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Yazid I

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Yazid ibn Mu'awiya
يزيد ابن معاوية
Drachm of Yazid I, 676-677.jpg
Arab-Sasanian Drachm of Yazid I
2nd Caliph of the Umayyad Caliphate
Reign26 April 680 – 12 November 683
PredecessorMu'awiya I
SuccessorMu'awiya II
Born646 (25 AH)[1][a] Mecca
(present-day Saudi Arabia)
Died12 November 683 (14 Rabi ul-Awwal 64 AH)[2]
SpouseUmm Khalid Fakhita bint Abi Hisham[3]
Umm Kulthum bint Abd Allah ibn Amir[3]
IssueMu'awiya II[3]
Full name
Yazīd ibn Muʿāwiyah ibn ʾAbī Sufyān
يزيد بن معاوية بن أبي سفيان
FatherMu'awiya I
MotherMaysun bint Bahdal[5]

Yazid ibn Mu'awiya ibn Abi Sufyan (Arabic: يزيد بن معاوية بن أبي سفيان‎, romanizedYazīd ibn Muʿāwiyah ibn ʾAbī Sufyān; 646 – 12 November 683), commonly known as Yazid I, was the second caliph of the Umayyad caliphate. He ruled for three years from 680 until his death in 683. His appointment was the first hereditary succession in Islamic history. His caliphate was marked by the death of Muhammad's grandson Husayn ibn Ali as well as the start of the crisis known as the Second Fitna.

His nomination in 676 (56 AH) by Muawiya was opposed by several prominent Muslims from the Hejaz. Following his accession, after Muawiya's death in 680, Husayn and Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr refused to recognize him and fled to sanctuary in Mecca. When Husayn was on his way to Kufa to lead a revolt against Yazid, he was killed with his small band of supporters by Yazid's forces in the Battle of Karbala. The killing of Husayn led to resentment in the Hejaz, where Ibn al-Zubayr centered his opposition to the rule of Yazid, and was supported by many people in Mecca and Medina. After failed attempts to regain the confidence of Ibn al-Zubayr and the people of the Hejaz through diplomacy, Yazid sent an army to end the rebellion. The army defeated the Medinese in the Battle of al-Harrah in August 683 and the city was given over to three days of pillage. Later, siege was laid to Mecca, which lasted for several weeks. The siege ended with the death of Yazid in November 683 and the empire fell into civil war.

Yazid is considered an illegitimate ruler and a tyrant by many Muslims due to his hereditary succession, the death of Husayn and the attack on the city of Medina by his forces. Modern historians present a milder view of him, and consider him a capable ruler, albeit less successful than his father.

Early life[edit]

Genealogical tree of the Sufyanids, the ruling family to which Yazid I belonged

Yazid was born in Syria in 646 to Muawiya ibn Abi Sufyan, then governor of Syria under Caliph Uthman (r. 644–656), and Maysun, the daughter of Bahdal ibn Unayf, a chieftain of the powerful Banu Kalb tribe.[6][7] Yazid grew up with his maternal Kalbite tribesmen.[6] Although during his youth he spent his springs in the desert with his Bedouin kin, for the remainder of the year he was in the company of the Greek and native Syrian courtiers of his father,[8] who became caliph in 661. Yazid led several campaigns against the Byzantine Empire and in 670 participated in an attack on Constantinople. He also led the hajj (the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca) on several occasions.[5]

Nomination as caliph[edit]

By the end of the first Islamic civil war (August 661), Muawiya became sole ruler of the Caliphate as a result of a peace treaty with Hasan ibn Ali, who had controlled most of the Caliphate following the murder of his father Ali a few months earlier. The terms of the treaty stipulated that Muawiya would not nominate a successor. However, in 676, Muawiya nominated Yazid as his heir.[9][10] Muawiya and the shura (consultation) declared for Yazid in Damascus,[11] where the former had summoned influential people from all provinces to the capital and convinced them one way or another. Muawiya ordered Marwan ibn al-Hakam, then the governor of Medina, to inform the people of Medina of Muawiya's decision. Marwan faced resistance to this announcement, especially from Husayn ibn Ali, Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr, Abd Allah ibn Umar and Abd al-Rahman ibn Abi Bakr. Muawiya went to Medina and pressed the four dissenters to accede, but they fled to Mecca. Muawiya followed and threatened some of them with death, but they still refused to support him. Nonetheless, he was successful in convincing the people of Mecca that the four had pledged their allegiance, and received allegiance for Yazid. On his way back to Damascus, he secured allegiance from the people of Medina as well. Yazid's opponents were silent thereafter. German orientalist Julius Wellhausen doubts the story,[12] while Bernard Lewis writes that the homage was arranged with a mix of diplomacy and bribes and, to a lesser extent, by force.[11]

Before dying, Muawiya left Yazid a will, instructing him on matters of governing the empire. He advised him to beware of Husayn and Ibn al-Zubayr, and predicted that the people of Iraq would entice Husayn into rebellion and then abandon him. Yazid was further advised to treat Husayn with caution and not to spill his blood, since he was the grandson of Muhammad. Ibn al-Zubayr, on the other hand, was to be treated harshly, unless he came to terms. Muawiya also advised him to treat the people of the Hejaz well.[13]


Oaths of allegiance[edit]

Upon his accession, Yazid requested and received oaths of allegiance from the governors of the Caliphate's provinces. He wrote to his cousin, the governor of Medina, Walid ibn Utba ibn Abu Sufyan, informing him of the death of Muawiya and instructing him to secure allegiance from Husayn ibn Ali, Ibn al-Zubayr and Ibn Umar.[14] The instructions contained in the letter were:

Seize Husayn, Abdullah ibn Umar, and Abdullah ibn al-Zubayr to give the oath of allegiance. Act so fiercely that they have no chance to do anything before giving the oath of allegiance. Peace be with you.[15]

Walid sought the advice of Marwan on the matter. Marwan suggested that Ibn al-Zubayr and Husayn should be forced to pay allegiance as they were dangerous, while Ibn Umar should be left alone as he posed no threat. Husayn answered Walid's summon, while Ibn al-Zubayr did not. When Husayn met Walid and Marwan in a semi-private meeting, he was informed of Muawiya's death and Yazid's accession to the caliphate. When asked for his pledge of allegiance to Yazid, Husayn responded that giving his allegiance in private would be insufficient, such a thing should be given in public. Walid agreed, but Marwan interrupted demanding that Husayn be detained until he pledged allegiance. At this, Marwan was scolded by Husayn who then exited unharmed. Husayn had his armed retinue waiting nearby in case the authorities attempted to apprehend him. Immediately following Husayn's exit, Marwan admonished Walid, who in turn rebutted Marwan, justifying his refusal to harm Husayn by stating "On the Day of Resurrection a man who is [responsible] for the blood of Al-Husayn [will weigh] little in the scale of God". Ibn al-Zubayr left for Mecca that night. In the morning Walid sent eighty horsemen after him, but he escaped. Husayn too left for Mecca shortly after, without having sworn allegiance to Yazid.[16] Dissatisfied with this failure, Yazid replaced Walid with Amr ibn Said.[14] Unlike Husayn and Ibn al-Zubayr, Ibn Umar, Abd al-Rahman ibn Abi Bakr and Abd Allah ibn Abbas, who had also previously denounced Muawiya's nomination of Yazid, now paid allegiance to him.[17]

Battle of Karbala[edit]

Coin of the Umayyad Caliphate at the time of Yazid ibn Muawiya. BCRA (Basra) mint; "Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad, governor". Dated AH 60 = AD 679/680. Sasanian style bust imitating Khosrau II right; bismillah and four pellets in margin/ Fire altar with ribbons and attendants; star and crescent flanking flames; date to left, mint name to right.

In Mecca Husayn received letters from pro-Alid[b] Kufans, inviting him to lead them in revolt against Yazid. Husayn subsequently sent his cousin Muslim ibn Aqil to assess the situation in the city. He also sent letters to Basra, but his messenger was handed over to the governor Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad and killed. Ibn Aqil informed Husayn of the large-scale support he found in Kufa, signalling that the latter should enter the city. Yazid ordered Ibn Ziyad to move to Kufa and execute or imprison Ibn Aqil. Ibn Ziyad brutally suppressed the rebellion and killed Ibn Aqil.[18]

Encouraged by Ibn Aqil's letter, Husayn left for Kufa, ignoring warnings from Ibn Umar, Ibn al-Zubayr and Ibn Abbas that the Kufans could not be trusted. On the way to the city, he received the news of Ibn Aqil's death and that the Kufans had changed sides.[18] Nonetheless, Husayn and his companions continued towards Kufa and Ibn Ziyad sent some 4,000 men to counter them. His troops forced them to camp in the desert of Karbala. In the ensuing hostilities on 10 October 680, Husayn and 72 of his male companions were killed, while Husayn's family were taken prisoner.[18][19] This event caused widespread outcry among the Muslims and the image of Yazid suffered greatly.[20] It also helped crystallize opposition to Yazid into an anti-Umayyad movement based on Alid aspirations,[21] and contributed to the development of Shi'ite identity.[19]

Revolt of Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr[edit]

Ibn al-Zubayr started secretly taking oaths of allegiance in Mecca. Upon hearing of this, Yazid sent a silver chain to Ibn al-Zubayr with the intention of pacifying him, but it was refused.[22] Yazid then sent a force led by Ibn al-Zubayr's own brother Amr, who was at odds with Ibn al-Zubayr, to arrest him. This force was defeated and Amr was killed.[23] After Husayn's death at Karbala, Ibn al-Zubayr's influence reached Medina and Kufa.[24] To counter the growing influence of Ibn al-Zubayr in Medina, Yazid invited notables of the city to Damascus and tried to win them over with gifts and presents. The notables were unpersuaded, and on their return to Medina narrated tales of his lavish lifestyle and practices considered by many to be impious, including drinking wine, hunting with hounds, and his love for music. The Medinese renounced their allegiance to Yazid upon hearing these details and expelled the governor and all Umayyads residing in the city. Yazid sent an army of 12,000 men under the command of Muslim ibn Uqba to reconquer Hejaz. By the end of August 683 Ibn Uqba approached Medina and gave the Medinese three days to reconsider, but was refused. When the ultimatum ended, a battle started in which the Medinese were defeated. After plundering the city for three days and forcing the rebels to renew their allegiance, the Syrian army headed for Mecca to subdue Ibn al-Zubayr.[25][26] According to one account, the city was not plundered, only the leaders of the rebellion were executed.[25] Ibn Uqba died on the way to Mecca and command passed to Husayn ibn Numayr al-Sakuni, who laid siege to Mecca in September 683. The siege lasted for several weeks, during which the Kaaba caught fire. Yazid's sudden death in November 683 ended the campaign and threw the caliphate into disarray and civil war. Ibn al-Zubayr declared himself caliph and Iraq and Egypt came under his rule.[27][2]

Foreign campaigns[edit]

On the foreign front, Yazid discontinued Muawiya's policy of raids against the Byzantine Empire and focused on stabilizing his borders. Islands in the Sea of Marmara were abandoned. The Syrian district of Hims was split and the new district of Qinnasrin was formed.[28] He reappointed Uqba ibn Nafi, whom Muawiya had deposed, as governor of Ifriqiya. In 681, Uqba launched a large-scale expedition into western Africa. Defeating the Berbers and the Byzantines, Uqba reached as far as the Atlantic coast and captured Tangier and Volubilis. Despite his successes, he was unable to establish a permanent hold on these territories. On his return eastward, he was ambushed and killed by a Berber-Byzantine force, resulting in the loss of the conquered territories.[29]

Death and succession[edit]

Yazid died on 12 November 683 at Huwwarin, aged between 35 and 39. His son Muawiya II, whom he had nominated, became caliph. His control was limited to just some parts of Syria, however, and he died after a few months from an unknown illness. Some early sources state that Muawiya II abdicated before his death.[30] In any case, Marwan ibn Hakam became caliph afterwards and the Sufyanid caliphate came to an end.[31] According to Wellhausen, the story of abdication by Muawiya II is likely a Marwanid fabrication, since they had sidelined Sufyanids despite there being a pact that Yazid's second son Khalid will succeed Marwan.[30] Supporters of the Sufyanids were unhappy about the development and thus arose the idea of Sufyani, a descendant of Abu Sufyan who would restore the Sufyanid power in Syria.[2] Various Sufyani claimants arose after the fall of the Umayyads at the hand of the Abbasids.[32]


Yazid is considered an evil figure by many Muslims, especially by Shias.[5] He was the first person in the history of the caliphate to be nominated as heir based on a blood relationship, and this became a tradition afterwards.[33] He is considered a tyrant who was responsible for three major crimes during his caliphate: the death of Husayn ibn Ali and his followers at the Battle of Karbala, considered a massacre; the aftermath of the Battle of al-Harrah, in which the troops of Yazid's general, Muslim ibn Uqba, pillaged the town of Medina; and the burning of the Kaaba during the siege of Mecca, which was blamed on Yazid's commander Husayn ibn Numayr. Moreover, because of his habits of drinking, dancing and hunting, and keeping pet animals such as dogs and monkeys, he is considered to have been impious and unworthy of leading the Muslim community.[5]

Despite his reputation in religious circles, academic historians generally portray a more favourable view of Yazid. According to Wellhausen, Yazid was a mild ruler, who resorted to violence only when necessary, and was not the tyrant that religious tradition portrays him to be.[34] Michael Jan de Goeje describes him as "a peace-loving, generous prince".[2] According to G. R. Hawting, he tried to continue the diplomatic policies of his father. However, unlike Muawiya, he was not successful in winning over the opposition with gifts and bribes.[5] In the view of Bernard Lewis, Yazid was a capable ruler but was overly criticized by later Arab historians.[21]

Extant Muslim histories describe Yazid as "a sinner in respect of his belly and his private parts", "an arrogant drunken sot", "motivated by defiance of God, lack of faith in His religion and hostility toward His Messenger,"[35] but these characterizations have been attributed to the hostility of the Abbasid dynasty, during whose rule the histories were written, toward the Umayyad caliphs, including Yazid.[36] In contrast, a letter written by a Syrian in 741, before the fall of the Umayyads in 750 and about sixty years after Yazid's death, describes the Caliph as "a most pleasant man and deemed highly agreeable by all the peoples subject to his rule. He never, as is the wont of men, sought glory for himself because of his royal rank, but lived as a citizen along with all the common people".[37]


  1. ^ His year of birth is uncertain. Reports vary from 22 AH to 30 AH[2]
  2. ^ Pro-Alids or Alid partisans were political supporters of Ali, and later his descendants.


  1. ^ Humphreys 1990, p. 13.
  2. ^ a b c d e de Goeje 1911, p. 30.
  3. ^ a b c d Howard 1990, p. 226.
  4. ^ Wellhausen 1927, p. 222.
  5. ^ a b c d e Hawting 2002, pp. 309–311.
  6. ^ a b Goldschmidt Jr. & Al-Marashi 2019, p. 53.
  7. ^ Sprengling 1939, pp. 182, 193–194.
  8. ^ Sprengling 1939, p. 194.
  9. ^ Morony 1987, p. 183.
  10. ^ Madelung 1997, p. 322.
  11. ^ a b Lewis 2002, p. 67.
  12. ^ Wellhausen 1927, pp. 141–145.
  13. ^ Lammens 1921, pp. 5–6.
  14. ^ a b Wellhausen 1927, pp. 145–146.
  15. ^ Howard 1990, pp. 2–3.
  16. ^ Howard 1990, pp. 3–7.
  17. ^ Donner 2010, p. 177.
  18. ^ a b c Madelung, Wilferd. "Hosayn b. ali". Encyclopædia Iranica. Retrieved 4 January 2019.
  19. ^ a b Daftary 1992, p. 50.
  20. ^ Donner 2010, p. 179.
  21. ^ a b Lewis 2002, p. 68.
  22. ^ Wellhausen 1927, p. 148.
  23. ^ Donner 2010, p. 180.
  24. ^ de Goeje 1911, p. 29.
  25. ^ a b Wellhausen 1927, pp. 152–156.
  26. ^ Donner 2010, pp. 180–181.
  27. ^ Donner 2010, pp. 181–182.
  28. ^ Kennedy 2004, p. 90.
  29. ^ Christides 2000, p. 790.
  30. ^ a b Wellhausen 1927, pp. 168–169.
  31. ^ Hawting 2000, p. 47.
  32. ^ Hawting 2000, p. 34.
  33. ^ Kennedy 2016, p. 40.
  34. ^ Wellhausen 1927, p. 168.
  35. ^ Baladhuri (A), 9.291, (Futuh al-buldan, ed. M.J. de Goeje (Leiden, 1866)), and Tabari, (Ta'rikh al-rusul wa-l-muluk ed. M.J. de Goeje, et al. (Leiden, 1879-1901)) 3.2173-75, cited in Hoyland, Robert G. (2015). In God's Path: the Arab Conquests and the Creation of an Islamic Empire. Oxford University Press. p. 233.
  36. ^ Hoyland, Robert G. (2015). In God's Path: the Arab Conquests and the Creation of an Islamic Empire. Oxford University Press. p. 233.
  37. ^ Chronicle of 741 §28 (trans. in Hoyland, Seeing Islam, Excursus B.) cited in Hoyland, Robert G. (2015). In God's Path: the Arab Conquests and the Creation of an Islamic Empire. Oxford University Press. p. 233.

General sources[edit]

External links[edit]

Yazid I
Born: 646  Died: 12 November 683
Preceded by
Muawiya I
Caliph of Islam
Umayyad Caliph

680 – 12 November 683
Succeeded by
Muawiya II