AL-WELID II., AND YEZID III.
125-126 A.H. / 743-744 A.D.
THE two brief following reigns contributed nothing but disaster to the Umeiyad cause and to the Empire at large.
Tidings of his uncle's death were received by Al-Welid with indecent delight. Notorious profligacy and incapacity notwithstanding, he succeeded without opposition to the throne. He made haste to send and seize the property of the late Caliph's relatives and favourites, and to treat them with every indignity, especially those of the tribe of Makhzum, to whom Hisham was related through his mother. Hisham's son Suleiman was beaten, shaven, exiled, and cast into prison: his officials were replaced by Keisites. The well-filled treasury was quickly emptied by the new Caliph's largesses to his courtiers and increased pay to the soldiery. Such free hand, and a generous provision for the blind and infirm, gained for him a certain degree of popularity.
But his intemperate and dissolute life caused great scandal throughout the nation. Besides such conventional profanities as wine, music, and hounds, his debauched habits alienated from him the regard of all the better classes. He was accused of tampering with the virtue of his predecessor's harim, and even darker vices were bruited abroad. To make matters worse, he appointed two sons of tender age his successors, and any who refused the oath of allegiance were imprisoned. The discontent rose to such a pitch, that even the Umeiyads plotted against him and encouraged Yezid, another grandson of 'Abd al-Melik, to seek his downfall.
Khalid Al-Kasri, the former governor of Al-Kufa, having
escaped the tyranny of Yusuf, was now living at Damascus. Loyal to the throne, he refused to join the conspirators: and fearing that the Caliph might be waylaid on an intended pilgrimage to Mecca, dissuaded him from attempting the journey. The Caliph, angry because Khalid did not tell him more of the suspected intrigues abroad, and also declined to do homage to his sons, had him beaten and cast into prison; and he further revived against him the demand for arrears of revenue which Hisham had allowed to drop.
Yusuf, still bent on the ruin of Khalid, now saw his opportunity, and visiting Damascus with large gifts for the Court, "bought" his victim from Al-Welid at the price of these arrears, amounting to fifty million of pieces. The unfortunate Khalid was then carried back to Al-Kufa, where he expired under the barbarous treatment of Yusuf, and was buried with indignity1 (Nov. 743, i., 126 A.H.). Yahya the son of Zeid ibn 'Ali had been put to death somewhat earlier.
The treatment of Khalid kindled the indignation of the Yemeni stock from which he sprang. Kelb, amongst whom Khalid had made many friends in Damascus, were especially enraged; but 'Abs though of Keis, went against the Caliph. Verses taunting these with cowardice in suffering their kinsman to be thus trampled under foot, were freely circulated, and roused intense excitement against the Caliph. Al-Welid had named his two sons by a slave-girl his successors; but his cousin Yezid, son of Al-Welid I., had by this time gained a large following. Al-'Abbas his brother, and also Merwan, commanding in Armenia, both endeavoured to dissuade him from his traitorous design, which they foresaw must hasten the downfall of their dynasty. But he persisted; and now supported by the Yemeni malcontents, who flocked around and saluted him as Caliph, he raised the standard of rebellion, and marched upon Damascus. The court and chief officers were mostly away in the country to avoid the pestilential air of the Capital, and so Yezid easily possessed himself of the treasury. Then with its contents, having bribed the soldiery,
1 See above, p. 387. According to some traditions, he had his legs
broken, and the rack drawn over his chest, under which he died. His mother was a captive Greek who
never embraced Islam. Khalid had built a church or convent for her, which made him unpopular with
1 See above, p. 387. According to some traditions, he had his legs broken, and the rack drawn over his chest, under which he died. His mother was a captive Greek who never embraced Islam. Khalid had built a church or convent for her, which made him unpopular with strict believers.
he despatched a body of troops against Al-Welid. The wretched Caliph, enjoying for the moment a retreat in the south of Syria, with but a small following for his defence, took refuge in a neighbouring fortress.
Al-'Abbas was on his way to support the Caliph, when he was taken by the rebels and forced to join his brother's standard. Al-Welid at first sought to parley with his enemies, who would not listen, but covered him with reproaches for his ungodly life. He then issued forth and fought bravely, but was forced by overpowering numbers back into the fort. There he took the Koran into his hands and began to read its pages, saying,"It is this day", as it was in the day of 'Othman," and so was slain. His head was carried to Yezid, and by him paraded in the streets of Damascus. He had reigned but little more than a year.
Yezid III. now ascended his ill-gotten throne. He began with many good resolutions. From the first he had serious difficulties to contend with. Owing his victory to the Yemenis especially Kelb, the Modar tribes were naturally his enemies and moreover, the murdered Caliph came of their stock on the mother's side. No Keisi was found about his person: his officials were of Kelb, to whom he owed his position. Though not profane, like his predecessor, he was obnoxious to the orthodox, because he denied the doctrine of predestination. The people at large, accustomed to the sacredness of the Caliph's person, were shocked at the murder and sufferings of Al-Welid; while the army murmured at the withdrawal of the increase lately granted, which the failing treasury rendered it impossible to continue, and called him the Nakis (Minisher). The inhabitants of Hims, stirred by the wailing of the late Caliph's household domiciled there, plundered the house of Yezid's brother Al-'Abbas, and outraged the sanctity of his harim.
Gaining over the troops, they then set out to attack Damascus under a great-grandson of Mu'awiya I, thus of the Sufyanid as opposed to the Merwanid branch of Umeiyads. Yezid on this despatched two strong columns under his brother Masrur, and Suleiman son of Hisham, who having escaped from confinement had joined the new Caliph. These met the insurgents a few miles from the Capital, and after a severe engagement, put them to flight; upon which the oath of allegiance to Yezid was taken both at Hims and
Damascus. Soon after a still more serious rising took place in Palestine, which required an army of 80,000 to put down, as well as promise of office and largess to the rebel leaders. Such were the weakness and confusion into which the body politic now had fallen.
In Al-'Irak things were not much better. Al-Kufa was glad to be rid of the tyrant Yusuf, who fled for his life to Syria. Arrested there in women's disguise, he was cast with contumely into prison. His successor, Mansur ibn Jumhur the Kelbi, was hated as a reckless, godless man, sharing the Caliph's heretical opinions. Yezid was therefore obliged to remove him and send in his place 'Abdallah ibn 'Omar, son of the pious Caliph, saying that the Kufans would surely reverence him for his father's sake.
While authority was thus relaxed at home, the outlying provinces had it much their own way. Khorasan especially was in a state of unrest, and strange apprehensions were abroad of coming change. Mohammad, the 'Abbasid pretender, had died the year before, aged seventy-three1; and now his son Ibrahim, who succeeded as "Imam," sent a deputation, with tidings of his father's death, to his adherents, who formed a strong and increasing body at Merv. These kissed the testament in which Ibrahim was named successor, and forwarded to him large offerings, which they had gathered for his house. But as yet the canvass was concealed from public view.
Nasr still held the viceroyalty there. Al-Welid had confirmed him in his post, but, instigated by Yusuf, had summoned him to Court with orders to bring a rich assortment of gold and silver vessels, falcons, palfreys, games, and every kind of musical instrument, and with a following of maidens also. Nasr obeyed, but, foreseeing storms, journeyed slowly; and so, before he reached Al-'Irak, getting tidings of Yezid's rebellion, he returned to Merv. The new governor of Al-Kufa sought to supersede him by a creature of his own; but Nasr would not give way, and so succeeded in holding on. To lighten his treasury, a dangerous temptation for the rebels all around him, he distributed the vast store of precious things and slave-girls, gathered for Al-Welid, among his own family and retainers, as well as in payment
1 See table at p. 385. His father 'Ali died seven years before.
1 See table at p. 385. His father 'Ali died seven years before.
of the troops. The old feud of Modar and the Yemen was, however, continually breaking out afresh.
The Yemenis were at this time headed by the chieftain of the Azd, called (from his birthplace) Al-Kirmani, and riots and fighting prevailed between the two clans. Nasr, who belonged to the Modari faction, was hard pressed by the other. Things were composed for a time; but Nasr had dark days before him.
It was at this juncture that Al-Harith, who, having gone over as a pervert to the Khakan, had been fighting under the Turkoman banner against his fellows, returned. At the instance of Nasr, who, surrounded by enemies, feared his hostility and that of the Turks, he was pardoned by the Caliph and allowed, after having for twelve years fought on the enemy's side, to come back and resume his position among his brethren: a singular instance of condonation of an apostate's crime. We shall hear more of him here-after.1
Yezid was at last to be threatened by an enemy far more formidable than any that had hitherto appeared. This was Merwan, grandson (but illegitimate) of Merwan I, and conqueror of the Caucasus, the same who had vainly sought to dissuade him from his treason against Al-Welid. Merwan's son, on returning from the summer campaign in Asia Minor found Mesopotamia in confusion, took possession of Harran and wrote to his father urging him to hasten and avenge the blood of Al-Welid. Merwan, now between fifty and sixty years of age, set out for Armenia, and from Harran despatched an army against Damascus.
The Caliph in alarm meanwhile sent to offer terms;he would continue Merwan as Viceroy of all the provinces which his father and he had held, including Mesopotamia, Armenia, Mosul, and Azerbijan. Merwan accepted the offer, and did allegiance to Yezid.
Towards the close of the year Yezid fell sick, and in anticipation of decease was persuaded by his heretic friends to appoint his brother Ibrahim, also an adherent of the
1 I remember no other instance of a Muslim joining the ranks of
a Pagan enemy. On returning, Al-Harith expressed his penitence, saying that during these twelve years
he never had a moment's peace till he was received back into the bosom of Islam.
1 I remember no other instance of a Muslim joining the ranks of a Pagan enemy. On returning, Al-Harith expressed his penitence, saying that during these twelve years he never had a moment's peace till he was received back into the bosom of Islam.
free-will doctrine, as successor.
Shortly after he died at Damascus, aged forty-six, having reigned but six months. His mother was the grand-daughter of Yezdejird, brought as a captive maid from Khorasan.1
1 Her great-grandmother was a daughter of the Kaiser, married to the Chosroes,
and also descended from a daughter of one of the Khakans, so that she had thus the blood of all three potentates
in her veins. Yezid used, therefore, to sing:
Cf. p. 352 n.
The Kaiser was my ancestor, and so was the Khakan.
1 Her great-grandmother was a daughter of the Kaiser, married to the Chosroes, and also descended from a daughter of one of the Khakans, so that she had thus the blood of all three potentates in her veins. Yezid used, therefore, to sing:
Cf. p. 352 n.
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