1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hārūn al-Rashīd

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HĀRŪN AL-RASHĪD (763 or 766–809), i.e. “Hārūn the Orthodox,” the fifth of the ʽAbbasid caliphs of Bagdad, and the second son of the third caliph Mahdi. His full name was Hārūn ibn Muhammad ibn ʽAbdallah ibn Muḥammad ibn ʽAli ibn ʽAbdallah ibn ʽAbbās. He was born at Rai (Rhagae) on the 20th of March A.D. 763, according to some accounts, and according to others on the 15th of February A.D. 766. Hārūn al-Rashīd was twenty-two years old when he ascended the throne. His father Mahdi just before his death conceived the idea of superseding his elder son Mūsa (afterwards known as Hādī, the fourth caliph) by Hārūn. But on Mahdi’s death Hārūn gave way to his brother. For the campaigns in which he took part prior to his accession see Caliphate, section C, The Abbasids, §§ 3 and 4.

Rashīd owed his succession to the throne to the prudence and sagacity of Yahyā b. Khālid the Barmecide, his secretary, whom on his accession he appointed his lieutenant and grand vizier (see Barmecides). Under his guidance the empire flourished on the whole, in spite of several revolts in the provinces by members of the old Alid family. Successful wars were waged with the rulers of Byzantium and the Khazars. In 803, however, Hārūn became suspicious of the Barmecides, whom with only a single exception he caused to be executed. Henceforward the chief power was exercised by Fadl b. Rabiʽ, who had been chamberlain not only under Hārūn himself but under his predecessors, Mansūr, Madhi and Hādī. In the later years of Hārūn’s reign troubles arose in the eastern parts of the empire. These troubles assumed proportions so serious that Hārūn himself decided to go to Khorasan. He died, however, at Tus in March 809.

The reign of Hārūn (see Caliphate, section C, § 5) was one of the most brilliant in the annals of the caliphate, in spite of losses in north-west Africa and Transoxiana. His fame spread to the West, and Charlemagne and he exchanged gifts and compliments as masters respectively of the West and the East. No caliph ever gathered round him so great a number of learned men, poets, jurists, grammarians, cadis and scribes, to say nothing of the wits and musicians who enjoyed his patronage. Hārūn himself was a scholar and poet, and was well versed in history, tradition and poetry. He possessed taste and discernment, and his dignified demeanour is extolled by the historians. In religion he was extremely strict; he prostrated himself a hundred times daily, and nine or ten times made the pilgrimage to Mecca. At the same time he cannot be regarded as a great administrator. He seems to have left everything to his viziers Yahyā and Fadl, to the former of whom especially was due the prosperous condition of the empire. Hārūn is best known to Western readers as the hero of many of the stories in the Arabian Nights; and in Arabic literature he is the central figure of numberless anecdotes and humorous stories. Of his incognito walks through Bagdad, however, the authentic histories say nothing. His Arabic biographers are unanimous in describing him as noble and generous, but there is little doubt that he was in fact a man of little force of character, suspicious, untrustworthy and on occasions cruel.

See the Arabic histories of Ibn al-Athir and Ibn Khaldūn. Among modern works see Sir W. Muir, The Caliphate (London, 1891); R. D. Osborn, Islam under the Khalifs of Bagdad (London, 1878); Gustav Weil, Geschichte der Chalifen (Mannheim and Stuttgart, 1846–1862); G. le Strange, Baghdad during the Abbasid Caliphate (Oxford, 1900); A. Müller, Der Islam, vol. i. (Berlin, 1885); E. H. Palmer, The Caliph Haroun Alraschid (London, 1880); J. B. Bury’s edition of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall (London, 1898), vol. vi. pp. 34 foll.