The Abbasid Caliphates (750-1258 C.E)

Rise of the Abbasid (750 C.E)

The Abbasid Caliphate system was founded by non-Arab Muslims and Shi’ites. This group of people lived according to Islamic secularism, as opposed to the Umayyad Caliphates. The name Abbasid was derived from al-Abbass, who was an uncle of the prophet Mohammed. The Abbasids were able to gain power mainly because of their reliance on a clan of foreign Muslims who converted to Islam. These people were referred to as the Malwari (meaning “client” in Arabic). Even though they were viewed as a lesser people who were integrated into the clan, the Malwari helped to expand and strengthen the Abbasid’s rule. When the Abbasids took control in 758 C.E, they eventually shifted the capital from Damascus to Baghdad. With this, the Abbasids were able to fuse the previously Semitic culture with the Persian culture and form a unique system of governing.

The dynasty’s rule began with Abu’l Abbass Saffar in 750 C.E became the first ruling Caliphate. Saffar, as well as his successor, were cunning rulers who forcibly united the conflicting groups within the Abbasid clans and presented a new form of Islamic rule in the Arab world. As with the Umayyads, the Abbasids segregated themselves from other factions and clans within the Arab world, but took in foreign clans who would be converted to Muslims. This allowed them to expand their empire while greatly increasing their military power simultaneously. Although these new changes would place the Abbasids in a position of power, they were scorned and rejected by other minority Arab groups in the region who had helped them climb to supremacy.

The Abbasid Empire is shown in the greenish color.
The Abbasid Empire is shown in the greenish color.

Rule of the Abbasid

Although there were many prosperous years under the ruling of the Abbasid and much advancements that were made in science and technology, there were also many other opposing clans and tribes within the region who were against the seemingly unjust rule of the Abbasid Caliphates. The first opposing Caliphate clan that established itself in 756 C.E, the Umayyads, who were localized in the Anadaluz area of Spain, were bitter rivals with the Abbasids. Another group, the Shi’ites, were also against the Abbasids because they viewed the Abbasid Caliphates as usurpers of power, even though the Shi’ites largely helped establish the Abbasid rule in the region and a distinct governing body.

With rising tensions complicating matters for the Abbasid Caliphates due to Shi’a uprisings, the Caliphates abandoned all ties to Shi’a beliefs for their own system of rule. Later attempts to make peace with the Shi’ite groups failed, leading to the Shi’ites splitting from the Abbasid empire in search of a new place to live after a massacre of Shi’ites erupted in 786 C.E in Mecca. After the Shi’ite rebellion, there was a brief period of stability before a string of military revolutions. One in particular was organized by al-Mu’tasim, which would lead to him becoming a Caliph in 833 C.E by using a military slave group called Mamluks. After al-Mu’tasim gained control of the empire, he moved the capital of the Abbasid from Baghdad to Samarra. This decision led to public dissent among many Muslims of the Abbasid empire and shattered the governing system that connected the Islamic people to the Caliphs. One major advancement that was accomplished by al-Ma’mun, who was al-Mu’tasim’s brother , adopted a doctrine of thought that he called Mu’talizim. This would lead to al-Ma’mun setting up a university, Bayt al-Hikma. It was because of the strives made by al-Ma’mun that philosophical ideas of Plato and Aristotle would be handed down to the Muslim population of the Abbasid. This in turn led to a conquest of knowledge that was further inspired by the Abbasid scholars, which dramatically changed Islamic thought within the Abbasid empire.


  1. Hooker, Richard. "The Abassid Dynasty." Islam. Richard Hooker, 6 June 1996. Web. 26 Feb. 2010. <>.
  2. (Picture used above)

(By: Nannar Shendaj)

The Golden Age of Technology

Advancements made in technology throughout the Arab world during the time of the Abbasids made a lasting impact on the trajectory of science. Tremendous work was performed during the historic “Golden Age” between ~750 to 1258 C.E. in cities across the region. The center of much of the work during this period of time was located in Baghdad during the control of the Abbasids. A transition from other centers of affluence such as Damascus (part of the Ummayyid Caliphate), Baghdad become an attractive place for scholars during this principal time and was reason for the breadth of studies that were expanded upon. Many of these disciplines were retained in The House of Wisdom, which was a university established in Baghdad in 1004 C.E. (FASEB, pp. 1582).

In light of the Prophet’s guidelines, Muslims of the region sought to expand upon current knowledge uncovered from the past and elaborate upon it. One main area of focus of the Prophet was medical research, “for every disease, Allah has given a cure” (FASEB, p. 1581). Advancements were made in many aspects of medicine including the concept of four treatable body humors, the usefulness of herbs through medicinal healers leading to the concept of a pharmacy. A formal hospital with separate patient areas according to illness was established and laid the groundwork for the future of medical education. Students would perform examinations and assist doctors with procedures. It was during this time of expansion and development that Yuhanna ibn Massuwayh performed some of the first dissections along with Abu Bakr Muhummad ibn Zakariyya ar-Razi who is famous for the differentiation of many illnesses, including smallpox and measles and writing Al-Hawi, a medical encyclopedia.. Another scholar who is considered one of the most influential was Ibn Sina “who differentiated meningitis from other neurological diseases” and was responsible for the combined work of al-Qanun fil Tibb (The Canon of Medicine) which historians believe has had an influence on medicine which is still visible today in the field (FASEB, pp. 1582-1584).

Numerous other fields of study were advanced during the Golden Age from their Greek and Roman origins. Translations of Egyptian hieroglyphics and philosophy written in foreign languages began the transition of knowledge to the West. Advances in astrology and aligning planets was performed and documented during this time period along with many other concepts found today in physics. This topic was closely related to the topic of mathematics and scholars such as al-Khwarazmi. Other advances in technology included systems of irrigation and windmills, along with systematic and complex burial chambers (FASEB, pp. 1584).

A BBC Documentary "Islam and Science" covers the region's progress during the Golden Age.

Cartography also saw many improvements during this period and scholars continued to improve upon it on a religious basis of need. The pilgrimage to Mecca along with the construction of religious sites all sought the direction of this sacred location and was another reason for focus on it This attention to technology ultimately changed locations in the region and was in part the reason for the demise of Baghdad and the Golden Age (Iqbāl, pp 32-35).


  • Matthew E. Falagas, Effie A. Zarkadoulia, and George Samonis. “Arab science in the golden age (750–1258 C.E.) and today”. FASEB J. 20: 1581-1586.
  • Iqbal, Muaffar. Science and Islam. Westport: Greenwood. 2007.
(By: Andrew Thompson)

The Fall of Baghdad (1258 C.E) and the End of Abbassids

Causes of Fall:
There were many causes of the fall, but probably the main one was a failure to find a good solution to the difficult problem of holding together a very large empire in the fairly primitive circumstances of the early middle ages. The solution the Abbasids used was to delegate power to local rulers who passed their own authority on to their sons. These local rulers tended to become independent powers, who gave only formal allegiance to the Caliphate.

The Story:
By 1251 the horsemen of the steppe were united once again, under the authority of three brothers, grandsons of Genghis Khan: Mongke, Kubilay and Hulegu. It was the ambition of the third, who had settled in Persia, to conquer the entire Muslim east to the shores of the Mediterranean, perhaps even to the Nile. Initially interested in philosophy and science, a man who sought out the company of men of letters, he was transformed in the course of his campaigns into a savage animal thirsting for blood and destruction. His religious attitudes were no less contradictory. Although strongly influenced by Christianity, his mother, his favourite wife, and several of his closest collaborators were members of the Nestorian church, he never renounced Shamanism, the traditional religion of his people. In the territories he governed, notably Persia, he was generally tolerant of Muslims, but once he was gripped by his lust to destroy any political entity capable of opposing him, he waged a war of total destruction against the most prestigious metropolises of Islam.

His first target was Baghdad. At first, Hulegu asked the Abbasid caliph, al-Mutasim, the thirty-seventh of his dynasty, to recognize Mongol sovereignty as his predecessors had once accepted the rule of the Seljuk Turks. The prince of the faithful, overconfident of his own prestige, sent word to the conqueror that any attack on his capital would mobilize the entire Muslim world, from India to north west Africa. Not in the least impressed, the grandson of Genghis Khan announced his intention of taking the city by force. Towards the end of 1257 he and, it would appear, hundreds of thousands of cavalry began advancing towards the Abbasid capital. On heir way they destroyed the assassin’s sanctuary at Alamut and sacked it’s library of inestimable value, thus making it for impossible for future generations to gain any in-depth knowledge of the doctrine and activities of the sect. When the caliph finally realized the extent of the threat, he decided to negotiate. He proposed that Hulegu’s name be pronounced at Friday sermons in the mosques of Baghdad and that he be granted the title sultan. But it was too late, for by now the Mongol had definitely opted for force. After a few weeks of courageous resistance, the prince of the faithful had no choice but to capitulate. On the 10th of February 1258 he went to the victor’s camp in person and asked if he would promise to spare the lives of all the citizens if they agreed to lay down there arms. But in vain. As soon as they were disarmed, the Muslim fighters were exterminated. Then the Mongol horde fanned out through the prestigious city demolishing buildings, burning neighbourhoods, and mercilessly massacring men, women, and children- nearly eighty thousand people in all. Only the Christian community was spared, thanks to the intercession of the Khan’s wife. The prince of the faithful was himself strangled to death a few days after his defeat. The tragic end of the Abbasid caliphate stunned the Muslim world. It was no longer a matter of a military battle for control of a particular city, or even a country: it was now a desperate struggle for the survival of Islam.


  • Amitai-Preiss, Reuven. 1998. Mongols and Mamluks: The Mamluk-Ilkhanid War
  • Saunders, J.J. 2001. The History of the Mongol Conquests. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • Sicker, Martin. 2000. The Islamic World in Ascendancy: From the Arab Conquests to the Siege of Vienna. Westport
  • Morgan, David. 1990. The Mongols. Boston
(By: Mohammad Albayyat)

Abbasid Family History

Abbasid, Arab family descended from Abas, the uncle of prophet Mohammed. In the beginning of the 8th century the Abbasids involved in numerous disputes. They claimed that authority (the right to be caliph) should be vested in the profit family ( Ahl-al-bait) or (bani-hashim). they succeeded uniting most of the empire in revolt against the Umayyads buy using Abu Muslim Al-Khorasani who was one of the first Abbasids generals who led to the first liberal movement against umayyads in 747 A.D¹.

In 750 A.D Marwan II who was the Umayyads caliph at that time gathered a huge army and headed towards Kufa. At the same time the Abbasids army was coming from khorasan, the head of Abbasids was Abu Alabbas Al-Saffah. The two armies met at a point on the Zab river, the battle was called “The Zab battle”, it lasted for two days and it ended when the Umayyads saw Marwan’s horse running without a rider. Marwan escaped to Egypt and got killed there by the Abbasids. The victory of Zab battle was the official fall of the Umayyads and the rise of the Abbasids dynasty.
Abu jafar al-Mansur was the brother of Al-Saffah and the second caliph. He was administer of Armenia, Mesopotamia and Azerbaidzhan during the caliphate of Al-Saffah. Right after the death of Al-saffah, Al-Mansur was announced as a successor but it was challenged by his uncle- the governor of Syria- Abdullah bin Ali. Al-Mansur had to call upon Abu Muslim who was one of the first generals to eliminate Abdullah he successfully did. In the same time Al-Mansur was afraid of the popularity of Abu Muslim as a religious leader who could lead a revolution against the Abbasids, Abu Muslim was murdered by Al-Mansur Right after he came from Syria. The Murder of Abu Muslim led to a series of revolts against the empire by followers of Abu Muslim – Muslimiya--, but the group was eliminated by the Abbasids army. Al-Mansur died while he was on pilgrimage to Mecca on 775 A.D (185 A.H.)

Important achievements of Al-Mansur.
House of wisdom
House of wisdom

  • The creation of the office of vizier.
  • This established under it several ministries.
  • The foundation of Baghdad.
  • Encouraged translation of Greek and Latin classics into Arabic.
  • House of Wisdom

Harun Al Rashid ( Aron the upright
Harun Al-Rashid was the fifth Abbasids caliph, he was porn Rayy- a city near Tehran- . he is the son of the third caliph Al-Mahdi and the brother of the fourth caliph Al-Hadi. Al-Rashid was assigned as a governor of Ifriqiyah ( Egypt, Tunisia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Syria when he was 14-years old. In 786 A.D (170 A.H), Al-Rashid became a caliph after the death of his brother Al-Hadi. His early experience in governing Al-Rashid successfully ruled the Abbasid Empire. The Empire included the northern Africa and All South west Asia, but before the end of his caliphate some parts of Africa withdrew from the Empire. Harun Al-Rashid died in (809 A.D.,) while he was on an expedition to restore order in Tus, Iran.
Mosts important incidents during Al-Rashid’s calipate
  • Diplomatic relations with China.
  • The incident of the fall of the Barmikds.
  • Baghdad was the largest city in the world during his period.
  • Al-Rashid made Nicephorus -the Byzantium emperor- to pay annual tribute to the Abbasid Empire.

Al-Amin, Al-Mamun and the succession
In 802 A.D, Harun Al-Rashid assigned his sons Al-Amin and Al-Mamun as successors to the caliphate after his death, he formed a line of successors starting with Al-Amin and followed by Al-Mamun. Three years later (805 A.D), Al-Rashid added a third successor to the line when he included his third son Al-Mutamin. Soon after the death of Al-Rashid, Al-Amin automatically became a caliph. Al-Amin refused to acknowledge Al-Mamun’s right to succeed, as their father arranged. This incident led to a civil war between the brothers. Al-Mamun had a powerful control on the military, the brothers armies met at rayy, Iran. Al-Mamun’s Army defeated Al-Amin’s Army and headed towards Baghdad. In 813 A.D, Al-Mamun’s Army was surrounding Al-Amin who tried to escape in a boat but they captured him and executed him. Al-Mamun pronounced as a Caliph in the same year.

(By: Khaled Alneyadi)

Chronological List of Abbasid Caliphs

A.D. (A.H.)

First caliph(Builder of Hashimiya)
2- Mansur
5-Harun Al-Rashid
809 (193)
7- Mamun
30-Mansur Rashid
31-Muhammad Mustakfi

(By: Khaled Alneyadi)