BYZANTINE DISTRACTION: THE CALIPHATE VERSUS THE BYZANTINE EMPIRE
776-785: Conspicuous State, The Caliphate; Conspicuous Rival, Byzantine Empire.
THIS RANDOMLY CHOSEN DECADE from 776 to 785, in the history of the Caliphate presents the Byzantine Empire as the Conspicuous Rival. By 776 the caliph ruled a much expanded version of the original state of Islam. Muhammed, just before his death in 630, had laid the foundations for a religiously centered political state. At that time Islam dominated one-third of the Arabian peninsula. After Muhammed's death three caliphs were elected in succession. By the year 650, Islam had expanded its territory at the expense of the Byzantine Empire. In 661 the first hereditary dynasty, the Umayyad, was established. From 775 to 785 the new Abbasid dynasty under Mahdi, its third caliph, was in control. From 785 to 786 Hadi was the caliph, and was to rule for only one year. At the time of our decade the Caliphate stretched from Spain eastward to Samarkand. It included North Africa, Syria, Arabia, and Khurasan.
The Byzantine Empire included southern Italy, most of the Balkans, and all of what is present-day Turkey. In the decade concerned, Leo IV reigned from 775 to 780. Irene, his wife, ruled for the rest of the decade for her minor son, Constantine VI.
Both powers -- the Caliphate and the Byzantine Empire -- had been troubled by internal dissension for some time. Mahdi, the Abbasid caliph, was concerned about his successor and about rebellious subjects in portions of his vast empire. But his problems