History of Baghdad: Abu Muslim and al-Mansur
It is actually quite odd that despite the United States being in military occupation of Baghdad, there doesn’t seem to be much interest among Americans in . . . Baghdad.
I thought it might be nice to have some entries on its history and glories from time to time.
The first story I will tell is about the conflict between the Abbasid Caliph Abu Ja`far al-Mansur (who founded Baghdad) and the Persian revolutionary Abu Muslim. (A caliph was sort of a mixture of a pope and an emperor).
The first Muslim empire after the reign of the four Orthodox Caliphs (632-661) was actually an Arab kingdom, that of the Umayyads. The Damascus-based Umayyads were overthrown by a revolution that began in eastern Iran (Khurasan) in the late 740s, a revolution that brought the new dynasty of the Abbasids to power. The Abbasids claimed descent from the uncle of the Prophet Muhammad, Abbas. They made what is now Iraq their base, and founded the round city of Baghdad, one of the great capitals of the medieval world.
The Medieval Sourcebook has put up an early translation of some of al-Mas`udi’s chronicle of this period, and I have slightly cleaned up and modified the text.
Abu Muslim was one of the chief generals of As-Saffah, Al-Mansur’s brother and predecessor.
On his accession [to the throne in Iraq in 754 A.D.], al-Mansur became jealous of Abu Muslim’s great power and influence, but sent him notwithstanding to put down a revolt raised by Abdallah, the son of Ali. After several battles, Abdallah fled and took refuge in Basra, the whole of his camp and treasure falling into the hands of Abu Muslim.
Al-Mansur sent Yaqtin bin Musa to take charge of the treasure. On appearing before Abu Muslim, Yaqtin said to him: “Peace be to you, Emir!”
“A plague on you, son of a prostitute!” answered the general. “They can use me to shed my blood, but not to guard a treasure.”
“My lord,” answered the messenger, “what has put such thoughts into your head?”
“Has not your master,” answered Abu Muslim, “sent you to confiscate all the treasure which has come into my possession?”
“May my wife be divorced forever,” said the Caliph’s agent, “if he has not sent me simply and solely to congratulate you upon your victory and success!”
On these words Abu Muslim embraced him and made him sit by his side. Notwithstanding this, however, when he had bidden him farewell, he said to his officers: “By Allah! I know this man will divorce his wife, simply out of fidelity to his master.”
This first story shows the distrust and jealousies that plagued the new caliph and the retainer he inherited from his brother, as-Saffah. It has often been the case that the qualities that make for a good revolutionary are not those that make for a great bureaucrat. Abu Muslim comes across as ambitious and paranoid, guaranteeing that he would come into conflict with al-Mansur. Al-Mansur trusts him with an important mission– putting down a rebellion by Abdallah bin Ali and chasing the latter down to Basra. But Abu Muslim feels insecure and is unsure the sultan will actually allow him to share in the treasure he has recovered.