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Turkish military slave commander of the Samanids and founder of Turkish power in eastern Afghanistan (d. 352/963).

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Volume I, Fascicle 9, pp. 898

ALPTIGIN (Tk., “hero prince”), Turkish military slave commander of the Samanids and founder of Turkish power in eastern Afghanistan (d. 352/963). Apparently brought as a slave from the Central Asian steppes, Alptigin rose in the hierarchy of the Samanid army until he became head of the royal guard (ḥāǰeb al-ḥoǰǰāb) under Amir Nūḥ b. Naṣr (331-43/943-54). Under the latter’s successor ʿAbd-al-Malek b. Nūḥ (343-50/954-61) he enjoyed great favor, becoming governor of Balḵ and then commander-in-chief of the Samanid army in Khorasan, and in effect nominating the vizier Abū ʿAlī Moḥammad Balʿamī to power. Hence when ʿAbd-al-Malek suddenly died in Šawwāl, 350/November, 961, Alptigin and Balʿamī endeavored to secure the succession for the late amir’s young son Naṣr, no doubt hoping to enjoy de facto power in the state as the ruler’s tutors. However, the army, under such leaders as Fāʾeq Ḵāṣṣa, preferred ʿAbd-al-Malek’s brother Manṣūr b. Nūḥ, and successfully raised him to the throne; Naṣr b. ʿAbd-al-Malek’s tenure of power lasted only one day. With the failure of his putsch, Alptigin was left isolated, since his erstwhile protégé Balʿamī speedily went over to the new regime. He therefore decided to withdraw with his personal guard to Balḵ, where he turned and defeated an army sent in pursuit of him by Amir Manṣūr (Rabīʿ I, 351/April, 962). He judged it prudent to withdraw to the periphery of the Samanid empire, probably consciously following the example of the general Qaratigin Esfīǰābī, who had withdrawn to Bost in southern Afghanistan over thirty years before and established a line of Turkish local rulers there. Alptigin proceeded to Ḡazna in eastern Afghanistan, defeating en route the local rulers of Bāmīān and Kabul, and wresting Ḡazna from its ruler Abū ʿAlī or Abū Bakr Lavīk or Anūk, kinsman of the Kābolšāh. Shortly afterwards, Alptigin regularized his position by securing an investiture patent as governor of Ḡazna from the Samanid capital Bukhara, but he died in Šaʿbān, 352/September, 963. He was succeeded briefly by his son Abū Esḥāq Ebrāhīm (or Esḥāq b. Ebrāhīm) and an ephemeral line of Turkish slave commanders which culminated in 366/977 with the nomination of Alptigin’s own former slave Sebüktigin, founder of the Ghaznavid line. Alptigin’s establishment in Ḡazna thus presages the rise of that town as a mecca for Muslim ḡāzīs attracted by the prospects of rich plunder in the Indian plains.


The sources for early Ghaznavid history, such as Gardīzī; Naršaḵī; Ebn al-Aṯīr; Jūzǰānī, Ṭabaqāt; and Šabānkāraʾī, Maǰmaʿ al-ansāb (which contains the Pand-nāma of Sebüktigin), contain historical data, to be supplemented by the romanticized account of the origins and succession of Sebüktigin as Alptigin’s protégé in Neẓām-al-molk, Sīāsat-nāma, ch. 27, and the semi-legendary story of Alptigin’s relations with the Ismaʿilis in ibid., ch. 46.

These sources are used in the secondary literature: Barthold, Turkestan, pp. 249-51, 261.

M. Nazim, The Life and Times of Sulṭān Maḥmūd of Ghazna, Cambridge, 1931, pp. 24-26.

C. E. Bosworth, The Ghaznavids, pp. 37-41.

Idem, “Notes on the Pre-Ghaznavid History of Eastern Afghanistan,” Islamic Quarterly 9, 1965, pp. 16f. (also in The Medieval History of Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia, London, 1977, art. 14).

Idem, in Camb. Hist. Iran IV, pp. 164-65.

Cite this page
C. Edmund Bosworth, “ALPTIGIN”, in: Encyclopaedia Iranica Online, © Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York. Consulted online on 20 July 2024 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/2330-4804_EIRO_COM_5251>
First published online: 2020
First print edition: 19891215

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