MADĀʾEN (lit. the cities; Ar. sing. Madina, cf. Aram. pl. Māḥozē or Medinātā), the Sasanian metropolitan area of several contiguous cities, on both sides of the Tigris and connected by floating bridges, about 35 km southeast of Abbasid Baghdad. At the end of the Sasanian period, this metropolis served as the administrative capital, the winter home of the monarch, the residence of the Jewish Exilarch, and the seat of the Catholikos of the Christian Church of the East. About 130,000 people, or over 30,000 families were estimated to be living in the environs of Madāʾen when it fell to the Muslims in 637 (Ṭabari, I, p. 2467). The population of Arameans, Persians, Greeks, and Syrians mostly comprised Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians. The residential, industrial, and commercial zones of the metropolis were interspersed with palaces, villas, parks, gardens, ceremonial buildings, monuments, and large open areas. The place name Madāʾen has remained alive in modern Persian because of the famous 12th century elegy about the ruins of Ṭāq-e Kesrā by Ḵāqāni Šervāni (b. 1127?, d. between 1186 and 1199?).

The Pre-Islamic Period. Tradition claimed that Madāʾen had been built by Ṭahmurāt Zibāwand or Hōšang, who called it Kardbandād, and was then rebuilt by King Zāb, Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE), and Shapur II (r. 309-379 CE; cf. al-ʿAli, tr., pp. 422-23; Ḥamza, p. 31; Maqdesi, IV, pp. 98-99). Tradition also preserved the names of five or seven cities (with variants) that made up Madāʾen: Asfābur, Weh Ardašir, Hanbu Šābur, Darzanidān, Weh Jondiu-Ḵosrow, Nawinābād and Kardakāḏ (al-ʿAli, tr., p. 422; Ḥamza, p. 31; Malāyeri, VI, pp. 40-51; Qazvini, II, p. 303; Streck, II, pp. 246-79; Yāqut, IV, pp. 446-47).

In the late Sasanian period there were four or five main population centers (al-ʿAli, tr., p. 423; Fiey, “Mahozé”, pp. 397-401). The oldest was the walled city of Ctesiphon on the east bank, which the Arabs called the Old City (al-madina al-ʿatiqa) and where the royal residence, known in Arabic as the White Palace (al-qasr al-abyaż), was located. (al-ʿAli, pp. 53, 55; Ṭabari, II, p. 982). To the south of Ctesiphon lay the sprawling, unwalled residential district of Aspānbar with the great audience hall, palace, bath, treasury, game preserve, and stables (cf. Fiey, 1967a, pp. 401, 417; 1967b, p. 28; Kühnel and Wachtsmuth, pp. 12-14). About 5 km south of Aspānbur was Weh-Antioḵ-e Ḵosrow where Ḵosrow I Anoširvān (r. 531-79) resettled the captives of Antioch in 540, and which the Arabs called al-Rumiya (Dinawari, pp. 70-71; Ḥamza, p. 51; Ṭabari, I, pp. 898, 959-60; Taʿālebi, pp. 612-13). Opposite Ctesiphon on the west bank was the round, walled city of Weh-Ardašir, called Māḥozā (lit. the city) by Jews, Kōḵē by Christians, and Behrasir by Arabs (al-ʿAli, tr., pp. 433-34; Fiey, “Mahozé”, pp. 399-400; Streck, 1917, p. 27). Wealthy Jews populated this commercial and industrial city, which was also the seat of the cathedral church of the Catholikos (Scher, p. 148; Streck, 1917, p. 63). Sābāṭ, about 5 km south of Weh-Ardašir where the Nahr al-Malek emptied into the Tigris, is sometimes included in the metropolitan area (al-ʿAli, tr., p. 435 Ḥamza, p. 50; Masʿudi, II, 405).

The Muslim Conquest. After the battle of Qādesiya, in October or November 634 different parts of Madāʾen fell separately to the Muslim Arab forces. The Muslim vanguard under Ḵāled b. ʿUrfoṭa took Sābāṭ and made peace with the people of al-Rumiya and Behrasir. According to the terms of surrender, on which the people of al-Rumiya agreed with Ḵāled, they were free to leave, but if they chose to stay they were to submit politically, offer advice, pay tribute (jezya, ḵarāj) and act as reliable guides (Balāḏori, Fotuḥ, p. 263). When Saʿd b. Abi Waqqāṣ (d. between 670-78) arrived in March 637 he found Madāʾen deserted: the Sasanian royal family, nobles, and army had fled (Balāḏori, Fotuḥ, p. 262-63; Ṭabari, I, pp. 2357-58; 2439, 2441-42; Taʿālebi, p. 739; Yaʿqubi, Taʾriḵ, II, p. 165). Some soldiers were captured, and huge amounts of booty were taken from the royal treasury and distributed to the Muslim soldiers. The people in the White Palace made peace with Saʿd in return for paying tribute (Ṭabari, I, p. 2440). After taking Aspānbar and Kardbandād Saʿd himself occupied the White Palace and divided the houses of Madāʾen among the Muslims who settled in them with their dependents until they left on campaign to Jalulā, Tekrit, and Mosul (Balāḏori, Fotuḥ, p. 274; Ṭabari, I, pp. 2440, 2451). The Ayvān-e Kesrā was used as a mosque despite the presence of plaster statues (Ṭabari, I, p. 2441). Madāʾen’s fleeing inhabitants, though not the members of the Sasanian royal family and their entourage, were allowed to return on terms similar to those granted to the people in the White Palace (Ṭabari, I, p. 2440). There is some evidence for the survival of a Persian population since in 657, before the Battle of Ṣeffin, Madāʾen’s Persian notables offered ʿAli (d. 661) gifts which he refused to accept (Yaʿqubi, Taʾriḵ, II, p. 218).

Finding the swampy conditions at Madāʾen to be malarial, the Muslim army resettled at Kufa, taking the doors from their houses at Madāʾen with them (Balāḏori, Fotuḥ, p. 277; al-ʿAli, tr., p. 419; Ṭabari, I, pp. 2424, 2481, 2497). Members of various clans, mostly of the Banu ʿAbs, chose to stay at Madāʾen as the garrison (Ṭabari, I, pp. 2486-87). The Friday mosque was in al-Madina al-ʿAtiqa (al-ʿAli, p. 54).

In early Islamic times, the inhabitants of Madāʾen (Ṭabari, II, p. 980) comprised Kufan tribal leaders (ašrāf), including the chiefs of the Banu Azd, and members of leading Muslim families (boyutāt al-nās), who were not considered ašrāf. Ḥoḏayfa b. al-Yamān (d. 656-57) is a good example of a Kufan Muslim who married a local Jewish or Christian woman at Madāʾen where he was buried and where his descendents continued to live. The caliph ʿOmar (r. 634-44) ordered him to divorce her because the number of eligible Muslim women had increased there (Ṭabari, I, pp. 2374-75; II, pp. 504, 561).

Madāʾen is said to have lost its population first to Basra and Kufa, and then to Wāseṭ and Baghdad (Eṣṭaḵri, p. 86; Qazvini, II, p. 303; Ṭabari, I, pp. 2380-81; Yaqut, IV, p. 447). But people also moved to Madāʾen from Kufa, Basra, and elsewhere. The garrison of Madāʾen in 683-84 was from Kufa (Ṭabari, II, p. 504). Helāl b. Ḵabāb moved from Basra to Madāʾen in 761-62, and Naṣr b. Ḥājeb al-Qoraši (d. 762) moved from Khorasan to Madāʾen (Ebn Saʿd, VII, p. 66). Although Madāʾen was no longer an imperial capital, it was of strategic importance because it controlled the main road to the east (Ṭabari, II, pp. 929, 982) and was the administrative center for the Diāla (see ARVAND-RUD) region (arż Juḵā) under the governor of Kufa (Balāḏori, Ansāb, V, p. 45; Dinawari, p. 163; Ṭabari, II, p. 635). Madāʾen’s garrison was fairly small (300 horsemen in 663, and 1,000 in 695; cf. Ṭabari, II, pp. 46, 899), and could guard either arż Juḵā or arż Anbār, between which the city was situated on the Tigris. Early governors often combined the responsibilities for war, worship, and finance, and resided in the White Palace.

In 637 Saʿd left Qaʿqāʿ b. ʿAmr al-Tamimi (fl. 632-42) in charge of Madāʾen when he resettled the army at Kufa (Ṭabari, I, p. 2463). Saʿd is also said to have appointed Šoraḥbil b. al-Simṭ as Madāʾen’s governor (Ṭabari, I, p. 2360-61). The aforementioned Ḥoḏayfa b. al-Yamān, whom ʿOmar appointed as the first fiscal agent of Madāʾen in 642, established the tax rates for arż Juḵā (Ebn Saʿd, VII, 2, p. 64; Ṭabari, I, pp. 2374, 2645). Salmān al-Fāresi (Salmān Pāk) (d. 656-57) is considered one of the first amirs of Madāʾen, where he was buried during the caliphate of ʿOtmān (r. 644-56) (Ebn Saʿd, VII, 2, pl. 65). Mālek al-Aštar put ʿOrwa b. Zayd al-Ḵayl in charge of Madāʾen when he rebelled against against ʿOtmān (Balāḏori, Ansāb, V, p. 45). In 656 Mālek al-Aštar appointed Yazid b. Ḥoyjaba al-Taymi over Madāʾen and arż Juḵā (Balāḏori, Ansāb, V, p. 45). When ʿAli was at Kufa he appointed Yazid b. Qays al-Arḥabi, ʿāmel of Madāʾen and all of Juḵā (Dinawari, p. 163). But in 656-57, before the Battle of Ṣeffin, ʿAli appointed Saʿd b. Masʿud al-Ṯaqafi the ʿamel of Madāʾen (Dinawari, p. 218; Ṭabari, I, 3259). In 657-58 Saʿd b. Masʿud seized the gates of Madāʾen against the Kharijites and put his nephew, Moḵtār b. Abi ʿObayd in charge of the gates when he pursued the Kharijites (Dinawari, p. 218; Ṭabari, I, p. 3366). Ḥasan b. ʿAli (d. 670) also appointed Saʿd b. Masʿud his ʿamel at Madāʾen in 661, and when Ḥasan was stabbed in Sābāṭ he was carried to the White Palace (Ṭabari, II, p. 2).

The Omayyad Period. Semāk b. ʿObayd al-ʿAbsi was Madāʾen’s ʿāmel for Moḡira b. Šoʿba (d. bet. 668-71) in 663-64 (Ṭabari, II, p. 39). Moḵtār put Esḥaq b. Masʿud in charge of Madāʾen and arż Juḵā in 685-86 (Ṭabari, II, p. 635). Kardam b. Martad b. Najaba was in charge for Moṣʿab b. al-Zobayr when Madāʾen was attacked by the Azāreqa in 687-88 (Ṭabari, II, p. 755), and Yazid b. Ḥāret al-Šaybāni was in charge there for Moṣʿab later in the same year (Ṭabari, II, pp. 775-76). Moṣʿab was advised to imprison in the White Palace members of his army suspected of crimes (Balāḏori, Ansāb, V, pp. 337, 341). In 695-96 ʿAbd-Allāh b. Abi ʿOṣayfer was amir of Madāʾen with 1,000 horsemen and financial authority, when Šabib the Ḵāreji (d. 697) entered the city and killed the army mounts (Ṭabari, II, p. 899). The same year Ḥajjāj (d. 714) removed ʿAbd-Allāh and appointed ʿOtmān b. Qoṭn to give the sermon, lead worship, and to be in charge of the relief of all of Juḵā and the ḵarāj of the district (ostān) (Ṭabari, II, p. 929). In 696-97 Moṭarref b. al-Moḡira was in charge of Madāʾen for Ḥajjāj, and in 701 the responsibility was divided between Ḥanẓala b. al-Warrād and Ebn ʿAttāb b. Warqāʾ (Ṭabari, II, pp. 942, 979, 1069). There do not seem to have been any later governors at Madāʾen. Al-Madina al-ʿAtiqa was also a mint for post-reform Omayyad dirhams. S. A. al-ʿAli (pp. 64-65) lists 21 qadis either at or from Madāʾen down to the early 13th century. Early qadis include Salmān b. Rabiʿa al-Bāheli, in the time of ʿOmar II (r. 717-20), and Saʿd b. Ḥoḏayfa b. al-Yamān.

Muslims and Manicheans. Madāʾen’s Muslims tended to be pro-Shiʿite and anti-Kharijite, possibly because of their connections to Kufa. In 663-64 the Kharijites led by Mostawrad occupied Behrasir, but Semāk b. ʿObayd cut the pontoon bridge and prevented them from crossing over to al-Madina al-ʿAtiqa (Ṭabari, II, p. 39). In 684 (Ṭabari, II, p. 561), Saʿd b. Ḥoḏayfa and 170 Shiʿites who had moved to Madāʾen from Kufa joined Solaymān b. Ṣorad (d. 685). The Shiʿites of Madāʾen suffered for their partisanship later when the Kharijite Azāreqa sacked the city and massacred its Muslim population in 687-88 (Ṭabari, II, p. 755). Madāʾen was also taken by Šabib the Ḵareji in 696 (Ṭabari, II, pp. 886-87, 892, 949). By the 8th century Madāʾen’s Shiʿites were extremists (ḡālis; cf. Massignon, p. 23). ʿAbd-Allāh b. Ḥāret had been a supporter of ʿAbd-Allāh b. Moʿāwiya (d. 746-47). His followers, called the Ḥāretiya, believed in the cyclic historical recurrence of types of people mentioned in scripture (i.e. those who accept or reject the imam), spread the idea of reincarnation, believed that those who knew the imam could do whatever they liked, and supported the ʿAlawi uprising of 744 (al-ʿAli, tr., p. 420; Massignon, p. 34; Nawbaḵti, pp. 22, 29, 34). The extremist sect of the Esḥāqiya, named after Esḥāq b. Moḥammad b. Aḥmad b. Abān al-Naḵaʿi was active in Madāʾen in the 10th century (al-ʿAli, tr., p. 421; Ebn al-Jawzi, VI, p. 20; Ḵaṭib, VI, pp. 387-81).

A Manichean secretary of Ḥajjāj built an inn and oratory at Madāʾen for Zād Hormozd, who claimed to be the leader of the Manichaeans (Ebn al-Nadim, I, p. 334). The father of ʿAbd-Allāh b. al-Ḥāret was accused of being a Manichean (zendiq) from Madāʾen (Nawbaḵti, p. 34).

The Abbasid Period. Although Manṣur (r. 754-75) stayed briefly in 754 at al-Rumiya, where Abu Moslem (d. 755) was killed (Dinawari, p. 376; Yāqut, II, p. 867), Madāʾen declined politically and commercially after the founding of Baghdad in 762 (Masʿudi, II, p. 200). The population moved to Baghdad, where the Catholikos and the Exilarch relocated, although the Catholikos, Timothy (780-823), completed the building of a hospital (bimāristān) at Madāʾen in 790 (Dols, pp. 113-14). Manṣur began to demolish the White Palace to build Baghdad, and although he ordered it to be rebuilt in 775, it remained in ruins (Ṭabari, III, pp. 320, 385). Muʿtaded (r. 892-902) used its brick, as well as brick from a palace called al-Kāmel, to begin the foundations of the Tāj palace in Baghdad (al-ʿAli, tr., pp. 428-29; Yāqut, I, p. 109). Moqtafi (r. 902-908) completed the demolition of the White Palace in ca. 903 by using the brick of its balconies to complete the foundations of the Tāj palace and the bricks of its foundations for the balconies, a symbolic overturning of the building that need not be taken literally (al-ʿAli, p. 57; Yāqut, I, p. 109). By the 9th century Madāʾen was mainly an agricultural center, and the position of qadi tended to be combined with that of Baghdad and other places (al-ʿAli, pp. 64-65; cf. tr., p. 425). Tombs had been built for Salmān al-Fāresi near the Ayvān, and for Ḥoḏayfa near the river at Aspānbar.

By the 10th century Madāʾen was a flourishing suburb of Baghdad on the east bank of the Tigris, about the same size as Wāset but smaller than many villages in Khorasan, with brick buildings, markets, two Friday mosques, and the Sasanian palace with its ayvān (al-ʿAli, p. 51; Ebn Rosta, p. 186, Moqaddasi, p. 122). Al-Rumiya was deserted, but its earthen walls, half-ruined, still stood (Masʿudi, I, p. 233). On the west bank was a large fire temple the expenses of which were twice the land tax of the province of Fārs (Ebn Rosta, p. 186). A gnostic sect, called the People of the Fear of Heaven (ahl kifah al-samāʾ), was also still active at Madāʾen (Ebn al-Nadim, I, p. 341).

In 1199 Jews at Madāʾen protested against the Muslim call to worship (aḏan) from a mosque that was near their synagogue. They attacked the muezzin, and defeated his fellow Muslim supporters. A Muslim delegation went to the caliph’s secretary (ṣāḥib al-maḵzan) asking for support against the Jews, and Nāser (r. 1180-1225) ordered the demolition of the synagogue (al-ʿAli, p. 50, cf. tr., p. 421, Ebn al-Jawzi, X. p. 275).

The Post-Abbasid Period. By the 13th century Madāʾen was a small town inhabited by Imami Shiʿite farmers (al-ʿAli, tr., p. 422; Yāqut, IV, p. 447). The tomb of Salmān al-Fāresi was visited annually by Sunni barbers, pedicures, phlebotomists, and surgeons of Baghdad, while Shiʿites from Najaf and Karbalāʾ came on variable dates (Massignon, p. 22). The office of qadi was held by local people. In the 14th century there was on the west bank a village of Imami Shiʿite farmers, whose women never went outside during the day (Qazvini, II, p. 303). Coin finds from Tell Baroda confirm a settlement at Behrasir in the 13th century, and Behrasir remained a small Shiʿite town in the 14th and 15th centuries (Ricciardi, p. 20; Reuther, p. 48). The tomb of Salmān al-Fāresi was rebuilt by the Ottoman Sultan Morād IV (r. 1623-40) and restored in 1904-1905 (Sarre and Herzfeld, II, p. 262). The village of Salmān Pāk has grown up around the tomb since the 19th century with inns for Shiʿite pilgrims.



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March 20, 2009

(Michael Morony)

Originally Published: April 20, 2009

Last Updated: April 20, 2009