Qatr Al-Nada: The bride who bled Egypt dry

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On one fine morning in the year 282 AH, Baghdad’s residents woke up to news of the historical marriage between the beautiful Egyptian princess “Qatr Al-Nada” and the hawkish old Abbasid caliph “Al-Motaded Billah”.

A depiction of a palace during Abbasid caliphate (photo: Blogspot)

The charming young princess was supposed to marry Prince Ali Al-Moktafi, son of Al-Motated, and the crown prince. Qatr Al-Nada’s father and Egypt’s ruler, Khamaraweh, planned for this marriage, but his plan was doomed to fail due to the caliph’s schemes. The caliph wanted to spoil his foe’s marriage arrangement, and asked to marry the princess himself. By doing so, Al-Mo’tated denied Khamaraweh the chance to influence the future of the Abbasid caliphate through his connection with the crown prince and his sons from the Egyptian princess.

The victim of this marriage was the lovely princess whose father sacrificed her happiness to satisfy his greed. To temper his daughter’s emotional tension, Khamaraweh offered her one of the most magnificent and legendary trousseaux in history.

The poor princess is known in history for her trip from Qatae and Fustat cities in Egypt to Baghdad. After the trip, she fell into oblivion in the Abbasid caliphate’s palaces and no one had ever heard of her again until she died, oppressed in her prime age.

The reasons behind the marriage

Ahmed Ibn Tulun seized Egypt and declared it independent from the Abbasid caliphate and went into a series of wars with the Abbasid caliph. His son, Khamaraweh, wanted to enjoy the enormous wealth left by his father. When he assumed power, he wished to make peace in order to live in sheer luxury without the disturbances of the wars with the Abbasid caliphate.

Khamaraweh wanted to make peace with Al-M’tated who was known for his shrewdness and cruelty, so he sent him gifts and asked him to marry his daughter to the crown prince as a part of a peace agreement. The caliph refused to marry his son to Qatr Al-Nada and said, “If he [Khamaraweh] wanted to bring himself honour with this marriage, I will give him greater honour by marrying her myself.”

As is the case with many political marriages, negotiations between both sides were opened and were mediated by Ibn Al-Gasas Al-Gawhary. In 280 AH Ibn Gasas returned to Khamaraweh with a decree from the caliph to make Khamaraweh and his sons the rulers of Egypt for 30 years. He granted him all the authority, but in return he payed tribute to the caliph. The price of this agreement was the marriage of Qatr Al-Nada to the caliph.

The young princess turned to depression when she knew she would marry the old caliph. In order to soften the princess’s heart, Khamaraweh prepared for her a legendary wedding and an extremely sumptuous trousseau. On the other hand, the Abbasid caliph was insisting that the trousseau be luxurious.

Ibn Al-Gasas accompanied the princess in her trip to Iraq and carried the jewellery that was included in the trousseau. It was said that no person in history had ever owned such magnificent jewellery. The Egyptian historian, Al-Maqrizi, said that Khamaraweh prepared for his daughter a trousseau that was truly befitting of the caliph’s luxurious life. For example, there was a couch made of four golden parts and inlaid with priceless jewels. The trousseau also included a golden bench made for the princess to lean her feet on whenever she was in her room, in addition to one thousand golden censers and hundreds of boxes containing clothes, earrings, golden necklaces and jewels. The cost of the trousseau amounted to almost one million golden dinars, while the caliph paid only one million silver dirham as a dowry. Thus, after becoming rich, Egypt was left practically bankrupt due to the marriage.

Silver dirham hit in 282 AH (photo: Archive)

The trip

Qatr Al-Nada’s trip to her husband was one of the longest wedding trips ever known in history. Khamaraweh prepared the roads between Egypt and Baghdad for the wedding which was something that had never occurred before even until today.

Khamaraweh gave orders to build palaces in every stop on the way between Fustat in Egypt and Baghdad in Iraq. The princess’s uncle, Shayban Ibn Ahmed Ibn Tulun, accompanied her on her trip together with Ibn Al- Gasas and a handful of elite and wealthy men. Historians say that she was pampered like an infant and whenever she stopped at a place, she found a luxurious palace to rest.

After relaxing at one stop, they moved on to another where they were received by a different palace. Throughout the trip, the princess was as if she had been in her father’s home the entire time; moving from one palace to another until she arrived in Baghdad at the beginning of Muharram in 282 AH. The marriage then took place in Ramadan of the same year.

She resided in the Al-Sa’ed Palace in Baghdad until her wedding ceremony took place on the fourth of Rabi’ Al-Awal in 283 AH. On the wedding day, it was announced in Baghdad that nobody would be able cross the Tigris River and that all roads leading to the river would be closed. People who lived near the river bank were also prevented from making an appearance. In the evening, a ship came to Al-Sa’ed Palace with servants on board holding candles. The ship was dragged with ropes by four smaller boats carrying the oil required to light the candles. In the end, the ship took Qatr Al-Nada to her final destination; the caliph’s palace.