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Notes on Ṭabarī's History*

  • Lawrence I. Conrad


The caliphate of Hisham ibn ‘Abd al-Malik (105–25/724–43) was undoubtedly one of the most important periods in early Islamic history, and as witness to the history of this era a source of paramount importance is certainly the Ta'rīkh al-rusul wa-l-mulūk of al-Ṭabarī. This in itself makes the publication of Volume xxv of the English translation of this work by Dr Khalid Yahya Blankinship, covering all but the last five years of Hishām's long reign, a matter of special interest to historians of the eastern lands of Islam. The reader will immediately notice that al-Ṭabarī devotes the bulk of his narrative for this period to events in Khurāsān and Transoxania, specifically, to the Umayyad campaigns there and hostilities with the Türgish khāqān Sü-lü Čur. In the course of this narrative one finds not only a wealth of information on military matters, but also much valuable data on the customs of the western Turks and life in Central Asia in general. The author's reasons for giving his work such a markedly eastern emphasis at this point are not unrelated to a desire, as Blankinship observes, to set forth the background for the 'Abbāsid revolution. But most of what al-Ṭabarī reports for this period is in fact not of immediate relevance to the advent of the 'Abbāsids, and indeed, the subject of 'Abbāsid propaganda activities hardly seems to be a prominent one in this volume.



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1 Ibid. xiv: “Dealing with the reign of Hishām, he has concentrated with a singleness of purpose on painting the background of the ‘Abbāsids’ advent to power…”

2 On al-Madā'inī, see El 2, v, 946b–948b (Ursula Sezgin); al-‘Asalī, Khālid, “Al-Madā'inī”, Majallat kullīyat al-ādāb (Baghdad), VI (1963), pp. 473–98;Duri, A. A., The Rise of Historical Writing Among the Arabs, edited and translated by Conrad, Lawrence I. (Princeton, 1983), pp. 4850; and the literature cited therein.

3 See the citation in al-Nadīm, , Kitāb al-fihrist, edited by Riḍā-Tajaddud, (Tehran, 1391/1971), p. 115; 23–4.

4 Goitein's, Cf. S.D. Introduction to al-Balādhurī, Ansāb al-ashrāf, v (Jerusalem, 1936), pp. 1420, esp. p. 16.

5 Rotter, Cf. Gernot, “Zur Überlieferung einiger historischer Werke Madā'inīs in Ṭabarīs Annalen”, Oriens, XXIII–XX1V (1974), pp. 103–33.

6 Gabrieli, Francesco, Il Califfato di Hishām (Alexandria, 1935), p. 34.

7 Rotter, , “Überlieferung”, pp. 122–8.

8 See, in particular, Leder, Stefan, “Features of the novel in early historiography: the downfall of Khālid al-Qasrī”, Oriens, XXXII (1990), pp. 7296;idem, “The literary use of the Khabar: a basic form of historical writing”, in The Byzantine and Early Islamic Near East, i: Problems in the Literary Source Material, edited by Cameron, Averil and Conrad, Lawrence I. (Princeton, 1992), pp. 277315.

9 Annales quos scripsit Abu Djafar Mohammed ibn Jarir at-Tabari, edited by de Goeje, M.J. et al. (Leiden, 18791901), ii, 1466:3–1667:3. On the Leiden edition, see Muth, Franz-Christoph, Die Annalen von aṭ-Ṭabarī im Spiegel der europäischen Bearbeitungen (Frankfurt am Main, 1983), pp. 813. It should be noted here that the Department of Western Manuscripts at Leiden University preserves the correspondence of M. J. de Goeje (BPL 2389), a vast and invaluable corpus of information not consulted by Muth. More than a thousand of these letters are communications from contributors to the al-Ṭabarī project, or have some bearing on it (e.g. there are almost 900 letters exchanged between De Goeje and Nöldeke alone).

10 Ahlwardt, Wilhelm, Verzeichniss der arabischen Handschriften der Königlichen Bibliothek zu Berlin (Berlin, 18871899), ix, 36, no. 9420.

11 Uri, John, Bibliothecae Bodleianae codicum manuscriptorum orientalium (Oxford, 1787), i, p. 161, no. 722.

12 Cureton, William and Rieu, Charles, Catalogus codicum manuscriptorum orientalium qui in Museo Britannico asservantur (London, 18461871), i, 729, no. 1618.

13 Introduclio, glossarium, addenda et emendanda (Leiden, 1901), pp. 704–10 for the corrections and emendations relevant to vol. xxv of the translation.

14 Al-Ṭabarī, , Ta'rīkh al-rusul wa-l-mulūk, edited by l-Faḍl Ibrāhīm, Muḥammad Abū, 2nd edition (Cairo, 19681969). Cf. Muth, Die Annalen von aṭ-Ṭabarī, pp. 18–19.

15 This was the principle motivating Dozy's, R.P.A.Supplément aux dictionnaires arabes (Leiden, 1881), a two volume work dealing primarily with non-classical usages, and these for the most part as found in texts from Islamic Spain and North Africa. This is still an extremely useful work, however, and it is worth noting here that the Oriental Reading Room of Leiden University has available for reference De Goeje's own personal copy of Dozy. This book was interleaved and rebound, and then used by De Goeje to add new material from his own reading.

16 Bevan to De Goeje, als, Cambridge, 7 Nov. 1898; Leiden BPL 2389.

17 See De Goeje, , Introductio, pp. 62–3.

18 Ibid., p. 63.

19 Crone, Patricia, Slaves on Horses: the Evolution of the Islamic Polity (Cambridge, 1980), p. 243 n. 411.

20 See Esin, Emel, “The horse in Turkic art”, Central Asiatic Journal, X (1965), pp. 211–15.

21 De Goeje, Cf., Glossarium, pp. 303–4.

22 See al-Ṭabarī, ii, 1498:10–11.

23 See Theophanes, , Chronographia, edited by de Boor, Karl (Leipzig, 18831885), i, 407:2. Cf. also Brooks, E.W., “The Arabs in Asia Minor, 641–750, from Arabic sourcesJournal of Hellenic Studies, XVIII (1898), p. 199;Wellhausen, Julius, “Die Kämpfe der Araber mit den Romäern in der Zeit der Umaijiden”, Nachrichten von der Königliche Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen, Philologisch-historische Klasse, 1901, p. 443;Gabrieli, , Califfato di Hishām, p. 87.

24 For references and discussion, see my “The conquest of Arwād: a source-critical study in the historiography of the early medieval Near East”, in Cameron and Conrad, The Byzantine and Early Islamic Near East, i, pp. 354–8.

25 See al-Maydānī, , Majma‘ al-amthāl, edited by Muḥyī l-Dīn, Muḥammadal-Ḥamīd, Abd (Cairo, 1374/1955), ii, 66, no. 2714. Cf. the illustrative example in Ubaydah, Abū, Naqā'iḍ Jarīr wa-l-Farazdaq, edited by Bevan, A.A. (Leiden, 19051912), i, 445:8.

26 See, for example, Abd al-Ḥakam, Ibn, Futūḥ Mişr wa-akhbāruhā, edited by Torrey, Charles C. (New Haven, 1922), pp. 191:19–192:7; al-Balādhurī, , Futūḥ al-buldān, edited by de Goeje, M. J. (Leiden, 1866), pp. 142pu-143:1, 173:7, 185:13–14, 210:1, 221:11–12; al-Ṭabarī, ii, 79:8, 1893:11, 17, 1898:9, 1910ult, 1919pu–1920:1, 1939:5, 16, 1945:14–17, 1970:17; al-Muqaddasī, , Aḥsan al-taqāsīm fī ma‘rifat al-aqālīm, edited by de Goeje, M.J. (Leiden, 1906), p. 177:2–12.

27 It is mentioned in the Qur'ān in Sūrat al-A‘rāf, vs. 133.

28 Al-Damīrī, , Ḥayāt al-ḥayawān al-kubrā, edited by al-‘Adawī, Muḥammad, 2nd edition (Cairo, A.H. 1284), ii, 102–5.

29 See al-Akhṭal, , Dīwān, edited by Ṣāliḥānī, Antoine (Beirut, 1890), p. 132:3. In Yemen, frogs are still today a favoured prey of the Arabian yellow cobra.

30 Cf.Gabrieli, , Califfato di Hishām, pp. 41–2.

31 See his Al-Kāmil fī l-ta'rīkh (Beirut, 1385–1356/19651966), v, 155:5.

32 For this sense of āthār, see Sūrat Yā Sīn (36), vs. 12.

33 For a very clear account of what this stratagem was used to achieve, see al-Ṭabarī, ii, 1479:9–10.

34 Cf. al-Ṭabarī, ii, 1523:8–9.

35 Glossarium, p. 328.

36 See Azarpay, Guitty, Sogdian Painting: the Pictoral Epic in Oriental Art (Los Angeles and Berkeley, 1981), Plates 4, 5, 26.

37 Cf. Gabrieli, , Califfato di Hishām, p. 46.

38 See De Goeje's, “Glossarium” to his edition of al-Balādhurīs Futūḥ al-buldān, pp. 24–5;Dozy, , Supplément, pp. 257b258a (esp. p. 258a: “celui qui est chargé de faire cesser les troubles et de punir ceux qui les excitent”); Lokkegaard, Frede, Islamic Taxation in the Classic Period (Copenhagen, 1950), pp. 187–8.

39 Cf., for example, al-Balādhurī, , Futūḥ al-buldān, pp. 82:3–5; 364:16; al-Ṭabarī, ii, 1875:6–7.

40 The first reference to the aḥdāth jurisdiction in al-Kūfah is for the year 22/642–43, when the four-year-old settlement could hardly have been more than a tribal camp; see al-Ṭabarī, i, 2693:12–13, naming al-Mughīrah ibn Shu‘bah as both ‘āmil and ‘alā l-aḥdāth there. This is surely retrojection from later times, and it is worth noting that the next reference to the aḥdāth jurisdiction in al-Kūfah appears in 159/775–76, in the caliphate of al-Mahdī (al-Ṭabarī, iii, 465:4–5).

41 Abī l-Ḥadīd, Ibn, Sharḥ nahj al-balāghah, edited by Abū l-Faḍl Ibrāhīm, Muḥammad (Cairo, 19591964), xi, 44:7–46:16.

42 See Raspopova, V.I., “Sogdijskij gorod i kočevaia step’ v VII–VIII vv.”, in Arkheologičeskoe izučenie Srednej Azii (Moscow, 1970; Kratkie soobščenija, 122), pp. 8691.

43 Cf. al-Wāqidī, , Kitāb al-maghāzī, edited by Jones, Marsden (London, 1966), ii, 560:8.

44 On these men, see al-Ṭabarī, ii, 1858:17, 1859:12, 1890:3.

45 De Goeje, , Glossarium, p, 468; WKAS, ii.i, 628.

46 Cf. al-Tha‘ālibī, , Thimār al-qulūb, edited by Abū l-Faḍl Ibrāhīm, Muḥammad (Cairo, 1384/1965), p. 375, no. 579.

47 It appears that siege engines were often given names by the troops using them. For another example, see al-Ṭabarī, ii, 1230:4.

48 See, for example, Wensinck, A.J. et al. , Concordance et indices de la tradition musulmane (Leiden, 19361988), vi, 224–5.

49 See Chavannes, Edouard, Documents sur les Tou-kiues (turcs) occidentaux et notes additionnelles (St Petersburg, 1903). pp. 227–8, 256; Giraud, René, L'Empire des Turcs Cèlestes (Paris, 1960), pp. 73–4;Frye, Richard N., “Some early Iranian titles”, Oriens, XV (1962), pp. 356–8;Bosworth, C.E. and Clauson, Sir Gerard, “Al-Xwārazmī on the peoples of Central Asia”, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1965, pp. 910.

50 See Tammām, Abū, Ash‘ār al-ḥamāsah (Hamasae carmina), edited by Freytag, Georg (Bonn, 18281851), i, 301:4–13; al-Ṭabarī, i, 2512:16, 17.

51 See al-Damīrī, , Ḥayāt al-ḥayawān, ii, 422:6–17;al-Sakhāwī, , Al-I‘lān bi-1-tawbīkh li-man dhamma l-ta’rīkh (Beirut, 1399/1979), p. 40:12–19; Jabbūr, Jibrā'īl, Al-Badw wa-1-bādiyah (Beirut, 1988), p. 107. For the metaphorical use of hayq and hayqah in reference to persons, see Manຓūr, Ibn, Lisān al-‘arab (Beirut, 1374–1976/19551956). x, 370a:23–25.

52 For the name, see Caskel, Werner, Ğamharat an-nasab. Das geneologische Werke des Hišām ibn Muḥammad al-Kalbā (Leiden, 1966), ii, 574; and for the poet, Gabrieli, , Califfato di Hishām, pp. 51, 64; al-Ayyūbī, Yāsīn, Mu‘jam al-shu‘arā’ fī Lisān al-‘arab (Beirut, 1980), no. 702.

53 See Marquart, Josef, Êrânšahr nach der Geographie des Ps. Moses Khorenac'i (Berlin, 1901), p. 80.

54 See Gabrieli, , Califfato di Hishām, p. 49.

55 See jabbūr, , Al-Badw wa-l-bādiyah, pp. 248, 473.

56 Gabrieli, , Califfato di Hishām, p. 56 n. 1.

57 See Marquart, , Êrânšahr, pp. 6970.

58 Cf. the parallel phrase in al-Ṭabarī, ii, 1590:9–10; also 1604:13–14.

59 See Manຓūr, Ibn, Lisān al-‘arab, v, 3253:26: tajahhazū jahāzan.

60 See Dozy, R.P.A., Dictionnaire détaillé des noms des vêtements chez les Arabes (Amsterdam, 1845), pp. 248–9, s.v. şuvlaq, to which may be added al-Qalqashandī, , Ṣubḥ al-a‘shā (Cairo, 1331–1338/19131919), iv, 40:6–7.

61 Al-Ṭabarī, ii, 1600:6–9. For the sense of inkashafa adduced here, see WKAS, i, 218b.

62 See El 1, iv, 820a (Clement Huart); Esin, , “The horse in Turkic art”, p. 198.

63 On 40 as the age of passage to full adulthood, see Conrad, Lawrence I., “Abraha and Muḥammad: some observations apropos of chronology and literary topoi in the early Arabic historical tradition”, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, L (1987), pp. 232–7.

64 See Marquart, , Êrânšahr, pp. 81–2.

65 On names as portents of good or evil fortune, see Fischer, August, “Das Omen des Namens bei den Arabern”, Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, LXV (1911), pp. 52–6;Fahd, Toufic, La Divination arabe: études religieuses, sociologiques et folkloriques sur le milieu natif de l'Islam (Leiden, 1966), pp. 455–9. Cf. also the additional example below, ad Bk. p. 189:24–8.

66 See Musil, Alois, Manners and Customs of the Rwala Bedouins (New York, 1928), pp. 571–4; Jabbūr, Jibrā'īl, “Abu-al-Duhūr, the Ruwalah ‘Uṭfah”, in The World of Islam: Studies in Honour of Philip K. Hitti, edited by Kritzeck, James and Winder, R. Bayly (London, 1959), pp. 195–8;idem., Al-Badw wa-l-bādiyah, pp. 302–9.

67 On hazza, said of God, see al-Bukhārī, , Al-Jāmi‘ al-ṣaḥīh, edited by Juynboll, T.W. and Krehl, Ludolf (Leiden, 18641908), iv, 484:10–16, Tawḥīd no. 36, and variants in Wensinck, , Concordance, vii, 86:55–6. On strong winds as the intervening work of God, see al-Ṭabarī, ii, 1520:2. Elsewhere (al-Ṭabarī, ii, 1601:15), the Muslims refrain from intercepting the Turks because “the wind has blown well for them (qad ṭābat lahum al-rīḥ)”. There are, of course, numerous Biblical precedents for the notion of a strong wind as executing the will of God. See, for example, Genesis 8:1, II Samuel 22:11, Isaiah 27:8, Jeremiah 4:11–13, Ezekiel 1:4–28, Hosea 8:7, 13:15.

68 See Esin, , “The horse in Turkic art”, p. 200;idem, Ṭabarī's report on the warfare with the Türgish and the testimony of eighth-century Central Asian art”, Central Asiatic Journal, XVII (1973), p. 142. The Türgish and other Central Asian peoples obtained fine silk from China, where traders were prepared to trade it for horses and pay high prices. See Ecsedy, Hilda, “Trade and war relations between the Turks and China in the second half of the 6th century”, Acta Orientaiia (Budapest), XXI (1968), pp. 138–45;Mackerras, Colin, “Sino-Uighur diplomatic and trade contacts (744 to 840)”, Central Asiatic Journal, XIII (1969), pp. 218–20, 238–9; Moses, Larry W., “T'ang tribute relations with the Inner Asian barbarians”, in Essays on T'ang Society, edited by Perry, John Curtis and Smith, Bardwell L. (Leiden, 1976), pp. 61–2.

69 See Conrad, , “Abraha and Muḥammad”, pp. 230–2;idem, “The conquest of Arwād”, pp. 354–8.

70 See Mau-Tsai, Liu, Kutscha und seine Beziehungen zu China vom 2.Jh. v. bis zum 6.Jh. n. Chr. (Wiesbaden, 1969), i, pp. 99108, 201–9, esp. 106, 206.

71 For a clear example of an identical usage of ightanama, see al-Ṭabarī, ii, 1658:4–5.

72 See, for example, the usage in al-Iṣfahānī, Abū l-Faraj, Maqātil al-ṭālibīyīn, edited by Aḥmad al-Ṣaqr, (Cairo, 1949/1368), p. 143:11: “I was with al-Zuhrī in al-Ruṣāfa when he heard the tunes of musicians…”

73 Cf. Marquart's, Êrânšahr, p. 62 n. 3.

74 See Barthold, W., Turkestan down to the Mongol Invasion, 4th edition (London, 1977), p. 181 and n. 5; Frye, Richard N., “Jamūk, Soghdian ‘pearl’?”, Journal of the American Oriental Society, LXXI (1951), pp. 142–5;idem, The History of Bukhārā (Cambridge, Mass., 1954), pp. 7, 106–7 n. 23.

75 See Goeje, De, Glossarium, p. 503: “An effugere, evitare potestis ut vos contra eos colligatis”.

76 Êrânšahr, p. 302.

77 See Chavannes, , Documents sur les Tou-kiues, pp. 164 n. 3, 239 n. 2, 263–4 n. 4; Giraud, , L'Empire des Turcs Célestes, pp. 75–8, 80–1; Bosworth, and Clauson, , “Al-Xwārazmī on the peoples of Central Asia”, pp. 1112;Khan, Ansar Zahid, “The Tarkhāns”, Journal of the Pakistan Oriental Society, XVIII (1970), pp. 237–9.

78 See al-Kūfī, Ibn A‘tham, Kitāb al-futūḥ, edited by al-Mu‘īd Khān, Muḥammad ‘Abd (Hyderabad, 1388–1995/19681975), viii, 4672, providing many examples.

79 Note the reference in the next paragraph to how movement fī ṭarīqin ḍayyiqin, “along a narrow way”, caused the troops to “disperse”. On maḍāyiq as narrow routes through mountainous areas, see also Ibn A‘tham, vii, 291:3; al-Ṭabarī, ii, 1517:12.

80 See al-Ṭabarī, ii, 1924:4, 1925:6, 1971:3.

81 See El 2, v, 572a (G.H.A. Juynboll), to the references of which may be added the illustrative passages in al-Mubarrad, , Al-Kāmil fī l-lughah wa-l-adab, edited by Wright, William (Leipzig, 18641892), pp. 595:10–11, 605:1.

82 See his Chronographia, p. 411:11; also Wellhausen, , “Kämpfe der Araber mit den Romäern”, p. 444.

83 Cf. Gabrieli, , Califfato di Hishām, p. 63.

84 See De, Goeje, Glossarium, p. 355.

85 Roy P. Mottahedeh gives an important discussion of this term and the idea it represented in his Loyalty and Leadership in an Early Islamic Society (Princeton, 1980), p. 83: “To say ‘he is my şanīah’ meant ‘he is the person I have reared, educated, and trained well,’ and the obligation to such a patron was like the obligation to a parent, except that it was neither inherited nor transferable by legacy.”

86 Glossarium, p. 163.

87 See al-Nawawī's commentary on a tradition in Muslim's Ṣaḥīḥ in his Sharḥ Muslim (Cairo, A.H. 1349), xi, 102:1, 78; also Manຓūr, Ibn, Lisān al-‘arab, vi, 37b 14–7.

88 See De Goeje, , Glossarium, p. 409.

89 See l-Rummah, Dhū, Dīwān, edited by Macartney, C.H.H. (Cambridge, 1919), p. 24:5–8, no. 1 vs. 93: muqazza‘u aṭlasu l-aṭmāri laysa lahu / illā l-ḍirā'a wa-illā şaydahā nashabu; al-Jāḥiຓ, , Kitāb al-ḥayawān, edited by ‘al-Salām, AbdMuḥammad, Hārūn (Cairo, 1385–1890/19651969), ii, 80pu; iv, 438:2.

90 Ansāb al-ashrāf, Süleymaniye Kütüphanesi (Istanbul), MS Reisülküttap 598, p. 295:12–18.

91 Khallikān, Ibn, Wafayāt al-a‘yān, edited by Abbās, Iḥsān (Beirut, 19691972), ii, 229:6–9—wa-dhakara al-Ṭabarī fīta'īkhihi; also the parallel in Asākir, Ibn, Ta'rīkh madīnat Dimashq (Amman, 1988), v, 501:19–23.

92 See Hishām, Ibn, Sīrat Rasül Allāh, edited by al-Saqqā, Muṣṭafā, al-Ibyārī, Ibrāhīm, and ‘Shalabī, Abd al-Ḥafīຓ (Cairo, 1355/1937), iv, 338:7–8; al-Wāqidī, , Kitāb al-maghāzī, ii, 626:13–14 (for these two references I am grateful to Michael Lecker); Abū ‘Ubayd al-Qāsim ibn Sallām, Kitāb al-amthāl, edited with the commentary of Ubayd al-Bakrī, Abū, Faṣl al-maqāl fī sharḥ kitāb at-amthāl, by Iḥsān ‘Abbās and ‘Abd al-Majīd ‘Ābidīh (Beirut, 1401/1981), p. 125:6.

93 See al-Ṭabarī, ii, 1688:15, 1868:17.

94 Ibid., ii, 1566:5, 1662:5, 1989:8. Cf. also the references to this man in Akhbār al-dawlah al-‘abbāsīyah, edited by ‘, Abd al-‘Azīz al-Dūrī and ‘al-Muṭṭalibī, Abd al-Jabbār (Beirut, 1971), pp. 286:16, 287:17.

95 The following list does not include the emendations published in the Leiden corrigenda or in the notes to the English translation. Names in parentheses indicate the sources for those emendations to be found in other publications or suggested to the author by colleagues.

* A review article of The History of al-Ṭabarī (Ta'rīkh al-rusul wa'l-mulūk), volume xxv, The End of Expansion, translated by Khalid Yahya Blankinship (Albany, State University of New York Press, 1989). While not wishing to involve them in responsibility for the contents of my paper, I would like to express my gratitude to Dr G. H. A. Juynboll and Professor Wadād al-Qāḍt for the opportunities I have had to discuss certain points with them, and in particular to Professor A. F. L. Beeston and Dr Michael Lecker for their careful reading of and comments upon the whole of my text.


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