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Tarikh al-Ya'qubi (book)

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Tarikh al-Ya'qubi
Author Ahmad b. Abi Ya'qub
Original title تاريخ الیعقوبي
Language Arabic
Series 2 volumes
Subject History of the World
Genre Historical
Published 1380/1960
Publisher Beirut, Lebanon

Tārīkh al-Yaʿqūbī (Arabic: تاريخ الیعقوبي), one of the earliest sources of history in Arabic, was written by Ahmad b. Abi Ya'qub (d. 284/897 or 292/904-5). This book is a summary of world history from the beginning until the middle of the 3rd/9th century.

It has two parts: pre-Islamic history and the history of the Islamic civilization.

In the second part of the book, the life of the Prophet (s) and the infallible Imams (a) until Imam al-Hadi (a) is mentioned. The book is also a source for the study of ancient Iranian history, especially the Sasanid period.


Main article: Al-Ya'qubi

Ahmad b. Abi Ya'qub b. Ja'far b. Wahb b. Wadih al-Ya'qubi was a historian and geographer in the 3rd/9th century and a scribe in the Abbasid court. Among his works are al-Buldan and Mushakalat al-nas li-zamanihim. Like his ancestors, al-Ya'qubi was inclined to Shiism. It is believed that he passed away in 284/897 or 292-904-05.

The Parts of the Book

The First Part


The first part of the book is on the pre-Islamic history. This part had an introduction which is not extant.

It starts from the middle of the story of creation and provides the history of prophets from Adam (a) until 'Isa (a) (Jesus), as well as a history of the kings and nations of the world.

In the section on persian kings, al-Ya'qubi discusses the mythical culture and history of ancient Iran and gives valuable information on the system of the Sasanid government.

The Sources of the First Part

  • General sources: for the history of prophets, al-Ya'qubi has used the Qur'an and Islamic sources, and Jewish and Christian scriptures.
  • Sources for the history of the Israelites: apart from the Bible, the main source for the contents related to the Israelites, according to some scholars, is a book called The Cave of Treasures.
  • Sources for the history of ancient Iran: al-Ya'qubi has used several sources for the history of ancient Iran, including:
  1. Gahnamag-i Pahlavi', a part of a book called Ayin Namag.
  2. Khudhay Namag, the official source of Sasanid history.

Because of its use of these two sources, Tarikh al-Ya'qubi is one of the earliest and most important sources for the history of the Sasanid period.


Al-Ya'qubi is very accurate, sometimes uniquely, in the information he provides, such as political and ethical instructions and sermons, and official letters.

However, he does not mention what he finds in contradiction with Islamic beliefs. This is especially true in the case of the contents of The Cave of Treasures on the Israelites.

Moreover, whenever he does not have enough information on the political history of a people, he writes about their cultural history.

He also has some geographical discussions and pays attention to Persian and Roman chronology.

He provides astrological information for the birth of 'Isa (a) and Prophet Muhammad (s), the beginning of his mission, his demise, and the beginning of the caliphate of the early caliphs. This information is taken from astrologists such as Muhammad b. Musa al-Khwarazmi (d. 232/847) and Ma Sha' Allah al-Yahudi (d. 200/815-16 or 205/820).

The Second Part


The second part of Tarikh al-Ya'qubi is on Islamic history. In the beginning of this part, the biography of Prophet Muhammad (s)—including his birth, the beginning of his mission, his emigration, battles, ambassadors, scribes, and wives—is presented.

The next topic is the history of the early caliphs, i.e., Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, Imam Ali (a), and Imam al-Hasan (a).

Al-Ya'qubi mentions a brief biography of the Imams (a) until Imam al-Hadi (a) where he mentions the date of their demise.

He also writes about the virtues of Imam Ali (a) and Ahl al-Bayt (a), about the personality of Abu Talib, Hadith al-Ghadir, Hadith al-Thaqalayn, the episode of Saqifa, Talha, Zubayr, and Zubayrids.

Afterwards, he writes about the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphate until the year 259/873. The history of the Abbasid caliphate constitutes almost one-fifth of al-Ya'qubi's work.


Al-Ya'qubi's methodology in the second part of his work is based on analysis and selection. Unlike traditionist historians such as al-Tabari, he does not provide the chains of transmitters for his reports. Instead, he provides a detailed analysis of them.

In the introduction of this part, in addition to mentioning his sources, he has named some famous traditionists and genealogists of the 2nd/8th and 3rd/9th century.

Characteristics of the Book

A prominent characteristic of the book, which is regarded by some scholars as an indication of al-Ya'qubi's Shiite inclinations, is mentioning the biography of the Imams of Shi'a.

With regard to the Abbasids, he takes a moderate approach, and writes about the incidents that did not please them—such as the murder of Ibn Hubayra and Abu Muslim Khurasani and the fall of the Barmakids—in a cautious way.

Regarding the incidents that took place at his time, al-Ya'qubi addresses them only briefly, such as the uprising of Ali b. Muhammad Sahib al-Zanj (d. 270 /883-84).

Place Among Other Historians

Al-Ya'qubi's work was used as a reference by later historians. Al-Mas'udi (d. 345/956 or 346/957) used his work a lot, especially in writing the history of the pre-Islamic era.

In the 6th/12th century, the author of Mujmal al-tawarikh wa l-qisas took a lot of his contents from Tarikh al-Ya'qubi.


Tarikh al-Ya'qubi was first edited and published by Houtsma in two volumes with an introduction on al-Ya'qubi and his work. Houtsma's edition was based on a manuscript in Cambridge library, and although generally accurate, it contained some errors.

The next edition was published based on Houtsma's edition in three volumes in Najaf (1358/1939). This edition also contained certain changes that were incorrect.

In 1960, a new edition was published in Beirut based on Houtsma's edition. This edition is widely used today.