(786 - 809)
Harun al-Rashid was the fifth caliph of the Abbasid Empire, he
ruled during its apogee, as described in The 1001 Nights. Born
to the caliph al-Mahdi and the former slave-girl al-Khayzuran, Harun
was raised at court and received the bulk of his education from Yahya
the Barmakid, who was a loyal supporter of Harun's mother. Harun was
named second in line to the throne after his older brother, al-Hadi.
Before he was out of his teens, Harun was made the
nominal leader of several expeditions against the Eastern Roman
Empire, where his success, or more accurately, the success of his
generals, resulted in him earning the title "al-Rashid," "the
one following the right path" or "the just." He was also
appointed the governor of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Syria and Tunisia,
which Yahya administered for him.
His father, al-Mahdi, died in 785 and brother al-Hadi
died mysteriously in 786, and Harun became caliph in September of that
year. He appointed as his vizier Yahya, who installed a cadre of Barmakids
as administrators. His mother al-Khayzuran had considerable influence
over her son until her death in 803, and the Barmakids effectively ran
the empire for Harun. Regional dynasties were given semi-autonomous
status in return for considerable annual payments, which enriched Harun
financially, but weakened the power of the caliphs. He also divided
his empire between his sons al-Amin and al-Ma'mum, who went to war after
Harun was a great patron of art and learning, and is
best known for the unsurpassed splendor of his court and lifestyle.
Some of the stories, perhaps the earliest of The Thousand and One
Nights, were inspired by the glittering Baghdad court, and the character
King Shahryar, whose wife Scheherazade tells the tales, may have been
based on Harun.
Harun founded with his son and successor al-Ma'mum
the Bayt al-Hikmah, House of Wisdom, in Baghdad, where works from classical Greece were translated, studied,
Sources: "Harun al-Rashid." Who's
Who in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance; Saudi Aramco World, January-February 2002.