A symbol of the fabled Orient, Harun al Rashid, the caliph portrayed in The Thousand and One Nights, where we see him living grandly his palace in Baghdad, surrounded by his wives, his concubines, musicians, and learned men, is not merely a figure of legend. He was the son of a Yemenite slave who cleared his path to power, very probably by poisoning the reigning caliph, her older son. Harun reigned for a quarter-century, and was the most famous caliph of the Abbasid dynasty. Through Arab chronicles, the author corrects our vision of Harun the Good', and gives a remarkable account of his development as a ruler. Though in Western countries he is remembered for the presents he sent to Charlemagne-notably the famous elephant, Abul Abbas-he was first and foremost a successful soldier who made war on the Byzantines. His empire was shaken by religious and social insurrections, and he did not shrink from annihilating the Barmecides, a powerful family whose wealth and influence he finally found unbearable. As a patron of pets and intellectuals, Harun contributed greatly to the cultural supremacy of Baghdad, whose merchants and navigators spread the name of the caliph throughout the world.