158-169 A.H.   /   775-785 A.H.

Mehdi 158 A.H. 775 A.D.

THE ten years' reign of Al-Mehdi, who immediately succeeded his father Al-Mansur, is mainly noticeable as a mean between the rough and vigorous rule of the first 'Abbasids, and the palmy days which followed a kind of preparation, as it were. Al-Mehdi was by nature mild and generous. He inaugurated his accession by opening the prison doors to all but the worst and most dangerous class of felons.

Favourable reign.

The treasure accumulated by his father gave ample means for profuse liberality. He enlarged and beautified the Mosques of the Holy Cities, and of the capital towns elsewhere.1 The pilgrim caravanserais, provided now with fountains and establishments, were made commodious and secure. The postal service, accelerated on mules and camels, was greatly developed. Imperial agents,2 located at the provincial centres, kept the Court informed of the progress of public affairs, which throughout the Empire were administered, upon the whole, with justice and moderation. Cities were put in good defence; and especially Ar-Rusafa, the eastern suburb of Bagdad. The Capital became already an emporium of trade with all parts of the world.

Growing laxity of manners.

Music, poetry, literature, and philosophy refined the age; while the example of the Court, both as to wine and the fair sex, tended to laxity of manners.


Princely progresses were repeatedly made by Al-Mehdi with his Court to Jerusalem and the Holy Cities, the cavalcade being supplied with ice

1 Ibn al-Athir (630 A.H.) tells us that he saw in the court of the Mosque of Mosul a slab with an inscription ascribing its extension to Al-Mehdi.

2 Such an officer is called an amin.


from the mountains, all the way to Mecca. There he clothed the poor and distributed among the citizens largesses of almost fabulous amount. The coverings of the Ka'ba sent yearly by the Caliphs had hitherto been left draped one over the other; and, being of rich brocade, they had latterly become so weighty as to endanger the edifice. These were now removed, and their place supplied by the single covering sent every year by Al-Mehdi—a precedent followed by succeeding Caliphs. He also repaired the waymarks, inns, and wells on the pilgrims' road.

Guard of Medina men.

Five hundred Ansar, or citizens of Medina, now followed the Caliph, as an Imperial guard, to Bagdad, where lands were assigned for their support;—a wise measure, which if maintained might have checked the insolent and dangerous pretensions of the Turkish soldiery at Court; but the practice must have been given up, for we hear no more of these Medina men.

There was, however, another side to the administration of Al-Mehdi, marked occasionally by outbursts of hideous cruelty.1

Cruel treatment of a rebel, 160 A.H.,

Early in his reign a dangerous rebellion was raised by one Yusuf in Khorasan. He was taken prisoner, carried with his comrades, face backwards, on a camel, and this brought into Ar-Rusafa. There the Caliph had the rebel's hands and feet cut off, and then he was, with all his fellows, decapitated.

and of his Wazir,

The case of Ya'kub, his Wazir, is also illustrative of the life at Court. He had been previously arraigned as an adherent of the house of 'Ali, and, as such imprisoned by Al-Mansur. Released by Al-Mehdi, he became his favourite, the boon companion of nightly revels, and minister of unbounded power throughout the Empire. His prosperity at last raised enemies, who poisoned the ear of the Caliph against him as if he were still devoted to the 'Alid faction. To test his loyalty, Al-Mehdi had recourse to stratagem. Invited to spend the evening in a beautiful garden, Ya'kub found the Caliph seated in the company of a slave-girl of surpassing charms. The minister was overpowered by the

1 Weil extenuates such barbarities by the prevailing contempt of life amongst Mohammadans of the day, and the consequent necessity for adding pains and penalties to simple death; also by the statute of the Kor'an for punishing robbers with the loss of limb. But the extenuation is altogether inadequate. [The practice is forbidden in a traditional saying of the Prophet.]


enchanting scene. "Ah!" said the Caliph, "it is indeed a paradise of delights; and I will give all to thee, and this damsel with it, if thou wilt rid me of that 'Alid"—naming one he had doomed to death. Ya'kub embraced the offer with transport, and became at once the happy master of the fairy scene. The 'Alid was at once summoned to his fate; but he pleaded his case so warmly that Ya'kub was softened, and bade him fly the place. The maiden, curtained close by, having heard it all, let the Caliph know. And so, when Ya'kub assured his master that he had carried out his wish, the truth came to light, and Ya'kub was cast into a pitch­-dark prison, where he remained so long that he lost his sight.1

and of a minister's son.

Another minister, who had faithfully attended Al-Mehdi throughout the campaigns in Khorasan, incurred the resentment of a courtier named Ar-Rabi', who, finding no other ground of escape, accused his rival's son of being a Manichaean heretic. The Caliph called the son, and examining him on the Kor'an, found him ignorant of its contents, and thereupon judging the imputation proved, had him beheaded. The father was deposed, and Ar-Rabi' succeeded to his office.

Persecution of Manichaeans.

Hatred of the Zanadika, or Manichaean sectaries, indeed, and their cruel persecution, is one of the chief traits of ­Al-Mehdi's life, and of his son Al-Hadi's short reign. During the stay of Al-Mehdi in Khorasan, he had imbibed an intense abhorrence of their tenets, which not only contravened Islam, but loosened the bonds of social and domestic morals. Suspicion whispered into the Caliph's ready ear led often without trial to a fatal end. Thus a blind poet, ninety years of age, was arraigned by enemies, smarting under his satires, on charge of this heresy, and notwith­standing his poems being free of the taint, put to death. At Aleppo, on his way to Syria, Al-Mehdi had a gathering of Manichaeans hunted out from all that neighborhood.

1 Ya'kub relates that after he had remained in utter darkness, he knew not how many years, he was summoned to the presence, and desired to make obeisance to the Caliph, who asked, "Knowest thou who I am?" Surely it is Al-Mehdi," he replied. "Ah," said the Caliph, "he has long ago been dead." "Then Al-Hadi." "He too is dead" "Then Harun." "That I am," answered the Caliph, who thereupon granted his request of permission to retire to Mecca.


They were all beheaded, and their bodies cut in pieces.

Inquisition, 167 A.H.

Thereafter he established a department of State with a minister (Sahib az-Zanadika) whose duty it was to put down the heresy,—a kind of inquisition; and accordingly we read in the following year of "a great multitude" being apprehended as heretics and put to death.

Mokanna' claims divine honours is Central Asia, 158-161 A.H.

Another strange but ephemeral heresy gave trouble beyond the Oxus. It was led by a fanatic, who, from masking his ill-favoured countenance, was called Al-Mokanna', "the Veiled " prophet of Khorasan of Moore's Lalla Rookh. He taught the immanence of the Deity in Adam, in Abu Muslim, and lastly in himself. Vast multitudes of Turks, as well as Muslims, followed and worshipped him as god. For four years, in Bokhara and surrounding provinces, they beat back column after column of the Muslim troops. At last fortune turned against the impostor, who, deserted by the rest, found refuge with 2000 of his followers in a fort. Then reduced to straits, he either poisoned himself and his family, or set fire to the place, and calling on his women and all who would ascend heavenward with him, to follow his example, cast himself with them into the flames, and perished. The report of this scene gave fresh impulse to the sect, and though practised secretly, long time passed before it died out in the East.

War in Asia Minor, 159-162 A.H. 775-778 A.D.

War was waged with Greece throughout the greater part of the reign. Inroads into Asia Minor as far as Ancyra, led to reprisals by Michael,1 who ravaged the Syrian border and inflicted a serious defeat on the Muslim arms. To avenge the injury, Al-Mehdi marshalled an army of 100,000 men, and with it crossed the Euphrates to Aleppo.

Campaign of Harun to the Bosphorous, 156 A.H.

Thence he sent forward in command his son Harun, though hardly yet twenty years of age; who, accompanied by Khalid the Barmeki as guardian, and supported by able generals, made a victorious march along the coast as far as the Bosphorus. There the regent, Queen Irene, was obliged, on payment of heavy ransom, to conclude a peace, and, moreover, to provide for the safe

1 Lachonodrakon. It is illustrative of the Caliph's arbitrary rule that on one of the generals retiring before Michael's superior force (164 A.H.), he was on the point of punishing him by death: but on the intercession of his friends cast him instead into prison.


return to the frontier of Harun, who had got entangled in defiles. The spoil was immense, and the number slain incredible1.

Spain, 161-163 A.H.

It is interesting to note that in the early part of this reign, a descent from Africa made with the object of restoring Spain to the Caliphate ended in disaster; and that, on the other hand, the "Ruler" of Spain2 had in preparation an expedition against the 'Abbasids in Syria, which he was hindered from carrying out by troubles at home.

India, 160 A.H.

There were expeditions in other quarters, but none requiring notice, excepting perhaps that to India, which stormed the city of Barbad, and burned the image of the Buddha with a company of its worshippers. But the end was disastrous: the army lost 1000 men by a "mouth disease," and the fleet was wrecked by a storm on the Persian shore.

Mehdi marries Kheizuran 159 A.H.

Shortly after his accession, Al-Mehdi gave her freedom to Kheizuran, the mother of his sons Musa and Harun, whose influence over him even in affairs of state was great, and then married her. The unfortunate 'Isa, whom Al-Mansur had forced to postpone his claim to that of Al-Mehdi, was now compelled altogether to relinquish his title to the throne,—a claim which he had now held for three-and-twenty years; and Musa, now surnamed Al-Hadi (the Guide),

Hadi heir-apparent 160 A.H. and Harun 166 A.H.

­was proclaimed heir-apparent. With Harun, the younger son, his father was so pleased after the expedition to the Bosphorus, that he placed him, though still quite a youth, in charge of all the Western provinces including Azerbijan, and two years later proclaimed him, under the title of Rashid (the Upright3), second in succession. But Harun was so much the favourite of his mother, and was also so preferred by his father, that he went a step further, and a year or two after called on Al-Hadi to waive his claim of precedence in his brother's favour. Al-Hadi, at the time prosecuting a campaign in Jurjan, naturally resisted the demand, and treated contumeliously a second messenger summoning him to Bagdad. Al-Mehdi thereupon, accom­panied by Harun, set out with an army to reduce his

1 54,000 Greeks slain; 5000 taken prisoners, of whom 2090 were "executed in cold blood"; 20,000 cattle driven off, and 100,000 slain.

2 He is called simply the Umeiyad Sahib (ruler) of Spain.

3 Or "rightly directed." Pronounced Harun ar-Rashid.


contumacious son, but died on the way from eating a poisoned pear intended by one of his slave-girls for a favored rival.1

Mehdi's death 22 i. 169 Aug. 4, 785 A.D.

He was buried on the spot, aged forty-three, in the beginning of the year 169 A.H., Harun performing the service over the bier.

Character of Mehdi.

Little more need be said of the character of Al-Mehdi. His administration was upon the whole such as to promote the welfare of the Nation, and usher in the brilliant era that followed; but his life was stained by many acts of tyranny and cruelty, nor was it altogether even in private such as a rigid Mohammadan would approve.

Attachment to Kheizuran and a favorite daughter.

Naturally soft and amiable, he maintained unabated to the end his attachment to Kheizuran. It is also told of him that he so doted on his young daughter Yakuta (the "Ruby"), that he could not let her out of his sight even when in public; and so, dressed in male attire, she used to ride out by his side. He was disconsolate when she died a year before him; but in the end was comforted by the condolence of his friends.

1 Another account is that out hunting his horse rushed after the hounds and game into a ruin, and that, struck by the lintel, he was killed. But this is hardly consistent with the mystery that plainly surrounded his death, of which the army accompanying him only knew on their return to Bagdad.

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