first vizier for the Ghaznavid sultan Maḥmūd (r. 388-421/998-1030).
A version of this article is available in print
Volume I, Fascicle 3, pp. 303-304
ABU’L-ḤASAN ʿALĪ B. FAŻL B. AḤMAD ESFARĀʾĪNĪ, first vizier for the Ghaznavid sultan Maḥmūd (r. 388-421/998-1030). He began his career as a secretary in Khorasan in the entourage of the ambitious Turkish general of the Samanids, ʿAmīd-al-dawla Fāʾeq Ḵāṣṣa, and was probably a native of the town of Esfarāʾīn in northwest Khorasan. When the bid for control of Khorasan by Fāʾeq and Abu’l-Qāsem Sīmǰūrī was thwarted by the efforts of Sebüktigin and his son Maḥmūd, Esfarāʾīnī transferred to the service of Sebüktigin and then Maḥmūd. After Sebüktigin’s death in 387/997, he was formally invested with the vizierate and supreme executive control, under the sultan, of the expanding Ghaznavid empire in Afghanistan and Khorasan. Esfarāʾīnī’s chief task as vizier was to find money, from regular taxation and from extraordinary imposts, for the insatiable needs of the mighty war machine which the sultan had created. In this, Esfarāʾīnī was for a decade or so highly successful, on one occasion collecting an enormous sum for a military campaign in the space of two days. ʿOtbī attributes to his exactions much agricultural distress in Khorasan, a situation aggravated by bad harvests and a disastrous famine in 401/1011. ʿOtbī alleges that, after several years of exploitation, there was nothing left to be extracted, “since in Khorasan, after water had been thrown on her udders, not a trickle of milk could be obtained nor any trace of fat.” A considerable sum was in the end collected in this year of 401/1010-11 at Herat. Even so, it was not still enough for Maḥmūd. Esfarāʾīnī refused to make up the deficiency out of his own pocket and voluntarily went to prison. He was subjected to moṣādara (q.v.) and his wealth confiscated, after he was charged with extortion; he was tortured savagely, and in 404/1013-14 he died under this maltreatment while the sultan was away in India campaigning at Nandana. Later sources also mention, as a factor in Esfarāʾīnī’s downfall, a dispute with the sultan over a handsome Turkish slave boy of the vizier’s.
Esfarāʾīnī was a capable administrator rather than a great scholar and master of epistolary style. Indeed, ʿOtbī says that in his time, official correspondence was no longer conducted in Arabic, as in the Buyid and Samanid chanceries, but in Persian, because the vizier was “poorly endowed in the art of inditing correspondence, since he had never been trained properly in it early in life.” Consequently, “the bazaar of eloquence suffered loss, the exercise of excellence and fine style perished, the levels of incompetence and capability became equal, and the outstanding and the inferior came together on the same plane of confrontation.” His successor Aḥmad b. Ḥasan Maymandī in fact restored Arabic to its place of primacy in the Ghaznavid administration when he took over the vizierate in 405/1014-15. Esfarāʾīnī’s son Ḥaǰǰāǰ is mentioned as being a good scholar and one of his daughters as an expert in Traditions.
The principal contemporary source is ʿOtbī, al-Taʾrīḵ al-yamīnī, with commentary by Shaikh Aḥmad Manīnī, Cairo, 1286/1869, II, pp. 125-28, 156f., 170.
See also the later biographical works on viziers: Nāṣer-al-dīn Kermānī, Nasāʾem al-asḥār, ed. Ormavī, Tehran, 1338 Š./1959, pp. 39-40.
Sayf-al-dīn ʿOqaylī, Āṯār al-wozarāʾ, ed. Ormavī, Tehran, 1337 Š./1959, pp. 150-52.
Ḵᵛāndamīr, Dastūr al-wozarāʾ, ed. S. Nafīsī, Tehran, 1317 Š./1938, pp. 137-39.
Of the secondary sources, see: Barthold, Turkestan3, pp. 287-88.
M. Nazim, The Life and Times of Sulṭān Maḥmūd of Ghazna, Cambridge, 1931, p. 135.
Bosworth, Ghaznavids, pp. 57-58, 71-72, 86-87.