The Caliphs

A podcast tracing the rise and fall of Arab power in the first three centuries following the advent of Islam

31:32 2022-07-03
From our vantage point in the 21st century, it is clear that Haroon al Rashid is by far the most famous Arab caliph. His renown is not some modern phenomenon either: he may occasionally pop up as a cultural reference or on a trivia show, but he was immort...
31:06 2022-06-19
The sudden passing of Mohammad al Mahdi led his son Musa al Hadi to become the umma’s next leader sooner than anyone would have expected. With a wild disposition and little actual experience in administration, the twenty one year old became the youngest...
37:02 2022-06-05
Al Mansur’s long reign transformed the caliphate in countless ways, most of them for the better. It provided a kind of stability the umma desperately needed to absorb the tumult of the Abbasid revolution and adjust to the new status quo. What followed w...
34:01 2022-05-22
Perhaps most significant among al Mansur’s many triumphs was his founding of a new capital for his administration, a glorious new city which would come to be known as Baghdad. It was a decision that had a tremendous impact on Arab and world history, bri...
38:44 2022-04-24
The chaos of the Abbasid revolution gave foreign powers a rare opportunity to strike at the caliphate while it was paralyzed by internal strife. Things could have gone very badly for the Arabs but the unparalleled al Mansur proved as capable against these...
39:13 2022-04-10
The Abbasids based their legitimacy on the fact that they were part of the prophet’s clan. This was not contested during the upheaval of their revolution, and in the following years al Saffah inflicted great pain on his enemies as a way of warning other...
49:47 2022-03-27
One of al Mansur’s first acts as caliph was to lure Abu Muslim to his court and assassinate the powerful and popular governor. This led to immediate turmoil in the East, leaving him to contend with sporadic upheavals for almost an entire decade. The cal...
25:27 2022-03-13
Much of what people associate with the idea of a medieval Arab caliphate is rooted in the reign of our upcoming caliph. The foundation he laid for his dynasty is so solid that it makes the Umayyad era seem like little more than a formalized extension of t...
28:11 2022-02-27
Succession once again warrants its own episode. Al Saffah relied on three commanders to oversee different parts of his caliphate, and while the setup kept the new dynasty safe and stable, the ambitions of these three leaders clashed soon after the caliph ...
25:29 2022-02-13
The Abbasid revolution showed what it took to overthrow a dynasty; establishing a new one brought a whole other set of challenges. The clan’s first caliph, al Saffah, took an aggressive posture to scare off any would-be challengers to his power. Legitim...
28:50 2022-01-30
The Abbasid path to power required stealth, deceit, and most of all patience. The Hashemite family managed to unseat the Umayyads through cultivating a secret movement that benefitted from all the social tensions which plagued the umma. They drew on Hashe...
28:03 2022-01-17
While the Umayyads fought among themselves in distant Syria, dangerous developments were underway in Khurasan. The umma’s divisions in the Eastern province were deep enough to give the coming revolution its first foothold in the caliphate. Its final Uma...
25:51 2022-01-03
Yazid III’s successful coup against Walid II blew up the tribal feud. Syrian unity had long undergirded Umayyad power in Syria and from there, the entire caliphate; it had now been torn asunder in bloody warfare. Even when the clan finally had someone s...
23:30 2021-12-19
It took Hisham two decades to undo the damage his half-brothers had wrought upon the umma with their careless administration. It took his successor Walid ibn il Yazid less than two years to wreck things beyond repair. While it was almost entirely his faul...
27:30 2021-12-05
The capable Hisham protected his caliphate from the many enemies who lined its borders. These were not the only ones he had to contend with however, the umma itself was somewhat fragmented, and opposition to the Umayyads had swelled during the short and t...
25:19 2021-11-21
Khurasan and the East remained as volatile as ever, and Hisham had to contend with the new threat of the Turgesh throughout his long reign. We’re fortunate that our sources contain so much information on the region during this chaotic time, especially b...
28:23 2021-11-07
Hisham’s armies faced many different opponents during his long and formidable reign. The mismanagement of the half-brothers who preceded him had taken its toll on the umma’s unity, and the caliphate’s borders were no longer as secure as they had onc...
24:58 2021-10-24
In the nine years between al Walid’s death in 715 and Hisham’s ascension in 724 the umma went through three caliphs, each with a radically different vision for its future. This swinging between political projects greatly undermined any stability Umayy...
26:43 2021-10-10
Yazid came to power following the transformative reign of the pious Omar II. The new caliph faced some immediate resistance, and after dealing with it he went about undoing all his predecessors reforms, effectively returning the caliphate to what it had b...
26:52 2021-09-26
Sulayman’s underwhelming time in charge ended with a twist, and Omar ibn Abdulaziz proved to be a real surprise. The famously pious Umayyad had a vision for the umma, and he used his new position to impose an order unseen since the early, predynastic da...
25:51 2021-09-12
Suleiman is one of the least documented caliphs in our sources. His short reign proved popular despite its lack of achievement: all he did was live large, reward his close supporters, and punish his opponents. This was somehow enough for him to be remembe...
21:54 2021-08-29
If Walid’s reign was the zenith of Umayyad power, then his succession marked an inflection point through which we begin to see some cracks which may have been there all along. Leaving his governor of Iraq and the East unchecked led to great discontent, ...
28:43 2021-08-15
Although Abdulmalik was an incredibly tough act to follow, his successor was bequeathed an unassailably powerful position. The caliphate was ascendant, and its frontier armies were so capable and efficient that they expanded its domain to unmatched extent...
21:08 2021-08-01
Having exhausted the many rebellions against his unpopular governor, we can finally turn our attention to assessing Abdulmalik’s leadership and the results of his many deeply influential policy changes. He’s remembered overwhelmingly positively in our...
27:41 2021-07-18
Having securely established his position in Syria, Abdulmalik relied on his dependable governor al Hajjaj to keep the Iraqis in line. Ruling them with an iron fist unsurprisingly led to more rebellions than calm, and despite the many thwarted movements we...
25:34 2021-07-04
Abdulmalik’s adept handling of the second fitna revealed him to be a shrewd mover and shaker with a disposition suitable for leadership. He did more than emulate those who came before him, he enacted changes that pushed the caliphate further into stateh...
28:02 2021-06-21
The second fitna revealed the unprecedented level of division within the umma, divisions which only grew as the civil conflict ground on for a decade. Under Abdulmalik’s leadership, the Umayyads managed to slowly grow their power until they found themse...
33:33 2021-06-07
Before we can continue our discussion of the struggle between Abdulmalik and Ibn il Zubayr, we need to step back and survey the complicated situation in Iraq. Deep divisions made its cities difficult for either leader to claim, especially considering the ...
27:34 2021-05-23
The umma spiraled further into disorder and civil war after the sudden death of the caliph and the subsequent collapse of Umayyad authority. Ibn il Zubayr’s candidacy was transformed from an unlikely proposition to a victory by default as he became the ...
25:25 2021-05-10
Mu’awiya’s thorough preparations before his death left little doubt as to who would succeed him. His mastery over the umma’s various social forces must have made his job look easy when it was anything but, and Yazid made it his first priority to snu...
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