Jews under Mongols

A 13th-century Description

These passages were written in Syriac by Bar Hebraeus, a 13th century Christian historian. They are about an Ilkhanid administrator named Sa’d al-Dawla.

As Governor of Baghdad:

Saʿd came to power by curtailing a powerful amir named Arok.

And after a short time a certain Jew, whose name was Saʿd al-Dawla, and who was the father-in-law of the governor of Baghdad—now this governor had died recently—approached the Camp, and in the presence of the Amirs said, ‘If ye will stop the going down of Arok to Baghdad, he himself (i.e. I myself) will bring the double of the revenue which is brought each year to the Camp’. And straightway the command went forth that Arok was not to go down to Baghdad again, and he was to have no further command (or, jurisdiction) over it. And [the Amirs] handed affairs over to the Jew. And behold, at the present day there is a Jewish governor and general director on the throne of the House of ʿAbbas. Observe how Islam has been brought low! And [the Muslims] neither cease nor rest from their wickedness and their tyranny.

As Chief Administrator:

And in those days also an Egyptian lawyer, a courageous man, who was known as Faraj Allah, and was a scribe in Mosul, made public the treachery of the Persian lawyer ʿAbd al-Momin (whom we have mentioned above), who had unjustly killed Masʿud, the son of Bar Kawti, and had made the Christians to suffer great evils, and had collected a large sum of money for himself. And the King of Kings having commanded that his history was to be investigated, the Persian was condemned and killed, and the righteousness of God was avenged speedily. And behold, from this time [onwards] the King of Kings recognized, and it was proved to him fully, the falseness and impudence of the Arabs, and that everything they did they did with deceit (or, treachery), and the accepting of persons (i.e. hypocrisy). And straightway he commanded that Saʿd al-Dawla, the Jew, who was governor in Baghdad, should be the chief of the scribes, that is to say, sahib diwan, in all the dominion of his kingdom; and that governors should never, never appoint the Arab to be a scribe, but only the Christian and the Jew. And thus the hatred and ill-will of the Arabs [towards the Christians] grew stronger. Now since that Jew was governor, the administration of the revenue and taxation of the city was committed to him. And the King of Kings sent his brother [to be] governor of Baghdad in his place. And he sent his other brother, together with Taj al-Din, the son of Mukhatas, the Director-General, to Mosul, and to Mardin, and all Diyar Bakr.

His Death:

The behavior of the Arabs has [long] been made manifest in the world, and up to the present day no Jew has ever been raised to a position of exalted honor among them; and except as a tanner, or a dyer, or a tailor [the Arab] does not appear among the Jews. But truly the honorable ones and the fortunate among them [exalt] the art of healing and the art of the scribe; but in situations in which others will not demean themselves to work, they will work. And at this time when the Mongols were ruling over these western countries, they did not honor every one who was worthy of honor, and they did not make those who had descended from the loins of kings to rule over the cities and villages which were in subjection to them. With the Mongols there is neither slave nor free man; neither believer nor pagan; neither Christian nor Jew; but they regard all men as belonging to one and the same stock. And every one who approaches them and offers to them any of the mammon of the world, they accept it from him, and they entrust to him whatsoever office he seeks, whether it be great or whether it be little, whether he knows how to administer it, or whether he does not. All they demand is strenuous service and submission which is beyond the power [of man to render].

Therefore, this Jew triumphed in every way, and attained the greatest glory and honor possible in the time of Arghon, the King of Kings, and he alone brought all political matters to a successful issue, and much else besides. To the nobles of the Camp he paid no heed, and he reduced the taking and giving of their hands, and he treated with contempt the principal Amirs and the directors of general affairs. The man who could confer a favor, or who could do harm, was never seen at the Gate of the Kingdom, unless perchance [he was] a Jew. And through this state of affairs many of the Jews who were on the fringes of the world gathered together to him, and they all with one mouth said, ‘Verily, by means of this man the Lord has raised on high the horn of redemption, and the hope of glory for the sons of the Hebrews in their last days’.

Therefore, when they were boasting proudly of their exaltation, and occupied with their power, suddenly Arghon, the King of Kings, was paralyzed, and he was grievously afflicted with the disease for a month of days. And the wretched Jew was perplexed by his illness, and with great care he endeavored in every way possible to heal him. Then the Amirs and the nobles of the Camp who despised the Jew utterly, having lost all hope of [saving] the life of Arghon, [behaved] as if the Jew himself, through the evil of his machinations, was the cause of the sickness of Arghon. And they began to roar at the wretched man like lions, until Arghon ended his life on the fourth day of the week, at the end of the latter kanon (January) of the year (1291). Then God stirred up His wrath against the Jews who were in every place. This Saʿd al-Dawla, the sahib diwan, they killed there. And with great care [the Amirs and nobles] sent ambassadors into all the countries which were under the dominion of the Mongols, and they seized his brethren and his kinsfolk, and they bound them with chains, and they plundered their stores of food, and they took their sons, and their daughters, and their slaves, and their handmaidens, and their flocks and herds, and all their possessions. And he who was killed by them was killed, and those who were left [alive] returned to their original stations. The man who yesterday was an officer, and could bind and set free, and was arrayed in royal apparel, was today swathed in sackcloth, and had dirty discolored hands as if he was a dyer and not a scribe, and a beggar going round from door to door and not an officer. The trials and wrath which were stirred up against the Jews at this time neither tongue can utter nor the pen write down.

Then in Baghdad, when [the report of] the murder of this Jew was heard, the Arabs armed themselves and went to the quarter of the Jews, because the Jews were all living together in one quarter in Baghdad. And when they wanted to go in and plunder them, the Jews rose up against them in great strength, and they fought against the Arabs, and killed and were killed; and they did not leave alive [any Jews] to rule over them. ‘Now,’ said they, ‘when this Jew became great and exalted, he commanded that a palace should be built for him in Tabriz, and he buried many pots filled with gold and silver in the walls thereof.’ Now this [fact] only became known at that moment, for it was only when [the Mongols] were torturing them (i.e. the Jews), they showed them the places where the pots were, and so they dug [in the walls] and brought them out, Now the whole period during which the Jew was Director and Governor was two years, more or less. And he was killed and his name (i.e. fame) perished, and because of him the Jews throughout the world were hated and ill-treated.