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Abd-ar-rahman I

Abd-ar-rahman I (756-788) was the founder of the branch of the family which ruled for nearly three centuries in Muslim Spain. 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 amir 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 falled 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 he 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-arrahman 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. The details of these conflicts belong to the general history of Spain. It is, however, part of the personal history of Abd-ar-rahman that when 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. His last years were spent amid a succession of palace conspiracies, repressed with cruelty. Abd-ar-rahman grew embittered and ferocious. He was a fine example of an oriental founder of a dynasty, and did his work so well that the Umayyads lasted in Spain for two centuries and a half.

From an old 1911 Encyclopedia



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