1902 Encyclopedia > Arabia > Arabia - History - Umayyad Dynasty (Ommiade Dynasty)

(Part 42)


(42) Umayyad Dynasty (Ommiade Dynasty).

Omniade Caliphs

Muawwiyah, left by his rival’s death sole though not undisputed emeer-el-moomeneen, or "ruler of the faithful," fixed his seat of government at Damascus, where he and the fourteen succeeding princes of his line ruled for eighty-nine years. Victorious abroad, his dynasty, generally called by European authors the "Ommiade," from the name of Omeyyah, father of the race, was for its first, forty years harassed by frequent insurrections within the limits of the empire. The initial disturbances from which all that succeeded directly or indirectly took rise, were due to the intrigues of the two sons of Ali, Hasan and Hoseyn, both of whom were deeply imbued with Persian superstition, and who thereby soon gave the schism that they headed a religious as well as a political character.

Revolt of Hoseyn and the Ali Family

After the death of the lazy and contemptible Hasan, his younger and more active but equally faithless brother Hoseyn, raised the standard of revolt in the eastern provinces, where he hoped to gather round him his Persian auxiliaries; but before he could draw his followers to a head he was met at Kerbela, on the Euphrates, by the well-organized troops of the caliph, Yezeed, son of Muawwiyah, and perished miserably, 680 A.D. His descendants and kinsmen, for there were many, continued, however, now one of them, now another, to revive the pretensions of their family; and for more than a century they disquieted the empire, especially on its eastern and southern frontiers, with sedition and rebellion. At last their evident defection from orthodox belief, joined to the extragance and licentiousness both of their teaching and practice, so disgusted the Arab race that scarcely any adherents were left them, except among the Moorish tribes of northern Africa, where their influence, founded on the strangest impostures, predominated for a time, and in the still more congenial soil of Persia. There indeed the sect obtained a permanent footing and ultimate supremacy. Thus originated and thus was perpetuated the first and widest spread of Mahometan schisms; the adherent of the legitimate caliphate and the orthodox doctrine assuming the name of "Soonnees" or "Traditionalists," while the sectaries of Ali are known as "Sheeah’ or "Separatists" to this day.

Revolt of Abd-Allah, Son of Zobeyr

More formidable, however, to the Damascus princes, though sooner extinguished, was the revolt of Abd-Allah, son of Zobeyr, a brave but narrow-minded leader, and nearly connected by blood with Mahomet himself. Supported by the townsmen of Mecca and Medinah, besides a great proportion of the northern or "Mustareb" tribes, he was for more than ten years acknowledged as caliph by half the Arab world, till slain by Hajjaj ebn-Yousef, the greatest of the Syrian generals, during the storming of Mecca by the Damascene troops, 692 A.D. The intrepid but ferocious Mukhtar, at first a supporter of Abd-Allah but afterwards his rival, and head of the "Khowarij" or "seceders," maintained a separate revolt on his own account in Cufa, till slain in battle by Masaab, son of Zobeyr, brother of Abd-Allah. The "Khowarij," however-brave and well-meaning though visionary men, some of whom were nothing else than over-zealous Mahometan priests or reformers; others, sectaries of Ali and his family; others, again, free-thinkers of repulican tendency-found a new and successful leader in the courageous Shebeeb, a native of Hasa, who for several years maintained their cause on the upper Euphrates, while the revolt of a large portion of the Ommiade armyitself, in the extreme cast of the empire, where the caliph’s own general, Abd-er-rahman, headed the insubordination, shook the empire to its foundations. But over these and other enemies triumphed the military and administrative skill of Hejjaj; and it was only under him, the scourge of rebels, and pillar of the Ommiade caliphs, 705 A.D., that anything like real internal tranquility was even for a brief period given to the empire.

Decline of Ommiade Dynasty

Half hereditary, half elective, the family of Omeyyah numbered fifteen successive princes on the throne, mostly men of talent, able administrators, and some of them distinguished authors and poets. But their personal merits were unavailing against the downward progress of disorganization, the necessary result of an essentially defective system of government, and rapid territorial extension out of all proportion with the means of consolidation; and the latter years of their dynasty present a melancholy scene of turbulence and confusion. Then appeared a new enemy, more dangerous than any of the preceding, to the Damascus scepter, in the person of Ibrahim, great-grandson of Abbas, the uncle of the Prophet, who after long and secret intrigues, now gave himself out as the acknowledged head of the family of Hashen, from old time the hereditary enemies of the no less noble family of Abd-esh-Shems and Omeyyah, and consequently the legitimate claimant of sovereign power. His cause was upheld by the terrible Abu-Muslim, a gloomy but talented fanatic, native of Khorassan, who raised on Ibrahim’s behalf the standard of revolt in Kerman. Soon Persia and its adjoining provinces, despairing of finding to themselves a worthy leader among the frivolous descendants of Ali, joined the kindred ranks of the children of Abbas. Ibrahim, indeed, perished; but his younger brother, Abd Allah Abu-Abbas, more known in history as "Es Saffah," or "the Bloodshedder," took his place, and was proclaimed caliphs everywhere to the west of the Euphrates. Syria, Arabia, and Egypt still held out for Merwan, the last of the Ommiade caliphs; but the great military talents, stained by remorseless cruelty, of Abu-Muslim, turned the scale. The decisive battle was fought on the banks of the river Zab, near Irbeel (the Arbela of classic history), 749 A.D., and the whole of Syria was soon after overrun by the black-turbaned armies of Persia. Merwan himself, after much unavailing display of personal courage, fled to Damascus, and thence to Egypt, where he was overtaken and killed by his pursuers, 750 A.D.

Fate of the Omeyyah Family

Urged on by the pitiless Abu-Muslim, who shortly after himself fell a victim to the suspicions of his own equally cruel but more treacherous master, the victorious Saffah sought out everywhere the members, however remote, of the Omeyyah family, and put them to death under circumstances of the most infamous barbarity. The very tombs of the dead were broken open, and the bones of the great Muawwiyah and his noble successors dispersed. One youth of the doomed house alone, Abd-er-Rahman by name, effected his escape to the still friendly provinces of Africa, and thence to Spain, where he founded the illustrious dynasty that reigned in Cordova over the Iberian peninsula for two centuries and a half.

Decline of Arabia

But with the fall of the Benoo-Omeyyah dynasty and the caliphate of Damascus fell the prosperity of Arabia herself, never again to rise. Arabs of the noblest, wealthiest, and most gifted stock, descendants of the princely Abd-Shems, the head of Koreysh in pre-Islamitic times, the Ommiade princes had established the center of their government in a city intimately connected by land and by sea, by commerce and by nationality, with Arabia proper and the Hejaz, and in steady adherence alike to the feelings and policy of their race, they always regarded their native country as the choicest jewel in the or own imperial crown. They were Arabs first and caliphs afterwards. Hence it was from Arabia that they drew almost exclusively the officials of their worldwide administration, both for peace and war; the provincial governors, generals, collectors, judges, administrators of their nomination were all, or nearly all, of Arab blood; and the improvement or enrichment of Arabia herself, the facilitation and extension of Arab and commerce, and the encouragement of Arab talent, literary and artistic, were the foremost of their cares. Meanwhile the peninsula , obedient indeed to the caliph as to its supreme head, but retaining in great measure the local institutions of its hereditary government by chiefs and in tribes, enjoyed a degree of general tranquility, and even of comparative unity, that it had never realized before, nor has ever since. Even the hereditary rivalry between the northern or "Mustareb" Arabs, who about this time assumed the title, which they still bear, of "Keysee," – a title derived from the numerous and influential stock of "Keys-Eylan," and thence communicated to the rest- and the southern or "Yemenee" Arabs, a rivalry founded in diversity of race, fostered by long and bloody wars, and continued, though under certain modifications, to our own time, might, and often indeed did disquiet, but could not overthrow, the beneficial order of prevailing tranquility.

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