Hazhir Teimourian

Mummies In The Closet

The Court of the Caliphs: The Rise and Fall of Islam's Greatest Dynasty


Weidenfeld & Nicolson 326pp £20 order from our bookshop

Whenever I think of the Abbasid caliphs of Baghdad, one story about them elbows aside all others in my mind. In the early 840s, Caliph Mutawakkil badly wanted to see a wondrous cedar in the hills of Nishapur that was said to have been planted 1,400 years earlier by Zarathustra to commemorate the conversion of the local king to his creed. But Nishapur was months away by caravan in north-east Iran, and the caliph had no time to go there. So he decreed that the tree be brought to him. Writing about it some 200 years later, the Iranian courtier and historian Beyhaqqi the Elder was clearly appalled by the barbarity of this decision, even though he was a committed Muslim himself. He wrote:

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • In this month's Silenced Voices, Lucy Popescu shines a light on Myanmar's persecution of writers and journalists, p… ,
    • Lecture on war and peace in 19th-century Europe by Professor Sir Richard Evans, Thurs 25 Oct, 6.30pm Europe House… ,
    • 'Why, throughout the world, are so many people fascinated by the fiction and reality of espionage? And why of all p… ,
    • . here on books, Muriel Spark and life's tangled dance ,
    • RT : There aren't enough aggressive subtitles these days: ,
    • Churchill's on the cover of the October edition of the magazine. Piers Brendon reviews two new books about the Brit… ,
    • 'Readers have no more power to predict where the next story is going to take them than the prisoners had to determi… ,