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The Ummayyad (Arabic: بنو أمية, Banu Umayyah) dynasty of Caliphs was the second of the four Arab caliphates, following the Rashidun (Rightly Guided Caliphs) and preceding the Abbasid. The name Umayyad is taken from  Umayya ibn Abd Shams, the great-grandfather of the first Umayyad caliph. It was the fifth largest contiguous empire in history and is estimated to be the third largest by population, encompassing about 30% of the world's population. Its capital for most of its relatively brief existence as an empire was in in Damascus.

The Umayyad ruled as undisputed Caliphs from about 661 to 750.

Umayyad Caliphs during the Empire

Mu'awiyya I 661-80
Yazid I 680-683
Mu'awiyya II 683-684
Marwan I 684-685
Abd al-Malik 685-705
al-Walid I 705-715
Sulayman 715-717
Umar  II 717-720
Yazid II 720-724
Hisham 724-743
al-Walid II 743-744
Yazid III 744
Ibrahim 744
Marwan II 744-750

Map of the Umayyad Empire

A map of the Umayyad empire at its largest extent is shown below.

Map of Umayyad Empire

The Arab empire did not originally accept the principle of inherited dynastic succession for its Caliphs, but instead relied on election by consensus. As there was frequently no consensus, the rule of Caliphs often ended in assassination. In 656 Uthman was assassinated. Ali of the Hashim clan, a cousin of Muhammad became Caliph, but was challenged. Ali was victorious over Aisha, the widow of Muhamad and her allies Talha and Zubeir, two of the companions of the prophet at the battle of the Camel in 656. However, Muawiyah, son of the assassinated Uthman, accused Ali of complicity in the assassination of Uthman and of harboring his assassins. The battle of Siffin was to decide the issue, but it was stopped for mediation. The Kharijites were dissatisfied with the mediation and broke with Ali. Ali defeated them at the Battle of Nahrawan in 659, but Ali was assassinated in 661, opening the way for Muawiyeh to claim the Caliphate. He moved the capital to Damascus.

It is probably impossible to judge the Umayyad rule objectively because they had angered both the Ulema, the religious scholars who kept most of the records and made religious decisions, and the non-Arabs. Their story is told mostly through the voice of the Abbasids who overthrew them. They were despised for a long time by both by Sunni and Shia Muslims because they allegedly suppressed the Caliphate as a religious institution and ruled in effect as secular kings. The original branch of the Umayyads founded by by Mu'awiyya, the Sufaynid branch, was wiped out in 684 by Marwan, who founded the Marwanid branch.

The Umayyad's succeeding in Arabizing their empire, establishing Arabic as the language of administration as well as the language of religion. Because of their vigorous expansionist policy and Arab orientation, they are often the role models of Arab nationalists.

The Umayyad empire apparently suffered from over-rapid expansion which produced several difficulties. 1) It was difficult to maintain proper communications and swift availability of armies throughout the width of this huge empire. 2) While religion called for the desirability of conversion, those who converted were no longer subject to special taxes. The loss of revenue was intolerable to the Umayyad rulers, causing some caliphs to continue the taxes on non-Arab converts or discourage conversion. 3) Non-Arab converts, Mawali, were held in contempt, giving rise to friction. 4) The empire had to be fueled by constant military expansion to produce new booty and slaves. However, by about 730, it had begun to reach the nether limits of its resources in terms of conquest. Charles Martel defeated the Muslims at the Battle of Tours in 732. In the east, there were constant revolts as well in the reign of Hisham. 

The rivals of the Umayyad, the Hashimiyah, organized resistance which began about 716. It culminated in a revolt, under a black banner of Abu Muslim and Abu el Abbas. The latter was proclaimed Caliph in 749 and defeated the last Umayyad Caliph, Marwan II, in 750 at the battle of the Zab. However, the Umayyad continued to control parts of the empire outside Baghdad and Umayyad Caliphs ruled in Cordoba in al-Andalus (Spain)  until the eleventh century CE.  

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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