169-193 A.H.   /   785-809 A.D.

Hadi, 169 A.H. 785 A.D.

HARUN wisely recognised the succession of his brother Al-Hadi, and at once despatched to him in Jurjan the imperial seal and sceptre. The army that had accompanied his father was dismissed to Bagdad, where it broke out into mutiny, stormed the Wazir's house, and demanded largess. Kheizuran summoned the Wazir and Yahya son of Khalid the Barmeki; but the latter, knowing Al-Hadi's jealousy of his mother, took upon him, without waiting on her, to satisfy the troops by a two years' grant. The Wazir, who obeyed her call, nearly forfeited his life for doing so; but by the offer of large gifts regained the Caliph's favor.

'Alid rising at Medina

In the short reign of Al-Hadi few events occur of interest outside the Capital. There was a Khariji rising in Mesopotamia; and also an 'Alid, in Mecca and Medina. Strange to say, this last arose from the intemperance of some members of the saintly house of 'Ali, who for drinking wine were paraded with halters about their necks in the streets of the Holy Cities. The family thereupon broke out into rebellion, and some hard fighting was needed before peace could be restored.

Idris escapes to Africa.

Among those who escaped was Idris, a brother of the Pure Soul and the Slain of Bakhamra. Aided by postal relays, he made his escape from the battlefield of Fakh near Mecca, through Egypt to Tangier, where he was welcomed by the Berbers, and laid the foundation of the Idrisid dynasty. The postmaster of Egypt was beheaded for having connived at his flight.1

1 Some authorities lay this at the door of Harun, and Weil charges it against that Caliph as one of his cruel acts.


Hadi resents interference of Kheizuran

Though Al-Hadi resembled his father in most things, in one he differed, for he would not allow Kheizuran to have any hand in the affairs of State. Accustomed as that lady had been to crowds of suitors seeking influence with her husband, when she attempted the like with her son, he bade her mind her own concerns, withdrew her escort, and forbade the courtiers to wait upon her.1 The proud woman smarted under the insult, and watched the opportunity for revenge.

His cruel treatment of heretics.

In his treatment of the Manichaeans, Al-Hadi followed too closely at once the counsel and example of his father. Strange to say, there were amongst these heretics several of Hashimi descent, whom Al-Mehdi, having sworn never to take the life of any of his own house, left to his son with the fatal injunction to put them all to death. How this pestilent heresy found adherents among the faithful of Arabia and Al-'Irak is difficult to understand, and one may hope that of many sins laid to their charge, they were falsely accused.2 Shortly before his death Al-Mehdi declared that he would destroy the whole brood of the Zanadika, root and branch; and he is said to have ordered a thousand palm-stakes to be erected, on which as many heretics should be impaled,—a report, the existence of which shows at any rate the prevailing belief in the intensity of his hatred towards the sect.

Hadi endeavors to supersede Harun.

Following his father also in another respect, Al-Hadi formed the project of setting his brother aside, and pro­claiming his young son heir-apparent. He was supported by all the court, excepting Yahya the Barmeki, who succeeded once and again in dissuading him from so pre­cipitate and unwise a step. Harun, now treated with indignity, retired into private life. At last, after much vacillation, the Caliph, at the instigation of the creatures around him, who were forward to take the oath, proclaimed his son successor and cast Yahya into prison. Al-Hadi was just then at his country seat near Mosul; and there he fell

1 He is even said to have attempted to poison her, but the imputation is doubtful. Weil thinks it was fabricated to justify the Queen Mother's unnatural conduct towards Al-Hadi.

2 Thus the daughter of one of these condemned Hashimites is said to have confessed that she was with child by her own father, and when carried before the Caliph died of fright.


His death.

sick and died. His end is obscure. The ordinary version is that when he sickened, his mother induced certain of his slave-girls to smother him. We are told further that she had despatches in readiness for the various governors to recognise the succession of Harun, which would imply complicity of some kind in the death of Al-Hadi. We hear little more of her; and she herself died shortly after.

Under Al-Hadi and the two following Caliphs Persian influence and fashion reached their height. The new year and other festivals were observed, and Persian dress and hats began to be worn and continued for several reigns. The tendency to exalt the non-Arabs at the expense of the Arabs took formal shape in the movement of the Shu'ubiya or Nationalism, which aimed at the exaltation of the subject nations, and especially the Persians. Its members claimed that the Persians, it might be, or Greeks, were in every way superior to the Arabs, both in arts and sciences, and even in what these claimed as specially their own, the study of genealogies and the practice of the virtues of the desert.1

Harun succeeds, 170 A.H. 786 A.D.

On his brother's death, Harun, now nearly twenty-five years of age, emerging from his retirement, hastened to the Court, performed the funeral obsequies, and was saluted Caliph without opposition. Al-Hadi's young son was easily persuaded to drop his claim; but a circumstance connected with it showed thus early that Harun, though called Rashid, was as prone to vindictive cruelty, if moved to hate or jealousy, as any of his predecessors.

Instance of capricious cruelty

When some time before, Harun was about to cross the Tigris, the courtier in charge of Al-Hadi's son called out from the other side of the bridge to "stay until the heir-apparent had passed over"; and Harun answered angrily:—"The Amir's humble servant!" The incident rankled in his breast, and on his accession he had the unlucky courtier put to death.

Recovers his ring in the Tigris.

On the day of accession, his son Al-Ma'mun was born, and Al-Amin some little time later:—the latter, as son of Zubeida granddaughter of Al-Mansur, taking precedence over the former, whose mother was a Persian slave-girl. As the new Caliph crossed the bridge re-entering Bagdad he bade divers to search in the river for the "Mountain", a famous ring worth 100,000 golden pieces, given to him by

1 Goldziher, Muhammedanische Studien, i., pp. 147 ff.


his father. On Al-Hadi's demanding this ring, he had some time before flung it into the Tigris; and now as he pointed out the spot, it was discovered by the divers, to his great delight.

The Barmekis.

Yahya the Barmeki, whom Al-Hadi had imprisoned and threatened with death, was now brought to Court and installed as Wazir. His two sons, Al-Fadi and Ja'far, also exercised unbounded power;—the former, foster-brother of the Caliph, and a statesman of unrivalled ability;1 the latter, the favourite of Harun and boon companion of his privacy. These were the three leading men of the Barmeki house the fall of which, seventeen years later, has left an indelible stigma on the Caliph's name.

Harun's religious life.

Harun is noted for his careful observance of the ritual of Islam: daily he performed one hundred prostrations, and distributed 1000 dirhems in alms. In the first year of his reign he performed the pilgrimage to Mecca, and repeated it afterwards some nine different times.

Magnificant court.

On every occasion he scattered munificent largesses amongst the people, and carried in his train crowds of indigent pilgrims. He was surrounded also by a magnificent court, both when on pilgrimage and on other journeys, and by a host bf learned men, doctors of the law, poets, and philosophers; and it is in part these princely progresses that have shed so great a lustre on this reign.

Wise and on the whole, just.

Harun was perhaps the ablest ruler of the 'Abbasid race. He is likened to Al-Mansur, but without his parsimony. If we except some flagrant instances of tyrannous cruelty, his government was wise and just; as without doubt, it was grand and prosperous. Bold and active in his habits, he followed up his early campaign against the Greeks, by repeatedly himself again appearing in the field.

Dislikes Bagdad, and retires to Rakka.

Eight or nine years after his accession, he forsook Bagdad and set up his court at Ar-Rakka, in the north of Syria. This he did ostensibly to hold disloyal Syria in check, in spite (as he would say) of his loving Bagdad better than any other place in the whole world. But it seems likelier that he had contracted an aversion towards Bagdad, for he never again resided there, and seldom even visited it.

1 See above, p. 463. The two mothers suckled each other's babes. The relation of foster-mother is much esteemed in the East.


Rising at Mosul, 171 A.H.

In the second year of this reign, a serious rising under a Khariji leader stirred the whole province of Mosul into insurrection. Abu Hureira, the governor of Mesopotamia, was discomfited by the rebel, who gained possession of the city.

Death of Abu Hureira.

Fresh troops were despatched, and in the end peace was restored. But the Caliph was so displeased with the failure of Abu Hureira, that he was in consequence brought to Bagdad, and there put to death.

Asia Minor.

The security of the Syrian frontier was the early care of Harun, both on the side of Armenia threatened by the Khazar hordes, and of Asia Minor threatened by the Greeks.

Create separate government, 170 A.H.

One of his first acts was to create a new charge towards the west, under a Turkish general,1 with Tarsus as its strongly fortified headquarters. War was waged almost every year with the Greeks, and Harun over and again either joined his forces, or watched their progress on the frontier, for which his residence at Ar-Rakka gave him easy opportunity.

Naval operations, 175 A.H.

The Muslims also began to be successful at sea; Crete aud Cyprus were attacked and the Greek admiral taken prisoner.2 In the raids on the frontier, a multitude of captives and vast booty were secured. But fortune varied; there were serious reverses, and on one occasion, severe loss and suffering from cold in the passes.

Harun takes the field, 181 A.H.

In 181 A.H., Harun headed a large force in person, and, Constantinople being distracted at home, great victories the were achieved as far as Ephesus and Ancyra.

Irene tributary 186 A.H.

Prisoners were thereafter exchanged; 4000 Muslims were recovered amid great rejoicings; and Irene, on payment of tribute, obtained a four years' truce. An advance was subsequently made by Al-Kasim, the Caliph's third son, but withdrawn on the Greeks sending in several hundred prisoners. A sudden irruption of the Khazar into Armenia was with difficulty repelled.

Soon after, Nicephorus having succeeded to the throne is said to have sent this insulting epistle to the Caliph:—"From Nicephorus, king of the Greeks, to Harun, king of the Arabs.

1 The first notice of a Turkish chief placed in a military command. We shall soon find them coming to the front in all departments, and especially at the head of the Muslim armies.

2 This from Greek authorities, who state that on refusing to embrace Islam, Harun had him beheaded. Muslim writers do not mention him.


Insulting letter of Nicephorus, 187 A.H. 803 A.D.

Irene hath parted with the castle, and contented herself with the pawn. She had paid thee moneys, the double of which thou shouldest have paid to her. It was but a woman's weakness. Wherefore, return what thou hast taken, or the sword shall decide." Harun reading the letter, fell into a rage, and calling for pen and ink wrote on the back of the letter:—

Harun's reply.

"From Harun, Commander of the Faithful, to Nicephorus, dog of the Greeks. I have read thy letter, son of an unbelieving mother. The answer is for thine eye to see, not for thine ear to hear." And Harun was as good as his word; at once he started and ravaged the land as far as Heraclea, before the Emperor, hampered by rebels, had stirred a step; and so an ignominious peace, and renewed tribute, were the end of such foolish boasting.

Disasters of Nicephorus, 190 A.H. 806 A.D.

Over and again when Harun was engaged elsewhere, Nicephorus broke his treaty, and as often was beaten. At last, near the close of his reign, the Caliph marched again with 135,000 men, took possession of Heraclea and Tyana, and besides tribute, reduced Nicephorus to the contempt of a personal impost on himself and on each member of the Imperial house. Cyprus was anew overrun; 10,000 prisoners carried off to Syria; and for the ransom of its Bishop alone, 2000 golden pieces had to be paid.

191 A.H.

But in the following year the Greeks once more advanced, and inflicted severe loss on the enemy both at Mar'ash and Tarsus, which Harun, having trouble elsewhere on his hands, was not in a position to retrieve. The end of it all,—the bitter end of all such wars,—was to inflame religious hate. The Caliph caused all churches in the border-lands to be cast down, and the obnoxious distinctions of dress and equipage to be enforced with the utmost rigour upon the Christian population.

Africa: opposition of native tribes, 171-181 A.H.

Africa continued further and further to drift from ‘Abbasid control. After various fortune of victory and defeat, Harthama, an able general, was despatched with a large force, and succeeded in beating down opposition; but a short experience convinced him that hostile interests throughout the land were so inveterate as to leave little hope of eventual success; and, anxious now for the more attractive field of the East, he resigned.

Harthama retires.

Thereafter the Aghlabid dynasty, though at first nominally subordinate


to Bagdad, became eventually independent at Kairawan; as already was the Idrisid at Tangier in the farther West.

Syria: tribal fighting, 176-177 A.H.

In 176 AH., the ancient Syrian jealousies between the two Arab stocks of the North and South broke out into open feud, and kept Damascus for two years in continual ferment; a state of things, however, which gave the Caliph little concern, as it simply weakened the power of the disloyal Syrians. Ten years afterwards they began again to fight against each other; but this time Harun interfered to compose their differences.

Mosul, 178-180 A.H.

Somewhat later Mosul was the scene of a rebellion, which lasted two years, until Harun himself took possession of the city, razed its walls, and was again with difficulty dissuaded from destroying it altogether.

Khariji rising in Armenia and Holwan, 177 A.H.

A still more alarming outbreak occurred at Nasabin under a Khariji leader, Al-Welid ibn Tarif, who, after ravaging Armenia and Azerbijan, descended on Mesopotamia, and crossing the Tigris to Holwan held the whole province in terror. In the end he was defeated and slain. This campaign is notable for the beautiful elegy of Leila on the death of her brother the rebel,—to avenge which she had ridden forth disguised in armour, but retired in maidenly confusion on being recognised by the general of the Caliph's army. Harun was so alarmed at the near approach of this danger, that to commemorate the victory, he performed in thanksgiving both the Lesser and the Greater pilgrimage, visiting on foot the various Holy stations.1

Treacherous dealing with the Hasani prince of Deilem, 176 A.H.

Passing over various outbreaks on the outskirts of the Empire, there is one of these in the north which deserves notice as illustrating the faithlessness of the Caliph. Yahya, another brother of the Pure Soul and of the Slain of Bakhamra, having gained possession of the Deilem, grew so mightily in power as to extend his kingdom to the borders of the Caspian, and attract to his brilliant court followers from all parts of the world. Harun, jealous at once of his influence and of his distinguished birth, sent Al-Fadl the Barmeki, then governor of Persia and Jurjan, with a great army to oppose him. Yahya was drawn into an apparently friendly com­munication with Al-Fadl, and agreed that he should submit

1 Ibn al-Athir under the year 178. Tab. does no more than mention Al-Welid's rebellion, iii. 631, 638.


to the Caliph a proposal for presenting himself at Bagdad under a covenant of honourable treatment, the bond to be witnessed not only by doctors of the law but by repre­sentatives of the Hashimi house. Harun, overjoyed at the prospect of being rid of his rival, confirmed the covenant with his own hand, and in due course received him with much distinction and princely gifts; but shortly after he allowed his jealousy to override his conscience. The chief Kadi was obsequious enough to discover a flaw in the document; but an equally distinguished doctor declared that the covenant made with a power backed by an army in the field, was indefeasible. Harun, nevertheless, supported by the former, cast Yahya into prison; and having called for the solemnly attested document, tore it into shreds.

Amin, heir-apparent 175 A.H.,

While yet but five years old, Harun's son by Zubeida, preferred in virtue of his noble birth, was nominated heir-apparent, under the title of Al-Amin. Some years later, his other son, 'Abdallah, several months older, was declared the next successor, both being now twelve years of age.

and Ma'mun, 182 A.H.

The latter, surnamed Al-Ma'mun1, was placed under the guardianship of Ja'far the Barmeki at an early age given charge of Khorasan and all the countries from Hamadan to farthest East.

Harun's arrangements at pilgrimage, 186 A.H. 802 A.D.

On a brilliant pilgrimage to Mecca, the Caliph presented each of these sons with the munificent gift of a million golden pieces, and caused two documents, witnessed by the chief ministers of state, to be hung up with solemn ceremony in the Ka'ba, inscribed, one in favour of Al-Amin the other of Al-Ma'mun. He also gave Mesopotamia and the Greek frontier in charge of Al-Kasim, his youngest son, who might, but only at the discretion of Al-Ma'mun, succeed to its eventual sovereignty.

189 A.H.

Further still, some years later, when on a journey to the East, he willed (a singular condition) that the army, with all its treasure and munitions of war, should fall to the lot of Al-Ma'mun; and he caused oaths of allegiance to the three sons to be renewed both at Bagdad and throughout the Empire in accordance with these arrangements. People marvelled that so wise a ruler should so soon forget the lessons of the past, and from such strange provisions

1 One in whom faith is placed, "the Trusted": Al-Amin signifying the "Faithful"; grand epithets, if they had only been true.


foreboded evil in the future.

Harun's sons.

It is not often that our annalists indulge in reflections such as these; but here we have the proverb applied by them to Harun, "Self-conceit makes a man both blind and deaf."

Fall of the Barmekis.

We now come to the startling narrative of the fall of the Barmekis. The course of this distinguished family has been already traced, from its rise in Balkh, through successive generations, to the highest posts of honour and influence in the State. Yahya, son of Khalid, now advanced in years, had resigned office into the hands of his sons Al-Fadl and Ja'far. The former, possessed of boundless authority, and regarded by the people with love and esteem, was virtual ruler of the empire. The latter, more given to indulgence, was the constant companion of Harun's hours of pleasure and amusement; yet he also must have inherited the ability of the house, having had charge of the youthful Al-Ma'mun with the whole government of the East, and though only thirty-seven years of age, had held the office of Wazir for seventeen years. Poets were never weary of extolling the Barmekis, nor historians of narrating their virtues, munificence, and power. Suddenly Ja'far was put to death, and the family disappears from the scene. The cause assigned was this:—

Story of Ja'far's disgrace,

Ja'far, as said above, was the boon companion of the Caliph, who loved to have his sister 'Abbasa also with him at times of recreation and carousal. But Muslim etiquette forbade their common presence; and, to allow of this, Harun had the marriage ceremony performed between them, on the understanding that it was purely nominal. But the ban was too weak for 'Abbasa. A child given secret birth was sent by her to Mecca; while a maid, quarrelling with her mistress, made known the scandal. Harun when on pilgrimage ascertained that the tale was but too true.

and death, 187 A.H.,

On his return to Ar-Rakka, shortly after, he sent a eunuch to slay Ja'far, whose body was despatched to Bagdad, and there, divided in two, impaled on either side of the bridge. It continued so for three years, when Harun, happening to pass through Bagdad from the East, gave command for the miserable remains to be taken down and burned. On the death of Ja'far, his father and brother were both cast into prison at Ar-Rakka, and orders passed all over the empire to confiscate the property of any member


of the family, wherever found.

and fall of whole Bar­meki family.

Both Yahya, an aged and now heart-broken man, and Al-Fadl, yet young but paralyzed from the shock, died in confinement shortly before Harun himself. Men grieved at their death; poets sang the praises of Al-Fadl, and annalists fill their pages with tales of his princely generosity, and laud his memory as one of the most distinguished of mankind. The grandeur, power, and popularity of the house, as well as the services it had rendered to the dynasty, both in the conduct of the Empire and upbringing of the minor princes, intensified the tragedy and the scandal before the public; and although other causes have been assigned, the fact of Ja'far's violent end leaves little doubt as to the general accuracy of the story given above. Harun himself kept a mysterious silence. Once questioned by his beautiful and accomplished sister 'Oleiya, he is said to have stayed her with these words:—"Life of my soul! if but my innermost garment knew of it, I would tear it into shreds."1

Another murder.

The painful episode was followed by the murder of Ibrabim, a faithful friend of Ja'far, who mourned over his loss, and in private spoke bitterly of his miserable end. The Caliph hearing of this, invited him to a convivial bout alone and having plied him with wine, pretended to mourn the loss of Ja'far, whom, he said, he would now willingly part with half his kingdom to have back again. Ibrahim thus

1 Weil has gone very fully into the question, and leaves little room to doubt the outline as a whole. The story is one eminently fitted to excite the Oriental imagination. Thus Ibn Khallikan, in his gossiping way, tells us that 'Abbasa, conceiving an uncoutrollable passion for her husband, persuaded his mother (who used to send a slave-girl every Friday night as her son's companion) to make use of her for once instead. She was sent accordingly in disguise, and Ja'far, under the influence of wine (nabidh), discovered the deception but too late, and then was overcome by terror at the possible results It may be a tale, but even so, it points to the popular belief, and the notices both in prose and verse are entirely in accord. Some authorities pass the matter by in silence, or (as Ibn Khaldun) attribute it to other causes—as, escape of an ‘Alid offender by Ja'far's connivance; his princely palace exciting Harun's jealousy; Yahya's entering the presence without authority; 'Alid tendency of the family, etc.; but all are inadequate for the execution of Ja'far and downfall of the family.

'Abbasa and her child are also said to have been made away with, but this is doubted.


deceived, began in his cups to unbosom himself to the apparently repentant monarch, in praise of Ja'far and grief at his death. Whereupon Harun cast him out, cursing him as a traitor, and shortly after had him put to death.

Persia and Khorasan 180 A.H.

We turn with relief, to notice what was passing on the outskirts of the Empire. The East was fast becoming consolidated under the strong Turkish interest at court. There was, indeed, a serious rebellion under a Khariji leader, who ravaged Persia and the outlying provinces as far as Herat, but it was at last put down by the governor, 'Ali ibn 'Isa.

Harun visits Reiy, 189 A.H.

Some years after, the Caliph, hearing unfavourable reports of his lieutenant's tyranny, marched with Al-Ma'mun to Ar-Reiy. There, to answer the charges against him, he summoned 'Ali, who by splendid gifts to the Caliph and to the court rendered his position again secure. Harun stayed four months at Ar-Reiy, which he loved as his birthplace, and there receiving duty in person from the native chiefs to the north—who still retained something of their ancient power under the suzerainty of the Caliphate—he settled the affairs of Tabaristan, the Deilem, and other provinces in that direction. He then returned by Bagdad to his court at Ar-Rakka.

Rebellion of Rafi' in Samarkand, 190 A.H.

Some little time later a serious rebellion arose in the East out of a strange origin. A wealthy lady in Samarkand, whose husband had been long absent in Bagdad, bethought herself of another, and being told that it was the easiest way of dissolving the knot, abjured Islam and then married her suitor, one Rafi' ibn Leith, a grandson of Nasr ibn Seiyar. The first husband complained to the Caliph, who, scandalized at the affront on the Muslim faith, not only ordered that Rafi' should divorce the lady, but be paraded on an ass and cast into prison. Thence, however, he effected his escape, and after wandering about the country, returned to Samarkand, slew the governor, and raised the standard of rebellion. 'Ali ibn 'Isa, alarmed lest Rafi' should steal a march on Merv, quitted Balkh, and set out thither; on which, Rafi' rapidly gained possession of all the country beyond the Oxus. Meanwhile reports again reached the Caliph of the tyranny and rapacity of 'Ali, and so, with the double view of superseding him, and subduing this rebellion, he sent Harthama, now returned from his African command,


with a large force, and secret orders to assume the Government.

Harthama supercedes 'Ali ibn ‘Isa, 192 A.H.

Arrived at Merv, Harthama at first received 'Ali graciously, but shortly after, showing his patent of command, confiscated the vast wealth of the tyrant, and despatched it on 1500 camels to the avaricious Caliph. 'Ali himself, seated on a bare-backed camel, was sent in disgrace to Ar-Rakka,—the common fate of rulers of the day.

Harthama's campaign against Rafi', 192-195 A.H.

Harthama lost no time in attacking Rafi', and gaining the victory, besieged him in Samarkand; but it was several years before the rebellion was quelled. Meanwhile the Khawarij, taking advantage of the disturbances beyond the Oxus, raised the country to the south of that river, and threatened the eastern province of Persia.

Harun himself takes the field, 192 A.H. 808 A.D.;

Things looked so serious that Harun resolved himself on a progress thither and towards the end of 192 A.H. set out from his residence at Ar-Rakka for the purpose. Leaving Al-Kasim there to control Syria and the West, he journeyed to Bagdad, in charge of which he placed Al-Amin. He would also have left Al-Ma'mun behind; but Al-Ma'mun, dreading lest his father, who had already sickened, should die by the way, in which event Al-Amin might, with the help of his royal mother, depose him from the government of the East,—asked permission to join the army on the march, which, after some demur, Harun granted. Travelling slowly over the mountain range into Persia, Harun one day called his physician aside, and, alone under the shelter of a tree unfolding a silken kerchief that girded his loins, disclosed the fatal disease he laboured under. "But have a care," he said, "that thou keep it secret; for my sons, (and he named them all and their guardians) are watching the hour of my decease, as thou mayest see by the shuffling steed they will now mount me on, adding thus to mine infirmity." There is something touching in these plaintive words of the great Monarch, now alone in the world, and bereft of the support even of those who were bound to rally round him in his hour of weakness.

sickens on the way, ii 193 A.H. End of 803 A.D.

Early in the following year he reached Jurjan, where, becoming worse, he sent on Al-Ma'mun with a portion of the army to Merv; and himself, journeying slowly, reached Tus, where, despairing of life, he had his grave dug close by his dwelling-place. The brother of Rafi' was brought in a prisoner when Harun was near his end; "If I had no more


dies vi, 193 A.H. March 809 A.D.

breath left," he said, "but to say a single word, it should be Slay him"; and so the dismembered wretch was slain before the dying monarch. Shortly after, he breathed his last, and one of his younger sons prayed over the bier.

He was forty-seven years of age, and had reigned three-and-twenty. When nineteen, he married Zubeida of royal birth, who survived him over thirty years. He had seven wives, but only four were alive at his death. Besides Al-Amin, the son of Zubeida, there were ten sons and fourteen daughters, all the progeny of slave-girls.

Embassy to Harun from Charles the Great.

Though not mentioned by native chroniclers, Harun received an embassy from Charles the Great,—two Christians and a Jew, who sought that facilities might be afforded to the West for pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and also for the fostering of trade. They returned with splendid gifts, elephants, rare ornaments, and a water clock; but the effort was followed by no material result. An embassy was also sent by Harun to the Chinese emperor, no doubt to establish friendly relations with his rulers on the trans-­Oxus border; but neither is this mentioned by the Muslim annalists.1

Splendid reign.

Harun and his son Al-Ma'mun, stand out in history as the greatest 'Abbasid monarchs. Harun might indeed have been ranked along with some of the best of the Umeiyad dynasty, had it not been for the dark spots of treacherous cruelty that stain his whole career.2 Splendid in his courtly surroundings and princely in his liberality, he yet amassed vast treasures,—leaving 900 millions in his vault,—by oppressive and often unscrupulous means. His administration, with these exceptions, was just and prosperous. Accustomed from youth to martial life, he frequently joined his troops in the field; and his many victories, especially over the Greeks, have shed lustre on his reign. No Caliph, either before or after, displayed such energy and activity in his various progresses whether

1 The Chinese writers call the Caliph Galun.

2 Weil is excessively severe on Harun,—a singular exception to his usual calm and impartial judgment. He makes him out the greatest tyrant of his race, though he really was not so bad as many others both before and after. It is the Barmekid tragedy that has given him so unenviable a pre-eminence in Eastern story.


for pilgrimage, for administration, or for war. But what has chiefly made this Caliphate illustrious, is that it ushered in the era of letters. His Court was the centre to which, from all parts, flocked the wise and the learned, and at which rhetoric, poetry, history and law, as well as science, medicine, music, and the arts, met with a genial and princely reception,—all which bore ample fruit in the succeeding reigns.1

Even when shorn of its romance.

As with Solomon, the witchery of Oriental romance as in the Thousand and One Nights, has cast an adventitious glow around the life of Harun ar-Rashid; but even when that has faded away before the prosaic realities of history, enough remains to excite wonder and admiration at the splendour of this monarch's Caliphate.

1 Savants of every branch were entertained with princely liberality but poets were the recipients of his special bounty. For example, Merwan ibn abi Hafsa, having presented a sonnet in his praise, he forthwith gave him a purse of 5000 golden pieces, a robe of humour, ten Greek slave-girls, and one of his own steeds to ride on.

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