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Marwan ibn al-Hakam ibn Abi al-As ibn Umayya[1] (Arabic: مروان بن الحكم بن أبي العاص بن أمية‎, romanizedMarwān ibn al-Ḥakam ibn Abī al-ʿAs ibn Umayya), commonly known as Marwan I (ca. 623–626 — April/May 685) was the fourth caliph of the Umayyad Caliphate. Marwan knew Muhammad and is thus counted among the latter's ṣaḥāba (companions). He ruled for less than a year in 684–685, founding the Marwanid ruling house, which took over power from the Sufyanid branch of the Umayyad dynasty and remained in power until 750.He served as the secretary and right-hand man of his kinsman Caliph Uthman (r. 644–656) and participated in the defense of his house during a rebel siege. Uthman was killed by the rebels, prompting Marwan to kill Talha ibn Ubayd Allah, whom he held culpable, during the Battle of the Camel in 656. He subsequently gave allegiance to Caliph Ali (r. 656–661) and later served as governor of Medina under his kinsman Caliph Mu'awiya I (r. 661–680), founder of the Umayyad Caliphate.

Marwan I
مروان بن الحكم
4th Caliph of the Umayyad Caliphate
ReignJune 684 – 12 April 685
PredecessorMu'awiya II
SuccessorAbd al-Malik
Born623 or 626
DiedApril/May 685 (aged 63)
Damascus or al-Sinnabra
SpouseʿĀʾisha bint Muʿāwiya ibn al-Mughīra
Laylā bint Zabbān
Qutayya bint Bishr
Umm Abān bint ʿUthmān ibn ʿAffān
Zaynab bint ʿUmar al-Makhzumīyya
Umm Hāshim Fākhita
IssueʿAbd al-Malik
ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz
ʿUbayd Allāh
Full name
Abū ʿAbd al-Malik Marwān ibn al-Ḥakam ibn Abī al-ʿAs ibn Umayya ibn ʿAbd Shams
FatherAl-Ḥakam ibn Abī al-ʿAs
MotherĀmina bint ʿAlqama al-Kinānīyya

Following the deaths of Mu'awiya I's successors Yazid I and Mu'awiya II in 683 and 684, respectively, Marwan organized the defense of the Umayyad realm in the Hejaz against Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr, a rival claimant to the caliphate. Ibn al-Zubayr expelled Marwan and his clan from Medina, and they became refugees in Syria. As he was prepared to give allegiance to Ibn al-Zubayr, the ex-Umayyad governor of Iraq, Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad, urged him to instead volunteer his candidacy for the caliphate during a summit of loyalist tribes at Jabiya. The tribal nobility, led by Ibn Bahdal of the Banu Kalb, ultimately elected Marwan and together they defeated the pro-Zubayrid Qaysi tribes at the Battle of Marj Rahit.

In the months that followed, Marwan reasserted Umayyad rule over the pro-Zubayrid territories of Egypt, Palestine and northern Syria, while keeping the Qays in check in Upper Mesopotamia. He dispatched an expedition led by Ubayd Allah to reconquer Iraq, but died as it was on the move in the spring of 685. Prior to his death, Marwan firmly established his sons in positions of power: Abd al-Malik was designated his successor, Abd al-Aziz was made governor of Egypt and Muhammad oversaw military command in Upper Mesopotamia. Though Marwan was stigmatized as an outlaw and a father of tyrants in later anti-Umayyad tradition, historian Clifford E. Bosworth asserts that the caliph was a shrewd, capable and decisive military leader and statesman who laid the foundations of continued Umayyad rule for a further sixty-five years.


Early life and familyEdit

Marwan was born in 623 or 626 CE to father al-Hakam ibn Abi al-'As and mother Amina bint 'Alqama al-Kinaniyya.[2] His father belonged to the Banu Umayya, the strongest clan of the Quraysh, a polytheistic tribe which dominated Mecca in western Arabia.[2][3] The Quraysh converted to Islam en masse in circa 630 following the conquest of Mecca by the Muslims led by the Islamic prophet Muhammad, himself a member of the Quraysh.[4] Marwan knew Muhammad and is thus counted among the latter's ṣaḥāba (companions).[2]

Marwan had at least sixteen children, among them at least twelve sons from five wives and an umm walad (concubine).[5] From his wife A'isha, a daughter of his paternal first cousin Mu'awiya ibn al-Mughira, he had his eldest son Abd al-Malik, Mu'awiya and daughter Umm Amr.[5][6] His wife Layla bint Zabban ibn al-Asbagh of the Banu Kalb bore him Abd al-Aziz and daughter Umm Uthman, while another wife, Qutayya bint Bishr of the Banu Kilab, bore him Bishr and Abd al-Rahman, the latter of whom died young.[5][6] One of Marwan's wives, Umm Aban, was a daughter of his paternal first cousin, Uthman ibn Affan, who became caliph in 644.[5] She was mother to six of his sons, Aban, Uthman, Ubayd Allah, Ayyub, Dawud and Abd Allah, though the last of them died a child.[5][7] Marwan was also married to a woman of the Banu Makhzum, Zaynab bint Umar, who mothered his son Umar.[5][8] Marwan's umm walad was also named Zaynab and gave birth to his son Muhammad.[5] Marwan had ten brothers and was the paternal uncle of ten nephews.[9]

Secretary of UthmanEdit

During the reign of Caliph Uthman (r. 644–656), Marwan took part in a military campaign against the Byzantines in Ifriqiya (central North Africa), where he acquired significant war spoils.[2][10] These likely formed the basis of Marwan's substantial wealth, part of which he invested in properties in Medina.[2] At an undetermined point, he served as Uthman's governor in Fars before becoming the caliph's kātib (secretary or scribe) and possibly the overseer of Medina's treasury.[2][11] According to historian Clifford E. Bosworth, in this capacity Marwan "doubtless helped" in the revision "of what became the canonical text of the Qur'an" in Uthman's reign.[2] Historian Hugh N. Kennedy asserts that Marwan was the caliph's "right-hand man".[12] According to the traditional Muslim reports, many of Uthman's erstwhile backers among the Quraysh gradually withdrew their support as a result of Marwan's pervasive influence, which they blamed for the caliph's controversial decisions.[11][13][14] Donner questions the veracity of these reports, citing the unlikelihood that Uthman would be highly influenced by a younger relative such as Marwan and the rarity of specific charges against the latter, and describes them as a possible "attempt by later Islamic tradition to salvage Uthman's reputation as one of the so-called 'rightly-guided' (rāshidūn) caliphs by making Marwan ... the fall guy for the unhappy events at the end of Uthman's twelve-year reign".[11]

As discontent over Uthman's policies developed into rebellion, Marwan recommended a violent response.[15] However, Uthman publicly recanted his behavior and desisted from military action against the rebel siege of his home in Medina in June 656.[16] Despite orders to the contrary, Marwan actively defended Uthman's house and was badly wounded in the neck when he challenged the rebels assembled at its entrance.[2][11][17] According to tradition, he was saved by the intervention of his wet nurse, Fatima bint Aws, and was transported to the safety of her home by his mawlā (freedman or client), Abu Hafs al-Yamani.[17] Shortly after, Uthman was assassinated by the rebels, which became one of the major contributing factors to the First Muslim Civil War. In the ensuing hostilities between the largely Qurayshi partisans of A'isha on the one hand and Uthman's caliphal successor, Ali ibn Abi Talib, on the other, Marwan initially sided with the former.[2] He fought alongside A'isha's forces at the Battle of the Camel in December 656.[2] However, he used that occasion to kill one of A'isha's partisans, Talha ibn Ubayd Allah, whom he held responsible for Uthman's death.[2][18] After the battle ended with Ali's victory, Marwan pledged him allegiance.[2]

Governor of MedinaEdit

Ali was assassinated in 661. He was ultimately succeeded by the governor of Syria and member of the Banu Umayya, Mu'awiya I, after a brief conflict with Ali's son and successor Hasan ibn Ali. This marked the beginning of Umayyad rule over the Caliphate. For a brief period, Marwan served as Mu'awiya's governor in Bahrayn before serving two stints as governor of Medina in 661–668 and 674–677.[2] In between those two terms, Marwan's kinsmen Sa'id ibn al-As and al-Walid ibn Utba ibn Abi Sufyan, held the post.[2] At some point, Marwan acquired from Mu'awiya a large estate in the Fadak oasis in northern Arabia, which he then bestowed on his sons Abd al-Malik and Abd al-Aziz.[2] Marwan's first dismissal from the governorship was the result of his disapproval of the caliph's declaration that Ziyad ibn Abih, the governor of Iraq, was his half-brother, which many Umayyads disputed, and his refusal to assist the caliph's daughter Ramla in a domestic issue with her husband and Marwan's nephew, Amr ibn Uthman ibn Affan.[19] Indignant, Marwan headed to Damascus where he confronted Mu'awiya at his court and the two exchanged insults.[19] In 670, Marwan led Umayyad opposition to the attempted burial of Hasan ibn Ali beside the grave of Muhammad, compelling Hasan's brother, Husayn, and his clan, the Banu Hashim, to abandon their arrangement.[20] Afterward, Marwan participated in the funeral and eulogized Hasan as one "whose forbearance weighed mountains".[21]

According to Bosworth, Mu'awiya may have been suspicious of the ambitions of Marwan and his Abu'l-As line of the Banu Umayya, which was larger than the Abu Sufyan (Sufyanid) line, to which Mu'awiya belonged.[9] Marwan was among the most senior members of the Banu Umayya at a time when there were few experienced members of the Abu Sufyan family.[9] Bosworth speculates that it "may have been fears of the family of Abu'l-As that impelled Mu'awiya ... to the unusual step of naming his own son Yazid as heir to the caliphate during his own lifetime".[9] Indeed, Marwan had earlier pressed Uthman's son Amr to claim the caliphate based on the legitimacy of his father, a member of the Abu'l-As branch, but Amr was uninterested.[22] Marwan reluctantly accepted Mu'awiya's nomination of Yazid in 676, but quietly encouraged another son of Uthman, Sa'id, to contest the succession.[23] However, Sa'id's ambitions were neutralized when the caliph gave him military command over Khurasan.[24]



Marwan was elected by the Syrian tribal nobility to succeed his Umayyad kinsmen as caliph in Damascus (pictured in 1895)

When Mu'awiya died in 680, the main cities of the Hejaz (western Arabia), Mecca and Medina, refused to give allegiance to his chosen successor, Yazid.[9] Marwan, then leader of the Banu Umayya in the Hejaz,[12] advised al-Walid ibn Utba, then governor of Medina, to coerce its inhabitants to recognize Yazid's sovereignty.[9] However, Marwan and the Banu Umayya were ultimately expelled from the Hejaz.[9] Yazid later dispatched an expeditionary force led by Muslim ibn Uqba in the autumn of 683 to assert Umayyad authority over the region and many members of the Banu Umayya, including Marwan and the Abu'l-'As family, accompanied the expedition.[9] Despite its victory over the Medinians at the Battle of al-Harra, Yazid's army retreated to Syria in the wake of the caliph's death at the end of 683.[12] Afterward, the leader of the Hejazi rebellion, Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr, and his partisans seized the Banu Umayya's properties in the region.[9]

By early 684, Marwan was in Syria, either at Palmyra or in the court of Yazid's young son and successor, Mu'awiya II, in Damascus.[9] The latter died several weeks into his reign and many of the Muslim governors of Syria, including those of Palestine, Homs and Qinnasrin, subsequently gave their allegiance to Ibn al-Zubayr, who proclaimed a rival caliphate based in Mecca.[9] As a result, Marwan "despaired over any future for the Umayyads as rulers", according to Bosworth, and was prepared to recognize Ibn al-Zubayr's legitimacy.[9] However, he was encouraged by the expelled governor of Iraq, Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad, to volunteer himself as Mu'awiya II's successor during a summit of loyalist Arab tribes being held in Jabiya.[9]

The organizer of the Jabiya summit was Ibn Bahdal, the chieftain of the powerful Banu Kalb tribe and cousin of Yazid.[12] Ibn Bahdal backed Mu'awiya II's younger half-brother Khalid for the nomination,[9][12] but due to his youth and inexperience, the other loyalist chieftains opted for Marwan. Among the chieftains supporting Marwan's candidacy was a leader of the Banu Judham, Rawh ibn Zinba'.[9] A consensus was ultimately reached at Jabiya on 22 June 684 whereby Marwan would accede to the caliphate,[25] followed by Khalid and then Amr ibn Sa'id ibn al-'As, another senior member of the Banu Umayya.[9] In exchange for backing Marwan, this group of loyalist Syrian tribes, who shortly thereafter became known as the "Yaman" faction, were promised financial compensation.[12] The Yamani ashrāf (tribal nobility) demanded from Marwan the same courtly and military privileges they held under previous Umayyad caliphs.[26] Some of these ashrāf, such as Husayn ibn Numayr al-Sakuni, had attempted to reach a similar arrangement with Ibn al-Zubayr, who publicly rejected the terms.[27] In contrast, Marwan "realized the importance of the Syrian troops and adhered wholeheartedly to their demands", according to historian Mohammad Rihan.[28] In the summation of Kennedy, "Marwān had no experience or contacts in Syria; he would be entirely dependent on the ashrāf from the Yamanī tribes who had elected him."[12]

Campaigns to reassert Umayyad ruleEdit

In opposition to the Kalb, the pro-Zubayrid Qaysi tribes objected to Marwan's accession and beckoned al-Dahhak ibn Qays al-Fihri, the governor of Damascus, to mobilize for war; accordingly, al-Dahhak and the Qays set up camp in the Marj Rahit plain north of Damascus.[12] Most of the Syrian junds (military districts) backed Ibn al-Zubayr, with the exception of Jund al-Urdunn (the military district of Jordan), whose dominant tribe was the Kalb.[28] With the critical support of the latter and its allied tribes,[note 1] Marwan marched against al-Dahhak's larger army, while in Damascus itself, a Ghassanid nobleman expelled al-Dahhak's partisans and brought the city under Marwan's authority.[12] In July, Marwan's forces routed the Qays and killed al-Dahhak at the Battle of Marj Rahit.[9][12] The decisive Umayyad–Yamani victory would lead to the long-running Qays–Yaman blood feud.[12] Marwan's rise had affirmed the power of the Quda'a tribal confederation, of which the Kalb was part,[29] and after the battle, it entered into an alliance with the Qahtan confederation of Homs, forming the new super-tribe of Yaman.[30] The remnants of Qays, meanwhile, rallied around Zufar ibn al-Harith al-Kilabi, who took over al-Qarqisiya in Upper Mesopotamia, from which he led the tribal opposition to the Umayyads.[12]

Though already recognized by the loyalist tribes at Jabiya, Marwan ceremonially received oaths of allegiance as caliph in Damascus in July or August[25] and married Yazid's widow and mother of Khalid, Umm Hashim Fakhita.[9] By doing so, Marwan established an additional link with the previous rulers of the Umayyad realm, the Sufyanids.[9] Historian Julius Wellhausen viewed the marriage more as an attempt by Marwan to seize the inheritance of Yazid by becoming stepfather to his sons.[31]

Despite the victory at Marj Rahit, Marwan faced numerous challenges to his rule throughout the Umayyads' former domains;[32] with the help of Ubayd Allah and Ibn Bahdal, Marwan "set about tackling them with energy and determination", according to Kennedy.[32] He proceeded to consolidate Umayyad rule in Palestine and northern Syria, and the remainder of his reign was marked by attempts to reassert Umayyad authority.[9] By February/March 685, Marwan secured his rule in Egypt with key assistance from the Arab tribal nobility of Fustat.[32] The province's pro-Zubayrid governor, Abd al-Rahman ibn Utba al-Fihri, was expelled and replaced with Marwan's son Abd al-Aziz.[9][32] Around this time, Marwan's forces led by Amr ibn Sa'id also repelled a Zubayrid expedition against Palestine led by Mus'ab ibn al-Zubayr.[9][33] Though the sources are not clear, Marwan may have dispatched an expedition to the Hejaz which was forced to retreat east of Medina to al-Rabadha.[9] Meanwhile, Marwan had assigned his son Muhammad to check the Qaysi tribes in the middle Euphrates region.[32] By early 685, he also dispatched an army led by Ubayd Allah to conquer Iraq from the Zubayrids and other anti-Umayyad factions.[9]

Death and successionEdit

After a reign of between six and ten months, depending on the source, Marwan died in the spring of 685.[9] The precise date of his death is not clear from the medieval sources, with historians Ibn Sa'd, al-Tabari and Khalifa ibn Khayyat placing it at 11 April, al-Mas'udi at 13 April and Elijah of Nisibis at 7 May.[9] Most early Muslim sources hold that Marwan died in Damascus, while al-Mas'udi holds that he died at his winter residence in al-Sinnabra near Lake Tiberias.[9] Although it is widely reported in traditional Muslim sources that Marwan was killed in his sleep by Umm Hashim Fakhita in retaliation for a serious verbal insult to her honor by the caliph, most western historians dismiss the story.[34]

Upon Marwan's return to Syria from Egypt in 685, he designated his sons Abd al-Malik and Abd al-Aziz as his successors, in that order. He made the change after he reached al-Sinnabra and was informed that Ibn Bahdal recognized Amr ibn Sa'id ibn al-As as Marwan's successor-in-waiting.[35] He summoned and questioned Ibn Bahdal and ultimately demanded that he give allegiance to Abd al-Malik as his heir apparent.[35] By this, Marwan abrogated the arrangement reached at the Jabiya summit in 684. Abd al-Malik acceded to the caliphate in Damascus without apparent opposition from the previously designated successors, Khalid ibn Yazid and Amr.[9]


By making his family the foundation of his power, Marwan modeled his administration on that of Caliph Uthman, who extensively relied on his kinsmen, as opposed to Mu'awiya I, who largely kept them at arm's length.[32] To that end, Marwan gave his sons Muhammad and Abd al-Aziz key military commands, and ensured Abd al-Malik succeeded him as caliph.[32] Despite the tumultuous beginnings, the "Marwanids" (descendants of Marwan), were established as the ruling house of the Umayyad realm.[29][32]

In the view of Bosworth, Marwan "was obviously a military leader and statesman of great skill and decisiveness amply endowed with the qualities of ḥilm [levelheadedness] and shrewdness, which characterised other outstanding members of the Umayyad clan."[9] His rise as caliph in Syria, a largely unfamiliar territory where he lacked a power-base, laid the foundations for Abd al-Malik's reign, which consolidated Umayyad rule for a further sixty-five years.[9] In the view of historian Wilferd Madelung, Marwan's path to the caliphate was "truly high politics", the culmination of intrigues dating from his early career.[36] These included encouraging Uthman's empowerment of the Banu Umayya, becoming the "first avenger" of Uthman's assassination by murdering Talha, and privately undermining while publicly enforcing the authority of the Sufyanid caliphs of Damascus.[36]

Marwan was also known to be gruff and lacking in social graces. He apparently suffered permanent injuries after a number of battle wounds. His tall and emaciated appearance lent him the nickname khayṭ bāṭil (gossamer-like thread). In later anti-Umayyad Muslim tradition, Marwan was derided as ṭarid ibn ṭarid (outlawed son of an outlaw) in reference to his father al-Hakam's alleged exile to Ta'if by the prophet Muhammad and Marwan's expulsion from Medina by Ibn al-Zubayr. He was also referred to as abū'l-jabābira (father of tyrants) because his son and grandsons later inherited the caliphal throne.[9]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ In a poem attributed to him, Marwan thanked the following tribes for their support: the Banu Kalb, the Ghassanids, the Kindite clans of Saksak and Sakun, the Balqayn, the Tanukhids and the Banu Tayy.[28]


  1. ^ Kennedy 2016, p. i.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Bosworth 1991, p. 621.
  3. ^ Della Vida 2000, p. 838.
  4. ^ Donner 1981, p. 77.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Donner 2014, p. 110.
  6. ^ a b Ahmed 2010, p. 111.
  7. ^ Ahmed 2010, p. 114.
  8. ^ Ahmed 2010, p. 90.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae Bosworth 1991, p. 622.
  10. ^ Madelung 1997, p. 81.
  11. ^ a b c d Donner 2014, p. 106.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Kennedy 2016, p. 79.
  13. ^ Madelung 1997, p. 92.
  14. ^ Della Vida 2000, p. 947.
  15. ^ Madelung 1997, pp. 127, 135.
  16. ^ Madelung 1997, pp. 133, 135–136.
  17. ^ a b Madelung 1997, p. 137.
  18. ^ Madelung 1997, p. 171.
  19. ^ a b Madelung 1997, pp. 343–345.
  20. ^ Madelung 1997, p. 332.
  21. ^ Madelung 1997, p. 333.
  22. ^ Madelung 1997, pp. 341–342.
  23. ^ Madelung 1997, pp. 342–343.
  24. ^ Madelung 1997, p. 343.
  25. ^ a b Wellhausen 1927, p. 182.
  26. ^ Rihan 2014, p. 103.
  27. ^ Rihan 2014, pp. 103–104.
  28. ^ a b c Rihan 2014, p. 104.
  29. ^ a b Cobb 2001, p. 69.
  30. ^ Cobb 2001, pp. 69–70.
  31. ^ Madelung 1997, p. 349.
  32. ^ a b c d e f g h Kennedy 2016, p. 80.
  33. ^ Wellhausen 1927, p. 185.
  34. ^ Madelung 1997, p. 351.
  35. ^ a b Mayer 1952, p. 185.
  36. ^ a b Madelung 1997, pp. 348–349.


Marwan I
Born: ca. 623–626 Died: April/May 685
Preceded by
Mu'awiya II
Caliph of Islam
Umayyad Caliph

June 684–April/May 685
Succeeded by
'Abd al-Malik
Political offices
Preceded by
Sa'id ibn al-'As
Governor of Medina
Succeeded by
Sa'id ibn al-'As
Preceded by
Sa'id ibn al-'As
Governor of Medina
Succeeded by
Al-Walid ibn Utba ibn Abi Sufyan