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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a dynasty of Arab caliphs (750–1258), descended from Abbas, uncle of Muhammad. Taking advantage of the successes of the anti-Umayyad Shiite movement (the uprising of Abu Muslim), the Abbasids overthrew the Umayyads.

The first Abbasid caliph was Abu-al-Abbas al-Saffah (750–754). The Arab nobility lost its former exclusive position; the feudal nobility of Iran and Middle Asia became the chief support of the Abbasids. The center of the caliphate moved from Syria to Iraq. The capital of the Abassid state became Baghdad, established in 762 by the caliph al-Mansur. (The Abbasid state is often called the Baghdad Caliphate.) In the Abbasid Caliphate, as in the Umayyad one, feudal relations predominated, preserving powerful slave-owning and patriarchal ways. The Abbasid Caliphate attained its greatest power under the caliphs al-Mansur (754–775), al-Mahdi (775–785), Harun al-Rashid (786–809), and al-Mamun (813–833).

The intensification of feudal oppression in the Abbasid state and the rise in taxes provoked numerous popular uprisings—for example, the Muqanna uprising of the 770’s and 780’s, Babek’s uprising at the beginning of the ninth century, and uprisings in Armenia in the ninth century. At the end of the eighth century certain territories—for example, Morocco in 788—began to break away. The process of disintegration of the Abbasid state intensified in the ninth century: in Iran, Middle Asia, Transcaucasia, and Egypt, independent states ruled by local dynasties (Tahirids, Saf-farids, Tulunids, Bagratids, and others) began to be formed. The Abbasids tried to counteract the reduction in revenues resulting from these processes by a redoubled exploitation of the remaining regions, which led to the regions’ economic decline.

In order to oppose the growth of separatism among the provincial feudal nobility, the Abbasids, beginning with al-Mutasima (833–842), surrounded themselves with a palace guard of Turkish slaves and, in fact, fell under their power. Al-Mutawaqqil (847–961) was killed trying to combat the guards’ omnipotence. The uprising of the Zanj slaves (beginning in 869), which was suppressed only with great difficulty by government troops in 883, fundamentally undermined Abassid power. In 945 the Buwayhids seized Baghdad and deprived the Abbasids of political power; the caliphs retained only their authority as spiritual leaders of the Sunni sect, and secular rulers were invested by them.

The Abbasids had a certain significance under the Seljuks as a symbol of struggle against the Fatimids; under the energetic caliph al-Nasir (1180–1225) they succeeded in restoring their secular power in Baghdad and adjacent regions. In 1258 the last Abbasid caliph, al-Mustasim (1242–58), was executed by Hulagu.

In 1261 the Mameluke sultan Baybars recognized as caliph al-Mustansir, one of the Abbasids who had escaped persecution by the Hulaguids. In 1517, after the conquest of Egypt by the Turks, his descendant (real or pretended) Mutawaqqil III was taken to Istanbul. The legend about the transfer of spiritual sovereignty from the Abbasids to the Turkish sultans was based on this incident.


Bartol’d, V. V. Sochineniia, vol. 6. Moscow, 1966. Pages 15–78.
Beliaev, E. A. Araby, islam i arabskii khalifat. Moscow, 1965.
Istoriia stran Azii i Afriki ν srednie veka. Moscow, 1968. Part 2, ch. 8.
Hitti, P. K. History of the Arabs, 8th ed. London, 1964. “Abbasides.” Encyclopédie de l’lslam, 2nd ed., vol. 1. Paris-Leyden, 1960.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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