Taken from Grabar, The Formation of Islamic Art (Yale UP, 1978), pp.168-171:

Reproducing Ibn al-Khatib’s account in the History of Baghdad of the arrival of Byzantine ambassadors to the Abbasid capital in A.D. 917:


‘Then it was commanded that the ambassadors should be taken round the palace. Now there were no soldiers here, but only the eunuchs and the chamberlains and the black pages. The number of the eunuchs was seven thousand in all, four thousand of them white and three thousand black; the number of the chamberlains was also seven thousand, and the number of the black pages, other than the eunuchs, was four thousand; the flat roofs of all the palace being occupied by them, as also of the banqueting-halls. Further, the store-chambers had been opened, and the treasures therein had been set out as is customary for a bride’s array; the jewels of the Caliph being arranged in trays, on steps, and covered with cloths of black brocade. When the ambassadors entered the Palace of the Tree and gazed upon the Tree, their astonishment was great. For there they saw birds fashioned out of silver and whistling with every motion, while perched on a tree of silver weighing 500 dirhams. Now the wonder of the ambassadors was greater at seeing these than at any of the other sights that they saw.

... The number of the hangings in the Palaces of the Caliph was thirty-eight thousand. These were curtains of gold – of brocade embroidered with gold – all magnificently figured with representations of drinking-vessels, and with elephants and horses, camels, lions, and birds. There were also long curtains, both plain and figured, of the sort made at Basinna, in Armenai, at Wasit, and Bahasna; also embroideries of Dabik to the number of thirty-eight thousand; while of the curtains that were of gold brocade, as before described, these were numbered at twelve thousand and five hundred. The number of the carpets and mats of the kinds made at Jahram and Darabgird and at Ad-Dawrak was twenty-two thousand pieces; these were laid in the corridors and courts, being spread under the feet of the nobles, and the Greek Envoys walked over such carpets all the way from the limit of the new Official Gate, right to the presence of the Caliph – but this number did not include the fine rugs in the chambers and halls of assembly, of the manufacture of Tabaristan and Dabik, spread over the other carpets, and these were not to be trodden with the feet.

The envoys of the Greek Emperor, being brought in by the Hall of the Official Gate were taken first to the palace known as the Khan al-Khayl (the Cavalry House). This was a palace that was for the most part a peristyle court with marble columns. On the right side of this house stood five hundred horses caparisoned each with a saddle of gold or silver, while on the left side stood five hundred horses with brocade saddlecloths and long head-covers; also every horse was held in hand by a groom magnificently dressed. From this palace the ambassadors passed through corridors and halls, opening one into the other, until they entered the Park of the Wild Beasts. This was a palace with various kinds of wild animals therein, who entered it from the park and came up close to the visitors, sniffing them, and eating from their hands. Next the envoys went out to the palace where stood four elephants caparisoned in peacock-silk brocade; and on the back of each were eight men of Sind, and javelin-men with fire, and the sight of these caused much terror to the Greeks. Then they came to a palace where there were one hundred lions, fifty to the right hand and fifty to the left, every lion being held in by the hand of its keeper, and about its head and neck were iron chains.

Then the envoys passed to what wqas called the New Kiosk which is a palace in the midst of two gardens. In the centre was an artifical pond of white lead, round which flows a stream of white lead more lustrous than polished silver. This pond was thirty cubits in the length by twenty across, and round it were set four magnificent boats with gilt seats adorned with embroidery of Dabik, and the pavilions were covered over with the gold work of Dabik. All round this tank extended a garden with lawns with palm-trees, and it is said that their number was four hundred, and the height of each is five cubits. Now the entire height of these trees, from top to bottom, was enclosed in carved teak-wood, encircled with gilt copper rings. And all these palms bore full-grown dates, which were not quite ripe. Round the sides of the garden also are citrons and also other kinds of fruit. The ambassadors went out of this palace, and next came to the Palace of the Tree, where there is a tree standing in the midst of a great circular pond filled with clear water. The tree has eighteen branches, every branch having numberous twigs, on which sit all sorts of gold and silver birds, both large and small. Most of the branches of this tree are of silver, but some are of gold, and they spread into the air carrying leaves of divers colors. The leaves of the tree move as the wind blows, while the birds pipe and sing. On the one side of the palace, to the right of the tank, are the figures of fifteen horsemen, mounted upon their mares, and both men and steeds are clothed caparisoned in brocade. In their hands the horsemen carry long-poled javelins, and those on the right are all pointed in one direction it being as though each were attacking his adversary, for on the left hand side is a like row of horsemen. Next the Greek envoys entered the Palace of Paradise. Here there were carpets and furniture in such quantity as cannot be detailed or enumerated, and round the hall were hung ten thousand gilded breastplates. From hence the ambassadors went forth crossing a corridor that was three hundred cubits in length, on either side of which were hung some ten thousand other pieces of arms, bucklers, helmets, casques, cuirasses, coats of mail, with ornamented quivers and bows. Here, too, were stationed nearly two thousand eunuchs, black and white, in double line, to right and left.

Then at length, after the ambassadors had thus been taken round twenty-three various palaces, they were brought forth to the Court of the Ninety. Here were the pages of the Privy Chamber, full-armed, sumptuously dressed, each of admirable stature. In their hands they carried swords, small battle-axes, and maces. The ambassadors next passed down the lines formed by the black slaves; the deputy chamberlains, the soldiers, the footmen, and the sons of the chieftains, until they again came to the Presence Hall. Now there were a great number of the Slavic eunuchs in all these palaces, who during the visit were occupied in offering to all present water, cooled with snow, to drink; also sherbets and beer and some of these slaves went round with the ambassadors, to whom, as they walked or sat to take rest in some seven different places, water was thus offered, and they drank.

... Finally, they came again to the presence of the Caliph Muqtadir, whom they found in the Palace of the Crown upon the bank of the Tigris. He was arrayed in clothes of Dabik-stuff embroidered in gold, being seated on an ebony throne overlaid with Dabik-stuff embroidered in gold likewise, and on his head was the tall bonnet called galansuwah. Suspended on the right of the throne were nine necklaces, like prayer beads and to the left were seven others, all of famous jewels, the largest of which was of such a size that its sheen eclipsed the daylight. Before the Caliph stood five of his sons, three to the right and two to the left. Then the ambassadors, with their interpreter, halted before Muqtadir, and stood in the posture of humility, with their arms crossed.’


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