Abbasid dynasty

The second great dynasty of the Muslim empire (750-1258) was founded by descendants of al-Abbas, the Prophet's uncle. Their effective rule lasted about a century. After that control was decentralized to different regions of the empire. This caliphate was based in Baghdad.

The Abbasid caliphs were:


Abu'l Abbas al-Saffah 750 - 754

al-Radi 934 - 940
al-Mansur 754 - 775 al-Muttaqi 940 - 944
al-Mahdi 775 - 785 al-Mustakfi 944-946
al-Hadi 785 - 786 al-Muti’ 946-974
Harun al-Rashid 786 - 809 al-Ta’i’ 974-991
al-Amin 809 - 813 al-Qadir 991-1031
al-Ma'mun 813 - 833 al-Qa’im 1031-1075
al-Mu'tasim 833 - 842 al-Muqtadi 1075-1094
al-Wathiq 842 - 847 al-Mustazhir 1094-1118
al-Mutawakkil 847 - 861 al-Mustarshid 1118-1135
al-Muntasir 861 - 862 al-Rashid 1135-1136
al-Musta'in 862 - 866 al-Muqtafi 1136-1160
al-Mu'tazz 866 - 869 al-Mustanjid 1160-1170
al-Muhtadi 869 - 870 al-Mustadi 1170-1180
al-Mu'tamid 870 - 892 al-Nasir 1180-1225
al-Mu'tadid 892 - 902 al-Zahir 1225-1226
al-Muktafi 902 - 908 al-Mustansir 1226-1242
al-Muqtadir 908 - 932 al-Musta’sim 1242-1258
al-Qahir 932 - 934  

(source: Albert Hourani, A History of the Arab Peoples)

The Abbasid caliphs based their claim to the throne on their descent from Abbas (A.D. 566-652), the eldest uncle of Mohammad. They regarded themselves as the rightful heirs of the Prophet as opposed to the Umayyads. Throughout the second period of the Umayyads, Abbasid representatives were among their most dangerous opponents, partly by the skill with which they undermined the reputation of the reigning princes by accusations against their orthodoxy, their moral character and their administration in general. They manipulated jealousies among the Arab and non-Arab subjects of the empire. The history of the Abbasids is marked by perpetual strife, but also the development of luxury and the liberal arts in place of the austerity of thought and manners. Al-Mansur, the second caliph transferred the seat of government to Bagdad. The reigns of Harun al-Rashid (786-809) and Ma’mun (813-833) were periods of the golden age of medieval Islam.

Baghdad was built in 762 by the Caliph Abu Ja’far Abdallah al-Mansur. It grew under the Abbasids into a great cultural and commercial center. It became larger than any city in Europe or western Asia. It had huge economic resources with access to both the Tigris and Euphrates river transportation systems, and to the main route through the Zagros Mountains to the Iranian plateau. By the year 800 the city may have had as many as 500,000 inhabitants. Al-Mansur built it as a Round City with four gates and his palace and the main mosque in the centre. This Round City was exclusively a government quarter, and soon after its construction the markets were banished to the suburbs.

Islamic disciplines were developed under the Abbasid dynasty: works were produced in the fields of Qur’anic studies, theology, jurisprudence,grammar, rhetoric, literature, philosophy,science, medicine, geography, astronomy and music.

Among the many:

Ibn al-Muqaffa’, a convert to Islam who died in 757, translated from Persian and rewrote the book of fables Kalila wa Dimna.
Abu ‘Uthman ‘Amr bin Bahr al-Jahiz (776-869) , completed about 200 works. The most famous is an anthology of animal anecdotes, Kitab al-Haywan (Book of Animals), Kitab al-Bukhala’ (Book of Misers), a witty and insightful study of human psychology. Kitab al-Bayan wal Tabyin is a study in rhetoric.

Abu al-Faraj al-Isfahani (d. 967) wrote Kitab al-Aghani (Book of Songs), an anthology of songs and poems popular in Baghdad, in 24 volumes.

Badi’ al-Zaman al Hamadani (d.1008) invented maqamat, witty narration of dramatic anecdotes .

Poets include Abu Nuwas(762-813), al-Mutanabbi( 925-972), Abul Ala’ al-Ma’arri (973-1058).

It is during this period also that Alf Layla wa Layla (
One Thousand and One Nights) were translated from Persian to Arabic.

The first known translations of Greek and Indian scientific works date to the reign of al-Mansur (754-775). His grandson al-Ma’mun went further to found a center for research and translation in 830 which he called Beit al-Hikma, the House of Wisdom.

Hunayn Ibn Ishaq (d.873) was the greatest scholar of the translation movement. He translated into Arabic the complete works of the Alexandrian physicia and philosopher Galen, the complete medical works of Hippocrates, almost all of Aristotle and Plato.

Mas'udi (900-958), born in Baghdad, was a traveler who left a most interesting account of the history of the Abbasid caliphate.


Astronomical observation was begun in Baghdad in an observatory in the Shammasiya section, on the left bank of the Tigris, east of Rusafa. There were the astronomer al-Khawarizmi (850), from whose name comes the word "algorithm"; Farghani, whom we call Alfraganus (about 850); the physician Yahya ibn Masawayh, called Mesua in the West; the astronomer Abu Ma'shar, the Albumasar of the Europeans (about 996).


By the end of the 10th century, a region stretching form central Asia to the Atlantic coast, with different traditions and interests, belonged to one Islamic world. It was united through religious conviction, the Arabic language and human links through trade, migration and pilgrimage. The diversity inevitably led to the creation of multiple centers of power: in Baghdad, Cairo and Cordoba; three rulers claimed title of Caliph. For Iran and southern Iraq, the center remained in Baghdad. Egypt, Syria and western Arabia came under the sphere of influence of the Fatimids in Cairo, the Maghrib and the Andalus came mainly under Cordoba’s rule.

The Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad was brought to an end in 1258 by the non-Muslim Mongol dynasty from the east who conquered Iraq and Iran.