The Abbasid is an Arabic dynasty that ruled over the Islamic Empire from 750 A.D. until 1258. It was the longest and most influential dynasty in the history of Isam. The Abbasid was also the third caliphate that succeeds the Islamic prophet, Muhammad.

It was founded by Muhammad’s uncle, Abbas ibn Abdul-Muttalib from whom the dynasty takes its name. The dynasty ceased to exist after the Mongols destroyed Baghdad. It was also the end of Arab supremacy over Islam.

What is The Abbasid Caliphate?

The Abbasid Caliphate is derived from the uncle of Prophet Muhammad whose name was Al-Abbas. He was from the Hashemite Clan in Mecca. Starting in 718 A.D., his family would start a series of propaganda to take the empire from the Umayyads. They used support from Shiite Arabs and Persians to overthrow the existing caliphate.

The Abbasids took the Caliphal title after they ousted the previous dynasty. Like the Ummayad, the leader of the Abbasids was called the caliph. Caliphs are usually the son or the closest male relative of the previous Caliph. They are the second dynasty to serve the Caliphate.

The caliphate was an institution that was created in 632 A.D. after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. For Sunni Muslims, there are four sovereigns that are part of the Rashidun Caliphate. However, for Shia Muslims, the three are usurpers and they only consider the fourth one, Ali as their spiritual leader. After the death of Ali, the system turned to monarchy.

The Abbasid Caliphate capital is found in the city of Baghdad, now Iraq after overthrowing the Ummayyad Caliphate during the Abbasid Revolution. At this time, Baghdad became the center for science and philosophy and will start the Golden Age of Islam. The Abbasids were known to have been led by Persian bureaucrats who governed their territories. They followed Persian customs in ruling and began patronage of scholars and artists.

The Abbasid Caliphate had two important periods in history. The first one lasted from 750 A.D. -1258. This period marked the Abbasid’s peak where their strong leaders controlled vast territories. This was also known as the Abbasid Golden Age of Islam. The second period lasted from 1261-1517. In this period, the caliphate was moved to Cairo, Egypt after Mongols sacked and destroyed the city of Baghdad.

The Abbasids were still considered the religious leaders of the Islam world, however, a new group called the Mamluks had stronger political and military power. They would play an important role in the fate of the caliphate. Mamluks were once slave warriors of the Islamic caliphate.

They were usually Turks who are trained in military arts. Because the law doesn’t permit Muslims to be turned into slaves, the caliphs obtained slaves from outside the Islamic world. Mamluks were indoctrinated at a young age serving as personal bodyguards to caliphs. Even though they were slaves, they were proud soldiers who considered themselves superior to the rest of society. Mamluks gained power and took control of Egypt.

The Abbasid Empire

The Abbasid Empire was a new phase in the caliphate. Unlike the Umayyads who focused on North Africa, Meditteranean, and Southern Europe, the Abbasid turned eastward. They moved to Baghdad and watched events in Persia and Transoxania.

They also moved the empire’s capital from Damascus to Baghdad (the circular city of Peace). They established another city north of Baghdad and called it Samara (he who sees it rejoices). For three centuries Abbasid rule in Baghdad and Sammara became the center of the Islamic world.

The Early Abbasids

The Abbasids have maintained their control of the caliphate for several decades. Their alliance with the Shiites was short-lived and soon they became champions of the Sunni orthodoxy. They lied about adopting Shi’a Islam once they were in power. After securing the throne to the caliphate, the Abbasids advocated Sunni orthodoxy and severed their relationship with Shiites. They assassinated many Shiite leaders who they saw as threats to their rule. This prompted many Shiites to move to the edges of the empire.

The Abbasids however was loyal to their Persian mawali allies. Since their success depended heavily on Persian support, the geographic power shifted to the Persian mawali. Abu al-Abbas’s successor, Al-Mansur accepted non-Arab Muslims to his court. This gesture alienated many Arabs who supported the Abbasids in their battle against the Ummayads. During the rise of the Abbasid, the base for influence became international. They emphasized membership through believers rather than nationality. Since most of the Abbasids were largely Persian converts.

Persian bureaucracy replaced Arab aristocracy. The Abbasid also established new positions of power, the vizier and emir. For 300 years, the Abbasid Empire maintained an unbroken line of caliphs. They also accomplished several intellectual and cultural development across the Middle East paving way for the Golden Age of Islam.

Golden Age of Islam

The Golden Age of Islam emerged in Baghdad and Samara during the Abbasid Caliphate’s rule. During these years, Baghdad became the world’s largest city. It was the Abbasid era of prosperity and peace was all over the land.

Since there were no wars, people made great advances in science, medicine, and mathematics. Schools and libraries were built. Arabic art and architecture flourished. The Abbasids also learned how to make paper which would be an important material in spreading knowledge and literature.

The Abbasid dynasty fifth caliph, Harun al-Rashid will make wise decisions that will result in Baghdad becoming the world’s center for science and philosophy. Scholars in Baghdad started expanding knowledge by learning about other civilizations such as the Indians, Egyptians, Chinese, Romans, Greek, and Byzantines. Harun al-Rashid would also create the first House of Wisdom in Baghdad.

This was a library that supported translators and became the earliest form of the university in the world. At the House of Wisdom, ideas were discussed and recorded. They learned about numerals, mathematics, and important scientific discoveries. They synthesized Greek philosophy and mathematics with Islamic thought.

During this time, a distinctive style and technique emerged that spread across the Abbasid culture and region. This style also influenced the architecture and art of various surrounding countries. Since nothing from Baghdad remains today, many historians looked into the site of Samarra to understand Abbasid art and architecture.

In Samarra, they found carving surfaces know as the beveled styles. They also saw repetitive abstract geometric and pseudo vegetal forms that will later be known in the West as “arabesque”. These art techniques are often found in wall decors, woodwork, metal, and pottery.

Samarra’s potteries are known for their extensive use of color. They also used the technique of luster painting over white glaze. Luster painting is one of the most notable achievements during the time of the Abbasids. It spread from Iraq to other territories in Syria, Egypt, and Spain. Eventually, it would contribute to the development of ceramic decorations.

The Decline

The Abbasid economy thrived throughout the early ninth century due to its capable caliphs and advisers. However, it wasn’t without challenge. For a long time, the Abbasids had to deal with revolts in Persia and North Africa. After the caliphate of al-Ma’mum, Abbasid would decline.

By this time, the Abbasid has already turned into a massive empire and it was difficult to manage. The authority of the caliphate slowly dwindled and governors became independent-minded and disloyal. The gap would even become bigger when the caliph created a new military force that consisted of slave soldiers.

These soldiers would begin acting superior to the people of Baghdad. This angered the people and resulted in riots. Instead of creating a fair solution, the caliph moved the capital away from Baghdad into Samarra and abandoned his people.

In an unlikely turn of events, the slave soldiers would control Samarra and the caliph himself. The caliph became their puppet whom they had assassinated if it didn’t listen to them.

Al-Muwaffaq, the caliph’s brother tried to change this by moving the capital back to Baghdad. There they prospered and defeated the Zanj rebellion who was a major threat to the caliphate. Thanks to the wise Al-Muwaffaq, Abbasid power would rise again.

In 909, the Fatimid dynasty slit from the Abbasids and created a new line of Caliphs in Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Morroco, and Palestine. Their rule was challenged by the Abbasid Empire which limited them to only controlling Egypt.

By 940, the Abbasid Caliphate’s power began waning as non-Arabs gained influence. The sultans and emirs also became independent. The Abbasid tried to overcome these challenges until there was never-ending internal unrest. Some former supporters of the Abbasids also started to distance themselves and create kingdoms of their own.

The Shia dynasty of Idrisdis controlled Fez in Morroco, the Berber Kharijites set up states in North Africa. This went on for another 200 years until 1171. Eventually, Abbasid control declined and the empire became locally autonomous.

In the early 1200s, the rise of the Mongol Empire in Eastern Asia would mark the end for the Abbasids. Having conquered China, the Mongols moved to Baghdad to expand their territory even more. During this time, the Caliphate was confident that Baghdad could not be conquered.

They refused Mongol’s demand until the leader Hulagu Khan waged war on their city. In less than two weeks, they were defeated and the Caliph was executed. Around 800,000 people were killed during the fall of Baghdad. Historic records reveal that the Caliph was killed by Mongols by wrapping him up in a carpet and trampling him with horses.

The Abbasid Revolution

The Abbasid caliphs were Arab descendants of Abbas ibn Abd al-Muttalib. Abbas was one of Muhammad’s youngest uncles and this relation inspired revolution among his descendants. The Abbasids claimed that they are the true successors of Muhammad since their bloodline was closer to Muhammad. They also made it clear that they were morally better and had a better system of government than the Ummayads.

During a time where the Umayyads have become increasingly unpopular in the eastern part of Syria, the Abbasid started plotting in overthrowing them. Umayyads were known to favor Syrian Arabs over other Muslims especially newly converted Muslims called the mawalis. Mawalis were Persians who lived with Arabs. Due to the Umayyad’s favoritism, they harbored hatred over Syrian Arabs.

The Abbasid revolt and propaganda garnered support from a lot of Arabs including the Mawalis, the settlers of Merv, and non-Arab Muslims who were perceived as a lower class by the Umayyads. Together, they incited unrest, rebellion, and cultivated anti-Umayyad sentiment while emphasizing the Abbasid’s rights to the throne. The Abbasid army soon consisted of Persian mawali, eastern Arabs, and Shiites.

They waited for the best opportunity to strike against the Umayyad Caliphate. They did revolts in easter Persia while the Umayyads were mourning over the death of their Caliph.

Starting from Muhammad ibn Ali’s campaign for the return of power to their family during the reign of Umar II, the opposition increased and resulted in a rebellion by the reign of Marwan II. The Abbasids were able to gather huge support from the province of Khorasan and the Shia Arabs. In 747 an open revolt under the command of Abu Muslim led to the defeat of Marwan II. Their last battle was called the Battle of the Great Zab River in 750. Marwan II fled but was pursued and killed in Egypt.

The Abbasids attempted to kill the entire line of Umayyads so that no one could rise up against them but they failed. Abd al-Rahman escaped death and fled to Egypt. He was the only member of the Umayyad family to have lived. He fled from Egypt to Spain where he recreated a Spanish Muslim dynasty similar to the Umayyad dynasty in Syria. Under his rule, Spain became the wealthiest and most developed region in Europe

Summary

  • The Abbasid is an Arabic dynasty that ruled over the Islamic Empire from 750 A.D. until 1258.
  • The Abbasid Caliphate is derived from the uncle of Prophet Muhammad whose name was Al-Abbas. He was from the Hashemite Clan in Mecca.
  • The Abbasid Caliphate ruled from their capital in Baghdad, now Iraq after overthrowing the Ummayyad Caliphate during the Abbasid Revolution.
  • For hundreds of years, the Abbasid Empire maintained an unbroken line of caliphs. They also accomplished several intellectual and cultural development across the Middle East paving way for the Golden Age of Islam.
  • By 940 A.D., the Abbasid Caliphate’s power began waning as non-Arabs gained influence. The sultans and emirs also became independent.
  • In the early 1200s, the rise of the Mongol Empire in Eastern Asia would mark the end for the Abbasids. Having conquered China, the Mongols moved to Baghdad to expand their territory even more.

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