Mu'nis al-Muzaffar

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Abū'l-Ḥasan Mu'nis (Arabic: ابوالحسن مؤنس‎; 845/6–933), also commonly known by the surnames al-Muẓaffar (المظفر; "the Victorious") and al-Khadim (ﺍﻟﺨﺎﺩﻡ; "the Eunuch"), was the commander-in-chief of the Abbasid army from 908 to his death in 933 CE, and virtual dictator and king-maker of the Caliphate from 928 on.

A veteran of campaigns under Caliph al-Mu'tadid, he distinguished himself by saving the young Caliph al-Muqtadir from a palace coup in 908. With the Caliph's support, he became commander-in-chief of the caliphal army, in which role he served in several expeditions against the Byzantine Empire, saved Baghdad from the Qarmatians in 927 and defeated two Fatimid invasions of Egypt, in 915 and 920. In 924 he helped secure the dismissal and execution of the vizier Ibn al-Furat, after which his political influence grew enormously, to the point that he briefly deposed Caliph al-Muqtadir in 928. His rivalry with the Caliph and with the court civilian bureaucracy finally resulted in an open confrontation in 931–932 that ended with Mu'nis's victory and the Caliph's death in battle. Mu'nis' installed a new caliph, al-Qahir, but in August 933 he had Mu'nis and his senior officers executed. Mu'nis's career marked the beginning of a new period of turmoil for the declining Abbasid Caliphate, leading to its takeover by the Buyids in 946.


Map showing the result of al-Mu'tadid's campaigns of consolidation, ca. 900: areas under direct Abbasid control in dark green, areas under loose Abbasid suzerainty, but under autonomous governors, in light green

According to the 14th-century account of al-Dhahabi, Mu'nis was 90 years old at his death, indicating a birth ca. 845/6.[1] He was a eunuch slave, and is hence called al-Khadim ("the Eunuch") in the sources to distinguish him from his contemporary colleague, the treasurer Mu'nis al-Fahl ("the Stallion").[1] He first appears as a ghulam of the future caliph al-Mu'tadid (reigned 892–902) during the suppression of the Zanj Rebellion in 880/1, and had risen to the position of chief of police (sahib al-shurta) in al-Mu'tadid's camp by 900. Al-Dhahabi, however, records that the caliph banished him to Mecca, whence he was recalled only after the accession of al-Muqtadir (r. 908–932) in 908, a statement apparently corroborated by his complete absence from the sources during the intervening reign of al-Muktafi.[1]

Mu'nis rose to prominence early during the reign of al-Muqtadir: in 908, shortly after the Caliph's accession, a faction of the bureaucracy and the army launched a coup to depose him and replace him with his brother Abdallah ibn al-Mu'tazz. Mu'nis led the defence of the palace and the coup collapsed, earning the gratitude and support of the young caliph and his influential mother and solidifying his position among the grandees of the Abbasid court,[1][2] as the commander-in-chief of the Abbasid standing army, a force numbering 9,000 men in 927.[3] In 909 he led the customary summer raid (sa’ifa) against the Byzantine Empire, launching an invasion of Byzantine Asia Minor from Malatya and returning with many prisoners.[4] In the next year, he succeeded in recovering the province of Fars from the declining Saffarids, taking advantage of the strife between the Saffarid emir al-Layth and the former Saffarid general Sebük-eri, who had seized control of the province. When al-Layth's brother al-Mu'addal invaded Fars, Sebük-eri called on the caliph for aid, and an army under Mu'nis was sent. Al-Layth was defeated and captured, while Sebük-eri was soon deposed as governor when he failed to gather the promised tribute.[5] In the same year, 909/10, Mu'nis supervised a prisoner exchange with the Byzantines.[4]

In 914, the Fatimids, who had only years before taken over Ifriqiya by ousting the reigning Aghlabids, launched an invasion of Egypt under Abu'l-Qasim, the future caliph al-Qa'im bi-Amr Allah. The Fatimids succeeded in capturing Alexandria, but failed to capture the province's capital at Fustat. In 915, Mu'nis led Abbasid reinforcements to Egypt and drove them out of the country again, for which he earned the honorific laqab of al-Muzaffar.[6][7] On his return from Egypt, he was ordered to proceed to the Jaziran border zone (thughur), where the Byzantines, taking advantage of the rebellion of Husayn ibn Hamdan, had captured the fortress of Hisn Mansur and deported its population.[4] In retaliation, he led a major raid in late summer 916, capturing several fortresses in the vicinity of Malatya, while ordering Abu'l-Qasim Ali to lead another raid from Tarsus.[4] In September/October 917, in response to a Byzantine embassy led by John Rhadenos, he supervised, along with Bishr al-Afshini, the governor of Tarsus and the Cilician border zone, another prisoner exchange on the Lamos River.[4]

In 918–919, Mu'nis campaigned against the rebellious ruler of Adharbayjan, the Sajid Yusuf ibn Abi'l-Saj, who withheld part of the taxes owed to Baghdad and had even seized provinces in northern Iran from the Samanids without the Caliph's approval. In his first campaign in 918, Yusuf initially withdrew before Mu'nis to his capital, Ardabil. After attempts at mediation with the Caliph by the vizier Ibn al-Furat failed, Yusuf confronted Mu'nis in a pitched battle before Ardabil, where Mu'nis was defeated. In the next year, however, Mu'nis defeated Yusuf in a second battle before Ardabil and took him as a prisoner to Baghdad.[8] Yusuf remained captive in Baghdad for three years, while in the meantime, Yusuf's ghulam Subuk held power in Adharbayjan, having secured the Caliph's recognition.[8] It was Mu'nis who was responsible for persuading al-Muqtadir to release Yusuf in 922 and restore him to his old position,[4] this time as a servant of the Abbasid government.[8]

In 920–922, Mu'nis was instrumental in defeating a second Fatimid army sent to take Egypt. The Fatimids once again took Alexandria and occupied the Fayyum, but their fleet was sunk and Mu'nis defeated their army before Fustat, trapping Abu'l-Qasim in the Fayyum, from which he was able to escape only with heavy losses.[7][9] In 923, he launched another raid into Byzantine territory, capturing a few forts and returning with much booty.[4] In the court, Mu'nis was an early and staunch opponent of Ibn al-Furat,[1] and an ally of the latter's main rival, Ali ibn Isa al-Jarrah and his faction.[10] The conflict between the two came to a head during Ibn al-Furat's third vizierate, in 923–924. This was a troubled period, which saw Mu'nis sent to quasi-exile in ar-Raqqa, the widespread torture of the Banu'l-Furat's political opponents, as well as the resurgence of the Qarmatian threat with the sack of Basra and the destruction of the hajj caravan returning from Mecca. All this culminated in a military coup, the deposition of Ibn al-Furat, the recall of Mu'nis, and the subsequent execution of the aged vizier and his son.[1][11][12]

This marked the apogee of Mu'nis's career: he was now in virtual control of the government and was a determining factor in the appointment of Ibn al-Furat's successors as viziers. At the same time, however, his power created a widening rift between him and the Caliph, with al-Muqtadir even plotting to assassinate his leading general in 927.[1] In the summer of the same year, Mu'nis led an army to the border around Samosata which the Byzantines had sacked. The Byzantines managed to catch the Abbasid army by surprise and inflicted a defeat upon them, killing 400 men.[4] In the same year Mu'nis, with Hamdanid help, successfully defended Baghdad itself against a determined Qarmatian attack.[13] The Qarmatian raids were particularly troublesome: not only did they devastate the fertile districts of the Sawad—the government's chief source of revenue—but also diminished the prestige of the Caliph and the dynasty, especially after the Qarmatians sacked Mecca in 930 and carried off the Black Stone, precipitating the power struggle in Baghdad between Mu'nis and the court faction.[13] In 928, following the dismissal of his favourite, Ali ibn Isa, from the vizierate,[13] Mu'nis launched a coup and deposed al-Muqtadir and installed his half-brother al-Qahir in his place, but reneged after a few days. Mu'nis now possessed virtually dictatorial authority over the Abbasid government.[1][12] In 931, al-Muqtadir rallied enough support to force him to leave Baghdad, but in 932, after gathering troops, Mu'nis marched onto Baghdad and defeated the caliphal army before the city walls, with al-Muqtadir falling in the field.[1][12] Triumphant, Mu'nis now installed al-Qahir as caliph, but the two quickly became estranged. The new caliph resumed contacts with the defeated court faction, and found himself soon under confinement in his palace. Nevertheless, in August 933 al-Qahir managed to lure Mu'nis and his main lieutenants to the palace, where they were executed.[1][14]


The role of Mu'nis in the history of the Abbasid Caliphate is ambiguous. Michael Bonner writes of him that he "kept the remnants of the army together and saved the caliphate on several occasions",[15] while according to Harold Bowen, "Mu'nis's influence was on the whole exerted for good", but he was "neither strong nor intelligent enough" to prevent the renewed decline of the Abbasid state.[1] In addition, his seizure of power by military force and the killing of a caliph—the first such incident since the Anarchy at Samarra two generations before—set a disastrous precedent. The last years of Mu'nis's life heralded a new period of anarchy, where powerless caliphs became puppets in the hands of a series of regional military strongmen, who vied for the title of amir al-umara and control of the Abbasid government and its revenue until Baghdad, and the Abbasid Caliphate, fell to the Buyids in 946.[1][16]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Bowen 1993, p. 575.
  2. ^ Kennedy 2004, p. 191.
  3. ^ Kennedy 2004, pp. 186, 188.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h PmbZ, Mu’nis al-Muẓaffar (#25449).
  5. ^ Bosworth 1975, p. 123.
  6. ^ Bianquis 1998, pp. 110, 111.
  7. ^ a b Bonner 2010, pp. 339, 340.
  8. ^ a b c Madelung 1975, p. 231.
  9. ^ Bianquis 1998, pp. 111–112.
  10. ^ Bonner 2010, p. 350.
  11. ^ Kennedy 2004, pp. 191–192.
  12. ^ a b c Bonner 2010, p. 351.
  13. ^ a b c Kennedy 2004, p. 192.
  14. ^ Kennedy 2004, pp. 192–193.
  15. ^ Bonner 2010, p. 349.
  16. ^ Kennedy 2004, pp. 193–197.