The Rasulids (Arabic: بنو رسول, romanizedBanū Rasūl) were a Sunni Muslim[1] dynasty who ruled Yemen from 1229 to 1454.

Rasulid dynasty
بنو رسول (Arabic)
Banū Rasūl
Rasulid Kingdom around 1264 AD
Rasulid Kingdom around 1264 AD
Common languagesArabic
Historical eraMiddle Ages
• Established
• Disestablished
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Ayyubid dynasty
Tahirid Sultanate
Kathiri Sultanate
Today part ofYemen



The Rasulids took their name from al-Amin's nickname "Rasul".[1] The Zaidi Shi'i Imams of Yemen were the arch rivals of the Sunni Rasulids, and Zaidi sources emphasized the dynasty's Ghuzz origin to ensure the Qahtani majority of Yemen treats them more harshly as rootless outsiders. The term Ghuzz in Arabic sources is associated with the Oghuz Turks. The Ghuzz term appeared regularly in Zaidi literature and was for pre-Ottoman era of Oghuz Turkic mamluks & Turkic state (Seljuk) who were actively expanding in Oman to the east of Yemen, later writers used this Arabic term which describes the Oghuz Turks, in the Zaidi sources, as their reference of the Turkic origin of the Rasulids.[2][3]

Some historians and genealogists that served the Rasulid dynasty claimed an Arab origin for the family and pressed a Ghassanid origin for the family, a branch of the Azd.[1] These same medieval historians and genealogists wrote that a distant ancestor of the Rasulid dynasty, who lived in the time of the Caliph Umar (r.634–644) converted to Christianity and went to live in Byzantine territory.[1] The children of his purported ancestor then migrated to the lands of the Turkomans where they settled among the highest of the Turkoman tribes, the "Mandjik".[1] According to the second edition of the Encyclopedia of Islam, it is probable that the Oghuz Turkic "Mendjik" tribe is meant.[1] In the lands of the Turkomans these children of the Rasulid ancestor "lost their Arab identity entirely and intermarried with the Turkomans and spoke their language".[1] It was only about the time of Muhammad ibn Harun himself that the family moved to Iraq and from there to Syria and, finally, to Egypt.[1] There, they were notified by the ruling Ayyubid dynasty.[1] The Encyclopedia of Islam concludes that, in all likelihood, the Rasulid dynasty was originally of Mendjik i.e. Oghuz Turkic origin.[1]

The historian Clifford Edmund Bosworth also states the Ghassanid ancestry to be concocted and their ancestors to be Oghuz Turks that had participated in the Seljuk invasion of the Middle East.[4] The Turkologist Peter B. Golden also suggests a Turkic origin:[3]

Although a suitable Arab genealogy was created for them, the Sunni Rasulid house (1228-1454) appears to have stemmed from an Oḡuz Turkic clan, the Menjik (Menčik), a personal name also found among the Mamluks.

The historian Nile Green refers to the Rasulid dynasty as being of Turkic origin as well.[5] The historian Irfan Shahid, however, rejects the Oghuz theory by explaining that they've lived amongst the Turkish tribes but were in fact, from Ghassanid Arab origin.[6]


Brazier of Sultan al-Malik al-Muzaffar Shams al-Din Yusuf ibn 'Umar, 13th century

Originally a general of the Oghuz Zengid dynasty, Saladin, a Kurd,[7] founded the Ayyubid dynasty. After the foundation of a separate dominion over Egypt, the Ayyubid army was still generally composed of Oghuz and Kipchak troops and mercenaries. After having the control over most of Levant, the Kurdish Ayyubids had held power also in most of Yemen since deposing the Zurayids 1173. The last of the line, al-Malik al-Mas'ud, left Yemen for Bilad al-Sham in 1229 and entrusted governance to an ambitious member of his own mercenary force. This was Umar bin Ali who nominally acknowledged the Ayyubids of Egypt during his first years in power. However, he proclaimed himself ruler in his own right in 1235 after receiving a diploma of recognition from the Abbasid caliph al-Mustansir I. As sultan he was called al-Malik al-Mansur I. The regime was in a certain sense a direct continuation of Ayyubid rule, with power based on the control of military forces and Abbasid approval, rather than acquiescence from the local population. The coastal capital was established in Zabid. However, al-Malik al-Muzaffar fell victim to internal intrigues in 1249 when his own guards assassinated him at the instigation of his ambitious nephew Shirkuh.

The throne was taken over by his son al-Malik al-Muzaffar Yusuf I (1249-1295), under whom the Yemeni kingdom reached its apogee. The new sultan confirmed Rasulid rule over the Tihama lowland and the southern highlands. Sanaa, one of the traditional centres of the Zaydi imams, was temporarily occupied, and the imams were defeated on several occasions. The cool mountainous city Taiz became the base of the dynasty together with Zabid.[8] After the 1258 fall of Baghdad to the Mongols, al-Malik al-Muzaffar Yusuf appropriated the title of caliph.[citation needed] Yusuf died in 1296, having reigned for 47 years.[9] When the news of his death reached the Zaydi imam Al-Mutawakkil al-Mutahhar bin Yahya, he commented:[9]

The greatest king of Yemen, the Muawiyah of the time, has died. His pens used to break our lances and swords to pieces.

State and economy

Coin of the Rasulids, Aden, Yemen, 1335.
Tray of Yemeni Sultan al-Mu'ayyad ibn Yusuf (1296-1321).[10]
Bottle Made for the Sultan al-Mu'ayyad ibn Yusuf. Detroit Institute of Arts

The Rasulid era is often considered one of the most brilliant in the history of Yemen. While the history of this region has usually been characterized by deep political and religious divisions, the extent of territory that the Rasulids ruled would not be superseded until (briefly) in the seventeenth century. The southern coast of Arabia up to Dhofar was kept under loose control. Rasulid influence stretched as far as Zafan near Salalah in Oman, where a side-branch of the family governed for a while.[11]

The Rasulid state nurtured Yemen's commercial links with India and the Far East.[12] They profited greatly by the Red Sea transit trade via Aden and Zabid.[13] The economy also boomed with the agricultural development programs instituted by the kings who promoted massive cultivation of palms.[13] The Rasulid kings enjoyed the support of the population of Tihama and southern Yemen, while they had to buy the loyalty of Yemen's restive northern highland tribes.[13]

While the Hijaz fell to the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt, the Rasulids temporarily held control over the holy city of Mecca, accordingly raising their own prestige. The Rasulid state was comparatively centralized and kept an extensive bureaucratic apparatus to oversee the collection of taxes and other needs of the state. In every larger city, two royal officials were placed called wali (or amir) and nasir (or zimam or mushidd). A considerable concern with the prosperity of the peasantry can be gleaned from the chronicles. Thus sultan al-Mujahid Ali (r. 1322–1363) based taxes on the average of production over several years, and deduced the grain to be sown as seed from the taxable produce.[14] While the state model was taken from the Ayyubid state in Egypt, the Rasulids were more oriented towards trade. The sultans drew much of their income from taxes and customs revenues from the ports.

Aden was important as a port where ships going between the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean stopped. Textiles, perfume and spices came from India, Southeast Asia and China, while slaves, ivory and pepper were brought from Africa.[15] Among the more important Yemeni items for export were horses and agricultural crops. Jewish merchants could be found in the main ports as well as Indians, Africans and Egyptians. In his travel account, Marco Polo mentions the sultan of Aden (Yemen) in the late thirteenth century: "In his kingdom there are many towns and castles, and it has the advantage of an excellent port, frequented by ships from India arriving with spices and drugs... The sultan of Aden possesses immense treasures, arising from the imposts he lays, as well upon the merchandise that comes from India, as upon that which is shipped in his port as the returning cargo".[16]

King Ahmad bin al-Ashraf of the Rusuild dynasty hosted the Walashama princes and sons of Sultan Sa'ad ad-Din II of Ifat after he was killed by the Ethiopian Empire.

Between 30 December 1418 and 27 January 1419, Ming China's treasure fleet visited Yemen under the reign of Al Malik al Nasir. The Chinese envoy, presumably Admiral Zheng He, was accompanied by the Yemeni envoy Kadi Wazif al-Abdur Rahman bin-Zumeir who escorted him to the Yemeni court. The Chinese brought gifts equivalent to 20,000 miskals, consisting of expensive perfumes, scented wood, and Chinese potteries. The Yemeni ruler sent luxury goods made from coral at the port of Ifranza, wild cattle and donkeys, domesticated lion cubs, and wild and trained leopards in exchange. The Yemeni envoy accompanied the Chinese to the port of Aden with the gifts, which maintained trade under the facade of gift exchange.[17]

Cultural achievements


Several Rasulid sultans were culturally prominent, being men of letters who wrote literature and even treatises. Thus al-Afdal Abbas (r. 1363–1377) wrote an extensive compendium with passages about matters of practical utility, intellectual interest and entertainment, Fusul majmua fi'l-anwa' wa 'l-zuru' wa 'l-hisad. His son al-Ashraf Isma'il (r. 1377–1401) authored a general history of Yemen. Most of the rulers built mosques and madrasas, embellishing Ta'izz and other cities with fine buildings. Among the most well-known monuments are Jami al-Muzaffar from the thirteenth century and Ashrafiyya from the fourteenth century, both in Ta'izz. These monuments were inspired by models from places like Egypt and Syria and broke with the older Yemeni style of architecture. Coins were struck by all the sultans in the period c. 1236–1438. There were mints in several cities and the coins were characterized by symbols for each mint: fish for Aden, bird for Zabid, sitting man for Ta'izz, and lion for al-Mahjam.[18]

Decline and fall


At length, however, they were unable to uphold the flourishing state constructed in the thirteenth century. A series of Zaidi imams managed to regain ground in the Yemeni highlands from the end of the thirteenth century, more importantly Zaidi imams managed to convert the Kurds of Dhamar (remnants of the Ayyubid military) into the Zaydi sect & pacified the Kurds of Dhamar,[19] the Rasulid sultans were unable to score a decisive military success against rebels. Zaidi forces took Sanaa in 1324. The Mamluk sultans tended to increase their influence in Hijaz and the holy cities. In 1350 the Rasulid sultan al-Mujahid Ali was captured by Egyptian Mamluks in Mecca when he went on a pilgrimage, and was held prisoner in Egypt for a year. Sultan an-Nasir Ahmad (r. 1401–1424) was able to revive the Rasulid dynasty's declining fortunes and even received gifts from distant China. After his death in 1424 the dynasty fell into a period of upheaval and weakness, aggravated by the outbreak of the plague. Merchants from the east tended to bypass Aden due to the exactions and uncertainties there, going directly to Jedda in the Hijaz which was now part of the Egyptian Mamluk sphere of power.[20] Unlike the previous pattern, when power struggles were only fought between the Rasulids themselves, various magnates interfered in the disputes during the last sultans. The most important of these magnates was the Tahir clan, which ruled Juban and al-Miqranah. A rebellion among the Rasulid's slave soldiers deprived the last claimant of any means to assert his position, after 1442.[21] Lahij fell to the Tahir clan in 1443, followed by Aden in 1454. In the same year, the last Rasulid sultan, al-Mas'ud Abu al-Qasim, gave up his throne in favour of az-Zafir Amir bin Tahir and withdrew to Mecca. The new ruling clan governed Yemen from 1454 to 1517 as the Tahirids.

List of sultans

Name Reign
Al-Mansur Umar I (ar) 1229–1249
al-Muzaffar Yusuf I (ar) 1249–1295
al-Ashraf Umar II (ar) 1295–1296
al-Mu'ayyad Da'ud 1296–1322
al-Mujahid Ali 1322–1363
al-Afdal al-Abbas 1363–1377
al-Ashraf Isma'il I 1377–1400
an-Nasir Ahmad 1400–1424
al-Mansur Abdullah 1424–1427
al-Ashraf Isma'il II 1427–1428
az-Zahir Yahya 1428–1439
al-Ashraf Isma'il III 1439–1441
al-Muzaffar Yusuf II 1441–1454
al-Afdal Muhammad 1442
an-Nasir Ahmad 1442
al-Mu'ayyad Husayn 1451–1454
al-Mas'ud Abu al-Qasim 1443–1454
Family of Rasulid dynasty
Muhammad b. Harün (Rasül)
Al-Mansur Umar (1228-1249)
Al-Muzaffar Yusuf I) (1249-1295)
Al-Ashraf Umar II (1295-1296)al-Mu?ayyad Dawid (IV) (1296-1322)
al-Mudjahid ‘Ali (1322-1363)
Al-Afdal al-Abbas (1363-1377)
al-Ashraf Isma*il [ar] (1377-1401)
al-Nasir Ahmad (1401-1424)
al-Mansür *Abd Allah (1424-1427)
al-Ashraf Isma'il (1427-1428)
al-Zahir Yahya (1428-1438)‘Umar
al-Ashraf Isma‘il (1438-1441)al-Muzaffar Yūsuf



In the 1940s, descendants of the Rasulid dynasty established an Islamic dynastic order, named the Order of the Rasulids, under the protection of the Qavloical Authority.[22]

See also



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Smith 1995, p. 455.
  2. ^ Margariti 2012, p. 24.
  3. ^ a b Golden 2009, p. ?.
  4. ^ Bosworth 1996, p. 108.
  5. ^ Green, Nile (2019). "Introduction: The Frontiers of the Persianate World (ca. 800–1900)". In Green, Nile (ed.). The Persianate World: The Frontiers of a Eurasian Lingua Franca. University of California Press. p. 27. ISBN 978-0520300927. (...) under the Turkic-origin Rasulid dynasty (...)
  6. ^ Bosworth et al. 1989, p. 332.
  7. ^ "Ayyubid dynasty | Rulers, History, Founder, & Facts". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 7 September 2021.
  8. ^ Varisco 1993, p. 16.
  9. ^ a b Abdul Ali (1996). Islamic Dynasties of the Arab East: State and Civilization During the Later Medieval Times. M.D. Publications Pvt. Ltd. p. 86. ISBN 8175330082.
  10. ^ "Ahmad ibn Husayn al-Mosuli Tray of Yemeni Sultan al-Mu'ayyad ibn Yusuf (r. 1296-1321)". The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  11. ^ Smith 1995, p. 456.
  12. ^ David J Wasserstein; Ami Ayalon (2013). Mamluks and Ottomans: Studies in Honour of Michael Winter. Routledge. p. 201. ISBN 978-1-136-57917-2.
  13. ^ a b c Alexander D. Knysh (1999). Ibn 'Arabi in the Later Islamic Tradition: The Making of a Polemical Image in Medieval Islam. SUNY Press. p. 230. ISBN 1-4384-0942-7.
  14. ^ Stookey 1978, p. 113.
  15. ^ Smith 1995, p. 457.
  16. ^ Varisco 1993, p. 13.
  17. ^ Ray 1987, p. 159.
  18. ^ Smith 1995, pp. 456–457.
  19. ^ Mahoney 2016, p. 150.
  20. ^ Holt, Lambton & Lewis 1978, p. 224-225.
  21. ^ Stookey 1978, p. 123-124.
  22. ^ "Royal House of Tahir Buruj". 17 April 2021. Retrieved 1 July 2021.


  • Ali, Abdul (1996). Islamic Dynasties of The Arab East; State and Civilization during the Later Medieval Times. M.D. Publications Pvt Ltd.
  • Biran, Michal (2012). Chinggis Khan: Selected Readings. Oneworld Book.
  • Bosworth, C.E.; Savory, Roger; Issawi, Charles; Udovitch, A.L., eds. (1989). The Islamic World: From Classical to Modern Times (Essays in Honor of Bernard Lewis). Darwin Press.
  • Bosworth, C.E. (1996). The New Islamic Dynasties. Columbia University Press.
  • Golden, Peter B. (2009). "RASULID HEXAGLOT". Encyclopaedia Iranica.
  • Holt, P.M.; Lambton, Ann K.S.; Lewis, Bernard, eds. (1978). The Cambridge History of Islam. Vol. 1A. Cambridge University Press.
  • Mahoney, Daniel (2016). "The Political Agency of Kurds as an Ethnic Group in Late Medieval South Arabia". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  • Margariti, Roxani Eleni (2012). Aden and the Indian Ocean Trade: 150 Years in the Life of a Medieval Arabian. The University of North Carolina Press.
  • Ray, Haraprasad (1987). "The Eighth Voyage of the Dragon that Never was: An Enquiry into the Causes of Cessation of Voyages during Early Ming Dynasty". China Report. 23 (2): 157–178. doi:10.1177/000944558702300202. S2CID 155029177.
  • Shahîd, Irfan (2006). Byzantium and the Arabs Late Antiquity. Vol. 3. Byzantion.
  • Smith, G. R. (1995). "Rasūlids". In Bosworth, C. E.; van Donzel, E.; Heinrichs, W. P. & Lecomte, G. (eds.). The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Volume VIII: Ned–Sam. Leiden: E. J. Brill. pp. 455–457. ISBN 978-90-04-09834-3.
  • Stookey, Robert W. (1978). Yemen: The politics of the Yemen Arab Republic. Westview Press.
  • Tezcan, Baki; Barbir, Karl K., eds. (2007). Identity and Identity Formation in the Ottoman World: A Volume of Essays in Honor of Norman Itzkowitz. Center for Turkish Studies at the University of Wisconsin.
  • Varisco, Daniel Martin (1993). "Texts and Pretexts : the Unity of the Rasulid State under al-Malik al-Muzaffar". Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée Année. 67.

Further reading

  • Kenney, Ellen. "Treasuring Yemen: Notes on Exchange and Collection in Rasūlid Material Culture" Der Islam, vol. 98, no. 1, 2021, pp. 27–68.
  • Mahoney, Daniel (2021). "Evolving Rasūlid Narratives of Opposition to Sultan al-Manṣūr Nūr al-Dīn ʿUmar (d. 647/1250) in Yemen". Der Islam. 98 (1): 153–174. doi:10.1515/islam-2021-0006. S2CID 232411940.
  • Mahoney, Daniel and Varisco, Daniel. "Introduction: Rasūlid Entanglement in the Medieval Islamic World and Beyond" Der Islam, vol. 98, no. 1, 2021, pp. 1–5.
  • Margariti, Roxani Eleni. "The Rasūlids and the Bountiful Sea: Marine Resources, State Control, and Maritime Culture in the Southern Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden (626/1229‒854/1454)" Der Islam, vol. 98, no. 1, 2021, pp. 69–99.
  • Moorthy Kloss, Magdalena. "Eunuchs at the Service of Yemen’s Rasūlid Dynasty (626‒858/1229‒1454)" Der Islam, vol. 98, no. 1, 2021, pp. 6–26.
  • Varisco, Daniel Martin. "Reading Rasūlid Maps: An Early 14th-Century Geographical Resource" Der Islam, vol. 98, no. 1, 2021, pp. 100–152.