680-750 Later Umayyad Caliphs
The Caliphate after the death of Yezid was filled by a weakling boy who died in a few months. Moawiya II [r. 683-684] reigned a very short time - how long is again wholly uncertain - when he fell sick and died. Then commenced a period of the greatest confusion. Yezid's kinsman Merwan, who was elected in his place, lived for only a year. Merwan [r. 684-685] strengthened his position according to the old oriental fashion by marrying the widow of Yazid, and soon felt himself strong enough to substitute his own son Abdalmalik as successor-designate.
The reign of Abdalmalik [r. 685-705] was one of the most stormy in the annals of Islam, but also one of the most glorious. Abdul Malik, Merwan's son, succeeded him and ruled for some years, with Ibn Zobayr holding the Sacred Cities, Irak, and the East as a rival Caliph. The situation was still further complicated by a certain Mukhtar, who gained possession of Kufa as the agent of Mohamed, son of the Caliph Ali, known from his mother as the Hanifite. Mukhtar was killed by Musab, brother of Ibn Zobayr, who in turn was defeated and killed by Abdul Malik in AH. 71 (690). Ibn Zobayr, who probably would have been elected Caliph had he shown more enterprise after the death of Yezid, was attacked for the second time in AH 72 (691). It was on this occasion that Hajjaj bin Yusuf, the ferocious general and administrator who was the incarnation of the spirit of the Omayyad dynasty, first played a leading part. He showed no respect for the Sacred City, which he besieged, and Ibn Zobayr, deserted by many of his followers, met a soldier's death in A.h. 73 (692), after thirteen years of successful independence, during which he had been a constant rival of the Caliphs. The Caliphate of Abdul Malik was then acknowledged throughout the Moslem world.
Abdalmalik not only brought triumph to the cause of the Omayyads, but also extended and strengthened the Moslem power as a whole. He was well versed in old Arabic tradition and in the doctrine of Islam, and was passionately fond of poetry. His court was crowded with poets, whom he loaded with favours, even if they were Christians like Akhtal. In his reign flourished also the two celebrated rivals of Akhtal, Jarir and Farazdaq. All the great rivals of Abdalmalik having disappeared, he was no longer like his predecessors primus inter pares, but dominus. Under his rule the members of the Omayyad house enjoyed a greater amount of administrative control than had formerly been the case, but high office was given only to competent men. At the beginning of his reign Abdalmalik had replaced the humble mosque built by Omar on the site of the temple at Jerusalem by a magnificent dome, which was completed in the year 691. Eutychius and others pretend that he desired to substitute Jerusalem for Mecca, because Ibn Zobair had occupied the latter place, and thus the pilgrimage to the Ka'ba had become difficult for the Syrians. This is quite improbable. Abdalmalik was born and educated in Islam, and distinguished himself in his youth by piety and continence. He regarded himself as the champion of Islam and of the communion of the believers, and had among his intimates men of acknowledged devoutness.
The reign of Walid I [r. 705-715] was the most glorious epoch in the history of Islam. In Asia Minor and Armenia, Maslama, brother of the caliph, and his generals obtained numerous successes against the Greeks. Tyana was conquered after a long siege, and a great expedition against Constantinople was in preparation. In Armenia Maslama advanced even as far as the Caucasus. In Africa, MusS b. Nosair, who succeeded Hassan b. No'man as governor, in a short time carried his conquests as far as Fez, Tangier and Ceuta, and one of his captains even made a descent on Sicily and plundered Syracuse.
Under Welid, the son and successor of Abdul Malik, the Moslem arms penetrated farther and farther eastwards, substituting conquest for what had hitherto been little more than raids. Kutayba, who ably conducted these operations in Central Asia, chose Merv for his headquarters, and every year made a successful campaign, generally crossing the Oxus and sometimes the Jaxartes. Balkh, Tokharistan, and Ferghana were his first objective; then the fell of Baykand, a trading centre in Bokhara, secured for him booty of inestimable value. In A.m. 90 (709) the city of Bokhara itself was taken.
Walid had, in the last years of his reign, made preparations for a great expedition against Constantinople. Suleiman [r. 715-717] carried them on with energy. It is said that Suleiman was firmly persuaded that Constantinople would be conquered during his reign, in accordance with a Sibylline prophecy which said that the city would be subdued by a caliph bearing the name of a prophet [Solaiman is the Arabic form of Solomon], he himself being the first to fulfil this condition. Moreover, the Byzantine empire was in these years disturbed by internal troubles. The first year of the expedition was not unsuccessful. The besieged were hard pressed, but the besiegers suffered by the severe winter, and were at last obliged to raise the siege. Maslama brought back the rest of his army in a pitiful state, while the fleet, on its return, was partly destroyed by a violent tempest. The Moslems regard this failure as one of the great evils that have befallen the human race, and one which retarded the progress of the world for ages, the other calamity being the defeat in the battle of Tours by Charles Martel.
Omar b. Abdalazlz [r. 717-720] did his best to imitate his grandfather Omar in all things, and especially in maintaining the simple manner of life of the early Moslems. He was, however, born in the midst of wealth; thus frugality became asceticism, and in so far as he demanded the same rigour from his relatives, he grew unjust and caused uneasiness and discontent. By paying the highest regard to integrity in the choice of his officers, and not to ability, he did not advance the interests of his subjects, as he earnestly wished to do.
Omar's reign was as short as that of his predecessor. He died on the 24th of Rajab 101 (a.d. 9th February 720). Yazid II [r. 720-724], son of Abdalmah'k and, by his mother 'Atika, grandson of Yazid I., ascended the throne without opposition. Yazid II. was by natural disposition the opposite of his predecessor. He did not feel that anxiety for the spiritual welfare of his subjects which had animated Omar II. Poetry and music, not beloved by Suleiman and condemned by Omar, were held by him in great honor. Two court-singers, Sallflraa and IJababa, exercised great influence, tempered only by the austerity of manners that prevailed in Syria.
During the comparatively long reign of Hisham A.h. 105-125 (724-743) the decline of the Omayyad dynasty continued. I have mentioned briefly the only incidents which directly concern Persia. But the fact should not be overlooked that it was during the Caliphate of Hisham that the Moslems invaded France. For Europe the issue of the battle won by Charles Martel in A.d. 732, exactly a century after the death of the Founder of Islam, was of supreme importance. Hisham was a wise and able prince and an enemy of luxury, not an idealist like Omar II., nor a worldling like Yazid II., but more like his father Abdalmalik, devoting all his energy to the pacification of the interior, and to extending and consolidating the empire of Islam. But the discontent, which had been sown under his predecessors, had now developed to such an extent that he could not suppress it in detail.
Zaid b. Ali, grandson of Hosain b. Ali, who had come to Kufa for a lawsuit, was persuaded by the chiefs of the Shi'a to organize a revolt. He succeeded in so far that 15,000 Kufians swore to fight with him for the maintenance of the commandments of the Book of God and the Sunna (orthodox tradition) of his Prophet, the discomfiture of the tyrants, the redress of injury, and last, not least, the vindication of the family of the Prophet as the rightful caliphs. The revolt broke out on the 6th of January 740. Unfortunately for Zaid he had to do with the same Kufians whose fickleness had already been fatal to his family. He was deserted by his troops and slain. His body was crucified in Kufa, his head sent to Damascus and thence to Medina. His son Yahya, still a youth, fled to Balkh in Khorasan, but was discovered at last and hunted down, till he fell sword in hand under Walid II. Abu Moslim, the founder of the Abbasid dynasty, proclaimed himself his avenger, and on that occasion adopted the black garments, which remained the distinctive colour of the dynasty.
In India several provinces which had been converted to Islam under the Caliphate of Omar II. declared themselves independent, because the promise of equal rights for all Moslems was not kept under the reign of his successors. This led to the evacuation of the eastern part of India (called Hind by the Arabs, Sind being the name of the western part), and to the founding of the strong cities of Mafrfuza and Mansura for the purpose of controlling the land.
Hisham died in February 743, after a reign of twenty years. He had not been wanting in energy and ability, and kept the reins of the government in his own hands. He was a correct Moslem and tolerant towards Christians and Jews. His financial administration was sound and he guarded against any misuse of the revenues of the state. But he was not popular. His residence was at Rosafaon the border of the desert, and he rarely admitted visitors into his presence; as a rule they were received by his chamberlain Abrash. Hisham tried to keep himself free from and above the rival parties, but his vicegerents were inexorable in the exaction of tribute.
Hisham caused a large extent of land to be brought into cultivation, and many public works to be executed, and he was accused of overburdening his subjects for these purposes. Therefore, Yazid III (as also the Abbasids) on taking office undertook to abstain from spending money on building and digging. The principle that a well-filled treasury is the basis of a prosperous government was pushed by him too far. Notwithstanding his activity and his devotion to the management of affairs, the Moslem power declined rather than advanced, and signs of the decay of the Omayyad dynasty began to show themselves. The history of his four successors, Walid II, Yazid III, Ibrahim and Merwan II, is but the history of the fall of the Omayyads.
With the dynasty of the Omayyads the hegemony passes finally from Syria to Irak. At the same time the supremacy of the Arabs came to an end. Thenceforth it is not the contingents of the Arabic tribes which compose the army, and on whom the government depends; the new dynasty relies on a standing army, consisting for the greater part of non-Arabic soldiers. The barrier that separated the Arabs from the conquered nations begins to crumble away. Only the Arabic religion, the Arabic language and the Arabic civilization maintain themselves, and spread more and more over the whole empire.
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