The Last Game

The Great Abbasid Civil War was a destructive conflict over the position of caliphate, the leader of Sunni Islam.  Muhammad ibn Harun al-Amin had inherited the title from their father, but his half-brother, Abu Jafar Abdullah al-Mamun ibn Harun, had been granted his own territory as well.  Al-Amin attempted to establish centralized control over his brother, whose resistance turned into a civil war.

In 813 CE, al-Mamun’s forces were besieging al-Amin’s capital of Baghdad.  As the city fell, al-Amin was engrossed in a lively game of chess against his favorite eunuch, Kauthar.  A messenger interrupted the game, informing the caliph that the city, and the caliph’s safety were in danger.  Now was the time to look to the city’s defenses, not to a board game.

Al-Amin waved the messenger off distractedly.  “Patience my friend.  I see that in a few movies, I shall checkmate Kauthar.”

The city fell, al-Amin won his game, and the caliph was executed, succeeded by al-Mamun.