The Umayyad Caliphate was one of the most powerful and expansive of the Islamic Caliphates. It was also the first of the Islamic dynasties. This meant that the leader of the Caliphate, called the Caliph, was typically the son (or other male relative) of the previous Caliph.
When did it rule?
The Umayyad Caliphate ruled the Islamic Empire from 661-750 CE. It succeeded the Rashidun Caliphate when Muawiyah I became Caliph after the First Muslim Civil War. Muawiyah I established his capital in the city of Damascus where the Umayyads would rule the Islamic Empire for nearly 100 years. The Umayyad Caliphate was brought to an end in 750 CE when the Abbasids took control.
The Umayyad Caliphate expanded the Islamic Empire into one of the largest empires in the history of the world. At its peak, the Umayyad Caliphate controlled the Middle East, parts of India, much of North Africa, and Spain. Historians estimate the Umayyad Caliphate had a population of around 62 million people, which was nearly 30% of the world's population at the time.
The Umayyads modeled their government after the Byzantines (Eastern Roman Empire) who had previously ruled much of the land conquered by the Umayyads. They divided the empire into provinces that were each ruled by a governor appointed by the Caliph. They also created government bodies called "diwans" that handled different government agencies.
The Umayyads made several important contributions to the Islamic Empire. Many of their contributions had to do with unifying the large empire and the many cultures that were now part of the empire. These included creating a common coinage, establishing Arabic as the official language throughout the empire, and standardizing weights and measures. They also built some of the most revered buildings of Islamic history including the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus.
Dome of the Rock Source: Wikimedia Commons
Fall of the Umayyads
As the empire expanded, unrest among the people and opposition to the Umayyads increased. Many Muslims felt that the Umayyads had become too secular and were not following the ways of Islam. Groups of people including the followers of Ali, non-Arab Muslims, and the Kharjites began to rebel causing turmoil in the empire. In 750, the Abbasids, a rival clan to the Umayyads, rose to power and overthrew the Umayyad Caliphate. They took control and formed the Abbasid Caliphate which would rule much of the Islamic world for the next several hundred years.
One of the Umayyad leaders, Abd al Rahman, escaped to the Iberian Peninsula (Spain) where he established his own kingdom in the city of Cordoba. There the Umayyads continued to rule portions of Spain until well into the 1400s.
Interesting Facts about the Umayyad Caliphate
Umayyad is sometimes spelled "Omayyad."
Non-Muslims had to pay a special tax. This tax offered them protection under the Caliphate. People that converted to Islam no longer had to pay the tax.
Some historians consider the Umayyad dynasty as more of a "kingdom" than a Caliphate because their rulers were hereditary rather than elected.
The Caliph Yazid (son of Muawiya I) had Hussein (the son of Ali, the famous fourth caliph) killed when Hussein refused to take an oath of loyalty to the Umayyads.
The borders of the Umayyad Caliphate spread nearly 6,000 miles from the Indus River in Asia to the Iberian Peninsula (modern day Spain).