Al-Mansur or Abu Ja'far Abdallah ibn Muhammad al-Mansur (95 AH – 158 AH (714 AD– 6 October 775 AD);[1] Arabic: أبو جعفر عبدالله بن محمد المنصور‎) was the second Abbasid Caliph reigning from 136 AH to 158 AH (754 AD – 775 AD)[2][3] and succeeding his brother Abu al-'Abbas al-Saffah. Al-Mansur is generally regarded as the real founder of the Abbasid Caliphate, one of the largest polities in world history, for his role in stabilizing and institutionalizing the dynasty.[4]:265 He is also known for founding the 'round city' of Madinat al-Salam which was to become the core of imperial Baghdad.[4]:270

Background & Early Life

Al-Mansur was born at the home of the Abbasid family in Humeima (modern-day Jordan) after their emigration from the Hejaz in 95 AH (714 CE).[5] His father, Muhammad, was reputedly a great-grandson of Abbas ibn Abd al-Muttalib, the youngest uncle of Mohammad. His mother, as described in the 14th-century Moroccan historical work Rawd al-Qirtas, was one Sallama, "a Berber woman given to his father." [6] He reigned from Dhu al-Hijjah 136 AH until Dhu al-Hijjah 158 AH (754 CE – 775 CE). He ruled for nine days less than twenty two years.[7]:21

Al-Mansur was proclaimed Caliph on his way to Mecca in the year 753 (136 AH) and was inaugurated the following year.[8] Mansur's uncle, Isa ibn Ali, pledged an oath of allegiance first to Mansur and then to Isa ibn Musa who was to be his successor on Sunday, 12 Dhu al-Hijja 136 AH/754 AD.[7]:21 When Isa ibn Musa, al-Mansur's intended successor, fell under suspicion of corruption, Al-Mahdi was appointed in his stead and publicly swore allegiance.

Before ascending to the throne, Al Mansur's bid for Caliph came under contention by a number of ambitious army commanders.[5] He was involved in the murder of several individuals that helped lead the Abbasid movement that brought them power; most likely as a strategy to eliminate potential rivals.[5] Al Mansur had a formidable rival in his uncle Abdullah ibn Ali, who, with the help of the famous general, Abu Muslim, he defeated in 754 AD. Abu Muslim was a loyal freed man from the eastern Iranian province of Khorasan who had led the Abbasid forces to victory over the Umayyads during the Third Fitna in 749–750; he was subordinate to al-Mansur but also the undisputed ruler of Iran and Transoxiana.

Assassination of Abu Muslim and Subsequent Chain of Events

Fearing Abu Muslim's power and growing popularity among the people, Al-Mansur carefully planned his assassination. Abu Muslim was conversing with the Caliph when, at an appointed signal, four (some sources say five) of his guards rushed in and fatally wounded the general.[9] John Aikin, in his work General Biography, narrates that Mansur, not content with the assassination, committed "outrages on the dead body, and kept it several days in order to glut his eyes with the spectacle.".[8]

The assassination of Abu Muslim caused uproars throughout the province of Khorasan. In 755, Sandbad (Sunpadh), an Iranian nobleman from the House of Karen, led a revolt against Al-Mansur; taking the cities of Nishapur, Qumis, and Ray. In Ray, he seized the treasuries of Abu Muslim. He gained many supporters form Jibal and Tabaristan, including the Dabuyid ruler, Khurshid who was paid with money from the treasuries.[9]:201 A force of 10,000 troops under Abbasid commander, Jahwar ibn Marrar al-lijli, were ordered to march without delay to Khorasan to fight the rebellion. Sandbad was defeated and Khorasan was reclaimed by the Abbasids.[9]

Al-Mansur sent an official to take inventory of the spoils collected from the battle as a precautionary measure against acquisition by his army. Angered by Mansur's avarice, Jahwar gained support from his troops after informing them of his intention to split the treasures evenly, and revolted against the Caliph for his greed and unwillingness to reward their services. This raised alarm in the Caliph's court and Al-Mansur sent Mohammad ibn Ashar to march towards Khorasan. Jahwar, knowing his troops had a disadvantage, retired to Isfahan and fortified his army in preparation. Mohammad's army pressed the rebel forces and Jahwar fled to Azerbaijan. Jahwar's forces were cut to pieces, but he escaped Mohammad's pursuit. This battle lasted from 756 to 762 AD (138 to 144 AH).[9]

After relieving former vizier ibn Attiya al-Bahili, Al-Mansur transferred the duties to Abu Ayyub al-Muriyani from Khuzestan. Abu Ayyub was previously a secretary to Sulayman ibn Habib ibn al-Muhallab, who in the past, had condemned Mansur to be whipped and flogged to pieces. Abu Ayyub rescued Mansur from this punishment and solidified a close relationship with the Caliph. Nevertheless, after appointing him as vizier, Mansur suspected Abu Ayyub of various crimes including extortion and treachery, which led to an imminent assassination. The vacant secretary role was granted to Aban ibn Sadaqa until the death of the Caliph.[7]:26

Founding Baghdad

In 757 AD, Mansur sent a large army to Cappadocia which fortified the city of Malayta. In this same year, he confronted a group of the Rawandiyya from the region of Greater Khorasan that were performing circumambulation around his palace as an act of worship. The confrontation turned violent and Al Mansur was graciously saved by former Umayyad general, Ma'n ibn Za'ida al-Shaybani, who prior to this event went into hiding following the Abbasid Revolution. The Abbasids had previously taken the support of the Rawandiyya prior to their uprising. But after rising to power, the Abbasid Caliphate cut ties with the group because of their unorthodox beliefs[10][8]:201

Al-Mansur was disconcerted by the Rawandiyya insurgency, and in 762 AD, he founded the new imperial residence and palace city Madinat as-Salam (the city of peace), which became the core of the Imperial capital Baghdad.[11] This was in response to a growing concern from the chief towns in Iraq, Basra, and Kufa that there was lack of solidity within the regime after the death of Abu'l `Abbas (later known as as-Saffah). Another reason for the construction of the new capital was the growing need to house and provide stability for a rapidly developing Abbasid bureaucracy forged under the influence of Iranian ideals.[5] Mansur even considered using ruins from the last Iranian capital, Ctesiphon in the construction of Baghdad. In 767 AD, Mansur routed another revolt in Khorasan, the leader of which claimed to be a prophet.[5]

Foreign Policy

During his reign, Islamic literature and scholarship in the Islamic world began to emerge in full force, supported by the Abbasid promotion of scholarly research, best exemplified by the Abbasid-sponsored Translation Movement. It was under al-Mansur that a committee, mostly made up of Syriac-speaking Christians, was set up in Baghdad with the purpose of translating extant Greek works into Arabic. Due to the Abbasid's orientation toward the East, many Persians came to play a crucial role in the Empire, both culturally as well as politically. This was in contrast to the preceding Umayyad era, in which non-Arabs were kept out of these affairs. Shu'ubiyya emerged at this time, due to the rising of Iranian autonomy; it was a literary movement among Persians which expressed their belief in the superiority of Persian art and culture, and catalyzed the emergence of Arab-Persian dialogues in the 9th century CE.

In 756, al-Mansur sent over 4,000 Arab mercenaries to assist the Chinese in the An Shi Rebellion against An Lushan; after the war, they remained in China.[12][13][14][15][16] Al-Mansur was referred to as "A-p'u-ch'a-fo" in the Chinese T'ang Annals.[17][18][19][20][21][22][23] [24][25][26][27][28][excessive citations]

In 765 CE, Al- Mansur, suffering from a stomach ailment, called Christian Syriac-speaking physician Jurjis ibn Bukhtishu from Gundeshapur to Baghdad for medical treatment.[29] Jurjis was awarded 10,000 dinars by Mansur for attending his malady[30]:23

Al Mansur's treatment of his Christian subjects was severe; he "collected from them capitation with much vigor and impressed upon them marks of slavery."[8]:202

Oppression of Islamic Scholars

The 'Alids, a group descended from the prophet Muhammad's closest male relative and cousin, Ali ibn Abu Talib, fought with the Abbasids against the Umayyads in response to the massacre at Karbala. They wanted the power to be given to the Imam, Ja'far al-Sadiq, a great grandson of Ali and one of the most influential scholars in Islamic jurisprudence at the time. When it became clear that the Abbasids had no intention of handing the power to an 'Alid, these groups moved into opposition. Al Mansur's harsh treatment towards the 'Alids led to a revolt in 762-763 AD but they were eventually defeated.[5]

Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq, the great grandson of Islamic prophet Muhammad, was the victim of harassment by the Abbasid caliphs and was eventually poisoned and murdered at the orders of the Caliph Al-Mansur in response to his growing popularity among the people.[a] This was in the tenth year of Al-Mansur's reign.[7]:26

According to a number of sources, Abu Hanifa an-Nu'man (who founded a school of jurisprudence) was imprisoned by al-Mansur. Malik ibn Anas, the founder of another school, was flogged during his rule, but al-Mansur himself did not condone this – in fact, it was his cousin, the governor of Madinah at the time, who ordered it (and was punished for doing so).[31]

Muhammad and Ibrahim ibn Abdallah, the grandsons of Imam Hassan ibn Ali, grandson of Islamic prophet Muhammad, were persecuted by Mansur after rebelling against his reign. They escaped his persecution, but Mansur's anger fell upon their father Abdallah ibn Hassan and others of his family. Abdallah's sons were later defeated and killed.[8]:202

Al Mansur tortured and murdered ten of Imam Husayn ibn Ali's sons after stuffing them in such a cramped room that they died of suffocation.[8]:202

Relationship with Umayyad Dynasty

Shortly before the overthrow of the Umayyads by an army of rebels from Khorasan that were influenced by propaganda spread by the Abbasids, the last Umayyad Caliph Marwan II, arrested the head of the Abbasid family, Al Mansur's brother Ibrahim. Mansur fled with the rest of his family to Kufa where some of the Khorasanian rebel leaders gave their allegiance to As-Saffah. Ibrahim died in captivity and As-Saffah became the first Abbasid Caliph. During his brother's reign, Al Mansur led an army to Mesopotamia where he received a submission from the governor after informing him of the last Umayyad Caliph's death. The last Umayyad governor had taken refuge in Iraq in a garrison town. He was promised a safe-conduct by Mansur and the Caliph As-Saffah, but after surrendering the town, he was executed with a number of his followers. As-Saffah died within five years of his reign and Al Mansur took on the responsibility of establishing the Abbasid Caliphate.[5]

Mansur's dislike of the Umayyad dynasty is well documented and he has been reported saying:

"The Umayyads held the government which had been given to them with a firm hand, protecting, preserving and guarding the gift granted them by God. But then their power passed to their effeminate sons, whose only ambition was the satisfaction of their desires and who chased after pleasures forbidden by Almighty God...Then God stripped them of their power, covered them with shame and deprived them of their worldly goods".[7]:24

Fadl ibn al-Rabi relates that at a gathering of Abbasid aristocrats, Mansur describes Abd al-Malik, the fifth Umayyad Caliph, as an "arrogant tyrant who did not care what he did." In addition, he comments that Sulayman ibn Abd al-Malik's "only ambition lay in his belly and his balls" and Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz was like a "one-eyed man among the blind." Mansur, however, praises Hisham as being the only great man of the dynasty.[7]:24

In one narration by Al Masudi, Salih ibn Ali, an Abbasid general, mentions to Al Mansur that Abd Al-Malik, the son of Marwan, fled to the land of the Christian Nubians with a small following where he was questioned by the King as to their current situation and what had befallen them. Abd Al-Malik, a prisoner in Mansur's court at the time, relates to Mansur the incident and describes how the King had rebuked him for "breaking God's commandments" and "oppressing those you ruled." He was denied stay in land of the Nubians out of fear of divine punishment. Mansur was moved by this story and felt pity for the former Umayyad Caliph. He elected to free Abd Al-Malik, but Isa ibn Ali reminded him that Abd Al-Malik had already received the oath of allegiance as Marwan's heir, so he was escorted back to prison.[7]:24–25

When the people of Khorasan rioted against Al Mansur in the battle of Al Hashimiya, Ma'n ibn Za'ida al-Shaybani, a general from the Shayban tribe and companion of Yazid ibn Umar al-Fazari, the Umayyad governor of Iraq, appeared at the scene of the uprising completely masked, and threw himself between the crowd and Mansur, driving the insurgents away. Ma'n reveals himself to Mansur as "he whom you have been searching" and upon hearing this, Mansur granted him rewards, robes of honor, rank, and amnesty from previously serving the Umayyad dynasty.[7]:23

Narration of Character

A mancus issued under the Saxon king Offa of Mercia (757–796), copied from a gold dinar of Al-Mansur's reign. It combines the Latin legend OFFA REX with Arabic legends. The date of A.H. 157 (773–774 CE) is readable.[32] British Museum.

Al Mansur's prudence and opportunistic judgement is renown; he was cautious to remove those whom he deemed a threat to his Caliphate, orchestrating the assassinations of notable individuals including Abu Muslim, Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq, the sixth Shi'a Imam, Abu Ayyub, and even his uncle Abdallah ibn Ali. He would not refuse the most extravagant generosities if there was personal gain involved, but he would refuse granting even the smallest favor if it entailed loss.[7]:33

Al-Masudi in Meadows of Gold tells of Al-Mansur's interaction with a blind poet, where on two occasions, the man recited poetry of praise for the Umayyads to the Abbasid Caliph, whom he did not recognize; al-Mansur nonetheless rewarded the poet for the verses on the first occasion. Al-Mansur himself narrates on the second occasion that the blind man did not recognize him at first and began reciting the following Umayyad lines of poetry:

The women of the House of Umayya lament
For their daughters are orphaned
Their good fortune slept, their stars set
For fortunes do sleep and stars do set.
Their high minbars are vaccant;
May peace be upon them until I die.[7]:22

After hearing this, Al-Mansur questions the blind man as to how much and where Marwan II, the Umayyad Caliph, paid him to recite these lines to which the man responded four thousand dinars, a gala robe and two riding camels in Basra. Al-Marwan reveals his identity as the Abbasid Caliph and the blind man begs for forgiveness. Al-Mansur narrates that he wanted to punish the man but remembered he was a pilgrim and therefore sacrosanct and elected to let him free.[7]:22

In another account by Al-Masudi, the military tactics being employed by Hisham during one of his campaigns was discussed in front of Al-Mansur, who thereupon sent for one of Hisham's officers. The officer was questioned about the tactics used during the campaign and he would give his response, ending with a phrase of blessing for Hashim. Constant praise for his enemy greatly angered Mansur and he ordered the officer to leave. The officer, however, claimed it his duty to bless and propagate Hashim's memory on account of his generosity of providing financial support and a secure haven in times of hardship. Mansur was moved by his response and replied "Would that I had men like him in my army!" and ordered the officer to be given a sum payable at the treasury.[7]:27

In a narration by Aban ibn abi-Ayyash, Al Mansur was sitting in an audience hall above the Khurasan Gate looking out over the Tigris when an arrow was shot from an unknown location at his feet. Decorated on the vanes were verses prompting him to reflect on his reign as Caliph and to remember his appointment with Judgement day

Do you expect to live till Judgement Day?
Do you imagine there will be no Final Reckoning?
You will be asked to answer for your sins-
And then questioned on the state of the Believers.[7]:29

The messages on the other vanes insinuated Mansur's negligence towards the people and reminded him of the ephemeral nature of fortune and fate. The shaft of the arrow contained the message 'Hamadan- a man from this town is held unjustly in your prisons'.

Upon reading this, Al-Mansur ordered an investigation of all the prisons and dungeons in town until they found a cell with a length of cloth hung like a curtain over the entrance. Inside, there was a notable old man loaded with chains facing the direction of Mecca repeating the verse "Those who oppress will learn what misfortune has been prepared for them" (Qur'an 26:227). The man claimed to be from Hamadan and was imprisoned on account of rebellion for the past four years after refusing to relinquish his domain worth a million dirham to the governor, who decided to confiscate it after learning the worth.

Upon hearing this injustice, Mansur returns the estate to the old man exempt from taxes for the whole of his lifetime and appoints him as governor. The man graciously accepts the estate but declines the position of governor. Al Mansur gifts the old man with large sums of money and presents and invites the man to correspond with him and inform him of his state and country, specifically with regards to the behavior of his agents concerning matters of war and taxes. The current governor was dismissed and punished for his injustice towards the old man.[7]:29–30

al-Tabari writes in his History of Prophets and Kings: "Abu Ja'far had a mirror in which he could descry his enemy from his friend."[33] The translator adds in a footnote: "These legends of Abu Ja'far's magical powers are a tribute his efficient intelligence system."


Al-Masudi writes that Mansur died on Saturday 6, Dhu al-Hijja 158 AH/775 AD. There are varying accounts on the location and circumstances of Al-Mansur's death. One account narrates that Al-Mansur was on a pilgrimage to Mecca and had nearly reached, when death overtook him at a location called the Garden of the Bani Amir on the highroad to Iraq at the age of sixty-three. According to this narration, he was buried in Mecca with his face uncovered because he was wearing the ihram clothing.

A different narration from Fadl ibn Rabi'ah, who claimed to have been with Mansur at his time of death, states that he died at al-Batha' near the Well of Maimun in which he would have been buried at al-Hajun at sixty five years of age. In this narration, Mansur is sitting in a domed room hallucinating about ill-omen writings on the wall. When Al-Rabiah replies "I see nothing written on the wall. Its surface is clean and white," Mansur replies, "my soul is warned that she may prepare for her near departure." After reaching the Well of Maimun, he reportedly says "God be praised" and succumbs to death that very day. When al-Mansur died, the caliphate's treasury contained 600,000,000 dirhams and fourteen million dinars.[7]:33

In 2008, MBC 1 depicted the life and leadership of al-Mansur in a historical series aired during the holy month of Ramadan.


  1. ^ al-Fusul al-muhimmah, p.212; Dala’il al-imamah, p.lll: Ithbat al-wasiyah, p.142.


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  21. ^ Herbert Allen Giles (1886). A glossary of reference on subjects connected with the Far East (2 ed.). HONGKONG: Messrs. Lane. p. 141. Retrieved 14 December 2011. MAHOMEDANS: IEJ Iej. First settled in China in the Year of the Mission, A.D. 628, under Wahb-Abi-Kabcha a maternal uncle of Mahomet, who was sent with presents to the Emperor. Wahb-Abi-Kabcha travelled by sea to Cantoa, and thence overland to Si-ngan Fu, the capital, where he was well received. The first mosque was built at Canton, where, after several restorations, it still exists. Another mosque was erected in 742, but many of these M. came to China simply as traders, and by and by went back to their own country. The true stock of the present Chinese Mahomedans was a small army of 4,000 Arabian soldiers sent by the Khaleef Abu Giafar in 755 to aid in putting down a rebellion. These soldiers had permission to settle in China, where they married native wives; and three centuries later, with the conquests of Genghis Khan, largo numbers of Arabs penetrated into the Empire and swelled the Mahomedan community. Original from the New York Public Library
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Clan of the Banu Quraish
Born: c. 714 CE Died: c. 775 CE
Shia Islam titles
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Abu'l-`Abbas `Abdu'llāh ibn Muhammad
The Eighth Imām of
Hashimiyya Kaysanites Shia
Abu Ja`far `Abdu'llāh ibn Muhammad "al-Imām"
The ninth and last Imam of
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10 June 754 – 6 October 775
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