Abbasid Caliphate

Abbasid Caliphate . The Abbasid caliphate (also called the Abbasid caliphate), was the second dynasty of Sunni caliphs ( 750 – 1258 ) that succeeded the Umayyads. It is also known as the Baghdad caliphate , as the Abbasid caliphate was founded in Kufa in 750 and changed its capital in 762 to Baghdad . Later, between 1261 and 1517 , the Abbasid caliphate of Cairo was established in Mamluk Egypt . The Abbasids base their claim to the caliphate on their descent from Abbas ibn Abd al-Muttalib ( 566 – 652 ), one of the younger uncles of the Prophet Muhammad . Muhammad ibn ‘Ali , Abbas’s great-grandson , began his campaign for the rise to power of his family in Persia , during the reign of the Umayyad Caliph Umar II . During the caliphate of Marwan II , this opposition reached its climax with the rebellion of Imam Ibrahim , a fourth generation descendant of Abbas , in the city of Kufa (present-day Iraq ), and in the province of Khorasan (in Persia, current Iran ). The revolt achieved some considerable successes, but eventually Ibrahim was captured and died (perhaps murdered) in prison in 747 .

The fighting continued his brother Abdalah , known as Abu al-‘Abbas as-Saffah who, after a decisive victory on the Great Zab River (a tributary of the Tigris River that runs through Turkey and Iraq ) in 750 , crushed the Umayyads and he was proclaimed caliph .

The successor of Abu al-‘Abbas , al-Mansur , founded in 762 the city ​​of Madinat as-Salam (Baghdad), to which he transferred the capital from Damascus . The period of maximum splendor corresponded to the reign of Harún al-Rashid ( 786-809 ), from which a political decline began that would be accentuated with his successors.

The last caliph , al-Mu’tasim , was assassinated in 1258 by the Mongols, who had conquered Baghdad . However a member of the dynasty was able to flee to Egypt and kept power under the control of the Mamluks .

This last branch of the dynasty remained until 1517 when the Ottoman Turks conquered Syria and Egypt .


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  • 1 Origins
  • 2 VIII century
  • 3 Fourth Fitna
  • 4 IX century
  • 5 Organization of the Empire
  • 6 Disintegration
  • 7 Characteristics of the period of the Abbasid dynasty
  • 8 List of Abbasid Caliphs of Baghdad
  • 9 Sources


Until the middle of the eighth century the Abbasids had given little to talk about. They were descendants of Abbas , an uncle of the Prophet Muhammad who had not especially distinguished himself in heroic times. His descendants had supported Caliph Ali , and although they do not appear to have cordial relations with the Umayyads , they had settled in Humayma , a small village in Palestine . Beyond the genealogical subtleties, the fundamental factor was that they knew how to take advantage of the main groups opposed to the Umayyads , who based their ideology on placing in the caliphateto a member of the prophet’s family . To this end, the Abbasids began to weave a conspiracy in Kufa . In order not to make the mistakes of previous revolts, they went to the border region of Khurasan , where many Arabs had emigrated , sending Abu Muslim . This was a mysterious character who proclaimed that the Umayyads had brought oppression, so a member of the prophet’s family was needed to lead the Muslim community and avenge the atrocities committed by the Umayyads , without revealing that the instigator of the revolt wasIbrahim ben Muhammad ben Ali , who awaited the evolution of events in Humayna . Many people joined the army of Abu Muslim . The rest is military history: in the year 748 , taking advantage of the chaotic situation that existed in the empire of Marwan II , Abu Muslim conquers Merv , a year later Kufa and shortly after he wins in the battle of Zab . Meanwhile Ibrahim ben Muhammad ben Ali is captured and killed, and when the rebels enter Kufa , his successor, al-Saffah ( 750 – 754), also known as Abu al-‘Abbas Abdullah ibn Muhammad as-Saffah or Abul `Abbas al-Saffaḥ , was proclaimed caliph .

At last the secret of who that successor was had been revealed, and there is evidence that some were very disappointed. To counter this loss of support, al Saffah did everything possible to attract the military leaders who had formed the backbone of the old Umayyad army . In addition, the circumstances in which the ascension had taken place required more support, which became very clear when the death of al-Saffah , after only four years in office, the question of succession was raised, which faced a brother of the deceased, Abu Ya’far , known as al-Mansur , with his uncle Abdalah .

The crisis was decided by arms and if Al-Mansur could finally proclaim himself Caliph (754-775) it was thanks to the determined support that Abu Muslim and his Jurasanis gave him . But still the new caliph could not allow himself to be grateful and executed Abu Muslim through deception. Then, fearing new riots among his relatives, he ordered several of his uncles to be imprisoned and killed family members and friends.

During his reign, the country’s economy improved, achieved great prosperity, introduced Arabic as the official language, and letters and science flourished under his reign. It was the founder of Baghdad , Madinat al-Salam . He died near Mecca during the pilgrimage.

8th century

A el-Mansur succeeded by his son El-Mahdi ( 775 – 785 ), who was able to maintain and increase the rich Caliphate he inherited from his father. He continued with the improvements started by his father, improving the food and textile industry and the quality of the houses. Meanwhile, the Byzantines , taking advantage of internal struggles since the beginning of the Abbasid caliphate , were seizing Syria , so that in the end the caliph sent troops forcing Empress Irene to sign peace and pay an annual tribute. In Khorasan , where Islam was not consolidated, the warrior al-Muqanna , with the idea of ​​reviving the Persian ideals , faced the Abbasids and conquered Transoxania . The armies of the caliph managed to defeat him and Al-Muqanna committed suicide.

Al-Mahdi wanted his youngest son, Harun , to succeed him , but his eldest son disagreed and confronted his father, who died on the way to battle against his son. He is then succeeded by his first-born, Musa al-Hadi , who intended to name his son heir excluding his brother Harún from the line of succession , but died before doing so. The famous Harun al-Rashid ( 786 – 809 ) is the Abbasid caliph who best illustrates the height of the dynasty . Great care was taken to call for jihad to spread Islam in Anatolia, although it did not advance too much. He surrounded himself with great luxury and pageantry, distancing himself from his subjects and calling himself “the shadow of Allah on earth.”

He had to face several rebellions: the Kharijites took Mosul twice but were subdued and the caliph ordered the walls that surrounded it to be demolished. The Byzantine emperor Nicephorus I refused to pay the tribute and had to be forced by force. The Berbers rebelled again at Ifriqiya , and in Fez a rebel named Idrísq founded the independent kingdom of the Idrisites . There an army of Ibrahim al-Aglab was directed , who revolted in Tunisia and founded the dynasty of the Aglabíes , with capital inQayrawan ( Kairouan ). Most of the riots were put down with great forcefulness, which was followed by a period of calm. There was a cultural renaissance and translations of Greek , Persian and Syriac texts were made into Arabic and based on this knowledge, great scientific advances were made. Industry and commerce also boomed.

At this time the beginning of the decline of the caliphate occurs. Provinces such as Ifriqiya and al-Andalus gradually became independent and in Samarkand Rafi ben Layt rose up and , in a short time, made Transoxania independent . In Khorasan the kharijites rose up and the caliph himself came to quell the revolt, but he died before arriving.

Fourth Fitna

However, the most important aspect that marked the caliphate of Harun al-Rasid was the question of succession. In 803 , just before delivering his formidable blow against the Barmaki , the caliph made public the terms in which the succession would take place: one of his sons, al-Amin , was to become caliph with the support of the stationed army in Baghdad ; his second son, Al-Mamun , was to receive the province of Khurasan, and even though he must have been faithful to his brother, his government was independent in practice. Barely two years after the death of their father, his two sons became involved in a civil war of catastrophic results, known as the Downcast Civil War or Fourth Fitna .

The culminating episode of this war was the siege of Baghdad by the troops of al-Mamun ( 813 – 833 ), who surrendered in 813 . This surrender did not bring the end of the war, which lasted until 819 by the decision of the caliph to name Ali ibn Musa , known as Al-Rida (‘the chosen one’) as his heir because he was a direct descendant of Ali . In the end, and for somewhat obscure reasons, the caliph himself ended the conflagration. After getting rid of the Persian elements that until then made up his political circle, he decided to return to Baghdad. Al-Rida was “conveniently” poisoned (he is considered a martyr by the Twelfth Shiites ) and the central authority restored.

9th century

The political upheavals with which the 9th century openedthey weren’t the only ones to hit the empire. Behind them, and at times clearly interrelated, there were important social convulsions that now manifest themselves with great virulence and geographical extension. One of the reasons for these convulsions was the bleak situation of the peasants. Under heavy tax pressure, they were obliged to pay cash for the crops, which meant selling them at a lower price every time the tax agents had the idea of ​​showing up in their village. The refusal or delay in payment was punished with exemplary harshness and the only way out was to flee from their lands, which caused the communities to be left with fewer members and with the same amount to pay.

In some cases the social upheavals took on the tinges of religious movements. This is the case of the revolts that took place in Jurasan and that were based on the memory of the charismatic figure of Abu Muslim , who inspired a doctrine of groups known by the generic name of Jurrumiyya . Their doctrines granted Abu Muslim the rank of prophet, denied the resurrection, believed in the transmigration of souls, and preached the community of women, beliefs directly inherited from Mazdakism , the great social and religious movement that had shocked the Persian community in the 6th century .

The social and political upheavals of the ninth century also brought about the weakening of the old Jurassic army that had brought the Abbasid family to power . The caliphate of al-Mamún witnessed the rise of a member of the Abbasid family who was the one who best knew how to realize these changes, al-Mutasim . This character achieved notoriety thanks to his ability to surround himself with a private army made up of a few thousand soldiers, mostly Turks from territories beyond the borders of the empire.

To quell the Kharijian revolts in Khurasan , he sent an army officer, Tahid , who put down the revolt and ruled the area with great success to become independent later. Upon his death, his son established the Tahirid dynasty in the area ( 822 ). He also had to confront the Shiites of Kufa and Basra and favor the Mu’tazilis , whose ideas coincided with his intellectual character. This caused many tensions, as well as the arrest of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal , founder of Hanbalism , who became a hero to many. Al-MamunHe tried to put an end to these discontent by renewing the pact with the Shiites and appointing the Shiite imam al-Rida as his heir. Baghdad did not like this decision and the people rose up, proposing Ibrahim , son of Al-Mahdi , as a candidate .

The caliph dies while on his way to confront the Byzantines and is succeeded by his brother Al-Mutasim ( 833 – 842 ). In this caliphate internal rebellions and insecurity increased. His trusted personal guard was made up of Turkish slaves who moved up the ladder of administration, causing protest from the population of Baghdad . For this reason a new capital was built, Samarra , 100 km away. from Baghdad , but unlike this one, it was not successful. The Turkish officers were acquiring more power, to the point that the life of the caliphand the government came to depend on them. Some Turkish officers ( emirs ) became independent and created their own states. In addition, the life of luxury that the caliph led had to be paid for by extorting officials.

He was succeeded by his son Al-Wathiq ( 842 – 847 ) and his brother al-Mutawakkil ( 847 – 861 ). The latter carried out a repressive government. In 849 he annulled the decrees favoring the Muztalis and released the prisoners for religious reasons. He persecuted the Shiites and sought support from Orthodoxy , to which he granted positions of responsibility in the administration. He also persecuted Christians and Jews . To escape from Turkish pressure, he ordered construction on the outskirts of Samarraa grandiose palace called al-Gafariyya , but this change did not prevent him from being assassinated in 861 , the victim of a plot by one of his sons and several Turkish officials.

This death signaled a change in relations between the caliphs and their Turkish military ” slaves .” During the previous period the caliphs had been able to exercise absolute control over these soldiers, but as time passed, this power diminished. During the nine years after this assassination ( 861 – 870 ), the Abbasid caliphate was plunged into utter chaos. Four caliphs succeeded each other during this period, all murdered and in a virtual state of civil war .

As a consequence of the weakness of Abbasid power , the situation in the territories of Islam changed radically. This meant that when the caliphate was able to overcome its internal crisis in the years after 870 , it was no longer possible for them to send governors to the provinces and wait quietly for them to collect taxes and maintain order: in the face of the fait accompli that the local powers had a solid implantation in their provinces, the caliphs of Baghdad had no choice but to have these local rulers recognized and to command the collections of their area. But the process of disintegration was already irreversible. In fact, Ahmad ben Tulúa (governor of Egypt appointed in the868 ) further challenged the government by extending his rule also to Palestine and Syria , where he ruled for 37 years.

Despite having all these elements against it, during the last 30 years of the 9th century , the Abbasid caliphate experienced a fleeting recovery from the hand of al-Muwaffaq , who paradoxically never served as caliph. His achievement was to gather around him the main leaders of the Turkish army. With this political vision, Al-Muwaffaq allowed his brother Al-Mutamid ( 870 – 892 ) to rule , although in the end this caliph was relegated to a mere comparsa role. Both brothers died one after the other in 891 and 892. A son of Al-Muwaffaq known as al-Mutadid ( 892- 902 ) was proclaimed caliph. His years of rule were marked by struggles on all fronts, which in some cases were successful ( Syria and northern Mesopotamia and Egypt ). This was not the case in eastern Iran , which passed into the hands of the Samaní emirate .

Despite all this, at the beginning of the 10th century , the Abbasid caliphate seemed to have recovered its times of splendor; even the Samanis (independent governors) had to recognize Caliphate sovereignty . However, this momentary resurgence was due to the good government of a few caliphs . As soon as power passed into the hands of less gifted caliphs, this entire imposing edifice collapsed with astonishing ease.

Organization of the Empire

The Abbasids , raised to power by a movement that had its main strengths in its ideological component and military potential , were able to impose at first a high degree of centralization throughout the empire, with the exception of al-Andalus and the north. from Africa .

The claim that the Abbasids were members of the prophet’s family fully legitimized the dynasty; Thus, they were not criticized by the dynastic succession and only had to face the supporters of the Ali branch, who felt disappointed with the way the caliphs governed and annulled the pact signed with the Abbasids. In these confrontations Muhammad , the great-grandson of the prophet , who became strong in Medina and his brother Ibrahim, who had risen in Basra, died . Apart from family, the Abbasids had solid support: the Mawali of the Abbasid lineagewho were employed in the central and provincial administration. Some of the Mawalis went on to form families of administration servants. The Barmaki became legendary in power and influence within the administration, until in 803 all this came to an end. The Caliph Haroun El-Rashid made the family plummet, incarcerating some and killing others.

The military aristocracy was also of great importance , since the army began to organize itself by the criterion of the geographical origin of the troops, and not in fictitious tribal affiliations as in the Umayyad era . There are political changes of marked Persian influence: the Abbasid caliphs held the religious and political leadership. They surrounded themselves with a great hierarchical ceremonial that was supervised by a chamberlain, they left the tasks of government in the hands of a grand vizier, with full powers, who presided over a council formed by the heads of the different diwan or administrative departments.

Diwan al-harag: he was in charge of the state treasury, he administered the income collected in taxes and fees to which the caliphate was subject. During this period, taxes were generalized and levied on all Muslims ( tithe of their crops ) and on the rest of the population. Imports and exports were also taxed.

  • Diwan al-nafaqat: regulated palace expenses.
  • Diwan al-tawqid: dealt with the caliph’s correspondence .
  • Diwan al-barid: in charge of official communications and secret information.
  • Diwan al-shurta: He was in charge of maintaining order.

In the cities a police chief, sahib al-shurta , was in charge of the policemen who kept order. On the other hand, Al-Muhtasib was in charge of surveillance in the markets. In the provinces, authority was held by a governor and a superintendent, with a certain degree of autonomy, but controlled by the postmaster. All of these changes were called by the Abbasids ” dawla ” (revolution of fortune).


It is very significant that this disintegration takes place at the time when Islam is assumed by most of the populations that inhabit the area. Until then, a minority, Islam began to be the predominant religion among the indigenous peoples conquered by the Arabs three centuries earlier. This spread of the faith brought greater ideological uniformity, but sectarian divisions were also accentuated. The definitive crisis of the Abbasid caliphate developed between the years 908 and 945 . During this period five caliphs succeeded each other in Baghdad, of which four were deposed by violent means. The political events and ups and downs that marked this crisis were complex. In fact, it was the intrigues of a faction of the civil bureaucracy that allowed one of the weakest and most easily manageable members of the Abbasid lineage, al-Muqtadir ( 908 – 932 ), whose government was controlled by the viziers, to be proclaimed caliph. , of rival groups that fought to monopolize fiscal resources. The assassination of this caliph was a consequence of the crisis of central power and unleashed the spiral of internal crisis in an unstoppable way.

The lack of resources had complex roots. To cope with tax collection , the caliphs used the tenants, families who advanced a sum to the caliph (the estimate of what could be collected in a certain area) and then they were responsible for collecting taxes from the citizens .

These tenants normally gave less than they actually collected, so they accumulated large fortunes and exploited the peasants as best they could to collect more profits. Trapped by the imperative need to make payments, especially to an army always ready to rebel, the central government had to give in to pressure and allow the military to collect taxes themselves.

This led to the concession of iqtá ( igar ), which entailed the concession of territories in which agents of the central government could not exercise their authority, but the beneficiary collected taxes and sent the caliph an amount fixed in advance that did not it was no longer a symbolic quantity. During this period, the ilya or himaya also became frequent , where a peasant placed himself under the protection of a lord, giving him his lands. With this, the peasants sought to protect themselves from the arbitrariness of the tax agents and the convulsions caused by the wars. In some areas it helped to impose a servile situation on rural populations.

In January 946 Ahmad b . Buya made his entry into Baghdad at the head of a victorious army. The current Abbasid caliph had no choice but to cede effective power, ending several decades of struggle in which the army chiefs had seized all power. This family, the Buyis, were originally from Daylam (northern Iran ). Three Buyi brothers , Ali , Ahmad and Hasan knew how to take advantage of this moment of weakness and recruited an army made up of Dalaymi, accumulating military successes all along their way toBaghdad . They forced the caliph to hand them grandiose titles and to entrust them with the government of the territories they had conquered. They had to establish a system of iqtas and enlist Turks for their army, a system that survived until the arrival of the Seljuks. One of the features that has drawn the most attention to the Buyis is the fact that, despite being Shiites, they did not show any predisposition against the Abbasid caliphate and allowed them to survive, although evidently reduced to a symbolic role and that – paradoxically – in this period it would become the spiritual point of reference for all Sunni Muslims .

The Abbasid caliph, who increasingly relied on the Turkish tribes , appealed to the Seljuks for help in driving the Buyis out of Baghdad . In 1055 the Seljuks conquered the city and allied with the Abbasids. The caliph , whose power was nominal, appointed the Turkish chief, Tugril Beg King of East and West , and the Turks became sovereigns of the empire. They governed in a repressive and intolerant way with the different ideas and religions that governed the caliphate, which they plunged into a definitive decline.

The successors of the Abbasid hegemony had to face more external threats, such as the Hamdanis (northern Mesopotamia and part of Syria ), whose origins are a much older Arab tribe that, coinciding with the crisis of the caliphate , strengthened their lineage and seized from Mosul , coming into direct conflict with the Buyis . This was joined by the taking of Aleppo ( 944 ) by Sayf al-Dawla . The ruling branch of Mosul survived until 979 , when it was eliminated by the Buyis. Its border with the Byzantine empireIt was also conflictive, although its end came with the arrival of the Fatimids .

Characteristics of the period of the Abbasid dynasty

The period of the Abbasid dynasty was one of expansion and colonization. They created a great and brilliant civilization. Trade grew, cities flourished. Extraordinary achievements were made in architecture and the arts in general. Baghdad was a great commercial center. The tales of One Thousand and One Nights reflect the splendid life of this city.

There is great intellectual activity: history , literature , medicine , Greek mathematics with the inclusion of algebra and trigonometry , geography , etc. Great importance of jurisprudence . With the Abbasids in power, the last Umayyad moved to Al-Andalus, where he claimed the title of emir. His descendants would secede, creating an independent caliphate.

List of Abbasid Caliphs of Baghdad

  • 750-754: Abu al-‘Abbas al-Safar
  • 754-775: al-Mansur
  • 775-785: al-Mahdi
  • 785-786: al-Hadi
  • 786-809: Harun al-Rasid
  • 809-813: al-Amin
  • 813-833: al-Mamun
  • 833-842: al-Mutasim
  • 842-847: al-Wathiq
  • 847-861: al-Mutawakkil
  • 861-862: al-Muntasir
  • 862-866: al-Musta’in
  • 866-869: al-Mu’tazz
  • 869-870: al-Muhtadi
  • 870-892: al-Mu’tamid
  • 892-902: al-Mu’tadid
  • 902-912: al-Muqtafi
  • 912-932: al-Muqtadir
  • 932-934: al-Qahir
  • 934-940: ar-Radi
  • 940-943: al-Muttaqui
  • 943-946: al-Mustaqfi
  • 946-974: al-Muti
  • 974-991: at-Ta’i
  • 991-1031: al-Qadir
  • 1031-1075: al-Qa’im
  • 1075-1094: al-Muqtadi
  • 1094-1118: al-Mustazhir
  • 1118-1135: al-Mustarshid
  • 1135-1136: al-Rashid
  • 1136-1160: al-Muqtafi
  • 1160-1170: al-Mustanjid
  • 1170-1180: al-Mustadi
  • 1180-1225: an-Nasir
  • 1225-1226: az-Zahir
  • 1226-1242: al-Mustansir
  • 1242-1258: al-Musta’sim
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