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Chorasmian king of the line of Anuštegin Ḡarčaʾi (r. 1156-72). He was the son and successor of ʿAlāʾ-Din Atsïz b. Moḥammad, , who had skillfully preserved the autonomy of Chorasmia.

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Volume XII, Fascicle 6, pp. 643-644

IL-ARSLĀN, ABU’L-FATḤ, Chorasmian king of the line of Anuštegin Ḡarčaʾi (r. 1156-72). He was the son and successor of ʿAlāʾ-Din Atsïz b. Moḥammad (see ATSÏZ ḠARČAʾI), who had skillfully preserved the autonomy of Chorasmia (see CHORASMIA ii.) and had taken a prominent role in affairs during his father’s lifetime. He became governor of Jand on the lower Syr Darya after it had been taken from its local ruler, and took part in the abortive invasion of Khorasan of 1156, which ended in Atsïz’s death (Jovayni, II, pp. 10-13; tr. Boyle, I, pp. 284-87; Barthold, Turkestan3, pp. 328-31; Kafesoğlu, pp. 60-61, 68-72).

Il-Arslān thus ascended the throne on 3 Rajab 551/22 August 1156, securing his position by imprisoning or executing potential rivals (Jovayni, II, p. 14; tr. Boyle, I, p. 287; Ebn al-Aṯir, Beirut, XI, p. 209). The imprisonment of the Saljuqid Sultan Sanjar by the Ghozz (see ḠOZZ) and his death in 1157 meant that Il-Arslān, who had been confirmed in his succession by the sultan just before his death, was in practice free to rule, under the light and distant overlordship of the Qara Khitay, as an independent ruler. His relations with Sanjar’s successor, the Qara-khanid Maḥmud, were good, but he now treated with the ruler of Khorasan on equal terms, signing himself in letters to Maḥmud as moḵleṣ “sincere friend” instead of the banda “bondsman,” with which his father had addressed the Saljuq sultan (Barthold, p. 332). He also entered into friendly relations with the Saljuq ruler in the west, Sultan Moḥammad (II) b. Maḥmud (II), encouraging the latter to come eastwards and reassert Saljuq authority over Khorasan, probably aware that the declining power of the Saljuqs in Iraq and western Persia would make this improbable, as indeed proved to be the case (Barthold, pp. 332-33).

Il-Arslān was now undeniably the most powerful ruler in the Islamic East. He first of all intervened in the struggles of the Qara-khanids of Transoxania with their recalcitrant Qarluq amirs. In 553/1158 he invaded the region with the aim of assisting the dissidents against the Khan of Samarqand, Čaḡrï Khan ʿAli b. Ḥasan, although peace was made through the mediation of the religious leaders of the city (Jovayni, II, p. 15; tr. Boyle, I, p. 288; alternative account in Ebn-al Aṯir, Beirut, XI, pp. 310-11; Barthold, p. 334). After this, he turned his attention to Khorasan, and helped the Ghozz chief, Eḵtiār-al-Din Aytāq, who had fled to Chorasmia, to reestablish his position in Dahestān and Gorgān against the rival Yaḡmur Khan (556/1161). Within Khorasan proper, the Ghozz leader Moʾayyad-al-Din Ay-Aba, overthrew Maḥmud Khan in 1162, styling himself “emperor of Khorasan and king of the east” (ḵosrow-e Ḵorāsān wa malek al-mašreq), and now acknowledged the Saljuq sultan in the west, Arslān Shah, as his overlord (Bayhaqi, p. 284; Ebn al-Aṯir, Beirut, XI, pp. 261, 271-72; Barthold, p. 335). Il-Arslān hoped to take advantage of the confused situation in Khorasan, and in 560/1165 invaded it, besieging Ay-Aba in the citadel of Šādyāḵ at Nišāpur, but failed to capture it and had to withdraw (Ḥosayni, pp. 162-64; Ebn al-Aṯir, Beirut, XI, pp. 282-83, 293, 315-16; Jovayni, p. 16; tr. Boyle, I, p. 289, placing the Nišāpur expedition in 558/1163, whereas Bayhaqi, p. 284, records the presence of Chorasmian troops at Bayhaq in 562/1167; Barthold, p. 335; Kafesoğlu, pp. 76-80). However, he could only watch when the Qara Khitay invaded Transoxania in about 560/1165 and attacked the Qara-khanids; and in 566/1170 or, more probably, 567/1171, his failure to pay tribute provoked an invasion of Chorasmia by the Qara Khitay. It was repelled, but Il-Arslān fell ill and returned to his capital Gorgānj to die on 9 Rajab 567/7 March 1172 (Ḥo-sayni, p. 166, a more probable date than the 568/1172-73 of Ebn al-Aṯir, Beirut, XI, pp. 375, 377; cf. Kafesoğlu, p. 83), to be succeeded by his eldest son ʿAlāʾ-al-Din Tekiš.

We are poorly informed about court life at Gorgānj under Il-Arslān, although the flourishing intellectual environment of his father’s time (see ATSÏZ) undoubtedly lived on, and the stylist and poet Rašid-al-Din Vaṭvāṭ (q.v.) continued to head the chancery for Il-Arslān. Dawlatšāh (pp. 140-41) speaks of the poet Sayf-al-Din Esfarangi being attracted from Bukhara to the shah’s court, and also links Il-Arslān with Sayyed Esmāʿil Jorjāni, the celebrated physician and author of the encyclopedic work on medicine Ḏaḵira-ye ḵᵛārazmšāhi (q.v.), which is dedicated to Il-Arslān’s father.


W. Barthold, Turkestan Down to the Mongol Invasion3, London, 1968, pp. 331-37.

C. Edmund Bosworth, “The Political and Dynastic History of the Iranian World,” in Camb. Hist. Iran V, pp. 1-202, esp. pp. 145-46, 185-88.

ʿAli b. Zayd Bayhaqi (Ebn Fondoq), Tāriḵ-e Bayhaq, ed. Aḥmad Bahmanyār, Tehran, 1938.

Ṣadr-al-Din Ḥoysani, Aḵbār al-dawla al-saljuqiya, ed. Muhammad Iqbal, Lahore, 1933, pp. 147-49, 162-64, 166; tr. Qibla Ayaz as “An Unexploited Source for the History of the Saljūqs: A Translation of and Commentary on the Akhbār al-Dawlat al-Saljūqiyya,” unpubl. Ph.D. diss., Edinburgh University, 1985.

Dowlatšāh Samarqandi, Taḏkerat al-šoʿarā, ed. M. ʿAbbāsi, Tehran, 1958, pp. 140-41.

Heribert Horst, Die Staatsverwaltung der Grossel-ğūqen und Ḫōrazmšāhs(1038-1231), Wiesbaden, 1964, see index at p. 176 (documents from Il-Arslān’s chancery).

ʿAlāʾ-al-Din ʿAṭā Malek Jovayni, Tāriḵ-e jahān-gošā, ed. Moḥammad Qazvini, 3 vols., Leiden and London, 1906-37, II, pp. 12-17; tr. John A. Boyle as The History of the World-Conquerer, 2 vols., Manchester, 1958, I, pp. 287-89.

İbrahim Kafesoğlu, Harezmşahlar devleti tarihi(485-617/1092-1229), Ankara, 1956, pp. 73-83.

Lutz Richter-Berngurg, “Zur Titulatur der Ḫwārezm-Šāhe aud der Dynastie Anūštegīns,” AMI 9, 1976, pp. 179-205, esp. pp. 189-94.

Cite this page
C. Edmund Bosworth, “IL-ARSLĀN”, in: Encyclopaedia Iranica Online, © Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York. Consulted online on 19 July 2024 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/2330-4804_EIRO_COM_3342>
First published online: 2020
First print edition: 20041215

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