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Turkish slave commander of the Ghaznavid sultans and governor in Ḵᵛārazm (408-23/1017-32).

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Volume I, Fascicle 9, pp. 914-915

ALTUNTAŠ (ĀLTŪNTAŠ) ḤĀJEB, ABŪ SAʿĪD, Turkish slave commander of the Ghaznavid sultans and governor in Ḵᵛārazm (408-23/1017-32). He began his career under Sebüktigin, founder of the Ghaznavid dynasty, and under his son Maḥmūd was a leading general. He commanded the right wing of the forces in the battle near Balk in 398/1008 between Maḥmūd and the invading Qarakhanids under the ilig Naṣr b. ʿAlī. In 401/1010-11, he is mentioned as governor of Herat. In 408/1017 he accompanied Maḥmūd when the latter invaded Ḵᵛārazm ostensibly to avenge his brother-in-law, the Ḵᵛārazmšāh Maʾmūn b. Maʾmūn, but in reality to annex Ḵᵛārazm to his empire. Once Ḵᵛārazm was secured for the Ghaznavids, Altuntaš was appointed governor with the ancient title of Ḵᵛārazmšāh. During his fifteen years’ governorship, he always remained faithful to the sultan and defended the frontiers of his province against incursions by the Oḡuz and Qipčaq from the steppes; in particular, he kept a close control of the Oḡuz bands under the leadership of the Saljuq family. He also took part in Maḥmūd’s campaign against the Qarakhanid ruler in Bokhara and Samarqand, ʿAlī b. Ḥasan or Hārūn Boḡrā Khan, called ʿAlītigin. Thus he was present at the meeting of Maḥmūd and his ally Yūsof Qadïr Khan of Kāšḡar in 416/1025. The isolated position of Ḵᵛārazm, and the fact that Altuntaš was able to build up his military strength by recruiting Turkmen auxiliaries from the steppes, made him an object of suspicion to Maḥmūd latterly and especially to his son Masʿūd after 421/1030; Altuntaš seems always to have prudently remained in Ḵᵛārazm and never to have gone to the court in Ḡazna.

Masʿūd continued his father’s policy of hostility towards ʿAlītigin, and in 423/1032 again allied with Yūsof Qadïr Khan and his sons against their kinsman but rival, ʿAlītigin. In that year, the sultan ordered Altuntaš to invade Transoxania, and an indecisive battle took place at Dabūsīya near Bokhara, in which, however, Altuntaš was mortally wounded; fortunately his katḵodā or adjutant, Aḥmad Šīrāzī (who subsequently became Masʿūd’s vizier), managed to conceal his master’s wounded condition and conclude a peace with ʿAlītigin before Altuntaš died.

Altuntaš’s son Hārūn succeeded him in Ḵᵛārazm as de facto governor, although the suspicious Masʿūd recognized him only as ḵalīfat-al-dār (lieutenant) of his son Saʿīd, who was given the official title of Ḵᵛārazmšāh. Within two years Hārūn rebelled openly against the sultan, in alliance with ʿAlītigin and the Saljuqs (425/1034); but a year later Masʿūd managed to procure Hārūn’s assassination by his own guards. Altuntaš’s other son Esmāʿīl Ḵandān succeeded to power in Ḵᵛārazm, inevitably as the sworn enemy of Masʿūd and the ally of the Saljuqs. Masʿūd cleverly dealt with this threat by investing Šāh-Malek of Jand, son of the Oḡuz yabḡū but the enemy of the Saljuq family, with the rule over Ḵᵛārazm (420/1038). Šāh-Malek successfully enforced his new claim to Ḵᵛārazm in 432/1041. Esmāʿīl had to flee to the Saljuqs and is no more heard of; and Šāh -Malek was proclaimed ruler in the Khwarazmian capital of Gorgānǰ. Yet by this time Sultan Masʿūd was already dead, and the whole edifice of Ghaznavid rule in the west had crumbled. With the ousting of Esmāʿīl, the short-lived dynasty of Altuntaš and his sons came to an end; the title Ḵᵛārazmšāh lapsed for several decades and was not revived until the Saljuq Malekšāh gave it to his Turkish slave governor Anūštigin Ḡaṛčaʾī.


The primary sources comprise scattered mentions in the Ghaznavid historians ʿOtbī, Gardīzī, and Bayhaqī, plus mentions in Ebn al-Aṯīr and an anecdote in Neẓām-al-molk’s Sīāsat-nāma. These are used in the secondary sources: E. Sachau, “Zur Geschichte und Chronologie von Khwarazm,” in Sb. Ak. Wiss. Wien, Phil.-Hist. Cl., 74, 1874, pp. 201-12.

Barthold, Turkestan3, pp. 278-79, 282, 296-302.

M. Nazim, The Life and Times of Sulṭān Maḥmūd of Ghazna, Cambridge, 1931, pp. 54, 56-60.

S. M. Siddiq, “The house of Altuntash Khwarazmsah,” IC 8, 1934, pp. 313-21, 631-42; 9, 1934, pp. 68-79, 234-43 (translates the relevant passages of Bayhaqī).

I. Kafesoğlu, Harezmşahlar devleti tarihi (485-617/1092-1229), Ankara, 1956, pp. 33-36.

Bosworth, Ghaznavids, pp. 47, 60-61, 77.

Idem in Camb. Hist. Iran V, pp. 51-52.

Cite this page
C. Edmund Bosworth, “ALTUNTAŠ”, in: Encyclopaedia Iranica Online, © Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York. Consulted online on 21 July 2024 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/2330-4804_EIRO_COM_5258>
First published online: 2020
First print edition: 19891215

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