al-Raḥman III and the succession of his son Al-Mustansir to the throne of the Caliphate in 961 AD, Subh entered the corridors of power and she played an active role in affairs of state, not to mention a number of political disputes.

However, it was to be her husband′s death that catapulted Subh to power. Al-Hakam had thought to appoint a tripartite guardianship over his son and heir, Hisham II, who was only a toddler when al-Hakam′s died.

The three regents were First Minister Jafar al-Mushafi, Chamberlain Al-Mansur Ibn Abi Aamir and Subh. It was only a matter of time before rivalries and alliances began to arise between the three regents. Yet, Al-Hakam′s choice of Subh as the guardian of their son attests to the Caliph′s confidence in her and her political acumen.

Subh sought an alliance with Abi Aamir. Having managed to eliminate any influence exercised by the first minister, they ruled Andalusia together for a few years, until renewed disputes arose, which led to her exclusion as regent. Abi Aamir subsequently deposed Hisham II and confined him with Subh at their palace in the city of Azahra.

Despite this, Subh continued plotting and working on ways to restore her son to the throne until her death.

Sitt al-Mulk: an iron fist

The Fatimid dynasty witnessed the emergence of a number of women who spearheaded political action and exercised power.

One of the most prominent and most successful among them was Princess Sitt al-Mulk, born in 970 AD, who was the daughter of the fifth Fatimid Caliph Nizar al-Aziz Billah.

Her involvement in politics began during her father′s reign when he recognised her intelligence and wisdom. He brought her closer to the upper echelons of his government and was always keen to consult with her on matters of state.

After the death of her father and the succession of her younger brother, Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, Sitt al-Mulk took over the reigns of government and had the upper hand when it came to decision-making. She shared power with Minister Barjuwan, who at the time was the caliphate′s de facto ruler.

Stylised image of Sitt al-Mulk (source: raseef22)
A consummate survivor: Sitt al-Mulk, who was encouraged by her father, Fatimid caliph Nizar al-Aziz Billah, to become involved with politics, was to see off a number of power-hungry opponents, including her brother, who disappeared in mysterious circumstances. She retained control of the Fatimid empire until her death in 1023

Historians recount that Sitt al-Mulk was not on friendly terms with her brother, who effectively excluded her, limiting her involvement in politics. Most historians, however, indicate that she was able to regain control of state affairs again by 1021 AD.

A number of historians, including Taqi al-Din al-Maqrizi, in his book Ette′aaz al-honafa be Akhbaar al-A′emma Al Fatemeyyeen Al Kholafaa, also mention that Sitt al-Mulk plotted with some of her allies to kill her brother and spread rumours among his followers that he had disappeared.

After the disappearance of Al-Hakim, the caliphate swore allegiance to his son, Az-Zahir li A′zaz li Din-illah, who was still only 16 years old. Because of his tender age, Sitt al-Mulk yet again assumed the responsibility of ruling the caliphate and her decisions were the final word. She managed all state affairs firmly and remained on the throne until her death in 1023 AD.

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