AL-MUNTASIR AND THREE FOLLOWING CALIPHS
247-256 A.H. / 861-870 AD.
AIDED by the Turkish faction Al-Muntasir succeeded without much difficulty to the throne. His pious title He that triumpheth in the Lord did not avail to prolong his reign above half a year, or save him from the pangs of a patricide. Notwithstanding his crime, he is lauded because, unlike his father, he loved the house of 'Ali, and removed the ban on pilgrimage to the tombs of Al-Hasan and Al-Hosein. The Turkish party, fearing the revenge of his brothers for having connived at the murder of their father, prevailed on Al-Muntasir to disentail them from the succession, and in their place appoint his son as heir-apparent. The Wazir, jealous also of Wasif, persuaded Al-Muntasir to send him on a campaign against the Greeks.
Early in the following year the Caliph died, but whether a natural death, or poisoned, is uncertain.1
On Al-Muntasir's death, the Turkish chiefs held a conclave to select his successor; they would have none of Al-Mo'tazz, nor his brothers, for the reason just stated; so they elected in his stead another grandson of Al-Mo'tasim,
1 He is first of the 'Abbasids whose tomb is known;
it was made by his mother, a Greek slave-girl. The earlier Caliphs desired their
tombs to be kept secret, for fear of desecration.
1 He is first of the 'Abbasids whose tomb is known; it was made by his mother, a Greek slave-girl. The earlier Caliphs desired their tombs to be kept secret, for fear of desecration.
and saluted him under the title of Al-Musta'in.1
Suddenly the Arabs and western troops from Bagdad, displeased at the choice, attacked the assembly, broke open the prison, and plundered the armoury. They were attacked by the Turkish and Berber soldiery, and after a round fight, in which many fell, succumbed. Bagdad had yet to learn that the Caliphate no longer depended on Arabian choice, but had passed into other hands. Mohammad, grandson of Tahir, governor of Bagdad, persuaded the city to submit, and the succession was thereafter peaceably acknowledged throughout the land. Al-Mo'tazz and Al-Mu'eiyad his brother, threatened by the troops, resigned their title to succeed, and were then, by way of protection, kept in durance. On a second outbreak in their favour, the Turks would have put them both to death, but the Wazir interposed and saved their lives, for which act of mercy his property was seized by the Turkish soldiery, and himself banished to Crete. The Turk, Atamish, held the entire patronage of office at his pleasure, and so his fellows as a rule were presented to provincial governments and commands. The Empire, in fact, both at home and abroad, had passed into the hands of Turcomans.
For the last fifty years the balance of war had gone upon the whole against the Empire; but in the following year, the Muslim campaign against the Christians was singularly unfortunate. Two whole corps in Armenia and Asia Minor, some 3000 strong, with their leaders, were cut to pieces. The tidings drove Bagdad wild. The ancient cry for a
Holy War rang through the streets. It was the godless Turks that had brought disaster on the faith, murdered their Caliphs, and set up others at their pleasure.
With such cries the city rose in uproar; the gaols were broken and the bridges burned. But Bagdad could no longer dictate to its rulers; it could only riot. The crusading spirit was, however, strong enough to draw large levies from the provinces around, who flocked as free lances to fight against the infidel. But the Turks cared for none of these things, nor did the Caliph. They were far otherwise engaged. The leaders had fallen out amongst themselves. There was riot and plundering and breaking of the gaols again at Samarra. After this was put down, Bogha and Wasif conspired against Atamish, who was accused of squandering the revenue on the Caliph's mother and retainers.
Attacked in the palace, he attempted in vain to fly, or secure protection from the Caliph; and after being surrounded for two days was seized and put to death. Meanwhile the tyrant courtiers of Samarra, kept Al-Musta'in at their mercy by having his cousin Al-Mo'tazz as rival in reserve.
Meanwhile, things were not prospering elsewhere. Al-Kufa threw itself into the arms of Yahya, a descendant of the Prophet, who beat back the imperial troops, but at last fell in battle. His head was exposed at Samarra, and then sent to Bagdad for a similar purpose. But so vast were the crowds that thronged the spot, and so intense their excitement as they cried"What would the Prophet say to this outrage on his own flesh and blood!" that the head had to be removed, placed in a box, and guarded in the armoury. In the East, the Tahirid dynasty, still nominally dependent on the Caliphate, and hitherto a real support, was falling rapidly into decay before its Saffarid enemies on the side of Sijistan, and the 'Alid aspirants on that of Tabaristan.1 The latter, now founding a Shi'a dynasty that survived for half a century, advanced upon Al-'Irak, and an army had to be sent for the protection of that frontier.
To the south, another 'Alid pretender, with a following of freebooters, ravaged Arabia, plundered the Ka'ba, exacted heavy ransom
1 There is mention of two elephants sent to Bagdad
by the Tahirid prince, with some idols taken at Kabul, where idolatry seems still
to have prevailed, or perhaps some development of Buddhism.
1 There is mention of two elephants sent to Bagdad by the Tahirid prince, with some idols taken at Kabul, where idolatry seems still to have prevailed, or perhaps some development of Buddhism.
from the Holy Cities, slew over a thousand pilgrims, and after keeping the Peninsula throughout the year (251 A.H.) in terror and distress, retired at its close to Jidda. In Mosul and Palestine, in Hims and Ispahan, in fact, in every quarter, we see anarchy and rebellion rife.
For Al-Musta'in himself the end was now at hand; and for Bagdad the horrors of another siege. Bogha "the less" and Wasif, the two chief Turkish leaders, fell out with Baghir, another Turk, about an estate received in reward for Al-Mutawakkil's murder. The quarrel, as usual, bred riot and danger to the Caliph, who, hearing that Baghir's party sought his life, proceeded in concert with the other two to seize and imprison Baghir, and eventually put him to death. On this the Turkish troops in Samarra rose in anger and rebellion; and the wretched Caliph, to escape his tyrants and the impending danger, descended by boat, with Bogha, Wasif, and others, to East Bagdad. The Turks sent after him a party of their captains, entreating him to return to Samarra. But this the Caliph would not, and hard words followed between the two sides, in the heat of which one of the Turkish speakers received a blow.
The insult rankled in their minds, and on returning to Samarra, the troops rose en masse, and bringing forth Al-Mo'tazz from his confinement, saluted him as Caliph. Within a few weeks, his brother Abu Ahmed, with 50,000 Turks and Khorasanis and 2000 Berbers, bore down upon Bagdad, which meanwhile had been preparing as best it could for defence by entrenchments, stores of naphtha, and engines planted at the gates.
It is a harrowing chapter which details the horrors of the year,the siege and sallies,while the country all around was embroiled and suffered with its Capital. Victory was now on this side, now on that. Persia and the provinces were mostly in the interest of Al-Musta'in; but all were so disorganised that no real help arrived; and supplies and tribute sent were mostly intercepted on the way. In truth, the Arabs, Al-Musta'in's chief support, could not stand against the Turkish hordes. A column sent from Ar-Rakka for the defence of Bagdad having been ignominiously defeated, the Governor exclaimed,"What use of Arabs now without the Prophet and angelic aid?" The taunt had truth. It was no longer for the faith they fought,the faith that
had nerved them in bygone days to victory. It would be unprofitable to follow the weary accounts given us month by month of fighting in and around the Capital. The Turks began gradually to gain ground, and the chiefs around Al-Musta'in to desert the failing cause.
The citizens at last suspected their Tahirid governor, hitherto the Caliph's loyal supporter, of leaning towards the rebels;
and he, driven to extremities by plots and treachery all around, induced Al-Musta'in by alternate threats and promises to abdicate in favour of Al-Mo'tazz. He was to live at Medina with a sufficient income; Bogha and Wasif, who had faithfully stood by him, were to have important governments; the treasure was to be divided between the garrison of Bagdad and the Turks, the latter with a double share. The conditions signed, the Governor received the ministers and courtiers of Al-Musta'in, and having assured them he had done what he had for the best and to stop further bloodshed, sent them to Samarra to do homage to the new Caliph, who ratified the terms, and took possession of Bagdad in the early days of 252 A.H. He also sent to Al-Musta'in his mother and family from Samarra, but not until they had been stripped of everything they possessed.
Al-Mo'tazz, thus placed upon the throne, proved but too apt a pupil of his Turkish masters. He was surrounded by parties each jealous of the other. At Samarra, the Turks were at daggers drawn with the "Westerns" (Berbers and Moors); while the Arabs and Persians at Bagdad, who had supported Al-Musta'in, regarded both with equal hatred. Al-Mo'tazz was thus hemmed in by a horde of hungry harpies, ready for plot or treachery whether against each other or against himself:a poor justification, however, for the course of perfidy and bloodshed which he, not less than they, pursued.
He began with the deposed Caliph. The conditions solemnly guaranteed were cast to the winds. Instead of finding a refuge at Medina, Al-Musta'in was kept at Wasit. Thence he was treacherously despatched, together with wife, by Ahmed ibn Tulun, to the house of an assassin, who put them both to death. Carrying Al-Musta'in's head to the Caliph, "Here," cried the executioner, "behold thy cousin's head!" Lay it aside," answered the heartless
Al-Mo'tazz who was playing at chess,"till I have finished the game." And then, having satisfied himself that it was really Al-Musta'in's head, he commanded 500 pieces to be given to the assassin as his reward.1
Al-Mu'eiyad, his own brother, being next heir to the throne, was also cruelly put to death. The Turkish soldiery, in a brawl with the Westerns, had taken this brother's part, and the jealous Caliph forthwith cast him, and also another brother, Abu Ahmed, who had bravely led the troops in the late struggle on his side, into prison. There the Turks attempted Al-Mu'eiyad's release, and Al-Mo'tazz, the more alarmed, resolved on his death. He was smothered in a downy robe (or, as others say, frozen in a bed of ice); and the body was then exposed before the Court and Kadis, as if, being without mark of violence, he had died a natural death:a transparent subterfuge.
Bogha and Wasif, instead of promised preferments, were cut off altogether from the civil list; orders were also issued for their assassination; but, at the intercession of a Princess at court related to them, their lives were spared. They returned with their families to Samarra; and Bogha in the strange vicissitudes of the day, became soon after
the prime favourite of the Caliph. Riot succeeded riot, both at Samarra and Bagdad. The revenues were squandered at the profligate Court, and little left where with to pay the troops. The city guards at the Capital surrounded the palace at Bagdad, clamorous for their pay. The Governor wrote to Al-Mo'tazz for an advance; but he, prompted by the Turks, replied that "if the guards were needed for himself, he himself might pay them; if for the Caliph, he cared not for them." Thereupon the tumult was renewed; the mob refused to let the Caliph be named in the Mosque, and so there were no prayers observed that Friday. Before the insurrection was put down, the Governor had to burn one of the bridges, and set fire to an adjoining bazaar, in order to keep the rebels off. Nor were the outbreaks at Samarra less outrageous. The Turks fell out with the Westerns, and fought till it was arranged that
1 So according to Ibn al-Athir. Other authorities
are not so clear as to the connivance of Ahmed, founder of the Tulunid dynasty.Weil, ii. 398.
1 So according to Ibn al-Athir. Other authorities are not so clear as to the connivance of Ahmed, founder of the Tulunid dynasty.Weil, ii. 398.
they should have each a representative in the chief offices of State. Next year all joined together, Turks, Africans, and Persians, to storm the palace for their pay.
Wasif and Bogha, now the Caliph's chief advisers, sought to appease them. "Here, take this," the former cried, as he cast a handful of sand to them,"it's all we have."
The other promised to represent their case to the Caliph, and while he went, the savage soldiery fell on Wasif, and having cut him to pieces, stuck his head upon a chimney. To the offices of the deceased succeeded Bogha, who for the moment ruled supreme. But his time, too, shortly came. He sought the following year to induce Al-Mo'tazz to transfer his court to Bagdad, where he would be more independent of the foreigners. His jealous rivals represented this as treachery and Bogha fled but only to be seized and slain. His head was exhibited both at Samarra and at Bagdad, where the Westerns vented their hate by burning it to ashes.
Babkiyal (or Baykibal) succeeded Bogha. He was invested with the government of Egypt, which, like other Turks promoted at the Court, he administered through a deputy; and for the post he appointed as his representative Ahmed ibn Tulun, the one concerned in the death of Al-Musta'in, and founder of the Tulunid dynasty.
Ahmed's story is typical of the times, both in respect of the sudden rise of slaves to office, and the tendency of local governors to become independent of the central power. His father a Memluk, captured in Ferghana, was presented to Al-Ma'mun and brought up among the Turkish slaves at court to the military profession. Ahmed, bred thus in the school of Samarra, was favoured by the Caliph as excelling both in the art of war, and in letters and the arts of peace. Al-Musta'in promoted him to a post of honour, and gave him a young slave to wife, who became mother of the Tulunid princes. Babkiyal now sent him as his deputy to Egypt, where gradually growing in power, he at last threw aside the yoke of the decrepit Caliphate, and became independent ruler of Egypt.
The policy of Al-Mo'tazz was as crooked abroad as it was at home. The Tahirid dynasty in its decay was sorely not pressed by Ya'kub son of Leith the Saffar (coppersmith) of Sijistan, who had designs of annexing Kirman, and to
validate his claim sought the grant of its government from the court of Bagdad. 'Ali, the governor of Fars, who also aimed at independence, made the like request. Al-Mo'tazz conferred the title at once on the one and on the other, hoping by the contest that must ensue to weaken both; but the Saffarid in the end prevailed. Nowhere did the arms of Al-Mo'tazz meet success. Mosul, with the surrounding country, was seized by Musawir, a Khariji, who held it in rebellion for many years. In Asia Minor the Muslim forces were beaten by the Greeks, one of the generals being made prisoner. And even from the adjacent provinces immediately around Bagdad, the revenue was withheld.
Little more need be said of Al-Mo'tazz. A dwindling revenue precipitated the end. The army's pay having been withheld, Salih son of Wasif, on their behalf, seized the personal secretaries of Al-Mo'tazz and of his brother, with the ministers of departments, and demanded the money embezzled or concealed by them. There being no answer but an empty treasury, they were put in irons. The Caliph besought the insurgents to release his private secretary, but they were deaf to his entreaty. The accounts of the unfortunate ministers were seized, but neither thus nor otherwise could anything be extracted from them. Returning to the Caliph, they agreed that if he would but advance 50,000 pieces, they would for the present be content. Al-Mo'tazz in this extremity, sent to his mother, Kabiha (ugly), a sobriquet given her by Al-Mutawakkil for her beauty. Her arts and influence had gained for her vast treasures, hoarded by her in secret places. Appealed to now, the heartless creature, clinging to her ill-gotten lucre, replied that she had nothing by her.
Salih, and Musa son of Bogha, now driven to extremities, resolved, in concert with Babkiyal, to depose Al-Mo'tazz, and carried out the design with brutal inhumanity. Followed by a clamorous troop, they seated themselves at the palace gate, and called for the Caliph to come out. He had taken physic, he sent to say as an excuse; and not suspecting treachery, called them in. Entering, they beat him with clubs and kicked him; then dragging him by his torn robes outside, they left him seated there in the scorching heat of a mid summer sun. Taken thence, he was shut up in a room
alone without food or water; and so after three days the wretched Caliph died, at the early age of twenty-four.
The choice of the Turks now fell on his cousin Al-Muhtadi, son of Wathik by a Grecian slave-girl. Retired and unassuming, they regarded him as one likely to serve their ends. But they mistook the man. Firm and virtuous as compared with those before him, he held to his own purpose. Earlier, and supported by the Arabs, he might have restored life to the Caliphate. But, both as regards number and discipline, foreigners had now the upper hand. Al-Muhtadi came too late. "The wide world," says our annalist, "was all upside down." At first he declined the offer, thinking it unjust to Al-Mo'tazz. But the deposed Caliph, brought before him, resigned into his hands the burden he could no longer bear; and so all Samarra did homage. Bagdad rose in tumult and demanded that Abu Ahmed, the late Caliph's younger brother and the people's favourite should succeed. Money from Samarrathe panacea of the daypacified the people; riot thus stayed, the oath was taken.
The Court soon saw a transformation, unwonted for many a day;singing girls and musicians expelled; beasts in the menageries slaughtered, and hounds turned adrift; justice done daily in open court; wine and games proscribed; and a frugal household. The new Caliph, in fact, had set the pious 'Omar, son of 'Abd al-'Aziz, before him as his model and exemplar.
On Al-Mo'tazz's fall, Salih, son of Wasif, lost no time in stripping of their wealth such of the courtiers as had fattened upon the recent Caliphate. The secretaries were imprisoned, and forced by the lash to disgorge. Two died under the infliction. Kabiha had fled to a vault outside Samarra with her treasure. She was traced, and confessed to having at Bagdad over a million pieces of gold. It was all seized, and with it a store of emeralds, pearls, and rubies of untold size and beauty; while she herself was banished to Mecca. As she left, Salih upbraided her for having with all these treasures grudged a paltry fifty thousand to save her son; and she in return cursed him in vilest terms,a painful picture of courtly Samarra. The tyranny of Salih, and fate of the officers tortured, affected Al-Muhtadi deeply. Referring to Kabiha,"As
for me," he said, "I have no mother1 on whose slave-girls and retainers to spend hundreds of thousands; I have no need but for myself and brothers, and that but little."
A few months after, there occurred another riot at Bagdad. The Persian governors, especially those recently appointed of the Tahirid family, were attended by escorts from the East, whose names not being entered on the civil list, they were paid from a separate fund, and adjustment made from the treasury of Merv. Suleiman, head of that house, hard pressed by his enemies and obliged to fly from Khorasan, was now nominated governor of Bagdad; and his predecessor having carried off the Eastern fund, he was driven to pay his escort from that belonging to the native garrison. These resented the misappropriation and, joined by the citizens, rose against the Eastern troops, who retaliated in robbery and outrage. The danger was increased by a Persian general who had accompanied Suleiman with a great following of soldiers and freebooters and these now spreading themselves over Mesopotamia, drew thousands by the cry of plunder to the unfortunate city. After much fighting, they were forced to leave, and taking their way back by Nahrawan, ravaged the country as they went. Thus from every side, foreign levies, attracted like vultures to their prey,whether Turks and Khorasanis, Persians, Negroes, or Berbers,all brought misery and outrage on the wretched "City of Peace."
Musa son of Bogha, under the previous reign, had been sent to war against the 'Alid dynasty set up in the Deilem, which had assumed a threatening attitude. On the troops conspiring against Al-Mo'tazz, Kabiha had urged Musa to return and save her son; but soon after news of his death reached the camp, and so Musa remained with the army for the defence of Ar-Reiy. Then followed tidings of the excesses and extortion of Salih; and Musa's captains, lusting for a share in the spoil, forced
1 On Wathik's death, Al-Musta'in had taken her to wife,
and on his assassination, she was confined by Al-Mo'tazz in Bagdad, where she died.
Such was the wretched life of these 'Abbasid princesses.
1 On Wathik's death, Al-Musta'in had taken her to wife, and on his assassination, she was confined by Al-Mo'tazz in Bagdad, where she died. Such was the wretched life of these 'Abbasid princesses.
him, against Al-Muhtadi's command, to return with them to Samarra. There he went straight to the Caliph, who was seated on the bench dispensing justice, and after altercation, carried him off on one of the attendant's horses, when the usual scene of riot and plunder followed. Reasoned with by Al-Muhtadi on the scandalous affront thus offered to their Sovereign's person, Musa and his followers returned to their loyalty, on assurance given that the crimes of Salih would be reckoned with and justice done.
Salih, now deserted by his friends, fled into hiding. Thence, by an unknown hand, he sent the Caliph a letter, pursued, offering submission to trial and restitution. Al-Muhtadi being in favour of this, the Turks assumed that he knew his hiding-place, and was conniving with him. They resolved on his dethronement; but Al-Muhtadi bravely met them sword in hand, ready to thrust through the first that should approach. He protested that he knew nothing of Salih's retreat, and promised public inquisition on the morrow after prayers. Meanwhile, the people learning the traitorous proceedings of the Turks, were so touched by the peril in which a Sovereign whom they had learned to respect and love was in, that they scattered throughout the streets and lanes of Bagdad, sheets on which was inscribed a call for prayer and intercession with the Lord to save their pious Caliph and confound the designs of the rebel Turks. A band of the foreign troops touched by the appeal, rallied round Al-Muhtadi, who promised his best to reform the government, provide for payment of all dues, bring Salih to justice, and Musa also to account. Search for Salih still continued without success and with danger to the Caliph, when fortunately he was discovered, pursued by the mob, and delivered over to Musa's retainers,
who slew him and exposed his head, with the proclamation (strange sentiment for the Turks), "Such is the fate of him that slayeth his Master."
Things went on thus for several months, when the cry arose again from the Turkish garrison of Bagdad for arrears of pay. The Caliph told them that the treasury was empty, as Musa's brothers,sons of the elder Bogha, the party now in opposition to Al-Muhtadi,had embezzled all the revenues. These fled to Musa, who, with Babkiyal, was now engaged
at Mosul with Musawir's insurrection. Driven to desperation, Al-Muhtadi himself stooped to perfidy. He sent, or suffered a Turkish party to send, promise of safe-conduct to the brothers; and when they came, not only exacted great sums of revenue from them, but caused one to be slain and cast into a well. Then he wrote to Musa to make over the army to Babkiyal and return to Samarra; while at the same time he wrote to Babkiyal to compass the death of Musa. But Babkiyal, on whose loyalty and friendship Al-Muhtadi had counted, went over to the side of Musa. Having showed him the letter, they both resolved to return at once to Samarra, and there bide their time for putting an end to the Caliph's life. On their arrival, however, Al-Muhtadi, anticipating their design, seized Babkiyal, and resolved bravely to fight for the right, or perish in the attempt. Six thousand soldiers rallied round him, mostly Arabs and Westerns; but amongst them were also one thousand of the late Salih's Turks. The rebels came on, double the number, to the attack of Al-Muhtadi; on which, he gave the order to slay Babkiyal, and
cast his head into the rebel ranks. But the day was gone. The faithless Turks deserted to the other side, and the rest lost heart. In vain Al-Muhtadi shouted, "Here is the Commander of the Faithful; haste to the rescue of the Caliphate!" There was no response. Passing the prison, he threw open its gates, hoping that the inmates would help him; but this too was in vain. And so he fled for refuge to the Commander of his bodyguard's house. Thence, seated on a mule, he was carried to the palace of a Turkish general, and pressure put upon him to abdicate. He refused, and prepared for the end. Then, to give the appearance of justice to their work, the conspirators produced a paper in which Al-Muhtadi had guaranteed Musa and the rest that he would not use treachery towards them, which if he did they were released from their oath of fealty.
Having thus, to their satisfaction, justified the sentence, they fell tumultuously upon him, with blows and kicks, and removed him into confinement, where, a few days after, he died. Witnesses deposed that there were no marks of violence of his body, which was buried with his predecessors. He was aged thirty-eight, and had reigned less than a year. The annalists laud his justice and his piety; and had he not yielded at last
and met perfidy with the like, we might have placed Al-Muhtadi amongst the most excellent of his race.
Mohammad, one of Bogha's sons, was found dead, having fallen in the fight. Over his grave after the rude fashion of the Turkomans, a thousand swords were shivered.
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