The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 19f – Abbasids part 6

Let’s carry on with the Annals of Eutychius.  In the Islamic world, the second-class status of the Christians means that they hold their property only at the whim of the caliph.  This starts to become an increasing problem.  Meanwhile in Constantinople the talk is all about iconoclasm.

CALIPHATE OF ĞA‘FAR AL-MUTAWAKKIL (232-247/847-861).

1. The bay’ah was given to Ga’far al-Mutawakkil, son of al-Mu’tasim – his mother was an umm walad named Shuğā ‘al-Khwārizmiyyah – on the same day that al- Wathiq died.  He released those who had been imprisoned because of the question of the creation of the Qur’an, and withdrew his favour from Muhammad ibn Abd al-Malik, minister of al-Mu’tasim, and disapproved of the actions of al-Mu’tasim, of al-Wāthiq, of Umar ibn al-Farah az-Zugahi, of Itāh at-Turki and of Ahmad ibn Abi Dāwūd, the supreme qādi.  He gave the bay’ah to his three sons, namely Muhammad al-Muntasir bi’llāh, Ibrāhim al-Mu’ayyad min Allah and Abū ‘Abd Allah al-Mu’tazz bi’llāh, designating the latter as his successor from the beginning of the year 236 of the Hegira.  Public affairs were restored, the countries returned to order and the streets made safe.

2. It was reported to al-Mutawakkil that the nilometer, built by Sulaymān ibn ‘Abd al-Malik b. Marwān on the island at Fustāt-Misr, was out of order.  He then sent an Iraqi geometrician, chosen by Muhammad ibn Mūsa the astrologer, who went to Egypt where Yazīd ibn ‘Abd Allah b. Nādān b. Farah was responsible for providing all forms of assistance, and where Sulaymān ibn Wahb was in charge of collecting taxes, and he made a nilometer at Gizat-Misr in Year 245.  It was called “al-Miqyās al-ğadid” [= the new hydrometer] because the old one was out of order.  Al-Mutawakkil built a city called “al-Ga’fariyyah”.  He withdrew his favour from the physician Bukhtishū’, and sent letters to all countries, ordering that Christians should wear clothes of the same pattern and with patches, as well as surcoats with a front and back flap, that they were prohibited from riding horses, carrying ropes on their saddles, or using wooden brackets, and that the images of the devils should be drawn on their doors. (In another text it says “pigs and monkeys”). This order brought serious harm, pain and concern upon the Christians.

3. Michael, son of Theophilus, king of the Rūm, died.  After him there was made king over Rūm his son Theophilus.  He removed the images from the churches, sanded down the bas-reliefs and broke the statues, and ordered that there were to be no more images in the churches.  The reason that caused him to take the images away from the churches was this.  One of his ministers told him that, in a certain place in Byzantine territory, there was a church dedicated to the Blessed Mary, in which a picture was worshiped, from whose breast a drop of milk came out on her feast day.  King Theophilus found this a strange thing and made inquiries.  It was then discovered that the clerk of the church had made a hole in the wall behind the image, at the height of the breast of the image, and had inserted a thin tube of lead.  He then covered the place with clay and lime so that it could not be seen.  When then the day of the feast of the Blessed Mary’ came, he poured milk into that hole, and a small drop dripped from the breast of the image.  People made pilgrimage to that church, and the clerk earned much money that way.  King Theophilus therefore sent to destroy that image, to bring things back to normal, and ordered that there should be no more images in the churches.  He then ordered the execution of the clerk and took away the pictures from the churches saying, “Images are like idols: he who adores an image is like the one who adores idols.”  Then there were disputes among the Rūm about the images and they ended up accusing each other of impiety. Some said: “He who prostrates himself in front of an image is impious!” While others said, “Whoever does not prostrate himself in front of the image is impious!” The news came to Sophronius, patriarch of Alexandria, who wrote a long sermon in which he took up the defense of the cult of images using the following argument: “God – to whom be the highest praise and holy be his name! – ordered Moses to portray the cherubim in gold on the ark of the covenant and to put it in the Temple.” And he carried on, saying: “When Solomon, son of David, built the Temple and had completed the construction, he put the golden image of the cherubim inside.” And again he said, “When the king wrote a letter to his lieutenant, and he added the seal with his ring, he [the lieutenant] said to the people, “This is the seal of the king and his letter,” did not he stand up to take the letter in his hands and kiss it and lower his head and eyes?  Certainly he stood up, and kissed the letter; not to honor the paper, or the stamp of the seal on the paper, or the ink on the letter, nor did he stand up to honour the letter of itself. No, for my life, for none of these things. It was only an act of honor that he intended to make to the king and to the king’s name, it being his [the king’s] letter.  In this sense, we must kiss this image and worship it, because it is not for us to kiss and venerate a cult made to idols.[1] It is for us a pure and simple act of honor and veneration, made in the name of that martyr depicted in that image and in that particular way.”  Then he sent what he had written to King Theophilus.  The king welcomed it, rejoiced and refused to forbid the worship of images, as he had done at first.  Among those who defended the cult of the images was Abū Qurra, who wrote in this regard a treatise that he called “Mayāmir as-Suğūd li’s-suwar” [= “Sermons on the Cult of Images”].

4. Sophronius, patriarch of Alexandria, died of dropsy- he had not been able to drink mandrake juice – in the year 233 of the Hegira.  After him there was made patriarch of Alexandria Michael.  He held the office for twenty-four years.  He belonged to the Bukām family and came from the town of Būrah.  The caliphate of al-Mutawakkil lasted fourteen years, nine months and nine days.  In the tenth year of the caliphate of al-Mutawakkil, there was made patriarch of Jerusalem Salmūn, son of Zarqūn.  He held the office for five years and died.

5. Al-Mutawakkil died in his palace, in the city he had built and called “al-Ga’fariyyah”.  His murder took place on the night of 3 March of the month of Shawwāl of the year 247. He was forty-four.  He was buried at “al-Ga’fariyyah”.  Al-Mutawakkil was brown, with a delicate, almost yellowish, complexion, handsome in face, and had a little beard on his cheeks, and big eyes.  The chief of his bodyguard was Ishāq ibn Ibrāhim and, on his death, Muhammad ibn Ishāq. When he [also] died, there came back from Khurāsān Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allah b. Zāhir and became chief of the guards. His huğgāb were Wasīf at-Turkī, then Sa`īd ibn Sālih and Bughā at-Turki.  His huğgāb, for the audience of the people, were Ya’qūb ibn Ibrāhim, then Qawsara and ‘Attāb ibn’ Attāb.  His influential advisers were al-Fath ibn Khāqān and the kātib ‘Ubayd Allāh ibn Yahyā b. Khāqān.

  1. [1]Not at all sure that I have this right!  The Italian is: “In questo senso dobbiamo baciare questa immagine e venerarla, non essendo affatto il nostro baciarla e venerarla un culto reso agli idoli.”

3 thoughts on “The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 19f – Abbasids part 6

  1. 4. Sophronius, patriarch of Alexandria, died of dropsy- he had not been able to drink mandrake juice”
    Could you provide the source text’s word and transliteration of the word that you translated as “mandrake”?
    (when you have some spare time)
    Does the “mandrake” word appear anywhere else in the text.

    Thank you

  2. This relates to the next section. The words are: “4. Sofronio, patriarca di Alessandria, mori di idropisia — a nulla gli era valso bere il succo di mandragora — nell’anno 233 dell’ègira.” There are no comments on the Italian, so I don’t know what the Arabic might be. This is the only reference to the word in the text tho. No idea what it is about, tho.

  3. The Byzantine sources give different origins on the Iconomachy. It is interesting to read this part

Leave a Reply