The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 19c – Abbasids part 3

It’s good to return to the Annals of Eutychius.  We continue with the reign of al-Mamun. 

CALIPHATE OF AL-MA’MUN (196-218/814-833).

1. In Khurasan, in the year 196 of the Hegira, the bay’ah was given to al-Ma’mūn, i.e. ‘Abd Allah ibn Hārūn ar-Rashid b. Muhammad al-Mahdi b. ‘Abd Allah Allāh b. Hārūn b. Al-Mansūr – his mother was Marāgil and belonged to one of the most illustrious families of al-Bāda’ishah.

2. Muhammad al-Amin, brother of al-Ma’mūn, was killed in Baghdad at the end of the month of al-muharram of the year 198.  Zāhir ibn al-Husayn was in Baghdad in the east, Hartama in the west and Humayd b. ‘Abd al-Hamid at-Tūsi was four parasangs from Baghdad.  [Al-Ma’mūn] entrusted the government of Iraq to al-Husayn ibn Sahl (66) around whom the provinces of Iraq and others had been united.  The countries were all in turmoil.  All the time a pretender came from one side or another, and from other lines.  Al-Ma’mūn then left Khurāsān and went to Baghdād during the month of Safar of the year 204.  He gave the command of the guards to Zāhir ibn al-Husayn and granted his protection to everyone.  Then he defeated Ibrāhim ibn al-Mahdī, nicknamed Ibn Shiklah, who had been proclaimed caliph and had assumed the title of prince of the believers.  He sent his troops to the countries in revolt, and reduced all the provinces to obedience. Everyone submitted and obeyed him, and every insurrection was thus subdued.

3. Abū Ishāq Ibrāhim ibn al-Mahdī, better known by the name of Ibn Shiklah, said: “Before the killing of Muhammad al-Amin we used to exchange letters in this form: “From A, son of B, to C, son of D.” or: “From the father of A, to the father of C,”[1] or: “To the father of A from C, son of D.”, without introducing any formula of greeting in the heading.”  And he records that the governor of Baghdad sent him a letter from Dhū’r-Ri’āsatayn, i.e. al-Fadl ibn Sahl, whose heading was like this: “To Abū Ishāq – may God Most High preserve him! -, from Abū’l-`Abbās”. Abū Ishāq tells us also: “When I saw that heading, I sent the letter to my uncle Sulaymān, believing that he would see it as something new.  But when he received my letter, he sent his hāgib with a letter of Dhū ar-Ri’āsatayn the same as the heading of what he had written to me.  It was since then that greeting formulas in have been used in the headings of letters”.

4. Muhammad ibn as-Sari b. al-Hakam was in Egypt [as governor].  He rebelled, refused the authority of al-Ma’mūn and seized Egypt.  His father, as-Sari ibn al-Hakam, had previously had his hands on Egypt before him.  Al-Ma’mūn then sent `Ubayd Allah ibn Zāhir to Egypt.  When he arrived in Egypt, Ubayd Allah offered peace to Ibn as-Sari, who was governor at the time of his arrival in Egypt, made his entrance to Misr, received the [tribute] money, and sent it to al-Ma’mūn in Baghdad.  ‘Ubayd Allāh expanded the great Misr Mosque, after writing to al-Ma’mūn and having it approved, adding the “dar ar-Raml”, of which he completed the construction, and leaving incomplete the “Dar ad-Darb”.  The dome of the church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem was in a bad condition and was threatening to collapse.

5. Palestine and Jerusalem were suffering a severe famine and the invasion of countless grasshoppers.  Many died of hunger.  The Muslims fled from Jerusalem because of the famine and there was only a scattering in the city.  The patriarch of Jerusalem Thomas, known as Tamriq, seized the opportunity – that Jerusalem had been abandoned by the Muslims – and sent men to Cyprus to cut fifty cedar and pine logs and bring them to Jerusalem.  There was a man called Bukām, of Būrah of Egypt, who was very wealthy.  He sent a large sum of money to Thomas, patriarch of Jerusalem, to use it to repair the dome, asking him not to take any money from others and to turn to him alone if he needed any more money.  Thomas demolished the dome piece by piece, by hand, replacing the beams upon which he then built the new construction.  In a dream, Patriarch Thomas saw forty men come out of one of the columns that held up the dome of the Resurrection, who supported the cupola with their hands so that it would not collapse. The column was the one found under the temple.  He awoke and said, “Those forty who the column supported must be the Forty Martyrs.”  He made forty logs support the dome, as thick as a man’s arms could encircle, according to the number of the Forty Martyrs. The column was the one in front of the ambo, next to the altar, on the south side.  When the feast of the Forty Martyrs came round, they celebrated it in front of that column.  After finishing repairing the dome with the logs, attaching one to the others, above and below, Patriarch Thomas made another dome above the dome, leaving enough space between them for a man to be able to walk, and he lined it all over with lead.

6. While Ubayd Allah ibn Zāhir was returning from Egypt, going to Baghdad, the Muslims complained to him, about the fact that Christians had transgressed the provisions that had been made to list what was not permissible, by demolishing the dome of the Church of the Resurrection.  It had been a small dome, but they had enlarged it so much that it was bigger than before, exceeding the Dome of the Rock in height.  ‘Ubayd Allah ibn Zāhir then summoned the Patriarch Thomas and another group of people and put them in prison, while he investigated what they were doing: if what the Muslims had complained about was true, then he would punish them.  They were led to prison in the night by an old Muslim who told the patriarch Thomas: “I am able to suggest a way to save you and your companions, with the help of God, and the dome also, provided that you promise to give me a thousand dinars and to pay me, my son and the children of my son, until their extinction and always, an income of the income of this cupola in the measure that the priests and deacons receive it.”  Patriarch Thomas promised him what he asked and put it in writing.  Then the old Muslim said to them, “When they prosecute you and bring evidence against you, you say to them, “May God save the prince! All I did was repair the part of the dome that needed repairs. And in fact I did it without destroying anything and added nothing to it. Those who depose against me have only been able to say that the dome was smaller than it is now and that I have enlarged it. Well, let the Prince ask them how large was the “small dome” that I am supposed to have demolished, as they say, and how much is this that I am supposed to have built and expanded, so that the Prince can realizes what has been added to its dimensions.” Certainly they will not know how to answer.” The next day, when the Patriarch Thomas and his companions were summoned and the Muslims appeared to stand against him, on the expansion of the dome, the Patriarch Thomas refuted them by resorting to that argument. Then Ubayd Allah ibn Zāhir said to them: “What he asks is right, and we too are of the same opinion. Let me know what the size of the dome was before it was demolished, and what is the size of the dome.” They said: “We will be doing surveys,” and they went out.  ‘Ubayd Allāh ibn Zāhir went off to Damascus, and patriarch Thomas and his people returned to Jerusalem.  The Patriarch Thomas gave the thousand dinars to that old Muslim man and continued to pay to him, to his son and to his son the income of the dome, until there was only a daughter from whom the patriarch of Jerusalem Elijah, son of Mansūr, removed that privilege.  Patriarch Thomas died and his disciple Basil was made patriarch of Jerusalem, in the seventh year of the caliphate of al-Ma’mūn. Basil held the office for twenty-five years and died.

7. In the first year of the caliphate of al-Ma’mūn, Job was patriarch of Antioch. He held the office for thirty years.  ‘Ubayd Allah ibn Zāhir returned to Baghdad to al-Ma’mūn, made him aware of the situation in Egypt and how much he had done to you to restore order.  Subsequently, there appeared the Bima – a Coptic word that means “descendants of the Forties”.  For when the Rūm left Egypt at the time of the advent of Islam, they left behind forty men who propagated, multiplied and reproduced in Lower Egypt, receiving the name of “Bima”, the descendants of the Forty. They rebelled and refused to pay the poll tax and the land tax.  Learning of this, al-Ma’mūn sent to Egypt al-Mu’tasim at the head of an army.  The Bima faced him and he fought against them, making great slaughter, and he routed them, captured their women and children and carried them off to Baghdad.  After establishing order in Egypt, al-Mu’tasim returned to Baghdad.  Then al-Ma’mūn went to Egypt together with al-Mu’tasim and entered on the night of Friday, 9th of the month of al-Muharram of the year 217 of the Hegira.  The first day of the month of Safar, they went to the territory of the “Bima”, then left and entered Misr and al-Fustāt on Saturday 14th of the month of Safar.  In the month of Rabī ‘al-awwal of the same year, al-Ma’mūn left Egypt.  After he entered Misr, al-Ma’mūn had built, on Mount al-Muqattam, his own residence with a dome called “qubbat al-Hawà”:  With al-Ma’mūn were some Christian upholsterers.  Because the churches of the citadel were far from where they were, they asked al-Ma’mūn permission to build a church to pray near the “qubbat al-Hawa”.  He granted it.  Thus they built a church to pray, which they called the church of “Martmaryam” at al-Qantarah, which is nowadays known as the “Rūm church”, but previously it was called the “Church of the Upholsterers”.  It is said that they built it using the remains of the “Qubbat al-Hawa”.

In Upper Egypt al-Ma’mūn built a hydrometer in order to measure the waters of the Nile, in a place called Shūrāt, at a village called Banūdah, and he repaired the nilometer at Ikhmim.  One day there came to al-Ma’mūn, the Christian Bukām of Būrah, the same who sent the money to build the dome of the Resurrection, and asked him to make him governor of the province of Būrah. He was very rich. Al-Ma’mūn answered him; “Become a Muslim, and you will be their lord.” Bukām replied: “The prince of believers has tens of thousands of Muslim officials, but he does not have even one Christian.” Al-Ma’mūn rose and entrusted to him the province of Būrah and its surroundings. Bukām built many beautiful churches in the territory of Būrah. Facing the door of his house there was the main mosque. He said to the Muslims of Būrah: “I’ll build you another big mosque if you destroy that which is in front of my house.” The Muslims replied: “Build another mosque while we continue to pray in this. When you finish building, we’ll pray in it and destroy the other one.” He thus constructed a large and beautiful mosque and when he completed the construction, he said to them: “Be faithful to the word given and demolish the mosque that is in front of my door.” But they answered him, “Our religion does not allow us to pull down a mosque in which we have already prayed, where we gathered at the voice of the muezzin and in which we held the Friday prayer together. No, our religion does not allow it.” The mosque therefore remained where it was and in Būrah there were two mosques where they gathered for the rite of prayer. The Muslims prayed on one Friday in one and one Friday in the other. Bukām used to dress in black and girded with a sword and went riding a horse preceded by his men. When he came to the mosque, he stopped and a delegate went in, who was a Muslim, to direct the prayer and hold the prayers in the caliph’s name, returning, once he had finished, to him. The Christians continued to dress in black and to ride until the time of al-Mutawakkil. Al-Ma’mūn returned to Baghdad.

8. Constantine fought against Nicephorus, son of Istabrāq, and defeated him, becoming king of the Rūm.  Al-Ma’mūn made three campaigns, the last of which was in the year 218.  Then he came to al-Yadidūn, fell ill and died.  He was carried to Tūs, and was buried there. His caliphate – after he was saluted as caliph in Khurāsān – lasted twenty-two years.  He died at the age of forty-nine years in the month of Rağab in the year 218.  He was of a whitish-rosy complexion, handsome, and had a long beard, already white in many places. The chiefs of his bodyguard were Zuhayr ibn al-Musayyab as-Sabbi, then Zahir ibn al-Husayn. Among his guards the command was held by Ishāq ibn Ibrāhūn. His hāgib while he was in Khurāsān was al-Husayn ibn Abi Sa’id. Later his hāgib was ‘Ali ibn Sālih, sāhib al-musallā. The influential ministers at the beginning of his caliphate were Dhū’r-Ri’āsatayn al-Fadl ibn Sahl and after that many others, including al-Husayn ibn Sahl, Umar ibn Sa’id and Ahmad ibn Abī Khālid.

  1. [1]King Hussein of Jordan, father of King Abdullah, the current ruler, used to be referred to, during his life, as “Abu Abdullah”, i.e. “Father of Abdullah”.

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