Ahmad ibn Tulun

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Ahmad ibn Ṭūlūn (September 835 – March 884) was the founder of the Tulunid dynasty that ruled Egypt between 868 and 905 AD. Originally sent by the Abbasid caliph as governor to Egypt, ibn Ṭūlūn established himself as an independent ruler.[1]

Biography[edit]

Spiral Minerate of the Mosque of Ibn Tulun in Cairo, which is highly influenced by the Great Mosque of Samarra, near where he grew up.

Ibn Ṭūlūn was born in Baghdad during the month of Ramadan 220 AH (September 835). His father, Ṭūlūn, was one of the Turkic[2] slaves included with a tribute sent by the governor of Bukhara to the Abbasid Caliph al-Ma'mun around the year 815-16. The Abbasid court recruited Turkish slaves to serve as military officers, and Tulun did well for himself, eventually coming to command the Caliph's private guard.

The family moved to Samarra in 850, and ibn Tulun received his military training there, and also studied theology. He was appointed commander of special forces for the Caliph al-Mutawakkil in 855. Tulun died around this time, and his widow married an influential Turkish commander in the palace, Bayik Bey (Bākbāk in some of the Arabic sources). Ibn Ṭūlūn married Hatun, the daughter of another influential Turkish general in the palace guard, who bore him two children: ‘Abbās and Fāṭimah.

After serving in military campaigns against the Byzantine Empire in Tarsus, ibn Tulun gained the favor of the Caliph al-Musta'in. On returning to Baghdad in 863, the Caliph presented him with a concubine, Meyyaz, with whom he had Khumarawaih, the son who eventually succeeded him as ruler of Egypt.

In 868, the Caliph al-Mu'tazz appointed Bayik Bey as the governor of Egypt; Bayik Bey in turn sent Ahmad ibn Ṭūlūn as his regent. Ibn Ṭūlūn arrived in Egypt in September 868.[3]

On arriving in Egypt, ibn Ṭūlūn found that the existing capital of Egypt, al-Fustat, founded by Amr ibn al-'As in 641, was too small to accommodate his armies. He founded a new city to serve as his capital, Madinat al-Qatta'i, or the quartered city. Al-Qatta'i was laid out in the style of grand cities of Persia and the Byzantine Empire, including a large public square, hippodrome, a palace for the governor, and a large ceremonial Mosque of Ibn Tulun, which was named for ibn Ṭūlūn.[4] The city was razed in 905 AD, and the mosque alone has survived.

Initially, ibn Ṭūlūn's rule in Egypt was marked by a struggle for control with the existing head of the council of financial affairs, Ibn al-Mudabbir. Ibn al-Mudabbir was disliked by the local population because of high rates of taxation (particularly against non-Muslim citizens, which comprised over half of Egypt's population) and greed. Ibn al-Mudabbir reported directly to the Caliph, not to the governor of Egypt, and as such ignored ibn Ṭūlūn entirely. Ibn Ṭūlūn used his influence at the Abbasid court to work against Ibn al-Mudabbir, and finally was able to have him removed after four years.

Bayik Bey was murdered around 870, and governorship passed to Yarjukh al-Turki, father of ibn Tulun's wife, Hatun. Yarjukh retained ibn Ṭūlūn as his regent in Egypt, and increased his power by granting him authority over Alexandria and other territories in the region. Ibn Ṭūlūn led a campaign against the rebeliious governor of Syria, ‘Īsā ibn Shaykh ash-Shaybanī, which allowed him to amass an army of 100,000 men.

In 871, the Caliph al-Mu'tamid appointed his brother al-Muwaffaq as governor of Damascus, and his son, later the Caliph al-Mu'tadid, to succeed Yarjukh as governor of Egypt. The rebellion of the Zanj, a group of black slaves who seized control of Basra and much of southern Iraq during this decade, siphoned much of the caliphate's resources away from the provinces. In 874, ibn Ṭūlūn took advantage of the chaos in Iraq to sever relations with Baghdad and declare independence.

It was not until 877 that al-Muwaffaq sent armed forces under Musa ibn Bugha to retake control of Egypt. But the attempted invasion was a rout, with most of Musa's army scattering before the larger forces led by ibn Ṭūlūn. Ibn Ṭūlūn's forces followed and took control of large portions of Syria, but the campaign was cut short when ibn Ṭūlūn had to return to Egypt to deal with a revolt led by his own son, ‘Abbās.

Following his return from Syria, ibn Ṭūlūn added his own name to coins issued by the dynasty, along with those of the Caliph and heir apparent, al-Mufawwad. In 882, ibn Ṭūlūn invited the nearly powerless Caliph al-Mu'tamid to Egypt to offer him protection against his brother, al-Muwaffaq, who was trying to remain in power as regent. Al-Muta'mid was intercepted en route to Egypt, and ibn Ṭūlūn and al-Muwaffaq began an endless campaign against each other. Ibn Ṭūlūn was able to have a group of prominent jurists declare al-Muwaffaq a usurper, and both leaders had the other cursed during Friday prayers.

Military skirmishes followed. After leading the siege of Tarsus under Yazaman al-Khadim in 883, ibn Ṭūlūn fell ill on his return to Egypt and died on May 10, 884. He was succeeded by his 20-year old son, Khumarraweh, who lacked much of the charisma and cunning that kept ibn Ṭūlūn in power. The Tulunid dynasty was short-lived, and Egypt was reoccupied by Abbasid forces in the winter of 904–05.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "The Mosque of Ahmad ibn Tulun"
  2. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica Online – "Tulunid Dynasty"
  3. ^ "Jami' Ibn Tulun"
  4. ^ The Middle East Network Information Center – al-Qatta'i

References[edit]

  • Balawī, Sīrat Ahmad ibn Ṭūlūn
  • Zaki Hassan. "Ahmad b. Ṭūlūn" in Encyclopedia of Islam, 1st ed. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1960. p. 278-9.
Preceded by
Azjur al-Turki
(as governor of the Abbasid Caliphate)
Tulunid Emir of Egypt
868–884
Succeeded by
Khumarawayh