Abd ar-Rahman I
Abd al-Rahman I, or, his full name by patronymic record, Abd al-Rahman ibn Mu'awiya ibn Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan (731-788) (Arabic: عبد الرحمن الداخل) was the founder of the Umayyad
The Umayyad Caliphate was the second of the four major Arab caliphates established after the death of Muhammad. It was ruled by the Umayyad dynasty, whose name derives from Umayya ibn Abd Shams, the great-grandfather of the first Umayyad caliph. Although the Umayyad family originally came from the...

 Emirate of Córdoba
Córdoba, Spain
-History:The first trace of human presence in the area are remains of a Neanderthal Man, dating to c. 32,000 BC. In the 8th century BC, during the ancient Tartessos period, a pre-urban settlement existed. The population gradually learned copper and silver metallurgy...

 (755), a Muslim
A Muslim, also spelled Moslem, is an adherent of Islam, a monotheistic, Abrahamic religion based on the Quran, which Muslims consider the verbatim word of God as revealed to prophet Muhammad. "Muslim" is the Arabic term for "submitter" .Muslims believe that God is one and incomparable...

 dynasty that ruled the greater part of Iberia
Iberian Peninsula
The Iberian Peninsula , sometimes called Iberia, is located in the extreme southwest of Europe and includes the modern-day sovereign states of Spain, Portugal and Andorra, as well as the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar...

 for nearly three centuries (including the succeeding Caliphate of Córdoba
Caliphate of Córdoba
The Caliphate of Córdoba ruled the Iberian peninsula and part of North Africa, from the city of Córdoba, from 929 to 1031. This period was characterized by remarkable success in trade and culture; many of the masterpieces of Islamic Iberia were constructed in this period, including the famous...

). The Muslims called the regions of Iberia under their dominion al-Andalus
Al-Andalus was the Arabic name given to a nation and territorial region also commonly referred to as Moorish Iberia. The name describes parts of the Iberian Peninsula and Septimania governed by Muslims , at various times in the period between 711 and 1492, although the territorial boundaries...

. Abd al-Rahman's establishment of a government in al-Andalus represented a branching from the rest of the Islamic Empire
Muslim conquests
Muslim conquests also referred to as the Islamic conquests or Arab conquests, began with the Islamic prophet Muhammad. He established a new unified polity in the Arabian Peninsula which under the subsequent Rashidun and Umayyad Caliphates saw a century of rapid expansion of Muslim power.They...

, which had been usurped by the Abbasid
The Abbasid Caliphate or, more simply, the Abbasids , was the third of the Islamic caliphates. It was ruled by the Abbasid dynasty of caliphs, who built their capital in Baghdad after overthrowing the Umayyad caliphate from all but the al-Andalus region....

 overthrow of the Umayyads from Damascus in 750.

He was also known by appellations al-Dakhil ("the Immigrant"), Saqr Quraish ("the Falcon of the Quraysh") and the "Falcon of Andalus". Variations of the spelling of his name include Abd ar-Rahman I, Abdul Rahman I and Abderraman I.

Flight from Damascus

Born near Damascus
Damascus , commonly known in Syria as Al Sham , and as the City of Jasmine , is the capital and the second largest city of Syria after Aleppo, both are part of the country's 14 governorates. In addition to being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Damascus is a major...

 in Syria, Abd al-Rahman, grandson of Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik
Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik
Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik 10th Umayyad caliph who ruled from 723 until his death in 743. When he was born in 691 his mother named him after her father....

, was the son of the Umayyad prince Mu'awiyah ibn Hisham
Mu'awiyah ibn Hisham
Mu'awiyah ibn Hisham was an Arab general, the son of the Umayyad Caliph Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik .He is known chiefly for his role in the Byzantine-Arab Wars, where he led many invasions against Byzantine Asia Minor. The first campaign he led was recorded in summer 725, which was carried out in...

 and a Berber
Berber people
Berbers are the indigenous peoples of North Africa west of the Nile Valley. They are continuously distributed from the Atlantic to the Siwa oasis, in Egypt, and from the Mediterranean to the Niger River. Historically they spoke the Berber language or varieties of it, which together form a branch...

 concubine. He was twenty when his family, the ruling Umayyads, were overthrown by a popular revolt known as the Abbasid Revolution, occurring in the year 750. Abd al-Rahman and a small selection of his family fled Damascus
Damascus , commonly known in Syria as Al Sham , and as the City of Jasmine , is the capital and the second largest city of Syria after Aleppo, both are part of the country's 14 governorates. In addition to being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Damascus is a major...

, where the center of Umayyad power had been; people moving with him include his brother Yahiya, his four-year old son Sulayman, and some of his sisters, as well as his former Greek slave (a freedman), Bedr. The family fled from Damascus to the River Euphrates
The Euphrates is the longest and one of the most historically important rivers of Western Asia. Together with the Tigris, it is one of the two defining rivers of Mesopotamia...

. All along the way the path was filled with danger, as the Abbasids had dispatched horsemen across the region to try and find the Umayyad prince and kill him. The Abbasids were merciless with all Umayyads that they found. Abbasid agents closed in on Abd al-Rahman and his family while they were hiding in a small village. He left his young son with his sisters and fled with Yahiya. Accounts vary, but Bedr likely initially escaped with Abd ar-Rahman. Some histories indicate that Bedr met up with Abd al-Rahman at a later date.

Abd al-Rahman, Yahiya and Bedr quit the village narrowly escaping the Abbasid assassins. Later, on the way south, Abbasid horsemen again caught up with the trio: Abd al-Rahman and his companions then threw themselves into the River Euphrates. While trying to swim across the dangerous Euphrates, Abd al-Rahman is said to have become separated from his brother Yahiya, who began swimming back towards the horsemen, possibly from fear of drowning. The horsemen beseeched the escapees to return, and that no harm would come to them. 17th century historian Ahmed Mohammed al-Maqqari poignantly described Abd al-Rahman's reaction as he implored Yahiya to keep going: "O brother! Come to me, come to me"! Yahiya returned to the near shore, and was quickly dispatched by the horsemen. They cut the head off their prize, leaving Yahiya's body to rot. Al-Maqqari quotes prior Muslim historians as having recorded that Abd al-Rahman said he was so overcome with fear at that moment, that once he made the far shore he ran until exhaustion overcame him. Only he and Bedr were left to face the unknown.

Exile years

After barely escaping with their lives, Abd al-Rahman and Bedr continued south through Palestine
Palestine is a conventional name, among others, used to describe the geographic region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and various adjoining lands....

, the Sinai, and then into Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

. Abd al-Rahman had to keep a low profile as he traveled. It may be assumed that he intended to go at least as far as northwestern Africa (Maghreb
The Maghreb is the region of Northwest Africa, west of Egypt. It includes five countries: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Mauritania and the disputed territory of Western Sahara...

), the land of his mother, which had been partly conquered by his Umayyad predecessors. The journey across Egypt would prove perilous. At the time, Abd al-Rahman ibn Habib al-Fihri was the semi-autonomous governor of Ifriqiya
In medieval history, Ifriqiya or Ifriqiyah was the area comprising the coastal regions of what are today western Libya, Tunisia, and eastern Algeria. This area included what had been the Roman province of Africa, whose name it inherited....

 (roughly, modern Tunisia) and a former Umayyad client. The ambitious Ibn Habib, a member of the illustrious Fihrid family, had long sought to carve out Ifriqiya as a private dominion for himself. At first, he sought an understanding with the Abbasids, but when they refused his terms and demanded his submission, Ibn Habib broke openly with the Abbasids and invited the remnants of the Umayyad dynasty to take refuge in his dominions. Abd al-Rahman was only one of several surviving Umayyad family members to make their way to Ifriqiya at this time.

But Ibn Habib soon changed his mind. He feared the presence of prominent Umayyad exiles in Ifriqiya, a family more illustrious than his own, might become a focal point for intrigue among local nobles against his own usurped powers. Around 755, believing he had discovered plots involving some of the more prominent Umayyad exiles in Kairouan, Ibn Habib turned against them. At the time, Abd al-Rahman and Bedr were keeping a low profile, staying in Kabylia, at the camp of a Nafza Berber chieftain friendly to their plight. Ibn Habib dispatched spies to look for the wayward Umayyad prince. When Ibn Habib's soldiers entered the camp, the Berber chieftain’s wife Tekfah hid Abd al-Rahman under her personal belongings to help him go unnoticed. Once they were gone, Abd a-Rahman and Bedr immediately set off westwards.

In 755, Abd al-Rahman and Bedr reached modern day Morocco near Ceuta
Ceuta is an autonomous city of Spain and an exclave located on the north coast of North Africa surrounded by Morocco. Separated from the Iberian peninsula by the Strait of Gibraltar, Ceuta lies on the border of the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Ceuta along with the other Spanish...

. Their next step would be to cross the sea to al-Andalus
Al-Andalus was the Arabic name given to a nation and territorial region also commonly referred to as Moorish Iberia. The name describes parts of the Iberian Peninsula and Septimania governed by Muslims , at various times in the period between 711 and 1492, although the territorial boundaries...

, where Abd al-Rahman could not have been sure whether or not he would be welcomed. Following the Berber Revolt
Berber Revolt
The Great Berber Revolt of 739/740-743 AD took place during the reign of the Umayyad Caliph Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik and marked the first successful secession from the Arab caliphate...

 of the 740s, the province was in a state of confusion, with the Muslim community
Ummah is an Arabic word meaning "community" or "nation." It is commonly used to mean either the collective nation of states, or the whole Arab world...

 torn by tribal dissensions among the Arab
Arab people, also known as Arabs , are a panethnicity primarily living in the Arab world, which is located in Western Asia and North Africa. They are identified as such on one or more of genealogical, linguistic, or cultural grounds, with tribal affiliations, and intra-tribal relationships playing...

s and racial tensions between the Arabs and Berbers. At that moment, the nominal ruler of al-Andalus, emir Yusuf ibn 'Abd al-Rahman al-Fihri
Yusuf ibn 'Abd al-Rahman al-Fihri
Yusuf ibn 'Abd al-Rahman al-Fihri was Umayyad governor of Narbonne in Septimania and then from 747 to 756 governor of al-Andalus, ruling independently following the collapse of the Umayyad Caliphate in 750...

 (another member of the Fihrid family, and a favorite of the old Arab settlers (baladiyun), mostly of south Arabian or 'Yemen
The Republic of Yemen , commonly known as Yemen , is a country located in the Middle East, occupying the southwestern to southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. It is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north, the Red Sea to the west, and Oman to the east....

ite' tribal stock) was locked in a contest with his vizier (and son-in-law) al-Sumayl ibn Hatim al-Qilabi, the head of the new settlers (shamiyum, the Syrian junds or military regiments, mostly of north Arabian Qaysid
Qais , also spelled Qays or Kais, were an Arabian tribe branched from the Mudhar Adnani groups.-Main branches of Qais:The main branches of the Qais tribes are the Banu Sulaym, Hawazin and the Banu Ghatafan. These three main groups remained in the Eastern Hejaz until the 7th century...

 tribes, which had arrived only in 742).

Among the Syrian junds were contingents of old Umayyad clients, numbering perhaps 500, and Abd al-Rahman believed he might tug on old loyalties and get them to receive him. Bedr was dispatched across the straits to make contact. Bedr managed to line up three Syrian commanders – Obeid Allah ibn Uthman and Abd Allah ibn Khalid, both originally of Damascus, and Yusuf ibn Bukht of Qinnasrin. The trio approached the Syrian arch-commander al-Sumayl (then in Zaragoza
Zaragoza , also called Saragossa in English, is the capital city of the Zaragoza Province and of the autonomous community of Aragon, Spain...

) to get his consent, but al-Sumayl refused, fearing Abd al-Rahman would try to make himself emir. As a result, Bedr and the Umayyad clients sent out feelers to their rivals, the Yemenite commanders. Although the Yemenites were not natural allies (the Umayyads are a Qaysid tribe), their interest was piqued. The emir Yusuf al-Fihri, had proven himself unable to keep the powerful al-Sumayl in check and several Yemenite chieftans felt their future prospects were poor, whether in a Fihrid or Syrian-dominated Spain, that they had a better chance of advancement if they hitched themselves to the glitter of the Umayyad name. Although the Umayyads did not have a historical presence in the region (no member of the Umayyad family was known to have ever set foot in al-Andalus before) and there were grave concerns about young Abd al-Rahman's inexperience, several of the lower-ranking Yemenite commanders felt they had little to lose and much to gain, and agreed to support the prince.

Bedr returned to Africa to tell Abd al-Rahman of the invitation of the Umayyad clients in al-Andulus. Shortly thereafter, they set off with a small group of followers for Europe. When some local Berber tribesmen learned of Abd al-Rahman's intent to set sail for al-Andalus, they quickly rode to catch up with him on the coast. The tribesmen might have figured that they could hold Abd al-Rahman as hostage, and force him to buy his way out of Africa. He did indeed hand over some amount of dinars to the suddenly hostile local Berbers. Just as Abd al-Rahman launched his boat, another group of Berbers arrived. They also tried to obtain a fee from him for leaving. One of the Berbers held on to Abd al-Rahman's vessel as it made for al-Andalus, and allegedly had his hand cut off by one of the boat's crew.

Abd al-Rahman landed at Almuñécar
Almuñécar is a municipality in the Spanish Autonomous Region of Andalusia on the Costa Tropical between Nerja and Motril . It has a subtropical climate...

 in al-Andalus, to the east of Málaga
Málaga is a city and a municipality in the Autonomous Community of Andalusia, Spain. With a population of 568,507 in 2010, it is the second most populous city of Andalusia and the sixth largest in Spain. This is the southernmost large city in Europe...

, in September 755; however his landing site was unconfirmed.

Fight for power

Upon landing in al-Andalus, Abd al-Rahman was greeted by clients Abu Uthman and Ibn Khalid and an escort of 300 cavalry. During his brief time in Málaga, he was able to amass local support quickly. Waves of people made their way to Málaga to pay respect to the prince they thought was dead, including many of the aforementioned Syrians. One famous story which persisted through history related to a gift Abd al-Rahman was given while in Málaga. The gift was a beautiful young slave girl, but Abd al-Rahman humbly returned her to her previous master.

News of the prince's arrival spread like wildfire throughout the peninsula. During this time, emir al-Fihri and the Syrian commander al-Sumayl, pondered what to do about the new threat to their shaky hold on power. They decided to try to marry Abd al-Rahman into their family. If that did not work, then Abd al-Rahman would have to be killed. Abd al-Rahman was apparently sagacious enough to expect such a plot. In order to help speed his ascension to power, he was prepared to take advantage of the feuds and dissensions. However, before anything could be done, trouble broke out in northern al-Andalus. Zaragoza, an important trade city on the Upper March of al-Andalus, made a bid for autonomy. Al-Fihri and al-Sumayl rode north to squash the rebellion. This might have been fortunate timing for Abd al-Rahman, since he was still getting a solid foothold in al-Andalus. By March of 756, Abd al-Rahman and his growing following of Umayyad clients and Yemenite junds, were able to take Sevilla without violence. After settling his bloody business in Zaragoza, al-Fihri turned his army back south to face the "pretender". The fight for the right to rule al-Andalus was about to begin. The two contingents met on opposite sides of the River Guadalquivir, just outside the capital of Córdoba
Córdoba, Spain
-History:The first trace of human presence in the area are remains of a Neanderthal Man, dating to c. 32,000 BC. In the 8th century BC, during the ancient Tartessos period, a pre-urban settlement existed. The population gradually learned copper and silver metallurgy...

 on the plains of Musarah.

The river was, for the first time in years, overflowing its banks, heralding the end of a long drought. Nevertheless, food was still scarce, and Abd al-Rahman's army suffered from hunger. In an attempt to demoralize Abd al-Rahman's troops, al-Fihri ensured that his troops not only were well fed, but also ate gluttonous amounts of food in full view of the Umayyad lines. An attempt at negotiations soon followed in which it is likely that Abd al-Rahman was offered the hand of al-Fihri's daughter in marriage and great wealth. Abd ar-Rahman, however, would settle for nothing less than control of the emirate, and an impasse was reached. Even before the fight began, dissension spread through some of Abd al-Rahman's lines. Specifically, the Yemeni Arabs were unhappy that the prince was mounted on a fine Spanish steed. And the prince's mettle was untried in battle, after all! The Yemenis observed significantly that such a fine horse would provide an excellent mount to escape from battle.

Being the ever-wary politician, Abd al-Rahman acted quickly to regain Yemeni support, and rode to a Yemeni chief who was mounted on a mule named "Lightning". Abd al-Rahman averred that his horse proved difficult to ride and was wont to buck him out of the saddle. He offered to exchange his horse for the mule, a deal to which the surprised chief readily agreed. The swap quelled the simmering Yemeni rebellion. Soon both armies were in their lines on the same bank of the Guadalquivir. Abd al-Rahman had no banner, and so one was improvised by unwinding a green turban and binding it round the head of a spear. Subsequently the turban and the spear became the banner and symbol of the Andalusian Umayyads. Abd al-Rahman led the charge toward al-Fihri's army. Al-Sumayl in turn advanced his cavalry out to meet the Umayyad threat. After a long and difficult fight “Abd ar-Rahman obtained a most complete victory, and the field was strewn with the bodies of the enemy”. Both al-Fihri and al-Sumayl managed to escape the field (probably) with parts of the army too. Abd al-Rahman triumphantly marched into the capital, Córdoba. Danger was not far behind, as al-Fihri planned a counterattack
A counterattack is a tactic used in response against an attack. The term originates in military strategy. The general objective is to negate or thwart the advantage gained by the enemy in attack and the specific objectives are usually to regain lost ground or to destroy attacking enemy units.It is...

. He reorganized his forces and set out for the capital Abd al-Rahman had usurped from him. Again Abd al-Rahman met al-Fihri with his army; this time negotiations were successful, although the terms were somewhat changed. In exchange for al-Fihri's life and wealth, he would be a prisoner and not allowed to leave the city limits of Córdoba. Al-Fihri would have to report once a day to Abd al-Rahman, as well as turn over some of his sons and daughters as hostages. For a while al-Fihri met the obligations of the one-sided truce, but he still had many people loyal to him; people who would have liked to see him back in power.

Al-Fihri eventually did make another bid for power. He quit Córdoba and quickly started gathering supporters. While at large, al-Fihri managed to gather an army allegedly numbering to 20,000. It is doubtful, however, that his troops were "regular" soldiers, but rather a hodge-podge
Hodge-podge is a word used to describe a confused or disorderly mass or collection of things; a "mess" or a "jumble". The UK term is hotchpotch.Hodge-podge or Hodgepodge may also refer to:...

 of men from various parts of al-Andalus. Abd ar-Rahman's appointed governor in Sevilla took up the chase, and after a series of small fights, managed to defeat al-Fihri's army. Al-Fihri himself managed to escape to the former Visigoth capital of Toledo
Toledo, Spain
Toledo's Alcázar became renowned in the 19th and 20th centuries as a military academy. At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 its garrison was famously besieged by Republican forces.-Economy:...

 in central al-Andalus; once there, he was promptly killed. Al-Fihri's head was sent to Córdoba, where Abd al-Rahman had it nailed to a bridge. With this act, Abd ar-Rahman proclaimed himself the emir of al-Andalus. One final act had to be performed, however: al-Fihri's general, al-Sumayl, had to be dealt with, and he was garroted in Córdoba's jail.


Indeed, Abd al-Rahman only proclaimed himself as emir, and not as caliph. This was likely because al-Andalus was a land besieged by many different loyalties, and the proclamation of caliph would have likely caused much unrest. Abd al-Rahman's progeny would, however, take up the title of caliph. In the meantime, a call went out through the Muslim world that al-Andalus was a safe haven
Safe haven
Safe haven may refer to:* Safe harbor, a harbor or haven which provides safety from weather or attack, or an analogous situation* Safe Havens, a syndicated comic strip drawn by cartoonist Bill Holbrook...

 for friends of the house of Umayya, if not for Abd al-Rahman's scattered family that managed to evade the Abbasids. Abd al-Rahman probably was quite happy to see his call answered by waves of Umayyad faithful and family. He was finally reacquainted with his son Sulayman, whom he last saw weeping on the banks of the Euphrates with his sisters. Abd ar-Rahman's sisters were unable to make the long voyage to al-Andalus. Abd al-Rahman placed his family members in high offices across the land, as he felt he could trust them more than non-family. The Umayyad family would again grow large and prosperous over successive generations. However, by 763 Abd ar-Rahman had to get back to the business of war. Al-Andalus had been invaded by an Abbasid army.

Far away in Baghdad
Baghdad is the capital of Iraq, as well as the coterminous Baghdad Governorate. The population of Baghdad in 2011 is approximately 7,216,040...

, the current Abbasid caliph, al-Mansur
Al-Mansur, Almanzor or Abu Ja'far Abdallah ibn Muhammad al-Mansur was the second Abbasid Caliph from 136 AH to 158 AH .-Biography:...

, had long been planning to depose the Umayyad who dared to call himself emir of al-Andalus. Al-Mansur installed al-Ala
Sūrat al-Aʿlā is the 87th sura of the Qur'an with 19 ayat. Al-Ala describes the Islamic view of existence, the Oneness of Allah, and Divine revelation, additionally mentioning rewards and punishments. Mankind often hides things from each other and from themselves as well. The sura reminds us that...

 ibn-Mugith (also known as al-Ala) as governor of Africa (whose title gave him dominion over the province of al-Andalus). It was al-Ala who headed the Abbasid army that landed in al-Andalus, possibly near Beja
Beja (Portugal)
Beja is a city in the Beja Municipality in the Alentejo region, Portugal. The municipality has a total area of 1,147.1 km² and a total population of 34,970 inhabitants. The city proper has a population of 21,658....

 (in modern day Portugal
Portugal , officially the Portuguese Republic is a country situated in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula. Portugal is the westernmost country of Europe, and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the West and South and by Spain to the North and East. The Atlantic archipelagos of the...

). Much of the surrounding area of Beja capitulated to al-Ala, and in fact rallied under the Abbasid banners against Abd al-Rahman. Abd al-Rahman had to act quickly. The Abbasid contingent was vastly superior in size, said to have numbered 7,000 men. The emir quickly made for the redoubt of Carmona with his army. The Abbasid army was fast on his heels, and laid siege to Carmona for approximately two months. Abd al-Rahman must have sensed that time was against him as food and water became scarce, and his troops morale likely came into question. Finally Abd al-Rahman gathered his men as he was "resolved on an audacious sally" [15]. Abd al-Rahman hand-picked 700 fighters from his army and led them to Carmona's main gate. There, he started a great fire and threw his scabbard into the flames. Abd al-Rahman told his men that time had come to go down fighting than die of hunger.
The gate lifted and Abd ar-Rahman's men fell upon the unsuspecting Abbasids, thoroughly routing them. Most of the Abbasid army was killed. The heads of the main Abbasid leaders were cut off. Their heads were preserved in salt, and identifying tags pinned to their ears. The heads were bundled together in a gruesome package and sent to the Abbasid caliph who was on pilgrimage at Mecca
Mecca is a city in the Hijaz and the capital of Makkah province in Saudi Arabia. The city is located inland from Jeddah in a narrow valley at a height of above sea level...

. Upon receiving the evidence of al-Ala's defeat in al-Andalus, al-Mansur is said to have gasped, “God be praised for placing a sea between us”! Al-Mansur hated, and yet apparently respected Abd al-Rahman to such a degree that he dubbed him the "Hawk of Quraysh" (The Umayyads were from a branch of the Quraysh tribe).

Despite such a tremendous victory, Abd al-Rahman had to continuously put down rebellions in al-Andalus. Various Arab and Berber tribes fought each other for varying degrees of power, some cities tried to break away and form their own state, and even members of Abd al-Rahman's family tried to wrest power from him. During a large revolt, dissidents marched on Córdoba itself; However, Abd al-Rahman always managed to stay one step ahead, and crushed all opposition; as he always dealt severely with dissidence in al-Andalus. Despite all this turmoil in al-Andalus, Abd al-Rahman wanted to take the fight back east to Baghdad. Revenge for the massacre of his family at the hands of the Abbasids must surely have been the driving factor in Abd al-Rahman's war plans. However his war against Baghdad was put on hold by more internal problems. The seditious city of Zaragoza on the Upper March revolted in a bid for autonomy. Little could Abd al-Rahman have known that as he set off to settle matters in that northern city, his hopes of warring against Baghdad would be indefinitely put on hold.

Problems in the Upper March

Zaragoza proved to be a most difficult city to reign over for not only Abd ar-Rahman, but his predecessors as well. In the year 777–778, several notable men including Sulayman ibn Yokdan al-Arabi al-Kelbi, the self-appointed governor of Zaragoza, met with delegates of the leader of the Franks, Charlemagne
Charlemagne was King of the Franks from 768 and Emperor of the Romans from 800 to his death in 814. He expanded the Frankish kingdom into an empire that incorporated much of Western and Central Europe. During his reign, he conquered Italy and was crowned by Pope Leo III on 25 December 800...

. "(Charlemagne's) army was enlisted to help the Muslim governors of Barcelona and Zaragoza against the Umayyad (emir) in Cordoba..." Essentially Charlemagne was being hired as a mercenary, even though he likely had other plans of acquiring the area for his own empire. After Charlemagne's columns arrived at the gates of Zaragoza, Sulayman got cold feet and refused to let the Franks into the city. It is possible that he realized that Charlemagne would want to usurp power from him. Charlemagne's force eventually headed back to France via a narrow pass in the Pyrenees, where a his rearguard was wiped out by Basque
Basque people
The Basques as an ethnic group, primarily inhabit an area traditionally known as the Basque Country , a region that is located around the western end of the Pyrenees on the coast of the Bay of Biscay and straddles parts of north-central Spain and south-western France.The Basques are known in the...

 and Gascon
Duchy of Vasconia
The Duchy of Vasconia , or Wasconia, was originally a Frankish march formed by 602 to keep the Basques in check. It comprised the former Roman province of Novempopulania and, at least in some periods, also the lands south of the Pyrenees centred on Pamplona.In the ninth century, civil war within...

 rebels (this disaster inspired the epic Chanson de Roland).

Now Abd al-Rahman could deal with Sualyman and the city of Zaragoza without having to fight a massive Christian army. In 779 Abd ar-Rahman offered the job of Zaragoza's governorship to one of Sulayman's allies, a man named al-Husayn ibn Yahiya. The temptation was too much for al-Husayn who murdered his colleague Sulayman. As promised, al-Husayn was awarded Zaragoza with the expectation that he would always be a subordinate of Córdoba. Within two years, however, al-Husayn broke off relations with Abd al-Rahman and announced that Zaragoza would be an independent city-state. Once again Abd al-Rahman had to be concerned with developments in the Upper March. He was intent on keeping his important northern border city within the Umayyad fold. By 783 Abd al-Rahman's army advanced on Zaragoza. It appeared as though Abd al-Rahman wanted to make clear to this troublesome city that independence was out of the question. Included in the arsenal of Abd al-Rahman's army were thirty-six siege engine
Siege engine
A siege engine is a device that is designed to break or circumvent city walls and other fortifications in siege warfare. Some have been operated close to the fortifications, while others have been used to attack from a distance. From antiquity, siege engines were constructed largely of wood and...

s. Zaragoza's famous white granite defensive wall
Defensive wall
A defensive wall is a fortification used to protect a city or settlement from potential aggressors. In ancient to modern times, they were used to enclose settlements...

s were breached under a torrent of ordnance from the Umayyad lines. Abd al-Rahman's warriors spilled into the city's streets, quickly thwarting al-Husayn's desires for independence.

Military and social reforms and constructions works

After the aforementioned period of conflict, Abd al-Rahman continued in his improvement of al-Andalus' infrastructure. He ensured roadways were begun, aqueducts were constructed or improved, and that a new mosque was well funded in his capital at Córdoba. Construction on what would in time become the world famous Great Mosque of Córdoba was started circa the year 786. Abd al-Rahman knew that one of his sons would one day inherit the rule of al-Andalus, but that it was a land torn by strife. In order to successfully rule in such a situation, Abd al-Rahman needed to create a reliable civil service and organize a standing army. He felt that he could not always rely on the local populace in providing a loyal army; and therefore bought a massive standing army
Standing army
A standing army is a professional permanent army. It is composed of full-time career soldiers and is not disbanded during times of peace. It differs from army reserves, who are activated only during wars or natural disasters...

 consisting mainly of Berbers from North Africa
North Africa
North Africa or Northern Africa is the northernmost region of the African continent, linked by the Sahara to Sub-Saharan Africa. Geopolitically, the United Nations definition of Northern Africa includes eight countries or territories; Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, South Sudan, Sudan, Tunisia, and...

 as well as slaves from other areas. The total number of army-men under his command were nearly 40,000. As was common during the years of Islamic expansion from Arabia, religious tolerance
Religious toleration
Toleration is "the practice of deliberately allowing or permitting a thing of which one disapproves. One can meaningfully speak of tolerating, ie of allowing or permitting, only if one is in a position to disallow”. It has also been defined as "to bear or endure" or "to nourish, sustain or preserve"...

 was practiced. Abd al-Rahman continued to allow Jews and Christians and other monotheistic religions to retain and practice their faiths. They did, however, have to pay a tribute tax for this privilege. Abd al-Rahman's policy of taxing non-Muslims, which was often carried out by later rulers, changed the religious dynamic of al-Andalus. Possibly because of excessive tribute taxes "the bulk of the country's population must have become Muslim". However, other scholars have argued that though 80% of al-Andalus converted to Islam, it did not truly occur until near the 10th century.

Christians more often converted to Islam than Jews although there were converted Jews among the new followers of Islam. There was a great deal of freedom of interaction between the groups: for example, Sarah, the granddaughter of the Visigoth king Wittiza
Wittiza was the Visigothic King of Hispania from 694 until his death, co-ruling with his father, Ergica, until 702 or 703.-Joint rule:...

, married a Muslim man and bore two sons who were later counted among the ranks of the highest Arab nobility.


Near the end of his life, it is said that Abd al-Rahman became increasingly paranoid and would sequester himself to his palaces. In the final pages of his account of the life of Abd al-Rahman, writer al-Maqqari mentions that the emir treated many of his early friends, such as Bedr, with cruelty. He put some of his main supporters to death, exiled others, and reduced the rank of yet others. The date of Abd al-Rahman's death is disputed, but is generally accepted to be sometime around 785 through 788. Abd al-Rahman died in his adopted city of Córdoba, and was supposedly buried under the site of the Mezquita. Abd al-Rahman's alleged favorite son
Favorite son
A favorite son is a political term.*At the quadrennial American national political party conventions, a state delegation sometimes nominates and votes for a candidate from the state, or less often from the state's region, who is not a viable candidate...

 was his choice for successor, and would later be known as Hisham I
Hisham I
Hisham I or Hisham Al-Reda was the second Umayyad Emir of Cordoba, ruling from 788 to 796 in the Al-Andalus .Hisham was born in Cordoba. He was the 1st son of Abd ar-Rahman I and his wife, Halul and the younger half brother of Suleiman. He built many mosques and completed the Mezquita. In 792 he...

. Abd ar-Rahman's progeny would continue to rule al-Andalus in the name of the house of Umayya for several generations, with the zenith of their power coming during the reign of Abd al-Rahman III.


Abd al-Rahman was the son of Mu'awiyah
Mu'awiyah ibn Hisham
Mu'awiyah ibn Hisham was an Arab general, the son of the Umayyad Caliph Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik .He is known chiefly for his role in the Byzantine-Arab Wars, where he led many invasions against Byzantine Asia Minor. The first campaign he led was recorded in summer 725, which was carried out in...

, son of Hisham
Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik
Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik 10th Umayyad caliph who ruled from 723 until his death in 743. When he was born in 691 his mother named him after her father....

, son of Abd al-Malik according to Abd el-Wahid Merrakechi when reciting his ancestry. Abd al-Rahman's mother was a member from the Nafza Berbers with whom he found refuge after the murder of his family in 750.

Abd al-Rahman married a woman named Hulal. She is said to be the mother of Hisham. Abd al-Rahman was the father of several sons, but the identity of their mother(s) is not clear:
  • Sulayman (745–800) Governor of Toledo. Exiled after he refused to accept his brother Hisham's accession to the throne. Returned to challenge his nephew in 796, captured and executed in 800.
  • Omar (? – before 758) Captured in battle and executed by Fruela I King of Asturias.
  • Hisham I
    Hisham I
    Hisham I or Hisham Al-Reda was the second Umayyad Emir of Cordoba, ruling from 788 to 796 in the Al-Andalus .Hisham was born in Cordoba. He was the 1st son of Abd ar-Rahman I and his wife, Halul and the younger half brother of Suleiman. He built many mosques and completed the Mezquita. In 792 he...

     (757–17 Apr 796) Emir of Cordoba.
  • Abdallah


In his lifetime, Abd al-Rahman was known as al Dakhil ("the immigrant"). But he was also known as Saqr Quraish ("The Falcon of the Quraish"), bestowed on him by one of his greatest enemies, the Abbasid caliph al-Mansur
Al-Mansur, Almanzor or Abu Ja'far Abdallah ibn Muhammad al-Mansur was the second Abbasid Caliph from 136 AH to 158 AH .-Biography:...


According to the chroniclers, the Abbasid caliph al-Mansur once asked his courtiers who deserved the exalted title of "Falcon of the Quraish" (foremost leader of the Prophet's tribe). The obsequious courtiers naturally replied "You, oh Commander of the Faithful!", but the Caliph said no. Then they suggested Mu'awiya
Muawiyah I
Muawiyah I was the first Caliph of the Umayyad Dynasty. After the conquest of Mecca by the Muslims, Muawiyah's family converted to Islam. Muawiyah is brother-in-law to Muhammad who married his sister Ramlah bint Abi-Sufyan in 1AH...

 (founder of the Umayyad Caliphate), but the Caliph again said no. Then they suggested Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan (one the greatest of the Umayyad caliphs), but again no.

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