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Islam / Caliph / Abbasids /
Harun ar-Rashid
Arabic: hārūn ar-rashīd

Dirham of Harun ar-Rashid.
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Dirham of Harun ar-Rashid.

Mysterious structure built by Harun ar-Rashid. Raqqa, Syria
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Mysterious structure built by Harun ar-Rashid in Raqqa, Syria.

(766-809) Caliph of the Abbasid dynasty 786-809.
"Rashid" can be translated with "upright".
It was under Harun that Baghdad grew into becoming the most flourishing city of its period. Tribute was paid by many rulers to the caliph, and this was used on architecture, arts and a luxurious life at the court. Harun's palace was enormous and contained a luxury that was in stark contrast to the modest living conditions of the average inhabitants in Baghdad. Harun was celebrated in numerous songs and stories, and appears numerous times in the fairy-tales of Arabian Nights.
Harun supported learning, poetry and music. There was little in terms of science, which was a form of discipline still in its infancy in the Arab world.
Harun was strongly influenced by the will of his mother, al-Khayzuran in the governance of the empire. He was also under strong influence of the Barmakids, a family to which the Grand Vizier belonged. His mother died in 789, and the Grand Vizier in 803, but Harun didn't emerge as a neither a strong nor a weak leader.
Harun's 23 year long reign was marked by long periods of peace in some regions, and several revolts in other regions. The least peaceful parts were Egypt, Syria, Yemen and areas in the east. Harun's reign allowed expansion of trade and relative wealth for the population.
Harun gave Tunisia semi-autonomy in 800, which partly paved the ground for the disintegration of the caliph's power that was to follow in the coming centuries. The disintegration continued after Harun's death, as there was a war between two of his sons over the issue of succession to the throne.


766: Born as son of caliph al-Mahdi and the slave girl al-Khayzuran.
780: Harun is the nominal leader of military expeditions against the Byzantine Empire.
782: Harun is nominal leader of a military campaign against the Byzantine Empire reaching as far as the Bosporus. A peace treaty is signed on favourable terms. Harun receives the honorific title ar-Rashid, and is named second in succession to the caliph throne, and is also appointed governor to Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Armenia and Azerbaijan.
786 September: Harun's brother al-Hadi dies under mysterious circumstances — it was rumoured that his mother al-Khayzuran was responsible. Harun becomes new caliph, and makes Yahya bni Khali Barmakid his Grand Vizier, but al-Khayzuran would exercise much influence over the politics.
789: al-Khayzuran dies, leaving more of the effective power in the hands of Harun.
791: Wages war against the Byzanitine Empire.
800: Harun appoints Ibrahim ibn al-Aghlab governor over Tunisia, making him a semi-autonomous ruler in return for substantial yearly payments.
803: Yahya dies, and even more of effective power comes in the hands of Harun.
807: Harun's forces occupy Cyprus.
809: Dies while travelling in the eastern parts of his empire. al-Amin succeeds him as caliph.

By Tore Kjeilen