The emirate of the Banū Tellīs in the 15th c. CE / إمارة بني تليس في القرن 15 م

Zakia Elgoud (University of Benghazi)


The Banū Tellīs are linked to the city of Bani Walid, ca 180 km SE of Tripoli. The name Warfalla — the local tribe which is also one of the major groups in Libya — could derive from arfala, an elevated place. A possible eponym ancestor would have been a certain Warfal, ultimately related to the Huwāra Berber confederation which was well established in the region comprising Bani Walid, Misrata, Msallata and Tarhuna when the Islamic conquest started.

At the late medieval period, Tripolitania had witnessed the expeditions of the Banū Ġāniya and Qarāqūš (an Ayyubid mamluk). It finally entered the scope of the Hafsid dynasty that had emerged in the aftermath of the heavy fight led by the Almohads against these guerillas, and consolidated with Abū Zakariyyāʾ Yaḥyā (r. 625-647/1228-1249). However, the city of Tripoli managed to oscillate between formal submission and quasi-independence.

The emirates of Tripoli

The Banū Ṯābit managed to seize the power after a revolt led against the Hafsid governor ʿAbd Allāh b. Muḥammad b. Abī ʿUmrān in 724/1324. This family enforced a dynastic power. They even conquered the island of Jerba and retained it until the middle of the century.

The Genoese captured Tripoli by a surprise raid in 756/1355 and sold it to Aḥmad b. Makkī (against 50,000 dinars) who thus became its new master for one and a half decades. His son ʿAbd al-Raḥmān assumed the throne when he died, but he was rapidly ousted by a fleet conducted by Abū Bakr, marking the return of the Banū Ṯābit in 772/1370. The latter negotiated with the Hafsids the (governorate) walāʾ against an allegiance (bayʿa) in due form.

The sultan of Tunis Abū Fāris took advantage of an internecine struggle to mount an expedition against the city and put an end to the emirate in 800/1398.

South Tripolitania

According to al-Tiǧānī’s Riḥla — he stayed in Tripoli in 708-709/1308-1309 —, the real authority there belonged to the Awlād Sālim (or the Sawālim; a branch of the Dab[b]āb). They had a mašyaḫa (local council) running the area of Bani Walid where some toponyms still bear the trace of this faction (e.g. wādī Ibn Ġalbūn or qaṣr Ibn Ġalbūn).

A conflict erupted in 706/1306 and caused the split of the mašyaḫa into two parts, one headed by the Banū Sālim (based in the qaṣr of Ibn Ġalbūn, by Misrata) and the other one headed by the Banū Zayyān (based in the quṣūr of Sūf al-Ǧīn, by Warfalla). A key evolution for the present study is that a movement of protest took ground against the heavy taxes levied by the Banū Zayyān. The pivotal figure of the šayḫ Aḥmad b. Tallīs succeeded to reunite both parties and Bani Walid was chosen as the center of his power.

The Banū Tellīs

It is said that Aḥmad b. Tallīs had fled Kairouan — where he had been accused of zandaqa — to Tripoli, then to Bani Walid. In his succession we find his son ʿAlī then his descendants Ḥamūda, Diyāb, Ġālib then ʿAlī the Second (son of Ġālib).

The issue of their zone of influence is still debated. Did it stretch between Barqa and the vicinity of Tripoli (e.g. Taǧūrāʾ) as a maximal extension?

They might have participated in the battle against the Spaniards in 1510 and they resisted the Ottoman occupation until they were ultimately defeated and exterminated in 1603.

The city of Beni Tellis

It was built in 750/1349 and covers almost one hectare. 300 wells have been dug and many quṣūr built, the most famous being qaṣr Banī Walīd. The political and economic strength of the state combined with an intellectual and spiritual flourishing attracting lots of ʿulamāʾ. Besides, a number of zawiyas were erected and we shall remember the renowned šayḫ Sīdī ʿAbd al-Salām al-Asmar al-Faytūrī whose teachings drew so many to Zliten.

The palace (qaṣr al-ḥākim, see below) is located in the western part. A development is dedicated to a reflection upon its plan that reminds us a standard Roman outline as it is the case for other Saharan cities, notably linked to a possible function of surveillance.

The mosque (see below) is situated between the northern-eastern walls and the cemetery.

On top of these monuments, we shall add a qaṣr for the judge (qāḍī) and a market (sūq, see below) held on Thursdays.

A stage of caravan trade, it was seen as a safe harbour, as testifies for example Ḥasan al-Wazzān when he describes the site as “led by a brave tribe whose members live free and have nurtured alliances with neighbour groups in the mountains”.

Agriculture was strongly favoured by the fertility that guaranteed numerous rivers (widyān, e.g. Sawf al-Ǧīn/Sawfaǧǧīn): olive trees and palm trees, supported by cisterns and wells. Besides, cattle breeding is practiced too.


Shortly, this pivotal period in the history of the region has left imprints in the texts and in the ground. Its preservation — by the Authority of Antiquities e.g —, on the one side, and its thorough analysis — by the academia —, on the other side, should be a priority.

Citer ce billet
Sébastien Garnier (2023, 23 novembre). The emirate of the Banū Tellīs in the 15th c. CE / إمارة بني تليس في القرن 15 م. LibMed. Consulté le 23 juin 2024, à l’adresse

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