EBN ZĪĀD, ʿOBAYD-ALLĀH (b. ca. 28/648), Omayyad governor responsible for the death of the Imam Ḥosayn b. ʿAlī. He was the son of Zīād b. Abīh, a favorite of Moʿāwīa, and a Persian slave called Marjāna. He was given the governorship of Khorasan in 54/673 at the age of twenty-five, and soon afterward, he was appointed governor of Baṣra, where he subdued Kharijite unrest (Ṭabarī, II, pp. 168, 172, 185-87). At the accession of Yazīd I (r. 60-64/680-83), he forestalled the planned Shiʿite rebellion in Kūfa by intimidating the chiefs of the main tribes and publicly executing known agents of Imam Ḥosayn. When Ḥosayn and his family reached Iraq, Ebn Zīād sent the army of Ebn Saʿd against him; Ḥosayn was killed with his followers and most of the men of his family at Karbalāʾ on 10 Moḥarram 61/10 October 680. After Yazīd’s death in 64/683, Ebn Zīād claimed the caliphate for himself, but finding little support in Kūfa and Baṣra, he fled to Syria, supporting the claim of Marwān b. Ḥakam after the death of Moʿāwīa II (64/684; Ṭabarī, II, pp. 433 ff.). Under Marwān and his son ʿAbd-al-Malek, he fought to maintain control of Iraq, destroying the tawwābūn (repentants, i.e., those who repented for having left Ḥosayn to meet his fate) at the battle of ʿAyn-al-Warda (65/685). The Kufan Shiʿites revolted again under Moḵtār, who organized the mawālī (freed slaves and non-Arab freemen, mostly Persians), overwhelmed the Arab opposition, and sought revenge on those responsible for Ḥosayn’s death. Moḵtār’s general, Ebrāhīm b. Mālek Aštar, defeated the Syrian army near Mosul and killed Ebn Zīād (on the day of ʿĀšūrāʾ 67/6 August 686), sending his head to Moḵtār, who dispatched it to ʿAlī Zayn-al-ʿĀbedīn (who smiled for the first time since his father’s death; Yaʿqūbī, II, p. 309) or to Moḥammad b. Ḥanafīya (Moḵtār-nāma, Tehran, n. d., p. 7).

Ebn Zīād’s role in the death of Ḥosayn has made him a symbol of tyranny in the Shiʿite world. Though it is said that the advice of Šamer b. Ḏi’l-Jawšan prevented him from accepting the compromise negotiated by Ebn Saʿd, there is ample evidence that he was largely responsible for the outcome of the battle of Karbalāʾ. ʿAbbasid historical sources stress his intransigence toward Ḥosayn and his followers. He is said to have struck the mouth of Ḥosayn’s severed head with a stick, provoking the indignation of an old companion of the Prophet, Zayd b. Arqam, who had seen the Prophet kiss those lips (Ṭabarī, II, pp. 370 f.). He is also said to have refrained from killing ʿAlī Zayn-al-ʿĀbedīn only because of the pleas of Ḥosayn’s sister, Zaynab (Ṭabarī, pp. 372 f.). Most accounts, both historical and semilegendary, mention his sending the women of the Ahl-al-Bayt to Damascus in uncovered palanquins. The account in Balʿamī’s Persian “translation” of Ṭabarī shows the growth of the Ḥosayn legend; Ebn Zīād is said to have had Ḥosayn’s head presented to him on a golden plate (ed. Bahār, p. 271). Legend has embellished Ebn Zīād’s death. A drop of blood from the head of Ḥosayn is said to have fallen on Ebn Zīād’s thigh, causing a deep sore with such a foul stench that he was forced to tie a pouch of musk to it. The odor of musk identified his body on the battlefield (Dīnavarī, p. 288; Calmard, pp. 568 f.).

Ebn Zīād ‘s tyranny has become a symbol in Persian folklore and taʿzīa. Allusion to his deceitful character can be found in proverbs (Dehḵodā, I, p. 11), and he figures in nearly all taʿzīas connected with Karbalāʾ. His tyranny is illustrated in numerous majāles, particularly those forecasting the sufferings of Karbalāʾ martyrs, those sometimes called “Bāzār-e Kūfa” showing his attitude toward the surviving Ahl-al-Bayt and Zaynab’s famous imprecations against him, and those connected with Moḵtār’s and Moḥammad b. Ḥanafīya’s revenge (Calmard, pp. 262 ff.; on Malayan literature on the subject, see Brakel). The actor playing Ebn Zīād, clad in red, had to declaim his part with a harsh voice. When seated in his court, he generally wore a cashmere robe and a cashmere or reżāʾī turban on his head (Mostawfī, Šarḥ-e zendagānī I, p. 289). Most of these features have been retained in recent taʿzīa stagings in Persia. ʿObayd-Allāh b. Zīād is so accursed by the Shiʿites that the word “Allāh” is sometimes omitted from his name. He is then called ʿObayd-e Zīād in some taʿzīas (Rossi and Bombaci, no. 723) and in popular literature such as the Moḵtār-nāma (Calmard, p. 247).


Bibliography: (For cited works not given in detail, see “Short References.”)

L. F. Brakel, The Hikayat Muhammad Ḥanafiyyah. A Medieval Muslim-Malay Romance, doctoral dissertation, Leiden, 1975.

Balāḏorī, Fotūhá, index. J. Calmard, Le culte de l’Imām Ḥusayn. Étude sur le commémoration du drame de Karbalā dans l’Iran pré-safavide, doctoral diss., University of Paris III (Sorbonne), 1975.

ʿA.-A. Dehḵodā, Amṯāl o ḥekam, 4 vol.,Tehran, repr. Tehran, 1352 Š./1973.

Abū Ḥanīfa Dīnavarī, al-Aḵbār al-ṭewāl, Cairo, 1330/1911.

Ebn al-Aṯīr, index. H. Lammens, Le Califat de Yazid Ier, Beirut, 1921, pp. 32 f., 124 ff., 137 ff.

Masʿūdī, Tanbīh, pp. 303, 311 f.

E. Rossi and A. Bombaci, Elenco di drammi religiosi persiani (fonde mss. Vaticani Cerulli), Vatican City, 1961.

Ṣ Sajjādī, “Ebn Zīād” in DMBE III, pp. 640-42.

Ṭabarī, II, index, s. v.

ʿUbayd-Allāh b. Zīād. L. Veccia Vaglieri, “Ḥosayn b. ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭāleb” in EI2 III, pp. 607-14.

G. Weil, Geschichte der Chalifen I, Mannheim, 1846, pp. 291, 306 ff., 314 ff.

G. Wellhausen, Das arabische Reich und sein Sturz, Berlin, 1902, pp. 82, 92, 105, 107 ff.

Yaʿqūbī, Taʾrīḵ II, pp. 281 ff., 306 ff.

K. V. Zetterstéen, “ʿUbaid Allāh b. Ziyād” in EI¹ IV, p. 985.

(Jean Calmard)

Originally Published: December 15, 1997

Last Updated: December 6, 2011

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