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The Abbasid (Arabic: العبّاسيّونı, al-‘Abbasiyoun) dynasty succeeded the Umayyad dynasty and marked the high water point of the Arab empire, in terms of civilization, under the banner of Islam. The Abbasids reached power by allying themselves with the Persians and with the Shia Muslims. Beginning with the Hashimiyya movement, the Hashemite rivals of the Umayyad caliphs recruited followers in the Arabian peninsulas. After defeating the Umayyad armies in the battle of the Zab, in 750 they established a capital at Hassan in the Arabian peninsula and then building a new capital at Baghdad, moving the Caliphate from Damascus in 762. They were able to overthrow the Umayyads, in part because of the support they received from the Mawali, converted Muslims, who had been treated as second class citizens under the Umayyad rulers.  The Abbasids presided over the Golden Age of Islam, ruling an empire that stretched from Persia to the Atlantic Ocean and for a time included a part of Sicily and of Spain (al Andalus). Several factors contributed to the rapid decline of the empire. The Abbasids became Sunni and their Shi'a supporters turned against them. Persian support earned them the enmity of the Arabs, and they relied on Persian and Turkish troops.  The Abbasid Caliphs rapidly became puppets of their viziers who held real power, and of the Turkish troops they had raised. In 935 the title Emiru l-Umara was transferred to the chief of the Turkish soldiers.  The Abbasids  were gradually forced to cede power to local dynastic emirs who only nominally acknowledged their power, and had to cede Al Andalus to an escaped Umayyad. The Maghreb and Ifriqiya were lost to other independent or semi-independent dynasties or kingdoms. In 1055 the Seljuqs Turks conquered Baghdad, but the Caliph continued to play a symbolic role in Baghdad and then in Caira. Abbasid  rule ended ended in 1258, when Hulagu Khan, the Mongol conqueror, sacked Baghdad. The Caliphate was moved to Cairo but had no real power. The Abbasid Caliphate was finally terminated in 1517. 

Map of Abbasid Empire

The Abbasid Caliphs - Timeline

Year CE Year A.H. Caliph
749-54 132-36 as-Saffah
754-75 136-58 al-Mansur
775-85 158-69 Muhammadul-Mahdi  
785-86 169-70 al-Hadi
786-809 170-93 Harun al Rashid
809-13 193-98 al-Amin ibn Harun
813-33 198-218 al-Ma'mun ibn Harun
833-42 218-27 al-Mu'tasim  ibn Harun
842-47 227-32 al-Wathiq
847-61 232-47 al-Mutawakkil
861-62 247-48 al-Muntasir
862-66 248-52 al-Musta'in
866-69 252-55 al-Mu'tazz
869-70 255-56 al-Muhtadi
870-92 256-79 al-Mu'tamid
892-902 279-89 al-Mu'tadid
902-08 289-95 al-Muktafi
908-32 295-320 Muqtadir bi'llah ibn il-Mu'tadid
932-34 320-22 al-Qahir bi'llah ibnil-Mu'tadid
934-40 322-29 al-Radi bi'llah ibn il-Mu'tadid
940-44 329-33 al-Mutaqqi bi'llah ibn il-Mu'tadid
944-46 333-34 al-Mustakfi bi'llah ibn il-Mu'tadid
946-74 334-63 al-Muti' ibn il Muqtadir
974-91 363-81 al-Tai'i' ibn il Muti'
991-1031 381-422 al-Qadir bi-amri'llah
1031-75 422-67 al-Qa'im
1075-94 467-87 al-Muqtadi
1094-1118 487-512 al-Mustazhir
1118-35 512-29 al-Mustarshid
1135-36 529-30 ar-Rashid
1136-60 530-55 al-Muqtafi
1160-70 555-66 al-Mustanjid
1170-80 566-75 al-Mustadi'
1180-1225 575-622 an-Nasir li-Dini llah
1225-26 622-23 az-Zahir
1226-42 623-40 al-Mustansir
1242-58 640-656 al-Musta'sim

Harun al-Rashid is the most famous of the Abbasid Caliphs. The early Abbasid period is recognized as the golden age of Muslim history, excelling for a brief time in the arts and sciences and preserving the  achievements of classical ancient Europe during the dark ages.


Synonyms and alternate spellings:

Further Information: See  History of Islam and the Arabs

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Encyclopedia of the Middle East

Note - This encyclopedia is a work in progress. It is far from complete and is being constructed and improved all the time. If you would like to contribute articles or expansions of existing articles, please contact news (at) mideastweb.org.  Suggestions and corrections are welcome. The concise version of this dictionary is at our Middle East Glossary.

Spelling - Spelling of words in Middle-Eastern languages is often arbitrary. There may be many variants of the same name or word such as Hezbollah, Hizbolla, Hisbolla or Husayn and Hussein. There are some conventions for converting words from Semitic languages such as Arabic and Hebrew There are numerous variant renderings of the same Arabic or Hebrew words, such as "Hizbollah," "Hisbulla" etc. It is not possible to find exact equivalents for several letters. 

Pronunciation - Arabic and Hebrew vowels are pronounced differently than in English. "o" is very short. The "a" is usually pronounced like the "a" in market, sometimes as the "a" in "Arafat."  The " 'A " is guttural.  " 'H "- the 'het ('Hirbeh, 'Hebron, 'Hisbollah') designates a sound somewhat similar to the ch in "loch" in Scots pronunciation, but made by touching the back of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. The CH should be pronounced like Loch, a more assertive consonant than 'het.

The "Gh" combination, and sometimes the "G," designate a deep guttural sound that Westerners may hear approximately as "r." The "r" sound is always formed with the back of the tongue, and is not like the English "r."

More information: Hebrew, Arabic

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