The Abbasid empire and the crusades
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Creation of Baghdad

During the first years of the new Abbasid government, the capital of the empire is Kufa. In 758, the caliph Al Mansur decides the foundation of a new capital, close to Ctésiphon, the old metropolis sassanide. Located between the Tiger and Euphrate, on the main caravan roads, the new capital is initially baptized Médinat el Mansur then Médinat el Salam and Médinat el Mounawara before taking its final name, Baghdad. The creation of a new capital is the manifestation of the power of the new califal government. The choice of the site needs many preliminary consultations. The building site mobilizes nearly 20.000 people. The government does not hesitate to convey marble of Italy . The city is equipped with formed fortifications of a double enclosure and a ditch on the model of the sassanides cities. Like these towns, it is of circular form. The circle symbolizes the sun. The Caliph is installed in the center of the circle. Around the residence califale, a broad empty space separates the seat from the capacity of the remainder of the city. The districts are built between the two walls. Four doors give access to the new capital. The market, traditional place of agitation, is rejected outside the walls. With the passing of years, the city extends out the walls. At the moment of the full power of the abbasid empire, the historians estimate that the city counted until a million inhabitants.

Abbasid empire

The Abbasid caliphate is characterized by the creation of powerful institutions: First of all, the Vizir (Persian or Arabic origin). The vizir is, at the beginning, the particular secretary of the Caliph but the character will become little by little the chief of the police headquarters which will experience a considerable development so much so that certain authors did not hesitate to speak about bureaucracy of empire. Vizirs will be very powerful characters such those resulting from the family of Barmaki, originating in the north of Afghanistan. The too great power taken by this family will be fatal. Caliph Arun Al Rachid will decide to arrest them. This califale attitude seems to indicate the refusal to create an aristocracy. In addition to the vizir, the administration is composed of several institutions, the diwans (offices, ministries). The first of them is Bayt Al Mal, the Treasury, which comprise three sections: Diwan Al diya in charge of the perception of the tax (usr), diwan Al haraj and the diwan in charge of the payment of the civils servant. Each diwan is directed by a controller, Ziman. The second large diwan is the diwan Al Hatim. It is the most prestigious. One finds there the best calligraphers of the empire which constitutes with the wire of time an important collection of files. Diwan Al Zaïch (ministry for the army), diwan Al Barid (the post office) and others the such diwan Al Dar (which directs the diwan of the provinces) supplement the administrative device of the Abbasside empire. The Abbasid empire constitutes a cultural area where will spread a great civilization during more than two centuries. It is the “traditional” period. The trade is flourishing. The culture opens out in contact with civilizations arabo-Moslem and Greek. Sciences of the religion develops at the same time as a complex and refined form of humanism, literature and good manners: the Adab. However, the introduction of a rival Moslem power claiming Shiism in Egypt and the arrival of Christians in Palestine will shake the empire and will weaken the Caliphate of Baghdad. Little by little, the army tends to become an autonomous institution which, moreover, is invested gradually by the Turks. This phenomenon constitutes one of the causes of the insulation of the Caliphs and their loss of the real capacity. The Caliph remains the nominal Master of the empire but the real capacity, gradually, is exerted by the Turkish military chiefs. Who are these Turks who seize the imperial capacity and from which they come? The Seljukids Turks, pertaining to the confederation of Oghuz, come from Central Asia by two ways circumventing the Caspian Sea, one by north and the other by the south. The Seljukid conquest proceeds in two stages: The catch of Transoxiane, then of Khurasan from which the capital, Nichapur, fall between their hands in 1038. Ispahan is taken in 1050. From now on, in front of them the road of Baghdad opens. The Abbasid Caliph wants to remove from Buyids which controls Baghdad and which could be combined in Fatimids of Egypt from which the ambition is the inversion of the Abbasids and the reunification of the Moslem world. Alliance with Seljukids coldly converted with Islam sunnite thus is essential. The Turks make their entry in Baghdad in 1055 in full month of Ramadan. Toghrul Beg makes allegiance, very formally, to the Caliph, takes the title of Sultan and settles with the capacity until 1063. The Caliph marries even one of his nieces! From now on, the Abbassid empire is with the hands of the Turks even if, seemingly, the Caliph remains the Master about it. Several Sultans will follow one another. The new capacity is characterized by a revival of the sunnism and a reinforcement of the supported military capacity, in particular, by the fact that the army perceives and uses the iqta, tax poured by the owners of the vast grounds conceded with the Turkish military chiefs. All these evolutions occur within a complex geopolitical framework. In Occident, the arabo-Berber caliphate of Cordoba is autonomous. It is the same thing for the Fatimid caliphate of Egypt. Syria and Palestine are in full anarchy before being the theatre of the crusades, then against-crusades. The Persian cultural influence gains ground in the east of the empire to the detriment of the Arab cultural area which moves towards the west. The arrival of new invaders come from the steppes of Central Asia will upset the area. The Mongols tackle the empire. Baghdad falls in 1258. The city is destroyed. It's the end of a brilliant time. The Mameluks of Egypt stop the invaders in Palestine with Ayn Jahat in 1260. A little later, under the effect of Turkish resistance and, perhaps, for other not elucidated reasons, the Mongols withdraw area. From now on, they are the Turks, Seljukids then Othoman, who will incarnate the Moslem power on all southern bank of the Mediterranean basin.

Crusades and counters crusades

Several reasons seem to be at the origin of the Christian crusades in the Middle-East . First reason: The difficulty, even the prohibition, made to the Christian pilgrims go to Jerusalem, on the spot of the Holy Sepulchre because of Moslem presence. Second explanation: The feudal right draws aside from the succession the wire juniors which have only the choice to conquer grounds in foreign countries. Third reason: The church seeks to channel the warlike heat of the Western knights by mobilizing them for the delivery of the tomb of Christ. Lastly, the Byzantine emperors, with the catches with Seljukids of the Caliphate of Baghdad, call upon the Christians of Occident to help them to contain the Moslem pressure. In November 1095, the Pope Urbain II launches, in Clermont, the first crusade. He grants a plenary indulgence and the obliteration of the debts to all those which will engage. In 1096, two categories of christians take the way of the Middle-East: The “poor people” which will borrow the terrestrial road and will sow their way of massacres and plunderings (massacre of the Jews in the Rhineland, for example) and the knights composing four distinct groups. These five crusades meet in Constantinople. The meeting between the Byzantine, urban, sumptuous and cultivated empire, and the Westerners is brutal. Forgetting the initial reason of their forwarding, the christians ones are delivered to the plundering of the Byzantine capital before founding by the force of the principalities. The county of Edesse is created in 1097 while an army carries on its road towards Antioche, not strategic and symbolic system. The city falls in 1098 at the end of a long surrounding. The christians, victorious, refuse to restore the city with the Byzantines and melt the principality of Antioche. Jerusalem is besieged and capitulates in 1099. The crusaders invest the city by massacring Moslem Juifs and and while being devoted to a plundering in rule. Godefroy de Bouillon melts the kingdom of Jerusalem. Ten years later, Tripoli (Lebanon) is taken by the count of Toulouse, Raymond of Saint-Gilles, who melts the county of Tripoli. In front of the relative apathy of the Moslem dynasties, Zendguids react. In 1104, the Ata Beg of Mosul seizes Alep with the prospect to tackle the new Latin states. He seizes Baudoin, king de Jérusalem whom it releases against ransom. Zendgui succeeds Ata Beg. His priority is the unification of Syria. He aims Damas whose catch will ensure the road check to him of Jerusalem. He seizes into 1144 Edesse. This event starts the second crusade directed by Louis VII and Conrad III. The crusaders's target is Damas. In fact, the Westerners are unaware of the political reality of this area. They think of having opposite them a unified and interdependent Moslem world. It of it is nothing. The Fatimid caliphate of Egypt, of obedience Shiite, is opposed to sunnits Seljukids of Baghdad. Damas is held by Burrids adversaries of Zendguids which threaten them. Burrids are thus combined with the Frank ones. The initial goal of cross thus does not take place any more to be and the crusade fails. The son and successor of Zendgui, Nur Ed Din, continue the policy of his father assassinated in 1146. He seizes Damas in 1154. He is called for the aid by Fatimids of Egypt and differs his offensive against Jerusalem. The alliance with Fatimids is a chance because it takes thus tortures of them the Latin states wedged between Egypt and Syria. Nur Ed Din dies in 1174. Saladin, wire of Ayyub, a Kurd governor of Tikrit in Iraq on behalf of Seljukids, marry the widow of Nur Ed Din. Saladin seizes Alep in 1186 temporarily and manages to control the North of Syria. Benefitting from the charge of profanation of the tomb of the Prophet with Medine launched against Renaud de Châtillon cut off with Kerak, Saladin starts the combat against the cross ones. In 1187, the Westerners are crushed in Hittin. Renaud de Châtillon is decapitated. Jerusalem is taken again with the crusaders. The fall of Jerusalem starts the third crusade led by Frederic Barberousse, who dies in Anatolia by drowning, by Philippe Auguste and Richard Coeur de Lion. The adventure turns to the failure. The crusaders propose peace with Saladin. The treaty of Ramlah is signed without the Frank ones being able to take again Jerusalem. Saladin dies in 1193. The Ayyubid sultanate enters in crisis and splits up in four parts: Mosul, Alep, Damas and Cairo. The fourth crusade is launched and starts, paradoxically, by the catch of Constantinople by the crusaders which benefits from the crisis of succession of Basileus. The count of Flanders is installed on the Byzantine imperial throne while new Basileus is taken refuge in Nicée. This situation will last fifty years. The fifths and sixth crusades have a mitigated result. The crusaders recover Jerusalem in 1229 but they lose it again in 1244, which justifies the seventh crusade led by Saint Louis. In Cairo, the last Ayyubid sultan dies. His widow is pressed on men who will found the dynasty of the Mameluks. The crusade is a failure. The occident gives up in 1291 launching new forwardings. It is the end of the crusades.

Crusades and jihad

The arrival of crusaders in Syria and Palestine revived the debate around Jihad within the Moslem world. The word jihad is derived from the Arab root JHD which expresses the idea of effort on oneself. More precisely, it is necessary to give him the direction of effort to approach God. The theory of the jihad was conceived very early by the doctors of religious science (ulemas) who distinguish two categories of jihad: The major one and the minor. The major or large jihad is the spiritual effort that each Moslem must make on himself to approach God. The minor or small jihad jihad is the action to be carried out with regard to the not-Moslems. The ulemas distinguish the small defensive jihad and the small offensive jihad. Only the small defensive jihad is recommended by the majority of the ulemas. It must be carried out, in theory by preaching (dawa) and it is only in the event of failure that it is advisable to resort to the offensive jihad, i.e. with the war against the inaccurate ones. On this last assumption, the word jihad then takes the direction of “war right”. After 750, the spirit of conquest calms down within the world arabo-Moslem. The offensive jihad is not any more on the agenda. Only remains the defensive jihad which appears with the borders of the empire in contact with the Byzantines and also of the Turks in Transoxiane. On these borders, rules are established de facto between the Moslems and their neighbors. The local fixings, the raids are the fact of fighters (mouhjahdins) who pay themselves on the spoils. It does not act any more military operations of great scale. The Byzantine incursions in Syria or the irruption of the dissidents Shiites cause only defensive reactions which will be strongly criticized by the capacity fatimid of Egypt and its emissary ismaelians, the du'at (see the text on the fatimid caliphate of Egypt). Little by little the idea to start again the offensive minor jihad is done day. Why the Abbasids were long in reacting in front of the crusaders? It seems that they made a serious error of appreciation. When the first christians penetrate in Syria, the Moslems think of having opposite them their traditional adversaries, the Byzantines, that they call Rums (Romans). It thus does not act, in their eyes, that of an additional war without another significance. They spend time to understand that the crusaders are the Frank from Europe and whose official and posted motivation is of a religious nature. The Frank ones want to reconquer, in the name of God, the tomb of Christ in Jerusalem. Since the Moslems become aware that the combat has a religious nature, the concept of offensive jihad will prevail and found the strength and the effectiveness of the against-crusades that Saladin* will lead. Home Page