The Abbasid Dynasty, founded by Abu al-Abbas in 750 CE, spent most of its existance in political and social turmoil, but culturally was a time of amazing artistic and scientific acheivement. The Abbasid Caliphate was the second great Muslim kingdom. It was ruled by a caliph who served as both a political and religious leader.

Towards the middle of the Abbasid Caliphate, deterioration began to occur. LIfe became more dangerous in towns and in the country; the Abbasid revenue base trickled away;the caliph lost his firm hold on the vast area. But in the midst of this chaos, there was a bloom in the classes of professionals, artists, and craftsmen.

After the fall of the Han Dynasty and the Roman Empire, Europe and Asia saw a decline in trade. Under the Abbasids, the Afro-Eurasian trade routes were revived. Muslim, Jewish, and Christian tradesmen made their fortunes supplying the empire with staple foods, cotton, wool, precious gems, sugar, and citrus fruits. They also introduced Europe and the Islamic world to papermaking, silk-weaving, and ceramic firing of China. This interchange of goods brought with it cultural interchange and power to the Abbasid caliphate.

It was also during this time that Abbasids artisans made their contributions. Great achievements in architecture and engineering were made: palaces and mosques became more beautiful and ornate. The tapestries and rugs of Muslim peoples, especially the Persians, were improved and are still some of the finest in the modern era. Fine bronzes, supurb ceramic pitchers and bowls, and gorgeous deep blue, glazed tiles were also produced.

This time also saw the development of Persian literature. Though Arabic was the language of the sciences, the musical Persian language was that of literature. During this period, some of the most famous pieces of Persian literature were written, such as the "Rubaiyyat" of Omar Khayyan. Another great work of the time was the "Shah-Nama", or "Book of Kings", by Firdawsi, which depicted the history of Persia in an epic poem. Along with histories, Persian writers wrote of romance, statecraft, everyday life, and Muslim theology. One of the most famous poets of the time, Sa'di, wrote some beautiful poetry using his experiences to teach religious messages.

Perhaps the greatest achievement of the Abbasid era was one of the sciences. The Muslims made the huge contribution to society in preserving and compiling the knowledge of the Persians, Greeks, Egyptians, and every other civilization they conquered. In their study of mathematics they adopted Indian numerals (now called Arabic numerals), as well as making leaps in algebra and geometry, and some basic concepts of trigonometry - sine, cosine, and tangent. In chemistry they began to classify objects as animal, vegetable, or mineral. Muslim astronomers reorganized several constellations, renamed Altair and Betelgeuse, and made impressively accurate star charts. Muslim doctors were some of the best of their time and were required to pass examinations before they could practice medicine. In the chaos of the mid to late Abbasid caliphate, the world found a place of immense cultural achievement.

The first great Muslim state, the Umayyad Caliphate, lasted from 661 to 750, and their conquests stretched from Pakistan to Spain. In 747 the Abbasids, a family claiming descent from Abbas, an uncle of the Prophet Muhammad, began a revolt in Persia, and by 750 they were masters of the entire Islamic world, except for Spain, which the defeated Umayyads hung on to.

Their empire began to break up in 793, when a Shiite dynasty called the Idrisids declared a caliphate at their newly-founded city of Fez in Morocco. This was the first major Shiite challenge to Sunni dominance. The Aghlabid emir of Tunisia, nominally an Abbasid vassal, drifted out of their power. Then Egypt, Syria, and Arabia were taken over by a Tulunid dynasty founded in 868, and Persia split up into several emirates that refused to recognize Abbasid temporal power, so that by this time the Abbasids ruled little more than Mesopotamia.

The Abbasids recovered in 900 by retaking Persia, and defeating the Tulunids in 905, but their next major rival was now forming in the west, where a Shiite Fatimid dynasty had overcome the Idrisids and Aghlabids and was trying to move against Egypt. They were Arabs with a powerful base of Berber followers. They succeeded in 969, founding the city of Cairo as their new capital, and moved on to take Syria and Mecca. With the collapse of their power base the Abbasid caliphs lost all their temporal rule.

There was a brief resurgence of Abbasid power in the twelfth century. In 1055 the Seljuks, a Turkish tribe, had deprived the Fatimid rulers of Egypt of their Asian territories, Syria and Arabia, and when the Seljuks themselves were weakened and smaller states sprang up, the Abbasid caliphs resumed power over southern Mesopotamia. This period came to an end with the Mongol sack of Baghdad in 1258 under their Ilkhan Hulegu.

The Abbasid rulers are generally known by a laqab or honorific title, which is why they all begin with al- 'the': they called themselves things like 'the Righteous'. Relationship of rulers is son of preceding if not otherwise indicated.

Abu al-Abbas as-Saffah 750-754
al-Mansur              754-775  (br.)
al-Mahdi               775-785
al-Hadi                785-786
Harun al-Rashid        786-809  (br.)
al-Amin                809-813
al-Mamun               813-833  (br.)
al-Mutasim             833-842  (br.)
al-Wathiq              842-847
al-Mutawakkil          847-861  (br.)
al-Muntasir            861-862
al-Mustain             862-866  (gr. of al-Mutasim; deposed)
al-Mutazz              866-869  (s. of al-Mutawakkil)
al-Muhtadi             869-870  (s. of al-Wathiq)
al-Mutamid             870-892  (s. of al-Mutawakkil)
al-Mutadid             892-902  (nephew)
al-Muktafi             902-908
al-Muqtadir            908-932  (br.)
al-Qahir               932-934  (br.; deposed)
ar-Radi                934-940  (s. of al-Muqtadir)
al-Muttaqi             940-944  (br.; deposed)
al-Mustakfi            940-946  (s. of al-Muktafi; deposed)
al-Muti                946-974  (s. of al-Muqtadir; deposed)
at-Tai                 974-991  (deposed)
al-Qadir               991-1031 (s. of al-Muttaqi)
al-Qaim               1031-1075
al-Muqtadi            1075-1094 (gr.)
al-Mustazhir          1094-1118
al-Mustarshid         1118-1135
ar-Rashid             1135-1136 (deposed)
al-Muqtafi            1136-1160 (s. of al-Mustazhir)
al-Mustanjid          1160-1170
al-Mustadi            1170-1180
an-Nasir              1180-1225
az-Zahir              1225-1226
al-Mustansir          1226-1242
al-Mustasim           1242-1258

Colin McEvedy, The New Penguin Encyclopedia of Medieval History
John Morby, The Wordsworth Handbook of Kings and Queens

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