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Walid II

Betsy Williams, Jane and Morgan Whitney Fellow, Department of Islamic Art

Posted: Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Statue of a Woman

Statue of a Woman, from Khirbat al-Mafjar, Jordan, mid-8th century A.D. The Rockefeller Museum, Jerusalem (M. Hattstein and P. Delius, Islam: Art and Architecture, p. 83)

«Although al-Walid ibn Yazid, known as al-Walid II (r. 743–744), ruled for only a year, he is nonetheless one of the most colorful Umayyad caliphs. A grandson of Abd al-Malik, builder of the Dome of the Rock, he is recorded in historical sources as a proverbial man about town. His behavior was considered so profligate that he was passed over in succession to grandfather's throne. Instead, his uncle Hisham became caliph and al-Walid retired to his desert qasr to pass his time in song and pleasure among a retinue of his favorite drinking companions.»

Al-Walid seems to have consistently preferred life in the desert over that in the city. There he focused his attention on literary pursuits, for he was a skilled poet in topics (unsurprisingly) of love, beautiful women, and drinking. A few other surviving poems are vitriolic attacks against his despised uncle Hisham. A number of desert qusur, or palaces, constructed in the later Umayyad period have been associated with his patronage, including Qasr al-Mshatta and Khirbat al-Mafjar.

detail from a brazier

Female Torso, mid-8th century. Made in Jordan, Qasr al-Mshatta. Limestone, carved. Jordan Archaeological Museum, Amman (J. 16583)

The enormous size of these buildings and their lavish decoration suggests al-Walid had access to significant funds despite his outsider status. Khirbat al-Mafjar's stucco scultpures of semi-nude women, luxurious floor decorations, and pools make it easy to imagine the contexts for al-Walid's parties in the "Playboy Mansions" of their time.

Read More
Hugh Kennedy, "al-Walid (II) b. Yazid b. 'Abd al-Malik" in Encyclopedia of Islam, Second Edition
Robert Hamilton, Al-Walid and his Friends: An Umayyad Tragedy (Oxford University Press, 1988)

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About the Author

Betsy Williams is a graduate student at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, and was the 2012 Jane and Morgan Whitney Fellow in the Museum's Department of Islamic Art. Her dissertation is on precious-metal jewelry and notions of adornment in the Byzantine and early Islamic periods.

About this Blog

This blog accompanied the special exhibition Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition, on view March 14–July 8, 2012.