Assassin’s Creed Mirage: What to know about the ‘Golden Age’ of Baghdad

The new video game attempts to offer a glimpse of Baghdad, once the capital of an empire and the centre of the Islamic world.

File: The 'Wastani Gate' on the historical wall of Baghdad, dating back to the Abbasid era known as the Islamic Golden Age from 750 to 960 AD on August 10, 2012. [Ali al Saad/AFP]

Whether you dream of holstering a flintlock pistol and sailing through the 18th-century Golden Age of Piracy or leading a clan of Vikings to settle in the fractured Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of the 9th century, Assassin’s Creed video games have you covered.

Since 2007, the popular action-adventure series created by video game publisher Ubisoft has been taking gamers on adventures around the globe through different historical periods.

With its 13th instalment released on Thursday, Assassin’s Creed Mirage attempts to immerse players in Iraq’s 9th-century Baghdad during the rule of the Abbasid Caliphate, when it was one of the most significant cities in the world.

Today’s capital of Iraq is often associated, especially by those in the West, with the United States war and the destruction it brought more than two decades ago.

But in Assassin’s Creed Mirage, the game attempts to give players a glimpse into the rich and diverse history of the Abbasid Caliphate during the Islamic Golden Age.

Here are some things to know about the founding of Abbasid Caliphate’s Baghdad and its fiery end:

What was the Abbasid Caliphate?

The Abbasid Caliphate was founded in 750 by a dynasty descended from and named itself after the Prophet Muhammad’s uncle, Abbas ibn Abd al-Muttalib, who died 100 years before the dynasty was founded.

The Abbasids overthrew the Umayyads, the prominent Muslim dynasty established in 661 in Damascus.

To accomplish this feat, they united a mix of nationalities, including the Persians in Khorasan, who converted to Islam and remained a significant factor in shaping the caliphate differently to avoid suffering the fate of their predecessors.

The Abbasids transformed the army by refraining from registering fighters based on tribal or ethnic affiliations, focusing on common interest as a unifying force.

Arabic was the official language, and Islamic piety was still at the heart of the caliphate. Still, the new dynasty introduced more diversity, aiming to better represent all Muslims – not just Arab Muslims – and did not shy away from including those of other faiths.

“As well as native Arabs, the Abbasids employed numerous foreign advisers, bureaucrats, engineers, technicians, translators, and just about any other role one can imagine,” said author and analyst Eamonn Gearon.

“As well as filling all posts with the best men – and in those days, it was only men – they were happy to employ Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians and other non-Muslims for most jobs; they just had to be the best,” he told Al Jazeera.

How was Baghdad founded?

The greatest Abbasid caliph was arguably the second leader in the dynasty, al-Mansur, who decided to build Baghdad as the new capital.

Geopolitical potentials were a primary consideration in where and how the city was constructed and took the mantle of the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate from Kufah, which remains an important pilgrimage site for Shia Muslims.

Al-Mansur chose a location between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers with fertile soil, which granted him access to ample water and food sources and a suitable place for expanding a military force.

The non-Arab Muslim people who came to Baghdad were critical in cementing its position as a great city and helped swell its population to over one million in the 10th century.

As the city grew, construction jobs kept bringing in workers, but it was also located along the Silk Road, so commerce had space to advance.

“The Abbasid empire would never have been as successful as it was, nor lasted for as long as it did, if its caliphs and their advisers had not been wise enough to recognise, accept, be inspired by, and make widespread use of foreign technologies and ideas,” Gearon said.

“Like all great empires, the Abbasid caliphate was successful because it borrowed knowledge from many sources and adapted it for local circumstances.”

What was Baghdad like back then?

Al-Mansur selected a circular layout for Baghdad that was common in Persia. The city was a series of concentric circles, earning it the title of the Round City.

In addition to a mosque, a majestic caliphal palace lay at the centre of the innermost circle, housing the rulers, their families, and their personal bodyguards.

Ambassadors and scholars from around the world would also be hosted there. The Golden Gate Palace was its gilded entrance. Its domes, the highest of which sat at roughly 40 metres (130 feet), offered high visibility and a great view.

Al-Mansur hired foreign architects and some 100,000 construction workers to complete the project, including two enormous defensive walls, several gates and a water-filled moat for protection.

The caliphate’s capital continued to be developed over decades and centuries, attracting merchants, scholars, doctors, artists and builders from lands as diverse as China, Western Europe and the Horn of Africa.

What was the House of Wisdom?

The caliph ordered the construction of the House of Wisdom, a grand library and significant intellectual centre of the Islamic Golden Age, whose loss several 100 years later is considered a major tragedy to this day.

It housed books and scholarly works of all origins, from ancient Greek treaties to texts from India and Africa. They covered a wide range of subjects from philosophy, medicine, mathematics and astronomy and attracted many scholars to Baghdad.

A great translation movement sponsored by the Abbasids meant that knowledge from other areas, including Greece, was transferred to and expanded upon in Baghdad. The city saw much scientific, medical, mathematical and literary progress.

How did the Abbasid Caliphate end?

About 500 years after Baghdad was first constructed and began to prosper, the city and many of its inhabitants were faced with a tragic end.

In 1258, Mongol forces led by Hulagu Khan laid siege to the city and eventually razed it to the ground, likely killing hundreds of thousands in the process.

The House of Wisdom was also destroyed, and it remains unclear how much of the contents of the vast library were lost.

The attack ended the Abbasid Caliphate and is considered to have signalled the end of the Islamic Golden Age, during which the caliphs had expanded their rule from the Iberian Peninsula in southwestern Europe to Sindh in South Asia.

Source: Al Jazeera