A Greater Dar al-Islam and an Ever Shrinking Dar al-Harb / a resurgent Islam TL

Beginning of the Viking Age
  • Beginning of the Viking Age

    The Germanic peoples of Scandinavia had been engaged in trade and warfare with their neighbours throughout the Early Medieval period but an explosion in this activity occurred at the end of the eighth century. There are multiple factors for the beginning of the Viking Age (Vikings being the Scandinavians who embarked on foreign adventures). Demographic and socio-economic circumstances were likely the most important factors: population growth combined with the lack of sufficient arable land acted as an incentive to immigrate to new territories. Furthermore the alteration in trade networks due to Islamic rule in most of the Mediterranean and parts of Europe resulted in increased economic growth and urbanisation spreading northwards. On the other hand, technological advancements in Scandinavian shipbuilding allowed them to travel across open seas and through inland rivers, thus increasing the range of travel. Another potential factor was early state formation, spurred by the aforementioned economic growth, whereby once disparate tribal communities were increasingly centralised into arguably feudal kingdoms. This phenomenon may also have contributed to further emigration and desire for external expansion.

    The first identifiably Viking raid of this new era occurred in 789 CE in Dorset, in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Wessex. While there were subsequent raids in England, the (in)famous event which truly inaugurated the Viking Age was the sacking of the monastery of Lindisfarne in the Kingdom of Northumbria in 793 CE. At the time England was comprised of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Northumbria, Wessex, Mercia, and East Anglia; to the north and west were a multitude of Celtic kingdoms. In the north was Cumbrian Strathclyde, Gaelic Dalriata, and Pictish Fortriu. In the west there was a number of Brythonic kingdoms, similar to the Cumbrians of Strathclyde, with Powys and Gwynedd being the most powerful; separated from the other Brythonic kingdoms by the Bristol Channel was the Kingdom of Dumnonia. Ireland was likewise divided into various tribal kingdoms, with the exception of parts of the north which were under the rule of Dalriata. Christianity was the dominant religion of the Isles, though there was a divide between the Latin and Celtic forms of the religion, mostly concerning the calculation for the date of Easter and monastic practices. The Synod of Whitby in 663 CE saw the final alignment of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms towards Rome, but Celtic Christian practices continued to exist in England for some time and were of course strong in the Celtic kingdoms. Viking raids across the Isles were common after the raid on Lindisfarne; the Abbey of Iona in Dalriata was attacked in 795, 802, and 806 CE, while coastal monasteries in Ireland were also raided.

    Francia was also subject to Viking raids. In the years since the Frankish civil war, King Drogo of Austrasia had subjugated the Frisians and commandeered the use of their fleets. This may have been a contributing factor to the beginning of the Viking Age, as the Frisians had previously been the dominant naval power in the North Sea; their absence created a vacuum which the Norse soon filled. Drogo died in 791 CE and was succeeded by his son Lothair. Meanwhile King Charles of Neustria had continually raided the Bretons and reduced them to tributary status. Using his newfound wealth extracted from the Bretons and northern Aquitaine, Charles engaged in a series of wars with Austrasia throughout the 780s and early 790s CE. The wars did not lead to any significant changes in territory, nor did Charles achieve his goal of re-uniting the Frankish realms. The Neustrian king halted his wars against Austrasia as the number of Viking raids increased, the first of which occurred at the mouth of the Seine near Rouen. King Lothair, who was already more sympathetic towards the Frisians than his father, was astute enough to realise that former Frisian sea power would be an effective counter to the Vikings. He appointed the Frisian nobleman Eilrad as duke of Frisia and charged him with commanding a navy to resist the Viking raiders.[1] Consequently Austrasia fared considerably better than its sister realm of Neustria. Furthermore, when the Vikings landed in Bretonnia [Brittany] they found many Bretons willing to join them in their raids against Neustria. As a result, Norse settlement outside of Scandinavia first appeared in Bretonnia in the early ninth century.

    [1] OTL Eilrad led a revolt against Charlemagne (TTL King Charles of Neustria) in 793 but was defeated.
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    The Fourth Fitna
  • The Fourth Fitna

    When Caliph al-Qadir was murdered in 795 CE his first heir and brother, Abd al-Malik ibn Salih, was still in Ruma al-Gharbiya. Due to the pro-Salihid faction’s distrust of the Baghdadi bureaucracy, for good reason, Abd al-Rahman ibn Abd al-Malik ibn Salih raised an army in al-Sham upon hearing the news of his uncle’s death and raced towards the capital. The Khurasani soldiers who lived in the suburbs of Baghdad had already occupied the city however and barred entry to everyone. When the young Abd al-Rahman arrived outside Baghdad he told the garrison that he was there to secure the city until his father’s arrival. Wazir Yahya ibn Khalid al-Baramika dispatched messengers to the prince claiming that the Khurasanis were acting under his orders, and that they too were only awaiting Abd al-Malik’s arrival. What Abd al-Rahman didn’t know was that since the Khurasani occupation began, and while he was waiting outside, pro-Salihid bureaucrats and courtiers were being arrested and some were even executed. The wazir ordered the Salihid army to return to al-Sham; they refused and camped outside of the city. Shortly afterwards a Khurasani army commanded by Asram ibn Abd al-Hamid al-Ta’i arrived at Baghdad with the intention of reinforcing the city’s garrison. The army from al-Sham moved to stop the Khurasanis, whereupon a violent argument between the two commanders escalated into a battle. The Khurasani garrison sallied out and took the Salihid force from the rear resulting in a devastating defeat for Abd al-Rahman ibn Abd al-Malik, who was among the fatalities. The Fourth Fitna had begun.

    The Salihid soldiers fleeing from the Battle of Baghdad were mercilessly hunted down by Khurasani cavalry, so as to prevent news of the battle from reaching the west. They were mostly successful and so set about preparing their forces for the oncoming war. Musa ibn Isa al-Rashid travelled to Makran to convince Abu Ya’qub Ishaq ibn Sulayman al-Abbasi to renounce his allegiance to Abd al-Malik; surrounded as he was by the enemies of the Banu Salih, Ishaq ibn Sulayman had no choice but to agree. When he asked who he was to give bay’ah to, Musa ibn Isa al-Rashid stated that a shura would be convened once the hostilities were over. The anti-Salihid faction raised an army; though a plurality of the soldiers were Arabs and Iranians from Khurasan, there were Arabs from Iran and southern Iraq, Iranians from Iran and Fararud, and Oghuz, Karluk, and Khazar Turkish mercenaries and slaves. Most of the recruits were Muslim but restrictions on dhimmi recruitment were unofficially relaxed so as to counter the potentially greater manpower of al-Sham and Misr. The tributary dhimmi rulers in Daylam, Fararud, and eastern Khurasan also provided troops. Musa ibn Isa al-Rashid, who was by then the de-facto contender for the khilafah, appointed Harthama ibn A’yan to overall command of the army.

    Abd al-Malik arrived in al-Sham at about the same time as news of his son’s defeat and death reached the Banu Salih. The would-be caliph was understandably furious and he swore vengeance on those responsible, that is, the Khurasani faction and their apparent leader Yahya ibn Khalid al-Baramika. The Banu Salih began to muster an army from the Arabs of al-Sham and Misr, but they were confronted with a serious problem. During their governorship of the old Umayyad heartlands, the Salihids had favoured the Qahtan tribes over the Qays. The latter did not outright rebel when recruitment commenced, but instead demanded concessions and greater representation in governing the region. Deeply affected by the death of son however, Abd al-Malik disregarded the advice of his relatives to accept the demands and instead declared the Qays leaders to be traitors. The Qahtan tribes eagerly went to war against the Qays, while the Banu Salih were compelled to aid the former in order to bring the conflict to a prompt conclusion. What appeared to be the Abbasid state repressing the Qays caused the rebellion to spread to their cohorts in Misr, extending the conflict well into 796 CE. During this time the Khurasani faction had secured al-Jazira and conquered Arminiya from the Salihid-leaning ostikan (Muslim governor) Yazid ibn Mazyad al-Shaybani. The Khurasani conquest had been aided by the Armenian nobility under ishkhan Vahan Mamikonian.[1] Yazid ibn Mazyad had not only greatly increased the tax burden on the Armenians, but had also encouraged Arab migration into Arminiya; the Armenian nobility were thus glad to support the Khurasani campaign against him.

    When it became clear that the Abbasid Caliphate was in a state of civil war, the province of Ifriqiya erupted into violence also. Wali Abu Abdallah Muhammad ibn al-Mansur fled to al-Qayrawan with the intention to raise an army of Arabs to aid his Banu Salih allies in the centre of the Dar al-Islam. In response to the governor’s flight, the Khurasani garrison of Tunis seized control of the city and the docked Abbasid fleet. The Arabs of Ifriqiya were as yet unaware of the renewed Qays-Qahtan conflict and so reluctantly cooperated against their common foe. The other major coastal cities of the wilaya fell under the control of the Khurasani garrisons, while the towns of the interior remained within Abu Abdallah Muhammad’s nominal control. Regaining the fleet was his main objective however; otherwise his army would have to march the extreme distance through Barqah and into Misr. The difficulty of besieging any of the coastal cities was not lost on Abu Abdallah Muhammad though; the prince’s grand plan was to divide his forces and besiege Banzart [Bizerte] to the north of Tunis, while a contingent lay in wait to besiege the provincial capital. His hope was that the Khurasanis would ferry reinforcements from Tunis to the besieged Banzart, which would be taken along with the newly-arriving ships. The strategy was a failure in that even though the Khurasanis did reinforce their position in Banzart, the fleet left immediately after and returned to Tunis. Abu Abdallah Muhammad did conquer Banzart but the venture was costly in both time and manpower, and resulted in no tangible gain for the nominal governor. Exacerbating the situation was the onset of an invasion by Kharijite Berber tribes from southern Ifriqiya and the Maghreb. After Maysara al-Matghari’s death decades earlier, no succeeding Imam was elected and so there was no cohesion to the latest Berber incursion.

    With the Qays finally subdued in 796 CE, the Salihid faction could begin to focus properly on their real enemy: the Khurasanis. The Salihid army converged at Hims and from there marched towards al-Raqqah. To the west of the city they encountered the enemy’s cavalry vanguard; although horse archery had been common throughout the pre- and early Islamic armies of Western Asia, the cavalry of this force was comprised entirely of Turkish horse archers. The small number of Arab horse archers and melee cavalry in the Salihid army were insufficient to challenge the Turks, while the speed of the latter was too much for the mass of Arab foot archers to keep up with. As a result the large, slow-moving Salihid army suffered disproportionately heavy losses as they attempted, and failed, to pursue the fast-moving Turkish cavalry. As the Salihids neared al-Raqqah, the main force of the pro-Khurasani army appeared; knowing that his men were in no state to fight a regular battle against equal forces, Abd al-Malik reluctantly ordered a retreat back to al-Sham. Most of the army returned to Hims and prepared the city for a siege, while the rest did the same at Dimashq. The Khurasanis obliged Abd al-Malik’s preference for a siege, but the Turkish cavalry, accompanied by heavily armed and armoured horsemen reminiscent of the cataphracts of the Roman and Sasanian empires, ranged south and ravaged the undefended settlements of al-Sham.

    Harthama ibn A’yan dispensed with the customary offer for the defenders of Hims to surrender and instead immediately began the siege of the city in late 796 CE. The walls that had been demolished on the orders of Umayyad Caliph Marwan had since been rebuilt by the Banu Salih. The defenders could only hold out for so long though; far inland and surrounded by the enemy, the chance of resupply was near to non-existent. Harthama ibn A’yan ordered the construction of siege engines, including mangonels, battering rams, and siege towers. Usually Muslim armies had been content to wait for the besieged to surrender or the besiegers to breach the gates of a city, but Harthama was concerned that a drawn-out siege would give time for the Salihids to gather more forces in al-Sham and Misr. Furthermore, the longer the civil war lasted the more likely the far-flung frontiers of the caliphate would be able to escape the control of the central government. The besieging forces finally broke into the city the following year and subjected it to a ruthless sacking. Abd al-Malik was captured and brought to Harthama ibn A’yan; the would-be khalifah and the other surviving Salihid commanders were swiftly executed. Overall command of the Salihid cause thus fell on Ibrahim ibn Salih ibn Ali; when he heard the news of his brother’s death he resolved to march his army against the Khurasanis and fight them on the field rather than wait to be besieged in Dimashq. Just like the earlier advance into al-Jazira the Salihid army was harried along the way by Turkish horse archers, but this time Ibrahim ordered his troops to continue their advance. The horse archers had been covering the advance of the Khurasanis however. Outnumbered and under near-constant attack from the horse archers, the Salihid army’s losses were almost absolute. Once again the captured members of the Banu Salih and their allies from the old Arab tribes were executed without a second thought.

    Most of the Khurasani army embarked upon a fleet at Akka to travel to Ifriqiya, while a portion of the army, which included most of the cavalry, marched west into Misr. The only instance of Salihid resistance in Misr was a cavalry skirmish near Dumyat [Damietta], after which the garrisons of al-Iskandariyya, al-Askar, and al-Fustat surrendered to the Khurasani army. Meanwhile in Ifriqiya, Abu Abdallah Muhammad ibn al-Mansur had spent most of his time repelling the Kharijite Berber raids rather than besieging Tunis. He had, through necessity, even conducted raids of his own into the Maghreb; cut off from the central government and its funding for the military, the Abbasid prince looked to plunder to pay his soldiers. Besides, taking the fight to the enemy, any enemy, was better for his men’s morale than waiting in a costly siege. When the Khurasani fleet arrived at Tunis in the latter half of 797 CE, Abu Abdallah Muhammad marched to the city and attempted to surrender to them; news from the east had not been encouraging and the expedition’s arrival all but confirmed the Khurasani victory. His army aimed to continue fighting however and mutinied when they discovered Abu Abdallah Muhammad’s plan. The Abbasid prince was seized and a group of the most virulently anti-Khurasani soldiers executed him without consulting their comrades. Consequently a skirmish broke out amongst the Salihid army, exacerbated by the traditional Qays-Qahtan rivalry, and it was at that moment the Khurasanis marched forth and engaged. In disarray and suffering multiple desertions, what had been the Salihid army was easily defeated and pursued back to al-Qayrawan. The city was successfully conquered in the spring of 798 CE.

    The European provinces of the caliphate, al-Andalus and Ruma al-Gharbiya, had relatively little involvement in the Fourth Fitna. Abd al-Malik took a small army with him to al-Sham when he left Rabina, which included some native converts, but native converts as a whole were at best ambivalent to the conflict at the centre of the Dar al-Islam. The dhimmi population were even more indifferent to a change in the khilafah as they surmised, correctly as it happened, that their status would remain unchanged. On the other hand, the increased demand for manpower resulted in increased sales of military-age male slaves, further enriching the centres of the slave trade in Ruma al-Gharbiya and elsewhere in Christian Italia. The military of the wilaya of al-Andalus was in a state of readiness, as both the Banu Fihr and Muhammad Qarulamun ibn Baban al-Qarula had pledged to support the Banu Salih. However Abd al-Malik had departed with such haste that they were left without instructions; when Harthama ibn A’yan’s army arrived in Ruma al-Gharbiya in 798 CE it was obvious to the erstwhile Salihid allies that the war was over and so they reaffirmed their loyalty to the Abbasid Caliphate. In the later stages of the civil war refugees from the central Dar al-Islam mostly travelled west and settled in the coastal cities of the European provinces; an unlucky few were sold into slavery and sent back east to fight.

    [1] OTL, Caliph al-Mansur’s government repressed the Armenians to such a degree that they revolted in 774-775 CE; the Armenians lost and the Mamikonian family was decimated. Without al-Mansur’s close involvement in government ITTL the Armenians continue on with their Umayyad-era arrangement of relative autonomy under a presiding prince (ishkhan).
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    Aftermath of the Fourth Fitna and the Persianisation of the Abbasid Caliphate
  • Aftermath of the Fourth Fitna and the Persianisation of the Abbasid Caliphate

    Stability had been restored to the Abbasid Caliphate by the end of 798 CE and, though there was still conflict with the Kharijite Berbers in Ifriqiya, a shura was convened to elect a new khalifah. It was a victors’ summit however: most of the Banu Salih and their supporters had been killed, and pro-Khurasani armies were spread throughout the caliphate. Their unofficial leader Musa ibn Isa al-Rashid was unanimously acclaimed as the new caliph at the shura, while Abu Ya’qub Ishaq ibn Sulayman ibn Ali ibn Abdallah ibn al-Abbas was retained as the first heir. Chosen as the second heir was Musa’s son al-Abbas. It would later be argued that Musa and his allies were acting like their enemies, the Banu Salih, by attempting to restore hereditary succession but at the time their power was impregnable. Musa ibn Isa ibn Musa ibn Muhammad ibn Ali ibn Abdallah ibn al-Abbas adopted the regnal name al-Muntasir. The khalifah’s first action was to appoint new governors of the rebellious provinces. Unsurprisingly they were drawn from the Khurasani faction: Muhammad ibn al-Musayyab ibn Zuhayr al-Dabbi to Arminiya; Asram ibn Abd al-Hamid al-Ta’i to al-Sham; Khuzayma ibn Khazim ibn Khuzayma al-Tamimi to Misr; Abdallah ibn Malik ibn al-Haytham al-Khuza’i to Ifriqiya; and Harthama ibn A’yan was returned to Ruma al-Gharbiya. The Khurasani domination of the caliphate’s governance was seemingly complete.

    The bureaucracy offers a different picture though. Before continuing, the definition of the term ‘Khurasani’ deserves to be explained, for it did not simply refer to those who came from Khurasan. Instead ‘Khurasani’ refers to the original Arab and Iranian revolutionaries from Khurasan who enthroned the Abbasids, as well as the descendants of said revolutionaries. A more precise term, and one which will be used from here on out, is abna al-dawla (sons of the state/dynasty). The distinction is necessary because the Barmakid family, who monopolised the higher tiers of the bureaucracy in this period, were abna al-dawla yet patronised and hired figures from outside of this now-dominant class, including employees from Khurasan. There was therefore a distinction: the abna al-dawla (also known as Khurasanis), a Muslim Arab and Iranian military class who were devoted to the idea of the Arab Abbasid Caliphate; and a bureaucratic class of mixed ethnic and religious affiliations who were loyal to the state which employed them, which did not necessarily have to be the Arab Abbasid Caliphate. Due to the abna al-dawla jealously guarding their place in the military, and the salaries they received from the diwan al-jund (bureau/department of the military), sons of dhimmi tributary rulers and the recently converted landed aristocracy were denied a role in the military during periods of general peace so they joined the bureaucracy. Though moving between these two groups (the military and the bureaucracy) was not impossible, as the Barmakids demonstrated, it was uncommon.

    There was however another group on the rise during this period. When Caliph al-Muntasir was just the wali of Fars (from 785 CE), he was concerned at the low rate of conversion in the province; Fars was wealthy and populous yet had little participation within the wider Dar al-Islam. One factor explaining the small Islamic community was the province’s strong attachment to its pre-Islamic history. It had after all been the political and religious centre of the great Achaemenid and Sasanian empires. On the other hand, the higher echelons of the Zoroastrian nobility and clergy were wealthy enough to shoulder the burden of the jizya. The future caliph therefore targeted the low and middle tiers of the Zoroastrian landed aristocracy, who were teetering on financial ruin. He offered them tax-free land grants in return for their conversion to Islam and the levy of troops during wartime (their original land was still subject to tax however). Uptake on the offer was initially slow but grew gradually throughout al-Muntasir’s tenure as governor. When the Fourth Fitna began, the Persian nobles and their retinues rode to war in the manner with which they were accustomed: man and horse clad in mail, and armed with lance, sword, and bow (and sometimes axe, mace, and shield as well). When al-Muntasir rose to the khilafah he expanded this policy to the other provinces of Iran: Jibal, Kirman, Azarbayjan, and inner (or western) Khurasan, the latter of which had avoided the changes leading to and strengthened by the Abbasid Revolution. The abna al-dawla were immediately suspicious, but gradually calmed down as they realised that the Iranian nobles were not receiving salaries from the diwan al-jund or being granted gubernatorial positions.

    Caliph al-Muntasir succumbed to illness in 802 CE; his short reign was remembered for the return to normality following the destructive Fourth Fitna, though his Persianising policies were to have long-lasting effects well after his death. Abu Ya’qub Ishaq ibn Sulayman ibn Ali ibn Abdallah ibn al-Abbas succeeded as khalifah without any conflict; his chosen regnal name was al-Amin. The subsequent shura elected Abdallah, son of first heir al-Abbas ibn Musa al-Muntasir, to the position of second heir; hereditary succession, though legitimised by election, was apparently becoming a reality for the Abbasid Caliphate. Caliph al-Amin retained the previous gubernatorial appointments, though it is doubtful that he would be able to sack the abna al-dawla from their positions anyway. The previous caliph’s policy of conferring land grants to the Iranian nobility was continued, not due to a particular preference for them but was instead a way of reducing the abna al-dawla’s dominance of the military. Al-Amin inaugurated his reign by personally leading the summer ghazwa against the Romans (the summer raids had been resumed in 800 CE). The ghuzat marched northwards sacking Kamakha [Kemah] and ravaging the area around Koloneia [Sebinkarahisar], before retreating back into the Dar al-Islam. In 806 CE there was a revolt from the disaffected Arab tribes in al-Sham; the cities of al-Ramla and Bayt Jibrin were seized by the rebels and from there the rebellion spread to the north. The abna governors had expected a rebellion though and brought overwhelming force to bear against the rebels. The revolt was defeated before Caliph al-Amin could even mobilise the armies of Iraq and Iran. The remainder of his reign was relatively peaceful, excluding the annual raids into Roman territory, allowing al-Amin to focus on public works and irrigation projects in southern Iraq. The elderly khalifah passed away in 812 CE.
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    INTERLUDE: Rulers of the Abbasid Caliphate as of 812 CE
  • INTERLUDE: Rulers of the Abbasid Caliphate as of 812 CE

    1. al-Saffah (r. 749-754), Abu'l-Abbas Abdallah ibn Muhammad ibn Ali ibn Abdallah ibn al-Abbas
    2. al-Mansur (r. 754-771), Abu Ja'far Abdallah ibn Muhammad ibn Ali ibn Abdallah ibn al-Abbas
    3. al-Rashid (r. 771-784), Isa ibn Musa ibn Muhammad ibn Ali ibn Abdallah ibn al-Abbas
    4. al-Qadir (r. 784-795), al-Fadl ibn Salih ibn Ali ibn Abdallah ibn al-Abbas
    5. Interregnum during the Fourth Fitna (795-798); official claimant was Abd al-Malik ibn Salih ibn Ali ibn Abdallah ibn al-Abbas
    6. al-Muntasir (r. 798-802), Musa ibn Isa ibn Musa ibn Muhammad ibn Ali ibn Abdallah ibn al-Abbas
    7. al-Amin (r. 802-812), Abu Ya'qub Ishaq ibn Sulayman ibn Ali ibn Abdallah ibn al-Abbas
    8. ???
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    INTERLUDE: A Glimpse Into a Possible Future, No. 1
  • Time for something a little bit different...

    Interlude: A Glimpse Into a Possible Future, No. 1

    Ali Tegin ibn Fayruz was nervous. Two weeks ago he was just a riveter at al-Iskandarun's shipyard. Two weeks ago he was just a son of an immigrant father from Ghazni and a local Syriac mother. Two weeks ago he was just a tenant of a small, cramped apartment that was insufficient for his family of five. Two weeks ago he was just a union steward for the Ittihad Ummal al-Rasif al-Muhad (United Dockworkers' Union).

    Now he was among the first elected representatives for the Hizb al-Ummal w'al-Falahin (Workers' and Farmers' Party) to sit in the Majlis al-Nuwwab (Assembly of Representatives) in Dimashq. The hallways leading to the Majlis chamber were adorned with calligraphic script so ornate that it was nearly indecipherable to a man like him who had only received primary education at a maktab. That was the purpose of the artwork though; not only to impress upon its onlookers the weight of the building's history, but also to intimidate those who did not belong. And judging by his surroundings and the people frequenting them, Ali Tegin clearly did not belong. The out-of-place riveter finally reached the Majlis chamber, crossed the threshold marked by great cedar doors, and took his seat among his colleagues while ignoring the glares and bemused expressions of the other politicians, those who did belong. The benches of the Majlis chamber were arrayed into two opposing sections: the Government and the Opposition; the Hizb al-Watani (National Party) and the Hizb al-Dusturiyyin (Constitutional Party). A traditional two-party system which, up until now, had been free from interlopers and their new, radical ideas. The Constitutionalists were put out by having to share their benches with the radicals, though perhaps not as distressed as the Nationalists who could scarce believe that the Hizb al-Ummal w'al-Falahin were there at all. When all of the representatives had arrived, the young riveter rose to begin his maiden speech, as tradition dictated.

    Ali Tegin ibn Fayruz was nervous no longer.
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    The Roots of Independence in the West
  • The Roots of Independence in the West

    Harthama ibn A’yan was welcomed back to Ruma al-Gharbiya by the Roman [Byzantine] bureaucrats of Rabina. Even though Abd al-Malik ibn Salih al-Abbasi had not acted egregiously during his time as governor, he had focused on enriching himself at the expense of the wilaya, and sent the accumulated wealth to the rest of the Banu Salih in al-Sham rather than to the central government in Baghdad. Harthama ibn A’yan re-hired some of his old employees and fired the idlers and sycophants who entered the bureaucracy during Abd al-Malik’s tenure. The returning governor commissioned a reassessment of the revenues due from tax-paying properties; his son Hatim ibn Harthama was appointed as his deputy and instructed to accompany the tax assessors. The nobility were unsurprisingly nervous over the coming tax reassessment, and this worsened the already unsteady relations between them and the government in Rabina. The Arab and Berber governors originated from al-Andalus and so looked there for their political identity, instead of far-off Iraq. Meanwhile the native converts among the nobility were entirely comprised of Lombard aristocrats who opposed Harthama ibn A’yan’s seeming imposition of Roman rule. On the other hand the mercantile elite (both Muslim and dhimmi) of the coastal cities appreciated the wali’s intent to integrate Ruma al-Gharbiya further into the Dar al-Islam. Hatim ibn Harthama however was the one on the ground and thus receiving the brunt of the nobility’s hostility and complaints. Fearful of a rebellion, the governor’s son convinced his bureaucratic companions to under-report the available revenues. Even though the policy was a failure, the revenues Rabina received were still relatively high and a large portion of that was forwarded to Baghdad.

    The city of Venetia was officially ruled by the Roman Empire. However the receding Roman influence in Italia, exemplified by the final Lombard conquest of the Exarchate of Ravenna, resulted in the local government of the city fracturing along factional lines. One such faction remained pro-Roman, despite the near absence of their power in the Adriatic. The other two factions either supported the Lombards, who were clearly the dominant power in Italia, or charting a completely independent course. Al-Qasim ibn Yusuf al-Fihri’s conquest of the northern Lombard kingdom had drastically affected the power balance in Venetia however; those erstwhile supporters of the Lombard kings suddenly found themselves without patrons and thus were severely weakened. Though initially wary of the newly-arriving Muslims, the remaining Venetian magnates recognised an opportunity. The region that was once known as Friuli, al-Thughur al-Sharqiya, became the principal staging point for the regular Islamic raiding eastwards. While the Muslims had their own slave-trading cities and ports, they were subject to the regulations of the government in Rabina. Furthermore Venetia was much closer to the raiding frontier than many of the Islamic slave-trading centres. The Venetians therefore seized the opportunity and encouraged returning ghuzat to offload their human bounty at their city. Venetia was able to successfully ride the coattails of the burgeoning slave trade of the western Mediterranean cities.

    Yet there was an obstacle to Venetia’s fortunes. The Slavic tribes who had earlier migrated into the Balkans were inclined to engage in piracy when they inhabited the coast. Even after Roman Emperor Nikephoros’ western expedition, the Slavs to the north of Roman territory continued their seaborne depredations unabated. The most notorious piratical tribe of the Adriatic was known to the Venetians as the Narentani. The influx of wealth from the slave trade had allowed the Venetian government to outfit a navy to protect their merchant fleets, but the expenses were prohibitively high. So the Venetians looked to the Muslims for assistance; an embassy was dispatched to Rabina in 789 CE but wali Abd al-Malik ibn Salih al-Abbasi was dismissive and derided the Venetians for their inability to protect their own trade. After the Fourth Fitna, in 801 CE, Venetia tried again. Harthama ibn A’yan, keen to transform Ruma al-Gharbiya into a model province, was receptive to the new Venetian embassy. The Venetians proposed a joint naval expedition against the Narentani. The Muslim governor supported the idea but, noticing that he was in a position of strength, demanded that Venetia was subordinated to the authority of Ruma al-Gharbiya; they would however be exempt from tax and retain their autonomous rule. The embassy took the proposal back to Venetia where it was debated vigorously. After two assassinations and a number of exiles, the Venetians agreed to Harthama ibn A’yan’s terms.

    Following the negotiations, the government of Ruma al-Gharbiya invested into its ship construction industry on the Adriatic coast; the bulk of the wilaya’s naval power and facilities were previously focused on the west. While Harthama ibn A’yan recognised the importance of the venture, he refused to endanger the fleet he already controlled by sailing it too close to the territory of the Romans and Slavic pirates. By 803 CE the Muslim fleet on the Adriatic was ready for the anti-piracy expedition. The fleets of the Muslims and the Venetians met just outside of Venetia and from there sailed southeast. The Narentani primarily inhabited the three coastal islands of Brach, Hvar, and Korchula, along with the neighbouring mainland. As the expedition neared Narentani territory they were engaged by a small fleet of pirates; against unprotected trade ships, the pirates were a menace. When confronted with a large fleet of warships however the Slavic pirates stood no chance and were easily defeated. The fleet divided into two in order to simultaneously attack the islands of Hvar and Korchula. The devastation was near-absolute: towns were sacked, their populations enslaved or slaughtered, while crops and livestock were ravaged. Part of the fleet returned to Rabina with the captives while the rest of the expedition landed near Mokro [Makarska]. The town received the same treatment as the islands, after which the remainder of the fleet travelled back to Rabina. The spoils of the expedition were portioned equitably between the Muslims and the Venetians. Slavic piracy in the Adriatic had been dealt a blow from which it would take a long time to recover.

    In 799 CE Muhammad ibn Yusuf ibn Abd al-Rahman al-Fihri, wali of al-Andalus, passed away. His eldest son Ilyas served as the governor of Tulaytula and the fame (and wealth) he gained from the regular cross-border warfare with the Kingdom of Asturias ensured his succession as governor of the whole province. Once again most of the Banu Fihr cooperated out of apprehension towards the Abbasid government ending Andalusian autonomy. While Ilyas ibn Muhammad al-Fihri was stationed in Tulaytula he took a particular interest in the career of Archbishop Elipandus of Toledo (the city’s old name still being used by the Christians). Elipandus had argued that Christ’s human nature was adoptive rather than inherent; Beatus of Liebana, an influential monk from the Kingdom of Asturias, argued that Elipandus was exaggerating the humanity of Christ at the expense of his divinity. Bishop Felix of Orgellia [Urgell] supported the position of Archbishop Elipandus. Soon enough Patriarch Adrian of Rome involved himself in the debate and repudiated the Adoptionist position of Elipandus and Felix. Bishops from the Germanic kingdoms to the north and from the Roman Empire followed suit. Ilyas ibn Muhammad al-Fihri didn’t understand the theology behind the arguments, but he did understand that there was a rift between the Christians of al-Andalus and those outside of the province. Furthermore, the Twelfth Council of Toledo in 681 CE granted the archbishopric of Toledo primacy over all of the dioceses of Hispania. Therefore while Ilyas governed Tulaytula he financially supported Elipandus and protected him from harassment. When Ilyas became the wali of all al-Andalus he extended his support to Felix of Orgellia and other prominent members of the clergy who supported Adoptionist theology.

    The main concern of Ilyas ibn Muhammad al-Fihri’s reign was the ongoing contentious status of al-Faranj. Unbeknownst to the Banu Fihr was Abd al-Malik ibn Salih al-Abbasi’s promise to separate al-Faranj from Andalusian authority following Muhammad Qarulamun ibn Baban al-Qarula’s assistance during the Fourth Fitna. In the event, the circumstances of the Fourth Fitna moved too quickly for either the Banu Fihr or the Banu Qarula to intervene in the hostilities. Despite his old age Qarulamun ibn Baban still aimed to escape subordination to the Banu Fihr and bequeath to his son al-Qasim a near-autonomous state. The former Frankish prince’s plan was to force the Abbasids to intervene between al-Andalus and al-Faranj, and leverage the central government’s desire to weaken Fihrid authority. To that end Qarulamun ibn Baban stopped forwarding his tax revenues to Qurtuba in 805 CE and expelled administrators he knew were loyal to the Fihrids. Simultaneously a small army loyal to the Banu Qarula was sent to garrison Irunya [Pamplona] to guard the pass over the western Pyrenees. In response Ilyas ibn Muhammad personally led an army to Irunya to confront the rebellious garrison; the pro-Qarulid garrison commander delivered, as ordered, the proclamation that as Irunya was previously confirmed by the Banu Fihr to be part of the Kingdom of Aquitaine, Muhammad Qarulamun ibn Baban al-Qarula in his position as wali of al-Faranj was the legal successor to the king of Aquitaine and therefore legal holder of all the territories of the former kingdom. When Qarulamun ibn Baban received news of the Fihrid arrival at Irunya, he dispatched a delegation to Ruma al-Gharbiya that would seek the governor’s aid in adjudicating the matter.

    Harthama ibn A’yan was eager to reduce the power of the Banu Fihr, yet his son warned him of the potential disloyalty of the Arab and Berber nobility of Ruma al-Gharbiya. With this in mind, Harthama ibn A’yan raised an army of Lombards and marched west to Irunya. Ilyas ibn Muhammad and his army were encamped on the fortress-town’s southern side and had so far not initiated hostilities. Irunya’s garrison commander repeated his proclamation for the new arrivals. When Harthama pointed out that the claim appeared to be valid, Ilyas replied that King Hunald of Aquitaine had broken the agreement concerning both Irunya and non-aggression, thus any future extrapolation from the agreement was invalid. Harthama’s suggestion that the negotiations be postponed until the arrival of Qarulamun ibn Baban angered Ilyas, as he considered the Frank to be his subordinate. Ilyas further stated that since he and Harthama were equals, he would submit only to the authority of the khalifah and not a fellow wali. Harthama seized on this and demanded that the case be referred to Baghdad; Ilyas had been trapped by his own logic, and to refuse would be to deny the authority of the Abbasid Caliphate. The governor of al-Andalus reluctantly agreed to Harthama’s demand and the parties adjourned while a delegation comprising bureaucrats from both sides embarked upon the long journey to Iraq.

    The western delegation arrived in al-Sham during the Arab revolt and so were delayed on their journey to Baghdad. When they eventually arrived at the capital, khalifah al-Amin and the long-serving wazir Yahya ibn Khalid al-Baramika heard their case and assigned it to Tahir ibn al-Husayn, a rising star in the bureaucracy. Tahir ibn al-Husayn descended from a certain Khurasani dihqan (the class of Iranian landowners) named Ruzayq, who converted to Islam and became a mawla to Talha ibn Abdallah al-Khuza’i long before the Abbasid Revolution. The family took part in the Abbasid Revolution and had served the dynasty ever since. Tahir ibn al-Husayn gathered his family and household and returned to Ruma al-Gharbiya with the western delegation. Once there Tahir left his family at Rabina and travelled with Harthama ibn A’yan to Arbuna to meet with Ilyas ibn Muhammad al-Fihri. Tahir listened to the arguments of both parties but, due to the intransigence of Ilyas ibn Muhammad, had to travel to Rabat al-Faranj to hear Muhammad Qarulamun ibn Baban al-Qarula’s claim. Tahir ibn al-Husayn’s judgement was swift and not at all surprising given his closeness to the abna al-dawla. The wilaya of al-Faranj was promoted so that it was immediately subservient to the Caliph, while Qarulamun ibn Baban retained his post as governor. On the other hand, al-Faranj had to pay a one-time indemnity to al-Andalus as compensation for their future loss of revenue, while Irunya was transferred to Andalusian jurisdiction. It was a defeat for Ilyas ibn Muhammad, though not as dire as he was expecting.
    The Roman-Bulgar Conflict
  • The Roman-Bulgar Conflict

    Conflict between the Roman Empire and the Bulgar Khanate began as soon as the latter arrived in the Balkans. The Bulgars had regularly fought against the Romans during the tenure of the then-incumbent Isaurian dynasty, yet they provided aid during the Islamic Siege of Konstantinoupolis in 717 CE. The early reign of Kardam Khan, the Bulgar ruler, saw him focused on projecting his influence north of the Carpathians to the detriment of the Avars. From 789 CE though, Kardam’s attention was turned towards the Romans; Bulgars raided the themes of Makedonia and Thrake. Emperor Nikephoros retaliated the following year by dispatching an army commanded by his father-in-law Michael Lachanodrakon. The Romans however were intercepted near Hadrianoupolis and driven back. The armies of the Bulgar Khanate fought in a manner similar to the Romans and Persians: with a core of heavily armed and armoured horse archers, supported by a combination of foot archers and melee infantry. The cavalry was dominated by the Bulgars themselves, while the Slavs comprised the infantry. In 792 CE Nikephoros personally commanded the next attack against the Bulgars and marched to the border fortress of Markellai. Noticing that the Bulgars were preparing their forces, Nikephoros was advised by his father-in-law to attack immediately. The emperor consented and the Bulgars suffered a grave defeat, though their cavalry, who remained relatively unscathed, covered the rest of the army’s retreat.[1] The Romans followed the retreating Bulgars back to their capital of Pliska, which was then besieged. Rather than risk the city’s conquest, Kardam Khan sued for peace with Nikephoros; the accepted terms were a large annual tribute and a halt to raiding.

    The peace agreement remained safe until 797 CE when Kardam was overthrown by his relative Krum. The new khan did not immediately break the agreement with the Romans as he instead mounted a large invasion of the Avar Khaganate. Even though the Avars gave a good account of themselves in battle, the Bulgars conquered a substantial amount of territory around Singidunon [Belgrade] and forced the Avar khagan to pay tribute.[2] With his northern frontier secure Krum Khan formally ended the peace agreement with the Romans by sending dung as tribute. Soon afterwards he led an army into Roman territory and besieged Markellai in 799 CE. The fortress was taken in a matter of months, by which time Emperor Nikephoros had gathered his army and marched north. Once again battle between the two empires was enjoined near Hadrianoupolis, and once again the Romans were defeated; much to the delight of iconophiles everywhere, Michael Lachanodrakon was slain at the battle. This time Krum’s army besieged the city while the Romans retreated to Konstantinoupolis. Hadrianoupolis fell and was brutally sacked by Krum’s soldiers; many of the survivors were enslaved and transported to Pliska. The Bulgar army then marched to Arkadioupolis.

    Emperor Nikephoros had realised that the strategy of fighting pitched battles against the Bulgars was failing and so devised a new plan. He settled upon the idea of a naval landing not far from the Bulgar capital of Pliska. Odessos, known as Varna to the Bulgars and Slavs, was the chosen target. The fleet departed from Roman territory in 800 CE and deposited the army just to the north of Odessos. The city’s garrison was small but the old Roman fortifications were formidable. Still, Nikephoros spared no effort in breaching the city, utilising an array of artillery, siege equipment, and sapping techniques. Krum Khan remained unaware of the Roman landing until after Odessos had fallen and the Romans were outside Pliska. As Pliska was built from scratch by the Bulgars, most of the city within the stone fortifications was constructed from wood. As a result the city held out for a considerably shorter time than Odessos; the Roman sack led to the razing of large portions of the city and the expulsion of most of the population. The Bulgar army only caught up with the Romans as they were returning to Odessos and a battle ensued. Seeing their capital burning drastically impacted the morale of the Bulgar soldiers however, while the Slavs realised that Bulgar power had its limits. The battle therefore was a disaster for the Bulgar army. Even Krum Khan knew that his days were numbered after the loss of Pliska, so he charged recklessly into where the battle was fiercest and lost his life. Dilyarek, a son of Telets Khan and commander in the army, took charge of the retreat and garrisoned the remains of the army at Pliska.

    The Romans spent the winter of 800-801 CE at Odessos and awaited the inevitable Bulgar peace delegation. Dilyarek went and submitted to the Roman demands: annual tribute, the cession of the forts of Pyrgos [Burgas], Ankhialos [Pomorie], Diampolis [Yambol], and Odessos, and the acceptance of Christian missionaries. These forts were garrisoned and populated by Greeks from Mikra Asia and the newly-conquered territory was incorporated into the Thema Makedonias. Upon Dilyarek’s return to Pliska a faction opposed to the peace agreement, led by Krum’s son Omurtag, attempted to stage a coup. The attempt failed and an indecisive battle occurred, following which Omurtag and his followers fled west to Singidunon. Dilyarek Khan relocated the khanate’s capital from Pliska to the nearby Preslav and allowed the Christian missionaries to build a church there. In the following years both sides of the civil war consolidated their respective power bases yet did not engage each other in combat. Meanwhile Emperor Nikephoros returned to Konstantinoupolis and rewarded himself with another triumph. He did take advantage of Bulgar weakness however and dispatched armies to subjugate the Slavic tribes in the region around Lykhnidos [Ohrid] in 804 CE. The tribes there had been subject to a loose suzerainty under the Bulgars, so the region was established as the Thema Boulgarias.

    [1] The OTL Battle of Marcellae resulted in a Byzantine defeat because Constantine VI waited too long to attack.
    [2] In other words, Krum conquered a lot less Avar territory than he did IOTL because the Avars are still substantially powerful due to a lack of Charlemagne’s conquests.
    Unrest in the East
  • Unrest in the East

    After the death of Caliph al-Amin in 812 CE he was succeeded by al-Abbas ibn Musa ibn Isa ibn Musa ibn Muhammad ibn Ali ibn Abdallah ibn al-Abbas; he chose al-Hakim as his regnal name. The following shura, like the previous few, was unanimous in appointing the second heir that was preferred by the Banu Isa branch of the family;[1] this time it was Abu Ishaq Muhammad ibn Harun ibn Abu Abdallah Muhammad ibn al-Mansur [OTL Caliph al-Mu’tasim]. Since the end of the Fourth Fitna it had been discovered that Abu Abdallah Muhammad was attempting to surrender when he was murdered by his own soldiers. Thus his reputation had been rehabilitated somewhat and his surviving family had been treated with dignity. Electing the man’s grandson to the position of second heir was one of the ways in which the victors of the civil war attempted to heal the wounds of the conflict. Such leniency had not been extended to the Banu Salih however.

    Soon after the shura dissolved reports of unrest emerged from across the eastern provinces of the caliphate. In Azarbayjan, Jibal, and Khurasan protesters, some of whom were armed, swarmed government buildings and demanded justice from the new khalifah. Against the advice of his advisors and the new wazir, Yahya ibn Khalid al-Baramika had since died and been succeeded by his protégé al-Fadl ibn Sahl ibn Zadanfarrukh, Caliph al-Hakim travelled to Azarbayjan to meet with the protesters himself. When he arrived he saw that they were a diverse crowd: peasants, artisans, the urban poor, and even some nobility and landowners. Furthermore, the protesters comprised both Muslims and dhimmi as well. Their complaints were diverse but they all had one theme in common: Ali ibn Isa ibn Mahan. The protests in the other provinces were of a similar composition and concerned similar issues. The man in question was a prominent member of the abna al-dawla and had at one time or another been the wali of each of the three provinces; at the time of the unrest he was the governor of Khurasan. The caliph was inclined to lend credence to the complaints but, as Ali ibn Isa ibn Mahan had rendered great service during the recent civil war, he needed to proceed cautiously.

    Caliph al-Hakim set up a temporary court at Ardabil and invited the leaders of the protest movement to present their complaints formally. Their chosen spokesperson was al-Hasan ibn Abdallah, leader of a heterodox Zoroastrian community, owner of recently-inherited land near Ardabil, and known to his followers as Babak. He laid out the charges against Ali ibn Isa ibn Mahan as follows: taxes were exorbitant, to the extent that people couldn’t afford to pay them; the taxes collected enriched Ali and his household, rather than being spent on investments for the improvement of the province; Ali and his administrators appropriated people’s belongings without adequate compensation; land and property was also appropriated from the locals by Arab colonists without adequate compensation; and Ali refused to recruit local men into the army. Al-Hakim agreed that these were serious charges and promised to bring Ali ibn Isa ibn Mahan to justice. The bureaucrats accompanying the khalifah recorded all of the happenings of the court as part of their case against Ali ibn Isa ibn Mahan. Afterwards al-Hakim and his entourage travelled to Jibal, where the situation was much the same. Once again the caliph formally heard the complaints against the former governor and then moved on to Khurasan.

    The unrest in Khurasan had escalated since the first reports had reached Caliph al-Hakim. In response to Ali ibn Isa ibn Mahan arresting and executing a number of protesters, the rest withdrew from the provincial capital of Merv to the region of Badghis, where they began arming themselves under the joint leadership of Hamza ibn Adharak, the sons of Asad ibn Saman, and Rafi ibn al-Layth. The former two were of local dihqan origin, while the latter was the grandson of Nasr ibn Sayyar al-Laythi al-Kinani, the last Umayyad governor of Khurasan. Caliph al-Hakim arrived at Merv and immediately enumerated the charges against the governor. Ali ibn Isa ibn Mahan pled innocence however and instead attempted to deflect from the accusations by claiming that the province was in the throes of a Kharijite revolt. Disgusted with Ali’s insolence al-Hakim ordered the soldiers at the gubernatorial court to arrest him; they momentarily hesitated but ultimately complied. The rest of Ali ibn Isa ibn Mahan’s family and household were imprisoned, while soldiers confiscated all of his ill-gotten wealth. The rebels were granted an unconditional pardon and guarantee of safety; their leaders returned to Merv to parlay with the khalifah. Al-Hakim had the charges against Ali ibn Isa ibn Mahan officially recorded, after which the wali was officially deposed and sent to Baghdad for indefinite imprisonment.

    In Ali ibn Isa ibn Mahan’s place as governor of Khurasan was appointed al-Hakim’s son and first heir Abdallah. The new wali ingratiated himself immediately with the province’s elite who had previously been mistreated, by appointing the rebel leaders to important positions within his administration: Rafi ibn al-Layth was named as the sahib al-shurta (head of the police); the sons of Asad ibn Saman were posted as governors of the major towns (Nuh to Balkh, Yahya to Nishapur, Ilyas to Herat, and Ahmad to Merv al-Rudh); and Hamza ibn Adharak was given charge of the ghuzat who regularly raided the recalcitrant dhimmi tributary rulers of the eastern reaches of Khurasan. The news of the arrest and deposition of an abna al-dawla governor, the wali of Khurasan no less, sent shockwaves throughout the Abbasid Caliphate. Some governors and amirs, like Harthama ibn A’yan who strived for efficient and fair rule,[2] agreed with Caliph al-Hakim’s actions when the affair was publicised. There were others however who strongly promoted the interests of the abna al-dawla as a whole and saw this episode as an attack on their privileges. Combined with the integration into the military of newly-converted Iranian aristocrats, some argued quietly that the Abbasid dynasty was beginning to disregard those who had brought them to power.

    [1] That is to say, the descendants of Isa ibn Musa, TTL’s Caliph al-Rashid.
    [2] OTL it was Harthama ibn A’yan who arrested Ali ibn Isa ibn Mahan on the orders of Caliph Harun al-Rashid.
    The State of Shi’ism After the Reign of Caliph al-Qadir
  • The State of Shi’ism After the Reign of Caliph al-Qadir

    The failure of the revolt against Caliph al-Qadir in 784 CE had broken the Shia in political terms. Any thought of reconciliation between the Abbasids and the Alids, in the manner that Abu Muslim suggested, had been excised from Abbasid politics. The leaders of the Shia groups and even their supporters had been dispersed across the Dar al-Islam. Support for the Alids was still substantial in the Hejaz, but the political relevance of the region had long since elapsed and every revolt there had been defeated. Southern Iraq and the Shia stronghold of Kufa had also been weakened by repopulation by Arabs from elsewhere. Musa al-Kadhim ibn Ja’far al-Sadiq had played only a minor role in the rebellion led by his nephew Muhammad ibn Ismail. As such he was able to avoid detection in Arabiyya while the caliphal authorities focused their hunt for Muhammad. Musa resisted the pleas of his followers to take up arms during the Fourth Fitna and continued to live his discrete, peripatetic life until he was caught by chance in 803 CE. Caliph al-Amin treated the event with little consequence and had Musa al-Kadhim imprisoned under poor conditions in a prison in Baghdad; the Imam died shortly after. A notable minority of his followers refused to believe that he had died, and instead had entered occultation and would return as the Mahdi. The rest however accepted his death and proclaimed his son Ali to be their new Imam.

    Muhammad ibn Ismail had led the defence of Madinah himself, though it was to have grave consequences for him; he was wounded in battle and only just evacuated by his most loyal followers. What happened next is unclear as the followers who had accompanied Muhammad claimed that he ascended to Heaven and would return as the Mahdi; certainly he was never seen alive again. Contrary to Musa al-Kadhim’s death, almost all of Muhammad ibn Ismail’s followers agreed that he entered occultation in 784 CE.[1] The leadership of the nascent Ismaili movement carefully travelled north and by 792 CE reached Tabaristan, where they took refuge under the protection of the Dabuyid ispahbadh Hurmuzd. The Zoroastrian Dabuyid dynasty, descended from the Sasanian Shahanshah Jamasp, had submitted to Muslim authority as tributaries during the Islamic conquest of Iran. This gave them the freedom to subjugate the Bavandid and Qarinvand dynasties, though the level of control the Dabuyids exercised over them varied. The Ismailis used Tabaristan as a base from which to dispatch da’is (missionaries) to spread the message of the Mahdi’s impending arrival. Initially they neglected to proselytise among the natives of Tabaristan, Daylam, and Gilan, perhaps out of fear of angering their hosts. The practice of the dhimmi rulers sending their younger sons to work in the Abbasid bureaucracy provided the Ismailis with access to a network of contacts which they exploited fully but discretely.

    Meanwhile in Sind, amir al-umara Umar ibn Hafs Hazarmard al-Muhallabi had since succumbed to old age and was succeeded by his relative Dawud ibn Yazid ibn Hatim al-Muhallabi. This was more a formality though, as Imam Abu al-Hasan Muhammad was a capable ruler in his own right. Shia refugees from the Abbasid Caliphate continued to be welcomed and settled throughout Sind, while the Imam married the daughters of numerous prominent Indian rajas. The Fourth Fitna provided the Imam with the opportunity to personally lead a number of raids into Abbasid Makran, which was important in ensuring the continued loyalty of the Zaydis. Taking advantage of the universal praise and loyalty he commanded, Abu al-Hasan Muhammad officially designated his eldest son Husayn as his heir. The latter was primarily interested in the affairs of the military and had accompanied his father during the raids into Makran. A military-inclined ruler was exactly what the Shia Imamate would require for the future, for the Pratihara kingdom in the east was in the ascendant. Of much-disputed origins, the Pratihara were a Hindu Rajput clan who fought against the Muslims when Sind was still a province of the caliphate. Since then they had been expanding their rule across Rajasthan and Gujarat, though their capital was based further to the east in Ujjain. Even though the Pratiharas focused their attention on the rival Pala and Rashtrakuta empires, Pratihara legitimacy was in part derived from their role in defeating further Muslim invasions. It was likely therefore that Sind would continue to remain under threat.

    Ali ibn Musa al-Kadhim, already disinclined toward political ambition, became completely divorced from thoughts of rebellion and power after his father’s death, and so decided to dedicate his life to scholarship as his father and grandfather had done. However the central Dar al-Islam was clearly no longer safe, so he and his closest followers left Arabiyya. Travelling west, mostly by land, they covertly arrived in al-Andalus in 805 CE and settled in Saraqusta [Zaragoza]. Despite Ali’s attempts to remain incognito, he received regular visitors from the small but growing Shia population of the province. In time the presence of the Imam came to the attention of the Fihrid government but, still recovering from their capitulation to the Abbasids over al-Faranj, Ilyas ibn Muhammad al-Fihri gleefully neglected to inform the central government in Baghdad. That is not to say however that Shia dissent was tolerated; the few conspiratorial groups that did agitate for Ali ibn Musa al-Kadhim’s seizure of power were efficiently hunted down by the provincial shurta, though most of the Imam’s followers supported his quietist approach. Furthermore Ilyas ibn Muhammad personally did not hold Alid sympathies as he was sceptical of the idea that the hereditary succession of a single family could hold mass appeal throughout the ummah.

    [1] This also happened OTL but later (795), until the founder of the Fatimid dynasty appeared and claimed descent from Muhammad ibn Ismail, establishing the new official Ismaili doctrine.
    Regionalisation of the Abbasid Caliphate
  • Regionalisation of the Abbasid Caliphate

    The appointment of Abdallah ibn al-Hakim al-Abbasi (son of the caliph) as wali of Khurasan caused quite a stir among some of the abna al-dawla. It was after all their homeland, adopted or otherwise, and since the Abbasid Revolution its governorship had solely been in the hands of the abna al-dawla. Humayd ibn Abd al-Hamid al-Ta’i, who succeeded his brother Asram as wali of al-Sham, was the most vocal of the governors opposed to Caliph al-Hakim’s deposition of Ali ibn Isa ibn Mahan. Joining him was wali Khuzayma ibn Khazim ibn Khuzayma al-Tamimi of Misr and wali Abdallah ibn Malik ibn al-Haytham al-Khuza’i of Ifriqiya. The three governors secretly agreed to cooperate in preventing the khalifah or his bureaucracy from overstepping their bounds within their provinces. Humayd ibn Abd al-Hamid also attempted to convince wali Abbas ibn al-Musayyab ibn Zuhayr al-Dabbi of Arminiya to join their pact, but the precarious position of Arminiya’s frontier with both the Romans and the Khazars swayed the governor to stay loyal to Caliph al-Hakim.

    The governors of the provinces of Iran were more loyal to the caliph and his first heir, if only due to their proximity and the increasing number of Iranian dihqans with their retinues of warriors. The wali of Fararud, Yahya ibn Mu’adh ibn Muslim, wholeheartedly took to integrating the native Sogdians, Muslim and dhimmi, into his administration and army. The old Sogdian trading networks east into China and north into the steppe ensured a large and steady stream of income into the province, a large portion of which was dutifully forwarded to Baghdad. Abu Ishaq Muhammad ibn Harun al-Abbasi, the new wali of Azarbayjan, was in much the same predicament as his counterpart in Arminiya in that his frontier with the Khazars precluded any potentially dangerous politicking against his relatives. Besides, the Khazar frontier afforded him the perfect opportunity to expand his private army of Turkish ghilman (slave-soldiers) who were relentlessly trained in their ancestral manner of combat.

    The relation of the provinces in Europe to the centre of the caliphate was more complicated however. Ruma al-Gharbiya, under the direction of its wali Harthama ibn A’yan, was increasingly incorporated into the Mediterranean economy that was so crucial to the Abbasid Caliphate. The Islamic nobility of the province though were, at best, indifferent to the authority of the Abbasids; most of the Arabs and Berbers, and even the Lombards in a way, were of Andalusian heritage. The small number of abna al-dawla soldiers who arrived with Harthama ibn A’yan after the Fourth Fitna would not be enough to maintain control if a pro-Fihrid rebellion occurred. The Banu Fihr for that matter had long given up on loyalty towards the Abbasids, but wali Ilyas ibn Muhammad was a pragmatist above all else; he would continue to pay lip service to the Abbasids just as long as it was in his province’s interest to do so. The new wilaya of al-Faranj was the least predictable of the three European provinces. Muhammad Qarulamun ibn Baban al-Qarula breathed his last in 811 CE and was succeeded by his son al-Qasim. To the collective amirs of the Abbasid Caliphate, the newest governor of the newest province was too much of an unknown quantity.

    The first act of insubordination committed by the governors of al-Sham, Misr, and Ifriqiya was their drastic reduction in revenues sent to Baghdad. As the three provinces were among the wealthier regions of the Abbasid Caliphate, the effect on the central government’s budget was certainly noticeable. When the administrators conveying the revenues to Iraq were questioned about the decrease, they claimed that droughts had reduced agricultural productivity. Caliph al-Hakim and wazir al-Fadl ibn Sahl suspected that there was a concerted and coordinated embezzlement occurring, but they decided not to act just yet. Emboldened by their sudden increase in wealth, in 814 CE the governors of Misr and Ifriqiya concocted a plan to invade Roman Sikelia [Sicily]. Two years earlier Roman Emperor Nikephoros had died and was succeeded by his son Constantine VI; the new emperor and his twin brother Leo had both been crowned as co-emperors during their teenage years. The Misri soldiers departed by ship from Dumyat and rendezvoused with their counterparts in Tunis. From there they set sail to Sikelia in 815 CE. Strategos Gregory reacted quickly to the threat, mobilising his army to defend Syrakousai [Syracuse] and dispatching messengers to inform Emperor Constantine of the invasion. The Muslim army reached Syrakousai and put the city to siege.

    The messengers reached Konstantinoupolis in a timely fashion and informed the emperor of the first real challenge to his rule. Constantine responded by ordering his brother Leo to mobilise the armies of the eastern themes and lead an invasion of Abbasid-held Kilikia. Wali Humayd ibn Abd al-Hamid al-Ta’i of al-Sham was privy to his allies’ plan to invade Sikelia and so had prepared his army to defend against any Roman retaliations in his province. Consequently he and his army clashed with the Romans near Tarsus. The battle was a draw but Leo had not expected stiff resistance so soon and therefore retreated to Seleukeia. It was in the aftermath of the battle that Caliph al-Hakim was finally made aware of the adventure to Sikelia; he was understandably furious. Failing to inform the khalifah of the expedition had not only threatened the security of the central Dar al-Islam but also Ruma al-Gharbiya. As much as it would please al-Hakim to see the rebellious governors humbled by the Romans, he could not just stand by and allow a war against the Dar al-Islam to go unpunished. Messengers were dispatched to Harthama ibn A’yan in Ruma al-Gharbiya ordering him to defend any against any Roman incursions, but to refrain from campaigning aggressively. The khalifah himself took to mobilising the Iranian levies and the abna al-dawla soldiers in Iraq. Afterwards he travelled north to Azarbayjan to collect Abu Ishaq Muhammad ibn Harun al-Abbasi and his ghilman.

    The siege of Syrakousai was not progressing as well as the Muslim commanders had hoped. The city was well-fortified and its place on the coast ensured easy resupply by sea. This of course occurred in the form of reinforcements sent by Duke Anthimus of Neapolis; the Roman navy was still dominant in the region and demonstrated itself to be so when the expedition’s fleet was defeated in battle and driven back to Melita. Given that they were stranded, the expedition’s commander, Abu Zaki al-Kinani, gave the order for the siege to be lifted and for a retreat to the south. A part of the Roman army in Syrakousai pursued the Muslims, but the retreat was partly a ruse and the pursuing Romans were caught in an ambush and soundly defeated. This victory gave the Muslims leeway to march along the coast to Gela and conquer the city before the end of 815 CE. Strategos Gregory travelled with the remainder of his army to besiege Gela, but at that point the Abbasid fleet returned to the island with more soldiers from Ifriqiya, forcing the Romans to retreat. The Roman strategos left most of his army to garrison the mountain fortress of Ragusia; Gregory meanwhile went to Messene where he crossed to the mainland. There he mobilised more troops and sent to Konstantinoupolis for reinforcements.

    Back in the east, the large Abbasid army commanded by Caliph al-Hakim marched west and besieged the Roman fort of Keltzene [Erzincan]. Most of the Roman soldiers of the east were with Leo at Seleukeia, so Keltzene surrendered in relatively short order. Some Abbasid soldiers were left as a garrison while the rest moved on to besiege Koloneia. At about the same time, the Abbasid fleet controlled by Humayd ibn Abd al-Hamid al-Ta’i raided Kibyrrha, prompting Leo to retreat west towards the port city. Humayd ibn Abd al-Hamid’s army pursued the Romans and brought them to battle before they could reach Kibyrrha. Even though the Abbasids were victorious the Roman losses were not too grave, so Humayd ibn Abd al-Hamid turned back and invested Seleukeia. Emperor Constantine faced a dilemma: he only had enough manpower to reinforce either Mikra Asia or Sikelia, not both. In the end he chose Mikra Asia, and raised an army from the western themes, as well as hiring Bulgar mercenaries. The emperor took command of the army himself and travelled by ship to Kibyrrha with some of the army, while the rest took the land route. After the Romans had converged outside Kibyrrha, they set off towards Seleukeia. Having both the emperor and his brother fight on campaign was a risk but it paid off; the Muslims besieging Seleukeia were surprised by the much greater size of the Roman army and thus were easily defeated. Humayd ibn Abd al-Hamid was lucky to survive the battle, after which he and his remaining forces limped back to al-Iskandarun. This left the Romans free to besiege Tarsus.

    Over in Sikelia the recently reinforced Muslim expedition under Abu Zaki al-Kinani turned its sights to the west of the island. Leaving a sizeable garrison at Gela, the Muslims went west and besieged Agrigentum. The Roman garrison surrendered the city and were spared, but Abu Zaki al-Kinani insisted that they left. The exiled Romans eventually made their way to join the rest of their army at Ragusia, while the Muslim expedition marched further to the west. They reached Mazara, which boasted a larger harbour than Gela but was appropriately better defended. The city was besieged and the Abbasid fleet arrived soon afterward to blockade the port. Strategos Gregory returned from the mainland with some reinforcements but his pleas to the emperor had gone unanswered. Accordingly, he reunited with his main army at Ragusia and began to advance toward Gela; Berber scout cavalry sighted the Romans however and warned the garrison of Gela, who took the questionable decision of abandoning the town and retreating to Agrigentum. Abu Zaki al-Kinani became furious when informed of the desertion and was induced to lift the siege of Mazara. The Muslims returned to Agrigentum just as Gregory and his army arrived. The battle was a decisive victory for the Muslims; the Romans were just about outnumbered and the appearance of more Abbasid ships off the coast evaporated their morale. The remnants of the Roman army fled back to Syrakousai and remained there in vain hope for reinforcements.

    In the meantime, Koloneia had fallen to the besieging army of Caliph al-Hakim. The khalifah had planned to be lenient to the conquered population, but then he was informed of the Roman siege of Tarsus. Koloneia was put to the sword before the Abbasid army retreated to Arminiya. There al-Hakim mobilised the Armenian nakharars (nobility) and their retinues, then marched to al-Thughur al-Shamiya to eject the Romans. Tarsus had been conquered and sacked by the time the Abbasid army arrived in the region; Humayd ibn Abd al-Hamid al-Ta’i’s small force sheepishly joined the larger army and accepted al-Hakim’s command. The subsequent battle near Adhana may have been the largest the Abbasids had yet fought; the army comprised abna al-dawla, Iranians, Armenians, Turkish ghilman, and Arabs. It was notable for the predominance of heavily armoured horse archers. The Roman army was no less impressive, comprised as it was of soldiers from themes on both sides of the Aegean Sea, including Bulgar mercenaries. The battle was close-run, but the Abbasids clinched victory. Their losses however precluded any further campaigning. The Romans had come out much worse though and when Emperor Constantine had safely reached Seleukeia, he sued for peace in 820 CE. The agreed upon terms were a ceasefire in the east, exchange of prisoners, and an annual tribute paid by the Romans. There was a conspicuous silence concerning the war in Sikelia; Roman spies had learned of the tensions between the khalifah and his governors, so the negotiators studiously avoided reminding al-Hakim of his waning authority. Sikelia would continue to remain a battleground between the Muslims and the Romans for some time.

    [*] You’ve probably noticed there’s been no revolt of Thomas the Slav, and nor will there be (at the moment anyway). That’s because the divergent circumstances of TTL don’t warrant it. From what I can tell, Thomas’ revolt was a reaction to the assassination of his friend Leo V the Armenian by supporters of their erstwhile ally Michael the Amorian. Leo V came to power after a series of militarily weak emperors (and the connected victories of the Bulgar Krum Khan). With a strong line of military emperors so far, it’s likely that Leo, Michael, and Thomas would have remained mid-tier commanders.
    The Splintering of the Bulgar Khanate
  • The Splintering of the Bulgar Khanate

    In the years following the peace of 801 CE between the Romans and the Bulgars, the separatist state of Omurtag Khan spread its authority to the north and west. Based in Singidunon, Omurtag’s early reign was fuelled by the plunder of the neighbouring Slavic tribes; the khan’s followers had lost their traditional lands to the southeast, so it was necessary to compensate them and prove that they had made the right choice in supporting Omurtag. The constant raiding did have unintended consequences though. Many Slavic tribes abandoned their land and migrated northwards toward the Carantanians and the Avars. Consequently the inconsistent taxation of agricultural produce returned declining revenues, which in turn encouraged further raiding as the solution. Omurtag Khan was no fool however and knew that his rule was growing perilous. His ultimate goal was the reunification of the Bulgar Khanate, but his army and economy were woefully ill-prepared for such a venture. During his reign Omurtag had not failed to notice the regular Muslim raids emanating from what merchants were beginning to call Ruma al-Gharbiya. From the very same merchants the khan learned that the Muslim territory was a major centre for the slave trade across the Mediterranean. Thus the Bulgar khan began to formulate a plan to save his khanate.

    By contrast, Dilyarek Khan’s realm centred in Preslav was flourishing. Even though there was discontent among many boilas (nobles) towards the khan over the presence of Christian missionaries, the peace with the Romans had led to the resumption of trade between the two states. Artisanal handicrafts such as brickwork, textiles, jewellery, and ceramics were popular among the Romans, as were exports of slaves and salt. The Bulgar Khanate also acted as an entrepot for goods arriving from the Avar Khaganate and the nomadic tribes of the Eurasian steppe. As a result the urbanisation of Bulgar society steadily progressed throughout the period. Concurrent with urbanisation was Christianisation. Although most of the semi-nomadic Bulgar boilas continued to worship Tengri, the Turkic sky god of the steppe, the ethnically heterogeneous urban populations gradually turned to Christianity. The main reason for this was their increasing integration through trade into the Roman-dominated Christian world. Dilyarek’s capital of Preslav became the centre of this new Bulgarian Christianity, which encouraged the Bulgar boilas to treat the much-reduced Pliska as the unofficial capital of the khanate. As a consequence there was simmering discontent towards Dilyarek Khan from the nobility as Christianity appeared to be a Roman imposition, an image that was only exacerbated by the Christians’ use of the Greek language and script. Some boilas even began to question whether they had made the right choice in supporting Dilyarek over Omurtag.

    In 815 CE Omurtag Khan decreed that raiding within the boundaries of his state was henceforth prohibited; instead, official raiding parties would range further north and west, capture slaves, and take them to Ruma al-Gharbiya to sell directly to the Muslims. The proceeds of the raids would be transferred straight to the khan’s treasury and then distributed to the boilas; there was some initial opposition from the nobility but Omurtag responded swiftly and mercilessly, executing a few of the weaker but most-outspoken boilas. The policy turned out to be a success however. The Dar al-Islam’s insatiable thirst for slaves delivered large revenues to Omurtag’s treasury which in turn placated the Bulgar nobility. In addition, the reprieve from regular raiding within Omurtag’s khanate allowed the land and its tillers to recover, leading to an increase in taxation both for the state and the boilas. Both the khan and his nobility used their newfound wealth to fund the construction of new palaces, forts, and temples. Though the economic boom wasn’t as pronounced as that occurring in Dilyarek’s realm, it was still notable and enough to induce envy in the neighbouring Avar and Slavic tribes. The increased supply of slaves in Ruma al-Gharbiya would also in time solve the province’s military concerns. The wali’s two most trusted advisors, Tahir ibn al-Husayn and al-Fadl ibn Marwan (an Arab Christian from Iraq), established an army of Avar, Slav, and German ghilman, collectively known as Saqaliba.
    Rise of the Banu al-Munajjim
  • Rise of the Banu al-Munajjim

    Soon after the peace negotiations between the Roman Empire and the Abbasid Caliphate were concluded in 820 CE, the latter state’s wazir al-Fadl ibn Sahl ibn Zadanfarrukh succumbed to old age. Many in the government expected al-Fadl’s younger brother al-Hasan to succeed him, but the elderly Caliph al-Hakim instead appointed the court astrologer (al-munajjim) Firishtah-i Firuzan.[1] He was however still a Zoroastrian and so converted to Islam under the name Yahya ibn Abu Mansur in order to deflect criticism from the increasingly influential ulema (the clergy); Yahya’s father had also been an astrologer for Caliph al-Mansur. Even though Yahya had joined the court under the direction of al-Fadl ibn Sahl he did not share his patron’s political beliefs, that is to say he did not consider the restoration of caliphal control over the insubordinate western governors to be a priority. With the khalifah’s old age and the expenditures for the war against the Romans, the administration was not in a position to bring the western governors to submission even if that was its goal. Besides, while the wali of al-Sham forwarded only a pittance in revenues, he had yet to take the overtly seditious action of cutting off trade from the Mediterranean. Thus, Yahya ibn Abu Mansur’s governance in the last years of al-Hakim’s reign focused on domestic policies for the territory that was under firm khilafah control. This mostly manifested in the continued upkeep and expansion of irrigation works in southern Iraq by utilising imported slave labour from eastern Africa.

    Caliph al-Hakim finally died in 823 CE. Upon being informed of his father’s demise Abdallah, wali of Khurasan, embarked upon a journey to Baghdad accompanied by a cavalcade of courtiers, bureaucrats, scholars, and soldiers. Before his departure the new khalifah appointed Ahmad ibn Asad ibn Saman as his successor to govern Khurasan; the appointment of another non-member of the abna al-dawla only entrenched the western governors’ rapidly declining opinion of the Abbasid dynasty. After arriving in Baghdad, Abdallah adopted the regnal name al-Qahir. While he was the wali of Khurasan al-Qahir had proven to be a capable and popular ruler. However this could be attributed to his status as the replacement for the tyrannical governance of Ali ibn Isa ibn Mahan and the subsequent reconciliatory nature of al-Qahir’s rule. This same advantage was not present for the caliph during his reign in Baghdad; the Khurasanis he brought with him dominated his court and were dispersed throughout the city, rather than settled in their own district like many incoming groups previously had. The ever-permeable bureaucracy adapted to this new influx, but the abna al-dawla and the Arabs in the surrounding areas became alienated and so were disaffected towards al-Qahir’s rule. Wazir Yahya ibn Abu Mansur recognised this to be a problem and tried to counsel the caliph on the importance of placating all of the major political factions. Al-Qahir ignored the advice and continued to favour his Khurasani courtiers. At the customary shura the caliph eschewed a conciliatory attitude and had his young son Sulayman elected as the second heir to the khilafah; the absence of the western governors and the prominent amirs from their territories was a grim reminder of the Abbasid Caliphate’s problems.

    Tensions in Baghdad came to a head a year after al-Qahir’s accession to the khilafah. A new Khurasani landlord of an estate in the Shammasiya district had an Arab stable hand flogged for a seemingly minor infraction; the other Arab workers of the estate exploded in anger, killing the landlord and his Khurasani guards. They proceeded to riot, join up with more disaffected Arabs, and kill more Khurasani landlords. The violence swept across the Tigris into the Harbiya district, where the abna al-dawla allied with the Arabs and targeted Khurasani residents. The city’s shurta, comprised mostly of abna al-dawla, killed their Khurasani sahib after he ordered them to suppress the rioting. The caliph, inspired by his father’s example from a decade earlier, personally went out to confront the rioters while accompanied by his Khurasani guards; wazir Yahya ibn Abu Mansur’s warning against such a rash action was vindicated by the mob’s unhesitating slaughter of al-Qahir and his retinue. The caliphal administration would have collapsed into infighting and indecision if not for Yahya’s swift response to the caliph’s death. Aided by the Persians and abna al-dawla he began by purging the government of the most egregious Khurasanis, sacking or imprisoning them, and appointing in their place members of the former two groups who were loyal to him. Yahya then dispatched messengers to Azarbayjan to inform Abu Ishaq Muhammad ibn Harun al-Abbasi of recent events and summon him to Baghdad. Instead of suppressing the rioters as many of his colleagues urged him to do, Yahya waited for their zeal to dissipate and for them to return to their homes. A few of the ringleaders of the riot were later tracked down and executed long after calm had returned to the city.

    Abu Ishaq Muhammad ibn Harun al-Abbasi arrived in Baghdad after the tumult had subsided and was hurriedly enthroned as the new khalifah; he took the regnal name al-Mu’tasim. His conduct during the swiftly-convened shura was unprecedented: al-Mu’tasim convinced the gathered amirs to demote the young Sulayman ibn al-Qahir from the position of first heir to second. Despite its controversial nature the motion proved to be popular among those gathered, as the previous caliph’s son was deemed to be too young to be competent at the time. Once again the western governors and amirs were absent, but the prince’s demotion piqued their interest in the new caliph. For the position of first heir, al-Mu’tasim promoted the candidacy of Musa ibn al-Abbas ibn Abdallah ibn Ja’far ibn al-Mansur due to the bravery and skill he demonstrated during the recent war with the Romans. Wazir Yahya ibn Abu Mansur was worried about the nomination of such an overtly hawkish choice, but he remained silent on the matter and so Musa ibn al-Abbas was elected with little opposition.

    Caliph al-Mu’tasim had arrived in Baghdad accompanied by his private army of Turkish ghilman. At this juncture the Abbasid khalifah had at his command two main armies: the regular, salaried standing army, dominated by the abna al-dawla and Arabs from the eastern provinces; and the feudal-like army of noble Iranian cavalry and their attendants. The ghilman were relatively small in number but well-trained and ostensibly loyal only to al-Mu’tasim. Consequently they were a potentially destabilising force in the already fractious Abbasid political scene. Thus the caliph learned from the mistakes of his predecessor and decided to build a new garrison city for his ghilman to the north of Baghdad. A site was chosen on the banks of the Tigris and construction began in 825 CE. At the urging of the wazir, al-Mu’tasim promised not to relocate his capital though that did not stop him from constructing a palace for himself.[2] The city was officially named Surra Man Ra’a, though many of its residents referred to it by the name of the nearby abandoned ancient city of Samarra. Governance of the new city was entrusted to the most prominent commanders of the ghilman, Abu Ja’far Ashinas and Wasif al-Turki. Caliph al-Mu’tasim split his time evenly between Baghdad and Samarra, allowing wazir Yahya ibn Abu Mansur to oversee most of the minutiae of ruling the caliphate.

    The new caliph did have another great project in mind though: the reintegration of the western provinces back within caliphal authority. Humayd ibn Abd al-Hamid al-Ta’i had been succeeded as wali of al-Sham by his nephew Mahdi ibn Asram, leading to tension between the latter and Humayd’s son Muhammad. Wali Khuzayma ibn Khazim ibn Khuzayma al-Tamimi of Misr had since been killed during a tax-related revolt by Coptic Christians; he was succeeded by one of his trusted subordinates, Abu Nasr ibn al-Sari al-Balkhi. The perennially unstable wilaya of Ifriqiya was governed by Nasr ibn Hamza ibn Malik al-Khuza’i after his uncle’s death. Prosperous, home to the major Muslim fortifications against the Romans, and bordering the caliphate’s loyal territory, the province of al-Sham was the logical first step in al-Mu’tasim’s plan. The bureaucracy’s spies and informants had learned of the breakdown in relations between the al-Ta’i cousins. Yahya ibn Abu Mansur proposed the subtle approach of helping Muhammad ibn Humayd al-Ta’i take power, preferably through a palace coup. On the other hand Itakh al-Khazari, the ghulam commander of the haras (the caliphs’ bodyguard unit), argued that an invasion of al-Sham would allow the caliph to assert complete control of the province and strike fear into the other two governors. After much consideration, al-Mu’tasim assented to the wazir’s plan. Spies were dispatched to Dimashq laden with gold dinars; in return for increasing the revenues forwarded to Baghdad and submitting to the caliph’s authority on foreign affairs, Muhammad ibn Humayd al-Ta’i would retain domestic autonomy and have the final say over the appointment of governors for the wilaya. The soon-to-be governor agreed to the terms and set to planning his coup. Mahdi ibn Asram al-Ta’i was murdered in his sleep while simultaneously his most loyal courtiers and appointees were also hunted down and killed. The wilaya of al-Sham was back within caliphal control by 826 CE.

    During his tenure as wazir, Yahya ibn Abu Mansur had been quietly grooming his sons to be prepared to take his place after his death. All of the sons held prominent positions within the diwan al-jund, the diwan al-barid (the postal service), and the diwan al-kharaj (the tax office). Like their father they had also converted to Islam upon joining the bureaucracy, yet they maintained their contacts with the Persian notables of Fars, both Muslim and Zoroastrian. One of the sons, Muhammad, was secretly an Ismaili da’i; his career as a katib (secretary/scribe) in the diwan al-barid served his religious brethren well. Yahya ibn Abu Mansur was struck down by illness in 830 CE and, to the surprise of no-one, al-Mu’tasim appointed Sa’id ibn Yahya ibn Abu Mansur as the new wazir. The new head of the caliphate’s administration was like his father in many ways: he preferred domestic development over expensive conquests; he supported the careful balancing of the various ethnic and social groups at court; and he supported patronising the cultural output of institutions like the Bayt al-Hikmah (House of Wisdom). The point on which he differed from his father though was in how he communicated with others. Sa’id was abrasive and did not mince his words; when he had an opinion on policy, he would boldly state it heedless of the consequences. Unsurprisingly this did not endear him to potential friends or allies, least of all the khalifah.

    [1] His name on Wikipedia appears as Bizist, but I don’t know of that being a Persian name so I’ve tentatively decided that it’s a misspelling of Firishtah.
    [2] IOTL obviously al-Mu’tasim did relocate his capital to Samarra. Arguably as a younger man and with the western provinces out of his control, he would be less inclined to go against the powerful bureaucracy.
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    INTERLUDE: A Glimpse Into a Possible Future, No. 2
  • Interlude: A Glimpse Into a Possible Future, No. 2

    The ‘war’ was not proceeding as smoothly as planned. The maharaja’s forces were being driven back, but at too slow a pace. The Inqelabi Fauj-i Khural (Revolutionary Military Council) believed that the maharaja was receiving arms and 'volunteers' from the reactionary states to the west. Reactionary. Qoshundar [colonel] Krishna Khan Datta smiled as he used the word without a second thought. The qoshundar was a career soldier and before the revolution words like ‘reactionary’ and ‘means of production’ would have been completely foreign to him. If he was being honest they still were mostly foreign to him, but he was a soldier and so was content to follow orders.

    The ‘war’ in question was not officially a war. There was no declaration, no exchange of diplomats, just an outbreak of hostilities between the soldiers stationed on the border. When the old padishah was overthrown the new revolutionary ishtiraki [socialist] state unofficially inherited, despite its claims of a clean break, the international standing and diplomatic problems of the old regime. This included the strip of territory that was now being violently disputed by the neighbouring maharaja. At that moment Krishna Khan’s tovachi [political officer/commissar], Gulbuddin Ferdaus, entered the busy command tent: “The reactionaries have started another offensive,” he announced. As a tovachi, Gulbuddin Ferdaus was responsible for the morale of the soldiers, their education in ishtiraki theory, and relaying complaints about their officers to the Inqelabi Fauj-i Khural. The qoshundar checked his Rao & Badayuni Model 19 pistol and replied, “Well, let’s get to it then.”
    The Three Francias in the Early Viking Age
  • The Three Francias in the Early Viking Age

    King Charles of Neustria died in 809 CE; the wound his brother had inflicted upon him continued to plague his health throughout the rest of his life. From his multiple wives and concubines Charles had many children, but only those from his marriage to Hildegard of Vinzgau were influential at court: Charles the Younger, Pippin, and Louis. Pippin the Hunchback, Charles’ eldest son from a previous marriage, attempted an abortive revolt against his father in 792 CE. As punishment Pippin was exiled to the Kingdom of Mercia.[1] Neustria had suffered from Viking raids during Charles’ reign. Punitive expeditions against Viking bases in Bretonnia always ended in failure as the Vikings’ Breton allies forewarned them of the Frankish approach. The only result of the expeditions was to strengthen the Bretons’ resolve and drive them closer to the Vikings. A more successful strategy was the fortification of bridges on the major rivers within Neustria. Even though the Vikings often dragged their ships overland to avoid the bridge forts, they were vulnerable while doing so. On occasion King Charles found it easier to simply bribe the Vikings to raid his relative’s realm of Austrasia instead, though they were sometimes reluctant to do so.

    Charles was succeeded by Charles the Younger. The new king had proven himself to be a capable commander during his father’s campaigns against the Bretons and the Austrasians. The young Charles also represented the kingdom’s ties with England, due to his marriage to the Mercian princess Ælfflæd.[2] By Frankish tradition though, the elder Charles was obliged to divide his realm among his sons. While Charles the Younger became king and ruler of the northern parts of the kingdom, Pippin was granted Poitiers and the south, and to Louis was given Divio [Dijon] and the south-eastern frontier with the Alemannians. The three brothers were intelligent enough to know that a conflict between them would only benefit their enemies, thus they remained at peace with each other. That is not to say that they cooperated fully though. Louis, who had appropriated the title of Duke of Burgundy, refused to contribute funds to the fortification of bridges as he was unaffected by the Viking raids that so plagued his brothers. Charles and Pippin in turn gave only token support to Louis’ attempted invasion of Alemannia in 811 CE. However, when their Muslim cousin al-Qasim ibn Muhammad Qarulamun al-Qarula led a moderately-sized ghazwa north of the Dordogne in 816 CE, the three brothers hastily assembled their armies and rebuffed the invaders. Fearful of the caliphate’s retaliation, and ignorant of its growing decentralisation, the Christian Franks did not pursue their cousin back into his territory.

    If the Neustrians had invaded the wilaya of al-Faranj, they may have been surprised at the ease of which they could have advanced, for the Qarulid power base was weak. The population of the province was comprised mostly of Gallo-Romans, Basques, and some Goths; the Frankish population was small, and that of the Muslim conquerors (the Arabs, Berbers, and Andalusian muwalladun) even smaller. The rate of conversion to Islam had been slow and most of the converts were Franks associated with Qarulid rule. In the eyes of the majority of the population, they were ruled over by Frankish invaders no different from those of the past. The wali’s military was a combination of previous forms of organisation; the ‘foreign’ Muslim settlers were paid regular wages like elsewhere in the Dar al-Islam. Due to the long distance and the consequent loose control of the caliphate over al-Faranj, the wages of the soldiers came from Rabat al-Faranj rather than Baghdad. On the other hand, most of the Franks were subject to the feudal practice of holding land, usually tax-free, in return for unpaid military service. Some of the less wealthy Franks agitated for inclusion in the salaried regular army, yet only a few were able to join the ranks due to opposition from the Andalusian settlers. As a consequence of these developments, the military of al-Faranj was small but generally loyal.

    After the Vikings had started to settle in Bretonnia, their raids against the coast of al-Faranj began in earnest. They were however prevented from raiding further down the Garonne by the garrison of Mina al-Qamar [Bordeaux].[3] The Atlantic littoral trade routes were vital to the prosperity of Mina al-Qamar, and thus to the treasury of al-Faranj. To combat the Viking threat, wali al-Qasim ibn Muhammad Qarulamun al-Qarula discretely hired Arab shipwrights from Arbuna to build him a navy. Due to the disdain al-Qasim’s followers held towards naval affairs, most of the sailors were recruited from the experienced Basque fishing communities. The new navy of al-Faranj was given its first test in 822 CE when a small Viking fleet sailed up the Adour River and raided the town of Bayuna [Bayonne]. The Faranji navy was too slow to prevent the raid from occurring, but they did catch the Vikings on their northward return journey; battle ensued and the Faranji sailors gave an acceptable account of themselves. Some of the Viking crews chose the painful option of discarding their accrued loot in order to quicken their escape. The unwelcome surprise of a competent naval defence decreased the frequency of Viking raids for a time.

    The Kingdom of Austrasia remained a bastion of safety against the Viking incursions. The Frisian navy, commanded by Eilrad and then Aldgisl, repulsed a number of Viking raids throughout the 790s and 800s CE. In 810 CE King Gudfred of the Danes organised an expedition to conquer Frisia, which he considered to rightfully be part of his realm. The fleet he gathered was much larger than the previous Viking excursions but the opposing Frisian navy was not only equal in size, but the Frisians had adopted the Scandinavian methods of shipbuilding over the years. In an epic naval battle King Gudfred was slain and his defeated host pursued back to Jutland; the Frisians were able to sack the commercial centre of Ribe and return home with considerable loot. From then on, raiders from the Scandinavian world learned to avoid Frisia and its defenders. Some Frisian warriors even made unsanctioned raids against Jutland; both Duke Aldgisl and King Lothair of Austrasia turned a blind eye, but ensured that their tax collectors were in place to take advantage of the new influx of wealth. With his coasts and rivers safe, Lothair was free to subjugate the Saxon tribes to his east. He was only partially successful in this endeavour, expanding his realm to the Weser by 819 CE. Christian missionary efforts were supported but Lothair remained cognisant of the ongoing difficulties in converting Frisia. The king was succeeded by his son Carloman the following year. The new king was keen to intensify the Christianisation efforts in Frisia and western Saxony but was dissuaded by the shrewd advice of his courtiers against the pleas of the clergy. In lieu of this, Carloman turned his sights to the as-yet independent Alemannians to the south.

    [1] OTL he was just exiled to an abbey in Prum, but with a considerably smaller realm ITTL it would be likely that Pippin would be sent even further afield.
    [2] OTL the marriage proposal failed because King Offa of Mercia also wanted Charlemagne’s daughter Bertha to marry prince Ecgfrith. Without his vast empire, Charlemagne ITTL would be much more of an equal to Offa.
    [3] Mina al-Qamar = Port of the Moon, due to the river’s crescent-shaped bend as it passes through the city.
    Frontiers of the Dar al-Islam in the Early Ninth Century CE
  • Frontiers of the Dar al-Islam in the Early Ninth Century CE

    The Berber tribes of the Maghreb remained disunited and at odds with each other for the long period after Maysara al-Matghari’s death following the Berber Revolt. They were not however completely static. A group of Miknasa/Imeknasen Berbers opposed to al-Matghari’s Imamate, later known as the Banu Midrar, founded the town of Sijilmasa which grew wealthy off the trade with the south. As early as Uqba ibn Nafi al-Fihri’s conquests in the Maghreb (seventh and early eighth centuries CE), the Muslims had made contact with the Mande peoples of the Ghana empire to the south. The trade that was established survived the Berber Revolt and supplied the Dar al-Islam with immense quantities of gold, timber, and slaves. Ghana in return desired goods such as salt, horses, and camels. Muslim merchants, and their expertise, were much sought after by the Mande elites but they were prohibited from living in the Ghanaian capital of Kumbi Saleh itself. The two branches of the Trans-Saharan trade network were dominated respectively by the Lamtuna and the Guddala, tribes of the larger Sanhaja/Iznagen Berber confederacy, who did not hesitate to use force to ensure their mastery over trade.

    In 792 CE a certain Hisham ibn Sulayman ibn Abd al-Rahman came to power in the Berber Nafza tribe, claiming to be the grandson of the martyred Umayyad pretender. During the Fourth Fitna the Nafza participated in a number of raids against Ifriqiya which failed to achieve any gains. As a result, Hisham ibn Sulayman was deposed after the Fitna but allowed to live out of respect for his ancestors. Instead the Nafza tribe looked for leadership from the new Banu Rustam movement based in Tahert. Abd al-Rahman ibn Rustam was an Ibadi agitator who had took part in a failed rebellion in Ifriqiya. Afterwards he relocated to Tahert where he was elected Imam in 776 CE; after his death in 788 CE, his son Abd al-Wahhab was elected to be the new Imam. Both Imams had focused on peacefully integrating the neighbouring Berber tribes by creating a durable, rightly-guided state. Their attempts to expand further however faced competition from Ismaili da’is preaching the imminent return of the Mahdi, Muhammad ibn Ismail. Some members of the Kutama/Iktamen tribe met with an Ismaili da’i while on hajj in Makkah; they were impressed with his clandestine proselytising and brought him back to the Maghreb where the rest of the Kutama were won to the Ismaili cause.[1] Meanwhile, other Berber tribes offered their service as mercenaries for the ongoing invasion of Roman Sikelia.

    The wilaya of Fararud was perhaps the most important frontier of the Dar al-Islam. While al-Thughur al-Shamiya was the bulwark against the great ideological enemy of the Roman Empire, Fararud’s significance derived not only from its commanding position in the Silk Road trade network, but also as a defence against the nomadic Turkic tribes of the steppe. Under the direction of wali Yahya ibn Mu’adh ibn Muslim the abna al-dawla had integrated with the natives of the province to the extent that the former were no longer a distinguishable faction within local politics. Dhimmi tributary rulers like the pishin of Ushrusana and the khuda of Bukhara had converted to Islam and were officially appointed as governors of their ancestral realms. Yahya ibn Mu’adh ibn Muslim was succeeded by his son Ahmad in 822 CE. The new wali aimed to continue his father’s policies and, in so doing, fell under the influence of pishin Kawus ibn Kharakhuruh of Ushrusana. The murder of khalifah al-Qahir in the Baghdad riot of 824 CE immediately raised concerns among the newly-converted Iranian elites of the east that a caliphate-wide purge was imminent. Such a purge of course did not materialise, but Iranian immigration to the central Arab lands did decrease as a result.

    Fararud’s frontier position also made it a location of constant ghazi activity. Many ghuzat travelled from all over the caliphate, but especially from Khurasan, to use Fararud as a staging post from which to launch raids against the dhimmi Turks. To the northwest were the Oghuz tribes, led by a yabghu. To the north and east were a confederation of Karluk, Yaghma, Chigil, and Tukhsi tribes; the Karluks were in command of the confederation. They had played an important role in Islamic history when they had defected to the Muslim side during the Battle of Talas in 751 CE against the Chinese Tang dynasty’s army. Regular ghazwas returned a steady influx of loot, arguably the most important of which was slaves. The Sogdians had already had experience of raiding the steppe for slave-soldiers, perhaps being the main influence behind the popularity of the practice among certain Islamic amirs such as khalifah al-Mu’tasim. Peaceful trade was also a source of slaves, produced from the regular inter-nomadic warfare. In the pre-Islamic era, Sogdian traders had established colonies within nomad-ruled territory. With the Islamic conquest of Fararud, Arabs and Iranians from the west entered the mercantile scene and thus Muslim communities appeared in the steppe. They were however in competition with the already present Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Manichaeans, and Zoroastrians. Following the merchants were, unsurprisingly, the clerical communities of the aforementioned denominations.

    To the south of Fararud was a region which straddled the eastern marches of Khurasan and Sistan, and the frontier of al-Hind [India], dominated geographically by the Hindu Kush mountain range. Islamic armies had regularly entered the region to extract tribute from the dhimmi rulers but caliphal control of the region was practically non-existent. The region itself was ethnically and religiously heterogeneous: the Iranian, Indian, and Turkic population were adherents of unreformed Zoroastrianism (perhaps more accurately termed Indo-Iranian paganism), Hinduism, and Buddhism, in addition to smaller communities of Christians, Manichaeans, and Jews. Near the city of Bamiyan there were two massive statues of a Buddha, which drew pilgrims from across the Buddhist world and thus contributed to the flourishing trade in the region. The most powerful rulers of the region were the Kabul Shahi dynasty in Kabul and the Rutbils in Zamindawar; they were both of Turkic origin but the former patronised Buddhism while the latter patronised a god named Zun (perhaps cognate with the western Zurvan).[2] The less powerful lords around the Hindu Kush alternated frequently between Muslim suzerainty and Shahi suzerainty. Much like the nomadic steppe, this region was a prime target for ghazi raids, which comprised a combination of official state-sanctioned ghuzat and private mutatawwi’a (volunteer fighters). To the east of this frontier was Panchanada [Punjab]; the Kabul Shahi dynasty competed for influence over the small rajas of this region with the Karkota dynasty, which had suffered a long decline since the reign of Maharaja Lalitaditya Muktapida.

    To the south of Panchanada lay the Shia Imamate of Sind. While the Pratihara kingdom fought the Rashtrakuta and Pala dynasties over Kanyakubja [Kannauj] and the Ganga [Ganges] valley, Imam Abu al-Hasan Muhammad and his son Husayn commanded armies against the rajas of Bhera, Shorkot, and Dipalpur. The rajas were defeated and, as had become common practice in the Imamate, were invested as governors of their territories. Emboldened by the successful conquests, the Imam led another army south in 813 CE against the Samma Rajputs who ruled Kachchh as feudatories to the Pratihara. The choice to conquer Kachchh was influenced by the raja-governor of Tharparkar, who belonged to the branch of Samma Rajputs who had remained in Sind after the Arab conquest and had since converted to Shi’ism. The army waited until after the monsoon season so that the Rann of Kachchh would be passable; the Samma Rajputs resisted but were no match for the Imam’s forces. Kachchh was brought under the governance of the raja of Tharparkar, for which he was eternally grateful to the Imam. Sind’s expansion was brought to a halt in 815 CE however when news arrived that the Pratihara ruler Nagabhata had conquered Kanyakubja and declared himself maharajadhiraja (great king of kings). After his conquests in the Ganga valley were secure, the victorious Pratihara king marched his army westwards to besiege Multan. Abu al-Hasan Muhammad gathered his army and met the Pratihara forces in battle outside the city; Nagabhata continued his victorious streak, forcing the Imam and his forces to retreat to al-Mansurah. Multan fell to the besiegers, was sacked, and the famous idol of the god Surya at the city’s equally famous temple was stolen by Nagabhata and taken to his new capital of Kanyakubja. The Imam’s legitimacy among his Hindu and Buddhist subjects was thus severely damaged.

    The southwest of Arabiyya comprised the wilaya of al-Yaman, the traditional homeland of the Qahtan tribes who were now dispersed throughout the Dar al-Islam. The province suffered from regular disturbances and minor revolts by the local tribes which encouraged the central government in Baghdad to appoint outsiders as governors, usually Abbasid princes or members of the abna al-dawla. Geographically al-Yaman was split between the coastal lowlands and the central highlands, the latter being the region where most of the instability emanated from. On occasion the governors were even driven out of the province by rebels, and in 829 CE wali Abu al-Razi Muhammad ibn Abd al-Hamid was killed in battle by Ibrahim al-Manakhi ibn Abu Ja’far al-Himyari. The killing of the governor was enough to convince wazir Yahya ibn Abu Mansur to consider appointing a local tribal leader to oversee the province. Once again he clashed with the ghulam Itakh al-Khazari, who believed that dispatching an army of ghilman would be sufficient to put a stop to the constant rebellions. Wanting to maintain a balance at court, khalifah al-Mu’tasim sided with his ghulam even though Yahya ibn Abu Mansur’s strategy had prevailed in al-Sham. Bugha al-Kabir was appointed as the leader of the expedition and as the wali of al-Yaman; he was instructed to bring the province to heel by any means necessary. The ghilman army easily took control of the coastal lowland regions but the highlands, unsurprisingly, proved to be more of a challenge. Villages and towns which provided aid to the rebels were sacked and their populations massacred or driven out. Not only did this fuel the rebelliousness of the highlands, where the rebels consolidated their few fortified cities, but the displacement of the refugees to the coastal cities and the latter’s inability to manage also reignited rebellion there as well. Bugha al-Kabir saw no fault with his strategy and so continued on.

    The Muslim invasion of Roman Sikelia continued apace after the peace agreement between Emperor Constantine VI and khalifah al-Hakim in 820 CE; Roman reinforcements under the command of the emperor’s twin Leo arrived in Syrakousai. Part of the Roman army under strategos Gregory regarrisoned the fortress of Ragusia, while the rest under Leo marched to nearby Motouka [Modica]. The Roman cavalry, commanded by tourmarkhes Euphemius, reconnoitred west toward Gela; the Muslims had fortified there and at Agrigentum. At the latter city, more reinforcements from Misr arrived regularly. Abu Zaki al-Kinani, who was still in overall command of the expedition, decided to continue focusing on the west of the island. To this end, an army was formed from the newly arriving soldiers, and they moved to besiege Mazara again. As the Muslims were besieging Mazara, Euphemius’ cavalry raided the villages around Gela and consistently were able to avoid sallies from the city’s garrison. Mazara finally fell to the Muslims and Abu Zaki al-Kinani, regretting his prior lenience at Agrigentum, ordered the surviving garrison to be enslaved. The nearby town of Lilybaeum [Marsala] sent a delegation to negotiate their surrender once they heard of the enslavement at Mazara. In the meantime, Leo had decided that Gela was vulnerable enough for a siege. This time the Muslim garrison remained firm, even after the Roman fleet arrived and defeated a Muslim fleet, after which it began to blockade the city. The city surrendered after a few months and most of the Muslim garrison were enslaved and dispatched back to Konstantinoupolis for Leo’s planned triumph.

    The Roman resurgence was cut short however by a scandal at court in 823 CE. It was dramatically revealed that the identical twins Constantine and Leo regularly swapped places so that the emperor could engage his passion in womanising with the married ladies of the court. Besides the outrage this caused, it was only a short leap of the imagination from there to wonder whether Constantine was the one actually fighting in Sikelia. The twin at Gela was recalled to court to explain his actions; he complied but insisted on returning with most of the reinforcements that he had brought. Ultimately Leo, or at least the twin believed to be Leo, was castrated and exiled to a monastery. Emperor Constantine remained intact but it became clear that his power among the nobility, and definitely the clergy, had its limits; many at court were also loathe to send manpower to defend Sikelia at the expense of Mikra Asia. On the ground in Sikelia, strategos Gregory knew that his position in Gela was untenable, so he did his best to evacuate the populace and torch the city to the ground. Meanwhile, Abu Zaki al-Kinani had besieged and conquered Drepana [Trapani]. From there he moved on to besiege the well-fortified city of Panormus [Palermo]; the siege lasted for over a year and, once completed, secured the western half of the island for the Muslims. After the cautious re-occupation of Gela, the Muslims planned an offensive against Ragusia. However the pro-Abbasid coup in al-Sham in late 825 CE shocked the wali of Misr, inducing him to recall his troops from Sikelia in order to prepare for a potential invasion by the Abbasid Caliphate. With both the Muslim and Roman forces on the island drastically reduced in size, warfare settled into an almost choreographed phase of routine raids and sorties.

    [1] This happened OTL as well but much later at the end of the century.
    [2] As you can see, I’m leaning toward the side in the historiographical debate that Rutbil was a deformation of the Turkic title ilteber, rather than a misspelling of Zunbil.
    The Mixed Fortunes of Caliph al-Mu’tasim
  • The Mixed Fortunes of Caliph al-Mu’tasim

    The succession of Sa’id ibn Yahya ibn Abu Mansur to the position of wazir in 830 CE occurred without much fanfare; after all the position, while important, was nominally an administrative role that served at the discretion of the khalifah. Yet the size of the administration and its permanence throughout the various crises of the Abbasid Caliphate had given the position of wazir a power all of its own. Sa’id ibn Yahya ibn Abu Mansur likely did not set out to strengthen his power when he began his tenure, nor did he likely see himself as more than a mere servant of the caliph. Personally austere and disdainful of court intrigue, Sa’id was also a keen astronomer, much like his father and grandfather before him. His view of the ordered heavens and celestial spheres was mirrored in his view of the Abbasid Caliphate, and so he developed a reputation of striving for efficiency in government. This attitude, along with his terse and stubborn nature, polarised opinion of him; Caliph al-Mu’tasim was one of those who fell into the category of intensely disliking the wazir.

    The most pressing issue for Sa’id ibn Yahya ibn Abu Mansur after his appointment was Bugha al-Kabir’s reign of terror in al-Yaman. The wilaya was important not only for its role in trade, but also due to its proximity to the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah. A large rebellion in al-Yaman, which now seemed certain, could easily spill over into the Hejaz. Without consulting the khalifah, Sa’id recalled Bugha al-Kabir to the capital; the ghulam complied without issue as he assumed the order was given by al-Mu’tasim. The caliph was furious with the wazir and publicly castigated him at court; privately though, and begrudgingly, he agreed with Sa’id’s assessment of Bugha al-Kabir’s conduct. Thinking himself to be sly, al-Mu’tasim appointed Musa ibn Yahya ibn Khalid al-Baramika of the once-dominant Barmakid family to be the new wali of al-Yaman. Unknown to many at court was the fact that the Barmakids and the Banu al-Munajjim had become allies early on in the latter family’s career. The wazir’s plans for al-Yaman could therefore continue unimpeded. Musa ibn Yahya immediately began negotiations with the rebel groups in the highlands which focused first on the repatriation of refugees; peace between the rebels and the government in Adan was a more drawn-out process.

    In 831 CE Caliph al-Mu’tasim resumed the annual raiding of Roman territory after a hiatus of eleven years. Sa’id ibn Yahya ibn Abu Mansur opposed the resumption of hostilities but recognised that the khalifah had to demonstrate his credentials as a competent military leader. That year al-Mu’tasim led an army to Seleukeia and besieged the city; the ghilman cavalry routed the local thematic army, allowing the rest of the Muslim army to sack the city without interruption. The caliph returned to Samarra and celebrated his victory with his ghilman. Buoyed by his success, al-Mu’tasim decided to force the wali of Misr to fully accept the authority of the khilafah. Unsurprisingly the wazir expressed his opposition to the venture in no uncertain terms, and cautioned that such a misstep could lead to a new fitna. Al-Mu’tasim sent a strongly-worded ultimatum to the wali, Abu Nasr ibn al-Sari al-Balkhi, but started assembling his army of ghilman and abna al-dawla before he even received a reply. The Misri governor knew that he would be unable to defeat the Abbasid invasion: while his fleet was powerful, he could only rely on his modest force of fellow abna al-dawla as Abbasid governance had done little to endear the original Arab settlers or the native Copts to foreign rule. As such, al-Balkhi surrendered to al-Mu’tasim when the latter’s army arrived at al-Fustat in late 831 CE. The former wali was arrested and escorted to Baghdad by most of the invading army. Al-Mu’tasim remained in al-Fustat to oversee the integration of Misr back into the caliphate, under the governance of the ghulam Abu Ja’far Ashinas.

    Lacklustre revenues from Misr had been a feature of the wilaya even before the abna al-dawla’s quiet secession. This was due in part to poor administration rather than paucity of wealth, for the province was replete with the latter. The other primary drain on revenue was the salaries paid to the jund (army) which was comprised almost entirely of the original Qahtan Arab settlers. This was in spite of the fact that the local jund rarely saw active service outside of the province. The khalifah and Abu Ja’far Ashinas decided to not only increase existing taxes, but also introduce new ones. Discontent immediately flared across Misr and the pastoral Qays settlers of Misr al-Sufla [Lower Egypt] ceased their payment of all taxes. Al-Mu’tasim mobilised the remnant of the army he had brought with him as well as the Arab jund, and marched east to face the rebels. However, rumours that Abu Ja’far Ashinas planned to disestablish the jund (which turned out to be true) spread throughout the Arab soldiery, causing them to secretly reach an agreement with Qays rebels; upon the battle commencing, the jund would turn on the caliph’s forces.[1] The plan worked perfectly and many ghilman, including Ashinas, were slain in the battle; al-Mu’tasim only barely escaped and he and his fellow survivors were pursued back to al-Fustat where the now-combined Arab rebels besieged the city.

    News of the rebellion swiftly reached Baghdad and Sa’id ibn Yahya ibn Abu Mansur immediately ordered the remobilisation of the army; this time, the Iranian nobility were also raised. Due to the urgency of the crisis the army was exclusively composed of cavalry, which favoured the ghilman and dihqans over the abna al-dawla; a young Persian noble named al-Hasan Farrukhan ibn Manuchihr al-Sirafi was appointed to command the army by the wazir. The leaders among the ghilman and abna al-dawla grumbled but they knew that their cohorts had spectacularly failed to put down the rebellion or protect the caliph, so they refrained from protesting too loudly. The army rode with all haste to Misr and engaged the Arab rebels outside of Fustat; the Arabs were easily run off by the heavily armoured cavalry. A portion of the ghilman gave chase while al-Hasan Farrukhan ibn Manuchihr al-Sirafi entered the city in triumph; the parallel between this event and the Sasanian conquest of Misr during the last great war against the Romans was certainly not lost on the young Persian. Al-Sirafi introduced himself to Caliph al-Mu’tasim and informed the caliph that he was to be escorted back to Baghdad; sullen and embarrassed by his failure, al-Mu’tasim complied. Accompanying the relief army into Misr were Baghdadi bureaucrats with instructions to reinstate Abbasid control over the wilaya. They were to liaise with the local Arab notables and appoint a governor from among their number; ‘Amr ibn Ubayd Allah al-Tujibi, who had sympathised with the traitorous members of the jund but had refused to join them, was chosen as the new wali. He gave bay’ah to Caliph al-Mu’tasim and, with the aid of the Baghdadi bureaucrats, set about reforming the tax system in a way that wouldn’t cause outrage among the populace.

    The conquest of Misr convinced wali Nasr ibn Hamza ibn Malik al-Khuza’i of Ifriqiya that the time for rebellion was over. Accordingly, he personally travelled to Baghdad to submit to the khalifah’s mercy; al-Mu’tasim was still put out by his fiasco in Misr and so left the decision to Sa’id ibn Yahya ibn Abu Mansur. The wazir confirmed al-Khuza’i as governor in Ifriqiya and ordered him to return to his responsibilities, though he was accompanied by trusted abna al-dawla from Fars. Now that the western provinces had miraculously been recovered, the Abbasid government in Baghdad took stock of the Dar al-Islam’s situation. In Ruma al-Gharbiya, old age finally caught up to wali Harthama ibn A’yan in 829 CE and he was succeeded by his son Hatim; Sa’id ibn Yahya ibn Abu Mansur had the investiture documents confirming the succession dispatched in 832 CE. Historians from the central Dar al-Islam lauded Harthama ibn A’yan, even comparing him to Abu Muslim. The assessment of native Muslim sources from Ruma al-Gharbiya were much more neutral however, owing to their affinity for al-Andalus and ibn A’yan’s establishment of a force of Saqaliba ghilman. In the neighbouring province of al-Andalus, Fihrid rule had remained mostly quiet and uneventful until a Basque rebellion in 819 CE resulted in the death of wali Ilyas ibn Muhammad al-Fihri. The ever-cautious Banu Fihr once again avoided fraternal conflict and elected Ilyas’ younger brother Habib in his place. By contrast, al-Qasim ibn Muhammad Qarulamun al-Qarula still governed the far reaches of the Dar al-Islam in al-Faranj.

    [1] A similar event actually happened OTL in 784 CE, again due to stringent tax reforms.
    Non-Muslim Religions in the Dar al-Islam as of the Mid-Ninth Century CE
  • Non-Muslim Religions in the Dar al-Islam as of the Mid-Ninth Century CE

    What is now the Islamic world was once considered to be the centre of the Christian world; three of the patriarchates of the Pentarchy (al-Quds [Jerusalem], al-Iskandariyya [Alexandria], and Antakiyya [Antioch]) are under the jurisdiction of the Abbasid Caliphate, and Christians remain a majority or plurality in many provinces of the caliphate. The Chalcedonian Roman Church, associated with the Roman Empire, has undisputed control over the patriarchates of Roma and Konstantinoupolis. The patriarchs of Roma had been growing distant from the Roman Empire, but the success of the Islamic conquests pushed the patriarchs back towards the Roman Emperor. The continuance of imperial iconoclasm has left the relationship strained however. Within the Dar al-Islam adherents of the Roman Church are the dominant denomination in Filastin, parts of al-Sham and the al-Thughur al-Shamiya, Tiflisi [Georgia], Ifriqiya, al-Maghreb, al-Andalus, al-Faranj, Ruma al-Gharbiya, and Siqilliya [Sicily]. The term Melkite is used to describe the Greek, Syriac, and Arabic adherents of the Roman Church in al-Sham.

    Christianity however is as diverse as it is widespread. The dispute over the nature(s) of Christ resulted in a schism in the fifth century CE. The Miaphysite Churches remain in communion with each other and are divided on geography and ethnicity rather than theology. They are: the Coptic Orthodox Church in Misr; the Syriac Orthodox Church (also known as Jacobites after Jacob bar Addai) in parts of al-Sham, al-Jazira, and Iraq; and the Armenian Apostolic Church in Arminiya. The Copts are headquartered in al-Iskandariyya, the Jacobites in Antakiyya, and the Armenians in Dabil [Dwin]. In competition with the Jacobites is the (also Syriac) Nestorian Church of the East, headquartered in Baghdad. They are the dominant Christian denomination in al-Jazira, Iraq, Iran, Khurasan, Fararud, and al-Hind; outside of the Dar al-Islam their influence spreads even further east into China and among the Turkic nomads of the Eurasian steppe. Among the Armenians a Gnostic-influenced sect known as Paulicianism has been slowly growing over the last two centuries amidst persecution by Roman authorities, while in al-Andalus “Adoptionist” theology is unofficially supported by the Fihrid governors.

    Formerly the state religion of Iran, Zoroastrianism has suffered a decline since the Arab conquest. Some of the Zoroastrian clergy (asronan) joined the Islamic administration but the loss of state patronage has all but impoverished those who have failed to retain their estates and temples. Due to the decline in the Zoroastrian population, the asronan, who traditionally transmitted the faith orally, have begun to preserve their scripture by writing it down. In addition to the official scripture, clerics are composing scriptural commentaries as well as original theological treatises and ritual manuals. The languages used for this corpus of compositions are Middle Persian, (New) Persian, and Avestan (for the scripture). Curiously some of this vernacular literary output has been patronised by the newly-converted Persian nobility; clearly, their history and culture exercises a hold over them despite their embracing of Islam.

    Zoroastrianism is still strong in Fars, and has remained notable to varying degrees across the rest of Iran, Khurasan, and Fararud, while small communities in Iraq and eastern Arabiyya continue to exist. Additionally, refugees from the initial Arab conquests have spread eastwards to various locations across al-Hind. However the further west into Iraq, north into Daylam, and east into Khurasan and Fararud you go, the less orthodox Zoroastrianism becomes. Other deities of the Iranian pantheon become more dominant, and the religion is sometimes syncretised with neighbouring, related faiths. The last major Zoroastrian ruler within the Dar al-Islam is the Dabuyid ispahbadh of Tabaristan.

    Buddhism and Jainism
    Buddhism within the Dar al-Islam is most popular in the frontiers of Khurasan and in Sind, though there are sizeable communities in Fararud and even to the west in Iran. In Khurasan the religion has even seen growth; this may perhaps be attributed to the Barmakid family. While part of the family converted to Islam and continue to serve the caliphate, the other branch has remained in Balkh as the hereditary pramukhas (abbots) of the large Nava Vihara/Naw Bahar monastery complex (the name Barmak is the Arabic rendering of pramukha). The pramukhas are almost the unofficial leaders of Balkh, and their links with both al-Hind and Baghdad has resulted in the transmission of Indian literature and knowledge in to the Dar al-Islam. Within the Imamate of Sind many rajas, now governors, were or still are Buddhist, as are their subjects.

    Jainism, confined mostly to Sind, is considerably less widespread than either Buddhism or Hinduism. It is however no less important within Sind, where Jain establishments such as temples and monasteries are patronised by governors and sometimes even the Imam himself. Part of the Jain community’s prevalence is explained through their emerging role in trade and finance, both of which are vital to Sind’s continued survival.

    Within the Dar al-Islam Hinduism is, like Buddhism, most prominent in Sind and the Khurasani frontier with al-Hind. A number of rulers in Khurasan who inconsistently pay tribute to Islamic governors are Hindu, though their beliefs are often syncretised with Buddhism and regional forms of Zoroastrianism. Some of the rajas-turned-governors in the Imamate of Sind remain Hindu, along with their subject populations. Buddhism and Hinduism alike in Sind are losing adherents to Shia Islam, but the recent theft of the famous Surya idol by the Pratihara king has shaken the population’s confidence in the Imam.

    The Jewish diaspora had existed long before the Islamic era and so can be found in almost every part of the Dar al-Islam. The Abbasid rise to power, and the attendant relocation of Islamic rule to Iraq and the founding of Baghdad, has resulted in the increased prominence of Judaism. The lineage of exilarchs (Resh Galuta), allegedly descended from the Biblical King David, have been granted a place at the caliphal court to act as the nominal head of the Jewish community within the Dar al-Islam; the Sasanian Empire did the same. Furthermore, the move to Iraq has given greater prestige to the geonim, the directors of the local ancient academies of Sura and Pumbedita. These legal scholars are the de facto leaders of the Jewish diaspora, as their injunctions are considered to be binding. However an academy in Tabariyya [Tiberias] in Filastin provides an alternative to the authority of the Iraqi geonim. In the last century a new Jewish denomination, which will come to be known as Karaites, has appeared; they believe that the only source for religious law (halakha) is the Bible, and thus reject the rabbis and their oral traditions. The recent conversion of the Khazar elite, often an enemy of the Abbasid Caliphate, to Judaism has not resulted in major changes to Khazar society, and so has not resulted in a change in the treatment of Jews within the Dar al-Islam. Apart from Iraq, other important Jewish populations are located in Misr, Ifriqiya, al-Andalus, Filastin, and Fararud.

    Mandaeism and Manichaeism
    The Gnostic Mandaeans successfully convinced the Arab conquerors that they were the Sabians mentioned in the Quran. Since then they have been tolerated as one of the dhimma. Almost all of the Mandaeans inhabit Iraq and Khuzestan, with the area around Wasit being a particularly important centre of the religion.

    Much like Christianity and Judaism, Manichaeism had spread across the civilised world before the arrival of Islam, though it had suffered a decline even before the Islamic conquests. Large communities of Manichaeans exist in Fararud and to the east outside of the Dar al-Islam, where many of the leading tribes of the Uyghur Khaganate have also converted. Recently a schism has occurred between the Manichaeans based in Baghdad, the religion’s traditional seat of power, and those based in Samarkand.

    Various Indigenous Traditions
    Straddling the border region of al-Andalus and al-Faranj are the Basque people. By the time of the Islamic conquests, Christianisation had achieved only minor progress among the Basques. Even though Muslim governors turn a blind eye to small Christian missionary efforts, the lack of state support has resulted in most of the Basque population retaining their ancient belief system. The diverse Basque pantheon is centred on the goddess Mari and her consort Sugaar; characteristically chthonic and animistic, the religion is strongest in the disparate rural settlements of the region.

    Even though most Berbers have converted to some form of Islam, some have retained their traditional belief in a pantheon of gods, some of whom exhibit ancient Graeco-Roman and Kemetic influences. Some of the tribes of the Barghawata confederacy have even syncretised their traditional beliefs with Islam under the direction of their former ruler Salih ibn Tarif.

    In the centre of the Dar al-Islam the religions of the ancient Semitic peoples have dwindled to negligibility, mostly due to the advance of Christianity. There are some cities however such as Arbil, Harran, and Sur [Tyre] where the ancient gods still have their followers.
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    The Beginnings of the Zanj Revolt
  • The Beginnings of the Zanj Revolt

    After the ructions of the Misr affair, wazir Sa’id ibn Yahya ibn Abu Mansur decided to focus on domestic affairs and prevent further entanglements in foreign ventures (not counting the annual ghazwa against the Romans). Sa’id noticed, with concern, that the revenues from the Iranian provinces had been declining for some time. As the Banu al-Munajjim remained close to the Iranian nobility, the wazir knew that the reduced income was due to previous policies of tax-free land grants of former sawafi (crown lands) to the dihqans. Though this achieved the purpose of creating a new army that lessened the caliphate’s reliance on the abna al-dawla, it had also resulted in the loss of a large amount of land-based revenue. Revoking the land was out of the question; the dihqans would revolt and likely win against any loyalist armies. Additionally, the Iranian nobility had been granted full ownership of the land, so the legal ramifications of the revocation would have been far-reaching. Sa’id’s solution was to increase revenue on land the government still had ownership of; namely that of the mawat (dead lands) around the Shatt al-Arab near Basra. The aforementioned lands were considered “dead” because they remained uncultivated, but not irreclaimable. Previous land reclamation and irrigation projects in Iraq had been accomplished through a combination of state and private initiatives, though in many cases private individuals were often employees of the state in some manner or other.

    The wazir chose to continue the joint state-private approach for the Shatt al-Arab. Competent bureaucrats who shared Sa’id’s drive for efficiency were rewarded with qati’a land grants in which they gained full ownership of the land in return for payment of the ‘ushr tax, which was considerably less than the kharaj, as long as they restored the productivity of said land. Meanwhile the bureaucracy prepared for the state’s land reclamation effort by amassing a labour force: prisoners of war from the annual raids against the Roman Empire were utilised, and those enslaved by private mutatawwi’ ventures were purchased by the government. Previously an important source for servile labour was Sind and other parts of al-Hind but the successful Shia rebellion in Sind had reduced their exports of manpower, leading to the government having to procure more slaves from the lands of al-Zanj [East Africa]. The dramatic increase in slave purchases was costly in the short-term, but it would be justified by the long-term rise in revenue. The first stage of the land reclamation involved the removal of the salt crust from the salt flats of the mawat; this was laborious work and was assigned mostly to the Zanji slaves. Once the land was reclaimed, it was to be irrigated or drained, as appropriate, through the construction of canals or the repair of damaged ones. Sa’id ibn Yahya ibn Abu Mansur was greatly influenced by the writings of a previous bureaucrat, Abu Yusuf,[1] on the importance of maintaining Iraq’s delicate yet intensive irrigation system. In addition to the growth of staple crops like barley, wheat, and rice, and cash crops such as sugarcane, the irrigation works were vital to bringing drinking water to Basra.

    The first signs of trouble occurred in 835 CE in the form of a work stoppage by Zanji slaves on a state project near Basra. The local shurta forced the slaves back to work with little effort and the foremen increased the workload to make up for lost time. Basra had long been a centre for the Kharijites despite constant repression by caliphal authorities. The local Kharijites of course heard of the unrest and decided to investigate; Yazid ibn Umar al-Shaybani, a veteran instigator of Kharijite unrest in al-Jazira, was chosen for the mission. Al-Shaybani posed as a slave dealer in order to gain access to the Zanji slaves, where he discretely encouraged them to rebel and promised significant aid from his fellow Kharijites. Many of the Zanji slaves remained noncommittal though, so al-Shaybani shifted his efforts towards other slaves and the prisoners of war. Meanwhile, the other Kharijites began to spread discontent in Basra, focusing on the promise of the shura and rightly-guided government descending into factionalism and petty politics. After a year of preparation the rebels struck: the shurta in Basra were massacred, the governor executed, and the city’s treasury looted. Simultaneously, the pro-Kharijite elements of the labour force killed their overseers and terrorised the estates of new landowners in the area. The rebels in Basra withdrew from the city and united with those in the marshes, and together they established themselves at a vacated estate to the south of Basra. Participating in the revolt alongside the slaves and veteran Kharijites were Zaydis and some discontented rural Arab tribesmen.

    Caliph al-Mu’tasim and wazir Sa’id ibn Yahya ibn Abu Mansur immediately convened a meeting of senior government officials when they were informed of the rebellion. For once, the wazir and khalifah were in agreement; decisive military action was needed, though Sa’id convinced al-Mu’tasim not to lead the campaign himself. Bugha al-Kabir’s reputation for ruthlessness secured him the position of commanding the army, while the increasingly notable al-Hasan Farrukhan ibn Manuchihr al-Sirafi would bring reinforcements from Iran. The ghulam and his army of ghilman and abna al-dawla marched for Basra right away. Bugha al-Kabir’s army encountered no resistance when they entered Basra and learned that after the success of the first revolt the rest of the slaves had either joined the rebels or dispersed. As such, the food situation of Basra and nearby towns would become critical in the near future if supply lines were not established. True to form, Bugha al-Kabir had no patience for consolidating control of Basra beyond garrisoning his infantry there, and instead went out with his cavalry to hunt the rebels. The Persian army under al-Hasan Farrukhan ibn Manuchihr al-Sirafi arrived soon afterwards and were appraised of the situation. A first-generation convert, al-Sirafi’s forebears had wisely decided to invest what little surplus capital they had into the new trading opportunities of their port city as a way of coping with the burden of the jizya. In Basra’s supply situation, there was an opportunity for al-Sirafi to both improve his political and financial power, and to achieve the goals of the military campaign; that is, to end the rebellion.

    Bugha al-Kabir’s hunt for the rebels meanwhile was proving to be fruitless. The Abbasid cavalry ran into a small band of rebels not long after leaving Basra, and massacred them with ease. The ghulam came across a few more small bands in the following weeks; his string of victories continued, but large armies of rebels remained elusive. As the Abbasid commanders would later discover, the rebels had hidden their loot and dispersed their forces across the region, taking up refuge in deserted estates and sympathetic villages. The Kharijite leaders of the rebellion were convinced that previous large revolts against caliphal authority had failed because they had created parallel governments with easily identifiable centres, which in turn resulted in sieges and pitched battles which the rebels ultimately lost. As such, the strategy for this rebellion revolved around attacking powerful landlords, local shurta units, and trade caravans while preaching Kharijite doctrine was eschewed in favour of a broader anti-government message. The Abbasid commanders were unprepared for countering this strategy and so continued their separate plans: Bugha al-Kabir hunting for the rebels with his mobile cavalry, while al-Hasan Farrukhan ibn Manuchihr al-Sirafi consolidated control of Basra.

    [1] OTL he was a famous jurist and student of Abu Hanifa (of Hanafi fame). Abu Yusuf also wrote the Kitab al-Kharaj about taxation and finance.
    End of the Bulgars?
  • End of the Bulgars?

    Dilyarek Khan had reached an advanced age by the time he died in 826 CE. His khanate at Preslav had become wealthy and prosperous, but this hadn’t ameliorated the pagan boilas’ hostility towards the growth of that foreign poison named Christianity. Following Dilyarek’s death, the virulently anti-Christian Ugyek was elected to be the new khan. Awkwardly though Ugyek Khan was also strongly opposed to Omurtag Khan’s realm in Singidunon, so a reconciliation between the two halves of the Bulgar Khanate remained an unlikely prospect. The new khan’s opening move was to officially restore Pliska as the capital, though this was more a fait accompli as the pagan boilas had long spurned Preslav and its cosmopolitan Christian character. The shift of capital did however serve as a prelude to Ugyek’s grand plan: a pogrom against the Christians. The khan personally led the boilas and their retinues in massacring the civilian Christian population of Preslav; the scenes of mayhem were replicated across the major cities of the khanate. Economically speaking, the policy would prove to be disastrous. Besides the Christian priests and monks, large portions of the artisanal and mercantile communities had embraced Christianity. Ugyek Khan and the anti-Christian faction failed to appreciate the irony that the wealth that had outfitted their soldiers was made possible by the people they were now killing. Survivors of the pogrom fled south to the protection of the Roman Empire.

    Later Roman depiction of the Bulgar persecution of Christians

    The Bulgar pogroms had a galvanising effect on the Roman Empire. Since the scandal surrounding Emperor Constantine VI’s duplicitous womanising, much of the imperial nobility and bureaucracy had been stonewalling any and all of the emperor’s initiatives. The martyrdom of fellow Christians, some of whom were the emperor’s subjects, just across the Bulgar border was an intolerable offence however. Constantine and his court were unanimous in their desire for a punitive war against Ugyek Khan. The Romans mobilised an army from all of the mainland European themes and some of the western themes of Mikra Asia. The Roman forces converged near the often contested fort of Markellai, before advancing further north into Bulgar territory. The bloodlust of Ugyek Khan’s troops was up after the massacres of the Christians and so the Bulgars eagerly marched south to intercept the Romans. The two armies met near the Ticha [Kamchiya] River in 827 CE; what the Bulgars lacked in numbers they made up for in morale, yet the Romans also fought with a righteous fury to avenge the martyrs of Preslav and elsewhere. The Bulgar army was defeated and almost annihilated, but the Romans also suffered heavy casualties. Both Emperor Constantine and Ugyek Khan survived the gruelling ordeal; the latter returned to Pliska while the Romans moved to Odessos to recuperate.

    It was at this point that two actors waiting in the wings decided to make their move. Omurtag Khan saw his chance to expand his realm and seized it, hastily raising an army and marching to take Badin [Vidin]. The garrison opened the city’s gates and surrendered voluntarily to Omurtag though as news had reached them of Ugyek’s defeat. Omurtag then dispatched riders to demand fealty from the nearby towns to the west of the Danube. To the east, at the fortress of Ovech [Provadia] was a boila named Isbul. Though opposed to the joint influence of the Romans and Christianity in the khanate, he was intelligent enough to recognise that it was a terrible decision to persecute the Christians, and even warned Ugyek that the Romans would retaliate. Isbul and his men retired to his fortress and was of course proven correct. With Ugyek’s defeat and Pliska being all but open to the Romans, Isbul surmised that the eastern Bulgar Khanate was done for. The shrewd boila sent messengers to Odessos to request an audience with Emperor Constantine; the emperor replied in the affirmative. Isbul was escorted to Odessos for his meeting. Following the diplomatic pleasantries Isbul boldly stated that he knew that the Romans were going to annex the khanate outright, and that it was a sensible plan, but the emperor would need local partners to effectively rule the conquered territories. The boila unsurprisingly offered his services as the local partner in question. Constantine was intrigued; he had been hoping to annex the Bulgar Khanate in its entirety, but was unsure of how he would actually go on to do that. Isbul’s offer seemed too good to be true, but the emperor would be a fool to turn it down out of hand so he accepted. Isbul was appointed as the arkhon of the Bulgar lands to the south of the Danube.

    With a post-war settlement negotiated, Emperor Constantine, Isbul, and their armies marched on Pliska. Against expectations, Ugyek Khan and some of his loyal boilas fled to Badin, expecting Omurtag Khan to be there and hoping to take refuge. Omurtag was pitiless however and had the exiles detained then beheaded. After the Romans had taken Pliska and Preslav with ease, they went to Badin with the goal of taking Ugyek’s western territories. Constantine was surprised to find Omurtag already there, but also torn between relief at not having to overextend his reach and annoyance at part of his prize being lost. The remaining Bulgar khan offered peace and friendship with the Romans, supplemented with the gift of the heads of Ugyek and his followers. Omurtag further claimed that Christians in his realm were treated with respect and protected from harm,[1] though this was an exaggeration as there were few Christians in his khanate and they were mostly ignored. Constantine graciously accepted the gifts and concluded a formal non-aggression treaty with Omurtag; though Ugyek’s former territories north of the Danube were left conspicuously absent from the negotiations. Constantine would have liked to regain those long lost territories but he had far more than enough to consolidate after the war. The treaty was thus a tacit cession of those lands to Omurtag Khan who wasted no time in imposing his authority over the Bulgar, Slavic, and Vlach tribes in the region. Meanwhile arkhon Isbul set to work on attempting to simultaneously revitalise the devastated cities under his administration and accommodate both the Bulgar boilas and the new Roman garrisons on the Danube frontier.

    [1] Ironic given that OTL it was Omurtag who engaged in persecution of Christians.