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Abd ar-Rahman I

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Abd ar-Rahman I (ruled 756-788) was the founder of a Muslim dynasty that ruled Spain for nearly three centuries. He was a grandson of Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik, the 10th Umayyad Caliph. When the Umayyads were overthrown in the East by the Abbasids he was a young man of about twenty years of age. together with his brother Yahya, he took refuge with Bedouin tribes in the desert. The Abbasids hunted their enemies down without mercy. Their soldiers overtook the brothers; Yahya was slain, and Abd-ar-rahman saved himself by fleeing first to Syria and thence to northern Africa, the common refuge of all who endeavoured to get beyond the reach of the Abbasids.

In the general confusion of the caliphate produced by the change of dynasty, Africa had fallen into the hands of local rulers, formerly amirs or lieutenants of the Umayyad caliphs, but now aiming at independence. After a time Abd ar-Rahman found that his life was threatened, and he fled farther west, taking refuge among the Berber tribes of Mauritania. In the midst of all his perils, which read like stories from the Arabian Nights, Abd-ar-rahman had been encouraged by reliance on a prophecy of his great-uncle Maslama that he would restore the fortune of the family. He was followed in all his wanderings by a few faithful clients of the Umayyads.

In 755 he was in hiding near Ceuta, and thence he sent an agent over to Spain to ask for the support of other clients of the family, descendants of the conquerors of Spain, who were numerous in the province of Elvira, the modern Granada. The country was in a state of confusion under the weak rule of the Emir Yusef, a mere puppet in the hands of a faction, and was torn by tribal dissensions among the Arabs and by race conflicts between the Arabs and Berbers. It offered Abd ar-Rahman the opportunity he had failed to find in Africa. On the invitation of his partisans he landed at Almunecar, to the east of Malaga, in September 755.

For a time Abd ar-Rahman was compelled to submit to be guided by his supporters, who were aware of the risks of their venture. Yusef opened negotiations, and offered to give Abd-ar-rahman one of his daughters in marriage and a grant of land. This was far less than the prince meant to obtain, but he would probably have been forced to accept the offer for want of a better if the insolence of one of Yusef's messengers, a Spanish renegade, had not outraged a chief partisan of the Umayyad cause. He taunted this gentleman, Obeidullah by name, with being unable to write good Arabic. Under this provocation Obeidullah drew the sword.

In the course of 756 a campaign was fought in the valley of the Guadalquivir, which ended, on May 16, in the defeat of Yusef outside Cordova. Abdar-rahman's army was so ill provided that he mounted almost the only good war-horse in it; he had no banner, and one was improvised by unwinding a green turban and binding it round the head of a spear. The turban and the spear became the banner of the Spanish Umayyads.

The long reign of Abd ar Rahman I was spent in a struggle to reduce his anarchical Arab and Berber subjects to order. They had never meant to give themselves a master, and they chafed under his hand, which grew continually heavier. In 763 he was compelled to fight at the very gate of his capital with rebels acting on behalf of the Abbasids, and had won a signal victory, he cut off the heads of the leaders, filled them with salt and camphor and sent them as a defiance to the eastern caliph.

In his final years, Abd ar-Rahman had to contend with a succession of palace conspiracies, which he repressed brutally. Nevertheless, the dynasty he founded secured Umayyad control of Spain until 1031.



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