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Harun al-Rashid

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This profile of Harun al-Rashid is part of
Who's Who in Medieval History

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Harun al-Rashid was also known as:

Haroun ar-Rashid, Harun al-Raschid or Haroon al Rasheed

Harun al-Rashid was known for:

Creating a fabulous court at Baghdad that would be immortalized in The Thousand and One Nights. Harun al-Rashid was the fifth Abbasid caliph.

Occupations:

Places of Residence and Influence:

Important Dates:

Became caliph: Sept. 14, 786
Died: March 24, 809

About Harun al-Rashid:

Born to the caliph al-Mahdi and the former slave-girl al-Khayzuran, Harun was raised at court and received the bulk of his education from Yahya the Barmakid, who was a loyal supporter of Harun's mother. Before he was out of his teens, Harun was made the nominal leader of several expeditions against the Eastern Roman Empire; his success (or, more accurately, the success of his generals) resulted in his earning the title "al-Rashid," which means "the one following the right path" or "upright" or "just." He was also appointed governor of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Syria and Tunisia, which Yahya administered for him, and named second in line to the throne (after his older brother, al-Hadi).

Al-Mahdi died in 785 and al-Hadi died mysteriously in 786 (it was rumored that al-Khayzuran arranged his death), and Harun became caliph in September of that year. He appointed as his vizier Yahya, who installed a cadre of Barmakids as administrators. Al-Khayzuran had considerable influence over her son until her death in 803, and the Barmakids effectively ran the empire for Harun. Regional dynasties were given semi-autonomous status in return for considerable annual payments, which enriched Harun financially but weakened the power of the caliphs. He also divided his empire between his sons al-Amin and al-Ma'mun, who would go to war after Harun's death.

Harun was a great patron of art and learning, and is best known for the unsurpassed splendor of his court and lifestyle. Some of the stories, perhaps the earliest, of The Thousand and One Nights were inspired by the glittering Baghdad court, and King Shahryar (whose wife, Scheherazade, tells the tales) may have been based on Harun himself.

More Harun al-Rashid Resources:

Iraq: Historical Setting
Encyclopedia article on Abbasids

Harun al-Rashid on the Web

Baghdad in the Time of Harun Al-Raschid
Brief description at the Freethought History Newsletter.

Harun al-Rashid
Informative collection of data at NNDB.

Harun al-Rashid (786-809)
Brief overview of Harun's life at the Jewish Virtual Library.

Harun ar-Rashid
Concise bio at Infoplease.

Harun al-Rashid in Print

The links below will take you to a site where you can compare prices at booksellers across the web. More in-depth info about the book may be found by clicking on to the book's page at one of the online merchants.

Harun Al-Rashid and the World of a Thousand and One Nights
by Andre Clot

Reinterpreting Islamic Historiography: Harun al-Rashid and the Narrative of the Abbasid Caliphate
(Cambridge Studies in Islamic Civilization)
by Tayeb El-Hibri

Medieval Islam

Guide Note: This Who's Who Profile of Harun al-Rashid was originally posted in October of 2003, and was updated in March of 2012. Content is copyright ©2003-2012 Melissa Snell.


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