Harun ar-Rashid [key] [Arab.,=Aaron the Upright], c.764–809, 5th and most famous Abbasid caliph (786–809). He succeeded his brother Musa al-Hadi, fourth caliph, a year after the death of his father, Mahdi, the third caliph. In his youth he had been very successful as a general in invasions of Asia Minor; on one of these he reached the Bosporus. Harun's empire included all SW Asia and the northern part of Africa, but by the end of his caliphate much of Africa had withdrawn from all but nominal obedience. He had diplomatic relations with China and with Charlemagne. The most famous incident of his career was the fall of the Barmakids, a Persian family that had become very powerful under Mahdi. Yahya, a Barmakid, had aided Harun in obtaining the caliphate, and he and his sons were in high favor until 798, when the caliph threw them in prison and confiscated their land; the reasons for this are not known, but it was probably a result of an extended intrigue by the Arab group at court. Harun was repeatedly faced with insurrections in his empire. These grew more frequent after the fall of the Barmakids, who were adroit statesmen. After this Harun's prime minister was Fazl ibn-Rabi. Harun was a munificent patron of letters and of arts, and under him Baghdad was at its apogee. He became a great figure to the Arabs, who tell about him in many of the stories of the Thousand and One Nights.
See F. W. Buckler, Harunu'l-Rashid and Charles the Great (1931); H. St. John B. Philby, Harun al Rashid (1933).
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