There are in or near Bagdad a few remains of a period antedating Islam, the most conspicuous of which are the ruins of the palace of Chosroes at Ctesiphon or Madain, about 15 m. below Bagdad on the east side of the river. Almost equally conspicuous, and a landmark through the whole region, is the ruin called Akerkuf, in the desert, about 9 m. westward of Bagdad. This consists of a huge tower of unburned brick resting on a small hill of debris, the whole rising to a height of 100 ft. or more above the plain, in the centre of a network of ancient canals. Inscribed bricks found in the neighbourhood seem to connect this ruin with Kurigalzu, king of Babylon about 1300 B.C. Under substantially its present name, Akukafa, it is mentioned as a place of importance in connexion with the canals as late as the Abbasid caliphate. Within the limits of the city itself, on the west bank of the Tigris, are the remains of a quay, first observed by Sir Henry Rawlinson, at a period of low water, in 1849, built of bricks laid in bitumen, and bearing an inscription of Nebuchadrezzar, king of Babylon. Baghdadu was an ancient Babylonian city, dating back perhaps as far as 2000 B.C., the name occurring in lists in the library of Assur-bani-pal. It is also mentioned on the Michaux stone, found on the Tigris near the site of the present city, and dating from the time of Tiglath-Pileser I. (1100 B.C.) The quay of Nebuchadrezzar, mentioned above, establishes the fact that this ancient city of Baghdadu was located on the site of western or old Bagdad (see further under Caliphate: Abbasids, sections 2 foll.). References in the Jewish Talmud show that this city still continued to exist at and after the commencement of our era; but according to Arabian writers, at the time when the Arab city of Bagdad was founded by the caliph Mansur, there was nothing on that site except an old convent.

One may venture to doubt the literal accuracy of this statement. It is clear that the ancient name, at least, still held firm possession of the site and was hence inherited by the new city.

The Arab city, the old or round city of Bagdad, was founded by the caliph Mansur of the Abbasid dynasty on the west side of the Tigris just north of the Isa canal in A.D. 762. It was a mile in diameter, built in concentric circles, with the mosque and palace of the caliph in the centre, and had four gates toward the four points of the compass. It grew with great rapidity. The suburb of Rusafa, on the eastern bank, sprang up almost immediately, and after the siege and capture of the round city by Mamun, in 814, this became the most important part of the capital. The period of the greatest prosperity of Bagdad was the period from its foundation until the death of Mamun, the successor of Harun, in 833. During this period the city, including both sides of the river, was 5 m. across within the walls, and it is said to have had a population of 2,000,000 souls. In literature, art and science, it divided the supremacy of the world with Cordova; in commerce and wealth it far surpassed that city. How its splendour impressed the imagination may be seen from the stories of the Arabian Nights. It was the religious capital of all Islam, and the political capital of the greater part of it, at a time when Islam bore the same relation to civilization which Christendom does to-day. As in Spanish Islam, so in the lands of the eastern caliphate, the Jews were treated relatively with favour.

The seat of the exilarch or resh galutha was transferred from Pumbedita (Pumbeditha or Pombeditha) in Babylonia to Bagdad, which thus became the capital of oriental Judaism; from then to the present day the Jews have played no mean part in Bagdad.

Situated in a region where there is no stone, and practically no timber, Bagdad was built, like all the cities of the Babylonian plain, of brick and tiles. Its buildings depended for their effect principally on mass and gorgeous colouring. Like old Babylon, also, Bagdad was celebrated throughout the world for its brilliant-coloured textile fabrics. So famous was the silk of Bagdad, manufactured in the Attabieh quarter (named after Attab, a contemporary of the Prophet), that the place-name passed over into Spanish, Italian, French and finally into English in the form of "tabby," as the designation of a rich-coloured watered silk. Depending on coloured tiles and gorgeous fabrics for their rich effects, nothing of the buildings of the times of Harun al-Rashid or Mamun, once counted so magnificent, have come down to us. All have perished in the numerous sieges and inundations which have devastated the city.

With the rise of the Turkish body-guard under Mamun's successor, Mo‛tassim, began the downfall of the Abbasid dynasty, and with it of the Abbasid capital, Bagdad. Mo‛tassim founded Samarra, and for fifty-eight years caliph and court deserted Bagdad (see Caliphate, sect. C). Then, in A.D. 865, Mosta‛in, attempting to escape from the tyranny of the Turkish guard, fled back again to Bagdad. The attempt was futile, Bagdad was besieged and taken, and from that time until their final downfall the Abbasid caliphs were mere puppets, while the real rulers were successively the Turkish guard, the Buyids and the Seljuks. But during all this period the caliphs continued to be the religious heads of Islam and their residence its capital. Bagdad, accordingly, although fallen from its first eminence, continued to be a city of the first rank, and during most of that period still the richest and most splendid city in the world. Its religious importance is attested by the number of its great shrines dating from those times; as for its wealth and size, while, as stated above, few remains of the actual buildings of that period survive, we still have abundant records describing their character, their size and their position.

With the last century of the caliphates began a more rapid decline. From the records of that period it seems that the present city is identical in the position of its walls and the space occupied by the town proper with Bagdad at the close of the 12th century, the period when this rapid decline had already advanced so far that the western city is described by travellers as almost in ruins, and the eastern half as containing large uninhabited spaces. With the capture of the city by the Mongols, under Hulagu (Hulaku), the grandson of Jenghiz Khan, in 1258, and the extinction of the Abbasid caliphate of Bagdad, its importance as the religious centre of Islam passed away, and it ceased to be a city of the first rank, although the glamour of its former grandeur still clung to it, so that even to-day in Turkish official documents it is called the "glorious city."

The Tatars retained possession of Bagdad for a century and a half, until about A.D. 1400. Then it was taken by Timur, from whom the sultan Ahmed Ben Avis fled, and, finding refuge with the Greek emperor, contrived later to repossess himself of the city, whence he was finally expelled by Kara Yusuf of the Kara-Kuyunli ("Black Sheep") Mongols in 1417. About 1468 the descendants of the latter were driven out by Uzun Hasan or Cassim of the Ak-Kuyunli ("White Sheep") Mongols. He and his descendants reigned in Bagdad until Shah Ismail I., the founder of the Safawid royal house of Persia, made himself master of the place (c. 1502 or 1508). From that time it continued for a long period an object of contention between the Turks and the Persians. It was taken by Suleiman I. the Magnificent and retaken by Shah Abbas the Great, in 1620. Eighteen years later, in 1638, it was besieged by Sultan Murad IV., with an army of 300,000 men and, after an obstinate resistance, forced to surrender, when, in defiance of the terms of capitulation, most of the inhabitants were massacred.

Since that period it has remained nominally a part of the Turkish empire; but with the decline of Turkish power, and the general disintegration of the empire, in the first half of the 18th century, a then governor-general, Ahmed Pasha, made it an independent pashalic. Nadir Shah, the able and energetic usurper of the Persian throne, attempting to annex the province once more to Persia, besieged the city, but Ahmed defended it with such courage that the invader was compelled to raise the siege, after suffering great loss. Turkish authority over the pashalic was again restored in the first part of the 19th century.


Allen's Indian Mail (1874); J. S. Buckingham Travels in Mesopotamia (1827); Sir R. K. Porter, Travels in Georgia, Persia, Armenia and Ancient Babylonia (1821-1822); J. M. Kinneir, Geographical Memoir of the Persian Empire (1813); F. R. Chesney, Expedition (1850); J. B. L. J. Rousseau, Description du pachalik de Bagdad (1809); J. R. Wellsted, City of the Caliphs; A. N. Groves, Residence in Baghdad (1830-1832); Transactions of Bombay Geog. Soc. (1856); G. le Strange, Description of Mesopotamia and Baghdad about A.D. 900; "Greek Embassy to Baghdad in A.D. 917," in Journal Royal Asiatic Society, 1895, 1897; Baghdad under the Abbasid Caliphate (1901).

(H. C. R.; J. P. Pe.)