Imad ad-Din al-Isfahani

Muhammad ibn Hamed Isfahani
Nickname(s) Imad ad-din
Born 1125
Isfahan, Seljuk Empire
Died 1201

Zengid Dynasty

Ayyubid Dynasty
Unit Kings Guard
Battles/wars Battle of Marj Uyun
Battle of Hattin
Siege of Jerusalem (1187)
Third Crusade

Muhammad ibn Hamed Isfahani (1125 June 20, 1201) (Persian: محمد ابن حامد اصفهانی), more popularly known as Imad ad-din al-Isfahani (Persian: عماد الدین اصفهانی) (Arabic: عماد الدين الأصفهاني (519-13 Ramadan 597)), was a Persian[1] historian, scholar, and rhetorician. He left a valuable anthology of Arabic poetry to accompany his many historical works[2] and worked as a man of letters during the Zengid and Ayyubid period.


He was born in Isfahan in the year 1125, and studied at the Nizamiyya school in Baghdad. He graduated into the bureaucracy, and held jurisdiction over Basra and Wasit. He then became a deputy of the vizier ibn Hubayra. After the death of ibn Hubayra, he went to Damascus in 1166 CE (562 Islamic Calendar) and entered the service of the qadi of Damascus, Kamal ad-Din. The qadi presented him to the Zengid Nur ad-Din, who appointed him a professor in the school he had established there, which then became known as the Imadiyya school in his honour. Nur ad-Din was later appointed to be his Chancellor.

After the death of Nur ad-Din in 1174, Imad ad-Din was removed from all his bureaucratic duties, and was banished from the palace. He went to live in Mosul and later entered the service of Saladin, the Kurdish Sultan of Egypt during that time. When Saladin took control of Damascus, Saladin's vizier, al-Qadi al-Fadil, appointed him chancellor, and he also became al-Fadil's deputy. Although Saladin had been unsure of his talent because he was only a scribe, Imad ad-Din soon became one of the sultan's favourites. As chancellor he did not have to perform the everyday duties of the chancery scribes, and he had a lot of leisure time in Egypt.

From then on he accompanied Saladin on all his campaigns. After a certain raid, he was chosen to kill one of the prisoners, but the prisoner was a child and was instead exchanged for a Muslim prisoner held by the Crusaders. Imad ad-Din was present at the Battle of Marj Uyun, the Battle of Hattin, and the subsequent campaign to expel the Crusaders from the Holy Land. At Acre, he criticized Saladin for giving away the city's treasure instead of spending it on the reconquest. At Beirut, he became ill, but was the only scribe capable of writing the terms of surrender. He had recuperated in time to see the aftermath of the Siege of Jerusalem (1187), where he again criticized Saladin's generosity; he was also disgusted by those in charge of the ransom who took bribes, and the rich Crusader nobles who took their treasures with them rather than ransoming the poor. He was present at Acre again during the Third Crusade when the Christians retook the city of Acre, and was among those who fled after the defeat.

After Saladin's death in 1193, he began writing his biographies of the sultan. He wrote the Kitab al-Barq al-Shami, which is largely lost, save for its third and fifth volumes, but was abridged by al-Bundari and used heavily by the Muslim historians Ibn al-Athir and Abu Shama in their own chronicles. He also wrote al-Fath al-Qussi fi-l-Fath al-Qudsi, which survives.

He died in 1201.

  • A heavily fictionalized version of Imad ad-Din is portrayed in the 2005 Ridley Scott epic film Kingdom of Heaven, by actor Alexander Siddig.
  • Imad ad-Din is also portrayed in "The Book of Saladin: A Novel" by Tariq Ali - the second instalment of what is known as the "Islam Quintet".

See also


  1. Donald S. Richards, "Emad al-Din Kateb Esfahani" in Encyclopedia Iranica. "The family of Persian origin into which ʿEmād-al-Dīn Kāteb was born had a tradition of administrative service for the Saljuq dynasty and the caliphate."
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