Harun al-Rashid was the fifth Abbasid Caliph. His birth date is debated, with various sources giving dates from 763 to 766. His surname translates to "the Just", "the Upright", or "the Rightly-Guided"; fully translated, his name means "Harun the Just". Al-Rashid ruled from 786 to 809, during the peak of the Islamic Golden Age. His time was marked by scientific, cultural, and religious prosperity. The economy also flourished significantly during his reign.
Harun al-Rashid‘s caliphate was a political and economic success in these early days. His role was to provide his subjects with security, and the empire enjoyed an unprecedented peace and economic flourishment. Caliph Harun al-Rashid's management of industry and commerce also flourished, and the elite lived in refinement and luxury.
Harun's Baghdad is perhaps best known for the wealth and luxurious lifestyles of its inhabitants. As a commercial center, it was unsurpassed for its time. Ships from all over the world brought their rich cargoes to the Persian Gulf and up the Tigris River to Baghdad. Silks and porcelain from China, spices and precious metals from India, and ivory, gold dust, and black slaves from Africa were shipped to Baghdad by sea. Caravans brought jewels overland from Turkey, pearls from Arabia, and furs and white slaves from Scandinavia and Russia. Taxes in the form of money or goods flowed into the capital from all the provinces of the empire, and wealthy merchants developed trade networks on land and sea linking the commercial centers of Europe, Asia, and Africa. The Middle East, because of its geographical partition, became the center of world trade! As a result, the ruling classes were able to live on a scale that the world had rarely seen before. Harun's wife, Zubaidah, who set the fashions of the city, wore jewel -studded shoes, had workers design, and construct a tree of mechanical chirping birds made of pure gold. At the wedding of her son, Marnun, Zubaidah arranged for the couple to be showered with pearls while they sat on a carpet of gold studded jewels. Many of the guests in attendance were honored with the gift of an estate or a slave, given to them by means of a ticket hidden in the perfumed gifts distributed during the wedding.
Luxurious living was not confined to the ruling classes. With Baghdad and the Middle East as the center of world trade, a new and wealthy middle class of artisans, merchants, and professional men arose whose services commanded high salaries. Indeed, the economic boom affected all classes, and few lives were left untouched.
Although wealth was perhaps the most spectacular aspect of Harun's Baghdad, its cultural and scientific achievements were more significant. Harun wanted Baghdad to be the center of learning, and to this end, he invited famous poets and scholars from all over the Middle East, including Turks and Persians as well as Arabs, to come to Baghdad to work and live.