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Ghaznavid sultan (r. 509-11/1116-18).

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Volume II, Fascicle 5, pp. 548-549

ARSLĀNŠĀH b. Masʿud (III) b. EbrĀhĪm, Abu’l-Molūk Solṭān-al-Dawla, Ghaznavid sultan (r. 509-11/1116-18). The alternative form of his name, Malek Arslān or Arsalān, is the more common one. When Malek Arslān’s father, Masʿūd III, died in 508/1115, his second son Ażod-al-dawla Šīrzād succeeded briefly as sultan in Ḡazna. He reigned just one year, according to Ḥamdallāh Mostawfī, when his brother Malek Arslān, Masʿūd’s third son, overthrew and killed him and then assumed the crown in Ḡazna on Wednesday, 6 Šawwāl 509/22 February 1116. Malek Arslān was Masʿūd’s son by the Saljuq princess Jawhar Ḵātūn bt. Malekšāh, the so-called “Mahd-e ʿErāq.” Mindful of the struggle which he had just had in order to gain the throne, he immediately had all his remaining brothers imprisoned or blinded. The only one to escape was his half brother Bahrāmšah, Masʿūd’s son by another wife; fortunately for himself, he was in Zamīn Dāvar, and he now prepared to contest with Malek Arslān for power in the Ghaznavid empire. He tried to raise a revolt at Tegīnābād (the site of which is unknown; it probably lay near modern Kandahār), but his forces were beaten. He had to flee westwards to Sīstān and Kermān, and Malek Arslān was soon able to make firm his authority throughout eastern Afghanistan and northwestern India. Bahrāmšāh made his way to the court at Marv of the eastern Saljuq sultan, Sanǰar b. Malekšāh, and soon achieved an honored place there. Overcoming an initial reluctance to interfere in internal Ghaznavid affairs and to attack his own sister’s son, Sanǰar nevertheless now intervened in support of Bahrāmšāh. A Saljuq army was joined at Bost by a force from the vassal Saffarid amir of Sīstān, Tāǰ-al-dīn Abu’l-Fażl Naṣr b. Ḵalaf; and their combined forces inflicted an initial defeat on Malek Arslān. The latter attempted in vain to buy off Sanǰar’s attack. In 510/1117 a decisive battle that took place on the plain of Šahrābād Ḡazna, in which the Ghaznavid forces, despite their core of fearsome war elephants, were routed. Sanǰar entered Ḡazna and placed Bahrāmšāh on the throne as his tributary, while Malek Arslān fled to the Ghaznavid possessions in India. There he collected an army from the trusted governor Moḥammad b. ʿAlī of the Bū Ḥalīm Šaybānī family, and once Sanǰar’s supporting army had evacuated Ḡazna, he returned to his former capital, whence Bahrāmšāh had fled without attempting resistance. Sanǰar had to send a fresh expedition to replace Bahrāmšāh on the throne. Malek Arslān, after only a month’s occupation of Ḡazna, was captured; according to Ebn al-Aṯīr, he was executed by Bahrāmšāh in Jomādā II, 512/September-October, 1118, at the age of 27.

The sources record little of internal happenings during Malek Arslān’s reign, filled as it was with fighting. A violent fire in the markets of Ḡazna, caused by a falling thunderbolt, was later viewed as a portent of the coming violence. Apart from the cruel behavior towards his brothers, nothing is known about Malek Arslān’s character; but the Ghaznavid poet ʿOṯmān Moḵtārī addressed to him a considerable number of eulogistic odes, as did also Masʿūd-e Saʿd-e Salmān. His vizier was the Šams-al-wozarāʾ Qoṭb-al-dīn Yūsof, who is known, however, only through the poems dedicated to him by ʿOṯmān Moḵtārī. The remaining Ghaznavid sultans were all from the line of Bahrāmšāh, hence the prophetic hope expressed in Malek Arslān’s patronymic “Father of kings” was unfulfilled.


The most detailed account of the contest between Malek Arslān and Bahrāmšāh is given by Ebn al-Aṯīr, X, pp. 504-8 (sub anno 508).

Briefer accounts are given in Jūzǰānī, Ṭabaqāt-e nāṣerī, ed. Ḥabībī2, Kabul, 1342-43 Š./1963-64, I, p. 241; tr. Raverty, London, 1881, I, pp. 107-9, as well as by the Saljuq historians (Ḥosaynī, Bondārī, and later Persian and Indo-Muslim sources such as Mostawfī, Mīrḵᵛānda and Ferešta. There is anecdotal material in the collections of ʿAwfī, Jawāmeʿ al-ḥekāyāt (Hyderabad, 2 parts, 1965-67) and Faḵr-e Modabber Mobārakšāh, Ādāb al-ḥarb wa’l-šaǰāʿa. For the eulogies of Malek Arslān, see the Dīvān of ʿOṯmān Moḵtārī, Tehran, 1341 Š./1962-63, ed. Homāʾī, and that of Masʿūd-e Saʿd, ed. R. Yāsemī, Tehran, 1318 Š./1939-40.

All these primary sources are utilized by Gulam Mustafa Khan, “A History of Bahram Shah of Ghaznin,” Islamic Culture 32, 1949, pp. 69-79; and C. S. Bosworth, The Later Ghaznavids in Afghanistan and Northern India 1040-1186, Edinburgh, 1977, pp. 90-98.

Cite this page
C. Edmund Bosworth, “ARSLĀNŠĀH”, 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_5755>
First published online: 2020
First print edition: 19861215

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