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Title: Sketches from Eastern History
Author: Nöldeke, Theodor
Language: English
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                          [Cover Illustration]

                    SKETCHES  FROM  EASTERN  HISTORY


                            EASTERN  HISTORY


                            THEODOR  NÖLDEKE
                       UNIVERSITY  OF  STRASSBURG

                             TRANSLATED  BY

                     JOHN  SUTHERLAND  BLACK,  M.A.

                     AND  REVISED  BY  THE  AUTHOR

                         LONDON  AND  EDINBURGH
              A D A M   A N D   C H A R L E S   B L A C K

                             P R E F A C E.

OF the following studies, three have already appeared in German
periodicals, and one (that on the Koran) forms part of the article
MOHAMMEDANISM in the 9th edition of the _Encyclopædia Britannica_. But
all four have been considerably revised. The remaining essays were
written in the course of last year. The fourth, fifth, and sixth, and to
some extent the second and third also, may be regarded as supplementing
Aug. Müller’s excellent _History of Islam_. I have made careful use of
all the sources that were accessible to me, but have cited them only
rarely. I hope I have been fairly successful in obliterating the traces
of laborious study, while, at the same time, I trust that the book may
be found to be of some value, even to the specialist.

The account of Mansúr’s reign is preceded by a brief _résumé_ of the
antecedent history, and of the beginnings of the Abbásids dynasty; it
was impossible otherwise to exhibit the personality of Mansúr in a
proper light. Less organically connected with their context are the
paragraphs at the close of the essay upon King Theodore. But the
interest which Abyssinia now has, even for the ordinary newspaper
reader, justifies, I think, the few words on its history after the death
of that king, and the forecast of its future. I take this opportunity of
mentioning that an Italian of thorough insight and information has
expressed to me his entire concurrence with the opinions indicated in
the paragraphs in question. But I must earnestly beg those who read what
I have there said not to leap to the conclusion that I have the same
opinion about the German as about the Italian enterprises in Africa.

My old friend, De Goeje, of Leyden, has frequently given me valuable
assistance in the history of the servile war, especially on geographical
points. I am also indebted for some geographical notes to my friend G.
Hoffmann, of Kiel.

In speaking of mediæval times I have often retained the familiar
classical names of Oriental countries, such as Babylonia instead of
Irák, Mesopotamia for Jezíra, in the belief that most readers will find
this more convenient.

Where, in the Mohammedan dates, the day of the week and the day of the
month did not seem to agree, I have, in reducing them to terms of the
Julian calendar, of course held invariably to the day of the week; in
the rude Mohammedan reckoning by lunar months errors of two, or even of
three days are quite common. As the Mohammedan months seldom, and the
Mohammedan years never, coincide with ours, I have occasionally found it
necessary, where my authorities gave only the year and the month, to
leave the question open as between two years or months of the Julian
calendar. So also with the Syrian (Seleucid) years, which are strictly
Julian indeed, but begin with 1st October, not 1st January.

The transcription of Oriental names and other words gives their
pronunciation only approximately. _S_ is always to be pronounced sharp,
as in _song_, _this_; _z_ is the English _z_, as in _razor_. _H_ is
always a distinctly audible consonant, even in such words as Alláh. Long
vowels in Arabic and Persian are indicated thus (´), but in some cases
this diacritical mark has been omitted (viz. in the first syllable of
Irán, Isá, Amid, Amol, Aderbiján, and in the word Islam). In words
belonging to other Oriental languages than the Arabic and Persian, I
have used the mark but rarely, as in many instances I could not tell
whether a vowel denoted as long in the written character was (or is)
actually so pronounced.

For Orientalists I may mention, further, that in the following pages I
have in Persian geographical names followed the modern pronunciation,
and thus have avoided the sounds _é_ and _ó_.

In the English translation some slips of the original German edition
have been corrected, partly at the instance of my friend Professor
Robertson Smith.

                                                           TH. NÖLDEKE.
 STRASSBURG, _18th July 1892_.

                            C O N T E N T S.


        THE KORAN,                                           21-59

        ISLAM,                                              60-106

        CALIPH MANSÚR,                                     107-145

        A SERVILE WAR IN THE EAST,                         146-175

        YAKÚB THE COPPERSMITH, AND HIS DYNASTY,            176-206

        SOME SYRIAN SAINTS,                                207-235

        BARHEBRÆUS,                                        236-256

        KING THEODORE OF ABYSSINIA,                        257-284

        INDEX.                                             285-288


ONE of the most difficult tasks of the historian is to depict the moral
physiognomy of a nation in such a way that no trait shall be lost, and
none exaggerated at the cost of the others. The difficulty of the task
may be best appreciated by considering how complicated a thing, full of
apparent contradictions, individual character is, and that the historian
who seeks to define the character of a nation, or perhaps of a race
embracing many nations, has to deal with a still more complex
phenomenon, made up of widely varying individuals. This difficulty,
indeed, is not equally great with all nations. The common characters of
the Semitic nations are in many respects so definite and strongly
marked, that on the whole they are more easily portrayed than those of
the small Greek people, which, although at bottom a unity, embraced a
great variety of distinct local types,—Athenians as well as Bœotians,
Corinthians as well as Spartans, Arcadians and Ætolians as well as
Milesians and Sybarites. And yet it is no very easy matter to form an
estimate of the psychical characteristics of the Semites,—witness the
contradictory judgments passed on them by such distinguished scholars as
Renan and Steinthal. I have no mind to attempt a new portrait of the
Semitic type of humanity. All that I intend is to offer a few
contributions to the subject, connecting my remarks, whether by way of
agreement or, occasionally, by way of dissent, with a well-written and
ingenious essay of the learned orientalist Chwolson, which is mainly
directed against Renan.[2] In this the author is successful in refuting
some of Renan’s unfavourable criticisms on the Semitic character. But
his own judgments are not always strictly impartial; he is himself of
Jewish extraction, and in some particulars offers too favourable a
picture of the Semitic race, to which he is proud to belong.

Chwolson rightly lays emphasis upon the enormous importance of inborn
qualities for nations as well as for individuals; but he is not free
from exaggeration in his attempts to minimise the influence of religion
and laws on the one hand, of geographical position and of climate on the
other. The inhabitants of Paraguay were savage Indians like their
neighbours in Brazil and in the Argentine countries; but under the
despotic discipline of the Jesuits and their secular successors, they
grew into a nation which thirty years ago fought to the death against
overwhelming odds for its country and its chief. Islam, Christianity,
and Buddhism have exercised a powerful influence for good or for evil
even on the character of nations already civilised. In like manner,
climate and geographical position are very important factors in the
formation of national character. Could we observe the first beginnings
of nations, they would perhaps be found to be the decisive factors.
Peoples that are, so to speak, adult, and possessed of a developed
civilisation, are naturally much less susceptible to such influences
than the savage child of nature. But they are not wholly independent of
them: isolated countries in particular, with strongly marked
geographical peculiarities, such as elevated mountain regions, lonely
islands, and above all, desert lands—not to speak of polar
regions—exercise this influence in a high degree. Ethnologically the
Persians and the Hindoos are very closely related, yet their characters
differ enormously; and this must be mainly ascribed to the geographical
contrast between their seats. The Persians dwell on a lofty plateau,
exposed to violent vicissitudes of cold and heat, and in great part
unfit for cultivation; the Hindoos in a region of tropical luxuriance.
Chwolson points to the enormous difference between the ancient and the
modern Egyptians as a convincing proof that race character is little
dependent upon local environment; but really we see in Egypt how a
country with such marked peculiarities forces its inhabitants into
conformity with itself. Munziger, in his day unquestionably the best
authority upon North-Eastern Africa, brings out in a few masterly
touches the essential likeness of modern to ancient Egypt. I will quote
only one of his remarks: “The ancient Egyptians,” he says, “were not so
far ahead of the modern as we are sometimes ready to imagine; then, as
now, hovels adjoined palaces, esoteric science coexisted with crass
ignorance,” and so forth.[3] In the history of ancient Egypt, extending
as it does through millenniums, there naturally occur alternate periods
of prosperity and of decay; we may not venture to compare the time of
the Mameluke sultans and the Turkish rule with that of the
pyramid-builders; but it seems to me a very fair question whether the
civilisation of Egypt during the best period of the Fatimids did not
stand quite as high as the highest attained under the Pharaohs. The main
difference is that the Egyptians in remote antiquity had no neighbours
who stood on any sort of equality with them, and thus they received no
considerable influences from without; but this was also the reason why
their civilisation so soon became stationary.

Chwolson might have made more of the point that peoples are not rigid
bodies incapable of modification, but organisms that can develop and
assimilate,—organisms offering a varying resistance to external
influences, but in the long course of centuries capable of such
transformation that their early character can only be recognised in some
minor features. Many a touch in the Magyar still reminds us of his
Asiatic origin; yet, on the whole, he has more resemblance to any one of
the civilised peoples of Europe than to his nearest relations on the

Similarly, in drawing the character of the Semites, the historian must
guard against taking the Jews of Europe as pure representatives of the
race. These have maintained many features of their primitive type with
remarkable tenacity, but they have become Europeans all the same; and,
moreover, many peculiarities by which they are marked are not so much of
old Semitic origin as a result of the special history of the Jews, and
in particular of continued oppression, and of that long isolation from
other peoples, which was partly their own choice and partly imposed upon

Our delineation of the Semites must begin with the Arabs, Hebrews, and
Syrians (Aramæans), the last named of whom, however, have never
constituted a closely-welded nationality, politically or otherwise. Of
the inner life of the Phœnicians and some minor Semitic nations of
antiquity, we know very little. The whole character of the Babylonians
and Assyrians, which in many respects differs widely from that of the
other Semites, is steadily coming more and more to light through the
arduous labours of cuneiform scholars, but we are still far from knowing
it nearly so intimately as we know that of the three first-mentioned
peoples. Moreover, it still remains undetermined how far non-Semitic
people may have had a share in the commencement of the high and
extremely ancient civilisation of Babylon. To make the picture complete
it would be necessary, of course, to bring in also the black Semites of
Abyssinia and the adjoining regions; but these to all appearance owe
their origin to an intermingling of Arab Semites with Africans; indeed,
they are for the most part only Semitised “Hamites,” and have
accordingly retained much pristine African savagery, especially as they
were always strongly exposed to the influence of non-Semitic nations
dwelling around and among them. Besides, there is much to be said for
neglecting undeveloped or atrophied members when delineating the
character of a group of peoples.

The religion of the Semites is the first thing that demands our
attention, and that not solely on account of the influence it has
exerted on us in Europe. Renan is right in neglecting the beginnings of
Semitic religion, and taking the results of their religious development
and their tendency to monotheism as the really important thing. The
complete victory of monotheism, it is true, was first achieved within
historical times among the Israelites; but strong tendencies in the same
direction appear also among the other Semitic peoples. Renan is also
right in reckoning Christianity as only in part a Semitic religion, for
even its origin presupposed a world fructified by Greek ideas, and it
was mainly through non-Semitic influences that it became a
world-religion; nay, we may almost say that the changes which have taken
place in Christianity from the Reformation onwards consist in a more and
more complete elimination of its Semitic elements. Islam, on the other
hand, in its pure Arabic form, the doctrine of Mohammed and of his
disciples, which for a century past has again been preached in its
purity by the Wahhabites[4] in the country of its birth, is the logical
perfection of Semitic religion, with the importation of only one
fundamental idea, though that is indeed a very important one, namely,
the conception of a resurrection and of a life in heaven which had
already been adopted by Judaism and Christianity.[5] Islam is infinitely
hard and one-sided, but in its crude simplicity strictly logical.
Mohammed cannot in strictness be called a great man, and yet the
appearance of the religion which found in him such clear and energetic
expression—a religion which in one rapid march of conquest first
subdued the Semitic world already ripe for the change, and then brought
under its sway numerous other peoples both civilised and savage—was the
most important manifestation the Semitic genius ever made. In the
religious portions of the Old Testament we find that more inward warmth
of feeling and that richer fancy which distinguished the ancient Hebrew
from the Arab. When we read the Psalms and the Prophets, even without
the customary idealising spectacles, we shall place them—and not from
the merely æsthetic point of view only—far above the Koran. But the
result of the religious development of the Old Testament—the religion
of Ezra, of the Pharisees, and of the Rabbins—can hardly be said to
stand higher than Islam.

The energy and simplicity of Semitic ideas in religion are not
favourable to a complicated mythology. Where anything of the sort is met
with among them, it is either of purely foreign provenance, or has
arisen through admixture with foreign elements. This holds good perhaps
even of the Babylonian mythology (which, for the rest, is somewhat
formless), certainly of all the variety of Gnostic sects, and in a large
measure also of the official Christianity as it is found among Semites.
Mystical doctrines with them easily degenerate into crudeness; compare,
for example, the religion of the purely Semitic Druses with analogous
phenomena of Persian and Indian origin.

Even in the field of religion the nations of Indo-European civilisation
display a richer genius than the Semites; but they lack that tremendous
energy which produced the belief in the unity of God, not as a result of
scientific reflection, but as a moral demand, tolerating no
contradiction. This strength of faith, which has subdued the world, is
necessarily associated with much violence and exclusiveness. Nowhere is
the uncompromising spirit of the Old Testament more impressive than in
its half-mythical and yet thoroughly historical portrait of Elijah, that
magnificent ideal of prophecy in its zeal for the Lord. I cannot
understand how Chwolson will scarcely admit the existence of religious
ecstasy among the Semites, when the Old Testament is full of evidences
of high imaginative exaltation in its prophets as well as in those of
Baal; nay, in Hebrew the very word “to behave as a prophet”
(_hithnabbê_) also means simply “to behave madly, to rave.” Ecstasy, the
condition in which the religiously-inspired man believes himself to hold
immediate converse with God, was to the prophets themselves the
subjective attestation of their vocation. Not less deeply rooted in
their religion is that Semitic fanaticism which Chwolson would also fain
deny. “Take heed to thyself lest thou make a covenant with the
inhabitants of the land whither thou goest, lest it be for a snare in
the midst of thee; but ye shall break down their altars, and dash in
pieces their images, and ye shall cut down their groves” (Ex. xxxiv. 12,
13)—in such or similar terms run those strict commands, which were
indeed justifiable at the time, but none the less bear witness to
frightful exclusiveness and rigid fanaticism. In the same spirit the
followers of Baal destroy the altars of Jehovah and slay His prophets (1
Kings xix. 10). The captives and property taken by the Israelites from
their enemies were often devoted to destruction in honour of Jehovah
(_herem_). By the inscription of king Mesha we now know that the
Moabites practised the same thing on a large scale, in honour of their
god Chemosh. The Greek translation of _herem_ is _anathema_, properly “a
dedicatory gift;” the cry, “Anathema sit,” so often heard in
Christendom, is an inheritance from the Semites. I grant that religious
fanaticism has been powerful elsewhere, and particularly where there has
been a strong priestly class, as in India; but for the Semitic
religions, fanaticism is characteristic. Among the Persian priests of
the Sásánian period it first became powerful under Semitic influence and
in conflict with Semitic religion. The same trait is conspicuous in
Islam. There, indeed, it is more deeply rooted, and of stricter inward
necessity, than in Christianity, though it has seldom risen to such
heights of atrocity as it has sometimes reached in the latter. When all
has been said, Moslems are bound to regard all peace with unbelievers as
a truce merely—an obligation at this day much more vividly present to
the minds of the vast majority of Mohammedans than Europeans usually

Another side of their religious narrowness is shown in the wide
diffusion which human sacrifice continued to have amongst highly
civilised Semites. Amongst the ancient Hebrews, indeed, only isolated
traces of it continue to be met with (as also among the Greeks); but as
king Mesha sacrificed his son in his need (2 Kings iii. 27), so also did
Carthaginian generals centuries afterwards. In fact, extensive human
sacrifices were offered to a god in Carthage every year, and as late as
the fourth century B.C., the distress into which Agathocles brought the
city (in 310) was attributed to the wrath of the deity because the rich
had begun to cause purchased children to be offered instead of their
own; on this account the horrible custom was again re-established in all
its simplicity (Diodor. xx. 14). Among the Arabs also we meet with human
sacrifice; only a century before Mohammed, the Arab prince of Híra, a
town that contained a large Christian population, sacrificed four
hundred nuns whom he had taken in war to his goddess Ozza (the planet
Venus). In the Semitic religions occasional traces of primitive rudeness
in ideas and manners are continually cropping up. In Mecca reverence is
still paid to the black stone, a relic of the once widely-diffused
worship of stone-fetishes, of which traces are found even in the Old
Testament. To the same category belongs the retention, both in Judaism
and in Mohammedanism, of the old custom of circumcision. As the unchaste
worship of female goddesses was specially in vogue among the ancient
Semites, so even now it happens in Arab countries, that amongst people
who pass for thoroughly holy and world-weaned (often simply insane) the
grossest excesses are regarded as holy deeds; this, to be sure, is only
popular belief, and has never been sanctioned by orthodox theologians.
It is a high prerogative of the Old Testament that, surrounded by
unchaste religious services, it sternly banishes all such immorality
from its worship of Jehovah.

In denying to the Semites in general any tendency to asceticism and
monkery, Chwolson is not entirely wrong, but neither is he perfectly
right. In the first place, it is fair to say that such a tendency is
hardly in any instance characteristic of a nation as a whole. And then,
again, the Old Testament does look upon the Nazirate (and also the rule
of the Rechabites, who, amongst other things, abstained from wine) as
something meritorious; the Jewish Essenes were neither more nor less
than a monastic order; and the Old Testament and the Koran alike contain
some precepts either wholly or partially ascetic in their character. It
must, however, be conceded that the precepts are not exorbitant, and
that some of them (such as the prohibition of wine) are very suitable
for Asiatic and African countries. Yet it must always be remembered that
in all Christendom, Egypt apart, it will be difficult to find such an
insane and soul-destroying asceticism as was practised by the purely
Semitic Syrians from about the fourth to the seventh century.[6]

The Old Testament almost everywhere breathes a purely ethical spirit,
and seeks to conceive of the Godhead as morally perfect; but this view
is not wholly strange to other nations. The Roman “Jupiter optimus
maximus” is surely intended to express moral perfection as well as the
highest power; and amongst the Greeks there arose, at a tolerably early
date, a view which freed the gods of the objectionable features
attributed to them by the ancient myths. But if the Israelite (like
other Semitic peoples) regards his God as the merciful and gracious One,
it by no means follows that he is disposed to allow this mercy and grace
to extend to other men. The ethical prescriptions of the Old Testament
are often unduly idealised. The command to love one’s neighbour has
reference, in the Old Testament, only to people of one’s own nation.
Cosmopolitan ideas appear occasionally in some of the prophets, but only
in germ, and always in such a way that Israel and Israel’s sanctuary
remain exalted above all peoples. The cosmopolitanism without which
Christianity would be inconceivable, could not gain any strength until
after Hellenic and Oriental ideas had begun to combine. Whether the
precepts in Deuteronomy, which enjoin humanity in war and otherwise,
give as favourable a testimony to the mild disposition of the ancient
Israelites as is sometimes supposed, is very doubtful. Perhaps they
indicate the very contrary. Chwolson himself points out that among the
lying Persians the duty of truthfulness has from of old been specially
insisted on; and I believe it would be possible to prove that the
hot-blooded ancient Semites had a strong vein of ferocity. The great
humanity and benevolence of the Jews of to-day, a result of their
peculiar history, can certainly not be adduced as evidence to the

In political life the Semites have done more than is commonly supposed.
It is true that we find among them, on the one hand, a lawless and
highly-divided state of society, in which even the rudiments of
political authority are hardly known (as among the ancient and modern
Bedouins), and, on the other, unlimited despotism. In the first century
of Islam the former of these conditions was almost immediately replaced
by the latter. Chwolson ought not to deny the despotic character of the
Omayyad caliphate, which was purely Semitic, and not half-Persian, like
that of the Abbásids in Bagdad. The Arabs of that age, in fact, could
hardly think of a ruler at all as without absolute authority. Even the
individual governor or general, as long as he is in office, has full and
unlimited power. Even those radical fanatics, the Kharijites, who
recognised only a perfect Moslem as ruler, whether great or small,[7]
gave absolute authority to their leader, if only he did not apostatise
from the faith. If, indeed, he did this—and the decision on this point
of fact each reserved for himself—they deposed him, and at that period
the actual rulers and chiefs had to reckon very strictly with the views
and wishes of their fighting subjects; but in theory they were
unrestricted in their actions, and a strong and capable prince in some
degree actually was so. It was otherwise, however, in ancient Israel. We
can still discern that in both kingdoms the sovereigns were in many
points limited by survivals of the old aristocratic constitution. To get
rid of Naboth, queen Jezebel required the sentence of a public assembly,
which she secured by false witnesses (1 Kings xxi.). The narrator
therefore gives us to understand that the heads of the commune retained
the power of life and death in their own hands, although the monarchy
was even then an old institution. The kings of Edom appear in very early
times to have been elective princes. And the Phœnicians (including the
Carthaginians) present a very large variety of political constitution,
which reminds one of Greece. Amongst the Phœnicians we find also, at
least in times of the direst need, a self-sacrificing patriotism, as is
witnessed by the wars against Rome, in which Carthage perished, and the
mortal struggle of Tyre against Alexander (although in the latter
religious motives seem to have played a part). But, in general,
individualism preponderates among the Semites so greatly that they adapt
themselves to a firmly settled state only at the call of great religious
impulses, or under the pressure of despotic authority; and, even when it
is established, they have no real attachment to it. The still untamed
Arab is much more strongly attached to the family, the clan, the tribe;
so also among the Israelites of the older time, clanship seems to have
been a bond of very great strength. But it is an error to try to see in
this absence of formed national feeling, as contrasted with the
patriotism of the Greeks, any approach to the freer modern conception of
the State.

It is also quite a mistake to attribute to the Semites democratic
inclinations. No people has ever laid so much stress upon genealogies as
the two Semitic nations with which we are best acquainted, the Hebrews
and the Arabs, have done. The genuine Arab is thoroughly aristocratic.
Many a feud turns upon the precedence of one family or tribe over
another. In the first two centuries after Mohammed bloody wars were
waged on such rivalries. Even now it is with a heavy heart that the Arab
sees set over him a man of less noble extraction than himself. The deeds
of ancestors are accepted as legitimation, but are also the spur of
emulation. In the councils of the tribe or of the community, it is
difficult for the man of humble origin to acquire influence. Even a
caliph so early as the third in the series owed his throne to the
influence of his clan, the Omayyads, who yet shortly before had been the
bitterest enemies of the Prophet, but nevertheless, after their
subjection, retained the position of greatest prominence in Mecca, and
so in the new State. But for the consideration in which his family was
held, Moáwiya, the real founder of the Omayyad dynasty, with all his
talent and all his services to the empire, would never have attained to
the supreme command. In this matter, indeed, Islam has gradually
effected a mighty change. At his first appearance Mohammed gave offence
to the upper-class Meccans by admitting to the number of his followers
slaves, freedmen, and other people of no family or account. The might of
the religious idea triumphed over old prejudices. In presence of the
almighty extra-mundane God all mortals are on an absolute equality;
whosoever went over to Islam received the same rights, and undertook the
same duties as the highest and the meanest believer. But, in spite of
all this, Mohammed himself made many concessions to the aristocratic
temper, and this temper continued for a long time after to be a great
power; it was the complete development of the despotism, after the old
Oriental fashion, that levelled all subjects. But even to this day
aristocratic ideas prevail among the Arabs of the desert, and also among
the sedentary Arabs in remoter regions. The genuine Arab has in
connection with his aristocratic notions a sense of chivalry, a fine
feeling for points of honour (not necessarily the same as we ourselves
take), but also a strong propensity to vanity and boasting. There are
many evidences that in the communities of ancient Israel also an
aristocratic rule (elders and nobles) prevailed. That the constitution
of Carthage was in its essential features aristocratic is well known.
The same is true of the Syrian city of Palmyra, though its constitution
was modified by the general conditions of the Roman empire, to which it
had to accommodate itself.

As the Semite can hardly be induced, voluntarily, to submit to a strict
discipline, he does not, on the whole, make a good soldier. Skirmishes
and little surprises are what the Arab finds inspiriting; of the
adventures of his heroes and robbers he tells stories, as the Hebrews
before him did about Samson. Like all vigorous nations with an exuberant
vitality, the Arabs delight in narratives of battle and victory,
especially if these are properly exaggerated and flatter their pride of
family or race. The Old Testament speaks less of heroes than of saints,
but then it is a religious book; its many tales of the “wars of the
Lord” nevertheless bear witness that the peaceful Hebrew could also be
thoroughly warlike. How could it possibly have been otherwise in a land
that had been conquered with the sword, and very often required to be
similarly defended? When Chwolson tries to demonstrate the absolutely
peaceable disposition of the Israelites by reference to the ideal
kingdom of peace which was the object of their hopes, it can be argued
on the other side that the very prophet who promises the beating of
swords into ploughshares, and of spears into pruning-hooks, depicts the
daughter of Zion as trampling on the nations or wasting the land of
Assyria with the sword (Micah iv., v.). But Semitic armies have seldom
done anything great. This might be ascribed to the circumstance that
among the Semites the power of taking in complex unities at a glance,
the talent for arrangement, is rare, and that therefore they have had no
generals; but we have only to think of Hannibal and other great
Carthaginians to reject this view. These, however, carried on their
campaigns with foreign troops. For it is quite undeniable that the
Semites do not readily make good soldiers. For moulding the Arabs into
powerful armies in the early years of Islam, unusual impulses were
required: the enthusiasm generated by a new national religion which
promised a heavenly reward, and the allurements which the prospects of
booty and of settlement in rich lands offered to the inhabitants of the
sterile wilderness. Over and above all this there was a wonderful
intellectual outburst which showed itself in the appearance of a
singular series of highly gifted generals, statesmen, and men of
eminence in various directions. And these were precisely the men who
then stood at the head of the nation. To subsequent generations the
youth of Islam, the true prime of the Arabs, is unintelligible. They are
unable to appreciate the great spiritual forces which, either in
conjunction with, or in hostile opposition to, each other, were then
unfolded. The theological school discerns everywhere only theological
battles, and this school dominates the view of later Moslems. This is
the chief reason why the names of the great warriors and statesmen of
that period have long been almost forgotten in the East, while those of
theologians and saints are popular. The later Jews also often fought
with the utmost bravery, but only when the defence of their religion was
in question. To become subject to a stern discipline, and to encounter
death merely for the sake of freedom and fatherland, was not a thought
that came naturally to them. Chwolson seems to prefer the enthusiasm of
religion to the enthusiasm of patriotism; but I take it that the heroes
of Marathon laid the world under a debt of obligation by no means less
deep than did the armies of the Maccabees.

In religion the one-sidedness of the Semitic mind was a creative power;
but it was highly prejudicial to the development of science. A keen eye
for particulars, a sobriety of apprehension (justly dwelt on by
Chwolson), are undoubtedly talents of great service in the beginnings of
science. Accordingly we find at a comparatively early period amongst
Hebrews and Arabs an intelligent system of chronicles such as was never
attained by (let us say) the dreamy Hindoos; and from the firm lapidary
style in which king Mesha recounts his exploits we can infer that in his
time (about 900 B.C.) some beginnings of historic narrative existed even
in that remote land. But, as already remarked, the Semite is deficient
in the power of taking a general view, in the gift of comprehensive
intelligence, of large and, at the same time, logical thought, and
therefore, speaking generally, he has only in a few cases contributed
anything of importance to science. The ideas of monotheism and of a
creation are by no means products of philosophical reflection; the naïve
intelligence of the Israelite has not the faintest suspicion of the
enormous difficulties which the assumption of a creation out of nothing
presents to the reflecting mind; to him the proposition is self-evident.
The speculation of the Arabs on the freedom of the will and similar
subjects, continued to be very unsystematic and unscientific as long as
it was only superficially affected by Greek thought. And even after they
had been trained by Greek philosophy, the Arabs, so far as I am able to
judge from what I freely confess to be a very limited knowledge,
produced little that was new in this field. On the whole, it becomes
increasingly apparent that the Syrians and Arabs, whatever their merit
in keeping up and handing on the sciences of the Greeks, were not very
fruitful in their own cultivation of these, though it must be admitted
that the Arabs at least made advances in some matters of detail.
Besides, we must not assume that everything written in Arabic must
necessarily be Arab and Semitic; one might as well ascribe all the Latin
literature of the Middle Ages to the Italians. There are, however,
undeniably certain fields of knowledge in which the Arabs distinguished
themselves without stimulus from without; Arabian philology in
particular, in its various branches, is a brilliant achievement. Many
Persians, it is true, had a share in it, but it is almost entirely
Arabian in its first origin, and thoroughly so in spirit. It evinces an
exceedingly keen observation of the phenomena of language, and though
breadth of view and genuine systematic method are frequently wanting,
and the wisdom of the school seeks to improve upon the facts, the Arabic
language (of course the Arabic only) is examined from all sides with a
subtlety worthy of all admiration. But how any one could ever have
thought of finding among the ancient Israelites long before Aristotle’s
time anything of the nature of natural science is, I confess,
incomprehensible to me. When we read that Solomon “spake of trees” and
of animals (1 Kings iv. 33; [Heb. v. 13]), the expression admits perhaps
of more than one interpretation, but certainly we are not to understand
that botany and zoology are meant. Neither should I be disposed to
reckon under Semitic science the agricultural treatises of the
Carthaginian Mago. We shall be safe in asserting that these did not
stand on a higher level than the corresponding Roman and Greek works on
that subject, which were directed exclusively to practical ends; but if
we are to regard such writings as scientific, we must do the same with
cookery books. The discovery of the alphabet, or rather the separation
of a true alphabet out of a highly complicated system of writing, has
proved infinitely important for science, and bears decisive testimony to
the intellectual powers of the Semites,[8] but I hesitate to call this
an achievement of science in the proper sense of the word. The science
of the Babylonians, on the other hand, deserves high recognition. What
they did for astronomy and the measurement of time in particular at a
very early period is of the very greatest value, and is even now not
wholly out of date; just as, in another aspect, the astrological
superstition connected with it dominated succeeding ages. The
conspicuous services to science of modern Jewish _savants_ clearly
cannot come into the account here; for these men belong to civilised

All qualified judges are pretty unanimous about Semitic poetry and art.
A keen eye for particulars, great subjectivity, a nervous restlessness,
deep passion and inwardness of feeling, and, finally, a strong tendency
to follow older models and keep to traditional forms of presentation,
mark their excellences as well as their defects. I shall not here repeat
the remarks so often made on Arabic and Hebrew poetry, as to the want of
a Semitic epic and so on. I only observe that the few remains we possess
of Hebrew poetry, though mainly of a religious character, reveal
many-sidedness in a far higher degree, and also, on the whole, more of
depth and freshness, than does the very uniform if formally perfect
poetry of the Arabs, of which, notwithstanding many losses, we still
possess a very large quantity. From the Syrians much verse has come to
us, but hardly anything truly poetical apart from some quite short
popular songs of the modern Syrians of the extreme north-east. For the
rest, the want of an epos is compensated among the Hebrews and Arabs (as
also among some Indo-European peoples) by talent for lively and
attractive prose narration. Essentially, as a result of the peculiar
structure of their language, the Arabs have naturally a strong tendency
to a pointed manner of speech, varying between epigrammatic brevity and
ornate tautology. Even the Bedouins in the desert spoke in this way; and
this was the style employed by the princes and generals of the first
period of Islam in their public addresses as well as in their letters.
This artificial and ornate style inevitably degenerated into a
mannerism, and finally issued in a meaningless jingle of words and the
well-known oriental inflation which we find so intolerable, especially
in Persian and Turkish imitations. The counterpart of this love for a
striking and elegant manner of speech was, of course, a great
sensibility to style on the part of hearers and readers. Eloquence was a
highly-prized gift before Mohammed’s time. The pleasure which the Arabs
took in beauty of language is one of the principal causes which led to
their peculiar success in philology. A taste for well-arranged,
striking, and sonorous words existed among the ancient Hebrews also,
though not in so highly-developed a form.

Every one admits that, apart from the Babylonians and Assyrians, the
Semites have had little success in the plastic arts. The statements of
the Old Testament give us a very moderate idea of the architectural
performances of the Hebrews. In all essential respects the Phœnicians
appear to have copied Egyptian, and afterwards Greek models. The
extensive ruins of Palmyra, Petra, Baalbec (Heliopolis), and other towns
of Syria, are in a Greek style, only slightly modified by oriental
influences. The Arabs, also, have mainly followed foreign patterns. Arab
buildings sometimes, indeed, show extraordinary beauty of detail,
wonderful ornamentation, splendid colour; but in this department, also,
there is a want of sense for totality, of articulate unity of plan. It
must, moreover, be noted, that many buildings of the Arabs—the very
famous Omayyad mosque at Damascus, among others—were in whole or in
part executed by foreigners. It is characteristic of the Arabs that they
reckon caligraphy among the fine arts; and certainly any one who has
seen finished examples of the work of Arab penmen must acknowledge that
there is in them something more than mere dexterity and elegance,—that
these wonderfully free and pure forms are controlled by the same feeling
for nobility of outline which appears in all branches of Arab decorative
art.[9] In Arabian art we everywhere find a delicate sense for detail,
but nowhere large apprehension of a great and united whole. That most
Semites have effected nothing in sculpture, and very little in painting
strictly so called, is partly to be accounted for, no doubt, by
religious considerations; but at bottom it has its explanation in want
of aptitude for these arts. It is only among the Babylonians and
Assyrians that an original sculpture has flourished. Among the remains
of Nineveh some notable works of art occur, alongside of many pieces of
excellent but purely conventional workmanship.

Our general conclusion, then, is that the genius of the Semites is in
many respects one-sided, and does not reach the level of some
Indo-European nations, especially the Greeks; but it would be most
unjust to deny their claim to one of the highest places among the races
of mankind. Among the pure Semites of the present day, indeed, we
discover extraordinarily few indications of natural or vigorous
progress; much points to the conclusion that this group of nations has
long since passed its prime. Whether modern European culture may be able
really to lay hold of them, and awaken them to a new and strenuous life,
is a question which will not be answered in the immediate future.


[1] Originally published in _Im neuen Reich_, ii. (1872) p. 881 sqq.

[2] _Die Semitischen Völker_, Berlin 1872.

[3] _Ostafrikanische Studien_, p. 5 ff.

[4] See below, p. 103.

[5] Strictly speaking, this idea is itself but a conglomerate of Persian
religious teachings and Greek thought with Semitic accretions.

[6] See below, “Some Syrian Saints.” p. 207.

[7] See below, p. 80.

[8] It may now be regarded as tolerably certain that the Semitic
alphabet, from which all those of Europe had their origin, was reached
by simplification of the extremely unpractical writing of the Egyptians.

[9] Some of the Phœnician inscriptions also, in their slender straight
lines, show a fine caligraphic taste.

                             THE KORAN.[10]

THE Koran (_Ḳor’án_) is the foundation of Islam. It is the sacred book
of more than a hundred millions of men, some of them nations of
immemorial civilisation, by all whom it is regarded as the immediate
word of God. And since the use of the Koran in public worship, in
schools and otherwise, is much more extensive than, for example, the
reading of the Bible in most Christian countries, it has been truly
described as the most widely-read book in existence. This circumstance
alone is sufficient to give it an urgent claim on our attention, whether
it suit our taste and fall in with our religious and philosophical views
or not. Besides, it is the work of Mohammed, and as such is fitted to
afford a clue to the spiritual development of that most successful of
all prophets and religious personalities. It must be owned that the
first perusal leaves on a European an impression of chaotic
confusion,—not that the book is so very extensive, for it is not quite
so large as the New Testament. This impression can in some degree be
modified only by the application of a critical analysis with the
assistance of Arabian tradition.

To the faith of the Moslems, as has been said, the Koran is the word of
God, and such also is the claim which the book itself advances. For
except in sur. i.—which is a prayer for men—and some few passages
where Mohammed (vi. 104, 114, xxvii. 93, xlii. 8), or the angels (xix.
65, xxxvii. 164 sqq.), speak in the first person without the
intervention of the usual imperative “say” (sing. or pl.), the speaker
throughout is God, either in the first person singular, or more commonly
the plural of majesty “we.” The same mode of address is familiar to us
from the prophets of the Old Testament; the human personality
disappears, in the moment of inspiration, behind the God by whom it is
filled. But all the greatest of the Hebrew prophets fall back speedily
upon the unassuming human “I”; while in the Koran the divine “I” is the
stereotyped form of address. Mohammed, however, really felt himself to
be the instrument of God; this consciousness was no doubt brighter at
his first appearance than it afterwards became, but it never entirely
forsook him. We might therefore readily pardon him for giving out, not
only the results of imaginative and emotional excitement, but also many
expositions or decrees which were the outcome of cool calculation, as
the word of God, if he had only attained the pure moral altitude which
in an Isaiah or a Jeremiah fills us with admiration after the lapse of

The rationale of revelation is explained in the Koran itself as
follows:—In heaven is the original text (“the mother of the book,”
xliii. 3; “a concealed book,” lv. 77; “a well-guarded tablet,” lxxxv.
22). By a process of “sending down” (_tanzíl_), one piece after another
was communicated to the Prophet. The mediator was an angel, who is
called sometimes the “Spirit” (xxvi. 193), sometimes the “holy Spirit”
(xvi. 104), and at a later time “Gabriel” (ii. 91). This angel dictates
the revelation to the Prophet, who repeats it after him, and afterwards
proclaims it to the world (lxxxvii. 6, etc.). It is plain that we have
here a somewhat crude attempt of the Prophet to represent to himself the
more or less unconscious process by which his ideas arose and gradually
took shape in his mind. It is no wonder if in such confused imagery the
details are not always self-consistent. When, for example, this heavenly
archetype is said to be in the hands of an exalted “scribe” (lxxx. 13
sqq.), this seems a transition to a quite different set of ideas,
namely, the books of fate, or the record of all human
actions—conceptions which are actually found in the Koran. It is to be
observed, at all events, that Mohammed’s transcendental idea of God, as
a Being exalted altogether above the world, excludes the thought of
direct intercourse between the Prophet and God.

It is an explicit statement of the Koran that the sacred book was
revealed (“sent down”) by God, not all at once, but piecemeal and
gradually (xxv. 34). This is evident from the actual composition of the
book, and is confirmed by Moslem tradition. That is to say, Mohammed
issued his revelations in fly-leaves of greater or less extent. A single
piece of this kind was called either, like the entire collection,
_ḳor’án_, _i.e._ “reading,” or rather “recitation;” or _kitáb_,
“writing;” or _súra_, which is the late-Hebrew _shúrá_, and means
literally “series.” The last became, in the lifetime of Mohammed, the
regular designation of the individual sections as distinguished from the
whole collection; and accordingly it is the name given to the separate
chapters of the existing Koran. These chapters are of very unequal
length. Since many of the shorter ones are undoubtedly complete in
themselves, it is natural to assume that the longer, which are sometimes
very comprehensive, have arisen from the amalgamation of various
originally distinct revelations. This supposition is favoured by the
numerous traditions which give us the circumstances under which this or
that short piece, now incorporated in a larger section, was revealed;
and also by the fact that the connection of thought in the present súras
often seems to be interrupted. And in reality many pieces of the long
súras have to be severed out as originally independent; even in the
short ones parts are often found which cannot have been there at first.
At the same time we must beware of carrying this sifting operation too
far,—as I now believe myself to have done in my earlier works, and as
Sprenger in his great book on Mohammed also sometimes seems to do. That
some súras were of considerable length from the first is seen, for
example, from xii., which contains a short introduction, then the
history of Joseph, and then a few concluding observations, and is
therefore perfectly homogeneous. In like manner, xx., which is mainly
occupied with the history of Moses, forms a complete whole. The same is
true of xviii., which at first sight seems to fall into several pieces;
the history of the seven sleepers, the grotesque narrative about Moses,
and that about Alexander “the Horned,” are all connected together, and
the same rhyme runs through the whole súra. Even in the separate
narrations we may observe how readily the Koran passes from one subject
to another, how little care is taken to express all the transitions of
thought, and how frequently clauses are omitted, which are almost
indispensable. We are not at liberty, therefore, in every case where the
connection in the Koran is obscure, to say that it is really broken, and
set it down as the clumsy patchwork of a later hand. Even in the old
Arabic poetry such abrupt transitions are of very frequent occurrence.
It is not uncommon for the Koran, after a new subject has been entered
on, to return gradually or suddenly to the former theme,—a proof that
there at least separation is not to be thought of. In short, however
imperfectly the Koran may have been redacted, in the majority of cases
the present súras are identical with the originals.

How these revelations actually arose in Mohammed’s mind is a question
which it is almost as idle to discuss as it would be to analyse the
workings of the mind of a poet. In his early career, sometimes perhaps
in its later stages also, many revelations must have burst from him in
uncontrollable excitement, so that he could not possibly regard them
otherwise than as divine inspirations. We must bear in mind that he was
no cold systematic thinker, but an Oriental visionary, brought up in
crass superstition, and without intellectual discipline; a man whose
nervous temperament had been powerfully worked on by ascetic
austerities, and who was all the more irritated by the opposition he
encountered, because he had little of the heroic in his nature. Filled
with his religious ideas and visions, he might well fancy he heard the
angel bidding him recite what was said to him. There may have been many
a revelation of this kind which no one ever heard but himself, as he
repeated it to himself in the silence of the night (lxxiii. 4). Indeed
the Koran itself admits that he forgot some revelations (lxxxvii. 7).
But by far the greatest part of the book is undoubtedly the result of
deliberation, touched more or less with emotion, and animated by a
certain rhetorical rather than poetical glow. Many passages are based
upon purely intellectual reflection. It is said that Mohammed
occasionally uttered such a passage immediately after one of those
epileptic fits which not only his followers, but (for a time at least)
he himself also, regarded as tokens of intercourse with the higher
powers. If that is the case, it is impossible to say whether the trick
was in the utterance of the revelation or in the fit itself.

How the various pieces of the Koran took literary form is uncertain.
Mohammed himself, so far as we can discover, never wrote down anything.
The question whether he could read and write has been much debated among
Moslems, unfortunately more with dogmatic arguments and spurious
traditions than authentic proofs. At present, one is inclined to say
that he was not altogether ignorant of these arts, but that from want of
practice he found it convenient to employ some one else whenever he had
anything to write. After the emigration to Medina (A.D. 622) we are told
that short pieces—chiefly legal decisions—were taken down immediately
after they were revealed, by an adherent whom he summoned for the
purpose; so that nothing stood in the way of their publication. Hence it
is probable that in Mecca, where, as in a mercantile town, the art of
writing was commoner than in Medina, a place of agriculture, he had
already begun to have his oracles committed to writing. That even long
portions of the Koran existed in written form from an early date, may be
pretty safely inferred from various indications; especially from the
fact that in Mecca the Prophet had caused insertions to be made, and
pieces to be erased, in his previous revelations. For we cannot suppose
that he knew the longer súras by heart so perfectly that he was able
after a time to lay his finger upon any particular passage. In some
instances, indeed, he may have relied too much on his memory. For
example, he seems to have occasionally dictated the same súra to
different persons in slightly different terms. In such cases, no doubt,
he may have partly intended to introduce improvements; and so long as
the difference was merely in expression, without affecting the sense, it
could occasion no perplexity to his followers. None of them had literary
pedantry enough to question the consistency of the divine revelation on
that ground. In particular instances, however, the difference of reading
was too important to be overlooked. Thus the Koran itself confesses that
the unbelievers cast it up as a reproach to the Prophet that God
sometimes substituted one verse for another (xvi. 103). On one occasion,
when a dispute arose between two of his own followers as to the true
reading of a passage which both had received from the Prophet himself,
Mohammed is said to have explained that the Koran was revealed in seven
forms. In this dictum, which perhaps is genuine, seven stands, of
course, as in many other cases, for an indefinite but limited number.
But one may imagine what a world of trouble it has cost the Moslem
theologians to explain the saying in accordance with their dogmatic
beliefs. A great number of explanations are current, some of which claim
the authority of the Prophet himself; as, indeed, fictitious utterances
of Mohammed play throughout a conspicuous part in the exegesis of the
Koran. One very favourite, but utterly untenable interpretation is that
the “seven forms” are seven different Arabic dialects.

When such discrepancies came to the cognisance of Mohammed it was
doubtless his desire that only one of the conflicting texts should be
considered authentic; only he never gave himself much trouble to have
his wish carried into effect. Although in theory he was an upholder of
verbal inspiration, he did not push the doctrine to its extreme
consequences; his practical good sense did not take these things so
strictly as the theologians of later centuries. Sometimes, however, he
did suppress whole sections or verses, enjoining his followers to efface
or forget them, and declaring them to be “abrogated.” A very remarkable
case is that of the two verses in liii., when he had recognised three
heathen goddesses as exalted beings, possessing influence with God. This
he had done in a moment of weakness, to win his countrymen by a
compromise which still left Alláh in the highest rank. He attained his
purpose indeed, but was soon visited by remorse, and declared the words
in question to have been inspirations of the Evil One.

So much for abrogated readings; the case is somewhat different when we
come to the abrogation of laws and directions to the Moslems, which
often occurs in the Koran. There is nothing in this at variance with
Mohammed’s idea of God. God is to him an absolute despot, who declares a
thing right or wrong from no inherent necessity, but by His arbitrary
fiat. This God varies His commands at pleasure, prescribes one law for
the Christians, another for the Jews, and a third for the Moslems; nay,
He even changes His instructions to the Moslems when it pleases Him.
Thus, for example, the Koran contains very different directions, suited
to varying circumstances, as to the treatment which idolaters are to
receive at the hands of believers. But Mohammed showed no anxiety to
have these superseded enactments destroyed. Believers could be in no
uncertainty as to which of two contradictory passages remained in force;
and they might still find edification in that which had become obsolete.
That later generations might not so easily distinguish the “abrogated”
from the “abrogating” did not occur to Mohammed, whose vision, naturally
enough, seldom extended to the future of his religious community.
Current events were invariably kept in view in the revelations. In
Medina it called forth the admiration of the Faithful to observe how
often God gave them the answer to a question whose settlement was
urgently required at the moment. The same _naïveté_ appears in a remark
of the Caliph Othmán about a doubtful case: “If the Apostle of God were
still alive, methinks there had been a Koran passage revealed on this
point.” Not unfrequently the divine word was found to coincide with the
advice which Mohammed had received from his most intimate disciples.
“Omar was many a time of a certain opinion,” says one tradition, “and
the Koran was then revealed accordingly.”

The contents of the different parts of the Koran are extremely varied.
Many passages consist of theological or moral reflections. We are
reminded of the greatness, the goodness, the righteousness of God as
manifested in Nature, in history, and in revelation through the
prophets, especially through Mohammed. God is magnified as the One, the
All-powerful. Idolatry and all deification of created beings, such as
the worship of Christ as the Son of God, are unsparingly condemned. The
joys of heaven and the pains of hell are depicted in vivid sensuous
imagery, as is also the terror of the whole creation at the advent of
the last day and the judgment of the world. Believers receive general
moral instruction, as well as directions for special circumstances. The
lukewarm are rebuked, the enemies threatened with terrible punishment,
both temporal and eternal. To the sceptical the truth of Islam is held
forth; and a certain, not very cogent, method of demonstration
predominates. In many passages the sacred book falls into a diffuse
preaching style, others seem more like proclamations or general orders.
A great number contain ceremonial or civil laws, or even special
commands to individuals down to such matters as the regulation of
Mohammed’s harem. In not a few, definite questions are answered which
had actually been propounded to the Prophet by believers or infidels.
Mohammed himself, too, repeatedly receives direct injunctions, and does
not escape an occasional rebuke. One súra (i.) is a prayer, two (cxiii.,
cxiv.) are magical formulas. Many súras treat of a single topic, others
embrace several.

From the mass of material comprised in the Koran—and the account we
have given is far from exhaustive—we should select the histories of the
ancient prophets and saints as possessing a peculiar interest. The
purpose of Mohammed is to show from these histories how God in former
times had rewarded the righteous and punished their enemies. For the
most part the old prophets only serve to introduce a little variety in
point of form, for they are almost in every case facsimiles of Mohammed
himself. They preach exactly like him, they have to bring the very same
charges against their opponents, who on their part behave exactly as the
unbelieving inhabitants of Mecca. The Koran even goes so far as to make
Noah contend against the worship of certain false gods, mentioned by
name, who were worshipped by the Arabs of Mohammed’s time. In an address
which is put in the mouth of Abraham (xxvi. 75 sqq.) the reader quite
forgets that it is Abraham, and not Mohammed (or God Himself), who is
speaking. Other narratives are intended rather for amusement, although
they are always well seasoned with edifying phrases. It is no wonder
that the godless Koraishites thought these stories of the Koran not
nearly so entertaining as those of Rostam and Ispandiár related by Nadr
the son of Hárith, who, when travelling as a merchant, had learned on
the Euphrates the heroic mythology of the Persians. But the Prophet was
so exasperated by this rivalry that when Nadr fell into his power after
the battle of Badr, he caused him to be executed; although in all other
cases he readily pardoned his fellow-countrymen.

These histories are chiefly about Scripture characters, especially those
of the Old Testament. But the deviations from the Biblical narratives
are very marked. Many of the alterations are found in the legendary
anecdotes of the Jewish Aggádá and the New Testament Apocrypha; but many
more are due to misconceptions such as only a listener (not the reader
of a book) could fall into. The most ignorant Jew could never have
mistaken Haman (the minister of Ahasuerus) for the minister of Pharaoh,
or identified Miriam the sister of Moses with Mary (=Miriam) the mother
of Christ. In addition to such misconceptions there are sundry
capricious alterations, some of them very grotesque, due to Mohammed
himself. For instance, in his ignorance of everything out of Arabia, he
makes the fertility of Egypt—where rain is almost never seen and never
missed—depend on rain instead of the inundations of the Nile (xii. 49).
The strange tale of “the Horned” (_i.e._ Alexander the Great, xviii. 82
sqq.) reflects, as has been lately discovered, a rather absurd story,
written by a Syrian in the beginning of the sixth century; we may
believe that the substance of it was related to the Prophet by some
Christian. Besides Jewish and Christian histories, there are a few about
old Arabian prophets. In these he seems to have handled his materials
even more freely than in the others.

The opinion has already been expressed that Mohammed did not make use of
written sources. Coincidences and divergences alike can always be
accounted for by oral communications from Jews who knew a little and
Christians who knew next to nothing. Even in the rare passages where we
can trace direct resemblances to the text of the Old Testament (comp.
xxi. 105 with Ps. xxxvii. 29; i. 5 with Ps. xxvii. 11) or the New (comp.
vii. 48 with Luke xvi. 24; xlvi. 19 with Luke xvi. 25), there is nothing
more than might readily have been picked up in conversation with any Jew
or Christian. In Medina, where he had the opportunity of becoming
acquainted with Jews of some culture, he learned some things out of the
Mishna, _e.g._ v. 35 corresponds almost word for word with Mishna
_Sanh._ iv. 5; compare also ii. 183 with Mishna _Ber._ i. 2. That these
are only cases of oral communication will be admitted by any one with
the slightest knowledge of the circumstances. Otherwise we might even
conclude that Mohammed had studied the Talmud; _e.g._ the regulation as
to ablution by rubbing with sand, where water cannot be obtained (iv.
46), corresponds to a Talmudic ordinance (_Ber. 15a_). Of Christianity
he can have been able to learn very little even in Medina; as may be
seen from the absurd travesty of the institution of the Eucharist in v.
112 sqq. For the rest, it is highly improbable that before the Koran any
real literary production—anything that could be strictly called a
book—existed in the Arabic language.

In point of style and artistic effect, the different parts of the Koran
are of very unequal value. An unprejudiced and critical reader will
certainly find very few passages where his æsthetic susceptibilities are
thoroughly satisfied. But he will often be struck, especially in the
older pieces, by a wild force of passion, and a vigorous, if not rich,
imagination. Descriptions of heaven and hell, and allusions to God’s
working in Nature, not unfrequently show a certain amount of poetic
power. In other places also the style is sometimes lively and
impressive; though it is rarely indeed that we come across such strains
of touching simplicity as in the middle of xciii. The greater part of
the Koran is decidedly prosaic; much of it indeed is stiff in style. Of
course, with such a variety of material, we cannot expect every part to
be equally vivacious, or imaginative, or poetic. A decree about the
right of inheritance, or a point of ritual, must necessarily be
expressed in prose, if it is to be intelligible. No one complains of the
civil laws in Exodus or the sacrificial ritual in Leviticus, because
they want the fire of Isaiah or the tenderness of Deuteronomy. But
Mohammed’s mistake consists in persistent and slavish adherence to the
semi-poetic form which he had at first adopted in accordance with his
own taste and that of his hearers. For instance, he employs rhyme in
dealing with the most prosaic subjects, and thus produces the
disagreeable effect of incongruity between style and matter. It has to
be considered, however, that many of those sermonising pieces which are
so tedious to us, especially when we read two or three in succession
(perhaps in a very inadequate translation), must have had a quite
different effect when recited under the burning sky and on the barren
soil of Mecca. There, thoughts about God’s greatness and man’s duty,
which are familiar to us from childhood, were all new to the hearers—it
is hearers we have to think of in the first instance, not readers—to
whom, at the same time, every allusion had a meaning which often escapes
our notice. When Mohammed spoke of the goodness of the Lord in creating
the clouds, and bringing them across the cheerless desert, and pouring
them out on the earth to restore its rich vegetation, that must have
been a picture of thrilling interest to the Arabs, who are accustomed to
see from three to five years elapse before a copious shower comes to
clothe the wilderness once more with luxuriant pastures. It requires an
effort for us, under our clouded skies, to realise in some degree the
intensity of that impression.

The fact that scraps of poetical phraseology are specially numerous in
the earlier súras, enables us to understand why the prosaic mercantile
community of Mecca regarded their eccentric townsman as a “poet,” or
even a “possessed poet.” Mohammed himself had to disclaim such titles,
because he felt himself to be a divinely-inspired prophet; but we too,
from our standpoint, shall fully acquit him of poetic genius. Like many
other predominantly religious characters, he had no appreciation of
poetic beauty; and if we may believe one anecdote related of him, at a
time when every one made verses, he affected ignorance of the most
elementary rules of prosody. Hence the style of the Koran is not
poetical but rhetorical; and the powerful effect which some portions
produce on us is gained by rhetorical means. Accordingly the sacred book
has not even the artistic form of poetry; which, among the Arabs,
includes a stringent metre, as well as rhyme. The Koran is never
metrical, and only a few exceptionally eloquent portions fall into a
sort of spontaneous rhythm. On the other hand, the rhyme is regularly
maintained; although, especially in the later pieces, after a very
slovenly fashion. Rhymed prose was a favourite form of composition among
the Arabs of that day, and Mohammed adopted it; but if it imparts a
certain sprightliness to some passages, it proves on the whole a
burdensome yoke. The Moslems themselves have observed that the tyranny
of the rhyme often makes itself apparent in derangement of the order of
words, and in the choice of verbal forms which would not otherwise have
been employed; _e.g._ an imperfect instead of a perfect. In one place,
to save the rhyme, he calls Mount Sinai _Sínín_ (xcv. 2) instead of
_Síná_ (xxiii. 20); in another Elijah is called _Ilyásín_ (xxxvii. 130)
instead of _Ilyás_ (vi. 85, xxxvii. 123). The substance even is modified
to suit exigencies of rhyme. Thus the Prophet would scarcely have fixed
on the unusual number of _eight_ angels round the throne of God (lxix.
17) if the word _thamániyah_, “eight,” had not happened to fall in so
well with the rhyme. And when lv. speaks of _two_ heavenly gardens, each
with _two_ fountains and _two_ kinds of fruit, and again of _two_
similar gardens, all this is simply because the dual termination (_án_)
corresponds to the syllable that controls the rhyme in that whole súra.
In the later pieces, Mohammed often inserts edifying remarks, entirely
out of keeping with the context, merely to complete his rhyme. In Arabic
it is such an easy thing to accumulate masses of words with the same
termination, that the gross negligence of the rhyme in the Koran is
doubly remarkable. One may say that this is another mark of the
Prophet’s want of mental training, and incapacity for introspective

On the whole, while many parts of the Koran undoubtedly have
considerable rhetorical power, even over an unbelieving reader, the
book, æsthetically considered, is by no means a first-rate performance.
To begin with what we are most competent to criticise, let us look at
some of the more extended narratives. It has already been noticed how
vehement and abrupt they are where they ought to be characterised by
epic repose. Indispensable links, both in expression and in the sequence
of events, are often omitted, so that to understand these histories is
sometimes far easier for us than for those who heard them first, because
we know most of them from better sources. Along with this, there is a
great deal of superfluous verbiage; and nowhere do we find a steady
advance in the narration. Contrast, in these respects, “the most
beautiful tale,” the history of Joseph (xii.), and its glaring
improprieties, with the story in Genesis, so admirably conceived and so
admirably executed in spite of some slight discrepancies. Similar faults
are found in the non-narrative portions of the Koran. The connection of
ideas is extremely loose, and even the syntax betrays great awkwardness.
Anacolutha are of frequent occurrence, and cannot be explained as
conscious literary devices. Many sentences begin with a “when” or “on
the day when,” which seems to hover in the air, so that the commentators
are driven to supply a “think of this” or some such ellipsis. Again,
there is no great literary skill evinced in the frequent and needless
harping on the same words and phrases; in xviii., for example, “till
that” (_hattá idhá_) occurs no fewer than eight times. Mohammed, in
short, is not in any sense a master of style. This opinion will be
endorsed by any European who reads through the book with an impartial
spirit and some knowledge of the language, without taking into account
the tiresome effect of its endless iterations. But in the ears of every
pious Moslem such a judgment will sound almost as shocking as downright
atheism or polytheism. Among the Moslems, the Koran has always been
looked on as the most perfect model of style and language. This feature
of it is in their dogmatic the greatest of all miracles, the
incontestable proof of its divine origin. Such a view on the part of men
who knew Arabic infinitely better than the most accomplished European
Arabist will ever do, may well startle us. In fact, the Koran boldly
challenged its opponents to produce ten súras, or even a single one,
like those of the sacred book, and they never did so. That, to be sure,
on calm reflection, is not so very surprising. Revelations of the kind
which Mohammed uttered, no unbeliever could produce without making
himself a laughing-stock. However little real originality there is in
Mohammed’s doctrines, as against his own countrymen he was thoroughly
original, even in the form of his oracles. To compose such revelations
at will was beyond the power of the most expert literary artist; it
would have required either a prophet or a shameless impostor. And if
such a character appeared _after_ Mohammed, still he could never be
anything but an imitator, like the false prophets who arose about the
time of his death and afterwards. That the adversaries should produce
any sample whatsoever of poetry or rhetoric equal to the Koran is not at
all what the Prophet demands. In that case he would have been put to
shame, even in the eyes of many of his own followers, by the first poem
that came to hand. Nevertheless, it is on such a false interpretation of
this challenge that the dogma of the incomparable excellence of the
style and diction of the Koran is based. The rest has been accomplished
by dogmatic prejudice, which is quite capable of working other miracles
besides turning a defective literary production into an unrivalled
masterpiece in the eyes of believers. This view once accepted, the next
step was to find everywhere evidence of the perfection of the style and
language. And if here and there, as one can scarcely doubt, there was
among the old Moslems a lover of poetry who had his difficulties about
this dogma, he had to beware of uttering an opinion which might have
cost him his head. We know of at least one rationalistic theologian who
defined the dogma in such a way that we can see he did not believe it
(Shahrastání, p. 39). The truth is, it would have been a miracle indeed
if the style of the Koran had been perfect. For although there was at
that time a recognised poetical style, already degenerating to
mannerism, a prose style did not exist. All beginnings are difficult;
and it can never be esteemed a serious charge against Mohammed that his
book, the first prose work of a high order in the language, testifies to
the awkwardness of the beginner. And further, we must always remember
that entertainment and æsthetic effect were at most subsidiary objects.
The great aim was persuasion and conversion; and, say what we will, that
aim has been realised on the most imposing scale.

Mohammed repeatedly calls attention to the fact that the Koran is not
written, like other sacred books, in a strange language, but in Arabic,
and therefore is intelligible to all. At that time, along with foreign
ideas, many foreign words had crept into the language, especially
Aramaic terms for religious conceptions of Jewish or Christian origin.
Some of these had already passed into general use, while others were
confined to a more limited circle. Mohammed, who could not fully express
his new ideas in the common language of his countrymen, but had
frequently to find out new terms for himself, made free use of such
Jewish and Christian words, as was done, though perhaps to a smaller
extent, by certain thinkers and poets of that age who had more or less
risen above the level of heathenism. In Mohammed’s case this is the less
wonderful, because he was indebted to the instruction of Jews and
Christians whose Arabic—as the Koran pretty clearly intimates with
regard to one of them—was very defective. Nor is it very surprising to
find that his use of these words is sometimes as much at fault as his
comprehension of the histories which he learned from the same
people—that he applies Aramaic expressions as incorrectly as many
uneducated persons now employ words derived from the French. Thus,
_forkán_ means really “redemption,” but Mohammed (misled by the Arabic
meaning of the root _frk_, “sever,” “decide”) uses it for “revelation.”
_Milla_ is properly “Word,” but in the Koran “religion.” _Illíyún_
(lxxxiii. 18, 19) is apparently the Hebrew name of God, _Elyón_, “the
Most High;” Mohammed uses it of a heavenly book (see S. Fraenkel, _De
vocabulis in antiquis Arabum carminibus et in Corano peregrinis_, Leyden
1880, p. 23). So again the word _mathání_ is, as Geiger has conjectured,
the regular Arabic plural of the Aramaic _mathníthá_, which is the same
as the Hebrew _Mishna_, and denotes, in Jewish usage, a legal decision
of some of the ancient Rabbins. But in the Koran “the seven _Mathání_”
(xv. 87) are probably the seven verses of súra i., so that Mohammed
appears to have understood it in the sense of “saying” or “sentence”
(comp. xxxix. 24). Words of Christian origin are less frequent in the
Koran. It is an interesting fact that of these a few have come over from
the Abyssinian, such as _hawáríyún_, “apostles,” _máida_, “table,” and
two or three others; these all make their first appearance in súras of
the Medina period. The word _shaitán_, “Satan,” which was likewise
borrowed, at least in the first instance, from the Abyssinian, had
probably been already introduced into the language. Sprenger has rightly
observed that Mohammed makes a certain parade of these foreign terms, as
of other peculiarly constructed expressions; in this he followed a
favourite practice of contemporary poets. It is the tendency of the
imperfectly educated to delight in out-of-the-way expressions, and on
such minds they readily produce a remarkably solemn and mysterious
impression. This was exactly the kind of effect that Mohammed desired,
and to secure it he seems even to have invented a few odd vocables, as
_ghislín_ (lxix. 36), _sijjín_ (lxxxiii. 7, 8), _tasním_ (lxxxiii. 27),
and _salsabíl_ (lxxvi. 18). But, of course, the necessity of enabling
his hearers to understand ideas which they must have found sufficiently
novel in themselves, imposed tolerably narrow limits on such

The constituents of our present Koran belong partly to the Mecca period
(before A.D. 622), partly to the period commencing with the emigration
to Medina (from the autumn of 622 to 8th June 632). Mohammed’s position
in Medina was entirely different from that which he had occupied in his
native town. In the former he was from the first the leader of a
powerful party, and gradually became the autocratic ruler of Arabia; in
the latter he was only the despised preacher of a small congregation.
This difference, as was to be expected, appears in the Koran. The Medina
pieces, whether entire súras or isolated passages interpolated in Meccan
súras, are accordingly pretty broadly distinct, as to their contents,
from those issued in Mecca. In the great majority of cases there can be
no doubt whatever whether a piece first saw the light in Mecca or in
Medina; and, for the most part, the internal evidence is borne out by
Moslem tradition. And since the revelations given in Medina frequently
take notice of events about which we have pretty accurate information,
and whose dates are at least approximately known, we are often in a
position to fix their date with, at any rate, considerable certainty;
here, again, tradition renders valuable assistance. Even with regard to
the Medina passages, however, a great deal remains uncertain, partly
because the allusions to historical events and circumstances are
generally rather obscure, partly because traditions about the occasion
of the revelation of the various pieces are often fluctuating, and often
rest on misunderstanding or arbitrary conjecture. But, at all events, it
is far easier to arrange in some sort of chronological order the Medina
súras than those composed in Mecca. There is, indeed, one tradition
which professes to furnish a chronological list of all the súras. But
not to mention that it occurs in several divergent forms, and that it
takes no account of the fact that our present súras are partly composed
of pieces of different dates, it contains so many suspicious or
undoubtedly false statements, that it is impossible to attach any great
importance to it. Besides, it is _à priori_ unlikely that a contemporary
of Mohammed should have drawn up such a list; and if any one had made
the attempt, he would have found it almost impossible to obtain reliable
information as to the order of the earlier Meccan súras. We have in this
list no genuine tradition, but rather the lucubrations of an undoubtedly
conscientious Moslem critic, who may have lived about a century after
the emigration.

Among the revelations put forth in Mecca there is a considerable number
of (for the most part) short súras, which strike every attentive reader
as being the oldest. They are in an altogether different strain from
many others, and in their whole composition they show least resemblance
to the Medina pieces. It is no doubt conceivable—as Sprenger
supposes—that Mohammed might have returned at intervals to his earlier
manner; but since this group possesses a remarkable similarity of style,
and since the gradual formation of a different style is on the whole an
unmistakable fact, the assumption has little probability; and we shall
therefore abide by the opinion that these form a distinct group. At the
opposite extreme from them stands another cluster, showing quite obvious
affinities with the style of the Medina súras, which must therefore be
assigned to the later part of the Prophet’s work in Mecca. Between these
two groups stand a number of other Meccan súras, which in every respect
mark the transition from the first period to the third. It need hardly
be said that the three periods—which were first distinguished by
Professor Weil—are not separated by sharp lines of division. With
regard to some súras, it may be doubtful whether they ought to be
reckoned amongst the middle group, or with one or other of the extremes.
And it is altogether impossible, within these groups, to establish even
a probable chronological arrangement of the individual revelations. In
default of clear allusions to well-known events, or events whose date
can be determined, we might indeed endeavour to trace the psychological
development of the Prophet by means of the Koran, and arrange its parts
accordingly. But in such an undertaking one is always apt to take
subjective assumptions or mere fancies for established data. Good
traditions about the origin of the Meccan revelations are not very
numerous. In fact, the whole history of Mohammed previous to his
emigration is so imperfectly related that we are not even sure in what
year he appeared as a prophet. Probably it was in A.D. 610; it may have
been somewhat earlier, but scarcely later. If, as one tradition says,
xxx. 1 sq. (“The Romans are overcome in the nearest neighbouring land”)
refers to the defeat of the Byzantines by the Persians, not far from
Damascus, about the spring of 614, it would follow that the third group,
to which this passage belongs, covers the greater part of the Meccan
period. And it is not in itself unlikely that the passionate vehemence
which characterises the first group was of short duration. Nor is the
assumption contradicted by the tolerably well-attested, though far from
incontestable statement, that when Omar was converted (A.D. 615 or 616),
xx., which belongs to the second group, already existed in writing. But
the reference of xxx. 1 sq. to this particular battle is by no means so
certain that positive conclusions can be drawn from it. It is the same
with other allusions in the Meccan súras to occurrences whose chronology
can be partially ascertained. It is better, therefore, to rest satisfied
with a merely relative determination of the order of even the three
great clusters of Meccan revelations.

In the pieces of the first period the convulsive excitement of the
Prophet often expresses itself with the utmost vehemence. He is so
carried away by his emotion that he cannot choose his words; they seem
rather to burst from him. Many of these pieces remind us of the oracles
of the old heathen soothsayers, whose style is known to us from
imitations, although we have perhaps not a single genuine specimen. Like
those other oracles, the súras of this period, which are never very
long, are composed of short sentences with tolerably pure but
rapidly-changing rhymes. The oaths, too, with which many of them begin,
were largely used by the soothsayers. Some of these oaths are very
uncouth and hard to understand, some of them perhaps were not meant to
be understood, for indeed all sorts of strange things are met with in
these chapters. Here and there Mohammed speaks of visions, and appears
even to see angels before him in bodily form. There are some intensely
vivid descriptions of the resurrection and the last day, which must have
exercised a demonic power over men who were quite unfamiliar with such
pictures. Other pieces paint in glowing colours the joys of heaven and
the pains of hell. However, the súras of this period are not all so wild
as these; and those which are conceived in a calmer mood appear to be
the oldest. Yet, one must repeat, it is exceedingly difficult to make
out any strict chronological sequence. For instance, it is by no means
certain whether the beginning of xcvi. is really what a
widely-circulated tradition calls it, the oldest part of the whole
Koran. That tradition goes back to the Prophet’s favourite wife Aïsha;
but as she was not born at the time when the revelation is said to have
been made, it can only contain at the best what Mohammed told her years
afterwards, from his own not very clear recollection, with or without
fictitious additions. Aïsha, moreover, is by no means very trustworthy.
And, besides, there are other pieces mentioned by others as the oldest.
In any case xcvi. 1 sqq. is certainly very early. According to the
traditional view, which appears to be correct, it treats of a vision in
which the Prophet receives an injunction to recite a revelation conveyed
to him by the angel. It is interesting to observe that here already two
things are brought forward as proofs of the omnipotence and care of God:
one is the creation of man out of a seminal drop—an idea to which
Mohammed often recurs; the other is the then recently introduced art of
writing, which the Prophet instinctively seizes on as a means of
propagating his doctrines. It was only after Mohammed encountered
obstinate resistance that the tone of the revelations became thoroughly
passionate. In such cases he was not slow to utter terrible threats
against those who ridiculed the preaching of the unity of God, of the
resurrection, and of the judgment. His own uncle, Abú Lahab, had
somewhat brusquely repelled him, and in a brief special súra (cxi.) he
and his wife are consigned to hell. The súras of this period form almost
exclusively the concluding portions of the present text. One is disposed
to assume, however, that they were at one time more numerous, and that
many of them were lost at an early period.

Since Mohammed’s strength lay in his enthusiastic and fiery imagination
rather than in the wealth of ideas and clearness of abstract thought on
which exact reasoning depends, it follows that the older súras, in which
the former qualities have free scope, must be more attractive to us than
the later. In the súras of the second period the imaginative glow
perceptibly diminishes; there is still fire and animation, but the tone
becomes gradually more prosaic. As the feverish restlessness subsides,
the periods are drawn out, and the revelations as a whole become longer.
The truth of the new doctrine is proved by accumulated instances of
God’s working in nature and in history; the objections of opponents,
whether advanced in good faith or in jest, are controverted by
arguments; but the demonstration is often confused or even weak. The
histories of the earlier prophets, which had occasionally been briefly
touched on in the first period, are now related, sometimes at great
length. On the whole, the charm of the style is passing away.

There is one piece of the Koran, belonging to the beginning of this
period, if not to the close of the former, which claims particular
notice. This is i., the Lord’s Prayer of the Moslems, and beyond dispute
the gem of the Koran. The words of this súra, which is known as
_al-fátiha_ (“the opening one”), are as follows:—

“(1) In the name of God, the compassionate Compassioner. (2) Praise be
[literally “is”] to God, the Lord of the worlds, (3) the compassionate
Compassioner, (4) the Sovereign of the day of judgment. (5) Thee do we
worship, and of Thee do we beg assistance. (6) Direct us in the right
way; (7) in the way of those to whom Thou hast been gracious, on whom
there is no wrath, and who go not astray.”

The thoughts are so simple as to need no explanation; and yet the prayer
is full of meaning. It is true that there is not a single original idea
of Mohammed’s in it. Several words and turns of expression are borrowed
directly from the Jews, in particular the designation of God as the
“Compassioner,” _Rahmán_. This is simply the Jewish _Rahmáná_, which was
a favourite name for God in the Talmudic period. Mohammed seems for a
while to have entertained the thought of adopting _al-Rahmán_ as a
proper name of God, in place of _Alláh_, which was already used by the
heathens.[11] This purpose he ultimately relinquished, but it is just in
the súras of the second period that the use of _Rahmán_ is specially
frequent. It was probably in the first súra also that Mohammed first
introduced the formula, “In the name of God,” etc. It is to be regretted
that this prayer must lose its effect through too frequent use, for
every Moslem who says his five prayers regularly—as the most of them
do—repeats it not less than twenty times a day.

The súras of the third Meccan period, which form a pretty large part of
our present Koran, are almost entirely prosaic. Some of the revelations
are of considerable extent, and the single verses also are much longer
than in the older súras. Only now and then a gleam of poetic power
flashes out. A sermonising tone predominates. The súras are very
edifying for one who is already reconciled to their import, but to us,
at least, they do not seem very well fitted to carry conviction to the
minds of unbelievers. That impression, however, is not correct, for in
reality the demonstrations of these longer Meccan súras appear to have
been peculiarly influential for the propagation of Islam. Mohammed’s
mission was not to Europeans, but to a people who, though quick-witted
and receptive, were not accustomed to logical thinking, while they had
outgrown their ancient religion.

When we reach the Medina period it becomes, as has been indicated, much
easier to understand the revelations in their historical relations,
since our knowledge of the history of Mohammed in Medina is tolerable
complete. In many cases the historical occasion is perfectly clear, in
others we can at least recognise the general situation from which they
arose, and thus approximately fix their time. There still remains,
however, a remnant, of which we can only say that it belongs to Medina.

The style of this period bears a pretty close resemblance to that of the
latest Meccan period. It is for the most part pure prose, enriched by
occasional rhetorical embellishments. Yet even here there are many
bright and impressive passages, especially in those sections which may
be regarded as proclamations to the army of the faithful. For the
Moslems, Mohammed has many different messages. At one time it is a
summons to do battle for the faith; at another, a series of reflections
on recently experienced success or misfortune, or a rebuke for their
weak faith; or an exhortation to virtue, and so on. He often addresses
himself to the “doubters,” some of whom vacillate between faith and
unbelief, others make a pretence of faith, while others scarcely take
the trouble even to do that. They are no consolidated party, but to
Mohammed they are all equally vexatious, because, as soon as danger has
to be encountered, or a contribution is levied, they all alike fall
away. There are frequent outbursts, ever increasing in bitterness,
against the Jews, who were very numerous in Medina and its neighbourhood
when Mohammed arrived. He has much less to say against the Christians,
with whom he never came closely in contact; and as for the idolaters,
there was little occasion in Medina to have many words with them. A part
of the Medina pieces consists of formal laws belonging to the
ceremonial, civil, and criminal codes; or directions about certain
temporary complications. The most objectionable parts of the whole Koran
are those which treat of Mohammed’s relations with women. The laws and
regulations were generally very concise revelations, but most of them
have been amalgamated with other pieces of similar or dissimilar import,
and are now found in very long súras.

Such is an imperfect sketch of the composition and the internal history
of the Koran, but it is probably sufficient to show that the book is a
very heterogeneous collection. If only those passages had been preserved
which had a permanent value for the theology, the ethics, or the
jurisprudence of the Moslems, a few fragments would have been amply
sufficient. Fortunately for knowledge, respect for the sacredness of the
letter has led to the collection of all the revelations that could
possibly be collected,—the “abrogating” along with the “abrogated,”
passages referring to passing circumstances as well as those of lasting
importance. Every one who takes up the book in the proper religious
frame of mind, like most of the Moslems, reads pieces directed against
long-obsolete absurd customs of Mecca just as devoutly as the weightiest
moral precepts,—perhaps even more devoutly, because he does not
understand them so well.

At the head of twenty-nine of the súras stand certain initial letters,
from which no clear sense can be obtained. Thus, before ii. iii. xxxi.
xxxii. we find _ALM_ (_Alif Lám Mím_), before xl.-xlvi. _HM_ (_Há Mím_).
At one time I suggested that these initials did not belong to Mohammed’s
text, but might be the monograms of possessors of codices, which,
through negligence on the part of the editors, were incorporated in the
final form of the Koran; but I now deem it more probable that they are
to be traced to the Prophet himself, as Sprenger and Loth suppose. One
cannot indeed admit the truth of Loth’s statement, that in the proper
opening words of these súras we may generally find an allusion to the
accompanying initials; but it can scarcely be accidental that the first
verse of the great majority of them (in iii. it is the second verse)
contains the word “book,” “revelation,” or some equivalent. They usually
begin with: “This is the book,” or “Revelation (‘down sending’) of the
book,” or something similar. Of súras which commence in this way only a
few (xviii. xxiv. xxv. xxxix.) want the initials, while only xxix. and
xxx. have the initials, and begin differently. These few exceptions may
easily have proceeded from ancient corruptions; at all events, they
cannot neutralise the evidence of the greater number. Mohammed seems to
have meant these letters for a mystic reference to the archetypal text
in heaven. To a man who regarded the art of writing, of which at the
best he had but a slight knowledge, as something supernatural, and who
lived amongst illiterate people, an A B C may well have seemed more
significant than to us who have been initiated into the mysteries of
this art from our childhood. The Prophet himself can hardly have
attached any particular meaning to these symbols: they served their
purpose if they conveyed an impression of solemnity and enigmatical
obscurity. In fact, the Koran admits that it contains many things which
neither can be, nor were intended to be, understood (iii. 5). To regard
these letters as ciphers is a precarious hypothesis, for the simple
reason that cryptography is not to be looked for in the very infancy of
Arabic writing. If they are actually ciphers, the multiplicity of
possible explanations at once precludes the hope of a plausible
interpretation. None of the efforts in this direction, whether by Moslem
scholars or by Europeans, have led to convincing results. This remark
applies even to the ingenious conjecture of Sprenger, that the letters
_KHY‘Ṣ_ (_Káf Hé Yé ‘Ain Sád_) before xix. (which treats of John and
Jesus, and, according to tradition, was sent to the Christian king of
Abyssinia) stand for _Jesus Nazarenus Rex Judæorum_. Sprenger arrives at
this explanation by a very artificial method; and besides, Mohammed was
not so simple as the Moslem traditionalists, who imagined that the
Abyssinians could read a piece of the Arabic Koran. It need hardly be
said that the Moslems have from of old applied themselves with great
assiduity to the decipherment of these initials, and have sometimes
found the deepest mysteries in them. Generally, however, they are
content with the prudent conclusion, that God alone knows the meaning of
these letters.

When Mohammed died, the separate pieces of the Koran, notwithstanding
their theoretical sacredness, existed only in scattered copies; they
were consequently in great danger of being partially or entirely
destroyed. Many Moslems knew large portions by heart, but certainly no
one knew the whole; and a merely oral propagation would have left the
door open to all kinds of deliberate and inadvertent alterations.
Mohammed himself had never thought of an authentic collection of his
revelations; he was usually concerned only with the object of the
moment, and the idea that the revelations would be destroyed unless he
made provision for their safe preservation, did not enter his mind. A
man destitute of literary culture has some difficulty in anticipating
the fate of intellectual products. But now, after the death of the
Prophet, most of the Arabs revolted against his successor, and had to be
reduced to submission by force. Especially sanguinary was the contest
against the prophet Maslama, an imitator of Mohammed, commonly known by
the derisive diminutive Mosailima (_i.e._ “Little Maslama”). At that
time (A.D. 633) many of the most devoted Moslems fell, the very men who
knew most Koran pieces by heart. Omar then began to fear that the Koran
might be entirely forgotten, and he induced the Caliph Abú Bekr to
undertake the collection of all its parts. The Caliph laid the duty on
Zaid, the son of Thábit, a native of Medina, then about twenty-two years
of age, who had often acted as amanuensis to the Prophet, in whose
service he is even said to have learned the Jewish letters. The account
of this collection of the Koran has reached us in several substantially
identical forms, and goes back to Zaid himself. According to it, he
collected the revelations from copies written on flat stones, pieces of
leather, ribs of palm-leaves (not palm-leaves themselves), and such-like
material, but chiefly “from the breasts of men,” _i.e._ from their
memory. From these he wrote a fair copy, which he gave to Abú Bekr, from
whom it came to his successor Omar, who again bequeathed it to his
daughter Hafsa, one of the widows of the Prophet. This redaction,
commonly called _al-sohof_ (“the leaves”), had from the first no
canonical authority; and its internal arrangement can only be

The Moslems were as far as ever from possessing a uniform text of the
Koran. The bravest of their warriors sometimes knew deplorably little
about it; distinction on _that_ field they cheerfully accorded to pious
men like Ibn Mas‘úd. It was inevitable, however, that discrepancies
should emerge between the texts of professed scholars, and as these men
in their several localities were authorities on the reading of the
Koran, quarrels began to break out between the levies from different
districts about the true form of the sacred book. During a campaign in
A.H. 30 (A.D. 650-1), Hodhaifa, the victor in the great and decisive
battle of Neháwand—which was to the empire of the Sásánians what
Gaugamela was to that of the Achæmenidæ—perceived that such disputes
might become dangerous, and therefore urged on the Caliph Othmán the
necessity for a universally binding text. The matter was entrusted to
Zaid, who had made the former collection, with three leading
Koraishites. These brought together as many copies as they could lay
their hands on, and prepared an edition which was to be canonical for
all Moslems. To prevent any further disputes, they burned all the other
codices except that of Hafsa, which, however, was soon afterwards
destroyed by Marwán, the governor of Medina. The destruction of the
earlier codices was an irreparable loss to criticism; but, for the
essentially political object of putting an end to controversies by
admitting only one form of the common book of religion and of law, this
measure was necessary.

The result of these labours is in our hands; as to how they were
conducted we have no trustworthy information, tradition being here too
much under the influence of dogmatic presuppositions. The critical
methods of a modern scientific commission will not be expected of an age
when the highest literary education for an Arab consisted in ability to
read and write. It now seems to me highly probable that this second
redaction took this simple form: Zaid read off from the codex which he
had previously written, and his associates, simultaneously or
successively, wrote one copy each to his dictation. These, I suppose,
were the three copies which, we are informed, were sent to the capitals
Damascus, Basra, and Cufa, to be in the first instance standards for the
soldiers of the respective provinces. A fourth copy would doubtless be
retained at Medina. Be that as it may, it is impossible now to
distinguish in the present form of the book what belongs to the first
redaction from what is due to the second.

In the arrangement of the separate sections, a classification according
to contents was impracticable because of the variety of subjects often
dealt with in one súra. A chronological arrangement was out of the
question, because the chronology of the older pieces must have been
imperfectly known, and because in some cases passages of different dates
had been joined together. Indeed, systematic principles of this kind
were altogether disregarded at that period. The pieces were accordingly
arranged in indiscriminate order, the only rule observed being to place
the long súras first and the shorter towards the end, and even that was
far from strictly adhered to. The short opening súra is so placed on
account of its superiority to the rest, and two magical formulæ are kept
for a sort of protection at the end; these are the only special traces
of design. The combination of pieces of different origin may proceed
partly from the possessors of the codices from which Zaid compiled his
first complete copy, partly from Zaid himself. The individual súras are
separated simply by the superscription, “In the name of God, the
compassionate Compassioner,” which is wanting only in the ninth. The
additional headings found in our texts (the name of the súra, the number
of verses, etc.) were not in the original codices, and form no integral
part of the Koran.

It is said that Othmán directed Zaid and his associates, in cases of
disagreement, to follow the Koraish dialect; but, though well-attested,
this account can scarcely be correct. The extremely primitive writing of
those days was quite incapable of rendering such minute differences as
can have existed between the pronunciation of Mecca and that of Medina.

Othmán’s Koran was not complete. Some passages are evidently
fragmentary; and a few detached pieces are still extant which were
originally parts of the Koran, although they have been omitted by Zaid.
Amongst these are some which there is no reason to suppose Mohammed
desired to suppress. Zaid may easily have overlooked a few stray
fragments, but that he purposely omitted anything which he believed to
belong to the Koran is very unlikely. It has been conjectured that in
deference to his superiors he kept out of the book the names of
Mohammed’s enemies, if they or their families came afterwards to be
respected. But it must be remembered that it was never Mohammed’s
practice to refer explicitly to contemporary persons and affairs in the
Koran. Only a single friend, his adopted son Zaid (xxxiii. 37), and a
single enemy, his uncle Abú Lahab (cxi.)—and these for very special
reasons—are mentioned by name; and the name of the latter has been left
in the Koran with a fearful curse annexed to it, although his son had
embraced Islam before the death of Mohammed, and although his
descendants belonged to the high nobility. So, on the other hand, there
is no single verse or clause which can be plausibly made out to be an
interpolation by Zaid at the instance of Abú Bekr, Omar, or Othmán.
Slight clerical errors there may have been, but the Koran of Othmán
contains none but genuine elements—though sometimes in very strange

It can still be pretty clearly shown in detail that the four codices of
Othmán’s Koran deviated from one another in points of orthography, in
the insertion or omission of a _wa_ (“and”), and such-like minutiæ; but
these variations nowhere affect the sense. All later manuscripts are
derived from these four originals.

At the same time, the other forms of the Koran did not at once become
extinct. In particular we have some information about the codex of Obay.
If the list which gives the order of its súras is correct, it must have
contained substantially the same materials as our text; in that case
Obay must have used the original collection of Zaid. The same is true of
the codex of Ibn Mas‘úd, of which we have also a catalogue. It appears
that the principle of putting the longer súras before the shorter was
more consistently carried out by him than by Zaid. He omits i. and the
magical formulæ of cxiii. cxiv. Obay, on the other hand, had embodied
two additional short prayers, whose authenticity I do not now venture to
question, as I formerly did. One can easily understand that differences
of opinion may have existed as to whether and how far formularies of
this kind belonged to the Koran. Some of the divergent readings of both
these texts have been preserved, as well as a considerable number of
other ancient variants. Most of them are decidedly inferior to the
received readings, but some are quite as good, and a few deserve

The only man who appears to have seriously opposed the general
introduction of Othmán’s text is Ibn Mas‘úd. He was one of the oldest
disciples of the Prophet, and had often rendered him personal service;
but he was a man of contracted views, although he is one of the pillars
of Moslem theology. His opposition had no effect. Now when we consider
that at that time there were many Moslems who had heard the Koran from
the mouth of the Prophet, that other measures of the imbecile Othmán met
with the most vehement resistance on the part of the bigoted champions
of the faith, that these were still further incited against him by some
of his ambitious old comrades, until at last they murdered him, and
finally that in the civil wars after his death the several parties were
glad of any pretext for branding their opponents as infidels;—when we
consider all this, we must regard it as a strong testimony in favour of
Othmán’s Koran that no party—that of Alí not excepted—repudiated the
text formed by Zaid, who was one of the most devoted adherents of Othmán
and his family, and that even among the Shíites we detect but very few
marks of dissatisfaction with the Caliph’s conduct in this matter.

But this redaction is not the close of the textual history of the Koran.
The ancient Arabic alphabet was very imperfect; it not only wanted marks
for the short, and in part even for the long vowels, but it often
expressed several consonants by the same sign, the forms of different
letters, formerly clearly distinct, having become by degrees identical.
So, for example, there was but one character to express B, T, Th, and in
the beginning and in the middle of words N and Y (I) also. Though the
reader who was perfectly familiar with the language felt no difficulty,
as a rule, in discovering which pronunciation the writer had in view,
yet as there were many words which admitted of being pronounced in very
different manners, instances were not infrequent in which the
pronunciation was dubious. This variety of possible readings was at
first very great, and many readers seem to have actually made it their
object to discover pronunciations which were new, provided they were at
all appropriate to the ambiguous text. There was also a dialectic
licence in grammatical forms, which had not as yet been greatly
restricted. An effort was made by many to establish a more refined
pronunciation for the Koran than was usual in common life or in secular
literature. The various schools of “readers” differed very widely from
one another; although for the most part there was no important
divergence as to the sense of words. A few of them gradually rose to
special authority, and the rest disappeared. Seven readers are generally
reckoned chief authorities, but for practical purposes this number was
continually reduced in process of time; so that at present only two
“reading styles” are in actual use,—the common style of Ḥafṣ and that
of Náfi‘, which prevails in Africa to the west of Egypt. There is,
however, a very comprehensive massoretic literature in which a number of
other styles are indicated. The invention of vowel-signs, of diacritic
points to distinguish similarly formed consonants, and of other
orthographic signs, soon put a stop to arbitrary conjectures on the part
of the readers. Many zealots objected to the introduction of these
innovations in the sacred text, but theological consistency had to yield
to practical necessity. In accurate codices, indeed, all such additions,
as well as the titles of the súra, etc., are written in coloured ink,
while the black characters profess to represent exactly the original of
Othmán. But there is probably no copy quite faithful in this respect.

The correct recitation of the Koran is an art difficult of acquisition
to the Arabs themselves. Besides the artificial pronunciation mentioned
above, a semi-musical modulation has to be observed. In these things
also there are great differences between the various schools.

In European libraries, besides innumerable modern manuscripts of the
Koran, there are also codices or fragments of high antiquity, some of
them probably dating from the first century of the Flight. For the
restoration of the text, however, the works of ancient scholars on its
readings and modes of writing are more important than the manuscripts,
which, however elegantly they may be written and ornamented, proceed
from irresponsible copyists. The original, written by Othmán himself,
has indeed been exhibited in various parts of the Mohammedan world. The
library of the India Office contains one such manuscript, bearing the
subscription: “Written by Othmán the son of Affán.” These, of course,
are barefaced forgeries, although of very ancient date; so are those
which profess to be from the hand of Alí, one of which is preserved in
the same library. In recent times the Koran has been often printed and
lithographed both in the East and the West.

Shortly after Mohammed’s death certain individuals applied themselves to
the exposition of the Koran. Much of it was obscure from the beginning,
other sections were unintelligible apart from a knowledge of the
circumstances of their origin. Unfortunately those who took possession
of this field were not very honourable. Ibn Abbás, a cousin of
Mohammed’s, and the chief source of the traditional exegesis of the
Koran, has, on theological and other grounds, given currency to a number
of falsehoods; and at least some of his pupils have emulated his
example. These earliest expositions dealt more with the sense and
connection of whole verses than with the separate words. Afterwards, as
the knowledge of the old language declined, and the study of philology
arose, more attention began to be paid to the explanation of vocables. A
good many fragments of this older theological and philological exegesis
have survived from the first two centuries of the Flight, although we
have no complete commentary of this period. Most of the expository
material will perhaps be found in the very large commentary of the
celebrated Tabarí (A.D. 839-923), of which an almost complete copy is in
the Viceregal library at Cairo. Another very famous commentary is that
of Zamakhsharí (A.D. 1075-1144), edited by Nassau-Lees, Calcutta 1859;
but this scholar, with his great insight and still greater subtlety, is
too apt to read his own scholastic ideas into the Koran. The favourite
commentary of Baidáwí (_ob._ A.D. 1286) is little more than an
abridgment of Zamakhsharí’s. Thousands of commentaries on the Koran,
some of them of prodigious size,[12] have been written by Moslems; and
even the number of those still extant in manuscript is by no means
small. Although these works all contain much that is useless or false,
yet they are invaluable aids to our understanding of the sacred book. An
unbiassed European can no doubt see many things at a glance more clearly
than a good Moslem who is under the influence of religious prejudice;
but we should still be helpless without the exegetical literature of the

Even the Arab Moslem of the present day can have but a very dim and
imperfect understanding of the Koran, unless he has made a special study
of its exegesis. For the great advantage, boasted by the holy book
itself, of being perspicuous to every one, has in the course of thirteen
centuries vanished. Moreover, the general belief is that in the ritual
use of the Koran, if the correct recitation is observed, it is
immaterial whether the meaning of the words be understood or not.

A great deal remains to be accomplished by European scholarship for the
correct interpretation of the Koran. We want, for example, an exhaustive
classification and discussion of all the Jewish elements in the Koran; a
praiseworthy beginning has already been made in Geiger’s youthful essay,
_Was hat Mahomet aus dem Judenthum aufgenommen?_ We want especially a
thorough commentary, executed with the methods and resources of modern
science. No European language, it would seem, can even boast of a
translation which completely satisfies modern requirements. The best are
in English, where we have the extremely paraphrastic, but for its time
admirable translation of Sale (repeatedly printed), that of Rodwell
(1861), which seeks to give the pieces in chronological order, and that
of Palmer (1880), who wisely follows the traditional arrangements. The
introduction which accompanies Palmer’s translation is not in all
respects abreast of the most recent scholarship. Considerable extracts
from the Koran are well translated in E. W. Lane’s _Selections from the

Besides commentaries on the whole Koran, or on special parts and topics,
the Moslems possess a whole literature bearing on their sacred book.
There are works on the spelling and right pronunciation of the Koran,
works on the beauty of its language, on the number of its verses, words,
and letters, etc.; nay, there are even works which would nowadays be
called “historical and critical introductions.” Moreover, the origin of
Arabic philology is intimately connected with the recitation and
exegesis of the Koran. To exhibit the importance of the sacred book for
the whole mental life of the Moslems, would be simply to write the
history of that life itself; for there is no department in which its
all-pervading, but unfortunately not always salutary, influence has not
been felt.

The unbounded reverence of the Moslems for the Koran reaches its climax
in the dogma (which appeared at an early date through the influence of
the Christian doctrine of the eternal Word of God) that this book, as
the divine Word, _i.e._ thought, is immanent in God, and consequently
_eternal_ and _uncreated_. That dogma has been accepted by almost all
Mohammedans since the beginning of the third century. Some theologians
did indeed protest against it with great energy; it was, in fact, too
preposterous to declare that a book composed of unstable words and
letters, and full of variants, was absolutely divine. But what were the
distinctions and sophisms of the theologians for, if they could not
remove such contradictions, and convict their opponents of heresy?

The following works may be specially consulted: Weil, _Einleitung in den
Korán_, 2nd ed. 1878; Th. Nöldeke, _Geschichte des Qorân_, Göttingen,
1860; and the Lives of Mohammed by Muir and Sprenger.


[10] Originally published in the _Encyclopædia Britannica_, 9th ed.,
vol. xvi. p. 597 sqq.

[11] Since in Arabic also the root _RHM_ signifies “to have pity,” the
Arabs must have at once perceived the force of the new name.

[12] See below, p. 206, on the commentary of Khalaf.


ON the 14th of September 629, the emperor Heraclius again set up the
true Cross in Jerusalem. He had vanquished the Persians after a
desperate struggle, and compelled them to restore this most sacred of
relics, which they had carried off on their conquest of the Holy Land.
It was a day of triumph for all Christendom, which is still marked in
its calendars as the “Feast of the Elevation of the Cross.” At the very
moment of this striking celebration of the victory of Christendom over
unbelievers, we may suppose tidings to have been brought to the emperor,
that his Arabian troops beyond Jordan had been attacked by a small band
from the interior, and had only with difficulty succeeded in repelling
the violent onset. It is not likely that the news can have struck him as
implying anything very serious. Nevertheless this was the first assault
of the Moslems; it was quickly followed by others, and in a few years
Palestine and many other provinces had been for ever torn away from the
Roman empire, to which they had for seven centuries belonged, the empire
of Persia had been destroyed, and in the native lands of Christianity
and Zoroastrianism a new faith and a new people had attained an enduring
ascendency. No overturn at once so great and so rapid is recorded in

The founder of this new religion, Mohammed, son of Abdalláh, was no
martial hero. It was under the pressure of circumstances, and by the
necessities of thoughts which carried him much farther than he could
possibly have divined, that he became a prince and a conqueror. The
hysterical enthusiast, conscious of a vocation to make known the Oneness
of God, was forced into a career of battle by the opposition of his
kinsfolk and neighbours. The conviction that his light came from God
gave him strength and confidence, and raised him above every prejudice
and scruple. The character of the new religion was very powerfully
influenced by the manly spirit of some of its first confessors and
champions; both the good and the bad qualities of the Arabs, among whom
it arose, and for whom it was in the first instance promulgated, have
stamped their unmistakable impress upon it.

It may be doubted if the original teaching of any other founder of a new
religion is known to us so exactly as Mohammed’s. For the sacred book of
Mohammedanism, the Koran, consists entirely of his own revelations,
given in the name of God; and among his spoken utterances which have
been handed down by tradition there is, mixed up with a great deal that
is spurious, so much of what is genuine, that by its aid we are able at
many points to supplement the Koran. And Koran and _Sunna_, that is,
“the rule,” given by the tradition of the Prophet’s words and deeds,
have ever been regarded by Mohammedans as the sources of their religion.

In the several heads of Mohammed’s doctrine there is practically nothing
original. The Arabs of that time had outgrown their crude heathenism,
and it was only by force of habit, without real attachment, that, a
highly conservative people as they were, they held firmly by the ancient
practices. In particular, isolated ideas originating in Christianity had
become widely diffused through the agency of wandering bards. Very many
Arabs were already Christians. Their Christianity, it is true, sat but
loosely on them; for the finest elements of that religion they had no
organ. Moreover, there were in Arabia many Jews who here also
occasionally, as in Abyssinia, made numerous proselytes; but the rigid
and irksome ordinances of Judaism were suited to the nature of the proud
and untamed inhabitants of the Arabian desert as little as were the
mystical doctrines and the too ideal ethics of Christianity. Mohammed
borrowed from both religions, but especially from Judaism, those
elements which instinct rather than reflection taught him to be suited
to his countrymen. The main lines of his doctrine are a further
development of Judaism, only simpler and coarser; speaking generally, it
stands much nearer to the religion of the Old Testament than the
Christianity of the Church does.

Mohammed’s idea of God is essentially that of the Old Testament, only he
gives greater prominence to the divine omnipotence and arbitrary
sovereignty, and less to the divine holiness. He attributes to God many
human features, but these no longer have the naïve and poetic charm
possessed by so many of the Old Testament anthropomorphisms. Everything
is done and determined by God; man must submit himself blindly; whence
the religion is called _Islám_ (“surrender”), and its professor _Muslim_
(“one who surrenders himself”). Mohammed had the strongest antipathy for
the doctrines of the Trinity and the divine Sonship of Christ. True, his
acquaintance with these dogmas was superficial, and even the clauses of
the Creed that referred to them were not exactly known to him; but he
rightly felt that it was quite impossible to bring them into harmony
with simple genuine Semitic monotheism, and probably it was this
consideration alone that hindered him from embracing Christianity.

According to the Koran, God makes known His will through prophets, of
whom, in the course of time, He has sent many into the world. From Jesus
down to the time of Mohammed, it was the duty of men to follow the
former and His gospel; the Jews incurred grave sin by rejecting Him.
Jesus was greater than all the prophets before Him; but the final
revelation was first made known through Mohammed. The earlier sacred
writings taught the same doctrine as the Koran, and bear witness to
Mohammed; but they had been falsified by the Jews and the Christians.
The laws which God laid down through the prophets are not necessarily in
harmony with each other, for God changes His ordinances at will; even in
the Koran itself He sometimes cancels commandments which He had
previously laid down in that very book. Mohammed is but a frail mortal,
only chosen of God. He is subject to sin, and without the gift of
miracles bestowed on former prophets. This last limitation, which is
clearly expressed in the Koran, was, as was to be expected, very soon
explained away by his followers, and numerous miracles are accordingly
related of him.

God rewards good and punishes evil deeds; only, He is merciful, and is
easily propitiated by repentance. But the punishment of the impenitent
wicked will be fearful. The horrors of hell are vividly presented; we
can see how grievously the thought of them afflicted the Prophet
himself. In accordance with Christian precedent, he conceives of hell as
fire. In his description of the heavenly paradise, or “garden,” also,
Mohammed appropriates representations from the Old and New Testaments,
yet depicts its joys according to his own fancy. His picture of the
glory of the saints above can be properly understood only when the
reader remembers the barrenness of Mohammed’s native land and the
exceedingly simple manner of life of his countrymen. The bright-eyed
maidens who give their society to the righteous in paradise are the
innovation of a sensual nature. The crude representations of hell and
heaven took powerful hold of the Arab imagination, and unquestionably
contributed much to the diffusion and establishment of Islam. Other
eschatological imaginings, about the resurrection and the last judgment,
have an important _rôle_ in the Koran. All of them attach to older
ideas, and particularly to such as had already been borrowed from the
Persians by Judaism, and partly also by Christianity. Awe of the
judgment day was perhaps the most important cause of Mohammed’s becoming
a visionary and a prophet. The Koran has, of course, much to say of
angels and devils. Alongside of these figure also demons or _jinn_,
taken from Arab popular belief, but connected also with late Jewish
notions. The minor contradictions that naturally occur in such myths and
fancies have caused little difficulty to the ingenuity of interpreters,
and still less to the simple faith of the masses.

The ethics of Islam are not so strict or earnest as those of Judaism.
Mohammed, it is true, insists on virtuous disposition and action, and is
energetic in his denunciations of vice: he urges honourable dealing,
benevolence, placability, and so forth, and requires men ever to be
mindful of God and of the retribution beyond the grave. But he is no
rigorist. His very crass doctrine of retribution, which governs the
rules of conduct, admits the application of commercial principles: the
consequences of sins can be averted by certain penances; under certain
circumstances one can rid oneself of the duty of fulfilling an
obligation, and even perjury can be made up for by good works. In dire
necessity even the faith may be denied in words (contrast Matt. x. 32,
33); against making a free use of this permission, Mohammedans have, it
is true, been protected by their pride and the strength of their
conviction. Islam is a thoroughly practical religion, which does not
make it necessary to explain away too high demands (such as those of
Matt. v. 33-41) by artificial interpretations. The Koran also has
comfort for the persecuted and the suffering; but it is too Arab—or,
shall we say, too natural and too manly?—to declare the poor and
oppressed to be in themselves happy. The Koran, further, pronounces all
earthly things to be indeed vain; yet it takes much account of human
wants and desires, and lays down definite regulations about property and
goods. If the Prophet had immediately met with recognition in his native
town, he might perhaps have founded a contemplative monkish community;
but, driven by necessity to become the ruler of a warrior State, he had
to follow another course. After some hesitation he finally preached war
against unbelievers as such; they have no choice but between acceptance
of Islam and extermination. Only to the professors of old religions of
revelation, that is to say, in the first instance, to Jews and
Christians, does it remain lawful to live on as subjects on payment of
tribute. The Moslem’s vocation, alike in this and in the future life, is
to rule the world.

Islam has no mystical sacraments, although it has a number of external
observances. Originally Mohammed himself had attached the greatest value
to severe exercises of penance, such as watching and fasting; gradually
he relaxed much both to himself and to his followers, but an Oriental
religion wholly without mortifications of this kind is quite
unthinkable. Accordingly he made fasting in the month of Ramadán
obligatory in the sense that throughout the entire month, as long as the
sun is above the horizon, both eating and drinking are absolutely
forbidden. In Oriental heat this is a severe burden, and one can readily
believe that in the month of the fast, towards the end of the day, the
majority of the faithful are thinking much more about the enjoyments of
the coming night than about God and the hereafter. Still more important
than fasting is the _salát_. As with all Oriental Christians a certain
number of daily prayers are prescribed to the clergy, and partly also to
the laity, so Mohammed again, after some hesitation, finally fixed for
all believers that there should be five daily “prayers.” This _salát_ is
essentially different from what we call prayer. It consists in a fixed
series of bowings, prostrations, and other attitudes, accompanied by the
recitation of certain religious formulæ. Of course the worshipper is not
forbidden at other times or in other ways to call upon God in words of
his own; but to do so is not the official and obligatory action. Prayer
is preceded by an ablution; when water, a commodity of such rarity in
Arabia, is wanting, rubbing with sand can be substituted.[14] It is more
meritorious to take part in the public _salát_ of the community,
conducted by a leader (_Imám_), than to discharge the _salát_ by
oneself. Public attendance ought to be given, in particular, on Friday,
which is especially set apart for public worship, but in other respects
is regarded as a working day: the Sabbath rest is unknown to Islam. The
common prayer and its formalities have done much to give stability to
Islam. The multitudes, while doing what was indispensable for the
salvation of their souls, became trained to the habit of strictly
following a leader. As Von Kremer has pointed out, the mosque was the
drill ground for the warlike believers of early Islam.

A noteworthy survival of Arab heathenism is the pilgrimage to Mecca. In
Mohammed’s native town there was a temple called the Caaba (“the die”),
with an object of ancient veneration, “the black stone.” This sanctuary
had gradually come to be the centre of pilgrimage for the greater part
of Arabia. In connection with this a lively trade was developed, which
must have been very advantageous to the inhabitants of Mecca, the
Koraish. Still more important for these was the circumstance that their
whole territory was held to be holy and inviolable, and that they had
the most favourable opportunities for entering into friendly relations
with the various Bedouin tribes. They were thus able to maintain a
caravan traffic with the old lands of civilisation beyond the desert and
its predatory nomads. In this way they not only became prosperous, but
also gained a great intellectual superiority over the other Arabs. As a
man of Koraish, Mohammed himself had grown up in pious reverence for the
Caaba and the black stone. Properly speaking, indeed, this reverence was
at variance with the principles of his religion; but he managed to
adjust matters by his theory that these holy things had been established
by Abraham, and only abused by the heathen. Possibly in this view he was
but following some Meccan predecessor whom Jews or Christians had told
about Abraham and Ishmael. The heathen of Mecca, of course, knew nothing
about these or any other characters of the Old Testament. That the
retention of this sanctuary on Mohammed’s part was due less to
calculation than to deeply rooted religious habit, seems to be shown by
this, among other things, that between his emigration and the capture of
Mecca, he frequently expressed his sorrow at being excluded from free
participation in the ceremonies there. When at last he made his entry as
a conqueror, he did away with all the open signs of idolatry, and in his
last Pilgrimage, shortly before his death, he finally fixed the
observances—some of them very peculiar—to be followed. Everything
heathenish was to disappear; or, if various things of that nature
remained, they were uncomprehended, and therefore inoffensive. Yet one
rock of offence was unremoved—the veneration of the old fetish—the
black stone, a veneration to which some consistent Moslems could only
reluctantly bring themselves, and which in later times is occasionally
even scoffed at by less steadfast believers. In strictness it is the
duty of every Moslem to take part in the yearly pilgrimage as often as
he can; but it is not contrary to the intention of Mohammed (who was
always ready to take account of practical difficulties), if the proviso
“as he can” is strongly accentuated in practice, and thus comparatively
few join in the expedition from the more distant lands of Mohammedanism.
With all this the pilgrimage has been a chief pillar of Islam. In Mecca
the most pious Moslems still meet from year to year out of regions so
remote as Turkestan, British and Dutch India, the Turkish dominions,
Morocco, and Nigritia, and exchange ideas and prejudices; a custom which
naturally helps to maintain the unity of the faith. What is of
particular importance is that many of the most zealous and learned
pilgrims stay permanently in Mecca, and from this centre labour to
promote the pure faith, and hostility against all idolaters (Europeans
in particular).

Another relic of rude heathenism handed down from hoary antiquity is
circumcision. It is not specially enjoined in the Koran, but is taken
for granted as being the custom with all Arabs. It is not, however,
theoretically at least, an integral part of religion, as it is in

Like the Jews, Mohammed puts a high value upon alms. Gradually, however,
he changed the freewill offering of love into a formal and somewhat
heavy tax, out of which not only were the poor supported, but also the
expenses of government were met.

Mohammed’s laws relating to food are not nearly so complicated as those
of the Jews. The animals of which the Moslem, whether by Mohammed’s
injunction or by some later rule, may not eat are mostly such as men are
naturally averse to (_e.g._ carnivora). Only the pig and the dog are
wholly unclean. Moreover, it is lawful to eat only of such animals as
have been duly slaughtered with the formula: “In the name of God, the
compassionate Compassioner.” The Moslem, like the Jew, and, strictly
speaking, the Christian also (Acts xv. 20, 29, xxi. 25), is enjoined to
abstain from blood. But, in danger of death by starvation, he is
permitted the use of any food. Wine is interdicted; and under this name
the legislature meant to include all intoxicating drinks. No impartial
observer will deny that this regulation, much as it has been broken, has
proved a real blessing to all the lands of Islam. It is not certain
whether the prohibition of a favourite Arab game of chance (_meisir_),
in which pointless arrows were used as lots, is intended to include all
forms of gambling; perhaps Mohammed had in view only the heathenish
practices, or the wastefulness, that used to be associated with the

On the whole the ritual commands and prohibitions of Islam do not bear
with excessive hardness on the life of the Oriental, which in any case
moves somewhat monotonously in fixed forms. Of the anxious scrupulosity
with which Judaism discusses “clean” and “unclean,” “lawful” and
“unlawful,” there are but few traces, even in the writings of the later
theologians of Islam, not to speak of Mohammed himself, or the life of
his followers until now.

Religion and the law of the State are not separated in Islam. Here,
accordingly, properly speaking, would be the place for considering the
whole system of civil and criminal law which Mohammed gave in the Koran
or in his spoken utterances. In his decisions, which were usually
occasioned by some particular case definitely before him at the moment,
he follows partly Arabian partly Jewish custom, but very often also the
promptings of his own mind. Completely to abolish blood revenge would
have been impossible, and probably was never in his thoughts; he only
bound it to the observance of certain forms. It is not the executive,
but the nearest relative of the slain that decides whether the murderer
shall die, or whether he shall buy himself off.

The anomalies that can result when an individual man essays permanently
to fix the order of Church and State according to his own discretion on
the spur of the moment, are exemplified with singular clearness in the
Moslem calendar. The Arabs, like the majority of ancient peoples, had a
year of twelve true (lunar) months; and this, as often as seemed to be
required, they brought roughly into accordance with the solar year by
the intercalation of a thirteenth month. The intercalation was not very
skilful, it is true; still any trifling derangements of the calendar
which may have resulted were not such as could produce any practical
inconveniences in the simple relations of life in those days. But
Mohammed, who objected either to the inequality of the year, now of
twelve now of thirteen months, or to the connection that subsisted
between this arrangement of the calendar and the heathen system, shortly
before his death unfortunately took it into his head to ordain that
Moslems should have a movable lunar year of twelve lunar months, without
any intercalations whatever. Every Mohammedan year is thus some ten days
shorter than the solar year which governs the course of nature; so that
the Mohammedan festivals move in succession through all the seasons.[15]
The husbandman must accordingly everywhere provide himself with a second
(Christian or Persian) calendar, based upon the solar year, in addition
to the ecclesiastical one. A Mohammedan at thirty-three is no older than
a Christian at thirty-two. The conversion of Mohammedan into Julian or
(what is worse) Gregorian dates, is for the student who has not the
requisite tables at hand a very laborious task.

The position of women was left by Mohammed essentially where it had been
among the Arabs. He limited polygamy somewhat, and made the separation
of women from men rather more strict. But Islam changed for the worse
the lot of women in those countries where polygamy had already
disappeared, and divorce was not so easy or so common as among the
Arabs. That the husband can dismiss the wife at any time, a moment of
ill-temper thus very often resulting in a divorce, is, moreover, a far
worse evil for Moslem society than its polygamy (which in practice is
not very extensive), or the permission it gives to take female slaves as
concubines. The Bedouins, who then, as they still do, showed the most
chivalrous respect for a defenceless woman, nevertheless placed the
weaker sex so low that they had no scruple in burying new-born girls
alive. This barbarity, which perhaps never occurred in the more
prosperous towns, was opposed by Mohammed at the very outset of his
career, and he afterwards completely suppressed it. The Arabs, further,
in their wars were accustomed to carry off the wives and children of
their enemies as prisoners or slaves; between Moslems this totally
ceased. On the other hand, by giving up the holy month’s “truce of God,”
Mohammed inflicted a serious injury on his country. His wish was to put
an end to all wars among his followers, but in this he was least
successful of all in Arabia, where to this day the feuds never cease
from year’s end to year’s end.

The thought of abolishing slavery never so much as occurred to Mohammed
any more that it did to the apostles; but he declared manumission of
slaves to be a meritorious deed, and he gave to slaves a certain
security in the eye of the law.

Islam in its original form as a whole ranks far below primitive
Christianity. In many respects it is not to be compared even with such
Christianity as prevailed, and still prevails, in the East; but in other
points, again, the new faith, simple, robust, in the vigour of its
youth, far surpassed the religion of the Syrian and Egyptian Christians,
which was in a stagnating condition, and steadily sinking lower and
lower into barbarism. Above all things, Islam gave, and gives, to those
who profess it a feeling of confidence such as is imparted by hardly any
other faith. The Moslem is proud of being a Moslem; he is convinced that
he is preferred by God before all other men, whom accordingly he
despises as fuel appointed for hell-fire. The Christian is bidden enter
into his closet to pray; the Moslem takes his stand, and especially when
unbelievers are near, in as conspicuous a place as possible for the
performance of his ceremonies of prayer. His heart has little part in
these, but he nevertheless feels himself raised by them, and equally so
whether he rightly understands the Arabic formulæ he repeats or not.
Islam is not very well fitted to produce purity and delicacy of feeling;
we shall be justified if we assume that during the first centuries of
its existence many a deep and finely-touched spirit had to pass through
severe inward struggles because his religious needs were not satisfied
by it. But all such struggles fully fought themselves out long ago, and
deep peace now fills every Moslem’s heart. All those who make faith and
assurance of salvation the chief heads of religion, ought to work for
Islam. A religion amongst the followers of which suicide is almost
absolutely unknown, has surely some claim on our respect.

After Mohammed’s death (8th June 632) the most prominent of his
companions united to elect as his successor Abú Bekr, who had been his
most trusted friend. At first, indeed, it had cost some trouble to get
the Medinites, the old “helpers” of Mohammed, off the idea that one of
themselves ought to become the leader. But no attention was paid to the
sulking of Alí, whose wife, Fátima, was the only surviving child of his
cousin Mohammed. There was no doubt that the choice of Abú Bekr was what
the Prophet himself would have desired. But hardly had the Arabs heard
of Mohammed’s death when they rebelled _en masse_. Many renounced Islam
entirely; many attached themselves to new prophets who arose here and
there after the pattern of the Prophet of Mecca; others were willing to
retain Moslem prayer indeed, but not to pay taxes; in a word, Mohammed’s
whole work was brought into question. Then it was that the strength of
Islam, and of a firm will, was shown. Abú Bekr, assured as he was in his
own faith, scorned, even in the hour of most pressing need, to make any
concession whatever to the insurgents; he insisted on absolute
submission to the commands of Islam. The insurrections, which were
unconnected with each other, were for the most part easily quelled by
the Moslems, led as they were by a single will; but in some instances
torrents of blood had first to be shed. The military merit of these
deeds belongs chiefly to Khálid, “the sword of God,” a man of Koraish,
like almost all the prominent warriors and statesmen of that time, the
same who nine years before had turned the battle in favour of the
unbelieving Meccans against Mohammed at Mount Ohod.

As soon as all Arabia had been again brought into subjection, the great
wars of conquest began. It was certainly good policy to turn the
recently subdued tribes of the wilderness towards an external aim in
which they might at once satisfy their lust for booty on a grand scale,
maintain their warlike feeling, and strengthen themselves in their
attachment to the new faith. But I do not believe those undertakings to
have been mainly the result of cool political calculation. Mohammed
himself had already sent expeditions across the Roman frontier, and
thereby had pointed out the way to his successors. To follow in his
footsteps was in accordance with the innermost being of the youthful
Islam, already grown great amid the tumult of arms. The Bedouins knew
uncommonly little Koran, but on such children of nature it is success
that makes the deepest impression. That faith which had subdued
themselves, and which was now leading them on to victory and plunder,
must be true; very soon there was no one to doubt this. Though the
nomads among the Arabs have naturally few religious needs, they yet
possess as the purest of all Semites a deeply-seated religious
disposition; and this simple religion, which corresponded to their
inclinations and flattered their self-esteem, soon took entire
possession of them. Under the sagacious, clear-headed, and strong-handed
Omar (634-644), the fresh force of the new faith, and the warlike
disposition of the Arab people, now united for the first time, and led
by great generals, speedily achieved successes against the Romans and
the Persians of which Mohammed had never so much as dreamed. This
astonishing overturn is, when all has been said, not easy of
explanation. It is indeed true that both empires were in a state of
decay. Both were at the moment terribly weakened by the wars they had
waged with each other during the first three decades of the century. The
Persian empire, which had finally been vanquished after long years of
victory, had, moreover, been shaken both before and after the conclusion
of the peace by bloody struggles about the succession to the throne. On
the other hand, both Byzantium and Persia had at their command genuine
soldiers regularly armed and disciplined. The traditions of Roman
warfare were not yet entirely lost, and the Persians still possessed
their dreaded cuirassiers, before whom, in better times, even the armies
of Rome had often fled. The reduction of the fortified towns must in any
case have been at least as severe a task to the Arabs as it was to the
Goths and Huns, who were by nature much more warlike peoples. Moreover,
Persia, when the chief attack upon its territory was made, happened to
have come once more under the rule of a firm hand. Its king, indeed,
Yezdegerd III., was a boy; but the royal power and the command of the
army were held by a man of energy and bravery—Rustem, the head of one
of the first princely houses of the empire. Yet these wretchedly armed
Arabs, fighting, not in regularly organised military divisions, but by
families and clans, and under leaders who never before had faced
disciplined troops, after long struggle overcame Rustem and his mighty
hosts (636); soon afterwards took the fortified capital, Ctesiphon
(637); and, a few years later, by the decisive battle of Neháwend (640,
641, or 642), brought the empire itself to the ground. How was such a
thing possible? The Arabs’ own explanation indeed was very simple: “God
took away the courage of the uncircumcised;” “God smote the Persians;”
“God slew Rustem.” In such words, so thoroughly like those of the Old
Testament, we can only recognise how great a force lies in the rudest
religious conviction. Almost more marvellous are the conquests they
gained on Roman territory. The emperor Heraclius was certainly the
greatest man who had held the empire since Constantine and Julian. He
was an astute diplomatist, a very competent general, and, as a soldier,
bold even to rashness. How could it come about that he of all men was
compelled to yield up to the sons of the desert the territories he had
wrested back from the Persians? We certainly are aware of one or two
circumstances which made their conquests easier to the Arabs. Most of
the inhabitants of Syria, and almost all the Egyptians, were Monophysite
heretics, and as such had experienced great oppression at the hands of
the Orthodox Byzantines; they accordingly aided and abetted the Arabs as
occasion offered, especially as they might promise themselves some
relief of the burden of taxation through the latter. The Syrian
Nestorians also, who formed the majority of the inhabitants of the
richest lands of the Persian empire (those on the Tigris and on the
lower Euphrates), we may believe to have been more favourably inclined
to the Arabs than to the Persians. But in connection with conquests like
these, much weight is hardly to be assigned to the sympathies and
antipathies of unwarlike peasants and townsmen. More important, perhaps,
is the circumstance that the numerous Arab tribes, which had been
subject to the Roman and Persian rule although for the most part
nominally Christian, appear to have gone over to the Moslems almost
unanimously soon after the first victories. It would be possible to
multiply explanations still further, yet the phenomenon continues
mysterious as before. Rhetorical expressions about the decaying
condition of both empires, and the youthful energy of the Moslems, are
unsatisfying to the inquirer who keeps the concrete facts before him.

Omar, who became Mohammed’s successor or “substitute” (_Khalífa_) after
Abú Bekr’s brief rule of two years, and who was the first to assume the
title of “Commander of the Faithful” (_Emír almúminín_), organised a
complete military-religious commonwealth. The Arabs, the people of God,
became a nation of warriors and rulers. The precepts of the religion
were strictly maintained; the Caliph lived as simply as the meanest of
his subjects. But the enormous booty and the taxes levied on the
vanquished supplied the means of giving adequate pay to every Arab. This
pay, the amount of which was graduated according to a definite scale,
and in which women and children also participated, was raised as the
revenues increased. For the leading principle was that everything won
from enemies and subjects belonged to Moslems collectively, and
therefore all that remained over after payment of common expenses had to
be divided. But in the conquered territories the Arabs were not allowed
to hold landed property; they were only to set up camps. It was bad for
Islam, but good for the world, that this military communist constitution
did not last long. It was contrary to human nature; and, besides, the
receipts did not permanently continue to come in on such a scale as
afforded adequate pay to every one. The principle also, that new
converts of foreign nationality must be placed on a level with the
Arabs, was not yet capable of being fully carried out; the aristocratic
feeling of the Arabs long stood out against making a reality of that
equality among its professors which Islam demanded.

Under Omar’s successor, Othmán (644-656), the field of conquest was
still further and greatly extended; but the purely warlike character of
the State was nevertheless already somewhat abated, permission being now
given to Arabs to hold landed property in the newly-acquired regions.
The landed proprietor and the peasant are naturally less inclined for
expeditions of distant conquest than is the mere soldier. The principle
of at least relative equality in profit-sharing was violently broken
through by the bestowal of crown domains on persons of prominence. The
conversion of the religious into a secular State followed rapidly and
inevitably. The secular State, it is true, still remained in relations
of the closest kind with religion,—much closer than those of the
so-called Christian State anywhere in modern times,—but the attempts to
set up the empire of Islam again upon a purely religious basis ended in

In the supreme command there was no hereditary succession. Abú Bekr was,
as we have seen, chosen to be Caliph by the most influential Meccan
Companions of the Prophet. Abú Bekr himself had finally nominated as his
successor Omar, his right-hand man, and the second most intimate friend
and counsellor of the Prophet. Omar, himself the ideal of a Moslem
ruler, clearly thought none of his own companions quite worthy of the
command. He arranged accordingly that after his death five of the most
distinguished of the old friends of Mohammed should decide as to who
among themselves ought to succeed. After long deliberation they united
upon Othmán. Now Othmán had been, it is true, one of the very first to
acknowledge Mohammed as a prophet, and he had successively married two
daughters of the latter; but he belonged to the Omayyads, one of the
most prominent families of pre-Islamite Mecca, the head of which, Abú
Sufyán, had for years been leader in the struggle against Mohammed and
the Medinites. Preference for kinsmen is deeply seated in the blood of
every genuine Arab, and the Prophet himself was not free from it. Omar,
who in many respects was a more consistent exponent of Islam than
Mohammed, never laid himself open to the smallest charge of nepotism,
but Othmán was a weak man; he showed exorbitant favour to his relatives,
and in a short time a number of the most important and profitable posts
were in the hands of Omayyads—able men for the most part, but of an
intensely worldly disposition. The good Othmán was not himself conscious
of anything wrong in this; but many of his subjects saw the matter in
another light. The righteous indignation of some strict Moslems, the
tumultuary disposition of the mass of the people, and very specially
also the instigations of three of the five men who had formed the
electoral college after Omar’s death,—Alí, Talha, and Zubair,—as also
of Aïsha, daughter of Abú Bekr, and the intriguing favourite of the
Prophet, resulted in a rebellion, in which the grey-headed Othmán was
put to death (17th June 656). This deed of violence was an evil
precedent for many subsequent scenes of terror, the beginning of bloody
civil wars, and eventual schisms. The slayers of Othmán called Alí to
the caliphate; Talha and Zubair also acknowledged him, but soon broke
their word, and united with Aïsha against him. Alí’s bravery was soon a
match for these enemies; but already another and more formidable
opponent had arisen in the person of the astute Moáwiya, son of the Abú
Sufyán mentioned above, who had long been governor of Syria, and held
sway there like a prince. The struggle was carried on with animosity for
years. Moáwiya came forward as avenger of his kinsman Othmán. As the
powerful head of the family, he was, according to old Arab ideas, well
entitled, and indeed bound to do this, and Islam had not abolished this
view of his duty. But, as successor of Mohammed, the son of the man who
had led the heathen against him at Ohod and in the battle of the Fosse,
could, of course, set up no other claim than the unconditional
attachment of his troops and the superiority of his own genius. Alí also
was without hereditary right, and the proclamation by Othmán’s slayers
was a very doubtful title in law; but as kinsman, favourite, pupil,
son-in-law of Mohammed, he might well seem better suited to represent
the interests of religion than Moáwiya, who also, however, appears to
have been an acceptable person with the Prophet in his declining years.
The Moslems who were faithful to their convictions accordingly went over
for the most part to Alí’s side, especially the Medinites, who (or their
fathers) had once fought Mohammed’s battles, but were now being more and
more thrust into the background by the lukewarm Moslems of Mecca. In the
heat of controversy the view for the first time germinated that Alí had
a divine right to the supreme power, and that even Abú Bekr, Omar, and
Othmán had been usurpers. Those who hold this view are the Shíites
proper, the partisans (_shía_) of Alí. The great majority of the
Moslems, on the other hand, recognise, indeed, Alí’s right as against
Moáwiya, but also hold the first three caliphs for legitimate. And,
indeed, many good Moslems stood by Moáwiya in this struggle, and by
other sovereigns of his family thereafter, though since the fall of the
Omayyads few Moslems would justify Moáwiya’s appearance against Alí. In
the disorders of this time there now arose also a new extreme radical
party, who denied the right of all claimants, and awarded the command to
“the best.” These people, the Kharijites (_Khawárij_, “dissenters”),
certainly had hold of a fundamental idea of Moslem, which they developed
to the utmost; they were in a certain sense in the right, but on such
principles as theirs it would be impossible to establish any State, and
least of all in the East. They were fanatics who sought to carry out
their ideas with the wildest energy and the most desperate bravery, and
to a certain extent they maintained a loyalty to conviction worthy of
all admiration; but they only caused a great deal of suffering, and
produced nothing. The controversy about the caliphate has long ago
ceased to have any concrete bearings, but it still continues to divide
the Mohammedan world. Historical tradition on the subject is very rich,
but greatly coloured by party feeling. It is much too favourable to Alí,
and fails to show Moáwiya quite in his full historical importance.
Naturally it does not allow us to see, except dimly, that at bottom the
struggles really had reference merely to the plunder, and were only the
expression in another direction of the same wild warrior spirit which
shortly before had gained the mastery over Persians and Romans. In the
older time, however, people were sometimes able to see rather more
clearly how much of human passion—very often passion of the lowest
kind—was at work in these civil wars in spite of all the religious
party cries. To a truly pious Moslem it must often have caused the
gravest reflections to see how unworthily such persons as Talha, Zubair,
Aïsha, and, essentially, Alí also had conducted themselves, while yet
the Prophet had long before promised a place in heaven to them all.

Alí was a thoroughly brave man, but could hardly be called a general,
was certainly wanting in true insight, and in no sense whatever born to
be a leader. He fell (22nd January 661) by the dagger of one of three
Kharijites who had brought themselves under an oath to remove both the
rivals, and also Amr, the powerful governor of Egypt, so as to make a
free choice possible; but the attempts on Moáwiya and on Amr failed. By
this deed of blood Alí was delivered from the humiliation of living to
see everything fall to the clever Omayyad. The death of the rival left
the road clear; Moáwiya assumed the title of Caliph. Alí’s incapable
son, Hasan, gave in his submission without much difficulty, in
consideration of a handsome pension. The governor of Syria, now
universally recognised as chief of the Believers, paid every regard to
the stricter Moslems; his outward demeanour was entirely that of a
spiritual prince (he preached, for example, every Friday in the mosque,
as the Prophet and previous Caliphs had done, and as was also the
practice of provincial governors and of generals), but he was none the
less a secular ruler. The support of himself and of his house were “the
people of Syria,”—that is to say, not, of course, the old inhabitants
of the country, but the Arab troops that had settled there. The
Omayyads, accordingly, were compelled to retain Damascus, the most
important town in Syria, as their capital, although it had no such
religious nimbus as invested Medina, the residence of the Prophet and
his first successors, and although it lay too far to the west to be a
good point from which to keep watch over the numerous subject countries
in the east. The Omayyad rule set up by Moáwiya had to encounter many
storms. The unchurchly and even frivolous demeanour of some members of
the dynasty embittered the Faithful and encouraged a variety of
pretenders, as well as the wild Kharijites, to repeated outbreaks, which
were not suppressed without much bloodshed. Twice was the holy city of
Mecca desecrated by troops of the Omayyad Caliphs (683 and 692); and the
unruly sons and grandsons of Mohammed’s most faithful champions, the
Medinites, were cut down by the soldiers of Yezíd, Moáwiya’s son, in
their native place, the city of the Prophet (28th August 683). It was
against this same Caliph, a man pretty much without religion, that Alí’s
second son Husain also rose in rebellion. The rising, like most others
that proceeded from the family of Alí, was begun and carried on in a
headless way, and was suppressed with little trouble. To all appearance
it was an affair of absolutely no consequence; but the way in which men
regard a matter is often more important than the matter itself. Even
contemporaries were deeply impressed to see the grandson of the Prophet
put to death by the satellites of the profane Caliph, and his bloody
head set up to open show after the common fashion of the East. Husain,
the thoughtless rebel, was in the eyes of pious Moslems metamorphosed
into a martyr, and his glory grew with time. The cry of “vengeance for
Husain” contributed much to the downfall of the Omayyad throne. To this
day the Shíites observe the anniversary of Husain’s death as a day of
mourning, which never fails to stir up deep emotion and wild rage in
their bosoms; and with them Kerbelá, where he perished on 12th October
681, is a site almost as holy as Mecca and Medina. The non-Shíite
Mohammedans also acknowledge Husain to have been a holy martyr, and hold
in the deepest abhorrence the light-living but by no means wicked
Yezíd.—If the dynasty of the Omayyad Caliphs was imperilled by the
hostility of the stricter Moslems, it received injury from another
quarter through the religious zeal of the only really pious man among
them, the honest but narrow idealist Omar II. (717-720), who sought with
all his might to bring the Koran into practice, and to restore once more
the constitution of Omar, but of course brought about dire
disorganisation as the sole result.

Although the Omayyads produced great rulers, they failed, for various
reasons, to establish an enduring empire. Their fall was inevitable when
they themselves, and with them the Syrian troops on whose support they
were wholly dependent, began to quarrel; and a rival family came upon
the scene, that of the Abbásids. The descendants of Mohammed’s uncle
Abbás, who became a convert to Islam only on the capture of Mecca, and
who never had any conspicuous _rôle_, lived for a long time in
obscurity. But now they had the wit to turn to account the powerful
apparatus which the descendants of Alí had prepared for the undermining
of the empire. Much was made of ambiguous expressions, such as “the
right of the house of Háshim” (which included Abbás as well as Alí) and
“the right of the family of the Prophet” (which might suggest his uncle
quite as readily as his cousin and son-in-law); there was word also of
an alleged transfer of the hereditary right by one of the descendants of
Alí to the Abbásids. The chiefs of the latter family succeeded in
winning over to their side a large portion of the troops in the remoter
part of Eastern Persia (Khorásán), which could not be kept under firm
control from Damascus. These troops consisted for the most part of
Persians who had accepted Islam, but were anything but friendly to the
Arabs. After severe struggles the Abbásids were victorious (750). Few
members of the fallen house escaped the terrible massacre.

The triumph of the Abbásids made an end of the purely Arab, and at the
same time of the purely Semitic, State; in it we see, in a great
measure, a reaction of the Persian element, and a repristination of the
old Asiatic world-empires, the structure of which had been at least a
little more stable. It was not a mere casual circumstance that forthwith
and from the first the seat of government was transferred to where it
had been held successively by Achemenids, Arsacids, and Sásánians,—the
plains of the lower Euphrates and Tigris. There arose the proud city of
the Caliphs, Bagdad. The Abbásids paid more external respect to religion
than the Omayyads had done, but they were in reality quite as
worldly-minded. Over and above this, there showed itself in them a very
unpleasing strain of insincerity. The first two Caliphs of the family
were nevertheless very considerable men. The second in particular,
Mansúr (754-775), was one of the greatest princes, one of the most
unscrupulous also, that ever have guided a mighty empire. He it was who
established the Mohammedan empire on a firm basis.[16] Under his
grandson Hárún ar-Rashíd (786-809) the caliphate unquestionably enjoyed
its period of greatest splendour, although Hárún himself was very far
from being a great ruler. In his day almost all the lands from the
Jaxartes and the Indus to near the Pillars of Hercules obeyed the
Caliph. The Arabs had ceased to be the props of the empire, but the
Arabic language had spread far and wide; it was the language of
religion, of government, of poetry, and of the science that was just
rising. On the banks of the Tigris there flourished a civilisation more
brilliant than under the best of the Sásánians. A fair measure of quiet
prevailed in most of the provinces, and thus the enormous prodigality of
the court did not press upon the subjects beyond endurance. Syria and
the adjoining lands found themselves in better circumstances than they
had for a long time experienced. True, the administration was very
defective if judged according to modern ideas; but good government in
the East must be measured by a very modest standard. The Christian
population had gone over to Islam _en masse_. The desire to stand on an
equality with the conquerors in the eye of the law, and to pay
diminished taxes, was, of course, a powerful motive to this; but no less
strong an influence was the suitability of Islam to Oriental peasants
and townsfolk of the humbler class, especially as God Himself had by the
event declared Himself in its favour. The Christian Churches of the East
have never been very persevering in their zeal to educate and elevate
their adherents on the spiritual side; they have always attached the
principal importance to the externalities of worship, confessional
formulas, and the condemnation of heretics. A fact specially worthy of
note is that Islam was accepted by a majority of the East-Syrian
Christians even,—the Nestorians of the lands watered by the Tigris,
whose ancestors could not be brought to apostasy by all the fierce
persecutions of the Persian kings. In explaining this result, perhaps
some weight ought to be assigned also to the consideration that, in
adopting the priestless religion of Islam, the Christians got rid of the
tutelage and oppression of their own clergy. Speaking generally, the
civilisation of the Syrians, Copts, and other Oriental Christians lost
but little by their change of faith. Islam, of course, severed many old
associations that made for culture, but in compensation for these it
called many new germs into life. Conversions were seldom due to direct
compulsion. The pious rejoiced when Christians accepted Islam in crowds;
but to the rulers these conversions were, for the most part, positively
unwelcome, as the converts were thereby relieved from the heaviest of
the taxes, and their change of faith thus meant a serious decrease of
revenue. Nor were Christians systematically maltreated. They had indeed
to suffer much repression and scorn, and to make up their minds to a
position of inferiority; for, apart from the legal inferiority of
non-Moslems as merely protected aliens, Islam gives to its followers a
tone of haughty contempt for all outsiders.[17] Moreover, the lords,
great and small, whose exactions pressed so hard even on their Moslem
subjects, saw still less reason to spare unbelievers. But this is the
Oriental way in everything. The different Christian Churches might keep
up their controversies as before, if they chose, but they could no
longer actually persecute one another. It was certainly easier for a man
to live as a Christian under the rule of the Caliphs than as a Christian
heretic within the Byzantine empire. The situation of the adherents of
the old Persian religion in the East was similar to that of the
Christians in the West, save that their legal position was not so firmly
secured by unambiguous passages of the Koran. In some parts of the old
Persian empire conversion to Islam on a large scale took place very
early; but in others, and particularly in Persia proper, the national
faith long persisted with great tenacity.

The decline of the Abbásid caliphate begins with the celebrated Mámún
(813-833). Hárún by his last will had foolishly divided the empire
between his sons Amín and Mámún, but reserving for the former the
suzerainty and title of Caliph. The natural consequence was civil war.
After desperate struggles the incapable Amín, who both on the father’s
and on the mother’s side was a descendant of Mansúr, lost his throne and
life through the Khorásán troops of Mámún, whose mother had been a
Persian slave. It was a fresh victory of the Persian over the Arabian
interest. Through these occurrences, which were followed by further
confusions, the governors who headed the troops of their respective
provinces, and also the commanders of the mercenaries, in many cases
reached a dangerous degree of power. Táhir, to whom Mámún was mainly
indebted for his successes, established for himself, and handed on to
his descendants, in the important province of Khorásán, a principality
which was but loosely dependent on the caliphate. Mámún knew neither how
to keep his victorious generals in their proper places, nor how to
destroy them, as Mansúr had done. That he was hindered by scruples of
conscience, no one will believe who duly considers his conduct towards
Músá, the descendant of Alí. In order to win over the still powerful
Shíite party, Mámún had made it great concessions, and had taken steps,
which can hardly have been sincere, to secure the succession to Músá.
But when he came to encounter the energetic opposition of his own house
and its immediate dependants, he secretly made away with that
unfortunate prince. Mámún had great interest in art and science, and
favoured the translation into Arabic of Greek scientific works. But
along with this he had an unfortunate liking for theological

The Caliphs from this time leaned for support on great bands of foreign
mercenaries, chiefly Turks, and their captains became the real lords of
the empire as soon as they realised their own strength. How thoroughly
the Abbásid caliphate had been undermined was shown all at once in a
shocking manner, when the Caliph Mutawakkil was murdered by his own
servants at the command of his son, and the parricide Muntasir set upon
the throne in his stead (Dec. 861). The power of the Caliphs was now at
an end; they became the mere playthings of their own savage warriors.
The remoter, sometimes even the nearer, provinces were practically
independent. The princes formally recognised the Caliph as their
sovereign, stamped his name upon their coins, and gave it precedence in
public prayer, but these were honours without any solid value. Some
Caliphs, indeed, recovered a measure of real power, but only as rulers
of a much diminished State. Theoretically the fiction of an undivided
empire of Islam was maintained, but it had long ceased to be a reality.
The names of Caliph, Commander of the Faithful, Imám, continued still to
inspire some reverence; the theological doctors of law insisted that the
Caliph, in spiritual things at least, must everywhere bear rule, and
control all judicial posts; but even theoretically his position was far
behind that of a pope, and in practice was not for a moment to be
compared to it. The Caliph never was the head of a true hierarchy;
Islam, in fact, knows no priesthood on which such a system could have
rested. In the tenth century the Búids, three brothers who had left the
hardly converted Gílán (the mountainous district at the south-west angle
of the Caspian Sea) as poor adventurers, succeeded in conquering for
themselves the sovereign command over wide domains, and over Bagdad
itself. They even proposed to themselves to displace the Abbásids and
set descendants of Alí upon the throne, and abandoned the idea only
because they feared that a Caliph of the house of Alí might exercise too
great an authority over their Shíite soldiers, and so become
independent; while, on the other hand, they could make use of these
troops for any violence they chose against the Abbásid puppet who sat in
Mansúr’s seat.

It was this period that for the first time witnessed any great successes
of the Shíites. Out of what had originally been a political party a
sect, or rather a number of sects, had gradually grown. The doctrine of
the divine right of Alí and his descendants had under foreign
influences, Christian and Persian, gradually developed into a complete
or partial deification. At the beginning of the Abbásid period there
were some who taught the divinity of Alí without qualification, and if
the majority of Shíites energetically repudiated this, they nevertheless
believed in a supernatural, divine illumination of Alí and his
descendants the Imáms, or even that the Spirit of God passed from the
one to the other of these. As early as 750, dreams were cherished of the
Messianic return of “a hidden Imám;” and the names of Abú Bekr, Omar,
and Aïsha were cursed more fervently than those of the Omayyads. Here,
as in other things, the ground of Islam was entirely abandoned; but men,
of course, concealed this from themselves, by putting allegorical
interpretations upon the sacred book, and by setting up against the
(certainly much falsified) tradition or “sunna” of the orthodox
(“Sunnites”) a still more falsified sunna of their own. Moreover, from
the simple Shíitism that is still essentially Islamitic, many
intermediate connecting links lead over to strange heathenish sects, as
offshoots of which we still have (for example) the Druses and the
Nosairians. The first actually Shíite empire on a large scale was that
of the Fatimid Caliphs, founded (about 910) by Obaidalláh, a real or
alleged descendant of Alí. He thoroughly understood how to utilise the
credulity of the Berbers so as to become master over large territories
in North Africa. But his connections reached also far into Asia. He and
his successors allowed themselves to be regarded by their intimate
dependants as supernatural beings. A court poet says (about 970) of the
Fatimid, in whose service he is, things which the genuine Moslem could
at most allow to be said of the Prophet himself. Thus in some measure we
are able to understand how it has come to pass that one of them, and he
the crazy Hákim (996-1021), is worshipped by the Druses as God. But
while the Fatimids imposed some reserve upon themselves in their own
proper kingdom, where the Shíites were certainly in the minority, they
gave a free hand to their partisans elsewhere. The Karmatians in Arabia
utilised the plundering zeal of the Bedouins for their own ends,
threatened the capital of the Abbásids, fell upon the pilgrim caravans,
and finally, during the pilgrim festival, forced their way on one
occasion into Mecca, perpetrated a horrible massacre, and carried off
the black stone of the Caaba (930). This was an open breach with Islam.
The Fatimid Caliph disavowed the Karmatians, but we know that they had
acted on his suggestion, and they subsequently (951), at the command of
his successor, again restored the holy stone for a heavy payment. After
their conquest of Egypt (969) the Fatimids were the most powerful
princes of Islam, and it seemed at times as if even the form of power
had passed from the Abbásids. The Fatimids, moreover, governed
excellently as a rule, and brought Egypt to a high pitch of prosperity.
But at last they, too, shared the usual fate of Oriental dynasties; the
Abbásids lived to see the utter downfall (1171) of their worst rivals,
and continued to enjoy for nearly a century longer the empty
satisfaction of being named in public prayer in Egypt as Commanders of
the Faithful. Since then there has never been another Shíite Caliph.

In the history of Islamite peoples the politico-religious controversies
which turned upon the right to the caliphate are by far the most
important. But alongside of these there were a multitude of purely
dogmatic disputes. Above all, Islam was agitated with the old and ever
new question as to whether, and how far, man is a free or a determined
agent in his purposes and actions. The Koran, generally speaking,
teaches a rather crass determinism. According to the Koran, God is the
author of everything, including the dispositions of men; He guides whom
He wills, and leads into error whom He wills. But at a very early period
some pious souls began to take offence at the horrible thought that God
should thus have foreordained multitudes of men to sin and to the
everlasting pains of hell. They could recognise a divine righteousness
only if God leaves men free to choose between good and evil, and
determines the retribution according to the character of the choice.
They found points of support for this doctrine of theirs in the Koran
itself; for Mohammed, who was anything but a consistent thinker, has in
his revelations often treated man as free. A popular teacher of religion
will, it is clear, whatever be his inclination to determinism,
inevitably find himself ever and anon addressing himself to his hearers,
in his exhortations to faith and virtue, as if they were in possession
of freedom of will. The people who taught in this strain were called
Kadarites. Possibly they were not wholly exempt from Christian
influences. The procedure of their successors, the Mutazila
(“Dissidents”), was more systematic. They constituted a school of a
strongly rationalistic tendency, and with the aid of Greek dialectic,
with which the Arabs became acquainted first in a limited degree, and
afterwards much more fully, through the Syrians, reduced their orthodox
opponents to desperation. They also opposed with special zeal the
proposition that the Koran is uncreated.[18] This dogma was certainly in
flagrant contradiction to the fundamental position of the Koran itself.
On this point the Mutazila were in reality the orthodox; but it could
hardly fail to happen that in the heat of debate some went further, and
thought of the Koran altogether more lightly than befits a Moslem. The
fair beginning of a truly progressive movement which was involved in
this was inevitably checked within Islam at a very early stage. The
school of the Mutazila could hardly have attained to any significance at
all had it not been favoured by some of the earlier Abbásids. Mámún
especially took sides with great zeal for the doctrine that the Koran is
created. But that he is not on this account to be designated as in any
sense a “friend of free thought,” is evident from the fact that he
imposed severe punishments on those theologians who publicly avowed
their adherence to the opposite doctrine then generally prevalent. So
also his successors, down to Mutawakkil, who reversed the condition of
matters, and caused it to be taught that the Koran is increate.—Another
controversy had reference to the divine attributes. The Koran in its
unsophisticated anthropomorphism attributes human qualities to God
throughout, speaks also of His hands, of the throne on which He sits,
and so forth. The original Moslems took this up simply as it was
written; but, later, many were stumbled by it, and sought to put such a
construction on the passages as would secure for the Koran a purer
conception of God. Some denied all divine attributes whatever, inasmuch
as, being eternal equally with Himself, they would, if granted,
necessarily destroy the divine unity, and establish a real polytheism.
Many conceded only certain abstract qualities. On the other hand, some
positively maintained the corporeity of God,—in other words, an
anthropomorphism of the crassest kind, which even Mohammed would have
rejected. The Mutazila maintained their dialectical superiority until
Ash‘arí (in the first third of the tenth century), who had been educated
in their schools, took the dialectic method into the service of
orthodoxy. It was he who created the system of orthodox dogmatic. Of
course the later dogmatists did not in all points agree with him, and by
some of them, on account of some remains of rationalism in his teaching,
he was even regarded as heterodox. Since Ash‘arí’s time the commonly
accepted doctrine on the three controverted points just mentioned has
been:—(1) God produces the good as well as the evil deeds of man,
although the latter has a certain measure of independence in his
appropriation of them. (2) The Koran is eternal and increate. Some
maintain this, indeed, only with regard to the original of the sacred
book in heaven, but others hold it also of the words and letters of the
book as it exists on earth. (3) God really has the attributes which are
attributed to Him in the Koran; it is a matter of faith that He has
hands and feet, sits on His throne, and so on, but it is profane
curiosity to inquire as to how these things can be. Whatever be the
exceptions that a man may take to any of these doctrines, the first and
the third at least are in entire accord with the Koran—even in respect
of their illogicality. The Mutazilite, like other rationalistic
movements which make their appearance here and there in Islam, may
awaken our sympathy, but they are too plainly in contradiction with the
essence of a crassly supranaturalistic religion; and this explains how
it is that at a later date only a few isolated after-effects of the
Mutazila continue to be met with. We must be particularly careful not to
attach undue importance to these controversies of the school. The
Mohammedan people as a mass was hardly touched by them. The same holds
good of other dogmatic differences, unless, perhaps, when they happened
to have a political side also; as, for example, the dispute between the
rigorists, who regarded every grave sin as “unbelief,” of which the
punishment is hell; and those who, on the other side, gave prominence to
the divine mercy. The former was the doctrine of the Kharijites, who
declared Othmán, Alí, Aïsha, Moáwiya, and many other “Companions” of
Mohammed to have been unbelievers; while their opponents, more in the
spirit of the Prophet, left it with God to pronounce judgment on these
as well as on others who might have fallen into sin.

The theologico-juristical schools are of much greater practical
importance than the dogmatic. In Islam “law” embraces ritual also in the
widest sense of the word; for example, the rules of prayer (_salát_),
purification, pilgrimage. Law, like dogma, rests upon the Koran and upon
tradition. But this tradition is a very heterogeneous composition. All
of it is alleged to come from the Prophet, and much of it can, in fact,
be traced back to him; but a great deal has another origin. Mohammed’s
doctrine and example could not in reality suffice as rules of life for
highly-developed peoples. The law and custom of the Arabs, and still
more of the lands of ancient civilisation which accepted Islam, opinions
of the school, political tendencies, and many other such things, are the
real sources of much that is given out as precept or practice of the
Prophet. It is only recently that scholars have begun to see on how
great a scale traditions were fabricated. In many cases it was believed
in good faith that one was justified in ascribing immediately to the
Prophet whatever one held to be right in itself and worthy of him; but
other falsifications arose from baser motives. In this mass of
traditions, which claim to be binding on all true believers, many
contradictions, of course, occur. Hence there arose, from the eighth
century onwards, a variety of schools whose masters determined for their
disciples the rules of law, in the widest sense of that word, on the
basis of those traditions which they themselves regarded as correct. The
impulse to reconcile internal differences, which is exceedingly strong
in Islam, was not successful indeed in removing the discrepancies of the
schools of law, but it was able to extend recognition to four of them
(which had very soon thrown all the others into the shade) as equally
orthodox. These orthodox schools differed from one another in a number
of juristic and ritual particulars, but were practically at one on all
the most important principles. Every Sunnite is under obligation to hold
by the prescriptions of one or other of the four schools. These go
deeply into the affairs of daily life, especially in what relates to
forms of worship and to the regulation of the family; but on another
side, again, they are exceedingly doctrinaire, often presupposing as
they do an ideal State, such as never existed even under Omar, and by no
means the actual conditions of greedy Oriental despotism. Of these the
Hanbalite school has now almost entirely disappeared, and the Hanefites,
Sháfiites, and Málikites are distributed over the countries of Sunnite
Islam.—Shíite law is something different from that of any of these four

The supreme authority in law, as in other things, is the consensus of
the whole Mohammedan world—that is to say, the generally accepted
opinion. It decides upon the validity of traditions, and also upon the
interpretation of the Koran. For in Islam, as in other Churches, it is
only the accepted interpretation of the sacred book that is of
consequence to believers, however violent may be the disagreement
between this interpretation and the original sense. The consensus of the
entire body of Mohammedanism is, of course, an ideal that is never
actually realised, but nevertheless it has great practical importance.
By its means gradual recognition came to be accorded to things which
were foreign, and even opposed, to the teaching of Mohammed—as, for
example, the worship of saints. It silently tolerates all kinds of local
variations, but exercises a steady pressure towards an ever-extending
realisation of its binding prescriptions.

From the prosperous period of the Abbásids onwards, freethinking spread
to a considerable extent among the more highly-cultivated classes. Some
poets ventured to ridicule or gainsay, more or less openly, fundamental
doctrines of Islam, and even the faith itself. Persian writers
expressed, in prose and verse, their detestation of Arabism; and the
reflecting reader noted that the detestation extended to the Arab
religion. One may imagine what expressions were used in conversation in
such circles. The scholastic philosophers contrived for the most part to
accommodate themselves outwardly to Islamite dogma, and often, we may be
sure, in good faith; but the theologians nevertheless, and with reason,
held them in deep suspicion; the old pagan Aristotle, on whom they
leaned, fits in with Islam even less than with Christianity. All sorts
of ideas—some of them very fantastic, of Persian and other foreign
origin, and distinctly non-Islamite—also from time to time met with
acceptance in the cultivated world. Once and again, indeed, a quite too
audacious freethinker or heretic was executed; but in general people
were allowed to speak and write freely, if only they put on a touch of
Mohammedan varnish. Islam has no inquisition, and accepts as a Moslem
the man who externally professes it, however doubtful his real
sentiments may be. Accordingly, in some instances individuals whose
thinking and teaching was quite un-Islamite, such as the famous mystic
poet Abul-Alá al Maarrí (973-1057), were regarded by the people as
devout, and even as saintly. But even from this very fact we can see
that the danger for Islam was by no means very great. Such ideas were
confined to very narrow circles of thinkers and poets, or of
profligates, and were never long in dying out again. Nothing of it all
penetrated to the great mass of the people, and it is in this that the
strength of Islam lies.

The mysticism of the Súfis was a greater danger to the dominant
religion. The impulse to self-mortification and introspection, which in
Mohammed’s own case was very active at only one period of his life,
found new nourishment after his followers had become masters of the
neighbouring Christian countries, in which this type of piety was only
too flourishing. It was all genuinely Semitic; and during the ascendency
of the youthfully energetic element in Islam there was no danger of its
exercising an enervating influence on the latter. But subsequently
Persian and Indian ideas became associated with this mysticism. The
Súfis sought to submerge themselves in God, and arrived at the Indian
conception of the All-One, which is irreconcilable with Islam. In Indian
fashion, systematic rules were devised for attaining the mystic victory
over earthly limitations. He who believed himself to have succeeded in
this might venture to break away from the precepts of positive religion,
and often enough he allowed the moral law to go in the same way. The
enthusiast, essentially a supernaturalist, who had merged himself in the
All and One, readily held himself to be a worker of wonders; and still
more easily was he so regarded by his adherents. What are the limits of
the laws of nature (which Orientals, in fact, never recognise) to one
who has effected the leap from the finite to the infinite? The finest
and the coarsest attributes of the human spirit often worked together
here. Amongst the Súfis we find deep souls, magnificent enthusiasts,
fantastic dreamers, sensual poets, many fools, and many rogues. The
systematic character of their procedure, which had to be learned, and
the impression produced by the personality of leading Súfis, led to the
formation of schools and orders. We have here a sort of monasticism,
though without celibacy and without permanent vows. The fakírs or
dervishes (_i.e._ “poor”) live on pious gifts or foundations, but often
also carry on some civil calling. They keep up regular ascetic
exercises, often of a very extraordinary character, in order to attain
to the supersensuous. By these means they over-stimulate the nerves,
exhaust body and spirit, and fall into a temporary insanity. However
fine may be the blossoms which Súfic mysticism has produced, and however
quickening its influence upon Persian poetry, the existence of
dervishism, which plays a great part in almost all Mohammedan countries,
is on the whole a mischief. For the rest, most Súfis believed themselves
to be good Moslems. By allegorical interpretation they also were able to
come to an understanding with the Koran. Not many can have clearly seen
how fundamentally opposed is the pantheistic conception of God in
mysticism to the rigid monotheism of the Koran. The great mass of
dervishes are, of course, much too unthinking and superficial to follow
in the fanciful footsteps of the old masters. They dance and howl for
the glory of God, as other men pray. The people regard the dervishes as
the props of Islam, and in fact hostility against all unbelievers is
fomented in a quite special way by some of these brotherhoods. There is
no suspicion how un-Islamic are the fundamental ideas on which these
orders rest. The simple axioms of Islam itself meanwhile remain

About the year 1000, Islam was in a very bad way. The Abbásid caliphate
had long ceased to be of any importance, the power of the Arabs had long
ago been broken. There was a multitude of Islamite States, great and
small; but even the most powerful of these, that of the Fatimids, was
very far from being able to give solidity to the whole, especially as it
was Shíite. In fact, large regions which had been conquered by the first
Caliphs were again lost to the Byzantines, who repeatedly penetrated far
into Mohammedan territory. At this point a new element came to the aid
of the religion, namely, the Turks. Warriors from Turkestan had long
played a part in the history of Moslem kingdoms, but now there came a
wholesale migration. The Turks pressed forward in great masses from
their seats in upper Asia, and, newly converted to Islam, threw
themselves in the first instance upon the lands of Persia. These nomads
caused dreadful devastation, trampled to the ground the flourishing
civilisation of vast territories, and contributed almost nothing to the
culture of the human race; but they mightily strengthened the religion
of Mohammed. The rude Turks took up with zeal the faith which was just
within the reach of their intellectual powers, and they became its true,
often fanatical, champions against the outside world. They founded the
powerful empire of the Seljuks, and conquered new regions for Islam in
the north-west. After the downfall of the Seljuk empire they still
continued to be the ruling people in all its older portions. Had not the
warlike character of Islam been revived by the Turks, the Crusaders
perhaps might have had some prospect of more enduring success.

But this Turkish influx was followed by another of evil augury for
Islam. Jenghiz Khan led his Mongols and Turks into Mohammedan territory
in 1220, and his grandson Hulagu (January 1258) took Bagdad, the
Mohammedan capital, and brought the Abbásid caliphate to an end. The
loathly heathens were masters of Asia. But Islam, with its simple
dogmas, its imposing ceremonial, and its practical character, soon won
over these barbarians. Fifty years after the capture of Bagdad, those
Mongols who had Moslem subjects had themselves accepted Islam. The
frightful injuries they had inflicted on the lands of Islam were,
however, not to be repaired. Babylonia, the home of primeval
civilisation, was till then still the chief seat of Mohammedan culture;
but since the Mongols set foot on it, it has been a desolation.

Through the dynasty of the Ottoman Turks, Islam once more became the
terror of Christendom. The old dream of the conquest of Constantinople,
and of the complete destruction of the Roman empire, was realised
(1453). On his occupation of Egypt in 1517, Selím I. even proclaimed
himself Caliph. The sultans of Egypt had, after the destruction of
Bagdad, given their protection to a scion of the Abbásid family, to whom
they gave the title of Caliph (1261), and similar nominal Caliphs,
without any trace of power, “reigned” there till the Ottoman conquest.
But how little the Moslem world troubled itself about them may be judged
from the fact that the great philosophical historian Ibn Khaldún (of
Tunis, 1332-1405), in the introduction to his History of the World,
where he speaks very exhaustively about the caliphate, the spiritual and
the secular State, never once alludes to this make-believe. But, armed
with the enormous power of the then Turkish empire, the caliphate now
once more bore another aspect. Although the sultan of Stamboul was
wanting in one attribute which almost all orthodox teachers had regarded
as essential in Caliphs, namely, descent from the Prophet’s tribe of
Koraish, his claims found wide recognition, for his successes filled
every Moslem heart with pride and joy, and the holy cities of Mecca,
Medina, and Jerusalem did homage to him as their lord. The caliphate,
let it be added, did not bring any actual increase of strength to the
Ottoman sultans, who on the whole have not themselves attached much
value to it; on their coins they do not assert the title either of
“Caliph,” or “Imám,” or “Commander of the Faithful.” They have never
actually possessed spiritual authority over Moslems who were not their
own subjects. At the same time, it might be a serious thing for the
Ottoman empire if the sultan should cease to be mentioned in public
prayer at Mecca and Medina as overlord and Caliph, a thing which might
very well happen if besides Egypt he were to lose Syria. For a kingdom
that is slowly but steadily collapsing, the removal of even a weak
pillar may be of disastrous consequence. It would appear that in the
last confusions in Egypt prior to the English occupation, this idea was
actually made use of, and alarm thereby excited in Constantinople. The
Sherífs of Mecca as Caliphs (a suggestion that has been made) would, it
must be said, play but a poor part. They are descended, indeed, from
Alí, and thus theoretically have a vastly greater claim to the dignity
than the Ottomans have; but their territory is small and excessively
poor, and they of necessity could live only by the favour of other
princes. Moreover, the heads of the different branches of this numerous
family are constantly in conflict with each other in true Arabic
fashion. Lastly, the sultans of Morocco have for a long time been also
in the habit of calling themselves “Commanders of the Faithful,” and
thus, for their own kingdom at least, they expressly lay claim to the
supreme spiritual authority.

In the later Middle Ages the opposition between Sunnites and Shíites
seemed to be dying down. The Sunnites had at an early period accepted
certain Shíite views, particularly the exaggerated respect in which Alí
was held, and on the other hand, all Shíites did not go so far as to
declare Abú Bekr and Omar infidels. The Sherífs of Mecca, just spoken
of, from being moderate Shíites had imperceptibly become Sunnites. But
the enmity of the two parties received a new lease of life when, just
about the time when the Sunnite Ottomans were attaining their highest
power, a great empire arose also for the Shía. In Persia the doctrine of
the divine right of Alí had of old fallen on specially fruitful soil; it
is to Persian influences that the Shíite dogmas chiefly owe their
development. In Persian lands smaller or greater Shíite States have also
arisen at various times, but it was through the founding of the
Sefid[19] empire (about 1500) that Persia first became in a strict sense
the land of the Shíite faith, whilst formerly (what is often overlooked)
it had been in great part Sunnite. This Shíite empire constituted a
weighty counterpoise to the Ottomans, and through it many a diversion
was created in favour of Europe when most distressed by the pressure of
the Turks. Since the fall of the Sefids in last century, Persia has
continued to sink deeper and deeper; the State and the nation are far
feebler than even in Turkey; but Shíitism has taken Persia into its
exclusive possession. So full of life is it, that even in our own time
it was able to throw out a vigorous offshoot—the strange enthusiastic
sect of the Bábís, which has profoundly agitated the entire country, and
has not yet been definitively eradicated. The antithesis between Shía
and Sunna is very sharp to this day. The Orientals, who have
extraordinarily little feeling of patriotism, have all the more zeal for
religion. Bitter hatred still separates the Persians from their Moslem
neighbours,—Ottomans, Arabs, Uzbegs, Afghans, and so on,—because,
forsooth, the Companions of Mohammed were not able to agree as to who
should be the successor of the murdered Othmán.

Islam has, on the whole, undergone but little change during the last
thousand years. The spread of mysticism and dervishism, as we have seen,
did not affect the faith of the multitude. These things, of course, gave
fresh stimulus to the business in saints and miracles. The mystic
submerges himself in God, and ignores earthly things; the masses,
accordingly, are only too much inclined to take for a saint the rogue
who imitates him without scruple and seemingly surpasses him, and the
madman who can make nothing of the world at all. Belief in miracles is
deep-seated in the blood of the Oriental; religious impostors,
themselves often the victims of imposition, have never been wanting
there. That saints are able to work miracles, has been faintly
questioned only by a few theologians. Of long time, accordingly, the
real or alleged sepulchres of saints have been venerated as fountains of
grace. They give rise to local cults, and often are hotbeds of
fanaticism. It is no accident that in the last troubles in Egypt
atrocities were perpetrated upon Europeans at the sepulchre of the most
highly venerated of the Egyptian saints, es-Seyyid el Bedawí, at Tantá.
Of holy places of this class many are of ancient Christian origin, and
some even date from heathen times. All sorts of chicanery, crass
superstition, and much that is totally un-Islamite easily connect
themselves with such places. No Moslem, it is true, is under obligation
to believe in any of these things; there is no such thing as an
authoritative list of saints; and some Mohammedan scholars have even
disputed the legitimacy of saint-worship altogether, but without

Towards the middle of last century there arose in the native land of
Islam a violent storm of puritanism against the prevailing apostasy. The
Wahhabites, or followers of Abdal-Wahháb, brought forward no new
doctrine; they were thoroughly orthodox Moslems; but they broke with
tradition thus far, that they sought to abolish certain abuses which had
been tolerated or even approved by general consent. In this they
proceeded with a strictness which reminds more of Omar than of the
Prophet. They were far from denying Mohammed to have been the Apostle of
God, but they held in detestation the exaggerated honour which was paid
to his name, his dwelling-places, and his grave. The worship of saints
they condemned as idolatry, and wherever they went they destroyed the
saints’ tombs and places of martyrdom. They wanted to restore the
original Islam; for example, they took in serious earnest the legal
prohibition against the wearing of silk, and, in agreement with many
learned theologians, interdicted tobacco as an innovation. The kingdom
which they founded was a copy of the original Islamitic one; it once
more reunited by force almost all the inhabitants of Arabia, but could
not succeed in infusing a real spirit of religion into the great mass of
the Bedouins. Their strict spiritual discipline was particularly irksome
to the inhabitants of Mecca—on the whole a very secularly disposed
people. The armies of Mohammed Alí of Egypt at length broke the power of
the Wahhabites, not without great exertions, took back the sacred
cities, Mecca and Medina, which had fallen into their hands in 1803, and
penetrated into the heart of their kingdom (1814, 1815). They again took
another start at a later period, but neither was this permanent; a
purely Arab State, and that, too, founded upon religion, can be kept
together for any length of time only by rulers of uncommon efficiency.
At present the Wahhabite kingdom, properly so called, is powerless; it
is subject to that of the Shammar, which lies to the north of it, and
the prince of which, Ibn Rashíd, a ruler of extensive tracts, is also a
professor of Wahhabitism, though with none of the fiery zeal of earlier
times. The Wahhabites are no longer a menace to Damascus and Bagdad.
Their reform of Islam has remained confined to Arabia, and even there is
hardly likely to operate long. But it has rightly been remarked as
noteworthy, that this purely Semitic religious movement with all its
energy has produced nothing new; it has been directed exclusively
towards the repristination of pure monotheism.

For a considerable time Islam has seemed to be in a state of deep
humiliation. Even the great Moslem kingdoms are without strength. By far
the larger portion of the Moslem world is ruled by Christian powers. But
let us not deceive ourselves as to the vitality of this religion. How
many catastrophes has it not already survived! Immediately on the death
of its founder the revolt of the Arabs threatened it with extinction.
Soon afterwards, from being a spiritual State (as corresponded with its
essential nature), it was changed into a secular one, and it survived
the transformation. Its united empire was broken up and fell into
fragments. The Moslems tore one another to pieces in fierce party
warfare. The Karmatians carried off the black stone, the palladium of
Islam, and for years made impossible the pilgrimage, one of the most
important expressions of Mohammedan life. The heathen Mongols destroyed
the caliphate, and long ruled over half of the lands of Islam. Instead
of being able to carry on the holy war against the unbeliever, one
Moslem State after another is in these days either directly or
indirectly falling under infidel control. But the faith that there is no
God but Alláh, and that Mohammed is His Prophet, and all that is
involved in this faith, remain unshattered. It would seem as if Islam
were now in course of being driven out from the Balkan peninsula, even
as it was long ago compelled to quit Sicily and Spain; whether it shall
be able to maintain its hold everywhere in Asia and North Africa may be
questioned; but in the Indian Archipelago it is steadily advancing,
among the nomads of Central Asia it has gained strength just as the
Russian sway has extended, and in Central Africa it is achieving
conquest upon conquest. Precisely because the consolidation of European
power in the lands of Nigritia brings with it greater security of
intercourse, it may be presumed that the spread of Islam will be
powerfully promoted there. But in the dark continent, which offers no
favourable soil for Christianity, the acceptance even of Islam means
progress from the deepest savagery to a certain culture, however limited
and limiting, and to association with peoples who in the Middle Ages
were higher in civilisation than the people of Europe. Perhaps
slave-hunting and kidnapping will come to an end only when practically
all the negro peoples shall have become Moslem.

If religion among the higher classes in Turkey is, undeniably, sometimes
a matter of doubt or even of ridicule, more as the result of frivolity
than as a consequence of serious thinking, and if similar phenomena
manifest themselves still more frequently among the light-minded,
bright, and unconscientious Persians, the firmness of the faith
nevertheless remains unshaken with the vast mass of the people, even
with those who are remiss in the discharge of ritual duties. Without any
qualms of doubt, peacefully resigned to the will of God, the Moslem sees
his kingdoms go down. But we must also be prepared to find the strength
of this faith continuing to maintain itself in frightful outbursts of
fanaticism. If the occurrences in Egypt during the last rebellion showed
little of death-defying courage and energy, that is to be attributed to
the languid temper of the Egyptians; a great rising in Syria or Asia
Minor might conceivably give Europeans a good deal more trouble. The
best strength of the great Indian Mutiny of 1856 lay with the Moslems.
The Moslem subjects of Britain and other European States sigh for the
moment when they shall be able to shake off the yoke of the infidel. The
successes of the “dervishes” in the Soudan may serve to warn Europeans
of the strength that still resides in the warrior zeal of Islam.


[13] Originally published in _Deutsche Rundschau_, ix. (1883) p. 378

[14] This substitution was also known among the Jews. From them also
were borrowed certain mitigations of the task in time of travel or
circumstances of danger.

[15] One can see how hard is the precept of fasting for the Tartars in
Kasan when Ramadán falls in summer with a day of eighteen hours, as
contrasted with its lightness when it falls at the time of the winter

[16] For a fuller treatment of Mansúr and the establishment of the
Abbásid empire, see next essay.

[17] It is not inconsistent with this that individual Christians and
Jews, whether by princely favour or by their own talents, occasionally
rose to positions of power and dignity, especially as physicians; still
less is it so that Coptic clerks were regularly employed in the
administration of Egypt.

[18] See above, p. 58 sq.

[19] In Old English the kingdom of the Sophy.

                             CALIPH MANSÚR.

THE Arabs had established a vast empire with great rapidity, but to keep
it together was hardly possible so long as its purely Arab character was
retained. The reigning house of the Omayyads had to contend with very
dangerous political and religious antipathies; and, perhaps a greater
danger, the Arabs, who now controlled a world-empire, kept up without
abatement the old untractableness and exaggerated zeal for the honour of
family and tribe which they had developed in their desert life. The only
difference now was, that their tribal patriotism had reference not so
much to the small subdivisions in which the Bedouin lives, as to large
tribal groups, the unity of which was in part no more than a fiction. If
a governor leaned upon the Yemenites, the Modarites forthwith became his
open or secret foes; any prominent official who belonged to the Kais
group was hated by the Kelb. And almost every one in authority was ready
to overlook in his tribesmen even those offences which, in members of
another tribe, he severely, and rightly, punished. The Omayyad Caliphs
accordingly found the utmost difficulty in keeping down the private
feuds even of the Arabs of Syria, who were generally loyal; and their
troubles were much greater in the remoter provinces, where there was
little or no sympathy with the reigning house. The kingdom of the
Omayyads was never in a state of tolerable order and prosperity unless
there was an eminently astute and energetic governor in Babylonia (Irák)
as well as a capable sovereign in Syria. For the seat of supreme power
was tied to Syria by the circumstances under which the dynasty had
arisen; while the eastern provinces, too remote to be controlled from
Damascus, were necessarily administered from Irák. All steady order
ceased with the reign of the talented but utterly profligate Walíd II.
(743-744). The struggles of various Omayyads with one another did the

The ground had long before been undermined by the efforts of a religious
party hostile to the Omayyads. The descendants of Alí, who, as
blood-relations, in fact descendants, of the Prophet (through his
daughter Fátima), considered themselves to have the nearest right to the
throne, alienated from the Omayyads the hearts of many of their
subjects. There was an expectation that the house of Mohammed, should it
once attain to the supreme authority, would fill the earth as full of
righteousness as it was now full of iniquity. The pious professors and
followers of the divine law had little liking for the rule of the
reigning house, which, for all its forms of religion, was purely
secular. And though the risings of the Alids were unsuccessful through
the bungling of their leaders, the very failure cost the Omayyads dear;
for the incapable grandchildren of the Apostle of God, who had fallen or
been put to death, in the eyes of the people became martyrs, whose blood
cried to heaven for vengeance.

In perfect quietness, meanwhile, another family was setting itself to
work to gather in the fruits of the efforts of the Alids for its own
behalf,—their cousins, the Abbásids. Abbás, from whom they traced their
descent, had held a somewhat ambiguous attitude towards his nephew the
Prophet. His son Abdalláh passes for one of the strongest pillars of
religious tradition; but, in the eyes of unprejudiced European research,
he is only a crafty liar. Abdalláh’s grandson Mohammed, and the sons of
the latter, so far as they are known to us, combined considerable
practical vigour with their hereditary cunning and duplicity. They lived
in deep retirement in Humaima, a little place to the south of the Dead
Sea, seemingly far withdrawn from the world, but which, on account of
its proximity to the route by which Syrian pilgrims went to Mecca,
afforded opportunities for communication with the remotest lands of
Islam. From this centre they carried on the propaganda in their own
behalf with the utmost skill. They had genius enough to see that the
best soil for their efforts was the distant Khorásán,[20]—that is, the
extensive north-eastern provinces of the old Persian empire. The
majority of the people there had already gone over to Islam; many had
embraced the new faith with ardour, and had even fought bravely on its
behalf against the unbelieving populations to the north and east. But
the converted Persians were held in little esteem by the dominant Arabs,
who looked on them as “clients,”[21] and refused to accord to them the
full rights to which they had a claim as Moslems. The internal wars of
the Arabs, moreover, raged in those parts with exceptional violence. To
the Persians it was a matter of indifference whether the Yemenites or
Modarites or Rabía were victorious; but they keenly felt the devastation
of their country, and their own subordinate position; and thus a great
proportion of the newly-converted Persians were filled with hatred
towards their Arab “brethren in the faith.” This hatred was easily
turned against the reigning house, which was named as the source of all
unrighteousness, and whose secular disposition must certainly have been
very offensive to the truly pious. The Persians, moreover, were
naturally inclined to legitimism, and to enthusiastic attachments to
spiritual leaders. Accordingly they were drawn over in multitudes to the
doctrine that “the house of the Prophet” alone is called to dominion
over his kingdom and his Church. Well-chosen emissaries of the Abbásids
canvassed for the family of the Prophet, for the Háshimids, by which
expression were understood, in the first instance, the descendants of
Alí. Other watchwords and fictitious sayings of Mohammed were also
successfully put in circulation. Gradually and furtively the place of
the Alids was taken by the Abbásids, who undoubtedly also were
descendants of Háshim, and who, since descent from Mohammed in the
female line was represented as unimportant, could claim to be just as
nearly related to the Prophet as the others.[22] The main point was,
that the adherents secured for the cause became entirely attached to the
persons of the emissaries, so that the latter were able in the end to
direct their followers as they pleased. To secure adherents there seems
to have been no scruple about favouring all sorts of objectionable
opinions (partly due to a mixing up of the old with the new religion)
inconsistent with the fundamental laws of Islam. Of details of the
progress of the agitation we know little; but so much is certain: that
it was very active, that the emissaries had a regular organisation, and
that frequent communication was maintained between Khorásán and the
centres from which the wires were pulled—Cufa, the residence of the
supreme agent, and Humaima, the home of the Abbásids. The yearly
pilgrimages gave special opportunities for meeting without arousing
suspicion; many important consultations may possibly have taken place in
Mecca itself. Operations had long been carried on in this way, when the
head of the Abbásids—either Mohammed, who died in 743, or his son
Ibráhím, it is not quite certain which—discovered the man who was
destined to bring the movement to a successful issue. This was Abú
Moslim, a freedman whose country and descent are unknown, but who in any
case was not of Arabian blood. This quondam slave united with an
agitator’s adroitness and perfect unscrupulosity in the choice of his
means the energy and clear outlook of a general and statesman, and even
of a monarch. Within a few years he brought it about that the black
banner of the Abbásids was openly unfurled (in the beginning of summer,
747). In a perfidious but masterly manner he contrived still further to
foment the mutual antipathies of the Arab parties which were openly at
war with each other, although Nasr, the governor, was not the only one
who clearly saw that nothing less was at stake than the supremacy, and
even the very life, of the Arabs. Ibráhím is even said to have given
orders to Abú Moslim that, so far as possible, no Arab should be left
alive in Khorásán. Soon the brave Nasr was compelled to quit the
country; and immediately afterwards he died (November 748). The
Khorásánians pressed steadily forwards. The chief control was in the
hands of Abú Moslim, although he remained in Khorásán; not only the
Persians, but also the Arab leaders, put themselves under the command of
the freedman, a thing unheard-of for Arab pride. It should be added,
that the Arabs of Khorásán undoubtedly had a strong strain of Persian
blood, and that they had taken on much that was Persian.

A large portion of Southern Persia had not long before been seized by
another of the Háshimids, Abdalláh, son of Moáwiya, a descendant of
Alí’s brother Jaafar. He had had the support of the Abbásids. But this
thoroughly unworthy person (for such he seems to have been) was overcome
by the generals of the Omayyad Merwán II., and betook himself in flight
to Abú Moslim. He had served his turn, in so far as he had thrown the
empire into wilder confusion, and called the attention of the people to
the family of the Prophet; now as a rival he might prove inconvenient.
Abú Moslim therefore first cast him into prison, and afterwards took his

Babylonia, the most important province of the empire, was occupied by
the troops of the Abbásids. Once more a great battle took place close to
the field where Alexander had gained his final victory over Darius
(middle of January 750). The men belonging to Yemenite tribes, who
formed the majority of the Omayyad troops, were disinclined to stake
their lives on behalf of Merwán, who was not favourably disposed towards
them; and accordingly the battle was lost. Over and above this, there
now arose internal struggles in Syria and Egypt, which facilitated the
work of the Abbásid troops. Merwán, a tried warrior, had to flee from
place to place, and soon afterwards fell, almost deserted, at the
village of Búsír,[23] in Middle Egypt (August 750).

The head of the Abbásids was now no longer Ibráhím; he had been thrown
into prison by Merwán when his complicity with Abú Moslim was
discovered, and, shortly before the triumph of his party, had either
died or been murdered in captivity. His brothers had fled to Cufa, and
kept themselves in hiding there. Here, immediately after the occupation
of the city by the Khorásánians, and before the last blow had been
struck against Merwán, Abul-Abbás, now the head of the house, was
proclaimed Caliph (November or December 749). In his inaugural sermon in
the principal mosque, Abul-Abbás designated himself as Saffáh, _i.e._
“the bloodshedder;” and to this dreadful name, which has since been his
standing title, he did ample justice. All Omayyads were ruthlessly
struck down. The watchword was: “Vengeance for the Háshimids slain by
the Omayyads.” It is, of course, possible that the Abbásids, themselves
Arabs, may really have had Arab feelings in the matter, and required
vengeance for the blood of their relations as such. But the actual
motives were nevertheless other than these; their object was to excite
the mob against the Omayyads, as being impious men and worthy of death,
and to make their whole house absolutely harmless. To this end no
violence or treachery was spared. Even those members of the house who
had fled for mercy to the conquerors, and had been received by them, nay
more, even those who had yielded only on the solemn promise that no harm
should befall them, were put to death; and the Abbásids, the Caliph
himself, as well as his uncles, and particularly Abdalláh, who led the
pursuit of the defeated Merwán, personally gloated over the murder of
their adversaries. And yet Abdalláh had only a short time before
experienced an act of clemency when, while taking part in the rebellion
of the Jaafarids, he had fallen into the hands of Merwán’s general.
Notwithstanding the fierceness of the massacre, a few members of this
very numerous Omayyad family managed to escape. Some kept themselves in
hiding, and by and by were ignored or forgiven; others made their escape
into the far west, where the Caliph’s power did not extend. Nor was it
only Omayyad blood that was freely shed at the establishment of the
Abbásid rule, whether to excite terror among its subjects, or because
the new ruler was hardly able to control the lust for slaughter in his
victorious troops. Syria, however, did not accommodate itself to the new
dynasty without trouble. Various disturbances gave the conquerors a
great deal to do from the very first. In particular, it proved an
arduous task to suppress those insurgents who had placed at their head
Abú Mohammed, a descendant of the first two Omayyad Caliphs.

Shortly after the death of Merwán, his last powerful supporter, Ibn
Hobaira, who had taken possession of the important town of Wásit, on the
lower Tigris, made his peace after he had been blockaded for a long time
by Mansúr, the brother of the Caliph. By both these princely brothers he
had been promised not only life, but continuance in his high office. But
so lofty a personage, with a large body of adherents, who had already
asserted a very independent position as governor of Babylon, harmonised
ill with the new condition of affairs. Mansúr accordingly, in concert
with his brother, caused him to be put to death; solemn promises and
oaths had no meaning for these men. This was done, it is said, on the
advice of Abú Moslim. It is more probable that Abú Moslim had a hand in
making away with Abú Salama, “the vizier of the Háshimids,” who from
Babylonia had directed the movement in Khorásán, and who had rendered
great services in connection with the change of dynasty. It is alleged
that—perhaps in full consistency with his original orders—he had,
after the death of Ibráhím, shown more inclination to the Alids than to
the Abbásids. In any case he stood in the way of Abú Moslim.

Saffáh appears to have been a strong ruler, who, had he lived longer,
might perhaps himself have done for the empire what it was left for his
follower to achieve. Great differences between the caliphate of the
Abbásids and that of the Omayyads immediately emerged, due in part to
the manner in which it had been set up, and in part to the personal
character of the rulers. The seat of empire was transferred to
Babylonia, the true centre. The power of the sovereign rested primarily
on Persian troops, which were more amenable to discipline than Arabian.
The Caliph no longer needed to take much account of the tribal
jealousies of the Arabs, although he occasionally utilised them for his
own ends. Hence he could act much more autocratically than his
predecessors; the lands of the caliphate now formed much more of a
political unity than before. In short, on the old soil of the great
Asiatic empires, another was once more set up, which at the most was
only half Arab in its character, the rest being Persian.

Even in Saffáh’s lifetime Mansúr took a prominent place as an
influential counsellor, and as governor of great provinces, but it is
hardly likely that the Caliph allowed himself to be led entirely by his

Abú Moslim, whose people were blindly devoted to him, and who held sway
like a prince in Khorásán, in 754 desired to be the leader of the
pilgrimage, that is, to represent the Caliph himself before the entire
Islamite world. Saffáh, however, quickly instigated Mansúr to seek this
dignity for himself, so that he had to express his regret that the
office had been already bestowed, and that Abú Moslim could only go as a
companion to Mansúr. It seems that in the course of the pilgrimage
friction arose between the parvenu who had founded the new empire and
the no less self-conscious brother of the Caliph; in any case, Abú
Moslim did not by any means overdo the part of a devoted servant. By his
liberality he so won over the Bedouins that they declared it a pure
slander to call this man an enemy of the Arabs. The two were already on
their return journey when news arrived that Saffáh had died (on Sunday,
9th June 754)[24] at Anbár (north of Cufa), and that Mansúr had been
proclaimed Caliph on the same day.

Abú Jaafar Abdalláh al Mansúr (_i.e._ “the victorious”) was at that time
a man of over forty. Of his outward appearance we learn that he was tall
and thin, and that he had a narrow face, lank hair, thin beard, and
brownish complexion. What his inward character was is shown by his
deeds. His mother, the Berber slave Salláma, during her pregnancy
dreamed, it is said, that she had brought forth a lion, to which other
lions came from all quarters to render homage.[25] A lion, truly, who
tore in pieces all who came within his reach, unless they acknowledged
him as their master!

Mansúr can hardly have reached the neighbourhood of the Euphrates when
he learned that he had a very dangerous rival. His uncle Abdalláh,[26]
then posted in the far north of Syria ready to march against the
Byzantines, laid claim to the throne. His pretensions, perhaps, were not
altogether unfounded, for it is not so certain as is usually asserted
that Saffáh nominated Mansúr as his successor. It was indeed unfortunate
that the dynasty was hardly established before it was torn asunder by
disputes about the succession. As Abú Moslim with the Khorásánians held
by Mansúr, Abdalláh was compelled to rely upon the Arab troops of Syria
and Mesopotamia, and on this account caused thousands of Khorásánians
who were with him to be massacred. Humaid, son of the Arabian general
Kahtaba, who five years previously had led the Khorásánian troops from
victory to victory, suddenly went over from Abdalláh to Mansúr, and
rendered to the latter conspicuous service both in this and in many
subsequent wars. Abú Moslim brought an end to the war which had been
going on for some months in Mesopotamia by a victory gained on 26th (or
27th) November 754. Abdalláh fled to his brother Sulaimán, Mansúr’s
governor in Basra (near the mouth of the Tigris), and remained here in
hiding for some time.

Abú Moslim thus had not only set up the Abbásid dynasty, but also had
saved the throne for Mansúr. A man who had done so much could do still
more, and was a danger to his master. Mansúr resolved to get rid of Abú
Moslim, a course which is said to have suggested itself even to Saffáh.
How they first fell out is told in various ways. It is probable that the
Caliph nominated Abú Moslim to be the governor of the western provinces
of Syria and Egypt in order to keep him at a distance from Khorásán,
where his power had its root, but that the latter did not agree to this.
In any case he had noted that Mansúr wished to deprive him of influence,
and he resolved accordingly, without reference to Mansúr, to return to
Khorásán. Of his own soldiers he was perfectly sure, even in a campaign
against the Caliph. At this stage a correspondence took place between
the two. Abú Moslim in the end suffered himself to be befooled by the
sworn assurances of Mansúr (with a slight admixture of threats), and
came with but a small following to the Caliph at the “city of the
Romans,” a decayed place that had belonged to the Seleucia-Ctesiphon
group of Persian royal cities. Mansúr received him graciously, but after
having made sure of him, caused him to be slain before his eyes, and the
body to be cast into the Tigris (February 755).

The removal of the powerful individuality, of whom we hear that his
followers would have sacrificed their lives and their very souls for
him, but upon whose fidelity the Caliph could hardly rely, was a
political necessity. An intimate of Mansúr’s is said to have quoted to
him against Abú Moslim the verse of the Koran in which it is said that
if the world held other gods besides Alláh it would go to ruin (súra 21,
22). Such a prince as Mansúr could tolerate no rival in the kingdom. Nor
can any great claim upon our pity be made for Abú Moslim, who shrank
from no resource of violence or treachery, whether against enemies or
against inconvenient friends, and of whom it is said (no doubt with huge
exaggeration), that he caused as many as 600,000 prisoners to be slain.
Mansúr gave proof of admirable astuteness when he overreached the
cunningest of the cunning. But that his conduct was abominable goes
without saying.

The murder was by no means without danger for its perpetrator. The
soldiers indeed whom Abú Moslim had brought with him were restrained
from making any disturbance, partly by their dismay at the accomplished
fact, and partly by a lavish distribution of money. But mutterings were
heard in Khorásán. There the dead man had thousands who clung to him
with religious attachment. In fact, there were many who could not
believe in his death, and who expected him to return once more as a
Messiah. A Persian named Sampádh excited in that very year a great
revolt in Khorásán to avenge Abú Moslim. What is reported of him, that
he was a professor of the old Persian religion, is improbable; he may
have belonged to one of the half-Persian sects, which the majority
certainly could not regard as Mohammedan. In any case the revolt was a
popular movement. Sampádh advanced far towards Media, but thereupon was
defeated by Jahwar, whom Mansúr had despatched against him, and slain
somewhere near the spot where the last of the Dariuses met his end. The
victorious general had made himself master of the treasures of Abú
Moslim, and now in turn himself rebelled, but was quickly overcome, and
put to death (755 or 756). Khorásán was once more securely in the hands
of the Caliph.

In other directions also disturbances of various kinds occurred. The
Kharijites,[27] who had no reason for regarding the rule of the
Prophet’s kinsmen as juster or more in accordance with the laws of God
than that of the Omayyads, fought on for their ideals in various parts
of the empire, with few followers indeed, but with a courage that defied
death. Thus a certain Kharijite, Mulabbid, in Mesopotamia gave much
trouble to the armies of the Caliph, and was only at last overcome in
756 by Házim, perhaps the ablest of Mansúr’s generals.

A handful of strange mortals brought the Caliph into a very difficult
position, probably in 757-8. The Ráwendí, who are guessed to have been
connected with Abú Moslim, not only believed in the transmigration of
souls, but had also taken into their heads that Mansúr was God Himself.
They accordingly betook themselves to his capital, and set themselves in
an attitude of worship around his palace. Mansúr, indeed, was quite of
the mind that it was better to have people obey him and go to hell in
consequence, than earn heaven by rebellion against him; but the
Commander of the Faithful durst not tolerate such conduct as this of the
Ráwendí, unless he wished to provoke a universal rising of all Moslems
against him. He accordingly caused a number of the fanatics to be
imprisoned. But they did not take this well; they freed their comrades
and now assailed the life of the Caliph, who only had a limited guard at
hand. In mastering them, which he did only with difficulty, he displayed
great courage. In the struggle there came to the front one who had been
a conspicuous general under the Omayyads, afterwards had kept himself in
concealment, and now seized this opportunity to gain favour with the
Caliph. This was Maan, son of Záida, famed for his bravery, and still
more for his liberality, but at the same time stern and pitiless towards
his foes. Mansúr, whom it thoroughly suited to intermingle pure Arabs
with his Khorásán generals of mixed Arabian and Persian origin,
willingly took the fire-eater into his grace. Shortly afterwards he sent
him into Yemen, where, during his nine years’ governorship, he subdued
all opponents with much bloodshed. Subsequently he sent him to
south-eastern Persia, where he was surprised and slain by the

The dynasty of the Omayyads once overthrown, the Alids saw that they had
not gained much. It made no difference to them whether their nearer
cousins, the descendants of Abbás,[28] or whether their slightly more
distant kinsmen, those of Omayya, possessed the sovereignty; the name of
Háshim was not enough. When the house of the Prophet had been canvassed
for, every one in the first instance had thought of his actual
descendants; these last now deemed, not unrightly, that they had been
defrauded of their birthright. It is probable that even the Abbásids, in
the secret negotiations, at an early stage had at one time freely
acknowledged the Alid Mohammed, son of Abdalláh, as head of the entire
house, and as the future Caliph. Why this particular man should have
been selected from among the very numerous descendants of Alí, we are
unable to say. One advantage, which fell into the scale when a
legitimist claim was being urged, he undoubtedly had—namely, that the
females also who came into his genealogy were all free Arabs of good
family, and that the Hasanid Mohammed was through his grandmother a
descendant also of Husain, and thus in a twofold way descended from the
Prophet.[29] His father, who might have advanced still stronger claims,
was perhaps over-timid or too little ambitious.

The Abbásids knew too well how it was that they themselves had reached
the throne to be other than exceedingly jealous of the hereditary
advantages of their cousins. One and another Alid now and again
expressed tolerably openly his opinion of the situation. And the
Mohammed just mentioned, as well as his brother Ibráhím, had betrayed
themselves by refraining to come to pay their respects to Mansúr when he
made the pilgrimage during the lifetime of his brother. If Mansúr
actually had at one time acknowledged Mohammed’s right to the caliphate,
this would be to him a further motive for effort to have them in his
power. But neither promises nor threats availed; they hid themselves in
various quarters of Arabia, and are said to have wandered about in even
remoter lands. As their father when closely questioned persisted in
declaring that he had no idea where his sons were living, Mansúr, when
he came on pilgrimage once more to Mecca in April 758, caused him to be
imprisoned. But even this did not avail. The governors in Medina either
could not or would not find the fugitives. The inhabitants were attached
to the Alids as being children of the Prophet and children of their
city, and the majority of the officials even would doubtless have felt
it to be a crime to deliver them up to destruction. Riyáh, however, of
the tribe of Morra, who entered upon the governorship of Medina on 27th
December 761, was free from any such weakness. He threatened the
inhabitants with the same fate with which, sixty-eight years before, his
fellow tribesman Moslim, son of Okba, had visited their rebellion
against authority.[30] He caused all the nearer kinsmen of Mohammed’s
family, and many of his adherents, to be imprisoned, and also a number
of the Juhaina Bedouins, among whose mountains, to the west of
Medina,[31] it was supposed that the claimant was in hiding. When, at
the close of another pilgrimage (March 762), Mansúr visited Medina, he
took these captive Alids, including the father of the two brothers, and
various other persons of consideration, and carried them with him in
chains into Babylonia. Amongst these exiles was the step-brother of
Abdalláh, who secretly, and in violation of his plighted word, had given
his daughter in marriage to his nephew, the claimant, and is said also
to have himself seemed formidable by reason of his personal distinction
as a descendant of Caliph Othmán. A son of Mohammed’s fell into the
hands of the governor of Egypt, and was sent to the Caliph. We can
readily believe what we read, that the treatment of these hostages was
by no means indulgent;[32] several were put to death, many died in
prison. But popular imagination, or personal hatred, has raised the
colours of the picture; the story goes that the Caliph kept the bodies
of all the murdered Alids in a great chamber to which no one had access
but himself; in the ear of each was a label with his name and genealogy
neatly written. Mansúr’s son Mahdí ventured to use the key after his
father’s death, and, horrified at the discovery, caused them all to be

Riyáh’s diligent search seems at length to have led Mohammed to attempt
a premature revolt, which towards the end of 762 broke out in Medina.
Mohammed was proclaimed Caliph, the captives set free, the governor and
other adherents of Mansúr thrown into prison. The famous doctor of
Islam, Málik, son of Anas, gave his decision that the oath of allegiance
to the Abbásids, having been obtained by force, was of no binding
obligation. This is characteristic at once for the ethics of Islam and
for the view of the rule of the Abbásids which was taken by those
persons who were, properly speaking, the guardians of religion and of
the sacred law.[33] At Málik’s dictum everybody went over to Mohammed.
Even the descendants of Abú Bekr and other men of Koraish, who had
formerly distinguished themselves at the founding of the empire of
Islam, for the most part joined him. So also did the poet Abú Adí al
Ablí, who belonged to a side branch of the house of Omayya. These
individuals, however, seem to have inherited but little of the
statesmanlike and warlike ability of their ancestors. From the very
first many clear-headed men saw that the enterprise had small prospect
of success. When a volunteer courier, in the extraordinarily short space
of nine days, brought news of the insurrection to Mansúr at Cufa, he was
far from dissatisfied with this clearing of the situation. “Now, at
last,” said he, “I have the fox out of his hole!” Medina was of all
places least suited for the foundation of an anti-caliphate,—for this,
among other reasons, that the whole region was dependent on imports from
Egypt, the supply of which was now at once cut off. Mansúr sent his
cousin Isá, son of Músá, with a small but tried army against Medina.
Mohammed proved no more equal to his task than the other Alid pretenders
had done. Instead of taking the advice of persons skilled in war, and
assuming the offensive, he remained within the city of the Prophet, the
sanctity of which he took to be his best defence: once, in a dream, it
had appeared to the Prophet under the figure of a breastplate. By way of
fortification he caused the fosse of the Prophet to be restored; a work
which indeed had filled with astonishment the Arabs combined against
Mohammed,—men who had had no experience of war on a large scale, or
indeed of any kind of strenuous united action,—but which was mere
child’s play for the veterans of Khorásán. Isá had already, by letters,
won over from Mohammed various important persons. The great bulk of his
followers quietly melted away as the foe drew near. Isá paused for three
days before Medina, to obtain, if possible, an amicable settlement by
negotiation, and operations then began. The fosse was bridged with some
house-doors. A woman of the family of Abbás secretly caused a large
black cloth to be hoisted on the tallest minaret; upon this all the
pious townsmen immediately rushed to the conclusion that the
Khorásánians had entered the city by the rear, and there had planted the
black banner of the Abbásids. Only a few, including a company of Juhaina
Bedouins, stood by Mohammed. Mohammed, a tall and handsome man, fell
after a heroic struggle late on the afternoon of Monday, 6th December
762. He had caused the captive Riyáh to be put to death immediately
before. One more addition was thus now made to the roll of Alid
“martyrs,” who had inherited from their ancestors courage and bravery,
but with these also an incapacity for generalship and supreme command.
The supporters of the house surnamed Mohammed as “the pure soul.”

Isá, obeying orders, showed comparative clemency. It was of importance
to the descendants of Abbás that the sanctity of the city of the
Prophet, to whom they traced back their rights, should not be violated
too grossly. Some prominent participators in the rebellion, indeed, were
put to death, or else imprisoned or subjected to severe corporal
chastisement. The goods of that branch of the Alid family to which the
pretender had belonged were confiscated. According to the custom of the
time, his head was brought to the Caliph, who sent it by courier-post
round the provinces as an awful example. It arrived in Egypt in the
spring of 763, just in time to check a rising of the Alid party there.

While affairs in Medina were still undecided, the Caliph learned that
Ibráhím had risen in the interests of his brother Mohammed at Basra
(Monday, 22nd November 762). Mansúr had previously come to know that
Ibráhím was in hiding there, and had taken some precautionary measures
accordingly; but he nevertheless seems to have been greatly taken aback
by this new insurrection. Basra was not merely a wealthy trading city,
but also, from a military point of view, very different in importance
from Medina. To a man of enterprise it offered great opportunities; from
it as a basis, the Tigris and Euphrates could be blockaded, and the
maritime provinces to the east comparatively easily mastered. Nor was
this all; the very important city, in the immediate neighbourhood of
which Mansúr had his residence, the turbulent Cufa, was thoroughly Alid
in its sympathies. Should an Alid make his appearance in the
neighbourhood with an army, an outbreak might be expected within it at
any moment. In addition to this, the whole central province was in a
state of ferment. But Mansúr had at the moment only a very few troops at
hand. He afterwards confessed that it had been a great mistake to leave
himself so bare, and declared that in future he would always retain at
least 30,000 men beside him. He managed, however, to arrange them so
that the Cufans considerably overestimated the number of his forces. The
Cufans were, moreover, always much more heroic in words than in deeds.
Mansúr, however, was not yet able to take the offensive against Ibráhím;
but was constrained to suffer the latter, into whose hands the treasure
of the rich province of Basra had fallen, to become master of Susiana
and Persis also. Wásit also received the troops of Ibráhím. In the
neighbourhood of this city, indeed, he was encountered by an officer of
Mansúr’s; and here the two armies stood, facing one another, until the
whole struggle was ended.

Ibráhím deemed himself already a sovereign, and spent his time with a
wife whom he had just married. Mansúr, on the other hand, never looked
on the face of woman till the conflict was over. A contemporary praises,
in eloquent words, the courage and determination which he maintained in
his critical position. The advice to incite Cufa to revolt was set aside
by Ibráhím because such a step would cause much harm to children, women,
and other non-combatants. In the same spirit he forbade pursuit of
fugitives, and so forth. All this sounds very well, but is out of place
in one who, for his own interests, is carrying on a rebellion which,
under any circumstances, must involve much bloodshed, and can ultimately
achieve success only by concentration of every energy. In such
tenderness there is more of weakness than of humanity. “Thou desirest
the sovereignty, yet darest not to slay!” some one said to him. _Pour
faire des omelettes il faut casser les œufs._

Soon after the middle of December 762, Ibráhím received the crushing
intelligence of his brother’s death. Yet if even now he had advanced
immediately, he would still have been able to put Mansúr to great
straits. But when he finally marched towards Cufa with barely 10,000
men, a sixth or a tenth of his strength on paper, Isá had already
arrived at the head of a superior army. The Caliph had ordered troops
from Media against Susiana, which soon captured the capital Ahwáz. In
Bákhamrá, only sixteen hours south of Cufa, the army of Ibráhím, who had
now assumed the title of Caliph, encountered the advancing host of Isá
(Monday, 14th February 763). Mansúr’s vanguard was driven back; but Isá
held his ground, and the fugitives soon rallied. Mansúr’s cousins, the
sons of Sulaimán, fell upon Ibráhím’s rear. After a fierce battle he
fell, mortally wounded with an arrow. The Caliph caused his head also to
be publicly exhibited, but would not suffer a bystander to treat the
dead with contumely. He punished with frightful cruelty a coarse person
who had spat on Ibráhím’s head in his presence.

A victory for Ibráhím seems to have been widely counted upon. The famous
blind poet, Basshár, no sectary, but an enlightened freethinker, had
sent him a poem, in which he was praised, and Mansúr violently attacked;
after the battle he so altered the poem, that he was able to give it out
as an earlier production directed against Abú Moslim.

Ibráhím’s death was a much greater relief to Mansúr than that of
Mohammed. He could now feel pretty sure that henceforth no Alid claimant
could be of danger to him. True, he caused the whole family of those
kinsmen of his to be strictly watched, but he was particularly willing
to receive into his service any members of it whom he thought he could
venture to trust. Perhaps in this the old Arab feeling for family ties
had still some part; however that may be, it produced a good effect, as
showing to subjects that both the main branches of the Háshimids still
held by one another.

In Medina these struggles were followed by a little after-piece. Persian
soldiers behaved with violence towards peaceful inhabitants. The people
complained to the chief authority, but received no attention. Then
active resistance began. The town butchers (black freedmen, it would
seem) killed a soldier; from this it grew to a general _melée_. The
negroes, who were numerous, both slaves and freedmen, drew together, and
killed part of the little garrison. The governor fled. They even seized
on the stores that had been set apart for the troops. The higher classes
trembled before the wrath of Mansúr. It is noteworthy that two who
specially exerted themselves for the restoration of order were a member
of the Omayyad family and an official who had been imprisoned for his
participation in the rising of Mohammed. The loyalty of the population
towards the sovereign was strongly insisted on. The stores that had been
plundered were given back or made good. The blacks suffered themselves
to be persuaded by the representations of the most prominent citizens,
and returned home. It was now seen to have been only a momentary
outburst of temper, not social revolution. The governor returned at the
earnest invitation of the notables. Four ringleaders had a hand chopped
off—the punishment of thieves. The chief mischiefmaker perished in

The rebellion of the Alids had interrupted Mansúr in a great
undertaking—the building of Bagdad. With the fall of the Omayyads it
had become quite a matter of course that the rulers of the enormous
empire, which extended from what is now Russian Turkestan and the Indus
to Aden, Algeria, and Eastern Asia Minor,[34] should have their seat in
Babylonia; but they had not as yet any definite capital. Mansúr lived a
great deal in Háshimíya, founded by his predecessor, in the immediate
neighbourhood of Cufa. But the Cufans, little attached as they were to
the Abbásids, were no desirable neighbours. After the death of Ibráhím,
Mansúr had preached them as sharp a sermon against their sins as any
Omayyad governor could have delivered, and expressed in it his
astonishment that the Omayyads had not long ago depopulated the accursed
place as an abode of unbelievers. Moreover, nothing but a creation of
his own could have satisfied Mansúr’s haughty nature. After long
deliberation he determined to build the new capital on a site on the
west bank of the Tigris, then occupied by a little place named
Baghdád.[35] So far as we can judge, the district had already before
this time been brought into communication with the Euphrates by means of
canals. Mansúr caused the connection to be notably extended and
improved. The official name of the city here planted was
Madínat-as-Salám (“the city of welfare”), but in practical use the old
name Bagdad maintained exclusive currency. Mansúr’s keen vision in the
selection of this site may well be compared with that shown by Alexander
when he founded the Egyptian Alexandria. At any rate, the situation of
this city, which he called into being out of nothing, is so favourable
that it soon became a world-city, with all the lights and shadows of
such; a place which, Constantinople apart, had no rival, and which, even
in the deep decline of all these countries since that time, and
notwithstanding the irreparable injury suffered by Bagdad itself when it
was destroyed by the Mongols in 1258, still remains a considerable city,
by far the most important in the whole region of the Euphrates and
Tigris. The work of building had been begun in early summer of 762. When
news came of Mohammed’s revolt, the walls were hardly six feet high.
When Ibráhím approached, the rumour spread that he had gained a great
victory. Hereupon the freedman who had been left in charge of the vast
accumulations of building materials set fire to the stores of timber,
that they might not fall into the hand of the enemy. As soon as the
empire was once more pacified, Mansúr caused operations to be resumed.
The building was carried out on a magnificent scale. Vast sums were
expended by the Caliph in building residences for himself, his
dependants, kinsfolk, and freedmen, as well as his officers and troops,
and also in constructing mosques, government offices, aqueducts, canal
bridges, and fortifications. He assigned allotments to the members of
the reigning house and the grandees on which to build their houses.
Troops of handicraftsmen, traders, and other settlers flocked to the
spot. Houses of sun-dried brick cost but little, and it is possible that
even directly, certainly indirectly, the trifling outlay of the builders
was in many cases made good out of the public exchequer. Traders had,
moreover, to pay a duty upon their shops. In 766 the great city was
practically finished; its walls were completed in 768. Mansúr’s city, as
already mentioned, lay on the west bank of the river. Yet even he caused
the opposite side, where now the main part of Bagdad lies, to be built
on. “The camp” of his son Mahdí was there. It seemed expedient to place
a portion of the garrison on the other side of the river, so that, in
case of necessity, the two divisions of the army might be able to hold
one another in check. A peculiar police regulation was introduced later
by Mansúr; he caused the markets, which were frequented by an excessive
number of strangers, whose supervision was not easy, to be removed
outside the city proper. Bagdad was strongly fortified. Mansúr caused
other important inland cities also to be fortified in such a way that
the garrisons might be able to cope with casual insurrections. This he
did also in the case of the city of Ráfika, founded by him in 772 in the
neighbourhood of Rakka (Callinicus), on the east bank of the middle
Euphrates, in which he placed a garrison of Khorásánians.

The active superintendence which Mansúr gave to the building of his
capital is only an instance of the whole system of his government, which
was, as far as possible, personal. Posts were still conferred on a
certain number of Arab nobles, who still sometimes showed the
insubordination and tribal patriotism of their race, but he took care
that they never overgrew himself. At the same time, he conferred the
most important governorships upon various members of his own family, and
made ample provision for all of them; but he kept them in strict
subjection, and on occasion chastised them severely. He had absolutely
trustworthy tools in his freedmen and clients of foreign extraction, to
whom, to the horror of the aristocratic Arabs, he sometimes gave even
the most important administrative offices. The governors and other high
officials of the provinces were strictly overseen by special officers,
entirely independent of them, who sent an uninterrupted series of
couriers with their reports to the Caliph.[36] When, for example, Mansúr
on one occasion learned through this channel that the governor of
Hadramaut (in the extreme south of Arabia) was more attentive to the
pleasures of the chase than to the duties of his office, he deposed him
at once. Even the actions of Mahdí, the heir-apparent, in his capacity
as governor of the lands of the east were subjected to this kind of
control. Thus, the Caliph having on one occasion learned that Mahdí had
given to a certain poet much too great a reward for a laudatory copy of
verses, he compelled the recipient to repay the greater part of the
sum.[37] These officers, in addition to their special duties, reported
all the more important law cases, and all occurrences of any particular
interest; they further apprised the Caliph of the price of provisions;
for, with a view to public peace and security, it was judged necessary
to take prompt measures for the prevention of dearths.[38] So well was
Mansúr informed as to the state of the provinces, that it was whispered
he had a magic mirror in which he could see all his enemies. Still
better is he characterised by his own words to his son: “Sleep not, for
thy father has not slept since he came to the caliphate; when sleep fell
upon his eyes, his spirit remained awake.” He was an excellent
financier. He is frequently reproached with avarice even; he was
surnamed “the father of farthings,”—a reproach which presumably came
chiefly from those whose interests would have been served by that
prodigality to favourites which has procured a very undeserved
reputation for many Oriental sovereigns. In the same way other eminently
good rulers, such as the Omayyads Abdalmelik and Hishám, have the
reputation of avarice. Mansúr was certainly strict in money matters. The
vast expenditures on the building of Bagdad he caused to be accounted
for down to the last farthing, and he compelled his officials to refund
little profits which they had made for themselves. He looked sharply
after his tax collectors. In payment of the land tax he commanded that
only certain kinds of the gold coins of the Omayyads which were quite of
full weight should be received. Of course he followed also the old
established principle of Oriental princes, according to which high
officers who had gorged themselves were compelled to give back their
accumulations.[39] Even one of such exalted position, and of such
conspicuous service in the establishment and support of the Abbásid
dynasty, as was the Persian[40] Khálid, son of Barmek, the founder of
the Barmecide power, was subjected to an operation of this kind. He was
called upon within a very short time to pay 3,000,000 dirhems (about
£57,000); the Caliph in the end was satisfied with 2,700,000. Nay, even
Mansúr’s own brother Abbás was compelled to give up the money which he
had squeezed from the people when governor of Mesopotamia, and was
imprisoned besides. An Oriental State can never altogether prevent the
abuse by which officials, small and great, enrich themselves in illicit
ways. On the occasion of a land survey at Basra it was discovered that a
family of consideration, the descendants of the Prophet’s freedman Abú
Bekra, had increased their estate to a prodigious extent; the Caliph cut
it down to a tenth. Here is a piece of the higher finance:[41] Mansúr
ordered every inhabitant of Cufa to pay five dirhems (nearly two
shillings); all, of course, complied. Having in this way ascertained
their exact number, he imposed on all a poll-tax[42] of forty dirhems
(fifteen shillings), and applied the money to the fortifications of the
city. Whether this story is exact we will not undertake to say; in any
case, it is probable that he sought by stringent measures to raise the
revenue as much as possible, especially as he left to his successor an
overflowing exchequer. It must, however, be considered that the
comparative measure of quiet which he secured for most of the countries
of his empire more than compensated for high taxation. How far the
Christians’ complaints of special fiscal oppression under Mansúr were
justified, is a point we can hardly clear up now; perhaps they arose
chiefly from the circumstance that he taxed churches and monasteries,
which was not so very unreasonable. If he again reduced the tribute of
the Cyprians to the sum originally fixed by treaty, this was probably
due, not so much to a sense of justice as to policy; it was expedient
that so exposed a possession should be considerately treated.

We are safe in saying that the rule of Mansúr, however hard,
treacherous, or ruthless it may often have been, was on the whole a
blessing to the empire. He could say of himself with truth, that he had
done for the mass of the people the one thing which the masses needed;
he had insisted on righteousness (in the administrative and judicial
acts of his officials), had protected them against external attack, and
had secured internal peace and quiet. The fruits of his exertions were
reaped by his successors, who were by no means on a level with himself.
The great prosperity of the empire under his grandson Hárún ar Rashíd is
mainly due to Mansúr. It must be borne in mind, of course, that when we
speak of an Oriental State, justice and internal peace must always be
taken with large qualifications. Even the best of Oriental governments
is extremely defective from our point of view.[43]

The personal requirements of Mansúr were few. Born and bred in the
deserts of Edom, he had no turn for such luxury as prevailed in the
court of his son, and which afterwards often passed into extravagant
profligacy. Like his predecessor, he seems to have been no slave of
women. He drank no wine, and did not tolerate at his court music and
song, which at that time were only too often the handmaids of
debauchery. On the other hand, he was a friend of literature; he
particularly admired the fine heroic histories of old Arabia. Himself a
man of high mental endowments, he liked to associate with people of
culture and intellect. He found pleasure also in the verses and drollery
of the talented bibulous and frivolous negro Abú Duláma, who seems to
have been more of a court fool than of a court poet. By natural gift and
by cultivation, he became one of the most famous of Arabic orators. He
it was, moreover, who first caused Greek scientific works to be
translated into Arabic. He had at least a share in the rise of Arabic
science which took place in his time.

The sovereign before whose wrath all the world bowed in shrinking fear,
and of whose bloody severity frightful things were told, was under his
own roof a kindly father and master. He knew how to appreciate frank,
dignified demeanour in cases where this did not appear to carry danger.
Thus he pardoned a Kharijite who was to have been beheaded in his
presence, and whom he had assailed with insulting language, when the
latter pointed out to him how unseemly such conduct was. And he fully
appreciated the Omayyad sovereigns Moáwiya, Abdalmelik, and Hishám, as
also that brave and unselfish servant of the Omayyads, the great Hajjáj.

The most devoted followers of the Alids were in the habit of asserting
that they had derived from the Prophet a hereditary wisdom; this was
one, or even the sole ground on which the sovereignty was claimed for
them. Among the Persians, in particular, views of this kind had great
currency. The first Abbásid claimants and sovereigns also made similar
pretensions. It was the part of the good subject to believe that the
heads of this house enjoyed a special divine illumination. But, apart
from the individuals who had been won over by their emissaries at the
beginning, this faith did not spread. Even the Arab Moslems were much
more inclined to attribute such an advantage to the Alids than to the
reigning family. Mansúr himself doubtless viewed this doctrine of his
own special enlightenment much as an intelligent Roman emperor regarded
the divine honours paid him by poets and subservient provincials. At any
rate, his nature was cool, and religious zeal will be imputed to him by
no one. So long as heterodox persons were not dangerous to the State he
left them unmolested. Under his reign there were no persecutions of
sectaries, such as his son Mahdí so soon afterwards instituted, and
still less of the supporters of unpopular school opinions, such as
occurred frequently at a later date. In his time, moreover, the
unanimity of a later age as to orthodox doctrine or orthodox practice in
Islam had not yet been attained; much leaven was still at work which was
afterwards cast out. His Christian physician was accustomed to wine;
Mansúr in his own palace caused the obnoxious liquor to be supplied to
him. On the other hand, he praised this functionary for his fidelity to
the now aged wife whom he had left behind at home, when he sent back the
beautiful female slaves presented to him by the Caliph because
Christianity enjoined monogamy. But, of course, Mansúr’s edicts and
letters, according to the fashion of the time, overflowed with pious
phrases and texts from the Koran; and this was most of all conspicuous
in the religious political discourses which, after the example of the
earlier Caliphs, he delivered on Fridays from the pulpit of some great
mosque. Mansúr was further led by the traditions of his family to assume
to some extent the part of a theologian, especially in giving forth
alleged sayings of the Prophet. Some characteristic specimens of such
oral traditions communicated by him to others have come down to us. Thus
he declared the Prophet to have said, that if he had appointed to a
governor a definite revenue, then everything which the latter took in
excess of this was unlawful spoliation. Unfortunately, not many of
Mansúr’s governors were so tender of conscience as to take seriously to
heart a word of the Prophet guaranteed on such authority. At the same
time, all things considered, I do not venture to maintain that Mansúr
was at heart an utter unbeliever. In the East, still less than in the
West, does one expect to find absolute consistency in matters of
religion. The man who in cold blood violated his most sacred oaths may
yet have argued with himself that Alláh the All-merciful would at last
forgive him, good Moslem as he was, all his sins. Perhaps he hoped even
that God would impute it to him for righteousness that he was the cousin
of the Apostle of God; that would have been a truly Arab thought. In the
same way it is also possible that his repeated pilgrimages, over and
above their political purpose, which is obvious, may have been designed
also to satisfy a personal need. It is conceivable, too, that the old
sinner may have counted on the divine favour because he had vigorously
carried on the holy war against unbelievers.[44]

The baneful frontier war, carried on for centuries between the caliphate
and the Byzantine empire, and interrupted only by short truces, pursued
its course under Mansúr, though mostly only in the form of plundering
forays, devastation of the open country, and destruction of single
fortresses and cities. Mansúr sought to make his frontier against the
Byzantines as secure as possible by freshly fortifying a number of
cities and supplying them with adequate garrisons. In this respect his
restorations of the ruined fortresses of Melatia in Lesser Armenia, and
of that of Massísa (Mopsuhestia) in Cilicia,—a town which he almost
founded anew,—were of special importance. These frontier fortresses
naturally served also as bases of operations against the enemy’s
territory. The maritime towns on the Syrian coast were in like manner
placed by Mansúr in a state of defence.

The other frontiers also gave enough to do. In 764 the wild Khazars (in
what is now Southern Russia) invaded the territory south of the
Caucasus, took Tiflis, devastated the country far and wide, and defeated
more than one army. Before a sufficient force could be sent against
them, they had again disappeared. But Mansúr now took precautions, by
defensive works, to check as much as possible the inroads of these and
other northern barbarians, at whose hands these lands had long suffered
severely. He took firm possession of the whole territory up to the great
mountain chain, and even levied a tax upon the naphtha-springs of Baku.

The mountainous districts on the southern margin of the Caspian, on the
other hand, remained unsubdued. The Dílemites (in Gílán) made frequent
plundering attacks on the adjoining country, as had been their
immemorial habit. The war against them was continual. We learn
incidentally that in 760-61 the Caliph summoned expressly the richer
inhabitants of Cufa to take arms against the Dílemites. Now,
theoretically, every Moslem capable of bearing arms is under constant
obligation to fight against unbelievers; but we may conjecture that what
Mansúr had chiefly in view was the money which those not very warlike
people would have to pay for exemption from service.—Tabaristán
(Mázenderán), which borders Gílán on the east, where a family of high
functionaries of the  Sásánian empire had maintained themselves as an
independent dynasty and still kept up the religion of Zoroaster, was
almost entirely annexed for the first time under Mansúr.[45] A former
butcher of Rai (Rhagae, near the modern Teherán), who, on his own
responsibility, had collected a body of men, and at its head had fought
bravely against Sampádh,[46] received the appointment of governor. But
this conquest of Tabaristán was not yet final.

The struggle continued to be carried on—with many interruptions, it is
true—against the unbelievers (Turks and others) beyond the Oxus; so
also on the Indian frontier, where during Mansúr’s reign Kandahár, among
other places, was taken. But the extension of the Mohammedan empire in
these frontier regions was nowhere great. We do not know whether the
fleet which Mansúr despatched from Basra in 770 to chastise a tribe of
pirates in the delta of the Indus was successful. Two years before
members of this tribe had ventured up the Red Sea, and had plundered
Jiddah, the port of Mecca.[47]

In the repression of the Alid rebellion Isá, son of Músá, had, as we
have seen, specially distinguished himself, and, by a binding
arrangement, the succession to the sovereignty had been secured to him.
But Mansúr wished to be succeeded by his own son Mahdí. He accordingly
wrote to his cousin a letter full of unction, in which he represented
the troops as having taken Mahdí to their heart to such a degree that
the former must of necessity yield to him. The claim had even a stronger
foundation, for the unscrupulous poet Mutí had produced before the
assembled court a prediction of the Prophet which clearly pointed to
Mahdí as the future pattern prince, and had even had the audacity to
call in Abbás, the Caliph’s brother, as a witness to the genuineness of
the announcement,—a testimony in which the latter had, against his
will, to concur. In spite of all this Isá held his own, and maintained,
certainly with good reason, not only that the Caliph and his officials
were obliged by the oath which they had tendered to him to protect him
in his rights, but that he had also bound himself by his oath, and dared
not abandon his claim. At last, by threats and all sorts of
importunities, he was rendered pliable, and renounced on condition that
he was to be the successor of Mahdí. Officials and people were in this
way released from the terms of their oath to Isá (764). The condition
attached was from the first rather illusory, for Mansúr’s son was much
younger than Isá, and actually survived him; but before Isá’s death
Mahdí as Caliph had already compelled him definitely to resign his
claims in favour of Mahdí’s son Hádí.

At this time also (764) Mansúr’s quondam rival, his uncle Abdalláh,
died. Abdalláh, as already related, had after his defeat taken refuge
with his brother Sulaimán at Basra (end of 754). When Mansúr came to
know that he was in hiding there, he demanded his surrender; but this
was not granted until after he had pledged himself in the most solemn
way that no harm should befall Abdalláh. In the deed in which this
security was promised,—a deed accepted by the Caliph,—it was
specified, among other things, that Mansúr, should he break the
agreement, would be held as renouncing the sovereignty, and as releasing
his subjects from their oath of allegiance. These clauses were little to
Mansúr’s taste: people might, perhaps, one day think of taking him at
his word! The author of the document, Ibn Mokaffa, famous as a stylist
and as a poet, and particularly meritorious as translator of older
Persian works, was accordingly, on account of the words in question, put
to death with cruelty on a hint from the Caliph. And when Abdalláh (12th
May 759) came to his nephew, in spite of every promise he was seized,
and his companions slain. Abdalláh himself also, according to accounts,
died a violent death. Yet it is difficult to see why Mansúr should have
spared his uncle for so long a time if imprisonment was not a sufficient
measure of security; a seven years’ imprisonment was of itself enough to
account for the death of a man no longer young. Still less can we rely
on the various rumours according to which the death of Mohammed, son of
Saffáh (beginning of 767) was due to violence; for Mansúr had no
occasion to be afraid of this dissolute nephew. The fantastic stories
that are told in connection with these things show us, at all events,
what the Commander of the Faithful was deemed capable of. On the other
hand, I am bound to point out that Mansúr, if he never shrank from an
atrocity that he deemed serviceable, hardly can have found his pleasure
in mere murder and bloodshed. Accordingly, he disapproved of Isá’s
having put to death a son of Nasr; for, bravely as Nasr had fought on
behalf of the Omayyad, his son was now no source of danger.

Though, after the defeat of the Alids, Mansúr had the empire as a whole
well in hand, yet in the remoter provinces all sorts of trouble still
arose, some of them very serious. For example, the Armenian nobles, who
had always been restless, had once more to be put down by force. In 767
there was another violent outbreak in Khorásán. Its leader[48] is said
to have claimed to possess the gift of prophecy; however this may be,
the movement undoubtedly was of a religious, strongly heretical
character. The histories do not recognise the insurgents as Moslems at
all. Kházim himself born or bred in Khorásán, was sent against them; but
could effect nothing until he got it arranged that the vizier of Mahdí,
the heir-apparent, who governed the eastern provinces from Rai as
viceroy, should no longer be allowed to interfere with the unity of the
command by giving separate orders to the subordinate officers. This
done, he brought the insurrection to an end by a brilliant victory and a
terrible massacre (768). He is said to have caused 14,000 prisoners to
be beheaded. If we consider that Charlemagne, fourteen years afterwards,
caused 4,000 captive Saxons to be massacred,[49] and that by command of
prince (afterwards Caliph) Hárún, who certainly was a man of much higher
culture than either Mansúr’s general or the Frankish king, 2,900
Byzantine prisoners were put to death in the year 765, the number just
given will not appear much too great. From other facts, also, we know
Kházim to have been a man of great severity. The wars with unbelievers,
especially with Turks and Byzantines, and the civil wars, had trained a
race of brave but pitiless fighters. The leader of the insurrection was
brought a prisoner before Mansúr, and executed.

Another great rebellion broke out soon afterwards in the province of
“Africa” (corresponding nearly to the modern Tripoli and Tunis), where,
indeed, matters had never been thoroughly quiet. It, too, had a
religious and also a national origin; the rebels were Berbers and
Kharijites. The Caliph’s governor, who shortly before had been
transferred to Africa from the Indian frontier,—a distance of about
sixty degrees of longitude,—fell in battle against them. Mansúr now
sent Yezíd, son of Hátim, with a great army upon the scene, and, to show
how important the matter was in his eyes, accompanied him in person as
far as to Jerusalem (770). In the following year Yezíd gained a decisive
victory, and triumphantly entered the capital, Kairawán, where he
remained as governor till long after Mansúr’s death. The Caliph’s
territory did not extend much farther than this. The regions more to the
west had been separated from the caliphate since the fall of the
Omayyads. In Spain the Omayyad Abderrahmán, a grandson of Caliph Hishám,
after surmounting innumerable dangers, and landing in the country
without resources and without allies, at the age of twenty-five, in the
spring of 756, had rapidly established an independent empire. All
efforts of Mansúr to shatter his power proved vain. Like Mansúr himself,
he was the son of a Berber slave-girl. The Caliph, who, as we have seen,
knew how to recognise valour and greatness even in enemies of his house,
called him “the falcon of the Koraish” (the tribe to which the Omayyads,
Abbásids, and many other families of consideration belonged).

Much less important than either of those just spoken of were the risings
in northern Arabia, which were quelled by Okba in 768 or 769. In doing
so Okba, a Yemenite Arab, out of tribal hostility shed an inordinate
quantity of blood. Wishing to give a handsome present to an official
whom the Caliph had sent to him, he handed over to him fifty prisoners,
whom he was to take with him to Basra, making as if he was about to
decapitate them and hang up their bodies; their tribesmen in that city
would then be ready to redeem them at 10,000 dirhems (nearly £200) a
piece. The pretty plan was unfortunately spoiled by the temper of the
populace and the interference of an intelligent Cadi. On the report of
the latter to the Caliph, he was thanked, and the prisoners let go.

It was while returning from a pilgrimage to Mecca that Mansúr had become
Caliph; on a similar journey to Mecca he was destined to die. In 775 he
once more set out; on the way he was seized with a disease of the bowels
(dysentery?), which was probably connected with troubles of the
digestive system from which he had formerly suffered. The heat of the
Arabian late summer, and the fatigues and privations of the journey (on
which even the Caliph must often have had to content himself with very
indifferent drinking water), can only have aggravated the malady in a
man now somewhat advanced in years, if they did not even occasion it. He
succeeded in reaching the holy territory, but not the sanctuary itself.
His death took place on Saturday, 7th October 775,—according to other
authorities, on the Wednesday before,—at Bír Maimún, about one hour’s
journey from Mecca, after a reign of twenty-one years and some months;
his age was over sixty, the authorities vacillating between sixty-three
and sixty-eight lunar (sixty-one and sixty-six solar) years.[50] The
only persons present were the freedman Rabí, an influential confidant,
and some servants. Rabí kept the death secret for some little time, with
a view to the arrangements necessary to secure the throne for Mahdí.
Mansúr lies buried near the holy city, the cradle of his family. Later
generations believed they knew his grave; but the statement is not
improbably correct that at the time a number of graves (“a hundred,” it
is said) were dug, in order that his true resting-place might remain
unknown. At this meeting-place of all restless spirits, where the power
of the central government was never able to assert itself so firmly as
in the lands of ancient civilisation, some embittered enemy of the
dynasty might easily one day gain the upper hand, in which case it was
not inconceivable that he might disinter and insult the body of its most
powerful and most hated member, as Mansúr’s own uncle Abdalláh had done
with the bodies of the Omayyads.

The East has seen many sovereigns who came near, or even surpassed,
Mansúr in duplicity and absolutely unscrupulous egoism, but hardly one
who was at the same time endowed with such commanding intellect, or who
(speaking generally and on the whole) had so strong an influence for
good on the development of his empire.


[20] By the Khorásán of that period we are to understand, not merely the
modern Persian province of this name, but also extensive tracts to the
east and north. Its capital was Merv, now in the hands of Russia.

[21] At that time even the noblest non-Arabian convert, on his
acceptance of Islam, had to attach himself as “client” to some Arab
tribe; whereupon he was entitled to add to his own name another, which
designated him as belonging to this tribe.


                                   H á s h i m
                           |               |           |
                       Abdalláh        Abú Tálib   A b b á s
                           |               |
                  The Prophet Mohammed  A l í
                           |              /
                           |             /
                      Fátima (daughter) /

[23] Probably on the right bank of the Nile, opposite Eshmúnein.

[24] According to others, on Saturday, 8th June.

[25] Compare the dream of Pericles’ mother, Herod. vi. 131.


                   |            |                  |        |
                Mohammed  A b d a l l á h         Musá   Sulaimán
                   |                               |
            ------------------                     |
           |       |          |                    |
       Ibráhím   Saffáh  M a n s ú r              Isá

[27] See above, p. 80.


                                        Abd Manáf
                           |                                |
                         Háshim                         Abd Shams
                           |                                |
                     Abdalmuttalib                    O m a y y a
                    |             |
               Abú Tálib     A b b á s
                 A l í


                                  Mohammed the Prophet
               Alí-------------------Fátima (daughter)
                |                         |
              Hasan                     Husain
                |                         |
              Hasan--------------------Fátima (daughter)
                 |                   |
              Mohammed           Ibráhím

[30] See above, p. 81.

[31] The Juhaina (Jehéne) have their home there to this day.

[32] During the journey Abdalláh is reported to have shouted to Mansúr:
“We did not so treat the prisoners we took from you at Badr!” This was a
bitter allusion to the fact that Abdalláh’s ancestor Alí had been a
champion of Islam in the Prophet’s very first battle, while the ancestor
of the Abbásids, who now wished to be taken as representing the rights
of the Prophet’s house, took at that period the side of the heathen, and
with many of his comrades had been taken prisoner, but had been
mercifully treated.

[33] Historical tradition, on the whole, is not indeed against the
Abbásids, but it is at the same time very favourable to the Alids. This
is shown even by the great fulness of detail with which it records all
Alid rebellions.

[34] In area Mansúr’s empire was much greater than that of Rome at its
greatest, in population much poorer, and, on that account, as well as
for geographical reasons, much more difficult to govern.

[35] In this choice of site one element that came into consideration was
the comparative absence of mosquitoes. Any one who has made acquaintance
with the gnats of the Rhine or of Venice can form some faint conception
of what the inhabitants of those hot countries, with their many pools
and marshes, have to suffer from these little bloodsuckers.

[36] The imperial posts were, as in the ancient Persian empire, well
managed,—not, however, for general use, but only for that of

[37] As Caliph, Mahdí afterwards restored the whole sum once more to the

[38] It is much to be regretted that none of these reports have come
down to us. Altogether, we have extremely few original documents for the
history of the Arabian empire; nor are those very numerous even which
have been preserved for us, either wholly, or in substance, in extant
works. On the other hand, the narrative of the history of the caliphate
is copious.

[39] “At a time when no conception of any such thing as operation on the
credit of the State had been thought of, whenever receipts fell short of
expenditure, there was no other way of raising money but that of taking
it where it was to be had. The State, that is, the Caliph, did this in
the form of money fines, by taking from people of notorious wealth a
portion, or the whole, of their generally ill-gotten gains.. .. The
people, as a whole, found themselves under this system much better off
than if ever-increasing burdens had been accumulated upon them by a
universal raising of customs and dues, and for this reason, doubtless, I
find no word of complaint on the subject in any of the historians of the
period.” A. von Kremer, in his exceedingly instructive dissertation,
_Ueber das Einnahme budget des Abbasiden-Reiches vom Jahre 306_ H.
(Vienna 1887) p. 11.

[40] More correctly, Bactrian.

[41] It recalls the anecdotes in the pseudo-Aristotelic _Oeconomica_,
Bk. ii.

[42] So we read; but we may be sure that only heads of families are

[43] In saying this, I do not mean that we Europeans live in a political

[44] “Tantum relligio potuit suadere malorum,” wrote Lucretius, without
any inkling of the misery yet destined to come upon the world through
the aggressiveness of Semitic religious zeal.

[45] The exact year is unknown.

[46] See above, p. 118.

[47] At sea the great Arab dynasties, like the Roman, have seldom done
anything considerable.

[48] His name is now, owing to the ambiguity of the Arabic characters
and the mistakes of copyists, quite uncertain.

[49] The objections that have recently been urged against this statement
are hardly strong enough to invalidate it.

[50] Compare above, p. 70. Probably Mansúr himself did not know exactly
his own birth year, not to speak of his birthday.

                       A SERVILE WAR IN THE EAST.

IMMEDIATELY after the tragic night in which the Caliph Mutawakkil was
murdered at the instigation of his own son (11th or 12th December 861),
the proud fabric of the Abbásid empire—already greatly shaken—began to
collapse. The troops, Turkish and others, raised and deposed the
Caliphs; the generals, for the most part quondam slaves, like those whom
they commanded, strove for a mastery which in turn was often dependent
on the humours of the soldiery. In the provinces new rulers arose, who
did not always think it necessary to acknowledge the Caliph as lord,
even in name. Claimants belonging to the house of Alí had success in
some places. In the great towns of the Tigris region there were serious
popular tumults. Peace and security were enjoyed only in those districts
where a governor, practically independent, held firm and strict rule.

This circumstance alone makes it in some degree intelligible how a
clever and unscrupulous adventurer, leaning for support on the most
despised class of the population, should have been able, not far from
the heart of the empire, to set up a rule which for a long time was the
terror of the surrounding regions, and only yielded at last, after
nearly fourteen years of effort on the part of the caliphate, which had
in the meanwhile recovered a little of its former strength.

Alí, son of Mohammed, a native of the large village of Verzenín, not far
from the modern Teherán, gave himself out to be a descendant of Alí and
of his wife Fátima, the daughter of the Prophet. The claim may have been
just; the descendants of Alí by that time were reckoned by thousands,
and were very far from being, all of them, persons of distinction. It
is, of course, equally possible that his alleged descent was a mere
invention. According to some authorities his family belonged to Bahrein,
a district of north-eastern Arabia, and was a branch of the tribe of
Abdalkais, which had its seat there. In any case, he passed for a man of
Arab blood. Before he became known to the world, Alí is said, among
other adventures, to have gone about for a while in Bahrein, seeking a
following there. This statement is made extremely probable by the fact
that several of his principal followers belonged to that district,
though it is far removed from the world’s highways, and but seldom
mentioned in history; among these was the black freedman, Sulaimán, son
of Jámi, one of his most capable generals. The ambitious Alí, utilising
the prevailing anarchy, next sought to secure a footing in Basra. This
great commercial city, next to Bagdad the most important place in the
central provinces, was suffering much at that time from the conflicts of
two parties, to all appearance the inhabitants of two different quarters
of the town.[51] Yet Alí gained little here; some of his followers, and
even the members of his own family, were thrown into prison, a lot which
he himself escaped only by flight to Bagdad. But soon afterwards, in
connection with a change of governor, new disturbances broke out in
Basra, the prisons were broken, and Alí was soon again on the spot. He
had already thoroughly surveyed the ground for his plans.

We are very imperfectly acquainted with the scene of the occurrences
which I am about to relate. Even if the modern condition of these parts
admitted of being represented on maps much more closely than defective
surveys allow, and were the surveys better, they would not help us very
much, for the whole face of the land has greatly changed since the times
we write of. At that time the Euphrates in the lowest part of its course
discharged itself into a region of lake and marsh, connected with the
sea by a number of tidal channels. The most important of these waters
was near Basra, which lay farther to the west than the modern much
smaller city of the same name (Bussorah). That place and its immediate
neighbourhood was intersected by innumerable canals (more than 120,000,
it is asserted). The chief arm of the Tigris was at that time the
southward flowing, now called Shatt al Hai, upon which stood the city of
Wásit. Farther down, the stream must have turned towards the south-east.
The present main arm, whose main course is to the south-east, was at
that time dry, or had a very limited volume of water. The lowest part of
the Tigris was connected with the stream on which Basra stood by
numerous canals, some of them navigable to large sea-going ships. All
these waters were reached by the tide. Floods and broken embankments had
even by that time converted much arable land into marshes; while, on the
other hand, by drainage and embanking, many pieces of land had been
reclaimed. Since that time, in common with all the rest of Irák
(Babylonia), this southern portion, in a very conspicuous degree, has
been so grievously wasted and neglected, that the forces of nature have
entirely gained the upper hand. What was a smiling country has been
turned into a wilderness by the spread of the marshes, or by the silting
up and stoppage of the drainage channels. The rivers have in part quite
changed their beds. On this account we can follow only in a vague way
the very precise topographical details which our sources give in
describing the campaigns against Alí and his bands.

At no great distance eastward from Basra there were extensive flats,
traversed by ditches, in which great numbers of black slaves, mostly
from the east coast of Africa, the land of the Zenj,[52] were employed
by rich _entrepreneurs_ of the city in digging away the nitrous surface
soil, so as to lay bare the fruitful ground underneath, and at the same
time to obtain the saltpetre that occurred in the upper stratum. An
industry of such magnitude in the open country is seldom met with in the
East. The work in such a case is very hard, and the supervision must be
strict. The feeling of affection which in the East binds the slave very
closely to the family in which he lives and has grown up, is here
altogether wanting. On the other hand, among such masses of slaves
working together there easily springs up a certain community of feeling,
a common sense of embitterment against their masters, and, under
favourable circumstances, a consciousness of their own strength; thus
are combined the conditions of a powerful insurrection. So it was in the
servile wars of the last century of the Roman republic, and so it was
here. Alí recognised the strength latent in those black slaves. The fact
that he was able to set this strength in motion, and that he developed
it into a terrible power which required long time and the very greatest
exertions to overcome it, conclusively shows that he was a man of
genius. The “leader of the Zenj,” the “Alid,” or the “false Alid,” plays
a very great part in the annals of his time—such a part, indeed, that
it is easy to understand why our main informant, Tabarí, should by
preference call him “the abominable one,” “the wicked one,” or “the

Once before in Babylonia a talented and unscrupulous Arab had utilised a
time of internal confusion to raise a sovereignty on religious pretexts
by the aid of a despised class; the cunning Mokhtár had appealed to the
Persian or half-Persian population of the great cities, particularly
Cufa, upon whom the dominant Arabs in those early days of Islam looked
down with supreme contempt (685-687 A.D.). But our hero went much
deeper, and maintained himself much longer, than Mokhtár.

Before openly declaring himself, Alí had sought out from among the
lowest strata of the population, and the freedmen in particular,
suitable tools for the execution of his plans. In the beginning of
September 869 he betook himself, at first under the guise of business
agent for a princely family, to the saltpetre district, and began at
once to rouse the slaves. Saturday, 10th September 869, is reckoned as
the date at which he openly declared himself. He represented to the
negro slaves how badly they were being treated, and promised them, if
they joined him, freedom, wealth, and—slaves. In other words, he did
not preach universal equality and well-being, but reserved the supremacy
for the particular class to which he addressed himself. All this, of
course, was clothed in religious forms. He proclaimed the restoration of
true legality. None but those who followed himself were believers, or
entitled to claim the heavenly and earthly rights of the true Moslem.
Alí thus appealed at once to the nobler and to the more vulgar feelings
of the rudest masses, and with complete success. We may accept the
statement that he gave himself out for inspired; at any rate to the
blacks he seemed to be a messenger of God. That he himself believed in
his own heavenly vocation is hardly to be assumed; all that we know of
him bespeaks a very cool understanding. We learn much more, it is true,
about his warlike deeds than about his true character; religious fancy
has often great influence even upon coolly calculating natures, and in
the East especially it is very difficult to draw the line between
self-deception and imposition upon others. That Alí was sincere when he
betook himself to astrology in important crises need not be doubted, for
this superstition at that time held sway over even the clearest heads
with hardly an exception.

Since the rebel leader claimed, as we have seen, to be descended from
Alí, Mohammed’s son-in-law, we should naturally have expected to find
him, like other Alids, appealing to the divine right of his house, and
coming forward as founder of a sect of Shíites. But instead of this he
declared himself for the doctrine of those most decided enemies of
Shíite legitimism, the Kharijites or Zealots, who held the first two
Caliphs alone to have been lawful, and rejected Othmán and Alí alike,
because they had adopted worldly views; who demanded that none but “the
best man” should wield the sovereignty, “though he were an Abyssinian
slave;”[53] who, moreover, in their ethical rigorism regarded as
idolatry every grave sin, and most of all, of course, opposition to
their own doctrine as the true Islam; and who accordingly regarded all
their Moslem enemies, with their wives and families, as lawfully given
over to the sword or to slavery. One of the most prominent officers of
the negro leader preached in this sense in Basra when it was taken; the
same idea lent fury to his black troops; and even his banner bore the
text of the Koran[54] which had been one of the chief watchwords of the
old death-defying Kharijites. It was certainly also with a purpose that
he called himself upon this banner simply, “Alí, son of Mohammed,”
without allusion to his high descent. With this it agrees that an
original document of the period shortly after his death designates him
as a Kharijite. His choice of party was in the highest degree
appropriate. The slaves were easily gained by a strong personality who
could condescend to them, but they were not to be inspired with
enthusiasm for a mystical hereditary claim. But that they themselves
were the true believers and the lawful destroyers or masters of all
others, the blacks were ready to believe; and they acted accordingly.
Perhaps their leader took this also into account, that in Basra (on the
lower classes of which place he seems at first to have reckoned), the
Shíite doctrine was at that time very unpopular, quite the opposite of
what it was in Cufa, the old rival of Basra. From what has been said it
will be abundantly clear why Karmat, one of the founders of the
Karmatians, an extreme Shíite sect which was destined soon after this to
fill the whole Mohammedan world with fear and dismay, should, on
religious grounds, have decided not to connect himself with the negro
leader, however useful this association might otherwise have been to

The nature of the ground was highly favourable to a rising of the kind.
Indeed, some forty years before this, in the marshes between Wásit and
Basra, the Gypsies (Zutt) settled there had, augmented by offscourings
of humanity brought together from all quarters, lived the life, first of
robbers, and afterwards of declared rebels, and were only after the
greatest exertion compelled to capitulate; yet these were people who
neither in courage nor in numbers could be compared to the East
Africans, and that, too, at a time when the caliphate was still in
reality a world-empire.[55]

Of the beginning of the negro insurrection we have exceptionally minute
details from the accounts of eye-witnesses. We learn how one band of
slaves after another—a troop of fifty, a troop of five hundred, and so
forth—obeyed the call of the new Messiah. We even know the names of
those slaves who incited their companions to join the rebel leader. As
was natural, their wrath was directed, not merely against their masters,
who were mostly absent, but even more against the taskmasters, all of
them, we may suppose, themselves slaves or at most freedmen. Yet the
leader spared their lives and let them go, after they had first been
soundly beaten by their former subordinates. The owners more than once
begged him to let them have their slaves back again, promising him
amnesty and five gold pieces per head; but he refused all offers; and
when the blacks began to show uneasiness about such negotiations, he
solemnly pledged himself never to betray them, and to further their best
interests. This oath he kept.

The most numerous class of these negroes—the Zenj, properly so
called—were almost all of them ignorant of Arabic; for during their
common labours in the open air they had had no occasion to learn this
language, though the Oriental black, for the most part, very readily
drops his mother-tongue to take up that of his master. With these,
accordingly, Alí had to use an interpreter. But others of the
negroes—those from more northern countries (Nubia and the
like)—already spoke Arabic. With the saltpetre workers were undoubtedly
associated many fugitive slaves from the villages and towns, and
probably all sorts of fair-skinned people as well, but apparently few
representatives of the urban proletariat. A valuable accession to their
strength was contributed by the black soldiers who, especially after
defeats, went over to the Zenj from the government troops. So, for
example, at the very outset a division of the army fell upon the almost
unarmed rebels, but was beaten; whereupon three hundred blacks at once
went over to the latter.

Unfortunately we possess practically no particulars as to the internal
arrangements of this singular State, composed of fanatical warriors or
robbers who once had been, for the most part, negro slaves. With regard
to their great achievements in war, it is to be remembered that they
were excellently led; that they fought upon a favourable and familiar
soil, full of marshes and canals, of which they thoroughly knew how to
take advantage, while the enemy was equipped for an altogether different
kind of fighting; and, finally, that the East African blacks, as a rule,
are brave. It was not without reason that many negroes were at that time
enrolled in the troops of the empire; even at present the black
regiments of the Khedive are much more serviceable than those raised in
Egypt. We know, too, that the negro leader maintained strict discipline.

It would seem that he had exerted himself to win over the villagers
also, who for the most part, if not altogether, were dependent on
aristocratic or wealthy masters. Perhaps he was more successful in this
than our authorities say. He sometimes gave up hostile villages to
plunder; but the provisioning of his large masses of men was probably,
to a considerable extent, made easier for him through the connivance of
the peasants. And when, at the very outset, he allowed a band of Mecca
pilgrims to pass unharmed, this action was not only sagacious, but also
in accordance with the doctrine which he professed.

Hardly had the slaves’ revolt declared itself when troops upon troops
were sent for its suppression; but within a few weeks the Zenj had
gained several victories. The imperial armies were, it may be presumed,
not large enough, and were badly led; the enemy, as was natural, was
underrated. Here, at the outset, we find the Zenj’s peculiar mode of
fighting,—namely, out of concealed side-channels, heavily overgrown
with reeds, to fall suddenly upon the rear of the enemy’s troops as they
rowed along. In this war it is the regular thing that a number of the
vanquished are drowned. The leader of the Zenj was always well served by
his scouts.

Of the booty taken in the first encounters, the most important part
consisted of arms. Prisoners were remorselessly put to death. In fact,
according to Kharijite doctrine, they were unbelievers, and worthy of
death; while the women and the children, as non-Moslems, were made
slaves. When at last the negro chief had defeated an army consisting
principally of inhabitants of Basra, he marched in person against that
town; he calculated, it would seem, that one of the two town parties,
with which he had frequently had dealings, would declare itself for him;
but in this he was deceived. The people, high and low, stood together.
They faced him on Sunday, 23rd October 869 (full six weeks only after
the date of his first rising), and completely shattered his army; he
himself barely escaped death, fighting bravely. But the citizen-army,
though it had manfully defended hearth and home, was hardly fit to take
the offensive, and certainly had no leader who could be matched with
Alí, who quickly rallied his followers. When, on the second day, the
first division of the Basrans was advancing by water, bodies of Zenj
posted in ambush on both sides of the canal fell upon their rear. Some
vessels capsized. The negroes fought with fury; their women threw
bricks. Those also who were advancing by land were involved in the
disaster; many were killed or drowned. The defeat of the townspeople was
complete. A large number of members of the ruling family even,
descendants of Sulaimán,[56] the brother of the first two Abbásid
Caliphs, perished. Alí caused a whole ship to be laden with heads of the
slain and sent along a canal to Basra. His associates now urged him
immediately to fall upon the town; but his reply was, that they ought to
be glad that they might now count upon peace for some time, so far as
the Basrans were concerned. He had in the meanwhile no doubt satisfied
himself that he had no substantial following in Basra, and still felt
himself too weak to make himself master of the great city.

After these events the Zenj chief caused to be established, on a
suitable dry spot, impregnated with salt and thus without vegetation, a
settlement of his blacks, which he exchanged for another in the
following year. His people reared huts of palm branches, we may suppose,
or perhaps of mud. The “palaces” of the chief and of his principal
officers, the prisons for the numerous captives, the mosques, and some
other public buildings which were gradually added, may in some cases
have been relatively handsome and internally adorned with the spoils of
the enemy, but their material was certainly, at best, sun-dried brick.
In the broader sense, the city finally founded, called Mokhtára (“the
elect city”), covered a large area, and included extensive fields and
palm groves. It lay somewhat below Basra, abutted on the west bank of
the Tigris, and was intersected by the canal Nahr Abilkhasíb, the main
direction of whose course was from north to south (or perhaps from
north-east to south-west); other canals also surrounded, or, we may
suppose, traversed it. With the complete change of the water-courses in
that region, it is hardly likely that its site will ever be exactly made

The inhabitants of this ephemeral capital for the most part, doubtless,
drew the necessaries of life from the immediate neighbourhood. Yet they
were also dependent to some extent on imports; so that in the end, when
the blockade was fully established and all communications cut off, they
were reduced to great extremity. Until then traders and Bedouins had
ventured to bring provisions to the negro city even in full sight of the
hostile army. The dates grown there served, in part at least, as payment
for the Bedouins. But as the home consumption of this chief article of
produce hardly left much over for trade, we must assume that the dealers
who thus risked their lives for the sake of gain must have been paid for
the flour, fish, and other provisions which they brought with articles
of plunder, and with money that had been accumulated by plunder and
taxation, or rather black-mail.

At the pressing entreaty of the terrified Basrans the government sent
the Turkish general Jolán. For six months he lay in camp face to face
with the Zenj. His troops, consisting mostly of horsemen, could not move
freely over the ground, thickly planted as it was with date-palms and
other trees, and broken up by water-courses. At last a night attack by
the negroes upon the entrenched camp made such an impression upon his
soldiers, that Jolán judged it expedient to withdraw to Basra.
Previously to this an attack of the Basrans had been victoriously
repelled by the Zenj. The latter now grew so bold that they seized upon
a fleet of twenty-four vessels bound for Basra; much blood was shed in
this action, and the booty, including many captive women and children,
was very great. On Wednesday, 19th June 870, they attacked the
flourishing town of Obolla, which lay four hours from Basra, on the
Tigris (approximately on the site of the modern Bussorah), and captured
it after a brief struggle, in which the commandant fell along with his
son. The slaughter was great: many were drowned; the city, built of
wood, fell a prey to the flames. The fall of Obolla had such an effect
upon the inhabitants of Abbádán, a town on an island at the mouth of the
Tigris, that they made their submission to the Zenj; in doing so they
had to deliver up their slaves and all their arms; the former augmenting
the fighting strength of the victors. Hereupon the negro chief sent an
army far into Khúzistán (Susiana), the adjoining country on the east.
Wherever submission was not made, fire and sword did their work. On
Monday, 14th August, the capital Ahwáz (on the stream now known as the
Kárún) was taken. The garrison of this important place had prudently
withdrawn, and this doubtless secured for the inhabitants a milder
treatment. But, of course, all the property of the government and of the
governor, who with his people had remained at his post, was confiscated.

Thus, then, within less than a year an adventurer at the head of negro
slaves had taken considerable cities, made himself master of the mouth
of the Tigris, and gained control of wide territories. Even the
disturbance to commerce was very serious. The communications of Bagdad,
the world-city, were broken, and its victualling rendered a matter of
difficulty. Basra trembled at the fate of Obolla. Matters certainly
could never have gone quite so far, if in the meantime the greatest
confusion had not prevailed at the then residence of the Caliph, Sámarrá
(on the Tigris, some three days’ journey above Bagdad). At the very time
of the fall of Obolla the disputes of those in authority had led to the
death, after less than a year’s reign, of the pious Caliph Muhtadí, and
the proclamation of his cousin Motamid as Caliph. But this was the
beginning of an improved state of affairs. For though Motamid was not at
all such a sovereign as the times demanded, yet his brother Mowaffak,
who in reality held the reins of government, leaving to the Caliph only
the honour and luxury of the exalted position, had intelligence and
perseverance enough gradually to restore the power of the dynasty, in
the central provinces at least. At first, indeed, he had too much on
hand elsewhere to be able to think of the Zenj, but in the early summer
of 871 he had got so far as to send against them an army under the
command of his chamberlain Saíd. Saíd at first inflicted serious losses
on them, but in the end suffered a disastrous defeat through a night
attack. He was recalled, but his successor fared no better. Five hundred
heads of soldiers of his were exhibited in the immediate neighbourhood
of Basra; many were drowned. In Susiana, too, a general of the blacks
had fought with success, but their chief called him back to cut off the
Basrans anew from communication with the Tigris, which had recently been
reopened for them by the imperial troops. This done, the Zenj for some
time pressed hard on Basra itself, which had but an inadequate garrison,
was torn by party dissensions, and was suffering from dearth. The
negroes were joined by a number of Bedouins. Great as is the contempt
with which the genuine Arab regards the black, the prospect of plunder,
and the plunder of so rich a town as Basra, is an attraction which the
hungry son of the desert cannot resist. These Bedouins were not equal to
the Zenj, either in bravery or in loyalty; but they were valuable to the
chief, as supplying him with a body of cavalry. On the 7th September
871, during the Friday service, the negro general Mohallabí, with these
Arab horsemen and with black foot soldiers, penetrated into the city,
but retired once more, after setting fire to it in several places. It
was not till Monday that the Zenj took full possession. The massacre
that followed was frightful. It is even alleged that many inhabitants
were induced, by offers of quarter, to gather together at certain
places, where they could more easily be cut down. The chief had vowed
direst vengeance on the city which had deceived his hopes. His general
Alí, son of Abbán, had allowed a deputation from one of the parties of
the town to approach his chief with prayers for quarter; but he would
not admit them to his presence, and superseded the general by a less
soft-hearted man. The brutal negro slaves waded in the blood of the free
men. The lowest estimate places the number of the slain in Basra at
300,000. The captured women and children were carried into slavery. The
noblest women of the houses of Alí and of the reigning house of Abbás
were sold to the highest bidder. Many negroes are said to have received
as many as ten slaves, or more, for their share.

But a permanent occupation of the great city was not feasible. It was
forthwith evacuated, and the army, which, immediately after the arrival
of the shocking tidings, had been despatched from the capital, under
Mowallad, against the Zenj, was able, in conjunction with the remains of
the troops already in the district, to occupy Basra and Obolla without
striking a blow. Many inhabitants who had been lucky enough to escape
gathered together once more in Basra. But when Mowallad proceeded
further against the Zenj, he was, like his predecessors, defeated in a
night attack, and compelled to withdraw again to the neighbourhood of
the town. In Susiana likewise the fortunes of war, after some
fluctuations, proved favourable to the Zenj.

Mowaffak himself now advanced with a brilliant force to the
neighbourhood of the negro city; but this also suffered defeat (29th
April 872). The mortal wound of Moflih, the actual commander, seems to
have thrown the soldiers into confusion at once. Mowaffak remained in
the district of Obolla, keeping the Zenj steadily in his eye. In one of
the battles of this period one of their best generals, Yahyá of Bahrein,
was wounded and made prisoner. He was brought to Sámarrá, and there, in
the brutal and cowardly fashion then customary in the treatment of
prominent captive rebels, was led about on a camel for exhibition before
being cruelly put to death in the presence of the Caliph.

After Mowaffak’s troops had somewhat recovered from the severe
sicknesses from which they had suffered in those hot marshy regions, and
had repaired their equipment, he again marched against the enemy; but
although he occasionally gained some advantage and succeeded in rescuing
captive women and children, he in the end sustained another reverse;
and, to add to his misfortunes, his camp took fire and was burned.
Towards the beginning of full summer, accordingly, he found himself
compelled to quit the proper seat of war, and to withdraw to Wásit. His
army melted away almost entirely, and he himself, in January 873,
returned to Sámarrá, leaving Mowallad behind him in Wásit. The
expedition on which such great hopes had been built had come to nothing;
yet it had not been wholly vain, for Mowaffak had come to know the enemy
more perfectly, and had seen more clearly how he was to be reached.

After the imperial army had left the field, the negro chief again sent
considerable forces into Susiana, who, with some trouble, succeeded a
second time in taking Ahwáz, the capital (beginning of May 873). Several
prisoners of distinction, who had fallen into the hands of the victors
there, had their lives spared by the chief, doubtless with a view to
heavy ransoms. The expeditions of the Zenj into the neighbouring
countries, be it noted, were designed less for the acquisition of
permanent possessions than to procure food and booty, perhaps also to
inspire terror in the enemy. The Zenj leader may sometimes have dreamt
of conquests on the grand scale, but in the end he always recognised
that he and his negroes were safe only among their marshes and ditches.

A new army, despatched from the capital, ultimately defeated the Zenj in
Susiana, and drove them out of the country. Other armies pressed on them
from other quarters, and sought to cut off their supplies. The principal
leader in these enterprises was one of the most powerful men in the
empire—Músá the Turk, son of Boghá, who had left Sámarrá in September
873. Still nothing decisive took place.

A considerable interval passes, during which we learn nothing of the
Zenj. Meanwhile, they were aided by a rising to which they had not
contributed, and which had not them in view. For when a rebel, who had
made himself master of Persia proper (Persis), had vanquished one of the
subordinates of Músá, the latter found himself uncomfortable in Wásit,
and begged to be relieved of his post (spring, 875). Provisionally,
Mowaffak undertook, nominally at least, the government of Músá’s
provinces along with the war against the Zenj. The latter had meanwhile
taken Ahwáz a third time, and had proved disastrous occupants. They had
to be left alone, for now a quite new and very dangerous enemy made a
diversion in their favour. Yakúb, son of Laith, the coppersmith
(Saffár), who had conquered for himself a great empire in the East,
aiming also at the possession of the central lands of the caliphate,
forced his way through Persia and Susiana and advanced upon Bagdad. But
between Wásit and the capital he was met by Mowaffak with the imperial
army, and decisively defeated (April 876).[57]

The Zenj, of course, took advantage of the withdrawal of troops from the
lower Tigris, every available soldier being required against the
coppersmith. They extended themselves further to the north, where the
Arab tribes who had their settlements in the marshy districts to the
south of Wásit lent them a helping hand. Isolated efforts to drive them
back had no result. The negro king now seriously exerted himself to
become sovereign of Susiana. A Kurdish upstart, Mohammed, son of
Obaidalláh, who, under Yakúb as his superior, had made himself master of
part of that province, became his ally, but with no sincere intentions.
The two armies parted, and consequently the Zenj were defeated by the
imperial troops, especially as a number of Bedouins had gone over to the
latter. The _Societas malorum_ had not held good. Yet the government
derived no substantial benefit; in the long-run the Zenj retained, even
in these regions, the upper hand. All sorts of troubles, and, in
particular, the threatening proximity of Yakúb, who would not be
propitiated by Mowaffak, and who might break out again at any moment,
sufficiently explain why nothing considerable was attempted against
them. For the inhabitants of those countries this must have been a
dreadful time. Yakúb peremptorily rejected the alliance tendered by the
chief of the Zenj, yet, at last, without definite agreement, a truce was
established between the two enemies of Mowaffak. But after Yakúb’s death
(4th June 879) the imperial regent quickly induced his successor, his
brother Amr, to conclude a peace. Meanwhile, he made him very great
concessions, in order that in his great expedition against the blacks
his left flank and his rear might remain covered.

In 878 the Zenj succeeded in capturing Wásit and other cities of
Babylonia; the customary atrocities were, of course, not wanting. But in
the end not even Wásit was held; Mowaffak’s lieutenant again forced the
Zenj back to bounds. The latter continued to make plundering and
devastating incursions; in 879 they ventured as far as Jarjaráyá, less
than seventy miles below Bagdad, so that the terrified inhabitants of
the country fled for refuge to the capital.

In Susiana, Tekín the general opposed the Zenj with vigour, and relieved
the great city of Shúshter which they were besieging, but afterwards
entered into negotiations with them.  When these became known, one
portion of his army went over to the enemy, another joined Mohammed, son
of Obaidalláh. Such things throw a strange light upon the discipline and
loyalty of the imperial army. After much fighting and conference the
Kurdish Mohammed had at last to bring himself to recognise the supremacy
of the negro chief, to surrender to him a part of his territory, along
with the important town of Rámhormuz, and to pay tribute; but even now
he continued to act in a thoroughly untrustworthy manner, and caused all
kinds of mischief to the Zenj.

In any case, the power of the Zenj was now (879) greater than ever. But
it was at this point that the tide really began to turn. Mowaffak’s
position had gradually grown stronger, and the death of Yakúb had given
him a free hand. He now no longer delayed to summon all his resources
for making an end of the black robber-scourge. In doing so he proceeded
with great deliberation and unwonted caution. He had learned wisdom at
last, from many failures of the imperial troops, which, in part, had
followed close on brilliant victories. He now knew that it was
impossible to get at these amphibians in the same way as enemies on firm
accessible soil are reached. His preparations for a decisive campaign
against the Zenj would require to be of a quite peculiar character, and
in the campaign itself it would be of supreme importance, along with
bravery, to exercise all caution. A great general with similar resources
at his command would certainly have annihilated the blacks much more
quickly than Mowaffak did; the latter in the campaign plays the part
rather of the prudent statesman who acts only with hesitation, does not
place much at stake, and strives towards his end slowly, if surely.

The task of expelling the Zenj from the northern territories near Wásit
was entrusted by Mowaffak, in the first instance, to his son Abul-Abbás
(afterwards Caliph Motadid), who was now but twenty-three years old. In
November or December 879 the troops and ships of the latter were
reviewed by his father near Bagdad. The fleet consisted of very diverse
kinds of craft, but all of them rowing vessels. The largest served
partly for transport, partly as floating fortresses; a smaller kind, of
which some are mentioned as carrying twenty, and others as carrying
forty rowers, seem chiefly to have been used for attack. The young
prince justified the confidence reposed in him. He gave battle
repeatedly with success, and, though operations had often to be
suspended, the Zenj were steadily compelled to give place. One of their
captains was taken and pardoned; this is the first instance of the
application of a new policy which was to gain over the officers and
soldiers of the rebel. This course, more astute than heroic, had great
success. In proportion as the situation of the negro chief grew serious,
his subordinates were more ready to desert him, and, instead of
continuing to endure the dangers and privations of a siege, to accept
from Mowaffak amnesty, honours, rewards. Care was taken to make the
deserters in their robes of honour conspicuous, so that the rebels might
be able to see them. Their prince, of course, did all he could on the
other side to check the falling away. Thus, we are told that he caused
“the son of the king of the Zenj” to be put to death, because he had
heard that he proposed to go over to the enemy. Of this real negro
prince we would gladly know more. The prisoners taken by the imperial
troops were, as a rule, killed. Abul-Abbás distinguished himself
personally by his bravery. In one of the battles twenty arrows were
found sticking in the coat of felt which he wore over his breastplate.
Almost a year passed before Mowaffak in person appeared with a great
army on the scene (Tuesday, 11th October 880). The first result of
consequence was the capture of the city of Manía, built by the Zenj not
very far from Wásit, when five thousand captive women and children were
restored to freedom. The liberation of great masses of women and
children becomes an occurrence of increasing frequency as one place
after another is taken from the possession of the negroes. At every
advance Mowaffak was very careful to secure his rearward communications,
and to make it impossible for the blacks to attack him from behind. This
rendered necessary, among other things, much river-engineering, making
and breaking of dams. The regent thereupon again left the campaign for a
time in the hands of his son, and marched towards Susiana (Friday, 6th
January 881), to clear that portion of the empire. This was quickly
done, and without much trouble, for the negro chief himself had given
orders to evacuate the territory which was not to be definitively held,
so as to concentrate his whole power. On their march back the Zenj
continued to loot some villages, although these had made their
submission to the chief. Several bands cut off from the main army asked
and obtained pardon. That honest Kurd Mohammed naturally made his peace
with Mowaffak without delay, and was received into favour. On Saturday,
18th February 881, Mowaffak again joined his son Abul Abbás and his
other son Hárún, whom he had sent on before with his army from Wásit
towards the south, and the united hosts advanced.

The negroes were now confined to their own proper territory in and
around Mokhtára. Before the attack on this place began, Mowaffak sent
once more a solemn summons to the rebel calling upon him to surrender,
and promising him a full pardon if he obeyed. It need not be said that
such a demand had no effect. Bad as the position of the Zenj chief
was,—and it grew worse every day,—he could not stoop to become a
pensioner of the Caliph. Moreover, it was at any moment possible that
troubles in Bagdad or Sámarrá, or the appearance of some dangerous rebel
in one of the provinces, might compel the persistent adversary to
abandon the siege and all that he had gained. Some of his officers were
less steadfast. The desertion of these to the regent, who received them
with open arms, began with his first approach, and went on repeating
itself to the end of the bloody tragedy. Many soldiers also went over.
Mowaffak so arranged that the negroes in his army tempted those of the
enemy over to his side. All so inclined were forthwith enrolled in his
ranks. Naturally, no one dreamed for a moment of considering the claims
of their former masters upon these slaves. In this way the negro chief
found many of his best forces gradually drawn away from himself and
augmenting the strength of the enemy; this they did less by their direct
fighting capacity than by their accurate acquaintance with the
localities and with the whole condition of things. To the cause of the
Zenj it was, moreover, highly prejudicial that their leader had to
become ever more mistrustful of his subordinates. In fact, several of
his best colleagues, in whom he had placed perfect confidence, abandoned
him, though others held by him to the death. The amnesty was extended
also to those Bedouins who should fall away from the Zenj. On the other
hand, a leader of the negroes, who had been made a prisoner, when it was
proved that he had treated women who had fallen into his hands with
singular atrocity, was put to a painful death. In other cases also,
cruel punishments were sometimes inflicted on prisoners.

The city of Mokhtára, the siege of which henceforward constitutes the
whole war, was protected, not only by water-courses and dams, but also
by a variety of fortifications properly so called. It even had catapults
upon its walls. During the course of the long siege new defensive works
of various kinds continued to be erected, and artificial inundations
were also resorted to. Nor was there any lack of boats, and still less
of men, though we may take it that the number of 300,000 fighting men
claimed for the negro leader is greatly exaggerated. The Zenj may very
well have outnumbered their assailants, whose strength is given at
50,000, at least at the beginning of the struggle; but the latter were,
on the whole, certainly much better equipped, better fed, and
continually recruited by newly arriving troops. Mowaffak, however, had
so little thought of taking Mokhtára by sudden attack, that in front of
the place, though judiciously separated from it by the breadth of the
river, he built for himself on the east bank of the Tigris a city-camp,
which he named after himself Mowaffakíya. The matter of supreme
importance was to cut off the supplies of the Zenj, and to secure his
own. In Mowaffakíya a lively trade sprang up: he even caused money to be
coined there. But the Zenj still showed themselves very troublesome
enemies, and occasionally captured transports that had been destined for
the imperial troops. It was not until a new fleet arrived from the
Persian coast that intercourse with the outer world was made almost
impossible for the negroes; and henceforward provisions could only be
introduced occasionally and by stealth. For the Bedouins, who had still
been venturesome enough to supply the Zenj with various kinds of food in
exchange for dates, Mowaffak established an easy and safe market in
Basra. Thus gradually the scarcity of food began to be keenly felt among
the blacks, and the supply of bread virtually ceased. Nevertheless, they
held out bravely; and in the numerous collisions which took place, as
our authorities make plain, notwithstanding their highly official
colouring, the imperialists had by no means always the best of it.

Towards the end of July 881[58] the troops succeeded in forcing their
way into Mokhtára, and had begun their work of destruction with fire and
sword, but the same evening they again abandoned their capture. The same
thing frequently recurred; moreover, the invading troops were more than
once again driven out by the Zenj. At a comparatively late stage of the
siege (end of 882) Mowaffak found himself under the necessity of again
removing his base, which he had recently advanced to the western bank of
the Tigris, back to the eastern, so troublesome had the Zenj proved
themselves to be. The main action was, moreover, more than once
interrupted; as, for example, from the end of summer 881 till October of
that year. In their assaults on the town the besiegers specially
directed their efforts to destruction of the defensive works, so that
several approaches lay open in a way that did not admit of their being
again closed; they also set themselves as much as possible to clear away
the obstacles—bridges, dams, chains—which the besieged had introduced
to prevent the entrance of great ships into the water-ways, and
especially into the main canal—the Nahr Abilhasíb. In these operations
the tide proved sometimes a help, sometimes a hindrance; it frequently
happened that the ebb would leave the vessels high and dry on the sand.
As the opposing parties were often quite near one another, separated
only, it might be, by narrow ditches, wounds were frequent. In addition
to the ordinary weapons of war, molten lead was hurled against the foe.
The besiegers had also with them “naphtha men,” who threw Greek fire at
the Zenj or their works. Fireships were also sometimes used against the
bridges. Occasionally the assailants made way far into the city; on
Monday, 10th December 882, they in this manner destroyed the building
which “the abominable ones called their mosque,” but which the Faithful
naturally regarded as nothing better than a synagogue of Satan. But in
this particular attack Mowaffak himself was seriously wounded with an
arrow, shot by a quondam Byzantine slave; and as he did not spare
himself, his wound grew alarmingly worse. Operations were on this
account suspended for a considerable time, and many became so filled
with fear that they quitted Mowaffakíya. And in the meanwhile an
untoward circumstance of another kind arose. The Caliph Motamid
manifested an inclination to free himself from the tutelage of his
brother, and (in the beginning of December 882) quitted Sámarrá, to take
refuge with Ibn Túlún, the vassal prince of Egypt. But the governor of
Bagdad, Ibn Kondáj, who held by Mowaffak, intercepted the Caliph and
brought him back to the residency (middle of February 883). For this
service Mowaffak loaded Ibn Kondáj with honours. The wretched Caliph had
even to submit so far as to cause Ibn Túlún, whom he had just been
regarding as his liberator, to be cursed from every pulpit as a rebel
against the ordinance of God; nay, his own son, designated to be his
successor (though afterwards compelled to surrender his right), had to
be the first solemnly to pronounce this curse. We can easily understand
how in these circumstances Mowaffak was pressingly urged to abandon his
camp for a while and betake himself to the centre of the empire; but he
continued steadfast in his task. What he had neither heroic courage nor
brilliant generalship to achieve, he effected by caution and

The Zenj leader utilised to the utmost the truce that had been thus
forced upon his assailants, to place his defensive works in as complete
repair as possible, or even to strengthen them still further. It is
certain, too, that he was adequately informed by his spies and scouts as
to the seriousness of Mowaffak’s then position, both personally and
politically, and he may well have cherished new hopes; but in February
883 he was again sorely pressed: his own palace was plundered and burnt,
and he himself exposed to great danger. In March and April the illness
of Mowaffak rendered necessary another cessation of the attack, but from
the end of April onwards the struggle was seldom intermitted for any
time. The rebel chief transferred the centre of his defence from the
west to the east side of the main canal, though without wholly
abandoning the former.

The desertions of his officers went on increasing. It is alleged that
even his own son opened negotiations with Mowaffak; these, however, we
may conjecture to have been quite hollow. But, among others, Shibl, a
former slave, one of his most prominent lieutenants, went over to
Mowaffak, and allowed himself forthwith to be sent directly against his
old comrades. To another of these people, Sharání, whose wicked deeds
had been many, there was at first an inclination to refuse pardon; but,
in order not to scare his accomplices, he too was at last accepted, and
received a rich reward for his treachery. The official account gives us
a touching scene, in which Mowaffak, shortly before the last decisive
struggle, solemnly admonishes the deserters to make good their evil
deeds by bravery and fidelity; and this, deeply moved, they promised to

In the actual encounters the Zenj still continued to show great courage.
The imperialists were not now, it is true, invariably forced to give up
again in the evening the ground they had gained during the day; yet even
in the great battle of Tuesday, 21st May 883, in which the harem of the
negro chief, with more than a hundred women and children, had been
sacked, and Prince Abul-Abbás, in his advance, had burned great stores
of grain, the assailants found themselves at last so hard pressed by the
blacks that Mowaffak judged it advisable to withdraw them to his ships.
He did not yet feel himself strong enough to deliver the mortal blow.
But now new reinforcements were continually coming in, though indeed,
for the most part, these did nothing more than repair the continual
losses through battle and sickness. Among the new-comers were numerous
volunteers, who, from religious motives, entered upon the holy war
against the heretics. An event of very special importance was the
separation from his master of Lúlú, the commander in Northern Syria of
the forces of Ibn Túlún, the ruler of Egypt mentioned above; he entered
into negotiations with Mowaffak, of which the result was that with a
considerable army behind him he joined the latter on Thursday, 11th July
883. The preparations for a decisive assault were now complete;
transport ships for large masses of troops were in immediate readiness,
and the great waterways of the hostile territory were by this time so
entirely free of all obstacles as to be passable at all states of the
tide. Mowaffak is said to have brought more than 50,000 men into the
great battle of Monday, 5th August, while yet leaving a large number
behind in Mowaffakíya. After a severe struggle the whole city was taken.
The negro chief fled; but as the imperialists, instead of pursuing him
keenly, occupied themselves with plunder, and, by becoming scattered,
exposed themselves to the danger of surprise, a withdrawal was again in
the end found necessary, and Alí returned once more to the city. The
respite, however, was but short. The final assault was delivered on
Saturday, 11th August 883. From the first the advanced troops broke up
the Zenj. Their leader was separated from his companions; Sulaimán, son
of Jámi, along with others, was made prisoner. A section of the Zenj,
indeed, drove back the enemy once more, but this was of no avail; in a
little news was brought that the rebel chief was dead, and one of Lúlú’s
people almost immediately confirmed this intelligence by bringing in his
head. It is not certain how he met his death. Perhaps we may venture to
believe a statement[59] that he poisoned himself. According to another
story, he perished in flight. That he did not fall in battle is further
indicated by the circumstance that none of our authorities, with all
their fulness, speak of any combatant as having sought to obtain the
royal reward for slaying the arch-rebel. Death by his own hand seems the
most appropriate to the nature of the man; at the same time, I am free
to confess that we can form a tolerably vivid picture of him only if we
bring a good deal of fancy into play.

When Mowaffak saw the head of his enemy, he threw himself upon the
ground in an attitude of worship, full of thankfulness to God. The
example was followed by officers and troops. It would almost seem as if
without the energy of Lúlú the mortal struggle of the Zenj might have
been still further protracted. This is not indeed exactly what is said
by the history, written as it is entirely in the government sense, but
there is evidence for it in a couplet which the soldiers sang, to the
effect that—

              “Beyond all doubt, say what you choose,
              The victory was all Lúlú’s.”[60]

On this and the following days some thousands of Zenj surrendered
themselves, and were pardoned; it would have been a senseless thing to
have driven the last remnants of the enemy to desperation, especially
when they could be utilised as soldiers. Others, again, fared badly who
had fled into the desert, some dying of thirst, and some being made
slaves by the Bedouins. Yet a number of blacks still remained unsubdued,
and from the swampy thickets to the west of Basra, whither they had a
considerable time before been sent by the negro chief, continued to
carry on their robberies and murders. Mowaffak was on the point of
sending a division against them, when they, too, made their
submission.[61] When they showed themselves, their good condition struck
the beholders; they had not gone through the hardships of the long

The son of the rebel chief and five of his high commanders had fallen
alive into the hands of the victors. They were kept in prison in Wásit,
until one day the negroes there once more raised an insurrection, and by
acclamation chose the first-named as their chief. The prisoners were
then beheaded (885). The bowman who had hit Mowaffak was recognised far
away from the seat of war at Rámhormuz in Susiana, and brought to
Mowaffak, who handed him over to his son Abul-Abbás to be put to death.

Mowaffak remained for a considerable time in the city he had founded, to
bring matters into order. A general proclamation was issued, that all
who had fled through fear of the Zenj should return to their homes. Many
betook themselves to Mowaffakíya, but this city also had only an
ephemeral existence; even the geographers of the following century no
longer mention it. The great trading city of Basra, which once more rose
to prosperity, proved too powerful a rival for its neighbour.

Abul-Abbás arrived in Bagdad, the capital, with the head of the negro
leader displayed on a pole, on Saturday, 23rd November 883.

Thus ended one of the bloodiest and most destructive rebellions which
the history of Western Asia records. Its consequences must long have
continued to be felt, and it can hardly be doubted that the cities and
regions of the lower Tigris never entirely recovered from the injuries
which they at that time suffered.

Several contemporaries, among them former adherents of Alí, wrote the
story of this rebellion. Out of their writings, along with official
documents, Tabarí, himself a contemporary, incorporated in his great
Chronicle, a very comprehensive narrative, especially of the events of
the war. The well-known book of Mas‘údí supplies us with valuable
additions to our information; did we possess his greater works also, we
should doubtless know more as to the person of the negro chief and the
institutions of his State. Other writers supply us only with incidental


[51] Enmity of this kind between two quarters or guilds is nothing
unusual in Arab towns.

[52] Properly Zeng, hence Zangebar (corrupted into Zanzibar).

[53] See above, p. 80.

[54] “God has bought from the faithful their life and their goods with
this price—that Paradise is to be their portion, and they are to fight,
slay, and be slain in the path of God,” and so on (súra 9, 112). In
accordance with this word “bought,” the Kharijites called themselves by
preference “sellers” (_Shurát_); for heaven as their price they gave God
their souls.

[55] An Arab rebel at that time mockingly said of Caliph Mámún that he
was not able to catch “four hundred frogs” that were within arm’s-length
of him.

[56] See above, p. 116, note.

[57] See below, p. 191.

[58] The very precise details of this war occasionally include notices
of meteorological facts. In the beginning of December 880 the troops (in
about 30° 30′ N. lat. and near sea level) suffered in violent rain from
bitter cold. In December 883 so thick a fog prevailed that a man could
hardly distinguish his neighbour in the ranks.

[59] By Hamza Isfahání (Leyden MS.; not in the printed text).

[60] Some years later Mowaffak caused Lúlú to be thrown into prison in
order to obtain possession of his great wealth—wealth, we may be sure,
which had not been quite innocently gained.

[61] The Zenj who were received into the service of the Caliph after the
death of their leader are described in an original source, dating from
the period of his successor, as pure barbarians, who spoke no Arabic,
and ate carrion, and even human flesh.


IN eastern Irán lies the marshy district of lake Hámún, formed by waters
draining from the east and north. The area of water varies greatly
according to the season, as the streams rise and fall. These, and
notably the Hélmend, which in the lower part of its course is broken up
into a number of natural and artificial channels, render a great part of
the hot low-lying plain extremely fertile, but the rest of the country
is a dreary waste. The plain was anciently called, from the lake,
Zaranka (“lakeland”), a designation preserved down to the Middle Ages in
the name of the chief town Zereng. From the occupation of the region in
the second century B.C. by the Sacæ, barbarians from the north, it was
called Sakastán (“land of the Sacæ”), more recent forms of the word
being Segistán (Arabic, Sejistân) or Sístán. The low country, which is
notorious for its serpents, is almost surrounded by desert; on the east
it borders upon Zábulistán,[62] which geographically belongs to the
Afghan highlands, and in whole or part often fell under the same
government with them, and was included under their name. Sístán was the
home of the most heroic parts of the Iránian legends, the stories of
Rostam the Strong and his race, of which no trace is to be found in the
ancient sacred books. The legend may be taken as reflecting the brave
character of the inhabitants, who were plainly separated by strongly
marked distinctions from the other Iránians.

Sístán had been conquered at a comparatively early period by the Arabs,
but the country was difficult of access, and long remained an insecure
possession. Islam soon made great progress in the plain, but among the
mountains to the east the new-comers only slowly established a footing.
And even in Sístán proper the stubborn spirit of the natives inclined
them to adhere rather to the Kharijites[63] than to the State Church.
The governors of the first Abbásids had much difficulty with these
Independents. The family of Táhir also, which from the days of Caliph
Mámún had held the governorship of Khorásán, and of Sístán, which was
regarded as an appendage, was unable to put down the Kharijites here,
who steadily became more unruly as the power of the Táhirids waned. But
in Sístán, as in other desert lands, Kharijite was often little more
than a polite name for bandit. We thus understand how it was that, in
the midst of this vigorous population, as the power of the State
dwindled, volunteer bands were formed for defence against the
Kharijites. Like their adversaries they, of course, declared that they
were fighting solely for God; with what truth, we need not pause to
discuss. At the head of a band of such volunteers one of the name of
Dirhem succeeded in seizing Zereng, the chief town, and driving out the
Táhirid prefect. Among his people was a certain Yakúb, son of Laith, who
had formerly followed the trade of a coppersmith—a prosperous industry
in Sístán,[64] whence the surname of “coppersmith” (Saffár) borne by
himself and his successors. He, and his equally warlike brothers,
belonged to the little town of Karmín, a day’s journey to the east of
Zereng, in the direction of the notable city of Bust, the ruins of which
are still visible. Near his birthplace was, and still is, shown the
stable of Rostam’s gigantic war-horse.[65] It is possible that the
heroic legend had its influence upon him. Yakúb had once before laid
down the hammer for the sword. He had fought under Sálih of Bust (852),
who had made himself master of Sístán, or at least of a part of Sístán,
for a time, but afterwards had been overcome by Táhir, a grandson of the
founder of the Táhirid dynasty. Subsequently Yakúb had passed through
other adventures. Under Dirhem, his boldness and ability brought him to
the front. Thus he killed in single combat a dreaded captain of the
Kharijites named Ammán. In this way he rose to such repute among his
fellows that Dirhem found it expedient to set out on pilgrimage to
Mecca, and afterwards to settle in Bagdad, leaving the leadership to
Yakúb.[66] Yakúb having thus risen to a position of command, doubtless
assumed the title of Emír, which was vague enough to mean either a
general or a local captain, but could also denote a powerful prince by
whom even the Caliph was recognised as a merely nominal suzerain. He
gradually became ruler of his native land, which always continued to be
the central State and the place of refuge of himself and family. His
energetic suppression of the robbers, whose villages he destroyed, and
the security he obtained for traffic, brought him, it would seem, into
high credit, and in any case the brave Sístánese felt themselves drawn
to this countryman of theirs who had proved himself a born ruler.
Accordingly, the kingdom founded by him is generally designated as that
of the Sístánese. That Yakúb at every Friday service caused prayer to be
offered, in the first instance, for the Caliph as the general commander
of all the faithful, need hardly be said. A theoretical dependence such
as this, which in fact was rendered necessary by his protest against the
Kharijite independence, involved no real restriction of his power, but
at most made it necessary to send money and presents more or less
regularly to court. At the outset he seems to have recognised, also, the
Táhirid Mohammed as overlord. In those times, indeed, it often happened
that a lawful governor or vassal and a usurper made appeal to the same
lord, and that in that case the usurper, if victorious, was also
recognised by the overlord as his faithful subject.[67] The date of
these occurrences was about 860.

As early as 867 Yakúb crossed the frontier of his native land, and after
hard fighting took from Mohammed’s representative Herát, which has often
been an object of struggle at many different times, and also Púsheng,
ten hours from Herát. For the time he contented himself with this
portion of Khorásán; the house of Táhir was still too powerful for him.
He brought back with him as prisoners to Sístán some members of that
family, restoring to them their freedom, however, when that was demanded
by Caliph Motazz. With this Caliph he had already had frequent dealings,
sending him magnificent presents, mostly the result of plunder gained in
his struggles with the heathen of the East. He was making suit for the
governorship of Kermán, which lay to the west of Sístán; but
simultaneously a similar application was being made by Alí, son of
Husain, who was at that time powerful in Persis (Párs). Kermán is, in
fact, essentially a mere appendage of Párs. The Caliph, or rather the
Táhirid Mohammed, who had control of the chief towns, Bagdad and
Sámarrá, sent a commission to both applicants, in the hope that they
would attack and destroy one another. Alí’s general, Tank, promptly
seized the capital of Kermán before Yakúb was able to cover the
exceedingly arduous desert journey from Sístán. The coppersmith lay
encamped for a month or two a day’s journey from the capital; he then
retired a little, but kept himself accurately informed as to his
adversary. When Tauk was now off his guard, Yakúb made a forced march
and fell upon him, taking him prisoner (869). In the camp there were
found, along with many other valuables, a chest full of necklaces and
bracelets intended as rewards of bravery, and another with chains and
halters for prisoners. Yakúb decorated his own braves with the contents
of the one, and appropriated those of the other to his captives, the
heaviest chains being reserved for Tauk himself. When these were being
placed upon Tauk, it appeared that shortly before, “on account of the
heat,” he had had a vein opened. The conqueror made this the occasion of
a lecture to the effect that in his luxury he might have thought twice
before venturing upon a contest with one who for two months had lain on
no bed, had never put off his shoes, and had lived on the hard bread
which he had carried while marching in these shoes.[68]

Yakúb immediately pressed forward against Párs, which was much more
valuable than Kermán, and indeed one of the richest lands in all the
Caliph’s dominions. It was in vain that Alí and the leading men of
Shíráz, the capital, wrote to represent to him that though his
contendings against heretics had been very meritorious, he would fall
into the greatest crime if he were to force his way into that country
and shed blood without the Caliph’s authority. Alí accordingly, now
reinforced by the fugitives from the vanquished army, took up on the
river Kur (Kyros), not far from the capital, a strong position,
accessible only by a narrow passage between rock and river to one rider
at a time. Yakúb halted his followers some distance off from the river
while he himself galloped forward, a fifteen-foot lance in his hand, to
reconnoitre. The enemy contemptuously shouted: “We shall soon send you
back to your pot and kettle tinkering.” But he had discovered a passable
place, and now caused his horsemen, leaving all encumbrances behind, to
enter the rapid stream; the enemy was taken in flank, and fled without
resistance. An eye-witness says that Yakúb’s horsemen in this movement
followed a large dog which he had caused to be thrown into the river;
perhaps his object was by this means to determine the force and set of
the current. Alí himself was taken prisoner in this action (Thursday,
26th April 869). On the following night, Shíráz was captured. The
inhabitants had expected the whole town to be pillaged, but Yakúb seized
nothing save the public treasure and the estate of Alí and his
officials. Both Alí and Tauk, who had personally offended him, he
compelled, by severe maltreatment, to disclose where their treasures
were. By 14th May he had again left Shíráz, and set out with booty and
captives for Sístán. To the Caliph he sent rich presents, and in
addition, we may be certain, the assurance of his utmost loyalty. But
for the time it had only been a successful robber’s raid. He was not yet
in a position so much as to think of taking permanent possession of
Párs, which is broken up by very high mountains and other natural
obstacles, and abounded in fortresses. On the other hand, he remained
master, though not quite completely, of Kermán. The wild and never
wholly subjugated inhabitants of the lofty, snow-clad mountain range of
Páriz, which intersects the country in a general direction from
north-west to south-east, were only gradually forced to submit by
himself and his successors.

Yakúb meanwhile enlarged his dominions by conquests in the mountainous
region to the east, where it would seem that he had already fought much.
He, as well as his successors, made many conquests and plundering raids
in these lands, of which, unfortunately, we possess almost no details.
In any case they contributed much to the gradual ascendency of Islam in
the country now called Afghanistan. In March 871 an embassy came from
him to the Caliph Motamid, bringing idols which he had taken in Cabul or
in that neighbourhood. Trophies of this kind from the lands of the
unbeliever had long ceased to be seen in the capital of Islam. The bold
coppersmith thus figured in the eyes of all the world as a champion of
the faith. But his embassy had, of course, very practical objects as
well; it was to negotiate as to the lands the Caliph would assign as
provinces to his faithful Yakúb. The clever regent Mowaffak for his part
was anxious, on the one hand, to strengthen the praiseworthy zeal of
Yakúb for conquest at the expense of heathens and of distant Moslems,
and, on the other, to keep him well away from his own neighbourhood.
When Yakúb was again setting out for an invasion of Párs, where at that
time, after all sorts of complications, Mohammed, the son of Wásil, had
gained the upper hand, and was also recognised as governor by the
Caliph, there accordingly came to him a letter which, in addition to
Sístán and Kermán, made him lord of Balkh (Bactria) and other eastern
countries as far as India. By this means the regent got him away from
Párs, left him in possession of what he already had, and pointed him to
the lordship over a number of remote regions which he would first have
to conquer. Whether he expected Yakúb to make regular payment of the
stipulated tribute for these fiefs may be left a question.

Yakúb seems soon to have taken possession of Balkh. We may imagine that
the rude warrior-chief was not too gentle in his treatment of his new
subjects in this doubtful frontier territory, and that he made the most
of them in the way of tribute. At least his name, as well as that of his
successor, were long held in unsavoury memory among the Bactrians, and
we know that oppressive taxes were inflicted on other regions which for
a longer or shorter time came under his sway. We have no evidence that
he or his successor, outside of Sístán and Kermán, troubled themselves
at all about the welfare of their subjects, or even could have done so;
but it is beyond doubt that they were very energetic in the matter of
tribute. Then, as at all periods of Eastern history, many potentates
have distinguished themselves in this line. Nothing else was expected of
a military overlord. But that more than a century later the name of
Sístánese (Segzí) had evil associations may be taken as an indication
that Yakúb and his brother pressed very hardly on their subjects.

Meanwhile the power of the Táhirid Mohammed went on steadily decaying
even in Khorásán. The Alid Hasin, son of Zaid, lord of Tabaristán,[69]
wrested from him the borderland of Gurgán (Hyrcania, to the south-east
of the Caspian Sea). Other portions of Khorásán became the prey of
various petty lords. This gave the coppersmith courage to aim at the
entire possession of the vast country, some eastern portions of which
were already in his hands. We see that he by no means confined himself
within the limits of the Caliph’s grant. A pretext, if pretext were
needed, was supplied by Mohammed. Abdalláh had rebelled against Yakúb in
Sístán, and afterwards fled to Khorásán; after some negotiations he was
now induced by Mohammed, instead of seizing upon the capital Níshábúr,
to take possession, under him, of certain districts which belonged to
the territory of Yakúb. The coppersmith, who had already entered into
all sorts of relations with disaffected grandees of Khorásán,
accordingly set out from Sístán, whither it was his wont to retreat from
time to time, and marched by way of Herát upon Níshábúr. Mohammed sent
an embassy to meet him, but in vain. On Sunday, 2nd August 873, Yakúb
entered the great and flourishing city of the Táhirids without a blow
being struck. Mohammed either could not, or would not, make his escape.
He is reported to have thought that he could make a personal impression
on the victor, and to have received him with loud reproaches; but Yakúb
simply put him into prison with all his kinsfolk, one hundred and sixty
males. The continuous rule in Khorásán of the house of Táhir thus came
to an end after having subsisted for fifty years. Yakúb now promptly
sent an embassy to the Caliph to represent to him that he had set out
only upon the request of the Khorásánians, because Mohammed’s weak rule
had allowed all sorts of disorders to spring up, and that the
inhabitants of Níshábúr had come a ten hours’ journey to meet him, to
deliver their city into his hands. In token of his profound attachment
he sent the head of a Kharijite captain, who in the neighbourhood of
Herát had dared for thirty years to call himself “Commander of the
Faithful.”[70] The embassy was honourably received by the Caliph in
solemn audience, but received from him emphatic orders to their master
that he must quit Khorásán forthwith if he did not wish to be regarded
as a rebel. Some of his people, in fact, who were in Bagdad at the time,
were thrown into prison. Yakúb, however, was not to be duped, but set
about establishing himself as firmly as he could in possession of the
country. As Abdalláh his opponent, after the fall of Mohammed, had taken
refuge with the Alid rulers of Tabaristán, who refused to deliver him
up, Yakúb even resolved to invade that country. On the way he was met by
a man who had risen to a kind of religious-political leadership, and who
offered to accompany him on the expedition against the heretical Alids.
But Yakúb could not accept the services of an independent ally; on the
contrary, he put the volunteer in chains. We do not know the details
well enough to say for certain that Yakúb’s conduct was treacherous, but
the suspicion of treachery is grave both in this case and in that of the
imprisonment of the Táhirid. Yakúb turned the difficult mountain country
to the east by keeping to the sea coast. The old fortifications which
barred the access of the northern nomads can hardly have offered a
serious obstacle. Soon he arrived in the immediate neighbourhood of
Sárí, on the plain bordering the southern shore of the Caspian. Here
Hasan met him, but was defeated (Monday, 17th May 874), and fled
westwards to the mountains of Dílem.[71] Yakúb occupied the two chief
towns, Sárí and Amol, and forthwith levied on both a whole year’s taxes;
he well knew that it would be impossible for him to hold them
permanently. He then set out in pursuit of the fugitive, but in the high
and densely-wooded mountains he fell into great danger, especially as it
rained for weeks. The moist climate of the northern side of these
mountains is as notorious as the drought that characterises the rest of
Irán, and consequently the country is covered with a most luxuriant
vegetation. Yakúb found himself compelled to desist from the pursuit if
he was not to court annihilation in some one of the narrow passes. He
had already lost the greater part of his baggage and of his beasts of
burden, besides many soldiers. Had he been read in history he might have
consoled himself with the reflection that he had got off more easily
than many another Persian or Arab general before him who had penetrated
into these dangerous highlands. Returned from Tabaristán, Yakúb directed
his march towards Rai,[72] where, as he had learned, Abdalláh had now
taken shelter with the governor. The latter, to be rid of the dreaded
warrior, handed over the fugitive. Yakúb killed Abdalláh, and retraced
his steps; perhaps he thought the time had not quite arrived for
conquests in Media. Hasan came back to his own country, and chastised
with extreme severity those who (probably out of religious antipathy to
Shíitism) had taken Yakúb’s side. During the somewhat lengthened period
of Yakúb’s stay in Tabaristán, the Táhirid Husain, a brother of the
captive Mohammed, with 2000 Turks, led by the ruler of Khárizm (Khíva),
had made himself master of southern Merv (River Merv, or Mervi-Rúd); but
we do not know whether he held his ground there for any time. On the
whole, at least, Yakúb retained his grasp of Khorásán, in spite of the
great losses in his last campaign. Yakúb, immediately after his first
success at Sárí, had sent a most deferential account of the defeat of
the heretics to the Commander of all true Believers, and had announced
to the Abbásid the joyful news that he now had in his power sixty
members of the family of Alí. But this did not procure for him pardon
for his encroachments. In November or December of the same year (874)
the Caliph, through Obaidalláh, an uncle of Mohammed,[73] caused the
Mecca pilgrims from the north-east of the empire, who were at that time
in Bagdad on their return journey, to be called together to hear a
document in which Yakúb was declared a usurper, and his seizure of the
lawful governor a grievous crime. Such a communication was the best
means of diffusing a knowledge of the Caliph’s will in those remote
regions, especially as the pilgrims in their religious excitement must
have been in a more than usually receptive mood for the words of the
head of all believers. Thirty copies of this writing were sent into the
various countries.

At this time Abdalláh, son of Wáthik, and thus a full cousin of the
reigning Caliph Motamid, and of the regent Mowaffak, died in Yakúb’s
camp. Unfortunately, we learn nothing more than the bare fact. Perhaps
this prince had betaken himself to the coppersmith, that with his help
he might gain the throne of his father and of his brother (Mohtadí), and
had been put out of the way in their interest; but other explanations of
the fact are conceivable.

Whether the solemn repudiation of himself in the presence of his
subjects, and the consequent division of Khorásán among the various
governors by letters of the Caliph, had proved more than Yakúb could
bear, or whether the southern lands had offered a temptation to his love
of conquest more than he could resist, we cannot tell; be this as it
may, he now once more directed his energies against Párs, leaving his
brothers Amr and Alí along with others to maintain his rights in

Here it may be appropriate to ask whence it was that Yakúb obtained the
large bodies of troops required for his campaigns, which often entailed
heavy losses, as well as for the occupation of the conquered lands. By
levies he can at most have raised only a small number of men. Perhaps
also, after the custom at that time, he bought sturdy Turkish boys
(Mamlúks),[74] and trained them as warriors; but large masses of men
could hardly be procured from this source. The bulk of his armies
appears to have consisted of mercenaries. The volunteer, we are told,
who offered for Yakúb’s service, if he was found suitable, had to give
up his whole property; this was sold, and the amount set down to his
credit; when he retired, it was returned to him. Obviously we are to
understand that the money was retained if he left the service before the
expiry of his time, or contrary to the conditions; it was caution-money.
Pay and commissariat were adequate, and we cannot doubt that the former
was punctually received. In the last resort the expense fell upon the
conquered enemies, and still more upon the subject provinces. Yakúb had
always a full military chest; mention is often made both of his
treasures and of those of his successor. His troops, all of them
mounted, and very mixed in their character, he kept together with an
iron discipline, about which many stories were current. Thus an officer
on one occasion, we are told, who was engaged in a religious ablution at
the moment when the order to march was given, did not venture to take
time to dress, but put his breastplate upon his naked body. On the other
hand, he won his soldiers by his open-handedness; at all events, he
possessed the secret of all great _condottieri_, that of creating in his
troops a strong attachment to his person. One element in his success may
have been that though he was vastly their superior in ability, he was
little so in culture. The story was told of this zealous defender of the
faith, that on one occasion he had betrayed the haziest ideas about
Caliph Othmán,—which is very much as if a good Christian were to have
heard nothing about the Apostle John. His personal bravery also, which
in one of his earlier battles had left its mark in a great scar slanting
right across his face, must have further endeared him to his soldiers.
From his best troops he had picked two divisions of Guards, the one of
which, one thousand men strong, bore golden, the other silvern, maces on

In the height of summer 875, Yakúb entered Párs. Mohammed, son of Wásil,
hastened up from Susiana, sought to throw him off the scent by
negotiations, kept back his messengers, and then pressed forward with
all speed so as to surprise him. But as-Saffár was duly informed of his
movements, fell upon his assailant when exhausted by heat and thirst,
and at once put him to flight (August or September). The great treasure
of the enemy fell into his hand. It is not to be supposed that the whole
country forthwith became his without dispute; but he nevertheless ruled
as lord of Párs, and among other things severely punished a tribe of
Kurds who had zealously supported the son of Wásil. He did not, however,
stay long, but pressed westwards to Susiana. In October he was already
at Rámhormuz in the low plain of Susiana, in dangerous proximity to the
Tigris. The central Government was in the greatest alarm, for, besides
being himself a formidable enemy, Yakúb could cut the line of attack
upon the negro rebels, who had brought the empire into great
straits.[75] Those of Yakúb’s people who had been thrown into prison
were accordingly set free with promptitude, and an honourable embassy
was sent to him. As he appeared disposed to treat, Mowaffak called
together the eastern merchants then in Bagdad, and told them that Yakúb
had been named governor of Khorásán, Tabaristán, Gurgán, Rai, and Párs,
as well as military governor of Bagdad—thus conceding to him an extent
of power such as Táhir himself had hardly wielded. A new embassy, which
included his old superior Dirhem, carried to Yakúb the Caliph’s letter
with the announcement. But the powerful general knew what weight to give
to offers of this kind. His feelings of respect for the imperial
Government were long exhausted; he had no scruples about coming to a
complete breach with it. He accordingly replied that he would make his
decision in Bagdad itself. Certain Arabic verses are put into his mouth,
in which, amongst other things, he says that he possesses Khorásán and
Párs already, and that he does not despair of winning Irák also.[76] The
man who could hardly speak a little Arabic, and who certainly was not
able to use literary Arabic according to the rules of grammar, metre,
and style, cannot possibly have made these verses himself; but they well
express what his attitude was in the circumstances. He continued,
doubtless, formally to acknowledge the Caliph as his overlord. Some
years later, a vassal of his undeceived the Zenj, with whom he had
entered into relations, by offering public prayers, in the first place,
for the Caliph; in the second, for Yakúb. If as-Saffár had conquered, he
would perhaps have retained Motamid, but hardly his vigorous and able
brother Mowaffak. For it is rather improbable, though not altogether
inconceivable, that Mowaffak was in collusion with Yakúb, as was
suspected by the Caliph’s “freedmen,” the Turkish generals, to whom the
thought that the Sístánese might be bringing their own hateful power to
an end must have been very unwelcome. Yakúb, then, continued to advance,
occupying Wásit on the Tigris, and marching on Bagdad. Motamid now fell
back upon his last resource; he assumed the mantle of the Prophet, and
with the Prophet’s staff in his hand, took command of the holy war
against the godless rebel. He set out with a great army from Sámarrá,
but himself kept somewhat to the rear as the two armies approached one
another, some fifty miles below Bagdad, Mowaffak took the command in
chief. Yakúb’s army was much the smaller; and, moreover, an artificial
inundation hampered his horsemen in their movements. The battle was
keen. An attack upon his camp, made from the Tigris, and the arrival
towards evening of powerful reinforcements for the imperial army, at
last compelled as-Saffár, who had fought bravely and received three
arrow wounds, to yield (Palm Sunday, 8th April 876). With the camp, rich
booty fell to the victors. What was particularly unpleasant to Yakúb,
the Táhirid Mohammed, whom he carried about with him in chains, made his
escape. The Caliph personally removed the chains, and named him again
military governor of Bagdad on the spot. This was the first great defeat
sustained by the veteran warrior on the field (for in Tabaristán he had
been compelled to yield to the forces of nature). The victorious enemy
did not venture to pursue Yakúb, who sulkily withdrew to Gundíshábúr,
between Shúshter and Susa, quite close to Babylonia. His wide dominion
was now in a somewhat precarious state. He could still be sure of Sístán
and Kermán; but in Khorásán his rule had long had to contend with great
difficulties, caused partly by the imperial Government, and partly by
all kinds of local chiefs; the political state of Khorásán at that time,
as often before and since, must have been most perplexed. With the
Caliph’s sanction, Párs had again been wrested from the “cursed” Yakúb
by Wásil’s son, who, however, was beaten by a general of as-Saffár
(876-7), and himself was made a prisoner, and was carried to the citadel
of Bam, in Kermán, where a number of other state prisoners were already

During this period Yakúb himself was at least once in Párs, where also
coins were minted in his name;[78] but for the most part he resided in
Susiana, large portions of which he held directly, while others were
ruled through his generals. Other potentates also, with varying
fidelity, stood to him in the relation of vassals. He sent an expedition
even into the highlands on the north about the sources of the river
Kerkhá; it brought back one of the chiefs of the region as a prisoner
(877-8). Other portions of Susiana were, at times at least, occupied by
troops of the Caliph or of the Zenj. The proposals of the negro leader
for a formal alliance against the common enemy were brusquely rejected
by Yakúb, who would have nothing to do with unbelievers. Such an
alliance might certainly have been very disastrous for the empire. His
troops came even into serious collisions with those of the Zenj, but
ultimately the community of interests made itself felt, and the
territory of each was tacitly recognised, and mutual injuries ceased to
be inflicted. In September 878 Mowallad,[79] a prominent general of the
Caliph, came over to Yakúb as a fugitive, and was received, we may be
sure, with open arms. The latter, however, still hesitated to make the
decisive advance. He had learned to respect Mowaffak’s ability and
power. But still less did Mowaffak venture to attack the redoubtable
hero, especially as the Zenj were still on his hands. Indeed, he made
one more attempt to come to a good understanding with him. His
messenger, it is related, found as-Saffár sick. When he had delivered
his master’s proposals, he was bidden take back the answer that Yakúb
was ill; should he die then they had peace from one another, but should
he recover the sword would decide, either until Yakúb had wiped out the
defeat he had sustained, or until, all his empire lost, he was compelled
to return to the coarse bread and onions which had been the food of his
youth. Inflexible towards his enemies, he was equally intractable with
his physicians. His disease was colic; he refused to take their
remedies, and died on Wednesday the 5th June 879, at Gundíshábúr. His
grave was afterwards shown here, but all traces of it have doubtless
disappeared with the complete desolation of the city.

Yakúb was a warrior of iron strength, and certainly also of iron
hardness. His enemy, Hasan (with allusion, we suppose, to his former
trade), called him “the anvil.” He was seldom seen to smile. His
successes, in no small degree, were due to the fact that he formed all
his plans by himself, and directed their execution personally as far as
might be. His main recreation consisted in training boys in the
exercises of war. Even when ruler of extensive territories he adhered to
the very simplest style of living, probably more from mere habit than,
as he himself put it, for the sake of good example. In his tent he slept
upon his shield. The dishes set before himself and his attendants, at a
time when the art of cookery was highly developed, corresponded to those
which would appear at the table of a tolerably well-to-do
handicraftsman: mutton, rice, a sweet pottage, and a dish of dates and
cream.[80] Yakúb had no attendants in his tent; but close beside him he
always had a number of Mamlúks, who were required to be in readiness at
any moment to execute their master’s orders. No traits of gentleness are
related of Yakúb, but neither also of any special cruelty, for, judged
by the manners of the time, his maltreatment of Alí and Tauk can hardly
be so construed. Fearful atrocities in war were then mere matters of
course. Yakúb’s cunning is often celebrated; without it he certainly
would never have succeeded even so far as to become a captain of
volunteers in Sístán. This subtlety finds its expression in his
diplomatic dealings with the Caliph and other authorities. As already
said, there is ground for the suspicion that it sometimes made him
treacherous and disloyal to his word; but it is to be noted that our
authorities, though they mainly reflect the hostile opinion of
government circles in Bagdad, make no point of this; in that age, to be
sure, treachery was too common to excite much remark. The circumstances
of the time, and still more, by much, the whole character of the
warrior-chief himself, explain why it was that he established no
enduring kingdom. We meet with no indication that he combined any higher
ends with his love of conquest. Certainly he never had the least idea of
binding together, in any organic way, the various countries which, one
after another, fell under his power, or even of instituting an efficient
administration. Some buildings he reared, but he hardly devised any
far-reaching measures for the common benefit; and, on the other hand, he
certainly taxed his subjects very grievously. A more ideal intellect
would surely have found more efficacious means to prevent the conquered
countries from falling into other hands, or at least threatening to do
so, as soon as his back was turned. And yet the historian cannot
withhold his respect from this powerful personality who, from being a
common craftsman in a remote district, raised himself to the position of
a great prince, formidable at once to the heathen in Afghanistan and to
the Caliph in his palace.

He was succeeded by his brother Amr, who is said to have been in his
youth an ass-driver, or, by way of variety, a mason, but as early at
least as his first attempts in Khorásán, and probably even at an earlier
date, had been a trusty helper of Yakúb. Newly come to power, Amr was
naturally indisposed to stake everything on a war with the Caliph, and
forthwith he declared himself the obedient servant of the Commander of
the Faithful. Mowaffak for his part was delighted to be rid of his worst
enemy, and confirmed to Amr all he had offered to Yakúb. The district of
Ispahán was also included in his kingdom, which thus towards the east
and north extended considerably beyond, though on the north-west and
west it in some places fell short of, the limits of modern Persia; but
at that time those lands were much more populous and prosperous than
they are to-day. In addition to this realm, he held the dignity of
military governor of Bagdad and Sámarrá. Amr could not discharge this
office personally; he accordingly, as the lords of Khorásán belonging to
the house of Táhir had been wont to do, named a deputy, a Táhirid to
boot, Obaidalláh, who in autumn 879 was solemnly installed by Mowaffak
himself. It is to be presumed that Obaidalláh was on bad terms with his
nephew Mohammed, whom Yakúb had dethroned. It even fell to Amr to
appoint the governor of the holy cities Mecca and Medina. But
unfortunately for him, it was only in a few portions of this great
kingdom that Amr’s direct or indirect authority was at all sure.
Khorásán in particular, in many respects the most important country of
them all, was ready to slip from his grasp. Here a prominent part was
played by Khujastání, a man who had at first insinuated himself into the
confidence of Yakúb, and afterwards had driven out his brother Alí, and
gained much ground partly on the pretext of winning back for the
Táhirids the territory which hereditarily belonged to them. Amr hastened
to Khorásán, where he had fought many a battle before, but was defeated
by Khujastání (Thursday, 7th July 880), who took from him Níshábúr the
capital, and slew his adherents. Amr went back to Sístán, but with no
intention of giving up Khorásán. He might reckon with confidence that
Khujastání also would have enemies enough. In Bagdad he made the
complaint that the latter had been urged on by the Táhirid Mohammed. In
point of fact, Khujastání and Mohammed’s brother Husain, already
mentioned, who had joined him, did retain the public prayer for
Mohammed; and indeed he was in a certain respect the lawful ruler of the
country, and much sympathy was there felt for the dynasty, which seems,
on the whole, to have governed well. Mowaffak who, as long as the Zenj
were still unsubdued, had to keep Amr in good humour, found himself
compelled, in order to oblige the latter, to imprison Mohammed and some
of his kinsmen. In Mecca, also, Amr asserted his dignity. During the
pilgrim festival in July 881, it came almost to an open fight for the
precedence, in the holiest mosque of all Islam, between the
representatives of Amr and of the Túlúnid ruler of Egypt. Bloodshed was
prevented only by the skilful conduct of the Abbásid prince, who had the
management of the whole festival. His black freedmen had taken sides for
Amr, probably more out of hatred against the Egyptians than from love of
the Sístánese.

In 881-2 Amr’s governor in Párs revolted. Amr, however, promptly entered
the country, defeated the rebel, took possession of Istakhr
(Persepolis), once the capital, and gave it up to plunder. The rebel was
taken prisoner in his flight. Amr now remained for some time in Shíráz,
the capital. He strengthened his rule in Párs more than his predecessor
had done. Thus, he succeeded in subduing the Arab family which held the
eastern portion of the hot coast-land. To accomplish this required
indeed two years’ severe exertion, and it was at last brought about only
with the help of a member of the same family.[81] Amr extracted large
sums of money from the lord of Ispahán, and out of these he made
handsome presents to the Caliph. He seems once more to have pretty well
become master of Khorásán also, especially after the assassination of
Khujastání by one of his servants (June-July 882).

He continued to be on good terms with Mowaffak, at whose wish he
imprisoned the Kurd Mohammed,[82] son of Obaidalláh, a thoroughly
untrustworthy person, who had even on occasions been in treaty with the
Zenj. But after the total suppression of the negro rebellion (autumn
883), and after the effects of the exertions it had required had been
partially recovered from, the aspect of matters changed. Mowaffak hoped
to be able to restore the power of the central government in other parts
of the empire also, and especially in Párs. We must assume that he, at
least for form’s sake, negotiated with Amr, but that the latter rejected
every concession. Only thus can we explain the unusually abrupt
character of the action taken against him. On 25th March 885, the Caliph
Motamid caused the pilgrims from Khorásán, who were in Bagdad on their
way to Mecca, to be called together and personally informed that Amr was
deposed from the governorship of Khorásán, and Mohammed the Táhirid
restored to his post. He then anathematised the former in their
presence, and gave orders that he should be cursed from every pulpit.
The deposition applied also, of course, to all the other dominions of
as-Saffár. To give effect to these orders was not easy. In the case of
the remoter provinces, all that could be done for the time was to detach
the people from their lord in the manner indicated. But in the nearer
Párs it was possible to take more vigorous measures. As early as the
middle of February 885, an army set out from Wásit for that province
against Amr. Unfortunately, we know very little about the course of this
war. The ruler of Ispahán inflicted on Amr (to whom he had shortly
before been tributary) a severe defeat, and plundered his entire camp
(probably in August 886). In August 887 Mowaffak himself set out for
Párs. Amr despatched several divisions against him; but as the general
in command of the vanguard went over to the enemy, he was compelled to
evacuate the province. The regent followed him to Kermán; his plan no
doubt was to track him to his native seat. Amr withdrew from Kermán also
into Sístán; during this retreat his son Mohammed died. But Mowaffak was
not in a condition to occupy Kermán even, which was in great part a
desert, and the citadels of which were, we may suppose, mainly in the
hands of Amr’s people; to press on through the frightful wilderness to
Sístán was not for a moment to be thought of. Nature had set insuperable
limits to the enterprise.

Here begins a course of shifting politics, in which only a few of the
leading movements are known to us. Mowaffak must have recognised that he
was not yet in a position to subdue as-Saffár, and that it was expedient
to come to terms with him. In May or June 889, accordingly, the post of
military governor of Bagdad was again conferred upon Amr, and his name
inscribed on the standards, lances, and shields in the government office
“on the bridge.” Some weeks later Amr again appointed Obaidalláh his
deputy in this post. This presupposes that a peace had been previously
concluded, in which he had received back all, or nearly all, his
provinces. That he continued to be ruler of Párs is attested by a series
of his coins, extending from 888 or 889 to 898 or 899, better than by
any writings of the historians. But as early as February 890 he was
again deprived of his dignity as governor. Perhaps he was dissatisfied
with the concessions he had received, and this was intended as a
punishment. In the East, too, his hands were quite full. He had become
suspicious of his youngest brother Alí, and had therefore thrown him
into prison along with both his sons, but these had made their escape
(890-1) to Ráfi, a rough, unscrupulous warrior of Yakúb’s, who had
skilfully availed himself of circumstances gradually to become master of
a great part of Khorásán, and had also made Rai his own. Alí died while
with him, but the breach was not thereby healed. At this point Ráfi came
into conflict also with the new Caliph Motadid, who began to reign on
16th October 892, shortly after the death of his father Mowaffak. The
Caliph consequently again appointed Amr to the governorship of Khorásán.
While Ráfi was inflicting defeat on the Ispahánese, whom the Caliph had
at the same time stirred up against him, Amr took his capital Níshábúr
(July or August 893). Ráfi, however, did not abandon all hope of his
cause, but now allied himself with the Alid prince of Tabaristán; and
when Amr quitted Níshábúr some time afterwards, he stepped into the
place, caused the public prayer to be offered for the Alid, and
professed the Shíite faith. Through force of circumstances Amr thus
became the champion of orthodoxy and of the Commander of the Faithful
against the heretics. How good his understanding now once more was with
the court is shown by the large presents received from him in Bagdad in
May 896. Besides 4,000,000 dirhems (nearly £75,000), they included a
number of blood-camels and, very particularly, a bronze image, richly
decked with precious stones, of a goddess who (in Indian fashion) had
four arms; in front of the image, upon the car on which it was borne,
were a number of other smaller idols. The whole were publicly exhibited
for three days to the inhabitants of Bagdad. From this we gather that in
the meanwhile Amr had carried his arms again into the eastern heathen
lands which were subject to Indian influences, and this also is
expressly testified. He had permanent hold of the city of Ghazni, where,
among other works, he built a bridge.

While his presents were arriving in Bagdad, Amr was already in the field
against Ráfi. The siege of Níshábúr began in the end of May. Ráfi was
unable to hold out for long, and fled, but was pursued and beaten by
Amr, whose account of what occurred, sent to the Caliph, was read before
the grandees of the empire on Tuesday, 22nd December 896. Within eight
days a further dispatch arrived, to the effect that the miscreant had
been again defeated near Tús (north-east from Níshábúr), had thence fled
to Khárizm, and there had been slain (Friday, 19th November). This
letter, showing, as it did, how the hand of God had once more
annihilated the foes of the house of Abbás, was read in all the great
mosques at public worship on the following Friday (31st December 896).
On Thursday, 10th February 897, Amr’s messenger arrived with the head of
Ráfi, which was publicly shown all that day. Motadid had undoubtedly
good reason for hating the vanquished man. That Ráfi had done homage to
the descendant of Alí was bad enough in the eyes of the Caliph, who
assumed a consuming zeal for orthodoxy, but it was much worse that he
should publicly have charged Motadid with having compassed the death of
his uncle Motamid, in order to hasten his own succession. This reproach
was all the less pleasant if, as seems likely, it was founded on truth.

Amr, into whose hands the victory over Ráfi had brought his two nephews
also, was now in undisputed possession of Khorásán. In the course of the
year 897 there arrived in Níshábúr a messenger of the Caliph, who,
besides a variety of complimentary gifts, invested him with the
government of Rai. In return for this, Amr sent a large sum for the
pious purpose of setting up hospices for the accommodation of pilgrims
on the road from Irák to Mecca. He had now reached his culminating
point, and was actually stronger than Yakúb had ever been.

Motadid, perhaps the ablest Caliph since Mansúr, a man whose one object
was to restore the caliphate to its former glories, could not long
endure so powerful a subject. Amr’s want of moderation came to the
Caliph’s aid. He pressingly urged that he might receive the lands beyond
the Oxus, which certainly had long been regarded as a dependency of
Khorásán, and on which Yakúb, it would seem, had cast longing eyes. The
ruling house there for some time had been that of the Sámánids, who had
succeeded in raising to high prosperity the extensive oases surrounded
by barbarous nomads. The cunning Motadid acceded to this petition, and
in February 898 sent to Amr the tokens of his investiture with
Transoxania. Simultaneously, it is said, he wrote to Ismáíl the Sámánid
to the effect that he had deposed Amr, and now named him (Ismáíl)
governor of Khorásán; this, however, is not probable, Amr’s investiture
with Transoxania having taken place in such solemn form. Even without
this he was sure to gain his end, which was to set the two princes by
the ears, and at least to weaken Amr seriously; for it was a thing of
course that Ismáíl should resist. Amr now sent an army to cross the Oxus
near Amol (approximately where the straight line drawn from Níshábúr to
Bukhárá intersects the river). But, on the Sámánid’s advancing to meet
it, Amr’s army drew back a considerable distance, and near Abíwerd,
where the cultivated part of Khorásán borders on the desert, sustained a
great defeat (Monday, 29th October 898). Ismáíl thereafter retired. Amr
now resolved, against the advice of his counsellors, to take the field
in person. Then, or even earlier, it is said, Ismáíl wrote to him urging
him to be satisfied with his great kingdom; but he would not listen, and
when the difficulty of passing the mighty Oxus was represented to him,
his reply was: “I could, if I choose, dam it up with money bags.” He
betook himself to Balkh, which lies pretty near the river. Ismáíl
advanced to meet him with a superior army. It is expressly noted that
that army included the “owners of the soil;” if not patriotism, strictly
so called, there entered into the struggle a determination to protect
their well-governed land from the violence and greed of the Sístánese.
Ismáíl was successful in investing Balkh, and putting it in a state of
siege; perhaps Amr had previously lost a battle. It was in vain that he
sued for peace. He was compelled to fight, but his troops soon fled, and
dispersed in various directions; he himself got entangled in a marsh,
was taken prisoner (April 900), and sent in chains to Samarcand. Ismáíl
sent a suitable message to the Caliph; the news arrived on Wednesday,
28th May. Whether Motadid had continued to recognise Amr, or whether he
had already had due regard to the successes of the Sámánid, is not
known; now at all events it was matter of course that he should praise
the victor as his obedient officer, and censure the vanquished as a
rebel. Khorásán thenceforward became for a long time a possession of the
house of Sámán; but Párs was given by the Caliph, about the middle of
July, to another. Ismáíl is reported to have given Amr his choice
between being detained a prisoner with himself or being sent to the
Caliph; he is said to have chosen the latter. If this be the fact, he
had radically mistaken the character of Motadid.

The friendship that had subsisted between the two since the accession of
the latter had never been sincere; at no time had the Caliph seen in
as-Saffár anything but a usurper of his lawful rights, who had attained
to power only _injuriâ temporum_. But probably it was at the Caliph’s
own express demand that Amr was delivered up to him. He had sent
messengers to bring him; and the fact that these did not arrive in
Bagdad till 23rd April 901, indicates protracted negotiations. The
Sámánid had sent an attendant along with Amr, with instructions at once
to behead him if any movement should occur in his favour. The mighty
ruler, whose presents and trophies four short years before had been the
finest spectacle that could be furnished to the mob of Bagdad, was now
paraded before that mob in procession, as customary at the arrest of
great State offenders or heretical princes. From henceforward the
Saffárs were now officially designated as unbelievers or arch-heretics,
certainly with great injustice. The one-eyed, sun-burnt captive sat upon
a great caparisoned two-bunched camel,[83]—one of the animals that he
himself had sent in a present on the occasion just alluded to,—clothed
in a rich silken robe, and with a tall cap upon his head. The sight
touched the very mob in the street, and they refrained from the
customary reproaches and curses. A contemporary poet tells—half
pityingly, half mockingly—how, during this ride, Amr lifted up his
hands to God and prayed to be delivered from this trouble, and to be
allowed to become a coppersmith once more. The Caliph caused the unhappy
man to be brought into his presence, and curtly said to him: “This comes
of thy insolence.” He was then cast into prison, where he lived on for
about a year. In the beginning of April 902 (the date of Motadid’s
death) he was murdered. This, perhaps, was done at the instance of one
of the grandees, who was afraid that Amr might again return to power by
the aid of the successor to the throne, with whom he stood on a good
footing. But it is also possible that the dying Motadid[84] may himself
have given the order to have him put to death; it was not inconceivable
that as-Saffár, should he chance to make his escape in the confusion
attending the change of sovereign, might yet become a great trouble to
the new Caliph. So long as he lived he was “an object of hope and fear.”
In fact, rather more than a year before this (February 901), “out of
wrath for Amr,”[85] troops which had served under him had raised upon
the shield his grandson Táhir, son of Mohammed (who had died in 887),
taken Párs from the Government, and threatened Susiana.

Amr was hardly so doughty a warrior as his brother; he was not
unfrequently worsted. But his great craft is spoken of with admiration,
and the skill with which he watched over his people by means of a
careful system of espionage. He was greatly beloved by his soldiers.
Like Yakúb, he kept a full treasury. Occasionally his high officers,
even those who enjoyed his special favour, were compelled to surrender
large sums which they had gained _per fas_ or, oftener, _per nefas_; it
is only the sovereign exchequer[86] that in the East, and most of all in
Persian lands,[87] can digest every kind of unrighteous gain. By good
finance and great cleverness, Amr always came out successfully from his
misfortunes, until at last his land-hunger and the double-dealing of his
suzerain completely undid him. Posterity, for the most part, soon forgot
him; only a few considerable ecclesiastical and other edifices continued
to testify to his power and magnificence.

His grandson Táhir continued to play a part for some years in Párs and
Sístán, until at last he too, in a struggle with a former Mamlúk of Amr,
was taken captive and sent to Bagdad (908-9). Several other Saffárids,
among them three sons of Alí, came forward in the following years, but
all were overpowered. Three of them, among whom was a great-grandson of
Amr, also named Amr, were subdued by the Sámánid Ismáíl and his
successor; this Amr had been chosen by the Sístánese as their ruler in

Fifty years later we find Khalaf, son of Ahmed, ruling Sístán, under an
overlordship of the Sámánids, which was little more than a name. In his
elevation he had been helped by the circumstance that, through his
mother Bánó, he was a descendant of Amr. Contemporaries even designate
him as “descended from Amr.” His native country, it is clear, still held
as-Saffár’s name in high honour. Khalaf was a very pious ruler; a
protector of poets, who sang his praises; and of scholars, to whose
number he is himself reckoned. Amongst other literary works, he caused a
commentary on the Koran, in one hundred volumes, to be prepared, the
largest of the numerous books of this kind of which we have any
information. But yet he, too, cared more for property and power than for
piety or culture. Tradition represents him not only as a cunning, but
also as a rather untrustworthy person. Out of mistrust he threw his son
Táhir into prison, where he died—a suicide, it was alleged. After many
vicissitudes of fortune, Khalaf fell into the hands of the great
conqueror Mahmúd of Ghazni (1002-3), and died in captivity in March
1008. His son Abú Hafs survived him, and entered the service of Mahmúd.
So ended the mighty race of princes of Sístán.


[62] Approximately corresponding to the upper basin of the Hélmend.

[63] See above, p. 80.

[64] A contemporary incidentally mentions the great production of copper
and brass work in Sístán.

[65] Rostam’s stable is pointed out in several other parts of Sístán

[66] According to another account the governor of Khorásán had got
Dirhem into his power and sent him as a prisoner to Bagdad. Our
information as to the earlier history of our hero is at every point full
of contradictions.

[67] Something similar happened not unfrequently in the Ottoman empire
during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

[68] The details of these struggles are again very variously given.

[69] See above, p. 139.

[70] The Kharijites considered themselves the only true believers, and
accordingly gave this proud title to their own leaders.

[71] See above, p. 139.

[72] Near the modern Teherán.


                           |               |
                         Táhir         Obaidalláh
                     |           |
                  Mohammed     Husain

[74] The word Mamlúk, meaning something like “purchased slave,” was not
current in this sense till later; in Yakúb’s time, such persons were
mostly called Ghulám (plural, Ghilmán), “lads.”

[75] See above, p. 162 sqq.

[76] In a somewhat different text these verses are given by others as
his epitaph; but they are only slightly modified from a much older

[77] This citadel, which is still kept up, has until recently often
served as a place of confinement for political prisoners.

[78] One coinage of the year 877-8 is known.

[79] See above, p. 160.

[80] In his native Sístán, indeed, a peculiar taste prevailed, asafœtida
being a very favourite condiment.

[81] The precise date of these events is unknown.

[82] See above, p. 162.

[83] In other cases delinquents of this kind were set even upon
elephants. The two-bunched camel is a foreign creature in these parts.

[84] Motadid once declared it to be a maxim of his, never to let an
enemy out of prison except to his grave.

[85] The French translation of Mas’údí renders this expression quite


             (“Die Kirch’ allein, meine lieben Frauen,
             Kann ungerechtes Gut verdauen.”—_Goethe._)

[87] See above, p. 133.


                     |              |              |
                Y a k ú b        A m r            Alí
                         |                     |
                       Táhir                 Yakúb

                          SOME SYRIAN SAINTS.

IN the first centuries of our era there was, in the eastern portions of
the Roman empire, a growing tendency to renounce even lawful worldly
pleasures for the sake of religion.[89] But the inclination to
asceticism acquired peculiar strength after the victory of Christianity,
particularly in Egypt and Syria. Was it not the duty of Christians (Gal.
v. 24) “to crucify the flesh, with its affections and lusts”? The men of
the cloister retained at least a social life; but many ascetics withdrew
into entire solitude to serve God, remote from the world and its
pleasures. They could not be always fasting; but they contented
themselves with the simplest food, which they either gathered for
themselves or received in gifts from their admirers. Many exposed
themselves, without any protection, to all vicissitudes of weather. Some
paid so little attention to the care of their persons as to give up the
practice of washing altogether; the legends often speak with reverential
wonder of the filth and vermin of these disgusting saints.[90] Among the
number of these Christian hermits there doubtless were some elevated, if
mistaken, spirits, of whom, however, only a few can actually have found
peace and satisfaction in such a manner of life. But the majority
certainly consisted of petty souls, whom it cost but little to renounce
many of those things by which man is really made man. The mendicant who
in our day sits silent and solitary in the same spot in all weathers,
waiting for the charity of the passers by, might perhaps, in those times
and regions, have become a holy anchorite. Many of these last may have
suffered in their past lives through fault of their own, or through
innocent misfortune; others had, perhaps, crimes on their conscience
which they sought to atone for. Fastings and macerations are apt to act
on the nervous system and produce visions—now pleasant, now horrible.
This must have been very specially the case with persons of the sort we
are describing—religiously disposed, and brought up to believe in
miracles and manifestations. The saint had at one time to contend with
demons in terrible or in alluring shapes, whom, in the last resort, he
repelled with blows or volleys of stones; at another time there appeared
to him angels and godly men of old, who exhorted and encouraged him, or
even revealed to him the future. If the actual events coincided
tolerably with what had been previously revealed, the coincidence would
gradually come to appear, in the dreamer’s mind, greater than it really
was. A reputation for prophetic gifts was thus easily acquired. The
unfulfilled was forgotten, or the vagueness of the oracles allowed new
interpretations. Similarly with miraculous healings. Here, indeed, we
must remember that certain nervous diseases can for the moment, or even
permanently, be cured by faith in the healing power of another; cures of
this sort still occur, and will, perhaps, repeatedly be wrought within
the next few months at Treves, in connection with the exhibition of the
Holy Coat.[91] Other cures were immediately ascribed to the blessing or
intercession of the ascetics; while cases of failure were attributed to
sin, or were forgotten. Once an ascetic had come to be reputed a prophet
or miracle-worker, his fame rapidly grew, and often stood highest at a
distance from the scene of his activity, or after the lapse of some

I have already indicated that the hermit seldom or never lived in
absolute solitude. Disciples who learned from him and waited upon him,
and other admirers, gathered round him. The looks of admiration which
others bent upon the man who had given up all earthly things for God
were easily understood and well received; these are not the only devout
men in whom an overpowering pride has clothed itself in expressions of
the deepest humility.

Once men of this kind had attained high consideration they were often
applied to for counsel and advice in matters not strictly religious.
Governors and princes occasionally paid attention to them, voluntarily,
or to some extent under popular compulsion. Still more had the bishops
to do so, to whom it can hardly always have been any particular pleasure
to share their power (reaching far into secular matters) with a class of
men for the most part uneducated and obstinate. The ascetics, it is
true, who did not need to consult worldly interests, often espoused the
cause of oppressed innocence, and with success; but there was always
great risk of their abusing their authority; for the very conditions of
his life often made it impossible for the ascetic to judge fairly of the
case laid before him. In the deplorable ecclesiastical controversies of
the fifth and sixth centuries, the holy hermits and monks often exerted
an exciting, seldom a soothing, influence.

Viewing the subject as a whole, we cannot regard this asceticism as
other than a morbid phenomenon. It did little good and much evil. The
mania for self-mortification spread among the Syrians like an infection,
and, combined with their absorption in hair-splitting dogmatic
controversies, had a large influence in giving a false direction to the
mind of that people.

In what follows I shall endeavour to exhibit to the reader a few Syrian
ascetics. I begin with one of the most famous of them all, and shall
afterwards go on to others whose portraits have been drawn for us only
by one contemporary, but are characteristic for the whole class.

                            SIMEON STYLITES.

Simeon was born, towards the end of the fourth century, in Sís, a
village near Nicopolis (the modern Islahíyeh, in Northern Syria).[92]
His parents seem to have been fairly substantial people of the lower
ranks. He had one surviving brother named Shimshai; the rest of the
family died early. While still a child he tended the flocks of his
parents, thus becoming accustomed to solitude and privation, and having
early opportunity for undisturbed contemplation. He grew up to be a
strong and good-looking youth, but of small stature. At this period of
his life he repeatedly collected storax, a sweet-smelling resin, and
burnt it as an offering without knowing to whom; perhaps in doing so he
was unconsciously following some old pagan custom. For, though baptized,
he was still at that time without any education, whether religious or

On one occasion, when Simeon accompanied his parents to church in his
native village, he was powerfully arrested by the words of the gospel
about the blessedness of the poor and the mourner. He had, moreover,
according to a not improbable tradition, visions which pointed him to
the path of renunciation; and he gave himself with zeal to asceticism.
Even at this early stage the old Syrian biography of Simeon makes him a
worker of miracles. The first of these is very peculiar, and deserves to
be shortly told as characteristic for its narrators, and also for the
readers for whom they wrote. Simeon, after a twenty days’ fast, longed
for some fish, and went accordingly to the daughter of a fisherman, who
had made a large catch in a neighbouring lake, and asked her to sell him
five pounds of fish. Untruthfully, but upon oath, she declared that she
had none. Just after he had turned and gone a mysterious power suddenly
seized upon her and her fish; the latter tumbled out on the road before
him and leapt towards him, while the girl rushed after them like one
demented. All this occurred in presence of the people, and of the
soldiers then in garrison to defend the place against Isaurian pirates.
Simeon finally quieted the fish and the girl, delivering to the latter a
severe admonition. He then went on his way, but soon saw a large fish
right in front of him, which he took, after crossing himself; God so
blessed it that he and other shepherds, as well as two soldiers, lived
upon it for three whole days.

Simeon was still but young when he entered the monastery of Eusebonas at
Tel’edá, in the district of Antioch. To this and other monasteries he
handed over his entire fortune, which had been not inconsiderably
increased by inheritance from an aunt. At the head of its eighty or one
hundred and twenty monks was Heliodorus, who had entered its cloisters
whilst still a little child, and never again quitted it; he had never in
all his life seen a pig or a cock. Here Simeon remained for nine or ten
years, distinguishing himself above his fellows by his severe
mortifications. They fasted only on alternate days, he on every week
day; only on Sundays did he eat a few lentils. In order to keep awake in
his devotional exercises, he supported himself on a round piece of wood,
from which he slipped as soon as he became drowsy; this was a kind of
prologue to his subsequent performances. He girt himself round his naked
waist with a rough cord of palm bast, which wore into his flesh. After
ten days this came to be known, and his brethren, who already had marked
with growing disapproval that instead of confining himself to their
rules he went far beyond them, succeeded in inducing their superior to
expel their eccentric companion. Simeon hid himself in an empty cistern,
full of poisonous snakes, scorpions, and other repulsive creatures, as
later writers add. Five days afterwards his superior regretted what he
had done, and caused Simeon to be sought for and brought back. Soon
afterwards, however, he left Tel’edá finally; he was not adapted for any
society. He now betook himself to the village of Telnishé (somewhat
nearer to Aleppo than to Antioch) to the monastery of Maris, whose sole
occupants were an old man and a boy. Here he caused himself to be walled
in for the great Lenten fast. Bassus of Edessa, who held the spiritual
office of a periodeutes or visiter, and who happened to be present, at
his urgent request closed up the entrance, after setting down some bread
and water for his use. When, at the end of the fast, the door was
opened, it was found that both were untouched. This is related by two
contemporaries. The belief that during the great fast Simeon never ate
anything was certainly general; but whether the thing be perfectly true
may be doubted even after the performances of modern fasting men, for,
according to the story, we must suppose that the feat was repeated
thirty times, year after year. During the fast he, at any rate, ate less
than ever; at the beginning of it he stood, then he sat down as his
strength waned, reclining more and more as he sat, until at last he sank
half-dead upon the ground. On the heights of Telnishé he caused a mandra
or “enclosure” to be built for his permanent residence; the ground for
it was given him by a priest named Daniel. Here he riveted his right leg
to a large stone with an iron chain twenty cubits long. When he at last
took off this chain, at the request of the patriarch Meletius of
Antioch, there were found in the piece of leather which had protected
his skin from the iron more than twenty fat bugs, which he had left
quite undisturbed,[93] never stretching out a finger against them,—so
Meletius himself informed his biographer Theodoret. The exact zoological
designation of the creatures need not be discussed; what is certain is,
that for the glory of God the saint allowed himself to swarm with

In the time during which Simeon sat here in a lonely corner on the
ground, he is said to have wrought various miracles, mostly healings,
such as befit the regular saint. They were wrought sometimes directly,
but sometimes through the agency of objects which he sent,—such as
water, or even what was called hnáná, or “grace” meaning thereby a mass
of dust or filth of the saint kneaded up with oil,—an instrumentality
much used in those times in the regions of Syria. Simeon had many
visions also, which were guarantees of his high standing. “Out of
modesty” he related these only to his most trusted disciples, who were
not to speak about them during his lifetime; but, as was to be expected,
many of these fine things about him spread far and wide. The
consciousness which he enjoyed of his acceptance with God, and the
veneration which men accorded to him, compensated for all the pain which
he inflicted on himself.

Simeon’s pride finds its most marked expression in the choice of a
pillar as his abode. Long before this, at the great sanctuary of the
Syrian goddess Attar’athé (or Atargatis), in Hierapolis (Mabbog, Arabic
Membij), some ninety English miles distant, there had been a colossal
pillar, to the top of which a man twice every year ascended for seven
days’ converse with the gods;[94] but this practice must have died out
long before Simeon’s time, and it is highly improbable that such an
uninformed person as he should have ever heard anything about it.
Moreover, Theodoret, himself a Syrian, and a man of many-sided culture,
as well as the other contemporaries of Simeon, all regard this
pillar-life as something quite new. We can therefore, at most, attribute
both phenomena to similar religious motives; so that Burckhardt—who, so
far as I know, has been the first to bring the two facts together—is,
to a certain extent, justified in regarding the use of Hierapolis as
“the prototype of the later pillar-saints;” but, historically, they are
hardly connected.

Simeon began with standing for three months continuously upon the sill
of the hole in the wall, through which the sacrament was handed in to
him in his enclosure, because during the great fast he had seen, for
three whole nights, an angel performing ritual prayer upon this stone,
with bowings and prostrations. Next he caused a pillar to be raised for
him to stand on; it was only six cubits high, so that he could still,
without difficulty, converse with the people below. The top, a cubit or
so square, had probably some kind of balustrade for him to lean on, but
had no covering; and was completely exposed to the broiling rays of the
Syrian sun, as well as to the rains and snows of the winter, which in
Northern Syria, in such an exposed situation, is often bitterly cold. To
live upon a pillar was a grave addition to his self-mortification, but
at the same time it served to raise him above the world and above men.
Many, it is true, even then asked what good purpose was gained, and
others openly scoffed at his folly; all that his defenders could say in
reply was, that he had done so because God had commanded him—in other
words, as we would translate the expression, because he had taken it
into his head to do so. But on the majority the very singularity of his
position made a great impression. Had he kept to the level ground he
would never have become nearly so famous. With admiring astonishment his
biographers go on to relate how, in the course of seven years, Simeon
thrice caused pillars to be set up of increasing height, until at last a
maximum was reached of thirty-six or forty cubits, at which elevation he
remained for fully thirty years. Of this last pillar the following is
related:—When he was standing upon his pillar of twenty-two cubits, he
at the beginning of the great fast (during which he always withdrew
entirely from mankind) gave instructions to prepare, against the end of
the forty days, another of thirty cubits, to consist of two parts. The
workpeople set themselves to the task, but somehow it always failed;
four weeks had passed, and nothing had been accomplished. His most
intimate disciple ventured one night to shout up to the saint tidings of
their ill success. Simeon ordered him to come back the following night,
when he told him that, by a revelation he had received, the pillar must
be forty cubits high and made in three parts, corresponding to the
persons in the Trinity. This high pillar was quickly gone on with, so
that it was ready by the end of the fast to be brought within the
enclosure for the saint to take his stand on it.

On the top of his pillar Simeon prayed continually, with strict regard
to external forms. Once an admirer counted that he had prostrated
himself one thousand two hundred and forty-four times in succession in
prayer; he then stopped counting, but the saint still went on with his
devotional exercise. With a very limited intelligence Simeon must have
combined an uncommonly healthy and vigorous constitution to be able to
carry on such a life for so long. Even the strength of lung which made
it possible for him to speak from that height to the people below
deserves our respect. He suffered indeed severely in one of his legs
from festering sores with maggots; but latterly this malady seems to
have abated somewhat,—the pure, dry air doubtless being favourable to a
cure. His biographers revel in descriptions of these bodily troubles. In
their pages the maggots become at last huge worms, which his favourite
disciple must always replace if they slip away. On one occasion, it is
related, one of these fell from the top of the pillar to the ground; an
Arab chieftain, a believer, took it up, and, full of fervour, laid it to
his eyes and to his heart, whereupon it was turned into a precious
pearl. During the night and the greater part of the day Simeon occupied
himself in prayer and meditation, except, of course, in the hours of
sleep; but his afternoons he gave to mankind, and spent in addressing
the multitude below,—instructing, consoling, rebuking, admonishing, and
settling disputes. We need not doubt that he often espoused the cause of
the oppressed with success. In the Roman empire there were then only too
many occasions for such intervention. The man who had no one to fear
could dare to make his voice heard; and in presence of the great
authority which he enjoyed far and wide, many an official must certainly
have been compelled to yield, however unwillingly. We still possess the
text of a letter in which a priest named Cosmas, and all the clergy and
notables of his village, pledged themselves to a moral and pious life,
and, in particular, never to take a higher rate of interest than
one-half per cent. per month—that is to say, the half of the then usual
interest of twelve per cent. per annum. That he insisted upon this lower
rate of interest never being exceeded appears also from other testimony.
But in this connection, where the covetousness of the individual is so
powerfully supported by the general conditions of trade and commerce,
his influence cannot have extended far. On the other side of the
account, there was no proper guarantee against abuse of the power which
the saint had over the multitude; nor were instances of this wanting.
Perhaps the following case comes under the category:—Notoriously one of
the worst defects in the constitution of the Roman empire was that the
higher municipal officials were weighted with heavy expenses, which
often ruined their fortunes; every one therefore, who could, evaded the
burden of such charges. It happened on one occasion that the governor of
the province wished to bring two young citizens into the Council of the
city of Antioch. They betook themselves to Simeon, and represented the
conduct of the governor as a piece of vindictiveness. Simeon interfered
on their behalf, but without success; the governor immediately
afterwards, we are told, was deposed with contumely, summoned to
Constantinople, and relegated to exile. This was a divine punishment.

According to the Syriac biography, the powerful minister Asclepiodotus
published an ordinance of the emperor Theodosius II., commanding the
restoration to the Jews of all the synagogues which had been forcibly
taken from them by the Christians. All good Christians were indignant at
the idea that buildings where Christian worship had been held should
again fall into the hands of “the crucifiers.” Several bishops,
accordingly, turned with this complaint to Simeon, who wrote a blunt
letter to the emperor. Theodosius promptly recalled the edict, sent to
the saint a humble letter of apology, and deposed Asclepiodotus, the
friend of Jews and heathen, the enemy of Christians.—The affair cannot,
however, have happened exactly in the manner related. We still possess
the text of the imperial mandate to the chancellor (_præfectus
prætorio_) Asclepiodotus, in which it is forbidden henceforward to take
their synagogues from the Jews, and order is made to pay them reasonable
compensation for such as had already been used for Christian worship,
and so could not be restored. We can scarcely suppose this order to have
cancelled another more favourable to the Jews, and, in any case, Simeon
can hardly have had a great share in procuring it, for it was issued as
early as 423, when he can have been but little known. The story is
nevertheless instructive, as illustrating how unfair men can become
through fanaticism; for here a simple claim of justice is represented as
a shocking crime. It shows, at the same time, how great was the
authority attributed to Simeon.

Once and again, on other occasions, Simeon condescended to hold
correspondence with the great ones of the earth. Thus, in the closing
period of his life (457-459 A.D.), he gave the emperor Leo a written
opinion in favour of the Council of Chalcedon (451), which had defined
the dogma of the two natures of Christ. In the same sense he wrote also,
about the same time, to the patriarch Basil of Antioch. Whether the
saint understood—so far as they are at all intelligible—the dogmatic
niceties which were dealt with at Chalcedon, may be left an open
question. The Monophysites of Syria, who were opposed to the Council of
Chalcedon, and who were a majority in that country, afterwards ignored
this action of Simeon and reckoned him among their saints; as was also
occasionally done by the Nestorians, although their doctrine—which
refused to call Mary the “mother of God,” and which had been condemned
as early as 431 by the Council of Ephesus—was held in detestation by
Simeon, and had been expressly repudiated in a letter of his to a former
patriarch of Antioch. Simeon, it may be conjectured, dictated his
letters to one of his disciples, who stood at the top of the ladder by
which his confidants climbed up. Whether he himself could read and write
is uncertain.

The actions of this eccentric saint and the anecdotes told about him
made, as already hinted, a particular impression on the uneducated. All
our informants dwell on the admiration he excited in the wild Arabs. It
is credible enough that many Bedouins were induced by him to receive
baptism, though hardly in such numbers as is asserted. In doing so they
vowed to abstain from the flesh of the wild ass and of the camel. This
vow can have been kept only by tribes possessing sheep or goats: with
most Arabs camel’s flesh is the only available meat, apart from game,
which is not plentiful. When Theodoret once, at Simeon’s instance,
bestowed his blessing on some newly-converted Arabs, these believers so
crowded and jostled to touch his limbs and his garments (to secure the
blessing properly) that he feared for his life. And once, in true Arab
style, the representatives of two different tribes had a free fight at
the foot of Simeon’s pillar, because each demanded that the saint should
send his blessing to its own chief, and not to that of the other.
Simeon, with invectives and threats, had the utmost difficulty in
separating the combatants. This improvised Christianity did not strike
deep root among these Arabs. In some tribes baptism had certainly
already disappeared before the rise of Islam, and the Arabs of the then
Roman dominion who had continued to profess Christianity, with few
exceptions, soon went over to the new religion. His influence on the
inhabitants of Lebanon, who at that time were still mostly pagans,
appears to have been more permanent; for it is probable that the
Maronites are the descendants of the converts who accepted baptism after
Simeon’s intercession, as they believed, had freed them from the ravages
of wild beasts. These beasts are represented as having been a kind of
spectres who appeared in shifting forms; but as it is said that the
skins of two of them were hung up beside Simeon’s pillar, even the pious
editor of the Syriac biography cannot quite free himself of the
rationalistic idea that there must have been great exaggeration in this,
and that the creatures were actually hyænas.

It is not inconceivable how the fame of the saint, growing ever from
mouth to mouth, should have reached Persia also, and even the Persian
court: superstition does not always pay heed to differences of religion.
Theodoret says only that the king of Persia is reported to have begged
consecrated oil of him, but less cautious writers positively assert both
this and more.

I spare my readers most of Simeon’s miracles, which are mainly of the
conventional type. Most of what is related by Theodoret in this
connection may be historical; all that is required is to allow for some
involuntary corrections of the facts, and to bear in mind the weight of
the principle—_post hoc, ergo propter hoc_. Thus, Simeon is said to
have predicted on one occasion the coming of a swarm of locusts as a
punishment, but that through the divine mercy it would not cause great
harm; and this actually came to pass. The story may be essentially true.
In these regions locusts are a frequent plague, and so an obvious
element in all preaching of sin and its punishment; such preaching must
also include some reference to the divine compassion in case of
repentance, and thus an announcement of the kind is always justified by
the event, whether that be the punishment of sin or the compassion that
follows repentance. Nor have we any reason to doubt that the wife of an
Arab prince had a son after Simeon had prayed for her; it is only a
somewhat late biography that connects with this fact an incredible
miracle of healing. The appearance or disappearance of local calamities
was certainly often ascribed to his curse or blessing. His miraculous
cures are covered by the general remarks made above (p. 208).

Superstition, however, did not content itself with such miracles as were
wrought by every petty saint, but went on to attribute to Simeon magical
powers. Thus it is related that creatures so fleet and so shy as the
ibex or the stag could be so charmed by means of his name as to become
easy captures; this, however, was regarded as a culpable abuse. On the
other hand, it was naturally viewed as very praiseworthy when a cleric,
by the same means, took away all power of motion from a great snake
which was about to devour a child; in this state it continued for three
days, when it was released by Simeon with the command to do harm no
more. It is even said that a male snake once came to Simeon to beg
healing for his female, which was ill; the application was of course
successful; the patient attended outside the enclosure, for Simeon (as
we know in other connections) strictly prohibited any female to enter
that sacred plot of ground.

But the most wonderful miracle of all is as follows. A ship was
labouring in the high seas in a heavy storm. At the mast-head there
appeared a black man in token that the vessel was doomed. But it so
happened that there was on board a man of the region of Amid (Diárbekr,
in Mesopotamia), who had with him some of Simeon’s holy dust;[95] with
this he made a cross upon the mast, scattering the rest over the ship,
whereupon all with one voice called upon Simeon to procure their
deliverance from God. Instantaneously, Simeon himself appeared,
vigorously chastising the black man with a scourge, and driving him
away. As he fled, the evil one complained of the saint for persecuting
him, not by land only, but also by water. The sea forthwith became calm.
Let it be observed, that this miracle is effected by Simeon while he is
still alive and standing on his pillar. An old popular superstition
about the demon of the storm and the heavenly deliverer[96] is here
crassly transferred to Simeon, even in his lifetime. According to a
shorter version of this story, Simeon once stood long inattentive to the
assembled multitude beneath who were imploring his blessing; at last he
began to speak, and informed them that in the interval he had in person
been saving a ship with 300 souls. That is to say, his spirit had been
absent, and unable to pay attention to the people below. He had become a
supernatural being, and could be in two places at once.

After fifty-six years of severest asceticism (thirty-seven of them upon
his pillars) Simeon died, upwards of seventy years of age, on Wednesday,
2nd September 459. His death was at first kept as secret as possible,
that no one might carry off the corpse, so full of blessing. The
preparations for his burial were prolonged, and probably the body was
embalmed. On 21st September began a funeral procession of unprecedented
solemnity, which arrived with the body of the saint at Antioch on the
25th. Bishops and clergy of every grade, officials, and innumerable
people accompanied it, as well as the generalissimo of the forces in the
eastern provinces, Ardaburius, son of Aspar, with some thousands of
Gothic soldiers, who indeed, like their commander, were heretical
Arians, but doubtless shared the superstitious veneration of the
Syrians. For the first hour the coffin was carried by bishops and
priests; it was then transferred to a car. The burial took place in the
great church of Constantine at Antioch. The emperor Leo wished to
transport the body to Constantinople, but abandoned the idea on the
earnest entreaty of the Antiochenes. It may be conjectured that the
function was the more frequented because men’s minds were still agitated
on account of the two earthquakes (of September 457 and June 459) which
had caused dreadful havoc in Antioch. In the body of the saint the
Antiochenes hoped to possess a charm against the recurrence of such
manifestations of the “wrath of God”—a hope which proved vain.
Evagrius, the Church historian, saw the body of Simeon when the
Commander of the Forces in the East, Philippicus, son-in-law of the
emperor Maurice, caused it to be exhibited (probably in 588). At that
time it was still well preserved, though it had lost some teeth, to
which believers had helped themselves as salutary relics. I have not
found any later writer who notices, at first hand, the grave and relics
of Simeon.

A large building was soon erected on the spot where Simeon had lived.
The name of this despiser of all earthly things, whose whole life was a
scornful protest against all concern for the beautiful, was commemorated
in a masterpiece of architecture, the only fine art which then
flourished vigorously, connecting mediæval and modern art with pagan
antiquity by great and original works. On the heights of Telnishé arose
a splendid church, described by Evagrius, the ruins of which still leave
an impression of grandeur on the traveller. The main building forms a
cross, the arms of which, at the point of intersection, enclose an open
space. In the centre of this still stands the base of Simeon’s pillar.
In the time of the historian a great shining star was often seen above,
in a gallery of the inner space. Evagrius, a native of Syria, regarded
this phenomenon, which he himself had witnessed, as supernatural, just
as his pagan countrymen had formerly believed in the divine origin of
the light which from time to time was seen above the sacred lake of
Aphrodite in Lebanon, or as the Russian pilgrims of the present day
still ascribe to a supernatural source the light in the Church of the
Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, at which they kindled their Easter tapers.

Simeon has had several successors in Syrian lands. Some at least of
these must, however, have greatly modified the penance of standing on
the pillar, for several authors are included in their number, and one at
least, Joshua Stylites, was a very sober-minded and sensible person.

An enthusiastic deacon named Vulfilaicus, somewhere about the middle of
the sixth century, set up for himself in the neighbourhood of Treves a
similar pillar. But the bishops ordered him down, as he could not
possibly vie with the holy Simeon; and his own bishop, when his back was
turned, caused the pillar to be broken to fragments. If not so learned
as the Syrians, the Frankish bishops had more common sense. Such
ridiculous asceticism did not suit the West, where, on the other hand,
the early mediæval Church rose to the task of educating the rude peoples
in a way that has no parallel in the East.[97]

The famous ecclesiastical writer Theodoret, bishop of Cyrrhus, in
Northern Syria, has given us a sketch of Simeon Stylites, with whom he
was acquainted, and by whom indeed he was survived. In spite of its
somewhat ornate style, this is, on the whole, the most trustworthy
biography; the author was a man of education.

Much fuller is the account which was written not long after Simeon’s
death by two honest, but rather uneducated Syrians (probably in
472),[98] and which has incorrectly been ascribed by the learned
Maronites to the Cosmas mentioned above (p. 217). It gives very useful
additions to Theodoret’s picture, with a good deal of the legendary
exaggeration which already had begun to gather round the figure of the
saint. It is, however, highly characteristic for the ideas and manner of
expression that prevailed in the circles where it was written. It became
very popular, and the MSS. present considerable variations of text, as
is usual in such popular books.[99] Evagrius used it. Quite inferior to
both these is the Greek biography which is said to have been written by
Antony, a disciple of Simeon. It contains so many extravagances that it
can hardly be so old as it professes to be.

Our later authorities about Simeon have no independent value. There are
some Syriac letters of Simeon in the British Museum which might be worth
publishing, but the editor would have to be on his guard against
spurious or interpolated pieces.

John, Monophysite bishop of Asia (the province so called), or Ephesus, a
Syrian of Amid (Diárbekr), but who spent great part of his life in
Constantinople and elsewhere in the West, composed in his mother-tongue
a Church history, of which considerable portions have reached us
directly or through other writers, and also a book containing sketches
of pious men or saints whom he had met in the course of his long life.
John was learned, and, as it seems, a man of some activity, but of
little enlightenment. Naturally of a mild disposition, he was
nevertheless a zealous Monophysite, and hated the Council of Chalcedon
with all his heart. All his pious characters accordingly are strict
Monophysites. The world brought before us in these sketches is dismal
enough, but if we arm ourselves with the needful impartiality, we can
learn from them a great deal about the period to which they relate. In
presenting a few of these figures to my readers I do not select the most
important, but such as exhibit most clearly some of the characteristics
of the Syrians of that age.

                          SIMEON AND SERGIUS.

In the neighbourhood of Amid there were many ascetics about the year
500. One of these, called Simeon (one of the commonest names of the
time), lived indeed as a hermit like the others, yet was of a very
hospitable spirit. When he was alone he mortified himself with the
utmost severity, and ate absolutely nothing for as many as ten days at a
stretch; for, since it is written that where two or three are gathered
together in Christ’s name, there is He in the midst of them (Matt.
xviii. 20), it followed that Simeon by himself was not able to secure
the presence of Christ, and without this he would not eat. If, however,
a strange monk, or monks, arrived, he admitted them over the doorless
wall of his enclosure by a kind of ladder, received them cordially,
washed their feet, and after further proving his humility by secretly
drinking three times of the water with which he had washed them(!), set
wine before them, and the produce of his garden. He then ate with them
and was happy. To laymen and to women he gave food through a hole in the
wall. His garden is said to have grown enough to feed forty people,
although it was only twenty cubits long and ten cubits broad, which may
be believed if we consider that the climate was favourable and the
guests very abstemious. Aided by one or two disciples who were usually
with him, Simeon through the hole in his wall, at different times of the
day, taught children of various ages to read the Psalter and other holy
books. He was evidently a man of cheerful and amiable character, and
worthy of a better vocation.

His most notable disciple was Sergius; he was a zealot _pur sang_. His
special annoyance was the toleration given to the Jews in the village.
“He burned with love for his Lord, and gnashed his teeth” against “the
murderers of God.” With a handful of younger people accordingly he one
night set fire to their synagogue, and burnt it with its books and
trumpets and other sacred objects. As the Jews stood under the
protection of the great church in Amid, to which they paid dues, they
laid a complaint against Sergius before its authorities. But in the
meanwhile he and his people had lost no time in planting, on the site of
the synagogue, a chapel, which they dedicated to the Mother of God; so
that the soldiers sent to restore the Jews to their rights were
helpless, a church once consecrated being inalienable. The Jews now, in
revenge, burned down the cells of Simeon and Sergius; but these were at
once rebuilt by the latter, who also destroyed by night the new
synagogue, now near completion, and carried matters so that the Jews
were completely terrorised. When at last Sergius withdrew from his
master (with whom he had been for some twenty years), to shut himself up
in a low and narrow cell, the Jews took courage to begin building once
more; but the holy man caused his disciples to set fire to this also,
whereupon they desisted from making any further attempt as long as he

In 520 the emperor, Justin I., took strong measures against the
Monophysites, to which sect our two anchorites belonged. The agents of
the Government left the aged Simeon unmolested, but tried to induce
Sergius to acknowledge the Council of Chalcedon. He, however, received
them with curses, and swore that if they drove him out he would
anathematise them from the pulpit of the great church in face of the
congregation. In spite of the threat, they broke through a wall of his
cell and did drive him out. He took refuge with the pillar-saint Maron,
also a zealous Monophysite, after staying with whom for a short time he
addressed himself to the fulfilment of his oath. Armed with the blessing
of Maron, who at first had dissuaded him from the enterprise, he went on
Sunday to the church when the whole congregation—including many
Monophysites, who joined in the service, though they abstained from
communicating with the other party—was assembled; and while the
preacher was in the middle of his sermon before the “so-called bishop,”
the weird figure of the hermit in ragged sackcloth suddenly made its
appearance. Planting the cross, which he had carried upon his back, in
front of the pulpit, he sprang up the steps, fell on the preacher with
cuffs and abusive language, and flung him from his place. He then
solemnly pronounced from the pulpit an anathema upon the Council of
Chalcedon and on all who accepted its decrees. A great uproar, of
course, ensued. Sergius was arrested and taken into custody, his long
hermit’s beard cut off, and he himself sent in chains to a neighbouring
monastery in Armenia, the monks of which, three hundred in number, were
all zealous partisans of the Council.[100] The Government, we see, was
very gentle with this violent opponent; if the Syrian Monophysites had
gained the upper hand, their treatment of a similar offender would have
been very different. Sergius, however, managed to make his escape three
days afterwards, and finding his way back to Simeon, began to build a
cell beside him. His adversaries, finding themselves unable to scare him
away, left him personally unmolested,—no doubt out of consideration for
the temper of the populace,—and contented themselves with pulling down
what he had built. He now showed the same determination as in his
contest with the Jews, swearing “by Him who built up the world, and who
was called the carpenter’s son,” that he would never cease to renew his
task as often as his work was thrown down; a vow which he kept.

Sergius predeceased Simeon, who, in the closing years of his life had
grown very weak and ill, so as to be no longer able (greatly to his
regret) personally to serve his guests. He died after forty-seven years
of a hermit life. John of Ephesus testifies that God wrought many
miracles by him, but does not go into particulars.


Márá, a native of a highland village to the north of Amid, was a huge
man of great bodily strength. Although holding some inferior
ecclesiastical office he was still a layman, and when about thirty years
of age his parents wished him to marry. But after everything had been
prepared for the wedding the spirit came upon him, and constrained him
to make his escape by night.[101] He went to a wonder-working hermit
named Paul, who lived near Hisn Ziyat (Kharput), in a cave which was
reputed a haunt of evil spirits. Márá remained five years with Paul as
his disciple in prayer, fasting, and other ascetic exercises, and is
alleged to have slept for only one or two hours of the twenty-four. In
the severest cold of winter he went with bare and bleeding feet through
deep mountain snow for firewood. His master vainly urged him not to
overdo his self-mortifications. In order to be thoroughly free of his
family and their worldly tendencies, he betook himself to Egypt, the
chief school of asceticism, where he visited various penitents, and
himself lived as one for fifteen years.

At this period Justinian’s Government was making its attempt to force
the Egyptians, decided Monophysites, to accept the decrees of Chalcedon.
For this end here, as in Mesopotamia, it particularly sought to win over
the monks and hermits, the most powerful authorities with the masses,
and if they proved obstinate to scatter and drive them away. Thus Márá,
as a firm Monophysite, was driven from his cell. But instead of simply
withdrawing farther into the desert, he took ship for Constantinople.
There, where the majority were thoroughly “Orthodox,” the foreign
Monophysites were tolerated by Government as harmless, and the Empress
Theodora was so much their declared protectress that we must presume her
to have acted with her husband’s approval. Justinian may have had his
own reasons for not pressing this powerful party too hard. Sheltered
under Theodora’s wing, many of the Monophysites were not slow to flatter
that clever lady, whose questionable past was in their eyes fully atoned
for by her soundness in the faith. But our hermit was not of that sort.
John of Ephesus declines to repeat the terms of reproach hurled in the
faces of the imperial pair by Márá when he presented himself before them
in his tattered garb; it would not be fitting to do so, he tells us;
and, besides, he would not be believed. All this was in execrable taste;
yet it is a real pleasure to see that there still were some people
capable of confronting the servile “Byzantinism” of the day in a way
that was manly and independent. Neither emperor nor empress was in a
condition to meet this holy zeal with violence, if only because they
themselves felt a superstitious awe in the presence of such a man.
Theodora even sought to keep Márá near herself; perhaps she saw in the
rough-tongued saint the confessor her long-borne burden of sin required.
She even attempted to win him with a hundred pounds of gold, but he
hurled the bag from him with one hand, and said: “To hell with thyself,
and with the money wherewith thou wouldst tempt me!” Court and city were
astounded at the bodily strength he showed in this, and still more at
his contempt for Mammon,—a rare sight in Constantinople.

Márá next retired to the hills immediately to the north of
Constantinople, and there lived as a hermit. The empress sent her
courtiers to tell him that she would be glad to supply whatever he
wished. They had great difficulty in finding him, as he had no fixed
dwelling. By way of expressing his thanks, he sent back the message that
she need not suppose herself to possess aught that servants of God could
use, unless it were the fear of God, if she possessed such a thing as
that. With all his rudeness he still maintained relations with the
court. He earned his bread by making mats and baskets of palm leaves,
but his principal nourishment consisted of wild fruits and herbs.
Against winter he erected for himself some kind of a hut in the
mountains. Being reputed a saint he had many visitors.

It, of course, came to be well known that Márá was frequently visited by
messengers from the empress, and this naturally gave rise to the idea
that the hermit’s hovel must contain imperial gifts. One night,
accordingly, he received a visit from a robber band. But the saint
wrested from one of them the club with which he had attacked him, seized
him by the hair, and threw him to the ground; three others he disposed
of in the same way, whereupon the six who were left took to flight.
Three of these also he succeeded in overtaking, and after binding them
all he triumphed over them at his leisure. Next morning the visitors who
came saw what had happened; naturally they wished to hand the robbers
over to the authorities, but Márá, retaining only their swords and
clubs, dismissed them with a vigorous allocution. The affair became
known, and a chamberlain carried the weapons to the emperor and empress,
thus giving ocular demonstration of what can be done by the power of
prayer when conjoined with strength of arm. There may be some
exaggeration in this story, but the substance of it as related by John
of Ephesus, who was resident in Constantinople at the time, and knew
Márá personally, is doubtless correct.

After a sojourn of some years among the mountains, Márá allowed an
official of the court to purchase for him a small villa near the city,
where he lived for five years, earning what was required for the
sustenance of himself and his devout and needy guests by gardening. He
often sent salutary exhortations to the emperor and empress. On the
outbreak of a great plague in 542, he got workpeople sent from the court
to set up a cemetery with vaults and chapel for poor strangers and for
himself. Hardly had they completed their task when he died. His funeral
was attended by many bishops and inferior clergy, as well as monks,
courtiers, and high officers of State.

Of Márá, whose vigorous and somewhat humorous figure presents a welcome
variety amid the mass of ordinary ascetics, no miracles are recorded.

                          THEOPHILUS AND MARY.

About the year 530 there appeared in the streets of Amid a merry-andrew
(_mimus_) and his female companion, who seemed to be a prostitute.
People of the kind were no rarities even in the pious East, but this
couple attracted special attention by their youth and beauty. The public
witnessed their performances with pleasure, but treated them, as was
also the custom, with brutality; the poor creatures received many little
presents, doubtless, but not without kicks and cuffs. With nightfall
they regularly disappeared, and no one could find out where they had
gone. Some men of influence, whose carnal passions had been inflamed,
now procured from the governor an order that the woman should be given
over to prostitution; but a God-fearing lady named Cosmo rescued her,
took her to be with herself, and exhorted her to a better life. She
listened to the advice with penitential mien, but forthwith returned to
her companion. Now, however, a pious man named John, an acquaintance of
John of Ephesus, began to suspect something extraordinary about the
pair. With much trouble he discovered the retreat where their nights
were spent, and saw them engaged in long-continued prayer. He now came
up to them and asked an explanation. With great reluctance they
consented, but only after he had solemnly promised upon oath to tell no
one as long as they continued in Amid, and even to treat them with the
usual contumely wherever he should see them in public. Their story,
which they told the following night, was that their names were
Theophilus and Mary, and that each was an only child of noble and
prosperous Antiochenes. When Theophilus was fifteen years of age, he
went on to say, he one night discovered, in a stall of his father’s
stables, a poor man, who had hidden himself there in the litter against
the cold; his mouth and hands emitted a halo, which Theophilus alone
could see, and which disappeared whenever the servants entered. The holy
man, at his urgent entreaty, confessed to him (but only on condition of
secrecy) that his name was Procopius, a Roman, who had fled from home to
escape his approaching marriage. He predicted to Theophilus the
approaching death in that year of his parents, and of those of his
affianced bride, and exhorted him on this event to sell all that he had
and give it to the poor, and himself to live a consecrated life in
disguise; the lady also was to do the same. They actually did as they
had been bidden, and lived in virginity together, while in the eyes of
the world they appeared to be living in shameful immorality. For a whole
year John held regular communication with this saintly pair; at the end
of that time they disappeared, and for seven years he sought for them in
vain; but John of Ephesus once afterwards met them near Tella (south of
Amid, towards Edessa).

The author says that his informant had assured him upon his solemn oath
of the truth of this story; and though one might be tempted to suspect
that the pious man had simply been the victim of a couple of impostors,
I, for my part, believe the narrative to be accurate in its main
features. The light that proceeded from the holy beggar, and his
prophecy, need not mislead us. The story, which comes to us through two
intermediaries, may unintentionally have received various touches of the
marvellous, and, above all, some account must be taken of the
religiously excited fancy of the young man himself, which perhaps was
full of such figures as that of the Roman “man of God”[102] fleeing from
his nuptials, whose double the Procopius of our narrative is. It is
indeed the very height of unnatural self-abnegation when a virtuous
maiden of even excessive spirituality ventures to assume the disguise of
a common prostitute so as to bear the full shame of sin for the glory of

                 “Opfer fallen hier
                 Weder Lamm noch Stier
                 Aber Menschenopfer unerhört.”[103]

These Syrians were too apt to hold everything natural for wickedness;
and yet unbridled sensuality was by no means unknown in their circle.


[89] For the pagan world compare Jacob Burckhardt, _Constantin_ (2nd
ed.), p. 218.

[90] I am told by one who knows, that most Indian ascetics, who in
self-mortification in other respects, as a rule, go far beyond the
Christian, pay strict attention to cleanliness. There are, however (or
have been), ascetics in India, also, who have abjured washing.

[91] This was written in August 1891. As it turns out, the crop of
miracles at Treves has been very poor. This may be explained partly by
the strong light of publicity; partly by the fact that, after all, and
even in the lower classes, there has been a considerable weakening of
simple faith.

[92] Sís itself has not been identified. It is not to be confounded with
the Sís in the interior of Cilicia.

[93] “Where the skin has little feeling, so also has the mind and the
soul” (Hehn, _Culturpflanzen u. Hausthiere_, 3rd ed., p. 472, n. 6).

[94] Lucian, _De dea Syria_, c. 28 sq. The scoffer gravely calls the
pillar a phallus.

[95] See above, p. 213.

[96] Compare Leucothea, the Dioscuri, and the like.

[97] The horrible rule of the Trappists is of comparatively modern

[98] This is the date of its composition, not of its transcription, as
has been supposed.

[99] This applies even to the Roman and London MSS., which are both very
old. Of the latter I was able to use some years ago a transcript kindly
lent me by Prof. Kleyn, of Utrecht, but in the preparation of this essay
I have had only a few notes from it at my disposal.

[100] The Armenians for the most part were Monophysites, and still are
so except those who are “United” to the Church of Rome.

[101] An incident that more than once occurs in the lives of Syrian
saints, both legendary and historical. See below, p. 234.

[102] In later forms of the legend his name is St. Alexius.


            “Sacrifices here are neither lamb nor steer,
            But human sacrifice unspeakable.”—GOETHE.


IN the first half of the thirteenth century a great part of the
population of Melatia, in the east of Asia Minor, close to the upper
Euphrates, consisted of Jacobites, that is to say, Syrians of
Monophysite creed.[104] These Syrians were numerous also in the adjacent
districts, where they had a number of bishoprics and monasteries.
Conspicuous amongst the latter was the great and wealthy monastery of
St. Barsaumá, where the Jacobite patriarch often took up his abode, and
where synods frequently met; its patron saint was held in high repute by
the Moslems of the district also, who presented many gifts in gratitude
for miraculous help. The Moslems of these parts seem to have been of
Turkish speech; probably there was also an Armenian population. The land
belonged to the kingdom of the Seljuks of Asia Minor (Rúm), but, lying
on the marches, was much exposed to assaults, on the one hand, from the
principalities of Syria and Mesopotamia; and, on the other, from the
Christian Armenian State of Cilicia. It had also to suffer from the
internal struggles that accompanied the decline of the Seljuk power. The
Syrians in this quarter seem, however, to have enjoyed a fair degree of
prosperity down to the time of the Mongols; several eminent Syrian
prelates and authors came from Melatia, amongst them the subject of the
following sketch. His father, a respected physician of the name of Ahrún
(Aaron), seems to have been a baptized Jew. This is not inferred from
his name, which was common enough among Syrian Christians, and besides
would certainly have been changed at baptism, but from the fact that his
celebrated son bore the surname of “Son of the Hebrew” (Bar Evráyá, or,
according to another pronunciation, Bar Evróyó). From an epigram of his
we see that the epithet was by no means agreeable to him, which confirms
what has just been said. His Jewish origin is perhaps confirmed by the
keen and sober intelligence which appears both in his actions and in his
writings. His Christian name was John, but in ordinary life he was known
as Abulfaraj, an Arabic name such as Christians living amongst
Mohammedans were wont to bear. But in the following pages we shall
throughout call him Barhebræus, the Latinised form of his surname, which
has long been familiar to European scholars.

He was born in 1225-26. His mother-tongue was, it may be presumed, a
vulgar dialect of Syriac; but it is certain that from an early age he
was able to speak with fluency the literary Syriac, which had already
disappeared from common use, but played a great part in the language of
the Church and of learning. Of the youth of Barhebræus we have no
details. He must certainly have received in Melatia such a training in
learning as was then given to young Syrians destined for the higher
service of the Church. But the statement sometimes made, that he also
became acquainted with Greek and the ecclesiastical literature of that
language, is certainly incorrect; his writings nowhere show any real
acquaintance with either. By that time the Arabic language and
literature had long superseded its rival with all Syrians who aimed at
the higher education.

When the Mongols (Tartars) invaded the country in the summer of 1243,
his father Aaron, in common with many others, wished to take refuge with
his family in Syria, but was hindered by an accident, and thus he and
his escaped the fate of the fugitives, who fell into the hands of the
Mongols. The Christians and Moslems of Melatia on that occasion, under
the leadership of the Syrian metropolitan Dionysius, came under a solemn
mutual obligation to stand by one another. This incident is in the
highest degree surprising to one who knows something of the social
conditions of the East. The professors of the two religions habitually
regard one another as born foes; but here the terrible danger effected a
union, and even a subordination of the proud Moslems under the
downtrodden Christians, who were manifestly in the majority, and had for
their leader a man of energy, though not over scrupulous. The Mongol
chief allowed himself to be bought off, and no battle took place.
Falling ill, he asked for a physician; Barhebræus’s father was sent to
him, and did not leave him until he had reached Kharput, after being
cured of his malady.

Aaron and his family after this removed to Antioch, which was still in
the hands of the Franks. Here his son became a monk, doubtless with a
view to the episcopal dignity, the higher ecclesiastical charges being
in the Oriental Churches accessible only to monks. Soon afterwards we
find Barhebræus in Tripoli, also still in the hands of the Crusaders.
Along with a companion[105] he here studied dialectic and medicine under
a Nestorian. This may have had something to do with the tolerance which
he afterwards showed towards Christians of different creed, though
indeed it was not unusual for a Syrian to frequent the lectures of a man
whose doctrine he regarded as heretical. Barhebræus probably had Moslem
teachers also, for he could hardly otherwise have acquired his good
knowledge of the Arabic language and literature. He wrote Arabic almost
as fluently as Syriac, and not much more incorrectly than most
Mohammedan writers of his time. He could also make use of Persian books
without difficulty, at least in his later years. He spoke Arabic well,
of course; and presumably he had acquired a colloquial knowledge of
Turkish also. But he seems never to have been brought into close
relations with the Franks.

Talented and industrious, he must very soon have attracted the notice of
the ecclesiastical authorities, and while still a youth of only twenty
he was ordained by the Jacobite patriarch (12th September 1246) to be
Bishop of Gubos, near Melatia, on which occasion he assumed the
ecclesiastical name of Gregory. Not long afterwards he exchanged this
bishopric for that of Lakabín, in the same region.[106]

As bishop he took part in the synod held at the monastery of Barsaumá,
after the death of Ignatius (14th June 1252), for the election of a new
patriarch. At this juncture there arrived in the neighbourhood of
Melatia a body of Mongols, a detachment of the great hordes which in
those years made an end of the caliphate, and devastated on all hands
with fire and sword. Barhebræus’s aged father, who had again returned to
his home, fled with his little son Barsaumá from the village of Margá to
a rocky region beside the Euphrates, and remained there in hiding for
six weeks, until the barbarians had gone. The world was trembling in its
courses, but this made little impression on the Jacobite dignitaries;
they  went on intriguing and quarrelling just as usual. Dionysius of
Melatia, who has been already mentioned, and John, surnamed Barmadeni,
the maphrián or primate of the eastward dioceses,[107] a man of high
repute as a scholar, were competitors for the patriarchate. By the laws
of that Church no valid election could take place without the presence
of the maphrián; but Dionysius procured his own election in September
1252 in defiance of this rule, and in a very thinly attended synod. The
youthful Barhebræus was sent into Mesopotamia to convey to John the
apologies of the synod, and to beg his concurrence. But John had
meantime gone to Aleppo, where, on 4th December of the same year, he got
himself chosen to the patriarchate,—an election which certainly has a
greater apparent claim to validity than the other. But the all-important
question was as to which patriarch the Moslem rulers would recognise.
There began accordingly a scandalous competition between the rivals (not
a rare occurrence in the Eastern Churches). On both sides the effort was
made to gain over princes and potentates, as well as individual bishops
and other ecclesiastics of influence, by money or fair words. Along with
his nephew, a monk, Barhebræus was sent into the mountains of Túr Abdín,
in northern Mesopotamia, which were mostly inhabited by Jacobites, to
collect funds in the monasteries and villages for gaining over to
Dionysius the local prince, to whom John had promised a sum of money for
recognition, but had as yet failed to pay it. The mission was
successful. It is well worth noticing, though not very edifying, to see
how coolly Barhebræus, certainly one of the most respectable persons of
his class, relates these transactions. It must be remembered that the
laity, from whom the money was drawn, were for the most part exceedingly
poor; bright prospects of a reward in heaven[108] were, to be sure, held
out to them by way of compensation, and all the proceedings were carried
on in the most approved Christian phraseology. The Eastern Churches
were, of course, unable to secure immunity from the caprice and violence
of the Moslem authorities without a skilful use of the mammon of
unrighteousness, but it is a very different matter when the faithful are
taxed that one of their own spiritual heads may be able to secure an
effectual triumph over another. Occurrences of the kind have not been
wholly unknown in the West, but the abuse attained far larger
proportions in the East.

Dionysius now proceeded to Damascus, where he was honourably received by
the governor, Barhebræus acting as interpreter. In these negotiations,
however, Dionysius fell into a stupid blunder, exhibiting the letter of
a Mongol magnate which had been intended for his supporters in Melatia.
This caused great offence, for the Tartars were regarded as mortal
enemies by the Moslems. It was only with great trouble, and through the
intervention of Ibn Amíd (Elmacinus), the well-known Coptic author, that
Dionysius at last succeeded in obtaining his diploma of confirmation on
payment of a large bribe.

Barhebræus was soon afterwards named by Dionysius to be bishop of
Aleppo; but on the installation there of a partisan of John’s, he
withdrew, along with his father, to the Barsaumá monastery, where his
patriarch was. John betook himself to the Armenian king of Sís, while
Dionysius received recognition almost everywhere. Barhebræus soon again
took up his abode in Aleppo. When the Mongols, who in the meantime had
taken Bagdad (January 1258), entered Syria he wished to go to meet them,
plainly with the object of securing mild treatment for the Christians.
The idea was not unreasonable, for their common antipathy to Islam
readily predisposed the Mongol chiefs in favour of the Christians, who,
moreover, sought only toleration, and did not fight for sovereignty like
the Moslems. Some of those wild Tartars had, moreover, been baptized,
for the Nestorians had successful missions among the Turkish tribes.
Dokuz Khatun herself, a wife of the sovereign Hulagu, who formerly had
been one of the wives of his father Tuli, and who in accordance with
Mongol custom had passed with the rest of the inheritance to the son,
was a Christian, and did much for the protection and advantage of her
co-religionists. But the attempt in this instance was unsuccessful.
Barhebræus was detained at Kalat-Nejm, one of the Euphrates ferries; and
Hulagu meanwhile coming to Aleppo, occupied the town, and inflicted on
Moslems and Christians alike all the horrors of a sack (January 1260).

Dionysius compromised himself seriously. That he obtained letters of
confirmation from the Mongol sovereign (1259) was not amiss, especially
as the Seljuks and the Armenian Christian king had equally acknowledged
the Tartar as their overlord. But it was a scandal that he connived at
the robberies of the Christian subjects of the St. Barsaumá monastery,
who had broken loose from all restraint in this period of general
corruption and dissoluteness. And he finally lost the last shred of
reputation by procuring the assassination of a cousin who had been a
great trouble to him, and of his cousin’s brother, only a few days after
a reconciliation had taken place; even the _chronique scandaleuse_ of
the history of the Jacobites supplied no parallel to such conduct. To
escape the consequences of his deed the patriarch again went to Hulagu,
and after overcoming many obstacles was lucky enough to secure his
special protection, so that he was able to lord it more tyrannically
than ever. And now the monastery of St. Barsaumá witnessed an unheard-of
scene; the murderous patriarch was assassinated before the altar as he
was holding a night service (17th-18th February) by a monk, a deacon,
and a layman, nephew of one of the abbats. The assassins threw the
“disciple” of the patriarch, who had been his instrument in the murder
of his cousin, down the rock.

Whether Barhebræus had before these occurrences openly broken with
Dionysius is not known; but one of his poems shows that latterly he was
no longer at one with him, and some verses upon his death indicate that
he regarded his assassination as a righteous judgment.

A Mongolian commissioner, himself a Christian, made his appearance for
the punishment of the perpetrators of the deed. One of the abbats, who
tacitly, at least, had approved it, was cruelly chastised and driven
half-dead from the monastery. He was replaced by a brother of the priest
and physician Simeon, who had risen to great favour with Hulagu, had
grown very wealthy, and stood out as the main support of the Jacobites,
in return for which he exercised influence in extraordinary ways in
Church affairs. Some of the murderers and their accomplices were
executed, and others committed suicide in prison.

By this shocking occurrence John became sole patriarch, and met with
universal recognition; but he remained in Cilicia. Barhebræus now stood
on good terms with him; and when he died in the spring of 1263, the
bishop of Aleppo wrote in his honour a long poem commemorating his many

Abbat Theodore now hastened to the court, or rather to the camp, of the
Mongolian sovereign to seek the patriarchate for himself. But Simeon the
physician declined to undertake his cause, and also persuaded
Barhebræus, who was also at that time at court, certainly not by mere
chance, to oppose his claims. Barhebræus then proceeded to Cilicia and
took part at Sís in the election of abbat Joshua, who, as patriarch,
assumed the name of Ignatius (6th January 1264). Forthwith they
proceeded to fill up also the office of maphrián, or primate of the
Jacobites of the East, which had been vacant since June 1258. The origin
of this dignity may be here explained. The Persian sovereigns had
gradually suffered the Christians of various denominations in their
empire to constitute themselves into distinct bodies, insisting,
however, that while the head of each was to be independent of every
external authority, he was to be in entire subjection to the
throne.[109] These heads bore the title of “Catholicus.” The Syrian
Monophysites did not receive a fixed constitution under a catholicus
until a comparatively late date (in the sixth century); they stood in
much closer connection with the Christians of the hostile empire of Rome
than the Nestorians did, and, on the other hand, were much less able to
compel recognition than the sometimes very warlike Monophysites of
insubordinate Armenia. The main seat of the Jacobites of the Persian
empire was the considerable town of Tagrít, on the middle course of the
Tigris; but nowhere in Persia were they nearly so numerous as the
Nestorians. The Jacobite catholicus bore also the title of maphrián
(mafriyáná), _i.e._ “the fructifier,” who spreads the Church by
instituting priests and bishops. After the Arabs had become masters of
all the countries in which Monophysite Syrians were found, the
separation of the provinces of the Jacobite “patriarch of Antioch” and
that of the maphrián was, strictly speaking, no longer necessary; but
the force of custom, and still more the interest which many of the
clergy had in not allowing so influential and remunerative a post as
that of maphrián to go down, were enough to maintain the old
arrangement. But many disputes arose as to the boundaries of the two
provinces, and the whole relation of maphrián to patriarch; on the
whole, however, it was agreed that the patriarch’s indeed was the higher
rank, but  that the  maphrián in his sphere was quite independent of
him; and further, that for the election of a patriarch the co-operation
of the maphrián was indispensable (unless that post also was vacant),
and that a maphrián could only be nominated with the sanction of the
patriarch. In the choice of a maphrián the wishes of the Eastern
dioceses (_i.e._ of the bishops and heads of monasteries there) had to
be respected; yet, as a rule, he was taken from the West. Now Barhebræus
had already been designated as maphrián by the late patriarch, and,
moreover, he seems to have been the ruling spirit in the electoral
synod; accordingly he was chosen “maphrián of Tagrít and the East” on
Sunday, 20th January 1264. The Armenian king with his suite and
officials, spiritual and secular, were present at his consecration on
the same day in the church of the Theotokos at Sís. Barhebræus preached
the sermon, which an interpreter translated into Armenian. The
Armenians, be it noted in passing, were of the same creed as the
Jacobites, but differed from them on many points of ritual, and perhaps
also in some subordinate matters of dogma. Armenians and Jacobites were
thus very ready to suspect one another of heresy, and at best there was
little love lost between the two parties.[110] After patriarch and
maphrián had received their diplomas of confirmation from the Mongol
sovereign (whose assent had doubtless been secured before the election)
they withdrew, the one to Asia Minor and the other to Mosul.

The Jacobites of the East had long been without any proper government;
for the predecessor of Barhebræus, his old fellow-student at Tripoli,
had failed to establish his authority in the East, and soon withdrew
into Syria, and after his death the vacancy had continued for nearly six
years. The lands of the Tigris were terribly wasted. Although the
Mongols still were more favourable to the Christians than to the
Moslems, they were neither willing nor able to spare them in those
wholesale massacres which constantly occurred. Moreover, the position of
the Christians, which was one of greater friendliness with the Mongols,
and thus gave them a somewhat more self-reliant bearing, repeatedly
excited the jealousy and fanaticism of the Mohammedan population, which
was greatly superior in numbers and in strength; in the district of
Mosul, in particular, many bloody encounters took place. Matters were
better in Aderbiján (north-western Media), the favourite seat of the
Mongolian rulers. There, until the reaction set in, the Christians
suffered little molestation, and monasteries and churches arose in the
capital cities of Merághá and Tabríz. The Jacobites were here less
numerous than either Armenians or Nestorians. Barhebræus now laboured
indefatigably as maphrián for the strengthening of his Church. He made
many extensive journeys within his territory, took measures for the
erection of ecclesiastical edifices, and consecrated numerous priests
and bishops. He succeeded in maintaining good relations with the
Mongolian court without coming into too close contact with it. And with
all this he studied, wrote, and taught without intermission.

At Mosul the maphrián was met in solemn procession by the officials of
the Mohammedan prince as well as by the Christians: the vassal of the
Mongols had good reason for treating in a friendly way a man of mark who
had just been the recipient of their favour. Still more solemn was the
reception of Barhebræus when, at Easter 1265, he came to Bagdad—still
an important place, notwithstanding its recent terrible sack. Such was
the consideration enjoyed by Barhebræus, that even the catholicus of the
Nestorians sent a deputation, including two of his own nephews, to
escort him into his presence. A harmony like this, between the
representatives of two creeds which had been separated by the hostility
of eight centuries, is well worth remarking. Many Nestorians took part
also in the service held by Barhebræus, at which was wrought the
customary miracle of a spontaneous overflow of the chrism at the moment
of consecration.[111] The catholicus, indeed, presently became jealous
of his colleague’s popularity, but no mischief followed, for he died a
fortnight after the festival (Saturday, 18th April 1265). After spending
the entire summer in Bagdad, and consecrating numerous clergy of various
grades, Barhebræus returned again to the district of Mosul, where his
proper see was. He usually lived in the great fortified monastery of St.
Matthew, which was for the maphrián something like what that of Barsaumá
was for the patriarch.

The patriarch Ignatius, in the years immediately following, fell into a
violent dispute with the physician Simeon, already mentioned, who had
taken possession of the government of the monastery of Barsaumá. As he
had done this on the strength of orders issued by the Mongols, Ignatius
sought to obtain from these a decision in an opposite sense; and
although Barhebræus earnestly urged him to come to some amicable
settlement of the difficulty, and not to expose himself before “the
barbarian Huns,” he persevered in the line he had chosen. The maphrián
naturally took this very ill. When, accordingly, in 1268, in the course
of a journey westward to visit his relatives near Lake Van, he
encountered the patriarch on his way to the Mongol court to complain of
Simeon, he sought to avoid a meeting, and the patriarch obtained one at
last only with difficulty. Abaga, who had succeeded his father Hulagu in
the sovereignty of the Mongols in February 1265, actually promulgated a
decree in accordance with the wishes of Ignatius; but the influential
Simeon contrived that it should straightway be cancelled by another, and
Barhebræus, detained in Cilicia by a serious illness, saw Simeon return
in triumph with the decree in his hand. But the dispute was further
prolonged. The Government pronounced alternately for this party and for
that; neither reconciliation nor compromise proved permanent. At last,
in 1273, Barhebræus, who had been called in as arbiter, was successful
in composing the difference. On this occasion he found his native land
in poor case. Moslem troops from Syria had invaded the Mongol territory,
wasting it far and wide, and dragging many Christian women and children
into slavery. The lords of Egypt and the petty princes of Syria were at
that time at continual war with the Tartars, whom in the end they
succeeded in shaking off; but the struggles in the meantime had
completed the ruin of many districts. Additional insecurity was caused
by the presence of robber tribes, which now could do pretty much as they
pleased. Barhebræus, who had taken up temporary quarters in the
monastery of St. Sergius, was escorted thence to that of St. Barsaumá by
a body of fifty armed dependants.

In Easter of 1277, Barhebræus was again in Bagdad, where some years
before a large new Jacobite church had been built in the neighbourhood
of the former palaces of the Caliphs, mainly at the expense of a rich
Christian official named Safíaddaula. At this period, when the
Christians for a short time were able to raise their heads under the
rule of the religiously indifferent, not to say stolid barbarians,
frequent instances are met with in which wealthy private individuals
devoted money to building churches. The smaller contributions of the
poorer members of the community—doubtless the main source of income for
the higher clergy—were forthcoming, we may be sure, in unusual
abundance during the term of a maphrián so respected as Barhebræus. He
was again received with great pomp by the Christians of Bagdad. The
catholicus of that time also, Denhá by name, sent a deputation to meet
him, and received him immediately afterwards with honour. Jacobites and
Nestorians, at such a juncture at least, felt themselves to be branches
of a common stem.

In autumn of the same year Barhebræus came to Tagrít, which, although
nominally the see of the maphrián, had beheld no incumbent of that
office for sixty years. The Christian population of the place, to be
sure, had been sadly diminished; for immediately after the fall of
Bagdad the Mongols had put to death the Christians of Tagrít (whom they
had at first spared) in their usual wholesale manner, for having
concealed much property of the Moslems instead of giving it up to the
conquerors (Palm Sunday, 1258). Barhebræus remained here in his nominal
residence for two months. The following years he spent partly in the
neighbourhood of Mosul and partly in Aderbiján.

It is characteristic of the time that, in 1281, the Nestorians, on the
death of their patriarch Denhá, chose as his successor a clergyman
deficient in ecclesiastical learning, whose recommendation was that he
belonged to a nationality of Central Asia which was also largely
represented at the Mongol court. This was Marcus, an Uigur, or Turk of
the farthest East, who had come from China on pilgrimage to Jerusalem,
but on account of the insecurity of the roads from war and robbers had
been unable to complete the last comparatively short portion of the
journey. As patriarch he bore the name Yavalláhá, and he distinguished
himself alike by his honesty and by his knowledge of the world. He
showed great friendliness to the Jacobites; but as he knew little of the
old dogmatic controversies, and even in the simplicity of his heart
sought relations with the pope, he is hardly entitled to so much credit
for liberality of spirit as Barhebræus is, who was well versed in the
dogmatic questions which divided the Christians of those countries, but,
in marked contrast to the old champions of his Church, sought to
minimise their importance. He expressly declared that the one thing
needful was not love to Nestorius or to Jacobus (Baradæus), but to
Christ, appealing to the words of the apostle: “Who is Paul? and who is
Apollos?” (1 Cor. iii. 5). Isolated instances of similar irenical
tendencies are met with elsewhere in the East during the crusading

Barhebræus, in the spring of 1282, wished to go to Tabríz, and,
accordingly, owing to the insecurity of the roads through the Kurdish
country, attached himself to the caravan of a Mongol princess. News now
coming of the death of Abaga, he proceeded to Alatag (also in
Aderbiján), where, according to the provisions of Jenghiz Khan’s
fundamental law, the new sovereign was to be chosen by the Mongolian
assembly. Here he paid homage to Abaga’s brother Ahmed, who ascended the
throne on 21st June. He obtained also a diploma of confirmation. Ahmed,
as his Arabic name testifies, had accepted Islam, and is reported to
have ruled his conduct expressly with a view to the caliphate; but he
was by no means fanatical, and he even renewed to the Christian
monasteries, churches, and priesthood their privilege of exemption from
taxation. And the pagan Argun, Abaga’s son, who overthrew Ahmed in July
1284 and caused him to be put to death, was again exceptionally gracious
to the Christians. The Mongols had already, indeed, begun by this time
to go over in troops to Islam, which was better suited to their
character than even the crudest type of Christianity; but Barhebræus did
not live long enough to see all the hopes which the Christians of the
East[112] had built upon these brutal barbarians completely falsified,
and Islam once more restored to undivided ascendancy in the wasted

In the autumn of 1282, Barhebræus received in Tabríz a letter, in which
the patriarch told him of his serious illness, and besought him to come
and relieve him of the cares of his office; this was clearly intended to
convey the wish that Barhebræus should be his successor. Winter being at
hand, and the roads dangerous, the maphrián, however, did not comply
with this invitation. Ignatius died of dropsy on Tuesday, 17th November,
and the party of Simeon hastened to elect bishop Philoxenus to the
patriarchate (2nd February 1283). The election was held in the Barsaumá
monastery, and only three bishops, all belonging to depopulated dioceses
in the neighbourhood, took part in it. But confirmation was obtained
without delay from Alatag. Humble apologies were now tendered to the
maphrián for the uncanonical procedure, and he was entreated to give it
his after-concurrence, without which the election could not hope for the
approval of a majority of the bishops; but he turned the messengers
away. Even when Simeon the physician came in person, he continued
steadfast. It was not until the son of Simeon, a pupil of his own, with
whom he was on personally friendly terms, had a meeting with him (August
1284) that he condescended to accept the offered presents and to
sanction the appointment. We can well believe the assurance he then gave
that he was far from wishing to be himself made patriarch, the secure
and influential post he actually held being worth more to him than the
headship of the Jacobite Church in the West, which had been entirely
desolated by war; hard as the times were, he was better off than his
predecessors. But he had to maintain the maphrián’s dignity, and his
self-esteem also had been undoubtedly hurt, for he was well entitled to
consider himself the foremost of the Jacobite clergy. The meeting
referred to took place as Barhebræus was once again travelling in the
caravan of a princess from Tabríz to the district of Mosul.

Near the village of Bartellé, not far from the monastery of St. Matthew,
he had built to the martyr “John the carpenter’s son” a new church,
which he caused to be decorated by an artist from Constantinople, one of
two painters whom the widow of Abaga, a natural daughter of the Greek
emperor Michael, had fetched from the imperial city to adorn the church
of her own denomination (the Greek “Orthodox”) in Tabríz. But the old
church had been searched in vain for the relics of the martyr. After
every one else had failed it was given to the maphrián, as he himself
tells us, to discover the marble sarcophagus, in consequence of a vision
for which he had prepared himself by prayer and fasting (23rd November
1284). How far self-deception entered into this, we can hardly say.
Barhebræus was a cool-headed person, but like all his contemporaries he
had sucked in belief in miracles and wonders with his mother’s milk; on
the other hand, we shall hardly be doing an injustice even to the best
representative of the Oriental clergy of that day if we deem him not
incapable of a little pious fraud.

In 1285-86,[113] Barhebræus, as we learn from one of his verses, was led
by astrological calculations to expect his end; a presentiment which
proved true. His brother Barsaumá, who was constantly beside him, and
took charge of his building undertakings, sought to withdraw him as far
as possible from danger by inducing him to quit the neighbourhood of
Mosul, which was now yearly harassed by marauding bands from Syria, and
to return to Merághá. Here he continued to labour for a while; but on
the night of 29th-30th July 1286 he died after a short illness of three
days. He had previously expressed his regret for having left his proper
place from fear of the death that was inevitable. It may be supposed
that he had felt some warnings of weakness, although his brother
declares him to have been at the time in exceptionally good health.

There were then in Merághá only four Jacobite priests to conduct the
funeral obsequies. But the Nestorian patriarch Yavalláhá, who happened
to be also in the place, enjoined a day of strict mourning on all those
in his obedience, and sent the bishops who were with him to the funeral.
The Armenian and even the Greek clergy also took part in it; there were
altogether about two hundred mourners, and for once the Christians
showed a united front in face of the Moslems to do honour to a person so
distinguished. With solemnities which lasted over nine hours, Barhebræus
was buried at the spot where he had been wont to pray and administer the
sacrament; but at a later date his body was removed to the monastery of
St. Matthew, where his grave is still shown.

We do not need to make very great deductions from the high praise
lavished on the character of Barhebræus by Barsaumá, his brother and
successor. Had he not been amiable and humane, he would hardly have
stood in such pleasant relations with those of other Christian
communions. And yet he was no weakling, but a thoroughly forceful man,
not without ambition; and in point of character, with all his
imperfections, he certainly stood far above the large majority of the
higher clergy of the East.

His great activity is attested by his ecclesiastical buildings, already
begun when he was bishop of Aleppo, and by his literary works. From his
twentieth year down to his last hour, his brother tells us, he studied
and wrote without intermission. Barsaumá’s list, which is not quite
exhaustive, enumerates thirty-one writings of Barhebræus, among which
are several works of some compass. They are mostly in Syriac, but some
in Arabic. Manuscripts of most of them can be found in European
libraries, and sometimes there are more copies than one—a sign that
they were much read. His books embrace almost all branches of the
knowledge of his day. It would indeed be idle to expect much original
thought or independent research in such a mediæval and Eastern scholar.
His principal object was to make accessible to the Syrians the
productions of Arabian and older science. Most of his encyclopædic and
separate scientific works are for the most part, accordingly, merely
intelligent compilations or excerpts from earlier treatises in Syriac or
Arabic. Some are simply translations; thus he rendered some works of the
famous Aristotelian Avicenna from Arabic into Syriac. Barhebræus wrote
on philosophy, medicine, astronomy and astrology, geography, history,
jurisprudence, grammar, and so on; among the subjects treated, the
secular sciences are on the whole more prominent than theology proper.
He even compiled two little books of anecdotes. He earned the respect of
learned Moslems by his writings, and no doubt also by his skill in oral
teaching and disputation. An odd proof of this is the foolish rumour
that Barhebræus on his deathbed had turned Moslem; the thought was the
expression of the wish to gain for Islam and eternal blessedness so
distinguished a scholar.

Some works of Barhebræus are still of great value, particularly his
Sacred and Profane History, drawn from older Arabic, Syriac, and Persian
works, and especially from the Syriac Church History of Michael, his
fellow-townsman of Melatia, who was Jacobite patriarch from 1166 to
1199.[114] It is distinguished by an apt selection of materials,
contains much that is not to be found elsewhere, and is an important
authority for the author’s own period. In his very last days Barhebræus
wrote at Merághá, at the request of some Moslems, an Arabic edition of
the Profane History, which is shorter than the Syriac work, but contains
some new matter. Next in importance to the History is his larger Syriac
Grammar, in which he tries to combine the method not very happily
borrowed by the older Syrians from the Greek grammarians with the
Arabian system. Viewed in the light of modern philology the book shows
great defects, but it is far ahead of the works that preceded it, and
still very instructive. Further, his Scholia to the Bible, which are
more philological than theological, are of value (especially for the
history of the Syriac text); and so is his collection of Jacobite Canon

Barhebræus wrote metrical pieces also. He has certainly none of the
gifts of the heaven-born poet. These compositions have neither fancy nor
passion. He writes them with his understanding, partly after the pattern
of older Syrians, partly on Arabian and Persian models. The didactic
wordiness of the Syrian poetry is often also apparent. But the skill and
elegance with which he handles the unpromising materials of the
ecclesiastical language is worthy of recognition, and he shows spirit
and taste, especially in the short epigrammatic poems. He is further
entitled to the credit of being almost entirely free from the verbal
conceits which were so greatly affected in the poetry of that time.
Generally speaking, he can fairly be put on a level with the average
Arabic poets of his age, and certainly above most of the Syriac.
Altogether he was one of the most eminent men of his Church and nation.


[104] They derived the name from Jacobus Baradæus, who gave permanent
form to the Monophysite Church of Syria in the sixth century.

[105] See below, p. 246.

[106] I am not sure of the exact pronunciation either of Gubos or of

[107] See below, p. 244.

[108] In a little Syriac treatise, which, gross forgery though it is,
seems to have been popular, God says: “To every believer who gives of
the earnings of his hand to the holy Church, I make it good in this
world, and repay him thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold in the world to
come, and write his name in the book of life;” and again: “Honour God’s
priests, who sacrifice the living lamb, so that ye may find mercy in the
world to come. He who despises them shall fall under my wrath, for my
priests are the salt of the earth.” The Jews, who contribute handsomely
to their synagogues, are cited as patterns for Christians.

[109] The Christians of the Sásánian empire originally had bishops only,
without any single head. Even after they had placed themselves under the
catholicus of Seleucia and Ctesiphon, the Church of Persia proper, for
some time, continued to maintain its independence. The statement that
the patriarchal authority of Antioch had been delegated from the
earliest times to the bishop of Seleucia and Ctesiphon is, of course, a
mere fiction, resting upon the later conception of the unity of the
Church in its outward organisation.

[110] The relations of the Jacobites with the Monophysite Copts were

[111] This miracle recalls that of the liquefaction of the blood of St.
Januarius at Naples, and no doubt admits of a similar natural

[112] Similar expectations were sometimes cherished in the West also.

[113] The Syrian Julian year begins with 1st October.

[114] A work hitherto known only by an abridged and interpolated
Armenian translation. The original has been recently discovered, but is
not yet accessible.

                    KING THEODORE OF ABYSSINIA.[115]

ABYSSINIA, that marvellous mountain land in which the advantages of the
tropical and temperate zones are united, was for centuries a single
monarchy. The only African country which retained its Christianity, it
had not escaped without grievous injury the many external assaults and
inward struggles through which it had passed; and the bond which held
together its different provinces, ruled by local princes, and in part
separated by well-marked physical features, was by no means strong. But,
with all this, it still was a powerful kingdom, governed by a race which
an alleged descent from Solomon, and still more a rule that had
continued without interruption from the thirteenth century, had invested
with a nimbus of sanctity. But shortly after the middle of the
eighteenth century the power of its sovereigns broke down. Petty princes
asserted independence, and sought to extend their own dominions; rude
soldiers grasped a royal authority, and there was a constant succession
of civil wars. The unspeakable atrocities connected with these contests
completed the ruin of the Abyssinian civilisation, which, it must not be
forgotten, had never stood very high. The prestige of the Solomonic
dynasty was so great that the actual rulers, some of them Mohammedans
and Gallas, maintained it in name; but its sovereigns, set up or
dethroned at the pleasure of the conqueror for the time being, had not
the faintest shadow of power. When Rüppell visited the capital Gondar in
1833, the reigning “king of the kings of Ethiopia” hardly had the
revenue of a tolerably well-to-do private citizen. The clergy, who were
extraordinarily numerous, were the only class who continued to flourish;
in the never-ending warfare a church might be destroyed or a sanctuary
desecrated here and there, but the old endowments were so rich, and the
holders so skilful in working upon the superstitions of the people, that
their interests never seriously suffered. They themselves were grossly
superstitious, and for the most part little superior to the laity in
culture. With some worthy exceptions the degenerate clergy have been,
and still are, along with a brutal soldiery, the worst curses of this
unhappy country, so richly gifted by nature.

Towards the middle of the present century, Abyssinia was partitioned
into three main principalities. The north was firmly and strongly held
by the cunning Ubié, hereditary chief of the Alpine district of Semyén,
who had taken possession of Tigré, the seat of the oldest kingdom of
Abyssinia and of the most ancient Abyssinian civilisation. The largest
portion of the country was under Ras Ali, a Galla by race. Though a
Mohammedan by origin, he had received baptism; but he was regarded as a
lukewarm Christian,—not because his life was irregular, for the same
could be said of many good Christians, but because he tolerated Moslems:
there were even whispers that, dreadful to relate, he had more than once
eaten of the flesh of animals that Mohammedans had killed. He was
good-humoured and indolent, permitted the local chiefs to do what they
pleased, and was never able to bring some of the more powerful princes
to obedience. The chiefs of the unruly Wollo-Gallas, some of them
related to him, acknowledged his suzerainty on the tacit condition that
he should never trouble himself about anything they did. In the extreme
south was Shoa, completely independent, under a dynasty which had been
in power from the beginning of the eighteenth century, and had at last
assumed the royal title. Shoa, governed with considerable firmness, had
no share in the confusions of the rest of Abyssinia, from which it is
separated both by natural barriers and by wild Galla tribes. If, now,
these chief rulers had remained contented with the territory that each
had acquired, the division would have been to the positive advantage of
the country; for Abyssinia, with its Alpine ranges and deep erosion
valleys, which put a stop to all intercourse during the rainy season
(our summer), is not fitted by nature to be a single State with
effective administration from a single centre. But each ruler strove to
extend his own authority by violence, or fraud and perjury, at the
expense of his neighbour. It was only with difficulty that Ras Ali, the
lord of the central portion, resisted the encroachments of Ubié, and the
everlasting turbulence of great vassals and petty insurgents.

In this condition of affairs a powerful upstart suddenly arose and
overthrew all the princes of Abyssinia. Few Europeans had so much as
heard Kasa’s name as long as he continued to be a mere governor or rebel
against his lord; and even to them it was a surprise when Kasa suddenly
restored the old monarchy as “Theodore, king of the kings of Ethiopia,”
and united the entire country under his sway. The kingdom seemed once
more to have a future before it; for the new ruler was a man of
exceptional endowments, a mighty warrior, and a friend of progress. This
anticipation was unfortunately not realised. Theodore had to carry on a
constant struggle for his authority, and his power had already been
restricted almost to his own camp when the conflict with the English
began. This conflict, through which his name first came to be really
known in Europe, reduced him to the alternatives of surrender or death;
nor did he hesitate in his choice, dying as a king and a hero by his own
hand,—a death which in the remembrance of posterity will ever place him
in a different category from that of the many other rulers of savage
peoples whom the British arms have subdued.

Theodore was a barbarian, a frightful despot, and yet a great man. If
ever there was a tragedy, it is to be seen in the story of this child of
the wilderness, who was called to, and achieved, the highest position;
but after unceasing struggle was overthrown by error, passion, and
crime, more than by a foreign power. It will not be unprofitable to look
for a little at his life. For his earlier history we are so fortunate as
to possess, not merely the notices of various European travellers, but
also a consecutive narrative down to the year 1860, written in Amharic
(the chief dialect of modern Abyssinia) by Debtera Zenab, a cleric with
whom he had personal relations.[116]

Kasa was born about the year 1820 in the land of Quara, in the extreme
west of Abyssinia; his mother-tongue was doubtless the non-Semitic Agau
there prevalent, and it is probable that his blood was mainly Agau. His
origin was not low, as has sometimes been asserted; his father, Hailu
(or Haila Maryam), was a great noble, and for some time ruled Quara, in
the capacity of governor, for his powerful brother Kenfu. Kasa’s mother,
however, seems to have been of humble condition. As the loosest kind of
polygamy prevails among the nobles of Abyssinia, it is impossible for
them to take very great care of all their offspring. But it is not
uncommon for the obscurer children of princely fathers by mothers of
lower rank to rise to distinction. Ubié also was the son of a peasant
girl. The youthful Kasa had been designed for a modest career; it was
intended that he should be trained for the Church in a monastery not far
from Gondar, the capital. But he had early experience of war and its
desolations. The governor for the time being had rebelled against his
master, Ras Imám (uncle and predecessor of Ras Ali), who invaded the
province in 1827. In the invasion Kasa’s monastery was destroyed, and
Imam’s Galla soldiers made eunuchs of its forty-eight pupils, Kasa alone
escaping. In this he must afterwards have recognised the hand of God,
who had designed him for another career than the clerical, and delivered
him from danger; for his faith in his “star” scarcely ever failed him to
the last. I very much doubt the assertion of many Europeans, that his
monkish education deeply influenced him. At an age of less than eight
years, the boy cannot have become a theological scholar. His literary
acquirements, measured even by Abyssinian standards, were never high.
The use of Biblical expressions which he affected is not necessarily to
be regarded in a man of his temperament as a result of direct teaching;
in words all Abyssinians are excellent Christians.

Kasa now entered the household of his uncle Kenfu, who ruled an
extensive territory, and after his death, that of one of his sons. But
Kasa’s cousins soon came to open war with each other, and in this he
also took part. The cousin on whose side he was had the worst of it;
Kasa was made a prisoner, but released by the victor in consideration of
their youthful companionship. Misfortune upon misfortune now befell
Kasa. On one occasion, when he again was unlucky enough to be on the
losing side, he had to remain in hiding for a month, and this within the
territory that belonged to his own family; as a scion of a princely
house he bore the pretentious title of Ledj (“Youth,” _i.e._ “Junker” or
“Prince”), and if discovered he would hardly have been spared by the
enemy. In later prosperous days he conferred high honour and princely
rewards on the countrymen who had sheltered him in this strait. Kasa
served under a variety of captains great and small, and distinguished
himself by his boldness and skill in battle and in the chase. For
example, he once on horseback killed two elephants; but in doing so he
so roused the jealousy of his less fortunate chief that he found it
necessary to quit his service without delay. On such lines zeal and
patience might easily have raised him to high position; but he had a
mind to be a master, not a servant, and became the leader of a robber
band. In these parts, to be sure, it is difficult to draw the line
between a robber chief and a petty prince. For years Kasa conducted
plundering raids, great and small, in Western Abyssinia. His Abyssinian
biographer, a peaceable man, with great seriousness and visible
satisfaction, describes his “first triumph” as follows. Kasa had come to
a sworn agreement with seventy robbers that all booty was to be common
property. But on learning that they had secretly slaughtered for their
own use a cow which they had stolen, he with twelve others fell upon his
perjured “brethren,” put them to flight, and cruelly mutilated seven of
their number who fell into his hands. In this he was no doubt already
acting in his character as a God-appointed judge; breach of oath
demanded severe punishment. But it is too obvious how hardening must
have been the tendency of such a life upon the future sovereign. It may
be conjectured that he justified his robber life by the consideration
that his energies were mainly directed against Mohammedans and heathen.
The great trading caravans are chiefly in the service of Mohammedan
merchants; and the neighbours of Abyssinia are almost all Moslem tribes,
partly Arab, partly pure Africans. In these parts the two religions have
been at enmity for many centuries. No one dreams of establishing peace
between them; and Kasa could not doubt that he served God better the
more energetically he fought against the infidel. And he hated Islam all
his life with his whole soul. Enlightened as he was in many respects,
and profound as was the contempt he ultimately came to feel for the
Christian priests of his nation, he was constant in regarding himself as
an instrument of God for the humiliation or extirpation of Islam, and in
ever looking for the forgiveness of all his sins as the reward of his
merit as champion against the enemies of Christ. Yet in the course of
his freebooting life he was occasionally led to make alliance with
Moslems, especially in undertakings against heathen negroes, who from
time immemorial had been the objects of plundering expeditions and slave
hunts on the part of Christians and Mohammedans, great sovereigns and
petty princelings alike.[117] Of course, in dealing with heathen, no
more pity was shown than if they had been wild beasts, or rather less,
for the hunted blacks often had the audacity to defend themselves with
bravery. Active participation in operations of this kind was no school
of clemency or amiable qualities, but it served to train Kasa as a
general in prudence, promptitude, and solicitous care for his warriors.

He and his companions were often in great straits, especially for want
of food; but he gradually acquired the position of a considerable prince
in his native land of Quara. Though the terror of his enemies and of
trading caravans, he even thus early gave attention to the cultivation
of the soil, and protected the husbandmen. He further extended his
influence by matrimonial alliances. His reputation steadily increased,
and the mother of Ras Ali, Menen, began to see that her best policy
would be to put a good face on a bad business and formally bestow upon
Kasa the governorship of Quara, which he already exercised in fact. This
energetic and immoral woman ruled Gondar and its neighbouring lands for
her son; in her old age (1844) she married a member of the old royal
family, whom she caused Ras Ali to proclaim as sovereign, herself
assuming the title of Itégé (“great queen” or “empress”). Soon
afterwards Menen even offered her granddaughter Tewabetch, daughter of
Ras Ali, to Kasa in marriage. Such unions in the case of Abyssinian
princes are of even less political consequence than they are in Europe;
nevertheless it was a great elevation for Kasa to be brought in this way
into such close connection with the most powerful family in the kingdom.
He accordingly dismissed all the wives he had already married—an
ordinary proceeding in Abyssinia, requiring no special formalities—and
espoused Tewabetch, who was still very young. The union was solemnised
in the face of the church,—which is seldom done in these parts,—and
Kasa remained faithful to his admirable consort as long as she lived,—a
thing unheard of in the case of an Abyssinian grandee. Even after her
death he kept her in tender remembrance; she was his good genius. But
the marriage had not the effect of making Kasa an obedient subject; in
the autumn of 1846 he became a declared rebel, and defeated army after
army. In one instance he even made a naval expedition, attacking an
island on Lake Tana, where a general opposed to him had taken refuge,
with five hundred light reed-rafts, the only craft known in Abyssinia;
each raft carried a musketeer, a spearman, and a slinger. One of Menen’s
generals had grossly insulted Kasa. All over the country the story went
that Kasa’s mother had in early life followed the humble calling of a
dealer in kousso, the well-known remedy for tape-worm, a very common
trouble in Abyssinia. The general in question had boastfully said before
Menen and her people: “Never fear; I shall bring you this son of the
kousso-seller with a string round his neck like an ichneumon.” But it
was his evil fortune to be defeated and taken; whereupon his conqueror
caused a large quantity of pounded kousso to be brought, and thus
addressed him: “My mother has unfortunately not sold any kousso to-day,
and so has no money to buy corn; please therefore accept by way of
refreshment the kousso that is left.” He then compelled the unfortunate
man to swallow a large quantity of the nasty stuff.[118]

In June #847, Menen took the field in person, but was wounded and made
prisoner. As a ransom for his mother, Ras Ali handed over to Kasa her
whole territory, reserving his own suzerainty. Kasa, who now assumed the
title of Dejaz-match or Dejaz, borne by rulers of large provinces, and
by those in higher military commands (thus corresponding partly to our
“duke” and partly to our “general”), in this way became one of the most
powerful princes in the country. As such he followed alike his
inclination and his conscience in leading an expedition against the
“Turks”—that is, the Egyptians. He penetrated far into Senaar, but
learned, in the neighbourhood of Deberki, how powerless the bravest
Abyssinian warriors were against soldiers who had European weapons and
some elements of discipline. He was beaten, and compelled to retreat—a
humiliation he never forgot. His hatred against all Moslems, and
especially all Turks, became blind. As our ancestors once used to regard
the possession of the Holy Land by the infidel as a personal reproach to
themselves, so also did Kasa, along with many of his countrymen; but
what vexed him still more was the thought that the coasts bordering upon
Abyssinia, as well as so many other lands of Africa which he (in some
cases rightly and in others wrongly) regarded as the ancient property of
his own country, were in the hands of Turks or other Moslems. He laid
deeply to heart the lesson that European arms and European discipline
give an army overpowering superiority, and it was always to him a matter
of bitter regret that he could do so little to introduce real discipline
among his troops.

A new rebellion of Kasa’s ended less fortunately than his previous ones.
He hoped to be a match for the numerous cavalry of his suzerain by the
use of a kind of mines, and of wooden cannons bound with iron rings—his
first attempt at gun-making, a pursuit that latterly became a passion
with him. But the enemy found out his secret, and he had to submit
himself without striking a blow. For two years he kept quiet; but in
1852 a quarrel again arose. Ras Ali stirred up against his son-in-law
the powerful Goshu of Gojam, who had often been a thorn in his own side.
Doubtless he hoped that the two troublesome vassals would wear out their
strength against one another. But on 27th November 1852, Kasa surprised
and defeated Goshu by one of those bold and rapid marches over difficult
country which were the special terror of his foes. Goshu himself, one of
the most distinguished warriors of Abyssinia, perished. The fame of the
victor rose to a high pitch. He made as if he desired peace with Ras
Ali, but the Austrian vice-consul Reiz, who was with him in January
1853, saw even then that the ambitious prince would soon be at blows,
not only with him, but also with Ubié. And so it fell out. In two bloody
battles the power of Ras Ali was utterly broken. From the battle of
Aishal (28th June 1853), Kasa’s biographer reckons the fall in Central
Abyssinia of the Galla power, that is to say, of the dynasty of the
Gallas, with their hordes of Mohammedan Galla cavalry. Ras Ali retired
to a remote corner of the territory of his tribesmen, the Yeju-Gallas,
where, it would seem, by the sufferance of his son-in-law, he continued
to live for some ten years, and at last died in utter obscurity.

After this (26th May 1854) a stratagem placed Beru, the son of Goshu,
the bravest hero in all Abyssinia, in the hands of Kasa, who thus became
master of the whole south-west. Beru, deserted by his army, prostrated
himself before Kasa, with a stone on his neck, after the custom of the
country; but his conqueror seated him beside him, and asked, “What would
you have done to me, had I been your prisoner?” “I would not have
allowed you to come into my presence, but would have taken good care to
have you put to death without an audience,” was the answer; upon which
Kasa thanked God aloud for his victory. Beru remained in custody until
the death of his conqueror.

Of the same expedition the following anecdote is told. One of his
servants boasted, after the fashion of Abyssinian warriors, “No one, O
Kasa, can look even thy servants in the face, not to speak of thyself.”
The prince happened to have in his hand at the moment one of the very
brittle glass vessels in use among the Abyssinians. This, by way of
confirmation of what the man had said, he dashed upon a wooden dish; the
glass remained unbroken, but the wood Fell into pieces. He now drew his
sword, and proudly said, “I, Christ’s servant, hold by Christ; who can
stand before my face?” He then offered prayer, and drank mead from the
glass. The story is no doubt an adorned version of something that really
happened; it is of interest to us as showing that people had already
begun to regard Kasa as invincible.

In the same summer (1854) Kasa attacked Ubié, the most powerful of his
rivals, resorting not only to arms, but to cunning and diplomacy. By the
favour which he ostentatiously showed to the Roman Catholic bishop, an
Italian named De Jacobis, he contrived to rouse the fears of Abba
Selama, the spiritual head (Abuna) of the Abyssinian Church, that in the
end Kasa’s territory was to be withdrawn from him, and brought into
connection with the Roman Church; to prevent this the Abuna made a rapid
change of front, and went over from Ubié, his benefactor, to Kasa,
promising to crown him as sovereign. On this Kasa now expelled De
Jacobis[119] and all the other Catholic priests, as Ubié had previously
banished the Protestant missionaries.

On 9th February 1855 a decisive battle was fought, in which Ubié was
made prisoner, and his whole dominions fell under the power of Kasa.
Almost immediately (11th February) Kasa had himself anointed and crowned
in the church of Deresgé Maryam, by Abuna Selama, under the name of
Theodore, as “king of the kings of Ethiopia.” The choice of the name,
which, confident of victory, he had announced to his soldiers before the
battle, was well considered. Throughout the country hopes had long been
cherished of the appearance of a Messianic ruler, Theodore, who should
restore the glories of the kingdom and subdue unbelievers, and this was
the character which Kasa now took on himself to represent; but,
curiously enough, he did not assume the proper imperial title of Hatsé
(or Haté, Até), leaving it to the old and feeble John, husband of Menen,
who survived Theodore, and was always treated by him with the greatest
respect, doubtless from some superstitious idea. The defect of Kasa’s
ancestry was made good by courtly genealogists, who soon supplied a
pedigree establishing the descent of his mother from Solomon (that of
his father was perhaps too well known), and thus making him to some
extent a legitimate sovereign in the eyes of the people.

But he attached no value to the outward display of royalty. He dressed
like an ordinary officer, slept almost invariably in a military tent,
and went barefoot like all his subjects. At the same time, like some
other great warrior kings, he had a touch of the theatrical in his
character, which doubtless helped to enhance his reputation with the
Abyssinians. Thus, for example, he had a fancy for keeping tame lions.
There must have been something kinglike in the whole aspect of the man;
he was of the middle height, very dark even for an Abyssinian, with
aristocratic features, aquiline nose, and fiery black eyes; almost all
Europeans who came before him were much impressed by him at first sight.
Some of them also detected a trace of cunning in his face, and this was
no doubt correct. Of insinuating address in his friendly moods, he could
be terrible in the outbursts of his wrath. Possibly this wrath may
sometimes have been merely assumed, as in the case of Napoleon I.

One of his first acts as king was to renew the old laws against the
slave trade and polygamy. But unfortunately his constant wars made it
impossible to give full effect to the former prohibition; and a real
reformation of the frightfully loose marriage relations which prevail in
this very “Christian” State could not be effected by edicts apart from a
movement of moral reformation. The law remained a dead letter, all the
more that he himself personally in after years violated it grossly.

Theodore threw himself with all his might into the maintenance of
justice. All the oppressed, so far as was at all possible, betook
themselves directly to him. In Abyssinia the head of the State still
personally discharges the functions of judge. He sought to protect the
country folk against the excesses of the soldiers. His punishments were
frightfully severe, but at the same time often milder than the laws
prescribed. We would not excuse the excessive and shocking severity of
Theodore’s punishments, such as the chopping off of hands and feet, and
so on; but it is fair to remember that it is only modern humanitarianism
that has finally put a stop to similar atrocities among ourselves, and
that in Europe revolting corporal punishments were still sanctioned by
law in an age where they were much less in harmony with the prevailing
civilisation than in modern Abyssinia. It ought to be added, that he not
unfrequently pardoned vanquished foes. In his legal judgments he showed
good sense. Decisions of his are quoted which are much better entitled
to the epithet “Solomonic” than his genealogy is.

Immediately after the subjugation of Ubié, Theodore marched against the
Wollo-Gallas, reduced them to apparent subjection at the very first
onset, and pushed farther to the south into the kingdom of Shoa, which,
as we learn from the missionary Krapf, feared no assailant from the
north, being covered (as it deemed) by the Wollos. Such an opinion would
have been justified in the case of any ordinary Abyssinian prince, but
not in that of Theodore. He was soon master of all Shoa, and, the native
king dying at the time, nominated a member of the same family, not as
king, but as governor. Thus within less than a year Theodore had added
to his old provinces all that remained of Abyssinia.

But to conquer and to hold are not quite the same. Had Theodore been a
cool-headed and highly-educated European, he would from the first have
called a halt at the natural northern frontier of the Wollo country, the
valley of the Beshelo. Really to subjugate this people was a much
heavier task than he could have supposed. The Wollos have long been
Mohammedans, and are proud of their faith, although they know but little
of the doctrines of Islam, and have retained much that is of pagan
origin. They are divided against themselves in genuine African fashion;
tribe is at war with tribe, clan with clan, but they were all at one in
their love of independence and in hatred of the  Christian conqueror.
All the Gallas (all, at least, who live in or near Abyssinia) are savage
and bloodthirsty, with all the instincts of the robber, not very
courageous in open fight, but dangerous in guerilla warfare. The Wollos
have the reputation also of being exceptionally treacherous. Their
country, somewhat less, perhaps, than the kingdom of Saxony, is broken
up by great mountain ranges rising close to the snow line, and by
numerous deep valleys, so as to make the reduction of a recalcitrant
population under a united rule an excessively difficult task. On the
other hand, it offers abundant cover for rebels and robbers; and any one
acquainted with the byways can easily incommode even considerable bodies
of troops. The Wollos are born horsemen, and gallop along the steepest
hillsides on their hardy ponies. Theodore carried on his war with them
year after year. He was never defeated by them, and, in fact, they were
afraid so much as to look him in the face.[120] His generals also were
for the most part successful against them. Great parts of the country,
and even prominent chiefs, were often subdued by him, but he never
became master of the whole. Sometimes with kindness, often with severity
rising to atrocious cruelty, he sought to bring them under his sway; but
the result was always the same, that in the end in Walloland he could
call nothing his own except garrisoned fortresses like Makdala.[121]

Meanwhile arose, now in one province, now in another, various rebels,
some of them members of old princely families, sometimes bold soldiers
of fortune. None of them was at all a match for him. Wherever he made
his appearance the armies of the insurgents were scattered like dust. By
force or by artifice he succeeded in getting several of them into his
power, and among them one who, as it seemed, was the most formidable of
all—Negusié of Tigré (beginning of 1861), with whom France had already
entered into relations as “King of Abyssinia.” Others took refuge in
inaccessible deserts, or in steep rocky fastnesses, of which so many are
found in Abyssinia. Had he not been hampered by the Wollos, he would
doubtless have got the better of them all; but his war of extermination
against these savages crippled him completely. He found no exceptional
difficulty indeed in recruiting his armies, decimated though they were
by the sword, and still more by periodical pestilence; for Abyssinia has
no lack of men with a taste for war and plunder, and Theodore’s name
acted like a charm. The very size of his armies was his misfortune. He
could not feed them in any regular way. Though at the outset he strictly
repressed all plundering in friendly districts, he soon had to concede
everything to his hungry soldiers, and even to order the systematic
robbery of prosperous regions. In this way the veneration of his people
was turned into hatred; the poverty-stricken peasants went to swell the
ranks of the rebels, or, at least, robbed and murdered in secret.

Theodore’s embarrassments were further increased by his relations with
the ecclesiastical authorities. At the head of the Abyssinian Church, a
branch of the Coptic (the whole civilisation of Abyssinia, so far as it
is Christian, is derived from the impure Coptic source), stands a
bishop, who must be, not a native, but a Copt, sent by the (Monophysite)
patriarch of Alexandria. This “Abuna,” in power and consideration,
stands almost on a level with the king, has much larger revenues, and is
reverenced by the masses as a god. Since November 1841 this position had
been occupied by Abba Selama, mentioned above, a man of about the same
age as Kasa-Theodore. Having as a child attended an English mission
school, many English and German Protestants cherished great hopes
regarding him; but other Europeans who happened to be in Abyssinia at
the time of his arrival there,—Ferret and Galinier (French), and
Mansfield Parkins (English),—who had no ecclesiastical preoccupations,
at once perceived him to be an insignificant, narrow-minded individual.
Nowhere, moreover, could a prelate, with any serious inclination to
reformation, have a more difficult position than in the wretched Church
of Abyssinia: to make any progress with the laity would be difficult;
with the priesthood, impossible. As Abba Selama at the outset had the
immeasurable advantage over the natives of a somewhat higher education
and a much greater knowledge of the world, he ought certainly to have
been able, in conjunction with such a man as Theodore, to improve many
things, had he shown intelligence and adaptability. But he cared for
nothing except his own spiritual independence. The king was very
amenable to good advice, and had also laid him under special obligations
by forcibly repressing a large party of the priests that for dogmatic
reasons was hostile to him; but instead of exercising a moderating
influence upon him, the prelate soon brought matters to a complete
breach. When the German missionary Krapf met the king in the heyday of
his victorious career, in the spring of 1855, he still appeared to be in
heart and soul at one with the Abuna; but any one who is acquainted with
the quarrels that subsequently arose can mark the root of them in the
jealous temper which the language of the bishop, reported by Krapf, even
then revealed. Soon afterwards a mutiny broke out in the army in Shoa,
which to all appearance had been stirred up by the Abuna and the second
spiritual authority in the kingdom, the supreme head of the monks. This
was repressed without leading to an open conflict with the clerics. But
soon a worse controversy arose. The king began to lay hands on the vast
revenues of the Church to meet the demands of his army,—a measure
certainly contrary to every usage of the country, and dictated only by
sheerest necessity. Further, he required the priests to uncover in his
presence (he being filled with the Spirit of God), just as they
uncovered in presence of the ark (or altar), which was the Seat of God.
In these controversies the king had to give way at first, but soon it
went hard with the clergy. The biographer, though as respectful in his
feeling towards the bishop as towards the king, accumulates all sorts of
details fitted to make plain the contempt and hatred which Theodore
gradually and increasingly came to feel towards the haughty head of the
Church and the entire clergy. Even the supreme head of that Church, the
patriarch of Alexandria, on one occasion when he visited Abyssinia, had
seriously compromised himself in the king’s eyes. Moreover, the Abuna
appears to have been far from exemplary in his private life. Theodore,
accordingly, in the course of time, broke loose from all clerical
restraints. In his later years he deliberately set fire to sacred
buildings, burned down the town of Gondar precisely because it was “the
city of the priests,” threw the Abuna into prison, and finally even, on
his own authority, issued to himself and his soldiers a dispensation
from fasting, perhaps the most important duty of Abyssinian
Christianity; and all this the priesthood had silently to endure. On the
other hand, of course, their hatred helped to alienate the people from
the king, and the Abuna in his prison maintained close relations with
the more important rebels.

In the first years of his reign Theodore had two faithful counsellors in
Plowden, the British consul, and John Bell, who had come into the
country along with Plowden, had almost become an Abyssinian, and adhered
with touching fidelity to the master whose service he had joined. These
two had a great influence in stimulating his desire for the introduction
of European manners, or rather of the arts of Europe; when he compared
them and what he learned from them about Europe with his own
Abyssinians, the latter could not but fall greatly in his estimation,
and perhaps in the end he even came to value his own people too lightly,
and to judge them too severely. Plowden, unfortunately, was recalled by
his Government to the port of Massowa, and on his journey (March 1860)
fell into the hands of a rebel, a cousin of the king, receiving wounds
of which he soon afterwards died. Theodore at once set out against the
miscreant, who fell in the battle that followed, slain, it is said, by
the hand of Bell, who in his turn was killed while shielding the king
with his own person. Theodore terribly avenged his two friends, whose
loss was never repaired to him. Queen Tewabetch, to whom, as we have
seen, he clung with all his soul, had died previously on 18th August
1858; Flad tells us that he regarded her death as a divine judgment on
him for having shortly before caused the wife of an arch-rebel who had
fallen into his hands to be cruelly butchered.

Continual conflicts left the king no leisure to carry out reforms,
however much his heart may have been set on them. Before everything else
the construction of roads, bridges, and viaducts was a necessity for the
country, and with road-making he did actually make a beginning. The
first section was completed in 1858, under the direction of Zander, a
German painter. When he complained that the necessary assistance was not
being given to him, the king caused the governor of the district to be
whipped and laid in irons, rewarding Zander richly. Theodore desired
nothing more ardently than the immigration of European artisans and
mechanics. With more of these and fewer missionaries, much disaster
would have been averted and much good done.

To outward seeming Theodore was at the height of his power between 1861
and 1863. It was only in these years that he actually wielded authority,
through his governor, over the whole of Tigré, the one province which
has tolerably easy communications with the coast. But his struggles with
the Wollos wasted his strength, and continually gave rebels renewed
opportunities to rise. From 1863 onwards, his difficulties increased day
by day. At the same time the king’s disposition steadily became
gloomier. From the first he had been capricious, subject to violent
outbursts of wrath, and in his passion capable of the most dreadful
actions. But now he experienced disappointment after disappointment.
Prince Menilek of Shoa escaped from Makdala in 1865, and again set up
the kingdom of his fathers; Theodore attempted to dethrone him once
more, but was compelled to retire from Shoa without accomplishing his
object. One province after another was lost, temporarily or permanently.
Even in the earlier years of his sovereignty many of his grandees in
whom he had reposed perfect confidence had left him and become rebels.
This made him ever more mistrustful, and increased his contempt for his
fellow-countrymen. Ultimately, on the slightest suspicion, or even out
of mere caprice, he would put in irons, for a longer or shorter time,
his most faithful servants, some of whom in the long-run proved their
fidelity by dying with him. In his youthful days as robber chief and
adventurer he had resembled David, who, secure of his future, had led a
freebooter life among the mountains of southern Judah (of course one
must remember that the African character is much ruder still than that
of ancient Israel); now, in one aspect at least, he often resembled Saul
when the evil spirit had come upon him. When Theodore sat gloomily
brooding, every one who knew him took care to avoid him; kindly
attendants sought to keep off visitors with the transparent pretence
that the king was asleep.

It is no more true of Theodore than of any other extraordinary man, that
his whole character was suddenly transformed. All his faults showed
themselves at an early period, some of them in a very marked way; but in
late years his bad qualities became more and more prominent, and
overgrew his better nature. Terunesh, the proud daughter of the aged
Ubié, whom he married some five years after the death of the beloved
Tewabetch, was unable to hold his affections; and with the full
consciousness that he was doing wrong he abandoned himself to the usual
polygamy of the native princes. Like most of the Abyssinian grandees, he
had always been a heavy drinker; but in his last years, contrary to his
earlier practice, he often got drunk, and when in this condition gave
orders of the most bloody description, which he afterwards bitterly
repented. But this man, who sometimes in anger or drunkenness, sometimes
with the clear conscience of a ruler or judge sacrificing to the public
weal or to the cause of righteousness, butchered thousands of people,
and burned churches and cities to the ground—this very man played in
the most genial way with little children, in his expeditions was
scrupulously careful that the women and children, numbers of whom always
accompany an Abyssinian army, should come to no harm, and was ready to
assist personally the exhausted soldier who had fallen out of the ranks.

It would serve no purpose to go into details of the embroilment with
England in which Theodore ultimately met his death. It was a singular
combination of unfortunate circumstances, misunderstandings, blunders,
and crimes. Consul Cameron, a man worthy of all respect, was not
acquainted with Abyssinia and Theodore as Plowden, his predecessor, had
been, neither does he seem to have been a _persona grata_ to the king.
In the letter of which he was the bearer (October 1862), Earl Russell
thanked Theodore courteously and coldly for his treatment of Plowden,
when the king felt entitled to expect a direct communication from the
sovereign as between equals. Theodore lost no time in expressing to
Cameron the hatred he felt against his hereditary enemies, the Turks.
But Cameron had instructions to enter into communication with the
Egyptian authorities, and this presently made him hateful to Theodore.
The king himself, the servant of Christ, had refused all friendly
agreement with the unbelieving Egyptians, although the Viceroy Saíd
Pasha had taken much pains in this direction, and it was
incomprehensible to him how Christian Europe could hold alliance with
Turks, or leave them in possession of lands formerly Christian. We smile
at his narrowness; but how long is it since similar views prevailed all
over Europe? And did not Russia in her last Eastern war succeed in
reviving in Europe, and especially in England, the antipathy of
Christians against the unchristian Turks, and in making it serve her own
policy of conquest? It was inexcusable that Theodore’s letter to the
Queen, delivered to the consul, received no answer; the neglect was felt
profoundly. Incautious oral, written, or printed utterances of
Europeans, communicated idly or in malice, further embittered him. He
was well aware that Europeans were his superiors in civilisation; but he
had a just sense of his personal dignity, and it stung him to the quick
to hear that he was spoken of as a savage. What irritated him above all
was to learn that his mother, on whom he rested his claim as a
legitimate sovereign, had been spoken of as a kousso-seller.[122] The
Jewish missionary Stern made himself particularly obnoxious by
utterances of this kind. Theodore had never conceded to the foreign
consuls the privilege of inviolability, which is quite unknown to the
Abyssinians. He claimed for himself a perfect right to treat
discourteous guests exactly as he would treat his own subjects. Thus in
1863 he put in irons the French consul Lejean who had offended him, and
afterwards expelled him. In like manner, in January 1864, he put consul
Cameron in irons. The other Europeans also, who were under his control,
were either imprisoned or kept under prison surveillance. These were for
the most part Germans, some of them missionaries, others of them
artisans, who had been sent into Abyssinia in the missionary interest,
but had been employed by Theodore in cannon-founding and other works not
of a particularly evangelistic character; there were, besides, a few
travellers and adventurers of various descriptions. Most of them seem to
have been worthy persons.

Britain, of course, could not submit quietly to the imprisonment of her
consul. But the Government sought, in the first instance, very properly,
to win the king to a better temper, and sent Rassam, a born Oriental (of
Mosul), and a man of intelligence and address, with a letter from the
Queen to Theodore. The latter gave Rassam a very friendly reception
(March 1866), and promised to release the captives. But he could never
make up his mind to fulfil this promise. Recollections of real or
supposed insults continually came in the way. He had, moreover, the idea
that in Cameron and the missionaries he possessed valuable hostages
whose delivery might be made to depend on the arrival from England of
the artisans and implements he so earnestly desired. Personal
misunderstandings, and perhaps misrepresentations, did the rest; until,
finally, the gloomy despot, hemmed in on every side by manifold straits,
caused Rassam also and his suite to be sent to the rocky fastness of
Makdala, and there confined. The captivity, judged according to
Abyssinian ideas, was certainly of a mild description, and Theodore
always maintained friendly feelings towards Rassam, while regarding
Cameron, Stern, and some others as his enemies. He tacitly showed his
high respect for the Europeans by the immunity for life and limb which
he allowed them to enjoy, while he would mutilate or put to death his
own subjects on the slightest provocation.

Rassam’s imprisonment compelled Britain to declare war. When the troops
landed on the Red Sea coast, not far from Massowa, in the end of 1867,
Theodore was already in the direst straits. But wherever he showed
himself with his army, he still continued to be undisputed lord; for no
one dared to meet him in the field. Had he in these circumstances simply
retired before the British troops, and withdrawn with his captives into
the hot fever-haunted wilderness of his native Quara, he would have
involved his assailants in endless difficulties. Fortunately, however,
he determined to choose Makdala—to Abyssinians impregnable—as the
place where to concentrate all his fighting power. The same stronghold,
more than 9000 feet above sea level, and nearly 4000 feet above the
river Beshelo, less than five miles off, in a direct line, was also, as
being the place where the prisoners were kept, the objective of the
British. Theodore’s last march was really a magnificent performance. For
the transit of the heavy ordnance, cast by his European workmen, with
which he proposed to defend Makdala, roads had first to be made, often
along dizzy precipices. Theodore personally superintended all the works,
and often personally took a share in them. In his heart what he hoped
for was a peaceful arrangement with the British, though in moments of
excitement he may sometimes have actually thought of their defeat and
annihilation as possible. He reached Makdala, which, including its
outworks, has accommodation for many thousands, only shortly before the
arrival of the British. He had gone into the net almost with his eyes

The arrangements for the English expedition, which was commanded by Sir
Robert Napier, were not at first particularly skilful; and the final
success was mainly due to Colonel Merewether, to the
never-to-be-forgotten Werner Munzinger, who had been appointed British
vice-consul, and, as intimately acquainted with the land and its people,
had charge of the negotiations with the native rulers, and, lastly, to
Colonel Phayre. To within a short distance of Makdala the route lay
through the territory of princes who were in rebellion against Theodore,
and indeed, to some extent, also at feud with each other. To secure free
passage everywhere, accordingly, it was never necessary to resort to
open force; diplomatic negotiation was enough. To conquer the physical
obstacles, once Abyssinia proper had been reached, was no very difficult
task for British troops with British resources.

At Arogé, near Makdala, a portion of Theodore’s army fell upon the
British, and was, of course, scattered (10th April 1868); no Abyssinian
bravery could withstand Snider rifles, rockets, and artillery. The king
recognised that he could never again bring his troops to face such a
foe. Hope alternated with paroxysms of rage. He began to treat with
Napier, and at last released all the Europeans unconditionally. It is
possible that he may have done this because he had been informed that
Napier was prepared to accept a present from him, and so had virtually
conceded peace; but it is at least equally probable that he did not wish
the Europeans to be involved in his ruin. Shortly before this, at any
rate, he had made an attempt (prevented by his grandees) at suicide,
without previously giving orders that he should be avenged on his
prisoners. The intelligence he had received soon proved to have been
false; the British pressed forward, and his army deserted him. The proud
king could not yield to Napier’s demand that he should surrender; with a
few of his faithful followers he went to meet the foe, and after some of
those beside him had fallen, he shot himself with his own pistol (Easter
Monday, 14th April).

The British soldiers showed little respect for the body, but their
commander afterwards caused it to be buried after the rites of the
Abyssinian Church. The conquerors liberated all the captives in
Makdala,—scions of ancient families, rebels, robbers, officials, and
officers in disgrace,—people for the most part of very questionable
antecedents. The young queen Terunesh, along with the boy Alem-ayehu,
Theodore’s only legitimate son, accompanied the British on their return.
She died of consumption before she could leave Abyssinia, the boy not
long afterwards in England. The army quitted the country as promptly as
might be, in view of the approach of the rainy season, which makes all
communication impossible. It is to be regretted that so little care was
taken to utilise the opportunity offered by the expedition for a more
exact scientific survey of the country.[123]

Thus lies Theodore in the mountain fastness of the Wollo-Gallas. I do
not know whether these savages have desecrated the grave of their mortal
enemy, or whether, perhaps, their awe of him still keeps them at a
distance. Legend is certain ultimately to glorify the memory of Theodore
among the Christians of Abyssinia; songs will long be sung and stories
told of the mighty king who restored the kingdom, triumphed over the
infidel, and at last, worsted by the magical arts of strangers,
preferred death to surrender.

The task of permanently uniting Abyssinia, in which Theodore failed,
proved equally impracticable to John, who came to the front, in the
first instance, as an ally of the British, and afterwards succeeded to
the sovereignty. By his fall (10th March 1889) in the unhappy war
against the “dervishes” or Moslem zealots of the Soudan, the path was
cleared for Menilek of Shoa, who enjoyed the support of Italy. The
establishment of the Italians on the Red Sea littoral, and their policy
there, which, though not free from many mistakes, has been on the whole
very intelligent and effective, according to all appearance, promises a
new era for Abyssinia. If Italy perseveres with firmness, prudence, and
moderation on the laborious path on which she has entered, and if the
policy represented by Count Antonelli and others is not frustrated by
party exigencies or excessive parsimony, she may derive great advantages
from her African enterprise. But Abyssinia will profit still more,
though there be an end to the proud dream of an independent kingdom of
all Abyssinia.


[115] Originally published in _Deutsche Rundschau_, x. (1884) p. 406

[116] The MS. was presented to the Royal Library in Berlin by the worthy
missionary Flad, along with a German abridgment. A portion of the
abridgment appears in his instructive work, entitled _Twelve Years in
Abyssinia_ (_Zwölf Jahre in Abessinien_).

[117] The good-natured Menilek of Shoa (now king of all Abyssinia) has
undertaken many similar expeditions against neighbouring peoples on a
larger scale than the nefarious slave hunts of the Arabs, and not less

[118] I repeat the story exactly as given in the Amharic biography.
D’Abbadie at the time heard a somewhat different version in Gondar
(_L’Abyssinie et le roi Théodore_, Paris 1868). D’Abbadie partly differs
also in his order of events from the Abyssinian writer whom I follow;
perhaps he may in some instances be right, but in others he has
indubitably been misled by inaccurate recollection or by false

[119] De Jacobis is highly spoken of by all unprejudiced witnesses. With
regard to all persons and things involving ecclesiastical interests, the
judgments of Protestant and Catholic missionaries alike, and their
partisans (D’Abbadie, for example), must be received with caution. It is
undeniable that Abyssinia offers a much less favourable field to
Protestant than to Catholic missions. Even the narrowest type of
Protestantism is something much too high for the Abyssinians, not to
speak of negroes. The desires that occasionally find expression on the
part of Russia for a union of the Abyssinian with the “Orthodox” Church
have small prospect of ever being fulfilled.

[120] When the English, immediately after the death of Theodore, showed
his picture to the Wollo princess Mastiat, his bitter enemy, and asked
her whether it was like him, she replied, “How can I tell? Who has ever
seen him and lived?”

[121] Not Magdala, as it is usually written in England and Germany.

[122] See above, p. 265.

[123] Of works upon the campaign that are not purely military, by far
the best, so far as I know, is that of Markham (_A History of the
Abyssinian Expedition_, London 1869). The writer is a keen observer, and
an impartial judge.

                               I N D E X.


Abaga, successor of Hulagu, 248
Abbádán, town of, 157
Abba Selama, 268, 273
Abbásids, 83, 108, 116, 120
Abdalláh, Mansúr’s uncle, 113, 116, 141
Abdalláh, son of Moáwiya, 112
Abdalláh, opponent of Yakúb the Coppersmith, 183
Abderrahmán, founder of Omayyad dynasty in Spain, 143
Abíwerd, battle near, 202
Abú Bekr, 72
Abú Duláma, favourite of Mansúr, 135
Abul-Abbás. _See_ Motadid
Abul-Abbás. _See_ Saffáh
Abul-Alá al-Maarri, 96
Abulfaraj. _See_ Barhebræus
Abú Lahab and Mohammed, 52
Abú Moslem, 111, 114, 115, 117
Abú Salama, 114
Abú Sufyán, head of Omayyad family, 78
Abyssinia, 257
Abyssinian Church, 273
Ahmed, Mongol sovereign, 250
Ahrún, father of Barhebræus, 236
Ahwáz, taken by the Zenj, 158, 161
Aïsha, wife of Mohammed, 78
Alí, son of Husain, 179
Alí, son of Mohammed, leader of the Zenj, 146
Alids, 108, 120, 121
Amr, brother and successor of Yakúb, 195
Amr, governor of Egypt, 81
Arabian philology, 17
Arabs, aristocratic feelings of, 12;
  political adaptability, 11;
  military talent, 14;
  intellectual ability, 15;
  poetry of, 18;
  art, 19
Armenians, relations of, with Jacobites, 245
Ash‘arí, 92
Attar’athé, sanctuary of, at Mabbog 214

Bábís, 101
Babylonians, science of, 17
Bagdad, 84;
  taken by Hulagu, 99, 241;
  building of, 129
Baidáwí, his commentary on the Koran, 57
Barhebræus, 236-256;
  his works, 255
Barsaumá, brother of Barhebræus, 253
Basra, 125, 147, 155, 158
Basshár, poet, 127
Bell, John, 275
Beru, son of Goshu, 267
Búids, 88

Caaba, veneration of, 66;
  carried from Mecca, 90
Calendar, Moslem, 70
Caliphate, 99
Cameron, Consul, 278
Catholicus, title explained, 244
Commander of the Faithful, title assumed by Caliph Omar, 76
Coppersmith, Yakúb the, 176 _et seq._
Cufa, 111, 125, 150

D’Abbadie quoted, 265
Damascus, capital of Omayyads, 81
De Jacobis, Bishop, 268
Dervishes, 97;
  of the Soudan, 283
Dionysius, Syrian Metropolitan, 238, 239
Dirhem, Sístánese leader, 177, 178
Dogmatic controversies in Islam, 90
Druses, 89

Egypt, conquered, 90, 99;
  sultans of, 99
_Emír Almúminín_, 76

Fakirs, 97
Fatimid Caliphs, 89
Flad, German missionary, 260
Freethinking in Islam, 95

Gallas, 271
Genealogical table, of the Háshimids, 110;
  of the Abbásids, 116;
  of the Omayyads, 120;
  of the Alids, 121;
  of the Táhirids, 187;
  of Yakúb’s dynasty, 205
_Ghulám_, 188
Gondar, 258
Goshu of Gojam, 266
Gypsies on lower Tigris, 152

Hákim, Fatimid Caliph, 89
Hárún ar-Rashíd, 84
Hasan, son of Alí, 81
Háshimids, 110
Háshimíya, 129
Házim, Mansúr’s general, 119
Heraclius, emperor, 60, 75
Hierapolis, sanctuary at, 214
Hulagu, grandson of Jenghiz Khan, 99, 242
Humaima, 109, 111
Husain, son of Alí, 82

Ibn Amíd, Coptic author, 241
Ibn Hobaira, supporter of Omayyads, 114
Ibn Khaldún, 99
Ibn Mas‘úd, his codex of the Koran, 53
Ibn Mokaffa, 141
Ibráhím, the Abbásid, 111, 125-127
Ignatius, Jacobite Patriarch, 243, 247
_Imám_, 66
Isá, Mansúr’s cousin, 124, 127, 140
_Islám_, 62
Ismáíl the Sámánid, 201
Islam, and Christianity, 5;
  rise of, 60;
  ethics of, 64;
  theology of, 61;
  external observances, 65;
  survivals of heathenism, 66;
  circumcision, 68;
  dietary laws, 68;
  Church and State, 69;
  alms, 68;
  position of women, 70;
  slavery, 71;
  characteristics of, 71;
  and the Oriental Christians, 85;
  law of, 93;
  worship of saints, 102;
  vitality of, 104;
  headship of (caliphate), 99;
  tradition, weight of, 93;
  freethinking in, 95

Jacobites (Monophysite Syrians), 236;
  primate of, 244
John, Monophysite bishop of “Asia,” Church history by, 225
John Barmadeni, competitor for Jacobite Patriarchate, 239
Juristical schools of Islam, 93-95

Kadarites, 91
Karmatians, 89, 152
Kasa, 259
Kenfu, 260
Kerbelá, 82
Khalaf, son of Ahmed, 205
Khálid, Barmecide, 133
Khálid, the Sword of God, 73
_Khalífa_, 76
Kharijites, 80, 93, 119, 151
_Khawárij_, 80
Khazars, Mansúr’s relations with the, 138
Kházim, Mansúr’s general, 142
Khorásán, 109, 115, 118, 142, 179, 184
Khujastání, 196
Koran, 21-59;
  rationale of its revelation, 22;
  literary form, 25;
  abrogated readings, 27;
  contents, 28;
  histories of prophets and saints in, 29;
  style and artistic effect, 32, 35;
  Medina and Mecca súras, 39;
  three periods of, 40-46;
  initial letters, 47;
  redaction of Zaid, 49;
  Othmán’s edition, 50;
  codex of Obay, 53;
  reading styles, 55;
  commentators on, 56;
  translations, 58

Ledj, Abyssinian title, 262
Lúlú, his share in suppressing the Zenj, 172, 173

Maan, son of Záida, Omayyad general, 120
Madínat es-Salám, official name of Bagdad, 129
Mahdí, son of Mansúr, 123, 132
Mahmúd of Ghazni, 206
Makdala (Magdala), 272, 281
_Mamlúk_, 188
Mansúr, 107-145
Maphrián, Jacobite dignitary, 244
Márá, Syrian saint, 229-232
Marcus. _See_ Yavalláhá
Maron, pillar-saint, 228
Maronites, 220
Maslama, the false prophet 49
Mecca, pilgrimage to, 66;
  plundered, 81;
  sherífs of, 100
Medina, 122, 124, 128
_Meisir_, 69
Menen, Abyssinian princess, 264
Menilek of Shoa, 263, 277
Merwán II., 112
Moáwiya, 79, 81
Mohammed, son of Abdalláh, the Alid, 120
Mohammed, the Kurd, 162, 197
Mohammed, the Táhirid, 180, 183
Mohammed, son of Wásil, 182, 189
Mohammed Ali of Egypt, 103
Mokhtár, revolutionary leader, 149
Mokhtára, town of, 156, 167
Mongols, 99, 238, 242
Morocco, sultans of, 101
Moslem calendar, 70
Motadid, Caliph, 164, 199
Motamid, Caliph, 158, 170, 191
Mowaffak, brother of Motamid, 158, 160, 174, 195
Munzinger, Werner, 281
Músá, the Turk, 161
_Muslim_, 62
Mutazila, 91

Negusié of Tigré, 272
Neháwend, battle of, 75
Nestorians, 219, 244, 249
Níshábúr 184, 199, 200
Nosairians, 89

Obaidalláh, founder of Fatimid dynasty, 89
Obay, codex of, 53
Obolla, 157
Okba of Yemen, 143
Omar, Caliph, 74
Omar II., 82
Omayyads, 78, 81, 120, 143
Othmán, Caliph, 77
Othmán’s edition of the Koran, 50
Ottoman Turks, 99

Párs, 179;
  conquest of, 189
Paul, Syrian hermit, 229
Persia, in conflict with Islam, 74;
  invaded by Mongols, 99;
  Shíite States in, 101;
  conquered by Arabs, 109;
  Eastern, or Irán, 176
Philology, Arabian, 17
Plowden, consul, 275

Quara, 260

Ráfi, his conflict with Amr, 199
Ráfika, founded by Mansúr, 131
Ras Ali of Abyssinia, 258
Rassam, 280
Ráwendí, the, 119
Riyáh, governor of Medina, 122
Rustem, Persian general, 75

Saffáh (Abul-Abbás), Caliph, 113-115
Saffár. _See_ Yakúb the Coppersmith
St. Barsaumá, monastery of 236
Saints, Moslem, 97, 102;
  histories of, 29;
  Syrian, 207 _et seq._
_Salat_, 65
Sámánids in Transoxania, 201
Sámarrá, 158
Sampádh, revolt against Mansúr, 118
Sefid empire of Persia, 101
Selím I., 99
Seljuk Turks, 98
Semites, characteristics of, 1-20;
  religion, 5;
  asceticism, 9;
  political life, 11;
  military talent, 14;
  intellectual ability, 15;
  poetry of, 18;
  art of, 19
Sergius, disciple of Simeon of Amid, 227-229
Servile war in the East, 146-175
Shammar, kingdom of the, 104
_Shía_, 79
Shíites, 79, 88, 101
Shíráz, captured by Yakúb, 180
Shoa, 259
Simeon the physician, 243, 247
Simeon of Amid, 226
Simeon Stylites, 210-225
Sístán, 176
Súfis, mysticism of, 96
Sulaimán, Zenj general, 147, 172
_Sunna_, 61, 89
Sunnites, 89, 101
Susiana, 158, 161, 192
Syrians, poetry of, 18
Syrian saints, 207-235

Tabarí, 57, 175
Tagrít, Barhebræus at, 249
Táhir, grandson of Amr, 205
Táhirids, governors of Khorásán, 177, 178, 187
Tauk, defeat of, by Yakúb, 180
Telnishé, 212;  church at, 223
Tewabetch, daughter of Ras Ali, 264, 276
Theodora, Empress, and Márá, 230
Theodore of Abyssinia, 257-284
Theodoret, Bishop of Cyrrhus, 214, 224
Theophilus and Mary, 233-235
Tigré, 258
Tradition, weight of, in Islam, 93
_Transoxania_, 201
Turks, acceptance of Islam by the, 98

Ubié, Abyssinian ruler, 268

Von Kremer, 133

Wahhabites, 5, 103
Walíd II., Omayyad caliph, 108
Wásit, 114, 162
Wollos (Gallas), 258, 270

Yakúb the Coppersmith, 162, 167, 206
Yakúb’s dynasty, 205
Yavalláhá, Nestorian Patriarch, 250
Yezíd, governor of Kairawán, 143
Yezíd, son of Moáwiya, 82

Zaid, his redaction of the Koran, 49
Zamakhsharí, his commentary on the Koran, 57
Zaranka, 176
Zenj, revolt of the, 149-174
Zereng, 176


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