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Walid II

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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