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Medieval Sourcebook:
Abul Hasan Ali Al-Masu'di (Masoudi) (ca. 895?-957 CE)
The Book of Golden Meadows, c. 940 CE

[Horne Introduction]

Among the early chronicles of the Arabs, by far the most celebrated is the many-volumed work of Masoudi, called the "Book of Golden Meadows." It is a collection of interesting and sometimes scandalous anecdotes about anything and everything in the past, but chiefly about the earlier caliphs. Masoudi himself was born at Baghdad, but was, like many of his countrymen, a wanderer. After visiting all lands, he finally selected Egypt as his dwelling-place, and there died, probably in 957.

More recent translations include

Mas'udi, The Meadows of Gold : The Abbasids, translated by Paul Lunde and   Caroline Stone, {Kegan Paul, April 1989) ISBN: 0710302460

Islamic Historiography : The Histories of Masudi, trans. Khalidi Tarif, (SUNY Press, 1975) ISBN: 0873952820

Let us praise God, whose works we should study, and celebrate and glorify. May God grant his blessing and his peace to Mohammed, chief of the prophets, and to all his holy posterity.

The Caliphate of Abu 'Bakr, the Truthful

Abu 'Bakr surpassed all the Muhammadans in his austerity, his frugality, and the simplicity of his life and outward appearance. During his rule he wore but a single linen garment and a cloak. In this simple dress he gave audience to the chiefs of the noblest Arab tribes and to the kings of Yemen. The latter appeared before him dressed in richest robes, covered with gold embroideries and wearing splendid crowns. But at sight of the Caliph, shamed by his mingling of pious humility and earnest gravity, they followed his example and renounced their gorgeous attire.  

The Caliphate of Al Mansur, The Builder of Baghdad

Al Mansur, the third Caliph of the house of Abbas, succeeded his brother Es-Saffah ("the blood-shedder"). He was a prince of great prudence, integrity, and discretion; but these good qualities were sullied by his extraordinary covetousness and occasional cruelty. He patronized poets and learned men, and was endowed with a remarkable memory. It is said that he could remember a poem after having only once heard it. He also had a slave who could commit to memory anything that he had heard twice, and a slave-girl who could do the same with what she had heard three times.

One day there came to him a poet bringing a congratulatory ode, and Al Mansur said to him: "If it appears that anybody knows it by heart, or that any one composed it---that is to say, that it was brought here by some other person before thee---we will give thee no recompense for it; but if no one knows it, we will give thee the weight in money of that upon which it is written."

So the poet repeated his poem, and the Caliph at once committed it to memory, although it contained a thousand lines. Then he said to the poet: "Listen to it from me," and he recited it perfectly. Then he added: "And this slave, too, knows it by heart." This was the case, as he had heard it twice, once from the poet and once from the Caliph. Then the Caliph said: "And this slave-girl, who is concealed by the curtain, she also recollects it." So she repeated every letter of it, and the poet went away unrewarded.

Another poet, El Asmaïy, was among the intimate friends and table-companions of the Caliph. He composed some very difficult verses, and scratched them upon a fragment of a marble pillar, which he wrapped in a cloak and placed on the back of a camel. Then he disguised himself like a foreign Arab, and fastened on a face-cloth, so that nothing was visible but his eyes, and came to the Caliph and said: "Verily I have lauded the Commander of the Faithful in a 'Kasidah'" (ode).

Then said Al Mansur: "O brother of the Arabs! if the poem has been brought by any one beside thee, we will give thee no recompense for it; otherwise we will bestow on thee the weight in money of that upon which it is written." So El Asmaïy recited the Kasidah, which, as it was extraordinarily intricate and difficult, the Caliph could not commit to memory. He looked toward the slave and the girl, but they had neither of them learned it. So he cried: "O brother of the Arabs! bring hither that whereon it is written, that we may give thee its weight."

Then said the seeming Arab: "O my Lord! of a truth I could find no paper to write it upon; but I had amongst the things left me at my father's death a piece of a marble column which had been thrown aside as useless, so I scratched the Kasidah upon that." Then the Caliph had no help for it but to give him its weight in gold, and this nearly exhausted his treasury. The poet took it and departed. When he had gone away, the Caliph said: "It forces it self upon my mind that this is El Asmaïy." So he commanded him to be brought back, and lo! it was El Asmaïy, who said: "O Commander of the Faithful! verily the poets are poor and are fathers of families, and thou dost debar them from receiving anything by the power of thy memory and the memories of this slave and this slave-girl. But wert thou to bestow upon them what thou could easily spare, they might with it support their families, and it could not injure thee."

One day the poet Thalibi recited an ode in the presence of Al Mansur, hoping for a reward. When he had finished, the Caliph said to him: "Will you have three hundred dinars from my treasury, or hear three wise sayings from my lips?" "Oh," said the poet, anxious to curry favor with his master,

"durable wisdom is better than transitory treasure." "Very well," said the Caliph, "the first word of wisdom is: When your garment is worn, don't sew on a new patch, for it looks badly." "alas! alas!" wailed the poet, "there go a hundred dinars at one blow." The Caliph smiled, and continued: "The second piece of advice is: When you anoint your beard, don't anoint the bottom of it, lest you soil your clothes." "Ah!" sighed the poet, "there go the second hundred." Again the Caliph smiled, and continued: "The third piece of advice-----" "O Caliph," cried the poet in an agony: "keep the third piece of advice to yourself and let me have the last hundred dinars." Then the Caliph laughed outright and ordered five hundred dinars to be paid him from the treasury.


Al Mansur and Abu Muslim

Abu Muslim was one of the chief generals of Es-Saffah, Al Mansur's brother and predecessor. On his accession Al Mansur became jealous of Abu Muslim's great power and influence, but sent him notwithstanding to put down a revolt raised by Abd allah, the son of ali. After several battles, Abd allah fled and took refuge in Bassorah, the whole of his camp and treasure falling into the hands of Abu Muslim. Al Mansur sent Yaktin bin Musa to take charge of the treasure. On appearing before Abu Muslim, Yaktin said to him: "Peace be to thee, Emir!" "A murrain on thee, son of a prostitute!" answered the general. "They can use me to shed my blood, but not to guard a treasure." "My lord," answered the messenger, "what has put such thoughts into your head?" "Has not thy master," answered Abu Muslim, "sent thee to confiscate all the treasure which has come into my possession?" "May my wife be divorced forever," said the Caliph's agent, "if he has not sent me simply and solely to congratulate you upon your victory and success!" On these words Abu Muslim embraced him and made him sit by his side. Notwithstanding this, however, when he had bidden him farewell, he said to his officers: "By allah! I know this man will divorce his wife, simply out of fidelity to his master."

When he had resolved to revolt against Al Mansur, Abu Muslim left Mesopotamia, and set out for Khorassan; while on his part Al Mansur left Anbar, and encamped near the city of Rumiyeh. From thence he sent the following message to Abu Muslim: "I wish to consult you on matters which can not be confided to a letter; come hither, and I shall not detain you long." Abu Muslim read the letter, but would not go. Al Mansur then sent to him Djerir, son of Yezid, the most accomplished diplomatist of his time, who had already made the acquaintance of Abu Muslim in Khorassan.

When Djerir came into Abu Muslim's presence, he addressed him as follows: "My lord, you have fought hitherto faithfully for the Abbassids (Al Mansur's family); why should you now turn against them? No information has reached the Caliph which should inspire you with any sort of fear; you have really, in my belief, no reason to pursue this line of conduct." Abu Muslim was on the point of promising to return with him, when one of his intimates pressed him not to do so. "My friend," the chief answered him, "I can resist the suggestions of the devil, but not those of a man like this." And in fact Djerir did not cease his persuasions till he had induced him to proceed to the Caliph.

Abu Muslim had consulted astrologers, who told him that he was to destroy a dynasty, create a dynasty, and be slain in the land of Rum. Al Mansur was then at Rumaiyat al-Madain, a place founded by one of the Persian kings, and Abu Muslim never suspected that he should meet with his death there, as he fancied that it was Asia Minor which was meant by the oracle. On entering into Al Mansur's presence, he met with a most favorable reception, and was then told to retire to his tent;

but the Caliph only waited a favorable opportunity to take him unawares. Abu Muslim then rode a number of times to visit Al Mansur, whose manner appeared less cordial than before. At last he went to the palace one day, and, being informed that the Caliph was making his ablutions previously to his prayers, sat down in an antechamber. In the meanwhile Al Mansur had posted some persons behind a curtain near to the sofa where Abu Muslim was sitting, with the orders not to appear 'till the Caliph clapped his hands. On this signal they were to strike off Abu Muslim's head.

Al Mansur then took his seat on the throne, and Abu Muslim, being introduced, made his salutation, which the Caliph returned. Al Mansur then permitted him to sit, and, having commenced the conversation, proceeded to level sundry reproaches against him. "Thou hast done this," said he, "and thou hast done that." "Why does my lord speak so to me," replied Abu Muslim, "after all my efforts and services?" "Son of a prostitute!" exclaimed Al Mansur, "thou owest thy success to our own good fortune. Had a negress slave been in thy place, she would have done as much as thou! Wag it not thou who soughtest to obtain in marriage my aunt, Aasiya, pretending indeed that thou wast a descendant of Salit, the son of Abd allah Ibn Abbas? Thou hast undertaken, infamous wretch! to mount where thou canst not reach."

On this Abu Muslim seized him by the hand, which he kissed and pressed, offering excuses for his conduct; but Al Mansur shouted: "May God not spare me if I spare thee!" He then clapped his hands, on which the assassins rushed out upon Abu Muslim and cut him to pieces with their swords, Al Mansur exclaiming all the time: "God cut your hands off, rascals! Strike!" On receiving the first blow Abu Muslim said: "Commander of the Faithful, spare me that I may be useful against thy enemies." The Caliph replied: "May God never spare me if I do! Where have I a greater enemy than thee?"

When Abu Muslim was slain, his body was rolled up in a carpet, and soon after Al Mansur's general, Jafar Ibn Hanzala, entered. "What think you of Abu Muslim?" the Caliph said to him. "Commander of the Faithful," answered the other, "if you have ever the misfortune to pull a single hair out of his head, there is no resource for you but to kill him, and to kill him, and to kill him again." "God has given thee understanding," replied Al Mansur: "here he is in the carpet." On seeing him dead, Hanzala said: "Commander of the Faithful, count this as the first day of your reign." Al Mansur then recited this verse: "He threw away his staff of travel, and found repose after a long journey." After this he turned toward the persons present, and recited these lines over the prostrate body: "Thou didst pretend that our debt to thee could never be paid! Receive now thy account in full, O Abu Mujrim. Drink of that draught which thou didst so often serve to others---a draught more bitter to the throat than gall."


Al Mansur and Ibn Al Mukaffa

Ibn Al Mukaffa, the translator of the book "Kalilah and Dimnah" from Pehlevi into Arabic, was one of the most learned men during the reign of Al Mansur, but suspected of Zendikism, or free-thinking. Al Mansur is reported to have said: "I never found a book on Zendikism which did not owe its origin to Ibn Al Mukaffa." The latter used to be a thorn in the side of Sofyan, the governor of Basra. As Sofyan had a large nose, Ibn Al Mukaffa used to say to him when he visited him: "How are you both?" meaning him and his nose. Sofyan once said: "I had never reason to repent keeping silence." And Ibn Al Mukaffa replied: "Dumbness becomes you; why should you repent of it?" These gibes rankled in Sofyan's mind, and ere long he had an opportunity of glutting his vengeance on Ibn Al Mukaffa.

Abdallah, the uncle of Al Mansur, had revolted against his nephew, and aspired to the Caliphate; but being defeated by Abu Muslim, who had been sent against him at the head of an army, he took to flight, and dreading the vengeance of Al Mansur, lay concealed at the house of his brothers, Sulaiman and Isa. These two then interceded for him with the Caliph, who consented to forgive what had passed; and it was decided that a letter of pardon should be granted by Al Mansur.

On coming to Basra the two brothers told Ibn Al Mukaffa, who was secretary to Isa, to draw up the letter of pardon, and to word it in the strongest terms, so as to leave no pretext to Al Mansur for making an attempt against Abdallah's life. Ibn Al Mukaffa obeyed their directions, and drew up the letter in the most binding terms, inserting in it, among others, the following clause: "And if at any time the Commander of the Faithful act perfidiously toward his uncle, Abdallah Ibn ali, his wives shall be divorced from him, his horses shall be confiscated for the service of God in war, his slaves shall become free, and the Moslems loosed from their allegiance to him." The other conditions of the deed were expressed in a manner equally strict. Al Mansur, having read the paper, was highly displeased, and asked who wrote it. On being informed that it was Ibn Al Mukaffa, his brother's secretary, he sent a letter to Sofyan, the governor of Basra, ordering him to put Ibn Al Mukaffa to death. Sofyan was already filled with rancor against Ibn Al Mukaffa, for the reasons mentioned above. He summoned him, and, when he appeared, reminded him of his gibes. "Emir!" exclaimed Ibn Al Mukaffa, "I implore you in the name of God to spare my life." "May my mother be disgraced," replied Sofyan, "if I do not kill thee in a manner such as none was ever killed in before." On this he ordered an oven to be heated, and the limbs of Ibn Al Mukaffa to be cut off, joint by joint; these he cast into the oven before his eyes, and he then threw him in bodily, and closed the oven on him, saying; "It is not a crime in me to punish you thus, for you are a Zindik (free-thinker) who corrupted the people."

Salaiman and Isa, having made inquiries about their secretary, were informed that he had gone into the palace of Sofyan in good health and that he had not come out. They therefore cited Sofyan before Al Mansur, and brought him with them in chains. Witnesses were produced, who declared that they saw Ibn Al Mukaffa enter Sofyan's palace, and that he never came out after, and Al Mansur promised to examine into the matter. He then said to them: "Suppose that I put Sofyan to death in retaliation for the death of Ibn Al Mukaffa, and that Ibn Al Mulkaffa himself then came forth from that door" (pointing to one which was behind him) "and spoke to you---what should I do to you in that case? I should put you to death in retaliation for the death of Sofyan." On this the witnesses retraced their evidence, and Isa and Sulaiman ceased to speak of their secretary, knowing that he had been killed by order of Al Mansur, who, disregarding his promise, cast Abdallah Ibn ali into prison.

Terrible as was the wrath of Al Mansur when roused, there were not wanting on occasion those among his subjects who had the courage to rebuke him. Once the Caliph was addressing an audience at Damascus, and said: "O ye people! it is incumbent on you to give praise to the Most High that he has sent me to reign over you. For verily since I began to reign over you, he has taken away the plague which had come amongst you." But a certain Arab cried out to him: "Of a truth allah is too merciful to give us both thee and the plague at one time!" On another occasion the theologian Malik Ibn Anas relates the following: "One day the Caliph Mansur sent for me and my friend Ibn Taous, against whom he was known to entertain a grudge. When we entered the presence-chamber, we beheld the executioner with his sword drawn and the leather carpet spread, on which it was customary to behead criminals. The Caliph signed to us to seat ourselves, and when we had done so he remained a long time with his head bent in meditation. He then raised it, and turning to Ibn Taous, said: 'Recite me a saying of the Prophet, on whom be peace.'

"Ibn Taous replied: 'The Prophet of God has said, "The worst punished criminals in the day of judgment will be those to whom God has entrusted authority and who have abused it."' The Caliph was silent, and there was a pause. I trembled, and drew my garments close round me, lest any of the blood of Ibn Taous, whom I expected to see instantly executed, should spurt upon them. Then the Caliph said to Ibn Taous: 'Hand me that inkpot.' But he never stirred. 'Why don't you hand it?' asked the Caliph. 'Because,' he said, 'I fear you may write some wrong order, and I do not wish to share the responsibility.' 'Get up and go,' the Caliph growled. 'Precisely what we were desiring,' answered Ibn Taous, of whose courage and coolness I from that day formed a high opinion."

Another bold rebuker of Al Mansur was the saint and mystic, Amr Ibn Obaid, of whom it was said that he had been "educated by the angels and brought up by the prophets." Before Al Mansur's elevation to the Caliphate, Amr Ibn Obaid had been his companion and intimate friend. When Mansur came to the throne Amr went one day into his presence, and was told by him to draw near and sit down. The Caliph then asked to hear an exhortation from him. Amr addressed him an admonition, in which he said, among other things: "The power which thou now wieldest, had it remained in the hands of thy predecessors, would never have come to thee. Be warned, then, of that night which shall give birth to a day never more to be followed by another night. When Amr rose to depart, Al Mansur said: "We have ordered ten thousand pieces of silver to be given thee." "I stand not in need thereof," replied Amr. "By allah, thou shalt take it!" exclaimed the Caliph. "By allah, I shall not take it!" answered the other.

On this Al Mansur's son, Al Mahdi, who happened to be present, said to Amr: "The Commander of the Faithful swears that a thing shall be done, and yet thou art bold enough to swear that it shall not." "Who is this youth?" said Amr, turning to Al Mansur. "He is the declared successor to the Caliphate, my son, Al Mahdi," replied Mansur. "Thou hast clothed him in raiment," said Amr, "which is not the raiment of the righteous, and thou hast given him a name which he deserveth not, and thou hast smoothed for him a path wherein the more profit the less heed."

Al Mansur then asked him if there was anything he wished, and Amr made answer: "Send not for me, but wait till I come to thee." "In that case," said Mansur, "thou wilt never meet me." "That," replied Amr, "is precisely what I desire." He then withdrew, and Al Mansur looked after him and said: "all of you walk with stealthy steps; all of you are in pursuit of prey---all except Amr Ibn Obaid!"


How Al Mansur Was Tricked

It has before been mentioned that Al Mansur, disregarding the promise of pardon he had made to his uncle, Abdallah Ibn ali, who had revolted against him, cast him into prison, where he remained a long time. When the Caliph set out on the pilgrimage to Mecca, he committed Abdallah to the care of Isa Ibn Musa, with private orders to put him to death. Isa, not wishing to kill Abdallah, contented himself with concealing him, sending a message to the Caliph to say that he had been put to death. This rumor spread about, and the alides, the partisans of Abdallah, petitioned Al Mansur on the subject. The Caliph declared that he had been committed to the care of Isa. The alides then went to Isa, and hearing from him that Abdallah had been put to death, came again with complaints to Al Mansur. The latter feigned to be in a rage, and exclaimed: "Since Isa has killed my uncle without my authorizing him to do so, he shall perish in his turn." The Caliph secretly desired that Isa should have perpetrated this murder, so that he might have a reasonable pretext for killing him, and thus ridding himself of two enemies at once.

He accordingly sent for Isa, and said, "Is it true that you have killed my uncle?" "Yes," replied Isa; "you yourself ordered me to do so." "I never gave such an order!" cried the Caliph. "My lord, here is the letter you sent me." "I never wrote it," said Mansur. Isa, seeing the mood the Caliph was in, and fearing for his own life, confessed at last that the prisoner had been spared, and was in safe-keeping. The Caliph then ordered him to hand Abdallah over to the keeping of Abou 'l Azhar, which was accordingly done, and Abdallah remained in prison 'till his death was decided on.

When Abou 'l Azhar came to execute the sentence, he found Abdallah with one of his female slaves. He strangled him first, but when he was proceeding to strangle the slave also, she cried out: "Servant of God, I pray thee for another kind of death." "It was the only time," Abou 'l Azhar said, "that I felt pity in carrying out a death-sentence. I turned away my eyes while I gave the order to kill her. She was strangled and placed by the side of her master. I then had the house demolished, and they remained buried in the ruins."

Al Mansur visited Medina, and said to his chamberlain, Ar-Rabi, on entering the city: "Find me some learned and intelligent person who can point out to me ths chief mansions of the place: it is now so long since I saw the dwellings of my family." An intelligent youth was discovered by Ar-Rabi, and presented to the Caliph. During their excursion the guide did not make any observations unless asked by Al Mansur to do so, but he then proceeded with great precision and eloquence to furnish every requisite information.

Al Mansur was so highly pleased with him that he ordered him a considerable sum of money, but the payment was delayed so long that the youth found himself under the necessity of asking for it. On being asked again to accompany Al Mansur, he fulfilled his object in the following ingenious manner: As they passed by the house which belonged to Aatika, the granddaughter of Abu Sofyan, the young man said, "This, O Commander of the Faithful, is the house of that Aatika to whom Ibn Muhammad Al Ansari alluded in these lines: 'Dwelling of Aatika! mansion which I avoid through dread of foes! although my heart be fixed on thee, I turn away and fly thee; but yet unconsciously I turn toward thee again.'"

These words caused Al Mansur to reflect; and he said to himself that the youth here must have some reason for giving information, contrary to his habit, without being asked for it. He therefore turned over the leaves of the poem from which the verses were taken, passage by pasage, 'till he came to the following line: "We see that you do what you promise, but there are persons with deceitful tongues who promise but never perform." He immediately asked his chamberlain if he had given the youth what had been awarded him, and was informed by him that a particular circumstance, which he mentioned, had caused delay in the payment. The Caliph then ordered Ar-Rabi to give him immediately the double of what had been promised. The youth had most ingeniously hinted the circumstance, and Al Mansur showed great penetration in perceiving it.


Death of Al Mansur

Al Mansur was in the habit of saying: "I was born in the month of Z'ul hajja, circumcised in it, attained the Caliphate in it, and I think I shall die in the same month." And so it befell. Fadl, son of Rabi, relates the following: "I accompanied Al Mansur in the journey during which he died. When we had arrived at one of the stages of the march he sent for me. I found him seated in his pavilion, with his face turned toward the wall. He said to me: 'Have I not told you to prevent people coming into this room and writing doleful sentences upon the wall?' 'What do you mean, Prince?' I asked. 'Don't you see what is written on the wall?'

A' "Abu Jafar, thou art about to die; thy years are fulfilled: the will of God must be done." Abu Jafar, can any astrologer bind the decrees of God, or art thou entirely blind?' 'Truly, Prince,' I replied, 'I can see no inscription on this wall: its surface is smooth and quite white.' 'Swear it, by God!' he said. I did so. 'It is, then,' he replied, 'a warning given me to prepare for my approaching demise. Let us hasten to reach the sacred territory, that I may place myself under the protection of God, and ask pardon for that wherein I have exceeded.' We continued our journey, during which the Caliph suffered great pain. When we arrived at the well of Maimun, I told him the name of the place, and that we had reached the sacred territory. He said, 'God be praised!' and died the same day."


The Caliphate of Al Mahdi

Al Mahdi, the third Caliph of the Abbassid dynasty, succeeded his father, Abu Jafar Al Mansur [774 A.D.]. He was as prodigal as his father was avaricious, and rapidly squandered his vast inheritance. Al Mansur had appointed as his instructor, before he succeeded to the throne, Sharki Ibn Kotami, who was learned in all the lore and traditions of the Arabs. One evening Al Mahdi asked his preceptor to divert him with some amusing anecdote. "I obey, Prince. May God protect you," answered Sharki. "They relate that a certain King of Hirah had two courtiers whom he loved equally with himself. They never quitted his society night or day, in the palace or on a journey. He took no decision without consulting them, and his wishes coincided with theirs. Thus they lived together a long time; but one evening the king, having drunk to excess, drew his sword from the sheath, and, rushing upon his two friends, killed them; then he fell into a drunken slumber.

"The next morning, when told of what he had done, he cast himself upon the earth, biting it in his fury, weeping for his friends, and bewailing the loss of them. He fasted for some days, and swore that for the rest of his life he would abstain from the beverage which had deprived him of reason. Then he had them buried, and erected a shrine over their remains, to which he gave the title, 'El-Ghareiain' (The Two Effigies). He commanded, in addition, that no persons should pass this monument without prostrating themselves.

"Now, like the laws of the Medes and Persians, every custom set up by a King of Hirah could not be changed, but became a hard-and-fast tradition, handed on from generation to generation. The command, therefore, of the King was rigidly obeyed: his subjects, of low and high degree, never passed before the double tomb without prostrating themselves. This usage gradually acquired the binding force of a religious rite. The King had ordered that any one who refused to conform to it should be punished with death after expressing two wishes, which would be granted, no matter what they were.

"One day a fuller passed, bearing on his back a bundle of clothes and a mallet. The guardians of the mausoleum ordered him to kneel down. He refused. They threatened him with death. He persisted in his refusal. They brought him before the King, whom they informed of the matter. 'Why did you refuse to bow down?' asked the King. 'I did bow down,' answered the man; 'they are lying.' 'No; you are the liar!' said the King. 'Express two wishes; they shall be granted, and then you will die.' 'Nothing, then, can save me from death after those men have accused me?' asked the fuller. 'Nothing.' 'Very well,' replied the fuller, 'here is my wish: I wish to strike the King on the head with this mallet.' 'Fool!' answered the King. 'It were better worth your while to let me enrich those whom you leave behind you.' 'No,' said the fuller; 'I only wish to strike the King on the back of his head.'

"The King then addressed his ministers: 'What do you think,' he said to them, 'of the wish of this madman?' 'Your Majesty,' they answered, 'you yourself have instituted this law: your Majesty knows better than any one that the violation of law is a shame, a calamity, a crime which involves damnation. Besides, after having violated one law, you will violate a second, then a third; your successors will do the same, and all our laws will be profaned.' The King replied: 'Get this man to ask anything he likes; provided he lets me off, I am ready to grant all his requests, even to the half of my kingdom.'

"They laid these proposals before the fuller, but in vain; he declared that he had no other wish but to strike the King. The latter, seeing that the man was thoroughly resolved, convoked a public assembly. The fuller was introduced. He took his mallet and struck the King on the back of the head so violent a blow that he fell from his throne and lay stretched on the ground unconscious. Subsequently he lay ill with fever for six months, and was so severely injured that he could only drink a drop at a time. At last he got well, recovered the use of his tongue and could eat and drink. He asked for news of the fuller. On being told that he was in prison, he summoned him and said: 'There is still a wish reInaining to you: express it, so that I may order your death according to law.'

A'Since it is absolutely necessary that I must die,' replied the fuller, 'I wish to strike you another blow on the head.' At these words the King was seized with dismay and exclaimed that it was all over with him. At last he said to the fuller: 'Wretch! renounce a claim which is profitless to you. What advantage have you reaped from your first wish? Ask for something else, and whatever it is, I will grant it.' 'No,' said the man, 'I only demand my right---the right to strike you once more.'

"The King again consulted his ministers, who answered that the best thing for him was to resign himself to death, in obedience to the law. 'But,' said the King, 'if he strikes me again, I shall never be able to drink any more; I know what I have already suffered.' 'We can not help that, your Majesty,' answered the ministers. 'Finding himself in this extremity, the king said to the fuller: 'Answer, fellow! that day when you were brought hither by the guardians of the mausoleum, did not I hear you declare that you had prostrated yourself and that they had slandered you?' 'Yes, I did say so,' answered the fuller, 'but you would not believe me.' The King jumped from his seat, embraced the fuller, and exclaimed: 'I swear that you are more truthful than these rascals, and that they have lied at your expense. I give you their place, and authorize you to inflict upon them the punishment they have deserved.'"

Al Madhi laughed heartily on hearing this story, complimented the narrator, and rewarded him generously.

The following anecdotes are related by Faika, the daughter of Abd allah: "We were one day with the Caliph Al Mahdi, who had just returned from Anbar, to which he had made a pleasure excursion, when Ar-Rabi, the chamberlain, came in, holding a piece of leather on which some words were written in charcoal, and to which was attached a seal composed of clay mixed with ashes and bearing the impression of the Caliph's signet-ring. 'Commander of the Faithful,' said Ar-Rabi, 'I never saw anything more extraordinary than this document; I received it from an Arab of the desert who was crying out: "This is the Commander of the Faithful's letter! Show me where to find the man who is called Ar-Rabi, for it is to him that he told me to deliver it!"'

"Al Mahdi took the letter and laughed; he then said: 'It is true: this is my writing and this is my seal.

Shall I relate how it happened?' To this we replied: 'If it please the Commander of the Faithful.' Then he said: 'I went out to hunt yesterday evening when the shower was over. The next morning a thick mist overwhelmed us, and I lost sight of my companions; I then suffered such cold, hunger, and thirst as God only knows, and I lost my way besides. At that moment came to my mind a form of prayer which my father, Al Mansur, had taught me, saying that his father, Muhammad, had learned it from his grandfather, ali, who had been taught it by his father, Abd allah, the son of Abbas. It was this: "In the name of God," and "By the might of God! We have no power or force but in God! I fly to God for protection! I confide in God: God sufficeth me! He protecteth, sufficeth, directeth, and healeth, from fire and food, from the fall of house, and from evil death!"

A'When I had uttered these words, God raised up a light before me, and I went toward it, and lo! I found this very Arab of the desert in his tent, with a fire which he had been just lighting up. "Arab of the desert," said I, "hast thou withal to treat a guest?" "Dismount!" said he. Then I dismounted, and he said to his wife: "Bring here that barley"; and she brought it. "Grind it," said he; and she began to grind it. I then said to him: "Give me a drink of water"; and he brought me a skin in which was a little milk mixed with water, and I drank thereof a drink such as I had never drunk before, it was so sweet! and he gave me one of his saddle-cloths, and I laid my head on it, and never did I sleep a sounder sleep.

A'On awaking, I saw him seize on a poor miserable sheep and kill it, when his wife said to him: "Beware, wretched man! thou hast slain thyself and thy children; our nourishment came from this sheep, and yet thou hast killed it! What then have we to live upon?" On this I said: "Do not mind. Bring the sheep here"; and I opened it with the knife I wore in my boot, and I took out the liver, and having split it open, I placed it upon the fire and I ate thereof. I then said to him: "Dost thou want anything? I shall give thee a written order for it." On this he brought me that piece of leather, and I wrote on it with a bit of burnt wood which I picked up at his feet---that very note. I then set this seal on it, and told him to go and ask for one Ar-Rabi, to whom he was to give it.' This note contained an order for five hundred thousand dirhems, and Al Mahdi exclaimed on hearing it: 'By allah! I meant only fifty thousand, but since five hundred thousand are written in it, I shall not diminish the sum one single dirhem; and were there no more in the treasury, he should have it. So give him beasts of burden, and let him take it away.'

"In a very short time that Arab had numerous flocks of camels and sheep, and his dwelling became a halting-place for those who were going on the pilgrimage, and it received the name of the 'Dwelling of the host of Al Mahdi, the Commander of the Faithful.'"

On another occasion it is recorded that Al Mahdi went out hunting, and his horse ran away with him until he came to the hut of an Arab. And the Caliph cried: "O Arab! hast thou wherewith to feed a guest?" The Arab replied, "Yes," and produced for him a barley loaf, which Al Mahdi ate; then he brought some wine in a bottle, and gave him to drink. And when Al Mahdi had drunk it, he said "O brother of the Arabs, dost thou know who I am?" "No, by allah," he replied. "I am one of the personal attendants of the Commander of the Faithful," said Al Mahdi. "May allah prosper thee in thy situation!" returned the Arab. Then he poured out a second glass, and when Al Mahdi had drunk it, he cried: "O Arab, dost thou know who I am?" He answered: "Thou hast stated that thou art one of the personal attendants of the Commander of the Faithful." "No," said Al Mahdi, "but I am one of the chief officers of the Commander of the Faithful." "May thy country be enlarged and thy wishes fulfilled!" exclaimed the Arab. Then he poured out a third glass for him, and when Al Mahdi had drained it, he said: "O Arab! dost thou know who I am?" The man replied: "Thou hast made me believe thou art one of the chief officers of the Commander of the Faithful." "Not so," said Al Mahdi, "but I am the Commander of the Faithful himself."

Then the Arab took the bottle and put it away and said: "By allah! wert thou to drink the fourth, thou wouldst declare thyself to be Mohammed the Prophet of God!" Then Al Mahdi laughed 'till he could laugh no more. And lo! the horsemen surrounded them, and the Princes and nobles dismounted before him, and the heart of the Arab stood still. But Al Mahdi said to him: "Fear not! thou hast done no wrong." And he ordered a robe and a sum of money to be given him.


Al Mahdi and His Vizier Yakub ibn Daud

When Al Mahdi's father, Al Mansur, died, he left in the treasury nine hundred million and sixty thousand dirhems, and Abu Obaid allah, the first Vizier of Al Mahdi, advised the Caliph to be moderate in his expenses and to spare the public money. When Abu Obaid allah was deposed, his successor, Yakub ibn Daud, flattered the inclinations of the Caliph, and encouraged him to spend money, enjoy all sorts of pleasures, drink wine, and listen to music. By this means he succeeded in obtaining the entire administration of the State. One of the poets of the time composed an ode containing the following lines: "Family of Abbas! your Caliphate is ruined! If you seek for the Vicar of God, you will find him with a wineflask on one side and a lute on the other."

Abu Haritha, the guardian of the treasure chambers, seeing that they had become empty, waited on Al Mahdi with the keys, and said: "Since you have spent all your treasures, what is the use of my keeping these keys? Give orders that they be taken from me." Al Mahdi replied: "Keep them still, for money will be coming in to you." He then dispatched messengers to all quarters in order to press the payment of the revenues, and in a very short time these sums arrived. They were so abundant that Abu Haritha had enough to do in receiving them and verifying the amount. During three days he did not appear before Al Mahdi, who at length said: "What is he about, that silly Bedouin Arab?" Being informed of the cause which kept him away, he sent for him and said: "What prevented your coming to see us?" "The arrival of cash," replied the other. "How foolish it was in you," said Al Mahdi, "to suppose that money would not come in to us!" "Commander of the Faithful," replied Abu Haritha, "if some unforeseen event happened which could not be surmounted without the aid of money, we should not have time to wait till you sent to have the cash brought in."

It is related that Al Mahdi made the pilgrimage one year, and passed by a milestone on which he saw something written. He stopped to see what it was, and read the following line: "O Mahdi! you would be truly excellent if you had not taken for a favorite Yakub, the son of Daud." He then said to a person who was with him: "Write underneath that: 'It shall still be so, in spite of the fellow who wrote that-bad luck attend him!'" On his return from the pi]grimage, he stopped at the same milestone, because the verse had probably made an impression on his mind; and such, in fact, appears to have been the case, for very soon after he let his vengeance fall on Yakub. Rumors unfavorable to this minister had greatly multiplied. His enemies had discovered a point by which he might be attacked, and they reminded the Caliph of his having seconded Ibn Abd allah the alide in the revolt against Al Mansur.

One of Yakub's servants informed Al Mahdi that he had heard his master say: "The Caliph has built a pleasure-house, and spent on it fifty millions of dirhems out of the public money." The fact was that Al Mahdi had just founded the town of Isabad. Another time Al Mahdi was about to execute some project when Yakub said to him: "Commander of the Faithful, that is mere profusion." To this Al Mahdi answered: "Evil betide you! does not profusion befit persons of a noble race?"

At last Yakub got so tired of the post which he filled that he requested of Al Mahdi permission to give it up, but that favor he could not obtain. Al Mahdi then wished to try if he was still inclined toward the party of the alides, and sent for him, after taking his seat in a salon of which all the furniture was red. He himself had on red clothes, and behind him stood a young female slave dressed in red; before him was a garden filled with roses of all sorts. "Tell me, Yakub," said he, "what do you think of this salon of ours?" The other replied: "It is the very perfection of beauty. May God permit the Commander of the Faithful to enjoy it long!" "Well," said Al Mahdi, "all that it contains is yours, with this girl to crown your happiness, and, moreover, a sum of one hundred thousand dirhems." Yakub invoked God's blessing on the Caliph, who then said to him: "I have something to ask of you." On this, Yakub stood up from his seat, and exclaimed: "Commander of the Faithful, such words can only proceed from anger. May God protect me from your wrath." Al Mahdi replied: "I wish you to promise to do what I ask." Yakub answered: "I hear, and shall obey." "Swear by allah," said the Caliph. He swore. "Swear again by allah." He swore. "Swear again by allah." He swore for the third time, and the Caliph then said to him: "Lay your hand on my head and swear again." Yakub did so.

Al Mahdi, having thus obtained from him the firmest promise that could be made, said: "There is an alide, and I wish you to deliver me from the uneasiness which he causes me, and thus set my mind at rest. Here he is; I give him up to you." He then delivered the alide over to him, and bestowed on him the girl, with all the furniture that was in the salon and the money. When the alide was alone with him, he said: "Yakub, beware lest you have my blood to answer for before God. I am descended from Fatima, the daughter of Mohammed, on whom God's blessings and favors always repose." To this Yakub replied: "Tell me, sir, if there be good in you." The alide answered: "If you do good to me, I shall be grateful and pray for your happiness." "Receive the money," said Yakub, "and take whatever road you like." "Such a road," said the alide, naming it, "is the safest." "Depart with my good wishes," said Yakub.

The girl heard all this conversation, and told a servant of hers to go and relate it to Al Mahdi, and to say in her name: "Such is the conduct of one whom in giving me to him you preferred to yourself; such is the return he makes you for your kindness." Al Mahdi immediately had the road watched, so that the alide was taken prisoner. He then sent for Yakub, and said to him: "What has become of that man?" Yakub replied: "I have delivered you from the uneasiness he gave you." "Is he dead?" "He is." "Swear by allah." "I swear by allah." "Lay your hand upon my head." Yakub did so, and swore by his head. Al Mahdi then said to an attendant: "Boy, bring out to us those who are in that room." The boy opened the door, and there the alide was seen with the very money which Yakub had given him. Yakub was so much astounded that he was unable to utter a word. "Your life," said Al Mahdi, "is justly forfeited, and it is in my power to shed your blood, but I will not. Shut him up in the matbak." He had him confined in that dungeon, and gave orders that no one should ever speak to him or to any other about him. Yakub remained there during the rest of Al Mahdi's reign (over two years), and during the reign of Musa-al-Hadi, the son of Al Mahdi, and during five years and seven months of the reign of Haroun Al Rashid.


Al Mahdi and the Poet Abu'l Atahiyah

Some historians relate that the poet Abu'l Atahiyah had conceived a passion for Otbah, the slave of Khayzuran, the chief wife of the Caliph. This young girl complained to her mistress of the gossip to which this affair gave rise. One day Al Mahdi found her seated near her mistress in tears. He questioned her, and having discovered the cause of her grief, sent for Abu'l Atahiyah. When the poet came and stood before him, Al Mahdi said to him: "You are the author of this verse concerning Otbah: 'May God judge between me and my mistress, since she shows me nothing but disdain and reproach!'" He then continued: "What kindness has Otbah ever shown you that you have the right to complain of her disdainfulness?" "Sire," answered Abu'l Atahiyah, "I am not the author of that verse, but of these:

"'O my camel, carry me rapidly;
be not beguiled by what thou deemest repose---
Carry me to a Prince to whom
God has given the gift of working miracles;
'Prince who, when the wind rises, says,
"O wind, hast thou partaken of my benefits?"
Two crowns adorn his brow
---the crown of beauty and the diadem of humility.""

Al Mahdi sat silent for some time, looking at the ground which he tapped with his staff; then he lifted his head and continued: "You have also said:

"'What does my mistress think upon
when she displays her charms and allurements?
There is among the slaves of Princes
a young girl who conceals beneath her veil Beauty itself.'

"How do you know what she conceals beneath her veil?" the Caliph asked. Abu'l Atahiyah replied in the same dattering style:

"Royalty has come to do him obeisance,
and trailing her robe majestically,
She only is fit for him, as he for her."

But as the Caliph continued to ply him with questions Abu'l Atahiyah became embarrassed in his answers, and was condemned to expiate his temerity by a flogging. He had just undergone his punishment when Otbah met him in this piteous plight. The poet reproached her thus: "Praise be to thee, Otbah! It is because of thee that the Caliph has shed the blood of a man already dying of love." Tears started to Otbah's eyes; she ran sobbing to her mistress, Khayzuran, and there met the Caliph. He asked why she wept, and hearing she had seen the poet after his flagellation, consoled her; then he caused a sum of fifty thousand dirhems to be given to the former. Abu'l Atahiyah distributed them to all those whom he met in the palace. Al Madhi, being informed of his generosity, asked him why he had thus disposed of the money he had just received from the Caliph. The poet answered: "I did not wish to profit by what my love had won." Al Mahdi sent him fifty thousand more dirhems, making him swear not to employ them in fresh benefactions.

Another historian relates that Abu'l Atahiyah, on a certain New Year's Day, presented Al Mahdi with a Chinese vase containing perfumes. On the vase were engraved these verses:

"My soul is attached to one of the good things of this world;
the accomplishment of its desires
depends on God and Al Mahdi, his Vicar.
I despair of obtaining my object,
but thy contempt of the world
and all which it contains reanimates my hope."

The Caliph thought of giving him Otbah, when she said to him. "Prince of the believers! would you, in spite of my privileges, my rights, and my services, bestow me upon a pottery merchant---a man who makes money out of his poetry?" Al Mahdi then sent a message to the poet: "As to Otbah, you will never obtain her, but I have ordered the vase you sent to be filled with money." Soon afterward Otbah, passing by, found the poet disputing with the clerks of the treasury, and maintaining that by "money" the Caliph meant gold dinars, while they alleged that he only intended silver dirhems. "If you really loved Otbah," she said to him, "you would not think of the difference between gold and silver."


Death of Al Mahdi

Tabari, the historian, describes the death of Al Mahdi as taking place in the following tragic manner: Among his wives there were two for whom he seems to have entertained an equal degree of affection; but as one of them seemed to the other to have the preference in his heart, the latter, whose

name was Hassanna, conceived a bitter jealousy against her rival, and determined to be avenged on her. In order to accomplish her purpose, she prepared a dish of confectionery, in which she mixed a malignant poison, and sent it as an offering to her rival. As the damsel who was dispatched upon the errand happened to pass beneath one of the balconies of the palace, Al Mahdi, who was watching the sunset, saw her. The confectionery, which was uncovered, attracting his notice, he asked the messenger whither she was bound. She having informed him, he took and ate heartily of it, saying: "Hassanna will, I am sure, be better pleased that I should partake of her sweets than any one else." In a few hours he was a corpse.


The Caliph Haroun Al Rashid

Haroun Al Rashid became Caliph in the year A.D. 786, and he ranks among the Caliphs who have been most distinguished by eloquence, learning, and generosity. During the whole of his reign he performed the pilgrimage to Mecca or carried on war with the unbelievers nearly every year. His daily prayers exceeded the number fixed by the law, and he used to perform the pilgrimage on foot, an act which no previous Caliph had done. When he went on pilgrimage he took with him a hundred learned men and their sons, and when he did not perform it himself he sent three hundred substitutes, whom he appareled richly, and whose expenses he defrayed with generosity.

His conduct generally resembled that of the Caliph Mansur, but he did not imitate the parsimony of the latter. He always repaid services done to him, and that without much delay. He was fond of poetry and poets, and patronized literary and learned men. Religious controversies were hateful to him. Eulogy he relished highly, especially eulogy by gifted poets, whom he richly rewarded.

The historian Asmai relates the following anecdote: One day the Caliph gave a feast in a magnificently decorated hall. During the feast he sent for the poet Abu'l Atahiyah, and commanded him to depict in verse the gorgeous scene. The poet began: "Live, O Caliph, in the fulfilment of all thy desire, in the shelter of thy lofty palace!" "Very good!" exclaimed Rashid. "Let us hear the rest."

The poet continued: "Each morn and eve be all thy servitors swift to execute thy behests!" "Excellent!" said the Caliph. "Go on!" The poet replied: "But when the death-rattle chokes thy breath thou wilt learn, alas! that all thy delights were a shadow." Rashid burst into tears. Fadhl, the son of Yahya (Haroun's Vizier), seeing this, said to the poet: "The Caliph sent for you to divert him, and you have plunged him into melancholy." "Let him be," said Rashid; "he saw us in a state of blindness, and tried to open our eyes."

This Prince treated learned men with great regard. Abou Moawia, one of the most learned men of his time, related that when he was sitting one day at food with the Caliph, the latter poured water on his hands after the meal, and said to him: "Abou Moawia, do you know who has just washed your hands?" He answered: "No." Rashid informed him that it was himself. Abou Moawia replied: "Prince, you doubtless act in this manner in order to do homage to learning." "You speak truth," answered Rashid.

Ibrahim Mouseli relates the following story: "Rashid one day summoned all his musicians. I and Meskin of Medina were among the performers. Rashid had partaken freely of wine, and wished to hear performed an air which had suddenly occurred to his mind. The officer stationed before the curtain which concealed the Caliph told Ibn Tami to sing this piece. The latter obeyed, but did not succeed in pleasing the Caliph. Each of the singers present attempted it, but were no more successful than Ibn Jami. Then the officer, addressing Meskin, said: 'The Commander of the Faithful orders you to sing this air if you can do it properly.'

"Meskin commenced at once to sing, to the great surprise of the audience, who could not understand how a musician like him had the courage to attempt before us an air which none of us had been able to render to the satisfaction of the Caliph. As soon as he had finished I heard Rashid raise his voice and ask to hear it a second time. Meskin recommenced with a skill and spirit which won him everybody's applause. The Caliph congratulated and praised him to the skies; then he had the curtain behind which he had been sitting drawn aside.

"'Prince of the believers,' then said Meskin to him, 'a strange story attaches to this piece'; and at the invitation of the Caliph he narrated it in these words: 'I was formerly a slave of a member of the family of Zobeir, and carried on the trade of a tailor. My master claimed from me a tax of two dirhems daily, after paying which I was free to do what I liked. I was passionately fond of singing. One day a descendant of ali, for whom I had just completed a tunic, paid me two dirhems for it, kept me to eat with him, and made me drink generously. As I left him I met a negress carrying her pitcher on her shoulder, and singing the song you have just heard. I was so delighted at it that, forgetting everything else, I said to her: "By the Prophet, I adjure thee to teach me that air." "By the Prophet," she answered, "I will not teach it unless you pay me two dirhems."

"'Then, Prince of believers, I took out the two dirhems, with which I had intended to pay my daily tax, and gave them to the negress. She, setting her pitcher down, sat on the ground and, keeping time with her fingers on the pitcher, sang the piece, and repeated it till it was well impressed on my memory. I then proceeded to my master. As soon as he saw me he demanded his two dirhems, and I related my adventure to him. "Scoundrel!" he said. "Have I not warned you that I will take no excuse, even if a farthing is missing?" Saying this, he laid me on the ground and, with the utmost vigor of his arm, gave me fifty strokes of a rod, and, as an additional disgrace, caused my head and chin to be shaved. Verily, O Prince, I passed a melancholy night. The severe punishment I had undergone made me forget the piece I had learned, and this was the saddest of all. In the morning, wrapping my head in a cloak, I hid my large tailor's scissors in my sleeve, and directed my steps to the spot where I had met the negress. I waited there in perplexity, not knowing her name nor her abode. all at once I saw her coming; the sight of her dispersed all my cares. I approached her, and she said to me: "By the Lord of the Kaaba, you have forgotten the song!" "Yes, I have," I answered. I told her how my head and chin had been shaved, and offered her a reward if she would sing her song again. "By the Prophet," she answered, "I will not for less than two dirhems."

"'I took out my scissors and ran and pawned them for two dirhems, which I gave her. She put down her pitcher, and began to sing as she had done the evening before; but as soon as she began, I said: "Give me back the two dirhems; I don't need your song." "By allah," she said, "you shall not see them again; don't think it." Then she added: "I am certain that the four dirhems you have spent will be worth to you four thousand dinars from the hand of the Caliph." Then she resumed her song, accompanying herself, as before, on her pitcher, and did not cease repeating it till I had got it by heart.

"'We separated. I returned to my master, but in a state of great apprehension. When he saw me he demanded his daily due, while I stammered out excuses. "Beast!" he shouted, "was not yesterday's lesson enough for you?" "I wish to speak to you frankly and without falsehood," I answered. "Yesterday's and today's dirhems went in payment for a song"; and I began to sing it to him. "What!" he exclaimed, "you have known an air like that for two days and told me nothing of it? May my wife be divorced if it is not true that I would have let you go yesterday if you had sung it to me! Your head and chin have been shaved---I can not help that---but I let you off your tax till your hair grows again.'"

"Hearing this recital, Rashid laughed heartily, and said to the musician: 'I don't know which is better, your song or your story; I will see in my turn that the forecast of the negress is verified.' So Meskin went out from the Caliph's presence richer by four thousand dinars."


The Barmecides, Viziers of Haroun Al Rashid

On attaining the Caliphate, Rashid conferred the Viziership on Yahya, son of Khaled, son of Barmec. Yahya had served him as secretary before his accession to the throne, and this was the foundation of the magnificence of the family of the Barmecides, whose commencement and whose tragic fall we are about to narrate.

The family of the Barmecides had originally been Zarathustrians in religion, but from the time of their embracing Islam they continued to be good Muslims. They were the crown and ornament of their age. Their generosity passed into a proverb; adherents thronged to their court from every side, and multitudes centered their hopes on them. Fortune showered upon them a prodigality of favors. Yahya and his sons were like brilliant stars, vast oceans, impetuous torrents, beneficent showers. Every kind of talent and learning was represented in their court, and men of worth received a hearty welcome there. The world was revived under their administration, and the empire reached its culminating point of splendor. They were a refuge for the afflicted and a haven for the distressed. The poet Abou-Nowas said of them: "Since the world has lost you, O sons of Barmec, we no longer see the ways crowded with travelers at sunrise and sunset."

We have an example of the generosity of the Barmecides in the following story, related by Salih bin Muhran, one of the intimate attendants of Haroun Al Rashid: "One day Haroun sent for me, and when I arrived in his presence I saw that he was vexed and perplexed, and full of thought, and very much enraged. When I stood still awhile he lifted up his head, and said: 'Go this moment to Mansur Bin Ziyad, and before night thou must have from him ten thousand thousand dirhems, and, if not, cut off his head and bring it to me; and if thou fail in this, I swear by the soul of Madhi I will command thy head to be severed from thy body.' I said: 'May the life of the Commander of the Faithful be prolonged! If he gives a part today, and sends somewhat more tomorrow on the condition that he gives me a pledge for the payment of the whole---' He replied: 'No! If he does not give thee today ten thousand thousand dirhems in coined money, bring me his head. What concern hast thou in this matter?' When he said this I knew he was aiming at the life of Mansur, and I went out from him in great perplexity and distress, saying, 'O Lord, what has come to me? It will be needful to slay Mansur, and he is one of the most worthy and best-known men of Baghdad, and has a numerous following.'

"At length I went to the house of Mansur, and, taking him on one side, told him the whole story as it had happened, and what my commands were. When he heard he wept aloud, and fell at my feet, saying: 'In truth the Commander of the Faithful seeks my life; for his courtiers and many others know there is no such sum in my house. Nor could I in my whole life bring together so much; how, then, can I do it in one day? But do thou show me one favor, for God's sake: take me to my house, that I may bid farewell to my children and followers and clansmen, and ask forgiveness of my of fenses from my companions and acquaintances.'

"I took him to his house, as he desired, and when his family and chief friends heard what had happened there was an outcry among them. They wept and bewailed so that jinns and men, and wild beasts and birds, were sorrowful for them, and my heart burned to see them. At last he brought out what money and valuables he had, amounting to two million dirhems, and gave it to me, saying: 'In days past, before Haroun Al Rashid was Caliph, I often vexed Yahya the Barmecide, and during this present reign also he suffered much annoyance and persecution from me. But on a certain occasion he treated me with kindness, and put my hand in his, and I knew that he had forgiven my fault, and that there was no feeling of revenge remaining in his heart; and afterward he did me many kindnesses with the Caliph. If thou wilt deal kindly with me---his house is at the head of the way---take me there. It may be his heart will be touched for me; for all the members of his house are men of liberality and they desire that even their enemy and ill-wisher may take refuge with them, that they may help him in his distress and misery.'

"I said: 'Thou speakest truly, and it will be a delight to myself to take thee there. Come, let us go. By allah the Most High, it must needs be they will cause thee to rejoice.' When we arrived at the house of Yahya, he had just finished the afternoon prayer, and was repeating the Tesbih. When he saw Mansur, and he had explained to him his distress and misery, Yahya came up to me and inquired of me the state of the case, which I revealed to him. He comforted Mansur, and bade him keep up his heart; 'For,' said he, 'I will not be wanting in doing all that is in my power to help thee.' At the same time he called his treasurer, and said to him: 'Bring me all that is in the treasury.' The treasurer brought all that he had of coined money and jewels, and the amount was two hundred thousand dirhems.

"Then he wrote a letter to his eldest son, Fadhl, bidding him send what money he had, for that an unfortunate man was waiting for it. When Fadhl had read the note, he immediately sent two hundred thousand dirhems. Then he wrote a note to Jafar, his younger son, bidding him send immediately all the money he had. He also sent three hundred thousand dirhems. Then he said to me: 'Take this money to the Commander of the Faithful, and represent to him that I will send tomorrow three million dirhems more into his treasury.' I replied: 'This is not in my orders. Today, by the hour of evening prayer, I must be in the presence of the Caliph with the gold or the head.'

"When Yahya heard this he sent for his slave Otbah, and bade her go to Fatima, the sister of the Commander of the Faithful, and to explain the case to her. When Otbah had told Fatima how the matter stood, that lady, who was a woman of much generosity, took off a collar set with jewels which she had received from the Caliph, of which the value was estimated at two hundred thousand dinars of gold, and sent it to Yahya, asking besides a thousand pardons that she could do no more.

"When at last the ten million of dirhems was raised, Yahya delivered it all to porters, and sent it by me to the Caliph. It was near the setting of the sun when I brought the money to Haroun Al Rashid. When he saw me, he cried: 'Hast thou brought Mansur?' I told him all that had passed, whereupon he bade me send the money to the treasury and go for Yahya. When I had placed the money in the treasury, I went to Yahya and told him that the Caliph had accepted the money, and wished to see him. He broke out into exclamations of gladness when he heard this, and, calling for Mansur, he said: 'Take courage, for thou art saved from destruction. The Commander of the Faithful has just asked for me, and I will so contrive as to render him again favorably disposed toward thee.'

"Then Mansur's soul again returned to his body, and he thanked Yahya fervently. When Yahya arrived in the presence of the Caliph and saw his face averted, he was afraid; for he thought: 'Perchance he will reprove me for my want of respect in releasing Mansur.' So, after some time, he prayed for pardon of his offense, and conciliated the Caliph. Afterward he said: 'Wilt thou tell me what was the crime of which Mansur was guilty?' The Caliph replied: 'His crime was his enmity against you and his evil-speaking concerning you. For this reason I have long wished to strike off his head. Today I was so incensed that I commanded either that he should pay this money or that his head should be cut off. But thou hast done as the generous always do.' Yahya said: 'May the life of the Commander of the Faithful be long! For if the Commander of the Faithful had said, "The wealth of Yahya and his sons is of my gift, and this necklace, too, of my sister's is a gift of mine. What has any one to do in this matter? Go and cut off Mansur's head," what could he have done and what could I have done?'

"This speech pleased Haroun Al Rashid, but he blamed Yahya because he had asked for his sister's necklace, and sent it to the treasury to meet the demand on Mansur. He also blamed his sister for giving away the necklace. She replied: 'It would have been shame if I had not answered the request of one who was in the place of a father to me.' This reply pleased the Caliph, and he restored to Fatima the jeweled collar, and Yahya and Mansur were again glad at heart."


The Fall of the Barmecides

Haroun Al Rashid had such an extraordinary affection to Jafar the Barmecide that he could not bear to be one hour apart from him. Rashid loved his own sister Abbasah also with an extreme affection, and could not bear to be long absent from her. She was a woman of extraordinary beauty, and exceeded all in science and knowledge. Zobeidah, who was the chief favorite of the Caliph, and all her dependents were opposed to Abbasah.

One day Rashid said to Jafar: "Thou knowest how great is my affection to thee, and also how greatly I love my sister Abbasah, and that I can not live without the company of either of you. I have thought of an expedient whereby you may both accompany me in the same assembly---that a marriage take place between you. That will legalize your meeting and authorize your beholding one another. But all this is on condition that you never meet except I am a third in the party."

When Jafar heard this, the world on all sides grew black with darkness to his eyes. Distressed and confounded, he fell at the feet of Rashid, and said: "Commander of the Faithful, wilt thou slay me? From the time of Adam to our day no servant has been admitted to such confidence as that he should marry with the family of his lords and benefactors; or if any one hath treacherously imagined such a thing, very shortly he hath been reduced to nothingness, and all men have counted him a bread-and-salt traitor. And what sin hath thy slave committed, O Commander of the Faithful, that thou shouldest seek after his blood? Is this the reward of all my services and devotion? And, besides, how should I, the son of a Persian fire-worshiper, be allied to the family of Hashem and the nephews of the Prophet---may the mercy of God be upon him and his family!---and by what right can I aspire to such a distinction? If my father and mother heard of this, they would mourn for me, and my enemies would rejoice."

Some days passed, and he neither ate nor drank, but all was of no avail. He could not oppose the decrees of heaven and the ordainment of God by remedy or contrivance. Unable to help himself, he submitted and consented to a marriage on the terms before mentioned. When Yahya, the father of Jafar and Fadhl, and his other brothers heard of this, they were full of sorrow, and looked for the reversal of their fortune and the downfall of their power.

These forebodings were soon justified. The cruel commands of Rashid to his favorite and his sister were disregarded, and Abbasah became a mother. The birth of the child, concealed for a time, was revealed to Rashid by a vengeful slave-girl whom Abbasah had struck. The Caliph was intensely wroth, but concealed his indignation for a time, though betraying it at unguarded moments.

Ahmed Bin Muhammad Wasil, who was one of his confidential attendants, relates as follows: "One day I was standing before Rashid in his private apartment when no one besides was there. Perfumes were burning, and the place was filled with sweet odors. Haroun Al Rashid lay down to rest, and wrapped his head in the skirt of his garment to keep his eyes cool, when Jafar the Barmecide came in and told his business to the Caliph, receiving in return a gracious answer, and retiring. In those days the story of Abbasah and her union with Fafar was talked of currently among the people.

"When Jafar was gone Rashid lifted his head out of his skirt, and from his mouth came these words: 'O God, do thou so favor Jafar the Barmecide that he may kill me, or make me quickly powerful over him that I may cut off his head from his body; for with anger and jealousy against him I am near to destruction.' These words he spoke to himself but they reached my ears, and I trembled within and without, and I said to myself: 'If the Commander of the Faithful knows that I have heard this, he will not leave me alive.'

"Suddenly Haroun Al Rashid lifted up his head from its covering, and said to me: 'Hast thou heard that which I said to myself just now?' I said: 'I have not heard it.' The Commander of the Faithful said: 'There is no one but thyself here, and so truly as the censer is in thy hand, thou hast heard all. If thou care for thy life, keep this secret concealed; and if not, I will strike off thy head.' I replied: 'May the life of the Commander of the Faithful be long! I have not heard any of these words.' And with this the Caliph was satisfied."

It was not long after this that the blow fell on the Barmecides. On his return from one of his pilgrimages to Mecca, Rashid came by water from Hira to Anbar, on the River Euphrates. Here he invited the three brothers Fadhl, Jafar, and Mousa, to his presence, and, having caressed them with extraordinary cordiality, dismissed them once more to their quarters, with rich khelats, the customary robe of honor. The Caliph withdrew to his apartments, and betook himself to his usual indulgence in wine. In a little time he sent one of his domestics to inquire if Jafar was employed in the same way. Finding that such was not the case, Rashid sent his attendant again to Jafar, urging him by the life of his master to imitate his example without further delay, for that his wine seemed deprived of all its zest until he knew that his faithful Jafar partook of the same enjoyment.

Jafar felt, however, unaccountably alarmed and averse to such a gratification, and, reluctantly withdrawing to his chamber, called for the wine. It happened that he was attended by a favorite blind minstrel named Abou Zaccar, to whom, after a few goblets, he could not forbear from communicating his apprehensions. The minstrel treated them as merely imaginary, urged his master to banish them from his thoughts, and to resume his usual cheerfulness. But Jafar declared that he found it impossible to dispel the uneasiness which seemed to haunt him. About the hour of evening prayer another messenger arrived from Rashid with a present of nuts and sweetmeats for Jafar, as a relish to his wine, from his own table.

When midnight came, Rashid called for Mesrour, his favorite domestic, and directed him to bring Jafar and strike off his head. Mesrour proceeded accordingly, and entering Jafar's apartment while Abou Zaccar was singing some Arabic verses, stood suddenly at the head of Jafar, who started involuntarily at his appearance. Mesrour told him that he was summoned to attend the Caliph. Jafar entreated that he might be permitted to withdraw for a moment, to speak to the women of his family. This last indulgence was withheld, Mesrour observing that any instructions which he had to communicate might as well be delivered where he was. This he was accordingly obliged to do, after which he accompanied Mesrour to his tent, on entering which the latter immediately drew his sword. Jafar asked that the Caliph's instructions might be explained to him, and when he heard them, cautioned Mesrour to beware how he carried into execution an order which had evidently been given under the influence of wine, lest, when their sovereign should be restored to himself, it might be followed by unavailing repentance and remorse. He further adjured Mesrour by the memory of their past friendship that he would return to the Caliph's presence, and require his final commands.

Mesrour yielded to these entreaties, and appeared before Rashid, whom he found expecting his return. "Is this the head of Jafar?" demanded the Caliph. "Jafar is at the door, my lord," replied Mesrour, with some trepidation. "I wanted not Jafar," said the Caliph sternly; "I wanted his head." This sealed the fate of the unhappy favorite. Mesrour immediately withdrew, decapitated Jafar in the antechamber, and returned with his head, which he laid at the Caliph's feet. He was then directed by Rashid to keep that head by him till he should receive further orders.

In the meantime he was enjoined to proceed without delay and apprehend Yahya, his three sons, Fadhl, Muhammad, and Mousa, and his brother Muhammad. These commands were immediately carried into execution. The head of Jafar was dispatched the next day, to be suspended to a gibbet on the bridge of Bagdad, after which the Caliph continued his journey to Rakkah.

Stripped of all their wealth and honors, Yahya, his three sons, and his brother Muhammad, languished in confinement until the former perished in prison. At first they were allowed some liberty, but subsequently they experienced alternatives of rigor and relaxation, according to the reports which reached Rashid concerning them. He then confiscated the property of every member of the family. It is said that Mesrour was sent by him to the prison, and that he told the jailor to bring Fadhl before him. When he was brought out, Mesrour addressed him thus: "The Commander of the Faithful sends me to say that he ordered thee to make a true state ment of thy property, and that thou didst pretend to do so but he is assured that thou hast still great wealth in reserve, and his orders to me are that, if thou dost not inform me where the money is, I am to give thee two hundred strokes of a whip. I should therefore advise thee not to prefer thy riches to thyself."

On this Fadhl looked up at him and said: "By allah, I made no false statements; and were the choice offered to me of being sent out of the world or of receiving a single stroke of a whip, I should prefer the former alternative---that the Commander of the Faithful well knoweth, and thou also knowest full well that we maintained our reputation at the expense of our wealth. How, then, could we now shield our wealth at the expense of our bodies? If thou hast really got any orders, let them be executed."

On this Mesrour produced some whips, which he brought with him rolled up in a napkin, and ordered his servants to inflict on Al Fadhl two hundred stripes. They struck him with all their force, using no moderation in their blows, so that they nearly killed him. There was in that place a man skilled in treating wounds, who was called in to attend Al Fadhl. When he saw him he observed that fifty strokes had been inflicted on him; and when the others declared that two hundred had been given, he asserted that his back bore the traces of fifty, and not more. He then told Al Fadhl that he must lie down on his back on a reed-mat, so that they might tread on his breast. Al Fadhl shuddered at the proposal, but, having at length given his consent, they placed him on his back. The operator then trod on him, after which he took him by the arms and dragged him along the mat, by which means a great quantity of flesh was torn off the back. He then proceeded to dress the wounds, and continued his services regularly, till one day, when, on examining them, he immediately prostrated himself in thanksgiving to God. They asked him what was the matter, and he replied that the patient was saved, because new flesh was forming. He then said: "Did I not say that he had received fifty strokes? Well, by allah! one thousand strokes could not have left worse marks; but I merely said so that he might take courage, and thus aid my efforts to cure him."

Al Fadhl, on his recovery, borrowed ten thousand dirhems from a friend, and sent them to the doctor, who returned them. Thinking that he had offered too little, he borrowed ten thousand more; but the man refused them, and said: "I can not accept a fee for curing the greatest among the generous. Were it even twenty thousand dinars, I should refuse them." When this was told to Al Fadhl, he declared that such an act of generosity surpassed all that he himself had done during the whole course of his life.

When Rashid had overthrown the family of the Barmecides, he endeavored to obliterate even their very name. He forbade the poets to compose elegies on their fall, and commanded that those who did so should be punished. One day one of the soldiers of the guard, passing near some ruined and abandoned buildings, perceived a man standing upright with a paper in his hand. It contained a lament for the ruin of the Barmecides, which he was reciting with tears.

The soldier arrested him, and conducted him to the palace of Rashid. He related the whole matter to the Caliph, who caused the accused to be brought before him. When he was convinced by the man's own confession of the truth of the accusation, he said to him: "Did you not know that I have forbidden the utterance of any lament for the family of the Barmecides? Assuredly I will treat thee according to thy deserts." "Prince," the accused answered, "if thou wilt allow, I will relate my history. Afterward deal with me as thou pleasest."

Rashid having allowed him to speak, he went on: "I was one of the petty officials in the court of Yahya. One day he said to me: 'I must dine at your house.' 'My lord,' I said to him, 'I am far too mean for such an honor, and my house is not fit to receive you.' 'No,' replied Yahya, 'I must come to you.' 'In that case,' I said, 'will you allow me some time to make the proper arrangements and put my house in order? ---and afterward do as you like.'

"He then wished to know how much time I wanted. At first I asked for a year. This appeared to him too much; I therefore asked for some months. He consented, and I immediately began to prepare everything necessary for his reception. When all the preparations were complete I sent to inform Yahya, who said he would come on the morrow. On the next day, accordingly, he came, with his two sons Jafar and Fadhl and a few of his most intimate friends. Scarcely had he dismounted than he addressed me by name, and said: 'Make haste and get me something to eat, for I am hungry.' Fadhl told me that his father was especially fond of roast fowl; accordingly I brought some, and when Yahya had eaten he rose and began to walk about the house, and asked me to show him all over it. 'My lord,' I said, 'you have just been over it: there is no more.' 'Certainly there is more,' he replied.

"It was in vain that I assured him, in the name of God, that that was all I had: he had a mason sent for, and told him to make a hole in the wall. The mason began to do so. I said to Yahya: 'My Lord, is it permissible to make a hole into one's neighbor's house when God has commanded us to respect our neighbors' rights?' 'Never mind,' said he. And when the mason had made a sufficiently wide entrance, he went through, with his sons.

"I followed them, and we came into a delicious garden, well planted and watered by fountains. In this garden were pavilions and halls adorned with all kinds of marbles and tapestry; on all sides were numbers of beautiful slaves of both sexes. Yahya then said to me: 'This house and all that you see is yours.' I hastened to kiss his hands and to pray God to bless him, and then I learned that from the very day he had told me that he was coming to my house he had bought the ground adjacent to it, and caused a beautiful mansion to be constructed, furnished, and adorned, without my knowing anything of it. I saw indeed that building was going on, but I thought it was some work being carried on by one of my neighbors.

"Yahya then, addressing his son Jafar, said to him: 'Well, here is a house, with attendants, but how is he to keep it up?' 'I will make over to him such and such a farm, with its revenues,' answered Jafar, 'and sign a contract with him to that effect.' 'Very good,' said Yahya, turning to his other son, Fadhl; 'but 'till he receives those revenues, how is he to meet current expenses?' 'I will give him ten thousand pieces of gold,' answered Fadhl, 'and have them conveyed to his house.' 'Be quick, then,' said Yahya, 'and fulfil your promises without delay.' This they both did, so that I found myself rich of a sudden and living a life of ease. Thus, O Commander of the Faithful, I have never failed on all fitting occasions to rehearse their praises and to pray for them, in order to discharge my debt of gratitude, but never shall I be able to do so completely. If thou choosest, slay me for doing that."

Rashid was moved at this recital, and let him go. He also gave a general permission to the poets to bewail the tragic end of the Barmecides. A pathetic anecdote relating to their fall is recorded by Muhammad, son of Abdur Rahman the Hashimite.

"Having gone to visit my mother on the day of the Feast of Sacrifice, I found her talking with an old woman of venerable appearance, but meanly clad. My mother asked if I knew her, and I answered, 'No.' She replied: 'It is Abbadah, the mother of Jafar Bin Yahya.' I turned to her and saluted her with respect. After some time I said to her: 'Madam, what is the strangest thing you have seen?' 'My friend,' she replied, 'there was once a time when this same festival saw me escorted by four hundred slaves, and still I thought that my son was not sufficiently grateful to me. Today the feast has returned, and all I wish for is two sheepskins---one to lie down on and one to cover me.' "I gave her," adds the narrator, "five hundred dirhems and she nearly died of joy. She did not cease her visits till the day death separated us."

After the destruction of this family, the affairs of Rashid fell into irretrievable confusion. Treason, revolt, and rebellion assailed him in different parts of the empire. He himself became a prey to disease, and was tortured by unavailing remorse. If any one blamed the Barmecides in his presence he would say: "Cease to blame them or fill the void." So great was the disaffection aroused by his treatment of them that he removed the seat of government from Bagdad to Rakkah, on the Euphrates.

Yahya, the father of Jafar and Eadhl, died in prison, A.D. 805. On his body was found a paper containing these words: "The accuser has gone on before to the tribunal, and the accused shall follow. The Qadi will be that just Judge who never errs and who needs no witnesses." This, being reported to Rashid, deepened his gloom, which began to wear the appearance of madness. One morning his physician, finding him greatly discomposed, inquired the reason. Rashid replied: "I will describe to thee what presented itself to my imagination. Methought I saw an arm suddenly extend itself from beneath my pillow, holding in the palm of the hand, a quantity of red earth, while a voice addressed me in the following words: 'Haroun, behold this handful of earth; it is that in which they are about to bury thee.' I demanded to know where I was about to find my grave, and the voice replied: 'At Tuz.' The arm disappeared and I awoke."

Shortly after this Rashid, though suffering from the disease which was to end his life, set out to put down a rebellion in Transoxiana. When one of the captured rebel leaders was brought into his presence, he ordered him to be cut to pieces limb by limb on the spot. When the execution was over Rashid fell into a swoon, and, on recovering himself, asked his physician if he did not recollect the dream which had occurred to him at Rakkah, for they were now in the neighborhood of Tuz. He also desired his chamberlain Mesrour to bring him a sample of the native earth of the country. When Mesrour returned with his naked arm extended, Rashid immediately exclaimed: "Behold the arm and the earth, precisely as they appeared in my dream!" The Caliph died at midnight the following Saturday, March 23, A.D. 809.


The Caliph Al Mamoun

When Haroun Al Rashid died he left the empire to his sons Emin and Mamoun, giving the former Iraq and Syria, and the latter Khorassan and Persia. Emin had the title of Caliph, to which Mamoun was to succeed. War broke out between the brothers; Emin fled from Baghdad, but was captured and slain, and his head sent to Mamoun in Khorassan, who wept at the sight of it. He had, however, previously, when his general Tahir sent to him requesting to know what to do with Emin in case he caught him, sent to the general a shirt with no opening in it for the head. By this Tahir knew that he wished Emin to be put to death, and acted accordingly.

The Caliph, however, bore a grudge against Tahir for the death of his brother, as was shown by the following circumstance: Tahir went one day to ask some favor from Al Mamoun; the latter granted it, and then wept till his eyes were bathed in tears. "Commander of the Faithful," said Tahir, "why do you weep? May God never cause you to shed a tear! The universe obeys you, and you have obtained your utmost wishes." "I weep not," replied the Caliph, "from any humiliation which may have befallen me, neither do I weep from grief, but my mind is never free from cares."

These words gave great uneasiness to Tahir, and, on retiring, he said to Husain, the eunuch who waited at the door of the Caliph's private apartment: "I wish you to ask the Commander of the Faithful why he wept on seeing me." On reaching home Tahir sent Husain one hundred thousand dirhems. Some time afterward, when Al Mamoun was alone and in a good humor, Husain said to him: "Why did you weep when Tahir came to see you?" "What is that to you?" replied the Prince. "It made me sad to see you weep," answered the eunuch. "I shall tell you the reason," the Caliph said; "but if you ever allow it to pass your lips, I shall have your head taken off." "O my master," the eunuch replied, "did I ever disclose any of your secrets?" "I was thinking of my brother Emin," said the Caliph, "and of the misfortune which befell him, so that I was nearly choked with weeping; but Tahir shall not escape me! I shall make him feel what he will not like."

Husain related this to Tahir, who immediately rode off to the Vizier Abi Khalid, and said to him: "I am not parsimonious in my gratitude, and a service rendered to me is never lost; contrive to have me removed away from Al Mamoun." "I shall," replied Abi Khalid. "Come to me tomorrow morning." He then rode off to Al Mamoun, and said "I was not able to sleep last night." "Why so?" asked the Caliph. "Because you have entrusted Ghassan with the government of Khorassan, and his friends are very few, and I fear that ruin awaits him." "And whom do you think a proper person for it?" said Al Mamoun. "Tahir," replied Abi Khalid. "He is ambitious," observed the Caliph. "I will answer for his conduct," said the other.

Al Mamoun then sent for Tahir, and named him governor of Khorassan on the spot; he made him also a present of an eunuch, to whom he had just given orders to poison his new master if he remarked anything suspicious in his conduct. When Tahir was solidly established in his government he ceased mentioning Al Mamoun's name in the public prayers as the reigning Caliph. A dispatch was immediately sent off by express to inform Al Mamoun of the circumstance, and the next morning Tahir was found dead in his bed. It is said that the eunuch administered the poison to him in some sauce.

Al Mamoun placed his two sons under the tuition of Al Farra, so that they might be instructed in grammar. One day Al Farra rose to leave the house, and the two young princes hastened to bring his shoes. They struggled between themselves for the honor of offering them to him, and they finally agreed that each of them should present him with one slipper. As Al Mamoun had secret agents who informed him of everything that passed, he learned what had taken place, and caused Al Farra to be brought before him.

When he entered, the Caliph said to him: "Who is the most honored of men?" Al Farra answered: "I know not any one more honored than the Commander of the Faithful." "Nay," replied Al Mamoun, "it is he who arose to go out, and the two designated successors of the Commander of the Faithful contended for the honor of presenting him his slippers, and at length agreed that each of them should offer him one."

Al Farra answered: "Commander of the Faithful, I should have prevented them from doing so had I not been apprehensive of discouraging their minds in the pursuit of that excellence to which they ardently aspire. We know by tradition that Ibn Abbas held the stirrups of Hasan and Husain, when they were getting on horseback after paying him a visit. One of those who were present said to him: 'How is it that you hold the stirrups of these striplings, you who are their elder?' To which he replied: 'Ignorant man! No one can appreciate the merit of people of merit except a man of merit.'"

Al Mamoun then said to him: "Had you prevented them, I should have declared you in fault. That which they have done is no debasement of their dignity; on the contrary, it exalts their merit. No man, though great in rank, can be dispensed from three obligations: he must respect his sovereign, venerate his father, and honor his preceptor. As a reward for their conduct, I bestow upon them twenty thousand dinars, and on you for the good education you give them, ten thousand dirhems."

When Al Mamoun was still in Khorassan, a revolt was raised against him in Baghdad by his uncle, Ibrahim, the son of Mahdi. This prince had great talent as a singer, and was a skilful performer on musical instruments. Being of a dark complexion, which he inherited from his mother, Shikla, who was a negress, and of a large frame of body, he received the name of al-Tinnin (the Dragon). He was proclaimed Caliph at Baghdad during the absence of Al Mamoun. The cause which led the people to renounce Al Mamoun and choose Ibrahim was that the former had chosen as his successor one of the descendants of ali, and in doing so had ordered the public to cease wearing black, which was the distinctive color of the Abbassides, the reigning family, and to put on green, the color of the family of ali and their partisans.

On Mamoun's entry into Bagdad, Ibrahim fled disguised as a woman. He was, however, detected and arrested by one of the negro police. When he was before Al Mamoun, who addressed him in ironic terms, he replied: "Prince of the believers, my crime gives you the right of retaliation, but forgiveness is near neighbor to piety. God has placed you above all those who are generous, as he has placed me above all criminals in the magnitude of my crime. If you punish me you will be just; if you pardon me you will be great." "Then I pardon you," said Mamoun, and prostrated himself in prayer.

He commanded, however, that Ibrahim should continue to wear the burqa, or long female veil in which he had fled, so that people might see in what disguise he had been arrested; he ordered also that he should be exposed to view in the palace courtyard; then he committed him to police supervision, and finally, after some days of detention, set him free.

The following anecdote was related by Ibrahim regarding the time when he was in hiding with a price set on his head: "I went out one day at the hour of noon without knowing whither I was going. I found myself in a narrow street, which ended in a cul-de-sac, and noticed a negro standing in front of the door of a house. I went straight to him, and asked if he could afford me shelter for a short time. He consented, and bade me enter. The hall was adorned with mats and leather cushions. Then he left me alone, closed the door, and departed. A suspicion flashed across my mind; this man knew that a price was set on my head, and had gone to denounce me.

"While I was revolving these gloomy thoughts, he returned with a servant bearing a tray loaded with victuals. 'May my life be a sacrifice for you,' he said. 'I am a barber, and therefore I have not touched any of these things with my hand; do me the honor to partake of them.' Hunger pressed me; I rose and obeyed. 'What about some wine?' he asked. 'I do not detest it,' I replied. He brought some, and then said again: 'May my life be your ransom! Will you allow me to sit near you and drink to your health?' I consented. After having emptied three cups, he opened a cupboard and took out a lute. 'Sir,' he said, 'it does not behoove a man of my low degree to beg you to sing, but your kindness prompts me to do so; if you deign to consent it will be a great honor for your slave.'

"'How do you know that I am a good singer?' I asked him. 'By allah!' he answered, with an air of astonishment, 'your reputation is too great for me not to know it: you are Ibrahim, the son of Mahdi, and a reward of a hundred thousand dirhems is promised by Al Mamoun to the man who will find you.' At these words I took the lute, and was about to commence, when he added: 'Sir, would you be so kind as first to sing the piece which I shall choose?' When I consented he chose three airs in which I had no rival. Then I said to him: 'You know me, I admit; but where did you learn to know these three airs?' 'I have been,' he answered, 'in the service of Ishak, son of Ibrahim Mausili, and I have often heard him speak of the great singers and the airs in which they excelled; but who could have guessed that I would hear you myself and in my own house?'

"I sang to him accordingly, and remained some time in his company, charmed with his agreeable manners. At nightfall I took leave of him. I had brought with me a purse full of gold pieces; I offered it to him, promising him a greater reward some day. 'This is strange,' he said; 'it is rather I who should offer you all I possess, and implore you to do me the honor to accept it. Only respect has restrained me from doing so.' He refused, accordingly, to receive anything from me; but he went out with me and put me on the road to the place whither I wished to go. Then he went off, and I have never seen him since."


Al Mamoun and Ibrahim, the Son of Mahdi

One day ten inhabitants of Basra were denounced to Al Mamoun as heretics who held the doctrine of Manes (Manicheans) and the two principles of light and darkness. He ordered them to be brought into his presence. A parasite, who saw them being taken, said to himself: "Here are folk who are going off for a jollification." He slipped in among them, and accompanied them without perceiving who they were till they reached the boat in which their guards made them embark. "Doubtless this is a pleasure party!" he exclaimed, and went on board with them. Soon, however, the guards brought chains and fettered the whole band, including the parasite, who said to himself: "My greediness has ended by making me a prisoner." Then he addressed the seniors of the band: "Pardon me," he said; "may I ask who you are?" "Tell us, rather, who you are," they answered, "and whether we may reckon you among our brothers." "God knows I scarcely know you," he replied. "As for me, to tell the truth, I am a professional parasite. When I left my home this morning I happened to fall in with you. Struck with your agreeable appearance and good manners, I said to myself: 'Here are some well-to-do people going to enjoy themselves.' Consequently I joined your company, and took my place beside you as though I were one of you. When we reached the boat, which was provided with carpets and cushions, and I saw all these bags and well-filled baskets, I thought: 'They are going for an outing in some park or pleasure-ground; this is a lucky day for me.'

"I was still congratulating myself when the guards came and fettered you, and me with you. I now feel quite bewildered; tell me, therefore, what it is all about." These words amused the prisoners, and made them smile. They replied: "Now that you are on the list of the suspected, and are chained, know that we are Manichaeans who have been denounced to Mamoun, and are being taken to him. He will ask us who we are, will question us concerning our belief, and will exhort us to repent and to abjure our religion, proposing various tests to us; he will, for example, show us an image of Manes, commanding us to spit upon it and to renounce him; he will command us to sacrifice a pheasant. Whoever will do so will save his life; whoever refuses will be put to death. When you are called and put to the test you will say who you are and what your belief is, according as you feel prompted. But did you not say you were a parasite? Now, such people have an ample store of anecdotes and stories; shorten our journey, then, by recounting some."

As soon as they arrived at Bagdad the prisoners were conducted into the presence of Mamoun. He called each in turn as his name was on the list; he asked each concerning his sect, and urged them to renounce Manes, showing them his image, and commanding them to spit on it. As they refused, he had them handed over one by one to the executioner.

At last the parasite's turn came. But as the ten prisoners had been done with and the list was exhausted, Mamoun asked the guards who he was. "Truly, we know nothing about him," they answered. "We found him among them and brought him hither." "Who are you?" the Caliph asked him. "Prince of the believers," he said, "may my wife be divorced if I understand what they are talking about! I am only a poor parasite." And he told him his whole story from beginning to end.

The Caliph was much amused, and ordered the image of Manes to be presented to him; the parasite cursed and renounced the heretic heartily. Al Mamoun, however, was about to punish him for his temerity and impudence, when Ibrahim, the son of Mahdi, who was present, said: "Sire, let this man off, and I will relate to you a kind of adventure, of which I was the hero." The Caliph assented, and Ibrahim continued: "Prince of the believers, I had gone out one day, and was roving at random through the streets of Baghdad, when I came to the porch of a lofty mansion, whence issued a delicious odor of spices and dressed meats, by which I was strongly attracted. I addressed a passer-by, and asked to whom the house belonged. 'To a linen-merchant,' he answered. 'What is his name?' I asked. 'Such a one, son of such a one,' was his reply. I lifted my eyes to the house. Through the lattice-work which covered one of the windows I saw appear such a beautiful hand and wrist as I had never seen before. The charm of this apparition made me forget the enticing odors, and I stood there troubled and perplexed. Finally, I asked the man, who had remained standing near if the master of the house ever gave entertainments. 'Yes, I think he is giving one today,' he answered; 'but his guests are merchants, staid and sober people like himself.'

"We were thus engaged in talk when two persons of well-to-do appearance came down the street toward us. 'There are his two guests,' the man said to me. 'What are their names and their fathers' names?' I asked. He informed me, and I accosted them immediately, saying: 'May my life be your sacrifice; your host is waiting impatiently for you.' I escorted them to the door as if I belonged to the house; they went in, and I followed. The master of the house perceived me, and, supposing that I had been brought by his friends, received me graciously, and placed me in the seat of honor. Then the meal was brought; it was well served, and we did honor to the dishes, whose savor excelled their odor. When the food had been removed and we had washed our hands, our host led us into another hall richly adorned. He redoubled his politeness toward me, and specially addressed his conversation to me. The two guests believed me to be an intimate friend of his, while the host treated me in this fashion because he believed I had been brought by his two friends.

"We had already emptied several cups when a young female slave came forward, as graceful as a willow-branch, and saluted us without timidity. She was offered a cushion to sit upon, and a lute was brought to her, which she tuned with a skill which struck me. She then sang an air in a most enchanting fashion; so great was the skill and art with which she sang that I could not suppress a feeling of jealousy. 'Young girl,' I said to her, 'you have still a good deal to learn.' These words irritated her; she threw down the lute, and exclaimed to the host: 'Since when do you admit to your intimacy such vexatious guests?'

"I repented of my remark when I saw the others look at me askance. 'Is there a lute here?' I asked. 'Yes,' was the reply. They brought me one, which I tuned to my liking, and then sang. I had hardly finished when the young slave cast herself at my feet, and, embracing them, said: 'Sir, pardon me in the name of heaven; I have never heard that air sung so exquisitely.' Her master and those present followed her example in praising me; cheerfulness was restored, and the cups circulated rapidly. I sang again, and the enthusiasm of my hearers was roused to such a pitch that I thought they would take leave of their senses. I waited awhile to let them recover themselves; then, taking my lute again, I sang for the third time. 'By allah!' cried the slave, 'that is what deserves to be called singing!'

"The others, however, were beginning to feel the effects of the wine; the master of the house, who had a stronger head than his guests, entrusted them to the care of his own servants and of theirs, and had them conveyed home. I remained alone with him. After we had emptied some more cups, he said to me: 'Truly, sir, I consider the past days of my life, in which I did not know you, wasted. Kindly inform me who you are.' He pressed me so much that at last I told him my name. Immediately he rose, kissed my hand, and said: 'I should have been surprised, sir, had any one of a rank inferior to your own possessed such skill. To think one of the royal house was with me all the time, and I knew it not!' Being pressed by him to tell my story and what had attracted me to his house, I told him how I had stopped when I smelt the odor of the food, and described the hand and wrist I had seen at the window.

"He straightway called one of his female slaves and said: 'Go and tell So-and-so to come down.' He had all the slaves in succession brought before me. After having examined their hands, I said: 'No! the possessor of the hand I saw is not among them.' 'By allah!' said my host, 'there are only my mother and my sister left! I will send for them.' Such generosity and kindness of heart surprised me. I said to him: 'May my life be your sacrifice! Before calling your mother, call your sister; it is probably she of whom I am in search.' 'Very well,' he said, and sent for her.

"As soon as I set eyes on her hand and wrist I cried: 'It is she, my dear host, it is she!' Without losing a moment, he ordered his servants to bring together ten respectable elderly men from the neighborhood. They came; he then sent for a sum of twenty thousand dirhems in two bags, and, addressing the ten men, said: 'I take you to witness that I give my sister here in marriage to Ibrahim, son of Mahdi, and that I bestow upon her a dowry of twenty thousand dirhems.' His sister and I both gave our agreement to the marriage, after which I gave one of the bags of money to my young wife, and distributed the other among the witnesses, saying: 'Excuse me, but this is all I have by me at present.' They accepted my present and retired.

"My host then proposed to prepare in his own house an apartment for us. Such generosity and kindness made me feel quite embarrassed. I said that I only desired a litter to convey my wife. He readily agreed, and sent along with it so magnificent a trousseau that it entirely fills one of my houses."

Mamoun was astonished at the generosity of the merchant. He granted his freedom and a rich present to the parasite, and ordered Ibrahim to present his father-in-law at court. The latter became one of the most intimate courtiers and companions of the Caliph.


The Death of Al Mamoun

During Al Mamoun's last campaign against the Greek Emperor he arrived at the River Qushairah, and encamped on its banks. Charmed by the clearness and purity of its waters, and by the beauty and fertility of the surrounding country, he had a kind of arbor constructed by the banks of the stream, intending to rest there some days. So clear was the water that the inscription on a coin lying at the bottom could be clearly read; but it was so cold that it was impossible for any one to bathe in it.

all at once a fish, about a fathom in length and flashing like an ingot of silver, appeared in the water. The Caliph promised a reward to any one who would capture it; an attendant went down, caught the fish and regained the shore, but as he approached the spot where Al Mamoun was sitting, the fish slipped from his grasp, fell into the water, and sank like a stone to the bottom. Some of the water was splashed on the Caliph's neck, chest, and arms, and wetted his clothes. The attendant went down again, recaptured the fish, and placed it, wriggling, in a napkin before the Caliph. Just as he had ordered it to be fried, Al Mamoun felt a sudden shiver, and could not move from the place. In vain he was covered with rugs and skins; he trembled like a leaf, and exclaimed: "I am cold! I am cold!" He was carried into his tent, covered with clothes, and a fire was lit, but he continued to complain of cold. When the fish had been cooked it was brought to him, but he could neither taste nor touch it, so great was his suffering.

As he grew rapidly worse, his brother Mutasim questioned Bakhteshou and Ibn Masouyieh, his physicians, on his condition, and whether they could do him any good. Ibn Masouyieh took one of the patient's hands and Bakhteshou the other, and felt his pulse together; the irregular pulsations heralded his dissolution. Just then Al Mamoun awoke out of his stupor; he opened his eyes, and caused some of the natives of the place to be sent for, and questioned them regarding the stream and the locality. When asked regarding the meaning of the name "Qushairah," they replied that it signified "Stretch out thy feet" [i.e., "die"]. Al Mamoun then inquired the Arabic name of the country, and was told "Rakkah." Now, the horoscope drawn at the moment of his birth announced that he would die in a place of that name; therefore he had always avoided residing in the city of Rakkah, fearing to die there. When he heard the answer given by these people, he felt sure that this was the place predicted by his horoscope.

Feeling himself becoming worse, he commanded that he should be carried outside his tent in order to survey his camp and his army once more. It was now night-time. As his gaze wandered over the long lines of the camp and the lights twinkling into the distance, he cried: "O thou whose reign will never end, have mercy on him whose reign is now ending." He was then carried back to his bed. Mutasim, seeing that he was sinking, commanded some one to whisper in his ear the confession of the Mohammedan faith. As the attendant was about to speak, in order that Al Mamoun might repeat the words after him, Ibn Masouyieh said to him: "Do not speak, for truly he could not now distinguish between God and Manes." The dying man opened his eyes---they seemed extraordinarily large, and shone with a wonderful luster; his hands clutched at the doctor; he tried to speak to him, but could not; then his eyes turned toward heaven and filled with tears; finally his tongue was loosened, and he spoke: "O thou who diest not, have mercy on him who dies," and he expired immediately. His body was carried to Tarsus and buried there.


From: Charles F. Horne, ed., The Sacred Books and Early Literature of the East, (New York: Parke, Austin, & Lipscomb, 1917), Vol. VI: Medieval Arabia, pp. 35-89.

Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg.

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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© Paul Halsall, September 1998