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ABU’L-ḤASAN or ABŪ BAKR AḤMAD B. YAḤYĀ B. JĀBER, leading Arab historian of the 9th century, whose Ketāb fotūḥ al-boldān, in particular, contains much original information on the Arab conquests of Iran.

A version of this article is available in print

Volume III, Fascicle 6, pp. 570-571

BALĀḎORĪ, ABU’L-ḤASAN or ABŪ BAKR AḤMAD B. YAḤYĀ B. JĀBER, leading Arab historian of the 3rd/9th century, whose Ketāb fotūḥ al-boldān, in particular, contains much original and indispensable information on the Arab conquests of Iran.

Life. The exact details of Balāḏorī’s life are shadowy, but he was probably born at, and spent most of his life in, Baghdad and Iraq, though his grandfather Jāber b. Dāwūd had been a secretary in the government administration in Egypt. He studied in Syria, including at Damascus, Antioch, and Ḥoms, and whilst in Iraq he derived knowledge, directly from lectures and also from their writings, from such historians as Moḥammad b. Saʿd (d. 230/845), Madāʾenī (d. 235/850), and Moṣʿab Zobayrī (d. 233/848), and from the grammarian and Koranic scholar Abū ʿObayd Qāsem b. Sallām (d. 224/838). His own birth date must, accordingly, have fallen at some point within the first three decades of the ninth century a.d. The unusual nesba of Balāḏorī apparently stems from his grandfather’s inadvertent use of, and reported death from, the stimulant to the mind and memory made from the marking-nut tree, Semecarpus anacardium L. (Arabic Balāḏor, from Skr. bhallātaka; see B. Laufer, Sino-Iranica, Chinese Contributions to the History of Civilization in Ancient Iran…, Chicago, 1919, repr. Taipei, Taiwan, 1967, pp. 482, 582). Balāḏorī himself seems to have been closely connected with the ʿAbbasid court, as a boon-companion (nadīm) of the caliph al-Motawakkel (r. 232-47/847-61), and enjoying close relations with subsequent rulers like al-Mostaʿīn (r. 248-52/862-66) and al-Moʿtazz (r. 252-55/866-69), deriving personal information from members of the ruling family, including from Hebat-Allāh b. Ebrāhīm b. Mahdī (Ansāb al-ašrāf, fol. 355a-b) and from al-Motawakkel himself (Fotūḥ al-boldān, p. 146.6, on a point concerning the history of Aleppo); but the statement that he acted as tutor for al-Moʿtazz’s son, the future poet Ebn al-Moʿtazz (Margoliouth, p. 116; Brockelmann, GAL I, p. 147) seems to be based on a misconception. Balāḏorī seems to have become less persona grata with al-Moʿtamed than with his predecessors, and he probably died at the end of the latter’s caliphate or at the opening of al-Moʿtażed’s one, in about 279/892.

Ebn al-Nadīm (Fehrest, p. 113; [Tehran], pp. 125-26), followed by Yāqūt (Odabāʾ II, p. 131), lists a metrical Arabic translation of a Ketāb ʿahd Ardašīr, not otherwise known, and further mentions that Balāḏorī was known as a translator from Persian to Arabic. He seems also to have had some reputation as a poet and satirist, verses of his being quoted by Yāqūt in his biography of Balāḏorī (Odabāʾ II, pp. 127-32).

Works. If the details of Balāḏorī’s life are obscure, his two major works have an importance as sources for early Islamic history second only to the history of Ṭabarī. The lengthier one, his Ansāb al-ašrāf, is a history based on genealogical principles, clearly influenced by the ṭabaqāt method of arrangement adopted by his master Ebn Saʿd. His immediate models for the work were doubtless Hešām b. Moḥammad Kalbī’s Jamharat al-nasab (extant) and Hayṯam b. ʿAdī’s Ketāb taʾrīḵ al-ašrāf (lost). The Ansāb al-ašrāf (ašrāf here = “leading men in the state,” those entitled to šaraf al-ʿaṭāʾ, stipends from the Dīvān at the highest rate) is conceived on a mammoth scale. The surviving complete manuscript, Istanbul Aşır Efendi (= Reis-ül-küttâb) 597-98, comprises 1,227 folios, and is thus almost as long as Ṭabarī’s Taʾrīḵ (table of contents by M. Hamidullah, “Le "Livre des généalogies" d’al-Balāḏurīy,” Bulletin d’études orientales 14, Damascus, 1952-54, pp. 197-211, also prefixed by him to volume I of the edition, see below). It is primarily a biographical and genealogical record (but also provides, within the biography of a caliph, a continuous history of his times), beginning with the Prophet Moḥammad, his kinsmen of the Banū Hāšem, including the ʿAbbasid and the ʿAlids; continuing on to the Banū ʿAbd Šams, with especial detail on the Omayyads, and the rest of the clans of Qorayš, including those of Abū Bakr and ʿOmar, the latter’s biography already distinctly hagiographical in character; and ending with the other tribes of Możar, including the whole of Qays, with Ṯaqīf at the very last. The other North Arab branch, Rabīʿa, and the South Arabs, Yaman, are not treated; Ḥājī Ḵalīfa, (Kašf al-ẓonūn, Leipzig, I, p. 274) states that Balāḏorī died before he could finish the work. Notable in Balāḏorī’s general approach is the fact that, although a courtier of the ʿAbbasids, he devoted over one-third of his book to the Omayyads, treating them objectively and even sympathetically; Goitein has suggested (introd. to vol. V, pp. 15-16) that the ʿAbbasid caliphs viewed the history of their predecessors not invariably as that of enemies but also as valuable precedents for statecraft and sound administration. Whilst mainly focused on events in the Syria-Iraq-Arabia heartland, the Ansāb al-ašrāf also provides information on events which affected Iran such as the activities of governors of the East like Zīād b. Abīhi, the ravages of the Kharijites in Iran, and the factional strife of the Arab tribes there; the present writer has used it for the events in Sīstān and Zābolestān which preceded the great revolt of the so-called Peacock Army (Jayš al-Ṭawāwīs) under ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān b. al-Ašʿaṯ which nearly toppled the caliphate of ʿAbd-al-Malek (see Bosworth, “Ubaidallāh b. Abī Bakra and the "Army of Destruction" in Zābulistān (79/698),” Der Islam 50, 1973, pp. 268-83, repr. in The Medieval History of Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia, London, 1977, art. XIX).

The following sections of the Ansāb al-ašrāf have been published: I, ed. M. Ḥamīd-Allāh, Cairo, 1959; II, ed. Moḥammad Bāqer Maḥmūdī, Beirut, 1394/1974; III, ed. ʿAbd-al-ʿAzīz Dūrī, Beirut, 1398/1978; IV-V: The Ansāb al-Ashrāf of al-Balādhurī: IVa, ed. M. Schloessinger and M. J. Kister, Jerusalem, 1971; IVb, ed. Schloessinger, Jerusalem, 1938 (the two preceding volumes, plus the early part of V, also ed. Eḥsān ʿAbbās, Beirut and Wiesbaden, 1979); V, ed. S. D. F. Goitein, Jerusalem, 1936; XI, ed. W. Ahlwardt as Anonyme arabische Chronik, Greifswald, 1883.

Balāḏorī’s other major work, the Ketāb fotūḥ al-boldān [al-ṣaḡīr], survives as the shorter version of what was apparently a larger and fuller work on the same subject. In it, Balāḏorī gives a continuous narrative of the Arab conquest for each province of the Islamic empire, deriving his material from works of the historians of these various regions, supplemented by his own personal travels, as far as possible, and enquiries on the spot for material. He then sifted the accounts and produced a balanced narrative, usually (though not invariably) refraining from citing parallel, or contradictory, accounts of the same events. The editio princeps of this work was made by M. J. de Goeje, as Liber expugnationis regionum auctore … el-Beládsorí, Leiden, 1866 (repr. Leiden, 1968), with numerous subsequent Middle Eastern prints, e.g., ed. Ṣalāḥ-al-Dīn Monajjed, Cairo, 1956-60. O. Rescher published a German translation of as far as p. 239 of de Goeje’s edition, Leipzig, 1917-23, and a complete English translation was made by P. K. Hitti and F. C. Murgotten, The Origins of the Islamic State, Columbia Studies in History, Economics and Public Law 68/1-2, New York, 1916-24 (pt. 1 repr. Beirut, 1966); sections dealing with the conquest of Iran have been translated into Persian by Ā. Āḏarnūš (Tehran, 1346 Š./1967).

The Fotūḥ al-boldān is of the highest importance for the Islamic conquest of Iran and the adjacent parts of the Caucasus, Afghanistan, and Central Asia, supplementing, but often adding fresh material, the annalistically-arranged information of Ṭabarī. Separate sections are devoted to the Arabs’ overrunning of Iraq, Jebāl, Ray and Qūmes, Azerbaijan, Gorgān and Ṭabarestān, Ahvāz, Fārs, Kermān, Sīstān and Kabul, Khorasan and Transoxania (especially detailed), and Makrān and Sind. One of his prime sources was the philologist Abū ʿObayda Maʿmar b. Moṯannā, who provided information not found in other sources, e.g., that the Arabs first crossed the Oxus as early as ʿOṯmān’s caliphate during the governorship in Khorasan of ʿAbd-Allāh b. ʿĀmer b. Korayz (q.v.) (p. 408). But interspersed with the accounts of military raids and battles is much material on social and cultural affairs, e.g., on the change from Persian to Arabic (naql al-dīwān) in the government departments under the Omayyads; the colonization of Azerbaijan by the Arabs; the rallying of the Persian cavalry of the Sasanians, the asāwera, to the Arabs; etc.


Given in the text. See also Barthold, Turkestan3, p. 6.

D. S. Margoliouth, Lectures on Arabic Historians, Calcutta, 1930, pp. 116-19.

Brockelmann, GAL I, pp. 147-48, S. I, p. 216.

Sezgin, GAS I, pp. 320-21 (with further bibliography).

C. F. Becker and F. Rosenthal, “al-Balādhurī,” in EI2 I, pp. 971-72.

Rosenthal, A History of Muslim Historiography, 2nd ed., Leiden, 1968, index, s.v.

A. A. Duri, The Rise of Historical Writing among the Arabs, ed. and tr. L. I. Conrad, Princeton, 1983, pp. 61-64.

Cite this page
C. Edmund Bosworth, “BALĀḎORĪ”, in: Encyclopaedia Iranica Online, © Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York. Consulted online on 22 July 2024 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/2330-4804_EIRO_COM_6490>
First published online: 2020
First print edition: 19881215

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