Third Fitna

Horizontal Succession of the Umayyad Caliphs

An 8th-century Description

This passage describes what happened after the death of Hisham b. ‘Abd al-Malik. It was written by Ghewond, an Armenian priest who lived in the 8th century.

His successor Walīd ruled for a year and a half. He was a robust man with great strength and took part in athletic wrestling. Wherever he heard about bravery of great strength, he sent to bring [that person] to him so that he might test himself. He also occupied himself with drunkenness and in uninhibited sordid fornication. But the nobles of the same house saw the deed[s] of their prince, that he lived in abject, execrable debauchery; they asked the faithful of their religion whom they call qurrāʾ [= Qur’an readers] what they thought about him. They answered them by saying: “because he offended the honor of our kingdom and transgressed the order of our Lawgiver and lived in execrable debauchery, he is worthy of death. Let him die.” In accordance with the order that they received from the qurrāʾ, they entered the royal palace, found him sleeping in a drunken stupor, and killed him by the sword. As his successor, they set up a certain Sulaymān [who was] from the same race and from the royal house.

When Marwān heard of the death of their prince Walīd, he immediately gathered his forces and left Isḥāq b. Muslim in this land of Armenia. He, along with the entire multitude of his troops, went to wage war with his own people as vengeance for the death of Walīd and his son. He found some men from the house of those who were killed and convinced them to join him. He gathered all of the men of his ancestral house to him. Many other sons of Ishmael were united in a great camp. They marched forward and crossed the large river Euphrates. They were facing each other near the borders of Damascus, [at a place] called Ruṣāfa. They were lined up for battle there for many days and struck each other heavily. When the day turned to evening, when the hour of the last prayer neared, they disengaged from battle and sat crying over each other’s fallen. They assembled the corpses and buried them, saying to each other: “we are one people with one language and one rule. Beyond that, we are even brothers. So why do we butcher each other by the sword?” Having said this, they still waged war the next day and the battle continued among them.