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BAGHDAD , capital city of *Iraq. Baghdad was the capital of the *Abbasid dynasty from its foundation in 762. From then a Jewish community existed there which eventually became the largest Jewish community of Iraq, and the seat of the exilarch. During the gaonic period the Jews lived in a special quarter, Dār al-Yahūd (Jewish Quarter). The bridge in the western section of the town, which led to the Karkh quarter, was named Qanṭarat al-Yahūd (Bridge of the Jews). A tomb situated in this quarter was until recently the site of prayer gatherings. The local Jews believed it to be the tomb of Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. By the end of the ninth century the famous yeshivot of Sura and Pumbedita were established in Baghdad. The Karaites also played an important part in the life of the city.

Early and Early Modern History

During the tenth century there were two distinguished Jewish families in Baghdad, *Netira and Aaron. They were both influential in the royal court and they showed concern for the welfare of the community. At the end of the tenth century R. Isaac b. Moses ibn Sakrī of Spain was the rosh yeshivah. He had traveled to Iraq and "had been ordained as Gaon in order to fill the position of Rav Hai, of saintly memory." During the 12th century, but beginning with the reign of Caliph al-Muktafī (902–908), the situation of the Jews in Baghdad greatly improved. A short while before 1170 *Benjamin of Tudela, the traveler, found approximately 40,000 Jews living peacefully in Baghdad, among them scholars and exceedingly wealthy people. He noted that there were 28 synagogues and ten yeshivot. During the reigns of Caliph al-Muktafī and his successors, the rights and the authority of the exilarch were increased and with it the prestige of the Baghdad community also grew. In that period the exilarch *Daniel b. Ḥasdai was referred to by the Arabs as "Our lord, the son of David." The Baghdad community reached the height of its prosperity during the term of office of rosh yeshivah*Samuel b. Ali ha-Levi (c. 1164–94), an opponent of *Maimonides, who raised Torah study in Baghdad to a high level.

During the late 12th century through the middle 13th century, some prominent poets, as well as the great scholars and the rashei yeshivot appointed by the caliphs, lived in Baghdad. The most important were R. Eleazar b. Jacob ha-Bavli and R. Isaac b. Israel, whom Judah *Al-Ḥarizi, the poet and traveler, referred to as the greatest Iraqi poet. Isaac b. Israel headed the Baghdad yeshivah from 1221 to 1247. There were many physicians, perfumers, shopkeepers, goldsmiths, and moneychangers among the Jews of Baghdad; however, Judah Al-Ḥarizi considered this period as one of decline in view of the past importance of the community.

In 1258 Baghdad was conquered by the *Mongols and the Jews were not maltreated, as was the case with the Muslims. Arghūn Khān (1284–91) appointed the Jew *Saʿd al-Dawla, who had previously been the sultan's physician, director of financial administration of Iraq. During the few years he held office, Saʿd al-Dawla developed the economic importance of Baghdad and as a result of this he was appointed chief vizier of the Mongol Empire in 1289. After the death of Arghūn, Saʿd al-Dawla was executed on the pretext that he had not given the khān the appropriate medical care. After their final conversion to Islam in the early 14th century, the Īl-Khānids reinstated decrees which they formerly had abolished, concerning the discriminatory dress of the Jews and Christians and the special taxes which applied to all "unbelievers" under Muslim rule. When Baghdad was conquered for a second time in 1393 by Tamerlane, many Jews fled to Kurdistan and Syria, leaving almost no Jews in Baghdad until the end of the 15th century.

During the struggle between the Ottomans and the Persian kings of the Safavid dynasty for the domination of Iraq, the political situation of the Jews of Baghdad underwent many changes. Generally, the Jews were oppressed by the Persians, who were fanatical Shiʿites and haters of non-Muslims; on the other hand they enjoyed fair treatment under the *Ottomans. The conquest of Baghdad in 1514 by Shah Ismāʿīl i did not worsen the situation of the Jews, but with the beginning of the reign of his son Ṭahmāsp i (1524–76), they suffered greatly from the hostile attitude of the Persian authorities. During the first part of the Ottoman rule, which lasted from 1534 to 1623, there was again an improvement in the situation for the Jews. Their economic position improved; their trade with foreign countries increased; and there were several wealthy merchants among them. In the early 17th century Pedro *Teixeria, the Portuguese Marrano explorer, found 25,000 houses in Baghdad, of which 250 belonged to Jews. In 1623 the Persians again conquered Baghdad, and during their rule, which lasted until 1638, there was a new deterioration in the situation of the Jews. Because of this, they gave their support to Sultan Murād iv, who conquered Baghdad in 1638. The day of the conquest, Tevet 16, 5399, was fixed as a yom nes (day of miracle). Additional evidence of the sympathy of the Jews toward the Ottomans is the custom fixing 11 Av, 5493 (1733), the day that the Persians were defeated trying to reoccupy Baghdad, as a yom nes. Carsten Niebuhr, a Danish traveler and scholar who visited Iraq some 30 years later, relates that there was a large Jewish community in Baghdad and that its influence was felt in the economic life of the city.

During the second half of the 18th century and the early 19th century Ottoman rule deteriorated in efficiency and the attitude of the government toward the Jews became harsh. Even so, some Jewish bankers were involved in the affairs of the governing circles, especially in the attempted rebellion of the governors.

During the reign of Sultan Mahmud ii, the banker Ezekiel *Gabbai supported the removal of the governor of Baghdad, who had rebelled against the sultan in 1811. The last Mamluk governor, Dāʿūd Pasha (1817–31), who had also tried to rebel against the sultan, oppressed the Jews of Baghdad, and many of the wealthier ones fled to Persia, India, and other countries. Among them was David S. *Sassoon, a member of the distinguished Baghdad family.

The number of Jews at that time was still considerable. R. *David D'Beth Hillel, who visited the city in 1828, found 6,000 Jewish families there led by a pasha, also known as "king of the Jews," who was also responsible for the judicial affairs of the community. The English traveler Wellsted, who visited Baghdad in 1831, praised the remarkable moral conduct of the Jews, which he attributed to their religious upbringing. Wellsted made special note of the feeling of mutual responsibility among the Jews of Baghdad. According to him, there were no poor among them because anyone who lost his means of livelihood was assisted by his companions. R. Jehiel Kestelmann, an emissary from Safed, claims to have found 20,000 Jews in Baghdad in 1860. With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and the improvement of the city's economic situation, the economic status of the Jews also improved. Many Jews from other localities settled in the city. According to the traveler Ephraim *Neumark, the Baghdad community numbered 30,000 in 1884; 50,000 in the early 20th century; and 100,000 in the 1930s.

Community Leaders

In the 18th and 19th centuries important changes in cultural and religious life occurred, because of the activities of outstanding rabbis in the community. A notable improvement took place with the arrival of R. Ẓedakah *Ḥozin from Aleppo in 1743. Ḥozin improved the educational system of the city and Jewish religious education improved. During the 18th century Palestinian emissaries visited the Baghdad community, strengthening its ties with the Palestinian population and reinforcing religious values within the community. Besides collecting funds for the communities of Jerusalem, Safed, and Hebron, these emissaries also delivered sermons and resolved halakhic problems. The most prominent of Baghdad's rabbis during the 19th century was R. ʿAbdallah *Somekh, who is considered the greatest Iraqi rabbi of the last generations. In 1840 he founded a rabbinical college, Beit Zilkha, whose graduates filled rabbinical positions in many different localities. Among the Jews of Baghdad in the 19th century were still some writers of piyyutim, such as R. Sasson b. Israel (1820–1885). In the same century there were wealthy philanthropists who contributed generously to the community projects, especially to educational and religious institutions. The most prominent of them were Jacob Ẓemaḥ (d. 1847), Ezekiel b. Reuben Manasseh (d. 1851), Joseph Gurji (d. 1894), Eliezer Kadoorie (1867–1944), and Menaḥem *Daniel (1846–1940).

Until 1849 the community of Baghdad was led by a nasi, who was appointed by the vilayet governor, and who also acted as his banker (ṣarrāf bāshī). The first of these leaders claimed to be descendants of the house of David and their positions were inherited by members of their families. Later, however, the position was purchased. The most renowned of these leaders were Sassoon b. R. Ẓalaḥ (1781–1817), the father of the *Sassoon family, and Ezra b. Joseph Gabbai (1817–24). From 1849 the community was led by the ḥakham bashi who represented the Jews to the Turkish authorities. The first one was R. Raphael Kaẓin. The nasi, and later the ḥakham bashi, were assisted by a council of 10 and later 12 delegates, which included three rabbis and nine laymen drawn from the wealthier members of the community. The council collected the taxes and dealt with community affairs. The collection of the ʿaskarlī ("military service ransom tax"), which replaced the jizya (poll tax), was sometimes the cause of violent conflicts within the community.

World War i and After

Until the British conquest of Baghdad in March 1917, the Jews were oppressed by the vilayet governor and the police commissioner, who attempted to extort money from them and to recruit their youth for the Turkish army. Hundreds of young men were recruited and the majority were sent to the Caucasus where many died of starvation and cold. Wealthy Jews were tortured and killed after being accused of devaluating the Turkish pound. The Jews naturally rejoiced when the British occupied Baghdad. The day of their entry was fixed as a yom nes (17 Adar, 5677, or February 3, 1917). From the conquest until 1929, the Jews of Baghdad enjoyed complete freedom. Many of them were employed in the civil service, while others were even appointed to important government positions. Zionist activities also prospered for some time. However, in 1929, when the British decided to grant independence to Iraq, many Jewish officials were dismissed from government services, Zionist activity was prohibited, and, in general, there was an increase of antisemitism. This was especially so after Dr. A. Grobbe, the German ambassador in Baghdad, began to propagandize in 1932.

In 1934 there were large-scale dismissals of Jewish civil servants, and from 1936 murders of Jews and bombing of their institutions were added to even more dismissals. These attacks reached a climax on Shavuot 5701 (June 1–2, 1941) with Rashīd ʿĀlī's pro-Axis revolution against the British. During those two days savage mobs massacred Jews and looted their property with the passive support of army and police officers. Neither the regent ʿAbd al-Ilāh, who had arrived in the city before the beginning of the riots, nor the British troops, who were stationed outside the city, made any effort to intervene. According to various sources 120 to 180 Jews, including women, elderly people, and children, were killed and 800 injured during some 30 hours. This was accompanied by cases of rape and abduction of women. The value of the looted property was estimated at 1,000,000 dinars (or 1,000,000 pounds sterling – then 4,000,000 dollars). Thousands of Jews left the city, most of them for India and Palestine. However, many of them returned before the end of the year after failing to integrate themselves in these countries and having heard that the situation in Baghdad had improved. A period of prosperity ensued and continued until 1945; even though the decrees concerning their employment in government service and their admission to public schools had not been repealed, the Jews lived in Baghdad at ease and without fear.

After 1945 there were frequent demonstrations against the Jews and especially against Zionism. With the proclamation of the partition of Palestine, November 1947, even greater danger threatened the Jews of Baghdad. There was fear of a massacre, and the Jewish underground defense, organized with help of Palestinian Jews, was in a state of preparedness; the catastrophe was averted when martial law was proclaimed by the government. Nonetheless, many Jews were brought before military courts and fines were levied on the majority of them.

Immediately after the establishment of the State of Israel, hundreds of Baghdadi Jews were arrested. Many of the detainees were accused of communist or Zionist activities. A few hundred Jewish youth had joined these clandestine movements, especially after 1948. Two communist and two Zionist leaders were hanged publicly in Baghdad. During the government of ʿAbd Al-Karīm Qassem (July 1958–February 1963) the attitude toward the Jews was more favorable. Even so, there were severe periodical restrictions on departure from Iraq, property confiscation, and a strengthening of economic pressure on the community.

Fourteen Iraqis, including nine Jews, were hanged publicly in Baghdad on January 27, 1969, after being convicted on charges of spying for Israel. Two other Jews were hanged in August of the same year. In April 1973 the total number of the innocent Jews who were hanged, murdered, or kidnapped and disappeared reached 46; dozens more were detained.

There were 77,000 Jews in Baghdad in 1947. After the mass exodus to Israel in 1950–51, approximately 6,000 Jews were left. Subsequently, Jews continued to leave Baghdad, so that only about 3,000 remained in 1963 when Qassem was toppled by ʿAbd al-Salām ʿĀrif. This figure remained nearly the same until 1971, when the Jews began to escape from the country to Iran via Kurdistan and the authorities began to issue passports to Iraqi Jews. From this point on, the number of Jews dropped steadily to be about 350 in 1975. In 2005 there were only a few Jews still living in Baghdad.

[Abraham Ben-Yaacob /

Nissim Kazzaz (2nd ed.)]

Institutions and Community Life – 1917–1970

During the British administration and after World War ii, the number of Jewish educational institutions, especially the secondary ones, increased. In spite of the restrictions on the number of Jews admitted to government secondary schools, their number in these institutions was higher in 1950 than in 1920; but, because of lack of data, only the number in Jewish educational institutions will be mentioned. In 1920 there were some 6,000 Jewish youngsters in Jewish educational institutions: 2,500 in talmud torahs, 3,350 in kindergartens and elementary schools, and 150 in secondary schools; for 1950, the total was 13,476 pupils, of which 1,800 were in the talmud torahs, 8,970 in kindergartens and elementary schools, and 2,626 in secondary schools.

During this period there were also important social changes within the Baghdad community. The majority of women removed the gown (Arabic, ʿabaʾ) and the veil (Persian, pūshī), which they formerly wore in the street. The number of girls engaged in teaching and in clerical work increased and some of them received a university education. There was also a change in the occupations of the Jews. Whereas in 1920 they were engaged in trade, banking, labor, and public services, in 1950 thousands earned their livelihood by clerical work or in the professions such as law. Immediately after the British conquest, the Jews began to leave their quarter to settle in all parts of the city. In the 1930s the Battāwīn and Karrāda quarters were established and inhabited by the wealthy. The attitude toward religion also underwent a change. During the first years after the British conquest there were only a few Jews who profaned the Sabbath or ate non-kosher food, whereas at the end of this period the number of Sabbath observers decreased.

From the end of the Ottoman period until 1931 the Jews of Baghdad had a "General Council" of 80 members, which included 20 rabbis and was led by the chief rabbi. The General Council elected a council for religious matters and a council for material welfare. The former dealt with ritual slaughter, burials, and the rabbinical courts, while the latter was responsible for the schools, hospitals, and charitable trusts. In 1926, however, a group of intellectuals gained the upper hand in the latter council and attempted to remove the chief rabbi, Ezra *Dangoor. After a stormy period, in 1931, the community passed the "Law of the Jewish Community." It deprived the rabbis of the community's leadership and made it possible for a nonreligious person to assume leadership. In spite of this in February 1933 R. Sasson *Kadoorie was elected chairman of the community. His position was, however, a secular one, while a rabbi without any community authority was elected to the position of chief rabbi. Just before the mass emigration of 1951, there were about 20 Jewish educational institutions in Baghdad; 16 were under supervision of the community committee, the rest were privately run. In 1950 about 12,000 pupils attended these institutions while many others attended government and foreign schools; approximately another 400 students were enrolled in Baghdad colleges of medicine, law, economy, pharmacy, and engineering. All but two of the Jewish educational institutions closed in 1952. These two had approximately 900 pupils in 1960, while about 50 Jewish pupils attended government schools. The Baghdad community also had a school for the blind, founded in 1930, which was the only one of its kind in Iraq. It closed in 1951.

YearTalmud TorahKindergartens and Elementary SchoolsSecondary SchoolsTotal

The Jews of Baghdad had two hospitals; one, a general hospital named for Meir Elias, founded in 1910, and the second, an eye hospital named for Rima Kadoorie, founded in 1924. At both these hospitals, Jews received treatment, and operations were performed for the needy for little or no payment. Every school in town had a clinic. The community also had several philanthropic societies to provide dowries for girls without means, help to mothers, maintenance of yeshivah students, and for the vocational training of poor children. All these institutions, including the hospitals, eventually closed. Afterward, the community committee arranged for the sick to be admitted to various hospitals in the town.

Only seven synagogues remained in 1960 of the 60 synagogues of Baghdad in 1950. The community committee had subcommittees for religious affairs and administration. These two subcommittees were elected by the general committee, elected in turn by men of the community every four years. In November 1949, Sasson Kadoorie was forced to resign, when local Jewry blamed him for not acting to free the numerous young Jews arrested on charges of Zionism. He was replaced by Ezekiel Shemtob, who served until 1953, when Kadoorie again became president of the community. Kadoorie still presided in 1970. In accordance with an Iraqi law of 1954, a council elected every two years and supervised by the Ministry of Justice worked with the president. The subcommittees were abolished and a government law in December 1951 also abolished the rabbinical court in Baghdad.

[Hayyim J. Cohen]

Hebrew Printing

The first Hebrew (lithographic) printing press in Baghdad was founded by Moses Baruch Mizraḥi in 1863. The press printed a Hebrew newspaper named Ha-Dover (The Speaker) or Dover Mesharin (Upright Speaker) until 1870 and three small books. A second printing press with movable characters was founded in Baghdad in 1868 by Raḥamim b. Reuben, a resident of Baghdad, who had previously gained printing experience in Bombay. The brothers Moses and Aaron Fetaya later formed a partnership with Raḥamim, and after his death they continued his work until 1882. Fifty-five books were printed on this printing press.

In 1888 a new press was founded in Baghdad by Solomon Bekhor Ḥutz (1843–1892), a scholar, poet, author, journalist, bookseller, and communal worker. He brought his printing letters from Leghorn, Italy. Besides prayer books, he also printed many books which he considered useful to the members of his community. These included tales and works by Baghdad scholars which had been in manuscript until then. After his death, the printing press was taken over by his son, Joshua Ḥutz, and operated until 1913. Seventy-five books were printed on it.

In 1904 a new press was founded in Baghdad by R. Ezra Reuben Dangoor (1848–1930), who was also ḥakham bashi of Baghdad. This printing press was in existence until 1921 and over 100 books were printed on it. For the greater part they were books of prayers and piyyutim according to the custom of the Baghdad Jews, but there were also some popular books in the Judeo-Arabic jargon and a Hebrew weekly, Yeshu run, of which five issues were published in 1920. This was a second and last attempt at Hebrew journalism in Baghdad. During the British Mandate in Iraq, two small Hebrew printing presses were founded in Baghdad: the al-Waṭaniyya al-Isrāʾīliyya (The Israel Homeland) press, which printed about 20 books between 1922 and 1927; and the Elisha Shoḥet press, which printed more than 40 books between 1924 and 1937. When the British Mandate ended, these printing presses declined and finally ceased operation altogether.

[Avraham Yaari]


Ben-Jacob, in: Zion, 15 (1951), 56–69; idem, Toledot ha-Rav ʿAbdalla Somekh (1949); idem, in: Hed ha-Mizraḥ, 2 (1943/44), no. 8, 13–14; idem, in: Sinai, 54 (1964), 95–101; idem, Yehudei Bavel (1965); A.S. Yahuda, Bagdadische Sprichwoerter (1906); S. Poznański, Babylonische Geonim… (1914); J. Obermeyer, Die Landschaft Babylonien (1929); D.S. Sassoon, A History of the Jews in Baghdad (1949); Yaari, Sheluḥei, index; Cohen, in: Middle Eastern Studies (Oct. 1966), 2–17; H.Y. Cohen, Ha-Peʿilut ha-Ẓiyyonit be-Irak (1969).

hebrew printing:

A. Yaari, Ha-Defus ha-Ivri be-Arẓot ha-Mizraḥ, 2 (1940), 100–59; idem, in: ks, 24 (1947/48), 71–72; A. Ben-Jacob, ibid., 22 (1945/46), 82–83. add. bibliography: G. Bekhor, Fascinating Life and Sensational Death (1990); H.J. Cohen, Ha-Yehudim be-Arẓot ha-Mizraḥ ha-Tikhon be-Yamenu (1973); M. Gat, Kehillah Yehudit be-Mashber (1989); N. Kazzaz, Yehudei Irak ba-Me'ah ha-Esrim (1991); idem, Sofa shel Golah (2002); E. Kedourie, "The Jews of Baghdad In 1910," in: Middle Eastern Studies, 3 (1970), 355–61; E. Meir, Ha-Tenuʿah ha-Ẓiyyonit ve-Yehudei Irak (1994); idem, Me-Ever la-Midbar (1973); idem, Hitpatḥut Ivrit Tarbutit shel Yehudei Irak (1989); M. Sawdayee, All Waiting To Be Hanged (1974); A. Shiblak, The Lure of Zion (1986); N. Stillman, The Jews of Arab Lands in Modern Times (1991); S.G. Haim, "Aspects of Jewish Life In Baghdad under the Monarchy," in: Middle Eastern Studies, 12, (1976), 188–208; A. Twena, Golim ve-Ge'ulim, 5 (1975), 6 (1977), 7 (1979); I. Bar-Moshe, Yawmān fī Ḥazirān (2004); S. Somekh, Bagdad Etmol (2004); N. Rejwan, The Last Jews in Bagdad: Remembering A Lost Homeland (2004).


views updated May 08 2018


The largest city and capital of Iraq.

Baghdad is the largest city in Iraq and is situated on both sides of the Tigris River at a point 40 miles from the Euphrates River. The city is approximately 300 miles from the northern, southern, and western borders of the country. It has a temperature range of 29°F (-1.6°C) to 31°F (-0.5°C) in the winter and 114°F (45.5°C) to 121°F (49°C) in the summer. The name and the site of Baghdad are pre-Islamic. The etymology of the name is not clear. It is not of Arabic origin; it may be a combination of two Persian words, bad and dad, which together mean gift of God. Others suggest that the name existed before the time of Hammurabi as the name Baghdadu. Records of Baghdad's early history before Islam are sketchy. There are some indications that in the late period of the Sassanids and at the time of the Islamic conquest of Iraq, Baghdad was a small village next to major cities such as Ctesiphone of Sassanide.

Early History

Baghdad was founded on the west bank of the Tigris by al-Mansur, the second caliph of the Abbasid Empire, in 762 c.e. It was to be the administrative capital of the new empire. The construction of Baghdad was completed in 766 c.e. It cost more than 883,000 dirhams to build, and employed more that 100,000 architects, craftsmen, and workers drawn from all over the Muslim world. It was built in a circular form, in the Parthian Sassanid tradition. It had three concentric walls with four gates opening toward Basra, Syria, Kufah, and Khorasan. It was surrounded by a deep moat and had four highways radiating out from the four gates. Unlike the Greek, Roman, and Sassanid emperors, who named cities after themselves, al-Mansur chose the name Dar alSalam, abode of peace, a name alluding to paradise. Furthermore, he did not object to the use of the ancient city name of Baghdad. The city later gained many more appellations, including al-Mudawara, meaning round city, because of its circular form, and al-Zawarh, meaning the winding city, because of its location on the winding banks of the Tigris.

The site for the city was chosen because of its strategic location in the middle of Mesopotamia. It was a meeting place for caravan routes on the road to Khorasan. It had a system of canals that provided water for cultivation and could be used as ramparts for the city. It also had an adequate water supply for the people of the city and provided an environment more or less free of malaria. The city was first built as an administrative center, but it grew into a veritable cosmopolis of the medieval world. It became a conglomerate of districts on both banks of the Tigris that gained fame and importance socially, economically, and culturally. Baghdad reached its Golden Age during the fourth and sixth reigns of Harun al-Rashid (786809 c.e.) and his son alMaʾmun (813833 c.e.). In the ninth century, Baghdad, with a population of 300,000 to 500,000, was larger than any other Middle East city except Istanbul. The population included Arabs and non-Arabs, Muslims and non-Muslims who had come to Baghdad to work, to trade, and to study. Baghdad became an international trade center for textiles, leather, paper, and other goods from areas that ranged from the Baltic to China. Baghdad also became a center for scientific and intellectual achievements. The famous Bayt al-Hikma Academy, established in 830 c.e., had facilities for the translation of scientific and philosophical works from Greek, Aramaic, and Persian into Arabic.

Baghdad lost its splendor with the decline of the Abbassid Caliphate due to religious, ethnic, and regional strife. In 1258 c.e. Hülegü Khan, the grandson of Chinggiz Khan (Jengis Khan), sacked Baghdad. He burned the schools and the libraries, destroyed the mosques and the palaces, and ruined the elaborate system of canals that made it possible to support agricultural production for a large population. The fall of Baghdad at the hands of Hülegü, and the subsequent destruction of Baghdad by Timur Lenk (Tamarlane) in 1401, were turning points in the history of the city, and the city never recovered. Successive Persian and Turkish dynasties controlled Baghdad. It was captured by Shah Ismaʿil of Persia in 1501 and later by the Ottomans under Süleiman the Magnificent in 1556. The city remained under Ottoman rule until the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, except for a short period of Persian Safavid control in the seventeenth century (16231638). During the Ottoman's period, Baghdad lost its importance as a center for trade and learning. The heart of Islam had shifted to Istanbul, and Baghdad sank to the level of a decaying provincial town with doubtful authority, even over the neighboring country districts. Furthermore, a succession of plagues, famines, floods, and other disasters besieged Baghdad, destroying thousands of houses and killing thousands of people. The population was reduced, according to one report in the sixteenth century, to less than 50,000 people.

In the nineteenth century, Baghdad began to receive some attention from both the Ottoman rulers and Western powers. Two Ottoman governors, Daʾud Paşa (18161832) and Midhat Pasşa (18691872), made some serious attempts to improve the conditions of the city. Daʾud tried to control the tribes and to restore order and security. He cleaned up the irrigation canals, established textile and arms factories, and encouraged local industries. He built three large mosques and founded madrasas (schools). He organized an army of 20,000 soldiers and had them trained by a French officer. Midhat Pasha laid telegraph lines, built a horse tramway to Kasimayn, and built several schools. He introduced a Turkish steamboat line between Baghdad and Basra. Western powers, particularly Britain, showed some interest in Baghdad for commercial reasons and as a land route to India. Britain established a consulate in Baghdad in 1802, and France followed soon after. Western countries introduced steam navigation on the Tigris in 1836 and telegraph lines in 1860s.

Twentieth Century

Late in the nineteenth century, Baghdad was chosen to be the terminal railroad station for the line that ran between Istanbul and Baghdad (later extended to Basra). In 1917 Baghdad was occupied by the British. In 1921 Baghdad became the capital of the new country of Iraq. Since 1921, Baghdad has grown by leaps and bounds both in size and in population. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Baghdad covered an area of less than 4 square miles that was surrounded by dikes in several directions to protect it from the unpredictable flooding of the Tigris. These dikes limited Baghdad's outward expansion, but thanks to flood-control projects in the 1950s, Baghdad's area increased from less than 30 square miles in 1950 to 312 square miles in 1965, and from 375 square miles in 1977 to more than 780 square miles in 1990. Modern Baghdad incorporates many of the surrounding areas and numerous suburbs.

The city's population increased from 200,000 in 1921 to 515,000, in 1947 and from 1,490,000 in 1965 to about five million in 1990. The huge increase was due in part to natural increases in population, but also to the large number of immigrants, particularly those from southern Iraq who had been driven north by the desperate economic conditions present in the south and by the lure of better employment opportunities. Baghdad was the headquarters of most government agencies, the center for most industrial establishments and economic activities, and the home to major educational facilities. It was also a center for health and social services, as well as a major site for recreational activities. The IranIraq War (19801982) and the Gulf War of 1991 contributed to Baghdad's population as thousands of people fled the war zone searching for safety. Many of the early southern immigrants lived in temporary sharaif (mud houses) on the northern edge of the city.

In the early 1960s the regime of Abd al-Karim Qasim built numerous housing projects to improve the living conditions of these immigrants. Also, the area was renamed al-Thawra (Revolution) City, commemorating the revolution of 1958. This, in turn, attracted more immigrants. By the early twenty-first century, the city was home to more than one-third of Baghdad's population and was informally known as Saddam City.

In 1980 the Iraqi government spent more than $7 billion to give Baghdad a facelift in preparation for hosting the Non-Aligned conference in 1982. The conference did not convene in Baghdad due to the IranIraq War. The government constructed new freeways and wider streets across the city, opened several five-star hotels and a plethora of modern shopping centers and high rises, and built several new bridges. The government adorned the city with historical and modern monuments, as well as pictures and posters of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. Names of some of the districts were changed to commemorate famous people and places in Islamic Arabic history and the contemporary Arab world; examples are Khalid ibn al-Walid, Tariq Ibn Ziyad, and Palestine.

Modern Baghdad, as in the past, is divided into two parts by the Tigris River; the eastern part is called al-Risafa and the western part is called alKarkh. Al-Risafa is more historic and contains many of the historical monuments, popular markets, and al-Thawra City. Al-Karkh is more modern, with wealthy districts such as al-Mansur and alYarmuk, modern hotels, the international airport, government buildings, and many palaces housing high-ranking government officials.

Baghdad is the burial place of several important religious people, among them the seventh and ninth Shiʿite Imam, in the Kasimayn district; Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, the great Muslim Sunni Sufi, in the Bab al-Shaykh district; Abu Hanifa, the founder of the Hanafi School of Law in the Sunni tradition, in the Asamiyad district. It also is the site of the tomb of the famous Sufi Maʿruf al-Karkhi, who died in 815 c.e. Baghdad and its environs are home to a number of Jewish shrines, notably the reputed tomb of Joshua and those of Ezra and Ezekiel. Baghdad has several other historical sites, including the Arch of Ctesiphion, the Mustassriya School, the Abbasid Palace, and the Jami al-Khulafa and Mirjan mosques.

In the 1990s, and until it fell to the invading U.S. military forces on 9 April 2003, Baghdad suffered like the rest of the country from the sanctions imposed on it by the United Nations in the aftermath of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and the Gulf War. The United States and the Allied Forces bombed Iraq, including Baghdad, relentlessly for forty-three days in the aftermath of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1991. The bombing, in the words of a United Nations report, pushed Iraq into a preindustrial age. The Iraqi government repaired and restored some of the destroyed and damaged facilities, but it was unable to restore them to prewar levels due to the sanctions that limited Iraq's ability to sell its oil and import spare parts. Electricity, clean water, medicine, and food were in short supply, and many children, women, and elderly people died. United Nations documents reported that more than one million Iraqis (including Baghdadis) died as a result of the sanctions.

On 9 April 2003 Baghdad surrendered to the U.S. armed forces, and Iraq was occupied. During the invasion, Baghdad was relentlessly attacked by the U.S. forces, which bombed Baghdad on a daily basis for three weeks, destroying many major government buildings with one notable exception, the ministry of oil. Extensive looting and some burning took place in the aftermath of the fall of Baghdad, which lasted for more than a week. The looting took place in front of the occupying American forces, which did not intervene until later. Baghdad suffered from shortages in electricity, clean water, and other essential supplies. The city also lacked security and became a major center for the resistance against the occupying U.S. forces. The residents of al-Thawra or Saddam City decided to change the name of their city to Sadr City to commemorate Ayatullah Sadiq al-Sadr, a leading Shiʿite cleric who was killed in southern Iraq presumably by government assassins in January of 1999.

see also daʾud pasha; gulf war (1991); hussein, saddam; iraq; iraniraq war (19801988); midhat paŞa; war in iraq (2003).


Ellis, William. "The New Face of Baghdad." National Geographic 167, no. 1 (1985): 80109.

Hitti, Philip K. Capital Cities of Arab Islam. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1973.

Mackey, Sandra. The Reckoning: Iraq and the Legacy of Saddam Hussein. New York: W. W. Norton, 2002.

Marr, Phebe. The Modern History of Iraq, 2d edition. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1985.

Ayad Al-Qazzaz


views updated May 11 2018


"Have you seen in all the length and breadth of the earth A city such as Baghdad? Indeed it is paradise on earth." (al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, in Lassner, Topography, p. 47)

Thus begins a poem attributed variously to ˓Umara b. ˓Aqil al-Khatafi and Mansur al-Namari in praise of Baghdad, the illustrious capital of the Abbasid caliphate in Iraq for close to five centuries. The city was founded by the second Abbasid caliph, Abu Ja˓far al-Mansur, on the banks of the Tigris River where it most closely approaches the Euphrates. While officially called Dar al-Salam, or the Abode of Peace, which recalls Qur˒anic descriptions of Paradise (6:127; 10:25), the name Baghdad itself is reminiscent of a pre-Islamic settlement in the vicinity. However, this metropolis is not to be confused erroneously with the ancient towns of Babylon, Seleucia, and Ctesiphon.

Following the turbulence and social upheavals of the Abbasid assumption of power from the Umayyads, al-Mansur sought to move his capital to a more secure location in the East. The proclamation of Abu l-˓Abbas as the first Abbasid caliph in 749 c.e. had irrevocably shifted the locus of imperial power away from Damascus, the Umayyad capital, to a series of successive sites in Iraq. Al-Mansur himself was initially based in al-Hashimiyyah, adjacent to Qasr Ibn Hubayra and close to Kufa. The Rawandiyya uprising of 758 c.e., however, soon exposed the location's vulnerability, and al-Mansur began a thorough investigation of sites from which he could consolidate his rule.

In accordance with the information gathered from scouts, local inhabitants, and personal observation, the minor village of Baghdad was selected as an ideal location for the future Abbasid capital. The area had much to recommend itself in terms of its central location, fertile lands, temperate climate, ease of receiving provisions via the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, the convening of caravan routes nearby, and the natural defenses provided by the surrounding canals. Construction of the imperial capital began in the year 762 c.e., though work was halted temporarily that same year while al-Mansur suppressed further uprisings emanating from Medina and Basra. Over one hundred thousand architects, artisans, and laborers from across the empire were employed in the creation of this city, at tremendous financial expense, over a period of four years.

An alternative name for Baghdad, al-Madina al-Mudawwara, or the Round City, reflects the circular layout of al-Mansur's initial foundation. Baghdad was designed as a series of concentric rings, with the caliphal palace, known as Bab al-Dhahab, or the Golden Gate, and the attached grand congregational mosque located in the center, along with separate structures for the commander of the guard and the chief of police. The caliph was thereby equidistant from all points within the city, as well as surrounded by its considerable fortifications. Only the residences of his younger children, those of his servants and slaves, and various government offices shared access onto this inner circle. Four walkways radiated outward from the central courtyard in the directions of northeast, southeast, southwest, and northwest, passing through the inner circle of surrounding structures; then an enclosure wall followed by an interval of space; then a residential area followed by another interval; then a large wall of outer defense, a third interval, a second smaller wall; and finally a deep, wide moat surrounding the entire complex.

The Round City initially retained an austere administrative and military character. On the city's outskirts, large land grants at varying distances from the capital were given to members of the Abbasid family, the army, and chiefs of the government agencies. In addition to the initial settlers, comprised of those loyal to the caliph and his new regime, large numbers of laborers, artisans, and merchants migrated to Baghdad in pursuit of the largesse showered upon those necessary to sustain the new imperial capital. What quickly grew to be a thriving market within the walls of the Round City was ultimately perceived to be a security threat and, in 773 c.e., was transferred southwest of Baghdad, to al-Karkh. There, the commercial activities of the Abbasid capital flourished, and Baghdad rapidly developed into an economically vibrant metropolis.

The main markets of Baghdad were subdivided according to their various specialties which included food, fruit, flowers, textiles, clothes, booksellers, goldsmiths, cobblers, reedweavers, soapmakers, and moneychangers that served the populace and government officials. Baghdad exported textiles and items made of cotton and silk, glazed-ware, oils, swords, leather, and paper, to mention only a few, through both local and international trade. The muhtasib, a government-appointed regulator, ensured the fair practices of the marketplace as well as supervised the public works of proliferating mosques and bathhouses. The opulence and luxury of court life in Baghdad were legendary, and reflected the vast political and economic power of the Abbasid Empire.

The magnanimity of the Abbasid caliphs and the well-placed inhabitants of Baghdad also extended into encouraging intellectual pursuits, thereby establishing the Abbasid capital as one of the world's most sophisticated and prestigious centers of learning. Renowned Islamic scholars of diverse geographical and ethnic origins held sessions in the mosques and colleges of cosmopolitan Baghdad, attracting innumerable seekers of legal, philological, and spiritual knowledge. Bookshops and the private homes of individual scholars and high government officials, such as the wazir, also served as venues for intellectual discussion and debate. Inns located near the mosques provided lodging to those who had devoted themselves to scholarly pursuits, and accommodations were later made available within the institutions of the madrasa (legal college) and ribat (Sufi establishment), both of which also offered stipends to affiliated students.

Scientific research in the fields of astronomy, mathematics, medicine, optics, engineering, botany, and pharmacology also prospered within the Abbasid capital. Alongside experimentation and exploration, translation of Hellenic, Indic, and Persian texts received patronage from dignitaries, physicians, and scientists in response to the professional and intellectual demands of an expanding Islamic society. Public libraries, both attached to mosques and as separate institutions, contributed further to the dissemination of knowledge among the populace, while the establishment of hospitals as charitable endowments throughout the city ensured the provision of free medical care to anyone who so required it. Mobile clinics were even dispatched to remote villages on a regular basis, with the aims of offering comprehensive health coverage.

The political fragmentation of the sprawling Abbasid Empire ultimately contributed to a decline in the revenues and hence in the general fortunes of the capital in Baghdad. Increasing civil disturbances in the face of weakened central authority, as well as rife Sunni-Shi˓ite conflicts, resulted in the deterioration and destruction of vast segments of the waning metropolis. Nevertheless, Baghdad retained its prestige as the center of the Islamic caliphate and a symbol of Muslim cultural, material, and scholarly achievement. It was therefore with great consternation that news was received of the Mongols's savage invasion and ravaging of the city in 1258 c.e. Hundreds of thousands of Baghdad's inhabitants, including the caliph and his family, leading personalities, and scholars were mercilessly put to death, and the great scientific and literary treasures of Baghdad were burned or drowned in the waters of the Tigris.

Thereafter, Baghdad was transformed into a provincial center within the Mongol Empire, under the control of the Ilkhanids until 1339 c.e. and then the Jalayrids until 1410 c.e. The Karakoyunlu Turkomans and the Akkoyunlu Turkomans ruled Baghdad successively, until the city was conquered by Shah Ismail in 1508 c.e. and incorporated into the Safavid Empire. A subsequent Perso-Ottoman struggle for Baghdad and its symbolic sites resulted in Sultan Sulayman the Magnificent's conquest of the city in 1534 c.e., only to be lost again to the Safavids, and then regained by the Ottoman Sultan Murad IV in 1638 c.e. Baghdad remained the capital of the region's Ottoman province for nearly three centuries, and was occupied by the British in March 1917, during the course of World War I. In 1921, it became the seat of Faysal b. Husayn's kingdom under British Mandate and remained the capital of Iraq throughout its successive developments into an independent constitutional monarchy (1930), federated Hashimite monarchy (1958), and then republic (1958).

See alsoCaliphate ; Empires: Abbasid ; Revolution: Classical Islam ; Revolution: Islamic Revolution in Iran ; Revolution: Modern .


Jawad, Mustafa, and Susa, Ahmad. Baghdad. Baghdad: al- Majma˓al-˓Ilmi al-˓Iraqi, 1958.

Lassner, Jacob. The Topography of Baghdad in the Early MiddleAges: Text and Studies. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1970.

Lunde, Paul. Islam: Faith, Culture, History. New York: DK Publishing, 2002.

Makdisi, George. Religion, Law and Learning in Classical Islam. Brookfield, Vt.: Gower, 1991.

Makdisi, George. "The Reception of the Model of Islamic Scholastic Culture in the Christian West." In Science in Islamic Civilisation: Proceedings of the International Symposia. Edited by Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu. Istanbul: Research Centre for Islamic History and Culture, 2000.

Sayyad, Nezar, al-. Cities and Caliphs: On the Genesis of Arab Muslim Urbanism. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991.

Tabari, Muhammad al-. Abbasid Authority Affirmed. Translated by Jane Dammen McAuliffe. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995.

Wheatley, Paul. The Places Where Men Pray Together: Cities inIslamic Lands, Seventh through Tenth Centuries. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001.

Mona Hassan


views updated Jun 11 2018


Center of the ancient Baghdad Caliphate, Baghdad is the capital of modern Iraq, and the city of residence for the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch. In a.d. 762 Mansur, second caliph of the Abbāsid dynasty, founded Baghdad on the west bank of the Tigris about 30 miles from the ancient Sassanid SeleuciaCtesiphon, from which building materials were taken for the new city. Originally called Madinat as-Salam (city of peace), it was known also by its Greek name Eirenopolis; Baghdad is the popular name, meaning probably Garden of Dat. A village of Christians was already in existence in the near vicinity in 762.

Under the Abbāsids Baghdad became the intellectual and cultural center of the highly developed Arab Empire. Religious tolerance toward Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians generally prevailed, although some caliphs, as "deputies of God," occasionally harassed non-Muslims. Churches were built for Christians captured in campaigns against the Byzantine Empire. In the 11th century, Baghdad fell temporarily under the rule of the Seljuk Turks. In 1256 the Mongols under Hulagu captured and destroyed a great part of the city. The Persians conquered and rebuilt it (1517), and in 1638 Baghdad became part of the Ottoman Empire. At the end of World War I it became the capital of modern-day Iraq.

As early as 1628 some Capuchins arrived in Baghdad, and in 1632 the first titular Latin bishop of Baghdad was appointed, but he died before assuming office. A second titular bishop, designated in 1634, refused the appointment. On June 6, 1638, urban viii issued the bull Super universas [Bullarium Romanum (Magnum), ed. H. Mainardi and C. Cocquelines, 18 folio v. (Rome 173362) 14:652654] establishing the Diocese of Baghdad, which became an archbishopric (Ecclesia Babylonensis Latinorum ) in 1848.

The Chaldean Catholic Church (Ecclesia Babylonensis Chaldaeorum ) was established in Baghdad in 1834. Some Persian Christians had earlier united with the Apostolic See in 1553 and formed the Chaldean Church, but this communion came to an end about a century later. Efforts for reunion (begun c. 1783) were successful, and John Hormez was enthroned as patriarch of Babylon in 1834.

[h. dressler/eds.]


views updated May 14 2018

Baghdad Capital of Iraq, on the River Tigris. Established in 762 as capital of the Abbasid caliphate, it became a centre of Islamic civilization and focus of caravan routes between Asia and Europe. It was almost destroyed by the Mongols in 1258. In 1921 Baghdad became the capital of newly independent Iraq. It was badly damaged during the Gulf War (1991). Notable sites include the 13th-century Abbasid Palace. Industries: building materials, textiles, tanning, bookbinding. Pop. (1997 est.) 4,832,477.


views updated May 17 2018

Baghdad the capital of modern-day Iraq, on the River Tigris, which was a thriving city under the Abbasid caliphs, notably Harun of Chancery, in the 8th and 9th centuries.