1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Barmecides

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BARMECIDES, more accurately Barmakids, a noble Persian family which attained great power under the Abbasid caliphs. Barmak, the founder of the family, was a Persian fire-worshipper, and is supposed to have been a native of Khorasan. According to tradition, his wife was taken for a time into the harem of Abdallah, brother of Kotaiba the conqueror of Balkh, and became the mother of Khalid b. Barmak the Barmecide. Barmak subsequently (about A.D. 736) rebuilt and adorned his native city of Balkh after the rebellion of Harith. The family prospered, and his grandson Yaḥyā b. Khalid was the vizier of the caliph Mahdi and tutor of Harūn al-Rashid. His sons Fadl and Ja‛far (the Giafar of the Arabian Nights) both occupied high offices under Harūn. The story of their disgrace, though romantic, is not improbable. Harūn, it is said, found his chief pleasure in the society of his sister ‛Abbāsa and Ja‛far, and in order that these two might be with him continuously without breach of etiquette, persuaded them to contract a purely formal marriage. The conditions were, however, not observed and Harūn, learning that ‛Abbāsa had borne a son, caused Ja‛far suddenly to be arrested and beheaded, and the rest of the family except Mahommed, Yaḥyā's brother, to be imprisoned and deprived of their property. It is probable, however, that Harūn's anger was caused to a large extent by the insinuations of his courtiers that he was a mere puppet in the hands of a powerful family. See further Caliphate, section C, §§ 4, 5.

The expression "Barmecide Feast," to denote an imaginary banquet, is drawn from one of the tales ("The Barber's Tale of his Sixth Brother") in the Arabian Nights, in which a series of empty dishes is served up to a hungry man to test his sense of humour by one of the Barmecides (see edition by L. C. Smithers, Lond., 1894, vol. i. 317).