The Umayyad Caliphate Declines

As military victories and negotiation expanded the Muslim empire, the Umayyads faced numerous problems. First, Arabs had to adapt from living in the desert to ruling large cities and huge territories. In many ways, the caliphs ruled like powerful tribal leaders, rather than kings with large bureaucracies. To govern their empire, the Umayyads often relied on local officials. Although they helped govern the empire, non-Arabs often did not have the same privileges that Arabs had, even if they converted to Islam.

While conquests continued, vast wealth flowed into Umayyad hands. When conquests slowed in the 700s, economic tensions increased between wealthy Arabs and those who had less. In addition, more and more resources were used to support the caliphs' luxurious lifestyle. By the eighth century, many Muslims criticized the court at Damascus for abandoning the simple ways of the early caliphs. Shiites considered the Umayyad caliphs to be illegitimate rulers of the Islamic community. Unrest also grew among non-Arab converts to Islam, who had fewer rights than Arabs.

Photo of an ancient gold coin’s front and back. Front shows bearded long haired man with a sword in sheath encircled by writing, back shows a staff atop a set of steps encircled by writing.

This gold dinar, dating from 695–6, shows a Umayyad caliph dressed in traditional Arab head-dress and robes and holding a sword. On the other side of the coin is a design modified from the image of a Byzantine cross on steps.

New Rule Under the Abbasid Dynasty

Discontented Muslims found a leader in Abu al-Abbas, descended from Muhammad's uncle. With strong support from Shiite and non-Arab Muslims, he captured Damascus in 750. Soon after, he had members of the defeated Umayyad family killed. Only one survived, escaping to Spain. Abu al-Abbas then founded the Abbasid (uh BAS id) dynasty, which lasted until 1258.

The Abbasids Make Changes

The Abbasid dynasty tried to create an empire based on the equality of all Muslims. The new rulers halted the large military conquests, ending the dominance of the Arab military class. The empire of the caliphs reached its greatest wealth and power under the early Abbasids, and Muslim civilization flourished.

Under the Abbasids, the government became more representative of the people because non-Arab Muslims could hold positions of power. Official policy encouraged conversion to Islam and treated all Muslims equally. The Abbassids created a more sophisticated bureaucracy and encouraged learning.

Photo of a modern day middle eastern city skyline, with combination of older painted minarets and domes with modern buildings with Moorish arches.

The Abbasid dynasty had a lasting impact on the Muslim world with its significant cultural and political accomplishments. In addition, the Abbasid capital of Baghdad remains an important city and is the capital of modern-day Iraq.

The Abbasids also moved the capital from Damascus to Baghdad, a small market town on the banks of the Tigris river. This move into Persian territory allowed Persian officials to hold important offices in the caliph's government.


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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments