The Abbasid Dynasty

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Feb 3, 2012

The Abbasid Dynasty

In 750, Abu-al-Abbas assassinated the last Umayyad caliph and launched a new dynasty, the Abbasids. One of their important decisions was to move the capital from Damascus to Baghdad, at that time a humble backwater on the Tigris River; one effect of this decision was the start of a major cultural exchange between Arabs and Persians. The Persians were converted to Islam, while the Arabs absorbed many aspects of Persian artistic and architectural styles. There was thus assimilation and accommodation on both sides.

Under Abbasid rule, the Arabs enjoyed a growing trade with China and India; Abbasid coins have even been found in Scandinavia, which suggests active trade between these far-apart regions. Trade and cultural exchange led to a broader Arabian understanding of the world beyond the peninsula. A growing curiosity about the ancient world, particularly the Greek world, led to the translation of foreign books into Arabic. In the early ninth century, the Abbasids began buying Turkish slaves to serve as soldiers; a certain term of military service would usually earn a slave his freedom. The Turks were very able warriors—so able that they eventually became the rulers of the great Muslim state known to history as the Ottoman Empire.

Probably because it included such an ethnically diverse population, the Abbasid Empire was cosmopolitan in its outlook. Many of the ruling elites surrounding the caliph were not ethnic Arabians; they were religiously unified, but ethnically and culturally diverse, coming from all parts of the Muslim Empire.

The Abbasid caliphs ruled over a very large area that stretched to Armenia in the west and Afghanistan in the east, including the entire Arabian peninsula. In 750, this region was only about 10 percent Muslim; by the beginning of the tenth century, it was about 90 percent Muslim.

Like the Umayyads, the Abbasids were not universally acclaimed as divinely chosen rulers; they lost territory to local warlords, especially in North Africa. Rival caliphates were set up in Spain, Egypt, and elsewhere, and much of Iraq and Iran was broken up into collections of separate kingdoms.

Practice questions for these concepts can be found at:

The Rise of Islam and African Civilization to AD 1000 Practice Test

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