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January 27, 2019 2 min read

Christianity was adopted throughout the Roman Empire from the first half of the fourth century. However, in the 7th to 8th centuries, Christendom faced challenges from the Umayyad Caliphate, the second of four major caliphates, ruled by various Caliphs (Muslim leaders), that were established after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. Byzantine Jerusalem was conquered by the Arab armies of Umar ibn al-Khattab in 638 CE. They referred to it as Madinat bayt al-Maqdis (City of the Temple).

The Umayyad Caliphate went on to conquer Syria, Egypt, and North Africa from the Christian Byzantine Empire, and Hispania (Iberian Peninsula in Northern Spain) from the Visigoths. In North Africa, the Umayyad Empire was gradually replaced by a number of smaller Muslim kingdoms. Between the ninth and early eleventh centuries the Aghlabids, a dynasty of Emirs from various Arabic tribes, attacked various Mediterranean regions including Pisa and Genoa in Italy, and Catalonia.

Eleventh century ruler of Zirid (now Algeria), Tamim ibn Muizz, pirated the waters off the Italian Peninsula and fought the Normans in Sicily. In 1087, Hugh of Pisa, along with the combined military forces from Rome and armed ships form Genoa and Pisa began the Mahdia Campaign, a reprisal attack to recapture the town of Mahdia in North Africa (Tunisia), a former Christian stronghold and Roman province (Aphrodisium). Although the forces succeeded in capturing the city, they could not hold it. They did, however, plunder Mahdia and the spoils were spent in restoring the cathedral at Pisa and building a new church.

Accounts of the Mahdia Campaign stated that the attack was conducted under the banner of St. Peter and Muslim leader Tamim ibn Muizz was demonised. Pope Victor III granted the campaigners indulgence, which was believed to reduce time in purgatory and cleanse sins. The raid of Mahdia led to the First Crusade just eight years later.

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