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Medieval History. Abbasid Period (750-1258) Essay

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Updated: Nov 26th, 2021

The Abbasid era of caliphs descended from al-‘Abbas who was an uncle to Prophet Muhammad. Al-‘Abbas was a follower of Muhammad hence the Abbasids regarded themselves to be his heir more than the Umayyads. The Umayyads on the other hand came from Umayya, which was a wealthy clan. They had no relation to Muhammad and they were forever against him. In the year 750, Abbasid conquered Umayyad by adapting Shia Islam. Following their victory, they changed the capital of Damascus to become Baghdad. They believed that they were able to overthrow Umayyad due to their corruption and wickedness. (Kennedy, 1986, p.152)

Two Islamic inhabitants who were not happy with the status quo established the Abbasid caliphate. These were the non-Arabic Muslims and the Shi’ites. They were able to get hold of power because they depended on outsiders who had come to settle in the land. These outsiders otherwise known as “Malawi” were people who had decided to convert their faith to Islam. Since they were not originally from that place, they could not be included in the closely related Arab society. Mostly, they were termed as second-class citizens despite the fact that they had adopted the Islamic faith. (Hamilton, 1982, p.52)

The Abbasids rise in the 19th century is believed to have brought about self-rule. It also helped in preserving the society. It portrayed the end of a prolonged conflict between Arabs from Syria that was controlled by Umayyads and the Iranian kingdom. There is belief that the Islamic government in the era of the Abbasids was more Iranized. Their rise led to the formation of a fresh political and social way of life in which the Arab culture was substituted by well defined and complete structure. Research shows that the conflict that occurred between the revolts and the Umayyads was not to re-establish the Iranian control but to reinstate pristine Islam and the caliphs selected from the house of the prophet Hashimites. (Muhlberger, 1999)

The Abbasid leadership took up their own titles and they claimed that the time for the messiah to come had arrived. Although the messiah did not come, the Abbasid changed the Islamic status that favored the Arabs and restored a society that was well structured politically with its own administration. The Abbasid culture and administration was thorough with a clear system of community associations, well-defined military and a provincial administration that was not corrupt. This meant that the governors were not chosen from privileged families. They also put in place a system that employed even the citizens that were not Arabs. The system of governance that was created was very different from what the Muslims had experienced from the previous regimes. (Hamilton, 1982, p.53)

The Abbasids built a splendid capital in Baghdad in order to legalize their remarkable ideas. The city developed into an urban place that was wide and heavily inhabited the whole of the eighteenth century. Fifty-five years later, a royal centre, was built in Samarra that in many ways changed the land of Iraq. Most of the people lived in the key cities and municipalities suggesting a remarkable change from agriculture to city surroundings. (Kennedy, 1986, p.154)

Due to the increase in urbanization, many Jews who were involved in agriculture and other skills left for urban areas like the Muslims and the Christians. The Abbasid leadership campaigned for urbanization by developing business and employment as well as increasing trade in the region. The Jews took part in economic development and they participated in long-distance trade in the Islam region and outside. They had not participated in this kind of business before but were able to adopt easily. They did as well as the other Muslims and this led to the formation of a wide business structure that incorporated trade, commerce and banking. Around the 10th century, the Abbasid engaged Christians and Jews to supervise the wealth of the state administrators as well as the caliph. (Kennedy, 1986, p.156)

The Abbasid were not able to maintain the political stability they had established in the early years. At the end of the 8th century, civil wars started to rise and by the 9th century, military rebellions were evident. In the 10th century, the Abbasid kingdom lost North Africa as well as Egypt to the Fatimids. The Fatimids was a Shiite regime that came from North Africa. Some small regimes from the Eastern part acknowledged the Abbasid though they refused to pay taxes. (Kennedy, 1986, p.158)

Once problems increased in the Abbasid regime, most Jews moved to Egypt, North Africa and other places. They were treated well in Africa and Egypt and North America and this made it easier for them to migrate to those places. In this way, the Jewish business operations and trade moved to Egypt and North Africa. Over the years, the supremacy of the caliphs went down but the kingdom though reduced was still together. The Mongols defeated Baghdad in the year 1258 and that was when the Abbasid caliphate was finished. The Mongols take-over did not however improve the lives of the Christians and Jews and their adaptation of Islam did not bring any change at all. (Hamilton, 1982, p.54)

The early period of the Abbasids rule was characterized by a time of prosperity. Harun al-Rashid initiated many changes that made his reign to be popularly known as the Golden Age. This one single period saw an increase in the people’s ability to learn. The land prospered intellectually in every field of study. This was because of an in-depth study of Islam. Since this particular generation of people wanted to write the history of Islam, there was need for scholars to put together this information and hence the increased learning. Most contributions to modern science were also made during this period. From agriculture to the food people ate, this age irrevocably changed the way people lived. (Yahya, 2009)


The Abbasid period was a time marked by prosperity and complacency. Build by two tribes; it grew in to one of the best administration outfits that the world has ever had. Since the leaders were keen on writing the Islamic history, there was need for intellectual minds to achieve this objective. This saw a rise in the number of intellectuals who were needed to perform the work. Most inventions that exist in the world today are because of this intensive study. From science, agriculture and history, the dynasty marked a period of great invention. This period came to be referred to as the Golden Age of Islam in the later days. The period came to an official end after the Mongols defeated Baghdad.


Hamilton, G. (1982). Studies on the civilization of Islam. Princeton University Press 1(1).25-66.

Kennedy, H. (1986). The early Abbasid Caliphate: a political history. Taylor & Francis, 1(1), 147-238.

Muhlberger, S. (1999). The Rise of the Abbasids. Web.

Yahya, A.H. (2009). Abbasid Dynasty: the Top of Islamic Civilization. Web.

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