The Abbasid Revolution | 744CE – 786CE

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The Abbasid Revolution

The Abbasid Revolution
Folio from the records of Balami depicting As-Saffah as he receives pledges of allegiance in Kufa

Abbasid Revolution: In the year 744CE, Marwan II ascended to the throne of the caliphate. Little did he know that he would be the last Umayyad to do so. After ninety years of corruption, the throne was being pulled from under the Umayyad dynasty, once and for all. By 746CE, A man named Abu Muslim had taken control of Merv from the Umayyad governor and was now in full revolt. By 747CE, he had secured Khorasan and Persia. The Abbasids and their black standard were now moving towards Mesopotamia. They used a black flag in opposition to the Umayyads’ white flag.

In 749CE, the Abbasid army crossed the Euphrates and entered Kufa. By this point, the Abbasids were confident of their victory. So much so that Abul Abbas as-Saffah, the great-great-grandson of Muhammad’s uncle, al-Abbas, was declared caliph in Kufa. Marwan II tried to mobilize an army to defeat the Abbasids. The armies met at the Battle of the Zab on 25th of January, 750CE. Marwan’s army was defeated by the Abbasids. This was the final nail in the Umayyad coffin. The revolution was more or less over. Marwan escaped to Egypt but was caught and killed. By April of that year, Damascus was secured by the Abbasids.

The Umayyads were no more. Well, at least for now. #Foreshadowing. During the revolution, the Abbasids painted themselves as the exact opposite of the Umayyads. Where the Umayyad bureaucracy was made up mostly of Arabs, the Abbasids recruited soldiers of all ethnicities and ranked them by merit. Abu Muslim went up and down the Silk Road to find soldiers who would join them. He did all of this in secrecy before his attack on Merv.

The revolution grew for more than forty years inside the Umayyad Caliphate, like Hydra inside of SHIELD. Even Abu Muslim’s name wasn’t real. We still don’t know what his name was. Or even if it was one man or many.  He advocated for a member of Muhammad’s family to take the throne. The name of that member wasn’t revealed until the Umayyads were overthrown.

That’s how secretive they were. Anyways, As-Saffah, whose name literally means “The Blood-shedder” took the title of the Caliph and established the Abbasid Dynasty, which would hold the title of Caliph till after Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Umayyad princes were massacred in large numbers. They were chased and killed wherever they were found. The graves of Umayyad rulers were desecrated except for Umar II.

The Abbasids even promised amnesty for Umayyad princes, gathered some eighty of them, and massacred them. One prince, however, the great-grandson of Abd al-Malik named Abd al-Rahman escaped through Egypt and Africa. He was around twenty years of age at the time. He made his way to Al-Andalus or Hispania. After the Muslim conquest of Spain, the Muslim population there was mostly Syrians and Berbers. Syrians, as you might remember, loved the Umayyads and Abd al-Rahman’s mother was Berber so he was able to secure enough support there to overthrow the governor there and establish an independent emirate.

He created a safe haven for the supporters of the Umayyads and his own family, including his sisters, wife, and children, whom he had left in Mesopotamia. On the other side, As-Saffah spent the next four years consolidating his control over the empire.

Battle of Talas

 battle of talas

In 751CE, the Abbasids met their Chinese neighbors in the Battle of the Talas River. The Tang Empire had been a powerful rival to the Umayyads in Central Asia. In As-Saffah’s attempt to consolidate his rule in Khorasan, his armies met the Chinese Army.

The battle resulted in a victory for the Abbasids who moved to take almost all of Central Asia. As-Saffah died of Smallpox in 754CE, leaving the empire to his brother, Al-Mansur. Al-Mansur is often regarded as the real founder of the Abbasid Dynasty because of all the contributions he made to the empire. The first thing he did as caliph was had Abu Muslim killed because that’s what you get for helping douchebags overthrow an empire. Abu Muslim had solid support throughout the empire due to his role in the rebellion.

Al-Mansur took him out for a walk and had some of his guards kill him. After dispatching Abu Muslim, he dispatched an army to take back Al-Andalus. The Abbasid army surrounded Abd al-Rahman in a fortress in Carmona, in modern-day Spain. Abd al-Rahman knew that there was no way out so he handpicked some 700 of his men and lit up a fire and ordered his men to throw their scabbards into the fire. He told his men that he would rather die fighting than die of hunger so, he open the gates and attacked the unsuspecting Abbasid army.

The Abbasid army was taken by surprise and Abd al-Rahman actually managed to defeat them. He cut off the heads of all the leaders of the army, preserved them in salt, and sent them to al-Mansur, who was on a pilgrimage to Mecca at the time when he received those heads. There were even tags attached to the ears of each head to identify it. HOW GAME OF THRONES IS THAT?!

On the 30th of July, 762CE, Al-Mansur commissioned the construction of a new city. He chose a site north of Ctesiphon, which had been the Persian capital before the Muslims overthrew the Sassanid Empire. It took around four years to finish the construction. Baghdad was founded. At the core of Baghdad was around city called The City of Peace which housed the Golden Gate Palace, which housed the Caliph. Eventually, this city would become the biggest city in the world, the center of learning and culture with more than a million inhabitants at its peak.

The empire was starting to shift from an Arab empire to a more Persian one. The Abbasids were Arabs but it was the Persians who had helped bring them to power so they made sure not to alienate them. Arab bureaucracy was replaced by a Persian one. A new position of Vizier was established and more power was delegated to local Emirs and away from the caliph. Al-Mansur died in 775CE, and his son Al-Mahdi took over the empire. During his reign, Baghdad became a metropolitan city.

It attracted immigrants from all over the world. These immigrants brought with them, their cultures, religions, and ideas. One of the most important ideas was Paper. See, the Chinese actually invented paper but it wasn’t used anywhere else till the Muslims met the Chinese in the battle of the Talas river. Muslims conquered some previously Chinese areas and took the paper from them. Eventually, paper became so important that Baghdad had a whole street dedicated to nothing but paper. All these factors combined made the perfect breeding ground for an intellectual revolution.


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