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(Afrighid dynasty), the name given by the Khwarazmian scholar Abū Rayḥān Bīrūnī to the dynasty of rulers in his country, with the ancient title of Ḵᵛārazmšāh.

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Volume I, Fascicle 7, pp. 743-745

ĀL-E AFRĪḠ (Afrighid dynasty), the name given by the Khwarazmian scholar Abū Rayḥān Bīrūnī to the dynasty of rulers in his country, with the ancient title of Ḵᵛārazmšāh. According to him, the Afrighids ruled from 305 A.D. (year 616 of the Seleucid era), through the Arab conquests under Qotayba b. Moslem in 93/712, and up to their overthrow in 385/995 by the rising rival family of Maʾmunids (see Āl-e Maʾmūn). The early political history of Ḵᵛārazm is obscure. Bīrūnī says that the land was first colonized 980 years before the time of Alexander the Great (sc. before the Seleucid era, hence in 1292 B.C.). The Iranian hero Sīāvoš, son of Kay Kāvūs, came to Ḵᵛārazm; and his son Kay Ḵosrow established a semi-legendary line of Siyavushids, who extended their power over the “Turks” of the surrounding steppes, and who presumably endured up to the appearance of the Afrighids (Bīrūnī, Āṯār al-bāqīa, pp. 35-36; Chronology, pp. 40-42). It has, however, been shown by the Soviet scholar V. A. Livshits, based on discrepancies and contradictions between Bīrūnī’s sources or informants and the findings of the extensive Soviet archeological explorations in Ḵᵛārazm, that Bīrūnī was in reality not well informed about the history of Ḵᵛārazm before the Arab conquest. Bīrūnī’s “era of Afrīḡ” (used, he says, to the time of Qotayba’s invasions) does not seem to have left any trace on the numerous inscribed objects found in Ḵᵛārazm. The dates of those few monarchs mentioned on Khwarazmian coins (over 1,000 of which have been recovered) and also mentioned by Bīrūnī in his list (see below) cannot be made to fit the “era of Afrīḡ.” If this era was actually in use, it must have been unofficial. The evidence of comparative coin-patterns seems indeed to indicate that, before the coming of the Afrighids, Ḵᵛārazm was within the political sphere of the Arsacids. The official Khwarazmian era apparently began in the early years A.D. and was connected with Ḵᵛārazm’s achievement of freedom from Parthian control and the rise of a new, independent line of shahs. (See Livshits, “The Khwarezmian calendar and the eras of ancient Chorasmia,” Acta Antiqua Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 16, 1968, pp. 432-46).

Bīrūnī lists twenty-two members of the Afrighid dynasty, allegedly succeeding each other by father-son inheritance and reigning for a total span of 690 years, with an average reign of some thirty-one years. These can be arranged in a list as follows, with the readings of Sachau’s edited Arabic text first, and then his version of the Iranian, pre-Islamic names: (1) ʾfrḡ, Āfrīḡ. (2) bḡrh, Baḡra. (3) sḵḵsk, Saḵassak. (4) ʾskǰmwk [I], Askaǰamūk. (5) ʾzkʾǰwʾr [I], Azkāǰavār. (6) sḵr [I], Saḵr. (7) sʾwšš, Sāvoš. (8) ḵʾmkry/ḵʾnkry, Ḵāmgrī. (9) bwzkʾr, Būzkār. (10) ʾrṯmwḵ, Arṯamūḵ. (11) sḵr [II]. (12) sbry, Sabrī. (13) ʾzkʾǰwʾr [II]. (14) ʾskǰmwk [II]. (15) šʾwšfr, Šāvošfar[n]. (16) trksbʾṯh, Torkasbāṯa. (17) ʿAbdallāh. (18) Manṣūr. (19) ʿErāq. (20) Moḥammad. (21) Aḥmad. (22) Abū ʿAbdallāh Moḥammad, killed in 385/995. There is a high probability of scribal deformation of what would be to the copyist totally incomprehensible Iranian names in the case of nos. 1-16 (the two manuscripts which Sachau used for his edition date only from the 17th and 19th centuries and go back to a common original). The value of the royal names found on inscribed objects is accordingly of the highest value for comparative purposes. Unfortunately, the Khwarazmian coin-series sheds little light. There is an early break in the series of at least a century and a half; this may well point to an assertion of authority over Ḵᵛārazm by the first Sasanians, Ardašīr or Šāpūr I, perhaps just before the rise of Afrighids in 305 A.D. as related by Bīrūnī. According to Livshits (op. cit., p. 443) there is nothing on the coins resembling Bīrūnī’s ʾfryḡ; it may accordingly be that our dubbing this first historical line of Ḵᵛārazmšāhs as “Afrighs” is founded on an error, and such a name never existed. In general, few of the names on coins correspond to Bīrūnī’s names; and a Ḵosrow on coins is not mentioned at all by Bīrūnī. However, there are one or two clear correspondences. The name of the shah in the time of the Prophet Moḥammad, Arṯamūḵ, is confirmed. The one at the time of Qotayba’s invasions is given by Bīrūnī as Askaǰamūk [II), son of Azkāǰavār [II]; the latter name does appear on a coin as Askatsvar (i.e., the earlier Askāǰavār I, son of Askaǰamūk I). Askaǰamūk II’s son, Šāvošfar[n], seems also to appear on coins of the 8th century. He must be identical with the ruler of Ḵᵛārazm, Šao-še-fien, mentioned in the annals of the Chinese T’ang dynasty as sending an embassy to the imperial court in 751 asking for help against the Arabs (i.e., at the time of the Arab general Zīād b. Ṣāleḥ’s great victory over the Chinese at Talas in Transoxiana; see E. Chavannes, Documents sur les Tou-kiue (Turcs) occidentaux, St. Petersburg, 1903, p. 145).

The first four centuries or so of the Afrighids’ rule are especially dark. According to Bīrūnī (op. cit., p. 35; tr. p. 41), Afrīḡ built a great fortress called Fīl or Fīr (the latter form that of Bīrūnī) on the edge of the capital Kāt or Kāṯ, a citadel which was undermined and swept away by changes in the flow of the Oxus in the 4th/10th century; only the vestiges of it could be seen by Bīrūnī in 384/994. Soviet archeology has shown the existence at this time of large-scale agricultural exploitation of the lands of Ḵᵛārazm lying along the Oxus banks and in the Aral Sea delta region, with large estates fortified against incursions of the steppe barbarians and a complex system of irrigation canals (see S. P. Tolstov, Auf den Spuren der altchoresmischen Kultur, Berlin, 1953, pp. 207ff.). Authentic information on political events derives from the Islamic sources after the beginning of the 2nd/8th century. Before this, there had only been sporadic and ineffectual Arab raids on the fringes of Ḵᵛārazm from the directions of Khorasan and Transoxania. But in 93/712 the Arab governor of Khorasan, Qotayba b. Moslem Bāhelī, was able to intervene in internal Khwarazmian politics when the Afrighid shah was embroiled with his brother Ḵorrazād in a civil war. Two Arab invasions led to the killing of the shah and to much destruction, though Bīrūnī’s accusation that the Arabs massacred all Khwarazmian scholars who knew the ancient lore of the country must be an exaggeration. Once the Arabs withdrew, the shahs recovered power in Ḵᵛārazm; the stipulated tribute lapsed, and shah and people continued to adhere to their ancestral faith, presumably Zoroastrianism. The shahs continued to join with the local Iranian princes and merchants of Soḡd in resisting the Arabs, seeking to call in help from outside powers like the Turks and the Chinese.

It is not until the early 3rd/9th century, perhaps during the caliphate of Maʾmūn, that the shahs seem definitely to have become Muslim; the conversion of the masses of the people was doubtless much slower. It is now that we find a shah with the typical convert’s name of ʿAbdallāh, son of Torkasbāṯa. Even now, one can by no means trust Bīrūnī’s list of rulers as being wholly accurate. Ebn al-Aṯīr (VIII, p. 415) records that in 332/943-44 a shah not listed by Bīrūnī, ʿAbdallāh b. Aškām, rebelled against his suzerain, the Samanid Nūḥ b. Naṣr. It thus appears that, by the early 4th/10th century, the Samanids had brought the neighboring province of Ḵᵛārazm into tributary status. Ebn Fażlān, when traveling from the ʿAbbasid court in Baghdad to Bolḡār in 309/921, went first to Bukhara to pay his respect to the amir before proceeding to Ḵᵛārazm and crossing through the Ust Urt Desert to the Volga (A. Z. V. Togan, Ibn Fadlāns Reisebericht, AKM 24/3, Leipzig, 1939, sec. 4). Ebn Fażlān records that he visited Ḵᵛārazm in the reign of Shah Moḥammad b. ʿErāq. (That king’s nephew, Abū Naṣr Manṣūr b. ʿAlī b. ʿErāq, was to be Bīrūnī’s teacher and a celebrated scholar of Ḵᵛārazm at the time of the Maʾmunids; he was dignified with the honorific title Mawlā Amīr-al-moʾmenīn; cf. Bīrūnī, Āṯār al-bāqīa, intro., p. xxxvii, for Bīrūnī’s own fehrest or catalogue of his works.) Shah Moḥammad acknowledged to Ebn Fażlān the superior rights of al-Amīr al-Aǰall, sc. the Samanid ruler (Togan, op. cit., secs. 4-14). In fact, the shahs seem to have been little disturbed in Ḵᵛārazm, except when they were injudicious enough to shelter Samanid rebels. As Samanid authority weakened towards the end of the 4th/10th century, the shahs were able to extend their authority across the Qara Qom Desert and over the frontier towns and outposts of northern Khorasan.

The end of the Afrighids came suddenly, and as the result of an internal convulsion and change in the balance of power within Ḵᵛārazm. A rival family, the Maʾmunids of Gorgānǰ (see Āl-e Maʾmūn), had been growing in power, owing to the commercial richness of Gorgānǰ, situated as it was at the terminus of trade routes across the steppes to south Russia. Hence in 385/995 the Maʾmunids attacked and captured Kāt, killed the last Afrighid, Shah Abū ʿAbdallāh Moḥammad, and themselves assumed the historic title of Ḵᵛārazmšāh.


See also Sachau, “Zur Geschichte und Chronologie von Khwārizm,” Sb. Wien. Ak. Wiss., Phil. Hist. Cl. 73, 1873, pp. 471-506; 74, 1873, pp. 285-89.

Barthold, Turkestan3, pp. 233-34.

H. A. R. Gibb, The Arab conquests in Central Asia, London, 1923, pp. 42-43.

Bosworth, The Islamic dynasties, Edinburgh, 1967, pp. 107-8.

Cite this page
C. Edmund Bosworth, “ĀL-E AFRĪḠ”, in: Encyclopaedia Iranica Online, © Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York. Consulted online on 18 July 2024 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/2330-4804_EIRO_COM_5038>
First published online: 2020
First print edition: 19841215

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