Alternate History

Eighth Century (Saracen Jihad)

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Point of Divergence
732 AD
Eighth Century
(700 - 799)
Ninth Century
(800 - 899)

Following the decisive defeat of Charles and Odo at the Battle of Tours in 732, the fate of Europe was forever changed. This timeline begins after that battle, detailing the events that would lead up to the modern day.

Battle of Tours

Steuben - Bataille de Poitiers

The Sacrifice of Charles depicts a desperate Charles (mounted) facing Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi (right) at the Battle of Tours.

The Muslim forces of Abd Ar-Rahman Al Ghafiqi and the forces of Charles engaged in battle in October of 732, leading to a decisive Muslim victory at the Battle of Tours, also called the Battle of Poitiers, during the Islamic invasion of Gaul. Fought in an area between the cities of Poitiers and Tours, in north-central France, near the village of Moussais-la-Bataille, about 20 km northeast of Poitiers, the location of the battle was close to the border between the Frankish realm and then-independent Aquitaine. The battle pitted Frankish and Burgundian forces under Austrasian Mayor of the Palace Charles, who was slain in battle, against an army of the Umayyad Caliphate led by ‘Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi, Governor-General of al-Andalus.

Although a costly battle for both sides initially, the Muslim cavalry under the command of ‘Abd-al-Raḥmân would ravage the disoriented and routing Frankish infantry after the battle. The Muslims would proceed north into the city of Tours, looting much of the city and plundering the Basilica of Saint-Martin-de-Tours. The city was laid to waste, and with their stolen treasure secured, the Muslims withdrew south.

Reign of Pepin

The Battle of Tours left Gaul demoralized and leaderless. Many in the south no longer felt safe and attempted to flee north or east, while many Christian men were levied for battle, angered by the desecration of their lands and holy shrines.

Pepin le Bref

The Coronation of Pepin by Boniface.

Following his death at Tours the lands of Charles were divided between Pepin and his elder brother, Carloman, his surviving sons by his first wife. Carloman becomes Mayor of the Palace of Austrasia, while Pepin becomes Mayor of the Palace of Neustria. Grifo, Charles's son by his second wife, Swanahild (also known as Swanhilde), demanded a share in the inheritance, but was imprisoned in a monastery by his two half-brothers. The Frankish rulers would immediately be faced with problems in the south as the Muslims continued to reign free.

Shortly after their coronation, Pepin and Carloman would receive word of Abd al-Rahman receiving without a fight the submission of the cities of Avignon, Arles, and Marseille, ruled by count Maurontus. The patrician of Provence had called Islamic forces in to protect his strongholds from a potential Carolingian invasion, estimating his own garrisons too weak to fend off a well organised, strong army made up of infantry enriched with Church lands.

Further problems arose when in 735 Odo, Duke of Aquitaine died, leaving his son Hunald as ruler. Hunald would refuse to recognize the high authority of the Frankish mayor of the palace. Hunald made significant advances north before being met by the Frankish armies raised in Gaul, primarily from north of the Loire River. The Frankish forces under Pepin and Carloman ransacked the region of Berry surrounding the city of Bourges, before continuing on to seize Bordeaux, effectively ending Hunald’s rebellion. Hunald was allowed to retain Aquitaine, but was required to pledge fealty to the Frankish rulers once more.

To secure unity in the Frankish realm Carloman raised the Merovingian Childeric to the throne. Carloman would later be pressured into entering a monastery, leaving Francia in the hands of Pepin as sole mayor of the palace and dux et princeps Francorum. Grifo, who had been imprisoned at the time of Pepin’s accession as mayor, escaped imprisonment and fled to Bavaria, under the command of Duke Odilo. This sparked a war in Bavaria against Pepin, who was forced to move valuable assets east to deal with the conflict.

The newly raised army of Pepin found itself not fighting in southern Gaul, but rather in Bavaria, causing much resentment among many levies. For the next three years the war in Bavaria continued, costing many casualties for the Frankish. Finally in 740 peace would be declared between Odilo, Duke of Bavaria and Pepin, with the Bavarians conceding defeat. Pepin, however, would fail to capture Grifo, who would continue to live in Bavaria under Odilo’s guidance.

With internal matters mostly settled in the east, in 741 Pepin launched a campaign to free southern Gaul from Muslim influence. Pepin faced the opposition of various regional nobles, including the Gothic and Gallo-Roman nobility of the region, who feared his aggressive and overbearing policy, forcing him to gather support from elsewhere. Pepin turned to Liutprand, King of the Lombards, who sent him an army over the Alps to help Pepin expel the Moors from Aix-en-Provence and Arles.

Muslim troops leaving Narbonne to Pepin le Bref in 759

Muslim forces during the Siege of Narbonne.

By now, however, the Muslim rulers had been given a large period of time to fortify their position and were heavily equipped and ready to defend against a long siege. Pepin struck first at Avignon, where after a long siege he was victorious, leading his men into the city and reducing it to rubble. A second force under the command of Pepin’s uncle Childebrand besieged Narbonne, but was repulsed and forced to retreat. The Lombard army made progress in the east, assaulting Aix-en-Provence, but otherwise being unable to continue into Muslim held territory.

At the Battle of Avignon Pepin was forced to use a direct frontal assault, one which required a large amount of infantry, as well as rope ladders, rams, and a few catapults. Pepin knew that he would be unable to take the more heavily fortified city of Narbonne this way, and by attempting to he would use up most of his resources. Unable to spend years sieging the city, and facing continued opposition from regional lords such as the patrician Maurentius, from Marseille, Pepin withdrew from the city’s proximity.

During this campaign Pepin would also incorporate some tactics that his father had pioneered to minimal success, such as the first use of heavy cavalry with stirrups to augment his phalanx. Having learned from his difficult victory at Tours, Abd al-Rahman and his generals knew that they could not allow the Franks to catch them unaware and dictate the location and circumstances of any major engagement. The Muslims instead focused on seizing portions of the coastal plains around Narbonne and heavily re-inforcing Arles as their forces advanced inland. The Muslims planned to move from city to city, fortifying each as they proceeded, so that if the Franks attacked in an attempt to permanently halt their expansion they would need to meet the Muslims on the open battlefield.

Umayyad Caliphate

Siria (damasco), califfo hisham, dirhem omayyade, 724-743

Coin by Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik, Umayyad caliph at the time of the Battle of Tours.

Having secured their position in Hispania and southern Gaul, the Muslim invaders sought to use their stolen treasure to finance proper defenses and armies, laying the foundations for a permanent territory. Cordoba grew as a regional capital, becoming an important node in a land route to Gaul, while the sea was used frequently to resupply strongholds on the coast. During this time a large portion of Caliphate forces would be ordered west from North Africa and the Middle East, bringing large portions of Berber and Arab settlers into Hispania. Although this helped to strengthen the Muslim position in the west, it weakened many other sections of the empire.

Berber Revolt

Many Berbers in the empire began to become dissatisfied with Arab rule, particularly the Umayyad governors in Kairouan, Ifriqiya, who had authority over the Maghreb and al-Andalus. Many Arab commanders had treated Berbers and other non-Arabs poorly. Although the Berbers were important to the successful invasion of Hispania, they were often given a lesser share of the spoils and frequently assigned to dangerous or harsher roles. Arab governors has also continued to levy extraordinary dhimmi taxation (the jizyah and kharaj) and slave-tributes on non-Arab populations that had converted to Islam, which the Berbers felt went against Islamic law.

The levying of extraordinary taxation and slave tributes from non-Arab Muslims was finally forbade in 718 by Umar II, which helped to quell tensions. Following the military campaigns of the 720’s and 730’s however, the Arab authorities were forced to look for other ways to collect revenue and replenish their treasuries.

The Berbers grew resentful and became receptive to Kharijite activists who preached a form of Islam that promised a new political order, where all Muslims would be equal, irrespective of ethnicity or tribal status, and Islamic law would be strictly adhered to. Kharijite activists became popular in Berber regiments and cities, leading to several mutinies, including one by Munnus in Cerdanya, Spain, which were put down with difficulty. Yazid ibn Abi Muslim, an Ifriqiyan governor who openly resumed the jizyah and humiliated his Berber guard by branding their hands, was assassinated in 721.

Ubayd Allah ibn al-Habhab was appointed Umayyad governor in Kairouan in 734, with supervisory authority over all the Maghreb and al-Andalus. Following a period of mismanagement, Ubayd Allah soon resumed the extraordinary taxation and slave-tribute in an effort to expand his resources, relying heavily on the non-Arab population. His deputies Oqba ibn al-Hajjaj al-Saluli in Córdoba and Omar ibn el-Moradi in Tangier were given similar instructions. Following the expensive garrisoning of Gaul to the north the tax only increased, while in the east the government in Damascus was unable to provide aid.

In 739 the powerful Ifriqiyan general Habib ibn Abi Obeida al-Fihri left the Sous valley of Southern Morocco for al-Andalus, weakening the Arab hold over Morocco. The North African Berber tribes of western Morocco; the Ghomara, Berghwata and Miknasa broke into open rebellion against their Arab overlords, choosing Maysara al-Matghari as their leader. With Habib gone Maysara assembled his coalition of Berber armies, his men donning shaved heads in the Sufri Kharijite fashion and with Qura'nic inscriptures tied to their lances and spears, and marched on Tangier.

After a brief battle the city soon fell into rebel hands and the hated governor Omar al-Moradi was killed. Maysara took up the title and pretension of amir al-mu'minin ("Commander of the Faithful", or "Caliph"), rallying support to his cause. A Berber garrison was left in Tangier under the command of Abd al-Allah al-Hodeij al-Ifriqi, while Maysara's army proceeded to sweep down western Morocco. As he marched his ranks increased as Berbers joined his cause, and soon he had overwhelmed the Umayyad garrisons from the Straits down to the Sous.

Taken aback by the sudden revolt, the Umayyad governor in Kairouan, Ubayd Allah ibn al-Habhab, immediately sent messengers to the general Habib ibn Abi Obeida al-Fihri in Al-Andalus, urging him to immediately send his army back to Africa to add to his small garrison. As he waited for his army to return, Ubayd Allah assembled an army almost entirely consisting of cavalry from the Arab elite of Kairouan. Khalid ibn Abi Habib al-Fihri was appointed as their commander, and was dispatched to Tangier to keep the Berber rebels contained. Abd al-Rahman ibn al-Mughira al-Abdari was also placed in command of a small reserve army and instructed to hold Tlemcen, to protect against a potential Berber army breaking the column and marching toward Kairouan.

The Arab army under Khalid ibn Abi Habib attacked Tangier where they met Maysara’s Berbers on the outskirts of the city. The vanguard Arab cavalry engaged in a brief skirmish before Maysara ordered a withdraw into the city. Rather than pursuing the Berbers, the attackers held the line south of the city, cutting off the enemy army from supplies as they awaited the army from the north to arrive. Having set out from Gibraltar the main army arrived north of the city.

In the city an internal coup was launched by the Berbers against their leaders. After Maysara’s seemingly cowardly actions against the Arab cavalry, many within his ranks saw him as an unfit ruler. Maysara was swiftly deposed and executed, and was replaced by the newly elected Khalid ibn Hamid al-Zanati, a Zenata Berber chieftain, as the new Berber 'Caliph'. Khalid ibn Hamid al-Zanati immediately ordered an attack on the resting Arab column outside the city before they could be re-inforced. In the so called ‘Battle of the Nobles’, the Arab cavalry was caught off guard and initially pushed back by the defenders. However, the re-inforcing army having recently arrived managed to turn the tide of the battle.

In the end the re-inforcements were able to continue the siege, although almost all of the Arab cavalry initially around the city had been killed. Following the heavy loss of life the Arab command was shocked by this unexpected turn of events. In Tlemcen the reserve army of Ibn al-Mughira was ordered west to re-inforce the army at Tangiers, which they did voluntarily to leave the a city filled with Sufrite preachers all around them.

In the meantime, Habib ibn Abi Obeida entrenched the gathered army and his own in the vicinity of Tlemcen, and called upon Kairouan for re-inforcements. The request was forwarded to Damascus. In the east Caliph Hisham was shocked and outraged by the Berber revolt, and ordered an army to crush resistance to his rule.

News of the Berber Revolt also reached al-Andalus where the heavily outnumbered Arab population became paranoid of a similar conflict in their own territory. The Arab elite of al-Andalus quickly deposed Obeid Allah's deputy, Oqba ibn al-Hajjaj al-Saluli, in January 741 and reinstated his predecessor, Abd al-Malik ibn Qatan al-Fihri, a more popular figure among local Arabs and Berbers alike.

In February 741, Kulthum ibn Iyad al-Qasi was appointed by the Umayyad Caliph Hisham as governor in Kairouan, replacing the disgraced Obeid Allah ibn al-Habhab, whose misgovernment had provoked the revolt. As governor Kulthum was to lead an Arab army numbering 30,000 regulars, raised from the regiments (junds) of Syria, and an additional 3000 from Egypt, into Morocco to combat the rebelling Berbers. Caliph Hisham also appointed Kulthum's nephew Balj ibn Bishr al-Qushayri as his lieutenant and designated successor, and the Jordanian commander Thalaba ibn Salama al-Amili as his second successor in case of emergency.

In the summer of 741 the first forces from Syria arrived, consisting of elite Syrian cavalry under Balj ibn Bishr, which had moved ahead of the bulk of the forces. Kulthum ibn Iyad did not enter Kairouan himself, but dispatched a message assigning the government of the city to Abd al-Rahman ibn Oqba al-Ghaffari, the qadi of Ifriqiya instead. Kulthum collected the Syrian forces and the remaining Ifriqiyan forces of Habib ibn Abi Obeida al-Fihri holding ground in the vicinity of Tangiers and began his military campaign in the Maghreb immediately. The North African and Eastern forces often bickered in the initial months of the campaign, but were quelled by Kulthum ibn Iyad, keeping the contingency together for the time being.

Having gathered his forces, Kulthum ibn Iyad clashed with Berber forces for the first time at the Battle of Bagdoura in October by the Sebou river. Having taken the experiences and cautious advice of the Ifriqiyans, Kulthum ibn Iyad used his elite cavalry to his advantage, targeting the enemy flanks and the undefended light infantry. Despite being under equipped the Berber infantry heavily outnumbered the Arab infantry, and managed to severely weaken the Arab line throughout the battle. Arab forces were entrenched and prepared for the long waves of attack however, and with frequent aid from the elite cavalry were able to hold the line.

Throughout the battle the Arabs were forced to fight defensively, taking notice of the Berber’s slingers who could easily knock through cavalry units if the Arabs stayed out in the open. The Berbers also employed the use of wild mares maddened by water bags and leather straps tied to their tails, which rushed straight across the Arab ranks, sowing much confusion.

Finally, having suffered numerous casualties, the Berber forces fell into retreat. In their defensive positions the Arabs did not give chase for the most part, allowing the remaining Berber army to slip away. Leaders of the Syrian expedition would later be chastised for this, although having defeated the Berbers on their own territory, the morale of the Arab army greatly recovered, and Kulthum ibn Iyad’s forces gained much needed experience.

The costly engagements under the command of the Zenata Berber leader Khalid ibn Hamid al-Zanati didn’t help to persuade remaining Berber tribes in Morocco and al-Andalus to join his revolt, severely weakening the Berber effort. Many quiet Berber communities would continue to remain neutral or limit support for the rebellion in the wake of such a disastrous war. The few tribes that answered the call to arms against the Umayyad in the eastern Maghreb were defeated. This included the Sufrite leader Oqasha ibn Ayub al-Fezari, who raised a Berber army and laid siege to Gabès and Gafsa. A small Ifriqiyan army was deployed south under the Kairouan qadi Abd al-Rahman ibn Oqba al-Ghaffari, who managed to defeat and disperse Oqasha's forces near Gafsa in December.

Caliph Hisham ordered the Umayyad governor of Egypt, Handhala ibn Safwan al-Kalbi to capture Oqasha and disperse his forces. Handhala ibn Safwan hurried his army from Egypt in February 742 and reached Kairouan around April 742, just as forces under Oqasha raised from Algeria returned to raid the area around the city. Oqasha was once again defeated outside the city, but fled back into Algeria to gather support once more.

A large force under the Hawwara Berber chieftain Abd al-Wahid ibn Yazid al-Hawwari came to Oqasha’s aid, advancing east to attack the Umayyad army in Algeria and Kairouan. Assembled from the remaining Berber forces in Morocco, Abd al-Wahid ibn Yazid al-Hawwari’s army was one of the largest ever gathered that far east throughout the war, posing an immediate threat to Umayyad administration in the Maghreb and cutting off supplies to the west where an army centered around Tangiers continued operations in Morocco. Handhala ibn Safwan knew it was important to cut off the Berber army before it arrived in full at Kairouan, dispatching a cavalry force to harass and slow down Abd al-Wahid in the north. The majority of Handhala’s forces were concentrated on Oqasha, who had taken a southern route to meet up with the rest of the Berber forces. Oqasha’s army was crushed in a bloody battle at El-Qarn and he was taken prisoner, although at a heavy cost to Handhala’s main army.

Handhala gathered every abled bodied man in Kairouan to serve as militia in his army before setting out again to combat the approaching army of Abd al-Wahid. In May 742 Handhala ibn Safwan defeated the great Berber army of Abd al-Wahid ibn Yazid at El-Asnam, just beyond the city limits of Kairouan. Some 100,000-150,000 Berbers, including Abd al-Wahid, fell in the field of battle in that single encounter. Oqasha was executed shortly after. The defeat of Abd al-Wahid effectively ended the revolt in the core of Ifriqiya, but the Umayyad still had to take back the rest of the Maghreb, including Morocco, which remained heavily under the sway of the Berber forces.

With Syrian and Egyptian forces under Handhala now advancing toward Morocco, the remaining forces of the initial Syrian expedition garrisoned within Tangiers disembarked for al-Andalus to aid in dispersing a number of minor revolts. Leaving a small garrison in Tangiers, the Arab army marched for the north, where the majority of the garrison consisted of Berber soldiers. Acting quickly the minor revolt was able to be put down swiftly, but the weakness along the border forced the expedition to garrison there permanently to protect against possible raids from Asturias. Several skirmishes would occur with the Christians of the north and the Syrian garrison, trapping Berber communities between to be raided by Asturias. Any captured Berbers in the area would become known as "Maragatos" by the local Christians (etymology uncertain, possibly from mauri capti, "captive Moors").

By 743 the Berber Revolt was considered over. With the failed attempts to seize Kairouan and other major cities, the Berbers had not gained any significant holdings to decisively defeat the Umayyad. In Morocco, however, the Berbers had established a foothold in North Africa, which heavily resisted the advances of Umayyad soldiers. Territory south of Fez and along the coast was lost to the Berber rebels, who established several independent kingdoms hostile to the Umayyad Caliphate.


Berber Revolt States (Saracen Jihad)

Berber nations created following the Berber Revolt.

Grasping toward independent rule by the end of the Berber Revolt, several Berber tribes would unite into a series of confederacies. The first of these monarchies to form in the aftermath of the war would be the nation of Barghawata, a confederation of Berber tribes along the Atlantic coast of Morocco. Alongside the Ghomara and the Miknasa, the Barghawatas were one fo the first tribes to revolt against the Arab rulers of the Maghreb, and were also Sufri Kharlijite converts. By the end of the revolt, however, the Berber alliances had dissolved, and much of the rebel army had been disbanded.

Having grown resentful to many later adherents, notably the Zenata chieftains, as the founders of the revolt movement, the Barghawata had attempted to become leaders of the revolt while it still operated. Following the end of the war however, the Barghwata retreated to the Tamesna region, on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, where they founded their new independent state and abandoned their Sufri Kharijitism. Led by Tarif al-Matghari, the Barghawata established a kingdom stretching from Safi to Salé, and including the city of Azemmour.

Farther to the south, many Berbers settled the city of Sijilmasa. Led by Sufrite Kharijites, the early group of settlers numbered about four thousand people, who began construction of this new city. Founded on the northern edge of the Sahara Desert, along the River Ziz in the Tafilalt oasis, the settlement attracted many other Berber soldiers and settlers from northern Morocco. ‘Isa bin Mazid al-Aswad was selected as the group’s first leader, who handled the city’s affairs during the town’s establishment and early history. However, after ruling for 14 years, he was blamed by his companions of corruption and executed. Abu al-Qasim Samgu bin Wasul al-Miknasi, chief of a branch of the Miknasa tribe, became the leader of the town. This Abu al-Qasim and his descendants are known as the Midrarid dynasty. 

Arab–Khazar Wars

As conflict ensued across the Umayyad Caliphate’s holdings in the Maghreb, similar conflict erupted in the Caucasus region between the Arabs and the Khazars. Ongoing since 642 AD, the Arab-Khazar War once again erupted during Hisham’s rule. By this time the Muslims had suffered heavy casualties assaulting the Khazars, even losing the decisive Battle of Marj Ardabil in 730, and allowing the Khazar army to advance as far south as Mosul.

In the summer of 732, an army of 40,000 men advanced into Khazar lands under the command of Marwan ibn Muhammad. Marwan would spend time in the south raising troops from Ashot III Bargratuni in Armenia, while the Khazars strengthened their relations with the Roman Empire against their common enemy, marrying the son of the emperor, Leo III the Isaurian to the Khazar princess Tzitzak.

After the expedition of 732 led by Marwan, no serious expeditions into Khazar territory took place for some time. In 733 Sa'id al-Harashi replaced Marwan as governor of Armenia and Azerbaijan, but he too was unable to undertake any campaigns into enemy territory. In 735 al-Harashi lost his sight and Marwan was reappointed. Marwan would not lead any attacks against the Khazars until 735, when he assaulted three fortresses near the Darial Pass under the command of Tuman Shah, a North Caucasian prince who was captured during the campaign. Another Caucasian prince named Wartanis was also defeated and killed in 736. Despite these two victories the Arabs lacked the manpower to make any serious advances into enemy territory, and were largely stalled during this period.

The next large campaign did not come until 737, when the Arabs prepared a massive strike intending to end the war for good. Marwan persuaded Hisham in person to back the campaign and was provided with an army said to be 120,000 strong, to be assembled from regular troops in Syria and the Jazira, volunteers for the Jihad, Armenian troops under Ashot Bagratuni, and even armed camp followers and servants. With an army gathered, Marwan marched on the Khazars with the largest force ever gathered against them.

The Armenian factions hostile to the Arabs and their client Ashot were defeated by Marwan first to secure his rear, before marching against the Caucasian Iberians. The Chosriod rulerof the Iberians chose to seek refuge in the fortress of Anakopia on the coast of the Black Sea, located in the Byzantine protectorate of Abkhazia. The fortress was besieged by Marwan, but he was eventually forced to retreat after dysentery broke out among his forces.

Despite failure to capture Anakopia, the region of Transcaucasia was largely subdued. A two pronged offensive was devised by Marwan that would send 30,000 men under the command of Asid ibn Zafir al-Sulami, governor of Derbent, to advance north along the coast of the Caspian Sea. The second half of his forces would be let by Marwan himself, who would cross the Darial Pass. At Samandar the two armies met, where the continued toward the Khazar capital of Atil, known as al-Bayda, in the Volga River. 40,000 captives were said to be taken after the engagement of the Slavs, while 40,000 men under the command of al-Kawthar ibn al-Aswad al-'Anbari were sent across the river to pursue the Khazar forces. 10,000 Khazars were killed, including the tarkhan, and the Arabs took 7000 captive, causing a massive defeat for the Khazars.

The Khazar khagan himself is said to have requested peace, promising he would convert to Islam and recognize the Caliph's authority. Marwan also took with him large numbers of Slav and Khazar captives, whom he resettled in the eastern Caucasus, including some 20,000 Slavs who were settled at Kakheti, while the Khazars were resettled at al-Lakz. Shortly after the campaign the Slavs rebelled and killed their Arab governor, prompting Marwan to send an army after the fleeing Slavs and slay them.

The most successful campaign against the Khazars thus far, ultimately Marwan's campaign did little to actually defeat the Khazars. Although the offensive may have discouraged the Khazars from further warfare, promised conversions and recognition of Islam were not carried out unless Arab troops were present, a force that was not present for long. The khagan's own conversion is disputed, and it was believed that a minor lord converted for him, who was placed in charge of the Khazars at al-Lakz. It is also believed that by this time the khagan was actually a follower of Judaism.

Warfare between the Arabs and the Khazars largely ceased for more than two decades after Marwan's campaigns of 737. Until 741 Arab activity in the area would continue, as Marwan launched several expeditions into the Caucasus against northern princes, most notably Tuman Shah. These campaigns were largely intended as raids, seizing plunder and extracting tribute to pay for the army's upkeep, rather than as actual conquests. Despite the establishment of a frontier at Derbent, in reality the Arabs were primarily limited to the lowlands and the coast, and much of the land they seized was too poor to compensate for the expenses of the war. Maintaining a large garrison at Derbent further overextended the Umayyads, and depleted the Syro-Jaziran army, the main pillar of the Umayyad army. The weakening of the Syrian army would be one of major contributing factors in the fall of the Umayyad dynasty during the civil wars of the 740s and the Abbasid Revolution that followed.

Arab–Byzantine Wars

In 718 the Arabs were forced to withdraw from the city of Constantinople after an unsuccessful siege, ending prospects of conquering the Byzantine Empire. The border between the Byzantines and the Arabs was established along the mountains of eastern Anatolia, bringing about a period lacking any major military campaigns from either side. Periodic raids and counter attacks were still common, but the inability for either to successfully subjugate the other allowed for formal diplomatic relations to begin in which each side formally recognized the legitimacy of the other. The largest raids during this period occurred in 720/721. With the Umayyads distracted in distant reaches of their empire the Byzantines had attempted to reconquer several cities in Armenia, and the Umayyads responded by launching a large offensive, with the aim of heavily raiding, pillaging, and plundering the Byzantine countryside, seldom attacking major forts or settlements.

Continuing attacks against the Byzantines was viewed as a tradition and a part of the continuing jihad. Annual expeditions against the Caliphate's "traditional enemy" quickly became organized, composed of one to two summer expeditions (pl. ṣawā'if, sing. ṣā'ifa) and sometimes by a naval attack and/or followed by winter expeditions (shawātī). Summer attacks were usually broken down into two separate expeditions, with the "expedition of the left" (al-ṣā'ifa al-yusrā/al-ṣughrā) being launched from the Cilician thughur and consisting mostly of Syrian troops. The "expedition of the right" (al-ṣā'ifa al-yumnā/al-kubrā), usually the larger of the two, was launched from Malatya and composed of Mesopotamian troops. Raids were largely concentrated on the borderlands and of the central Anatolian plateau, with Arab troops occasionally reaching the Byzantine coastline, which was subsequently heavily fortified to protect important settlements.

Expeditions intensified under the rule of the more aggressive Caliph Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik, with some of the Caliphate's most capable generals, including princes of the Umayyad dynasty like Maslama ibn Abd al-Malik and al-Abbas ibn al-Walid or Hisham's own sons Mu'awiyah, Maslama and Sulayman, leading attacks against the Byzantines. Many of the frontier provinces of the Byzantine Empire became heavily devastated by war, with ruined cities and deserted villages becoming characteristic of life in the reaches of the empire. What little population remained scattered among the border relied on the mountains and natural barriers to protect them, where the armies of the empire could not.

With Arab invasions being renewed, parried with a series of natural disasters, such as the eruptions of the volcanic island of Thera, the Byzantine Emperor Leo III the Isaurian interpreted recent events as the Empire losting divine favor. Already in 722 he had tried to force the conversion of the Empire's Jews, but soon he began to turn his attention to the veneration of icons, which some bishops had come to regard as idolatrous. In 726, Leo had published an edict condemning their use and had become increasingly critical of the iconophiles personally. In 730 he formally banned depictions of religious figures in a court council. The decision to do so angered many, and the emperor was met with opposition from both the church and the people, including the Bishop of Rome.

Muslim Conquest of Transoxiana

Following the Muslim conquest of Persia of 633–654 the Muslim Caliphate directly bordered the many city states of Transoxiana, which included the partially Turkic population and several local populations of Iranian people. With the Sassanid Persian Empire collapsing the local Iranian-Turkic and Arab armies clashed several times over control of Transoxiana's Silk Road cities. The Turgesh under the leadership of Suluk and the Khazars under the command of Barjik clashed several times with the Arabs during this period, fighting over important economic regions.

Both Suluk and the Khazar Empire to the west aimed to reconquer the region of Transoxiana from the Arab invaders, and in 721 Turgesh forces under the command of Kül Chor, attacked and defeated a Caliphal army under the command of Sa'id ibn Abdu'l-Aziz near Samarkand. After the battle many Turks and Sogdian refugees in Khujand were massacred by Sa'id's successor, Al-Kharashi in retaliation. This caused an influx of refugees towards the Turgesh, and in 724 Caliph Hisham sent a new governor to Khorasan, Muslim ibn Sa'id al-Kilabi, with orders to crush the "Turks" once and for all.

Following the news of a new Caliph and a new governor in Iraq, the Yemeni troops in Balkh initially refused to join a campaign against the Turkic, but were forced to join the army when a force composed of Mudaris (northern Arabs) under Nasr ibn Sayyar marched against them and defeated them at Baruqan. The army continued on until Khalid's brother Asad, arrived in Khurasan, and with 4000 troops from the Yemeni Azd tribe withdrawn from the army.

Al-Kilabi first marched on the Jaxartes Valley toward Ferghana, pillaging much of the countryside outside the city before laying siege to the city itself. The Turgesh Khagan Suluk marched against the Umayyad with a much stronger army, and so the Arabs abandoned their advance, retreating hastily towards the south. The Arabs crossed the river Wadi al-Subuh after a day of forced marching, where the Turgesh army caught up to them. A secondary camp set up by Abdallah ibn Abi Abdallah, separate from the main Arab force was attacked by the Turgesh, causing the Arabs and their Sogdian allies to suffer heavy casualties, including the brother of the ruler of Samarkand, Ghurak. Despite heavy loses the attack was eventually repusled.

The Arabs recovered from the costly attack and continued their retreat, during which they were constantly harassed by Turgesh cavalry forces. Upon returning to the Jaxartes the Arabs found their path blocked by an enemy army composed of forces from the native principalities of Shash and Farghana, and the remnants of the Sogdian rebellion Sa'id al-Harashi had suppressed much earlier.

In preparation for battle the Arabs set up camp for the night and burned their baggage, which allegedly consisted of some one million dirhams worth of supplies and plunder. Despite suffering from heavy thirst and being surrounded, with the Turgesh on their rear and the Transoxianian forces in front, the desperate Arabs managed to break through the enemy lines and cross the Jaxartes. After fleeing the battle the exhausted Arab army feel into disorder, scattering in panic. Any remaining forces were transferred to the command of Abd al-Rahman ibn Na'im al-Ghamidi, who led the remnants of the army back to Samarkand. The battle would become known as the "Day of Thirst" (Arabic: Yawm al-'Atash) in Arabic historiography, and would serve as a massive defeat for the Arab forces.

Third Fitna

Despite successes in several campaigns around the empire, by the 740's the extensive empire began to weaken the Umayyad administration. With the Berber Revolt diminishing, Caliph Hisham also was faced with a revolt led by Zayd bin Ali, grandson of Husayn bin Ali.

Zayd gathered support in the city of Kujah, receiving allegiance from many of its residents. This plot was discovered by Iraq's governor, Yusuf ibn Umar, who commanded that the people of the city be locked in the mosque so that Zayd could be found. A small group of troops led by Zayd fought with Yusuf's forces outside the mosque, before Zayd was killed by an arrow.

Conflict also grew between the Umayyads and the Abbasids, an important rival family in the empire. The Abbasids were Arab descendants of Abbas ibn Abd al-Muttalib, one of the younger uncles of Muhammad and of the same Banu Hashim clan. Thus, the Abbasids claimed to be the true successors of Muhammad, and sought to replace the Umayyads, descendants of Banu Umayya, by virtue of their closer relationship to Muhammad.

The Abbasids targeted the moral character and administrative ability of the Umayyads, which appealed to Arabs, primarily around Marw and Yemen. The Abbasids also appealed to the large non-Arab Muslim population, known as mawali, who were treated as lesser peoples by the Umayyads. The Abbasids had first began to gain strength when during the reign of Umar II, when Muhammad ibn 'Ali, a great-grandson of Abbas, advocated for the return of power to the family of Muhammad, the Hashimites, in Persia.

On 6 February 743 Caliph Hisham died of diphtheria. He was succeeded by his nephew Al-Walid II, the son of Yazid II. From his accession it became clear that Al-Walid was not a very pious man, but one interested in more earthly pleasures. As Caliph, al-Walid refurbished several large palaces with extensive decorations, most notably Qusayr Amra and Khirbat al-Mafjar. He also executed several opponents and persecuted the Qadariyya, which both helped to attract the enmity of many.

Nasr ibn Sayyar would be confirmed as governor of Khurasan by al-Walid, only to be dismissed after al-Walid accepted bribes from Yusuf ibn Umar. al-Walid's uncle, Yusuf ibn Muhammad, was appointed governor of Medina. When Yahya ibn Zayd, the son of Zayd ibn Ali, was found in Khurasan, Nasr urged him to present himself to the Caliph, to maintain Islamic unity. Yahya refused and was later slain. During his reign al-Walid would also imprison Sulayman ibn Hisham, the son of the former Caliph, Hisham.

Personally al-Walid was a noted drinker, who also was fond of singing. Al-Walid was also fond of versifying and he arranged horse races. This immoral behavior, however, eventually attracted concern. The upright Yazid ibn al-Walid spoke against the new ruler's moral laxity, while a group began plotting his assassination. Al-Walid would be cautioned by Khalid ibn Abdallah al-Qasri, who was approached with an invitation to the plot himself. The warning merely angered al-Walid who imprisoned Khalid and gave him to Yusuf ibn Umar for fifty million dirhams, who eventually tortured and killed him.

Eventually even al-Walid's own relatives were angered by his actions. Marwan ibn Muhammad wrote from Armenia urging a more prudent course of action, one more promising for the stability of the state and the preservation of the Umayyad house. Despite the attempts for preserved stability, after several months as Caliph armed men rose up against him. The Caliph was besieged in a castle outside Damascus, and on 16 April 744, at Al-Aghdaf, he was defeated and killed by the forces of Sulayman ibn Hisham.

Yazid III, son of al-Walid I was appointed Caliph in Damascus, which was confirmed following the death of Walid II, by his army. Upon his accession, Yazid proclaimed that he had rebelled on behalf of the Book of Allah and the Sunna of His Prophet, which ensured that the strong not prey on the weak. He promised "to engage in no building works, squander no money on wives or children, transfer no money from one province to another" without reason, "keep no troops on the field too long", and not to overtax the ahl al-dhimma; instead, he would eschew discrimination and would make his payments on time. He promised abdication if he failed to meet these goals, and held in principle to al-amr shura - to an elected Caliphate.

Yazid reduced military annuities by 10%, earning him the nickname of "the Diminisher (Naqis)", as recorded by Tabari, unlike his predecessor who promised a raise. Yazid personally went into the marketplace, earning him trust among some citizens. In other regions of the empire, however, fighting ensued over his accession. In the city of Hims,the people refused to recognize Yazid, as did several other cities. Marwan ibn Muhammad ibn Marwan, the governor of Armenia who had initially supported Walid, entered Iraq aiming to avenge him, but would later rally around Yazid.

As Caliph, Yazid would appoint Mansur ibn Jumhur to replace Yusuf ibn 'Umar as governor of Iraq. Yusuf ibn 'Umar would later be imprisoned and killed by the son of Khalid ibn 'Abdallah al-Qasri. On 3 or 4 October 744 Yazid fell ill of a brain tumour, after ruling for only six months, and died on October 3 or 4, 744. His brother Ibrahim, who he had named as his successor, became Caliph after him.

Ibrahim's rule was contested by Marwan ibn Muhammad, the grandson of Marwan I, who led an army into Damascus and was proclaimed Caliph in December 744. The capital was immediately moved to Harran in the north by Marwan, and a revolt broke out in Syria over the relocation. Homs would be taken by Marwan after a bitter ten month siege, and in 746 Marwan razed the walls of Homs and Damascus in retaliation.

Ubaydallah and Abdallah were named by Marwan as his heirs, and several governors were appointed in an effort to assert his authority by force. Despite this new rule anti-Umayyad dissidence continued to be very prevalent in Iraq and Iran. The Abbasids had gained much support. As such, Marwan would be forced to spend most of his reign as Caliph devoted to trying to keep the Umayyad empire together.

Significant opposition to Marwan was also met from the Kharijites in Iraq and Iran, who put forth first Dahhak ibn Qays and then Abu Dulaf as rival Caliphs. A Kharijite rebellion was led by Al-Dahhak ibn Qays al-Shaybani that managed to defeat Syrian forces and take Kufa. Sulayman ibn Hisham too turned against Marwan, but suffered a severe defeat, while the main rebel army of the Kharijites advanced on Mosul and were also defeated. Al-Dahhak was succeeded by al-Khaybari, who was initially successful in pushing back Marwan's army. al-Khaybari even took the Caliph's camp and sat on his carpet, however, he and those with him fell in fighting in the camp. Shayban succeeded him as leader of the rebellion, and was pursued by Marwan to Mosul, where he was besieged for six months. Upon the arrival of re-inforcements the Caliph's forces defeated the rebels at Mosul. After the decisive defeat at the city the rebellion crumbled, with Shayban fleeing to Bahrayn where he was killed, and Sulayman sailing to India.

By 747 Marwan had secured Iraq following the collapse of the Kharijite rebellion, but was then faced with internal discord in the east of his empire. In Khurasan conflict arose against the Umayyad governor Nasr ibn Sayyar, who was opposed by al-Harith and al-Kirmani. Religious fervor over the ascendancy of the Abbasids rose in the area, and during Ramadan of 747 they considered revolt. Nasr sent his retainer Yazid against them, who was bested and taken captive. He was instead impressed by the Abbasids and when released told Nasr he wanted to join them, if not for his obligations to Nasr which prevented him. Outright fighting eventually broke out in the region in support of the Abbasids, and on 9 November 748 Nasr died at the age at Rayy at the age of eighty five.

Abbasids Revolt

Civil unrest during the period of the Third Fitna culminated in an all out revolt in support of the Abbasids. Ibrahim the Imam, the fourth in descent from Abbas rose first in revolt, supported by the province of Khorasan, Iran and the Shi'i Arabs. He would achieve considerable success, but would be captured in the year 747.

The revolt continued under his brother Abdallah, known by the name of Abu al-'Abbas as-Saffah, who gathered an army to engage the Umayyads on the field of battle. Abu al-`Abbās and his clan chose to begin their rebellion in Khurasān, an important, but remote military region comprising eastern Iran, southern parts of the modern Central Asian republics of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikstan, Kyrgyzstan and northern Afghanistan. In October 749 (132 AH), Abu al-'Abbās as-Saffāh's rebel army entered Kufa, a major Muslim center in Southern Iraq, and as-Saffah was declared Caliph. As Caliph he set out to eliminate his Umayyad rival and counterpart Marwan II, who still held a large army in opposition to him.

Abu al-`Abbās, supported by residents of Khurasān and Shias all across the empire, would led his forces to victory over the Umayyads over the next few years. The civil war was marked by millennial prophecies encouraged by the beliefs of some Shias that As-Saffāḥ was the mahdi. Several Shi'ite works, such as the Al-Jafr, faithful Muslims were told that the brutal civil war was the great conflict between good and evil. This theory was further encouraged by how the Umayyads chose to enter the field of battle with white flags, while the Abbasids entered with black.

In 750 an army of Abbasid, Shia, and Persian soldiers engaged the Umayyads Caliph Marwan II at the Great Zab, a long river running through Iraq. Although Marwan had a far larger and formidable force than his opponent, containing experienced veteran soldiers from the campaigns against the Byzantines, his men also held wavering support for his cause. Morale was also low after a series of defeats inflicted throughout the war to this point, which only increased the morale of the rebel Abbasid armies.

A spear wall was formed by the Abbasid army, a tactic they had adopted from the Umayyads, presumably from witnessing it in earlier battles, in which infantry stood in a battle line with lances pointed at the enemy. The Umayyads charged at the Abbasids with their heavy cavalry, believing they would be able to break through the tactically superior lines with their experienced units. This proved to be a mistake and the Umayyad cavalry was slaughtered. The remaining Umayyad army fell into a complete retreat, with its morale finally shattered. Many were cut down by the zealous Abbasids or drowned in the Great Zab. Marwan himself would escape the slaughter on the battlefield and flee down the Levant, pursued relentlessly by the Abbasids. The Syrians did little to deter the Abbasids, having recently been laid waste by an earthquake and pestilence. Marwan managed to escape to the Nile River Delta, where he remained for some time. Several months after the battle, however, he would be killed in a short battle.

as-Saffah's Reign

Abu al-'Abbas as-Saffah's rule as Caliph was now unquestioned, and he would begin his rule securing the nation's borders and internal structure. Under as-Saffāh the dominance of Damascus in the Islamic political world would be diminished, with the selection of Kufa as the new capital of the caliphate. This would begin a long trend of Iraq as the seat of dominance, as opposed to Syria, for several centuries under Abbasid rule.

It is said in later accounts that to deal with the remaining members of the rival Umayyad family, as-Saffāh invited all of the members of the Umayyad family to a dinner party, but upon their arrival, had them clubbed to death. as-Saffāḥ's new governor to Syria, 'Abd Allāh ibn 'Ali, would also be tasked with capturing Umayyad family members or supporters, leading to the death of several in hiding. Following the execution of the Umayyad family, the only survivor, Abd al-Rahman ibn Mu'awiya, escaped to the province of al-Andalus, where the Umayyad caliphate would endure past their fall in the east.

Immediately after his victory, his forces would be sent to Central Asia, where they fought against Tang expansion during the Battle of Talas. The Tang knew their opponents as the "Black robed Tazi" (黑衣大食: hēiyī Dàshí), "Tazi" being a Tang dynasty borrowing from Persian to denote 'Arabs'. Renewing a phase of the Muslim conquest of Transoxiana. According to Chinese estimates, which were likely exaggerated, an Abbasid army of 200,000 Muslim soldiers marched against the Tang, meeting an army of 10,000 Tang Chinese and Tibetan forces and some 20,000 Karluk mercenaries on the banks of the Talas River.

During the battle the Tang suffered a devastating defeat, beginning with the defection of the Karluk mercenaries and the retreat of many of their allies, including the Ferghana. The sudden desertion of the majority of their army caught the Tang Chinese by surprise, who were now under attack up close from the Karluks and from the front by the main Abbasid attack. The Tang were unable to hold their position, being overwhelmed by the Abbasids. Gao Xianzhi, commander of the Tang forces, would be able to recognize the defeat as it became imminent, retreating with the help of a handful of Tang regulars and the general Li Siye.

After the crushing defeat only an estimated 2000 Tang Chinese would manage to escape Talas and return to territory in Central Asia. The Arabs would, however, suffer heavy loses attempting to pursue the Chinese, suffering an attack from Tang general Duan Xiushi. Forces for a second Tang army were being organized by Gao to attack the Arabs again when the An Shi Rebellion broke out in 755. Rebel forces back east had taken the Tang capital, causing all Chinese forces in Central Asia to be immediately recalled to China Proper to crush the rebellion.

The remaining duration of As-Saffāh's reign was spent rebuilding a war torn country. As-Saffāh's new government consisted mainly of his supporters and advisers from the revolt, but also represented Jews, Nestorian Christians, and Persians. During his reign education would also be encouraged. His reign saw the introduction of the first paper mills, staffed by captured Chinese prisoners, in the city of Samarkand.

Umayyad al-Andalus

Following the successful Abbasid Revolt and removal of the Umayyad Dynasty in Damascus, the provinces of al-Andalus and the Maghreb fell into disorder. Taking advantage of the recent revolts and collapse of Umayyad authority, the Fihrids, an illustrious local Arab clan descended from Oqba ibn Nafi al-Fihri, the famous general responsible for the Umayyad conquest of the Maghreb several decades earlier, attempted to seize power in the west in an effort to establish an empire of their own. Abd al-Rahman ibn Habib al-Fihri established himself as ruler in Ifriqiya, while Yūsuf al-Fihri took control in al-Andalus.

The fall of the Umayyads in Syria and the east of the Caliphate was largely welcome by the Fihrids, who sought to reach an understanding with the Abbasids in an attempt to preserve their autonomous existence under caliphate rule. This proposal was, however, rejected by the Abbasids, who demanded the Fihrids submit to their rule. The Fihrids responded by declaring independence from the Abbasid Caliphate, inviting the remnants of the deposed Umayyad family, possibly out of spite, to take refuge in the west. The invitation turned fatal for the Fihrids however, as the Umayyads, sons and grandsons of caliphs, had a more legitimate claim to rule than the Fihrids themselves. This caused several local lords, disenchanted with the autocratic rule of the Fihrids, to ally with the Umayyads over their Fihrid rulers.

The head of the remaining Umayyads, Abd al-Rahman I, had barely managed to escape with his life, fleeing Syria with his brother Yahiya, his four-year old son Sulayman, and some of his sisters, as well as his former Greek slave Bedr. Traveling from Damascus the group had fled to the River Euphrates, where they hid from Abbasid horsemen dispatched to hunt them and kill them. Upon being found in a small village, Abd al-Rahman left his young son and his sisters and fled with Yahiya and Bedr. While escaping from Abbasid assassins the three threw themselves into the Euphrates and swam across the dangerous river to safety. Yahiya, however, would not make it, swimming back toward the horsemen to avoid drowning. Yahiya would be beheaded, while Abd al-Rahman and Bedr fled.

Abd al-Rahman and Bedr continued south through Palestine, the Sinai, and then into Egypt, keeping a low profile as they traveled, possibly planning to flee to the Maghreb, the land of his mother, which had been partly conquered by his Umayyad predecessors. Abd al-Rahman ibn Habib al-Fihri, of semi-autonomous governor of Ifriqiya, allowed the Umayyads to seek refuge in his domain. Over time, however, Ibn Habib began to realize the presence of the prominent Umayyad exiles might lead to the end of his usurped power, and in 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 Kabylie, at the camp of a Nafza Berber chieftain friendly to their plight. Spies were dispatched by Ibn Habib to track the Umayyads, and Abd al-Rahman would be hid under the Berber chieftain's wife Tekfah hid personal belongings to help him go unnoticed. Realizing that the area was no longer safe, Abd al-Rahman fled west.

Abd al-Rahman and Bedr arrived near the city of Ceuta in 755, where their next step was to cross the sea to al-Andalus. Abd al-Rahman had no way of knowing if he would be welcomed in al-Andalus, where a state of confusion had existed among the Muslim community since the Berber revolts years earlier. The nominal ruler of al-Andalus, emir Yusuf ibn 'Abd al-Rahman al-Fihri, a member of the Fihrid family was locked in a contest with his vizier and son and law, al-Sumayl ibn Hatim al-Qilabi. Yusuf represented the old Arab settlers (baladiyun), mostly of south Arabian or 'Yemenite' tribal stock, while his son-in-law served as the head of the new settlers (shamiyum) who had arrived only in 742, comprised of Syrian junds or military regiments, mostly of north Arabian Qaysid tribes.

An estimated 500 former Umayyad clients were contingents of the Syrian junds, and Abd al-Rahman believed he could use this old loyalty to gain their support. Three Syrian commanders; Obeid Allah ibn Uthman and Abd Allah ibn Khalid, both originally of Damascus, and Yusuf ibn Bukht of Qinnasrin would be enlisted by Bedr, who approached the Syrian arch-commander in Zaragoza, al-Sumayl to get his consent. Their requests, however, were rejected, as al-Sumayl feared Abd al-Rahman would try to make himself emir.

As a result the Umayyad clients would appeal to their rivals, the Yemenite commanders. The Yemenites were not the Umayyads' natural ally, being a Qaysid tribe, but their interests were very similar, allowing for cooperation. Many Yemenite chieftains felt their future prospects were poor, with emir Yusuf al-Fihri unable to keep powerful local rulers such as al-Sumayl in control. The Yemenites knew that they would have a better chance at advancing their goals if they attached themselves to the Umayyad name, in both a Fihrid and Syrian dominated rule. Before Abd al-Rahman's arrival no member of the Umayyad family was known to have ever set foot in al-Andalus, and the Umayyads did not have a historical presence in the region. There was also concerns over Abd al-Rahman's inexperience, but many low ranking Yemenite commanders believed that they had little to lose or gain, and agreed to support the Umayyads.

Having confirmed the invitations of the Yemenite commanders in al-Andalus, Bedr returned to Africa to inform Abd al-Rahman. Accompanied by a small group of followers, Abd al-Rahman made plans to depart for al-Andalus, but his intentions, however, were soon found out by several Berber chieftains in the area. Hoping that they could hold Abd al-Rahman as hostage and force him to buy his way out of Africa, the Berber tribesmen rode immediately to the coast to intercept the young Umayyad prince. A small amount of dinars would be handed over to the hostile local Berbers, but just as Abd al-Rahman's boat departed a second group arrived. Hoping to receive a similar payment, they attempted to stop the vessel. One tribesman even held on to Abd al-Rahman's vessel, and had his hand cut off by the boat's crew. Having escaped Morocco, Abd al-Rahman landed at Almuñécar in al-Andalus, to the east of Málaga, in September 755 at an unknown landing site.

Abd al-Rahman was greeted by an escort of 300 cavalry and the clients Abu Uthman and Ibn Khalid upon landing on the shores of al-Andalus, where he then departed for the city of Málaga. Local support for the Umayyads was amassed quickly, and many made their way into the city to pay respect to the prince who they once thought dead, including many Syrians living in the region. The news of his landing spread fast to other cities across the peninsula, eventually reaching emir al-Fihri and the Syrian commander al-Sumayl, who both sought to eliminate this new threat to their rule.

Before anything could be done with the young prince, Al-Fihri and al-Sumayl were forced to ride north to deal with a rebellion in Zaragoza, an important trade city on the Upper March of al-Andalus, where the local rulers had attempted to establish autonomy. Using this distraction to his advantage, in March 756 Abd al-Rahman and his growing following of Umayyad clients and Yemenite junds rode against the city of Sevilla, taking the city without violence. The rebellion in Zaragoza would soon be crushed, but just about that time the Cordovan governor received news of a Basque rebellion in Pamplona. A detachment was sent by Yusuf ibn 'Abd al-Rahman to crush the rebellion, but his troops were annihilated.

Following this setback in the north, al-Fihri regrouped his army and decided to march south to face Abd al-Rahman. The two contingents met on opposite sides of the River Guadalquivir, just outside the capital of Córdoba on the plains of Musarah, prepared to do battle for the fate of al-Andalus.

At the time of the battle the region was experiencing the end of a long drought, and for the first time in years, the banks of the River Guadalquivir were overflowing. Despite the return of rain, food was still scarce, causing Abd al-Rahman's army to suffer from hunger. al-Fihri attempted to demoralize Abd al-Rahman's troops by ensuring that his troops not only be well fed, but also fed gluttonous amounts of food in full view of the Umayyad lines.

An attempt at negotiations soon followed in which Abd al-Rahman was offered the hand of al-Fihri's daughter in marriage as well as great wealth. This offer was rejected however, as Abd ar-Rahman would settle for nothing less than control of the emirate. As it became clear that a battle would ensue, dissension also 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. Some were also cautious of the prince's inexperience and unproven ability in battle. The Yemenis observed that such a fine horse would provide an excellent mount to escape from battle. Hoping to regain Yemeni support, Abd al-Rahman acted quickly, riding to a Yemeni chief who was mounted on a mule named "Lightning". Abd al-Rahman offered to exchange his horse for the mule, a deal to which the surprised chief readily agreed. This move would successfully quell disagreement from the Yemenis.

Both armies gathered their lines on the same bank of the Guadalquivir River and prepared for battle. Possessing no banner to represent his army, Abd al-Rahman had a green turban bounded around the head of a spear. Subsequently following the battle, the turban and the spear became the banner and symbol of the Andalusian Umayyads. The battle begin with Abd al-Rahman leading a charge toward al-Fihri's army. The Fihrids' cavalry under the command of Al-Sumayl advanced to meet the Umayyad threat, where a costly battle ensued. In the end Abd al-Rahman was victorious and the majority of the Fihrid army was slain, while both al-Fihri and al-Sumayl managed to escape the field with parts of the army.

Abd al-Rahman triumphantly marched into the capital, Córdoba, but almost immediately danger returned, as al-Fihri planned a counterattack. al-Fihri's forces were reorganized and marched against the capital that Abd al-Rahman had usurped from him. Again Abd al-Rahman met al-Fihri with his army, opening up negotiations outside the city. In exchange for al-Fihri's life and wealth, he would be held prisoner and not allowed to leave the city limits of Córdoba. Al-Fihri would also 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 and begin planning for a possible return to power.

Al-Fihri would eventually flee Córdoba, making a bid for power and gathering support from across the country. While at large, al-Fihri managed to gather an army allegedly numbering to 20,000, although it is doubtful that his army considered of regular soldiers, but rather peasants and untrained men from across 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 in central al-Andalus, where he would be promptly killed. Al-Fihri's head was sent to Córdoba, where Abd al-Rahman had it nailed to a bridge in the city.

Abd al-Rahman's rule was now secured, although one problem and threat to his throne still remained; al-Fihri's general, al-Sumayl, had to be dealt with. al-Sumayl would be garroted in Córdoba's jail on orders of Abd al-Rahman. Over the next few years Abd al-Rahman would capture the remaining cities still loyal to the Fihrids across al-Andalus, the last being Zaragoza, which surrendered in 779. With the throne now under his control, Abd al-Rahman would declare himself emir instead of caliph, possibly to prevent more unrest in a region with many different loyalties. al-Andalus became a safe haven for those loyal to the Umayyads, and many fled old friends and family of Abd al-Rahman fled to the region. After being separated since the banks of the Euphrates, Abd al-Rahman was finally reacquired with his son, Sulayman. Many family members of Abd al-Rahman were appointed into high government positions across the land, as Abd al-Rahman felt he could trust them more than non family.

In 763 however Abd al-Rahman again prepared for war. The Abbasids in Baghdad and the current caliph, al-Mansur, had long since sought to defeat the Umayyads and those claiming to be emirs of al-Andalus. al-Mansur appointed al-Ala ibn-Mugith (also known as al-Ala) as governor of Africa, and tasked him with the job of retaking al-Andalus into his domain. al-Ala would personally lead an Abbasid army against al-Rahman, landing near the city of Beja with approximately 7,000 men. Much of the surrounding area near Beja capitulated to al-Ala, and in fact rallied under the Abbasid banners against Abd al-Rahman. Abd al-Rahman knew he had to act quickly or risk losing his entire domain.

The Abbasids would spend the next two months besieging the city of Carmona and raiding towns in the south of al-Andalus, during which time Abd al-Rahman gathered an army and prepared for war. The Umayyads were disadvantaged by their lack of food and water within the city, with both items becoming scarce, weakening the morale of his troops. Finally after two months, Abd al-Rahman's forces the Abbasids on the field of battle. 700 handpicked men were led by Abd al-Rahman toward the main gate of the city. A large fire was started, and Abd al-Rahman threw his scabbard into the flames, proclaiming that the time had come for them to die fighting rather than die of hunger. The city's gate was lifted and Abd ar-Rahman's men fell upon the unsuspecting Abbasids, killing the majority of the enemy and thoroughly routing the rest.

After the crushing defeat of the Abbasid invaders, Abd al-Rahman had the heads of the main Abbasid leaders cut off. Their heads were preserved in salt with identifying tags pinned to their ears. The heads were then bundled together in a package and sent to the Abbasid caliph who was on pilgrimage at Mecca. Upon receiving the evidence of al-Ala's defeat in al-Andalus against Abd al-Rahman, al-Mansur is said to have gasped, "God be praised for placing a sea between us!" It is said from that day that Al-Mansur hated but at the same time respected Abd al-Rahman, dubbing him the "Hawk of Quraysh", after the tribe from which the Umayyads branch off of.

Various revolts would continue for next few years of Abd al-Rahman's reign as Emir of Córdoba, despite the crushing victory against the Abbasids. Conflict would arise between various Arab and Berber tribes fighting each other for varying degrees of power within the state, with some cities even attempting to break away and form their own independent states. Similarly members of Abd al-Rahman's own family would attempt to seize control over the emirate from him, but each time Abd al-Rahman managed to crush resistance, even when dissidents marched on the city of Córdoba itself. Over the next twenty five years Abd al-Rahman would also be tasked with securing the remaining towns of the region from his strongholds in the south.

Ultimately Abd al-Rahman always desired to take the fight back east against Baghdad, hoping to avenge the murders of his family and reclaim the Umayyad throne as caliph. Such plans however were delayed by internal problems, which eventually consumed the time of the young emir. The city of Zaragoza on the Upper March continued to bid for autonomy, after remaining out of reach of the Umayyad leader since the days of Yusuf ibn 'Abd al-Rahman al-Fihri. Settling matters in that northern city would eventually place plans of warring against Baghdad indefinitely on hold.

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