Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad

ʿUbayd Allāh ibn Ziyād (Arabic: عبيد الله بن زياد, romanizedʿUbayd Allāh ibn Ziyād) was the Umayyad governor of Basra, Kufa and Khurasan during the reigns of caliphs Mu'awiya I and Yazid I, and the leading general of the Umayyad army under caliphs Marwan I and Abd al-Malik. Ubayd Allah is primarily remembered for his role in the killings of members of Ali ibn Abi Talib's family including Husayn ibn Ali, and he has become infamous in Muslim tradition.

Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad
Arab-Sasanian Dirham in the name of Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad.jpg
Silver dirham following Sassanid motives, struck in the name of Ubayd Allah
Governor of Khurasan
In office
Preceded byZiyad ibn Abihi
Succeeded bySa'id ibn Uthman
Governor of Basra
In office
Preceded byAbd Allah ibn Amr ibn Ghaylan
Succeeded byAbd al-Malik ibn Abd Allah ibn Amir
Governor of Kufa
In office
Preceded byNu'man ibn Bashir al-Ansari
Succeeded by'Amir ibn Mas'ud ibn Umayya al-Jumahi
Personal details
Died6 August 686
RelationsAbbad ibn Ziyad, Salm ibn Ziyad, Yazid ibn Ziyad, Abd al-Rahman ibn Ziyad (siblings)
Military service
AllegianceUmayyad Caliphate (673–686)

He virtually inherited the governorships from his father Ziyad ibn Abihi after the latter's death in 673. During Ubayd Allah's governorship, he suppressed Kharijite and Alid revolts. In the ensuing Battle of Karbala in 680, Husayn and his small retinue were slain by Ubayd Allah's troops, shocking many in the Muslim community. Ubayd Allah was ultimately evicted from Iraq by the Arab tribal nobility amid the revolt of Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr.

He made it to Syria where he persuaded Marwan I to seek the caliphate and helped galvanize support for the flailing Umayyads. Afterward, he fought at the Battle of Marj Rahit in 684 against pro-Zubayrid tribes and helped reconstitute the Umayyad army. With this army he struggled against rebel Qaysi tribes in the Jazira before advancing against the Alids and Zubayrids of Iraq. However, he was slain and his forces routed at the Battle of Khazir by Ibrahim ibn al-Ashtar, the commander of the pro-Alid al-Mukhtar of Kufa.


Ubayd Allah was the son of Ziyad ibn Abihi whose tribal origins were obscure; while his mother was a Persian concubine named Murjanah.[1] Ziyad served as the Umayyad governor of Iraq and the lands east of that province, collectively known as Khurasan, during the reign of Caliph Mu'awiya I (r. 661–680).[2]

Governor of Iraq and KhurasanEdit

Umayyad Caliphate coin imitating Sasanid Empire ruler Khosrau II. Coin of the time of Mu'awiya I ibn Abi Sufyan. BCRA (Basra) mint; "Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad, governor". Dated AH 56 = 675/6 CE. Sasanian style bust imitating Khosrau II right; bismillah and three pellets in margin; c/m: winged creature right / Fire altar with ribbons and attendants; star and crescent flanking flames; date to left, mint name to right.

Ubayd Allah's father prepared him to succeed him as governor, and indeed, after Ziyad's death in 672/673, Ubayd Allah became governor of Khurasan.[1] A year or two later, he was also appointed to the governorship of Basra.[1] According to historian Hugh N. Kennedy, Ubayd Allah was "more hasty and given to the use of force than his father, but a man whose devotion to the Umayyad cause could not have been doubted".[3]

In 674 he crossed the Amu Darya and defeated the forces of the ruler of Bukhara in the first known invasion of the city by Muslim Arabs.[4] From at least 674 and 675, Ubayd Allah had coins struck in his name in Khurasan and Basra, respectively.[1] They were based on Sasanian coinage and written in Pahlavi script.[1] The mints were located in Basra, Darabjird, Maysan, Narmashir, Jayy and, to a lesser extent, Kufa.[1] The latter was attached to Ubayd Allah's governorship in 679/680, giving him full control of Iraq.[1]

Suppression of the pro-Ali groupsEdit

Mu'awiya died in 680 and was succeeded by his son Yazid I. Mu'awiya's designation of his son was an unprecedented act and shocked many in the Muslim community, particularly the Arab nobility of Kufa.[5] They long sympathized with Caliph Ali, Mu'awiya's former rival, and Ali's family.[5] One of Ali's sons, Husayn dispatched his cousin Muslim ibn Aqil to Kufa to set the stage for Husayn's accession to the caliphate.[6][7] Ibn Aqil garnered significant support and was hosted by a prominent pro-Alid nobleman.[6][7] Ubayd Allah became aware of Ibn Aqil's activities, prompting the latter to launch a premature assault against the governor.[7] Ubayd Allah was holed up in his palace, but thirty men from his shurta (security forces) fended off Ibn Aqil's partisans,[8] while he persuaded many Kufan noblemen to back him against Ibn Aqil, who was abandoned by his supporters and slain on 10 September 680.[7][9]

Husayn had already been en route to Kufa from Medina when he received news of Ibn Aqil's execution.[6][7] Ubayd Allah was prepared for Husayn's arrival and sent troops to intercept him.[6] They prevented Husayn and his small retinue from reaching the watered areas of the province.[5] The two sides negotiated for weeks, but Ubayd Allah refused Husayn entry into Kufa or return to Arabia while Husayn refused to recognize Yazid's caliphate.[6] In the end, a short battle was fought at Karbala on 10 October 680, in which Husayn and nearly all of his partisans were slain.[5][6][7] Husayn had never received the expected backing of his Kufan sympathizers, but the latter's resentment festered as a result of his death.[5] The slaying of Husayn, a grandson of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, perturbed many Muslims.[5]

Role in Umayyad succession of 684Edit

The death of Yazid in 683 led to a major leadership crisis in the caliphate, and "the power of his house seemed to collapse everywhere", in the words of Orientalist Julius Wellhausen.[10] Ubayd Allah initially neglected to support Yazid's son and designated successor, Mu'awiya II and secured oaths of allegiance to himself from the Basran Arab nobility.[10] In a speech addressed to them, he emphasized his connection to Basra and promised to maintain the wealth of the city's inhabitants.[11] Nonetheless, the Basrans turned against him, forcing him to abandon his palace.[11][12] He was replaced by Abd Allah ibn al-Harith, a member of the Banu Hashim.[12] Ubayd Allah took refuge with the Azdi chieftain Mas'ud ibn Amr in late 683 or early 684.[12] He plotted to restore his governorship by encouraging Mas'ud to form an alliance of the Yamani and Rabi'a tribes against his opponents from the Banu Tamim and Ibn al-Harith.[13] Mas'ud took to the pulpit of Basra's mosque to stir up the revolt, but Tamimi tribesmen, under Ibn al-Harith's direction, stormed the building and killed Mas'ud.[13] After Mas'ud's death, Ubayd Allah fled the city practically alone in March 684, taking the Syrian desert route to Hawran or Palmyra.[11][12][14] In his rush to escape, he left his wife and family behind.[13]

When Ubayd Allah arrived in Syria, he found it in political disarray; Caliph Mu'awiya II had died weeks into his rule and a power vacuum ensued with many Syrian noblemen, particularly from the Qaysi tribes, switching allegiance to the rival, Mecca-based caliphate of Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr.[11] The latter had expelled the Umayyads from the Hejaz and among the exiles to Syria was Marwan ibn al-Hakam, an Umayyad elder.[15] Ubayd Allah persuaded Marwan, who was preparing to recognize Ibn al-Zubayr's sovereignty, to enter his candidacy as Mu'awiya II's successor.[16] The Umayyads' principal Syrian allies, the Banu Kalb, had sought to maintain Umayyad rule and nominated Mu'awiya II's half-brother Khalid as caliph.[16] However, the other pro-Umayyad Syrian tribes viewed Khalid as too young and inexperienced, and rallied around Marwan, who was ultimately chosen as caliph.[16]

Military campaigns in Syria and JaziraEdit

Ubayd Allah fought for Marwan and his tribal allies against the Qaysi tribes led by al-Dahhak ibn Qays al-Fihri, the governor of Damascus, at the Battle of Marj Rahit in August 684.[1] The Qays were routed and al-Dahhak killed. Ubayd Allah was put in command of Marwan's army which, during Marj Rahit, consisted 6,000 men from a handful of loyalist tribes.[17] According to Kennedy, Ubayd Allah "clearly intended to rebuild the Syrian army which had served Mu'awiya and Yazid I so well".[17] In the aftermath of Marj Rahit, Ubayd Allah oversaw campaigns against rebel Qaysi tribes for Marwan and his son and successor Abd al-Malik (r. 685–705) in the Jazira.[1] However, Marwan's forces were too little to assert Umayyad rule throughout the caliphate.[17] Thus, Ubayd Allah expanded recruitment to include various Qaysi tribes.[17] He placed Husayn ibn Numayr al-Sakuni of Kindah as his second-in-command, and Shurahbil ibn Dhi'l-Kila' of Himyar, Adham ibn Muhriz of Bahila, al-Rabi'a ibn Mukhariq of Banu Ghani and Jabala ibn Abd Allah of Khath'am as deputy commanders.[17] Other than Husayn ibn Numayr, all of the commanders were either Qaysi or had earlier supported al-Dahhak against Marwan.[17]

In January 685, as Ubayd Allah was in Manbij preparing for the Umayyad reconquest of Iraq, Husayn ibn Numayr defeated the pro-Alid Penitents at the Battle of Ayn al-Warda.[1][18] Ubayd Allah had been promised by Marwan the governorship over all of the lands he could conquer from the Alids and Ibn al-Zubayr, and he may have been sanctioned to plunder Kufa.[18] For the following year, Ubayd Allah was bogged down in battles with the Qaysi tribes of Jazira led by Zufar ibn al-Harith al-Kilabi.[18] By 686, Ubayd Allah's army numbered some 60,000 troops.[17]

By the time Ubayd Allah's army approached Mosul toward Iraq, the Zubayrids under Mus'ab ibn al-Zubayr had established themselves in Basra while al-Mukhtar ibn Abi Ubayd took control of Kufa in the name of the Alid Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya.[19] Al-Mukhtar dispatched Ibrahim ibn al-Ashtar and an army composed largely of non-Arab freedmen to confront Ubayd Allah.[19] The latter fended off the first wave of al-Mukhtar's troops, and proceeded to face off Ibn al-Ashtar at the Khazir River.[19] In the ensuing Battle of Khazir, the Umayyad army was routed and Ubayd Allah was slain by Ibn al-Ashtar.[19] His lieutenants Husayn, Shurahbil and al-Rabi'a were also killed.[19] With Ubayd Allah's death, Caliph Abd al-Malik halted further advances against Iraq until 691.[19]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Robinson, p. 763.
  2. ^ Hasson 2002, p. 519.
  3. ^ Kennedy 2004, p. 74.
  4. ^ Gibb 2007, pp. 17–19.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Kennedy 2004, p. 77.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Donner 2010, p. 178.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Wellhausen 1927, pp. 146–147.
  8. ^ Kennedy 2001, p. 13.
  9. ^ Crone 1980, p. 32.
  10. ^ a b Wellhausen 1927, p. 169.
  11. ^ a b c d Kennedy 2004, p. 78.
  12. ^ a b c d Madelung 1981, p. 301.
  13. ^ a b c Madelung 1981, p. 303.
  14. ^ Wellhausen 1927, p. 175.
  15. ^ Kennedy 2004, pp. 78–79.
  16. ^ a b c Kennedy 2004, p. 79.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g Kennedy 2001, p. 32.
  18. ^ a b c Wellhausen 1927, p. 185.
  19. ^ a b c d e f Kennedy 2004, p. 81.


External linksEdit

Preceded by Governor of Khurasan
Succeeded by
Preceded by Governor of Basra
Succeeded by
Abd al-Malik ibn Abd Allah ibn 'Amir
Preceded by Governor of Kufa
Succeeded by
'Amir ibn Mas'ud ibn Umayya al-Jumahi