132-656 A.H.   /   750-1258 A.D.

IN passing from Umeiyad to the 'Abbasid Caliphate, we reach in many respects a fresh departure which justifies a pause and some words in explanation of the change.

New features in the 'Abbasid Caliphate.

The first new feature is, that while the Umeiyad Caliphate, from first to last, was co-ordinate with the limits of Islam, this is no longer true of the 'Abbasid.

The Caliphate no longer co-ordinate with Islam.

The authority of the new dynasty was never acknowledged in Spain; and throughout Africa, excepting Egypt, it was but intermittent and for the most part nominal; while in the East, as time rolled on, independent dynasties arose. Islam was thus broken up into many fragments, not necessarily in any way dependent on the Caliphate, each with its own separate history. But with all this, the 'Abbasid remained the only dynasty that truly represented the proper Caliphate. Monarchs reigning in Cordova could only be recognized as "Caliphs", in so far as every supreme ruler of Islam holds in his hand the spiritual as well as the secular authority, and may thus in some sense claim to be the Caliph or Successor of the Prophet. The 'Abbasids alone had any colour of pretension to the name by virtue of legitimate succession.1

Remainder of this work.

It being, then, my sole object to trace the Caliphate, properly so called, to its close, the rest of this work will be restricted to a narrative of the dynasty of the 'Abassids as they rose first to the crest of glory, then sank gradually under the sway of Sultans and Grand Wazirs, and at last ended a

1 The Spanish dynasty, though sprung from the line of Umeiyad Caliphs, did not at first venture to assume the title. 'Abd ar-Rahman III. (Abderame, 300-350 A.H.) was the first who did so.


mere phantom, vanishing into the shadowy pageantry of attendants on the Memluk kings of Egypt.

Restricted to 'Abbasid Caliphate

Events outside the Caliphate will only so far be noticed as they bear upon the individual history of the dynasty.1 Thus alone will it be possible to keep the remainder of this book within reasonable dimensions.

Arab nation loses martial vigour.

Another marked feature in the era on which we enter is the change which now comes over the Arab people, and the attitude of the new dynasty towards them. To their hardy life and martial fire were mainly due the first spread of Islam and material prosperity of the Caliphate. But the race had by this time lost much of its early hardihood and vigour. Enriched with the spoil of conquered peoples, the temptations to pride and luxury had gradually sapped their warlike virtue, and so they either settled down with well-filled harims, living sumptuously at their ease; or, if they still preferred the field, yielded there to petulance, rivalries, and insubordination, preferring too often the interests of person, family, and tribe, to the interests of Islam. The fervour of religious enthusiasm had in great measure passed away, and self-aggrandisement had taken the place of passion for national glory and extension of the Faith. The Saracen was no longer the conqueror of the world.

Cast off by 'Abbasids,

Added to this, the 'Abbasids on their accession lost all confidence in their own Arab race; indeed, they had already done so for several years before. They were brought to the throne and supported there, not by them but by levies from Persia and Khorasan; while of the Umeiyads, the Syrians remained the last support, and the Arab tribes, whether Modar or the Yemen, were ranged upon their side. Ibrahim felt this so strongly, that in the letter intercepted by Merwan, in which he chided Abu Muslim for his delay in crushing Nasr and Al-Kirmani,2 he added angrily,—"See that there be not one left in Khorasan whose tongue is the tongue of the Arabian, but he be slain!" It was among the Arabs of Syria and Mesopotamia that dangerous revolt repeatedly took

1 The 'Abbasids spoke of themselves as the Dynasty (Daula) or New Age.

2 See above, p. 425.


place against the new dynasty, and so they continued to be looked askance upon.

who throw themselves into hands of Turks and Persians.

Before long the Caliphs drew their bodyguard entirely from the Turks about the Oxus; and that barbarous race, scenting from afar the from the delights of the South, was not slow to follow in their wake. Before long they began to overshadow the noble Arab chieftains; and so we soon find the Imperial forces officered almost entirely by Turkomans, freedmen, or slaves, of strange descent and uncouth name. In the end the Caliphs became the helpless tools of their rude protectors: and the Arabs, where not already denationalised by city life, retired to roam at will in their desert wilds.

Under the 'Abbasids the old aristocracy gave place to a class of government officials. At the head of these was the Wazir (Vizier). He was the representative of the Caliph who appeared only on high occasions. By his side stood the executioner, an officer unheard of under the Umeiyads. He represented the relation of the monarchs of Persia to their subjects. Persian influence introduced also the court astrologer, whose word was law even on military expeditions. The subordinate officials were for the most part Christians and Jews. Perhaps the most influential of all was the system of posts which permeated the whole Empire, and was taken over from the Persians as these had taken it from the Babylonians. The Caliph was thus kept informed of all that was going on even in the most distant provinces in the shortest time possible. The posts were in fact, trusty spies, who kept an eye even on the provincial governors themselves.

Persian influences.

With the rise of Persian influence, however, the roughness of Arab life was softened; and there opened an era of culture, toleration, and scientific research. The practice of oral tradition was also giving place to recorded state­ment and historical narrative,—a change hastened by the scholarly tendencies introduced from the East.

To the same source may be attributed the ever ­increasing laxity at Court of manners and morality; and also those transcendental views that now sprang up of the divine Imamat or spiritual leadership of some member of the house of 'Ali; as well as the rapid growth of free thought.


These things will be developed as we go on. But I have thought it well to draw attention at this point to the important changes wrought by the closer connection of the Caliphate with Persia and Khorasan, caused by the accession of the 'Abbasids.

The Caliphate: Its Rise, Decline, and Fall [Table of Contents]
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