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The Umayyad Empire in its greatest extent

The Umayyads or Umayyads ( Arabic بنو أمية banū Umayya orالأمويون, DMG al-Umawiyyūn ) - also Omayyads , Umayyads , Omajads - were a family clan of the Arab tribe of the Quraish from Mecca , the tribe from which the founder of the religion Mohammed came from. Members of the family ruled from AD 661 to 750 as caliphs from Damascus over the then still young Islamic empire (see also list of caliphs ) and thus established the first dynastic succession of rulers in Islamic history (see table of Islamic dynasties ). The Umayyads of Damascus distinguish between two lines, the Sufyānids , who can be traced back to Abū Sufyān ibn Harb , and the Marwānids , who ruled from 685 , the descendants of Marwān ibn al-Hakam .

Under the Umayyad government, the borders of the empire were extended to the Indus in the east and to the Iberian Peninsula in the west . After their expulsion from the Mashrek by the Abbasids , they founded the Emirate of Córdoba in al-Andalus in 756 , where they ruled until 1031, and since 929 again with the title of caliph.

Origins of the dynasty

Like the Banū Hāschim , the clan of the Prophet Mohammed, the Umayyads belonged to the descendants of the Quraishite ʿAbd Manāf ibn Qusaiy . Both families can be traced back to one of ʿAbd Manāf's sons, the Hashimites to Hashim and the Umayyads to ʿAbd Shams . The Umayyad was named after ʿAbd Shams' son Umayya.

At the beginning of the 7th century AD, the descendants of Umayya were one of the most influential families in Mecca . During this time, Muhammad began to proclaim his new religion in the city. After he and his followers had to emigrate to Medina in 622 and there were subsequent military conflicts between the Muslims who had fled and Mecca, members of the Umayyad family assumed leading positions on the side of the Meccans. In the later course of the fighting, Abū Sufyān ibn Harb, the head of the clan, was at the forefront of Meccan politics. In the end, however, Mohammed had to surrender defeat and converted to Islam himself shortly before the Muslim troops took Mecca in 630.

This change of sides was ultimately to the advantage of the Umayyads, as they also played an important role in the Islamic state that was now established. For example, Muʿāwiya I , a son of Abu Sufyan, served as Muhammad's secretary for some years. After the death of the Prophet he took part in the campaigns of the Muslims against the Eastern Roman Empire and was rewarded in 639 with the post of governor of Syria . In 644, Uthman ibn Affan , a member of the Umayyad clan, was elected caliph. In contrast to the rest of his family, Uthman was one of the earliest supporters of Mohammed and had already been there when he emigrated from Mecca in 622. In the allocation of influential posts in the empire, he greatly favored his own relatives, so that an opposition to his rule soon formed.

Sufyanid rule (660-683)

In 656 Uthman was murdered in Medina and ʿAlī ibn Abī Tālib , the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet, was made the new caliph. However, it was not recognized by all Muslims. As a supporter of the murdered Uthman, Muawiya was also proclaimed caliph in 660 in Damascus, Syria. This was the first time that the Muslim community (the Umma ) was divided. The result was the first Fitna , the first civil war of the Islamic state.

Although Muawiya I was able to enforce his rule among the Muslims after Ali's murder by the Kharijites (661) and establish the Umayyad dynasty, he was still not recognized as a legitimate ruler by the supporters of Ali. The result was a schism between Sunnis and Shiites . The latter, the followers of Ali ibn Abi Talib, initially concentrated in the south of what is now Iraq .

First, Muawiya moved the capital from Kufa , where Ali had his headquarters, to Damascus. With that, Arabia quickly became a political periphery. It was only able to maintain its significance for Islam through the holy places of Mecca and Medina. Muawiya also abolished the caliph's election and replaced it with succession by publicly declaring his son Yazid I as his successor. The council of elders only had to formally give its approval to the new caliph. An Arab aristocracy began to emerge under the Umayyads.

After Muawiya's death, several revolts against the Umayyads broke out under his successor Yazid I (680–683). Husain , Ali’s second son and grandson of Mohammed, took advantage of the situation and took to the field against Yazid. However, he was killed in the Battle of Karbala (680). This act sealed the final separation between Sunnis and Shiites and became the occasion for the Shiite funeral festival Ashura . Despite this Umayyad victory, the opposition was able to maintain its position, especially in the Hejaz around Mecca.

For a long time, Christians who were familiar with the effective late Roman administrative practice were active in the administration of the caliphate empire. They also held high-ranking posts such as the influential Sarjun ibn Mansur and his son, who later became known as John of Damascus . It was not until around 700 that the attempt was made to systematically oust Christians from the administration, although the relevant orders were probably not always implemented consistently.

Umayyad struggle for existence and tangled succession to the throne (683–685)

After the death of Yazid I in 683, ʿAbdallāh ibn az-Zubair , the son of the Prophet's companion az-Zubair ibn al-ʿAuwām , proclaimed himself caliph in Mecca and expelled the Umayyads from the Hejaz . After Yazid's son and successor Muʿāwiya II had died in 684 , Ibn az-Zubair received increasing support from the Muslims, and several tribal princes in Syria and Palestine took his side, including Zufar ibn al-Hārith, the leader of the tribal association Qais in the military district of Qinnasrīn , who drove out the Umayyad governor there. Several Umayyads, including Marwān ibn al-Hakam , who no longer believed that their family could maintain their power, made their way to the Hejaz to also pay homage to Ibn az-Zubair. Only through the intervention of the former Umayyad governor in Iraq, ʿUbaidullāh ibn Ziyād, as well as the Kalbite tribal leader Hassān ibn Mālik Ibn Bahdal, who was related to the Umayyads, the position of power of the Umayyads was saved. ʿUbaidullāh urged Marwān to apply for the caliphate himself, since as a sayyid from the descendants of ʿAbd Manāf he was more entitled than Ibn az-Zubair. He then turned back. A few weeks later, Ibn Bahdal called a congress of Syrian military leaders in al-Jābiya , at which Marwān was proclaimed the new caliph.

Rule of the Marwānids (685-750)

The St. John's Basilica rebuilt under al-Walid I , the Umayyad Mosque of Damascus

Marwān died of the plague just a year after he took over the rule. His son Abd al-Malik (685-705), who was elevated to caliph after his death, was able to eliminate almost all opponents of the Umayyads in Syria and Iraq in the next few years and in 692 he was also able to successfully fight against ʿAbdallāh ibn az-Zubair decide for yourself. Almost all of the subsequent Umayyad caliphs were sons or descendants of ʿAbd al-Malik. After the end of the civil war, another period of great conquests began. The Indus region (711) and Transoxania (712) were occupied in the east . In the west, the Berber resistance was broken by 709 and the Maghreb was subjected. As early as 711, the Visigoth Empire was conquered on the Iberian Peninsula and raids took place in the Frankish Empire as far as the Loire and Burgundy .

However, the forays into the Franconian Empire were stopped in 732 by the Frankish house man , the Carolingian Karl Martell - which was certainly also due to the great disputes regarding the caliphate issue within the Muslim camp. Over the next few decades, the Muslims were pushed south across the Pyrenees . Even Byzantium was despite several campaigns and sieges of Constantinople Opel ( 674-678 , 717-718 ) are not decisively defeated. Several campaigns against the Khazars north of the Caucasus were also largely unsuccessful.

Since 718, Shiite, Persian and other Muslim groups had rallied around the Abbasids , the descendants of Muhammad's uncle Abbas . These argued that only men from this uncle's branch could exercise the office of caliph. Since the Umayyads did not have this kinship legitimation, they tried to stop the Abbasid propaganda. Still managed in the forties of the 8th century, the infiltration of the Caliphate by the supporters of the Abbasids, as broke under the Umayyad violent power struggles. In addition, the ruling dynasty was increasingly weakened by fierce rivalries between the Arab tribal factions. The Abu Muslim uprising that broke out in eastern Iran in 747 could therefore no longer be successfully fought by the Umayyads. In 750 these were defeated under Marwan II by the Abbasids in northern Iraq on the Great Zab . In the following years the Umayyads were exterminated by the Abbasids in the Orient.

Emirate and Caliphate of Cordoba

An Umayyad prince managed to escape to the Maghreb and from there to al-Andalus, where he established the emirate of Cordoba in 756 as Abd ar-Rahman I. In 929, Abd ar-Rahman III rose there . to the caliph. The Caliphate of Cordoba lasted until 1031. With its end, the Umayyad dynasty also became extinct.

Umayyad ruler

The Umayyad Caliphs of Damascus
Surname from to
Muʿāwiya I. 661 - 680
Yazid I. 680 - 683
Muʿāwiya II. 683 - 684
Marwan I. 684 - 685
Abd al-Malik 685 - 705
al-Walid I. 705 - 715
Sulayman 715 - 717
Umar Ibn Abd al-Aziz 717 - 720
Yazid II. 720 - 724
Hisham 724 - 743
al-Walid II. 743 - 744
Yazid III. 744
Ibrahim 744 - 745
Marwan II 745 - 750
The Umayyad Emirs of Cordoba
Surname from to
Abd ar-Rahman I. 756 - 788
Hisham I. 788 - 796
al-Hakam I. 796 - 822
Abd ar-Rahman II. 822 - 852
Muhammad I. 852 - 886
al-Mundir 886 - 888
Abdallah ibn Muhammad 888 - 912
Abd ar-Rahman III. 912 - 929
The Umayyad Caliphate of Cordoba
Surname from to
Abd ar-Rahman III. 0929 - 0961
al-Hakam II 0961 - 0976
Hisham II 0976 - 1009
Muhammad II al-Mahdi 1009
Sulayman al-Mustain 1009 - 1010
Muhammad II al-Mahdi 1010 again
Hisham II 1010 - 1013 again
Sulayman al-Mustain 1013 - 1016 again
Ali ibn Hammud an-Nasir * 1016 - 1018
Abd ar-Rahman IV. 1018
al-Qasim al-Ma'mun * 1018 - 1021
Yahya al-Mutali * 1021 - 1023
Abd ar-Rahman V. 1023 - 1024
Muhammad III. 1024 - 1025
Yahya al-Mutali * 1025 - 1026 again
Hisham III. 1026 - 1031
* Caliphs of other dynasties

Modern assessment

At the beginning of the 20th century there were several controversies in Syria and Iraq about the historical assessment of the Umayyads. The first controversy of this kind took place in 1905 between the two Arab intellectuals Rafīq Bey al-ʿAzm (1865–1925) and Dschurdschī Zaidān (1861–1914). The starting point of this controversy, which was carried out in a later published correspondence, was the portrayal of the Umayyad Empire in Jurdschī Zaidān's "History of Islamic Civilization" as a state based mainly on tribal ʿAsabīya and Arab chauvinism . Al-ʿAzm criticized the fact that Zaidān had only brought together the evil sides of the Umayyads in his work, and defended the dynasty with the fact that the ʿAsabīya had been an inheritance of the Bedouin , which only after the consolidation of Islam after the mixing of the Arabs with other peoples could be eliminated. Zaidān countered this by stating that the rightly guided caliphs , who were even more deeply rooted in the Bedouin culture than the Umayyads, had already given up their rawness and unpolishedness beforehand.

In Iraq, a book by the Lebanese history professor Anīs an-Nusūlī (1902–1957) about the Syrian Umayyad state triggered a domestic political crisis in 1927. An-Nusūlī, who was working at the teacher training institute in Baghdad at the time, had presented the Umayyads very positively in his book and the political behavior of people like ʿAlī, Muʿāwiya, al-Husain ibn ʿAlī, Yazīd and al-Hajjājāj ibn Yūsuf from the point of view of realpolitik and reason of state judged. Shiite circles in Iraq said, however, that with his book he had reduced ʿAlī's political abilities and above all insulted his son al-Husain. Delegations from al-Kazimiyya , Najaf and Karbala demanded that the king confiscate the book and dismiss an-Nusūlīs. When this took place, students from various schools and educational institutions who saw the freedom of thought guaranteed by the Iraqi constitution threatened, held demonstrations in front of the Ministry of Education, during which there were clashes with the police and fire brigade. Three Syrian colleagues an-Nusūlīs who had taken part in these protests were subsequently also dismissed, and the students involved in the demonstrations were banned from school. Since most of the students felt this relegation was unfair, further rallies followed.

The "case of an-Nusūlī" kept the government, parliament and press in Iraq busy for several months. A Shiite scholar, Muhammad Mahdī al-Kāzimī, wrote an opposition to an-Nusūlī's book entitled: "The Realm of the Cursed Tree, or the Age of Tyranny of the Umayyads against the Alids " ( Daulat aš-šaǧara al-malʿūna, au daur ẓulm banī Umayya ʿalā l-ʿAlawīyīn ). When choosing the title, he went back to an old Shiite concept, according to which the "cursed tree" mentioned several times in the Koran (e.g. Sura 17:60) is a symbol for the Umayyads.

The Syrian scholar Muhammad Kurd ʿAlī (1876–1953) was also a great admirer of the Umayyads. In December 1939 he gave a lecture at the Syrian University of Damascus, in which he emphasized the contribution of the Umayyads to the development of civilization, the emergence of an Arab national consciousness and the expansion of Arab rule.


Web links

Commons : Umayyads  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. See Rotter, p. 135 f.
  2. See Rotter, p. 140.
  3. See end of 32–42.
  4. See end 132–145.
  5. See end of 65–75.
  6. ( Menadoc Library, University and State Library Saxony-Anhalt, Halle ).