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Harun al-Rashid

[hah rOOn' al ra' shEd] Arabian Nights hero

Harun al-Rashid

Harun al-Rashid was born sometime around 763 and became caliph of Baghdad and head of the Muslims in 786. He began his reign by appointing very able ministers, who carried on the work of the government so well that they greatly improved the condition of the people. He gave overall control of state affairs to Yahya, his Grand Vizier (chief minister).

The capital city of Baghdad flourished during Harun's reign. Many rulers paid tribute to the caliph, and that tribute was spent on architecture, the arts, and a luxurious life at court. A scholar and poet in his own right, Harun invited other scholars and poets to his court. He was also a patron to musicians and storytellers. Always concerned about the welfare of his people, Harun often traveled in disguise to talk and listen to people in the streets. In this way he was able to gauge the overall contentedness of his subjects, as well as their overall health and welfare.

Harun was also a very capable soldier and military leader. Before assuming the caliphate he commanded an army of 95,000 in a siege of Chrysopolis (now in Turkey) which resulted in that then Roman-held city becoming a tributary province of the Islamic Empire. During his reign he led three separate military campaigns against the Roman provinces in the eastern Mediterranean in order to force them to pay the required tributes.

In 809, while on his way to suppress a revolt in one of his own cities, Harun died of an illness from which he had been suffering for some time.

Harun al-Rashid was the hero in many of the stories and fables collectively known as Tales of the Arabian Nights.

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This page was last updated on 10/01/2017.