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Umayyad Empire

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Umayyad Caliphate
بني أمية
Banii Umayyah (Arabic)





Umayyad Caliphate at its greatest extent.
Capital Damascus
Capital-in-exile Córdoba
Language(s) Arabic(official), Aramaic, Armenian, Berber languages, African Romance, Coptic, Georgian, Greek, Hebrew, Turkish, Kurdish,[1] Middle Persian, Mozarabic
Religion Sunni Islam
Government Caliphate
 - 661–680 Muawiya I
 - 744–750 Marwan II
 - Muawiya Caliph 661
 - The Abbasid defeated and killed Marwan II / Fall of the dynasty* 750
 - 750 15,000,000 km2 (5,791,532 sq mi)
 - 7th century est. 62,000,000 
Currency Umayyad Dinar
Today part of

The Umayyad Empire is the fifth largest empire in history.[2] It was ruled by the Umayyad Dynasty (Arabic: بنو أمية, Banu Umayyah). The name of this dynasty comes from Umayya ibn Abd Shams, the great-grandfather of the first Umayyad caliph. It was the first dynasty of the Muslim Caliphate. Damascus was the capital 660750.


According to tradition, the Umayyad family (also known as the Banu Abd-Shams) and the Islamic Prophet Muhammad both have a common ancestor, Abd Manaf ibn Qusai. Muhammad descended from Abd Munaf via his son Hashim, the Umayyads descended from Abd Munaf via a different son, Abd-Shams. The two families are therefore considered to be different clans (those of Hashim and of Umayya, respectively) of the same tribe (that of the Quraish).

Entry to the prayer hall of the Great Mosque of Damascus, built by caliph Al-Walid I.

The Umayyads and the Hashimites were bitter rivals. The rivalry came from the initial opposition of Abu Sufyan ibn Harb, the grandson of Umayya, to Muhammad and to Islam. He tried to get rid of the new religion by waging a series of battles. But eventually he accepted Islam, as did his son (the future caliph Muawiyah I[3]), and the two provided much-needed political and diplomatic skills for the management of the quickly expanding Islamic empire.

The expansion of the caliphate under the Umayyads.      Expansion under the Prophet Mohammad, 622-632      Expansion during the Patriarchal Caliphate, 632-661      Expansion during the Umayyad Caliphate, 661-750

The origins of Umayyad rule date back to the assassination of Uthman in 656. At this time Ali, a member of the Hashim clan and a cousin of Prophet Muhammad, became the caliph. He soon met with resistance from several factions, and moved his capital from Medina to Kufa. The resulting conflict, which lasted from 656 until 661, is known as the First Fitna ("time of trial").

Ali was first opposed by an alliance led by Aisha, the widow of Muhammad, and Talhah and Al-Zubayr, two of the Companions of the Prophet. The two sides clashed at the Battle of the Camel in 656, where Ali won a decisive victory.

When Ali was assassinated in 661, Muawiyah marched to Kufa. There he persuaded a number of Ali's supporters to accept him as caliph instead of Ali's son, Hasan. Then he moved the capital of the caliphate to Damascus. Syria would remain the base of Umayyad power until the end of the dynasty.

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  2. It is the third largest contiguous empire and the third largest empire by percentage of world population (29.5%)
  3. Most historians consider Caliph Muawiyah I (661-80) to have been the second ruler of the Umayyad dynasty, as he was the first to assert the Umayyads' right to rule on a dynastic principle. Caliph Uthman (644-56) was also descended from Umayya, and during his time had been criticized for placing members of his family within political positions. But because Uthman never named an heir, he cannot be considered the founder of a dynasty.


  • Previté-Orton, C. W (1971). The Shorter Cambridge Medieval History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Further reading

  • G.R. Hawting, The first dynasty of Islam: the Umayyad caliphate, AD 661-750 (London, 2000).
  • H. Kennedy, The Prophet and the age of the caliphates: the Islamic Near East from the sixth to the eleventh century (London, 1986).

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