The History of al-Ṭabarī Vol. 26

The Waning of the Umayyad Caliphate: Prelude to Revolution A.D. 738-745/A.H. 121-127

Translated by Carole Hillenbrand

Subjects: Islam
Series: SUNY series in Near Eastern Studies
Paperback : 9780887068126, 328 pages, August 1987
Hardcover : 9780887068102, 328 pages, July 1989

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Table of contents



Translator's Foreword


Table I. Genealogy of the Later Umayyads

Table II. Genealogy of the Prophet's Family (The Shi`ah and the `Abbasids)


Map I. Khurasan

Map II. Transoxiana

Map III. Syria in the Umayyad Period

Map IV. Al-Kufah and Its Environs

The Caliphate of Hisham

The Events of the Year 121 (738/739)

The Reason for [Zayd b. `Ali's] Death, an Account of His Circumstances, and the Cause of His Rebellion

The Raids of Nasr b. Sayyar

The Events of the Year 122 (739/740)

The Killing of Zayd b. `Ali

The Events of the Year 123 (740/741)

The [Treaty with the Soghdians] and the Reason for It

The Reason for Yusuf's Request and the Outcome of It

An Account of [the Denunciation of Nasr] and of the Part Played in It by Hisham and Yusuf b. `Umar

The Events of the Year 124 (741/742)

The Reason Why Bukayr b. Mahan Bought Abu Muslim

The Events of the Year 125 (742/743)

The Malady That Caused Hisham's Death

Some Biographical Details about Hisham

The Caliphate of al-Walid b. Yazid b. `Abd al-Malik b. Marwan

The Events of the Year 125 (cont'd) (742/743)

Some of the Reasons Why al-Walid Acceded to the Caliphate

What Transpired between Yusuf and Nasr in the Matter [of Tribute]

The Killing of Yahya b. Zayd b. `Ali

The Events of the Year 126 (743/744)

The Reason for Yazid's Killing of al-Walid and the Manner of His Killing

Part of the Account of al-Walid's Causing Disaffection among the Sons of His Two Uncles, Hisham and al-Walid

The Killing of Khalid al-Qasri and the Reason for It

The Caliphate of Yazid b. al-Walid

The Events of the Year 126 (cont'd) (743/744)

The Discords That Occurred

The Uprising in Hims

The Rebellion of the People of Palestine and Jordan and the Treatment They Received from Yazid b. al-Walid

The Dismissal of Yusuf b. `Umar and the Appointment of Mansur b. Jumhur (as Governor of Iraq)

The Text of Marwan's Letter to al-Ghamr

The Dismissal of Mansur b. Jumhur from the Post of Governor of Iraq

The Discord between Nasr and al-Kirmani and What Had Caused It

The Reason for Granting Safe-Conduct to al-Harith b. Surayj

The Account of [Marwan's Rebellion] and of the Reason That Prompted Marwan to Oppose (Yazid) and Then to Give Allegiance to Yazid

The Caliphate of Abu Ishaq Ibrahim b. al-Walid and the Rise of Marwan II

The Events of the Year 126 (cont'd) (743/744)

The Events of the Year 127 (744/745)

The Account of Marwan's Journey and What Caused the Battle [at `Ayn al-Jarr]

The Account of the Cause of the Uprising of `Abdallah (b. Mu`awiyah) and of His Summoning the People to Himself

The Account of the Affair of al-Harith and Nasr after al-Harith Came to See Him

Appendix I. Problems of Translation

Appendix II. Al-Walid's Letter Appointing His Two Sons, al-Hakam and `Uthman, as His Successors

Bibliography of Cited Works



The years 738-745/121-127, which this volume covers, saw the outbreak in Syria of savage internecine struggles between prominent members of the Umayyad family, which had ruled the Islamic world since 661/41. After the death of the caliph Hishām in 743-/125, the process of decay at the center of the Umayyad power--the ruling family itself--was swift and devastating. Three Umayyad caliphs (al-Walīd II, Yazīd III, and Ibrahim) followed Hishām within little more than a year, and the subsequent intervention of their distant cousin Marwān b. Muhammad (the future Marwān II) could not arrest the forces of opposition that were shortly to culminate in the ʿAbbāsid Revolution of 750/132.

In this volume al-Ṭabarī deals extensively with the end of Hishām's reign, providing a rich store of anecdotes on this most able of Umayyad caliphs. He also covers in depth the notorious lifestyle of al-Walīd II, the libertine prince and poet, whose career has attracted much scholarly attention in recent years. Moreover, al-Ṭabarī chronicles at great length the events of the rebellion and death of the Shi'ite pretender, Zayd ibn ʿAlī, at al-Kūfah, as well as recording in detail the activities farther to the east, where Naṣr ibn Sayyār was serving as the last Umayyad governor of Transoxiana and Khurasan, the very area from which the ʿAbbāsid Revolution was to spring. The text also contains several official letters which shed much light on Umayyad propaganda and on early Islamic epistolary style.

The hindsight conferred by subsequent centuries highlights the full significance of these half-dozen years or so. Al-Ṭabarī documents the incubation of the ʿAbbāsid Revolution, an event of great importance in world history, and traces the failure of the principal Shi'ite revolt of the eighth century, a debacle which was also to have serious repercussions, for it generated the foundation of Zaydi principalities in Iran and the Yemen. Yet even these major themes are secondary to the epic tale that al-Ṭabarī unfolds of the tragic downfall of the first dynasty in Islam.