REMAINDER OF MERWAN'S REIGN. 'ABBASID RISING IN THE EAST UNDER ABU MUSLIM AND KAHTABA. RECOGNITION OF ‘ABBASID CALIPH. BATTLE OF THE ZAB. DEFEAT AND DEATH OF MERWAN
130-132 A.H. / 748-750 A.D.
THE progress of recent events in the East has been kept for separate treatment. The same causes were there at work as elsewhere,Khariji risings and tribal jealousies. But there were special elements of weakness besides. The authority of the Court was felt less in Khorasan than elsewhere, and, in fact, was fast disappearing altogether. Hashimi treason, long secretly hatching its disloyal brood, was now coming to an open head: and powerful clubs in support of the 'Abbasid rising were appearing fearlessly everywhere. The body politic was falling to pieces; and the specious claim of the Prophet's house was against the ungodly Umeiyads, paved an easy way for the great change now looming in the future.
The position of Nasr, Viceroy in Khorasan, had become in the last degree critical. Al-Kirmani, as already stated, had drawn to his standard the Yemeni faction,that, namely, hostile to Nasr. Put in prison as a dangerous agitator, he effected his escape, and kept up an armed opposition. To increase the disorder, Al-Harith, for whom Nasr had obtained amnesty from the Court, turned against him and, confederate as he had been of the pagan Turk, assumed now a high religious profession, and raising the black flag, demanded a reform of government in accordance with "the Book of the Lord." After many fruitless negotiations, Nasr offered to help him if he would again
depart and fight beyond the Oxus, but he preferred to remain and do battle, now on the side of Al-Kirmani, and now against him.
In one of these engagements he was killed. Al-Kirmani maintained his ground against Nasr, who had retired to Nisabur. It was still the endless quarrel of Modar and the Yemen pitted one against the other, with no decisive result other than that Khorasan was left with hardly even the form of government.
The Arabs of Khorasan were almost more Persian than Arab. Their fathers had married Persian wives, and the sons spoke Persian rather than Arabic, drank wine, wore trousers, and kept the Persian holidays. The Persians, on the other hand, were probably better off after the Arab conquest than before. Heathenism was tolerated, and when they did go over to Islam, it was from social, not religious motives. They then joined an Arab tribe and assumed Arabic names, and in time became more sincere believers than the Arabs themselves. The latter always regarded them, however, with suspicion. In the army, which offered the readiest gate to Islam, the Mawali fought on foot, the Arabs on horseback. They shared in the spoil, but were not on the pension-list, and still paid the subject-tax. It was Islam itself which taught them their equality with their masters. This was acknowledged by the Khawarij, the Murjiya, but most of all by the Shi'a. The Shi'a was of two kinds, the merely political, which wished to keep the succession in the line of Mohammad, and the theosophic which found incarnations of the Divine in Ibn al-Hanefiya, his son Abu Hashim, and others.
Just then, towards the end of 129 A.H., the great black standard of the 'Abbasids was unfurled in Khorasan by Abu Muslim.1 The origin of this famous man who, though still young, was already the hero of the new dynasty, is obscure. He certainly was no Arab. Amidst much that is discordant, we may assume that he was born a slave. In the year 125 A.H. (743 A.D.) Mohammad, head of the 'Abbasid house, with a party of his adherents, visited Mecca;
1 Black may have been chosen because that was the colour
of Mohammad's banner, or because it was that of Al-Harith ibn Sureij, and so liked by the Mawali,
or because it is the colour of Vengeance. Umeiyads and 'Alids in contrast had white; the Khawarij red.
1 Black may have been chosen because that was the colour of Mohammad's banner, or because it was that of Al-Harith ibn Sureij, and so liked by the Mawali, or because it is the colour of Vengeance. Umeiyads and 'Alids in contrast had white; the Khawarij red.
and anticipating decease (he died the same year) bade his followers in that event to take his son Ibrahim as successor. At the same time he purchased Abu Muslim, then not twenty years of age, as a likely agent for the service of the House. Abu Muslim fulfilling thus the office of confidential agent, was kept going to and fro between Khorasan and Al-Homeima (the village in south Palestine where the family lived) to promote the cause, and to report its progress. At last, in 129 A.H., he gave so promising an account of the zeal of his adherents) of the impotence of Umeiyad rule in Khorasan, and of the distractions there, that he received from Ibrahim command to delay no longer, but raise at once the banner of the new Dynasty.
In the month of Ramadan accordingly, Abu Muslim proceeding to the far East, sent forth his emissaries in all directions with instructions when and how the rising was to take place. Before the month was over, contingents had begun to pour in from every quarter. In one night there arrived no fewer than sixty from as many different places. The first religious service took place on Friday, I X. 129 A.H. (June 15, 747 AD.), at the breaking of the great fast. The Imam was Suleiman ibn Kethir of Khoza'a, who was still nominal head of the movement. The Umeiyad garrisons were expelled from Herat and other cities in the far East. Elsewhere, Abu Muslim's agents sought to win over the Modar by abuse of the Yemeni tribes; and the Yemen by abuse of the Modar. He came in person to Merv and succeeded in detaching the Azd from the Arab alliance, but in such a way as not to offend Modar. Even Nasr and Al-Kirmani were tampered with; but the latter was assassinated by a son of Al-Harith ibn Sureij. Then Abu Muslim, persuading them that Nasr had instigated the murder, was joined by the son of that chief 1 with the Azd who followed him, drove Nasr out of Merv,
and took possession of the Citadel. But this success at last united the Syrians of either party against the Hashimi rebellion; and if the Caliph had only
1 The two sons of Al-Kirmani were, however, found by
Abu Muslim, probably from their Syrian associations, to be inconvenient allies, and were,
with their attendants, treacherously put to death. Abu Muslim made no scruple of assassinating
by any underhand means those whom he found in his way.
1 The two sons of Al-Kirmani were, however, found by Abu Muslim, probably from their Syrian associations, to be inconvenient allies, and were, with their attendants, treacherously put to death. Abu Muslim made no scruple of assassinating by any underhand means those whom he found in his way.
been able to strengthen Nasr's hands, the event must have been very different.
The unfortunate Viceroy appealed to his Caliph in bitter terms that he was left without support; and quoting verses to the effect that beneath was a volcano ready at any moment to burst forth, he added the fateful wordsIs the house of Umeiya awake, or is it slumbering still? On receiving this despairing cry, Merwan ordered Ibn Hubeira to hasten reinforcements to the East; but with disaffection around him in the West, it was little that the General could do for Nasr. About the same time, the Caliph intercepted a letter from his 'Abbasid rival, Ibrahim son of Mohammad, to Abu Muslim, upbraiding him for not making more rapid progress in Khorasan, and warning him against the hostility of the Arabs and Syrians towards the rising cause.
Startled and alarmed at his machinations, Merwan bade the governor of the Belka arrest Ibrahim. He was accordingly seized in his house at Al-Homeima, and sent to Harran, where shortly after he died, but whether by a violent death, or a natural one, is uncertain.1 On the arrest of Ibrahim, his brothers Abu'l-'Abbas and Abu Ja'far, with the rest of the family, fled to Al-Kufa, where they remained for the present in concealment.
Meanwhile Abu Muslim was making steady progress in the East. His open unassuming habits, with neither body-guard nor courtly ceremony, attached men to him. He committed the ordinary administration to a Council of twelve, chosen from the earliest adherents of the new cause.
He was also wise enough to make his watch-word simply the House of Hashim, the common ancestor of 'Alids and 'Abbasids,2 without declaring by name the master or even the family for whom he fought. There were still many who held by the line of Abu Talib, and wished to see one of his descendants, rather than an 'Abbasid, succeed; the cry, therefore, of Abu Muslim embraced all these branches, including that of 'Ali. At one time Abu Muslim opened friendly communications with Nasr, who, seeing no hope of help from
1 Some say he died of the plague; others that he was poisoned
in a draught of milk; others that Merwan caused his prison house to fall upon him. The presumption
is against a violent death. Abu'l-'Abbas succeeded him.
2 The Hashimiya now means the extreme Shi'a, so named from
Abu Hashim the son of Ibn al-Hanefiya.
1 Some say he died of the plague; others that he was poisoned in a draught of milk; others that Merwan caused his prison house to fall upon him. The presumption is against a violent death. Abu'l-'Abbas succeeded him.
2 The Hashimiya now means the extreme Shi'a, so named from Abu Hashim the son of Ibn al-Hanefiya.
Syria, had thoughts to throw in his lot with him; but fearing treachery, he at last resolved on flight, and so, with the troops still faithful to the Umeiyad cause, hastened south to Sarakhs, and thence to Nisabur.
There, pursued by Kahtaba of the tribe of Tai', Abu Muslim's famous general, he suffered a defeat in which he lost his son. Thence he, accompanied by the Arab fugitives from Khorasan belonging to Temim, Bekr, and Keis, fled to Jurjan, where was a strong force of friendly Syrians. But fortune had deserted the Caliph's cause, and Kahtaba again achieved a signal victory, slaying thousands of his enemy. Nasr, again appealing bitterly, but in vain, for help, continued his flight westward to Ar-Reiy.
There he fell sick, and was carried on towards Hamadan but died upon the way. He was eighty-five years old, and his long and distinguished services as viceroy of Khorasan deserved a better fate. He was the one loyal man of the time.
Kahtaba now advanced rapidly westward. His chief lieutenants were Abu 'Aun of the Azd, Khazim of Temim, and the Persian Khalid ibn Barmek. Entering Reiy he restored order there, while his son, Ibn Kabtaha, with other generals reduced the country all around,the followers of the Umeiyads, as well as the Khawarij whose rebellion had recently been quelled, flying terrified before them. Ibn Kahtaba laid siege to Nihavend. The Caliph's army from Kirman (now released by Ibn Mu'awiya's defeat and flight) advancing, 100,000 strong, to its relief, was intercepted by Kahtaba, who with 20,000 men, after a fierce battle, entirely routed his enemy, and took his camp, itself a little city filled with all the luxuries of the East. After a three months' siege, Nihavend fell, and then Kahtaba, having fetched a northern circuit across the Euphrates to avoid Ibn Hubeira, the Syrian general at Jalula, made direct for Al-Kufa where, with expectations raised by the tidings of recent success, the Hashimi citizens were looking impatiently for his appearance.
It was the beginning of the year 132 AH. when Kahtaba crossed the Euphrates, some thirty or forty miles above Al-Kufa; but Ibn Hubeira was before him, and the two armies met somewhere in the vicinity of Kerbala. In this encounter the Syrians were worsted, but the Hashimis too suffered, for Kahtaba fell upon the field. His son, Al-Hasan
ibn Kahtaba, then took command, and, following up his father's success, forced Ibn Hubeira, abandoning his camp and all its stores, to retire on Wasit.
Al-Kufa thus uncovered, the Hashimi force advanced, and after slight opposition,for the Syrian troops deserted hastily the Umeiyad leader,took possession of the city; and shortly after Abu'l-'Abbas with his family and relatives emerged from their hiding there. In anticipation of the new order of things (reserved for another chapter), Abu Salama, who had been one of the busy agents of the Hashimis in Khorasan, was recognised provisionally as "Wazir of the house of Mohammad," and Mohammad, son of Khalid (former governor of Al-Kufa), as "Amir."1 In general the Yemen (with Rabi'a) supported the revolution, Modar the Arab supremacy, and in Al-Basra Modar for the moment succeeded.
Meanwhile, stirring events were passing in Upper Mesopotamia. Kahtaba, in his victorious progress westward, had detached an able general, Abu 'Aun, from Nihavend to press forwards to Mesopotamia. Reaching Shahrazor, east of the Little Zab, towards the end of 131 A.H., he there defeated with great slaughter the troops of 'Abdallah, Merwan's son, and occupied the region east of Mosul.
The Caliph himself, since his campaign against the Khawarij, had remained inactive at Harran. He was now roused, by seeing the enemy at his very door, to take the field in person,which earlier done, the issue might have been very different; but now with rebellion, defeat, and disaffection around, the ground was sinking under foot. Crossing the Tigris, he advanced upon the Greater Zab with an army of 120,000, sufficiently strong in numbers to meet his enemy, but made up in great measure of lukewarm Yemeni tribes and Khawarij. Meanwhile, Ibn Hubeira having retired on Wasit, Abu'l-'Abbas the rival Caliphallegiance had been sworn to him in Al-Kufa on
1 The title Amir is Arabic and ancient, denoting "Commander."
The appointment of Wazir (usually written Vizier) or Minister is a distinguishing feature of the
'Abbasid as contrasted with the Umeiyad dynasty. The word is usually derived from the Arabic
root wazara, "to bear a burden," but it is probably from a Pahlawi word meaning "to decide."
Hebrew gezar, Darmesteter, Études iraniennes, i. 58; Al-Fakhri, p. 205.
1 The title Amir is Arabic and ancient, denoting "Commander." The appointment of Wazir (usually written Vizier) or Minister is a distinguishing feature of the 'Abbasid as contrasted with the Umeiyad dynasty. The word is usually derived from the Arabic root wazara, "to bear a burden," but it is probably from a Pahlawi word meaning "to decide." Hebrew gezar, Darmesteter, Études iraniennes, i. 58; Al-Fakhri, p. 205.
Friday, November 28, 749 AD. (12 iv. 132 A.H.)was able from Al-Kufa heavily to reinforce Abu 'Aun.
To give the army also an Imperial bearing, he sent his uncle 'Abdallah as commander-in-chief: and to him accordingly Abu 'Aun resigned the state-pavilion, mark of supreme command. 'Abdallah found Merwan encamped with his great host on the right bank of the Zab, and Abu 'Aun with only 20,000 on the left. A party of the latter crossed, but after a skirmish retired. Next day, Merwan, against advice, threw a bridge across the river, and advanced to fight. His son at the first beat back a column of the enemy; and Abu 'Aun, lest the report should dishearten the army, resolved at once to bring on a general action. Historians tell us that Merwan did nothing that day to prosper; but the real truth is that the Syrians had lost both loyalty and heart. Abu 'Aun made his men dismount on the first attack and plant their lances in the ground while 'Abdallah incited them, as the heroes of Khorsan, to revenge the death of his nephew Ibrahim; he shouted, Ya Mohammad! Ya Mansur! and the battlecry was taken up by all around. Merwan, on his side, called aloud to the Arab tribes, one after another by name, to advance, but none responded to the call. Then in an evil moment, expecting thereby to raise their zeal, he made known that he had treasure in the camp and would reward the brave; on which, some of the soldiers hastened thither, hoping at once to seize the prize.
To prevent this, Merwan detached his son; and as he turned aside with guard and standard to protect the camp, the army took it for flight; and with the cry Defeat! Defeat! broke and gave way. Merwan, to stay flight, cut the bridge adrift; and more were drowned in the Zab than perished by the sword.1 This battle, which sealed the fate of the Umeiyad Caliphate, took place in the year 132 A.H., or 750 A.D. 'Abdallah remained for a week on the field, and
1 Observing a grandson of 'Abd al-Melik struggling in the waves,
'Abdallah, the new Caliph's brother, is said to have cried, "Let him alone," quoting from the Kor'an
the passage on the destruction of the Egyptians: "And (remember) how We divided the sea and
saved you alive, but drowned the host of Pharaoh therein, while ye looked on." Sura, ii. 49.
1 Observing a grandson of 'Abd al-Melik struggling in the waves, 'Abdallah, the new Caliph's brother, is said to have cried, "Let him alone," quoting from the Kor'an the passage on the destruction of the Egyptians: "And (remember) how We divided the sea and saved you alive, but drowned the host of Pharaoh therein, while ye looked on." Sura, ii. 49.
reported his victory to Abu'l-'Abbas, who, overjoyed at the tidings, ordered 500 golden pieces, and promise of increased pay, to be given to every combatant.
Merwan fled. At Mosul, his followers cried out, "It is the Caliph, let him cross." "A lie," they answered from the other bank, "the Caliph doth not fly"; and so they showered abuse upon the fallen Monarch, and glorified the triumphant "House of the Prophet." Merwan then made the best of his way to Harran, where he spent some weeks in the vain endeavour to raise another army. But 'Abdallah was on his track, and so he hurried on to Hims, and thence, receiving no support, to Damascus. But neither could he safely make any stay there, and so desiring the governor, his son-in-law, to hold on and raise another army, he tied to Palestine, where he found refuge with an Arab chief at Abu Futrus (Antipatris).
Meanwhile, under orders from Al-Kufa, 'Abdallah had advanced from the Zab to Mosul, where the people streamed forth to meet him with open arms, clad in the black colours of the new dynasty. At Harran, the governor, Merwan's nephew, came out in similar attire to make his submission and there 'Abdallah avenged the death of Ibrahim, his nephew, by the unmeaning demonstration of demolishing the house which had formed his prison.1 Passing onward to Syria, he received the adhesion of all the chief places by the way. At Damascus reinforcements joined him from Al-Kufa under his brother Salih, raising the force to 80,000. The city closed its gates against him, but after a short resistance was stormed, and the governor slain.
Thereupon the black standard of the 'Abbasids was unfurled in triumph on the Citadel, the 14th Ramadan, 132 A.H., eight months from the entry of the Hashimi into Al-Kufa, and three from the battle of the Zab.
After a short stay, 'Abdallah passed on to Palestine in pursuit of Merwan, but found that
he had fled to Egypt. Then, under orders from the new Caliph, he despatched his brother Salih
and Abu 'Aun with a force to follow up the fugitive. At As-Sa'id he found that, to stay pursuit,
Merwan's followers had burned all supplies of grass and
1 This action is in favour of the impression that Ibrahim
did not die a violent death.
1 This action is in favour of the impression that Ibrahim did not die a violent death.
fodder in the neighbourhood. From Fustat Salih detached Abu 'Aun with a column, which took prisoners a troop of cavalry still attached to the fallen Caliph.
Some they put to death; the rest were faithless enough to purchase their lives by disclosing their Master's hiding-place. He had taken refuge in a church at Busir, where surprised by a small party he was overpowered and slain, just as the year expired (August, 750 A.D.).
His head was sent to Salih, who had the tongue cut out and thrown contemptuously to a cat. Thus disfigured it was despatched to Al-Kufa. On seeing it, Abu'l-'Abbas bowed low in adoration. Then raising his head towards heaven, he praised the Lord who had given him victory and revenge over an ungodly race. He recited also a verse indicative of the fire that still burned within his heart:"Had they quaffed my blood, it had not quenched their thirst; so neither is my wrath slaked by theirs." True to the sentiment, he named himself (as we shall see) As-Saffah, the Blood-thirsty, and by that title he has ever since been known.
Two of Merwan's sons fled to Abyssinia, where, attacked by the natives, one was killed; the other escaped, and lived long concealed in Palestine, from whence he was sent many years after to the Court of Al-Mehdi. The ladies of Merwan's family had been placed for safety in a church, from which they were dragged to the presence of Salih.1 Before him the elder daughter pleaded for mercy. She was answered with reproaches for the cruel treatment by her people of the house of Hashim:"How," said the Caliph's uncle, "can I spare any of this wicked race?" Again she pleaded for grace and mercy:"Nay," he replied, "but if thou wilt, thou mayest marry my son and save thyself." "What heart have I now for that?" she answered; "but send us back to Harran again." And when they returned there, and saw the old home and palace of Merwan, they lifted up their voices and wept.
Merwan was over threescore years at his death, and had reigned for nearly six. His mother was a Kurdish slave-girl, and from her he inherited a handsome countenance,
1 The servant, in whose charge they were, is said to have
had instructions to put them to death if Merwan should have lost his life.
1 The servant, in whose charge they were, is said to have had instructions to put them to death if Merwan should have lost his life.
with blue eyes and a ruddy complexion. He was called the Ass of Mesopotamia, perhaps not in derision, but in virtue of his great power of physical endurance. Others say, because he was fond of the peony, of which asses are fond; or his real by-name was Al-Faras (the Horse), which the people of Khorasan changed to the Ass. He was one of the bravest and best of his house, and deserved a better fate.1
So perished the Umeiyad dynasty. Its reliance had been altogether upon the temporal power; it was religious only in name. Its sovereigns, as far as they had any religion, were Unitarians and so might be called Muslims; but in the matter of drinking wine and of most other things, they set Islam at nought. This fact was so clearly appreciated by the theologians of the time as to give rise to a school which held that no Muslim would be called to account for his sins until after the Resurrection, and that, at any rate, none, however Umeiyad he might be, would be eternally lost. These astute philosophers were named MurjiyaPutters off.
The Syrians had let Merwan, whom they hated, perish, and only too late discovered that his ruin was theirs. The seat of government passed from Damascus to Al-Kufa. Al-'Irak recovered the hegemony which it had held, though not undisputed, under 'Ali. As the Syrians, so also the Arabs ceased to be the ruling race. Henceforth there was no distinction of Arab and non-Arab; the Mawali came into their own. The people who gained most were the people of Khorasan. They formed a kind of military aristocracy. Bagdad was their barracks later on.
1 He was also called Al-Ja'di, from professing the heretical
views of Al-Ja'd, a theologian who held the doctrine of Free-will, and denied that the Kor'an
was eternal and uncreate. But this may have been one of the calumnies heaped by the 'Abbasid
courtiers on the house of Umeiya. His mother was the Um Weled of Ibrahim ibn al-Ashtar,
taken over by his father the day her master was slain.
1 He was also called Al-Ja'di, from professing the heretical views of Al-Ja'd, a theologian who held the doctrine of Free-will, and denied that the Kor'an was eternal and uncreate. But this may have been one of the calumnies heaped by the 'Abbasid courtiers on the house of Umeiya. His mother was the Um Weled of Ibrahim ibn al-Ashtar, taken over by his father the day her master was slain.
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