I saw him -- in his golden prime, / Of good Haroun Alraschid

"Thereon, his deep eye laughter-stirr'd / With merriment of kingly pride, / Sole star of all that place and time, / I saw him -- in his golden prime, / Of good Haroun Alraschid." (Alfred Tennyson, "Recollections Of The Arabian Nights")

24 March 809: Today, 1.204 years ago, Caliph Harun al-Rashid died in Tus in Transoxania at the back of beyond of his vast empire.

Harun is probably the best known Caliph in the West, at least by name, since the early Middle Ages, when he received an embassy from Charlemagne in 799 and sent back magnificent gifts back to the Franks, the famous elephant Abul-Abbas among them.

Even though the Abbasid Caliphate was at the height of its power during his reign, Harun al-Rashid's legacy is not uncontroversial by far in the Islamic world, the West remembers him as wise and resourceful ruler though, roaming through the streets and taverns of nightly Baghdad in disguise to get first hand information about his subjects' sensitivities.

Thus, during the 19th and early 20th century literary reception, Harun al-Rashid became synonymous with a wise, generous and fabulously rich Islamic fairytale ruler, from Burton's translation of "One Thousand and One Nights" to Longfellow, Joyce and Yeats.

The painting above is a Romantic fantasy depicting the reception of Charlemagne's embassy at Harun al-Rashid's court (Julius Köckert, 1864)

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