13. The transition of dynasties from desert life to sedentary culture.



It should be known that these stages are natural ones for dynasties. The superiority through which royal authority is achieved is the result of group feeling and of the great energy and rapacious habits which go with it. As a rule, these things are possible only in connection with desert life. The first stage of dynasties, therefore, is that of desert life.

When royal authority is obtained, it is accompanied by a life of ease and increased opportunities. Sedentary culture is merely a diversification of luxury and a refined knowledge of the crafts employed for the diverse aspects and ways of (luxury). This concerns, for instance, food, clothing, building, bedding (carpets), utensils, and other household needs. Each one of these things requires special interdependent crafts serving to refine and improve it. (These crafts) increase in number with the (growing) variety of pleasures and amusements and ways and means to enjoy the life of luxury the soul desires, and (with the growing number of) different things to which people get used.

The 84 sedentary stage of royal authority follows the stage of desert life. It does so of necessity, as a result of the fact that royal authority is of necessity accompanied by a life of ease. In the sedentary stage and under (sedentary) conditions, the people of a given dynasty always follow the traditions of the preceding dynasty. They observe with their own eyes the circumstances (under which the preceding dynasty lived), and, as a rule, learn from them.

Something of the sort happened to the Arabs during the conquest by which they came to rule the Persians and Byzantines and made their daughters and sons their servants. At that time, the Arabs had no sedentary culture at all. The story goes that when they were given a pillow they supposed it was a bundle of rags.85 The camphor they found in the treasuries of the Persian king was used by them as salt in their dough. There are many similar things. The Arabs, then, enslaved the people of the former dynasties and employed them in their occupations and their household needs. From among them, they selected skilled masters of the various (crafts), and were in turn taught by them to handle, master, and develop them for themselves. In addition, the circumstances of the Arabs' life widened and became more diversified. Thus, they reached the limit in this respect. They entered the stage of sedentary culture, of luxury and refinement in food, drink, clothing, building, weapons, bedding (carpets), household goods, music, and all other commodities and furnishings. The same (perfection they showed) on their gala days, banquets, and wedding nights. In this respect, they surpassed the limit.

Looking at the reports of al-Mas'udi, at-Tabari, and other (historians) concerning the wedding of al-Ma'mun to Burin, daughter of al-Hasan b. Sahl, one will be amazed.86 They tell about the gifts Burin's father made to the retinue of al-Ma'mun when the caliph came by boat to (al-Hasan's) house in Fumm as-silk to ask for Bilran's hand. They tell
about the expenditures for the marriage (settlement,
imlak) and the wedding gifts al-Ma'mun gave her and the expenditures for the wedding. On the wedding day, al-Hasan b. Sahl gave a lavish banquet that was attended by al-Ma'mun's retinue. To members of the first class, al-Hasan distributed lumps of musk wrapped in papers granting farms and estates to the holders. Each obtained what chance and luck gave him. To the second class, (al-Hasan) distributed bags each of which held 10,000 dinars. To the third class, he distributed bags with the same amount in dirhams. In addition to all this, he had already spent many times as much when al-Ma'min had stayed in his house. Also, al-Ma'mun gave Burin a thousand hyacinths (rubies) as her wedding gift (mahr) on the wedding night. He burned candles of amber each of which weighed one hundred mann 87-a mann being one and two­thirds pounds (ritl). He had put down for her carpets woven with threads of gold and adorned with pearls and hyacinths. When al-Ma'mun saw all this, he said, "That Abu Nuwas is admirable! It is as though he had had this (situation and these carpets) before his eyes when he said, describing wine:

 As if its small and large shiny bubbles

Were little pearls upon a ground of gold." 88

 One hundred and forty mule loads of wood had been brought three times a day for a whole year to the kitchen and were ready for the wedding night. All that wood was consumed that very night, Palm twigs were set alight by pouring oil on them. Boatmen were ordered to bring boats to transport the distinguished guests on the Tigris from Baghdad to the royal palaces in the city of al-Ma'mlin 89 for the wedding banquet. The boats prepared for that purpose numbered 30,000, and they carried people back and forth all day long. There were many other such things.

A similar occasion was the wedding of al-Ma'mun b. Dhi n-nun in Toledo. It was described by Ibn Bassam 90 in the Kitab adh-Dhakhirah and by Ibn Hayyan.

All these (people) had previously been in the first stage of desert life. They had been completely incapable of such things, because, in their low standard of life and their sim­plicity, they lacked both the means and people with technical ability. It has been said that al-Hajjaj gave a banquet on the occasion of the circumcision of one of his sons. He had one of the Persian landowners brought to him and asked him about the banquets the Persians had given (in former times). He asked him to tell him about the most lavish banquet he had ever attended. The reply was: "Yes, my Lord, I attended the banquet of one of the provincial governors (marzbans) of the Persian king, given for the inhabitants of Firs. He used golden plates on tables of silver, four (plates) to each (table). Each (table) was carried by four maid­servants, and four persons were seated at each. After they had eaten, the four of them left with the table, the plates on it, and the maidservants." (When he heard that,) al-Hajjaj merely said, "Boy! Have some camels slaughtered and give the people to eat." He realized that he could not afford such sumptuousness as had once actually existed.

The allowances and gratuities the Umayyads gave (their followers) illustrate the point under discussion. In keeping with Arab desert custom, most of (their gratuities) consisted of camels. Then, in the 'Abbisid, the 'Ubaydid(-Fatimid), and later dynasties, these gratuities, as one knows, came to be large sums of money, chests of clothes, and horses with their complete trappings.

The same situation prevailed among the Kutamah in their relationship with the Aghlabids in Ifriqiyah and the Banil Tughsh (Ikhshidids) in Egypt, among the Lamtunah in their relationship with the reyes de ta'ifas in Spain and also with the Almohads, and among the Zanatah in their relation­ship with the Almohads, and so on.

Sedentary culture was always transferred from the preceding dynasty to the later one. The sedentary culture of the Persians was transferred to the Arab Umayyads and 'Ab­basids. The sedentary culture of the Umayyads in Spain was transferred to the Almohad and Zanatah kings of the contemporary Maghrib. That of the 'Abbisids was transferred, successively, to the Daylam, to the Saljuq Turks, to the Turks 91 in Egypt, and to the Tatars in the two 'Iraqs.

The larger a dynasty, the more important is its sedentary culture. For sedentary culture is the consequence of luxury; luxury is the consequence of wealth and prosperity and wealth and prosperity are the consequences of royal authority and related to the extent of (territorial) possessions which the people of a particular dynasty have gained. All the (elements of sedentary culture) are, thus, proportionate to the (greater or smaller extent of) royal authority. Upon close and careful examination this will be found to be a correct statement as regards civilization and dynasties.92

God inherits the earth and whomever is upon it.