Sept. 29 (Bloomberg) -- When he ascended the throne in 786 A.D., Caliph Harun al-Rashid oversaw an Islamic empire stretching from the Atlantic to India, and his court in Baghdad was suitably magnificent.
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Harun married six times and fathered 25 children with his wives and concubines, but he never put aside Zubaidah, his first consort.
She built herself a palace of ivory and gold, had a large bodyguard of Koran-reciting slave girls and often wore so many jewels she needed aides to hold her up.
Zubaidah had a favorite pet monkey: It was dressed in a cavalry uniform and had 30 servants to attend to every need. Anyone wishing to speak with the Caliph’s wife -- generals included -- had to kiss the monkey’s hand.
I spoke with Benson Bobrick, author of “The Caliph’s Splendor: Islam and the West in the Golden Age of Baghdad,” on the following topics:
1. Harun al-Rashid
2. Islamic Armies
3. Baghdad Shines
4. Wives & Concubines
5. Knowledge Saved
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(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)
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