136-158 A.H.   /   754-775 A.D.

Abu Jafar Dhu’l-Hijja, 136 A.H. June, 754 A.D.

AT the death of As-Saffah, Abu Ja'far, as we have seen, was on pilgrimage at Mecca. His cousin, 'Isa, whom the late Caliph had nominated as second in succession, caused Abu Ja'far to be at once proclaimed at Al-Kufa, and the oath of allegiance was taken accordingly. On receiving tidings of his brother's death, Abu Ja'far returned immediately to Al-Kufa. He inaugurated his succession by leading the prayers in the Great Mosque with the usual address, and then went on to the palace at Al-Anbar. He assumed the name of Al-Mansur, the Victorious. He was older than As-Saffah, but was the son of a Berber slave-girl, his brother's mother being of the powerful Yemeni clan, al-Harith ibn Ka'b.

Rebellion of 'Abdallah, the Caliph's uncle.

Abu Muslim, as already said, was also on pilgrimage, with him. Al-Mansur, directly on hearing of his brother's death while on the homeward route, sent for him, and told him that he feared the attitude of his uncle 'Abdallah. Abu Muslim bade him set his mind at ease, promising in the event of 'Abdallah's rebellion to proceed at once against him. There was ground for the alarm. 'Abdallah was in command of a powerful force on the border of Asia Minor. His brother, the late Caliph, had promised him the succession in reward for his campaign against Merwan; and so, persuading the army to do homage to him as Caliph, he set siege to Harran. Al-Mansur was the more anxious for the services of Abu Muslim, as there were in his uncle's army 17,000 men of Khorasan devoted to their old leader. Abu Muslim now marched against 'Abdallah, who on his


Defeated by Abu Muslim, vi. 137 A.H. Nov., 754 A.D.

approach raised the siege, and marched east to Nasibin, where he entrenched himself in a strong position; but on his way, fearing the Khorasanis just referred to, he cruelly put the whole of them to the sword.1 To decoy him from his stronghold, Abu Muslim made as if he would march for Syria; on which the rebel army, mostly Syrians, alarmed for their families, insisted upon following the same course; and then Abu Muslim returning, occupied the deserted vantage-ground. Fighting went on for five months with various success, but in the end, through Abu Muslim's able tactics, the Syrian army was totally discomfited. 'Abdallah fled, but was eventually placed under charge of his brother Suleiman, governor of Al-Basra.

Fall and death of Abu Muslim, 137 A.H. 755 A.D.

The thankless Caliph, instead of rewarding a man who had founded, and now had saved, his throne, was bent on his death as one for whom, having served his purpose, he had no further need, and whom he both feared and hated. While yet on the field of battle, the great warrior divined the temper of his master, who, much to his mortifica­tion, had sent a courier to take count of the spoil, and bethought him of retiring for safety to Khorasan. This, in fact, was what the Caliph dreaded; and so with many fair words that he wished to keep him near his person, he offered him the government of Syria and Egypt. Abu Muslim replied that there was ever danger in a powerful subject being near the Court at a distance he would be the Caliph's devoted servant; but otherwise he would have no alternative but to break allegiance. An angry correspondence ensued, and Abu Muslim began his march to Khorasan. At Holwan, he received a peremptory mandate to repair to Al-Medain, where the Caliph waited for him. Distracted by various counsel,—friends, once faithful, but now won over to deceive, advised him to obey,—and so, trusting to fair promises, he proceeded to the

1 The enormous butchery of 17,000 soldiers is narrated without comment. Cruelty and treachery seem innate in the whole family. On two occasions in this march, 'Abdallah sent chiefs whom he was afraid of, to his creatures elsewhere, with letters which they unsuspectingly carried containing orders for their assassination. One of them had occasion to open his missive, and so escaped.


Court. As he drew near, Abu Eiyub, the Wazir, fearing the warrior and his followers if he came in wrath, bribed one to meet and assure him of the Caliph's favour and good will. Abu Muslim's apprehensions thus disarmed, he entered the palace, and was graciously welcomed; kissing the Caliph's hand, he was bidden to rest awhile and refresh himself with a bath. The following day, again summoned to the Court, the Caliph at first addressed him softly thus:—"Tell me of the two daggers that 'Abdallah had." "Here," said his guest, "is one of them," and he handed it to the Caliph, who put it under his pillow. Then with some warmth,&151;"And the girl of his whom thou tookest!" "Not so," replied Abu Muslim; "but I feared for her, and so carrying her to a tent left her in safe custody." On this, with growing warmth Al-Mansur brought charge upon charge against the ill-fated man,—Why had he slighted him on the pilgrimage? set out for Khorasan against his orders? made himself out, though once a mere slave, as if of 'Abbasid descent, and sought the hand of the Caliph's aunt? and worst of all, why had he slain Ibn Kethir, long before him an early and faithful supporter of the dynasty?1 As he waxed fiercer at every charge, Abu Muslim could but urge his lifelong service to the throne, kiss the Caliph's hand, and plead for pardon. But in vain. Al-Mansur clapped his hands, and at the signal five armed men stepped from behind the curtain, and as the victim cried aloud for mercy, cut him in pieces, while the Caliph cursed. To calm the crowd without, it was told them that "the Caliph was in conclave with his Amir"; and believing it to be so, 'Isa, the heir-apparent, entered and asked where Abu Muslim was. "He was here but now," answered the Caliph. "Ah," replied 'Isa, "I knew that he was loyal and would obey thy call." "Fool that thou art!" cried Al-Mansur;—"Thou hadst not in all the world a worse enemy than he; look there!" he said, as the carpet was raised, revealing the mangled corpse. 'Isa, horrified, retired.

1 See above, p. 443. The charge of making himself out to be of 'Abbasid descent was true enough. When in the zenith of his glory, there were not wanting creatures who, to cover his servile origin, invented a story to that effect; a fatal adulation that only added fuel to the Caliph's jealousy.


Shortly after, Abu Ishak, one of Abu Muslim's staff, was summoned; "What hast thou now to say about thy master?" asked the Caliph, "and his intended move to Khorasan!" Terrified, he glanced first to the right and then to the left, as if fearing lest Abu Muslim might be near to over­hear. "No need for fear!" exclaimed the Caliph; and the covering was again removed. "Thanks be to the Lord!" cried Abu Ishak, as he bowed low and long in worship, and, gazing at the corpse, exclaimed,—"Thanks for my deliverance from thee, O tyrant!" Then turning to the Caliph,—"I swear, not a day passed that I felt my life my own for fear of him, nor came into his presence but prepared for death." So saying, he drew aside his robe and disclosed a winding-sheet beneath. Moved with pity, the Caliph spared him the fate which as an adherent of his fallen chief, he was in expectation of.

Character of Abu Muslim.

Having received the congratulations of his courtiers, who wished him joy that now at last he was the real king, Al-Mansur went forth and harangued the multitudes brought together by the startling news:—"It was," he said, "a lesson to be laid to heart; the man began well, but ended ill, and now by pride and rebellion hath forfeited his life." The scene is one the annalists dwell much upon, and rightly so. For Abu Muslim is far and away the greatest figure of the age. Hardly thirty-five years old, he had by his rare wisdom, zeal, and generalship, changed the whole outlook of Islam, and raised the house of Al-'Abbas upon the ruins of the house of Umeiya. He deserved his fate, no doubt, for the blood of multitudes was on his head—but not at the hand of Al-Mansur, who owed his all to him. It was jealousy of Abu Muslim's influence that had fed the Caliph's hatred. The estimate of 'Isa was the truer; for there is nothing in the acts or attitude of Abu Muslim to show that he was other than a loyal supporter of the dynasty which owed its existence to himself.1

1 "Six hundred thousand," we are told, "met their death at his hands in cold blood, besides those slain in battle"—a wild estimate, no doubt, but significant of his contempt of life. Apart from this, his character was popular, and gave him the supreme command of men. Hospitable and generous, he held in Khorasan a court of great magnificence. Simple in respect of his harim, he was yet strangely jealous. The mule that brought this bride was slain and the saddle burnt, that none might ride again on it.


Story of Abu Nasr.

The story of Abu Nasr, whom Abu Muslim had left in charge of his camp at Holwan, is also worth recording. Al-Mansur­ desirous to have this able officer in his power, sent him a summons, as if from Abu Muslim, to come at once to him at Court with all his goods, and sealed it with his master's seal. But Abu Muslim had warned his friends not to hold any letter from him genuine unless it bore but half his seal. Detecting the deception thus, Abu Nasr fled to Hamadan. To calm suspicion, the Caliph then sent a patent appointing him governor of Shahrazor; but at the same time also a letter to the governor of Hamadan to take his life as he passed. The former first arrived, and so starting at once, Abu Nasr escaped the intended fate. At last, seeing no security anywhere, he sought the Caliph's presence, and confessing that he had advised his master to seek refuge in Khorasan, threw himself on his Sovereign's mercy, and promised faithful service. Al-Mansur let him go; and his clemency, as we shall see, had its reward.

Peace restored in Persia and Mesopotamia, 138 A.H. 756 A.D.

It was not for another year or two that peace was restored either in Mesopotamia or Persia. In the latter, a serious rising threatened the Empire under a singular leader, Sunbadh the Magian, who stepped forth as the avenger of Abu Muslim, and with a large following gained possession of the country from Ar-Reiy to Nisabur.1 A similar rebellion followed in Mesopotamia, where the Imperial forces were repeatedly defeated. In the following year, however, victory crowned the army of the Caliph, and peace was restored both there and in Persia.

The Caliph, relieved thus of all the dangers that had threatened him, might now have left his uncle 'Abdallah alone at Al-Basra; but hearing that he had, mistrusting his nephew, retired for safety into hiding, Al-Mansur sent to his uncles, Suleiman and 'Ali, command to bring him to Court. Relying on the solemn promise of full pardon, they brought him, and presented themselves before the Caliph. He

1 Whether the Magian counted Abu Muslim one of his followers, is not quite clear. There must apparently have been something more than mere regard for his memory. The rising was serious, as multitudes of women were carried off; and in the end 60,000 of his followers (so we are told) were killed, besides captives. He was two and a half months in the field.


Caliph imprisons his uncle 'Abdallah, end of 139 A.H. 757 A.D.

received them graciously, and engaged them in conversation, while his uncle 'Abdallah, who remained without, was carried off a prisoner to the castle. After a little while, he bade them go and rejoin 'Abdallah. Thus overreached, they returned angrily to expostulate, but were denied admittance. Their followers, enraged at the perfidy, would have offered resistance, but were disarmed, several put to death, and the rest sent to Khorasan, where they met the same fate. The wonder is that in so faithless, treacherous, and cruel a monarch, any confidence anywhere was left. The reason no doubt is that such shameless breach of faith was only practised when personal or dynastic danger threatened. Apart from this, as a whole, the administration of Al-Mansur was wise and just.

Fighting in Asia Minor, 138-139 A.H.

During 138 AH. Constantine waged war with the Syrian army, and took Malatia, destroying its fortifications. The following year it was retaken, repaired, and heavily garrisoned. The campaign is remarkable for the presence of two princesses, aunts of the Caliph, who joined the army in fulfilment of a vow taken some years before, that if Merwan fell they would serve in the holy war against the infidels. The Caliph now entered on an exchange of prisoners with the Emperor, and a truce of seven years was agreed to; for events at home had begun to occupy every resource at his disposal.

Pilgrimage, 140 A.H. 758 A.D.

In 140 A.H. the Caliph performed the yearly pilgrimage, visited Jerusalem, and made a progress through Syria and Mesopotamia. On his return a strange rising placed him in imminent personal danger. A Persian sect, called Rawendiya (from the name of their town), holding such doctrines as the immanence of divinity and transmigration of souls, visited the Court. The commandant of the body­guard, they held, was inhabited by the soul of Adam; another courtier by that of Gabriel, and so on; while the Caliph was the adumbration of Deity itself.

Rising of Rawendiya at Hashimiya, 141 A.H.

Surrounding the palace, they shouted, "It is the house of our Lord, he ­that giveth us food to eat and water to drink." The Caliph had 200 of their leaders imprisoned, which so enraged the rest that they stormed the prison and rioted all round. Al-Mansur ventured forth without an escort to quell the uproar; but the wild sectaries, no longer regarding him divine made


an onset, and had it not been for Abu Nasr (already mentioned) and an Umeiyad adherent—who thus secured courtly favour—both throwing themselves between the rioters and the Caliph's person, it would have gone hard with him. Troops fortunately came up at the moment, and the Rawendiya, on whom the people shut the city gates, were extirpated. The incident is important as showing that 'Abbasid rule was not identified with the extreme Shi'a.1

Mehdi's campaign in Khorasan, 141 A.H.

Soon after, the governor of Khorasan rebelled, and Al-Mansur sent ibn Khozeima, a general of note, to put the the outbreak down, and with him his own son and heir, Al-Mehdi, now about twenty years of age. On their approach, the rebel was attacked by his own people, who, mounting him back­ward on an ass, sent him thus to the Caliph. Both he and his followers were treated with horrid cruelty, and tortured till they gave up all they possessed. The hands and feet of the rebel governor were cut off; he was then beheaded, and his son sent in banishment to an island in the Red Sea.

And Tabaristan, 141-143 A.H. 758-760 A.D.

The Muslim arms were now directed against Tabaristan, of which the ruling Ispahend had cast off subordination to Islam. The campaign was prosperous. In the following year, however, the Prince again rebelled, and in his impregnable fortress defied attack. But a pretended deserter having ingratiated himself with him and gained his confidence, opened the gates to the Muslim force. The fortress taken thus, the fighting men were put to the sword, and their families made captive. Al-Mehdi chose two of the maidens for himself, and the Ispahend's daughter was taken by his uncle.2 The army then turned towards the Deilem; but here the insur­rection was so serious, that a fresh levy was ordered from Al-'Irak and Mosul, which was kept in the field all the following year. Meanwhile, Al-Mehdi returned to court and being now twenty-three years of age, married Rita, the

1 The Caliph could not find a horse to mount, till he picked up one on his way. Henceforth, a horse saddled and bridled was always kept at the gate.

2 Such slave-girls are only mentioned in connection with issue born to their masters, otherwise they were taken as the conquerors might fancy into their harims as a matter of course, and without any special notice by our historians.


only child of his uncle, the late Caliph. He then returned to Khorasan, where he remained for some time longer. The Caliph went this year, as he did several other times, to preside at the Meccan pilgrimage.

Mehdi returns, 144 A.H. 761 A.D., Mohammad and Ibrahim descendants of Hasan rebel, 144 A.H.

A new danger now threatened the dynasty. It was from a descendant of Al-Hasan grandson of 'Ali. The head of this family was 'Ali's great-grandson 'Abdallah, whose two sons Mohammad and Ibrahim had for some time held ambitious designs.1 Al-Mansur entertained suspicions against them ever since his first pilgrimage, when they failed to present themselves. As usual, he proceeded by stratagem. A creature of his, by feigned communications from Khorasan, where there ever was a strong faction for any scion of the house of 'Ali, gained their father 'Abdallah's confidence, and succeeded in so implicating him that with all the family he was cast into prison. The two sons, however, escaped to Aden and Sind, and returning secretly to Al-'Irak, now at Medina, now among the Bedawi tribes,—were hunted everywhere by the Caliph's emissaries. On his pilgrimage in the present year, Al-Mansur demanded of the father and relatives, who were still in prison, that they should deliver up the two sons now in hiding. Failing to do so, the family were carried off to Al-Kufa, and treated with shocking barbarity. The son of Ibrahim, a fine youth, was told by the cruel Al-Mansur that he would die a death worse than any he had ever heard of; and the tyrant was as good as his word, for he was built up alive into the prison wall.2 Of the rest, some were slain and some poisoned; but few were spared. The head of one was sent round Khorasan as that of Mohammad the elder brother, in the hope of disheartening the party there.

Rising at Medina and Basra, 145 A.H. 762 A.D.

These atrocities, followed by stringent measures for the discovery of Mohammad, then in hiding at Medina, precipitated his rebellion there, while his brother Ibrahim canvassed for him at Al-Basra. At Medina, the city rose, the governor was cast into prison, and the adminis­tration proclaimed in the name of Mohammad, around whom rallied the great body of the citizens, though many

1 See table, p. 385. This Mohammad is the one with whom Ibn Hubeira tried to communicate when besieged in Wasit. Above, p. 440n.

2 I give the story as I find it, though hardly credible.


held back from fear of the Caliph. On tidings reaching the Court,1 Al-Mansur was much concerned, for, although 'Alid disturbances had hitherto been mainly on the side of Al-Hosein's descendants, the position and claims of the house of Al-Hasan ('Ali's elder son) were, to say the least, not inferior.

Correspondence between Caliph and Mohammad.

He at once addressed to Mohammad a despatch, in which, after various threats, he offered pardon and ample maintenance to the whole family. The Pretender sent an indignant answer; it was rather for him, he said, to offer pardon to Al-Mansur, who had usurped the rights of the progeny of 'Ali by Fatima the Prophet's daughter, in virtue of whom alone the Hashimi cause had any ground whatever to stand upon. And, even so, what trust could be placed on the word of one who had so flagrantly broken it already with Ibn Hubeira, Abu Muslim, and his own uncle? The Caliph replied in a despatch of weary length, in which, dwelling on the inferiority of woman, he scorned the claim of Fatima and of female descent in general, and extolled the 'Abbasids as the male, and therefore ruling, line of the Prophet's house.2

Nothing gained by argument, Al-Mansur had recourse to the sword. He was the more alarmed as it had become a popular cry at Al-Kufa, that "Khorasan was with the 'Abbasids, Al-'Irak with the 'Alids, and Syria with the infidels who would readily follow any rebel." In fact, however, the emissaries of Mohammad found no support in Syria where after so much suffering, the people were glad to be at rest; and his chief following was at Mecca, Medina, and Al-Basra.

’Isa discomfits Mohammad at Medina, 145 A.H. 762 A.D.

Against Medina, the present centre of rebellion, the Caliph now sent his nephew 'Isa, with a Syrian army. And it is characteristic of his treacherous instincts that he told a familiar he would be equally pleased whichever fell, Mohammad or 'Isa, whom he was now scheming to supplant as heir-apparent, in

1 The messenger was nine days on the road, and received from the Caliph 9000 dirhems, i.e. 1000 for each day.

2 A very lengthy and curious document it is, elaborately reviewing the history of the house: e.g. Fatima's not inheriting the property of her father, 'Ali not succeeding till after three other Caliphs, the insignificant part taken by 'Ali's family in the rôle of Islam, etc. It is very unlike a document written under the circumstances, and probably a bit of servile pleading to please the 'Abbasids.


favour of his own son Al-Mehdi. Apart from the prevailing sentiment of sacrilege in fighting against a descendant of Mohammad, 'Isa had no very difficult task. Mohammad, following the example of the Prophet, set himself to digging a trench about the city: but on the approach of 'Isa, the inhabitants fled in crowds, and Mohammad was left with but a small body of faithful followers.

14 ix. 145 A.H.

Rejecting an amnesty, he girded on him the Prophet's sword, Dhu'l-Fakar,1 and went forth to fight, but fell pierced by an arrow. His head, sent to the Caliph, was paraded about Al-Kufa and other cities. He is commonly known by the Puritan name of Pure Soul. At Medina, the bodies of the slain were hung up along the Syrian road for three days, when they were cast into the Jewish burying-ground; but at the intercession of his sister, that of Mohammad was buried in the ancient graveyard of the Baki'.2

Rising of slaves.

Medina suffered severely in consequence of the rebellion. The Syrian troops were so overbearing that the slaves rose en masse; the governor had to fly; and it was only the fear that Al-Mansur would utterly destroy the city, that led the insurgents to call him back. The hands of the leaders were cut off, and peace at last restored. To mark his displeasure, the Caliph stopped the supplies on which the city depended by sea, and the embargo was not removed till the accession of his son.3

Ibrahim continues the rebellion at Basra

A still graver danger threatened from Al-Basra. There, Ibrahim, after canvassing in secret, had already raised the standard of rebellion in his brother's name. Ever inclined to insurrection, Al-Basra now with ardour embraced the cause; and numbers of the learned,—amongst them the great doctor, Malik ibn Anas,4—gave in their adhesion to it. The Imperial troops were defeated, the palace stormed, and the treasure distributed amongst Ibrahim's supporters. Fars, Al-Ahwaz, and Wasit were occupied by the rebels, and other places where the cause was rife. On receiving tidings of his brother's death, Ibrahim set up on his own account, and

1 Life of Mohammad, p. 229.

2 Ibid., p. 199

3 Supplied from Egypt since the reign of Omar. Above, p. 164.

4 Founder of one of the four great schools of Muslim jurisprudence — the Maliki.


started for Al-Kufa, where he had expectations of a general rising. Though here and elsewhere he had 100,000 on his roll, he was followed now but by 10,000.

Kufa rises.

Nevertheless the crisis was sufficiently grave to alarm the Caliph. He was at the moment laying out the new capital of Bagdad; but on receiving tidings of Ibrahim's advance, he hastily retired to Al-Kufa, where the populace were ready to break out and join the descendant of "their own Caliph 'Ali." The troops were all away in Persia, Africa, and Arabia and but a small garrison left at headquarters. News kept coming in of defection all around, while at Al-Kufa "100,000 of the Kufa rabble were ready to rush against the Caliph with their swords."

Mansur alarmed.

In the utmost distress Al-Mansur swore that if he got over the crisis, he would never leave the Capital with less than 30,000 men. For seven weeks he kept curtained in his closet, sleeping on his carpet of prayer, and never once changing dress but for his black robes at Public prayer. Two damsels were sent as a gift to him: "They will feel slighted," his attendant said, "if thou wilt not go in unto them." "That I will not," he answered, "it is no day for women this: I will not go in unto any maiden, until I see at my feet the head of Ibrahim,—or mine be cast at his." At last the tide turned. Al-Mehdi sent troops from Ar-Reiy which put down the rising in Fars and Al-Ahwaz, while 'Isa hastened from Medina to anticipate Ibrahim's attack on Al-Kufa. The two armies encountered each other sixteen leagues from the city. The vanguard of 'Isa's army at first beaten back, carried part of the main body with it, and for the moment, the 'Alid banner seemed in the ascendant;

Ibrahim defeated and slain, 24 xi. 145 A.H.

but shortly after Ibrahim was shot by an arrow, and his army fled. He is commonly known as the Slain of Bakhamra (the scene of the battle). Thus after holding the Empire for three months in terror the 'Alid rebellion came to a close.

Mansur's joy of the intelligence.

At the first tidings of 'Isa's army giving way, the heart of Al-Mansur failed, and he was on the point of flying to his son at Ar-Reiy. Correspondingly his joy was unbounded when the head of Ibrahim was cast at his feet. "It was like the delight," he said (quoting from the poet), "of the thirsty wayfarer coming on a living stream." But, before the world, he veiled his joy; and as in public he took the gory


head of the rebel in his hands, he wept and spake well of him. His indignation fell terribly upon the city which had supported the claims of the pretender. Not only were houses confiscated and demolished, but, what was a more lasting calamity, the date-groves all around Medina were cut down.

Bagdad founded, 145 A.H. 762 A.D.

When this cloud had passed away, Al-Mansur returned to the site of his new capital, Bagdad, whose foundations had been laid in the previous year. It was the danger he was exposed to from the onset of the Rawendiya that first convinced him of the need of a more secure Court residence. The royal residence at Hashimiya was too near the fickle and restless Kufa, the disloyal factions of which and Al-­Basra might sap the faithfulness of his guardsmen. Searching as far as Mosul for a likely spot, he found one on the right bank of the Tigris, some fifteen miles above Al-Medain, mentioned in the wars of Al-Muthanna as "old Bagdad."1 A monastery was near, and the Patriarch and Monks spoke well of the climate, water, and surroundings. Here, accordingly, Al-Mansur resolved to found the new Capital of Islam. The lines of the city wall and chief places were dug,2 vast stores of material collected, bricks burned, and artificers summoned from all parts of the Empire. The first brick was laid by the Caliph's own hand with these words,—"In the name of the Lord! praise belongeth unto Him and the earth is His: He causeth such of his servants as He pleaseth to inherit the same. Success attend the pious! Now, with the blessing of the Lord, build on!" The walls were but a few feet high when news of Ibrahim's rebellion made the Caliph hasten back to Al-Kufa; and the intendant left in charge, fearing lest the mass of stores should fall into the enemy's hands, set them on fire, much to his master's disappointment.

146 A.H. 763 A.D.

No sooner was Ibrahim discomfited, than Al-Mansur returned to the work. Khalid the Barmeki, now put in charge, remonstrated against the demolition of Al-­Medain, with its ancient memories of Seleucia and Ctesiphon, to provide material for the new Capital. "The great Iwan

1 p. 89.

2 As a perpetual evidence of the city lines, burnt cotton rags mingled with sand were buried in the foundations; a mode familiar in the East, as the rain causes the cotton ash indelibly to stain the soil all round.


of the Chosroes," he argued, "is one of the wonders of the world; and there, too, 'Ali had his place of prayer." "Ah!" replied the unconvinced Caliph, "it is not but thine old love for the Persians!" The noble arch, however, hard as iron, withstood the pick-axe. "Now," said Khalid, "I advised thee against it; but as thou hast begun, go on, lest men should upbraid thee, saying that the Caliph began but could not pull down that which another had built up!" So the work went on; but it was of no use. And there on the river's left bank still stands the grand monument in majesty, while all around is now a bare and sandy plain. For the portals, Al-Kufa, Wasit, and even Damascus were robbed of their iron gates. The walls were built in a circle so that none of the courtiers might be far from the palace, which with the Great Mosque lay in the centre; while the bazaars were thrust outside.1

Bagdad as a military position.

Lying on the west bank of the Tigris, with deep canals in rear, and ready access to the Persian Gulf,&151;as well as to Arabia, Syria, Armenia, and the East,—Bagdad, besides holding Al-Kufa, Wasit, and Al-Basra, in immediate check was admirably situated as the heart of the Empire. The eastern shore, more open to attack, was provided with accommodation for a large force, which was thus further cut off from the heated influence of Al-Kufa and Al-Basra. Separate cantonments were here also planted for the Yemen and for the Modar clans, as well as for the Khorasan levies. While there was safety in the diverse interests of the three it was to the Khorasan levies that Al-Mansur mainly looked for his own protection; and also as a countervailing power to lower the pretensions of the Arab soldiery, who still lorded it over the nations as the flower and chivalry of Islam; and in this unwise design the 'Abbasids (as already noticed) too soon succeeded, and too well.

Rustafa, 151 A.H. 769 A.D.

A few years later, a palace was built also on the eastern bank for Al-Mehdi,

1 The iron gates from Wasit were cast by Al-Hajjaj, and those of Al-Kufa by Khalid ibn 'Abdallah. The Greek ambassador having been taken round the city, said: "It is beautiful: but thine enemies are with thee in the market-places." Whereupon the Caliph had all the bazaars removed outside towards Karkh, saying that they invited attack for plunder, and gave also lodgment for spies. The initial cost was about £200,000. An overseer (ustadh) got every day a kirat of silver, and the common labourer two pence (habbas).


called Ar-Rusafa, and there, on his return from Khorasan, he welcomed and fêted his friends and kinsmen.

Rafika and other defenses.

It was hardly in the mind of Al-Mansur that his new Capital should become the grand and populous emporium which it speedily did. Rather, he founded it purely for his Court as a strong military position, and enjoined it on his son not to permit the growth of any suburbs, especially on the left bank. The same policy led him to establish on the upper reaches of the Euphrates a strong citadel close to Ar-Rakka, which he called the Rafika (Companion) and garrisoned with Khorasanis. He is said to have attributed (and with reason) the sudden fall of Merwan to his having had no such stronghold to fly to after his defeat on the Zab, and hence to have spent the more pains in this direction. The defences of Al-Kufa and Al-Basra were also strengthened.1

Mehdi appointed heir-apparent, 147 A.H. 764 A.D.

In the eleventh year of his reign, Al-Mansur resolved on a project long in his mind of making his son Al-Mehdi, now twenty-five years of age, heir-apparent in place of 'Isa. On his nephew refusing, Al-Mansur was much displeased, degraded him from the seat of honour on his right, and treated him with contumely. Failing in his endeavours, he told 'Isa that he knew it was for his son Musa he was desirous of the succession; on which some of the courtiers set upon Musa as if to strangle him; and 'Isa, alarmed at his cries, thereupon consented that Al-Mehdi should precede him as heir-apparent.2

But Al-Mansur hated 'Isa the more, and contrived a

1 Both cities were assessed with a poll-tax to defray the expense, for which purpose Al-Mansur resorted to a characteristic device. He first distributed a largess of five dirhems to all comers then taking the numbers of the recipients, he assessed each at forty dirhems. A squib was in everyone's mouth:—

"Mark, my friends, the Caliph's bounty,
He gives us five, and then takes forty."

This device has been used more than once.

2 The Caliph is even said to have given 'Isa a poisonous drink, from which, however, retiring for a while to his government at Al-Kufa, he recovered. Another story is that the Caliph got Khalid the Barmeki to suborn witnesses who swore that 'Isa had resigned his right. Such traitorous traditions, right or wrong, show what a wretched character for deception Al-Mansur bore, which allowed them to get abroad.


Caliph's double plot against 'Isa and 'Abdallah, 147 A.H. 764 A.D.

plot,—more cruel and cunning than can well be conceived,—to be rid at once of him and of his uncle 'Abdallah, who still lingered on in prison. He made 'Abdallah over to 'Isa, with the private command to put him to death, while he himself was away on pilgrimage to Mecca. When thus absent, he wrote asking whether the order had been carried out, and was assured that it had. But 'Isa here told an untruth; he had not put his uncle to death. By advice of his secretary, who suspected treachery, he had only put him away in hiding. And so it turned out. For on the Caliph's return, the friends of 'Abdallah were set up to beg for his pardon. This the Caliph granted, and 'Isa was bidden to make 'Abdallah over to them. "Didst thou not bid me put him to death?" said 'Isa; "and I have done as thou badest me." "Thou liest," replied the Caliph; and he made 'Isa over to 'Abdallah's brethren to wreak their vengeance on. But as they were carrying him off, 'Isa upbraided the Caliph; "Thou commandedst me to put him to death, that thou mightest be rid both of him and me; but here he is alive;" and forthwith 'Abdallah was brought out, to the mortification of the Caliph. It was, however, of little avail; for 'Abdallah was cast into a cellar with a damp and deadly saline floor, and so at last expiated his rebellion by a virtually violent death.

'Isa deposed.

'Isa in disgrace was deposed from the government of Al- Kufa, which he had for thirteen years ably administered.


Turning now to the dependencies of the Empire, we note that Spain was during this reign finally detached from the eastern Caliphate. Even under the former dynasty it had got much out of hand. In a long intestine struggle, Modar had at last triumphed over the Yemen faction, and set up Yusuf as ruler.

’Abd ar-Rahman escaping from Syria,

A son of the Umeiyads was now to take the throne. This was 'Abd ar-Rahman, grandson of Hisham. He had escaped the massacre of his house in Palestine, and we have a touching story of his flight and wanderings. Hiding in a village by the Euphrates, his little boy rushed to him with the terrified cry, "The black flags! the black flags coming!" 'Abd ar-­Rahman got off with a cousin of thirteen and swam the river; the lad, unable to stem the tide, turned back on the cry of an amnesty, but was put to death by the cruel soldiers. Hiding in the forest by day, and journeying


stealthily by night, 'Abd ar-Rahman at last reached Africa where he was joined by his sister, and a faithful servant Bedr with the family jewels. He narrowly escaped the governor of Africa, father of Yusuf, and reaching the western coast, succeeded in sending Bedr across the sea to tell the Umeiyad adherents of his arrival.

Lands in Spain, iii. 138 A.H. Sept., 755 A.D.

These sent a ship for him, and he landed in Spain early in 138 A.H. With the help of the Yemenis, who rallied enthusiastically round him, he entered in triumph the palace of Cordova. The whole Peninsula was against the 'Abbasids. As Syrians they favoured the Umeiyads. The Khawarij, a numerous faction, who would have preferred an 'Alid to the 'Abbasid branch of the Hashimi house, made no opposition.

Umeiyad Caliphate in Spain.

And so the Spanish nation, weary of discord, after several ineffectual risings, fell under the unquestioned sway of 'Abd ar-Rahman. The Caliph of Bagdad, indeed, once and again sought to gain a footing by his emissaries. Failing in his endeavours, he sent an embassy to King Pepin, which, after remaining several years at the Gallic court, came back with a deputation from the Franks. These eventually returned to Europe laden with rich Oriental gifts. Nothing, however, came of the negotiation, exceptin­g, perhaps, that apprehension of attack from the Christian monarch may have forestalled any hostile intention of 'Abd ar-Rahman against the Caliph of Bagdad. The 'Abbasid suffered the Umeiyad to remain in peace; and so Spain henceforward falls altogether out of view.


Africa, though for a time, unlike Spain, independent neither in name nor in fact, was for the greater part of this reign almost equally out of hand. Both Berbers aud Arabs, leaning towards the Khariji heresy, disowned the 'Abbasid succession. Over and again generals were sent to fight against them, but with little success. Among these was Aghlab, father of the founder of the dynasty of that name; he was killed near Tunis, where his grave was honoured as a martyr's. Kairawan was repeatedly taken and retaken.

155 A.H.

Rebellion ruled till near the close of his reign, when the Caliph, now relieved of his other adversaries, was able to send a great army which for the time restored 'Abbasid authority over the entire country.


There were troubles also at different times elsewhere, but not such as seriously to threaten the Empire.

Armenia, 145 A.H.

In Armenia, the Khazar hordes issuing from their passes, made great havoc, and carried away multitudes of men and women as prisoners. An army sent to punish them was cut to pieces; Tiflis was taken, and Armenia remained long in revolt.

Rising at Herat, 150 A.H.,

In the East, a serious rebellion was led by the ruler of Herat, Ustadh Sis, who set up as a prophet and, followed by an immense army, possessed himself of great part of Khorasan and Sijistan. Beating the Imperial troops, he carried everything before him, till he was over­come by the tactics of Ibn Khozeima who, after great slaughter in the field, put 14,000 prisoners to the sword.1 The rebel fled; but afterwards gave himself up, and with the remainder of his followers was spared. It is said that it was a daughter of this chief who became the mothcr of the Caliph Al-Ma'mun.2

and Mosul,148 A.H.

Another rising took place, about the middle of this reign, in the country round about Mosul. It caused the greater alarm, because a strong ‘Alid feeling prevailed in Hamadan, from whence the revolt was led. The rebels, supported by the Kurds, spread over Persia and reached as far as Sind. They were eventually put down; but Al-Mansur was so incensed against Mosul, that he thought of utterly demolishing it; and was only dissuaded by the advice of the great doctor Abu Hanifa, who declared the project opposed to the law of Islam.3

Khalid the Barmeki governor of Mosul.

The riots in Mosul led to Khalid the Barmeki being promoted to the command of that city, with which is connected a curious episode. For some cause, the Caliph had demanded of him a penalty of three millions, to be made good in three days (so the tale runs) on pain of his life. His son Yahya begged all round of his friends, but on the third day there was still short a tenth of the sum, when fortunately the alarming news from Mosul led to the

1 The numbers are no doubt exaggerated. The rebel's army is put at 300,000, of whom 70,000 fell in the battle, besides the prisoners slain.

2 Ibn al-Athir, v. 452; but Tabari does not say so.

3 The opinion is not embodied in very edifying language. It is to the effect that a woman who has gone astray is not on that ground open to outrage; neither was Mosul. Abu Hanifa died two years later.


choice of Khalid for the post. The Caliph started with him at once, as if for Ar-Rakka on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem; then turning suddenly north, he arrived at Mosul unexpected, and so taking the Governor unawares, deposed him and installed Khalid in his room. Khalid's administration, severe, but tempered with kindness, was much appreciated, and he remained there till the Caliph's death. His son, Yahya, at the same time was appointed to Azerbijan. At Ar-Reiy there was born to Yahya a son named Al-Fadl, simultaneously with Al-Mehdi's son Harun, whose foster-brother he was.1

Abu Ja'far's son at Mosul.

A romantic tale of the early life of Al-Mansur, while a refugee at Mosul, illustrates at once his character and the manners of the age. While in concealment in the city he married an Arab maiden. Leaving her with child, he gave her a document which he bade her present at Court whenever the family should come to power. In due time, the lady's son, Ja'far by name, went to Bagdad, and became secretary to Abu Eiyub, the Wazir. In that capacity he served the Caliph as a scribe, who took a liking for him, found out his history, and saw the note he had left with his mother. Accordingly he despatched the youth to Mosul, bidding him bring his mother to Bagdad. But Abu Eiyub, who was now jealous of the favourite, sent men to assassinate him on the road. Days passed, and getting no tidings, the Caliph set on foot a search for Ja'far.

Wazir put to death for his murder, 153-154 A.H.

The facts transpired; and the crime brought home to the Wazir, he was not only put to the death he deserved, but the same fate was meted out to his brother and nephews, who were also executed with barbarous cruelty.2

Asia Minor, 158 A.H.

The last few years of the Caliph's reign were free from anxiety, domestic or foreign. In a raid on Laodicaea, 6000

1 The demand from a faithful servant of three millions on pain of death, seems almost incredible; but it is chronicled without any expression of surprise, nor is any imputation of embezzlement mentioned. It is curious that Ibn al-Athir repeats the incident under the year 158 A.H., just before the Caliph’s death; but no doubt the earlier date is the right one.

2 Their hands and feet were cut off while still alive. It is possible, but not so stated, that they also may have been implicated in the crime.


women and children were taken captive. Shortly after, the Emperor asked for peace and submitted to the pay­ment of a yearly tribute.

Illness and pilgrimage of Caliph, 158 A.H.

Towards the close of 158 A.H., Al-Mansur, who had already gone several times on pilgrimage, prepared to assist at the annual ceremonial. On the road to Al-Kufa, he fell sick, and rested in a castle by the way with his son Al-Mehdi, to whom, apprehending that his end was near, he gave much wholesome advice on the obligations that would devolve upon him. He warned him against allowing Bagdad to spread on the eastern bank; bade him return to their owners various properties he had unjustly confiscated. "It will make thee liked," he said, "and will strengthen thy hands: and see," he added, "that thou make much of the men of Khorasan, for they verily have expended their lives and means on our behalf." After several days thus passed, he bade his son a sorrowful farewell, and proceeded onwards. As he journeyed, the illness increased, and he said to his servants:—"Haste thee with thy master, who now fleeth from his sins, unto the sacred territory of his Lord!"

His death; end of 158 A.H. Oct., 775 A.D.

While yet three miles from Mecca he died in his camp, and was buried in the Holy City.1 He reigned nearly twenty-two years, and was aged about sixty-five. He had issue by three wives: and also by three slave-girls, of whom one was a Kurd, and one a Greek.

Character of Mansur.

If we could forget his perfidy in compassing the death of such as he feared and hated, our estimate of Al-Mansur would be very different. As a Muslim, his life was religious and exemplary. Nothing profane or unseemly was ever seen at his Court. He was diligent in the business of the State, to which he devoted the first part of every day: the afternoon he spent with his family: and again, after evening prayer, he heard the despatches of the day and took counsel with his ministers, retiring late to rest and rising with the dayspring for morning prayer. The army was fitted throughout with improved weapons and armour; and the minister employed in this department relates that he was worked so hard by the Caliph that, though he began with

1 One hundred graves were dug about the city; but he was buried in another, that no enemy might know and desecrate the spot.



intellectual life in subsequent reigns. And all this is mainly due to the encouragement given to the people of Khorasan and Persia, as well as in some degree also to the more liberal intercourse now growing up with the Grecian Empire in the present reign.1

1 On the Caliphate of Al-Mansur see Nöldeke, Sketches of Eastern History, p. 107 ff.

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