The Ummayad Caliphate


1) From, Cosman, Madeleine Pelner, and Linda Gale Jones. "history of the Islamic world." Handbook to Life in the Medieval World. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2008. Placeholder for missing student article.
" Despite the conflict of succession that resulted in the violent death of three of the four first caliphs, Muslims regard Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, and Ali as "the rightly guided caliphs," ... by virtue of their proximity to the Prophet as his closest companions, the consensual process by which they were elected, and the egalitarian nature of their leadership as a first among equals rather than as monarchs. This model of traditional tribal leadership broke down during the reign of Muawiyya, who ruled from about 661 to 680. Muawiyya was the first of a virtually hereditary line of Umayyad caliphs. He selected his son, Yazid, to succeed him and convinced the council of men who elected the caliph to recognize his son as ruler. This new model of caliphal succession virtually transformed the caliphate into a monarchy. The Umayyad dynasty lasted from 661 to 750 until their overthrow by the Abbasids and from 711 to 1031 in Spain.
As a sign of his break with the previous tradition, Muawiyya moved the capital to Damascus, Syria. That city was situated in a country of abundance and surplus that could feed and clothe a court, government, and army. Damascus also was a convenient city for controlling the eastern Mediterranean coastlands and the land to the east of them. Strategically, Damascus certainly was superior to Medina, and from its base the caliphate expanded across North Africa, called the Maghrib ("the Far West")... The armies of Islam moved westward, reaching the Atlantic coast of Morocco by the end of the seventh century. Then they crossed into Spain, beginning in 703–704, ostensibly to intervene in the civil war between the Visigoth rulers, and would conquer most of the Iberian Peninsula by 716. In the other direction the Umayyads moved beyond Khurasan, reaching as far as the Oxus Valley and northwestern India.
This new empire of the Umayyads required a new style of government. The inhabitants of Arabia had been accustomed to a form of egalitarian tribal rule. Muhammad and the rightly guided caliphs did not distinguish themselves in any visible way from their subjects and lived modestly and unpretentiously. The former subjects of the Byzantine and Sassanid Empires were accustomed to a different model of leadership in which the leader was all-powerful and distant, enmeshed in dazzling court ritual and ceremonial. The Umayyad rulers imitated the courtly customs of the Byzantine Empire and the Persian kingship. They built magnificent palaces richly decorated with courtly motifs that find their obvious precedents in Roman art. The Umayyads inaugurated a courtly and monarchical culture in which the ruler was the patron of the arts and architecture."

2) Umayyad Art, Literature and Music


The Umayyad, like most Islamic cultures around their time, created art that reflected their religion. However, that tended to cause problems among some Islamic people, an argument was made that the art was ideology, something which Islam did not accept. The art was not only for sculptures or paintings but also came into veiw when creating clothing, an important symbol of the wearer. Umayyad clothing reflected wealth, social status, and their refinement. However, when participating in a religious setting, the clothing no longer represented the wearer, it represented the religion. For example, a Islamic pilgrim had a certain way they dressed, a man would wear a white garb and had a bare head, and the women had to wear full length attire covering the breasts and hair.

The wealth of the Umayyads funded the contruction of magnificent mosques. These structures, such as the Great Mosque of Damascus (below) reflected the Umayyad's absorption of ideas from Roman architecture -- such as arches and domes -- during their expansion.

external image Umayyad_Mosque-Mosaics_south.jpg


Arabic poetry, during the last decades of the Umayyad rule (ca, 720-749), experienced a surge of creativity. Arabic was the official language of the Umayyad dynasty, and gained great prestige during Umayyad rule, much as Latin gained prestige under the Romans.


Even though many Muslims believed music was not encouraged by Muhammad, music still became widely popular. Musicians, if talented enough, could become very rich and famous in the empire.

3) The Fall of the Umayyads
The Umayyad caliphate started to collapse after 90 years of rule. This is because it had faced a variety of serious internal issues. By the year 732, captured wealth had come to a halt. This because the caliphate armies had started making fewer profitable conquests, and unpaid soldiers had started a series of rebellions. Also at this time, a large portion of the Non-Muslim inhabitants of the caliphate were converting to Islam. Muslims paid less taxes than Non-Muslims (who paid an expensive tax known as the jizya), and as a result, there was a decrease in a steady source of revenue. Umayyads also refused to let non-Arabs within their extensive empire into any positions of power, alienating a vast percentage of the population. The lavish lifestyle and monarchical succession system (see above) adopted by the Umayyads alienated devout Muslims. Lastly, the schism of Islam had occured. This had aroused internal problems concerning the succesion of the caliphate. Shiites believed that Ali's family had the right to control caliphate, and Muslims known as the Abbasids encouraged their anger and suggested that a new dynasty -- one stemming from descendents of Muhammad's uncle, al-Abbas -- would respect the Shiite principles of succession. (However, the Abbasids would become a Sunni-oriented dynasty.) The Abbasids capitalized on these internal problems within the caliphate and eventually overthrew the Umayyads by the year 750. Most of the Umayyad family was then assisinated, and the Abassid Caliphate was formed. The new Muslim elite were now Turkish and Persian Sunni’s, as opposed to Shiites.

"Literature in the Middle Ages." Facts On FIle. Web. 05 Apr. 2010. <>.

"art and Architecture in the Middle Ages."
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O'Halloran, Kate. "Umayyad dynasty." In Campo, Juan E., ed. Encyclopedia of Islam, Encyclopedia of World Religions. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2009. Ancient and Medieval History Online. Facts On File, Inc.

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