When was the abbasids caliphate period? What was the abbasid period known for? Why is the abbasid period called the golden age? What is abbasids summary?
1. The Foundation of the Abbasid State and its Development
The Abbasid state, which was founded by the descendants of the Prophet’s (pbuh) uncle Abbas, stayed in power for about five centuries from the time Abu al-Abbas as-Saffah ascended to caliphate (AH 132/750) until its collapse in (AH 656/1258) by the Mongols.
The first efforts that pioneered the foundation of the Abbasid caliphate were started by Ali, one of Abbas’ grandsons, in 717. The sons of Abbas were not interested much in politics until that day. However, they changed their mind, when the Umayyad rulers forced the members of the Abbasid family leave Damascus.
Ali initiated the Abbasid propaganda at the Humayma village in Jordan, where he resided. Propagandists were sent to every corner of the country from this village. The Abbasid propagandists stated that they gave the struggle of the truth against the Umayyad oppression and wanted support from the community. Kufa and Khorasan were the main centers in which Abbasid propaganda was carried out. Abu Muslim Khorasani was sent to Khorasan for this mission in 745.
Abu Muslim Khorasani pulled the Umayyad government down as a result of the uprising started by him. After this, he declared Abulabbas Abdullah, who was from the Abbasid family, as the new caliph.
The borders of the country expanded significantly during the Umayyad period, and this was why the borders could not be expanded more during the Abbasid period. The Turks increased their influence at the last times of the Abbasids. It was even because of the Turks that the Abbasids’ existence continued over a period of time.
The first thing done by the first caliph Abulabbas Abdullah was to get rid of the people from the Umayyad family. This was why, he started to be called by the nickname “saffah” meaning sanguinary. He moved the center of the state from Damascus to the city of Hashimiyya located on the North of Kufa.
When Abulabbas Abdullah passed away after four years in office, his brother Abu Jafar al-Mansur (754-775) became the caliph. Mansur made Baghdad as the new capital of the state. Baghdad remained as the capital city until the collapse of Abbasid state.
Because the reputation of Abu Muslim Khorasani, who helped the Abbasid family to gain the caliphate, made Mansur disturbed, he called Abu Muslim Khorasani and got him killed with tricks.
By overthrowing the Umayyad state, the Abbasids continued the sultanate that had been established by the Umayyads for the first time. In fact, Abulabbas, the first Abbasid caliph appointed his brother Abu Jafar as the dauphin. After this, all of the thirty-five Abbasid caliphs came from the lineage of Abu Jafar.
The Abbasid history following its foundation is divided into two periods. The first period includes the years between 750 and 847. This period, in which caliphs like Mansur, Mahdi, Harun Rashid, Ma’mun, Mu’tasim and Wasiq were in power, is accepted as the “golden age” of the Abbasids and even of all Muslim states. The establishment of Islamic civilization in large part achieved during this period. The second period started in 847 and continued until the year 1258, when the Mongols overthrew the Abbasids.
The Chinese who proceeded from East to West met and fought against the Arabs, who came from the Arabian Peninsula to the East at the banks of the Talas River in 751. The Turks of Karmuk and Yagma did not want that the Middle East would fall under the rule of the Chinese, so they supported the Arabs and ensured the victory of the Arabs. As a result of this war, the domination of the Chinese over the Central Asia was prevented. After this war, the Turks started to accept Islam in groups. They learned the method of papermaking from the Chinese captives. The Abbasids advocated the features of an Islamic state, instead of following the Umayyads’ thesis of an Arab State in the administration, so they treated the Muslims equally. The Arab nationalist policy changed into a communitarian understanding.
Khalid ibn Barmak, who was from the Balkh in Turkistan, was appointed by caliph Mansur to take care of important state affairs. Mahdi and Hadi respectively became caliphs after Mansur. Harun Rashid, who ascended to the caliphate next, is the most famous one among the Abbasid caliphs.
a. The Period of Harun Rashid (786-809)
The brightest era of the Abbasids coincides with the period of Harun Rashid. Yahya, the son of Khalid, the son of Barmak, was the teacher of Harun Rashid. Harun Rashid received a good education in his youth. When he became caliph, he appointed Yahya as his vizier. Jafar and Fadil, the sons of Yahya took also office in high rankings. By means of the family of Barmakids, the Islamic state was well administered and ascended. The revolts were suppressed and the community reached peace and comfort.
The reputation of Harun Rashid spread even out of the Islamic state. The Franc emperor Charlemagne, who ruled over West and Middle Europe, sent a legate to Harun Rashid, in order to get permission for the Christian pilgrims to visit Jerusalem freely. Harun Rashid gave the requested permission and sent some gifts with the emissary to Charlemagne, among which especially an alarm clock was liked very much. However, these explanations are based only on European sources. The Islamic sources do not mention such legation. This is why, such narrations are dealt with suspicion. Harun Rashid is accepted among the great rulers of the world history.
It was a political mistake of Harun Rashid to execute the members of Barmakid family, who had served in the government for a long time, because of a baseless doubt.
Even though Harun Rashid’s palace was one of the most glorious and magnificent palaces, it also became a center of knowledge and arts. It was Harun Rashid, who made musicianship a respected profession and showed success in literature. The Hanafi School, which was attributed to Abu Hanifa, but developed by the works of his disciple Abu Yusuf, spread during Harun al-Rashid’s caliphate.
Although the strongest period of the Abbasids was the period of Harun Rashid, the first movements of division took place during this era. The Aghlabid State separated from the Abbasids and established in Tunisia started to emerge (800).
b. North Africa During the Time of Abbasids:
North Africa witnessed continuous conflicts during the time of Abbasids. Aghlab, who was selected as governor in 148/765, lost his life in a battle fought against Ibadiyya Kharijites although he ruled well over the region about two years. After governing this region for about three years, Umar ibn Hafs, who was appointed after Aghlab, forced to fight against the Kharijies. The Kharijies laid siege on Kairouan. As a result of this war, the Kharijies took over the control of the city. Thereupon, Mansur sent an army under the leadership of Yazid ibn Haysam ibn Abu Sufra, who defeated the Kharijies and killed their leader and thus provided peace in North Africa in a few months. Yazid ibn Haysam peacefully governed this region for 15 years. The conflicts in Africa continued after that date up until the period of Harun Rashid.
Ibrahim ibn Aghlab, the new governor who was appointed during the period of Harun Rashid, informed Harun Rashid that if he were to give him the governance of North Africa, he would pay 40,000-dinar tribute to the Abbasid treasure every year after suppressing the conflicts in the region. Harthama ibn A’yan, the previous governor who knew the difficulties of North Africa, notified Caliph Harun Rashid that this was a good offer. Thus, Ibrahim ibn Aghlab established an autonomous administration in Africa. After the appointment of ibn Aghlab, there was not any Abbasid caliph who was able to establish a state authority beyond the West borders of Egypt. Although the Aghlabids were contented with mentioning themselves as amirs, they coined money, though rarely, that showed the names of the Abbasid caliphs in addition to their own names. The Aghlabids ruled for about a hundred years (800-909) over the Middle Mediterranean region from the capital Kairouan, which had replaced the city of Carthage. North Africa under the control of the Aghlabids was no more a country that spoke Latin and believed Christianity, but turned into a country that spoke Arabic and believed inIslam.
c. The Movements of Science and Art During the Time of Abbasids
During this period, the Abbasids concentrated more on cultural policy than the policy of conquest. The city of Baghdad was established during the time of Caliph Mansur and it became the new state center. The translation of the Greek philosophers’ works into Arabic was started for the first time during this period. The learned men and artists were protected and supported during the period of Harun Rashid. Baghdad developed into a center of culture and knowledge. There were expeditions organized over Byzantine three times in the years 797, 804, and 806, and a tax was levied on Byzantine. The border cities Awasim and Thughur were established along the Byzantine borders, where the Turks were settled. The whole works of the Greek philosophers were translated into Arabic during the period of Ma’mun. There were numerous madrasahs and libraries opened in Baghdad. Native and foreign scholars came to Baghdad in order to do important scholarly works. The Mutazila Sect gained strength. The strength of the army and the government passed from the Iranians to the Turks. An imperial army was established consisting of Turks.
After Harun Rashid, his son Ma’mun became the caliph. The country was shaken with revolts and revolutions during the time of Ma’mun. Despite all, Ma’mun spent his time on efficient and enduring works, and founded various institutions. He brought many scholars and scholarly works from several countries and regions. He encouraged on the one hand scientific on the other hand art works. He had constructed two observatories, one near Baghdad and another one in Damascus.
In addition to the mosques, the first famous institute in the field of higher education is the Baytul Hikmah established by Caliph Ma’mun (813-833). The Academy of Gundeshapur had been taken as an example. In addition to be a translation center, it was also used as an academy and a public library.
The first institution of higher education in real sense was the Nizamiyah Madrasah, established by the famous Seljuk vizier Nizam al-Mulk in Baghdad (1065-1067). This madrasah was the first organized university in the Muslim world. The students’ living expenses were met by the madrasah, which also became a precedent for the first universities founded in Europe. Later on, the caliph Mustansir established another popular madrasah called Mustansiriya (1226-1242).
The early days of the Abbasid period were very important time that left its traces on Islamic culture and civilization. In the Muslim world, various institutions and sciences were shaped during this period. They improved in time and contributed to the development of the civilization in Europe. In the Muslim world, the first works on philology, theology, social and natural sciences were initiated by the Umayyads and it was during the period of the Abbasids that these sciences developed into independent sciences.
The Mutazila thinkers, who were under the protection of Ma’mun, had the chance to create various sciences and make inventions based on the understanding for which intellect was the basis. Ma’mun joined often the debates made in Darul Hikmah founded by him. Mu’tasim who became the caliph after Ma’mun was also a supporter of the scholar (ulama). The scientific works that started during the rime of Ma’mun continued increasingly in his period. He established a center for himself at Samarra located North of Baghdad. After a short time, this place turned into a prosperous place. Mosques, schools, and palaces were built. In respect to magnificence, it started to compete with Baghdad.
Mu’tasim, whose mother was a Turk, visited the Turkish provinces. He met his uncles and people around them whom he liked. He established a defense force consisting of the Turks. The Turks’ number and prestige gradually increased.
The Turks’ importance in the central government continued even after the period of Mu’tasim.
2. The Collapse of the Abbasid State
After Wathiq, the magnificence of the country came to an end and it started to gradually weaken. Even though the power of the central government was felt during the period of Mutawakkil, but this authority gradually weakened.
With the weakening of the Abbasid state, various small states were established after the 9th century in several areas of the country. They are called “Tawaif al-Muluk” which were: the Idrisids in Morocco (789-?), the Aghlabids by Ibrahim ibn Aghlab in Tunisia, Algeria and Sicily (800-909), the Tulunids by Ahmad ibn Tulun in Egypt (868-905), The Fatimids by Ubaydullah in Tunisia, Egypt, Sicily and Sardinia (910—1171), the Ikhshidids (Akshidids) by Muhammad bin Tughj in Egypt (935969), the Tahirids by Tahir ibn Husayn in Iran and Khorasan (821-875), the Saffarids by Ya’qub ibn al-Layth in Iran (867-1500), the Samanids by Nasr ibn Ahmad in Khorasan and Transoxiana (87-999).
Moreover, the subversive and separatist groups like the Ismailis and Qarmatians caused disorder by their views and began underground activities to weaken the Muslim society from inside.
In the early days when the Turks positioned themselves in the Islamic history, the collapse of the Abbasids had already begun. Aside from the small states, all the other governments ranging from the Tahirids to the Buyids did not last long and all of them came to an end. Muslims in Spain had also lost their old might and strength.
Apart from these, the Sunni and Shiite division in the Islamic world caused various disturbances, and tensions experienced between the two sides.
At such a time that the Muslim world needed unity and solidarity, the attacks of crusades began. In the following periods, the commanders like Saladin Ayyubi and the Muslim Turks defended the Muslim world from the crusader attacks.
3. The Mongol Invasion and the Collapse of the Abbasid State
The greatest blow that shook the Muslim world came from the Mongols in the 13th century. Hulagu attacked Baghdad with a huge army on February 10, 1258. He surrounded the city for forty days and set it on fire from all quarters. Caliph Mu’tasim unconditionally surrendered, and the people of the city were put to the sword. The estimates about the number of people killed in the city change from 800,000 up to 2 million, (the estimates are higher in the later sources). It is quite difficult to give an exact number of those who were killed in Baghdad, but their number was more than 100,000. The city was plundered by Hulagu, the mosques were turned into barns. The libraries were destroyed. Some of the books were burned, some of them were thrown into the Tigris River and some of them were taken by Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, who stood by Hulagu’s side, to the library of the Maragheh observatory. The Mongol invasion, which caused stagnation in the Muslim civilization, was a terrible disaster not only for Baghdad, but also for the whole Muslim world. The Mongol invasion that caused the collapse of the Abbasids was also the reason for the stagnation and regression of the Muslim civilization.
In the history of Islam, the longest ruling dynasty after the Ottomans was the Abbasid state that ruled between 750-1258. The Islamic civilization had its heyday during the period of this dynasty. The Abbassids maintained their dominance in the political field for a long time, and held the spiritual leadership of the Muslim world in their hands until their last moments except one or two times. The Abbasid caliphate has an important part not only in the history of Islam but also in the world history.