Khalid ibn Yazid

Khalid ibn Yazid
خالد بن يزيد
Bornc. 668 CE (48 AH)
Umayyad Caliphate
Died704 CE (85 AH) or 709 CE (90 AH)
WifeA'isha bint Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan
FatherYazid I
MotherFakhita bint Abi Hashim ibn Utba ibn Rabi'a
OccupationCaliphal adviser, military commander, poet, purported alchemist and patron of the sciences

Khālid ibn Yazīd (full name Abū Hāshim Khālid ibn Yazīd ibn Muʿāwiya ibn Abī Sufyān, Arabic: أبو هاشم خالد بن يزيد بن معاوية بن أبي سفيان), c. 668–704 or 709, was an Umayyad prince and purported alchemist.

As a son of the Umayyad caliph Yazid I, Khalid was supposed to become caliph after his elder brother Mu'awiya II died in 684. However, Marwan I, a senior Umayyad from another branch of the clan, was chosen over the much younger Khalid. Despite having lost the caliphate to Marwan, Khalid forged close ties with Marwan's son and successor, the caliph Abd al-Malik, who appointed him to successive administrative and military roles. He participated in a number of successful military campaigns in 691, but then chose to retire to his Homs estate, where he lived out the rest of his life. He may have engaged in some level of poetry and hadith scholarship.

A large number of alchemical writings were attributed to Khalid, including also many alchemical poems. Khalid's purported alchemical activity was probably part of a legend that evolved in 9th-century Arabic literary circles, which also falsely credited him with sponsoring the first translations of Greek philosophical and scientific works into Arabic (in reality, caliphal sponsorship of translations started during the reign of al-Mansur, 754–775).

Some of the Arabic alchemical works attributed to Khalid were later translated into Latin under the Latinized name Calid. One of these works, the Liber de compositione alchemiae ("Book on the Composition of Alchemy"), was the first Arabic work on alchemy to be translated into Latin, by Robert of Chester in 1144.


Genealogical tree of the Sufyanids, the ruling family of the Umayyad Caliphate to which Khalid belonged

Khalid was likely born around 668. He was the son of the Umayyad caliph Yazid I (r. 680–683) and Fakhitah bint Abi Hisham ibn Utba ibn Rabi'a. When his older half-brother Mu'awiya ibn Yazid died after a very short reign as caliph in 684, Khalid was still a minor. A struggle for succession broke out between the supporters of the young Khalid and those who favored Marwan ibn al-Hakam (623 or 626–685), who was not part of the ruling branch of the Umayyad family (the Sufyanids), but was much older and more experienced. Eventually Marwan was elected by the Umayyad Syrian elites on the condition that Khalid would directly succeed him. Marwan also married Khalid's mother Fakhita to seal the bond between him and his would-be successor Khalid.

However, seeing that Khalid was politically weak, Marwan removed both him and his younger brother Abd Allah ibn Yazid from the line of succession in favor of his own sons Abd al-Malik and Abd al-Aziz. When Khalid reminded Marwan of the promise he made at his ascension, Marwan publicly insulted his mother Fakhita. According to what is probably a later legend, Fakhita killed Marwan in revenge. Despite this, close ties developed between Khalid and Marwan's son Abd al-Malik, and when the latter became caliph Khalid became his adviser and married his daughter A'isha.

In the summer of 691, Khalid was made a commander in Abd al-Malik's siege of the Qaysi leader Zufar ibn al-Harith al-Kilabi in al-Qarqisiya in the Jazira. After this victory, the caliph appointed Khalid commander of his army's left wing at the Battle of Maskin (691) against Mus'ab ibn al-Zubayr, which resulted in the Umayyad conquest of Zubayrid Iraq.

After this short spell as a military commander, Khalid appears to have spent the rest of his life in Homs, which had been appointed to him as an emirate already by Marwan. He may have engaged in some level of poetry and hadith scholarship. He died in 704 or 709.


A number of Arabic treatises on alchemy and alchemical poems have been attributed to Khalid. These writings are generally regarded as pseudepigraphs (false attributions) dating from the 8th or 9th centuries at the very earliest. It is not clear why these works were attributed to Khalid specifically.

According to one theory advanced by the German scholar Manfred Ullmann, the idea that Khalid had been interested in alchemy originated in the 9th-century historian al-Baladhuri, who quoted his teacher al-Mada'ini's description of Khalid as "pursuing that which is impossible, that is, alchemy". According to Ullmann's theory, al-Mada'ini's lost work would have read "pursuing that which is impossible" (referring to Khalid's failure to ascend to the caliphate), while the words "that is, alchemy" would have been added as an interpretative gloss by al-Baladhuri, who thus sparked the legend of Khalid as an alchemist. According to another theory proposed by the French scholar Pierre Lory, the writings attributed to Khalid were originally written in a much humbler environment than the courtly milieus in which most 8th- and 9th-century philosophers and scientists worked, and were purposefully attributed to an Umayyad prince to lend them an aura of nobility.

In any case, Khalid was widely associated with alchemy from the 9th century on by such authors as al-Jahiz (776–868/869), al-Baladhuri (820–892), al-Tabari (839–923), and Abu al-Faraj al-Isfahani (897–967). He was also credited by al-Jahiz and later by Ibn al-Nadim (c. 932–995) with having been the first to order the translation of Greek philosophical and scientific works into Arabic. In reality, however, these translations only started in the late 8th century (at the very earliest during the reign of the Abbasid caliph al-Mansur, r. 754–775), and the credit given for them to Khalid is generally held to be part of the legend surrounding him.

Alchemical writings

The great majority of alchemical works attributed to Khalid have not yet been studied. A relatively large amount of Arabic works are still extant. There are also some works which have been preserved in Latin, either with or without corresponding Arabic original.

Arabic works

The following Arabic works are extant:

  • Dīwān al-nujūm wa-firdaws al-ḥikma ("The Diwan of the Stars and the Paradise of Wisdom", a collection (dīwān) of alchemical poems and treatises compiled at a relatively late date)
  • Kitāb al-Usṭuqus ("The Book of the Element")
  • Kitāb Waṣiyyatihi ilā ibnihi fī al-ṣanʿa ("The Book of his Testament to his Son on the Art")
  • Masāʾil Khālid li-Maryānus al-rāhib ("Khalid's Questions to the Monk Maryanos"), also known as Risālat Maryānus al-rāhib al-ḥakīm li-l-amīr Khālid ibn Yazīd ("Epistle of the Wise Monk Maryanos to the Prince Khalid ibn Yazid") or in its Latin translation as Liber de compositione alchemiae ("Book on the Composition of Alchemy") or Testamentum Morieni ("Testament of Morienus"), perhaps dating to the late 10th century
  • al-Qawl al-mufīd fī al-ṣanʿa al-ilāhiyya ("The Instructive Word on the Divine Art")
  • Risāla fī al-ṣanʿa al-sharīfa wa-khawāṣṣihā (Epistle on the Noble Art and its Properties")
  • Various unnamed alchemical treatises, poems and epistles

A number of Arabic works listed by Ibn al-Nadim in his Fihrist (written 987) are now presumably lost:

  • Kitāb al-Ḥarārāt
  • Kitāb al-Ṣaḥīfa al-kabīr
  • Kitāb al-Ṣaḥīfa al-ṣaghīr

Latin works

There also exist a number of Latin alchemical writings attributed to Khalid, whose name was Latinized in these works as Calid filius Jazidi. It is doubtful whether some of these are actual translations from the Arabic, but at least two Latin treatises have been found to closely correspond with an existing Arabic original. One of these is the Liber de compositione alchemiae ("Book on the Composition of Alchemy", translation of the Masāʾil Khālid li-Maryānus al-rāhib mentioned above), which contains a dialogue between Khalid and the semi-legendary Byzantine monk Morienus (Arabic: مريانس, Maryānus, perhaps from Greek Μαριανός, Marianos). It was the first full-length Arabic alchemical work to be translated into Latin, a task which was completed on 11 February 1144 by the English Arabist Robert of Chester. Another work which is extant both in Arabic and in Latin is an untitled Risāla ("Epistle"), whose Latin translator is unknown.

Other Latin texts attributed to Khalid include:

  • Liber secretorum alchemiae ("The Book of the Secrets of Alchemy")
  • Liber trium verborum ("The Book of the Three Words")

See also

This page was last updated at 2023-08-23 12:28 UTC. Update now. View original page.

All our content comes from Wikipedia and under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.


If mathematical, chemical, physical and other formulas are not displayed correctly on this page, please useFirefox or Safari