Yazid I

Yazīd ibn Mu‘awiya
Caliph in Damascus
Drachm of Yazid I, 676-677.jpg
Arab-Sasanian Drachm of Yazid I
2nd Caliph of the Umayyad Caliphate
Reign 26 April 680 – 12 November 683
Predecessor Mu'awiya I
Successor Mu'awiya II
Born 646 (25 AH)[1][a]
Died 12 November 683 (14 Rabi ul-Awwal 64 AH)[2]
Issue Mu'awiya II
Full name
Yazīd ibn Mu‘awiya ibn Abī Sufyān
يزيد بن معاوية بن أبي سفيان
House Sufyanid
Dynasty Umayyad
Father Mu'awiya I
Mother Maisun bint Bahdal[3]

Yazīd ibn Mu‘āwiya (Arabic: يزيد بن معاوية بن أبي سفيان‎; 647 – 11 November 683), commonly known as Yazid I, was the second caliph of the Umayyad caliphate. He ruled for three years from 680 CE until his death in 683 CE. In 676 CE (56 AH), Muawiya made him his heir apparent;[4] this was regarded as a violation of Hasan–Muawiya treaty.[5]

Upon Muawiya's death in 680 CE, Yazid assumed power. A few prominent Muslims from Hejaz, including Husayn ibn Ali and Abdullah ibn al-Zubayr, refused to recognize his authority. When Husayn was on his way to Kufa to lead a revolt against Yazid, he was killed with his small band of supporters by forces of Yazid in the Battle of Karbala. Killing of Husyan led to widespread resentment in Hejaz, where Abdullah ibn al-Zubayr centered his opposition to rule of Yazid, and was supported by many people in Mecca and Medina. After failed attempts to regain confidence of ibn al-Zubayr and people of Hejaz diplomatically, Yazid sent an army to end the rebellion. The army defeated Medinese in the Battle of al-Harrah in August 683 and the city was given to three days of pillage. Later on siege was laid to Mecca, which lasted for several weeks, during which the Kaaba was damaged by fire. The siege ended with death of Yazid in November 683 and the empire fell to civil war.

Early life

Yazid was born in 646 CE to Muawiya ibn Abu Sufyan and Maisun bint Bahdal, the daughter of powerful Kalbite leader Bahdal ibn Unayf. He led several campaigns against Byzantine Empire and in 670 he participated in an attack on Constantinople. He also led Hajj on several occasions.[3]

Nomination as caliph

Muawiya was not supposed to nominate a successor under the terms of the Hasan–Muawiya treaty. However, in 676, a few years before his death, he nominated Yazid.[6] At first Muawiya and the Shura of Damascus decided for Yazid.[7] He then ordered Marwan ibn Hakam, then the governor of Medina, to inform the people of Medina, of Muawiya's decision, who faced resistance on this announcement, especially from Husayn ibn Ali, Abdullah ibn al-Zubayr, Abdullah ibn Umar and Abdul-Rahman ibn Abi Bakr. Muawiya summoned influential people from all provinces to the capital and convinced them one way or the other. Then he went himself to Medina and began pressing against the four dissenters, who then fled to Mecca. Muawiya followed them and threatened some of them with life, but got only refusal. Nonetheless he was successful in convincing the people of Mecca that these four men had pledged their allegiance, and received allegiance for Yazid. On his way back to Damascus, he secured allegiance from people of Medina as well. The opponents went into silence thereafter. German orientalist Julius Wellhausen doubts the story,[8] while Bernard Lewis writes that the homage was arranged with mix of diplomacy and bribes and, to lesser extent, by force.[7]

Before dying, Muawiya left Yazid a will, instructing him on matters of governing the empire. He advised him to beware of Husayn and Ibn al-Zubayr, and predicted that the people of Iraq will entice Husayn into rebellion and then abandon him. Yazid was further advised to treat Husayn with caution and not to spill his blood, since he was grandson of Muhammad. Ibn al-Zubair, on the other hand, was to be treated harshly, unless he comes to terms. Muawiya also advised him to treat people of Hejaz well.[9]


Upon succession, Yazid asked governors of all provinces to take an oath of allegiance to him. The necessary oath was secured from all parts of the country.[10][11] He wrote to the governor of Medina Walid ibn Utbah ibn Abu Sufyan, informing him about the death of Muawiya. He attached a small note with the letter, asking him to secure allegiance from Husayn ibn Ali, Abdullah ibn al-Zubayr and Abdullah ibn Umar.[12] The note read:

Seize Husayn, Abdullah ibn Umar, and Abdullah ibn al-Zubayr to give the oath of allegiance. Act so fiercely that they have no chance to do anything before giving the oath of allegiance. Peace be with you.[13]

Walid sought advice of Marwan ibn Hakam on the matter. Marwan suggested that ibn al-Zubayr and Husayn should be forced to pay allegiance as they were dangerous, while ibn Umar should be left alone as he posed no threat. When summoned by Walid, Husayn answered the summon, while ibn al-Zubayr did not. When Husayn met Walid and Marwan in a semi-private meeting at night, he was informed of Muawiya's death and Yazid's accession to the caliphate. When asked for his pledge of allegiance to Yazid, Husayn responded that giving his allegiance in private would be insufficient, such a thing should be given in public. Walid agreed to this, but Marwan interrupted demanding that Walid imprison Husayn and not let him leave until he gives the pledge of allegiance to Yazid. At this interruption, Marwan was scolded by Husayn who then exited unharmed. Husayn had his own group of armed supporters waiting nearby just in case a forcible attempt was made to apprehend him. Immediately following Husayn's exit, Marwan admonished Walid, who in turn rebutted Marwan, justifying his refusal to harm Husayn by stating "On the Day of Resurrection a man who is [responsible] for the blood of Al-Husayn [will weigh] little in the scale of God." Ibn al-Zubayr left for Mecca at night. In the morning Walid sent eighty horsemen after him, but he escaped. Husayn too left for Mecca shortly after, without having sworn any oath of allegiance to Yazid.[14] Yazid then replaced Walid with Amr ibn Said as the governor.[12] To capture ibn al-Zubayr, ibn Said sent an army to Mecca, but it was defeated.[15]

Contrary to Husayn and ibn al-Zubayr, Abdullah ibn Umar, Abdul-Rahman ibn Abi Bakr and Abdullah ibn Abbas, who had refused to accept Muawiya's nomination of Yazid, payed allegiance to Yazid.[16]

Incident of Karbala

Coin of the Umayyad Caliphate at the time of Yazid ibn Muawiya. BCRA ( Basra) mint; " Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad, governor". Dated AH 60 = AD 679/680. Sasanian style bust imitating Khosrau II right; bismillah and four pellets in margin/ Fire altar with ribbons and attendants; star and crescent flanking flames; date to left, mint name to right.

Husayn left for Mecca along with his family. There he received letters from pro-Alid Kufans, inviting him to lead them in revolt against Yazid. In order to assess the situation in Kufa, Husayn sent his cousin Muslim ibn Aqil. He also sent letters to Basra, but his messenger was handed over to the governor Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad by the Basrans and was killed. Ibn Aqil was met with large scale support in Kufa and informed Husayn of the situation, suggesting that he join them in Kufa. Yazid ordered Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad to move to Kufa and eliminate the Husayn threat at all costs. Ibn Ziyad suppressed the rebellion ruthlessly and killed ibn Aqil.[5]

Encouraged by ibn Aqil's letter, Husayn planned to leave for Kufa. As he prepared for the journey, Abdullah ibn Umar, Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr and Abd Allah ibn Abbas argued against his plan, and suggested that if he was determined to proceed to Kufa, he should leave women and children in Mecca, but Husayn rejected their suggestions. On the way to Kufa, he received the report of Muslim ibn Aqil's death at the hands of Yazid's men and that the Kufans had changed sides.[5] Husayn and his companions, nonetheless, continued their journey towards Kufa. Ibn Ziyad sent some 4000 men, who forced them to camp in the desert of Karbala. Husayn and 72 of his male companions were killed on 10 October 680.[5][17] This event produced widespread outcry and image of Yazid suffered greatly.[18] It also helped crystallize mere opposition of Yazid into an anti-Umayyad movement based on Alid aspirations,[19] and contributed to the development of Shi'ite identity.[17]

Revolt of Abdullah ibn al-Zubayr

Ibn al-Zubayr secretly started taking oath of allegiance in Mecca. Upon hearing this, Yazid sent a silver chain to ibn al-Zubayr with the intention of pacifying him. But the latter refused it.[20] Yazid then sent a force led by ibn al-Zubayr's own brother Amr, who was at odds with his brother, to arrest him. The force was defeated and Amr was killed.[21] After Husayn's death at Karbala, ibn al-Zubayr's influence reached Medina and Kufa.[15] To counter growing influence of ibn al-Zubayr in Medina, Yazid invited notables of the city to Damascus and tried to win over them with gifts and presents. The notables were unpersuaded, however, and on their return to Medina narrated tales of his lavish lifestyle and practices considered by many to be impious, including drinking wine, hunting with hounds, and his love for music. Medinese renounced their allegiance to Yazid upon hearing these details and expelled the governor and Umayyads residing in the city. Yazid sent an army of 12,000 men under the command of Muslim ibn Uqba to reconquer Hejaz. By the end of August 683 Ibn Uqba approached Medina and gave Medinese three days to reconsider, but was refused. When the ultimatum was over, battle started in which Medinese were defeated. After plundering the city for three days and forcing the rebels to renew their allegiance, the Syrian army headed for Mecca to subdue ibn al-Zubayr.[22][23] According to one account, the city was not plundered but only the leaders of the rebellion were executed.[22] Ibn Uqba died on the way to Mecca and command passed to Husayn ibn Numayr al-Sakuni, who laid siege to Mecca in September 683. The siege lasted for several weeks, during which the Kaaba caught fire. Yazid's sudden death in November 683 ended the campaign and threw the caliphate into disarray and civil war. Ibn al-Zubayr openly declared himself caliph and Iraq and Egypt came under his fold.[24][2]


During the caliphate of Yazid ibn Muawiya, Muslims suffered several military setbacks. In 682 CE, Yazid restored Uqba ibn Nafi as the governor of north Africa and Uqba won battles against the Berbers and Byzantines.[10] Uqba then marched westward towards Tangier and then marched eastwards the Atlas Mountains.[11] With cavalry numbering about 300, he proceeded towards Biskra, where he was ambushed by a Berber force. Uqba and all his men died fighting, and the Berbers launched a counterattack and drove Muslims from north Africa.[25] That was a major setback for the Muslims, as they lost supremacy at sea and had to abandon the islands of Rhodes and Crete.

He discontinued Muawiya's policy of raids against Byzantine Empire and focused on stabilizing borders.[26]

Death and succession

Yazid died in November 683 at Huwwarin. Due to uncertainty concerning his birth year, his age is reported to have been between 35 and 39 years. His son Muawiya II, whom he had nominated, became caliph. His control was limited to some parts of Syria however, and he died after a few months rule from some illness. Some early sources state that Muawiya II abdicated before his death.[27] In any case, Marwan ibn Hakam became caliph afterwards and the Sufyanid caliphate came to an end.[28]


Yazid is generally considered an evil figure by many Muslims, especially by Shia.[3] He was the first person in the caliphate history to be nominated as heir based on blood relation, and this became a tradition afterwards.[29] He is considered a tyrant who was responsible for three major crimes during his caliphate: the death of Husayn ibn Ali and his followers at the Battle of Karbala, considered a massacre; the aftermath of the Battle of al-Harrah, in which the troops of Yazid's general, Muslim ibn Uqba, pillaged the town of Medina; and the burning of the Kaaba during the siege of Mecca, which was blamed on Yazid's commander Husayn ibn Numayr. Moreover, because of his habits of drinking, dancing and hunting, and keeping pet animals like dogs and monkeys, he is considered impious and unworthy of leading the Muslim community.[3]

Despite his dark memory among religious circles, academic historians generally portray a more favourable view of Yazid. According to Jullius Wellhausen, Yazid was a mild ruler, who resorted to violence only when necessary, and was not a tyrant that religious tradition portrays him to be.[30] Michael Jan de Goeje describes him as "a peace-loving, generous prince".[2] According to G. R. Hawting, he tried to continue the diplomatic policies of his father. But, unlike Muawiya, he was not successful in winning over the opposition with gifts and bribes.[3] In the views of Bernard Lewis, Yazid was a capable ruler but was overly criticized by later Arab historians.[19]