Note: Abbasid leaders are highlighted in red while Zanj commanders are in bold type.
869 Ali bn Muhammad raises the banner of rebellion around the port of Basra. An attempt by local militia to suppress the rebellion is ambushed and annihilated (Day of the Barges).
870 The Abbasid renew their effort but this proves unsuccessful as mounted troops are hindered by the landscape. A Zanj assault by land and sea capture and sack Al-Ubulla destroying most of the city’s goods.
871 The fall of Suq al-Ahwaz to the rebels sends the people of Basra to flee the city. The Abbasid renew their offense defeating the Zanj near Nahr Ma’qil. Nonetheless, the Zanj surprise the Abbasid in a night assault of their camp forcing the Abbasid to suspend further attacks. A full-scale assault of Basra is successful and the city is sacked (September). An Abbasid relief force is beaten off after ten days of continuous fighting.
872 Around February, the Abbasid commander Muflih al-Turki led a large army to the Basra region catching Ali ibn Muhammad by surprise. A Zanj counterattack put the government forces to flight and during the retreat to al-Ubulla, Muflih died of his wounds.
In the north, a second Abbasid force led by Tashtimur al Turki caught up with Yahya ibn Muhammad near Nahr Abi al-Asad, however, the massive area of swamp made reconnaissance difficult. In a brisk engagement, Yahya was caught and transported to Samarra where he met his end.
Further Abbasid activity was delayed by an outbreak of disease. Recovering, government troops led by Abu Ahmad, moved to Badhaward to resume their campaign against the Zanj. Government troops destroy a stronghold and nearby villages, yet superior numbers of the Zanj forced Abu Ahmad to return to Badhaward. A wind storm destroyed Abu Ahmad’s camp forcing the Abbasid to abandon the campaign.
In the east, the Abbasid are occupied with the suppression of the Saffarid secessionist movement in Persia curtailing further activity against the Zanj for the remainder of the year.
873 The rebellion expands to Suq al-Ahwaz. Several campaigns are planned to eradicate the Zanj from the region. Ishaq ibn Kundai would lead a column to Basra, while Ibrahim ibn Sima marched on Badhaward. Under pressure, the Zanj fell back to their headquarters near Basra. The series of attacks and counterattacks produced little results and by mid-875, a number of government commanders are replaced.
876 The invasion of Iraq by the Saffarid forced the Abbasid to withdraw troops from Wasit and the Tigris districts presenting an opportunity to threaten the north. Sulayman ibn Jami was instructed to proceed to al-Hawanit and Sulayman ibn Musa to Batihah.
877 Caliph al-Muwafak comes to terms with the Saffarid enabling him to take command of the campaign against the Zanj. Joined by his son Abu al-Abbas their combined force cleared al-Ahwaz driving the Zanj back to their capital of al-Mukhtaran south of Basrah. Elsewhere in the region, an army led by Rumays al-Jubba’i was forced to retreat on Wasit. The Zanj continue to plunder the region while evading pursuing government forces.
Confronting this latest threat, Zanj leaders Sulayman and al-Jubbai unite to meet government troops led by Aghartmish and Khushaysh. Concealed among the reeds, the Zanj successfully ambush the Abbasid traveling by water routing Aghartmish’s forces and killing Khushaysh.
878 A second government force led by Takin al-Bukhari was attacked by al Jubbai who feigning a retreat led al-Bukhari’s pursuing troops into an ambush by Sulayman’s awaiting cavalry. Government forces resumed their offensive attacking Zanj villages and are able to inflict a defeat upon al-Jubbai. The Zanj retaliated and successively defeated several government forces reaching al-Rusafa to the south of Wasit and plundered the town.
879 Suleyman advances on al-Shadidiyyah and despite heavy losses defeats Takin al-Bukhari. The governor of the region, Ahmad ibn Laythawayh marches against Suleyman and in a two-day engagement is defeated opening Wasit to an assault. Sweeping aside the garrison, Wasit is captured, plundered and burned. Suleyman spends the next month in the district of Junbula, but a reconstituted Abbasid army, led by Ahmad ibn Laythawayh forces Suleyman to retreat to Tahitha where he remained for the rest of the year.
880 Renewing the campaign against the Zanj, a well-equipped army led by Abu al-Abbas cleared the Tigris districts of rebel troops. Successfully defeating the Zanj near Wasit, he enters the town to establish himself and construct barges. In the months following both sides attempt to provoke the other to attack, but gaining the upper hand Abu al-Abbas forces Suleyman to retreat. Pursuing the Zanj, Abu al-Abbas is ambushed barely evading capture.
Continuing the campaign, al-Abbas attacked the Zanj stronghold of al-Mania. Baiting the enemy with some barges, these were easily captured by the Zanj who found themselves surrounded. In the ensuring battle, the Zanj flee losing their own vessels and leaving al-Mania to be burned.
In September, Abu Ahmed al-Muwaffaq reinforced the troops of Abu al-Abbas as reports arrived of a Zanj build up. Al-Muwaffaq joined his son and together they moved south toward Sulayman’s stronghold of al-Mania. Government forces advanced in two columns and Sulayman seeing the full strength abandoned the city. Al-Muwaffaq pursued Sulayman while al-Abbas captured the city freeing its captives.
Following the sack of al-Mania, al-Muwaffaq sent al-Abbas to capture the rebel depot of al-Hawanit in an engagement lasting until nightfall. Learning that Sulayman was at al-Mansura, al-Muwaffaq proceeded with his cavalry. In a clash with rebel forces outside of al-Mansura, the rebel commander al-Jubbai was mortally wounded. Al-Muwaffaq orders his infantry, cavalry and watercraft to the assault of al-Mansura. Overcoming its defences Sulayman flees abandoning a great number of stores.
881 With the area of Tahitha secured, al-Muwaffaq restored government control over the region. Further actions against the Zanj resulted in the seizure of thirty galleys leaving many rebels to defect. By mid-February, al-Muwaffaq was ready to attack the Zanj headquarters of al-Mukhtaran.
The siege of al-Mukhtarah lasted two and half years with both sides attempting to dislodge the other by stratagems. Battles took place inside and outside the city fortifications with all the remaining Zanj commanders committed to its defence. Government troops construct a new city to serve as a depot.
883 In the spring, the western side of al-Mukhtarah fell followed by the eastern side in August. During this latter phase, Ali ibn Muhammad is killed bringing the rebellion to a virtual end.
map 1 Wiki Common
map 2 Wiki Common