Barmakids

Barmakids

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The Barmakids were a noble Persian
Persian people
The Persian people are part of the Iranian peoples who speak the modern Persian language and closely akin Iranian dialects and languages. The origin of the ethnic Iranian/Persian peoples are traced to the Ancient Iranian peoples, who were part of the ancient Indo-Iranians and themselves part of...

 family from Balkh
Balkh
Balkh , was an ancient city and centre of Zoroastrianism in what is now northern Afghanistan. Today it is a small town in the province of Balkh, about 20 kilometers northwest of the provincial capital, Mazar-e Sharif, and some south of the Amu Darya. It was one of the major cities of Khorasan...

  that came to great political power under the Abbasid
Abbasid
The Abbasid Caliphate or, more simply, the Abbasids , was the third of the Islamic caliphates. It was ruled by the Abbasid dynasty of caliphs, who built their capital in Baghdad after overthrowing the Umayyad caliphate from all but the al-Andalus region....

 caliph
Caliph
The Caliph is the head of state in a Caliphate, and the title for the ruler of the Islamic Ummah, an Islamic community ruled by the Shari'ah. It is a transcribed version of the Arabic word   which means "successor" or "representative"...

s. Khalid
Khalid ibn Barmak
Khalid ibn Barmak was a member of the powerful Persian Barmakids family. When Balkh the native town of Barmakids fell to the Arabs in 663, Khalid ibn Barmak and his brothers moved to the garrison town of Basra in Iraq, where they converted to Islam...

, the son of Barmak became the Prime Minister or Wazir of Al Saffah, the first Caliph of the Abbasid dynasty. His son Yahya aided Harun Al-Rashid
Harun al-Rashid
Hārūn al-Rashīd was the fifth Arab Abbasid Caliph in Iraq. He was born in Rey, Iran, close to modern Tehran. His birth date remains a point of discussion, though, as various sources give the dates from 763 to 766)....

 in capturing the throne and rose to power as the most powerful man in the Empire. The Barmakids were remarkable for their majesty, splendor and hospitality. They are even mentioned in some stories of the Arabian Nights.

Origins


The family has its origin in a line of Pramukhs (hereditary Buddhist) priests from Balkh
Balkh
Balkh , was an ancient city and centre of Zoroastrianism in what is now northern Afghanistan. Today it is a small town in the province of Balkh, about 20 kilometers northwest of the provincial capital, Mazar-e Sharif, and some south of the Amu Darya. It was one of the major cities of Khorasan...

. Traditionally, Islamic historians considered the Barmakids to be Zoroastrian priests before converting to Islam. They converted during the invasion of the Buddhist and Zoroastrian city of Balkh. They were highly educated and respected intelligentsia in Central Asia and the Levant. In Baghdad, the Barmakid court became a Centre of patronage for the Ulema
Ulema
Ulama , also spelt ulema, refers to the educated class of Muslim legal scholars engaged in the several fields of Islamic studies. They are best known as the arbiters of shari‘a law...

, poets, scholars alike.

Khalid ibn Barmak occupied distinguished positions under first two Abbasid Caliphs, al Saffah and al Mansur. He had risen to be the vizier, following death of Abu Salma and Abul Jahm. Khalid was on such intimate terms with al-saffah that his daughter was nursed by the wife of the Caliph. Likewise, Caliph's daughter was nursed by Khalid's wife. His son, Yahya ibn Barmak, at one time Governor of Armenia, was entrusted by Caliph Mahdi
Al-Mahdi
Muhammad ibn Mansur al-Mahdi , was the third Abbasid Caliph who reigned from 158 AH to 169 AH . He succeeded his father, al-Mansur....

 (775-85) with the education of his son, Rashid.

Under Abbasid regime Khalid rose to the headship (Chancellor of the exchequer) of the department of Finance (diwan al-Kharaj) This department was concerned with Taxation and Land Tenure. Genuine budgets began to be drawn up for the first time and offices sprang up for various departments. The extensive staff of officials engaged in correspondence with the provinces and prepared estimates and accounts. An influential stratum of officialdom, the Irano-Islamic class of secretaries (Kuttab in Arabic, Dabiran in Persian), was formed which considered itself as the main support of the state. Their knowledge of the complex system of the Kharaj
Kharaj
In Islamic law, kharaj is a tax on agricultural land.Initially, after the first Muslim conquests in the 7th century, kharaj usually denoted a lump-sum duty levied upon the conquered provinces and collected by the officials of the former Byzantine and Sassanid empires or, more broadly, any kind of...

(land tax) which took account not only of the quality of the land but of the produce of the crops sown, made the officials of the diwan al-Kharaj; the guardians of knowledge which was inaccessible to the uninitiated and was passed by inheritance.

In 765, Khalid ibn Barmak received the governorship of Tabaristan, where he crushed a dangerous uprising. During his governorship of Mesopotamia, Khalid, through a mix of firmness and justice, brought the province quickly into order and effectively curbed the unruly Kurds.

Influence under the early Abbasids


The Barmakid family was an early supporter of the Abbasid
Abbasid
The Abbasid Caliphate or, more simply, the Abbasids , was the third of the Islamic caliphates. It was ruled by the Abbasid dynasty of caliphs, who built their capital in Baghdad after overthrowing the Umayyad caliphate from all but the al-Andalus region....

 revolt against the Umayyads and of As-Saffah
As-Saffah
Abu al-`Abbās `Abdu'llāh ibn Muhammad as-Saffāh, or Abul `Abbas al-Saffah , was the first Abbasid caliph .As-Saffah was the head of one branch of the Banu Hashim, who traced their lineage to Hashim, a great-grandfather of...

. This gave Khalid bin Barmak considerable influence, and his son Yaḥyá ibn Khālid
Yahya ibn Khalid
Yahya ibn Khalid , yaḥyā bin ḫālid) was a member of the powerful Persian Barmakids family, son of Khalid ibn Barmak. Around 765, he was appointed to Azerbaijan by the Caliph Al-Mansur. Yahya's son Fadl ibn Yahya was born at Ar-Reiy, at the same time as Caliph al-Mahdi's son Harun...

 (d. 806) was the vizier of the caliph al-Mahdi
Al-Mahdi
Muhammad ibn Mansur al-Mahdi , was the third Abbasid Caliph who reigned from 158 AH to 169 AH . He succeeded his father, al-Mansur....

 (ruled 775–785) and tutor of Hārūn al-Rashid
Harun al-Rashid
Hārūn al-Rashīd was the fifth Arab Abbasid Caliph in Iraq. He was born in Rey, Iran, close to modern Tehran. His birth date remains a point of discussion, though, as various sources give the dates from 763 to 766)....

 (ruled 786–809). Yahya's sons al-Fadl and Ja'far (767–803), both occupied high offices under Harun.

Many Barmakids were patron
Patrón
Patrón is a luxury brand of tequila produced in Mexico and sold in hand-blown, individually numbered bottles.Made entirely from Blue Agave "piñas" , Patrón comes in five varieties: Silver, Añejo, Reposado, Gran Patrón Platinum and Gran Patrón Burdeos. Patrón also sells a tequila-coffee blend known...

s of the sciences, which greatly helped the propagation of Indian science and scholarship from the neighbouring Academy of Gundishapur
Academy of Gundishapur
The Academy of Gondishapur , also Jondishapur , was a renowned academy of learning in the city of Gundeshapur during late antiquity, the intellectual center of the Sassanid empire. It offered training in medicine, philosophy, theology and science. The faculty were versed in the Zoroastrian and...

 into the Arabic world. They patronized scholars such as Gebir and Jabril ibn Bukhtishu
Jabril ibn Bukhtishu
Jabril ibn Bukhtishu, also written as Bakhtyshu, was an 8-9th century physician from the Bukhtishu family of Persian Nestorian physicians from the Academy of Gundishapur...

. They are also credited with the establishment of the first paper mill
Paper mill
A paper mill is a factory devoted to making paper from vegetable fibres such as wood pulp, old rags and other ingredients using a Fourdrinier machine or other type of paper machine.- History :...

 in Baghdad. The power of the Barmakids in those times is reflected in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights
The Book of One Thousand and One Nights
One Thousand and One Nights is a collection of Middle Eastern and South Asian stories and folk tales compiled in Arabic during the Islamic Golden Age...

; the vizier Ja'far appears in several stories, as well as a tale that gave rise to the expression "Barmecide feast".
Prof. Philip Hitti says, "their (Barmaks') generosity was proverbial. Even today in all the Arabic-speaking lands the word barmaki is used as a synonym of generous and "as munificent as Ja' far is a simile that is everywhere well understood".

Disgrace and fall


In 803, the family lost grace to the eyes of Harun al-Rashīd, and many of its members were imprisoned.

The popular story of their disgrace is rather romantic. Harun al-Rashīd, it is said, found his chief pleasure in the society of his sister Abbasa and Jafar bin Yahya, and, in order that these two might be with him continuously without breach of etiquette, persuaded them to contract a purely formal marriage. The condition, however, was that the two can meet only in his presence, so that they may not produce an heir. It not being observed, and Harun learning that Abbasa had borne a son, caused Ja'far suddenly to be arrested and beheaded, and the rest of the family except Muḥammad, Yahya's brother, to be imprisoned and deprived of their property. It is probable, however, that Hārun's anger was caused to a large extent by the insinuations of his courtiers that he was a mere puppet in the hands of a powerful family.

al-Tabari and Ibn Khaldūn's versions


However, al-Tabari and Ibn Khaldūn mentioned other reasons ensuring that their decline was gradual and not sudden. Their hypotheses are:

- The Barmakids' extravagance in spending to the extent that they overshadowed Hārun al-Rashid. It has been said that Jafar ibn Yahya built a mansion that cost twenty million dirhams and that his father, Yahya ibn Khalid, had gold tiles on the wall of his mansion. Hārun became upset one trip around Baghdad
Baghdad
Baghdad is the capital of Iraq, as well as the coterminous Baghdad Governorate. The population of Baghdad in 2011 is approximately 7,216,040...

, and, whenever he passed an impressive house or mansion, they told him it belonged to the Barmakids.
- Al-Fadl ibn Rabi', an Abbasid loyal civil servant very close to Hārun and a rival of the Barmakids, convinced Hārūn to assign spies to watch them, and that is how he found out about Yahya Ibn Abdullah al-Talibi's incident.
- The Barmakid Army: Although technically this army was under the Abbasids, in reality, the soldiers gave allegiance to al-Fadl Ibn Yahya al-Barmaki, Ja'far's brother; it numbered 50,000 soldiers. During their last days, al-Fadl ordered 20 thousand of them to come to Baghdad and claimed to create a legion under the name of the Karnabiya Legion. This made Harun very wary of their intentions.
- The Governor of Khurasan at the time, Ali ibn Isa ibn Mahan, sent a letter to Harun reporting about the unrest in his province and blaming Musa ibn Yahya, another brother of Ja'far, for it.
- The Yahya ibn Abdullah al-Talibi incident: In AH 176, Yahya ibn Abdullah went to Daylam
Daylam
Daylam was a province of Persia, now part of Gīlān, Iran.The Daylam region corresponds to the modern region of Gīlān...

 in Persia and called for rule by himself in place of Hārūn. Many people followed him, and he became strong enough to cause unrest for the Abbasids. Hārūn managed to capture him and ordered that he be confined to house arrest at al-Fadl's house in Baghdad. However, al-Fadl, rather than making sure he would not escape, gave him money and a ride and let him leave Baghdad. The Abbasids considered that to be high treason
High treason
High treason is criminal disloyalty to one's government. Participating in a war against one's native country, attempting to overthrow its government, spying on its military, its diplomats, or its secret services for a hostile and foreign power, or attempting to kill its head of state are perhaps...

.

Legacy



Barmaks left a great legacy in the Arab world. A number of canals, mosques and other public works owe their existence to the initiative and munificence of the Barmakids. Al Fadl, son of Yahya bin barmak is credited with being the first to introduce the use of lamps in the mosques during the holy month of Ramadan. They are also credited with the establishment of the first paper mill in Baghdad. Ja'far, another son of Yahya acquired great fame for eloquence, literary activity and pen-manship. Hitti argues that chiefly because of him, Arab historians regard the Barmakids as the founders of the class designated as 'people of the pen' (ahl al-qalam). The long neck which Barmakids possessed is said to have been responsible for the introduction of the custom of wearing high collars. The first extant Arabic report on India was prepared under the directions of Yahya ibn Barmak (d. 805) by his envoy. Barmaks were responsible for inviting several scholars and physicians from India to the court of Abbasids. When Sindh was attacked by the Arabs during the Battle of Rajasthan
Battle of Rajasthan
The Battle of Rajasthan is a battle where the Gurjar clans defeated the Arab invaders in 738 CE and removed the arab invaders and pillagers from the area east of the Indus River. the final battle took place somewhere on the borders of modern Sindh-Rajasthan...

; the city of Brahmanabad/Mansura was built by a Barmak. Later he was commissioned with building the capital of Baghdad. On 30 July 763, the caliph Al Mansur concluded the construction of the city. It is said that the Baghdadi capital had numerous Indian architectural influences, now largely ignored by historians.

Amir Ali laments, "but their grandeur and magnificence, their benefactors and lavish charity, which made them the idols of the masses, raised a host of enemies who were determined by every means in their power to bring about their ruin".

See also

  • Khalid ibn Barmak
    Khalid ibn Barmak
    Khalid ibn Barmak was a member of the powerful Persian Barmakids family. When Balkh the native town of Barmakids fell to the Arabs in 663, Khalid ibn Barmak and his brothers moved to the garrison town of Basra in Iraq, where they converted to Islam...

  • Yahya ibn Khalid
    Yahya ibn Khalid
    Yahya ibn Khalid , yaḥyā bin ḫālid) was a member of the powerful Persian Barmakids family, son of Khalid ibn Barmak. Around 765, he was appointed to Azerbaijan by the Caliph Al-Mansur. Yahya's son Fadl ibn Yahya was born at Ar-Reiy, at the same time as Caliph al-Mahdi's son Harun...

  • Hindu and Buddhist contribution to science in medieval Islam
    Hindu and Buddhist contribution to science in medieval Islam
    Hindu and Buddhist contributions to science in medieval Islam have been numerous, affecting such varied areas as medicine, astronomy and mathematics...


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