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OVERVIEW of the entry: i. Geography, ii. Dašt-e Gorgān, iii. Population, iv. Archeology, v. Pre-Islamic history, vi. History from the rise of Islam to the beginning of the Safavid Period, vii. To the end of the Pahlavi era.

A version of this article is available in print

Volume XI, Fascicle 2, pp. 139-154

GORGĀN i. Geography

GORGĀN, the ancient Hyrcania, an important Persian province at the southeast corner of the Caspian sea.

In June 1997, the eastern part of the Māzandarān Province, consisting of the two sub-provinces of Gorgān and Gonbad-e Kāvus/Qābus (formerly called Dašt-e Gorgān) were brought together to form a new province for which the name Golestān (lit. “rose garden,” the name of a popular natural park in Minu-dašt sub-province) was chosen. The new province of Golestān (Figure 1) has an area of 20,381 km², which constitutes 1.3% of the country’s area. It is bounded by the province of Māzandarān and the Caspian Sea to the west, the Republic of Turkmenistan to the north, the province of Khorasan to the east, and the Alborz mountain range and the province of Semnān to the south. This overall topic will be divided into two distinct articles: (1) Golestān Province, (2) the Gorgān Plain (Dašt-e Gorgān; see ii, below).

FIGURE 1. The province of Gorgān (Golestān), based on Sāzmān-e Naqša-bardāri-e Kešvar, Aṭlas-e melli-e Irān, Tehran, 1373 Š./1994; and Okazaki, p. 10.FIGURE 1. The province of Gorgān (Golestān), based on Sāzmān-e Naqša-bardāri-e Kešvar, Aṭlas-e melli-e Irān, Tehran, 1373 Š./1994; and Okazaki, p. 10.


Three natural zones may be distinguished in Golestān Province: the aquatic zone, wetlands, and the landmass.

The Aquatic zone. This zone includes the Caspian Sea, the rivers, and the dams. The Caspian Sea leaves its particular climatic and geomorphological effects on its shorelines. The topographic changes are primarily caused by the currents, produced by the river Volga, and the difference of temperature and salinity of its water with the Caspian Sea. The currents start in the north and move in an anti-clockwise direction, resulting in the easterly orientation of the capes. In the north of the Bay of Gorgān, the currents move in a northwest direction. Between 1953 and 1965, the total discharge of waters flowing into the Caspian Sea had fluctuated by 232 millimeters and the total sea level evaporation had fluctuated by 234 millimeters (Kamālzāda, p. 183).

The principal rivers of this province are Gorgānrud, Qarasu, and Atrak. Gorgānrud begins its course on the upper slopes of the Alborz Mountains and Khorasan highlands and follows a southerly direction as far as the south of the city of Āq qalʿa, where it veers to the west. It is one of the most important rivers of the province. Its water basin covers an area of some 10,250 km2 and is about 350 km long. Many rivers flow into this river, including the river Ḥājilar, which is itself formed by the rivers Čehelčāy and Narmāb. Ḥājilar River irrigates Minu-dašt valley before joining the Gorgānrud. There are many other tributaries, including the rivers Owḡān, Ḵarḵar, Nowdeh, Sārisu and several smaller streams. This area is one of the most fertile regions of the province, where many crops, and most notably cotton, are produced. The source of the Qarasu River is near the peak of Mārān range; it follows an east-west direction and flows into the Caspian Sea between Bandar-e Gaz and Bandar-e Torkaman. It is 160 km long and is joined along its course by the minor rivers Zarrinkal, Kafšgiri, Bālājādda, Māyān, Čaqar, Širdārān, Zilān, Ḵolāṣarud, Nowčaman, Šuriān, Zavārdašt, and Čerdeli.

The river Atrak rises from the mountains north of Qu-čān, following an east-west direction. It is about 545 km long and an irrigation canal carries its water 40 km away. This river constitutes part of the border between Persia and Turkmenistan and is also joined by a number of minor tributaries (Sāzmān-e barnāma, p. 15).

The principal dams of the province are: The Gorgān Dam, situated 60 km northeast of Gorgān City, with a capacity of 100 million cubic meters and the Kowṯar Dam, situated 13 km southeast of Gorgān City, with a capacity of 7.5 million cubic meters. There are several other dams under construction, including the Pol Dam on the river Atrak.

The Wetlands. The reason why the wetlands have been distinguished from the aquatic zone is because of their geographical specificity. One of the most important wetlands of the Caspian Sea is the Bay of Gorgān, which serves as a spawning ground, especially for the sturgeon. This bay is in the shape of a triangle with its cone pointing to the west and its base to the east. It is some 60 km long and 12 km wide at its maximum width between Bandar-e Gaz and the islands of Ašurāda and has an area of 350-400 km2. It used to serve as an anchorage when the sea level was high (Kayhān, Joḡrāfiā II, p. 282). The bay floor is muddy in the east, south and southwest and sandy and gravelly in the north. There are a number of smaller marshlands along the coastline created by a certain slope of the sand dunes holding back the course of rivers. Together with the narrow coastline, these marshlands have created ecosystems of their own for the migrating birds (Markaz-e moṭālaʿāt wa taḥqiqāt, pp. 30-31, 33).

The Landmass. The landmass constitutes the bulk of the province’s physical features and covers various ecological conditions, including coastlines, plains, mountain slopes, pastures and grasslands, and forests and mountainous regions, each with its specific environmental characteristics.

The major part of the plains and the mountainsides of this province are parts of the same geological formation as the Gorgān-Rašt zone, which runs along the north of the Alborz fault, extending from Gorgān to Lāhijān. Its eastern section is covered by thick layers of loess. The steppes of Gorgān and Gonbad emerged out of water in the first age of the fourth Pliocene period and share generally the same climatic characteristics. Rivers are steep and tend to turn into torrents in the highlands, which have moved rocks and there is much erosion. Consequently, river beds are covered by rocks brought down from the mountains (Darvišzāda, pp. 253, 1350, 1370).

The Gorgān and Gonbad plain, which extends from the Bay of Gorgān and continues eastward, ends up in the salt marshes and deserts in the north. This plain is dry and arid in the north, with little potential for cultivation. There are many pastures, however, used by migrating cattlemen. The southern part is semi-dry, fertile, gently sloping, fed by rivers, and has the highest population density in the province (for detail see Gorgān Plain, 2. below).

The eastern and southern parts of the province are mountainous. The mountain ranges are in a parallel formation, stretching in an east-west direction, forming the eastern wing of the Alborz mountains. They include Hezār Jerib, Rostāq and Firuzkuh mountains, the first two joining the mountains of Ālādāq, Binālud, and Hezār Masjed of Khorasan at Hezār Jerib. The most important mountains are Šāhkuh, Siāhmarzkuh, Čāhbid and Kuh-e Kord, and their most important peaks are Čāluʾi (altitude 3,750 m), Šamširbor wa Qezleq (altitude 2,850 m), Kuh-e Ḵord (altitude 2819 m), and Gazdāḡ (altitude 2,802m; Sāzmān-e barnāma, p. 2). The Alborz centerline in the south marks the boundary of Golestān with the province of Semnān and a part of the Gazdāq Mountain centerline north of Gonbad marks the Persian frontier with Turkmenistan.

The piedmonts have an altitude of 100 to 500 meters and are mostly used as winter quarters by mountain cattlemen. There are no urban concentrations in these regions, the Caspian climate gradually loses its impact and the rivers become seasonal; even such important rivers as the Atrak and the Qarasu are much reduced in volume during the summer (Markaz-e moṭālaʿāt wa taḥqiqāt, p. 107).

Out of a total of 1.5 million hectares of forest in Māzadarān and Golestān, some 420 thousand hectares are in Golestān, covering its southern and southeastern parts, as well as part of the Gorgān plains (Dašt-e Gorgān), extending from Galugāh in the west to Golidāq in the east (Sāzmān-e barnāma, p. 18; Kayhān, Joḡrāfiā III, p. 126).

Pastures cover some 1.3 million hectares and are located in the four main water basins: (a) The Atrak basin, covering the pastures of Morāva Tappa, Dašliborun, Āq Qalʿa and Gomišān; (b) the Gorgānrud basin, covering sections of Kalāla, Gālikaš and Āq Qalʿa; (c) the Qarasu basin, covering central Gorgān and parts of Āq Qalʿa; and (d) summer pastures, covering parts of central Gorgān, Kordkuy and Bandar-e Gaz.

Wheat, barley, rice, cereals, industrial raw material, kitchen garden products, vegetables and fodder constitute the main agricultural products of Golestān Province, the importance of each of which, as percentage of the area under cultivation, is as follows: wheat 33%, industrial raw material (cotton, and oil seeds) 23%, barley 20%, cereals 10%, vegetables 6%, rice 5%, kitchen garden products 2.2% and fodder 10% (which exceed 100%, because some products, such as cereals, vegetables and kitchen garden products are harvested more than once during the year). In 1998, the area under cultivation for wheat reached some 222 thousand hectares (Sāzmān barnāma wa budja, p. 388).

Climate. Four climatic regions can be distinguished in this province, as related to four main geographic areas (as shown in the map of the province), with the following characteristics: the desert area covering much of the northern part of the province with cold winters and warm and dry summers; the western part of the Gorgān Plain (the area extended from Gorgān to Bandar-e Gaz, Bandar-e Torkaman, Kordkuy, ʿAliābād, and Minu-dašt) with cool and relatively cold winters and hot and humid summers. The central and eastern part of the Gorgān Plain with relatively cold winters and warm and humid summers (much of the inhabited area of the sub-provinces of Āq Qalʿa and Gonbad-e Qābus); and southern and southeastern mountainous areas with very cold winters and semi-warm and dry summers.

Soil conditions. The soil is generally saline, alkaline, marshy, and brown. A layer of fine desert loess carried by the winds is found around Gorgān and Gonbad-e Qābus. A large part of the province may be considered as an earthquake zone and potentially vulnerable. During the 20th century, there were two earthquakes in the region. The first occurred in 1917 with a magnitude of 5.3 on the Richter scale while the second occurred in 1944 with a magnitude of 5.2.


Aḥmad Barimāni, Daryā-ye Māzandarān, Tehran, 1355 Š./1976.

Mānuel Berberiān, Naqša-ye sismotektonik-e Irān, Tehran, 1355 Š./1976.

Masiḥ Ḏabiḥi, Esterābād-nāma, Tehran, 1365 Š./1986.

Masiḥ Ḏabiḥi and Manučehr Sotuda, Az Āstārā tā Estārbād VI, Tehran, 1354 Š./1975.

ʿAli Darvišzāda, Zamin-šenāsi-e Irān, Tehran, 1364 Š./1985.

Jamšid ʿEyważi, Joḡrāfiā-ye āb, Tehran, 1366 Š./1987.

Jamšid Farhiḵta, Sistemhā-ye ṭabaqa-bandi-e eqlimi, Tehran, 1366 Š./1987.

Markaz-e moṭālaʿāt wa taḥqiqāt-e šahr-sāzi wa meʿmāri-e Irān, Ṭarḥ-e manṭaqaʾi-e Gilān o Māzandarān: moṭalaʿāt-e joḡrāfiāʾi wa moḥiṭi, Tehran, 1368 Š./1989.

Mohandesin-e mošāwer-e ṭarḥ o meʿmāri, Ṭarḥ-e jāmeʿ-e šāhrestān-e Gonbad-e Kāvus I, Tehran, 1375 Š./1996.

Idem, Ṭarḥ-e jāmeʿ-e šahrestān-e Gorgān I, Tehran, 1375 Š./1996.

Sāzmān barnāma wa budja/Plan and Budget Organization, Āmār-nāma-ye sāl-e 1377-e ostān-e Golestān, Tehran, 1378 Š./1999.

GORGĀN ii. Dašt-e Gorgān

Dašt-e Gorgān is the designation of a steppe-region of approximately 10,000 km2 near the southeastern edge of the Caspian Sea, stretching for almost 200 km east-west between Morāva Tappa and the coast of the Caspian Sea near Gomišān. Its north-south extension is about 50 km and reaches from the Perso-Turkmenistan border along the Atrak River to the foothills of the Alborz range. Another traditional name for this region is Torkaman Ṣaḥrā, characterizing at the same time the specific and dominant composition of its population. While the term Dašt-e Gorgān is mainly used to denote those parts of the region within the borders of Persia, the term Torkaman Ṣaḥrā has a wider geographical application and includes the traditional grazing grounds of the Turkoman nomads north of the border. Dašt-e Gorgān is thus a transitional zone between Persia and Central Asia. This transitional character is apparent in relief and geomorphology, in climate and, above all, in its vegetation cover.

Physical geography. Both terms, dašt (q.v.) and ṣaḥrā, indicate first of all the prevailing character of this region as a plain, gently sloping and descending from a height of about 100 m near the foothills of the Alborz to the coast of the Caspian Sea (28 m below mean sea level). This means that the gradient of the slope is extremely low. Between Gomišān near the coast of the Caspian Sea and Gonbad-e Qābus, i.e., over a distance of approximately 100 km, the terrain rises by only 60 m (gradient of 0.06%). Not one single elevation disturbs the overall impression of an extremely pronounced sand dune to the north of the area and the general flatness of the Dašt-e Gorgān. The same holds true for the results of fluvial erosion. Although three rivers (from north to south: Atrak, Gorgānrud, and Qara Su) cross the steppe-plateau in an east-west direction, their incision into the surface is rather moderate, although several terrace-systems are clearly to be differentiated. The rivers Atrak (q.v.) and Gorgānrud have developed remarkable levee features with back-swamps and meanders, indicating the pronounced lowland character of these river regimes and their response to changing sea level of the Caspian.

The geomorphology of Dašt-e Gorgān is directly affected by the recent geological history of this specific region. In terms of historical geology, Dašt-e Gorgān is nothing else but the sedimentation area of a formerly much bigger and further reaching Caspian Sea. Several times in recent geological history and for the last time during the last ice age, when the level of the Caspian Sea was 70 to 80 m higher than today, large tracts of the Dašt-e Gorgān were submerged and subjected to the accumulation of marine, lacustrine, and fluvial deposits. Silt, sand, clay, and loam are the basic materials with which Dašt-e Gorgān was built up. Easily eroded by wind and water, they nevertheless form very fertile soils, especially in areas where there is sufficient rainfall. Wind erosion, very active in the form of steadily blowing winds from a northeasterly direction, have contributed greatly to the differentiation of the steppe soils. While in the north of the Dašt-e Gorgān sandy soils prevail and even larger tracts of sand dune fields can be seen, south of the Gorgānrud finer soils are increasingly found with huge accumulations of loesses towards the southern fringe of the Dašt-e Gorgān and in the foothill region of the Alborz.

This very distinct and pronounced north-south transition is accentuated by corresponding changes in climate and vegetation. The climate of Dašt-e Gorgān is unique compared to all other areas of the Caspian lowlands of Persia and decisive for its steppe-like character. In general, rainfall, although abundant for the southern fringe of this area, decreases considerably over short distances towards the north. While meteorological stations like Gorgān or Šāhpasand may receive an annual average of 600 to 800 mm rainfall, stations like Āq Qalʿa (formerly Pahlavi Dez) or Gonbad-e Qābus (located only 20 km north of the two aforementioned places) may receive only half of these average amounts. For 1964, Eckart Ehlers (1970, p. 19) observed precipitation totals of 588 mm for Gorgān and 1,097 mm for Šāhpasand, while Pahlavi Dez and Gonbad-e Qābus received only 244 mm and 405 mm respectively. The decrease of the average precipitation is continued towards the north: the border post of Čāt on the Turkemenistan frontier received only 134 mm of rain in 1964. In contrast to precipitation changes from south to north and from west to east within the Dašt-e Gorgān, the temperature regime seems less differentiated. The overall annual precipitation average is about 16 to 18 C with comparatively mild winters and hot summers. The overall climatic situation is formed by the juxtaposition of a humid-mild winter and an arid-hot summer season.

The natural vegetation cover reflects the climatic variations within the Dašt-e Gorgān. Until the beginning of the 20th century, the foothills of the Alborz as well as the transitional loess-belt of the southern fringe of the Dašt-e Gorgān were covered with dense forests. Now, only isolated residuals of formerly extended forests (e.g., near Fayżābād and Šāhpasand) as well as smaller tree-stands as the basis of huge alluvial fans demonstrate the ecological potential of this region. Towards the north, the increasing aridity corresponds with a typical steppe-vegetation in which trees are absent. Instead, grasses and herbs of different kind prevail (Bromus, Agropyron,and Trifolium species as well as Cynodon dactylon, Lolium perenne, and others). Altogether, it is a typical Sueda-steppe with only a very few wooden species such as tamarisks and mimoses. North of the Gorgānrud, even the more or less dense steppe-vegetation cover is reduced to predominantly salt-tolerant species such as Anabasis setifera, Salsola aurantiaca, or Haloxylon species.

Historical geography. The transitory character of the Dašt-e Gorgān is also true in a historic and anthropological perspective. As mentioned before, relief and geomorphology are characterized by a pronounced monotony of the natural landscape. Pre- and early historic settlement sites in the form of mounds (tappa) are, therefore, the most striking topographic feature of the region. Number and location of the mounds, many of them far beyond (north of) the present-day settlement area, indicate not only a once much denser population in this area, but also and consequently much more favorable climatic conditions. Such a view is supported by archeological evidences. Pre-World War II excavations of some tappas have concluded not only a total population much higher than today (Arne, p. 39), but also a predominantly farming population within a natural environment, in which a very versatile wildlife reflects much more humid climatic conditions than today (Amschler). More recent archeological results (Deshayes, 1967, passim; Crawford) have confirmed such views and postulate settlements dating back to the sixth millennium B.C.E. Interpretations of these and other findings in regard to the post-glacial climatic history of the Dašt-e Gorgān are to be found in Ehlers’ study (1971).

The next and probably most striking feature of the transitory character of the Dašt-e Gorgān is the remains of a huge wall that used to serve as a defensive structure. This fortification crosses the Dašt-e Gorgān in an east-west direction over a distance of approximately 180 km extending in an eastward direction from the coast of the Caspian Sea to the hills of Piškamar. Long time considered to be built by Alexander the Great and called Alexander’s Wall (Sadd-e Eskandar, Qïzïl Alan), it is now generally believed to be a defense system constructed by the Sasanians against intruders from the north (Kiani; see also FORTIFICATIONS).

Our knowledge of the Dašt-e Gorgān becomes somewhat better for the medieval times, partly due to the political importance of the city of Gorgān/Jorjān near present-day Gonbad-e Qābus and the ruling dynasty of the Ziyarids, who, starting with its founder Mardāvij b. Ziār in 315/927, established an emirate that ruled more or less independently for almost a hundred years. It is during this period that Gorgān as their capital city experienced a remarkable growth and is described by early Muslim geographers as a mighty and flourishing city protected by walls and crossed by the waters of the Gorgānrud (Eṣṭaḵri, pp. 212-13; Ebn Ḥawqal, pp. 382-83; tr. Kramers and Wiet, pp. 372-73; Moqaddasi, pp. 354, 357). It fits the transitory location of this region that the Ziyarids were not only the first to try break loose from Arab rule, but that they were also the first to be conquered by the Saljuqs under Ṭoḡrïl Beg in 433/1041-42 (Ebn al-Aṯir, Beirut, VIII, pp. 496-97). It was with the Saljuq conquests that Central Asians invaded Dašt-e Gorgān. The Saljuqs, a part of the nomadic Ḡozz tribe (q.v.), must have settled here, since Abu ʿAbd-Allāh Moḥammad Šarif Edrisi in the middle of the 12th century speaks of the “Oḡoz country” for the Dašt-e Gorgān. While there is only little doubt that the present day inhabitants of this region, the Turkmans, originate from the Saljuq conquerors, the term Turkman for this population seems to have come into use with the Mongol conquest of this region two centuries later (Barthold).

Up to the present, the difference in race, language, religion, and lifestyle of the Turkman inhabitants of the Dašt-e Gorgān, in contrast to the Persians further south, has deeply influenced the character and peculiarity of this region. While, in the course of time, a number of Turkmans turned to become farmers and fishers, others kept their nomadic lifestyle. Up to the 19th and even early 20th century, robbery and slave-trade were an important part of the Turkman economy, benefiting from its traditional ties to the Central Asian khanates of Marv, Ḵiva, Bukhara (q.v.), Samarkand, etc. Agriculture, animal husbandry, caravan trade, and robbery were so closely interrelated that the Dašt-e Gorgān was practically barred to Persians. Fortified settlements like Āq Qalʿa were isolated islands of Persian presence in this area and Persian soldiers were “prisoners within the walls of their fort” (Yate, p. 281).

For the 19th century we have comparatively detailed information as to the number of people and the character of their settlements within the Dašt-e Gorgān. According to Baron C. A. de Bode (1852) and J. C. Häntzsche (1862), Turkmans were split up into three groups: (1) the Yomuts inhabited the area between the Caspian Sea and Gonbad-e Qābus, while (2) the Guklān (q.v.) lived further east up to bordering hillside. The third and most powerful group, the (3) Tekke Turkman, had and still have their main settlement area in Khorasan near Bojnurd. The population of the Yomut is given by Häntzsche as 9,215 “huts” or 22,188 persons, while that of the Guklān (q.v.) was considered to be about 2,500 houses (pp. 101-2).

The most obvious and striking feature of the cultural differences of the Turkmans in regard to their Persian neighbors has always been their settlements, not to mention differences in language, religion (Turkmans are mostly Sunni Muslims), and race. Unlike Persians, they did not have permanent village settlements. Instead, they used to live in the typically Central Asian round tents (kibitka or ālāčiq), which could be moved very easily and were normally clustered together in the form of village-like congestions, called oba: “I found that, excluding the Charwa obahs scattered around over the plain, the settlement or village of Gurmish Tappa itself consisted of 300 to 400 kibitkas struck pretty close together, and stretching for about 300-400 yards along either Bank of the old bed of the Gorgān” (Yate, p. 271). Now kibitkas are hardly to be found in this area, although traditional forms of agriculture and nomadism are still in existence (Irons, 1969, 1975).

Economy today. As in the past, climatic and other ecological factors are decisive in the distribution of population and settlements as well as in the regional differentiations of agriculture and other forms of land use. Population and settlement density show a steady and almost linear decline from the foothill region of the Alborz towards the north. All major settlements, some of which do not belong to the Dašt-e Gorgān in the proper sense of the word, are located here: Gorgān, ʿAliābād, Šāhpasand, and Minu Dašt. Only Gonbad-e Qābus and Āq Qalʿa are located in the steppe itself. Accordingly, their population is predominately Turkman. The same holds true for the villages of the steppe-region, many of them founded as permanent settlements before World War II in order to sedentarize the nomadic parts of the Turkmans and to avoid political conflicts with the former Soviet Union, into which some tribes used to migrate in search of their winter grazing grounds (Irons, 1975, fig. 3)

Agriculture and animal husbandry are still the main economic activities within the Dašt-e Gorgān. While animal husbandry has changed dramatically from the nomadic forms to those of a more sedentarized type (cf. Iron, 1975, pp. 155-58), it is still a decisive part of the Turkman economy. Agriculture, too, has undergone considerable changes. Originally based mainly on the cultivation of irrigated as well as rain-fed barley and wheat, since the 1930s cotton has gained importance and finally great superiority in the overall agricultural production. With Reżā Shah’s endeavor to boost economic growth and independence, large tracts of the ecologically very favorable Dašt-e Gorgān were turned into cotton-growing areas, a development very closely connected with the establishment of large-scale farm units with holdings of up to 2,800 hectares per unit (Okazaki, pp. 7-14). These developments coincide with the beginnings of industrial enterprises of different kinds. Cotton was not only exported from this area, but partly, at least, used as the basis for a rapidly growing food and textile industry. All major urban centers of the Dašt-e Gorgān, especially the cities of its southern fringe such as Minu Dašt, Šāhpasand, ʿAliābād, and Gorgān, received plants for cleaning and carding the cotton as well as shortening oil industries. Textile plants were constructed in the Caspian cities of Behšahr and Šāhi. Besides animal husbandry and market-oriented agriculture, carpet weaving is a major source of income for many Turkman households. Wool and hair of camels, sheep, and goats are used, above all for the production of Turkman “Bu-khara” rugs, which are also exported. Other items include flat woven rugs, felts for the interior of the yurts, for horse blankets, and cloaks (Irons, 1975, p. 159). Other, though minor sources of income for the inhabitants of the Dašt-e Gorgān include hunting and gathering, and trading (See also vii below).


Johann Wolfgang Amschler, Tierreste: Die Ausgrabungen von dem “Grossen Königshügel” Shah Tepe, in Nord-Iran, Reports from the Scientific Expedition to the North-Western Provinces of China under the Leadership of Sven Hedin 9/7, Archaeology 4, Stockholm, 1939, pp. 35-129.

T. J. Arne, “La Steppe Turkomane et ses antiquités: Sven Hedin Hyllningsskrift,” Geografisca Annaler 17, 1935, pp. 28-43.

W. Barthold, “Ghuzz,” in EI1 II, pp. 168-69.

Idem, “Turkomans,” in EI1 IV, pp. 996-98.

C. A. de Bode, “Quelques aperçus sur les Turcomans à l’Orient de la Mer Caspienne: Les Yamouds et les Goklans,” Nouvelles annales des voyages et des sciences géographiques, N.S. 30/2, Paris, 1852, pp. 34-70.

Rémy Boucharlat, “La fortresse sassanide de Tureng Tepe,” in Le Plateau Iranien et l’Asie Centrale, Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris, 1977, pp. 329-42.

C. Collin-Delavaud, “Trois types de terroirs dans les provinces caspiennes de l’Iran,” Centre nationale de la recherche scientifique, mémoirs et documents 8, 1961, pp. 103-12.

E. W. Crawford, “Beside the Kara Su,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 21, 1963, pp. 263-73.

J. Deshayes, “Aux confines des stepes d’Asie Centrale, un foyer de civilisation indo-européene: Tureng Tepe,” Archaeologia 18, 1967, pp. 33-37.

Idem, “Tureng Tepe und die Ebene von Gorgān zur Bronzezeit,” Archaeologia vivante 1/1, Sept.-Nov. 1968, pp. 35-38.

Idem, “New Evidence for the Indo-Europenas from Tureng Tepe, Iran,” Archaeology 22, 1969, pp. 10-17.

Eckart Ehlers, “Die Turkmenesteppe in Nordpersien und ihre Umrandung: Eine landeskundliche Skizze,” in Strukturwandlungen im nomadisch-bäurlichen Lengensraum des Orients, erdkundliches Wissen, Geografische Zeitschrift 26, Wiesbaden, 1970, pp. 1-51.

Idem, Klimageschichte und Siedlungsgang in vor- und frühgeschichtlicher Zeit in der Turkmenensteppe Nordpersiens,” AMI, N.S. 4, 1971, pp. 7-19.

Abu ʿAbd-Allāh Moḥammad b. Moḥammad Edrisi, Ketāb nozhat al-moštāq fi eḵterāq al-āfāq, Naples and Rome, 1970.

Manṣur Gorgāni, Eqteṣād-e Gorgān o Gonbad o Dašt, Tehran, 1350 Š./1971.

J. C. Häntzsche, “Topographie und Statistik der persischen Turkmanen,” Zeitschrift für allgemeine Erdkunde 13, 1862, pp. 97-103.

Xavier Hommaire de Hell, Les Steppe de la Mer Caspienne, Paris and Strassburg, 1845.

W. Irons, “The Turkmen Nomads,” Natural History 77/9, 1968, pp. 44-51.

Idem, The Yamut Turkmen: A Study of Social Organization among a Central Asian Turkic-speaking Population, Anthropological Papers 58, Museum of Anthropology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1975.

Idem, “The Turkmen of Iran: A Brief Research Report,” Iranian Studies 2/1, 1969, pp. 27-38.

M. Y. Kiani, Parthian Sites in Hyrcania: The Gurgan Plain, AMI, suppl. 9, Berlin, 1982.

Horst Kopp, Städte im östlichen iranischen Kaspitiefland: Ein Beitrag zur Kenntnis der jüjgeren Entwicklung orientalischer Mittel und Kleinstädte, Erlanger Geographische Arbeiten 33, Erlangen, 1973.

Jacques de Morgan, Mission scientifique en Perse 1: Etudes géographiques, Paris, 1894.

A. Motamed and H. Chokouhi, “The Sand Problem of Gorgān, Method and Techniques of Groundwater Investigations and Development,” UNESCOWater Resources Series 33, New York, 1967, pp. 166-68.

Shoko Okazaki, The Development of Large-Scale Farming in Iran: The Case of the Province of Gorgān, The Institute of Asian Economic Affairs, Occasional Papers 3, Tokyo, 1968.

Erich Friedrich Schmidt, Flights over Ancient Cities of Iran, Chicago 1940.

F. Scholz, “Beobachtungen über künstliche Bewässerung und Nomadismus in Belutschistan,” Geographische Zeitschrrift 26, pp. 53-80.

F. Stein, “Die Turkmenen,” Petermann Geografische Mitteilugen 26, 1880, pp. 325-38.

David Stronach, “Excavations at Tepe Nush-i Jān, 1967,” Iran 7, 1969, pp. 1-20.

L. S. Thompson, “Geological Evidence for Ancient Civilization on the Gorgān Plain,” Bulletin of American Institute for Iranian Art and Archaeology 5/3, 1938, pp. 193-200.

Hermann (Armin) Vambery, “Die Turkomanensteppe und ihre Bewohner,” Westermanns Monatshefte 48, 1880, pp. 363-73.

Chrles Edward Yate, Khurasan and Sistan, Edinburgh and London, 1900.

GORGĀN iii. Population

Population of Gorgān will be described in two sections: (1) Population of the province, which has been formed recently under the name of Golestān Province with Gorgān City as its capital; and (2) population of Gorgān City and Gorgān Sub-province.


In June 1997 the eastern part of Māzandarān was delimited as the province of Golestān. This territory, which in the census of 1996 contained six Sub-province (šahrestān), covers an area of 20,300 km2 and is currently composed of 7 sub-provinces, 16 cities, and 16 districts (baḵš). There are also 999 inhabited villages in its 45 rural sub-districts (dehestān). It must be pointed out, however, that until 1986 the same boundaries contained two sub-provinces, the sub-province of Gorgān, and the sub-province of Gonbad-e Kāvus (formerly called Dašt-e Gorgān and Torkaman Ṣaḥrā). Gradually, several districts were redefined as sub-provinces and Gonbad was turned into two sub-provinces (Gonbad-e Kāvus and Minu-dašt) and Gorgān into five (Gorgān, Bandar-e Torkaman, ʿAliābād, Bandar-e Gaz, and Kordkuy). Table 1 shows the seven sub-provinces of the province by number of cities, districts, and sub districts.

Over the past four decades, the population of Golestān Province as a whole has increased 4.5 times, 8.5 times in the urban and 3.3 times in the rural areas. In the same period, the number of its cities has increased from 5 to 16 (Table 2). According to the census of 1996, there were 1,074 inhabited villages in this province with an average population of 831 persons, which is significantly larger than the ones recorded in previous censuses. The sub-province of Gorgān with a population of 422,000 and the sub-province of Gonbad-e Kāvus with a population of 421,000 were the most populated sub-provinces.

The average rate of growth of the population of this province for the 40-year period of 1956-96 was close to 3.81 percent, 5.50 percent in the urban and 3.04 in the rural areas. For the decade 1986-96, these figures declined to 2.26 percent, 1.99 percent and 2.45 percent respectively, which show that, in this province, the rate of growth of the rural population exceeds that of the urban population. Among the sub-provinces, for the decade 1986-96, ʿAliābād with 4.53 percent had the highest rate of growth and Bandar-e Gaz with 0.9 percent the lowest.

Age structure. In 1996, 42.3 percent of the population of this province (39.7 percent in its urban areas and 44.3 percent in its rural areas) was under 15 years old, which compared to the average figure of 39.5 percent for the country as a whole, shows that this province’s population has a younger structure. This is confirmed by the fact that ratio of its population of over 65 years of age did not exceed 4 percent, compared to 4.3 percent for the country as a whole. By the same token, 60.1 percent of the population is in the active age group.

Religion and language. According to the 1375 Š./1996 census, 99.8 percent of the population of this province are Muslims and the religious minorities constitute a very small portion of the population: 294 persons were Zoroastrian, 159 Christian, 5 Jewish, and 1,209 persons adherents to other faiths. In the same year, 721 persons did not declare their religion. Nearly 77 percent of the Zoroastrians lived in the rural areas and, by contrast, 55 percent of the Christians lived in the urban areas.

A considerable percentage of the population of this province is composed of Turkmans, but there are no reliable statistics for their number, nor their distribution in various sub-provinces. In 1992, a birth statistical survey based on random sampling showed that 0.6 percent of the birth certificates issued in Persia were to babies whose mother tongue was Turkish (Zanjāni, 1992, pp. 49-57); another statistical survey based on a sample of 22,549 persons, showed that 421 persons, or 2 percent of the sample, spoke Turkish (Markaz-e Āmār-e Irān, 1993, p. 17). The Turkmans are composed of two main tribes of Yomut and Guklān. The Yomuts are divided into two groups of Čārvā and Čamur and 12 clans who live in ālāčiqs (felt-covered tents). Their territory extends from Gorgān to the north and east. The Guklāns’ territory is centered on Gonbad-e Kāvus and extends to the Atrak River, the mountains of Bojnurd, and the sand dunes of Turkmenistan to the north and the Yomut Desert to the west. The Guklāns have a similar tribal structure to the Yomuts. There are two groups of Ḥalqa-ye Dānmolu and Dudurqa, each composed of six clans. The Turkman have preserved their tribal structure to the present day.

Education and literacy. Table 3 gives the literacy figures for the over six-year old population of Golestān province in 1996.

It is worth mentioning that 48.6 percent (49.4 in the urban areas and 48 percent in the rural areas) of the literate persons are composed of students.

Household size. In 1996, the average size of the household in this province was 5.3 persons (5.03 for the urban areas and 5.5 for the rural areas), which was higher than the average for the country as a whole (4.77 persons, with 4.56 and 5.14 for the urban and rural areas respectively). The highest figure of 5.6 persons for the urban areas and 6.2 persons for the rural areas belonged to the sub-province of Turkman and the lowest figure of 4.6 and 4.8 persons to the sub-province of Kordkuy.

Marriage. In 1996, 50.8 percent of this province’s population in the age group of 10-year old and over (51.7 percent for the urban areas and 50.1 percent for the rural areas) were married. This ratio was 51 percent for men (51.5 percent in the urban areas and 50.5 percent in the rural areas) and 0.6 percent for women (51.9 percent in the urban areas and 49.7 in the rural areas). This shows that, contrary to the past, marriage is less common in the rural areas. In the age group of 10-year old and over, 6.07 percent of women (6.0 percent for the urban areas and 6.1 percent for the rural areas) were either divorced or widows, the widows accounting for the great majority (94.7 percent).

The incidence of marriage in the literate population has been much less common than in the illiterate population and, for example, in 1996, only 38.6 percent of literate women of 10-year old and over were married, as compared to the figure of 75.9 percent for illiterate women. The same ratios were 42.7 percent and 86.5 percent for men. On may conclude that, in this society, literacy plays a determinant role in marriage and, as a result, in fertility and population growth.

Economic activity. The latest activity and employment statistics for the 10-year old and over population of this province is given in Table 4.

Women constituted 17.6 percent of the active population, which was higher than the average for the country (12.7 percent). The distribution of employment according to activity shows that rural activity is predominant in this province, with agriculture accounting for 46.2 percent of employment, compared to 23.0 percent for the whole country.


The city of Gorgān is the provincial capital of the newly created province of Golestān as well as the administrative center of the sub-province of Gorgān. In 1996, the province was composed of 2 cities, 9 districts, and 174 settlements, while the sub-province was comprised of two districts (baḵš) of Āq Qalʿa (former Pahlavi Dež) and Markazi.

Population. There are no reliable data on the population of the city of Gorgān prior to the first national census of 1956. Table 5 indicates the main features of the population of Gorgān based on the national censuses:

Table 5 shows that the population of the city has increased 6.65 times over a period of 40 years, with an average annual rate of growth of 4.85 percent. The recent fall in the rate of growth of the population has been due partly to the population policy of the government and partly to the return of the war veterans to their home towns. It may also, to some extent, have been due to the creation of new cities in the region, which have absorbed rural immigrants, indirectly reducing migration to Gorgān.

The structure of the population is relatively young and the age group of 0-14-year-old composed 37.1 percent of the population of Gorgān in the census of 1996, which is the lowest ratio in comparison to all the previous censuses. This reduction, from 43.6 percent in 1986, is an indication of the success of the population control policy of the government.

Economic activity. The activity rate of the above-10-year old population of Gorgān has fluctuated considerably during the past 30 years, falling from 44.4 percent in 1966 to 37.6, 41.1, and 34.3 in the next three decades. This is partly because of the limited scope and the small share of agricultural sector in employment (6.64 percent in 1976 and 6.77 percent in 1996), and partly due to the entry into the labor market of the children born after the Revolution of 1978-79, when the former birth control policies were abandoned and, in fact, reversed. Economic bottlenecks created by the war and employment policies also aggravated the situation. Meanwhile, as a result of the sectoral structure and increased government domination of the system of production and business, coupled with the confiscation of workshops, farms, and factories, the proportion of public service employees reached the figure of 43.6 percent in 1986, compared to 35.5 percent in 1976. In the same period, the percentage of private sector employees fell from 39.7 to 31.1 and that of the self-employed increased from 18.4 to 29.8 (National Census, 1956, 1966, 1976, 1986, 1996).

Housing and housing facilities. In 1996, 99.9 percent of the families of Gorgān lived in ordinary housing units and the number of makeshift dwellings or sheds did not exceed 15 units. Among them, 66 percent owned their dwellings, while 24 percent were tenants and 9 per-cent lived in free or subsidized housing units. In 1976, 54 percent were owners and 37 percent tenants. In the meantime, like elsewhere, the quality of housing was improved in the years following the Revolution: the percentage of one-room and two-room dwellings fell from 8 percent and 19 percent in 1976 to 4 percent and 14 percent in 1986 respectively. In 1996, 99 percent of the families had electricity, 99 percent used pipeline water supply, 36 percent had telephones, and 36 percent were connected to gas pipe-line. Gas was used by 98 percent of the families for cooking and by 73 percent for heating.

According to the latest master plan prepared by the consultant engineers (Mohandesin-e mošāwer, 1974, p.1), more than 90 percent of Gorgān’s housing units consisted of independent dwellings, 9 percent consisted of collective units of 2 to 3 dwellings and 1 percent consisted of apartment complexes.

Education and literacy. According to the last national census of 1996, 89 percent (92 percent of men and 86 percent of women) of the population of Gorgān in the age group of over 6-year-old were literate. Students composed nearly one-third of the population, of which 4,291 followed advanced courses, and the number of girls was constantly growing. The level of education and literacy has been rising in Gorgān as well as all over Persia after the revolution.

Marriage. In 1996, 67 percent of the men over 15 years of age were married, 31 percent had never married, and 1.4 percent were widowers and divorced; of the women over 10-year-old, the same ratios were 54 percent, 39 percent, and 6 percent respectively. The average age of the first marriage in the rural district of Gorgān (including the cities of Āq Qalʿa and Gorgān) was 26 for men and 23 for women. For men, the average age of first marriage has little fluctuated in the past, while for women, the average age of first marriage has risen by about 3.5 years during the past 40 years.

Physical characteristics. In addition to its role as an important administrative and political center in the northeast of Persia, the city of Gorgān is a hub of agriculture (especially, wheat, cotton, and oil seeds), agro-industrial activities, and technical services. The city has gone through a period of rapid physical development. Its first pilot project was prepared in 1966 and its first master plan was approved in 1974. Its second master plan was prepared in 1994, whose implementation still continues. The area of the city has increased 160 percent in a period of 20 years, from approximately 1,000 hectares in 1973, to 1,522 hectares in 1986 and 2,600 hectares in 1992 (Mohandesin-e mošāwer, 1974a, p.1).

The fabric of the city is in three parts: (1) The old fabric, composed of about 5 percent of its area; (2) the new development, mostly constructed after 1961 around the old fabric, in the form of new quarters; and (3) the periphery, composed of more than 70 haphazard satellite-towns, collectivities and quarters, mostly constructed after the revolution. The consultant engineers and the architects responsible for preparing the new master plan for the development of the city of Gorgān in the years 1994-2006, have enumerated its aims as follows: (1) to harmonize and create a rational relationship between the physical sectors and control the city’s haphazard expansion brought about by the uncontrolled development of unevenly dispersed satellite-towns; (2) to find solutions to the problems of uncoordinated distribution of space, service facilities, and infrastructures in the city and its suburbs; (3) to submit a plan for the disposal of waste surface water and its purification, which, given the city’s topography and considerable rainfall, is of utmost importance; (4) to submit a proposal for an efficient transport system, which, as a result of uncoordinated urban development, has become quite inadequate; and (5) to draft rules and criteria for construction of residential, commercial and industrial units (Mohandesin-e mošāwer………, 1974b, p. 47).

According to the consultant engineers (Mohandesin-e mošāwer), the physical development of the city was built around Maḥalla-ye Meydān, the oldest quarter; later development covered the northeast triangle creating the Naʿlbandān and Sabza Mašhad quarters. Further expansion took place in the east and northeast, while mountains and forests in the south and city moat in the west halted southward and westward expansions.


Markaz-e āmār-e Irān, Natāyej-e āmār-giri az ḵoṣuṣiyāt-e ejtemāʿi-eqteṣādi-e ḵānavār XII, Tehran, 1372 Š./1993.

Mohandesin-e mošāwer-e ṭarḥ o meʿmāri, “Ṭarḥ-e jāmeʿ-e Gorgān, fāz-e yekom,” Tehran, 1373 Š./1994a.

Idem, “Ṭarḥ-e jāmeʿ-e Gorgān, fāz-e dovvom,” Tehran, 1373 Š./1994b.

Idem, “Ṭarh-e jāmeʿ-e šahrestān-e Gonbad-e Kāvus fāz-e yekom,” Tehran, 1375 Š./1996.

Manṣur Gorgāni, Eqteṣād-e Gorgān o Gonbad o Dašt, Tehran, 1350 Š./1971.

Sāzmān-e barnāma wa budja, Āmār-nāma-ye ostān-e Golestān, Tehran, 1377 Š./1898.

Ḥabib-Allāh Zanjāni, Rāhnemā-ye jamʿiyat-e šahrhā-ye Irān, 1335-1370, Tehran, 1368 Š./1989.

Idem, Jamʿiyat wa šahr-nešini dar Irān, Tehran, 1370 Š./1991.

GORGĀN iv. Archeology

The plain of Gorgan, situated on the southeast shore of the Caspian Sea, has always been regarded as an important region for its archeological deposits dating from the pre-historic to the Islamic period.

Figure 1. Aerial map of the old city of Gorgān (Jorjān). (Courtesy of the author.)

FIGURE 1. Aerial map of the old city of Gorgān (Jorjān), courtesy of the author.FIGURE 1. Aerial map of the old city of Gorgān (Jorjān), courtesy of the author.

The Greek historian Arrian, recording Alexander’s expedition to the East, speaks of Alexander’s march to the city of Zadracarta, the largest town in the region and the capital of Hyrcania, where the royal palace was situated. It has been suggested that the present city of Gōrgān, formerly Astarābād/Estrābād, could possibly be the ancient Zadracarta (Frye, p. 720; Sykes, p. 17). A more plausible suggestion for the location of Zadracarta seems to be the site of Qalʿa-ye Ḵandān. It is a large tepe measuring 300 x 220 m with a height of about 40 m, located on the southwest corner of the city of Gorgān on the road to Sāri. A Seleucid inscription from the reign of Antiochos I (281-261 B.C.E.), discovered in Gorgān, probably came from this very site (de Morgan, pp. 107-8; Robert).

Abu’l-Fażl Bayhaqi (ed. Fayyāż, p. 585), in his account of the Ghaznavid Sultan Masʿud’s expedition to the Caspian coast, reports that the royal tent was pitched on a high place (bālā) outside Estārābād, which may be the same location now known as Qalʿa-ye Ḵandān. In such case this site must date from the pre-Islamic period, since it had already become a tepe in the 5th/11th century, which lends more weight to its identification as the ancient Zadracarta.

More information is provided by Polybius and Strabo. Polybius (10.31.3-10) mentions the camp of the Hyrcanian commander in a place called Sirynx, not far from an unwalled city called Tambrax. Strabo (11.7.2) refers to Tapē as the royal residence and describes it in terms similar to that of Sirynx by Polybius. It has been suggested that the archeological site of Qara Tapa, located 7 km west of Behšahr (q.v.), could be identifiable with Tapē of Sirynx (see Stahl).

Gorgān Plain enjoyed a prosperous period of development under the Parthians, who built new forts and cities there and converted many of the earlier ones to meet their own needs, which was mainly for military purposes. Forts and cities built during the Achaemenid and Seleucid periods usually had a rectangular or polygonal layout. The foundations of the Parthian period could, however, be polygonal (early Parthian, e.g., Nisa, Solṭān-ʿAli, Dašt Qalʿa), oval, circular, or rectangular/square (e.g., Qalʿa Daland, Gabri Qalʿa, and Qalʿa Ḵarāba). Remains of many such constructions are still visible in Gorgān, mainly in the eastern part of the Caspian region.

Ture Johnsson Arne noted 233 sites of archeological significance on the Gorgān plain. Recent excavations and research provide fresh evidence on the activities of the Parthians in this region. A survey expedition from the Iranian Archeological Center identified many archeological sites, particularly of the Parthian and Sasanian periods; they could not, however, be identified with any of the disappeared cities of the period (Kiani, 1982a; idem, 1982b).

A large find of bullae was made in uncontrolled conditions at Kabudān Tepe to the east of Gorgān City (Astarābād/Estrābād), several of which are now kept at the Archeological Museum (Muza-ye Irān-e Bāstān) in Tehran. Some were reported by Maleka Malekzada Bayani, who was able to identify the find-spot (Malekzada Bayani, pp. 218-21). Specimens apparently of the same origin were discussed by Richard Nelson Frye (1972, pp. 272-75), and others seem to have entered the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. The central field of the impression contains the province named Gorgān, and the margin designates the office of the solicitor-judge of the poor (driyōšān ǰādag-gō ud dādwar; for the functions of this official see Gignoux, 1978, pp. 5-6). Other examples apparently from the same find-spot give the same province name, abbreviated as GWL, in the area of the inscription, and a marginal inscription that has been variously deciphered as Gwl’n str “Gorgān province,” or more recently as Gwlkʾn strp “Satrap of Gorgān.” The two formula seem to occur in different contexts; thus the accuracy of the reading remains open to question until critical inspection of the well-preserved specimens are made. Both words seem to be followed by a sequence of circles, the first of which can easily be confused with the letter “p.” On another specimen from Kabudān Tepe, Philippe Gignoux has corrected the earlier interpretation of the area legend wlwʾk, followed by the familiar mgwḥ, as a personal name, and pointed out that it must designate a settlement in the vicinity (Gignoux, 1973, p. 142).

The Sasanian coin series indicate that the provincial center had also the new name Gorgān (Mochiri, p. 88). It appears as a mint city in an abbreviated form GW from the period of the Sasanian Yazdegerd II (439-57; Paruck, pp. 153-54). It is to be presumed, however, that the site of the Sasanian capital city was close to the Islamic archeological site of Gorgān, near the modern city of Gonbad-e Qābus (q.v.), although direct evidence for an identification is lacking (at present, the name Gorgān has been transferred to the modern providence capital, 50 miles to the southeast, the former Astarābād).

Three bullae from Turang Tepe give a further toponym for Gorgān province, Husraw-šād-Pērōz, which is shown by the marginal legend Gwlgʾn to belong to that region. The same toponym is also known for the Sasanian province of Iraq. Gignoux (1974, p. 301) suggested that this could be the Sasanian designation of Turang Tepe. Islamic sources mention a few other Sasanian cities in the province, such as Rowšan-Firuz, situated on the road from Gorgān to Khorasan (Ṭabari, I, p. 874; Balʿami, ed. Bahār, pp. 954-55). Many of these historical points have been supported by archeological evidence (Gyselen, pp. 189-212).

An outstanding Sasanian structure in the province is a ruined fire temple in the region of Robāṭ-e Qarabil between Gonbad-e Qābus and Bojnurd in Khorasan. It is situated a few kilometers north of the road from Robāṭ-e Qarabil to Čamanbid (Chassagnoux, pp. 261-65). The building is of the usual Sasanian type, and to the local inhabitants is known as the Church of Espaḵu (Kelisā-ye Espaḵ; Moqri, p. 92).

By far the most important archeological site in Gorgān is the mud-brick, defensive wall mistakenly known as Alexander’s Wall (Sadd-e Eskandar), which runs for about 180 km eastward from the sea to the hills of Piškamar as a rampart against invaders from the north (Kiani, 1982b). It is also called Sadd-e Anuširvān and Sadd-e Piruz in Persian, and is known as Qïzïl Yïlan to local Turkman inhabitants (see fortifications). The excavation carried out by the team from the Iranian Archaeological Center revealed the remains of Parthian structure that was rebuilt by the Sasanians. If the wall was originally built, as has been suggested (Kiani, 1982a, pp. 11-38), in the reign of Mithradates (Mehrdād) II (123-87 B.C.E.), then it would mean that the city of Nisa had by then lost much of its importance for the Parthians; therefore, the main center of their power in the northeast, as well as the location of their major cities at that time, must have been in the Gorgān plain. Although many of the sites remain unexcavated, most of them can be attributed to the Parthian period, and some can be identified with major Parthian towns. It is noteworthy that many of them show considerable similarity in their general layouts with the forts and cities of Central Asia.

The building materials which were used consist of mud brick, fired brick, gypsum, and mortar. Clay was also used during the early Parthian period. It seems that in the early period greater use was made of mud-bricks in the construction of forts and cities, whereas the use of fired bricks, with varying degrees of hardness, became popular in the later period. More often than not, one brick was set in the vertical position, with two horizontal rows of bricks laid above and below. This arrangement was used in the construction of the defensive wall. The sizes of mud or fired bricks differ, but in general the standard size was 40 x 40 x 10 cms.


Ture Johnsson Arne, Excavations at Shah Tepé, Iran, Reports from the Scientific Expedition to North-western Provinces of China under the Leadership of Dr. Sven Hedin, The Sino-Swedish Expedition Publication 27, VII Archaeology 5, Stockholm, 1945.

Malekeh Malekzadeh Bayani, “Études sur quelques bulles sassanides,” in Akbar Tajvidi and Muhammad-Yusof Kiani, eds., The Memorial Volume of the Vth International Congress of Iranian Art and Ar-chaeology11th-18th April 1968, 2 vols., Tehran, 1972, I, pp. 218-21.

J. and A. Chassagnoux, “Atesh-Kadeh dans un Village Kurde pres de Robat-Qarehbil,” Stud. Ir. 4/2, 1975, pp. 261-65.

Richard Nelson Frye, “Astarābāḏẖ,” in EI2 I, p. 720.

Idem, “Sasanian Seals and Sealings,” in The Memorial Volume of the Vth International Congress of Iranian Art and Archaeol-ogy11th-18th April 1968, 2 vols., Tehran, 1972, I, pp. 272-75.

Idem, “The Sassanian System of Walls for Defence,” in Myriam Rosen-Ayalon, ed., Studies in Memory of Gaston Wiet, Jerusalem, 1977.

Philippe Gignoux, Catalogue des Sceaux, Camées et Bulles Sasanides de la Bibliothéque Nationale et du Musée due Louvre II, Paris 1978.

Idem, “Problèmes d’interprétation des bulles sasanides,” Stud. Ir. 2/2, 1973, pp. 137-42.

Idem, “Nouveux toponymes sasanides,” JA, 1974, pp. 299-304.

Robert Göbl, Die Tonbullen von Takht-e Suleiman: Ein Beitrag zur spätsasanidischen sphragistik: Takht-e Suleiman, Berlin. 1976, Table 55, no. 11. 4.

André Godard, “Gurgān and the Gunbad-i-Qābus,” in Survey of Persian Art III, pp. 967-74.

Muhammad-Yusof Kiani, Parthian Sites in Hyrcania: The Gurgan Plain, AMI, suppl. 9, Berlin, 1982a.

Idem, “Excavations on the Defensive Wall of the Gurgān Plain: A Preliminary Report,” Iran 20, 1982b, pp. 73-79.

Idem, The Islamic City of Gurgan, AMI 11, Berlin, 1984.

Idem, Pāytaḵthā-ye Irān, 3 vols., Tehran, 1995.

Malek Iradj Mochiri, Etudes de numismatique Iranienne sous les Sassanides I, Tehran, 1972.

ʿAli-Aṣḡar Moqri, Banāhā-ye tāriḵi-eḴorāsān, Mašhad, 1359 Š./1980.

Jacques de Morgan, Mission scientifique en Perse, 5 vols., Paris, 1894-1905.

Furdoonjee D. J. Paruck, Sasanian Coins, Bombay, 1924, pp. 153-54.

Hyacinth Louis Rabino di Borgomale, Mázandarán and Astarábád, London, 1928; tr. Ḡolām-ʿAli Waḥid Māzandarāni as Māzandarān o Astarābād,Tehran, 1343 Š./1964.

Louis Robert, “Inscription Hellénistique d’Iran,” Hellenica 11-12, 1960, pp. 85-91, pl. V.

H. Shiomi, Archaeological Map of the Gorgan Plain, Iran, no. 1/2, Hiroshima 1976-77.

A. F. Stahl, “Notes on the March of Alexander the Great from Ecbatana to Hyrcania,” JRGS, 1928, pp. 312-19.

Percy M. Sykes, “A Sixth Journey in Persia,” The Geographical Journal 37, 1911, pp. 1-19, 149-65.

J. Walker, A Catalogue of the Muhammadan Coins in the British Museum: A Catalogue of the Arab-Sassanian Coins, London 1941.

GORGĀN v. Pre-Islamic history

Gorgān (Latin Hyrcania), the district of “the wolves” (still seen thereabouts), north of the Alborz (q.v.) watershed, and adjoining the southeastern quarter of the Caspian Sea, is mentioned already as Varkāna- in the Behistun inscription (2.92; see BĪSOTŪN iii). The area comprises two distinct climatic zones: the rainforest of the Alborz northern slopes and the Gorgān plain, well-watered and fertile close to the mountains but passing into increasingly desert steppe as the distance from the foothills increases. Under the Achaemenids, it seems to have been administered as a sub-province of Parthia and is not named separately in the provincial lists of Darius and Xerxes. The Hyrcanians, however, under the leadership of Megapanus, are mentioned by Herodotus (7.62) in his list of Xerxes’ army during the invasion of Greece, and the district also figures in his confused account (3.117) of the hydrography of upper Asia.

After the death of Artaxerxes I (q.v.; 465-423 B.C.E.), his son Ochus, later to rule as Darius II (q.v.; 423-403 B.C.E.), remained as satrap of Hyrcania. There he was succeeded, after his accession to the throne, by Idernes, whose daughter Stateira married Arsaces (Artaxerxes), a son of the king. In turn, the king’s daughter Amestris married Terituchmes, son of Idernes, who, on the death of his father, succeeded to the satrapy. Terituchmes, however, enamoured of his own half-sister Roxana, whom he planned to marry, conspired to murder his wife and to rebel against the king. The latter in turn, getting wind of the plot, persuaded one Udiastes, a henchman of Terituchmes, to slay his master, and so save the princess. Ctesias (Frg. 32 = Gilmore, ed., pp. 171-72), source for these dramatic events, does not report the location of these happenings.

Only with the arrival of Alexander are more details given of the region. The Macedonian led his army across the Alborz into Hyrcania, passing probably west of Damḡān, up the open valley from Čašma-ye ʿAli to Čahārdeh (cf. Schmidt, p. 2 and pl. 58) and crossing the first range via the Tang-e Šamširbor. Thence he would have descended to lower ground, camping, as Arrian records (3.23-25), beside a modest river, naturally the Nekā (also called localy the Asp o Neyza), where he received the surrender of Nabarzanes, chiliarch (q.v.) of the murdered Darius III (d. 330 B.C.E.), and of Phrataphernes, satrap of Hyrcania and Parthia, who was reinstated. Thence he crossed the northern range to Zadracarta, the largest city and site of the “royal palace” of Hyrcania, most probably located at the great mound of Qalʿa-ye Ḵandān (see below), on the western fringe of present-day Gorgān city (formerly Astarābād, q.v.).

Phrataphernes may have retained control of Hyrcania during the struggles of Alexander’s successors, though he was displaced from Parthia in 321 B.C.E. by a Macedonian, Philip, who then was killed in 318 B.C.E. by Pithon, the ambitious satrap of Media, and replaced by Eudamus, that satrap’s brother. The situation then becomes for a while obscure. However, the personage most closely associated with Hyrcania was the satrap Andragoras (q.v.), known especially from an important inscription and from his coins in gold and silver. The first document, recording the manumission of a slave at a temple of Sarapis, shows that Andragoras had been satrap of Hyrcania and of Parthia since the reign of Antiochus I (q.v.), already before 266 B.C.E. He was evidently still in charge of the province twenty or more years later, after the death of Antiochus II in 247 B.C.E. and the seizure by Ptolemy III of the Seleucid capital at Antioch left the future of the Seleucid dynasty for a moment in question. It was no doubt that situation, rather than an intention to rebel, that led the veteran satrap to assert independence by issuing coins in his own name. Although the name of the satrap appears to be Greek, it was plausibly suggested by Ghirshman that he could, in fact, as his bearded portrait suggests, have been an Iranian named Naryasanha > Naresah (Av. Nairyō.saŋha-), variously translatable as “of manly speech,” “praised by men, famous,” or even “addressing men in the assembly,” and that his name had been “translated” into the language of contemporary administration. Though the official Greek form on his coins was Andragoras (favoring the first, or third, interpretation), the name is Hellenized by Arrian as Pherecles (“bearing fame”), and by Syncellus as Agathocles (“of good fame”), all possible translations of this Iranian original. Conceivably, the notice in the Šahrestānhā-ye Irān that Narsēh Aškānān (the Arsacid) founded the city of Dehestān (q.v.) in Gorgān (Markwart, Provincial Capitals, pp. 12, 53-54) could be an allusion to Andragoras, since there was no Arsacid ruler named Narsēh.

Nonetheless, the veteran satrap’s attempt to consolidate an independent state in Parthia and Hyrcania was already doomed. In the steppe-lands to his north a new power was emerging. The nomadic tribes of the Parni and the Dahae, united under the leadership of Arsaces and Tiridates, descended on the governor, and put him to death. Thus was established the rule of the Arsacids in Parthia and Hyrcania, and the Parthian Empire founded.

Only with the advent of the Seleucid Antiochus III “the Great” (q.v.; ca. 223-187 B.C.E.) did the historical perspective refocus on Hyrcania (Polybius 10.29-31). The rise of the tribal Arsacids was threatening Seleucid control in northern Iran, and Antiochus marched eastwards (209 B.C.) from Hamadān to repel these invaders. After seizing their forward headquarters at Hecatompylos (Šahr-e Qumes, west of Damḡān), he advanced to Tagae, more probably identifiable with Gerdkuh than with the mountain east of Damḡān today called Tāq. He then thrust across the Alborz into Hyrcania, probably diverging westward after Čahārdeh via Tuya and Yānisar, where a precipitous defile on the route better fits the narrative, before crossing the final range and descending to Tambrax. A possible identification here is with the medieval Tamiša at the village of Sarkalāta. He moved on to mount a regular siege of a heavily fortified city called Syrinx, “the capital of Hyrcania” (so probably a Greek nickname for Zadracarta), and this was taken. Thence, having repelled the Arsacids to the north and effected a settlement with them, the king moved eastwards to Bactria. Hyrcania, however, remained effectively under Arsacid control.

Though the focus of the Arsacid kingdom moved west to Hamadān and Ctesiphon, Hyrcania still continued its historic role intermittently. Occasionally, it served as a royal retreat from Babylonia, as when Mithradates I resorted there in 141 B.C. When the Seleucid Demetrius II Nicator attempted the reconquest of Iran in 139 B.C., he was eventually captured by the Parthians and sent to the Parthian king in Hyrcania, where he was lodged, treated as became his rank, and given Rhodogune, daughter of Mithradates, in marriage. A further link between Hyrcania and the Arsacid throne is provided by Himerus, the tyrannical governor of Babylonia under Phraates II (138/7-ca. 128 B.C.E.), who was of Hyrcanian origin. Again, displaced by the Roman nominee Tiridates III (ca. 36 C.E.), the Parthian king Artabanus III (12-ca. 38 C.E.) retired to Hyrcania, where he lived in poverty until recalled by popular acclaim (Tacitus, Annals 6.43). A similar situation arose three years later between the brothers Gotarzes II (see GŌDARZ i) and Vardanes. The latter having displaced his brother from the throne, Gotarzes fled to “the Dahae” (tribesmen of the Caspian east shore), with whose reinforcement he fought a sporadic campaign against Vardanes, but eventually agreed to retire to Hyrcania. Only when Vardanes was assassinated during a hunt (ca. 48 C.E.) could Gotarzes resume his interrupted reign.

All these developments illustrate the growing independence of Hyrcania from central Arasacid rule. In 59 C.E., the Roman general Corbulo, operating near Artaxata in Armenia, learned that Vologeses, the king of Parthia, was preoccupied with a Hyrcanian defection. A Hyrcanian delegation came through Corbulo to the Roman emperor seeking an alliance against the Parthians (Tacitus, Annals 14.25). On their return, however, Corbulo, having moved south to Tigranocerta, considered it unsafe for them to travel east of the Euphrates, and instead had them escorted to the shore of the Red Sea, whence to return to their homeland by water. This tactic implies that the Hyrcanians were then in league with the rising Kushan Empire in Afghanistan, and could return through Kushan territory via the Indus delta. During the Sasanian period, Gorgān appears as the name not only of the province but of a city. During his eastern expedition (225 C.E.), Ardašir I visited Gorgān on his way to Marv (Ṭabari, I, p. 819). In the inscription of Šāpur I on the Kaʿba-ye Zardošt, Gorgān is mentioned as a province, and the name also appears on administrative seal-impressions of the later Sasanian period, both in abbreviated form, GWL, and in full spelling Gwlgʾn. Among the offices attested are those of the šahrab “satrap,” the driyōšān ǰādag-gōw ud dādwar “judge-advocate of the poor,” and an āmārgar “accountant” shared with the adjoining provinces of Kōmiš and Šahr-Rām-Pērōz (identified with Nesā). Within the province, there were offices of the mgwḥ- (apparently a priestly-function, possibly a civil registry) at Huniyāg-Pērōz, Husraw-šād-Pērōz, and Varōšag (the last apparently at Tappa Kabudān near Gorgān/Astarābād, as reported by Malikzadeh Bayani). Procopius (1.3.2 and 1.4.10) records that during the reign of the Sasanian Pērōz, the invading Hephthalites made their headquarters at a city named Gorgo, “close to the boundaries of the Persians.” This name should no doubt be emended to Gorgān, and identified with the later Islamic city of Jorjān, close to the present-day town of Gonbad-e Qābus, and further out on the plain than the modern city of Gorgān, successor to the earlier Astarābād.

Apart from historical references, the province of Gorgān is richly endowed with prehistoric and archaeological remains. Ture Arne (p. 17 and figs. 3 and 4) provides a comprehensive inventory of 233 mounds and earthworks noted on the Gorgan plain, of which, by far the most massive is the Qalʿa-ye Ḵandān of Gorgān/Astarā-bād, now believed severely eroded by the robbing of building materials. Shah Tepe (Šāh Tappa), excavated by Arne, possessed important levels of Bronze Age deposits, with black, and grey, pottery, besides earlier black-on-red painted ware. Another important mound was Turang Tepe, where structures of the Achaemenid and earlier periods were crowned by a Sasanian fortress with towers of characteristic semi-elliptical plan. The most important earthwork of the Gorgān area is however the extensive linear fortification known as Sadd-e Eskandar (Alexander’s Barrier), or by the Turkmens as Qïzïl Yïlan (Red Snake), which runs more than 170 km from the mountains northeast of Gonbad-e Qābus almost to the shore of the Caspian (see fortifications and gorgān v). Numerous hypotheses have been put forward to explain its origin. However in view of Kiani’s discovery here of grey pottery of apparently early date, one might guess that the work is not, indeed, as he suggests early Parthian (since the Parthians, coming from the steppe, would not have needed fortifications against it), but rather that the traditional attribution to Alexander may be justified. Other important earthworks of evident Parthian date were also reported by him at Bibi Ḥalima near Gonbad-e Qābus.


Ture Johnsson Arne, Excavations at Shah Tepe, Iran, Reports from the Scientific Expedition to the North-western Provinces of China under the Leadership of Dr. Sven Hedin: The Sino-Swedish Expedition Publication 27, VII Archaeology 5, Stockholm, 1945.

Malikzadeh Bayani, “Etude sur quelques bulles Sassanides,” in A. Tajvidi and M. Y. Kiani, eds., Memorial Volume of the Vth International Congress of Iranian Art and Archaeology: Tehran–Isfahan–Shiraz, 11-18th April 1968, Tehran, 1972, pp. 218-21.

A. D. H. Bivar and Géza Fehérvári, “The Walls of Tammisha,” Iran 4, 1966, pp. 35-50.

Remy Boucharlat, Fouilles de Tureng Tepe sous la direction de Jean Deshayes I: Les périodes sassanides et islamiques, Université de Paris I Centre de recherches d’archéologie orientale 6, Paris, 1987.

Martin Charlesworth, “Preliminary Report on a Newly Discovered Extension of Alexander’s Wall,” Iran 25, 1987, pp. 160-65.

Jean Deshayes, “Rapport préliminaire sur la neuvième campagne de fouille à Tureng Tepe (1971),” Iran 11, 1973, pp. 141-52.

Richard N. Frye, “Sassanian Seals and Sealings,” in A. Tajvidi and M. Y. Kiani, eds., Memorial Volume of the Vth International Congress of Iranian Art and Archaeology: Tehran–Isfahan–Shiraz, 11-18th April 1968, Tehran, 1972, pp. 272-75.

Roman Ghirshman, “Un tétradrachme d’Andragoras de la collection de M. Foroughi,” in Dikran K. Kouymjian, ed., Near Eastern Numismatics, Iconography, Epigraphy and History: Studies in Honor of George C. Miles, Beirut, 1974, pp. 1-8.

John Gilmore, ed., The Fragments of the Persika of Ktesias, London, 1888, pp. 171-72.

Rika Gyselen, La géographie administrative de l’Empire Sassanide: les témoinages sigillographiques, Res Orientales 1, Paris, 1989 (especially p. 50).

Mohammad Yusuf Kiani, “Excavations on the Defensive Wall of the Gorgan Plain: A Preliminary Report,” Iran 20, 1982, pp. 73-79.

Idem, Parthian Sites in Hyrcania: The Gurgan Plain, Archäologische Mitteilungen aus Iran, Ergänzungband 9, Berlin, 1982.

Idem, The Islamic City of Gurgan, Archäologische Mitteilungen aus Iran, Ergänzungband 11, Berlin, 1984.

Friedrich Wilhelm König, Die Persika des Ktesias von Knidos, Archiv für Orientforschung 18, Graz, 1972.

Louis Robert, “Inscription hellénistique d’Iran,” Hellenica 11-12, 1960, pp. 82-91 and Pl. V.

Erich F. Schmidt, Flights over Ancient Cities of Iran, Chicago, 1940, pp. 51-61 and Pls. 57-72.

GORGĀN vi. History From The Rise Of Islam To The Beginning Of The Safavid Period

Gorgān, OP Varkāna-, classical Hyrcania, Arabized form Jorjān (see Markwart, Erānšahr, p. 72), formed in Sasanian and pre-modern Islamic times a transitional zone, a corridor, between the subtropical habitat and climate of Māzandarān to its west, and the arid steppes of Dehestān (q.v.) and, beyond them, the Qara Qum Desert to its northwest. Watered by the Gorgān and the Atrak rivers (q.v.), Gorgān was, on the evidence of the Islamic geographers, a fertile agricultural region in early Islamic times. Moqaddasi (p. 357) describes its rich crops of fruits of all kinds. Raw silk was a major product throughout medieval Islamic times; the same author (p. 367) says that the silken veils of Gorgān were exported as far as Yemen, while the Ḥodud al-ʿālam (tr. Minorsky, p. 133) attributes to it black silk textiles and brocades. This manufacture continued up to and beyond the Mongol invasions (Serjeant, pp. 80-81). According to Ebn Ḥawqal, the port of Abaskun (q.v.), the most important one on the Caspian shores, formed the outlet for Gorgān’s exports and also for communications with Transcaucasia and the Khazar lands along the Volga (Ebn Ḥawqal, ed. Kramers, pp. 383, 397, tr. Kramers and Wiet, II, pp. 373, 388).

The two main cities at this time were (Šahr-e) Gorgān itself, the administrative capital of the province, founded by the Omayyad general Yazid b. Mohallab b. Abi Ṣofra in the late 1st/early 8th century, and Astarābād (q.v.), in the western part adjoining Māzandarān. (Šahr-e) Gorgān was a fl;ourishing urban center, despite the fact that it lay in a region of fi;erce heat and humidity and was liable to fl;ooding when the snows of the Alborz melted and swelled the river of Gorgān. It lay on both sides of the river, with the town proper, comprising the šahrastān with the dār al-emāra or government headquarters, on the right bank, and the industrial suburb of Bakrābād, where silk manufacturing was concentrated, on the left; the two halves were linked by a bridge of boats. The dominant building material was sun-dried clay bricks (see Ebn Ḥawqal, ed. Kramers, p. 382, tr. Kramers and Wiet, pp. 372-73).

Arab invaders appeared in Gorgān under Saʿid b. ʿĀṣ as early as 30/650-51, when the malek of Gorgān (the Sasanian marzbān?) agreed to pay a tribute of 200,000 dirhams (Balāḏori, Fotuḥ, pp. 334-35), but Arab rule was not made reasonably fi;rm till the time of Yazid b. Mohallab (see above). Following the Sasanians, who had constructed defences in this region against nomadic pressure from inner Asia, the Arabs regarded Gorgān and Dehestān as ṯoḡur, frontier regions against the Turks, and above all the Ḡozz (q.v.), of the Transcaspian steppes. Zaydi Shiʿite missionary activity affected Gor-gān, as it did Gilān (q.v.) and Ṭabarestān further to the west, and the ʿAlid Moḥammad b. Zayd was combatted in Gorgān by the Saffarids in the later 3rd/9th century (see Bosworth, 1994, pp. 211, 217-18). In the next century, Gorgān became the center of the Ziyarid principality carved out by the Daylamite adventurer Mardāvij b. Ziār (murdered 323/935) and held by his descendants until the end of the 5th/11th century.

The Ziyarids’ hold on their territories was not, however, uncontested. Under Vošmgir ibn Ziār (323-57/935-67) and his successor Bisotun (357-66/967-77), they acknowledged the suzereinty now of the Samanids, now of the latters’ rivals the Buyids; but in the reign of Qābus ibn Vošmgir (366-403/977-1012) they lost Ṭabarestān and Gorgān to the Buyids, who remained in control of the region until 388/998. The Ziyarids’ situation under the Ghaznavids was also precarious (not least because of internal struggles); the low point of this period was perhaps Masʿud I’s invasion of Gorgān and Ṭabarestān in 426/1035 and his sack of Āmol (q.v.), described in detail by Bayhaqi (ed. Fayyāż, pp. 587-608; see in general Madelung; Bosworth 1965).

The last Ziyarid ruler, Gilānšāh, was put to fl;ight in 483/1090, in the reign of the Saljuq sultan Malekšāh, by the Ismaʿilis of Alamut (Bosworth, 1965, p. 33). From Saljuq times onwards, there may have been a trend towards pastoralization in Gorgān, for there existed extensive grazing grounds there for the still-nomadic Turkmens of the Saljuq empire, and we know of a šeḥna or military administrator appointed over them by the sultan (Lambton, p. 282). In the latter half of the 6th/12th century, Astarābād passed to the control of the local Bāvandid ruler, Šāh-Ḡāzi Rostam (534-58/1140-63; see Āl-e Bāvand).

The Mongols devastated the province, ending the prosperity described by Yāqut (Boldān, ed. Beirut, II, pp. 119-23) at the beginning of the 7th/13th century and massacring the population. It was on one of the islands of Abaskun that the Ḵᵛārazmšāh ʿAlā-al-Din Moḥammad, fl;eeing from the Mongols, took refuge, and died shortly after (Jovayni, tr. Boyle, II, pp. 385-86). A century later, Mostawfi described the city of Gorgān as being still ruinous and sparsely populated (Nozhat al-qolub, p. 159, tr., p. 156); and it suffered further from Timur’s ravages. Astarābād developed as the main urban center of the province. Various Turkmen tribes established themselves in Gorgān during the Safavid period as vassals of the Shahs (Röhrborn, p. 18); in the late 17th and the 18th century it became the power base for the Qajar Turkmen. The region remained vulnerable to Turkmen incursions from the steppes until the later 19th century.


A certain Tāriḵ-e Jorjān was written by the native scholar Ḥamza b. Yusof Sahmi (d. 427/1038; ed. Hyderabad, 1369/1950), but this is mainly a rejāl-book, i.e., it is concerned with the scholars and traditionists of the province. W. Barthold, An Historical Geography of Iran, Princeton, 1984, pp. 115-17.

C. Edmund Bosworth, “On the Chronology of the Ziyārids in Gurgān and Ṭabaristān,” Der Islam 40, 1965, pp. 25-34.

Idem, The History of the Saffarids of Sistan and the Maliks of Nimruz, Costa Mesa and New York, 1994.

Ann K. S. Lambton, “The Administration of Sanjar’s Empire as Illustrated in the ʿAtabat al-kataba,” BSO(A)S 20, 1957, pp. 367-88.

Le Strange, Lands, pp. 376-79.

Wilferd Madelung, “Minor Dynasties of Northern Iran,” in Camb. Hist. Iran, IV, pp. 212-16.

Hyacinth L. Rabino, Mazandaran and Astarabad, London, 1928.

Klaus M. Röhrborn, Provinzen und Zentralgewalt Persiens im 16. und 17. Jahrhundert, Berlin, 1966.

Robert B. Serjeant, Islamic Textiles: Material for a History up to the Mongol Conquest, Beirut, 1972, pp. 80-81.

GORGĀN vii. History from the Safavids to the end of the Pahlavi era

Two characteristics dominated the history of Gorgān in the period between the 16th and early 19th centuries: incessant tribal unrest and power politics. These features reflected the rather particular tribal structure and the geopolitical situation of this region and its neighboring areas in the north and east. Coveted by the Uzbeks and claimed by the Turkmans, this fertile region was the scene of agitation and struggle for dominance. The Uzbeks were driven out by the Safavids, but the Turkmans showed little willingness to submit to the authority of the central government. The central government, in turn, usually failed to follow a coherent policy and thus further aggravated the climate of insecurity. Tribal wars, invasions, and retaliations followed each other incessantly; they were, it seems, occasionally interrupted by periods of relative peace and prosperity. In fact, the economic potential of Gorgān, as well as its strategic position, made it a very attractive prize. Shah ʿAbbās saw the need for some readjustment in the delicate tribal balance of power in the region, and the arrival of the Qajars marked a turning point. Henceforth, the Qajars played a decisive role in all major events in Gorgān from the early 17th century onwards. The Russians under Peter the Great, however, also had territorial ambitions in the region in order to advance their commerce and during the decline of the Safavids in the early 18th century seized the first opportunity to occupy Gorgān and establish a trading post there for a short period. With so many factors at work, the central government had a delicate task, and Gorgān became a stage for power politics and fluctuating fortunes. It was not until the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and the establishment of a strong central government in Persia in the 1920s-30s that the situation in Gorgān was finally stabilized.


After Shah Esmāʿil I came to the throne and established the Safavid dynasty, with the strengthening of the central government, more attention was paid to the north of Khorasan and the southern shores of the Caspian Sea, especially Gorgān/Esterābād/Astarābād (q.v.). These regions were under a constant threat of invasion by the Uzbeks and there was little government authority. In a battle in 906/1501, Shah Esmāʿil’s forces defeated the Uzbeks and conquered Khorasan (Montaẓer-e Ṣāḥeb, ed., pp. 260-64; Šokri, ed., pp. 368-69; Qomi, I, pp. 101, 109, 112-13). The central government also took steps to establish its authority in Astarābād and appointed a governor (Montaẓer-e Ṣāḥeb, ed., pp. 317-19). In 920/1514, one of the descendants of Solṭān Ḥosayn Bāyqarā, a certain Moḥammad-Zamān b. Badiʿ-al-Zamān, profited from the central government’s preoccupation with the war with the Ottoman Empire and seized the fortress at Astarābād. The central government, however, soon re-established order and appointed a new governor (Wāleh Eṣfahāni, pp. 244-45).

At the outset of Shah Ṭahmāsb I’s reign (930-84/1524-76), Khorasan once again became the scene of unrest. In 932/1525-26, Uzbek forces under ʿObayd-Allāh Khan invaded Ṭus, and in 934/1527-28 turned to Astarābād. Zaynal Khan, the governor of Astarābād, could not resist the invading forces and the city fell to the Uzbeks; thereupon ʿObayd-Allāh Khan made his son, ʿAbd-al-ʿAziz Solṭān, governor of Astarābād (Eskandar Beg, I, pp. 51-52; Wāleh Eṣfahāni, pp. 341-44). The struggle between Shah Ṭahmāsb’s forces and the Uzbek invaders continued in 935/1529 and 936/1530 and the city changed hands several times. The economy of the region suffered enormously and, as a result, in 937/1931, Shah Ṭahmāsb decided to devalue the šāhi copper coins struck in Astarābād. According to a rock inscription of the period, the people of Astarābād requested the king to change his mind and the king consented.

ʿObayd-Allāh Khan’s ambitions, however, were not diminished, and once again, in 938/1531-32, he attacked Khorasan and sent Qameš Oḡlān to plunder Astarābād. The Uzbeks took the city and, a year later, Shah Ṭah-māsb sent an army under Alqās Mirzā and Bader Khan Ostājlu to evict them, which they did. The Safavid army’s counter-attack against the Uzbeks continued in 942/1535-36 and 943/1536-37 (Eskandar Beg, I, pp. 59, 61, 63, 65).

Between 944/1537-38 and 947/1540-41, waves of political and social unrest followed as Shah Ṭahmāsb’s forces were engaged in repeated battles for the control of Astarābād, first against the Uzbeks and later against the Turkman tribes. During this period control of Astarābād changed hands many times, and attempts at a conciliatory stance between the sides, with a view to a lasting peace, repeatedly failed (Eskandar Beg, I, p. 106-8; Ḥo-sayni Astarābādi, p. 80).

During Solṭān Moḥammad Ḵodā-banda’s reign (985-96/1578-88), Astarābād was once again the scene of turmoil. His first action was to appoint a new governor, but the situation was so critical and the rebellious Turkman tribes had become so aggressive that the governor was forced to seek refuge in the fortress of Mobārakābād (Eskandar Beg, I, p. 227).

The situation was no better in the early years of the reign of Shah ʿAbbās I (986-1038/1588-1639). Various Turkman tribes, especially the Ṣāyen-ḵānis, had destroyed the fortress of Mobārakābād and each rebellious tribe had built its own fortress. Shah ʿAbbās was aware of the friendly relations between ʿAbd-Allāh Khan Uz-bek, the conqueror of Ḵᵛārazm, and the Ṣāyen-ḵāni tribe and consequently judged it prudent to come to terms with ʿAlyār Beg Imur, the Ṣāyen-ḵāni chieftain. Thereupon, he appointed ʿAlyār Beg as the new governor (Eskandar Beg, I, p. 530). Despite the fact that some tribes refused to obey the new governor, the situation was to a great extent stabilized in the region.

A most significant event in the history of Gorgān occurred when Shah ʿAbbās I, alarmed by the the growing strength of the Uzbek and Turkman tribes in the northeast, decided to divide the Qajar tribe, locating the majority of them in Gorgān and northern Khorasan. From this point, the history of Gorgān is intimately connected with the history of the Qajars.

It was also during the reign of Shah ʿAbbās that Astarābād was for the first time recognized as a province (eyālat) and its center was called by the same name. There was relative stability and prosperity in the region, partly, no doubt, because of Shah ʿAbbās’s several trips to the region (Jalāl-al-Din Monajjem, pp. 141, 189).

During the second year of Shah Ṣafi’s reign (1038-52/1629-42), however, the country fell into disorder and Astarābād became once again the scene of rioting by the Turkman tribes (Ḥosayni Eṣfahāni, p. 75). Disorder and rebellion continued in Astarābād during the reign of Shah ʿAbbās II, when more Turkman uprising were reported (Waḥid Qazvini, p. 201); otherwise, apart from some epigraphic evidence dealing with economic questions, we have little local information for the period. In Moḥarram 1077/July 1666, Shah ʿAbbās II issued a decree exempting many Astarābād craftsmen and farmers from paying various taxes and duties levied on them by most bailiffs (dāruḡa) and magistrates (kalāntar) under such pretexts as night watch, road safety, etc. It also reaffirmed the validity of previous tax exemption decrees of 961/1554, 990/1582, 1045/1635-36, and 1057/1647 and assigned Jaʿfar Khan Beglerbegi to carry them out (Ḏabiḥi and Sotuda, VI, pp. 31-36).

There were also rebellions, invasion, and plunder by Turkman tribes during Shah Solaymān Ṣafawi’s rule (1077-105/1666-94; Hedāyat, Rawżat al-ṣafāʾ VIII, pp. 485-86). According to a rock inscription from his reign dated Šaʿbān 1102/May 1691, he issued a decree to appease the Guklān tribe (q.v.), who had been unjustly treated (Ḏabiḥi and Sotuda, VI, pp. 52-53).

Our information about the situation of Astarābād in the early part of Shah Solṭān-Ḥosayn Ṣafawi’s reign (1105-135/1694-1722) is based on a number of economic decrees and documents for the years 1108/1696-97, 1114/1702-703 and 1123/1711. In this period soyurḡāl (see eqṭāʿ), or granting of land and titles to courtiers by royal decree, was in practice (see Ḏabiḥi and Sotuda, VI, pp. 55, 81-82, 85, 453-78).

With the decline of the Safavid government, anarchy and disorder gained grounds in all provinces and a number of claimants rose in Astarābād. Meanwhile, the struggle for power between the Ṣāyen-ḵāni Turkmans and Yomut tribe added more fuel to the fire in the southeastern shoresof the Caspian Sea (Marvi, pp. 10, 52; Estrābādi, p. 8).

The rapid decline of the Safavids in the first decades of the 18th century leading to their ultimate demise in 1722, when Afghan tribes occupied Isfahan, created a general state of chaos in the country. The southern Caspian provinces of Gīlān, Māzandarān and Gorgān in particular became vulnerable to foreign influence and occupation. In 1723, the Russian czar, Peter the Great (r. 1696-1725), ordered two battalions of his regular soldiers under Colonel Shipov and another four battalions under Brigadier Levashev to invade Gilān, Māzandarān, and Gorgān. Levashev arrived in September of 1723 and quelled local opposition and sent a contingent to Astarābād to establish a trading post (Estrābādī, pp. 3, 8-9, 16-17; Rabino, pp. 463-65; Lockhart, pp. 108, 176, 178, 238-50). Meanwhile Esmāʿīl Beg, the Persian envoy to Peter’s court, signed a treaty of alliance on 24 Ḏu’l-ḥejja 1135/23 September 1723, which ceded to Russia Gīlān, Māzandarān, and Astarābād (Waḥid Māzandarāni, ed., pp. 82-83). Consequently, the czar officially appointed General Levashev governor of Gīlān, Māzandarān and Astarābād. After the death of Peter in 1725, Russian forces remained in the region until 1734, when Nāderqoli Khan (later Nāder Shah) forced them out of all Persian provinces. Two treaties were negotiated, the treaty of Rašt in February 1732 anticipating the evacuation, which occurred in 1734, and the treaty of Ganja in March 1735, recognizing the return of all provinces that were occupied by Peter (Estrābādī, pp. 228, 246-47; Lockhart, pp. 345-50; for an account of Russian invasion, see further gilān iv).

In the meantime, Asatrābād’s strategic position and availability of armed soldiers (Marvi, I, p. 222) attracted the attention of Shah Ṭahmāsb II as a potential bulwark against the invading Afghan forces. However, his 1137/1725 demand for help was unheeded by the forces in Astarābād, and in 1140/1727-28 he balefully reproached Beglerbegi Astarābādi for the indifference of Qajar soldiers in the face of foreign invasion (Ḏabiḥi and Sotuda, VI, pp. 89, 95-97). Eventually Fatḥ-ʿAli Khan Qājār (q.v.), the governor of Astarābād, who had previously participated in the defense of Isfahan against the Afghans under Shah Solṭān-Ḥosayn, but, disenchanted with the hypocrisy of the courtiers, had returned to Astarābād, responded positively to Ṭahmāsb Mirzā (Marvi, I, pp. 27-28; Sāravi, p. 29; Eʿteżād-al-Salṭana, p. 10). Thereupon, Ṭahmāsb Mirzā headed for Astarābād (Estrābādi, pp. 84-87; Marvi, pp. 48, 64) and appointed Fatḥ-ʿAli Khan as governor of Semnān and assigned him the task of repelling the Afghans. This underlined Fatḥ-ʿAli Khan as the real power in Ṭahmāsb Mirzā’s camp (Hambly, p. 108). Ṭahmāsb also appointed Allāhqoli Khan Qājār as governor of Astarābād.

Later, when Nāderqoli and Ṭahmāsb Mirzā were united, the former appointed Raḥim Khan Gerāyli governor of Astarābād (Hambly, pp. 84-87). The struggle between the two governors of Astarābād disguised the struggle for power between Nāderqoli and Ṭahmāsb Mirzā. Nāder led an expedition to Astarābād and helped Raḥim Khan Gerāyli triumph (Hambly, pp. 84-87). In 1140/1727, having subdued Ḏu’l-Faqār Khan the governor of Māzandarān, Nāder turned to Astarābād and crushed the rebellion of the Yomut tribe (Marvi, I, pp. 90-92). In 1143 and 1144, time and again various Turkman tribes rose in rebellion around Astarābād and Nāder put them down (Marvi, pp. 227-28, 912-14; Estrābādi, p. 8; Hedāyat, 1994, p. 257).

The quarrel between Moḥammad-Ḥasan Khan Qājār, son of Fatḥ-ʿAli Khan, with the governor, Moḥammad-Ḥosayn Qājār, who was a protégé of Nāder, led to a number of clashes in Astarābād, in which the former availed himself of the help of the Turkman tribes, especially the Yomuts (Marvi, pp. 912-14). The Turkmans were dissatisfied with the governor chosen by Nāder, and his exorbitant taxes. Eventually, Moḥammad-Ḥasan Khan stormed the city and imprisoned the governor in the citadel (Marvi, pp. 959, 966). Agriculture and silkworm production suffered greatly, the countryside was gradually depopulated, and the region was ruined.

When Nāder heard the news of the insurrection, he ordered Behbud Khan Sardār Ātak and Sāru Khan to move from Khorasan to Astarābād. They took the city and Sāru Khan was given the task of establishing order in the region up to the banks of the Gorgān River (Marvi, pp. 962-65, 978; Estrābādi, p. 400), and Behbud Khan was appointed the military commander of the whole region. Shortly afterwards, there were disagreements between Sāru Khan and Moḥammad-Zamān Khan (Marvi, p. 1103). Turkman tribes remained unruly, but Nāder managed to keep them at bay and even integrate some of them into his own army (Estrābādi, pp. 421-22; Marʿaši, pp. 78-79; Marvi, p. 1137).

As Nāder Shah’s reign drew to its end, disorder and rebellion returned to Astarābād (Estrābādi, pp. 421-22). When he was killed in 1160/1447, the struggle for power tore the country apart. In 1161/1148, Šāhroḵ Afšār, declared himself king in Khorasan, and in 1164/1750-51 Astarābād, Māzandarān, and Gilān fell under the domination of Moḥammad-Ḥasan Khan Qājār (Golestāna, pp. 204-5; Hedāyat, 1994, p. 261). In the struggle between Nāder’s generals, Karim Khan Zand captured Isfahan and routed ʿAli-Mardān Khan, who was supported by Moḥammad-Ḥasan Khan Qājār. Subsequently, Moḥammad-Ḥasan Khan retreated to Astarābād’s fortress. In 1165, Karim Khan laid siege to the fortress, but Moḥammad-Ḥasan Khan rejected his peace proposals and defeated him with the help of Turkman tribes (Golestāna, pp. 210–15; Nāmi, pp. 27-29; Hedāyat, 1994, pp. 261; Sepehr, I, pp. 17-18).

Moḥammad-Ḥasan Khan intended to expand his dominion. He led a successful expedition against Urmia in 1168-69/1755-56, and on his way back to Astarābād once more defeated the Zand army, which had intercepted him (Golestāna, pp. 316-17; Ḡaffāri, pp. 57-59). In 1172/1758-59, in retaliation, Moḥammad-Ḥasan Khan led a military expedition to Isfahan, but found the city in ruins and, sensing disloyalty among his Afghan mercenaries, decided to retreat to Astarābād (Golestāna, 320-21; Nāmi, p. 88; Ḡaffāri, p. 115). In his absence, however, Moḥammad-Ḥosayn Khan Qājār of Yukāribāš clan had taken possession of Astarābād, but in the ensuing clash, Moḥammad-Ḥasan Khan wrested it out of his hands (Ḡaffāri, 88-89, 92-99). Shortly afterwards Moḥammad-Ḥasan Khan was killed by Zand soldiers in Jomādā II, 1172/February 1759, and Karim Khan charged Shaikh ʿAli Khan with taking Astarābād and restoring order (Golestāna, pp. 321-22; Nāmi, pp. 87-88; Ḡaffāri, pp. 107-9; Hedāyat, 1994, pp. 267-69).

Meanwhile, Karim Khan appointed Moḥammad-Ḥosayn Khan Qājār as governor of Astarābād (Gole-stāna, p. 321; Nāmi, 88; Hedāyat, 1994, pp. 267-69; Ḡaffāri Kāšāni, p. 110). In 1173/1759-60, he sent his own brother, Zaki Khan Zand, at the head of a strong army to take over as the governor of Māzandarān and to establish order in Astarābād, which he did by quelling another rebellion by some Qajar tribesmen and Afghans until the end of the summer 1173/1760 (Golestāna, p. 322; Ḡaffāri Kāšāni, pp. 124-25). The difficulties of Zand government in Astarābād essentially emanated from the Qajar tribes’ unrest, which was aggravated by the death of Moḥammad-Ḥasan Khan and the rise of his son, Āḡā Moḥammad Khan (q.v.), on the political scene. Clashes continued until 1177/1763-64, when Āḡā Moḥammad Khan and his brother, Ḥosaynqoli Khan Qājār, nicknamed Jahānsuz, were taken to Karim Khan in Shiraz (Hedāyat, 1994, pp. 270-72).

In 1183, Karim Khan appointed Ḥosaynqoli Khan Qājār governor of Dāmḡān, but antagonism between his clan and the Davallu clan continued and Astarābād became the target of repeated attacks. Eventually, in 1188/1774 he managed to extend his control to certain parts of Māzandarān and Astarābād. He was killed in clashes with the Yuḵāribāš tribe (Hedāyat, 1994, pp. 274-76, 278, 280-81; Sepehr, I, pp. 29-33).


Upon Karim Khan’s death in 1193/1779, Āḡā Moḥammad Khan left Shiraz for Māzandarān and Astarābād. In this period the events in Māzandarān and Astarābād are so interrelated that they cannot be meaningfully distinguished. In the beginning Āḡā Moḥammad Khan was faced with the opposition of his brothers as well as the Zand army. Eventually in 1196/1782, after much struggle, he managed to take Astarābād and appointed Raḥim Khan Davallu governor (beglerbeg). He also ordered all the fortresses built around the city to be destroyed (Nāmi, pp. 230, 246-47, 249, 262; Hedāyat, 1994, pp. 286-87, 289; Sāravi, pp. 77, 91-92, 105-8; Sepehr, I, p. 40).

Astarābād was always an important base for Āḡā Moḥammad Khan, who made use of its military potentials to expand his dominion. He took advantage of the rivalry among Karim Khan’s potential successors to strengthen his position, but, once ʿAli-Mardān Khan seized power in Shiraz (1196-99/1782-85), he was faced with the allied Zand forces marching towards Māzandarān and Astarābād. They took Māzandarān and laid siege on Astarābād; Āḡā Moḥammad Khan had blocked their supplies routes in Jer Kolbād. Eventually, the Zand army was defeated so severely that they even evacuated Sāri and fled (Nāmi, pp. 249, 262, 330; Ḡaffāri Kāšāni, pp. 678-81; Hedāyat, 1994, pp. 295-97; Sepehr, I, pp. 44-45).

Āḡā Moḥammad Khan’s accession to the throne in 1203/1788-89 also coincided with more rebellions by Turkman tribes in Astarābād (Hedāyat, 1994, pp. 295-97). In 1206/1792, he sent Fatḥ-ʿAli Bābā Khan (the future Fatḥ-ʿAli Shah) to establish peace and protect Astarābād, Dāmḡān and Basṭām (qq.v.) against Turkman attacks (Sāravi, p. 208). He also occasionally undertook military expeditions himself to subdue the unruly tribes (Sāravi, pp. 230-35). Āḡā Moḥammad Khan bought large tracts of land in Astarābād and converted them into crown lands (Mostawfi, Šarḥ-e zendagāni I, p. 487).

When Fatḥ-ʿAli Shah (1211-50/1796-1834) became king, he sent a trusted emissary to Emāmqoli Khan, the beglerbegi of Astarābād, and ordered him to ensure the security of the area and keep the Turkman tribes under control. ʿAliqoli Mirzā Eʿteżād-al-Salṭana reports that rebellions continued until 1218/1803, despite their constant suppression by the central government (Eʿteżād-al-Salṭana, pp. 102-3). These were in part, no doubt, brought about by mismanagement, ignorance, or cruelty of the governors. A good example is Moḥammad-Zamān Khan, governor from 1229/1814 to 1230/1815, who com-mitted a great number of atrocities, opposed the central government, and was finally arrested and blinded (Eʿteżād-al-Salṭana, p. 128; Hedāyat, 1994, pp. 368-69; Sepehr, I, pp. 229-30, 256-58).

Meanwhile, an Uzbek attack on Astarābād in 1230-31/1815-16 was repelled (Eʿteżād-al-Salṭana, p. 133; Se-pehr, I, pp. 73-74; Ḵormuji, p. 15). Fatḥ-ʿAli Shah’s reign was in most respects not much different from the previous periods; but the political turmoil, the keen attention of European powers, and the conclusion of the treaties of Golestān (q.v.) and Torkamānčāy in 1228/1813 and 1243/1828, respectively, and their geopolitical implications made Astarābād a more sensitive region.

During Āḡā Moḥammad Khan’s reign, Russia had unsuccessfully tried to take over the southeastern shores of the Caspian Sea (Sepehr, I, p. 43). In 1242/1827, under the pretext of shipping rights and also with reference to article 5 of the Treaty of Golestān (Ṭabāṭabāʾi Majd, ed., p. 80; see GOLESTĀN TREATY), she sent two warships to the shores of Turkman Ṣaḥrā and provoked a rebellion amongst the Turkmans, which was promptly suppressed and Russia had to recall her warships (Hedāyat,1994, p. 304; Sepehr, I, p. 370-71).

After the treaty of Torkamānčāy, in 1261-62/1845-46, Russia demanded to have a consulate in Astarābād under the provisions of its article 10. The setting up of this consulate marked a new era in Russo-Persian political and commercial relations as Russian subject were allowed to buy or rent houses, shops, and warehouses, free from government control (Ṭabāṭabāʾi Majd, ed., pp. 132-33).

During Moḥammad Shah’s reign (1250-64/1834-48) Astarābād continued to be in turmoil. Russia enhanced its influence by the occupation of the island of Āšurāda (q.v.) and setting up military and commercial installations there. The central government’s effectiveness was further hampered by frequent changes of governor (Eʿteżād-al-Salṭana, pp. 530-31; Sepehr, II, pp. 235, 249-50, 252; Hedāyat, 1994, p. 448; Mirzā Ebrāhim, pp. 93, 99).

In spite of considerable economic progress and expansion of imports from, as well as exports to, Russia, Turkman clashes continued during Nāṣer-al-Din Shah’s reign (1264-1313/1848-96). The customs concession of Astarābād region, granted to Russian merchants in 1263/1847, was abolished (Mirzā Ebrāhim, pp. 94-95, Amir Kabir, p. 252), and, in 1265/1849, Nāṣer-al-Din Shah opposed the Russian decision to build a hospital and a great warehouse in Astarābād (Amir Kabir, p. 251). The Russians had conferred the sale of salt and oil to one of their Turkman protégés, and this became a source of dispute between the merchants of Astarābād and Māzandarān (Amir Kabir, pp. 253-55).

Astarābād’s fortress had fallen in disrepair and the Turkmans took the opportunity to loot the city. In 1267/1851, Nāṣer-al-Din Shah ordered Moḥmmad-Wali Khan, the governor of Astarābād, to build a fortress and a barrage to stop the invader. The situation was no better when Jaʿfarqoli Khan was governor (Sepehr, III, p. 363, IV, pp. 139-40; Hedāyat, 1977, pp. 28, 127, 129; Ḵormuji, p. 161); however, he often retaliated by attacking the insurgents, taking prisoners of war and at the same time destroying many villages and even Astarābād itself (Hedāyat, Rawżat al-ṣafāʾ X, pp. 612, 622-23; Mirzā Ebrāhim, pp. 68-69; Ḵormuji, p. 231). It seems, however, that the central government was not so unsuccessful in terms of security, as may be witnessed by Nāṣer-al-Din Shah’s trip to Māzandarān in 1292/1875, where a good number of Astarābād chieftains and dignitaries accompanied Ḥo-saynqoli Khan Sartip, the governor, to meet the Shah in the city of Ašraf (present-day Behšahr) and presented many gifts (Nāṣer-al-Din Shah, pp. 211-41).

According to the available statistics, between the years 1276/1859 and 1280/1864, Astarābād enjoyed some prosperity. There were a considerable number of shops, caravansary, and farms; the cultivation of rice and the silk industry were the principal sources of income (Mirzā Ebrāhim, pp. 48-49). Its exports included soap, spices, henna, silk, leather, horse saddlery, honey, and sheep. In 1265/1849, the government’s revenue from the region of Astarābād amounted to 17,200 tomans collected from some 200 villages. This revenue consisted of taxes on private and public properties and on cattle, custom duties, which the government put out to contract, census tax, and rates collected from shopkeepers and craftsmen (Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana, Maʾāṯer wa’l-āṯār I, p. 327). Government revenue in 1284/1867, mainly taxes, amounted to some 25,000 tomans. In Ṣafar 1298/January 1881, in order to facilitate its commercial activities, Russia concluded an agreement with the Persian government to establish telegraph communications between Chakšalar and Astarābād, and Russia undertook all the costs of construction as well as future maintenance of the line (Waḥid Māzandarāni, ed., pp. 140-41). The main sources of revenue during the period 1307-11/1890-94, were soap and gunpowder manufacture, rice, wheat, barley, and citrus fruits.

Moẓaffar-al-Din Shah (1313-24/1896-1907) frequently changed the governors of Astarābād. Sayf-al-Dawla was once again appointed governor in 1902 and claimed taxes that were in arrears (Afżal-al-Molk, pp. 77, 85, 189, 285; Šaybāni, pp. 342, 359, 373-74, 388; Moḡiṯ-al-Salṭana, pp. 57, 135; Qurḵānči, pp. 3-4).

Moḥammad-ʿAli Shah’s reign (1324-27/1907-25) was marked by turmoil all over Persia, including in Astarābād. According to a confidential British report, Astarābād was without a governor for about seven months and the Turkmans looted the city (Moʿāṣer, I, p. 527). However, another confidential British report states that these clashes between the Turkmans and the soldiers were brought about by the officials’ mistreatment and fleecing of the Turkmans (Maqṣudlu, I, pp. 27, 31). Moreover, the central government was weak and the soldiers were badly paid. As a result, in 1325/1908 the soldiers refused to obey Naṣr-al-Salṭana and attack the Turkmans; instead they occupied the governor’s office. According to a Russian government report, once the mutiny ended and the soldiers were discharged (7 June 1908), there was not a single soldier left in Astarābād (Sbornik… , 1988, I, pp. 115-16, 261-62). The following year, there was more tension between Moḥammad-ʿAli Shah and the Constitutionalists, and the government once again was unable to pay the soldiers, who promptly rose in rebellion. As a result, the Turkmans increased their attacks on the surrounding villages (Maqṣudlu, I, pp. 43-44).

When Moḥammad-ʿAli Shah attacked the Majles (Parliament), the Society of Astarābād Constitutionalists (Anjoman-e mašruṭaḵᵛāhān-e Astarābād) followed the Society of Rašt Constitutionalists in calling for general mobilization (Maqṣudlu, I, p. 48; Moʿāṣer, II, p. 969). After the bombardment of the Majles, during the period known as “the Minor Despotism” (Estebdād-e ṣaḡir), the Society of Astarābād Constitutionalists, like other such societies across the country, was closed. However, according to the British secret agent and Russian consulate reports, the opposition to the central government became radicalized and the mood of the public meetings held in the Masjed-e Jāmeʿ became belligerent (Maqṣudlu, I, pp. 55, 81-84; Baširi, ed., 1990, II, p. 413). In 1326/1908, the Constitutionalists of Astarābād wrote a letter to Mirzā ʿAli Khan Ẓahir-al-Dawla, the governor of Astarābād, declaring that, in accordance with the instruction of the ʿolamāʾ of Najaf, they would no longer pay taxes to the government (Ẓahir-al-Dawla, pp. 402-3); they also sent a telegram to Moḥammad-ʿAli Shah, declaring their support of the constitutional government (Maqṣudlu, I, pp. 88; Baširi, ed., 1990, II, p. 342).

In the meantime, the exports of Astarābād cotton to Russia continued without interruption in 1908 and afterwards, and Astarābād, Bandar-e Gaz, and Āšurāda customs functioned as before, generating considerable revenues (Maqṣudlu, I, p. 33)

In 1327/1909, disorder and tension increased and the governor added fuel to the fire by barricading himself in the citadel (Maqṣudlu, I, p. 93; Baširi, ed., 1990, II, pp. 469-70). To make matters worse, the Turkman tribe of Jaʿfarbāy, which had already announced its support of Moḥammad-ʿAli Shah, assassinated the Contitutionalists’ representative (Baširi, ed., 1990, II, p. 530). According to the documents of the Russian Ministry of Foreign affairs, in 1327, people of Astarābād ransacked the ammunition depot. Meanwhile, war erupted between the Turkmans and the Russian army, which caused heavy damages to the city and nearby countryside. The situation was so critical that on 2 April 1909, the senior Russian adviser in Astarābād, cabled for help from the Cossack army (Sbornik… , ed., 1988, II, pp. 117, 134-35). Many villages were burnt, all the shops were closed in Astarābād and there was a shortage of bread and meat (Maqṣudlu, I, p. 122). Finally, the arrival of the Russian military commissioner on 10 April, 1909, put an end to the disturbances and, after the Turkmans looted the city once again, the situation became calm (Sbornik … , 1988, II, p. 150).

Clashes between the Constitutionalists and the anti-Constitutionalists continued; for a while the latter had the upper hand and the Contitutionalists had to seek refuge at the Russian consulate in Astarābād. On 26 April 1901, the partisans of Moḥammad-ʿAli Shah, who had taken over the control of the city, demanded the return of the Constitutionalist members of the city council and the delivery of the ammunitions looted. On 1 May 1909, the refugees left the consulate and the city regained its calm (Sbornik… , 1988, II, pp. 169, 176). Moḥammad-ʿAli Shah was eventually dethroned and exiled to Russia, where he continued his intrigues by provoking the Turkmans, to which the Constitutionalists responded by arming the population and taking other security measures (Maqṣudlu, I, pp. 229-30).

In 1911, when Moḥammad-ʿAli Shah returned to Persia in an attempt to regain his throne, a great number of the Constitutionalists had to seek refuge at the Russian consulate once more. Moḥammad-ʿAli Shah entered Astarābād on 23 July 1911. He granted a general amnesty, appointed a new governor for Astarābād, and proceeded to mobilize an army and recover the weapons that had been looted (Maqṣudlu, I, pp. 271-73, 276). He was, however, defeated by the Constitutionalists at Firuzkuh and fled to Gomeš Tappa, taking refuge among the Turkmans. Once more anarchy prevailed in Astarābād. There were rumors of a government military expedition to the region to arrest Moḥammad-ʿAli Shah and the Turkmans seized the opportunity to pillage the city. Finally, the Russian consul intervened and took charge of the city (Maqṣudlu, I, pp. 280-87).

There was much confusion; Moḥammad-ʿAli Shah made a number of new appointments, including a new governor and ordered the confiscation of the Contitutionalists’ properties. He exacted new taxes from the peasants to pay for his army. Russians clearly wielded the real power and Ivanov, the Russian consul, in effect ruled Astarābād (Maqṣudlu, I, pp. 287-90, 296). Mo-ḥammad-ʿAli Shah eventually fled once more to Russia, leaving his brother, Šojāʿ-al-Salṭana, in Astarābād. According to the available documents, Russian soldiers occupied the banks of the Qarasu River and the area to the west of the city in order to defend the city against the forces of the Contitutionalists (mojāhedin; Sbornik … , 1988, VIII, pp. 1695-96, 1970). To make the matters worse, a severe epidemic broke out and a destructive fire gutted the city bāzār. The population was terrorized; the haphazard interference of the Russians in defiance of the central government, their arbitrary removal of rural administrators, and their purchase of villages to turn them over to Russian subjects, added to the general insecurity and confusion (Maqṣudlu, I, pp. 302, 316, 329, 332, 363).

The bāzār was closed most of the time, since the political instability during Moḥammad-ʿAli Shah’s brief reign did not provide much incentive for investment. Under the circumstances, Russian investments in a cotton gin, a rice mill, a flour factory, and an ice-making plant was of considerable importance (Maqṣudlu, I, pp. 34, 47). The British secret agent in Astarābād reported that Astarābād trade greatly suffered after the return of Moḥammad-ʿAli Shah to Gorgān, and the bāzār fire caused a great deal of damage (Maqṣudlu, I, p. 329). When the authority of the central government was re-established, Sardār Afḵam was appointed governor, but given Russian intrigues and interference, even during the parliamentary elections of 1333/1915, he was greatly restricted in his capacity to govern.

With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Bandar Gaz Customs as well as the Russian Loan Bank (see BANKING) were closed down, and the region of Astarā-bād faced an economic crisis. Prices soared and the export of Astarābād rice was prohibited. In order to put an end to the anarchy, the central government ordered the governor of Astarābād to clarify the situation of crown lands in the region and to take appropriate measures to return to the rightful owners the land that had been forcefully expropriated by former governors, and to re-establish security and order (Maqṣudlu, I, pp. 411, 425).

According to the Russian embassy report of 9 Šawwāl 1333/20 August 1915, as well as that of the British secret agent in 1334/1916, the Ottoman and German governments tried to undermine the Russians influence in the region (Bayāt, ed., p. 232; Maqṣudlu, I, pp. 434-35, 458-59, 463), which may explain why the latter transferred soldiers and military equipment to Astarābād (Maq-ṣudlu, I, p. 505). Meanwhile, there were more skirmishes in the occupied territories with the Turkmans who, the Russians believed, were provoked by the Ottomans, and, as a result, the Russians decided to disarm all the villagers in the region (Maqṣudlu, I, pp. 514, 518, II, 528-30; Bayāt, ed., pp. 245-46).

On the economic front, the closure of Bandar Gaz, Ḵᵛaja Nafas, and Gomeš Tappa custom houses at the end of 1334/1916 aggravated the economic recession in the region, which prompted the governor of Astarābād to write a letter to the Ministry of Interior protesting against the closure. During the same year, the governor levied a tax per head of cattle, which further aggravated the population. Turkmans, instigated by the Ottomans, kept fighting Russian forces, so the latter decided to disarm the rural population. In 1335/1917, there appeared signs of famine: there was scarcity of wheat, barley, and cooking oil and the price of wheat and rice rose sharply. Local authorities were unable to cope with the situation (Maqṣudlu, I, p. 474, II, pp. 544, 561-62, 564, 735). On 8 Šaʿbān 1335/29 May 1917, the Turkman elders together with the ʿolamāʾ wrote a letter to the Ministry of Interior and complained about the scarcity of foodstuffs, the closure of custom houses, and the atrocities of the Russian officials (Bayāt, ed., pp. 246-47), following which, according to the Ministry of Interior’s report, dated 7 Ramażān 1335/27 June 1917, the former consul of Russia in Astarābād was accused of inciting sedition, declared persona non grata, and was ordered to leave the country (Bayāt, ed., pp. 248-49).

By 1335/1917, the Jangali Movement (Nahżat-e jangal) in Gilān had gained strength, consequently Russian forces in Astarābād took stringent security measures (Maqṣudlu, II, p. 533). However, the October Revolu-tion of 1917 brought a radical upheaval in Russian foreign policy and following the Revolution the Russian soldiers refused to obey orders and this in turn intensified the crisis in Astarābād. In 1336/1918, representatives of the Jangali Movement were sent to Astarābād to explore the possibility of extending the movement from Gilān to this region and probably appoint a governor, but with the arrival of gendarme (see gendarmerie) forces, they had to abandon their project (Maqṣudlu, II, pp. 586, 590; Gilak, pp. 80-81; Malekzāda, V, pp. 1075-76). The situation in Astarābād, however, according to the available documents, remained tense and uneasy (Maqṣudlu, II, pp. 620-22, 636, 696-97; Bayāt, ed., pp. 210-11). After the defeat of the Mensheviks by the Bolsheviks in Russia, a great number of Mensheviks took refuge in Astarābād and the central government later transferred them to Khorasan (Maqṣudlu, II, pp. 697-98, 702-3).


In the Pahlavi era (1921-79) Persia underwent major political, social, and economic changes that had repercussions in the region of Gorgān. The particular development that fundamentally changed the life of the people, and transformed the landscape of the region was the expansion of cash crops and large scale mechanized farming in the period of 1930s-70s. The main factor aiding the agricultural development of the region was the availability of a vast track of highly fertile, uncultivated land suitable for mechanized farming in the Gorgān plain, with a single owner, the Pahlavi Property Administration (PPA; Edāra-ye amlāk-e Pahlavi). Also helped the development of commercial farms in the region was the absence of traditional system of landowner-peasant relationship in the Gorgān plain.

The Reżā Shah period (1921-41) was marked by a number of significant changes in the region. These included: (1) Law and order was established in the province by dispatching army contingents in 1925 and disarming the Turkman tribes. A group of them were subsequently forced to settle in the newly reconstructed city of Gonbad-e Qābus (q.v.). (2) The entire region was appropriated by the PPA in 1934 (Lambton, pp. 256-57). (3) Cash crops and mechanized farming were developed by the PPA and local merchants. (4) The expansion of roads and, above all, the construction of the Trans-Iranian Railway system connecting the region via Bandar-e Torkaman (then Bandar-e Šāh) to Tehran and the Persian Gulf port of Ḵorramšahr in 1937.

As the central government established its authority and the tribes were disarmed in this period, the chronic tribal rebellions and skirmishes ceased and there was an opportunity to improve commercial activities and increase agricultural production in the fertile region of Gorgān. As a result, new farms were developed by a number of prosperous Turkman merchants to cultivate rice for export to Russia from the late 1920s to the 1930s. More importantly, from 1934-41, the PPA played a significant part in developing cash crops and introducing mechanized farming by using some 20 tractors and combines, reclaiming marsh lands, bringing American cotton seeds, building modern tobacco and cotton ginning factories, and by forcing peasants to cultivate cotton and tobacco. The cultivated areas under cash crops rapidly increased, with, for example, the area under cultivation of cotton rising from 5,000 hectares to 17,000 between 1934 and 1937 (Okazaki, pp. 7-8; Gorgāni, p. 326; Šawqi, pp. 44-46; Bahrāmi, p. 308).

Gorgān of 1941-53, similar to other provinces of Persia, saw a period of occupation and instability. On 4 Šahrivar 1320 Š./26 August 1941, Soviet Union forces invaded northern provinces of Persia and remained there until 1945. After 1945, Gorgān followed the pattern in the rest of the country with phases of political turbulence in relation to the dispute over the nationalization of the oil industry and its aftermath with the partisans of the National Front, members of the pro-Soviet Tudeh Party, as well as independent local political figures, participating in street demonstrations and clashes among each other (Maʿṭufi, pp. 370-71).

Following the forced abdication of Reżā Shah in 1941, small plots of crown lands were returned to their previous owners. As a result, local merchants and landowners expanded their farmlands in the1940s (see, e.g., numbers 1 and 2 in Table 1). The main impetus for change, however, came in the late 1940s to early 1950s, when a number of entrepreneurs from outside the region formed large-scale mechanized farms. Two enterprises, established in 1949 and 1950, pioneered the formation of large-scale mechanized farming in the region: Gorgān Dry Farming Company (Šerkat-e sehāmi-e zerāʿati-e deymikār-e Gorgān) directed by Engineer Ebrāhim Mahdavi, then minister of agriculture, and Wheat Planting Company (Šerkat-e sehāmi-e gandomkār), directed by Engineer Kamāl Taḡdisi (later Ṭabāṭabāʾi Farm). The shareholders of both companies included a number of influential politicians, high-ranking officials, landowners, and merchants from Tehran. They were followed in the 1950s by a number of other large farmers (see Table 1). The land obtained by these entrepreneurs came primarily from the lease and subsequent purchase of cultivated and barren land from the PPA. Some land was also obtained by leasing and reclaiming private land claimed by the Turkaman tribes, and religious waqf land.

The new drive for the rapid expansion of middle-sized farms came in the latter half of the 1950s, when the PPA (now incorporated into the Pahlavi Foundation) initiated the sale of uncultivated crown lands. A large number of government officials and retired army officers, middle-sized merchants and landowners, purchased plots of crown lands and established mechanized farms (Okazaki, p. 13).

Until the mid-1950s, wheat cultivation, which was not labor intensive, constituted the main cultivated crop in the Gorḡān plain. The rapid expansion of more valuable, labor intensive cotton culture from late 1950s-1970s changed the balance at the cost of wheat culture. Furthermore, the need for a large number of workers for cotton fields led to the formation of plantation-like farms, and the migration of thousands of peasants from the Sistān Province to the Gorgān plain where they settled in the farmlands (Ashraf, pp. 7-9).

In the 1950s-70s Gorgān was a hub of economic activity and, in addition to rapid development of large scale mechanized farming, some important infrastructure projects were implemented there. The construction of Gorgān-Bandar-e Torkaman railway took just over a year, and in 1961 it became operational. It took over seven years, however, before the Vošmgir dam project was realized; its construction began in 1966, two years after the signing of the contract, and the dam became operational in 1971 (Maʿṭufi, pp. 373, 376). Also developed was the network of roads throughout the region.

A number of industries for processing agricultural products were also introduced into the region, including cotton ginning factories, vegetable seed oil factories, and a large pressed wood factory. In the period of 1961-71, the output of some 33 cotton ginning factories increased from 49,000 tons to over 93,000 and the output of the pressed wood factory in 1970 was 700 particle boards per day (Gorgāni, pp. 325-36).

The increasing investment and activities of large and medium-sized mechanized farms, and agro-industries in this period turned the province into the most prosperous area in Persia’s Caspian region.


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Cite this page
Ḥabib-Allāh Zanjāni, Eckart Ehlers, Muhammad Yusof Kiani, A. D. H. Bivar, C. Edmund Bosworth, Jawād Neyestāni and EIr, “GORGĀN”, in: Encyclopaedia Iranica Online, © Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York. Consulted online on 23 July 2024 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/2330-4804_EIRO_COM_11038>
First published online: 2020
First print edition: 20120420

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