Discuss the political, cultural, and economic characteristics of the Abbasid Empire.
The Abbasid Empire (750 CE-1258 CE) was the second dynasty of the Caliphate (the government that ruled over Islam after Mohammed's death in 632 CE). The empire came to power by overthrowing the Umayyads and ruled as the first caliphate that existed simultaneously with other centers of Islam that also claimed caliphate status (in North Africa, Spain, and in other places).
In 762 CE, the Abbasids moved their capital from Damascus to Baghdad, which was a cosmopolitan city with Persians, Jews, Arabs, and Greeks who practiced many religions, including Islam, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, and Christianity. The government followed Persian political traditions and relied on Persian bureaucrats such as viziers and gave less power to caliphs (who became largely ceremonial). During the reign of the Abbasids, the culture shifted towards Persian culture and traditions, and non-Arab Muslims gained power in the royal court.
The Abbasid Empire is referred to as the Islamic Golden Age, and during this period, the arts, sciences, and industry flourished in Baghdad. The Abbasids pursued knowledge and established the House of Wisdom in Baghdad to translate great classic works into Arabic and Persian. Baghdad was then at the forefront of developing sciences such as astronomy, alchemy, and medicine and developing math. During this time, Persian mathematicians advanced the study of Algebra and improved the understanding of anatomy and diseases. The arts, including literature, philosophy, and architecture, flourished, and Baghdad became a center for the production of textiles, glass, crystal, and pottery. New industries developed during this time, particularly those using hydropower and windmills, and the Abbasids made major advances in irrigation and developed industries related to textiles, silk, paper, and other areas.
The Abbasid Empire was founded by Abu-al-Abbas; a Persian Sunni who allied with Shiites and other converts from Southwest Asia. He defeated the Umayyad forces in 750; invited its leaders to a conference to discuss peace, and had them all murdered when they arrived. His empire survived until 1358 when it was defeated by the growing Mongol Empire.
Abbasid Emperors established their capital at Baghdad and did not attempt to further expand their empire; rather they attempted to rule the empire they had obtained. Their policies were implemented in the various provinces of the Empire by caliphs. They maintained the old Persian Roads, and implemented a governing system comprised of ulama (those with religious knowledge) who were Islamic scholars and developed public policy in accordance with Islamic law; and Qadis, or Judges who settled legal matters.
During Abbasid control, Baghdad became a major commercial center. Many caravans stopped and traded there, and it thus became a primary center of banking and commerce. The city grew so wealthy that one Abbasid emperor, Haran al Rashid sent a large number of rich gifts and an Elephant to Charlemagne, king of the Franks.
The empire was eventually weakened by inheritance disputes and rebellions in the provinces. It was substantially weakened at the time it was overrun by the Mongols.