Timeline of Islamic Dynasties

A printable version of this timeline is available for download at the bottom of this page.


Ali is murdered, presumably by a Kharijite extremist. His son Hassan loses a battle for succession to Mu’awiyah and retires to Medina. Mu’awiyah establishes the Umayyad dynasty and transfers the imperial capital to Damascus.


Caliph Muawiyah dies. His son Yazid succeeds him as Caliph. A struggle with Ali’s other son, Hussein, results in the death and mutilation of the latter in a battle at Karbala (in the south of present-day Iraq). This martyrdom of Hussein becomes a pivotal event for the Shia sect of Islam, and is commemorated annually by Shia Muslims all over the world as a day of mourning called Ashura . For the Shia, Hussein’s rebellion was the action of a brave man defying injustice and tyranny.


Uqba Ibn Nafi leads an army into the Maghreb, and arriving at the Atlantic Ocean. The invasion is partially reversed by a Amazigh (Berber) chieftan Kahena.


Following the brief reign of Marwan I, the Caliphate of Abd al-Malik restores Umayyad rule and sees the start of the construction of the Dome of the Rock, which will be completed in 691. Arabic emerges as the language of administration, as reflected in the minting of new coinage.


Muslim armies conquer most of Spain, under the command of Tariq Ibn Ziyyad.


Muslim armies reach Constantinople but are unsuccessful at conquering it, despite repeated attempts.

-The port of Lisbon is conquered by Muslim armies from the Maghreb.


The Muslim invaders are defeated by Charles Martel and his knights at the Battle of Tours (Poitiers), in present-day southern France, and retreat back across the Pyrenees. This marks the furthest extent of the Muslim conquest in Western Europe.


Caliphate of Hisham, which saw the growth of Arabic prose writing. Power shifted from Damascus to Baghdad as Sassanian (Iranian) ideas of absolute monarchy and a highly centralized bureaucracy were adopted.


The Caliphate of Walid II begins.


A popular uprising beginning in Khurasan (Eastern Iran) and spreading west brings the death of the Umayyad ruling family at the hand of the Caliph Abu al-Abbas al-Saffah, the first Abbasid ruler. The Abbasid dynasty’s reign marks the beginning of the golden age of Arabic literature, as the tradition continues an earlier flow of influence from Hellenic and Near Eastern cultures. Although initially powerful, the caliphate of the Abbasid dynasty slowly dissipates until Baghdad is sacked by the Mongols in 1258.


Arab forces in Central Asia defeat a Chinese Army at the Battle of Atlakh on the Talas. Of particular importance is that the Arabs learn about paper from the Chinese prisoners. Samarkand initially plays the role of the site of paper production in the Arab world.


Accession of the Caliph al-Mansur, Abu Muslim having been assassinated.


Spain secedes from the Abbasid Caliphate and a new dynasty is established there under Umayyad leadership.


The newly founded city of Baghdad becomes the Abbasid capital.


Abu Hanifa al-Numan ibn Thabit, founder of the Hanafi School of Islamic law, dies. Known also as Hanafiyyah, Hanafi law is the first of four orthodox Sunni schools of law.


Brief Caliphate of al-Hadi, and erection of the Great Mosque at Cordoba.


Death of Jafar al-Sadiq, great great grandson of Ali. Shi’i Muslims are divided over which of his sons will continue the Imamate. A minority believe that the elder son, Ismail, is the heir, while the majority believe the line continues with the younger, Musa al-Kazim. They become known as Ismailis and Itha Ashari’s (or Twelvers), respectively.


The Caliphate of Harun al-Rashid begins. His rule will last until 809, and marks the period of greatest cultural and intellectual achievement under the Abbasid dynasty. It is during his reign that the first anthologies of Hadith (reported sayings of the Prophet) appear, compiled by al-Bukhari and Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj. He will later appear as a central character in many of the tales in the Thousand and One Nights.


Malik ibn Anas al-Asbahi, founder of the Maliki school of Islamic law, dies.


Harun al-Rashid sends a diplomatic mission to the court of Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor.

– The Abbasid hold on North African territories slips, as Ibrahim ibn al-Aghlab, governor in Ifriqiya (present-day Tunisia), founds the Aghlabid dynasty there. This dynasty’s power will spread beyond Tunisia to a large part of present-day Algeria, Sicily and Italy.

– Islamic merchants reach the Canton area of China.

– Paper factory is established in Baghdad.


Death of al-Rashid and accession of al-Amin, sparking a crisis of succession.


Al-Ma’mun, son of Harun al-Rashid, defeats his brother after a four-year struggle for power, and becomes Caliph. Al-Ma’mun is a partisan of the Mu’tazilite school of rationalist, speculative Islamic theology that flourished from the eighth to the tenth century.

– Death of Abu Nouwas, by far the most influential of the Abbasid poets and one of the most influential figures in the history of Arabic literature. His poetry, most often addressed to handsome young men, was rich in humor and praised wine and drunkenness.


Death of Charlemagne, Emperor of Europe.


Death of al-Shafi’i, founder of one of the four Sunni madhhabs .


Arab invaders conquer Crete and plunder the Greek Isles. They embark on the conquest of Sicily and Sardinia.


Revolts of the Coptic Christian community, in Egypt.


Invasion of Spain and occupation of Seville by the Normans.

c. 847

Death of the mathematician and geographer al-Khwarazmi. The word ‘algorithm’ comes from his name.


Death of Ahmad ibn Hanbal, founder of the Hanbali school of Islamic law.


Aghlabid forces rout the Venetian navy and sack Rome and the Vatican, forcing the Pope to flee.


Death of al-Jahiz, writer, philosopher, and satirist, and author of such notable works asKitab al-Hayawan (The Book of Animals) and Kitab al-Bukhala (The Book of Misers).


Death of al-Kindi, the first major Arab philosopher. He was influenced by Aristotelian Neo-Platonism, and made significant contributions to such diverse fields as astrology, medicine, and mathematics. Due to European political and social instability since the collapse of the Roman Empire, it was philosophers in Arab centers of learning who preserved and developed Greek philosophy throughout the Middle Ages.


The imam accepted by a majority of Shi’i, Muhammad al-Muntazar, disappears. This imam, a child, is the twelfth in the line of imams, and many Shi’i believe he will one day return as the Mahdi, or messiah. Hence this group of Shi’i are known as the Ithna Asharis, or Twelvers.


A Zaydi Shi’i state is founded in Yemen, which continues to exist until 1962. Zaydis form a relatively moderate branch of Shi’ism and they believe that any descendant of Ali may be the Imam.


Alfonso III of Castile initiates the Christian Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula.


The Shi’ite Fatimid dynasty is established in Kairouan, in present-day Tunisia, bringing an end to the reign of the Aghlabids. Named for Fatima, the wife of Ali, the fourth Caliph, the dynasty is founded under the leadership of Ubayd Allah, an Isma’ili scholar from Syria who claimed descent from Fatima and ‘Ali. The Fatimids spread both east (to Egypt) and west across North Africa (to Fez, Tangier, and Ceuta).


Caliph Abd al-Rahman III, a strong authoritarian ruler, takes power in al-Andalus (the present-day Andalusia in the south of Spain) and establishes a competing Caliphate in Cordoba. He is a great patron of scholarship and science, and under his rule Cordoba will become one of the great intellectual centers of the medieval world. He struggles with the Fatimids for control of the Maghreb.


The Hamdanids, who were Shi’is, come to power in Aleppo and Mosul, though they date back to 905. They will rule there until 1004, and are generous patrons of scholars, historians, poets and philosophers.


Death of Abu al-Hasan al-Ash’ari, a philosopher and theologian noted for having integrated the rationalist methodology of the speculative theologians into the framework of orthodox Islam.

– The city of Algiers is founded.


Philosopher al-Farabi dies in Damascus. Of Turkish origin, al-Farabi was regarded as the preeminent scholar of Aristotelian thought in the medieval world, and was in large part responsible for the integration of Aristotle’s ideas into Islamic philosophy.


The Byzantine Empire regains control of Crete from the Arabs.


Death of al-Mutanabbi, regarded by many as the greatest Arab poet in history. He is best known for panegyric poems in ornate language.


The Fatimids conquer Egypt and establish Cairo as the center of a new rival imperial Caliphate. The al-Azhar mosque-university is established to train Shi’a missionaries. Al-Azhar is still a major institution of higher learning, but it ceased to promote Isma’ili Shi’ism with the fall of the Fatimids.


Although Muslim forces had reached Sind (northwest India) by 711, the invasions intensified in this later period, culminating in the military genius Mahmud of Ghaznah’s victory at Peshawar in 1008 over the army assembled by several Hindu rulers.


Life of Al-Biruni, a scientist, mathematician, ethnographer, and overall polyhistor.


Viking explorer Leif Eriksson lands in North America.


Death of al-Hakim, the Fatimid Caliph in Egypt. A group of Ismaili Shi’i are devoted to him, and believe he will return as the messiah. This group becomes known as the Druze.


The Cordoban Caliphate is abolished as Hashim III, the last of the Umayyad caliphs, is expelled. The next fifty years see the gradual fragmentation of rule in Spain into areas led by factional kings (taifas).


Death of Ibn Sina in Hamadan. Ibn Sina, known in the West as Avicenna, was a Persian physician and one of the most famous and influential Muslim philosopher-scientists. Particularly significant were his contributions to Aristotelian philosophy and to medicine .


Pisa takes Sardinia back from the Arabs.


The Great Schism: the Christian church splits into the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.


The Almoravids ( al-Murabitun ), a confederation of Amazigh (Berber) tribes in control of most of Morocco and Algeria, establish the city of Marrakesh under the leadership of Usuf ibn Tashfin. They go on to seize Fez (in Morocco) in 1069, and Algiers (in Algeria) in 1082.


Death in Spain of Ibn Hazm, a Muslim litterateur, historian, jurist, and theologian.


The Seljuks, a Central Asian dynasty of Turkish descent that converted to Islam in the 990s, conquer Armenia.


The Hamdanids, who were Shi’is, come to power in Aleppo and Mosul, though they date back to 905. They will rule there until 1004, and are generous patrons of scholars, historians, poets and philosophers.


The Seljuks build the Nizamiyyah madrasa (school) in Baghdad.


The Seljuks take Syria and Palestine.


In Spain, the Christian king Alfonso VI of Castile seizes Toledo.


The Almoravids reassert Muslim rule in al-Andalus after defeating Alfonso VI.

c. 1091

The Isma’ilis, a Shi’ite sect, foment a revolt against Seljuk and Sunni hegemony and help to set the domestic and international policy of the Fatimids. The Qarmatians meantime controlled East Arabia and remained independent of the growing Fatimid caliphate.


Nizam al-Mulk, vizier to the Saljuq Turks, assassinated by an Isma’ili da’i .


El Cid, a Spanish knight (and later, the hero of an eponymous epic poem), takes Valencia from the Muslims.


At the Council of Clermont, in France, Pope Urban II calls for the First Crusade to take the Holy Land from Muslim rule.


Jerusalem falls to the Christian Crusaders, who indulge in a wholesale slaughter of the city’s inhabitants.


The Crusaders seize Acre, a Levantine port city.


Ali ibn Yusuf becomes sultan of the Almoravid dynasty; he will eventually solidify the dynasty’s control over most of northwest Africa and Spain.


Death of the theologian, logician, and mystic al-Ghazali in Baghdad.


The Almohads ( al-Muwahhidun ), a strict Sunni dynasty from the area that is now southern Morocco and northern Mauritania, seize control of North Africa and Spain, defeating the Almoravids. Their reign will last until 1269, although from 1225 on their sphere of influence in Europe will be limited to Granada.


The Seljuks take Edessa in Syria, a Christian Crusader principality established during the First Crusade.


Pope Eugene III, on receiving word of the Muslim capture of Edessa, proclaims the Second Crusade.


The Second Crusade ends in humiliating failure when the demoralized Christian armies are forced to break off their siege of Damascus after only four days.


Saladin ( Salah al-Din ibn Ayyub ) founds the Ayyubid dynasty in Egypt and unifies Syria and Egypt, thus ending the Fatimid dynasty and restoring Sunni control of Egypt. He then directs all his energies towards fighting the Crusaders.


Height of the Khmer Emipre in Cambodia.


Death in Marrakesh of Ibn Tufayl, a Moorish physician who served as court physician and general adviser to the Almohad ruler Abu Ya’qub Yusuf from 1163 to 1184.


Saladin recaptures Jerusalem during the Third Crusade. Magnanimous in victory, he gives generous terms to the defeated Christian armies.


Death of the philosopher Ibn Rushd in Marrakesh. Known in the West as Averroës, he was the author of a series of summaries and commentaries on Aristotle and Plato that proved extremely influential in Europe and in the Islamic World for hundreds of years. They were produced by commission of the Almohad caliph Abu Ya’qub Yusuf.


Death of Maimonides, a great Jewish philosopher, jurist and physician. He lived most of his life in Islamic Spain and wrote in both Arabic and Hebrew. His writing marks the zenith of the Judeo-Arabic tradition.


Genghis Kahn dies.


Death of Ibn al-‘Arabi (known as al-Sheikh al-Akbar ), a Sufi philosopher who was read from Spain to Sumatra, as far south as the Swahili coast and as far afield as modern-day Tatarstan.


Oxford University founded in England.


The Mamluk Turks, former slaves in the Ayyubid army, establish their dynasty in Egypt.


Mongol invaders sack Baghdad and kill its ‘Abbasid caliph, dealing a devastating blow to the cultural capital of the Arab world. The Mongols establish the vast Ilkhanid empire that incorporates the eastern part of the Arab world together with Iran. This empire is often in conflict with the Mamluks to the west.


Death of Jalal al-Din Rumi (known also as Mawlana ), the Persian Sufi and gifted poet famous for his passionate ecstasies. Rumi founded the Mevlevi tariqah movement of Sufism, characterized by highly formalized whirling dances.

c. 1300

Osman establishes the Ottoman dynasty in Anatolia (in present-day Turkey). Over the course of the next century, Ottoman chieftains will unite the small principalities of Anatolia and go on to conquer large portions of the Balkans at the expense of the fading Byzantine Empire.


Height of the Mali Empire in west Africa.


Famed traveler Abu ‘Abdallah Ibn Battuta begins his epic 33-year journey in Morocco. He eventually visits Mali, Somalia, Arabia, India, the Maldives, and China, among other places. He writes a book about his journeys, which provides valuable insight into contemporary life for modern scholars.


Death in Damascus of Ahmad ibn Taymiyyah, one of Islam’s most important theologians.


Beginning of the construction of the Alhambra, a fortress and walled city, in Granada.


The Black Death arrives in Alexandria, Constantinople, and Egypt, brought in along trade routes from the East. The disease, believed by many to be a strain of bubonic plague, will kill between a quarter and a third of the population of Europe and the Islamic world over the next handful of years.


Invading Ottoman armies defeat the Serbs at the battle of Kosovo Polje (the Field of Blackbirds), initiating five hundred years of Ottoman rule over the Balkans.


Timur Lang ( Tamerlane ), a Türkmen Mongol, defeats an Ottoman army at Ankara, dealing a temporary setback to the Ottoman expansion.


Death of Ibn Khaldun, a famous Arab historian best-known for his work al-Muqaddima .


Johannes Gutenberg begins use of the printing press.


The Ottoman ruler Mehmet II conquers Constantinople and establishes it as the capital of the Ottoman Empire, which at this point extends from the Euphrates to the Danube. An enlightened ruler, Mehmet will transform the conquered Byzantine city — renamed Istanbul — into one of the cultural capitals of Islam.

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