MAMUN (c. 786–833), originally Abdallah, surnamed Al-Maʽmūn (“in whom men trust”), the seventh of the Abbasid caliphs of Bagdad, was born about A.D. 786, and was the second son of Harun al-Rashīd. By Harun’s will he was successor-designate to his brother Amin, during whose reign he was to be governor of the eastern part of the empire. On Harun′s death (809) Amin succeeded and Mamun acquiesced. Irritated, however, by the treatment he received from Amin, and supported by a portion of the army, Mamun speedily rebelled. A five years′ struggle between the two brothers ended in the death of Amin and the proclamation of Mamun as caliph at Bagdad (Sept. 813). Various factions and revolts, which disturbed the first years of his reign, were readily quelled by his prudent and energetic measures. But a much more serious rebellion, stirred up by his countenancing the heretical sect of Ali and adopting their colours, soon after threatened his throne. His crown was actually on the head of his uncle Ibrahim b. Mahdi (surnamed Mobarek) for a short time (Barbier de Meynard, in Journal Asiatique, March-April 1869). This inaugurated a period of tranquillity, which Mamun employed in fostering literature and science. He had already, while governor of Khorasan, founded a college there, and attracted to it the most eminent men of the day, and Bagdad became the seat of academical instruction. At his own expense he caused to be translated into Arabic many valuable books from the Greek, Persian, Chaldean and Coptic languages; and he was himself an ardent student of mathematics and astronomy. The first Arabic translation of Euclid was dedicated to him in 813. Mamun founded observatories at Bagdad and Kassiun (near Damascus), and succeeded in determining the inclination of the ecliptic. He also caused a degree of the meridian to be measured on the plain of Shinar; and he constructed astronomical tables, which are said to be wonderfully accurate.
In 827 he was converted to the heterodox faith of the Mo′tazilites, who asserted the free-will of man and denied the eternity of the Koran. The later years (829-830) of his reign were distracted by hostilities with the Greek emperor Theophilus, while a series of revolts in different parts of the Arabian empire betokened the decline of the military glory of the caliphs. Spain and part of Africa had already asserted their independence, and Egypt and Syria were now inclined to follow. In 833, after quelling Egypt, at least nominally, Mamun marched into Cilicia to prosecute the war with the Greeks, but died near Tarsus, leaving his crown to a younger brother, Motasim. The death of Mamun ended an important epoch in the history of science and letters and the period of Arabian prosperity which his father′s reign had begun.
See further under Caliphate, sect. C., §§ 5, 6, 7.