A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

"Caliph Ibrahim" is not the First Caliph to Make His Capital at Raqqa

As a onetime specialist on the ‘Abbasid Caliphate, I thought it might be worth noting that the Islamic State's self-proclaimed "Caliph Ibrahim" is not the first Caliph to make his seat at the town of Raqqa in eastern Syria. That precedent was set by one of the most famous ‘Abbasids of all: Harun al-Rashid.

Although thanks to the 1,001 Nights tales, Harun is inexorably associated with the glories of Baghdad, the city founded by his grandfather al-Mansur, and he did indeed preside over the flourishing of the great city on the Tigris, he decided in AD 796, a decade into his reign, to move his Caliphal seat from Baghdad to Raqqa. The reasons are not entirely clear and may have been strategic, but he actually governed the Empire from Raqqa for the next 12 years, until his death in 809. It remained an administrative center for the western part of the Empire after the capital returned to Baghdad.

I doubt if "Caliph Ibrahim" will be the subject of songs and stories centuries from now. But then again, I rather suspect Caliph Ibrahim doesn't approve of the 1,001 Nights.


Laguerre said...

Just a minor pedantic correction: Harun al-Rashid didn't die in Raqqa. He died at Tus in Khurasan (Iran), not far from Mashhad in March 809, having left Raqqa the year before.

I don't have much hope for the survival of the remains of Harun's palaces in Raqqa, which already suffered a lot from the construction of the Tabqa dam in the 1970s. There's nothing that ISIS will particularly want to destroy, but in this kind of situation, local government control disappears, and there's nothing to prevent anybody at all from bulldozing the remains to take over the site.

Michael Collins Dunn said...

Thanks. I know he died in the east, and phrased things poorly.