AL-MO'TAMID AND AL-MUWAFFAK HIS BROTHER
256-279 A.H. / 870-892 A.D.
AT this point we come unexpectedly on a brighter view of the Caliphate, with a fair promise maintained to the end of the century, of returning vigour and prosperity. The brave example of Al-Muhtadi, however sad its ending, and a succession of able rulers, contributed no doubt, to this result. But the main cause was the return of the Court in 892 A.D. to Bagdad,1 where, supported by native feeling, it could better avoid the outrage and curb the influence of Turkish soldiery, while also bringing the Western element to check the Eastern. At any rate, during the next three reigns, there was no repetition of the shameful attacks upon the person of the Caliph, which had made his court at Samarra a byword among the nations.
On Al-Muhtadi's deposition, the leading courtiers brought out from confinement at Samarra the eldest surviving son of Al-Mutawakkil, and saluted him as Caliph under the title of Al-Mo'tamid. Musa son of Bogha, engaged with the Khawarij at Al-Ahwaz, hastened back to Court and did obeisance. Indeed, Musa, turning over a new leaf henceforth proved himself a brave and loyal servant, and some time after was appointed by the Caliph guardian of his son, to whom as heir-apparent the Western half of the empire was entrusted. Al-Mo'tamid himself proved but a poor and helpless monarch.
But his brother, Al-Muwaffak, already mentioned under the name of Abu Ahmed, was the real
1 That is, Bagdad on the east bank of the Tigris;
the original city was on the west bank.
1 That is, Bagdad on the east bank of the Tigris; the original city was on the west bank.
ruler and stay of the Empire. On the Zenji rebellion bringing danger near to Bagdad, Al-Mo'tamid in alarm summoned him from his government at Mecca. Thenceforward he held the reins, and continued to do so till his death near the close of Al-Mo'tamid's life.
The Zenji insurrection, just noticed, spread terror and outrage for fifteen years all around. The leader, a Persian, gave himself out as a descendant of 'Ali. At the first as such, he set up certain spiritual assumptions but soon so plainly showed his real colours as an outlaw, that he was called Al-Khabith, that is, the Reprobate. After canvassing in Arabia with little success, he raised at Al-Basra the standard of rebellion, proclaimed liberty to the captive and endless spoil and rapine to all that followed his standard. A text inscribed on his banner was perverted to mean the knell of slavery.1 Little wonder that slaves, taught by him to insult their masters, flocked in thousands to Al-Khabith, and Bedawin also in their lust of plunder. Zenj means "Ethiopian,"the slavish dregs of Africa,and hence the name of the insurrection. It was in 255 A.H. that they first took the field in force; and in the next two years they spread themselves across the whole delta of the Euphrates, and the banks of the Karun as far as Al-Ahwaz. Over and over again they beat back the Imperial troops, and by their fleets dominated both rivers. Emboldened by this success, they, in 257 A.H. (871 A.D.), attacked Al-Basra, took it by storm and for three days subjected the citizens to every kind of outrage. Quarter was at last announced, and the multitude, drawn together by a treacherous proclamation, mercilessly massacred. The Great Mosque was destroyed, and the city set on fire. The Caliph at last, alarmed by their near approach to the capital, summoned Al-Muwaffak to take the field. He carried on the war vigorously against them, but at first with only partial success,being obliged to suspend operations from time to time from pressing dangers
1 A curious perversion of Sura ix. 112:
"The Lord hath purchased from Believers their souls (or their own selves)
and their substance by the promise of Paradise"; meant by the Prophet as
an incitement to fight in the ways of the Lord, but here travestied as
teaching that the persons of all believers, having been thus purchased,
are thereby redeemed and no longer subject to slavery.
1 A curious perversion of Sura ix. 112: "The Lord hath purchased from Believers their souls (or their own selves) and their substance by the promise of Paradise"; meant by the Prophet as an incitement to fight in the ways of the Lord, but here travestied as teaching that the persons of all believers, having been thus purchased, are thereby redeemed and no longer subject to slavery.
elsewhere. A similar fortune attended Musa and other generals.
Year after year, even under defeat, great bodies of the Zenji invaded Al-'Irak, Khuzistan, and Al-Bahrein, whether as marauding hordes or in regular line, striking terror into the helpless villagers who fled to Bagdad for refuge. Al-Ahwaz was sacked, and Wasit captured as a centre for their devastating operations. Thus for ten years the miserable land was kept in suffering and alarm. At last Al-Muwaffak, relieved from external foes concentrated his forces under his own immediate command, and that of his son Al-Mo'tadid. The tide now turned against the servile swarm. They were gradually driven out of Khuzistan and cooped up in the lower delta; but there they continued to hold a secure position, guarded by strong fortresses and the deep canals surrounding them. The contest, which still dragged its length for five years more is told with wearisome detail. Even after the enemy was driven from their other strongholds the chief fortress still resisted for three whole years the regular approaches of a siege, intermitted for a season in consequence of Al-Muwaffak being wounded.
Finding the cause hopeless, the rebels began to go over in great numbers to Al-Muwaffak who received them kindly, and even offered the arch-offender pardon, which he insolently rejected. At last the citadel fell, and multitudes of women delivered from captivity were returned to their homes. Al-Khabith overtaken in his flight was slain and as his head was held up before the assembled force, they fell prostrate, giving thanks to heaven for being at last delivered from the cursed Reprobate.1
The outlying provinces of the East have now for our history but a secondary interest. The traditional dominance of the court at Bagdad still imparted weight, if nothing more,
1 The inordinate length of the story and tendency
to magnify show what a deep wound this savage and inveterate enemy inflicted on
the country surrounding Bagdad. In 267 A.H., 5000 women released from one of
the fortresses were sent to Wasit to be distributed to their homes; shortly after
we are told that 20,000 captives belonging to the Kufa villages were taken from
another citadel. Al-Muwaffak's force is given at 50,000, and we are told that
the Zenj were six times that number. With all allowance for the mass of slaves
that flocked to the Reprobate, such numbers are clearly fabulous. On this
Servile War see Nöldeke, Sketches of Eastern History, pp. 146 ff.
1 The inordinate length of the story and tendency to magnify show what a deep wound this savage and inveterate enemy inflicted on the country surrounding Bagdad. In 267 A.H., 5000 women released from one of the fortresses were sent to Wasit to be distributed to their homes; shortly after we are told that 20,000 captives belonging to the Kufa villages were taken from another citadel. Al-Muwaffak's force is given at 50,000, and we are told that the Zenj were six times that number. With all allowance for the mass of slaves that flocked to the Reprobate, such numbers are clearly fabulous. On this Servile War see Nöldeke, Sketches of Eastern History, pp. 146 ff.
to any title derived from it; and the Caliph was everywhere prayed for in the public services, excepting in the case of open enmity.
The Tahirids, beaten by the Saffarids, retire from the scene, and are hereafter mentioned only as resident in Bagdad, and holding chief municipal office there. The 'Alid dynasty still retained the districts south-east of the Caspian; but a new enemy arose against them in the Samanid housea noble family, which held ancient office in Khorasan, and now aspired to independence. These distant movements, however, and the career of Al-Khujustani, an adventurer who from 261 to 268 A.H. rose to great power in the East, affected the Caliphate little.
But Ya'kub the Coppersmith (Saffar), became a cause of danger. Not content with the various provinces his family had secured in the East, his ambition turned westward and coveting Fars, he asked the Caliph for it. Al-Mo'tamid, offended at the demand assembled the pilgrims returning eastward, and proclaimed in their ears that he had deposed Ya'kub from Khorasan. Ya'kub hastened to retaliate by an advance not only on the western provinces of Persia, but on Bagdad itself. Rejecting concessions which the Caliph, now alarmed, was ready to make, he crossed the Tigris below the Capital, passed Wasit, and was already close to Bagdad when, met by Al-Muwaffak, he was routed with great slaughter, the loss of his camp, 10,000 mules with vast spoil, and driven back into his Persian provinces. The last of the Tahirid rulers who, beaten by Ya'kub, had been kept by him as a prisoner, escaped on his defeat, and, welcomed at Bagdad, was there installed as governor. It is curious to note that the Zenji Reprobate, while yet in the field, offered to join Ya'kub after his defeat, in a fresh attack on Bagdad. The offer met this scornful reply:"Say;O ye Unbelievers! I worship not that which ye worship; neither do ye worship that which I worship."1
Some years passed, and a friendly message was again sent by the Caliph to Ya'kub, who still held the western parts of Persia. The grand old warrior received it as he lay on his deathbed, the sword by his side, and a crust with onions as a relish for his frugal meal. Starting up in his couch, he replied to the envoy,"Speak thus to thy Master. I am sick unto death. If I die, I am
1 Sura cix.
1 Sura cix.
quit of thee, and thou of me; if I live, there is nought betwixt us but this sword, that I may take my revenge of thee; or beaten, retire content (pointing to the crust) with this simple fare."
He died. 'Amr, his brother, succeeding, submitted himself to the Caliph, and was confirmed, with every honour, in the east to the farthest bounds of Khorsan and Sind.
Some years after things changed again; for Al-Muwaffak, now relieved of domestic as well as external pressure, and seeking to restore the Tahirid dynasty, had the Saffarids denounced from the pulpits, and meeting 'Amr in the field drove him from all his western possessions back to Sijistan. Towards the close of the reign we find 'Amr again in favour, and acknowledged as before. But in the end he fell, as we shall see, before the various antagonists who now sprang up in the East and fought for its supremacy. The rise of the Saffarids was the first step towards the recovery of the national independence of Persia.1
We turn to Egypt, where Ahmed ibn Tulun, appointed, as we have seen, Governor of Fustat, in 254 A.H., had gradually assumed independent power over the whole country. A wise and able ruler, the land flourished under his government as it had never done before. The revenues instead of passing to Bagdad, were expended in public works at home; buildings, canals, and charities were the objects of his care and a Mosque bearing his name is still the ornament of Cairo; learning was promoted, while a magnificent Court and powerful army maintained the dignity of Egypt without unduly increasing the financial pressure. Ahmed had for a while to fight at home against 'Alid and other pretenders, whom he subdued; and then with like success against Ibrahim the Aghlabid ruler of Kairawan, who, after signal conquests in Sicily, had turned his aspirations eastwards.
At this point, Al-Muwaffak, jealous of the Tulunid's independent attitude, sent Musa, with the view of again reducing him to subjection. The Egyptian with his large resources easily repelled the invasion, while Musa's army, in want and discontent, mutinied at Ar-Rakka, and after long months of inaction forced him to retrace his way to Al-'Irak.
1 On the Saffarid dynasty see Nöldeke,
Sketches of Eastern History, pp. 126 ff.
1 On the Saffarid dynasty see Nöldeke, Sketches of Eastern History, pp. 126 ff.
About this time, the Byzantine court, taking advantage of the Caliph's domestic troubles, was making serious advances in Asia Minor. Tarsus, unfortunate in its governors, allowed the fortress of Lu'lu'a to fall into the enemy's hands. Ahmed ibn Tulun had long sought for leave to carry his Egyptian arms against the Greeks, but Al-Muwaffak had scorned the offer. The Caliph, who regarded him with more favour than his brother, now committed the campaign into his hands. Placing his son Khumaraweih in charge at home, Ahmed gladly seizing the opportunity, passed at once into Syria, which opposed his advance; but easily defeating the governors who came out against him, he took Damascus and Antioch, and advanced upon Tarsus. There he was ill received, and, obliged to return to Syria, left the Greeks to pursue their victories. But he maintained his hold on Syria, and turning his arms eastward took Harran. While carrying all before him in his farther advance on Mosul, he heard that his son Khumaraweih had left the capital and retired to Barka with all the treasure. There the foolish youth sought to found a new kingdom of his own; but warring westward was beaten back by the Aghiabids on Barka.
He was seized by his father's troops, and carried back to Fustat;, a miserable spectacle. By command of Ahmed, his son inflicted with his own hand condign punishment on the advisers who had led him astray. He was then himself beaten with a hundred stripes, after which Ahmed wept as, with a father's bowels of compassion, he upbraided him for his folly.1
Meanwhile Lu'lu'a, the freed Memluk of Ahmed, had been pursuing the victorious course begun by his Master and extending the Tulunid rule from Syria to Mosul, when an unexpected turn of affairs occurred. Al-Muwaffak being still in mortal combat with the Zenj, the empire suffered everywhere from the helpless incapacity of his
1 The scene is told with much pathos. The punishment
which Ahmed made his son inflict on his evil counsellors is, however, so barbarous
as to mar the effect altogether; and I have not ventured to translate it into
the text. The truant son was commanded to cut off both their hands and their legs,
leaving them miserable living trunks. One may hope that these things are exaggerated.
But even worse things were in store for wretched Egypt under the Memluk dynasty.
1 The scene is told with much pathos. The punishment which Ahmed made his son inflict on his evil counsellors is, however, so barbarous as to mar the effect altogether; and I have not ventured to translate it into the text. The truant son was commanded to cut off both their hands and their legs, leaving them miserable living trunks. One may hope that these things are exaggerated. But even worse things were in store for wretched Egypt under the Memluk dynasty.
brother Al-Mo'tamid. The ambitious Ahmed here saw his opportunity. The Caliph, chafing at having only the shadow without the power of sovereignty, was to fly to Egypt, where the Tulunid, his faithful vassal, would secure to him the substantial enjoyment of the throne, and victory over his domineering brother.
But he had not calculated on the vigilance of Al-Muwaffak, who, apprised of the plot, caused Al-Mo'tamid to be seized in his flight towards Mosul, and with his chief followers in chains, sent back ignominiously to Samarra. Ahmed, thus foiled, vented his chagrin by dropping Al-Muwaffak's name from the public prayers; and Al-Muwaffak retaliated by obliging Al-Mo'tamid to anathematise his protégé in all the mosques that still acknowledged the Caliphate. Equally unsuccessful was Ahmed's attempt to assume the presidency at the annual pilgrimage; for the officer whom he sent to represent him at Mecca was discomfited by the Imperial troops supported by the Persian pilgrims; and here, too, by the Holy House, the Tulunid was denounced at the public service before the assembled multitude. Worse, however, than all, was the defection of Lu'lu', his general in Syria, who went over to Al-Muwaffak at Wasit, carrying with him his whole force. There he was received with open arms, and he aided materially in bringing to a close the Zenj rebellion. But a few years after, Lu'lu', despoiled by Al-Muwaffak of his vast riches (they were, Lu'lu'a asserted his only fault), returned a beggar to Egypt with but one attendant;an apt example of the instability of the times, and (our annalist adds) just reward of ingratitude towards the master who had freed him.
Not long after, Ahmed having ruled sixteen years in Egypt, and a considerable period in Syria also, died, and was succeeded by Khumaraweih, an unworthy heir to his father's great name.
Between him and the Caliph a struggle followed for several years, for the rule in Syria and Mesopotamia, which, after many battles, left the state of things pretty much as it had been at the beginning.
Mosul and its surrounding districts, having been long harassed by Khariji insurrections, and latterly by the encroachment of Egyptian generals, was now for a time regained by the Caliphate. But 'Alid risings continued throughout the whole reign to disturb the Empire. Al-Kufa
was seized by one of these pretenders, who was defeated after some heavy fighting; this city, however, had now fallen from its pre-eminence, and ceased to be a disturbing element. Medina was attacked by a force headed also by 'Alid rebels, and was again subjected to such outrage that for four weeks none ventured for prayer into the Mosque of Mohammad; and the city remained in terror till these unworthy descendants of the Prophet were driven out.
During the early years of this reign, the Kaiser, Basil, taking advantage of the distractions of the Caliphate, made inroads on the Syrian border, and as we have seen seized the fortress Lu'lu'a. In succeeding years, though opposed by the Paulicians who sided with the Arabs, the Greeks obtained other victories, in one of which an Arab general was taken captive and carried to the Byzantine court. In later years the tide turned, and a series of fields were won by the Tulunid governor of Tarsus, who in the end, however, lost his life, shot by a ball from the walls of a town he was besieging.
Early in 278 A.H., Al-Muwaffak, while engaged in a campaign towards the North, was seized with elephantiasis, and carried on a litter to Samarra. He had long been the real ruler. Some years previously, Al-Mo'tamid had sought to appoint a Wazir of his own, but fled across the river when Al-Muwaffak drew near; and so entirely did he succumb as, at his brother's command, even to send the favourite he had but just nominated to prison. Al-Muwaffak, therefore, when he fell sick, resolved to transmit the substantial authority he possessed to his own son Al-Mo'tadid. This prince was a favourite at the Capital.
On one occasion, claiming the government of Syria, instead of another to which he had been appointed, his father was displeased; and having placed him under arrest, the city was in uproar, fearing for his safety, till he was released. Now a similar feeling was abroad. As Al-Muwaffak's end drew near, his brother Al-Mo'tamid was brought over to Bagdad from Al-Medain, his enforced residence, by the Wazir; and the populace, apprehending that the Wazir had gone over to the side of the imbecile Caliph, rose in tumult against him. In point of fact, Al-Mo'tadid was in some danger; but his friends succeeded in bringing him
safely to his father's chamber, by whom thus upon his deathbed, he was formally invested with the same supreme power which Al-Muwaffak had himself so long held and vigorously used for the maintenance of the Empire. Shortly after, he expired at the age of forty-nine.
Al-Mo'tamid never regained any real power; in fact, he had often, both now and before, to struggle in penury with but a few dinars in his purse. In the year following his brother's death he was obliged publicly to depose his own son from the succession, and recognise Al-Mo'tadid as heir-apparent. He did not long survive, having drunk himself to death in a night carousal, at the age of fifty years, of which he had been Caliph, though in little more than name for twenty-three years.
The Caliphate: Its Rise, Decline, and Fall [Table of Contents]
Answering Islam Home Page