Medieval Authors about East Africa
By Pieter Derideaux

 

 

The revolt of the Zanj, Al-Tabari; (838-922) Historian, lived in Baghdad


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Taken from: Al Tabari
The revolt of the black slaves in lower Iraq has no direct connection with the history of East-Africa. Indirectly however it was more then important. Because of that I add one chapter of Al-Tabari. Al-Tabari himself has consecrated several books to the revolt, way to much to print.
Here is given as illustration coins minted by the Zanj in the state they build in lower Iraq.

The events that led to the entry of al-Basrah (by the Zanj) and what transpired thereafter.
It was reported that, when Said b. Salih left al-Basrah, the central authorities handed over his duties to Mansur b. Jafar al-Khayyat. The events concerning Mansur and the troops of the abominable one we have dealt with already: They told of Mansur's enfeebled position, his inability to engage the abominable one in battle, contenting himself with providing protection for the supply ships sufficient to relieve the inhabitants of al-Basrah of the harm caused when the flow of these supplies was interrupted. Word of this reached the abominable one, who was then frustrated by the news that the Basrans had been relieved. This caused him to send Ali b. Aban to the districts of Jubba, where he established camp in al-Khayzuraniyyah. This distracted Mansur b. Jafar from the protection of the supply boats to al-Basrah, so once again the Basrans experienced straitened circumstances.

The abominable one's troops harassed the inhabitants of al-Basrah day and night with attacks. Then, in the month of Shawwal (August 22-September 19, 871) of this year, the abominable one determinated to rally his forces for a concerted assault on the Basrans and a serious attempt to destroy it. The decision was taken because he was aware of their weakness, their disunity, and the damaging effects upon them of the blockade and the destruction of the surrounding villages. Moreover the abominable one had consulted the astrological charts and discovered that there would be a lunar eclipse on Tuesday evening, the 14th of the month (September 4, 871).
Muhammad b. al-Hassan b. Sahl reported that he had heard the abominable one say, I earnestly prayed to God for help against the people of al-Basrah and humbly beseeched Him to hasten its destruction. A voice addressed me saying that al-Basrah was but a loaf of bread, which one could nibble around the edges, when half the loaf had been devoured, al-Basrah would be destroyed. I took this to mean that devouring half a loaf indicated the eclipse of the moon, which was expected at this time, so it was entirely plausible that the fate of al-Basrah would occur soon afterward.


Muhammad continued; The abominable one continued speaking in this vein to such an extend that he overwhelmed his followers with the story, repeating it among them at nauseam. Then he deputized Muhammad b. Yazid al-Darimi, one of his adherents in al-Bahrayn, to go among the Arab tribesmen, many of whom were successfully won over to the Zanj cause. They camped at a place called al-Qandal, and the abominable one sent Sulayman b. Musa to drill the tribesmen in the execution of such an operation. When the lunar eclipse occurred, the Zanj leader sent Ali b. Aban with a detachment of Arab tribesmen, ordering him to approach al-Basrah by way of the territory of the Banu Sad. Likewise Yahya b. Muhammad al-Bahrani, who was then blockading the Basrans, was instructed to approach the city via the Nahr Adi with the remainder of the tribesmen who were attached to him.


Muhammad b. al-Hasan said that Shibl had observed that the first attack on the Basrans was led by Ali b. Aban. This was at the time when Bughraj was present in the city with a detachment of soldiers. For two days the battle raged between the two sides, the people in general supporting Bughraj. Yahya approached with his troops by way of Qasr Anas, making their way to the bridge. Ali b. Aban al-Muhallabi entered the city at the time of the Friday congregational prayers on the 17th of Shawwal (September 7, 871). Killing and burning continued through the day and into the evening and throughout all of Saturday as well. Yahya approached al-Basrah early on Sunday morning. Bughraj and Burayh with a force of troops blocked his way and drove him back. Yahya returned and held his ground for the rest of the day. On Monday morning he made a further attempt, but, when he finally secured entry into the city, the defenders had scattered, Burayh had fled, and Bughraj had withdrawn with his troops, leaving no opposition. Ibrahim b. Yahya al-Muhallabi met Yahya and sought a promise of protection from him on behalf of the inhabitants and this was granted.
Ibrahim b. Yahya's town crier proclaimed the protection to anyone who sought it; he had only to present himself at Ibrahim's palace.

The inhabitants of al-Basrah responded without exception, thronging the city squares. When he saw the great gathering, he seized the opportunity to blockade every street, roadway, and alley, thus preventing anyone from escaping. Behaving in this treacherous manner, he then gave the order for his troops to kill, and with rare exception, everyone present was slain. The perpetrator of this act departed the same day to stay in Qasr Isa b. Jafar in al-Khuraybah.
Muhammad continued: Al-Fadl b. Adi al-Darimi recounted to me the following: At the time the traitor was warring against the people of Basrah, I was in the district, staying among the Banu Sad. Al-Fadl continued, saying that someone had arrived one night and mentioned that he had seen some passing cavalry heading for Qasr Isa in al-Khurayah. Al Fadl said ; My companions said to me, Go and gather some information for us about this troop. I did so, and, when I came upon a part of the Banu Tamin and the Banu Asad, I inquired what they were doing. They claimed to be supporters of the Alawite and attached to Ali b. Aban, who was supposed to reach al-Basrah the following morning, his destination being the quarter of the Banu Sad. Yahya b. Muhammad was also with another contingent, heading for the quarter of the Al al-Muhallab. They said to me, Tell your companions from the Banu Sad, if you wish to protect your women and children, then make haste to evacuate them before the army surrounds you.

Al Fadl said, I returned to my companions and gave them the news from the Arab tribesmen. Having made their preparations, they send someone to Burayh to inform him, too, of the situation. He came to them at dawn with the remaining chattels and a contingent of soldiers. They then marched out until they eventually reached a trench called Banu Himman. Some Banu Tamin and fighters of the Sadiyyah met up with them, but it was not long before Ali b. Aban overtook them with a contingent of Zanj and Arab tribesmen on horseback. Burayh became alarmed before even encountering this crowd and so he returned to his residence (in al-Basrah). This was as good as admitting defeat. The Banu Tamin who had gathered now dispersed and Ali was able to approach the city unopposed, and he made his way to the quarter of al-Mirbad. Burayh sent word to the Banu Tamin requesting assistance, and a group of them responded. Fighting broke out in al-Mirbad in front of Burayh's palace. Thereupon Burayh fled, and his supporters scattered. The Zanj burned his palace to the ground, having plundered all its contents. The killing continued, the Basrans position having been gravely weakened, while that of the Zanj grew stronger. The sides battled on until the end of the day, when Ali reached the congregational mosque and ordered it burned down. Fath, the servant of Abu Shith, together with a group of Basrans, took Ali by surprise, and he had to retreat with his men, some of the Zanj being killed. Ali thereupon turned back and established his army camp at a place called the graveyard of the Banu Shayban.

People sought for someone in authority with whom they could join in battle, but none was found. When they looked for Burayh, they discovered that he had fled. On Saturday the Basrans realized that Ali b. Aban had not returned, but on Sunday morning he did so, without encountering any opposition, and took al-Basrah in triumph.
Muhammad b. al-Hasan related as follows from Muhammad b. Siman; At the time the Zanj entered al-Basrah, I was living in the city. I used to attend the assembly held by Ibrahim b. Muhammad b. Ismael, who was known as Burayh. On Friday, the 10th of Shawwal 257 (August 31, 871). I was there, and Shihab b. al-Ala al-Anbari was present as well. I heard Shihab telling Ibrahim that the traitor had sent money and supplies into the desert in order to raise a force from among the Arab tribesmen, that he had in fact managed to muster a large troop of horsemen, and with them and his own Zanj infantry he intended to infiltrate al-Basrah. At the time al-Basrah was defended by only some fifty cavalry of the government forces under Bughraj. Burayh told Shihab that the Arab tribesmen would not venture to act with hostility toward him because he was obeyed and respected by the Arabs.

Ibn Siman continued; I left Burayh's assembly and came across the secretary, Ahmad b. Ayyub, whom I overheard talking about Harun b. Abd al-Rahim al Shi'i, who at the time was in charge of the postal service (barid) in al-Basrah. Harun confirmed that the traitor, on the 3th of Shawwal (August 24, 871) had performed the congregational prayer with nine persons, while al-Basrah's leading commanders and its resident governor remained in total ignorance about what the traitor was up to, as I have described. The blockade had driven the populace to hunger, and disease was on the increase. Conflict erupted in the city between the two factions of the Bilaliyyah and the Sadiyyah. Then on Friday morning, the 16th of Shawwal (September 6, 871) of this year, the traitor's cavalry attacked al-Basrah on three fronts, the Banu Sad district, al-Mirbad, and al-Khuraybah. Ali b. Aban led the army, which was dispatched against al-Mirbad. He had divided his troops into two contingents; One was in the charge of Rafiq, the servant of Yahya b. Abd al-Rahman b. Khaqan, who was ordered to march into the Banu sad district, and the other, with whom he himself remained, set out for al-Mirbad. Yahya b. Muhammad al-Azraq al-Bahrani led the cavalry, which was sent to al-Khuraybah, having assembled his troops together on one front. Those Basrans of little circumstance who could, despite being exhausted by hunger and the blockade, went out to face each of these divisions. The cavalry accompanying Bughraj split up into two groups, one of which made for the district of al-Mirbad and the other for al-Khuraybah. Those (of Ali's forces) who reached the Banu Sad district engaged in battle a contingent of the Sadiyyah fighters, along with Fath, the slave of Abu Shith and his companions, but a few Basrans were no match for the assembled forces of the abominable one, whose troops attacked on horse and on foot.


Ibn Simam said: On that day I was present in the congregational mosque when flames engulfed these areas, Zahran, al-Mirbad, and Banu Himman, at the same time, as if they had been set by arsonists at an agreed moment. That was at the beginning of the day, on Friday. The calamity worsened, and Basrans were convinced that they were doomed. Those in the main mosque strove to reach their homes as swiftly as possible. I was hastening toward my own house, which was on the Mirbad road. On the way fleeing Basrans passed me retreating to the great mosque. Al-Qasim b. Jafar b. Sulayman al-Hashimi brought up their rear, seated upon a donkey and girt with a sword. He cried out to the crowd; Wou upon you. Will you surrender your city and your families? This is your enemy who has just entered your city. But none paid heed to him or listened to his plea, and he went upon his way. Then the Mirbad road cleared of people, and between those in flight and the Zanj there was empty space as far as the eye could see.


Muhammad said, When I saw what was happening, I entered my house and locked the door. From the upper floor of the house I looked down and saw the cavalry of the Arab tribesmen and the Zanj foot soldiers led by a men riding a chestnut horse and carrying a spear bearing a yellow lappet. Sometime later, after I had been taken to the traitor's city, I inquired about the man's identity. Ali b. Aban claimed that he had been the one I had seen with the yellow streamer.
The (Zanj) troops entered the city and disappeared down the Mirbad Road, proceeding to the Uthman Gate. By then it was late in the day. Then they left. The ignorant young clods of the city imagined that they were off to attend the Friday prayer, but what had really frightened them off was possible attack from bands of the Bilaliyyah and Sadiyyah who might attack them from the square, for they feared ambushes there. So they left. Those (Zanj) who were in the quarters of Zahran and Banu Hisn also departed after they had burned, pillaged, and overwhelmed the city, for they knew no one could stop them. They let Saturday and Sunday go by. Then they came again on Monday, and found no one defending the city. The population was collected before the palace of Ibrahim b. Yahya al-Muhallabi and promised their security.
Muhammad b. Siman recounted the following from al-Hasan b. Uthman al-Muhallabi, who was nicknamed Mundaliqah and was one of Yahya b. Muhammad's companions. That morning Yahya had ordered him to go to the graveyard of the Banu Yashkur and bring back as many ovens as he could fetch. I did so, said al-Hasan, and brought back some twenty ovens carried on porters' heads. I took them to the palace of Ibrahim b. Yahya, and people thought they were for the purpose of preparing food for them, as they suffered from hunger resulting from the harsh blockade and the strain of the events. A crowd developed in front of Ibrahim b. Yahya's palace, people coming and going and increasing in number through the night until sunrise.

Ibn Siman continued. At this time I had moved residence from the Mirbad road to the palace belonging to my mother's grandfather Hisham, who was called al-Daff. It was located in the district of the Banu Tamin, (I did this) because the Banu Tamin were rumored among the populace to have accepted the traitor's peace. I was there when some informants brought news of the battle in front of the palace of Ibrahim b. Yahya. They said that Yahya b. Muhammad al-Bahrani had ordered the Zanj to surround the crowd. He allowed any of the Muhallabi family to enter Ibrahim b. Yahya's palace. A small number did so, and the gates were then shut. Finally the Zanj were given the word to massacre the rest of the crowd, which they proceeded to do, to the very last person. Muhammad b. Abdallah, known as Abu al-Layth al-Isbahani, was the one who had given the signal to the Zanj, which they recognized as the order to commence the slaughter. The sword did the rest. Al-Hasan b. Uthman said, I could hear their uproar, crying out ; There is no God but Allah as they were put to the sword. Their voices rang out with the cry of There is no God but Allah so loudly that they could be heard far away, in al-Tafawah. After the crowd had been massacred, as we have described, the Zanj proceeded to slay anyone else they encountered. That day Ali b. Aban burned down the congregational mosque, he also burned the harbor from the cable to the bridge, the fire destroying all before it, including people, animals, goods, and merchandise.

Throughout the morning and afternoon the Zanj harassed anyone they found, driving everybody to Yahya b. Muhammad (al-Bahrani), who was then residing in Sayhan, anyone with some money was tortured to extract it and then killed, but anyone who was poor was killed straightaway. Shibl reportedly said that Yahya entered al-Basrah early on Tuesday, following the massacre of the crowd in front of Ibrahim b. Yahya's palace. An offer of safety and security was publicly proclaimed, to try to lure people into the open, but no one appeared. The news reached the abominable one, and he removed Ali b. Adan from al-Basrah, assigning Yahya b. Muhammad to the city on his own, sanctioning and approving the massacre, and expressing his affection for him. The abominable one judged Ali b. Aban al-Muhallabi's performance lacking in regard of his restraint from seizing booty in the Banu Sad district. Ali b. Aban had deputed a party of the Banu Sad to go to the abominable one, but, as they gained no benefit from him, they departed for Abbadan. Yahya b. Muhammad remained in al-Basrah. The abominable one sent him a dispatch ordering the public announcement of Shibl as his deputy in al-Basrah in order to calm the fears of the populace and so that those in hiding would begin to reemerge and those who were known to be wealthy. When these reappeared, they were to be forced to reveal the money they had buried and hidden. Yahya carried out this order. Not a day passed when a group of affluent persons was not stripped of their possessions and then put to death, none who appeared before Yahya survived and many fled as best they could. Finally the abominable one withdrew his army from al-Basrah.

Muhammad b. al-Hasan said, When the traitor had completed the destruction of al-Basrah and word had reached him of the enormities perpetrated by his troops, I heard him comment that he had invoked Allah's judgment upon the populace of al-Basrah the day his troops entered the city. He said; I prayed earnestly and prostrated myself, praying all the while, and behold I was given a vision of al-Basrah. I could see the city and my troops fighting there, I had the vision of a man standing in this air between earth and the sky in the image of Jafar b. Maluf, who was formerly put in charge of the registry of land taxes in Samarra. He was standing with his left hand lowered and his right hand raised, about to overturn al-Basrah and its inhabitants. I knew then that the angels alone had been charged with the destruction of the city, and not my troops, for had they been responsible for that, the destruction would not have reached the vast proportions the people talk about. The angels brought victory and supported me in my battle and kept my troops from being fainthearted. Muhammad b. al-Hasan continued; I was following the destruction of al-Basrah that the abominable one claimed his descent from Yahya b. Zayd b. Ali because a large number of Alawites who had been in al-Basrah joined his ranks. Among them were Ali b. Ahmad b. Isa b. Zayd and Abdallah b. Ali, together with their womenfolk and families. When they joint him, he abandoned his claim to be descended from Ahmad b. Isa, alleging instead to belong to the line of Yahya b. Zayd. Muyhammad b. al-Hasan continued; When a group of Nawfaliyyun were with him, I heard al-Qasim b. al-Hasan al Nawfali say that they had heard that he was a descendant of Ahmad b. Isa b. Zayd, but the abominable one replied, I'm not a descendant of Isa, but of Yahya b. Zayd. He lied about that, it is generally accepted about Yahya that he had no offspring but a daughter who had died in infancy. In the same year the central government dispatched Muhammad al-Muwallad to al-Basrah in order to fight the Zanj leader. He left Samarra on Friday, the 1st of Dhu al-Qa'dah (September 20, 871)

The events for the year 267

Abu ahmad sent his client Rashid at the head of his clients and his pages down to the waterway called Nahr al- Matmak – his pages consisted of Turks, Khazars, men from al-Rum, Daylan, Tabaristan, the Maghrib and Zanzibar.

(In the year 882AD)

In this year, the leader of the Zanj killed Ibn Malik the Zanjid because word reached him that the latter intended to join Abu Ahmad.

Note: In the appendix to the translation the following explanation is added: Ibn Malik the Zanjid : the son of the king of the Zanj

Tayeb El-Hibri remarks that the assassination of "the son of the king of Zanj" ( from a reference by Tabari) leaves one wondering: could the revolt have had the backing of a faraway African kingdom or represented the enterprise of a drifting community?

Note: I ask myself the question could the son of the King of Zanj have been a resident or visitor to Persia (like a student studying). We do not have any other information about this son of the king of Zanj.
Ham begat all those with black skin and curly hair, Japheth all those with broad faces and small eyes, and Shem all those with beautifull faces and beautifull hair. Noah cursed Ham, such that the hair of his descendants would not grow over their ears, and, wherever his descendants met those of Shem, they would be enslaved.

Tarix-i-Tabari
Taken from: Angelo M. Piemontese; Codice Marciano delle Tarix-i-Tabari (I do not know if this extract is also found in other mss of al-Tabari.)

Clime1
(Si kuh si rud panjah sahr) 30 mountains, 30 rivers, 50 cities. Regions: Zangistan. Hind and Sind, Zafar, Hadramawt, Safa. Adan, Qinnawj. Multan. Mara. Niyala siyah. Qulzum, Habasa. Mansura. Bahr az Nil. Misr. Barbar. Kalif. Ard latitude 132 tul longitude 8255 farsang.