Post-classical history

§ Al-Zafir as Caliph and the Coup of Ibn al-Sallar

Al-Zafir, al-Hafiz’s youngest child, took the throne after al-Hafiz. He chose as his vizier Ibn Masal,23 who was an old man of some stature. At that particular time, the amir Ibn al-Sallar24(may God have mercy upon him) was off in his province. There, he mustered troops, gathered them together and set off for Cairo, sending word ahead to his residence there.

Al-Zafir called a meeting of all his amirs in the Vizierate Assembly-Hall, sending to us the chief prefect, who said: ‘Amirs, this Ibn Masal is my vizier and my deputy. Let he who obeys me obey him also and follow his orders.’

The amirs responded: ‘We are the slaves of our lord, hearing, obeying.’ The prefect returned to the palace with this response.

At that, one of the amirs, an old man called Lakrun, said, ‘Amirs, are we to abandon Ibn al-Sallar to be murdered?’

They replied, ‘No, by God!’

‘Then get up!’ he said.

At this, they all rushed out of the palace, saddled up their horses and mules and left to give aid to Ibn al-Sallar. When al-Zafir saw that, and it became clear that he could not resist him, he gave a large sum of money to Ibn Masal, saying, ‘Go out to al-Hawf,25collect men, muster troops, distribute cash among them and repulse Ibn al-Sallar!’ And so Ibn Masal went to do just that.

[8] Meanwhile, Ibn al-Sallar arrived in Cairo and entered the Vizierate Palace. The garrison agreed to follow him and he treated them well. He ordered me and my companions to lodge in his residence, and set aside a part of it for my own private use. Ibn Masal was in al-Hawf, where he assembled a large host of Lawata,26 men from the Egyptian garrison, black troops and Bedouin. In the meantime, ‘Abbas (a stepson of Ibn al-Sallar)27went out and set up camp on the outskirts of the city. The next morning, a band of Lawata tribesmen led by a relative of Ibn Masal headed out for ‘Abbas’s camp. A portion of ‘Abbas’s Egyptian troops deserted him, but he, his bodyguard and those from the garrison who remained loyal to him stayed fighting through the night of this treacherous ruse.

News of this reached Ibn al-Sallar, who summoned me that night as I was staying with him in his residence. Those dogs’, he said (meaning the Egyptian troops), ‘kept the amir (meaning Abbas) busy with nonsense so that a group of Lawata could swim across to him. Then they deserted him, some of them even going back to their homes in Cairo, and the amir was left fighting!’

I said, ‘My lord, we will ride out against them at dawn. By the time the sun has risen, we will be done with them, if God the Exalted so wills it.’

‘Right!’ he said. ‘Start out early on your ride.’

So we set out against them early the next morning; none escaped except for those who swam across the Nile with their horses. The relative of Ibn Masal was captured and executed.

The army then joined forces with ‘Abbas, and he sent it against Ibn Masal. He met the enemy near Dalas28 and shattered them, killing Ibn Masal. Seventeen thousand black troops and others were killed. They carried the head of Ibn Masal back to Cairo. No one remained to oppose or contend with Ibn al-Sallar. Al-Zafir invested him with the robes of the vizierate and granted him the title ‘al-Malik al-’Adil’,29 and he now had full charge of affairs.

§§ Al-Zafir’s Plot against Ibn al-Sallar

[9] Mind you, as al-Zafir did this he was all the while turned against Ibn al-Sallar in loathing, secretly wishing him evil. Al-Zafir decided to murder him and so hatched a plot with a group of the caliphal bodyguard and others whom he won over with bribes, ordering that they besiege Ibn al-Sallar’s palace and kill him. It was the month of Ramadan, and the group of plotters had assembled in a house near Ibn al-Sallar’s palace, biding their time until midnight when his companions would be dispersed.

I happened to be with him that night.30 One of the conspirators had informed Ibn al-Sallar of the plot, so after his guests had finished with dinner and had gone, he summoned two of his attendants and ordered them to attack the house in which the conspirators were assembled. This house, since God desired some to be spared, had two doors: one close to the palace of Ibn al-Sallar, the other further away. The first group of Ibn al-Sallar’s men attacked the nearer door before their companions had reached the other door, so the conspirators fled, escaping through that door. Of these, about ten of the caliphal bodyguard who were friends of my attendants came to me that night and we hid them. The town awoke the next morning in the midst of a search for those who had fled; whoever was caught was killed.

§§ Aftermath: Two Examples of Fate’s Inscrutability

One amazing thing that I saw that day was a man from the cohort of black troops involved in the conspiracy who fled to the roof of my house, with men wielding swords right behind him. He looked down into the courtyard from that great height. In the yard there was a tall lote tree.31 So he jumped from the roof onto that tree, steadied himself on it, then climbed down and went via a passageway into a nearby sitting-room where he knocked over a brass candle-holder and broke it, then went on further to a spot behind a load of baggage that was in the sitting-room and hid himself there. The men pursuing him were looking down from above, so I yelled at them and sent up [10] my attendants to confront them and they drove them away. I then went inside to see the black soldier.

He threw off a cloak he had with him, saying, ‘Take it. It’s yours.’

To this I replied, ‘May God increase your bounty: I have no need of it.’ And so I sent him out, accompanied by a group of my attendants, and he was saved.

I sat down on a stone bench in the vestibule of my house, when a young man entered, greeted me and sat down. I found him to be well spoken and a charming conversationalist. But as he was conversing, a man came calling for him and so he went away with him. I therefore sent an attendant of mine after him to find out why he was called away (I was then living near the palace of Ibn al-Sallar). The moment that young man presented himself before Ibn al-Sallar, the latter ordered his head to be cut off, and so he was killed. My attendant came back. He had inquired into the young man’s crime and he was told that he used to issue forged documents. Glory be to He who determines the length of our days and fixes the moment of our death! During this period of strife, a number of Egyptian and black troops were killed.

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