The Umayyad Caliphate
Episode #2 of the course “The Most Powerful Empires in History”
The Umayyad Caliphate extended through most of the Middle East, encompassing 5.8 million square miles. At its peak, it included most of Spain, parts of India, and several prominent areas in Central Asia in addition to the Arab nations. It was the first great Muslim dynasty to rule the Caliphate Empire (Arab Kingdom). Most assume that its greatest period was between 661 A.D. and 750 A.D.
The Umayyads were a merchant family from the Quraysh tribe in Mecca, and they took a leadership role because of the struggle to name a leader after the first Muslim civil war. They were extremely religiously tolerant. Geographic expansion was key in the Umayyad Caliphate, and the powerful Syrian army became a great source of strength for the empire; soldiers were a crucial element in maintaining order in many of the Arab tribes that the empire took over.
Arabic became the official language in all of the areas that they absorbed, and Arabs replaced both Greek and Persian officials. They developed a new coin system and introduced a regular postal system. They also reorganized the financial administration of the empire to be much more effective. Using these unified systems and a strong army, they were able to bring this large group of people together as one enormous unit.
The Umayyad Caliphate’s attempted advances into France and Anatolia were unsuccessful, but they continued to stave off intruders like the Turks in Central Asia and the Berbers in North Africa, even though their growth had stopped by about 740. One of the major problems that the empire had was internal revolt. Feuds between different peoples (like the Qays and the Kalb) occurred in a variety of places across the empire, like Syria and Iraq. A group that denied the legitimacy of Umayyad rule, the Hashimiyyah, eventually overtook the Umayyad in the Battle of the Great Zab River in 750.
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