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a region of eastern Transcaucasia.

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Volume II, Fascicle 5, pp. 520-522

ARRĀN, a region of eastern Transcaucasia. It lay essentially within the great triangle of land, lowland in the east but rising to mountains in the west, formed by the junction of the Rivers Kur or Kura and Araxes or Aras. It was thus bounded on the north by Šervān; on the north west by Šakkī (Armenian Šakʿe) and Kaxeti in eastern Georgia; on the south by Armenia and Azerbaijan; and on the southeast by the Caspian coastal province of Mūqān or Mūgān. Arrān’s situation between these two great rivers explains the name Bayn al-nahrayn given to it by Islamic geographers.

In pre-Islamic times, Arrān formed the heart of the province of Caucasian Albania (to be distinguished of course from the Balkan Albania), which in fact embraced all eastern Transcaucasia, i.e. Arrān here was a wider concept than that of post-Islamic Arrān, and corresponded grosso modo with the modern Azerbaijan SSR. The Armenian term for this land was Ałvankʿ or Ṙaneakʿ, and the history of the region, from mythical times till the 10th century A.D., is given by the Armenian historian Movsēs Dasxurancʿi (formerly referred to as Kałankatwacʿi) (Armenian text ed. M. Emin, Moscow, 1860, repr. Tiflis, 1912, annotated tr. C. J. F. Dowsett, The History of the Caucasian Albanians, London, 1961 ). The Greeks knew the people as Albanoi, and the Georgians knew them as Rani, a form taken over in an arabized form for the early Islamic geographical term al-Rān (pronounced ar-Rān). Early Arrān seems to have displayed the famed linguistic complexity of the Caucasus as a whole. Strabo 9.4, cites Theophanes of Mytilene that Albania had at least 26 different languages or dialects, and the distinctive Albanian speech persisted into early Islamic times, since Armenian and Islamic sources alike stigmatize the tongue as cacophonous and barbarous, with Eṣṭaḵrī, p. 192, Ebn Ḥawqal, p. 349, tr. Kramers-Wiet, p. 342, and Moqaddasī, p. 378, recording that al-Rānīya was still spoken in the capital Bardaʿa or Barḏaʿa in their time (4th/10th century). Hence Markwart, Ērānšahr, p. 117, was doubtless correct when he spoke of Albania/Arrān as being pre-eminently a non-Indo-European land; the Albanian tongue must have belonged to the Eastern Caucasian linguistic family, as is indicated by the recently-discovered table of the 52 characters of the Albanian alphabet, in which a few inscriptions have also been found by Soviet archeologists (see V. Minorsky, A History of Sharvān and Darband in the 10th-11th Centuries, Cambridge, 1958, pp. 11-12; the present Udi language, surviving vestigially in Šakkī, is considered to be a remnant of it).

Albania became Christianized at approximately the same time as was Armenia; Movsēs Dasxurancʿi places this event in the reign of King Uṙnayr in the mid-4th century, and states that St. Gregory, founder of the Armenian national church, was responsible for the monarch’s baptism. The Monophysite Albanian church remained separate from the Armenian one till the end of the 7th century, when the two were united under stimulus from the Arabs. Until well into medieval Islamic times, Muslims must have been only a minority in Arrān; Moqaddasī, p. 376, writing towards the end of the 4th/10th century, describes the Christians as still a majority in the towns of Qabala and Šābarān (near Quba). In the Byzantino-Sasanian wars, the Albanian kings sometimes had to supply contingents for the imperial Persian army, and Uṙnayr participated with Šāpūr II in the siege of Āmed in 359, but more generally they combined with their fellow-Christian Armenian princes in resisting Persian expansion into Transcaucasia and Armenia, at times even paying tribute to the Byzantines.

Towards the end of the 5th century, the ancient ruling dynasty of Albania seems to have died out, and in the later 6th century and at the time of the Arab invasions some decades after then, Albania was ruled by princes of the Mihrān family, who claimed descent from the Sasanians but were probably of Parthian origin. Their most famous representatives in the 7th century were Varaz-Grigor, his son Juanšēr (Persian Javānšīr) and Varaz-Trdat I. The military exploits of the latter two potentates in the period of the first Arab invasions of Armenia and Arrān figure prominently in the 2nd book of Movsēs Dasxurancʿi’s chronicle. These princes bore the Persian title of Arrānšāh (in certain of the Arabic sources corruptly written as Līrānšāh), Armenian Eranšahiʿ or Aṙanšahiʿ.

During the time of the orthodox caliphs, and in particular during ʿOṯmān’s caliphate, such Arab commanders as Salmān b. Rabīʿa al-Bāhelī and Ḥabīb b. Maslama led raids into Armenia and Arrān, and in ca. 24/645 conquered the chief town of Arrān, Partaw (Arabic Bardaʿa, q.v.). Henceforth, Bardaʿa was always to be the bastion of Islam in these parts, though Muslim garrisons were placed in other urban centers such as Baylaqān, Šamkūr, and Qabala, and these were used as bases for raids northwards to Darband or Bāb al-Abwāb and the Khazar lands (see D. M. Dunlop, The History of the Jewish Khazars, Princeton, 1954, pp. 46ff., and Minorsky, A History of Sharvān and Darband, pp. 17ff.). Nevertheless, Arab control over these Caucasian march lands was of necessity light and often uncertain, in the face of periodic invasions by such northern peoples as the Alans and Khazars. Arrān remained essentially a frontier province, left to its native princes, who were led by the Mihranids (these last being accorded by the Arabs the title of Baṭrīq or Patricius, cf. Yaʿqūbī, II, p. 562), on condition of the payment of tribute to the Muslim exchequer. In practice, the princes of Arrān in the time of Varaz-Trdat I (d. 705) paid tribute simultaneously to the Arabs, the Byzantines and the Khazars, according to Movsēs Dasxurancʿi (3.12; in regard to the first two powers, probably as a result of the treaty of 685 between Justinian II and ʿAbd-al-Malek providing for the division between the two empires of the tribute of Armenia and Arrān), an indication of the confused state of affairs in eastern Transcaucasia.

Since the people of Arrān remained substantially Christian, they were treated in Islamic law as Ahl al-Ḏemma, hence liable to the poll-tax or ǰezya. This was paid in coins with Islamic superscriptions, and under the Omayyads sporadically and under the ʿAbbasids regularly, dirhams were issued from a mint called “Arrān” (probably either Bardaʿa or Baylaqān), in the case of the ʿAbbasids, from 145/762 onwards, continuing into the 3rd/9th century (see E. von Zambaur, Die Münzprägungen des Islams, zeitlich und örtlich geordnet I, Wiesbaden, 1968, p. 39; coins were also minted with the name “Arrān” under the Il-khanids in the first half of the 8th/14th century). There was also in Arrān, as in the whole Caucasian region, much intermarriage between Christians and Muslims, and Movsēs Dasxurancʿi (2.32) inveighs against those Albanian nobles who polluted the race and their faith by marriages with the infidels.

The Mihranids were extinguished through the assassination of Varaz-Trdat II by Nerseh Pʿiłippean in 207/822-23, and the Armenian prince of Šakkī to the north of Arrān, Sahl i Smbatean (Arabic, Sahl b. Sonbāṭ), extended his power over Arrān. The province was in these years much disturbed by the revolt of the Ḵorramī rebel Bābak, whose center was at Baḏḏ just to the south of the Araxes, and it was Sahl who delivered up Bābak to the caliph al-Moʿtaṣem in 223/837-38 (see Minorsky, “Caucasica IV. 1. Sahl ibn-Sunbāṭ of Shakkī and Arrān,” in BSOAS 15, 1953, pp. 504-14). The middle years of this century saw an intensification, however, of the policies of Islamization under al-Motawakkel’s governor in Armenia Boḡā al-Kabīr, when various Armenian and Albanian local princes were deported to Baghdad and Samarra. But in 247/861-62 the caliph recognized as supreme prince in these regions the Bagratuni Ašot I (Arabic, Ašūṭ), who in 272/886 received the title of king. As ʿAbbasid control over the outlying parts of the caliphate decayed, so its authority in the Caucasian region weakened, allowing local Muslim military commanders and adventurers, like the Iranian Sajids (q.v.) of Azerbaijan and then, in the 4th/10th century, the Daylamī Mosaferids; also called Sallarids or Kangarids to assume control in eastern Transcaucasia south of Šervān (which now had its own line of Šervānšāhs, the Arab Yazīdīs, based on the town of Šervān). The northern branch of the Mosaferids, a family originally from Ṭārom in Daylam, ruled in Arrān under Marzobān b. Moḥammad b. Mosāfer (330-46/941-57), followed by his son Ebrāhīm, extending momentarily as far north as Darband, but failing to maintain their position in Azerbaijan and Arrān under pressure from the Kurdish Rawwadids of Tabrīz. It was during the Mosaferids’ rule in Arrān that the Scandinavian Rūs mounted their celebrated raid up the Kur valley to Bardaʿa (332/943-4).

The Islamic geographers of this period give descriptions of Arrān in general and of its towns (Bardaʿa, Baylaqān, Ganǰa and Šamkūr or al-Motawakkelīya) in particular, describing their agricultural fertility and their importance for commerce across the Caucasus, despite their vulnerability to attacks from the Georgians and the Rūs. The Ḥodūd al-ʿālam, (tr. Minorsky pp. 142-45, commentary pp. 396-403), considers Azerbaijan, Arrān, and Armenia as the pleasantest of all the Islamic lands. It is also interesting that Ebn Ḥawqal (pp. 349, 356, tr. pp. 342, 348) speaks of “the two Arrāns,” apparently meaning Arrān proper to the south of the Kur and also Šervān to its north. The native princes of Arrān were in the later 4th/10th century and early 5th/11th century hard-pressed by the Kurdish Shaddadids established in Ganǰa from 360/970 onwards, who also captured the Armenian city of Dvin. It seems that certain of the princes of Arrān tried to preserve their position by marriage alliances with the Rawwadids. Also, after this time, when the Shaddadids were in full occupation of Arrān, the Persian poet Qaṭrān (q.v.), who flourished in the middle decades of the 5th/11th century and was the eulogist of various Muslim potentates of Azerbaijan and Arrān, praises the Shaddadid Amīr Fażlūn b. Fażl II b. Abi’l-Aswār (465-67/1073-75) for his descent on the maternal side from the Bagratunis, indicating further Muslim-Christian alliances (see Minorsky, Ḥodūd al-ʿālam, pp. 396-97, and idem, Studies in Caucasian History, London, 1953, chaps. i and ii). The last known native prince of Arrān from the old families mentioned by a continuator of Movsēs Dasxurancʿi (3.23) is the ruler Senekʿerim of Yovhannēs son of Išxan, king of the Armenian province of Siwnikʿ or Sisakan (the mountainous region lying between Lake Sevan, later Turkish Gökče, and the Araxes, hence to the west of Arrān, see Markwart, Ērānšahr, pp. 120-22, and Minorsky, op. cit., pp. 68-70) in the last years of the 11th century (according to Brosset, ca. 1080-1105).

The eastern Caucasus came under Saljuq control in the middle years of the 5th/11th century, and in ca. 468/1075-56 Sultan Alp Arslān sent his slave commander ʿEmād-al-dīn Savtigin as governor of Azerbaijan and Arrān, displacing the last Shaddadids. From this period begins the increasing Turkicization of Arrān, under the Saljuqs and then under the line of Eldigüzid or Ildeñizid Atabegs, who had to defend eastern Transcaucasia against the attacks of the resurgent Georgian kings. The influx of Oghuz and other Türkmens was accentuated by the Mongol invasions. Bardaʿa had never revived fully after the Rūs sacking, and is little mentioned in the sources. It seems to have been replaced as the capital of Arrān by Baylaqān, but this was in turn sacked by the Mongols en route for Šervān and Darband in spring 1221 (Jovaynī, tr. Boyle, I, pp. 148-49); after this, Ganǰa, the later Elizavetopol and now Kirovābād, rose to prominence, the southern part of Arrān now becoming known as Qarabāḡ. The old name Arrān drops out of use, and the history and fortunes of the region now merge into those of Azerbaijan.

See also ALBANIA.


See also Samʿānī (Hyderabad), VI pp. 49-50 (a few ʿolamāʾ with the nesba “al-Rānī”); Yāqūt (Beirut), III, pp. 18-19; A. Manandian, Beiträge zur albanischen Geschichte, Leipzig, 1897. Markwart, Ērānšahr, pp. 116-19.

Idem, Osteuropäische und ostasiatische Streifzüge, Leipzig, 1903, pp. 443ff.

Le Strange, Lands, pp. 176-79.

J. Laurent, L’Arménie entre Byzance et l’Islam, Paris, 1919.

P. Schwarz, Iran, pp. 978ff., 1098-1100, 1139, 1144-45.

V. Minorsky and Cl. Cahen, “Le recueil transcaucasien de Masʿûd b. Nâmdâr (début du VIe/XIIe siecle),” JA, 1949, pp. 93-142.

Minorsky, “Caucasica IV,” BSOAS 15, 1953, pp. 504-29.

Zeki Velidi Togan, “Arrân,” in IA I, pp. 596-98.

Cite this page
C. Edmund Bosworth, “ARRĀN”, in: Encyclopaedia Iranica Online, © Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York. Consulted online on 15 July 2024 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/2330-4804_EIRO_COM_5734>
First published online: 2020
First print edition: 19861215

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