by DG Tor · Cited by 13 — The Caliph al-Mustarshid was murdered in the year 529/1135, reportedly between the ‘Abbasid nadir in the ninth century and the end of the caliphate in.

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A Tale of Two Murders: Power Relations between Caliph and Sultan in the Saljuq Era D.G. Tor The Caliph al-Mustarshid was murdered in the year 529/1135, reportedly by a group of Isma’ili assassins, who, according to many of our sources, were hired by one or both of the Saljuq Sultans Sanjar and Mas’ud, his vassal. This murder was, most unusually, followed by the suspiciously similar murder of al-Mustarshid’s son al-Rashid shortly thereafter. It should be noted that these successive assassinations mark the only occasion in the four hundred years between the ‘Abbasid nadir in the ninth century and the end of the caliphate in the thirteenth century that two successive caliphs met with an unnatural demise. This double murder, which has never been closely analyzed by historians, 1 is significant not just as a historical curiosity, but for the light it sheds on the political situation of the eastern Islamic empire generally at this time, and Saljuq-caliphal relations in particular. The traditional historical appraisal of Saljuq-Caliphal relations has closely followed the official Saljuq version, described by Julie Meisami in the following words: “From the outset, the Saljuqs–cultivated the image of themselves as rescuers of the Sunni caliphate from Shi’i control, promoters of mainstream

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2Sunnism–implacable foes of heterodoxy–and patrons of religious learning and the ‘ulama’ .”2 While parts of this marketing image undoubtedly had a sound basis in empirical fact- the Saljuqs, and even more so their viziers, did patronize religious learning and the ‘ulama’ 3- other parts of this public- relations package are inherently more problematic; for instance, the image of the Saljuqs as the supposedly “implacable foes of heterodoxy” does not accord very well with Ibn al-Jawzi’s statement that Sultan Sanjar, when he set out to fight his own nephew Mahmud in the year 513/1119, utilized the military services of “thousands” of Isma’ili, and even infidel Turkish, soldiers. 4 Further holes have since been poked in the Saljuq mantle of Sunni piety by Carole Hillenbrand, who has drawn attention to the lackluster record of the Saljuqs in fighting the Isma’ilis during the period extending from the death of Mahmud b. Malikshah in 1094 through the reign of Malikshah’s grandson Mahmud b. Muhammad. 5 Perhaps the most unfounded component of the traditional wisdom, tho ugh, is its rosy view of Saljuq-caliphal relations. Scholars have to a large degree automatically assumed that since the Buyids were Shi’ites and the Saljuqs were Sunnis, the ‘Abbasids must have been far happier under the rule of the latter than of the former. This view of happy, grateful collaboration between the Saljuqs and the ‘Abbasid caliphs was first seriously challenged several decades

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3ago by George Makdisi, both in his article on “The Sunni Revival,” 6 and, more devastatingly, in his articles on the marriage of Toghril Beg and on Saljuq- Caliphal relations through the reign of Malik-Shah. 7 Yet, perhaps due to the fact that Makdisi’s research treated only the early part of Saljuq rule over the caliphs- less than forty years out of nearly one hundred and forty- the “Saljuq myth” has proven to be surprisingly impervious to empirical findings; the result has been, in the best of cases, a modification rather than a discrediting of the traditional wisdom regarding relations between the Saljuq sultans and their caliphs. According to this modified view, the caliphs viewed the Saljuqs as somewhat distasteful but reliable supporters and protectors of the caliphate. 8 A closer look at Saljuq-caliphal relations in the twelfth century, however, suggests that, from the point of view of the ‘Abbasid caliphs, the Saljuqs were, in practice, no better than the Buyids- indeed, they were probably worse, since the official Sunnism of the Saljuqs, together with their greater political and military strength, allowed them to treat the ‘Abbasids in a manner in which the Buyids were never able to indulge. There are many events contending for the title of nadir of caliphal-Saljuqid relations- from the notorious marriages of Toghril Beg and Malik Shah, to Nizam al-Mulk’s alleged plan to abolish the ‘Abbasid Caliphate; 9 insults to caliphal envoys; 10 and the constant coercion, extortion, and interference in the caliph’s court and affairs in which the Saljuq

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4sultans engaged over the years. 11 But surely the most dramatic point in the history of those relations was reached in the turbulent events that took pl ace between 529/1135 and 532/1137, which involved the actual murder of two caliphs and the deposition of one of them. The background to these dramatic events was the internal disorder afflicting the Great Saljuq empire- turmoil which began, to some degree, as far back as the death of Malikshah in 1092, but worsened considerably after the death of Malikshah’s son Muhammad in 511/1118, when Western Iran and Iraq were riven by the continual wars fought among the sons and grandsons of Malikshah, their atabegs, and local dynasts. 12 1118 was also the year in which the caliph al-Mustarshid bi’llah ascended the throne. The sources inform us that this caliph was not only a learned and pious transmitter of hadith, 13 and an exquisite calligrapher, 14 but also “brave, and of far-reaching ambition.” 15 This ambition found expression in al-Mustarshid’s unremitting efforts to exploit Saljuq weakness and disarray, as the various descendants of Malikshah battled with and intrigued against one another, in order to revive the political power of the ‘Abbasid caliphs. 16 Thus, al-Mustarshid became the first caliph in over a century to leave his palace and city and lead armies. 17 In 514/1120, while Sultan Mahmud was preoccupied with the rebellion of his brother Mas’ud, the caliph first asserted

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5himself by having alcoholic beverages seized and destroyed in the sultan’s market in Baghdad. 18 Then, in 517/1123, a llied with the Atabeg Aq-S onqur Bursuqi, the caliph personally led a victorious military campaign against the Mazyadid ruler, one of the regional Arab dynasts. 19 Again, the unusual nature of this campaign must be emphasized: it was the first one to be led personally by a caliph after a hundred years in which the caliphs rarely if ever left their palaces, never took part in military activities- and, indeed, never even set foot outside of Baghdad. All of this caliphal activity began to worry the Saljuq sultans. In 520/1126, Sultan Mahmud’s shihna , or military commander, in Baghdad, the amir Yurunqush, went to the sultan: “–He complained much about the caliph, and he confirmed personally that the caliph sought rule [ al-mulk ], and that he had left his house twice, but was defeated of his aim.” The shihna further noted that the caliph had been in political correspondence with all the Arab and Kurdish amirs and tribal leaders in the area, and warned that if the matter were not taken care of, the caliph’s ambitions would soon result in the destabilization of Saljuq rule. 20 Up until this point, Sultan Mahmud had apparently been glad to enjoy al- Mustarshid’s military help in ridding himself of his family rivals. In the preceding year, 519/1125, Mahmud’s brother Toghril b. Muhammad (who at

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6this point enjoyed only the status of a ” malik “) had betaken himself to Baghdad in attempt to win the sultanate. The Caliph had unsuccessfully fought him and Toghril had plundered Ba ghdad. 21 Mahmud had been delighted with the Caliph’s usefulness in battling Toghril, and had written to thank him for this service. By the following year, however, Sultan Mahmud’s attitude had undergone a fundamental change, as a result of both the shihna’s warning and of an additional warning directed to him from the Saljuq elder statesman and Mahmud’s liege lord, Sultan Sanjar in Khurasan. 22 In the year 520/1126, therefore, Mahmud besieged Baghdad- one of the very few historical instances of such an event taking place. 23 He managed to take part of the city, and the caliph’s house was plundered. 24 The Caliph, however, emerged from this clash with the upper hand; for he and his army kept up a stiff resistance from the Western bank of the city, while the populace expressed its hostility toward the Saljuqs not only by shooting a constant barrage of arrows at Mahmud’s forces, but also by hurling such taunts as: “O Batinis, O heretics, you have rebelled against the Commander of the believers; your legal acts are invalid, and your giving in marriage is legally unsound;” 25 and “O Batini, why did you not decide to raid Byzantium; you came [instead] to raid the caliph and the Muslims.” 26 Mahmud found himself in a position he could not sustain: he obviously

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8surrounding al-Mustarshid’s murder. Some sources claim that political intrigue brought about the rift between the caliph and the Saljuqs; in most accounts these political intrigues are attributed to Mas’ud’s dissatisfied Turkish amirs, who had defected to the Caliph’s service and then fomented war in an apparent attempt to use the caliph in their own quarrel with their erstwhile Saljuq master. According to this version, the intrigues of Sultan Mas’ud’s wife and her ally the Atabeg Qara-Sunqur alienated Mas’ud’s other amirs, particular Yurun-qush. As a result, a group of powerful amirs rebelled under the latter’s leadership, were defeated militarily by Mas’ud, and fled to the caliph. Yurun-qush then informed the caliph that Sultan Mas’ud was intent upon deposing him, al-Mustarshid, “and this led to the killing of al- Mustarshid–.” 30 The implication here is that the wicked amirs fomented baseless trouble between Mas’ud and Sanjar on the one hand, and the caliph on the other, in order to serve their own political purposes. Indeed, some accounts make that charge explicit. 31 The situation as described in much greater detail by other sources, however, seems to indicate that there was a rather strong empirical foundation underlying the amirs’ reports to al-Mustarshid regarding Mas’ud’s and/or Sanjar’s evil intentions toward the caliph. That is, the amirs may actually have been revealing accurate information to the caliph in order to achieve their ends, not

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9just lying in order to manipulate him; Saljuq betrayal and scheming against the caliph, on the part of both Sultans Sanjar and Mas’ud, was the underlying cause in this case, not al-Mustarshid’s delusions of grandeur. Such Saljuq betrayal is variously said to have included treasonous correspondence between Sanjar and one of al-Mustarshid’s step-mothers; Mas’ud’s deletion of the caliph’s name from the khutba in Hamadan; 32 Mas’ud’s killing of the caliph’s powerful ally, Aq-S unqur al-Ahmadili ; and Mas’ud’s offer of sanctuary to amirs in the caliph’s service who had plotted to betray their master. According to Ibn al-Jawzi, for instance, Sanjar had been scheming against al-Mustarshid for years. In 526/1131f, the caliph caught one of his stepmothers in correspondence with Sanjar, in which the latter expressed his intention of attacking the ‘Abbasid dynasty [ dawla ] itself; “This reached al- Mustarshid. He took the letter from her and this [letter] spurred him to go out to the battle.” 33 Not only Sanjar, but Sultan Mas’ud, too, had been alarming the caliph. One of our sources reports, without elaborating, that al-Mustarshid went to war because he was afraid that Mas’ud was going to take over ‘Iraq. 34 Elsewhere we read that about a year before al-Mustarshid set out to battle the sultan, Mas’ud had killed the caliph’s powerful ally, Aqsunqur al-Ahmadili, “and gave out that the Batiniyya had killed him .”35 The caliph, who had been on a military

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10campaign in Mosul, immediately aba ndoned this activity ” because he heard that Mas’ud had betrayed [him], for he had killed Aqs unqur al-Ahmad ili and bestowed a robe of honor on [the Caliph’s long-standing enemy] Dubays [the Mazyadid].” 36 There are several essential points to note in this last report: first, we see that Mas’ud is known to have engaged in political murder and then foisted the blame upon the Isma’ili Assassins. Second, it reveals that Mas’ud had already betrayed the caliph and was machinating against him well before war broke out between them. Indeed, even some of the sources that blame the caliph for “rebelling” against the Saljuqs note the historical background of enmity and distrust between the Saljuqs and the caliph: Hostilities had flared up between the sultan and the caliph in the time of Sultan Mahmud, who went out and defeated the caliph twice. When Mas’ud succeeded him, his deputies became high-handed in Iraq and they opposed the caliph in his own lands. Relations (between the sultan and the caliph) became strained and al-Mustarshid collected troops, having seriously resolved to rebel. 37 Some of our sources also note that the caliph’s distrust of Mas’ud was further strengthened when he caught some of his amirs red-handed in treasonous correspondence with Mas’ud’s brother and ally, the Saljuq prince Toghril. The treasonous amirs fled to Mas’ud, who ignored the caliph’s demands that he

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11return them to him for punishment. 38 The last straw came in 529/1135, when the afore-mentioned group of Mas’ud’s senior amirs had a disagreement with their master and came to Baghdad, “and they told of the wickedness of [Mas’ud’s] heart.” 39 Furthermore, according to some sources, the war was not started by the caliph, but by Mas’ud; the casus belli was either his gathering his armies and starting out for Iraq, 40 or, alternatively, his deletion of the caliph’s name from the khutba in Hamadan. 41 According to Ibn al-Athir, the caliph was still hesitant about the undertaking, and it was that same group of Mas’ud’s former amirs who “depicted the journey to him in a favorable light, facilitated the matter for him, and made the rule of Sultan Mas’ud seem weak to him.” 42 Whatever the origins of the conflict, the caliph at this point discontinued the khutba in Mas’ud’s name- according to at least one source, he deleted it from the coinage as well 43- but not his recognition of the Saljuqs; he substituted instead the names of Sultans Sanjar and Mas’ud’s rival Da’ud (the sultan of Azerbayjan), and solicited a legal ruling from the fuqaha’ authorizing war against Mas’ud. 44 The caliph then journeyed toward Hamadan, where Mas’ud was camped with a large force. All the lords of the area were in correspondence with the Commander of the Believers, offering him their obedience, but he tarried on his way; so Mas’ud was reconciled with most of them–A group of the companions of al-Mustarshid slunk away,

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