Yazid I

Yazīd ibn Mu‘awiya
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] Mecca
(present-day Saudi Arabia)
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]
Religion Islam

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 until his death in 683. His appointment was the first hereditary succession in Islamic history and his caliphate was marked by the death of Muhammad's grandson Husayn ibn Ali and the start of the crisis known as the Second Fitna.

His nomination in 676 (56 AH) by Muawiya was opposed by few prominent Muslims from Hejaz. Following his accession after Muawiya's death in 680, Husyan and Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr refused to recognize him and escaped to sanctuary of Mecca. 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. The killing of Husayn led to resentment in Hejaz, where Ibn al-Zubayr centered his opposition to the rule of Yazid, and was supported by many people in Mecca and Medina. After failed attempts to regain the confidence of Ibn al-Zubayr and the people of Hejaz through diplomacy, Yazid sent an army to end the rebellion. The army defeated the Medinese in the Battle of al-Harrah in August 683 and the city was given to three days of pillage. Later, siege was laid to Mecca, which lasted for several weeks. The siege ended with the death of Yazid in November 683 and the empire fell to civil war.

Yazid is considered an illegitimate ruler and a tyrant by many Muslims due to his hereditary succession, the death of Husayn and the attack on the city of Medina by his forces. Modern historians present a milder view of him, and consider him a capable ruler, albeit less successful than his father.

Early life

Genealogical tree of the Sufyanids, the ruling family to which Yazid I belonged

Yazid was born in 646 to Muawiya ibn Abu Sufyan and Maisun bint Bahdal, the daughter of the powerful Kalbite leader Bahdal ibn Unayf, and grew up with his maternal tribe, the Kalbites.[4] He led several campaigns against the Byzantine Empire and in 670 participated in an attack on Constantinople. He also performed Hajj on several occasions.[3]

Nomination as caliph

By the end of the first Islamic civil war (August 661), Muawiya became sole ruler of the empire as a result of a peace treaty with Hasan ibn Ali, who had controlled most of the empire following the murder of his father Ali a few months earlier. The terms of the treaty stipulated that Muawiya would not nominate a successor. However, in 676, a few years before his death, Muawiya nominated Yazid.[5] Muawiya and the Shura declared for Yazid in Damascus,[6] where the former had summoned influential people from all provinces to the capital and convinced them one way or another. Muawiya ordered Marwan ibn Hakam, then the governor of Medina, to inform the people of Medina of Muawiya's decision. Marwan faced resistance to this announcement, especially from Husayn ibn Ali, Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr, Abd Allah ibn Umar and Abdul-Rahman ibn Abi Bakr. Muawiya himself went to Medina and began pressing against the four dissenters, who then fled to Mecca. Muawiya followed them and threatened some of them with death, but they still refused to support him. 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 the people of Medina as well. Yazid's opponents were into silence thereafter. German orientalist Julius Wellhausen doubts the story,[7] while Bernard Lewis writes that the homage was arranged with a mix of diplomacy and bribes and, to a lesser extent, by force.[6]

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 would 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 the 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.[8]


Upon becoming caliph, Yazid asked the governors of all provinces to take an oath of allegiance to him. This oath was secured from all parts of the country. He wrote to the governor of Medina Walid ibn Utbah ibn Abu Sufyan, informing him of the death of Muawiya. He attached a small note with the letter, asking him to secure allegiance from Husayn ibn Ali, Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr and Abd Allah ibn Umar.[9] 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.[10]

Walid sought the 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 in case an 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 that night. In the morning Walid sent eighty horsemen after him, but he escaped. Husayn too left for Mecca shortly after, without having sworn an oath of allegiance to Yazid.[11] Dissatisfied with his failure to obtain allegiance, Yazid replaced Walid with Amr ibn Said as governor.[9]

Unlike Husayn and Ibn al-Zubayr, Abd Allah ibn Umar, Abdul-Rahman ibn Abi Bakr and Abd Allah ibn Abbas, who had denounced Muawiya's nomination of Yazid, now paid allegiance to him.[12]

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.

In Mecca Husayn 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 and killed. Ibn Aqil met with large scale support in Kufa and informed Husayn of this, suggesting that he join them in Kufa. Yazid ordered Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad to move to Kufa and execute or imprison Ibn Aqil. Ibn Ziyad suppressed the rebellion ruthlessly and killed Ibn Aqil.[13]

Encouraged by Ibn Aqil's letter, Husayn left for Kufa, ignoring warnings from Abd Allah ibn Umar, Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr and Abd Allah ibn Abbas that the Kufans could not be trusted. On the way to Kufa, he received the report of Ibn Aqil's death at the hands of Yazid's men and that the Kufans had changed sides.[13] Husayn and his companions, nonetheless, continued their journey towards Kufa. Ibn Ziyad sent some 4,000 men, who forced them to camp in the desert of Karbala. Husayn and 72 of his male companions were killed on 10 October 680. Husayn's family were taken prisoner.[13][14] This event produced widespread outcry and the image of Yazid suffered greatly.[15] It also helped crystallize opposition of Yazid into an anti-Umayyad movement based on Alid aspirations,[16] and contributed to the development of Shi'ite identity.[14]

Revolt of Abd Allah 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.[17] 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.[18] After Husayn's death at Karbala, Ibn al-Zubayr's influence reached Medina and Kufa.[19] 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.[20][21] According to one account, the city was not plundered but only the leaders of the rebellion were executed.[20] 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.[22][2]

Death and succession

Yazid died in November 683 at Huwwarin. 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.[23] In any case, Marwan ibn Hakam became caliph afterwards and the Sufyanid caliphate came to an end.[24]


Yazid is 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.[25] 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 reputation in 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.[26] 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.[16]

He discontinued Muawiya's policy of raids against Byzantine Empire and focused on stabilizing borders. Islands in the Sea of Marmara were abandoned.[27]