More notes from Agapius

I’m still working on an English translation of Agapius.  I’ve now reached the overthrow of the Umayyad Caliphate, and the early Abbassid period.

In the year 14 of `Abdallah, the Magi revolted in Khorasan and shook the authority of `Abdallah-al-Mansour for this reason:

In a city of Khorasan which is called Far`is (?), there was a mountain from where much silver was taken.  30,000 workmen dealt specifically with the exploitation of this mine and the purification.  The workmen were Magi to whom the mountain had been ceded. A very rich mine was discovered there.  The Sultan wanted to take the mountain from them and give it to others.  They were opposed to the implementation of this project, and the Sultan struck a Magus.  Then they threw themselves on him and killed a great number of his soldiers. 

After that, the Sultan wrote with Mohammed-ibn-`Abdallah-al-Mansour who was in Ray, to tell him what had occurred.  The latter sent to him 34,000 soldiers who formed his vanguard;  then he went out, himself, against the Magi, at the head of 30,000 soldiers. 

The people who formed the vanguard arrived at the mountain where the mines and the Magi were;  they started the battle, but the Magi overcame them and made a very great number perish. 

Mohammed-ibn-`Abdallah, learning of the defeat of his soldiers, remained at the place where he was and sent a letter to `Abdallah-al-Mansour in which he made known to him the fate of his troops and the business of the mine.  He was then at the place which is called Arfasir(?),  and he spent the winter there. 

After winter had passed, he sent against the rebels a man called Hazim at the head of 40,000 soldiers. 

When he arrived near the rebels, (his soldiers) attacked them, overcame them, killed more than 20,000, made captive the survivors whom they sent to Mohammed-ibn-`Abdallah who was on the Tigris, opposite Baghdad.

No doubt the silver mines pretty much stopped working, after the workforce was killed or sent to Baghdad.

I was struck, while reading the section on the reign of the last Umayyad, Marwan II, and the early Abbassids, how much of this sort of thing is going on.  The rulers care nothing for the lands under their control.  The cities, inherited from the Roman empire, are routinely devastated in internal Arab quabbles, their inhabitants deported here and there.  Incessant raiding goes on.  Subjects are treated merely as sources of revenue.  There is no sense of a social contract between ruler and ruled; merely the exactions of a conqueror, even a century after the Arab conquest.

Here we see a successful industry destroyed at the whim of a remote despot.  Is it any wonder that the cities of the Roman East gradually declined and disappeared?  What motive was there to invest time or money, to develop civic pride, when capricious confiscation could see it all vanish in a trice? 

It is also interesting to see that Zoroastrianism was still active in whole communities, a century after the Arab conquest of Persia.


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