Influential Princess of the Abbasid Empire and Patron of the Arts
Hijri ~147–217 (AH); Common Era 765–832 (CE)
Zubeida bint Jaf’ar was the wife of the Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid, whom she wedded in 781, and was one of the leading figures during his reign. It is believed that she and her husband are the inspiration behind much of the 1001 Arabian Nights—although her husband’s mother Al-Khayzarun is seen as the key influence on the character of Scheherazade. Zubeida was described by contemporaries as being of stunning beauty, courage, and wisdom which inspired respect and admiration. A patroness of the arts, Zubeida was a writer of poetry who entered her work into competition. Moreover, she extended her interest in the arts as a patron who offered substantial amounts of money to tempt literary figures, scientists, and poets to Baghdad. The love her husband bore her allowed her an influential position in the court. Harun al-Rashid regularly took counsel from his wife and it was believed at the time that her decisions were always wise and correct. Among historians, it is believed that while her husband was with the army, the authority of running the kingdom fell to her and many achievements bear her name. If she did not remain in Baghdad to rule, she was at Harun’s side on his military excursions and joined him on Hajj. On Hajj, seeing the difficulties the pilgrims had in procuring water, Zubeida ordered engineers to construct tunnels to transport pure water along the road to Mecca. This achievement is still known as “Zubeida’s River.” Moreover, due to her work, the road between Baghdad and Mecca became heavily used and known as “Zubeida’s Road.” Despite her wisdom in such affairs, her unequivocal love for her spoiled son led to the eventual downfall of the dynasty.