Civil war in Palestine (793–96)

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Civil in War in Palestine
Date First phase: 793 CE
Second phase: 796 CE
Location Palestine and Transjordan
Result Abbasid and Yamani victory; destruction of Gaza, Bayt Jibrin, Ascalon, and Sariphaea
Mudhar tribal federation Yamani tribal federation
Abbasid Caliphate
Commanders and leaders
Amir Abu al-Haytham al-Murri Ja'far ibn Yahya al-Barmaki
Casualties and losses
660 dead 880 dead (excluding Abbasid army casualties)

Between 793 and 796 a civil war in Palestine, sometimes referred to as the Mudhari Revolt, occurred between the northern Arab tribal federation Mudhar and the southern Yamani confederation and their Abbasid allies in Palestine and Transjordan.


The Abbasids rose to power after the defeat of the Umayyad dynasty in 750. The capital of the Islamic Caliphate was subsequently moved from Damascus to Baghdad, and consequently Palestine lost its central position in the state, becoming a distant district whose affairs were not tended to as carefully as they were under the Umayyads.[1]

In the 8th century CE, Palestine was divided into two administrative districts: Jund Filastin and Jund al-Urdunn. The former stretched from Rafah to Lajjun, encompassing much of the coastal plain of Palestine and included Samaria and Mount Hebron, while Jund al-Urdunn consisted of the Galilee, southern Lebanon, and most of Transjordan east of the Jordan River. Both districts were a part of the larger province of Bilad ash-Sham.

Various Arab tribes populated the region and formed federations. The Mudhar (or Qais) faction dominated the north, while the Yamani faction controlled the south.[2] Enmity and skirmishes between the two tribal federations were reported as early as 790.[1] Ibrahim bin Salih, the governor of Bilad ash-Sham and a cousin of the caliph al-Mahdi, regularly dealt with the affairs in Jund Filastin. He and his aide, Ishaq bin Ibrahim inclined to favor the Yamani tribe in disputes with the Mudhar.[3]

Outbreak of war[edit]

First phase[edit]

Hostilities commenced following an incident where a member of the northern Banu al-Qayn tribe came to grind his wheat at a location in Transjordan and stole marrows and watermelons from one of southern tribesmen (most likely from the Banu Judham or Lakhm tribes).[3] Battles between the two sides erupted throughout Palestine, particularly in the Jordan Valley and around Jerusalem. During a major confrontation near Jerusalem, Ibn al-Athir stated there was no clear winner and that one side suffered 80 dead and the other 60 dead.[4] Casualties rose considerably as tribes from the Golan Heights and Jund al-Urdunn joined the war as allies of the Yamani coalition. The strife was brought to an end and violence calmed down by 29 December 793, after decisive intervention by the new caliph Harun al-Rashid and his brothers.[3]

Second phase[edit]

In 796 battles between the Mudhar and Yamani tribes broke out again for unspecified reasons. It is believed by early Arab and Persian historians that the northern Mudhar tribes instigated the hostilities and that the focus of their attacks was not directed only against the Yamani federation, but the Abbasid state itself. Harun al-Rashid viewed this as a rebellion and dispatched a large army headed by Ja'far ibn Yahya al-Barmaki to quell the revolt. According to historian Moshe Gil, "he put down the rebels with an iron hand and much blood was spilled."[2]

Throughout the revolt, anarchy became widespread in Palestine. The cities of Gaza, Bayt Jibrin, Ascalon in Jund Filastin and the town Sariphaea in Jund al-Urdunn were completely destroyed in the conflict by the warring Bedouin tribes.[2] Several towns and villages in western Palestine were also sacked. In addition, the main roads of the district were rendered impassable due to the presence of hostile Bedouin bands.[5] Various Arab tribes who previously attempted to raid the Christian monasteries of the Jordan Valley region, but were prevented from doing so by the state authorities, took advantage of the security vacuum and attacked several of them. The St. Chariton Monastery was robbed and twenty monks at Mar Saba were reportedly suffocated to death.[2] The monasteries of St. Cyriacus, St. Sabas, St. Theodosius, and St. Euthymius were also raided.[1] The combined casualties of the tribal federations in 796 totaled roughly 1,200.[4]

Ja'far assigned Issa bin al-Akki as his representative for the whole province of Bilad ash-Sham, while he appointed Salih bin Sulayman as his representative in Balqa in the Transjordan. Thus Jund al-Urdunn, which had normally been under the authority of the governor of Damascus, gained independent administration. This was a result of Ja'far's belief that Transjordan was the epicenter of the rebellion.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Patrich, 2001, p.65.
  2. ^ a b c d Gil, 1997, p.283.
  3. ^ a b c d Gil, 1997, p.284.
  4. ^ a b Shagrir, Ellenblum, Riley-Smith, and Kedar, 2007, p.22.
  5. ^ Palestine Exploration Fund, 1872, p.167.