The History of al-Ṭabarī Vol. 30

The ʿAbbāsid Caliphate in Equilibrium: The Caliphates of Mūsā al-Hādī and Hārūn al-Rashīd A.D. 785-809/A.H. 169-193

Translated by C. E. Bosworth

Subjects: Islam
Series: SUNY series in Near Eastern Studies
Paperback : 9780887065668, 394 pages, June 1989
Hardcover : 9780887065644, 394 pages, July 1989

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Table of contents



Translator's Foreword

Genealogical Table of the `Abbasids

Genealogical Table of the Barmaki Family of Secretaries and Viziers


1. Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and the Eastern Provinces during the Reigns of al-Hadi and al-Rashid

2. The Arab-Byzantine Marches during This Period

The Caliphate of Musa al-Hadi

The Events of the Year 169 (cont'd) (785/786)

The Succession of Musa al-Hadi as Caliph on His Father al-Mahdi's Death and His New Administrative Appointments

Musa al-Hadi's Repression of the Dualist Infidels

The Remainder of the Events of This Year

The Revolt and Killing of al-Husayn b. `Ali

Idris b. `Abdallah b. Hasan's Escape to the Maghrib and His Foundation of the Idrisid Dynasty in Morocco

More Accounts of the Battle of Fakhkh and Its Aftermath

Various Items of Information

The Events of the Year 170 (786/787)

The Reason Why al-Khayzuran Had Ordered the Slave Girls to Kill al-Hadi

The Time of al-Hadi's Death, the Term of His Life, the Extent of His Rule and (the Names of) Those Who Led the Worship over Him

Mention of His Children

Some of the Historical Events Involving Him and Some Aspects of His Behavior

The Caliphate of Harun al-Rashid

The Events of the Year 170 (cont'd) (786/787)

Harun's Assumption of the Caliphate on Musa al-Hadi's Death

Harun's Official Appointments and Dismissals

The Events of the Year 171 (787/788)

The Events of the Year 172 (788/789)

The Events of the Year 173 (789/790)

The Death of Muhammad b. Sulayman and the Confiscation of His Fortune

The Time of al-Khayzuran's Death and Her Burial

The Events of the Year 174 (790/791)

The Events of the Year 175 (791/792)

The Reasons for al-Rashid's Exacting Allegiance to Muhammad al-Amin as Heir

The Events of the Year 176 (792/793)

Yahya b. `Abdallah b. Hasan's Uprising and His Role in These Events

Yahya b. `Abdallah al-`Alawi's Altercation with Bakkar b. `Abdallah al-Zubayri

Al-Rashid's Repudiation of Yahya b. `Abdallah's Guarantee of Safe- Conduct

More Accusations from the Zubayri Family against Yahya b. `Abdallah al-`Alawi

The Internecine Strife (fitnah) among the North and South Arabs in Syria

The Reason behind al-Rashid's Appointment of Ja`far al-Barmaki over Egypt and the Latter's Appointment of 'Umar b. Mihran (as His Deputy) over It

The Events of the Year 577 (793/794)

The Events of the Year 178 (794/795)

Harthamah b. A`yan Restores Order in Ifriqiyah

Al-Fadl b. Yahya's Governorship in Khurasan and the Poetic Eulogies of Him

The Events of the Year 179 (795/796)

The Events of the Year 180 (796/797)

The Outcome of the Factional Strife in Syria and the Poetic Eulogies of Ja`far b. Yahya, Restorer of Order There

Ja`far b. Yahya's Return from Syria and His Address of Thanks to the Caliph

Various Items of Information

The Events of the Year 181 (797/798)

The Events of the Year 182 (798/799)

The Events of the Year 183 (799/800)

The Khazar Invasion of Armenia

Various Items of Information

The Events of the Year 182 (800/801)

The Events of the Year 185 (805/802)

The Events of the Year 186 (802)

Al-Rashid's Succession Arrangements for His Three Sons

The Taking of the Solemn Oaths in the Ka`bah by the Two Princes

Text of the Document Laying Down Conditions Which `Abdallah Son of the Commander of the Faithful Wrote Out in His Own Hand in the Ka`bah

The Text of the Letter of Harun b. Muhammad, al-Rashid, to the Provincial Governors

Al-Rashid's Subsequent Renewal of the Succession Pledges to alMa'mun and al-Qasim at Qarmasin

The Events of the Year 187 (802/803)

The Reason for al-Rashid's Killing of Ja`far al-Barmaki, the Manner of His Killing, and What al-Rashid Did to Him and the Members of His Family

Ja`far's Alleged Connivance with the Release of the `Alid Yahya b. `Abdallah b. Hasan

The Barmakis' Wealth and Ostentation as a Reason for Their Fall

The Barmakis' Growing Fears of the Caliph's Threatening Intentions

The Alleged Misconduct between Ja`far and the Caliph's Sister `Abbasah

The Killing of Ja`far

Poetry Written on the Fall of the Barmakis

Al-Rashid's Anger against `Abd al-Malik b. Salih and His Consequent Imprisonment

Al-Qasim's Raid into the Byzantine Lands

The Correspondence between the Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus and al-Rashid on the Occasion of the Former's Breaking the Peace Agreement, and the Caliph's Punitive Measures against the Byzantines

Al-Rashid's Killing of Ibrahim b. `Uthman b. Nahik

The Events of the Year 188 (803/804)

The Events of the Year 189 (804/805)

Al-Rashid's Journeying to al-Rayy in Order to Investigate Complaints against the Governor of Khurasan, `Ali b. `Isa b. Mahan, and His Confirmation of `Ali in Office

Al-Rashid Receives the Allegiance of the Local Rulers of the Caspian Provinces and Daylam, and Appoints Various Governors in Western Persia and Eastern Arabia

Al-Rashid's Return to Iraq

The Events of the Year 190 (805/806)

The Reason behind Raft' b. Layth's Revolt

Various Campaigns by al-Rashid against the Byzantines and Diplomatic Exchanges with the Emperor Nicephorus

The Events of the Year 191 (806/807)

Various Raids into the Byzantine Lands, and Measures against the Protected Peoples

The Reason for al-Rashid's Dismissal of `Ali b.`Isa and His Anger against Him

Al-Rashid's Letter Dismissing `All b. `Isa and His Charge to Harthamah

What Befell Harthamah in the Course of His Journey to Khurasan, and What Happened to `Ali b. `Isa and His Sons

Harthamah's Letter to al-Rashid Announcing the Successful Completion of His Mission

Al-Rashid's Answer to Harthamah's Letter

The Events of the Year 192 (807/808)

Al-Rashid's Preparations for His Journey to Khurasan

Al-Rashid's Serious Medical Condition and His Premonitions of Death

Various Items of Information

The Events of the Year 193 (808/809)

The Illness and Death of al-Fadl b. Yahya al-Barmaki

Al-Rashid's Journey from Jurjan to Tus

Al-Rashid's Vengeance on Rafi` b. Layth's Brother Bashir

The Occasion of al-Rashid's Death and the Place Where He Died

The Governors in the Provincial Capitals in Harun al-Rashid's Reign

Some Aspects of al-Rashid's Conduct and Mode of Life

Al-Rashid's (Free) Wives Who Were Endowed with Substantial Dowries (al-maha'ir)

Al-Rashid's Children

More Aspects of al-Rashid's Conduct and Mode of Life

Bibliography of Cited Works



This volume of al-Ṭabarī's History covers nearly a quarter of a century, and after covering the very brief caliphate of al-Hādī, concentrates on that of Hārūn al-Rashīd. During these years, the caliphate was in a state of balance with its external foes; the great enemy, Christian Byzantium, was regarded with respect by the Muslims, and the two great powers of the Near East treated each other essentially as equals, while the Caucasian and Central Asian frontiers were held against pressure from the Turkish peoples of Inner Eurasia. The main stresses were internal, including Shī'ite risings on behalf of the excluded house of 'Alī, and revolts by the radical equalitarian Khārijites; but none of these was serious enough to affect the basic stability of the caliphate.

Hārūn ar-Rashīd's caliphate has acquired in the West, under the influence of a misleading picture from the Arabian Nights, a glowing image as a golden age of Islamic culture and letters stemming from the Caliph's patronage of the exponents of these arts and sciences. In light of the picture of the Caliph which emerges from al-Ṭabarī's pages, however, this image seems to be distinctly exaggerated. Al-Rashīd himself does not exhibit any notable signs of administrative competence, military leadership or intellectual interests beyond those which convention demanded of a ruler. For much of his reign, he left the business of government to the capable viziers of the Barmakīd family--the account of whose spectacular fall from power forms one of the most dramatic features of al-Ṭabarī's narratives here--and his decision to divide the Islamic empire after his death between his sons was to lead subsequently to a disastrous civil war. Nevertheless, al-Ṭabarī's story is full of interesting sidelights on the lives of those involved in the court circle of the time and on the motivations which impelled medieval Muslims to seek precarious careers there.

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