Cause of the Extirpation of the Barmecides.

When Hárúnu`r-Rashíd, wishing to be able to enjoy the society of his sister 'Abbása and Ja'far the Barmecide at the same time, married them to one another on the con­dition that this marriage was to be a marriage in name only, 'Abbása was unable to control her love for Ja'far, and wrote to him:


So Ja'far, fearing to offend 'Abbása, gave her the love she sought, and the result of this union was a child whom they called Ḥaml '´A`isha. It is related on the authority of Nawfalí that in A. H. 180 (= A. H. 796—7) Hárúnu`r-Rashíd went on the pilgrimage, and received tidings of this event on the journey, but made no sign of pleasure or displeasure, until he returned and reached Buḥayra, where he embarked in a skiff with Ja'far to go fishing. On his return from this expedition he proceeded to Ambár, where he said to Ja'far, “Today I shall be with my ḥaram, and I give you permission to go to your family and amuse your­self as you will.” All day Hárún kept sending him presents, until, when the time of evening prayer was at hand, the blind minstrel Abú Rakáz sang these verses:

<Arabic>* <Arabic>

Ja'far said to Abú Rakáz, “What song is this to sing before men?” He replied, “O my master, however much I strive, I can think of no other verses.” While they were thus conversing, suddenly Masrúr the executioner entered without seeking permission, for the Caliph had sent him to cut off Ja'far’s head and bring it to him. When Ja'far saw him, he sprang to his feet and cried, “O Abú Háshim, I rejoice that thou art come to me, but am sorry that thou didst enter without seeking permission.” “I am come,” said Masrúr, “on a weighty errand: submit thyself to the com­mand of the Prince of Believers.” Ja'far fell at his feet, saying, “Suffer me to go into the house and perform my ablutions.” “It is out of the question,” replied Masrúr, “that you should go to the house, but make such testamentary dispositions as you please.” So Ja'far set free his slaves and made his will and performed his ablutions; and then Masrúr mounted him on a horse and brought him to the prison. Ja'far then conjured him to go and tell the Caliph that he had brought him thither, that perhaps he might repent. To this Masrúr consented; but no sooner did Hárúnu`r-Rashíd hear his advancing footsteps than he called out to him, “Stop there! For if thou comest hither with­out the head of Ja'far, thine own head shall be forfeit!” So Masrúr turned back and cut off Ja'far’s head, and brought it on a shield to the Caliph, who at once ordered Yaḥyá b. Khálid and Faḍl to be cast into prison, and the body of Ja'far to be hanged on the bridge at Anbár. But after­wards Hárún was sorry for what he had done, and wandered through the palace reciting these verses:


The other account, given by al-Aṣma'í in his Kitábu `n-Nawádir, on the authority of Abú 'Abdi`lláh (f. 94b) al-Ḥasan b. 'Alí b. Hishám, is as follows. “When al-Ma`mún succeeded to the Caliphate,” says the narrator, “I enquired of Faḍl b. Rabi', who was Hárúnu`r-Rashíd’s chief chamber­lain, ‘Was this matter of 'Abbása the only cause of the slaughter of the Barmecides, or had they committed any other fault?’ Faḍl b. Rabí' smiled and said: <Arabic>: (‘Thou hast fallen on him who is best acquainted with it’). This Faḍl was unequalled in understanding, and from him Hárúnu`r-Rashíd had no secrets. It is related that when al-Ma`mún obtained possession of Baghdad, Faḍl was brought before him as a prisoner, with his hands bound behind him. Al-Ma`mún looked at him to see whether he would say anything, or apologize, or crave forgiveness; but he did not raise his eyes from the ground and maintained com­plete silence. “Was it in such wise,” at length exclaimed al-Ma`mún, “that thou dids't order the affairs of two Caliphs?” “O Prince of Believers,” replied Faḍl, “my tongue spoke to grant requests, not to crave them.” So al-Ma`mún, being pleased with his answer, forgave him, and ordered him to be escorted to his house with candles and lanterns. But he said, “O Prince of Believers, suffer me rather to go lighted by the light of thine approval!” Later, when he was sick, al-Ma`mún sent a messenger to enquire after his health, and to say, “I am well pleased with thee, therefore ask me what thou wilt.” He replied, “I stand more in need of God’s good pleasure than of thine, and more in need of health than of thy abundant possessions.”

Now according to this Faḍl, the cause of Hárún’s anger against the Barmecides was that he had entrusted to Ja'far a son of Yaḥyá b. Zayd to keep him in safe custody. One day while drinking wine he said to Ja'far, “Go, and bring the lad hither.” “Why dost thou want him at such a time?” enquired Ja'far. Then Hárún cried out at him in anger, and he arose and brought in the Sayyid. Hárún caused him to be seated, and then said to him, “O cousin, knowest thou wherefore I have sent for thee?” “The Prince of Believers knoweth best,” replied the other. “You pretend,” said Hárúnu`r-Rashíd, “that you are more worthy than we of this office, being more closely (f. 95a) and particularly related to the Prophet. Now you must have some proof for this pretention, and this you must make known to me.” “God forbid!” replied the son of Yaḥyá: “we have never said and will never say such a thing as this!” “Thou liest!” answered Hárún: “you have advanced such claims, and to-night you must needs substantiate them.” So the Sayyid continued to deny and the Caliph, with drunken insistence, to assert, until the latter had finally work himself up into a rage. Then Ja'far intervened and said to the son of Yaḥyá, “The Prince of Believers is holding a scientific dis­cussion with you, and questions you with such courtesy and kindness; why then do you decline to discuss the matter, or to answer him?” “If I should answer,” replied the Sayyid, “who will guarantee my safety?” Then the Caliph wrote him an assurance of safety in his own hand, swearing that he would neither slay, not hang, not poison him; and placed this document in his hands. “Now,” said the Sayyid, “what dost thou ask of me?” “The proof,” said Hárúnu`r-Rashíd, “that you are worthier than we are.” “We are more worthy,” replied the Sayyid, “as being nearer of kin.” “Nay,” said the Caliph, “we are in this respect equal.” “Not so,” answered the Sayyid. “By what proof?” demanded the Caliph. “If Muḥammad the Apostle of God were alive,” said the Sayyid, “and should seek alliance with thee through a sister or a dáughter, would’st thou consent or not?” “Yes,” answered Hárún, “why should I not accept so worthy an alliance?” “I would not,” rejoined the Sayyid, “and it would be improper for me to do so.” Hárún was silent for a while, and then made a sign to Ja'far to remove the Sayyid, which he did. Some while afterwards the Caliph summoned Ja'far and said, “I am going to entrust you with a commission in which you must by no means fail me.” “It is for the Prince of Believers to command,” replied Ja'far. “Place thy hand on my head,” said the Caliph, “and swear to accomplish my behest.” When Ja'far had done this, Hárún said, “I gave the son of Yaḥyá an assurance of safety against steel and poison and strangling, but not against burial. You must therefore dig a deep pit, exceeding fifty yards in depth, and must cast him into that pit alive.” So Ja'far went, dismissed the guardians [of the Sayyid] and caused a deep pit to be dug (f. 95b), into which he cast not the Sayyid but a sheep. Then he explained to the Sayyid the state of the case, and bade him flee beyond the Caliph’s realms. So he fled in disguise to Khurásán, but was recognized in the market of Balkh by a certain officer of the postal service named al-Mas'údí, who performed the journey thence to Baghdad in thirty days, and informed the Caliph of what he had seen. So the Caliph wrote to 'Alí b. 'Isá, who was governor of Balkh, bidding him seek out the Sayyid, who, however, had meanwhile made his escape into Turkistán. Then the Caliph sent an ambassador to the Kháqán of Turkistán, bidding him surrender up the Sayyid. The Kháqán answered, “We know not this man: send some one who can recognize him, and we will hand him over to you.” So Hárún sent another messenger who knew the Sayyid, and all the Sayyids who were in that country were assembled in his presence; and when his eye lighted on the son of Yaḥyá, he said, “This is the man.” But when he brought him to the Kháqán, the latter bade the Sayyid sit down beside him, and said to the messenger, “I also was seeking for him, my object being to protect him from all the world. Arise, and depart in peace.” So the ambassador returned in despair, and told the Caliph what had passed. Then the Caliph determined to avenge himself on Ja'far. Now it was his custom to visit his sister 'Abbása every Tuesday, and on these occasions he would neither see anyone nor receive any letter or petition. “One Tuesday,” says the narrator, “when I was alone with him, he bade me be seated, and said, ‘I am going to tell you a secret which you must on no account divulge.’ On my promising secrecy, he continued, ‘I am going to destroy Ja'far.’ At this juncture Ja'far himself entered. I arose and went to meet him. The Caliph caused him to sit down beside him, till, when they had discussed various topics, he arose (f. 96a) and went to the house of 'Abbása, while I remained with Ja'far. ‘What were you and the Caliph talking about when I came in?’ said he. ‘He was instructing me,’ I replied, ‘how to deal with a certain rebel in Khurásán. ‘O Faḍl,’ he answered, “by God, thou liest; you were talking about me, and no good either, for when thine eyes fell on me the colour left thy face.’ ‘God forbid!’ said I, ‘how should the Caliph speak to me of thee, seeing the position that thou holdest before him?’ But Ja'far persisted in his surmise, and I was afraid lest the Caliph should think I had given him a hint of what had been confided to me. When he went to his house, I arose and went to the house of 'Abbása, where I demanded an audience. I was bidden to put in writing what I had to say, but, having declared that it could only be imparted by word of moath, was at length admitted and brought before the Caliph. I bowed my head to the ground and said, ‘O Prince of Believers, mercy, mercy! Thou hast cast me into destruction!’ ‘Why, what ails thee?’ he enquired; ‘tell me quickly.’ Then I told him what had passed, and he said, ‘Have no anxiety on this score, for I have long known Ja'far’s acumen and dis­cernment. Yesterday I was with him in the garden, and there was no one with us; and I was looking at the roses, when I saw one which pleased me more than all the others. At once Ja'far stretched out his hand and gave it to me. Then he fell on his face before me, and when he raised his head from the ground I was smiling. “Wherefore,” he enquired, “does the Prince of Believers smile?” I answered, “At your being able to tell which rose out of all these pleased me most.” “By God,” he replied, “that was not the reason, for you have often before proved my discern­ment. It was rather because, when I prostrated myself before you, your glance fall on my neck.”’ ‘And by God,’ added the Caliph, he spoke truly; for, as I looked at his neck, I said to myself, “How shall I order it to be cut with the sword?” and as I thought thus, I smiled.’ Three days later the affair of the Barmecides was finished.”

After this Jahḍam b. Khabáb was sent (f. 96b) as gover­nor to Ṭabaristán, and after him Khalífa b. Sa'd b. Hárún al-Jawharí, who, on reaching ´Amul, appointed as his deputy Mihrúya of Ray, who took up his abode at Gurgán.