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Famous Men of the Middle Ages
J. H. Haaren and A. B. Poland
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Caliph from 786-809 A.D.
The most celebrated of all Mohammedan caliphs was Harun-al-Rashid, which means, in
English, Aaron the Just. Harun is the hero of several of the stories of the "Arabian
Nights," a famous book, which perhaps you have read. There are many curious and
wonderful tales in it.
When Harun was only eighteen years old he showed such courage and skill as a soldier
that his father, who was then caliph, allowed him to lead an army against the enemies of
the Mohammedans; and he won many great victories.
He afterwards commanded an army of ninety-five thousand Arabs and Persians, sent by
his father to invade the Eastern Roman Empire, which was then ruled by the Empress
Irene (i-re'-ne). After defeating Irene's famous general, Nicetas (ni-ce'-tas), Harun
marched his army to Chrysopolis (Chrys-op'-o-lis), now Scutari (skoo'-ta-re), on the
Asiatic coast, opposite Constantinople. He encamped on the heights, in full view of the
The Empress saw that the city would certainly by taken by the Moslems. She therefore
sent ambassadors to Harun to arrange terms; but he sternly refused to agree to anything
except immediate surrender.
Then one of the ambassadors said, "The Empress has heard much of your ability as a
general. Though you are her enemy, she admires you as a soldier."
These flattering words were pleasing to Harun. He walked to and fro in front of his tent
and then spoke again to the ambassadors.
"Tell the Empress," he said, "that I will spare Constantinople if she will pay me seventy
thousand pieces of gold as a yearly tribute. If the tribute is regularly paid Constantinople
shall not be harmed by any Moslem force."
The Empress had to agree to these terms. She paid the first year's tribute; and soon the
great Moslem army set out on its homeward march.
When Harun was not quite twenty-one years old he became caliph.
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.