Harun Al-Rashid

Harun al-Rashid was the fifth caliph of the Abbasid Dynasty of Persia during the 8th century. He came to power at the young age of 20 years old. The dynasty during his reign was powerful with much prosperity.

Although some historians believe the decline of the powerful Islamic state began during his reign as caliph.


Harun al-Rashid was born in 766 C.E. in Reyy, Persia near present-day Tehran, Iran. His father Mohammed al-Mahdi was the third Abbasid caliph to rule. His mom Khayzuran was a former slave in Yemen. He was the third son of the family.

As a young prince in the court of Baghdad, he was tutored by Yahya ibn Khalid of the powerful Persian family known as Barmakid. Yahya would have a profound impact on Harun throughout his life. When he was 14 years old he was named the military leader to combat the Byzantine Empire.

Harun was successful during this military campaign. He was rewarded for his actions by being named the governor of Ifriqiyah (present-day Tunisia), Syria, Armenia, Egypt, and the Azerbaijan Province in Iran.

At this point he received the title of al-Rashid or “The Upright”. When he turned 16 years old he was named to be the second successor to his father behind his brother al-Hadi.

Becoming the Fifth Caliph

In 785 C.E. Harun’s father passed away. Al-Hadi assumed the role as the fourth caliph of Abbasid Dynasty. But al-Hadi died one year later in 786 C.E. and al-Rashid was anointed the fifth caliph.

His first move as caliph was to appoint his mentor Yahya as his primary minister of vizier. Yahya and his two sons played important roles for more than 17 years as his vizier and were very good government administrators.

During his reign

As the fifth caliph, Harun faced many obstacles. There were several uprisings that involved neighboring dynasties. For instance in 789 C.E. the Idrisid Dynasty formed an independent state named Morocco and Tunisia was placed under the control of the Aghlabid Dynasty. These are viewed as tremendous loses to the Abbasid Dynasty.

He also had a fascination with warring against the Byzantine Empire. He was successful in his quest in 782 C.E. where he marched to the gates of Constantinople which led to his appointment as governor.

In later years he would march on the Byzantine Empire three times more in 797, 803, and 806 C.E. Each time he commanded huge tribute from the Byzantine empresses or emperors. The treaties signed by the Byzantine rulers also were favorable to Baghdad. Al-Rashid had made Baghdad the capital of his empire until moving the capital city to Ar-Raqqah in Syria during 796 C.E.

Historians believe there were numerous times of contact between al-Rashid and Charlemagne during his reign. Harun deemed Charlemagne as the protector of Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem.

Harun’s last military expedition was in 808 C.E. when he squashed the rebellion in Khorasan, Iran. While on this expedition he became ill and would later die in 809 C.E. He left his empire to his elder son al-amin.


As caliph, Harun was instrumental in serving his empire. When he felt his viziers had become too powerful he imprisoned Yahya and his two sons in 803 C.E. As viziers, the Barmakid Family garnered much land and power. He took their lands and their wealth after jailing them.

He was also a supporter of culture, science, and the arts. He favored books and created the House of Wisdom in Baghdad which housed thousands of books. Harun built Baghdad into a present-day cultural center of Persia and Islam.

Important facts about Harun al-Rashid

  • Harun al-Rashid was born into the Abbasid Dynasty in 763 C.E.
  • His mother was a former slave from Yemen and he was the third son of the third caliph named Mohammed al-Mahdi.
  • He was tutored from a young age by Yahya, a member of the powerful Barmakid family. Yahya would remain his vizier or primary adviser until 803 C.E.
  • At the age of 14 years old he led a military expedition against to the gates of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire.
  • He became the fifth caliph of the Abbasid Dynasty at the age of 25 years old.
  • During his reign he squashed uprisings by the Idrisid and Aghlabid Dynasties.
  • Harun al-Rashid was a supporter of culture, science, and the arts. He created a large library in Baghdad called “The House of Wisdom”.
  • He made Baghdad a vibrant center of culture, science, and art during his reign as caliph.


  1. What Islamic dynasty was Harun al-Rashid born into?

Abbasid Dynasty

  1. His mother as a slave from where in Africa?


  1. Who was his main vizier or primary advisor until 803 C.E.?

Yahya of the Barmakid Family

  1. At what age did Harun al-Rashid first march on the Byzantine Empire as a military leader?

14 years old