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ṢAFFĀRĪ, military commander and second ruler of the Saffarid dynasty of Sīstān (r. 879-900).

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Volume I, Fascicle 9, pp. 9990-991

ʿAMR B. LAYṮ ṢAFFĀRĪ, military commander and second ruler of the Saffarid dynasty of Sīstān (r. 265-87/879-900). Though of humble birth, the four Saffarid brothers from the Sīstān countryside were able to further their military ambitions by joining the ʿayyār bands that had originally arisen there to combat the local Ḵawāreǰ sectaries. While Yaʿqūb b. Layṯ was building up in Afghanistan and eastern and southern Persia the mightiest empire yet to arise out of the disintegrating ʿAbbasid caliphate, ʿAmr fought at his side and in 261/875 became governor of Herat, which had been seized from the Tahirids in 253/867. Yaʿqūb died in Fārs in 265/879, and the Saffarid army eventually acclaimed ʿAmr as his successor. He continued the fiction of submission to the ʿAbbasid caliphs and acting merely as their governor, even though this stance had become increasingly unrealistic, since Yaʿqūb had taken over Kermān and Fārs and had marched into Iraq, to be halted at Dayr al- ʿĀqūl only fifty miles from Baghdad itself. The caliph Moʿtamed had perforce to invest ʿAmr with the governorship of Khorasan, Fārs, Isfahan, Sīstān, Kermān, and Sind, and, according to the Tārīḵ-eSīstān, of Gorgān and Ṭabarestān as well, in return for a tribute of a million dirhams per year; ʿAmr was also able to appoint his supporter ʿObaydallāh b. ʿAbdallāh b. Ṭāher, of the Tahirid family but at odds with his kinsmen, as his ṣāḥeb al-šorṭa or police chief in Baghdad.

ʿAmr regained Fārs by 268/881-82, but the struggle to reestablish control over Khorasan took several years. During Yaʿqūb’s last year, when he had been preoccupied with events in Fārs and Iraq, the province of Khorasan, originally wrested from Moḥammad b. Ṭāher in 239/873, had been taken over by local contenders for power, in particular the former Tahirid general Aḥmad b. ʿAbdallāh Ḵoǰestānī. After Ḵoǰestānī was killed by one of his own guards in 268/882, Saffarid authority was reestablished in Nīšāpūr and as far west as Isfahan, from where we possess Saffarid coins minted in 269/882-83. Another adventurer, Rāfeʿ b. Harṯama, took over the remnants of Ḵoǰestānī’s forces; a complex three-cornered struggle ensued over the next decade for control in Khorasan, involving ʿAmr, Rāfeʿ, and a further slave commander, Abū Ṭalḥa Manṣūr. The contenders made various alliances among themselves, and on different occasions enjoyed support from the dispossessed Moḥammad b. Ṭāher and the caliph. In 271/885 the regent Mowaffaq assembled the pilgrims of Khorasan in Baghdad and had ʿAmr publicly cursed; the caliphal occupation with the Zanǰ revolt had ended in 270/883, and attacks could now be launched against the Saffarids in Fārs. ʿAmr suffered a severe defeat in 273/886, being driven back to the borders of Sīstān, but he reestablished his position in Kermān. Threats from the Tulunids and the Byzantines inclined Mowaffaq towards peace, and in 275/888-89 ʿAmr’s governorships in Khorasan, Fārs, and Kermān were temporarily restored in return for ten million dirhams’ tribute. Even so, the rebel Rāfeʿ b. Harṯama could not be dislodged from Khorasan until he began publicly to support the ʿAlids of the Caspian provinces, thereby forfeiting Sunni and caliphal support. With the ostensible moral backing of the caliph, ʿAmr was at last able in 283/896 to defeat Rāfeʿ, who was shortly afterwards killed in Ḵᵛārazm. ʿAmr was now at the zenith of his power; the caliph further granted him Ray, and it seems that Saffarid suzerainty was at this time established across the shores of the Persian Gulf in ʿOmān. But ʿAmr’s overweening ambition now brought about his fall. He endeavored to extend his power into Ḵᵛārazm, and this inevitably meant a clash with the Samanid Amir Esmāʿīl b. Aḥmad, who claimed control there. A battle was fought near Balḵ in 287/900, in which ʿAmr was defeated by Esmāʿīl. Although technically Esmāʿīl had been in rebellion against the caliph, and ʿAmr the enforcer of caliphal rights, the caliph can not have been sorry to see the overmighty Saffarid humbled; at all events, the captured ʿAmr was sent by Esmāʿīl to Baghdad as a prisoner, and in 289/902 Moʿtamed had him executed. The Samanids took over Khorasan, and within a decade or so of ʿAmr’s deposition, the military empire of the Saffarids fell apart, with the power of the later Saffarids confined largely to the heartland of Sīstān.

Like his brother a bold skilful military commander, ʿAmr built up the Saffarid army around a core of Turkish slave ḡolāms and made it into a powerful fighting force. Neẓām-al-molk states that ʿAmr was in fact better liked by the people than his brother Yaʿqūb, and the local historian of Khorasan Sallāmī, in his Taʾrīḵ wolāt Ḵorāsān as quoted by Ebn Ḵallekān, praises ʿAmr’s genius for military organization and financial administration. Sunni sources such as the Arab historians display scorn and distrust towards the parvenu Saffarids, overthrowers of the aristocratic Tahirids, but we can discern from the local Tārīḵ-e Sīstān that the Saffarids were popular in their homeland, a fact that shows local resentment at outside control and financial exploitation by the preceding Arab governors of Sīstān. Some modem Persian historians have seen in Yaʿqūb and ʿAmr early protagonists of Persian national feeling. It is undoubtedly true that the two brothers played some role in stimulating the birth of New Persian literature in the later 3rd/9th century; thus we find the court poet Moḥammad b. Waṣīf celebrating in verse ʿAmr’s pacification of Khorasan after Rāfeʿ’s death.


The history of ʿAmr’s reign must be culled from the general Arabic and Persian chronicles, such as those of Ṭabarī, Masʿūdī, Gardīzī, and Ebn al-Aṯīr, and from the local histories such as the Tārīḵ-e Boḵārā of Naršaḵī (for the warfare between ʿAmr and the Samanids), the Tārīḵ-eSīstān, and the Eḥyāʾ al-molūk of Shah Ḥosayn b. Malek Ḡīāṯ-al-dīn. ʿAmr figures in several anecdotes of Persian adab literature, in works such as Neẓām-al-molk’s Sīāsat-nāma, Neẓāmī ʿArūżī Samarqandī’s Čahār maqāla, and ʿAwfī’s Jawāmeʿ al-ḥekāyāt; there is also relevant information in Ebn Ḵallekān’s article on Yaʿqūb b. Layṯ (Beirut, VI, pp. 402ff., no. 828).

For secondary sources, see T. Nöldeke, “Yakúb the Coppersmith and his Dynasty,” in Sketches from Eastern History, London, 1892, pp. 176-206.

W. Barthold, “Zur Geschichte der Ṣaffāriden,” Orientalistische Studien zu Theodor Nöldeke gewidmet, Giessen, 1906, I, pp. 171-91.

Idem, Turkestan3.

B. Spuler, Iran in frühislamischer Zeit, Wiesbaden, 1952.

C. E. Bosworth, “The Armies of the Early Ṣaffārids,” BSOAS 31, 1968, pp. 534-54.

Idem, “The Ṭāhirids and the Ṣaffārids,” Camb. Hist. Iran IV, pp. 116-22.

For coins, see R. Vasmer, “Über die Münzen der Ṣaffāriden und ihrer Gegner in Fārs und Ḫurāsān,” Numismatische Zeitschrift 63, 1930, pp. 131-62.

Cite this page
C. Edmund Bosworth, “ʿAMR B. LAYṮ”, in: Encyclopaedia Iranica Online, © Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York. Consulted online on 25 July 2024 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/2330-4804_EIRO_COM_5384>
First published online: 2020
First print edition: 19891215

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