IN his Preface to the Second Edition, dated 1891, Sir William Muir says:—

"This volume was at first intended as an abridgment of the First Edition, or Annals of the Early Caliphate1, with continuation to the fall of the Abbassides; but I found, as I went on, the matter less compressible than I had hoped. The result, therefore, is much larger than I anticipated. I trust, however, that, its length notwithstanding, the narrative may be found not uninteresting; and I now offer it as a contribution towards the history of a period for which there are, as yet, but scanty materials in the English language.

"The authorities, excepting for the later portions, are purely Arabian; indeed, for the earlier there are no other. After Tabari, who died in the fourth century A.H., Ibn Athir (d. 630 A.H.), a singularly impartial annalist who compiled his work from all available sources, has been my chief guide. Towards the close, and especially for the brief chapter on the Caliphate under the Mameluke dynasty, I have drawn largely on Weil's admirable Geschichte der Chalifen2, which indeed has been my constant companion throughout. I gratefully acknowledge my obligations to the late Dr Weil. The more his great history is studied in connection with the original authorities, the more one is impressed with the vast research, the unfailing accuracy, and dispassionate judgment of the author.

"I should mention here that the materials out of which our story is woven differ entirely from those for the Biography of Mahomet. For that, every incident of his

1 Smith & Elder, 1833.

2 Vols. I.-III. Mannheim, 1864-1851; IV. and V. Stuttgart, 1860-1862.


life and every phase of his character is illustrated by myriads of traditions of all degrees of credibility—authoritative, uncertain, fabulous—each tradition separate and independent, generally short and complete in itself. At his death the curtain drops at once upon the lifelike scene. Tradition collapses and the little that remains is curt and meagre. Of the chief "Companions," indeed, from their connection with the Prophet, we have sufficient notice, and special prominence is given to the lives of the first four Caliphs. But tradition, instead of being, as before, a congeries of separate statements, now assumes the form of connected narrative, and eventually the style of ordinary annals; and though there is now and then an exception, as in the minute and profuse description of such battles as Cadesiya, the Camel, and Siffin, the story as a rule becomes bald and jejune. These annals also are strictly divided by the year, the chapter for each year containing everything belonging to it, and as a rule nothing else. The continuity of subjects extending often over a long series of years is thus broken up, and some inconvenience and difficulty experienced in forming a connected narrative. But upon the whole, the materials are amply sufficient for the historian's purpose. ...

"The reader will bear in mind that the Moslem year, as purely lunar, is eleven days shorter than the solar, and consequently loses about three years in every cycle of a hundred. The lunar month has also this peculiarity, that while, like the Jewish, the date indicates the age of the moon, the month itself gives no indication of the season of the year. The dates have usually been given throughout according to both the Moslem and the Christian notation.

"The Mussulman months, being unfamiliar to the English reader, have been indicated, as I trust in a more intelligible notation, by Roman numerals in the margin thus:—

Moharram 	      i.           Rajab	       vii.
Safar                ii.           Shaban             viii.
Rabi I.             iii.           Ramadhan or Ramzan   ix.
Rabi II.             iv.           Shawwal               x.
Jumad I.              v.           Dzul Cada            xi.
Jumad II.            vi.           Dzul Hijj       vvvvxii.


"I have not been very strict, and possibly not always consistent, in the rendering of proper names. Received form's have ordinarily been adhered to."

The Third Edition, published in 1899, was a reprint of the Second, with occasional emendations throughout.

In the present edition, the system of transliteration which has been followed is that of the Royal Asiatic Society, with some modification, which has been adopted in the new Edition of Sir William Muir's Life of Mohammad. A number of minute errors have been corrected, and it is hoped that few have escaped detection. The closer study of The Caliphate as well as of the Life leaves one with a strong impression of the Author's extreme accuracy in reproducing the statements of his authorities, as well as of the soundness of his judgment in weighing the evidence in support of two or more divergent accounts.

The Caliphate is based, as far as the Eastern side of the history goes, upon the Annals of Ibn al-Athir, who lived and wrote at Mosul in the early part of the thirteenth century A.D. Sir William Muir read the work through and added a summary translation on the margin of his copy. Ibn al-Athir's work is an epitome and continuation of that of the much older historian Tabari (d. 923 A.D.), of which the publication has only been completed in recent years. The value of Tabari's work, again, lies in the fact that it consists almost wholly of citations from much older sources, some of which are nearly contemporary with the events recorded. All of these lived under the 'Abbasid dynasty, yet this fact does not appear to have prejudiced their results so much as one might expect. The Umeiyads are not, upon the whole, painted in much blacker colours than the 'Abbasids, nor are the defects of the latter suppressed. The worst feature of all, from our point of view, their inhuman cruelty and disregard of life, is common to both. It is generally upon theological grounds that the Caliphs are acquitted or condemned; and the pictures of them which have come down to us are free from caricature and apparently true and fair.

Arabic history tends to be almost entirely anecdotal in character, and this no doubt helps one to picture to oneself the figures on the screen and the times in which


they moved. It is necessary, however, also to take account of the forces which shaped and governed the events. Sir William Muir has given full weight to one of the most powerful of these, the perennial jealousy of the northern and the southern Arabian tribes; but this is done in much more detail in Wellhausen's Das arabische Reich und sein Sturz1, and many of his observations have been incorporated in the present edition. Chapter LVIII. on the rival fortunes of the clans in Khorasan is drawn entirely from this work. Persons and events thus become connected together in the way of cause and effect; and the reader runs less risk of not seeing the wood for the trees.

The history of the Arab conquest of Egypt has yet to be written. A. J. Butler's monograph on that subject was published before the relative papyri were available. In the present edition the Arabic papyri from the Collection of the Archduke Rainer, edited by J. Karabacek, have been utilised, as well as the Greek papyri in the British Museum edited by H. I. Bell. From the latter the account of the administration at the end of Chapter XXII. has been drawn. The most important papyri bearing on the conquest itself have, however, it seems, yet to be published.

The narrative of the conquest of Syria in Chapters XIII and XVII., is a condensed translation of Mémoire sur la Conquête de la Syrie by the late M. J. de Goeje, who was the leading Arabist of his day.

Lastly, the names of the leading schoolmen and men of letters have been mentioned in their proper place, as the influence of these has been after all more important and more enduring than that of the Caliphs. At the same time it must be remembered that this is a history of the Caliphate, and that in its later stages it was almost out of touch with the great literary and scientific movements of the time.

1 Wellhausen delivered his closing lecture before retiring from his chair in the University of Göttingen, in August 1913. He took up the study of the literature of the Arabs only after that of the Hebrews; but he has thrown almost more light upon the latter. I had the advantage of reading a large amount of this work (which, like all that came from the hands of its author, is above praise) in a MS translation by M. G. W. which, it is hoped, may some day be completed and published for the advantage of English readers.


In conclusion, I have to thank the illustrious author and the publisher for permission to use Das arabische Reich und sein Sturz as has been done. The proof-sheets have been most carefully read by my friend Mr James Robson, M.A., Moncrieff Manse, Alloa, who has also verified the dates and other figures, and to whom any freedom from errors of detail which the work possesses is due. The sheets have also been read through and the Index checked and corrected by M. G. W. Lastly, I have to express my indebtedness to the printers for the extreme care with which a difficult type has been set up. The plan of Bagdad is reproduced by the kind permission of the Delegates of the Clarendon Press, from Le Strange's Baghdad.


25th March 1915.

The Caliphate: Its Rise, Decline, and Fall [Table of Contents]
Answering Islam Home Page