Barmakid Family (600s-900s)
The Barmakids were a family of Buddhist administrators from the city of Balkh, in what is now Afghanistan. When the Umayyad Caliphate conquered the area in the the mid-600s, the family converted to Islam. After the Abbasid Revolution in 750, the Barmakids rose to prominence as talented administrators. They carried with them centuries of experience in the Persian Empire of how to manage large government bureaucracies, something the Arab Abbasid caliphs were ignorant of.
As viziers, they exercised great influence on the formation of the empire in the late 8th century. Yahya ibn Khalid al-Barmaki was particularly influential. He was appointed as the tutor and mentor to the young Harun al-Rashid, who would go on to become the caliph during which the Abbasids had their golden age. Under his tutelage, Harun al-Rashid managed to establish peace with the empire’s neighbors, exponential economic growth, the patronage of scholars, and a system of infrastructure that rivaled that of ancient Rome. The Barmakid family as a whole thus had a huge impact on the political shape of the Muslim world that would continue for centuries.
Berke Khan (Unknown-1266)
As the grandson of the great Mongol conqueror, Genghis Khan, Berke Khan was an important figure in the Mongol world in the mid-1200s. Like other Mongols, he originally practiced a form of pagan shamanism. As the leader in the Golden Horde – a Mongol army – he was sent to the North Caucasus Mountains and Eastern Europe to subdue the Kipchak Turks. He eventually managed to lead armies all the way into Hungary.
Hulagu Khan’s army attacking Baghdad
Then during his travels back towards the Mongol homeland, he stopped in Bukhara where he questioned local Muslims about their beliefs. He was convinced of the message of Islam and converted, becoming the first Mongol leader to accept Islam. After his conversion, many of the soldiers in his army also converted, leading to tension with the other Mongol armies, who were ravaging Muslim lands, including the ancient capital of the Abbasids, Baghdad.
After hearing of the sack of Baghdad in 1258 by his cousin, Hulagu Khan, Berke promised vengance, declaring, ”He (Hulagu) has sacked all the cities of the Muslims, and has brought about the death of the Caliph. With the help of God I will call him to account for so much innocent blood.” By allying with the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt, Berke managed to hold back Hulagu’s army enough to prevent a major invasion (and destruction) of the remainder of Muslim lands in Egypt, Syria, and the Hijaz.
Zağanos Pasha (Unknown-1461)
Of Greek or Albanian origin, Zağanos Pasha was drafted into the elite Janissary corps of the Ottoman Empire as a child. Like other Janissaries, he was educated in Islam, civil administration, and military matters. He was soon appointed as a mentor and advisor for a young Mehmed II, who would later become the seventh sultan in the Ottoman dynasty.
When Mehmed became sultan, he appointed Zağanos Pasha as his second vizier. Zağanos Pasha was commonly consulted on all matters of state, especially the siege and conquest of Constantinople in 1453. During the siege, he was given command of a section of the army north of the city, and his troops were among the first to successfully capture a portion of Constantinople’s legendary walls. His legacy lives today in the numerous endowments (including mosques, soup kitchens, and public baths) in his hometown of Balikesir as well as in Edirne.