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7.3.1 Yaqubi, Book of Countries

Text excerpt

Yaqubi, Abu Abbas al
9th century

Yaqubi, Kitab al-buldan (Book of Countries), quoted in Baghdad: Metropolis of the Abbasid Caliphate, by Gaston Wiet, translated by Seymour Feiler (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971), 10-11.

The Abbasids were the second dynasty to rule over the Islamic caliphate. The first dynasty, the Umayyads, kept most of the powerful positions in the caliphate for Muslims from Arab families. By the eighth century, many Syrian, Persian, Egyptian, and North African families had converted to Islam, and they also wanted a share of power. The Abbasid family had united together non-Arab Muslims, especially those from eastern Persia, to revolt against the Umayyads. The Umayyads had their capital in Damascus, but the Abbasids wanted a new capital closer to the eastern part of the caliphate, their power base. The second Abbasid caliph, al-Mansur, chose a simple village on the Tigris River and made it into his capital. He called it Madinat al Mansur (City of al-Mansur), but that name did not stick. Everyone kept calling it Baghdad, the name of the earlier village. A ninth-century writer, Yaqubi, wrote this account of the conversation between al-Mansur and his advisers about the site of the new capital. These are probably not the actual words of the men, but Yaqubi was very accurate about the advantages of Baghdad. What were these advantages? Why was the site of Baghdad a good choice for interaction? Vocabulary its cultivation be delayed: if the weather is not right for farmers to plant the fields, or destroys the crops al Sarat: a famous canal dating back to Persian times. It connected the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. vessels plying: boats sailing on al Mosul: the city of Mosul on the Tigris River assuredly: truly residence: home descendants: children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and future generations prosperous: wealthy, successful
Al-Mansur chose a site in the middle of the fertile, well-watered area of Mesopotamia that was closer to the Abbasid stronghold of Khorasan, in northeastern Persia. Not only was Baghdad in the area that had been ruled over by the Sassanian Persian Empire, but it was also easily accessible from Arabia and Syria. Other advantages of the site were the constant access to water — a critical consideration in that part of the world — and abundant agricultural produce. Furthermore, it was at the crossroads of one major branch of the east–west trade route that passed up the Euphrates River from the Persian Gulf to Syria and the Mediterranean Sea and the route from the east to Mecca across the Arabian peninsula. Have students locate all of the places mentioned in the text on a map. The site of Baghdad is ideal as a trade city and a meeting place on caravan routes.

“We consider it advisable that you settle [here]. … Thus you will be surrounded by palms and be close to water. If, then, one of the districts should suffer from drought, or its cultivation be delayed, another would relieve the situation. Moreover, you are on the banks of al Sarat so that supplies can come to you by the vessels plying the Euphrates; the caravans from Egypt and Syria will come across the desert, goods of all different kinds from China will reach you by sea, and from the Byzantines and al Mosul by the Tigris.