The Crayon Papers/Abderahman
FOUNDER OF THE DYNASTY OF THE OMMIADES OF SPAIN
To the Editor of the Knickerbocker:
SIR--In the following memoir I have conformed to the facts furnished by the Arabian chroniclers, as cited by the learned Conde. The story of Abderahman has almost the charm of romance; but it derives a higher interest from the heroic yet gentle virtues which it illustrates, and from recording the fortunes of the founder of that splendid dynasty, which shed such a luster upon Spain during the domination of the Arabs. Abderahman may, in some respects, be compared to our own Washington. He achieved the independence of Moslem Spain, freeing it from subjection to the caliphs; he united its jarring parts under one government; he ruled over it with justice, clemency, and moderation; his whole course of conduct was distinguished by wonderful forbearance and magnanimity; and when he died he left a legacy of good example and good counsel to his successors.
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"Blessed be God!" exclaims an Arabian historian; "in His hands alone is the destiny of princes. He overthrows the mighty, and humbles the haughty to the dust; and he raises up the persecuted and afflicted from the very depths of despair!"
The illustrious house of Omeya had swayed the scepter at Damascus for nearly a century, when a rebellion broke out, headed by Aboul Abbas Safah, who aspired to the throne of the caliphs, as being descended from Abbas, the uncle of the prophet. The rebellion was successful. Marvau, the last caliph of the house of Omeya, was defeated and slain. A general proscription of the Ommiades took place. Many of them fell in battle; many were treacherously slain, in places where they had taken refuge; above seventy most noble and distinguished were murdered at a banquet to which they had been invited, and their dead bodies covered with cloths, and made to serve as tables for the horrible festivity. Others were driven forth, forlorn and desolate wanderers in various parts of the earth, and pursued with relentless hatred; for it was the determination of the usurper that not one of the persecuted family should escape. Aboul Abbas took possession of three stately palaces and delicious gardens, and founded the powerful dynasty of the Abbassides, which, for several centuries, maintained dominion in the east.
"Blessed be God!" again exclaims the Arabian historian; "it was written in His eternal decrees that, notwithstanding the fury of the Abbassides, the noble stock of Omeya should not be destroyed. One fruitful branch remained to nourish with glory and greatness in another land."
When the sanguinary proscription of the Ommiades took place, two young princes of that line, brothers, by the names of Solyman and Abderahman were spared for a time. Their personal graces, noble demeanor, and winning affability, had made them many friends, while their extreme youth rendered them objects of but little dread to the usurper. Their safety, however, was but transient. In a little while the suspicions of Aboul Abbas were aroused. The unfortunate Solyman fell beneath the scimiter of the executioner. His brother Abderahman was warned of his danger in time. Several of his friends hastened to him, bringing him jewels, a disguise, and a fleet horse. "The emissaries of the caliph," said they, "are in search of thee; thy brother lies weltering in his blood; fly to the desert! There is no safety for thee in the habitations of man!"
Abderahman took the jewels, clad himself in the disguise, and mounting his steed, fled for his life. As he passed, a lonely fugitive, by the palaces of his ancestors, in which his family had long held sway, their very walls seemed disposed to betray him, as they echoed the swift clattering of his steed.
Abandoning his native country, Syria, where he was liable at each moment to be recognized and taken, he took refuge among the Bedouin Arabs, a half-savage race of shepherds. His youth, his inborn majesty and grace, and the sweetness and affability that shone forth in his azure eyes, won the hearts of these wandering men. He was but twenty years of age, and had been reared in the soft luxury of a palace; but he was tall and vigorous, and in a little while hardened himself so completely to the rustic life of the fields that it seemed as though he had passed all his days in the rude simplicity of a shepherd's cabin.
His enemies, however, were upon his traces, and gave him but little rest. By day he scoured the plain with the Bedouins, hearing in every blast the sound of pursuit, and fancying in every distant cloud of dust a troop of the caliph's horsemen. That night was passed in broken sleep and frequent watchings, and at the earliest dawn he was the first to put the bridle to his steed.
Wearied by these perpetual alarms, he bade farewell to his friendly Bedouins, and leaving Egypt behind, sought a safer refuge in Western Africa. The province of Barea was at that time governed by Aben Habib, who had risen to rank and fortune under the fostering favor of the Ommiades. "Surely," thought the unhappy prince, "I shall receive kindness and protection from this man; he will rejoice to show his gratitude for the benefits showered upon him by my kindred."
Abderahman was young, and as yet knew little of mankind. None are so hostile to the victim of power as those whom he has befriended. They fear being suspected of gratitude by his persecutors, and involved in his misfortunes.
The unfortunate Abderahman had halted for a few days to repose himself among a horde of Bedouins, who had received him with their characteristic hospitality. They would gather round him in the evenings, to listen to his conversation, regarding with wonder this gently-spoken stranger from the more refined country of Egypt. The old men marveled to find so much knowledge and wisdom in such early youth, and the young men, won by his frank and manly carriage, entreated him to remain among them.
One night, when all were buried in sleep, they were roused by the tramp of horsemen. The Wali Aben Habib, who, like all the governors of distant ports, had received orders from the caliph to be on the watch for the fugitive prince, had heard that a young man, answering the description, had entered the province alone, from the frontiers of Egypt, on a steed worn down by travel. He had immediately sent forth horsemen in his pursuit, with orders to bring him to him dead or alive. The emissaries of the Wali had traced him to his resting-place, and demanded of the Arabs whether a young man, a stranger from Syria, did not sojourn among their tribe. The Bedouins knew by the description that the stranger must be their guest, and feared some evil was intended him. "Such a youth," said they, "has indeed sojourned among us; but he has gone, with some of our young men, to a distant valley, to hunt the lion." The emissaries inquired the way to the place, and hastened on to surprise their expected prey.
The Bedouins repaired to Abderahman, who was still sleeping. "If thou hast aught to fear from man in power," said they, "arise and fly; for the horsemen of the Wali are in quest of thee! We have sent them off for a time on a wrong errand, but they will soon return."
"Alas! whither shall I fly!" cried the unhappy prince; "my enemies hunt me like the ostrich of the desert. They follow me like the wind, and allow me neither safety nor repose!"
Six of the bravest youth of the tribe stepped forward. "We have steeds," said they, "that can outstrip the wind, and hands that can hurl the javelin. We will accompany thee in thy flight, and will fight by thy side while life lasts, and we have weapons to wield."
Abderahman embraced them with tears of gratitude. They mounted their steeds, and made for the most lonely parts of the desert. By the faint light of the stars, they passed through dreary wastes and over hills of sand. The lion roared, and the hyena howled unheeded, for they fled from man, more cruel and relentless, when in pursuit of blood, than the savage beasts of the desert.
At sunrise they paused to refresh themselves beside a scanty well, surrounded by a few palm-trees. One of the young Arabs climbed a tree, and looked in every direction, but not a horseman was to be seen.
"We have outstripped pursuit," said the Bedouins; "whither shall we conduct thee? Where is thy home and the land of thy people?"
"Home have I none!" replied Abderahman, mournfully, "nor family, nor kindred! My native land is to me a land of destruction, and my people seek my life!"
The hearts of the youthful Bedouins were touched with compassion at these words, and they marveled that one so young and gentle should have suffered such great sorrow and persecution.
Abderahman sat by the well and mused for a time. At length, breaking silence, "In the midst of Mauritania," said he, "dwells the tribe of Zeneta. My mother was of that tribe; and perhaps when her son presents himself, a persecuted wanderer, at their door, they will not turn him from the threshold."
"The Zenetes," replied the Bedouins, "are among the bravest and most hospitable of the people of Africa. Never did the unfortunate seek refuge among them in vain, nor was the stranger repulsed from their door." So they mounted their steeds with renewed spirits, and journeyed with all speed to Tahart, the capital of the Zenetes.
When Abderahman entered the place, followed by his six rustic Arabs, all wayworn and travel-stained, his noble and majestic demeanor shone through the simple garb of a Bedouin. A crowd gathered around him, as he alighted from his weary steed. Confiding in the well known character of the tribe, he no longer attempted concealment.
"You behold before you," said he, "one of the proscribed house of Omeya. I am that Abderahman upon whose head a price has been set, and who has been driven from land to land. I come to you as my kindred. My mother was of your tribe, and she told me with her dying breath that in all time of need I would find a home and friends among the Zenetes."
The words of Abderahman went straight to the hearts of his hearers. They pitied his youth and his great misfortunes, while they were charmed by his frankness, and by the manly graces of his person. The tribe was of a bold and generous spirit, and not to be awed by the frown of power. "Evil be upon us and upon our children," said they, "if we deceive the trust thou hast placed in us!"
Then one of the noblest Xeques took Abderahman to his house, and treated him as his own child; and the principal people of the tribe strove who most should cherish him, and do him honor; endeavoring to obliterate by their kindness the recollection of his past misfortunes.
Abderahman had resided some time among the hospitable Zenetes, when one day two strangers, of venerable appearance, attended by a small retinue, arrived at Tahart. They gave themselves out as merchants, and from the simple style in which they traveled, excited no attention. In a little while they sought out Abderahman, and, taking him apart: "Hearken," said they, "Abderahman, of the royal line of Omeya; we are embassadors sent on the part of the principal Moslems of Spain, to offer thee, not merely an asylum, for that thou hast already among these brave Zenetes, but an empire! Spain is a prey to distracting factions, and can no longer exist as a dependency upon a throne too remote to watch over its welfare. It needs to be independent of Asia and Africa, and to be under the government of a good prince, who shall reside within it, and devote himself entirely to its prosperity; a prince with sufficient title to silence all rival claims, and bring the warring parties into unity and peace; and at the same time with sufficient ability and virtue to insure the welfare of his dominions. For this purpose the eyes of all the honorable leaders in Spain have been turned to thee, as a descendant of the royal line of Omeya, and an offset from the same stock as our holy prophet. They have heard of thy virtues, and of thy admirable constancy under misfortunes; and invite thee to accept the sovereignty of one of the noblest countries in the world. Thou wilt have some difficulties to encounter from hostile men; but thou wilt have on thy side the bravest captains that have signalized themselves in the conquest of the unbelievers."
The embassadors ceased, and Abderahman remained for a time lost in wonder and admiration. "God is great!" exclaimed he, at length; "there is but one God, who is God, and Mahomet is his prophet! Illustrious embassadors, you have put new life into my soul, for you have shown me something to live for. In the few years that I have lived, troubles and sorrows have been heaped upon my head, and I have become inured to hardships and alarms. Since it is the wish of the valiant Moslems of Spain, I am willing to become their leader and defender, and devote myself to their cause, be it happy or disastrous."
The embassadors now cautioned him to be silent as to their errand, and to depart secretly for Spain. "The seaboard of Africa," said they, "swarms with your enemies, and a powerful faction in Spain would intercept you on landing, did they know your name and rank, and the object of your coming."
But Abderahman replied: "I have been cherished in adversity by these brave Zenetes; I have been protected and honored by them, when a price was set upon my head, and to harbor me was great peril. How can I keep my good fortune from my benefactors, and desert their hospitable roofs in silence? He is unworthy of friendship, who withholds confidence from his friend."
Charmed with the generosity of his feelings, the embassadors made no opposition to his wishes. The Zenetes proved themselves worthy of his confidence. They hailed with joy the great change in his fortunes. The warriors and the young men pressed forward to follow, and aid them with horse and weapon; "for the honor of a noble house and family," said they, "can be maintained only by lances and horsemen." In a few days he set forth, with the embassadors, at the head of nearly a thousand horsemen skilled in war, and exercised in the desert, and a large body of infantry, armed with lances. The venerable Xeque, with whom he had resided, blessed him and shed tears over him at parting, as though he had been his own child; and when the youth passed over the threshold, the house was filled with lamentations.
Abderahman reached Spain in safely, and landed at Almanecar, with his little band of warlike Zenetes. Spain was at that time in a state of great confusion. Upward of forty years had elapsed since the conquest. The civil wars in Syria and Egypt had prevented the main government at Damascus from exercising control over this distant and recently acquired territory. Every Moslem commander considered the town or province committed to his charge an absolute property; and accordingly exercised the most arbitrary extortions. These excesses at length became insupportable, and, at a convocation of many of the principal leaders, it was determined, as a means to end these dissensions, to unite all the Moslem provinces of Spain under one emir, or general governor. Yusuf el Fehri, an ancient man, of honorable lineage, was chosen for this station. He began his reign with policy, and endeavored to conciliate all parties; but the distribution of offices soon created powerful enemies among the disappointed leaders. A civil war was the consequence, and Spain was deluged with blood. The troops of both parties burned and ravaged and laid every thing waste, to distress their antagonists; the villages were abandoned by their inhabitants, who fled to the cities for refuge; and flourishing towns disappeared from the face of the earth, or remained mere heaps of rubbish and ashes. At the time of the landing of Abderahman in Spain, the old Emir Yusuf had obtained a signal victory. He had captured Saragossa, in which was Ameer ben Amru, his principal enemy, together with his son and secretary. Loading his prisoners with chains, and putting them on camels, he set out in triumph for Cordova, considering himself secure in the absolute domination of Spain.
He had halted one day in a valley called Wadarambla, and was reposing with his family in his pavilion, while his people and the prisoners made a repast in the open air. In the midst of his repose, his confidential adherent and general, the Wali Samael, galloped into the camp covered with dust and exhausted with fatigue. He brought tidings of the arrival of Abderahman and that the whole seaboard was flocking to his standard. Messenger after messenger came hurrying into the camp, confirming the fearful tidings, and adding that this descendant of the Omeyas had secretly been invited to Spain by Amru and his followers. Yusuf waited not to ascertain the truth of this accusation. Giving way to a transport of fury, he ordered that Amru, his son and secretary, should be cut to pieces. His commands were instantly executed. "And this cruelty," says the Arabian chronicler, "lost him the favor of Allah; for from that time success deserted his standard."
Abderahman had indeed been hailed with joy on his landing in Spain. The old people hoped to find tranquillity under the sway of one supreme chieftain, descended from their ancient caliphs; the young men were rejoiced to have a youthful warrior to lead them on to victories; and the populace, charmed with his freshness and manly beauty, his majestic yet gracious and affable demeanor, shouted: "Long live Abderahman ben Moavia Meramamolin of Spain!"
In a few days the youthful sovereign saw himself at the head of more than twenty thousand men, from the neighborhood of Elvira, Almeria, Malaga, Xeres, and Sidonia. Fair Seville threw open its gates at his approach, and celebrated his arrival with public rejoicings. He continued his march into the country, vanquished one of the eons of Yusuf before the gates of Cordova, and obliged him to take refuge within its walls, where he held him in close siege. Hearing, however, of the approach of Yusuf, the father, with a powerful army, he divided his forces, and leaving ten thousand men to press the siege, he hastened with the other ten to meet the coming foe.
Yusuf had indeed mustered a formidable force, from the east and south of Spain, and accompanied by his veteran general, Samael, came with confident boasting to drive this intruder from the land. His confidence increased on beholding the small army of Abderahman. Turning to Samael, he repeated, with a scornful sneer, a verse from an Arabian poetess, which says:
"How hard is our lot! We come, a thirsty multitude, and lo! but this cup of water to share among us!"
There was indeed a fearful odds. On the one side were two veteran generals, grown gray in victory, with a mighty host of warriors, seasoned in the wars of Spain. On the other side was a mere youth, scarce attained to manhood, with a hasty levy of half-disciplined troops; but the youth was a prince, flushed with hope, and aspiring after fame and empire; and surrounded by a devoted band of warriors from Africa, whose example infused desperate zeal into the little army.
The encounter took place at daybreak. The impetuous valor of the Zenetes carried everything before it. The cavalry of Yusuf was broken, and driven back upon the infantry, and before noon the whole host was put to headlong flight. Yusuf and Samael were borne along in the torrent of the fugitives, raging and storming, and making ineffectual efforts to rally them. They were separated widely in the confusion of the flight, one taking refuge in the Algarves, the other in the kingdom of Murcia. They afterward rallied, reunited their forces, and made another desperate stand near Almunecar. The battle was obstinate and bloody, but they were again defeated, and driven, with a handful of followers, to take refuge in the rugged mountains adjacent to Elvira.
The spirit of the veteran Samael gave way before these fearful reverses. "In vain, oh Yusuf!" said he, "do we contend with the prosperous star of this youthful conqueror: the will of Allah be done! Let us submit to our fate, and sue for favorable terms, while we have yet the means of capitulation."
It was a hard trial for the proud spirit of Yusuf, that had once aspired to uncontrolled sway; but he was compelled to capitulate. Abderahman was as generous as brave. He granted the two gray-headed generals the most honorable conditions, and even took the veteran Samael into favor, employing him, as a mark of confidence, to visit the eastern provinces of Spain, and restore them to tranquillity. Yusuf, having delivered up Elvira and Granada, and complied with other articles of his capitulation, was permitted to retire to Murcia, and rejoin his son Muhamad. A general amnesty to all chiefs and soldiers who should yield up their strongholds, and lay down their arms, completed the triumph of Abderahman, and brought all hearts into obedience.
Thus terminated this severe struggle for the domination of Spain; and thus the illustrious family of Omeya, after having been cast down and almost exterminated in the East, took new root, and sprang forth prosperously in the West.
Wherever Abderahman appeared, he was received with rapturous acclamations. As he rode through the cities, the populace rent the air with shouts of joy; the stately palaces were crowded with spectators, eager to gain a sight of his graceful form and beaming countenance; and when they beheld the mingled majesty and benignity of their new monarch, and the sweetness and gentleness of his whole conduct, they extolled him as something more than mortal; as a beneficent genius, sent for the happiness of Spain.
In the interval of peace which now succeeded, Abderahman occupied himself in promoting the useful and elegant arts, and in introducing into Spain the refinements of the East. Considering the building and ornamenting of cities as among the noblest employments of the tranquil hours of princes, he bestowed great pains upon beautifying the city of Cordova and its environs. He reconstructed banks and dikes, to keep the Guadalquivir from overflowing its borders, and on the vast terraces thus formed he planted delightful gardens. In the midst of these, he erected a lofty tower, commanding a view of the vast and fruitful valley, enlivened by the windings of the river. In this tower he would pass hours of meditation, gazing on the soft and varied landscape, and inhaling the bland and balmy airs of that delightful region. At such times, his thoughts would recur to the past, and the misfortunes of his youth; the massacre of his family would rise to view, mingled with tender recollections of his native country, from which he was exiled. In these melancholy musings he would sit with his eyes fixed upon a palm-tree which he had planted in the midst of his garden. It is said to have been the first ever planted in Spain, and to have been the parent stock of all the palm-trees which grace the southern provinces of the peninsula. The heart of Abderahman yearned toward this tree; it was the offspring of his native country, and, like him, an exile. In one of his moods of tenderness, he composed verses upon it, which have since become famous throughout the world. The following is a rude but literal translation:
"Beauteous Palm! thou also wert hither brought a stranger; but thy roots have found a kindly soil, thy head is lifted to the skies, and the sweet airs of Algarve fondle and kiss thy branches.
"Thou hast known, like me, the storms of adverse fortune. Bitter tears wouldst thou shed, couldst thou feel my woes. Repeated griefs have overwhelmed me. With early tears I bedewed the palms on the banks of the Euphrates; but neither tree nor river heeded my sorrows, when driven by cruel fate, and the ferocious Aboul Abbas, from the scenes of my childhood and the sweet objects of my affection.
"To thee no remembrance remains of my beloved country; I, unhappy! can never recall it without tears."
The generosity of Abderahman to his vanquished foes was destined to be abused. The veteran Yusuf, in visiting certain of the cities which he had surrendered, found himself surrounded by zealous partisans, ready to peril life in his service. The love of command revived in his bosom, and he repented the facility with which he had suffered himself to be persuaded to submission. Flushed with new hopes of success, he caused arms to be secretly collected, and deposited in various villages, most zealous in their professions of devotion, and raising a considerable body of troops, seized upon the castle of Almodovar. The rash rebellion was short-lived. At the first appearance of an army sent by Abderahman, and commanded by Abdelmelee, governor of Seville, the villages which had so recently professed loyalty to Yusuf hastened to declare their attachment to the monarch, and to give up the concealed arms. Almodovar was soon retaken, and Yusuf, driven to the environs of Lorea, was surrounded by the cavalry of Abdelmelee. The veteran endeavored to cut a passage through the enemy, but after fighting with desperate fury, and with a force of arm incredible in one of his age, he fell beneath blows from weapons of all kinds, so that after the battle his body could scarcely be recognized, so numerous were the wounds. His head was cut off and sent to Cordova, where it was placed in an iron cage, over the gate of the city.
The old lion was dead, but his whelps survived. Yusuf had left three sons, who inherited his warlike spirit, and were eager to revenge his death. Collecting a number of the scattered adherents of their house, they surprised and seized upon Toledo, during the absence of Temam, its Wali or commander. In this old warrior city, built upon a rock, and almost surrounded by the Tagus, they set up a kind of robber hold, scouring the surrounding country, levying tribute, seizing upon horses, and compelling the peasantry to join their standard. Every day cavalcades of horses and mules, laden with spoil, with flocks of sheep and droves of cattle, came pouring over the bridges on either side of the city, and thronging in at the gates, the plunder of the surrounding country. Those of the inhabitants who were still loyal to Abderahman dared not lift up their voices, for men of the sword bore sway. At length one day, when the sons of Yusuf, with their choicest troops, were out on a maraud, the watchmen on the towers gave the alarm. A troop of scattered horsemen were spurring wildly toward the gates. The banners of the sons of Yusuf were descried. Two of them spurred into the city, followed by a handful of warriors, covered with confusion, and dismay. They had been encountered and defeated by the Wali Temam, and one of the brothers had been slain.
The gates were secured in all haste, and the walls were scarcely manned, when Temam appeared before them with his troops, and summoned the city to surrender. A great internal commotion ensued between the loyalists and the insurgents; the latter, however, had weapons in their hands, and prevailed; and for several days, trusting to the strength of their rock-built fortress, they set the Wali at defiance. At length some of the loyal inhabitants of Toledo, who knew all its secret and subterraneous passages, some of which, if chroniclers may be believed, have existed since the days of Hercules, if not of Tubal Cain, introduced Temam and a chosen band of his warriors into the very center of the city, where they suddenly appeared as if by magic. A panic seized upon the insurgents. Some sought safety in submission, some in concealment, some in flight. Casim, one of the sons of Yusuf, escaped in disguise; the youngest, unarmed, was taken, and was sent captive to the king, accompanied by the head of his brother, who had been slain in battle.
When Abderahman beheld the youth laden with chains, he remembered his own sufferings in his early days, and had compassion on him; but, to prevent him from doing further mischief, he imprisoned him in a tower of the wall of Cordova.
In the meantime Casim, who had escaped, managed to raise another band of warriors. Spain, in all ages a guerrilla country, prone to partisan warfare and petty maraud, was at that time infested by bands of licentious troops, who had sprung up in the civil contests; their only object pillage, their only dependence the sword, and ready to flock to any new and desperate standard, that promised the greatest license. With a ruffian force thus levied, Casim scoured the country, took Sidonia by storm, and surprised Seville while in a state of unsuspecting security.
Abderahman put himself at the head of his faithful Zenetes, and took the field in person. By the rapidity of his movements, the rebels were defeated, Sidonia and Seville speedily retaken, and Casim was made prisoner. The generosity of Abderahman was again exhibited toward this unfortunate son of Yusuf. He spared his life, and sent him to be confined in a tower at Toledo.
The veteran Samael had taken no part in these insurrections, but had attended faithfully to the affairs intrusted to him by Abderahman. The death of his old friend and colleague, Yusuf, however, and the subsequent disasters of his family, filled him with despondency. Fearing the inconstancy of fortune, and the dangers incident to public employ, he entreated the king to be permitted to retire to his house in Seguenza, and indulge a privacy and repose suited to his advanced age. His prayer was granted. The veteran laid by his arms, battered in a thousand conflicts; hung his sword and lance against the wall, and, surrounded by a few friends, gave himself up apparently to the sweets of quiet and unambitious leisure.
Who can count, however, upon the tranquil content of a heart nurtured amid the storms of war and ambition! Under the ashes of this outward humility were glowing the coals of faction. In his seemingly philosophical retirement, Samael was concerting with his friends new treason against Abderahman. His plot was discovered; his house was suddenly surrounded by troops; and he was conveyed to a tower at Toledo, where, in the course of a few months, he died in captivity.
The magnanimity of Abderahman was again put to the proof, by a new insurrection at Toledo. Hixem ben Adra, a relation of Yusuf, seized upon the Alcazar, or citadel, slew several of the royal adherents of the king, liberated Casim from his tower, and, summoning all the banditti of the country, soon mustered a force of ten thousand men. Abderahman was quickly before the walls of Toledo, with the troops of Cordova and his devoted Zenetes. The rebels were brought to terms, and surrendered the city on promise of general pardon, which was extended even to Hixem and Casim. When the chieftains saw Hixem and his principal confederates in the power of Abderahman, they advised him to put them all to death. "A promise given to traitors and rebels," said they, "is not binding, when it is to the interest of the state that it should be broken."
"No!" replied Abderahman, "if the safety of my throne were at stake, I would not break my word." So saying, he confirmed the amnesty, and granted Hixem ben Adra a worthless life, to be employed in further treason.
Scarcely had Abderahman returned from this expedition, when a powerful army, sent by the caliph, landed from Africa on the coast of the Algarves. The commander, Aly ben Mogueth, Emir of Cairvan, elevated a rich banner which he had received from the hands of the caliph. Wherever he went, he ordered the caliph of the East to be proclaimed by sound of trumpet, denouncing Abderahman as a usurper, the vagrant member of a family proscribed and execrated in all the mosques of the East.
One of the first to join his standard was Hixem ben Adra, so recently pardoned by Abderahman. He seized upon the citadel of Toledo, and repairing to the camp of Aly, offered to deliver the city into his hands.
Abderahman, as bold in war as he was gentle in peace, took the field with his wonted promptness; overthrew his enemies, with great slaughter, drove some to the seacoast to regain their ships, and others to the mountains. The body of Aly was found on the field of battle. Abderahman caused the head to be struck off, and conveyed to Cairvan, where it was affixed at night to a column in the public square, with this inscription: "Thus Abderahman, the descendant of the Omeyas, punishes the rash and arrogant."
Hixem ben Adra escaped from the field of battle, and excited further troubles, but was eventually captured by Abdelmelee, who ordered his head to be struck off on the spot, lest he should again be spared, through the wonted clemency of Abderahman.
Notwithstanding these signal triumphs, the reign of Abderahman was disturbed by further insurrections, and by another descent from Africa, but he was victorious over them all; striking the roots of his power deeper and deeper into the land. Under his sway, the government of Spain became more regular and consolidated, and acquired an independence of the empire of the East. The caliph continued to be considered as first pontiff and chief of the religion, but he ceased to have any temporal power over Spain.
Having again an interval of peace, Abderahman devoted himself to the education of his children. Suleiman, the eldest, he appointed Wali or governor of Toledo; Abdallah, the second, was intrusted with the command of Merida; but the third son, Hixem, was the delight of his heart, the son of Howara, his favorite sultana, whom he loved throughout life with the utmost tenderness. With this youth, who was full of promise, he relaxed from the fatigues of government; joining in his youthful sports amid the delightful gardens of Cordova, and teaching him the gentle art of falconry, of which the king was so fond that he received the name of the Falcon of Coraixi.
While Abderahman was thus indulging in the gentle propensities of his nature, mischief was secretly at work. Muhamad, the youngest son of Yusuf, had been for many years a prisoner in the tower of Cordova. Being passive and resigned, his keepers relaxed their vigilance, and brought him forth from his dungeon. He went groping about, however, in broad daylight, as if still in the darkness of his tower. His guards watched him narrowly, lest this should be a deception, but were at length convinced that the long absence of light had rendered him blind. They now permitted him to descend frequently to the lower chambers of the tower, and to sleep there occasionally, during the heats of summer. They even allowed him to grope his way to the cistern, in quest of water for his ablutions.
A year passed in this way without anything to excite suspicion. During all this time, however, the blindness of Muhamad was entirely a deception; and he was concerting a plan of escape, through the aid of some friends of his father, who found means to visit him occasionally. One sultry evening in midsummer, the guards had gone to bathe in the Guadalquivir, leaving Muhamad alone, in the lower chambers of the tower. No sooner were they out of sight and hearing than he hastened to a window of the staircase, leading down to the cistern, lowered himself as far as his arms would reach, and dropped without injury to the ground. Plunging into the Guadalquivir, he swam across to a thick grove on the opposite side, where his friends were waiting to receive him. Here, mounting a horse which they had provided for an event of the kind, he fled across the country, by solitary roads, and made good his escape to the mountains of Jaen.
The guardians of the tower dreaded for some time to make known his flight to Abderahman. When at length it was told to him, he exclaimed: "All is the work of eternal wisdom; it is intended to teach us that we cannot benefit the wicked without injuring the good. The flight of that blind man will cause much trouble and bloodshed."
His predictions were verified. Muhamad reared the standard of rebellion on the mountains; the seditious and discontented of all kinds hastened to join it, together with soldiers of fortune, or rather wandering banditti, and he had soon six thousand men, well armed, hardy in habits and desperate in character. His brother Casim also reappeared about the same time in the mountains of Ronda, at the head of a daring band that laid all the neighboring valleys under contribution.
Abderahman summoned his alcaydes from their various military posts, to assist in driving the rebels from their mountain fastnesses into the plains. It was a dangerous and protracted toil, for the mountains were frightfully wild and rugged. He entered them with a powerful host, driving the rebels from height to height and valley to valley, and harassing them by a galling fire from thousands of crossbows. At length a decisive battle took place near the river Guadalemar. The rebels were signally defeated; four thousand fell in action, many were drowned in the river, and Muhamad, with a few horsemen, escaped to the mountains of the Algarves. Here he was hunted by the alcaydes from one desolate retreat to another; his few followers grew tired of sharing the disastrous fortunes of a fated man; one by one deserted him, and he himself deserted the remainder, fearing they might give him up, to purchase their own pardon.
Lonely and disguised, he plunged into the depths of the forests, or lurked in dens and caverns, like a famished wolf, often casting back his thoughts with regret to the time of his captivity in the gloomy tower of Cordova. Hunger at length drove him to Alarcon, at the risk of being discovered. Famine and misery, however, had so wasted and changed him that he was not recognized. He remained nearly a year in Alarcon, unnoticed and unknown, yet constantly tormenting himself with the dread of discovery, and with groundless fears of the vengeance of Abderahman. Death at length put an end to his wretchedness.
A milder fate attended his brother Casim. Being defeated in the mountains of Murcia, he was conducted in chains to Cordova. On coming into the presence of Abderahman, his once fierce and haughty spirit, broken by distress, gave way; he threw himself on the earth, kissed the dust beneath the feet of the king, and implored his clemency. The benignant heart of Abderahman was filled with melancholy, rather than exultation, at beholding this wreck of the once haughty family of Yusuf a suppliant at his feet, and suing for mere existence. He thought upon the mutability of fortune, and felt how insecure are all her favors. He raised the unhappy Casim from the earth, ordered his irons to be taken off, and, not content with mere forgiveness, treated him with honor, and gave him possessions in Seville, where he might live in state conformable to the ancient dignity of his family. Won by this great and persevering magnanimity, Casim ever after remained one of the most devoted of his subjects.
All the enemies of Abderahman were at length subdued; he reigned undisputed sovereign of the Moslems of Spain; and so benign was his government that every one blessed the revival of the illustrious line of Omeya. He was at all times accessible to the humblest of his subjects: the poor man ever found in him a friend, and the oppressed a protector. He improved the administration of justice; established schools for public instruction; encouraged poets and men of letters, and cultivated the sciences. He built mosques in every city that he visited; inculcated religion by example as well as by precept; and celebrated all the festivals prescribed by the Koran with the utmost magnificence.
As a monument of gratitude to God for the prosperity with which he had been favored, he undertook to erect a mosque in his favorite city of Cordova that should rival in splendor the great mosque of Damascus, and excel the one recently erected in Bagdad by the Abbassides, the supplanters of his family.
It is said that he himself furnished the plan for this famous edifice, and even worked on it, with his own hands, one hour in each day, to testify his zeal and humility in the service of God, and to animate his workmen. He did not live to see it completed, but it was finished according to his plans by his son Hixem. When finished, it surpassed the most splendid mosques of the east. It was six hundred feet in length, and two hundred and fifty in breadth. Within were twenty-eight aisles, crossed by nineteen, supported by a thousand and ninety-three columns of marble. There were nineteen portals, covered with plates of bronze of rare workmanship. The principal portal was covered with plates of gold. On the summit of the grand cupola were three gilt balls surmounted by a golden pomegranate. At night, the mosque was illuminated with four thousand seven hundred lamps, and great sums were expended in amber and aloes, which were burned as perfumes. The mosque remains to this day, shorn of its ancient splendor, yet still one of the grandest Moslem monuments in Spain.
Finding himself advancing in years, Abderahman assembled in his capital of Cordova the principal governors and commanders of his kingdom, and in presence of them all, with great solemnity, nominated his son Hixem as the successor to the throne. All present made an oath of fealty to Abderahman during his life, and to Hixem after his death. The prince was younger than his brothers, Suleiman and Abdallah; but he was the son of Howara, the tenderly beloved sultana of Abderahman, and her influence, it is said, gained him this preference.
Within a few months afterward, Abderahman fell grievously sick at Merida. Finding his end approaching, he summoned Hixem to his bedside: "My son," said he, "the angel of death is hovering over me; treasure up, therefore, in thy heart this dying counsel, which I give through the great love I bear thee. Remember that all empire is from God, who gives and takes it away, according to his pleasure. Since God, through his divine goodness, has given us regal power and authority, let us do his holy will, which is nothing else than to do good to all men, and especially to those committed to our protection. Render equal justice, my son, to the rich and the poor, and never suffer injustice to be done within thy dominion, for it is the road to perdition. Be merciful and benignant to those dependent upon thee. Confide the government of thy cities and provinces to men of worth and experience; punish without compassion those ministers who oppress thy people with exorbitant exactions. Pay thy troops punctually; teach them to feel a certainty in thy promises; command them with gentleness but firmness, and make them in truth the defenders of the state, not its destroyers. Cultivate unceasingly the affections of thy people, for in their good-will consists the security of the state, in their distrust its peril, in their hatred its certain ruin. Protect the husbandmen who cultivate the earth, and yield us necessary sustenance; never permit their fields, and groves, and gardens to be disturbed. In a word, act in such wise that thy people may bless thee, and may enjoy, under the shadow of thy wing, a secure and tranquil life. In this consists good government; if thou dost practice it, thou wilt be happy among thy people, and renowned throughout the world."
Having given this excellent counsel, the good king Abderahman blessed his son Hixem, and shortly after died; being but in the sixtieth year of his age. He was interred with great pomp; but the highest honors that distinguished his funeral were the tears of real sorrow shed upon his grave. He left behind him a name for valor, justice, and magnanimity, and forever famous as being the founder of the glorious line of the Ommiades in Spain.