Rasulid Kingdom encompassing Greater Yemen around 1264 AD
|Religion||Sunni Islam Zaidi Islam|
|Historical era||Middle Ages|
Origin of the Rasulids
The Rasulids took their name from Muhammad ibn Harun nickname "Rasul". Some sources claim he was descendent from the last Ghassanid king Jabalah VI ibn Al-Aiham. The Rasulids not only claimed to be descendants from Jabalah, but habitually referred to themselves as Ghassanids.
Some other sources state the dynasty was of Turkic origin The prominent scholar Irfan Shahid debunks the Turkmen Oghuz theory by explaining that they've lived amongst the Turkish tribes but were in fact, from Arab Ghassanid origin. However, Clifford Bosworth states the Ghassanid ancestry to be concocted and their ancestors to be Oghuz Turks that had participated in the Seljuk invasion of the Middle East.
Rasul came to Yemen around 1180 while serving as a messenger for an Abbasid caliph. His son Ali (d. 1217) was governor of Mecca for a time, and his grandson Umar bin Ali was the first sultan of the Rasulid dynasty. Rasūl is Arabic for messenger (although in this context it does not carry the Islamic prophet significance).
The founding of the dynasty
The Kurdish Ayyubids had held power in most of Yemen since 1173. The last of the line, al-Malik al-Mas'ud, left Yemen for Syria in 1229 and entrusted governance to an ambitious member of his own mercenary force. This was Umar bin Ali who nominally acknowledged the Ayyubids of Egypt during his first years in power. However, he proclaimed himself ruler in his own right in 1235 after receiving a diploma of recognition from the Abbasid caliph al-Mustansir. As sultan he was called al-Malik al-Mansur I. The regime was in a certain sense a direct continuation of Ayyubid rule, with power based on the control of military forces and Abbasid approval, rather than acquiescence from the local population. The coastal capital was established in Zabid. However, al-Malik al-Muzaffar fell victim to internal intrigues in 1249 when his own guards assassinated him at the instigation of his ambitious nephew Asad ad-Din. The throne was taken over by his son al-Malik al-Muzaffar Yusuf I (1249-1295), under whom the Yemeni kingdom reached its apogee. The new sultan confirmed Rasulid rule over the Tihama lowland and the southern highlands. San'a, one of the traditional centres of the Zaydiyya imams, was temporarily occupied, and the imams were defeated on several occasions. The cool mountainous city Ta'izz became the base of the dynasty together with Zabid. After the fall of Baghdad to the Mongols, al-Malik al-Muzaffar Yusuf appropriated the title of caliph.
State and economy
The Rasulid era is often considered one of the most brilliant in the history of Yemen. While the history of this region has usually been characterized by deep political and religious divisions, the extent of territory that the Rasulids ruled would not be superseded until (briefly) in the seventeenth century. The southern coast of Arabia up to Dhofar was kept under loose control. Rasulid influence stretched as far as Zafan near Salalah in Oman where a side-branch of the family governed for a while. While Hijaz fell under the Mamluk sultans of Egypt, the Rasulids temporarily held control over the holy city of Mecca, accordingly raising their own prestige. The Rasulid state was comparatively centralized and kept an extensive bureaucratic apparatus to oversee the collection of taxes and other needs of the state. In every larger city, two royal officials were placed called wali (or amir) and nasir (or zimam or mushidd). A considerable concern with the prosperity of the peasantry can be gleaned from the chronicles. Thus sultan al-Mujahid Ali (r. 1322-1363) based taxes on the average of production over several years, and deduced the grain to be sown as seed from the taxable produce. While the state model was taken from the Ayyubid state in Egypt, the Rasulids were more oriented towards trade. The sultans drew much of their income from taxes and customs revenues from the ports. Especially Aden was important as a port where ships going between the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean stopped. Textiles, perfume and spices came from India, Southeast Asia and China, while slaves, ivory and pepper were brought from Africa. Among the more important Yemeni items for export were horses and agricultural crops. Jewish merchants could be found in the main ports as well as Indians, Africans and Egyptians. In his travel account, Marco Polo mentions the sultan of Aden (Yemen) in the late thirteenth century: "In his kingdom there are many towns and castles, and it has the advantage of an excellent port, frequented by ships from India arriving with spices and drugs... The sultan of Aden possesses immense treasures, arising from the imposts he lays, as well upon the merchandise that comes from India, as upon that which is shipped in his port as the returning cargo".
Between 30 December 1418 and 27 January 1419, Ming China's treasure fleet visited Yemen under the reign of Al Malik al Nasir. The Chinese envoy, presumably Admiral Zheng He, was accompanied by the Yemeni envoy Kadi Wazif al-Abdur Rahman bin-Zumeir who escorted him to the Yemeni court. The Chinese brought gifts equivalent to 20,000 miscals, comprising expensive perfumes, scented wood, and Chinese potteries. The Yemeni ruler sent luxury goods made from coral at the port of Ifranza, wild cattle and donkeys, domesticated lion cubs, and wild and trained leopards in exchange. The Yemeni envoy accompanied the Chinese to the port of Aden with the gifts, which maintained trade under the facade of gift exchange.
Several Rasulid sultans were culturally prominent, being men of letters who wrote literature and even treatises. Thus al-Afdal Abbas (r. 1363-1377) wrote an extensive compendium with passages about matters of practical utility, intellectual interest and entertainment, Fusul majmua fi'l-anwa' wa 'l-zuru' wa 'l-hisad. His son al-Ashraf Isma'il (r. 1377-1401) authored a general history of Yemen. Most of the rulers built mosques and madrasas, embellishing Ta'izz and other cities with fine buildings. Among the most well-known monuments are Jami al-Muzaffar from the thirteenth century and Ashrafiyya from the fourteenth century, both in Ta'izz. These monuments were inspired by models from places like Egypt and Syria and broke with the older Yemeni style of architecture. Coins were struck by all the sultans in the period c. 1236-1438. There were mints in several cities and the coins were characterized by symbols for each mint: fish for Aden, bird for Zabid, sitting man for Ta'izz, and lion for al-Mahjam.
The fall of the Rasulids
At length, however, they were unable to uphold the flourishing state constructed in the thirteenth century. A series of Zaidi imams managed to regain ground in the Yemeni highlands from the end of the thirteenth century, more importantly Zaidi imams managed to convert the Kurds of Dhamar (remnants of the Ayyubid military) into the Zaydi sect & pacified the Kurds of Dhamar, the Rasulid sultans were unable to score a decisive military success against rebels. The Zaidi forces took over San'a in 1324. The Egyptian Mamluk sultans tended to increase their influence in Hijaz and the holy cities. In 1350 the Rasulid sultan al-Mujahid Ali was captured by Egyptian Mamluks in Mecca when he went on a pilgrimage, and was held prisoner in Egypt for a year. Sultan an-Nasir Ahmad (r. 1401-1424) was able to revive the Rasulid dynasty's declining fortunes and even received gifts from distant China. After his death in 1424 the dynasty fell into a period of upheaval and weakness, aggravated by the outbreak of the plague. Merchants from the east tended to bypass Aden due to the exactions and uncertainties there, going directly to Jedda in the Hijaz which was now part of the Egyptian Mamluk sphere of power. Unlike the previous pattern, when power struggles were only fought between the Rasulids themselves, various magnates interfered in the disputes during the last sultans. The most important of these magnates was the Tahir clan who ruled Juban and al-Miqranah. A rebellion among the Rasulid's slave soldiers deprived the last claimant of any means to assert his position, after 1442. Lahij fell to the Tahir clan in 1443, followed by Aden in 1454. In the same year the last Rasulid sultan al-Mas'ud Abu al-Qasim gave up his throne in favour of az-Zafir Amir bin Tahir and withdrew to Mecca. The new ruling clan governed Yemen from 1454-1517 as the Tahirid dynasty.
List of Rasulid sultans
|al-Mansur Umar I (ar)||1229–1249|
|al-Muzaffar Yusuf I (ar)||1249–1295|
|al-Ashraf Umar II (ar)||1295–1296|
|al-Ashraf Isma'il I||1377–1400|
|al-Ashraf Isma'il II||1427–1428|
|al-Ashraf Isma'il III||1439–1441|
|al-Muzaffar Yusuf II||1441–1454|
|al-Mas'ud Abu al-Qasim||1443–1454|
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