The History of al-Ṭabarī Vol. 31

The War between Brothers: The Caliphate of Muḥammad al-Amīn A.D. 809-813/A.H. 193-198

Translated by Michael Fishbein

Subjects: Islam
Series: SUNY series in Near Eastern Studies
Paperback : 9780791410868, 298 pages, November 1992
Hardcover : 9780791410851, 298 pages, December 1992

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Table of contents



Translator's Foreword

Maps 1. The Eastern Lands of the Caliphate

2. Baghdad between A.H. 150 and 300

3. Al-Karkh and Neighboring Suburbs

4. Al-Harbiyyah with the Three Quarters of al-Rusafah, al-Shammasiyyah, and al-Mukharrim

5. Quarters on the Muhawwal Road

The Events of the Year 193 (cont'd) (808-809)

The Succession of Muhammad al-Amin as Caliph

Causes of the Discord between al-Amin and al-Ma'mun

The Letter of Muhammad al-Amin to His Brother `Abdallah al-Ma'mun

The Letter of Muhammad al-Amin to His Brother Salih

Various Items of Information

The Events of the Year 194 (809-810)

Reasons for the Falling out between Muhammad al-Amin and `Abdallah al-Ma'mun

Various Items of Information

The Events of the Year 195 (810-811)

Al-Amin Forbids Prayer for al-Ma'mun and al-Qasim as Heirs

`All b. `Isa b. Mahan Assigned Command of al-Jabal

`All b. `Isa b. Mahan Goes to al-Rayy to Fight the Forces of al-Ma'mun

Al-Amin Sends `Abd al-Rahman b. Jabalah to Fight Tahir

Tahir b. al-Husayn Named Dhu al-Yaminayn

The Rebellion of al-Sufyani in Syria

Tahir Expels al-Amin's Agents from al-Jibal Province

The Death of `Abd al-Rahman b. Jabalah al-Abnawi

Various Items of Information

The Events of the Year 196 (811-812)

Al-Amin Imprisons Asad b. Yazid and Dispatches Ahmad b. Mazyad to Fight Tahir

Al-Ma'mun Raises the Rank of al-Fadl b. Sahl

`Abd al-Malik b. Salih Appointed Governor of Syria

`Abd al-Malik b. Salih Recruits Troops in Syria for al-Amin

The Abortive Coup of al-Husayn b. `Ali b. `Isa b.Mahan against al-Amin in Baghdad

The Death of Muhammad b. Yazid al-Muhallabi and Tahir's Entry into al-Ahwaz

Tahir Takes al-Mada'in and Marches toward Sarsar

The Governor of Mecca Casts off Allegiance to al-Amin

Harthamah b. A`yan Defeats al-Amin's Forces

Some of Tahir's Men Go over to al-Amin

The Events of the Year 597 (812-813)

Details and Results of the Siege of Baghdad

The Battle at Qasr Salih

Tahir Forbids Boatmen to Bring Anything to Baghdad

The Battle of al-Kunasah

The Battle of Darb al-Hijarah

The Battle of al-Shammasiyyah Gate

The Events of the Year 198 (813-814)

Tahir Captures Baghdad

The Death of al-Amin

The Army Mutinies against Tahir

A Description of Muhammad b. Harem, His Agnomen, the Length of His Reign, and His Age

Poems Composed about Muhammad b. Harun and Elegies for Him

Some Aspects of the Conduct and Mode of Life of the Deposed Muhammad b. Harun

Bibliography of Cited Works



This section of the History of al-Ṭabarī covers the caliphate of Muḥammad al-Amīn, who succeeded his father, Hārūn al-Rashīd on March 24, 809, and was killed on September 25, 813.

The focus of this section is a single event, the civil war between al-Amīn and his half-brother al-Maʾmūn. Before his death, al-Rashīd had arranged for the succession in a series of documents signed at Mecca and deposited for safekeeping in the Ka'bah. Al-Amīn was to become caliph; al-Maʾmūn was to govern Khurasan with virtual autonomy from Baghdad. Al-Amīn could neither remove his brother from office nor interfere with his revenues or military support. Furthermore, al-Maʾmūn was named as al-Amīn's successor, and al-Amīn was forbidden to alter the succession. If either brother violated these conditions, he was to forfeit his rights.

It soon became apparent that the good will to carry out these arrangements did not exist. Disagreement broke out when al-Amīn insisted that many of the forces that had accompanied al-Rashīd and al-Maʾmūn to Khurasan return to Baghdad. When the majority of army commanders obeyed the new caliph's orders, al-Maʾmūn was enraged and countered with measures to secure his position. Angry letters were exchanged, with al-Amīn pressing his brother to make concessions that al-Maʾmūn regarded as contrary to the succession agreement. By March 811, military conflict was imminent. Al-Amin demanded that certain border districts be returned to the control of Baghdad. When al-Maʾmūn refused, al-Amīn despatched an expedition to seize the districts.

Al-Amīn's resort to force ended in disaster. Al-Maʾmūn's forces, led by Ṭāhir ibn al-Ḥusayn and Harthamah ibn A'yan, quickly closed in on Baghdad. In a siege lasting over a year, Baghdad suffered extensive damage from the fighting and from bombardment by siege engines. Gangs of vagrants and paupers, organized by al-Amīn into irregular units, fought a kind of urban guerrilla war. But, with Tahir and Harthamah enforcing the siege and with most of al-Amīn's associates having switched their loyalties to the winning side, the caliph was forced to sue for terms. These were worked out among representatives of al-Amīn, Tahir, and Harthamah. However, when the caliph boarded the boat that was to take him into Harthamah's custody, troops loyal to Tahir assaulted and capsized the boat. Al-Amīn fell into the Tigris, was apprehended, and was executed that night on orders from Tahir. Thus ended this phase of the civil war. Al-Maʾmūn was now caliph.

Al-Ṭabarī i's history of these years includes accounts by participants in the event, diplomatic letters betweenal-Amīn and al-Maʾmūn, Tahir's long letter toal-Maʾmūn on the circumstances of al-Amin's death, and a dramatic eyewitness account of al-Amīn's last hours. Also noteworthy is a 135-verse poem describing the devastation of Baghdad. The section ends with a series of literary anecdotes on the character of al-Amīn.