Umayyad Caliphate

second Caliphate

The Umayyad Caliphate was the second of the four major Islamic caliphates established after the death of Muhammad.

Umayyad Caliphate
ٱلْخِلَافَة ٱلْأُمَوِيَّة
Flag of Umayyad Caliphate
The Umayyad dynastic color was white.
The Umayyad Caliphate at its greatest extent in AD 750
The Umayyad Caliphate at its greatest extent in AD 750
Capital-in-exileCórdoba (756–1031)
Common languagesClassical Arabic (official) – Coptic, Greek, Latin, Persian (official in certain regions until the reign of Abd al-Malik) – Aramaic, Armenian, Kurdish, Berber languages, African Romance, Mozarabic, Sindhi, Georgian, Prakrit
Sunni Islam
• 661–680
Muawiya I (first)
• 744–750
Marwan II (last)
• Muawiya I becomes caliph
estimated from 660 to 665
• Defeat and death of Marwan II by the Abbasids
72011,100,000 km2 (4,300,000 sq mi)
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Rashidun Caliphate
Byzantine Empire
Visigothic Kingdom
Exarchate of Africa
Kingdom of the Aurès
Kingdom of Altava
Brahman dynasty of Sindh
Hephthalite Empire
Abbasid Caliphate
Emirate of Córdoba
Kingdom of Nekor
Emirate of Tlemcen
Amir al-Mu'minin (أمير المؤمنين), caliph (خليفة)

It was the largest empire in the world at the time. It is the fifth largest empire in history.[1]

It was ruled by the Umayyad Dynasty (Arabic: بنو أمية‎, Banu Umayyah) who came from Mecca, in present-day Saudi Arabia. Damascus was the capital from 661–744, Harrran from 744–750, and in exile their capital was Córdoba (756–1031).[2]


According to tradition, the Umayyad family (also known as the Banu Abd-Shams) and the Islamic Prophet Muhammad both have a common ancestor, Abd Manaf ibn Qusai. Muhammad descended from Abd Munaf via his son Hashim, the Umayyads descended from Abd Munaf via a different son, Abd-Shams. The two families are therefore considered to be different clans (those of Hashim and of Umayya, respectively) of the same Arabian tribe (that of the Quraish).

Entry to the prayer hall of the Great Mosque of Damascus, built by caliph Al-Walid I.

The Umayyads and the Hashimites were bitter rivals. The rivalry came from the initial opposition of Abu Sufyan ibn Harb, the grandson of Umayya, to Muhammad and to Islam. He tried to get rid of the new religion by waging a series of battles. But eventually he accepted Islam, as did his son (the future caliph Muawiyah I[3]), and the two provided much-needed political and diplomatic skills for the management of the quickly expanding Islamic empire.

The expansion of the caliphate under the Umayyads.
  Expansion under the Prophet Mohammad, 622-632
  Expansion during the Patriarchal Caliphate, 632-661
  Expansion during the Umayyad Caliphate, 661-750

The origins of Umayyad rule date back to the assassination of Uthman in 656. At this time Ali, a member of the Hashim clan and a cousin of Prophet Muhammad, became the caliph. He soon met with resistance from several factions, and moved his capital from Medina to Kufa. The resulting conflict, which lasted from 656 until 661, is known as the First Fitna ("time of trial").

Ali was first opposed by an alliance led by Aisha, the widow of Muhammad, and Talhah and Al-Zubayr, two of the Companions of the Prophet. The two sides clashed at the Battle of the Camel in 656, where Ali won a decisive victory.

When Ali was assassinated in 661, Muawiyah marched to Kufa. There he persuaded a number of Ali's supporters to accept him as caliph instead of Ali's son, Hasan. Then he moved the capital of the caliphate to Damascus. Syria would remain the base of Umayyad power until the end of the dynasty.

Related pagesEdit


  1. It is the third largest contiguous empire and the third largest empire by percentage of world population (33.5%)
  2. AL-Ajmi, Abdulhadi, The Umayyads, in Muhammad in history, thought, and culture: an encyclopedia of the Prophet of God. 2 vols, edited by C. Fitzpatrick and A. Walker. Santa Barbara, ABC-CLIO, 2014. ISBN 1610691776
  3. Most historians consider Caliph Muawiyah I (661-80) to have been the second ruler of the Umayyad dynasty, as he was the first to assert the Umayyads' right to rule on a dynastic principle. Caliph Uthman (644-56) was also descended from Umayya, and during his time had been criticized for placing members of his family within political positions. But because Uthman never named an heir, he cannot be considered the founder of a dynasty.


  • Previté-Orton, C. W (1971). The Shorter Cambridge Medieval History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Further readingEdit

  • G.R. Hawting, The first dynasty of Islam: the Umayyad caliphate, AD 661-750 (London, 2000).
  • H. Kennedy, The Prophet and the age of the caliphates: the Islamic Near East from the sixth to the eleventh century (London, 1986).

Other websitesEdit