Commentary on the History of the “Amir al-Umara’” of Abu al-Fida’


Commentatio exhibens historiam emirorum al omrah ex Abulfeda (Commentary on the history of the amir al-umara’ of Abu al-Fida’) is an academic study in Latin of the Islamic political and military office known as amir al-umara’ (commander of commanders). The author, Friedrich Wilhelm Carl Umbreit (1795‒1860), produced the work as a student essay in 1815 at Göttingen University. Just 20 years old at the time, Umbreit won first prize among student papers and was rewarded with publication of his essay at university expense. Although Umbreit studied with the famous orientalist Joseph Freiherr von Hammer-Purgstall, he did not pursue a career in Islamic history or philology. After receiving his doctorate in 1818, he went on to have a distinguished career as a leading Protestant theologian and publisher, biblical scholar, and teacher. The Commentatio is his only known work in the field of Islamic studies. It chronicles the institution of amir al-umara’ from its beginnings in 935 to the end of its usage by the Abbasids in around 1055 and traces the vicissitudes of the Abbasid Empire in decline and the succession of amirs. Umbreit based his study on the chronicle of Isma’il ibn ‘Ali, known as Abu al-Fida’ (1273‒1331), using the al-Mukhtasar (Abridgment) of Abu al-Fida’ as the basis for his monograph. He supplemented the main text with other Arabic histories as well as works in Syriac and in European languages. The Library of Congress copy presented here has an ink stamp in Japanese: Minami Manshū Tetsudō Kabushiki Kaisha Tōa Keizai Chōsakyoku zōsho no in (Seal of collection at the South Manchuria Railway Company, East Asia Economic Research Bureau). The volume most likely was confiscated by the U.S. Armed Forces at the end of World War II and subsequently transferred to the Library of Congress. The South Manchuria Railway Company engaged in extensive intelligence gathering and operational activities on behalf of the Japanese Imperial Army, including efforts to agitate Muslims against Chinese and Russian rule.

Date Created

Publication Information

Heinrich Dieterich, Göttingen


Title in Original Language

Commentatio exhibens historiam emirorum al omrah ex Abulfeda

Type of Item

Physical Description

112 pages ; 26 centimeters


  1. Abū al-Fidāʼ Ismāʻīl ibn ʻAlī, 1273-1331. Al-Mukhtaṣar fī akhbār al-bashar. Cairo: Husayniyah, 1907, volume 2 p. 86ff.

Last updated: April 29, 2016