132-136 A.H.   /   749-754 A.D.

A BRIEF review may here be necessary, to recall the circumstances attending the establishment of the new Caliphate at Al-Kufa.

Saffah, 132 A.H. 750 A.D.

In a previous chapter we have seen that while Merwan still tarried at Harran, Ibn Hubeira, the Umeiyad general, was defeated in the vicinity of Al-Kufa by the army of Kahtaba, and obliged to fall back on Wasit. Abu Salama, heretofore the busy leader and agent of the Hashimi cause in Khorasan, now came and encamped at Al-Kufa in the beginning of the year 132 A.H., where, meeting with little opposition, he took possession of the city, and for a time carried on the government under the simple title of "Wazir of the house of Mohammad."

'Abbasid family brought into Kufa, ii. 132 A.H. Oct., 749 A.D.

On the arrest of Ibrahim, two or three years before, his two brothers with all the relatives of the house of Hashim had fled from Al-Homeima to Al-Kufa, where they remained ever since in concealment. They were now taken charge of by Abu Salama, but for several weeks still kept by him in the strictest privacy. When urged to declare at once the advent of the new dynasty, he said that it would be premature and dangerous so long as Ibn Hubeira maintained his stand at Wasit. Some suspected him of favouring the other branch of Hashimi stock, that, namely, descended from 'Ali, but of these none had now the ambition or the courage to come forward. However that may be, the 'Abbasid party were impatient at the delay, and learning that Ibrahim, late head of the House, had


declared his younger brother Abu'l-'Abbas (son of a noble mother, his brother Abu Ja'far being son of a slave-girl) his successor, they brought him out openly; and finding the people with them, proceeded to a public demonstra­tion.

Homage done to Abu'l-‘Abbas. 12 iii, 132 A.H. Oct. 29, 749 A.D.

It was about three months after the occupation of Al-Kufa by the Hashimi troops that, apparently with the consent of Abu Salama, they mounted Abu'l-'Abbas upon a piebald horse, entered the palace, and thence proceeded to the Great Mosque. There the new Caliph ascended the pulpit and made his first address. He magnified the virtues and claims of the descendants of the Prophet, denounced the usurpation and crimes of the Umeiyads and their Syrian followers, praised the Kufans for their fidelity to his family, which he promised to reward by an increase of their stipends; and ended by declaring it his mission to root out all opposition, for, said he, "I am the Great Revenger, and my name As-Saffah, the Shedder of Blood."1 His uncle Da'ud followed with still fiercer words. He styled Merwan "the enemy of the Lord and Caliph of the Devil," and affirmed that the only real successors of the Prophet were two;—'Ali his son-in-law, who had stood in that very pulpit, and now another standing in it, even Abu'l-'Abbas, the true Commander of the Faithful. "Delay not then," he said, "to take the oath of fealty. The dominion is ours, and with us it will remain, till the day when we shall render it up to Jesus Son of Mary." Having thus delivered themselves, they both descended from the pulpit, and entered the castle, whither the people flocked till it was dark, doing homage to the new Caliph. As-Saffah then returned to the encampment of Abu Salama, where for some months he occupied with him the same abode.2

By and by As-Saffah became alienated from Abu Salama, whether from any well-grounded suspicion of unfriendly

1 Saffah means one who slaughters many beasts for his guests, hence, very hospitable, or, generally, liberal. The sense of blood­thirsty does not seem to be intended.

2 The "same apartment," we are told, separated by a simple curtain between the two. This does not look as if suspicion existed, at any rate at this time, against Abu Salama, of 'Alid tendencies or other disloyalty.


Caliph retires to Hashimiya.

feeling, 'Alid, or other, cannot be said. But, whatever the cause, quitting now his house at Al-Kufa, the new Caliph repaired to Al-Anbar, in the neighbourhood of which he laid the foundation of a courtly residence, and called it after his family Al-Hashimiya. From thence he despatched his uncles and other relatives, among whom were several of fair ability, with commands in various directions to replace the officers of the fallen dynasty. Acting under his direction, these soon earned for As-Saffah a solid claim to the sanguinary title he aspired after.

Umeiyad house pursued to death.

His first care was to sweep from the face of the earth the entire Umeiyad race. Such wholesale butcheries cast into the shade anything the previous dynasty had ever been accused of.

Wholesale butchery in Palestine, 133 A.H. 751 A.D.

The cruellest of them was that per­petrated by the Caliph's uncle in Palestine. An amnesty was offered to the numerous branches of the family congregated there; and to confirm it they were invited, some ninety in number, to a feast. Suddenly a bard arose reciting in verse the evil deeds of the Umeiyads, and on signal given, the attendants fell on the unsuspecting guests, and put them all to death. A carpet was drawn across the ghastly spectacle, and the tyrant resumed his feast over the still quivering limbs of the dying. All in whose veins ran the blood of Umeiyad princes were relentlessly pursued, and only such as were of tender years,1 or successfully effected flight, escaped. At Al-Basra, the like scene was soon after enacted; the miserable victims were slain, and their remains cast into the streets to be devoured of dogs. Those that escaped wandered about in terror, seeking vainly in disguise some place of secrecy. One such, a descendant of Abu Sufyan, finding his life a burden, cast himself at the feet of an uncle of the Caliph, who, touched with pity, obtained a rescript not only sparing him, but granting a general amnesty to such as still survived. Nevertheless in the following year, we find another less merciful uncle of As-Saffah, initiating a fresh slaughter of those who had taken shelter in the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina.

Desecration of the dead.

Nor did it suffice that they should vent their rage on the living, the fear of whose machinations might possibly be pleaded in feeble excuse. The tombs of the Caliphs were

1 The phrase used by the historian is "sucklings."


unearthed. Those of 'Omar and, curiously enough, of Mu'awiya were spared. Of Mu'awiya and the other Umeiyad Caliphs in Damascus, Dabik, Ar-Rusafa, Kinnasrin, and elsewhere, there was nothing that remained but dust; excepting only Hisham, whose frame was found in singular preservation. This they scourged with whips, hung up for a while, and then burned, scattering the ashes to the winds. Such out­rage raised indignation throughout Syria and Mesopotamia. Umeiyad households also were treated with indignity by the creatures of the new dynasty. One of its minions, caught in the act of carrying off as slaves the harim of the distinguished warrior Maslama, was slain by the governor of Kinnasrin, which forthwith rose in rebellion.

Rebellion in Syria and Mesopotamia.

All Syria, both Keis and Kelb, with Damascus at its head, in followed suit. The Caliph's uncle 'Abdallah, at that moment quelling a rising in the Hauran, came to terms with the insurgents, and hastened to the north, where he was met by a defiant force of 40,000 men. After much fighting and varying fortune, he defeated his enemy and restored order. A still more dangerous revolt threatened Hashimi rule in Mesopotamia, where an army of 60,000 Syrians in the field laid siege to Harran. To meet the emergency, As-Saffah detached a column, under command of his brother Abu Ja'far, from the army then besieging Ibn Hubeira in Wasit. This force advancing to the northern coasts of the Euphrates, dispersed the insurgents, but with some difficulty, for Sumeisat was not recovered till after a siege of seven months. Al-Basra also resisted all attempts of the Hashimi general, supported by a column from Khorasan. That unfortunate city was also distracted within, apart altogether from the 'Abbasid attack; for the Modar party, having got the ascendency after severe fighting, overthrew the opposite faction; and the city—suffering thus whichever party conquered—was for three days given up to pillage and outrage. The Umeiyad leaders, however, kept possession of it until Wasit fell.

These risings, if guided by an able leader with united interest and common design, might have changed the order of events, and raised the fallen dynasty, which still had Syria for its support. It failed mainly from the fatal step of Ibn Hubeira, who, as we have seen, instead of hastening north


to his support at the call of Merwan, fell back on Wasit, and there shut himself up with the flower of the Umeiyad troops.

Ibn Hubeira capitulates at Wasit.

He was afraid (we are told) of Merwan, because he had not obeyed the order to detach troops for the support of Nasr in Khorasan; but whatever the cause, the delay proved fatal to his master; for defeat in Syria was beyond comparison more to be dreaded than the loss of Wasit, important as it was. The siege of that cantonment was pressed vigorously by Ibn Kahtaba. The powerful garrison made no way against him, partly owing to the depressing influences of a falling dynasty, and partly to the tribal jealousies which still paralysed them, for the Yemen quarrelled with Nizar (Modar and Rabi'a). Thus things went on for eleven months, during which the Umeiyad cause was being lost in Syria. At last, the new Caliph, recalling his brother Abu Ja'far from the north, sent him to take the command at Wasit; and tidings of Merwan's death having meanwhile reached Ibn Hubeira, he thereupon offered to capitulate.1

Treacherously put to death with followers.

A full amnesty concluded by Abu Ja'far was ratified by the Caliph under solemn oath; and Abu Ja'far, who received Ibn Hubeira graciously, was intent upon respecting it. But the Caliph, having consulted Abu Muslim then at Merv, and received his counsel to get Ibn Hubeira "as a stumbling-stone out of his way," persistently urged his death. Finally As-Saffah sent two creatures of his own to do the deed, if Abu Ja'far should still decline. Abu Ja'far gave way; and the officers belonging to Nizar were invited to an interview bound two and two by a party concealed in an adjoining apartment, and, spite of their appeal to the Caliph's solemn oath, beheaded. The Yemeni officers were spared.

Ibn Hubeira slain.

Ibn Hubeira was at the same time slain, along with his son, by two emissaries of the Caliph, who repaired to his house under pretence of taking over treasure. The historian adds pathos to the cruel tale of perfidy; for he tells us that Ibn Hubeira, suspecting no treachery, had at the moment on his knee a

1 When he heard of Merwan's defeat and death, he is said to have written to Mohammad ibn 'Abdallah, a great-grandson of Al-Hasan son of 'Ali, offering to support his claim to the throne, but waiting long for a reply, and the Caliph's emissaries beginning to tamper with the Yemeni party in his army, he capitulated; of this Ibn 'Abdallah we shall hear more in the next reign.


little son, whom they snatched from his embrace as he fell on his knees imploring mercy.1

Bloodshed in Mosul.

Notwithstanding that the Hashimi banner everywhere prevailed, outrage still survived in many parts of the Empire. A terrible calamity overtook Mosul. The people refusing obedience to the new governor as a low-born stranger, expelled him from their city. On this, the Caliph sent his brother Yahya, who proved himself worthy of his relationship to the "Shedder of blood." The townsmen were persuaded to gather in the court of the Mosque, under promise of full security, but the gates were no sooner closed upon them than they were massacred to a man.2 The city, deprived thus of its protectors, was given up for three days to sack and outrage. Besides the regular soldiery, there were with the troops 4000 negroes who shamelessly violated the women, till one of these, bolder than the rest, appealed to Yahya, the reins of whose horse she seized, and asked whether followers of the Prophet were now abandoned to the embrace of slaves. To appease the outcry, the entire body of the negroes was put to the sword. The Caliph is said to have removed his brother for cruelty thus even beyond his own, but nevertheless put him over another Province.

Fighting elsewhere.

Elsewhere troubles prevailed to the end of the reign. The Viceroy of Sind and India refused to recognise Hashimi rule; after heavy fighting he was beaten, and died of thirst in his flight through the desert. Al-Basra being at last reduced by a force of veterans from Khorasan, the adherents of the old dynasty fled to 'Oman, where they were joined by a vast host of Khawarij. They were in the end defeated by the Imperial troops, and incredible numbers slain or burned to death. In Khorasan there were similar outbreaks with even greater slaughter. The rebels of Bokhara, Soghd, and Ferghana were aided by "the king of China," but put

1 The Caliph's oath of amnesty was couched in the most stringent and solemn terms, and condign punishment from "the Searcher of hearts" was invoked on him who might violate its conditions. The historian adds (but hardly by way of justification) that Ibn Hubeira once addressed Abu Ja'far as "O man" or by some such term; but immediately apologised for it as a Slip of the tongue.

2 The numbers are given at 10,000, but probably with the usual exaggeration of the slaughter made in the reign of As-Saffah.


to flight by Ziyad, governor of Samarkand, with terrible carnage.1

Abu Salama treacherously put to death, 747-750 A.D.

We have seen that the Caliph on his accession, after living for time in closest intimacy with Abu Salama, one of the leading supporters of the Hashimi cause in Khorasan and their Wazir ("Vizier") at Al-Kufa, became alienated from him, and so departed from his residence to Al-Anbar. Abu Salama had, like everyone else, expected the Mehdi to be of the house of 'Ali. The Caliph wrote to Abu Muslim at Merv for his advice, which was that he should be put to death. The Caliph was dissuaded from ordering the execution by an uncle who dwelt on the danger of revenge by Abu Salama's influential followers from Khorasan, and suggested that Abu Muslim should be asked to send an assassin for the purpose. This was done. As-­Saffah then ordered a crier to go forth and proclaim Abu Salama as "the man whom the Caliph delighteth to honour." So he was called and arrayed in a robe of honour, and entertained by the Caliph till night was far advanced. As he wended his way home alone, he was waylaid and assassinated. Report was diligently spread that the Khawarij had done the deed; but all well knew where the motive lay.2

Abu Muslim in Khorasan.

Shortly after, Abu Ja'far was deputed to Merv, with the view of feeling the pulse and attitude of Abu Muslim himself; and there conceived towards him a bitter animosity. As Viceroy of Khorasan, Abu Muslim exercised an unlimited,

1 50,000 slain beyond the Oxus, and 20,000 taken prisoners. In 'Oman, 900 Khawarij were killed in battle, and 90 burned alive. After­wards the troops attacked the town, which was built of wood, and pouring naphtha on the houses, set them thus ablaze; then rushing sword in hand on the terrified inhabitants, they slew 10,000,—"all counted, and the heads sent to Al-Basra." One may hope that these butcheries are vastly exaggerated; but they point to the lamentable disregard for human life that now prevailed.

2 This is the most received report. Another is that the Caliph, fearing that Abu Muslim shared the 'Alid tendencies of which Abu Salama was suspected, sent Abu Ja'far to sound Abu Muslim; and that the latter, to prove his loyalty, despatched an assassin who committed the deed as above narrated.

Abu Muslim at the same time sent agents to put to death all the governors who had been appointed by Abu Salama while he ruled in Fars.


and, as Abu Ja'far thought, a dangerous supremacy. Thus for an imprudent word, and on slight and arbitrary suspicion, he put to death Ibn Kethir, one of the earliest and most valuable advocates of the Hashimi mission in Khorasan.1 This was done openly before Abu Ja'far, who, as we shall see never forgot the crime, and on his return to Al-'Irak told his brother that he was no longer Caliph unless he got rid of this wilful autocrat. The Caliph took it to heart, but bade his brother for the present keep the matter secret. A year or two later, Ziyad the governor of Samarkand, which had recently been strongly fortified, set up for himself, and Abu Muslim went to fight against him.

Attempt to assassinate him, 135 A.H.

On the way he discovered that an emissary of the Caliph (who is accused of having himself instigated the rebellion in order to weaken the too powerful Viceroy) was in his camp in league with Ziyad, and that he had instructions to compass his death. The plot, thus coming to light, miscarried. Ziyad was deposed and put to death by his own subjects, and the would-be assassin beheaded.

Abu Muslim's pilgrimage with Abu Ja'far, 136 A.H.

In the following year, Abu Muslim, undeterred by the machinations at the Court, asked permission to visit the Caliph at Al-Anbar, and thence proceed on pilgrimage to Mecca. Leave was granted, but his following limited to 1000 men. He started with 8000, but left 7000 at Ar-Reiy. The Caliph received him with every mark of honour, and gave permission to proceed to Mecca, but informed him that his brother Abu Ja'far would probably be appointed to preside at the pilgrimage, a dignity Abu Muslim had apparently expected for himself. Meanwhile Abu Ja'far, who now resided at the Court, and both hated and feared the Viceroy, persuaded his brother to order his execution; he was to be cut down from behind as he was conversing with the Caliph. But the Caliph changed his mind. Dreading the revenge of the Khorasan troops, should he put their favourite to death, he withdrew the order. The pilgrimage accordingly was undertaken by Abu Ja'far and

1 Abu Muslim was jealous of this man's influence; and had con­ceived a hatred for him, because when Ibrahim first selected Abu Muslim as the Hashimi plenipotentiary in Khorasan, Ibn Kethir had sought to dissuade him on account of his extreme youth. Abu Muslim never forgave him, and now took advantage of the incautious speech to put him to death.


Abu Muslim both together. But though the former led the ceremonial, he was outshone by the splendour of Abu Muslim's equipage and his princely liberality. The pilgrimage completed, tidings of the Caliph's death reached the returning caravan. Abu Ja'far had Abu Muslim now entirely in his power, but he was obliged, as will be explained in the following chapter, to veil his hatred for a time.

Abu'l-'Abbas dies on 13 xii. 136 A.H. June 9, 754 A.D.

As-Saffah died of small-pox in his palace at Al-Anbar, a few days after the pilgrimage at Mecca was ended. His age is given at from twenty-eight to thirty-five years. He left a daughter,1 afterwards married to her cousin the Caliph Al-Mehdi. As-Saffah was vain of his appearance, and little is said by the annalists of his death, beyond a description of the varied wardrobe which he left behind. It is also related of him, that as he stood looking at himself in a mirror, he exclaimed, "I do not say, as Suleiman, Behold the kingly youth;2 but I say, Lord give me long life, and health to enjoy it." As he spoke, he heard a slave say to his fellow hard by, regarding some mutual concern, "The term between us is two months and five days." He took it as an evil augury; and so he sickened, and death overtook him as the term expired.

Palace of Hashimiya, and public works.

Thus closed the sanguinary reign of As-Saffah, which lasted a little less than five years, during the last two of which he resided in the palace now completed at Al-Anbar. Of public undertakings, the only thing we are told is that he had towers constructed for protection of the pilgrims at convenient distances all the way from Al-Kufa to Mecca, and also mile-stones. Khalid the son of Barmek (the "Barmekide"), of whom mention has been already made, accompanied Kahtaba from Balkh, and being a man of singular ability, was promoted by the Caliph to be chief of the Exchequer, and with the rest of the family attained a high position at Court.3 In the last year of his reign

1 Only a daughter, we are told. A son indeed is mentioned as accompanying 'Isa in the expedition against the 'Alids, 145 A.H.; but as he is not spoken of elsewhere, he was probably of ignoble birth.

2 Above, p.368.

3 The 'Abbasids are distinguished by delegating the transaction of their business to Wuzara (pl. of Wazir) or prime ministers, an office unknown under the Umeiyads. Khalid ibn Barmek may be considered the first of these, in the official sense.


'Isa nominated heir-apparent after Abu Ja'far.

As-Saffah nominated his nephew 'Isa to be heir-apparent after his brother Abu Ja'far. The patent, inscribed upon a silken sheet, and sealed with the signets of the Caliph and of the chief heads of the family, was placed in custody of himself, now governor of Al-Kufa

Saffah the Blood-thirsty.

The name by which this Caliph is most commonly known, As-Saffah, the Blood-thirsty, is well chosen; for as such he is distinguished beyond all others in a dynasty that had small respect for human life. He intensified his cruelty and guilt, if that were possible, by treachery in the face of solemn oaths, and also by ingratitude, for amongst his victims were not a few who had spent their lives in helping him to the throne. That the attempt should have been made to extenuate his crimes is strange and is thus referred to by the impartial Weil, in whose judgment I concur;—

"We can but marvel," he says, "that many Europeans have sought to defend this Caliph who was worse than any Umeiyad,—as if he did not deserve the name of Blood-shedder, which indeed he himself assumed. He may not with his own hands have strangled victims but not the less was it by his express mandate that the Umeiyads in Syria, and Suleiman in his very presence, were perfidiously slain. At his command must Abu Muslim hire the assassin of Abu Salama, to whom the 'Abbasids owed so much. It was at his repeated requisi­tion that Abu Ja'far, in treacherous disregard of solemn oaths, slew Ibn Hubeira and his fellows; and it certainly is not due to his innocence that the fate of Abu Salama did not during his own reign overtake Abu Muslim also; Abu'l-'Abbass was not merely a barbarous tyrant; he was a perjured and ungrateful traitor."

Such is the not overdrawn character of the first of the 'Abbasids, Abu'l-'Abbas, As-Saffah, the "Blood-shedder."

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