16. The monuments of a given dynasty are proportionate

to its original power.103

The reason for this is that monuments owe their origin to the power that brought the dynasty into being. The impression the dynasty leaves is proportionate to (that power).

The monuments of a dynasty are its buildings and large (edifices, haykal). They are proportionate to the original power of the dynasty. They can materialize only when there are many workers and united action and cooperation. When a dynasty is large and far-flung, with many provinces and subjects, workers are very plentiful and can be brought together from all sides and regions. Thus, even the largest monument (haykal) can materialize.

Think of the works of the people of 'Ad and Thamfid, about which the Qur'an tells.104 Or, one should see with one's own eyes the Reception Hall of Khosraw (Iwan Kisra), that powerful achievement of Persian (architecture). Ar-Rashid intended to tear it down and destroy it. He could not do so for all his trouble. He began the work, but then was not able to continue. The story of how he asked Yahya b. Khalid for advice in that affair is well known.105 It is worth noting that one dynasty was able to construct a building that another dynasty was not able to tear down, even though destruction is much easier than construction.106 That illustrates the great difference between the two dynasties.


II a. The Reception Hall of Khosraw in 1869


II b. The Reception Hall of Khosraw at the beginning of this century


III a. The Roman Bridge in Cordoba


III b. The Roman Aqueduct south of Carthage

One may also compare the Nave 107 of al-Walid in Damascus, the Umayyad Mosque in Cordoba, the bridge over the river at Cordoba, and, as well, the arches of the aqueduct over which water is brought into Carthage, the monuments of Cherchel in the Maghrib, the pyramids of Egypt, and many other such monuments that may still be seen. They illustrate differences in strength and weakness that have existed among the various dynasties.

It should be known that all these works of the ancients were possible only through engineering skill and the concerted labor of many workers. Only thus could these monu­ments (haykal) and works be constructed. One should not think, as the common people do, that it was because the ancients had bodies larger in size than our own.108 Human beings do not differ in this respect as much as monuments (haykal) and relics differ. Storytellers have seized upon the subject and used it to make exaggerated (fables). They have written stories in this vein about the 'Ad and the Thami d and the Amalekites, which are complete lies. One of the strangest of these stories is about Og, the son of Anak, one of the Canaanites against whom the children of Israel fought in Syria. According to these storytellers, he was so tall that he took fish out of the ocean and held them up to the sun to be cooked.109 To their ignorance of human affairs, the story­tellers here add ignorance of astronomical matters. They believe that the sun is heat and that the heat of the sun is greatest close to it. They do not know that the heat of the sun is (its) light and that (its) light is stronger near the earth (than it is near the sun) because of the reflection of the rays from the surface of the earth when it is hit by the light. Therefore, the heat here is many times greater (than near the sun). When the zone in which the reflected rays are effective is passed, there will be no heat there, and it will be cold. (That is) where the clouds are. The sun itself is neither hot nor cold, but a simple uncomposed substance that gives light.

Also, (the storytellers) say that Og, the son of Anak, was one of the Amalekites or Canaanites 110 who fell prey to the children of Israel when they conquered Syria. Now, even those of the children of Israel who at that time were the tallest in body, had bodies in size very like our own bodies. This is proven by the gates of Jerusalem. They were de­stroyed and have been restored, but their (original) shape and measurements have always been preserved. How, then, could there have been such a difference in size between Og and his contemporaries?

The error of (the storytellers) here results from the fact that they admired the vast proportions of the monuments left by nations (of the past), but did not understand the dif­ferent situation in which dynasties may find themselves with respect to social organization and co-operation. They did not understand that (superior social organization) together with engineering skill, made the construction of large monuments possible. Therefore, they ascribed such monuments to a strength and energy derived by the peoples of the past from the large size of their bodies. But this is not so.

On the authority of the philosophers, al-Mas`udi ex­pressed the following idea, whose only basis is in arbitrary (theorizing): 111 "When God created the world, the nature (element) that gives bodies their form was completely round [?] 112 and as strong and perfect as could be. Life lasted longer and bodies were stronger, because the nature (element) was then perfect. Death can come only through dissolution of the natural powers. When they are strong, life lasts longer. Thus, in the beginning, the world had (people whose) lives had their full duration and whose bodies were perfect. Because of the deficiency of matter it steadily deteri­orated to its present condition, and it will not stop deteri­orating until the time of (complete) dissolution and the destruction of the world."

This is an opinion that, as one can see, has only arbitrary (theorizing) as its authority. There is no natural or logical reason for it. We can see with our own eyes the dwellings and doorways of the ancients and the (construction) methods employed by them in producing their buildings, their monuments (haykal), their houses, and (other) dwellings such as the houses of the Thamud, which were hewn out of solid rock, and they were small houses with narrow doors. Muhammad indicated that those (rock dwellings) were the houses (of the Thamud). He prohibited use of their water and (ordered that) the dough for which (the water) had been used be thrown out and (the water) poured on the ground. He said: "Do not enter the dwellings of those who wronged themselves. Only weep (in fear) lest the same misfortune that befell them befall you." 113 The same (reasoning) applies to the land of `Ad, to Egypt, Syria, and all the other regions of the earth in the East and the West. The truth is what we have established.

Another (kind of) monument (to the greatness) of a dynasty is the way it handled weddings and (wedding) banquets, as we have mentioned in connection with the wedding of Burin and the banquets of al-Hajjaj and Ibn Dhi n-Nun. All that has been mentioned before.114

Another monument (to the greatness) of a dynasty is the gifts it made. Gifts are proportionate to (the importance of a dynasty). (This rule) is operating even when the dynasty is close to senility. The aspirations of the members of the dynasty are proportionate to (the strength of) their royal authority and their superiority over the people. These aspirations remain with them until the final destruction of the dynasty.

One may compare the gifts Ibn Dhi Yazan presented to the Qurashite ambassadors. He gave each of them ten pounds (ritl) of gold and silver and ten slaves and maidservants and one flask of ambergris. To 'Abd-al-Muttalib, he gave ten times as much.115 Ibn Dhi Yazan's realm, as it was located in the Yemen, was under the complete control of the Persians at that time. His (generosity), however, was caused by his high-mindedness, which stemmed from the royal authority that his family, the Tubba's, had possessed in the Yemen, and from the superiority they had once exercised over the nations of the two 'Irags, India, and the Maghrib.116

Also, when the Sinhajah (Zirids) in Ifrigiyah presented gifts to an embassy sent them by the amirs of the Zanatah, they gave them large sums of money and full chests of clothes and many fine pack horses. The History of Ibn ar­Raqiq 117 contains many stories of this kind.

The way the Barmecides gave allowances and gifts and spent their money was the same. Whenever they provided for a needy person, it meant property, high office, and pros­perity for that person for ever after. It was not just an allowance that was spent in a day or sooner. There exist nu­merous stories in literature to this effect about (the Barme­cides). All the (stories) reflect in the proper proportions the (power of the) dynasties (to which they relate).

When Jawhar al-Katib as-Saqlabi, the general of the 'Ubaydid(-Fatimid) army, set out on his conquest of Egypt, he was provided by al-Qayrawan with a thousand loads of money.118 No dynasty today would be able to approach that.119

There exists in the handwriting of Ahmad b. Muhammad b. 'Abd-al-Hamid a list showing the receipts of the treasury at Baghdad from all regions (of the realm) in al-Ma'mun's day. I copied it from the book of Jirab ad-dawlah:120


The Saw ad (Southern Mesopotamia)   


Crops: 27,780,000 dirhams 121

Different kinds of revenue: 12214,800,000 dirhams

Najrani cloaks: 200

Sealing clay: 240 pounds



11,600,000 dirhams


Tigris counties

20,800,000 dirhams



4,800,000 dirhams



25,000 dirhams 123 Sugar: 30,000 pounds



27,000,000 dirhams

Rose water: 30,000 bottles

Black raisins: 20,000 pounds



 4,200,000 dirhams

Yemenite garments: 500

Dates: 20,000 pounds

Cumin seeds: 1,000 pounds 124



400,000 dirhams


Western India (Sind) and neighboring Territories

11,500,000 dirhams

Indian aloe wood: 150 pounds



4,000,000 dirhams 125

Checkered 126 garments: 300

Sugar-candy: 127 20,000 pounds



28,000,000 dirhams

Silver ingots: 1,000

Pack animals: 4,000

Slaves: 1,000 head

Garments: 27,000

Myrobalan: 30,000 pounds



12,000,000 dirhams

Silk: 1,000 pieces 128



1,500,000 dirhams Silver ingots: 1,000


Tabaristan, ar-Ruyan and Nihawand 129


6,300,000 dirhams

Tabaristan carpets: 600 pieces

Robes: 200

Garments: 500

Napkins: 300

Goblets: 300 130



12,000,000 dirhams

Honey: 20,000 pounds l31



11,800,000 dirhams

Pomegranate marmalade: 1,000 pounds132

Honey: 12,000 pounds


The region between [I] 133al-Basrah and al-Kufah

10,700,000 dirhams


Masabadhin and ar-Ray-yan134

4,000,000 dirhams



6,000,000 dirhams 135


Mosul and environs

24,000,000 dirhams

White honey: 20,000 pounds



4,000,000 dirhams


The Jazirah and neighboring Euphrates districts

34,000,000 dirhams


Karaj 136

300,000 dirhams



5,000,000 dirhams

Slaves: 1,000 head 137

Honey: 12,000 bags

Falcons: 10

Robes: 20



13,000,000 dirhams

Embroidered carpets: 20

Variegated cloth: 580 pounds 138

Salted Surmahi fish: 139

10,000 pounds

Herring: 14010,000 pounds

Mules: 200 Falcons: 30



400,000 dinars 141

Raisins: 1,000 loads



420,000 dinars



96,000 dinars



310,000 dinars

Raisins: 300,000 pounds 142



1,920,000 dinars


Barca (Barqah)

1,000,000 dirhams



13,000,000 dirhams

Carpets: 120



370,000 dinars,143 excluding garments



300,000 dinars

 (End of the list)

Regarding Spain, reliable historians of (that country) have reported that 'Abd-ar-Rahman an-Nasir 144 left 5,000,000 dinars weighing altogether 500 hundredweight, in his treasuries.

I have seen in one of the histories of ar-Rashid that in his day the income of the treasury was 7,500 hundred­weight 145 each year.

Regarding 146 the 'Ubaydid(-Fatimid) dynasty, I have read in the History of Ibn Khallikan, with reference to the army commander 147 al-Afdal b. Badr al-Jamali who controlled the 'Ubaydid(-Fatimid) caliphs in Egypt, that when al-Afdal was killed, 600,000 dinars and 250 irdabbs of dirhams were found in his treasury, as well as a correspondingly large amount of precious stones for rings, pearls, fabrics, household goods 147a, riding animals, and pack animals.

As for the dynasties of our own time, the greatest of them is that of the Turks in Egypt. It became important in the days of the Turkish ruler an-Nasir Muhammad b. Qala'in. At the beginning of his rule, the two amirs, Baybars and Sallar, had gained power over him, and Baybars had deposed him and occupied his throne, with Sallar as his partner. Then, shortly after an-Nasir regained the rule, he seized (Bay­bars') partner Sallar and cleaned out his treasury.148 I have come across the inventory of that treasury and quote from it:

Yellow hyacinths 149 and rubies 150

41/2 pounds


19 pounds

Diamonds and cat's-eyes for rings

900 large pieces

Assorted ring-stones

2 pounds

Round pearls, weighing from one mithqal

(11/2 dirhams) to one dirham 151

1,150 pieces

Coined gold

1,400,000 dinars

A pool full of pure gold

Purses full of gold, discovered between

two walls. It is not known how many

there were.





4 hundredweight

 Also, a proportionately large amount of fabrics, household goods, riding animals, pack animals, (grain) crops, 152 cattle, male and female slaves, and estates.

 Still later, we have the Merinid dynasty in Morocco. In their treasury, I came across an inventory in the handwriting of the Merinid minister of finance, Hassun b. al-Bawwaq.153 (The inventory states that) the property left by Sultan Abu Sa'id in his treasury was over 700 hundredweight of gold dinars. He also had other property of a proportionately large amount. His son and successor, Abu 1-Hasan, had even more than that. When he took possession of Tlemcen154 he foundmore than 300 hundredweight of gold in coins and (gold) jewelry, and a correspondingly large amount of other property in the treasuries of the Sultan of (Tlemcen), the 'Abd al-Wadud Abu Tashfin.

As to the Almohad (Hafsid) rulers of Ifriqiyah, I lived in the time of their 155 ninth ruler, Abu Bakr. He had seized 156 Muhammad b. al-Hakim, the commander of his armies, and had cleaned him out. He got forty hundredweight of gold dinars and a bushel of precious stones for rings, as well as pearls. He took an amount close to that in carpets from his houses, and a correspondingly large amount of estates and other possessions.

I was in Egypt in the days of al-Malik az-Zahir Abu Sa'id Barquq, who had seized power from the descendants of Qala'un, when he arrested his minister of the interior, the amir Mahmud157 and confiscated his property. The man charged with the confiscation informed me that the amount of gold he cleaned out was 1,600,000 dinars. There was in addition a proportionately large amount of fabrics, riding animals, pack animals, livestock, and (grain) crops.

A 158 person who looks at these (data) should bear in mind the relative (importance) of the various dynasties. He should not reject (data) for which he finds no observable parallels in his own time. Otherwise, many things that are possible would (be considered impossible by him and) escape his attention.159 Many excellent men, hearing stories of this kind about past dynasties, have not believed them. This is not right. The conditions in the world and in civilization are not (always) the same. He who knows a low or medium (level of civilization) does not know all of them. When we consider our information about the 'Abbasids, the Umayyads, and the 'Ubaydid(-Fatimids) and when we compare what we know to be sound in it with our own observations of the less important dynasties (of today), then we find a great difference between them. That difference results from differences in the original strength of (those dynasties) and in the civilizations (of their realms). As we have stated before, all the monuments a dynasty (leaves behind it) are proportionate to the original strength (of that dynasty). We are not entitled to reject any such (information) about them. Much of it deals with matters that are extremely well known and obvious. Part of it is traditional information known through a continuous tradition. Part of it is direct information based upon personal observation of architectural monuments and other such things.

One should think of the various degrees of strength and weakness, of bigness and smallness, in the various dynasties as they are known through tradition, and compare that (information) with the following interesting story. In the times of the Merinid Sultan, Abu 'Inan, a shaykh from Tangier, by name Ibn Battutah,160 came (back) to the Maghrib. Twenty years before, he had left for the East and journeyed through the countries of the 'Iraq, the Yemen, and India. He had come to the city of Delhi, the seat of the ruler of India, the Sultan Muhammad Shah,161 (The ruler) esteemed Ibn Battutah highly and employed him as Malikite judge in his domain. He then returned to the Maghrib and made contact with the Sultan Abu 'Inan. He used to tell about experiences he had had on his travels and about the remarkable things he had seen in the different realms. He spoke mostly about the ruler of India. He reported things about him that his listeners considered strange. That, for instance, when the ruler of India went on a trip, he counted the inhabitants of his city, men, women, and children, and ordered that their requirements for (the next) six months be paid them out of his own income. When he returned from his trip and entered (the city), it was a festive 162 day. All the people went out into the open country and strolled about. In front of (the ruler), in the crowd, mangonels were set up on the backs of pack animals.163 From the mangonels, bags of dirhams and dinars were shot out over the people, until the ruler entered his audience hall.

Ibn Battutah told other similar stories, and people in the dynasty (in official positions) whispered to each other that he must be a liar. During that time, one day I met the Sultan's famous wazir, Faris b. Wadrar. I talked to him about this matter and intimated to him that I did not believe that man's stories, because people in the dynasty were in general inclined to consider him a liar. Whereupon the wazir Faris said to me: "Be careful not to reject such information about the conditions of dynasties, because you have not seen such things yourself. You would then be like the son of the wazir who grew up in prison. The wazir had been imprisoned by his ruler and remained in prison several years. His son grew up in prison. When he reached the age of reason, he asked his father about the meat which he had been eating. (His father) told him that it was mutton, and he asked him what that was. When his father described a sheep to him in all details, (the son) said, 'Father, you mean, it looks like a rat?' His father was angry with him and said, 'What has a sheep to do with a rat?' The same happened later about beef and camel meat. The only animals he had seen in prison were rats, and so he believed that all animals were of the same species as rats."

It often happens that people are (incredulous) with regard to historical information, just as it also happens that they are tempted to exaggerate certain information, in order to be able to report something remarkable. We stated this earlier at the beginning of the book.164 Therefore, a person should look at his sources and rely upon himself. With a clear mind and straightforward, natural (common sense) he should distinguish between the nature of the possible and the impossible. Everything within the sphere of the possible should be accepted, and everything outside it should be rejected. (In using the word "possible") we do not have in mind "possible" in the absolute sense of what is intellectually possible. That covers a very wide range, so that it cannot be used to determine what is possible in actual fact. What we have in mind is the possibility inherent in the matter that belongs to a given thing. When we study the origin of a thing, its genus, (specific) difference,165 size, and strength, we can draw conclusions as to (the possibility or impossibility) of the data (reported in connection with it). We adjudge to be impossible everything outside the sphere of (the possible, in this sense).

"Say: God, give me more knowledge." 166