The Abbasid Caliphate's Rise to Power

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  • 0:01 The Abbasids
  • 0:41 Caliphs & Viziers
  • 1:36 Golden Age of Islam
  • 2:36 Decline of the Empire
  • 3:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will explore the Abbasids and the Golden Age of Islam. In doing this, it will highlight the role of the caliph, viziers, and the growth of trade within the empire.

The Abbasids

Although many of us are familiar with the politics of the modern Middle East, I'm guessing most of us are not nearly as versed in its history. Today we'll try to rectify this a bit as we discuss the Abbasid Empire and their rulers, known as caliphs.

To begin, the Abbasids ruled the Arab world from about 750 CE to 1258 CE. They took power after conquering the former empire of the Umayyads. As we already mentioned, the rulers of the Abbasids were known as caliphs. The caliphs were descendants of Mohammed through his youngest uncle. The government of the caliphs was known as a caliphate.

Caliphs & Viziers

Caliphs considered themselves to be God's deputies. In fact, they actually called themselves 'Shadows of God on Earth'. It's actually reported that anyone who entered their presence had to bow down and kiss the earth and that a soldier stood ready to cut the head off of anyone who even slightly angered them. Being more of god figures than politicians, the Abbasid caliphs created the position of vizier. A vizier sort of stood between the caliph and the people and, for all intents and purposes, ran the government.

Different than many of the other rulers of the Arab Empire, the Abbasids were not interested in conquering new lands. Rather than war, they usually busied themselves with trade. With this, they moved the capital of the empire to Baghdad. Interestingly, Baghdad was constructed in the shape of a circle, with its roads dividing it like slices of pie. It was protected by brick walls and surrounded by a moat.

Golden Age of Islam

Due to this focus on trade, the Abbasid Dynasty and especially Baghdad, became extremely wealthy. With this wealth, the Abbasids ushered in what is coined, the Golden Age of Islam, a time in which science and culture flourished under the reign of the caliphate.

During this Golden Age of trade and prosperity, not just the caliphs and the viziers became rich. As money increased for the wealthy, it began trickling down to the common man. After all, when the rich wanted things like fine clothing and household goods, someone needed to make them!

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