Encyclopaedia Iranica Online

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Volume XVI, Fascicle 6, pp. 591-672

KHORASAN, a historical region with varying boundaries, as well as a provincial region comprising the northeastern part of Iran in modern times. The term Khorasan, country of the “rising sun,” had a much wider designation in pre- and early-Islamic times, covering parts of what are now Russia, Central Asia, and Afghanistan. Since 2004, Khorasan has been divided administratively into three smaller provinces: Ḵorāsān-e Rażawi, Ḵorāsān-e Šemāli, and Ḵorāsān-e Jonubi, with their administrative capitals at Mashhad, Bojnurd, and Birjand (qq.v.), respectively. This series of articles survey the history of Khorasan in the broad sense of “Greater Khorasan” as well as the history and culture of Iranian or “Inner Khorasan.”


i. The Concept of Khorasan

Movsēs Xorenacʿi (q.v.) in his Geography divides Khorasan into 26 districts stretching from Gorgān (q.v.) and Qumes in the southeastern Caspian region to Badaḵšān (q.v.) and Ṭoḵārestān on the upper Oxus and Bāmiān in the Hindu Kush (Marquart, 1901, pp. 16-17, 47ff.).

In the past, Khorasan could often be associated with a territorial entity more than an administrative one. According to recent archaeological and historical discoveries (Rante and Collinet, 2013; Rante, 2015, pp. 9-25), Khorasan should be considered concretely as a large quarter of the Sasanian empire (q.v.) from the mid-6th century CE.

It was, in fact, considered by the Sasanians as one of the four quarters of the empire, that of the east, and traditionally divided into four administrative provinces: Nishapur, Herat, Marv, and Balḵ (Figure 1; Gyselen, 1989, p. 85; and 2003; see also Daryaee, pp. 13-18).

Regarding the frontiers of Khorasan, Ernst Herzfeld (q.v.) described the limits of Khorasan during the last part of the Sasanian period (Figure 2): “Eastern Tehran, at the ‘Caspian Gates,’ beginning the eastern parts of the Alborz Mountains, to the southeastern corner of the Caspian Sea, today’s Russian-Persian border at Atrek, along the Trans-Caspian railway to about Loṭfābād; [then] after a line through the desert, including the oases of Marv and Tejen, up to the Āmu Daryā at Karki, the Āmu Daryā itself to about Ḥażrat Emām, then west of Badaḵšān to the south into the Hindu Kush mountains, thence west to the high ridge of the Hindu Kush and continuing along its western extensions, south past Herat, [by] a salt lake on the Afghan-Persian border, continuing through Kuhestān south of Ḵᵛāf and Toršiz and along the northern edge of the great Dašt-e Kavir desert back to the starting point at the Caspian Gates” (Herzfeld, p. 109).

While the “concept” of Khorasan in the early and Middle-Sasanian period could have been popularly intended to start from Ray, or from Hamadān (Herzfeld, p. 108), eastwards to the “place where the sun rises,” it would seem more probable that the limits of western Khorasan would have corresponded to the “whole Abaršahr” (Gyselen, 1989, p. 85). It is therefore probable that in the Sasanian epoch Khorasan excluded Ray and some other provinces mentioned in later historical sources. Qumes, often associated with the Gorgān region (Gyselen, 1989, p. 84), was likely the western frontier of the Abaršahr. The problem is that the “whole Abaršahr” remains hard to circumscribe today. The Sasanian extension of this region could correspond, as attested by Josef Markwart (q.v.), to the area where the Aparni originally settled, corresponding to the area of Tajan (1901, p. 74; Lecoq, p. 151).

The Sasanian occupation of eastern Iran was de facto ephemeral (Gyselen, 2003, p. 166), thus rendering it difficult today to have a precise and conclusive idea of the eastern boundaries. Nonetheless, if an administrative Khorasanian entity had existed before the 6th century, its eastern boundaries probably would have corresponded to the Morḡāb River (q.v.; Rante, 2015, p. 10, n. 3). Concerning the south, the large Iranian deserts and Sistān (q.v.) could have been the limits of Khorasan.

During the Arab Islamic invasion, Khorasan seems to correspond to an abstract geographical entity. The Arab armies did not limit their conquest to the boundaries of Sasanian Khorasan, but rapidly passed the Oxus River (q.v.) through the Kara Kum desert and advanced through Sogdiana (q.v.) toward the northeast, to stop later on the Talas River around 750 CE. This could certainly also explain the chaotic administration of the first years of Arab occupation (Daniel, p. 19). At that time, the administrative framework pointed out by a Middle Persian source, ŠahrestānīhāīĒrānšahr (q.v.), dated to the ʿAbbasid time, saw Khorasan divided into twelve capitals (Marquart, 1931, pp. 8-13; Daryaee, p.18): Samarkand, Navarak, an unnamed city of Ḵvārazm (Chorasmia, q.v.), Marv-rud, Marv, Herat, Bušanj (Fušanj, q.v.), Ṭus, Nishapur, Qāʾen, Gorgān and Qumes. The province west of Qumes seems to have been attached to Iraq. This area, between Mesopotamia and Khorasan, was the military outpost to subdue the eastern lands.

Despite the former geographical limitation, which looks furthermore to be an indication of the conquered countries, it seems in any case that at the time of the Arab invasion, between the second half of the 7th century and the beginning of the 8th century, the real northeastern and the western boundaries of Khorasan were respectively the Oxus River and Qumes. The southern ones were Sistān and Kerman (q.v.) provinces, obviously not included in Khorasan. Regarding the eastern frontier, at the time of the conquest its limits would still have been ephemeral. In fact, even if its reign was destroyed and its people dispersed between southeastern Iran and Afghanistan, the territory of the Hayṭāl (Hephthalites, q.v.) is still mentioned at the time of the Arab Muslim conquest and after. Maqdesi describes the Oxus River as being the frontier between the Hayṭāl and Khorasan (see Miquel, p. 286, n. 8). Therefore, in the period corresponding to the Islamic conquest and the Umayyad dynasty (end of the 7th and 8th centuries), the frontiers proposed by Herzfeld would be a good geographical framework of Khorasan, although with strong doubts concerning Badaḵšān.

Figure 1: Geographical map showing cities of Khorasan and adjacent areas in an anachronistic way, in order to provide different points of reference through the epochs. (Map courtesy of the authors.)Figure 1: Geographical map showing cities of Khorasan and adjacent areas in an anachronistic way, in order to provide different points of reference through the epochs. (Map courtesy of the authors.)

In the Islamic period, one of the first descriptions of the territory of Khorasan is that of the geographer Yaʿqubi, in the 9th century. In his Historiae (I, p. 201), Yaʿqubi lists the districts governed by the spāhbed (q.v.) of Khorasan: (1) Nishapur, (2) Herat, (3) Marv, (4) Marv al-Ruḏ, (5) Fāryāb, (6) Ṭālaqān, (7) Balḵ, (8) Bukhara, (9) Bāḏḡis, (10) Bāvard (Abivard, q.v.), (11) Ḡaršestān, (12) Ṭus, (13) Saraḵs, and (14) Gorgān. The same author, in Ketāb al-boldān, discussing Balḵ, moreover defines the region as extending from Ray to Farḡāna (q.v.), and identifies its center in Balḵ: between Ray and Balḵ there was a distance of thirty days, the same as between Balḵ and Farḡāna (Yaʿqubi, tr. Wiet, 1937, p. 101). Toward the east there was Turkestan, which surrounds Khorasan and Sistān. The western boundary was Qumes: “of which Dāmḡān was the first city of Khorasan” (Yaʿqubi, tr. Wiet, 1937, p. 80). Yaʿqubi seems also to include Ṭabarestān in Khorasan; the sovereign called himself the “Eṣbahbaḏ [spāhbed] of Khorasan in his correspondence with the caliphs al-Maʾmun and al-Moʿtasem (Yaʿqubi, tr. Wiet, 1937, p. 81).

During the latter part of the 9th century, Abu Ḥanifa Dinavari (q.v.), relating the political and geographical situation of late antiquity and early medieval eastern territories in his Aḵbār al-ṭewāl (q.v.), located the city of Āmuya, or Āmul (Āmol), in Khorasan, on the western side of the Oxus (Dinavari, p. 367). He thus also included in this region the area between the Marv oasis and the Oxus. It seems, additionally, that Dinavari excludes Bukhara from the boundaries of Khorasan (Dinavari, pp. 66, 55, 86, 78). Concerning the western frontiers, Dinavari (p. 90) appears to include Qumes and Gorgān in Khorasan. This affirmation seems to be contradictory with the following one describing Besṭām (Besṭām o Bendōy, q.v.) as governor of Khorasan, Qumes, Gorgān, and Ṭabarestān, listed separately (Dinavari, p. 93).

Figure 2: Herzfeld’s boundaries of Khorasan as proposed in his 1921 article, imposed on an original map from that same period by the London Geographical Institute (1920).Figure 2: Herzfeld’s boundaries of Khorasan as proposed in his 1921 article, imposed on an original map from that same period by the London Geographical Institute (1920).

In the same century, Balāḏori (q.v.) proposed a geographical framework of Khorasan that is totally different from those mentioned above. He also included Ḵvārazm, Ṭoḵārestān, Sistān, and Transoxiana within the frontiers of Khorasan. According to Yāqut’s commentary (Barbier de Meynard, 1861, p. 199), all these countries were mentioned because they were under the authority of the governor of Khorasan, while remaining outside the regional limits of Khorasan. However, Balāḏori did not draw up any official geographical list of the countries included within Khorasan (see also Herzfeld, pp. 108-9).

In the 9th century, it is difficult to understand and delimit the eastern and the northeastern limits of Khorasan, unlike its western and southern ones. The historical sources report different geographical borders of Khorasan, sometimes expanding it up to the frontiers with China and the Turkic people. Nonetheless, Khorasan at that epoch constituted a well-established political entity due to the advent of the Taherid (q.v.) dynasty in 821 CE. Without diminishing the importance of the unification of Khorasan and the Mā warāʾ al-nahr (q.v.) under the Samanid dynasty, already established in Transoxiana, the Taherids had the merit of having extended their sovereignty to a part of Transoxiana that was still not completely Islamized (Bosworth, 1975, pp. 90-135). If the numismatic evidence reflects a political presence in that area, then it can be assumed that the Taherid sphere extended from Iranian Khorasan to the north and the east covering the oasis of Ḵvārazm, Čāč (q.v.), as well as to the west of Ray (Rante, 2015, pp. 13-14). The largest extension of Taherid power, and thus the largest expansive phase of the culture of Khorasan, was established in the 9th century, perhaps more precisely during the short reign of Ṭalḥa b. Ṭāher, governor of Khorasan (822-28). Qodāma b. Jaʿfar (ca. 873-932/948) in his book, Ketāb al-ḵarāj, compiled about 879 CE, listed the cities of Khorasan as including Bost, Roḵḵaj, Kābol, Zābolestān, Ṭabas, Qohestān, Herat, Ṭālaqān, Bāḏḡis, Bušanj, Ṭoḵārestān, Ṭārqān, Balḵ, Ḵolm, Marv al-Rud, Ṣaḡāniān, Vāšjerd, Bukhara, Ṭus, Fāryāb, Abaršahr, Kār, Samarkand, Šāš [Čāč], Farḡāna, Ošrusana, Ṣoḡd, Ḵojand, Ḵvārazm, Esbijāb, Termeḏ, Nasā, Abivard, Marv, Kass, Nušjān, Bottam, Aḵrun, and Nasaf. Qodama estimated the tax of Khorasan as eight million dirhams, which is one of the most important tax revenues sent from an Islamic province (Qodāma, p. 141).

Figure 3: Map proposing the possible frontiers of Khorasan in the 5th-6th centuries CE. (Map created with Generic Mapping Tools and NOAA topographic data.)Figure 3: Map proposing the possible frontiers of Khorasan in the 5th-6th centuries CE. (Map created with Generic Mapping Tools and NOAA topographic data.)

Figure 4: Map proposing the possible frontiers of Greater Khorasan in the 10th century CE. (Map created with Generic Mapping Tools and NOAA topographic data.)Figure 4: Map proposing the possible frontiers of Greater Khorasan in the 10th century CE. (Map created with Generic Mapping Tools and NOAA topographic data.)

Later, in the 10th century, the Samanid dynasty carried out the “official” unification of Khorasan and Transoxiana. It created, from the new capital Bukhara, an area of interaction between the Far East (China and the Turkic people) of the Islamic lands and the boundaries of western Khorasan, which at that period corresponded to the Buyid (q.v.) territories. Within that period, the frontiers of Khorasan appear clearer. In the middle of the 10th century, Ebn Ḥawqal (q.v.) located the boundaries of northeastern Khorasan at the Oxus River, the eastern ones in Badaḵšān, of which the city of Jarm should have been the eastern limit (p. 102; Barthold, p. 66) and the western ones, as before, in Dāmḡān (Ebn Ḥawqal, II, pp. 413-16). The southern limit was the Sistān province. Masʿudi (par. 312, p. 119) fixes the Kušān region, which would at least correspond to Ṭoḵārestān, between Khorasan and China, later identifying the mine of Pangšir in Khorasan (par. 455, p. 164).

Later, Yāqut located Khorasan within the boundaries of Iraq, Ṭoḵārestān, Ghazna, Sejestān and Kerman (Barbier de Meynard, pp. 197-98). He definitely excluded Transoxiana and Ḵvārazm.

From the Sasanian epoch, Khorasan had been a vast territory joining the Iranian cultures with the Far East and India as well as Mesopotamia and the Near East. From the very outset a territory issued by different ancient regions and provinces, its frontiers have always been hard to understand because the historical reports were often contradictory. The limits proposed by Herzfeld (Figure 2) corresponding to the end part of the Sasanian period seem to be likely, although in the light of the recent researches, it would be preferable to situate the eastern boundaries along the Morḡāb River. During the Arab-Muslim conquest and the Omayyad dynasty, this territory would be constituted of all conquered regions eastwards from the province of Ray.

Guy Le Strange (1966, map 1), who produced a map of the eastern provinces of the ʿAbbasid caliphate that still remains useful, left the eastern part of Khorasan without frontiers. Moreover, concerning the western and the northwestern boundaries, he left Qumes, Ṭabarestān, Gorgān, and Qohestān outside Khorasan (for these provinces see Gyselen, 1989, p. 53; Schwarz, pp. 809 ff.). Although Ṭabarestān, Qumes, and Gorgān could be situated outside the western frontiers of Khorasan, at least in the second half of the 8th century, from the 9th century a part of Qumes and Gorgān could be integrated into the boundaries of Khorasan (Bosworth, 1986, p. 378), making Dāmḡān the gate of Khorasan. The eastern boundaries could be situated in the province of Badaḵšān, around the city of Fayżābād (q.v.), where a solid mountain range rises up as natural border and goes down to reach the main ranges of the Hindu Kush.

During the 10th century (Frye, 1975, map 3, p. 139), when Khorasan and Transoxiana were under the control of the Samanids, the western boundaries of Khorasan, according to Ebn Ḥawqal, remained at Qumes, near or in Dāmḡān. The eastern ones excluded Ḡur (q.v.) from the 9th century limits, even if Bāmiān seems to be within the frontiers of Khorasan (Ebn Ḥawqal, p. 416). The south was bordered by Sistān; Qohestān was inside the perimeter of Khorasan. Concerning the northeastern boundaries, even if at that time Samanids ruled over Khorasan and Transoxiana thus making it almost a unique territory, the limit of Khorasan proper continued to be the Oxus, again separating two historically independent regions, which however were from the advent of Islam culturally, and in part politically, united.

There is little doubt that the designation of “Greater Khorasan” is traceable in the Islamic period, during the ʿAbbasid period, more precisely beginning with the Taherid’s several decades of government, in the 9th century, even if some would date it to the time of Abu Moslem Ḵorāsāni (q.v.). The following century and the Samanid control contributed to increase and reinforce it.

From the 6th century, Khorasan seems to have been constituted of an original nucleus, or “Khorasan Proper,” which has been tentatively located within the Marv oasis, Herat, and Zuzan, following the eastern border of the Iranian Deserts to the south-eastern corner of the Caspian Sea, excluding thus a large part of Qumes, but including the province of Gorgān following the shape of the Great Wall, which in the light of recent research is dated to the 5th-6th centuries (Figure 3). From this nucleus the limits expanded during the Islamic period, firstly including Balḵ and its province, the whole of Qohestān, a part of ancient Hyrcania as far as the Atrek River, and the desert zones between the Marv oasis and the Oxus, which has been a natural frontier over the centuries. A large part of the Zarafšān valley, in Transoxiana, including the Bukhara and Samarkand oases, has been an area of major influences on Khorasan (Figure 4). The standing of this first nucleus of Khorasan, which became “Greater Khorasan,” is certainly to be sought in its geographical position at the center of such different lands as Central Asia, China, India, Western Iran and Mesopotamia. This geographical situation formed out of this territory a crossroads through which travelled peoples, cultures, ideas and influences.


Abu’l-ʿAbbās Aḥmad b. Yaḥyā b. Jāber Balāḏori, Ketāb fotuḥ al-boldān, tr. by P. K. Hitti as The Origins of the Islamic State, part 1, New York, 1916.

Charles Barbier de Meynard, Dictionnaire Géographique, Historique et Littéraire de la Perse et des Contrées Adjacentes, extrait … du Mo’djem El-Bouldan …de … Yaqout, Paris, 1861.

Vaslilii Vladimirovich Barthold, Turkestan down to the Mongol Invasion, 3rd ed., London, 1969.

C. E. Bosworth, “The Tahirids and Saffarids,” The Cambridge History of Iran IV, Cambridge, 1975, pp. 90-135.

Idem, “Ḳumis,” The Encyclopaedia of Islam V, Leiden, 1986, pp. 376-78.

Elton Daniel, The Political and Social History of Khurasan under Abbasid Rule, 747-820, Minneapolis and Chicago, 1979.

Touraj Daryaee, ŠahrestānīhāĪĒrānšahr: A Middle Persian Text on Late Antique Geography, Epic, and History, Costa Mesa, Calif., 2002.

Abu Ḥanifa Dinavari, al-Aḵbār al-ṭewāl, ed. Amir ʿAbd-al-Munʿim, Beirut, 1990.

Abu’l-Qāsem Ebn Ḥawqal, Configuration de la Terre, tr. by J. H. Kramers and G. Wiet, 2 vols., Paris and Beirut, 1964.

Richard Frye, “Kushans and Other Iranians in Central Asia,” in Reşid Rahmeti Arat Için, Türk Kültürünü Araştırma Enstitüsü Yayınlari 19, Ankara, 1966, pp. 244-47.

Idem, ed., The Cambridge History of Iran IV: The Period from the Arab Invasion to the Saljuqs, Cambridge, 1975. Rika Gyselen, La Géographie Administrative de l’Empire Sassanide, Paris, 1989.

Idem, “La reconquête de l’est iranien par l’empire sassanide au Vie siècle, d’après les sources ‘iraniennes’” Arts Asiatiques 58, 2003, pp. 162-67.

Ernst Herzfeld, “Khorasan: Denkmalsgeographische Studien zur Kulturgeschichte des Islam in Iran,” in Der Islam 11, 1921, pp. 107-74.

Meysam Labbāf-Ḵāniki, “Ḵorāsān dar ʿasr-e Sāsāni,” in Meysam Labbāf-Ḵāniki, ed., Gozari bar bāstānšenāsi-ye, Tehran, 2015, pp. 61-67.

Pierre Lecoq, “Aparna,” Encyclopædia Iranica II, London and New York, 1987, p. 151.

Guy Le Strange, The Lands of the Eastern Caliphate; Mesopotamia, Persia, and Central Asia, from the Moslem Conquest to the Time of Timur, Cambridge, 1930; 3rd ed., London, 1966.

Joseph Markwart, “Ērānšahr' nach der Geographie des ps. Moses Xorenacci, Abhandlungen der Königlichen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen, phil.-hist. KL. N.F. 3/2, Berlin, 1901.

Idem, A Catalogue of the Provincial Capitals ofĒrānšahr”: Pahlavi Text, Version and Commentary, ed. Giuseppe Messina, Rome, 1931.

Abu’l-Ḥasan ʿAli Masʿudi, Moruj al-ḏahab, tr. as Les prairies d’or by C. Barbier de Meynard and A. Pavet de Courteille, rev. by Charles Pellat, vol. I, Paris 1962.

André Miquel, La Géographie humaine du monde musulman jusqu’au milieu du11e siècle, 4 vols., Paris, 1967-88.

Qodāma b. Jaʿfar, Ketāb al-ḵarāj, tr. A. Ben Shemesh, Leiden, 1965. Rocco Rante and A. Collinet, Nishapur Revisited: Stratigraphy and Ceramics of the Qohandez, Oxford, 2013.

Rocco Rante, “‘Khorasan Proper’ and ‘Greater Khorasan’ within a Politico-Cultural Framework,” in idem, ed., Greater Khorasan: History, Geography, Archaeology and Material Culture, Boston, 2015, pp. 9-25.

P. Schwarz, Iran im Mittelalter nach den arabischen Geographen, Leipzig, 1896-1921, repr. Hildesheim and New York, 1969.

Aḥmad b. Abi Yaʿqub Yaʿqubi, Ketāb al-boldān, tr. by Gaston Wiet as Les pays, Cairo, 1937.

Idem, Taʾri, ed. M. Th. Houtsma as Ibn-Wādhih qui dicitur al-JaʿqubīHistoriae, 2 vols., Leiden, 1883; repr. 1969.

ii. Pre-Islamic History

The idea of Khorasan itself goes back to the late Sasanian (q.v.) period, when the term was used to indicate the eastern part of the empire, a vast region whose boundaries were not precisely defined. In fact, the Middle Persian name Xwarāsān (Pers. Ḵorāsān) is attested on the bullae carrying the sealing of the spāhbeds (q.v.) of the East, where it occurs in the standard formula … wuzurgērān kustīXwarāsān spāhbed ‘… grandee, Ērānspāhbed of the side of the East’ (Gyselen, 2001, pp. 35-36; Gyselen, 2007, pp. 248-54).

Ṭabari (q.v.; d. 923) knew about the quadripartition of the army that he considered to have taken place during the reign of Khosrow I (q.v.; r. 531-79), and he wrote that there was an iṣbahbadh of the East, one of the West, one in charge of Nimruz, and one of Azerbaijan (Ṭabari, tr., V, p. 149); similar information is found also in the works of other Islamic historiographers. Thanks to this combined evidence, we know that one of the four mighty armies that defended the empire in late Sasanian times, after the military and administrative reform begun by Kawād I (q.v.; r. 488-531) and completed by Khosrow I, was the army of the East (Xwarāsān), attesting that this name was current in the official language of the Sasanian government. However, chances are that it did not designate any specific region, province or civil administration; rather it is by now clear that it pointed to a specific geographical area in military administration (see already Gnoli, 1985 contra Gignoux, 1984).

The “side of the East” is also one of the quarters of the Sasanian Empire according to the Middle Persian geographical treatise ŠahrestānīhāīĒrānšahr (q.v.), written well into the Islamic period, under ʿAbbasid (q.v.) rule, though definitely preserving late Sasanian lore. When looking at this text as a whole, one cannot help but notice that the southern quarter is far larger than the other ones, including areas that one may think better placed in Xwarāsān, and that the northern one is comparatively smaller than what one would expect (Marquart, 1931; Daryaee; see also Gyselen, 1988 for a critical evaluation of its contents). The kustīXwarāsān is the first sector of the empire to be listed in this text. According to its anonymous author, the “East” includes: Samarkand that was in SugudīhaftāšyānSogdiana of the seven abodes’, Nawāzag in Baxlībāmīg ‘Splendid Balkh’, Xwārazm, Marwrōd, Marw, Harē(w), Pūšang, Tōs, Nēwšābuhr, Kāyēn, Dahestān in Gurgān, and Kūmīs (pars. 2-18).

Moreover, paragraphs 19-20 of the Šahrestānīhā contain the name of five cities built by Husraw (Khosrow I): Husraw-šād, Husraw-mūstābād, Wisp-šād-Husraw, Hubōy-Husraw, and Šād-farrox-Husraw, specifying that this conurbation was surrounded by a long wall. Nothing is known about the whereabouts of these cities, but there is no formal reason not to include them in Xwarāsān (Gyselen, 1988, p. 198), though Joseph Marquart (1931, p. 13) and Touraj Daryaee (pp. 40-41) lean toward moving them to the western quarter (kustīxwarwarān). When comparing the toponyms found in the Šahrestānīhā with the evidence provided by Sasanian administrative glyptics one immediately notices that only a few of the geographical names mentioned in the Šahrestānīhā are also found on seals and sealings and that some of the provinces attested in the Middle Persian text, such as Sogdiana, Bactria or Chorasmia (qq.v.), were not part of the late Sasanian Empire (Gyselen, 1988, p. 193).

Another list of the provinces of Khorasan in the Sasanian era is preserved in a work traditionally assigned to the Armenian geographer and historian Movsēs Xorenacʿi (q.v.; Marquart, 1901, pp. 47-93). The toponyms found in this record only partly coincide with those enumerated in the Middle Persian text. Moreover, both the sequence in which they are listed and some of the toponyms themselves seem to be out of order, suggesting that some mishap may have occurred when writing or copying the Catalogue.

Furthermore, Islamic authors such as Ebn Ḵordāḏbeh (q.v.; d. ca. 885) knew of a division of Khorasan into four distinct marzbanates in Sasanian times (Marquart, 1901, p. 70). Another piece of evidence pointing toward the likelihood of a geographic notion identifying the East in the late Sasanian period comes from numismatics. Coins minted in Umayyad Zāvulistān (Zābolestān) after 687 CE on a Sasanian model carry the legend tkyn’ bg hwtʾy hwlʾsʾn MLKA (Tegīn bay xwadāy Xwarāsānšāh ‘Tegin, His Majesty, Lord, King of Khorasan’) attesting the title Xwarāsānšāh in the very early Islamic period (Gyselen, 2010, p. 237; Rezakhani, 2017, p. 168).

As is well known, Islamic Khorasan includes much of the eastern Iranian world that in the scholarly literature dealing with the pre-Islamic period is typically defined as outer Iran, a region further away from the centers of power of Mesopotamia and Persia that were better known to classical historians due to their closeness to the western world. Nonetheless, the eastern expanse has always been a vital part of the Iranian ecumene. In the Bisotun inscription (q.v.), Darius the Great (q.v.; r. 522-486 BCE) states that he rules over twenty-three countries, among which were the eastern ones of … ParΘava, Zranka, Haraiva, Uvārazmī, Bāxtriš, Suguda, Gandāra, Saka,θataguš, Harauvatiš… ‘… Parthia, Drangiana, Aria, Chorasmia, Bactria, Sogdiana, Gandāra, Scythya, Sattagydia, Arachosia…’ (Schmitt, pp. 49-50), each of which came at some point in history to be considered to be part of Khorasan.

Similar lists are found in other inscriptions by Darius in Susa and Persepolis (qq.v.) as well as of Xerxes I (r. 486-65 BCE; XPh, daiva inscription). When the Achaemenid Empire fell under the blows of Alexander (q.v.) and his Macedonians, opening the way for the blossoming of Hellenism in Western Asia, the heartland of Iranism moved toward the East. There, in the flatlands to the east of the Caspian Sea (q.v.), Arsaces rose in revolt against the Seleucids (q.v.), soon to conquer Parthia at the head of his Parni (APARNA, q.v.) kinsmen, taking advantage of the havoc caused by Andragoras’ (q.v.) short lived rebellion and of the defeat of the former Seleucid governor. A few years later Diodotus (q.v.), the Seleucid satrap of Bactria-Sogdiana, obtained his independence (Cereti, pp. 236-39). The earlier part of history of the Greek kingdoms of Central Asia and of the kings who later moved toward the territories to the south of the Hindu Kush (q.v.) is only known in its very general outlines (Bernard, pp. 99-101), but these people left an impressive cultural heritage to the Kushans (q.v.), who between the first and third centuries CE became one of the major powers in Eastern Iran and Northern India (Bivar; Falk). The Kushans were able to deal on an equal hand with the Arsacids (q.v.) and were certainly instrumental in keeping alive the Hellenistic heritage while integrating it in the new cultural context, as witnessed among others by the use of the Greek alphabet to write the Bactrian language (q.v.).

Like the Achaemenids, the early Sasanian kings also claimed authority over Eastern Iran. In his renowned trilingual inscription on the Kaʿba-ye Zardošt (q.v.), Šāpur I (q.v.; r. 239-70) mentions the eastern lands of *[Par]Θaw(…) ud hamag Parišxwār kōf, Māδ, Wurgān, Marγ, Harēw, ud hamag Abaršahr, Kermān, Sagestān, Tuγrān, Mak(u)rān, Pār(a)dān, Hindestān, Kušānšahr yad fraxšōPaškabūr ud yadōKāš, Suγd udČāčestān[ud až hō (?) āragzrē]h Mazū[n]šahr ‘Parthia (…) the entire Alborz chain, Media, Gurgān, Marw, Harēw, the entire Abaršahr, Kermān, Sistān, Turān, Makrān, Pāradān, Hindestān, Kušānšahr up to Pešāwar and to Kāšγar (?), Sogdiana and Taškent and on the other side of the sea the land of Mazūn [Oman]’ (Huyse, I, pp. 22-24; the quote follows the better preserved Parthian text). By doing so, he lays claim to lordship over the whole of later Khorasan. Most interesting is Šāpur’s mentioning Kušānšahr, a province that was then ruled by the Kushano-Sasanian dynasty, probably a cadet branch of the Sasanian family that enjoyed a high degree of autonomy. These dynasts began minting coins almost contemporarily with the Sasanian Ardašīr I (q.v.; d. 242 CE; Rezakhani, pp. 72-86; on Kushano-Sasanian coinage, see Jongeward and Cribb).

The latter part of the Sasanian period was characterized by a growing confrontation of the empire with aggressive eastern foes, who, wave after wave, threatened the oriental frontiers. Unfortunately we have relatively few written documents on the history of the Iranian Huns, Kidarites, Alkhan, Hephthalites, Nēzak (qq.v.), and of the Turkish groups that followed in their wave (Rezakhani, pp. 87-184), though some information may come from Chinese sources (see Daffinà on Chinese sources for Sasanian history). Nonetheless, numismatic research has made it possible to reconstruct at least the outline of the reigns of these powerful foes of the Sasanian empire, who were deeply influenced by their western neighbor and its culture (Göbl; Vondrovec; Alram and Klimburg-Salter, 1999; Alram et al., 2010).

The Kidarites (ca. 370-467 CE) settled in Bactria already in the 4th century CE and by 370 they were running the administrative divisions of the Sasanian empire in that area. They were followed by a second wave of nomads, the Alkhan (ca. 440-500 CE), who by 380 had taken over the Sasanian mint in Kabulistān to later expand their power to the east and then south toward the Indian plains. Among the Iranian Huns, the Hephthalites (ca. 484-560 CE) were a mighty foe of the Sasanians. In 484 Pērōz (see FIRUZ, r. 459-84) was heavily defeated by this eastern enemy and it was only Khosrow I who avenged this defeat in 560, putting an end to Hephthalite power through an alliance with the western Turks, who were bound to play an important political role in the area in the years to come. The late fifth century also saw the rise of the Nēzak (ca. 480-560 CE) in Zābulistān and then Kabulistān (Alram, 2016, pp. 18 ff.).

This interaction—military, social, and cultural—deeply transformed eastern Iran, preparing the ground for the intellectual renaissance that was to take place in the Islamic era.

Eastern Iran was Zoroaster’s (q.v.) motherland and the Avesta (q.v.) preserves a wealth of precious information on early society in an area stretching from the Aral Sea to Helmand (qq.v.) province in southern Afghanistan (Skjærvø; on Avestan geography and Zoroaster’s homeland see Gnoli, 1980, pp. 59-158; and AVESTAN GEOGRAPHY) that was to have a powerful influence on the development of later Iranian culture and lore. Central Asia has always been a crossroads of different religious traditions and has preserved a rich heritage of Buddhist, Christian, and Manichaean texts written in a variety of languages that have allowed scholars to better understand these religions. It is precisely this multicultural environment that blossomed into a veritable Age of Enlightenment in the Iranian world (Starr). Nor can one underestimate the powerful impact that the Sistanian epic cycle, rich in common Eastern Iranian elements, had on later Persian literature (Hameen-Antilla, pp. 174-199; Gazerani; van Zutphen).


Michael Alram, Das Antlitz des Fremden: Die Münzprägung der Hunnen und Westtürken in Zentralasien und Indien, Schriften des Kunsthistorischen Museums 17, Vienna, 2016.

Michael Alram and Deborah E. Klimburg-Salter, eds., Coins, Art, and Chronology: Essays on Pre-Islamic History of the Indo-Iranian Borderlands, Veröffentlichungen der numismatischen Kommission 33, Vienna, 1999.

Michael Alram, Deborah E. Klimburg-Salter, Minoru Inaba, and Matthias Pfisterer, eds., Coins, Art, and Chronology II: The First Millennium C.E. in the Indo-Iranian Borderlands, Veröffentlichungen der numismatischen Kommission 50, Vienna, 2010.

Paul Bernard, “The Greek Kingdoms of Central Asia,” in János Harmatta et al., eds., History of Civilizations of Central Asia II: The Development of Sedentary and Nomadic Civilizations 700 B.C. to A.D. 250, Paris, 1994, pp. 99-129.

Adrian David H. Bivar, “Kushan Dynasty i. Dynastic History,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2009.

Carlo G. Cereti, “Il mondo iranico dai Parti ai Sasanidi,” in Alessandro Barbero and Giusto Traina, eds., Storia d’Europa e del Mediterraneo, I. Il Mondo Antico, Sez. 3, vol. III/IV, Rome, 2009, pp. 223-62.

Paolo Daffinà, “La Persia sassanide secondo le fonti cinesi,” Rivista di Studi Orientali 57, 1983 [1985], pp. 121-70.

Touraj Daryaee, ŠahrestānīhāīĒrānšahr: A Middle Persian Text on Late Antique Geography, Epic, and History, Costa Mesa, Calif., 2002.

Harry Falk, “Kushan Dynasty iii. Chronology of the Kushans,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2014.

Saghi Gazerani, The Sistani Cycle of Epics and Iran’s National History: On the Margins of Historiography, Boston and Leiden, 2015.

Philippe Gignoux, “Les quatre régions administrative de l’Iran sasanide et la symbolique des nombres trois et quatre,” Annali Istituto Universitario Orientale 44/4, 1984, pp. 555-72.

Gherardo Gnoli, Zoroaster’s Time and Homeland: A Study on the Origins of Mazdeism and Related Problems, IUO Series Minor 7, Naples, 1980. Idem, “The Quadripartition of the Sassanian Empire,” East and West 35, 1985, pp. 265-70.

Idem, “Avestan Geography,” EncyclopædiaIranica III, London and New York, 1989, pp. 44-47.

Robert Göbl, Dokumente zur Geschichte der iranischen Hunnen in Baktrien und Indien, 4 vols., Wiesbaden, 1967.

Rika Gyselen, “Les Données de géographie administrative dans le ‘Šahrestānīhā-ī Ērān’,” Studia Iranica 17/2, 1988, pp. 191-206.

Idem, The Four Generals of the Sasanian Empire: Some Sigillographic Evidence, Conferenze 14, Rome, 2001.

Idem, Sasanian Seals and Sealings in the A. Saeedi Collection, Acta Iranica 44, Leuven, 2007.

Idem, “‘Umayyad’ Zāvulistān and Arachosia: Copper Coinage and the Sasanian Monetary Heritage,” in M. Alram, D. Klimburg-Salter, M. Inaba and M. Pfisterer, eds., Coins, Art, and Chronology II. The First Millennium C.E. in the Indo-Iranian Borderlands, Veröffentlichungen der numismatischen Kommission 50, Vienna, 2010, pp. 219-41.

Jaakko Hämeen-Anttila, Khwadāynāmag: The Middle Persian Book of Kings, Boston and Leiden, 2018.

Philip Huyse, Die dreisprachige InschriftŠābuhrsI. an der Kaʿba-i Zardušt (ŠKZ), Corpus Inscriptionum Iranicarum 3/1, 2 vols., London, 1999.

David Jongeward and Joe Cribb, Kushan, Kushano-Sasanian and Kidarite Coins: A Catalogue of Coins from the American Numismatic Society, New York, 2015.

Joseph Marquart (Markwart), Ērānšahrnach der Geographie des Ps. Moses Xorenacʿi, Abhandlungen der königlichen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen, phil.-hist. KL. NF 3/2, Berlin, 1901.

Idem, A Catalogue of the Provincial Capitals ofĒrānshahr: Pahlavi Text, Version and Commentary, ed. Giuseppe Messina, Rome, 1931.

Khodadad Rezakhani, ReOrienting the Sasanians: East Iran in Late Antiquity, Edinburgh Studies in Ancient Persia 4, Edinburgh, 2017.

Rüdiger Schmitt, The Bisitun Inscriptions of Darius the Great: Old Persian Text, Corpus Inscriptionum Iranicarum Part I, Vol. I, Texts I, London, 1991.

Prods Oktor Skjærvø, “Avestan Society,” in Touraj Daryaee, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Iranian History, Oxford, 2012, pp. 57-119.

S. Frederick Starr, Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia’s Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane, Princeton, 2013.

Ṭabari, Taʾriḵ, tr. and annotated by Clifford E. Bosworth, as The History of al-Ṭabarī V: The Sāsānids, the Byzantines, the Lakhmids and Yemen, Albany, NY, 1999.

Klaus Vondrovec, Coinage of the Iranian Huns and Their Successors from Bactria to Gandhara (4th to 8th Century CE), Vienna, 2014.

Marjolijn van Zutphen, Farāmarz, the Sistāni Hero: Texts and Traditions of the Farāmarznāme and the Persian Epic Cycle, Leiden, 2014.

iii. Historical Geography in the Late Sasanid-Early Islamic Periods


Khorasan in the Sasanid and early Islamic period included areas that are part of modern-day eastern Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and the eastern portion of Turkmenistan (see KHORASAN i. THE CONCEPT OF KHORASAN). At the time of the Islamic conquests, beginning in the third decade of the 7th century, Khorasan was fragmented geographically, politically, socially, culturally, and ethnically. The population was composed of Persians (Sasanians), Hephthalites (q.v.), Sogdians, and Turks. Regional political elites (the moluk al-ṭawāʾef) of this period retained much authority over their localities. When the Arabs arrived in the second half of the 1st/7th century to claim these lands, there were multiple frontiers and mini-states. This complex shatter zone comprised a unique set of geographic features, ecological niches, and different populations. Indigenous populations resisted conquest and rebelled, while significant numbers of localized Muslims established roots in these regions.

In ancient times, these lands were claimed as part of the (Achaemenid) Persian Empire (558–330 BCE). Before 558 BCE, pre-Achaemenid Balḵ (q.v.) was a major power center. It retained its importance during Achaemenid times and served as the royal capital in the east. It remained the political capital of Bactria under the Greeks (305–125 BCE). Under the Arsacids (Parthians, 250 BCE– 228 CE), Khorasan again rose to preeminence from its regional capital city, Nisa (q.v.; see also CAPITAL CITIES i. PRE-ISLAMIC TIMES; Wiesehöfer, p. 1).

During the latter part of Sasanian rule (590-630), the ongoing wars with Byzantium (309-79, 540, and 590-628) generated a major shift of focus to its western borders. On its Khorasani borders, the Sasanians were defeated by the Hephthalites (465/484) and briefly became tributaries. After 579, major battles with the Western Turks for control of Hephthalite lands resulted in Sasanian defeats and the loss of territorial control of Ṭoḵārestān/Tocharia (Wiesehöfer, pp. 314-15)

In 39/659 and 41/661 the Chinese (Tʾang dynasty) took nominal control of all of the Khorasani lands formerly under the Turks, and bestowed Tʾang titles and hereditary offices on their rulers. In 41/661 the Tʾang created the Bo-si (Po-ssu, Persia) area command in Sistān and appointed Pērōz (Firuz), the son of Yazdegerd III, as the area commander (Chavannes, p. 172, see CHINESE-IRANIAN RELATIONS i. IN PRE-ISLAMIC TIMES). In 42/662 they gave him the title king of Persia. There are no accounts of this Pērōz in the Arabic chronicles of Ṭabari or Ebn al-Aṯir (qq.v.), but both include short passages referring to al-šāh that only make some sense when they are applied to Pērōz (Ṭabari, tr., XIII, p. 175; Ebn al-Aṯir, III, p. 23). Pērōz died in China sometime between 57/676 and 60/679.


Geographic divisions. Sasanian Khorasan occupied all of the present-day Iranian province of Khorasan, the northern adjoining non-desert areas of present-day Turkmenistan, including the current capital Ashgabat (Nisa; Ar. Nasā or Nesā), and the northwestern border areas of Afghanistan. The eastern frontier areas had remained under direct Sasanian rule, while neighboring areas were autonomous. There were four distinct geographical areas: the northern piedmont (the Kopet Dāḡ basin or corridor), the Kašaf Rud basin, the Herat valley (the Herat basin), and Qohestān. Ṭabas al-Tamr and Ṭabas al-ʿOnnāb together roughly marked the southern boundary between Qohestān and Kermān. Travel times were long. Marv (Marw al-Šāhejān), in the extreme northeastern corner of the northern piedmont was a twelve-day journey to Ṭus, to the southeast. The travel time from Abaršahr (q.v.; Nishapur) or Ṭus to Herat in the Herat valley was nine days (see Figure 1).

The northern piedmont/Kopet Dāḡ basin. Mountains divided Sasanian Khorasan from the northwest to the southeast. The northern piedmont formed a corridor 375 miles long and 50 miles wide between the mountain slopes and the Qara Qum desert. Nasā and Abivard (q.v.) were the best known and most important settlements during Sasanian and Omayyad times. Beyond this belt lay the Qara Qum desert. Toward the southeastern limits of this rim was the town of Saraḵs.

Marv in the northeast was situated on a delta formed by the Morḡāb river. Southeast of Marv and also on the Morḡāb river was Marw al-Ruḏ, which bordered Bādḡis and Ḡarčestān (q.v.; Ar. Ḡarj al-Šar or Ḡarjestān). Marw al-Ruḏ was on the Sasanian frontier.

Kašaf Rud basin. The Binālud (q.v.) ranges comprised the mountain recesses of Ṭabārestān and Jorjān (Gorgān, q.v.) and meet the Khorasan plateau. Only a narrow, thirty-mile wide strip of land, which began at Qumes, separated this barrier range from the Dašt-e Kavir (see DESERT). This was the only non-desert route into Khorasan. The inner circle of mountains protected the inner region on the north and the east, but it was internally isolated, by salt wastes on the west and southwest.

Qohestān (Quhestān). The Dašt-e Kavir and Dašt-e Luṭ deserts and the mountains of Qohestān formed an additional physical barrier from Persia proper. To the south, deserts met the mountains of Kermān. The isolated Kermāni frontier sheltered the Kharijites (see KHARIJITES IN PERSIA), who utilized Sistān as a refuge of last resort. Qohestān’s north/south mountains (Qāʾen to Birjand) met the deserts on the west and their eastern slopes formed the western boundary to Sistān (Sejestān) and faced the Kuh-e Bābā range. A fertile north-to-south corridor between these two ranges drains southwardly from Herat to Zarang in Sistān.

The Herat basin. The Harirud river watered the Herat valley, flowing from the east to the west out of Ḡur (q.v.). Bušanj (Pušang) was west of Herat where the river flowed north, reaching the Hazār Masjed range. It converged with the Kašaf Rud, flowing out of the southern slopes of the Ālā Dāḡ (q.v.). From there the Harirud flowed past Saraḵs into the Qara Qum desert.

The Barkut (Šāhjahān) mountains connect the Kopet Dāḡ with the Safid Kuh. The Harirud cut through them. Between the Harirud and the Morḡāb rivers lay the pasturelands of Bāḏḡis and further to the east was Ḡarčestān. The Ālā Dāḡ (q.v.) range in the north and the Afghan Safid Kuh range east of Herat divided Sasanian Khorasan in two, and separated the Iranian plateau from the steppes of Central Asia, and Herat from Bāḏḡis and Ḡarčestān.

Figure 1. “Sasanian Khorasan” or “Marv and Inner Khorasan.” (Map created with Generic Mapping Tools and NOAA topographic data.)Figure 1. “Sasanian Khorasan” or “Marv and Inner Khorasan.” (Map created with Generic Mapping Tools and NOAA topographic data.)

Marv and “Inner Khorasan.” Nasā, Abivard, Saraḵs, Marw al-Šāhejān (Marv) and Marw al-Ruḏ comprised the major population centers on the northern piedmont of Sasanian Khorasan. Ṭus and Abaršahr (Nishapur) were the main population centers of the Kašaf Rud basin during the 2nd/7th century. At this time, the irrigation systems most likely limited the populations of these towns to no more than ten thousand (Pourshariati, 1995, p. 9; Christensen, p. 194). Ṭus was the oldest, and Abaršahr was rebuilt during the Sasanian campaigns and wars against the Hephthalites. Smaller settlements in the region of Abaršahr such as Jovayn, Esfarāyen, and Bayhaq (qq.v) rested near the mountains and were stretched out to the western limits of Sasanian Khorasan as far as Qumes. Qāʾen in Qohestān was a small but important place for transiting into and out of Sasanian Khorasan via the desert route to Kermān.

Trade flowed from Ṭoḵārestān, Sogdia, and beyond, either to Sistān or to the Persian Gulf and Kermān through Herat. Northern traders often chose a route through Herat because it was the less difficult one to India. Trade from India also skirted the Hindu Kush through Farāh (q.v.) to Herat and then on to the north or west to Sasanian Khorasan. During the early Islamic conquests, Herat, Bušanj, and the region of Bādḡis negotiated a joint peace treaty with the Arabs. The de facto border of Sasanian Khorasan at the time of the Arab invasions was the Morḡāb river.


Ṭoḵārestān (formerly Bactria, q.v.) was the nexus of the trade routes connecting India with Sogdia and China. The Hephthalites dominated Ṭoḵārestān and Sogdia in the 5th and 6th centuries CE, until they were destroyed politically and militarily by the Western Turks and the Sasanians in 563-66 (Grenet, p. 116; Belenitsky, pp. 110-11). After the Hephthalites were defeated, their lands were divided. The Turks took the territories to the north of the Oxus river (see ĀMU DARYĀ), while the Sasanians took the territories to the south.

Arab geographers delineated the region in a number of ways. (For a detailed explanation of the views of Balāḏori, Ebn Ḵordādbeh, Ebn Rosta, Eṣtaḵri, Yāqut, and Yaʿqubi concerning Ṭoḵārestān and its divisions, see W. Barthold and C. E. Bosworth, “Ṭukhāristān,” in EI2 X, pp. 600-601.) Here, Ṭoḵārestān is defined in its broadest sense to include Ḡarčestān and Jowzjān (q.v.) and includes the river valleys on both sides of the upper Oxus river.

Geographic divisions. Traditionally, Ṭoḵārestān has been divided into an upper region and a lower one, but it is less confusing to rename these two divisions as western and eastern Ṭoḵārestān. The geographical divide between western (lower) Ṭoḵārestān and eastern (upper) Ṭoḵārestān is the Ḵolm river (Kuwayama, pp. 89-134).

Western Ṭoḵārestān was primarily an area of vast plains bounded on the south by the sharp cliffs of the mountains of northern Afghanistan. In the north, the Oxus constituted the boundary. Jowzjān (Gowzgān or Gowzgānān; Ar. Juzjān) was the area between Ḡarčestān and Balḵ. Throughout the Omayyad period, the rulers of Ṭālaqān in Ḡarčestān and Fāryāb and Šoburqān (Šebarḡān) in Jowzjān were important politically. An Omayyad Arab governor lived in Anbār (q.v.), which was a day’s journey south of Šoburḡān.

The Arabs called Balḵ the “mother of cities” (Barthold, 1984, p. 33). It was the political and commercial capital of Ṭoḵārestān and a place of religious pilgrimage for both Zoroastrians and Buddhists even in early Islamic times (Barthold, 1968, p. 68). During the governorship of Asad b. ʿAbd-Allāh, in 107/725, Balḵ became the administrative capital of Khorasan (Barthold, 1968, p. 77).

Figure 2. Ṭoḵārestān. (Map created with Generic Mapping Tools and NOAA topographic data.)Figure 2. Ṭoḵārestān. (Map created with Generic Mapping Tools and NOAA topographic data.)

As for eastern Ṭoḵārestān, Ḵolm was two-days journey east of Balḵ. Warwāliz (Kunduz) was two days to the east from Ḵolm. From Warwāliz, it was another two days to Ṭālaqān and beyond Ṭālaqān another seven-day journey to Badaḵšān. North of Badaḵšān was the kingdom of Šoḡnān (Šeḡnān). The Ḵāwak and Aq-rabāṭ passes allowed passage through the mountains to the south. The route through Bāmiān was well traveled.

Across the upper Oxus was Ḵottal (q.v.) between the Panj and Waḵš rivers, ruled from Holbok. Ṣaḡāniān (see ČAḠĀNIĀN) in the Sorḵān valley was a four-day journey to the north from Termeḏ, a strong citadel on the Oxus. The small kingdoms of Āḵarun (Ḵarun) and Šumān were situated in the plains of the Sorḵān and Kāfernehān (Qobāḏiān) valleys.

In western Ṭoḵārestān, many of the inhabitants were semi-nomadic and depended on herding. In eastern Ṭoḵārestān, agriculture and trade were dominant. Two major trade routes ran south to India. Ṭālaqān, Fāryāb, Šoburqān, and Anbār in Jowzjān were all connected along the route from Herat to Balḵ or from Marv to Balḵ. Balḵ, Ḵolm and Termeḏ (Termez) had Arab garrisons during Omayyad times.


Sogdia (see SOGDIANA) lay in Transoxiana (the land beyond the Oxus river up to the Jaxartes (Syr Daryā); see MĀ WARĀʾ AL-NAHR). Culturally, Sogdia was the most potent power in the region, and Sogdian was the lingua franca of traders throughout Central Asia.

Geographic divisions. Sogdia was situated between the Oxus and the Jaxartes. It was bound on the west by Margiana (the region of Marv) and on the north by Ḵᵛārazm (see CHORASMIA), the Qizil Qum desert and Šāš (modern Tashkent; see ČĀČ). Osrušana and Farḡāna (qq.v.) lay to the east, while Ṭoḵārestān lay to the south.

The three major urban centers were Bukhara (q.v.), Samarqand, and Keš (q.v.). The Zarafšān river valley represented the heartland of Sogdia. The Zarafšān river ran 400 miles from east to west, disappearing into the desert forty miles from the Oxus. The valley was extensively irrigated. To the south of the Zarafšān Valley lay the Kaška Daryā river.

The dominant cities on the lower Zarafšān were Paykand and Bukhara, and on the middle course were Samarqand and Panjikant (q.v.). Keš in the Kaška Daryā valley was fifty miles northwest of the Iron Gate, which was the main route into Sogdia from Ṭoḵārestān via Termeḏ.

Ḵᵛārazm, on the lower course of the Oxus river and its delta area, was separated from Sasanian Khorasan by the Qara Qum desert and from Sogdia by the Qizil Qum Desert. The two main towns were Kaṯ on the northern bank of the Oxus and Jorjāniya (Urganj) to the northwest of it.

The eastern frontier. To the east and the northeast lay the lands of Osrušana, Farḡāna, and Šāš (Čāč). Osrušana skirted the Alai mountains. Its capital was Panjikant (Ar. Bonjekaṯ). Farḡāna was situated in a rich river valley and was surrounded on the south, east and north by high mountains (the Tien-shan and Pamirs). Ḵojand (q.v.) was its major city, lying on the Jaxartes (Syr Daryā) bordering Šāš. Both Šāš and Ilāq were bounded by the Jaxartes and the mountains. Benkaṯ, the capital of Šāš, was in the Chirchik (Nahr Tork) river valley, while Ilāq lay in the Āhangarān river valley.

Figure 3. Sogdia. (Map created with Generic Mapping Tools and NOAA topographic data.)Figure 3. Sogdia. (Map created with Generic Mapping Tools and NOAA topographic data.)

Bukhara was the dominant population center. Paykand (Ar. Baykand) and Wardana were traditional rivals. In 87 or 88/705-6, Qotayba b. Moslem completely destroyed Paykand and held its population for ransom (Ṭabari, tr. XXIII, p. 137; Ebn Aʿṯam, VII, pp. 221-23; Ebn al-Aṯir, IV, pp. 107-9; Naršaḵi, pp. 61-62, tr., pp. 44-45; la Vassière, pp. 268-69). Bukhara emerged as the major city and trade center, but Bukhara’s rulers deferred to the ruler of Samarqand. Samarqand, on the middle course of the Zarafšān river, was a major trading emporium linked with the west, with India (via Ṭoḵārestān), and the many routes to China. The city hosted a wide variety of religious communities: Zoroastrians, Christians, Buddhists, Manichaeans and numerous cults. Keš held the dominant position in southern Sogdia. It was situated on the Samarqand to Termeḏ road, a two-day journey from Samarqand and a four-day journey from the Iron Gate. On the lower reaches of the Kaška Daryā lay Nasaf (Naḵšab, Qarši).

Bonjekaṯ, Benkaṯ and Aḵsikaṯ were, respectively, the capital towns of Osrušana, Šāš and Farḡāna in Omayyad times, and constituted the eastern frontier of Omayyad authority. From 86/705 until 96/714, Qotayba b. Moslem waged a campaign of conquest in Sogdia, and these eastern regions became a safe haven from conflict with the Arabs. While Šāš and Farḡāna nominally remained under Arab rule, Omayyad control and authority in reality ended between Samarqand and Osrušana (la Vaissière, p. 266).


The Persian histories and geographies often refer to the local rulers in the East of the pre-Islamic period as the moluk-e aṭrāf, which is equivalent to the Arabic moluk al-ṭawāʾef. Both the Arabic and Persian expressions are similar in meaning to the middle Persian Sasanian title marzbān (warden of the march). Here, the term moluk al-ṭawāʾef is used to describe the main local rulers of principalities and mini-states in Ṭoḵārestān, Sogdia, and Sasanian Khorasan (A. Christensen, p. 19; M. Morony, “Moluk al-ṭawāʾif,” in EI2 VII, p. 551; Frye, 1975, p. 9).

The terminology for the titles of these rulers is confusing. Some sources use generic terms such as dehqān (q.v.) and malek. Other sources use Sasanian terms such as marzbān or spāhbed (q.v.; Ar. eṣbahbaḏ), which denoted administrative or military ranks and titles, respectively. Additionally, most of the regional rulers possessed local regnal names (Ebn Ḵordāḏbeh, pp. 39-41 [list of titles]; Balāḏori, Fotuḥ, tr., pp. 163, 169, Ansāb, V, p. 230; Ḵalifa, Taʾriḵ p. 109; Yaʿqubi, Taʾriḵ, II, p. 184; Gardizi, p. 103; Ebn al-Aṯir, III, p. 62; Ebn Aʿṯam, II, p. 104; Ṭabari, I, p. 2888, tr., XV, p. 93; Gyselen, pp. 55-56; Rekaya, “Ḳārinids” in EI2 IV, pp. 644-47l; Table 1).

The regional rulers under the Omayyads retained their positions in exchange for tribute, taxes, and additional obligations. As the leaders of their communities, they maintained the economy and upheld the local beliefs and values. In time, Muslim administrators and governors gradually took over many of the duties as these elites themselves became Muslims. In Ṭoḵārestān and Sogdia, however, the regional rulers resisted Omayyad authority, which represented a period of exploitation and resource extraction.

Peace in Ṭoḵārestān and Zābolestān was never constant because of the shifting loyalties of the three main Hephthalite rulers of these regions: the Nēzak Ṭarḵān in western (lower) Ṭoḵārestān; the Yabḡu (Jabḡuya) in eastern (upper) Ṭoḵārestān; and the Ratbil (or Zunbil) in Zābolestān, one of the most determined opponents of Omayyad authority in Khorasan (Bosworth, 1968, p. 34, following Josef Markwart and others, accepted the form Zunbil as a theophoric title; Bombaci, pp. 58-59, and more recently Sims-Williams, p. 235, have argued for Ratbil or Rotbil, often found in the Arabic sources, as derived from the Turkish title iltäbir with metathesis of l and r, but cf. Afridi, pp. 31-32).


The ruling Parthian families of Sasanian Khorasan controlled vast estates; however, Sasanian dynasts had also acquired large royal estates and appointed elites from other ruling families and transplanted peoples. A blending of centralized and local authority was most visible in the major Sasanian power centers of Marv/Marw al-Ruḏ and Nishapur/Ṭus.

Marv and its dependencies. Abrāz Māhōē (Ar. Māhuya or Māhawayh; see ABRĀZ), the marzbān of Marv, is variously described in the sources as the dehqān of Marv or as its marzbān or its malek. His designation dehqān by Ṭabari (Ṭabari, I, pp. 2876; tr. XV, p. 83) indicates his standing as a local landed nobleman, while the Sasanian title/rank marzbān indicates an administrative and/or military function. He ruled over Marv and Marw al-Ruḏ, its dependency. Additionally, Ebn Aʿṯam (II, p. 104) names him as the malek (king) of Saraḵs. His local regnal name of Abrāz indicates that he was a leader of the regional elite, and his official designation as the marzbān most probably gave him responsibility for the northern piedmont region. Māhōē also was said to have had authority over Ṭālaqān, Jowzjānān and other places. All of these facts, coupled with the information that Māhōē was married to the daughter of the Nēzak Ṭarkān, the Hephthalite ruler of Bādḡis, demonstrates that the Sasanian bureaucracy had successfully stabilized the Sasanian-Hephthalite border.

Table 1. Regions and Titles of Local Rulers of Sasanian KhorasanTable 1. Regions and Titles of Local Rulers of Sasanian Khorasan

Māhōē remained the ruler in Marv, subordinate to the Muslim authorities for at least fifteen years. Balāḏori (Ansāb V, p. 230) asserts that Māhōē visited the caliph ʿAli in Kufa and that later the Khorasani governor Rabiʿ b. Ziād Ḥāreṯi escorted Māhōē to meet the governor of Iraq and the East, Ziād b. Abi Sufyān. Yaʿqubi (II, p. 214) acknowledges a correspondence between the caliph ʿAli and Māhōē, ordering Māhōē to recognize ʿAli’s appointees and to deliver the ḵarāj to them.

There are no records of later marzbāns of Marv beyond Māhōē and his son Barāz (Abrāz) until 105/723 under the governorship of Moslem b. Saʿid, who appointed Bahrām Sis, a Zoroastrian, as marzbān. Bahrām Sis evidently remained in this position for at least sixteen years, until the governorship of Naṣr b. Sayyār (120-131/738-48), the last Omayyad governor of Khorasan (Ṭabari, II, pp. 1462, 1688, tr. XXIV, p. 193; XXVI, p. 24).

Bāḏām (Bāḏān; see Justi, p. 56) is named in the sources as the marzbān of Marw al-Ruḏ. He was a relative of the former Persian ruler of Yemen. He negotiated a peace treaty with Aḥnaf b. Qays in 31/651. As part of the treaty, Bāḏām negotiated the exemption of his family from taxes, but he was required to provide asāwera (q.v.) as requested.

Abaršahr (Nišāpur)/Ṭus and Qohestān. The marzbān of Nishapur is named Aswār by Ebn Aʿṯam (II, p. 103), but this is most likely a designation meaning the head of the asāwera. Nišāburi (paragraph 2,726, p. 204) names him Barzān Jāh, the marzbān of the territory (Abaršahr). This could be a corruption of the regnal name Abrāz Šāh (Pourshariati, p. 273, suggests this is a corruption of Borzin Šāh). The marzbān of Nishapur fiercely resisted the Muslim siege of the city, but the kanārang of Ṭus assisted them and delivered half of the city to the Muslims (Ṭabari, I, p. 2886, tr. XV, pp. 91-92). Balāḏori represented the kanārang of Ṭus as the governor of Khorasan. The narratives concerning the kanārang (see kanārang in Justi, p. 155, and Frye, 1975, p. 9) are contradictory, but all the reports indicate that he assisted the Muslims in conquering Nishapur and paid tribute to them. Other puzzling reports state that he retained control of half of Nishapur and half of Ṭus and Nasā (see Ṭabari, I, p. 2886, tr., XV, pp. 91-92; Balāḏori, Fotuḥ, tr., pp. 39, 162; Nišāburi, pp. 202-3; Yaʿqubi, Taʾriḵ, II, p. 167). In 77/696-7, ʿOmar b. Abi’l-Ṣalt b. Kanārā, a grandson of the kanārang, claimed to be the one who killed the Azraqite caliph Qaṭari b. Fojaʾa (Ṭabari, II, p. 1019, tr. XXII, p. 163; see KHARIJITES IN PERSIA). He later fought on the side of Ebn al-Ašʿaṯ during the latter’s rebellion (Ṭabari, II, p. 1118, tr. XXIII, p. 63).

Qāren (see KĀRIN) rebelled in Qohestān in 33/653 and marshalled a force of forty thousand from Qohestān, Bādḡis and Herat (Ḵalifa, Taʾriḵ, p. 107; Ebn al-Aṯir, III, p. 68; Ṭabari, I, p. 2905-6, tr., XV, pp. 108-9). He was killed by forces led by ʿAbd-Allāh b. Ḵāzem. The inclusion of troops from Bādḡis and Herat again highlights a joint Sasanian-Hephthalite military effort against the Muslims. Until the colonization of Khorasan in 51/671, there were sporadic rebellions, but the local armies of Sasanian Khorasan were destroyed at this early stage and never re-emerged.


The rulers of Ṭoḵārestān and Sogdia (Tables 2, 3) included the Yabḡu of Ṭoḵārestān (see JABḠUYA), the Šaḏ (the ruler of Ṣaḡāniān), the Nēzak Ṭarḵān of Bādḡis, and the Sabal, the ruler of Ḵottal. The Ratbil of Zābolestān could also be included as Zābolestān was considered subordinate to the Yabḡu, and the Ratbils also later incorporated Kapisa-Kābol into their territories. The terms Yabḡu (Jabḡu) and Šaḏ are pre-Turkish titles of ranks introduced to the region by the Western Turks.

The Chinese jimi fuzhou system of frontier regions created the Protectorate of Ṭoḵārestān and the Protectorate of Sogdia autonomously governed by their own rulers (Twitchett and Wechsler, p. 280; Yihong, pp. 201-2). Throughout the Omayyad period, regional ties remained strong with China, and these states remained loyal to China and requested Chinese military assistance. This quasi-system (jimi fuzhou) made no specific tributary demands on the Sogdians and Tocharians. Tʾang military support only manifested itself in the form of the Türgesh (see KHAGAN), whose interests were not altogether altruistic. Chinese military detachments were stationed as far as the Ili valley and Farḡāna (Twitchett, p. 362).

The Nēzak Ṭarḵān (see NĒZAK) dominated in western Ṭoḵārestān while the Yabḡu (Jabḡuya, q.v.) dominated in eastern Ṭoḵārestān. These two men exerted the most influence in the region and served as the main leaders of the many other rulers of small principalities.

The Yabḡu and eastern (upper) Ṭoḵārestān. Ṭabari (II, p. 1206, tr. XXIII, p. 154) called the Yabḡu the king of Ṭoḵārestān because all of the local moluk (regional rulers) had pledged full allegiance to him and the emperor of China. The major principalities of the Yabḡu comprised Čaḡānīān (Ṣaḡānīān, which included Tirmiḏ), Ḵottal (the Waḵš valley and other valleys to the east), Šomān and Āḵarun, Rob, Bamiān, Badaḵšān, Kapisa, Kābol and Zābolestān. The Yabḡu resided in Warwāliz (Kunduz).

In 118/736, the Yabḡu gave sanctuary to the Murjiʾite rebel, Ḥāreṯ b. Sorayj, in Badaḵšān. Anticipating the gravity of the threat posed by the joint Türgesh-Sogdian-Tocharian-Murjiʾite alliance, Asad b. ʿAbd-Allāh, the Omayyad governor, moved the capital of Khorasan from Marv to Balḵ (Ṭabari, II, p. 1591, tr. XXV, p. 128). In 119/737, Ḥāreṯ b. Sorayj, with the Ḵāqān and the Yabḡu, attacked Ḵolm with 30,000 men and moved across Jowzjān toward Marv. Asad b. ʿAbdullāh defeated them at the battle of Ḵarestān (Ṭabari, II, p. 1604, tr. XXVI, pp. 140-41). After this battle, the Yabḡu ceased to pose a serious threat.

The Šaḏ, Čaḡān (Ṣaḡān) Ḵodā, king of Čaḡānīān. Čaḡānīān served as a Hephthalite buffer principality on the frontier with Sogdia. It lay on a major trade route along the Oxus River. Termeḏ, to the south of Čaḡānīān, was overrun and settled by a rebel Muslim, Musā b. ʿAbd-Allāh, in 72/691. In 85/704, the Čaḡān Ḵodā fought alongside Mofażżal b. Mohallab’s forces when Termeḏ was stormed and Musā b. ʿAbd-Allāh was killed. In 86/705, the Čaḡān Ḵodā, Tiš al-Aʿwar, was allied with Qotayba b. Moslem and in 90/708 refused to rebel with the Nēzak Ṭarḵān against Qotayba b. Moslem (Bosworth, 1981, p. 1).

The Sabal, the king of Ḵottal. The Sabal of Ḵottal ruled the Waḵš valley and other valleys to the east and resisted Omayyad authority. However, in an earlier act of solidarity, the Sabal joined the Nēzak, Bukharans, Čaḡānīāns and Modrek b. Mohallab in the assault against Musā b. ʿAbd-Allāh at Termeḏ in 85/704. In 107/725, the Sabal aligned himself with the Murjiʾite rebel Ḥāreṯ b. Sorayj but later left him. The Sabal was defeated along with the Ḵāqān (Türgesh) in the previously mentioned battle of Ḵarestān in 119/737. About this time, an Omayyad governor was appointed to Ḵottal (Ṭabari, II, pp. 1151-53, 1162, 1492-94, 1583-84, tr., XXIII, pp. 96-97, 106, XXV, pp. 30-32, 120-21).

The Nēzak Ṭarḵān and western Ṭoḵārestān. The Nēzak Ṭarḵān figured prominently in the Omayyad period from the earliest times through the governorship of Qotayba b. Moslem (86-96/705-15). He is associated with Bādḡis, a region of high plateau pasturelands with no cities.

In 64/683, the Nēzak Ṭarḵān attacked and defeated the Azdi garrison at Qaṣr Asfād. Not until 84/703 was Yazid b. Mohallab able to force him to pay the jezya (q.v.). In 87/705, Nēzak joined forces with Qotayba b. Moslem and the Moslem army in the campaigns into Sogdia. They campaigned together from 88/706 through 90/708. Ṭabari (II, 1204-5, tr., XXIII, p. 153) reports that the Nēzak left the service of Qotayba in 90/709, fearing that he would be killed.

Table 2 Regions and Titles of Local Rulers of ṬoḵārestānTable 2 Regions and Titles of Local Rulers of Ṭoḵārestān

Nēzak rebelled with the support of all of the rulers of western Ṭoḵārestān. Tabari (II, pp. 1206, 1218, tr. XXIII, pp. 154-55, 165) lists them as the Eṣbahbaḏ of Balḵ; Bāḏām, the king of Marw al-Ruḏ; Sohrak, the king of Ṭālaqān; Tusek, the king of Fāryāb; and Jowzjāni, the king of Jowzjān. After arranging for possible asylum with the Kābolšāh, Nēzak fled to eastern Ṭoḵārestān, abducted the Yabḡu, and then fortified himself in a fortress in Baḡlān.

Qotayba gathered an army from Abrašahr, Abiward, Saraḵs, and Herat and marched to Marv. From there, he marched east through Tālaqān, Fāryāb and Juzjan to Balḵ subduing the population along the way. The Roʾb Ḵān, the king of Roʾb, helped Qotayba find a way behind Ḵolm pass, which allowed Qotayba to dislodge Nēzak from his secure fortress. Nēzak took refuge in a place called Korz and was besieged for two months until he was enticed to surrender. Nēzak was imprisoned until Qotayba received permission from the governor Ḥajjāj b. Yusof to kill him. During this time, Qotayba allowed the Šaḏ and the Sabal to pledge their fealty to the Yabḡu and depart. Qotayba executed Nēzak and crucified him. Reportedly, an additional 12,000 men were killed (Ṭabari, II, 1218-27, tr., XXIII, pp. 164-74).

This rebellion in 91/710 caused Qotayba to lose a major portion of his local militias and resulted in the extermination of the ruling elites of the area. ʿAmr b. Moslem was posted to Ṭālaqān to maintain order. A member of the tribe of Bāhela was appointed over Fāryāb and ʿĀmer b. Mālek Ḥemmāni over Jowzjān (Ṭabari, II, p. 1218, tr., XXIII, p. 165).

The protectorate of Sogdia. Sogdia was the richest of all the regions of Khorasan. Its established colonies along the trade routes to China allowed it to maintain strong social and economic ties that made the Sogdians natural allies of the Turks and Chinese. Muslim campaigns into Sogdia began in the 50s/670s, but a Muslim presence started only from 90/708 in Bukhara and from 93/711 in Samarqand. This presence was always precarious and never constant.


The Eḵšid (q.v.) or Ṭār of Farḡāna ruled on the upper reaches of the Jaxartes (Syr Daryā) river, and in 38/658, the Chinese emperor Kao-tsung established Farḡāna as the Hsiu-hsün area command and appointed the Eḵšid as the military governor. In 121/738, the emperor Hsüan-tsung gave him a princess from the imperial house in marriage (Marshak and Negmatov, p. 274; Bielenstein, pp. 323-24; Ebn al-Aṯir, IV, p. 126).

The Eḵšid of Farḡāna along with the king of Šāš (Č̌āč̌) and the Ḵāqān all sent forces to fight the Muslims. Farḡāna and Šāš, both with mixed populations of Sogdians and Turks, supported the Türgesh coalition. The Eḵšid was forced to shift his capital from Aksikaṯ to Kāšān, and Qotayba b. Moslem captured its chief cities: Ḵojand and Kāšān (Frye, p. 82; Gibb, pp. 467-74).

The Eḵšid of Sogdia (Samarqand [Kʾang-chü]). The Eḵšid of Samarqand was made a military governor over the Kʾang-chü area command created by the Tʾang emperor Kao-tsung in 38/658. In 77/696 the empress Wu recognized the king of Sogdia (Tukaspadak) and appointed him “General-in-Chief of the Resolute Guards on the Left.”

The Eḵšid of Sogdia traditionally led a very loose Sogdian confederation of principalities. The four Ekhšids of Samarqand during the Omayyad period were elected and not of royal stock. The Eḵšid, Ṭarḵun (r. 79-92/698-710), assisted his neighbors when they needed troops and helped Musā b. ʿAbd-Allāh expel all Omayyad tax collectors from Sogdia in 85/704 (Ṭabari, II, 1147-48, 1152-54, tr., XXIII, pp. 91-92, 96-97; Naršaḵi, pp. 63-65, tr., pp. 45-47). Later, he surrendered to Qotayba and agreed to pay an annual tribute; the Samarqandis were outraged, and Ṭarḵun either committed suicide or was assassinated (Ebn al-Aṯir, IV, p. 262). Ḡurak (r. 92-121/710-738), Ṭarḵun’s younger brother, was then elected (Naymark, p. 253).

The Boḵār Ḵodā and Bukhara. Both Āmol and Paykand were dependencies of Bukhara. Bukhara was made a Chinese commandery in 39/659. The first Muslim campaigns at Bukhara encountered Qabaj Ḵātun. She acted as the regent for her infant son, Ṭoḡšāda, for fifteen years, until Qotayba b. Moslem installed him as the Boḵār Ḵodā in 91/709. He reigned for thirty years until he was assassinated in 121/738. Ṭoḡšāda appeared to be Muslim and loyal to Omayyad authority. However, once Omayyad authority in Sogdia began to slip away, Ṭoḡšāda, along with the other regional moluk al-ṭawāʾef, wrote to the Tʾang court pleading for assistance against the Muslims (Frye, “Bukhārā”; Frye, 1975, p. 81; Chavannes, p. 138 n. 2).


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Alexsandr Naymark, “Sogdiana, its Christians, and Byzantium: A Study of Artistic and Cultural Connections in Late Antiquity and Early Middle Ages,” Ph.D. diss., Indiana University, Bloomington, 2001.

Moḥammad b. ʿAbd-Allāh Ḥākem Nišāburi, Tāriḵ-e Nišābur, tr. Ahmad b. Moḥammad b. Ḥosayn Ḵalifa Nišāburi, ed. Moḥammad-Reżā S̆afiʾi Kadkani, Tehran, 1996.

Parvaneh Pourshariati, “Iranian Tradition in Ṭūs and the Arab Presence in Khurāsān,” Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1995.

Idem, Decline and Fall of the Sasanian Empire: The Sasanian-Parthian Confederacy and the Arab Conquest of Iran, London, 2008.

M. Rekaya, “Ḳārinids,” in EI2 IV, [1978], pp. 644-47.

Nicholas Sims-Williams, “Ancient Afghanistan and its Invaders: Linguistic Evidence from the Bactrian Documents and Inscriptions,” in idem, ed., Indo-Iranian Languages and Peoples, Oxford, 2002, pp. 225-42.

Moḥammad b. Jarir Ṭabari, Taʾriḵ al-rosol wa’l-molūk, eds. M. J. de Goeje et al, 15 vols. in 3 series, Leiden, 1879-1901; tr. as E. Yarshater, ed., The History of al-Ṭabari, 40 vols., Albany, N.Y., 1985-2007 (translators vary).

Tāriḵ-e Sistān, ed. M.-T. Bahār, Tehran, 1935.

Denis Twitchett, “Hsüan-tsung (Reign 712-56),” in idem, ed., Cambridge History of China III: Sui and T’ang China, 589-906 AD, Cambridge, 1979, pp. 333-463.

Denis Twitchett and Howard J. Wechsler, “Kao-Tsung (Reign 649-83) and the Empress Wu: The Inheritor and the Usurper,” in Denis C. Twitchett, ed., Cambridge History of China III: Sui and T’ang China, 589-906 AD, Cambridge, 1979, pp. 242-89.

Josef Wiesehöfer, Ancient Persia from 550 BC to 650 AD, London and New York, 2004. Aḥmad b. Abi Yaʿqub Yaʿqubi, Taʾriḵ al-Yaʿqubi, Beirut, n.d.; ed. and tr. in Matthew S. Gordon et al., as The Works of Ibn Wāḍiḥ al-Yaʿqūbī: An English Translation, 3 vols., Leiden, 2017.

Yāqūt ibn ʿAbd-Allāh Ḥamawī, Moʿjam al-boldān, Beirut, [1955-57].

Pan Yihong, Son of Heaven and Heavenly Qaghan: Sui-Tang China and Its Neighbors, Bellingham, Wash., 1997.

iv. The Arab Conquest and Omayyad Period


After the Arabs conquered and colonized Iraq in the early Islamic era, the two garrison towns of Basra and Kufa were established there and soon became cities that experienced massive Arab immigrations. They served as the main bases from which campaigns to the east were launched. Under the caliph ʿOmar (r. 13-23/634-44), raids into Persia commenced. Persian resistance against the Arabs continued through the caliphate of ‘Oṯmān (r. 23-35/644-56). The Arabs established garrisons and appointed governors in the major cities and relative calm prevailed. The Arab governors of Iraq administered the eastern lands from Basra and reported to the caliph in Damascus. They were largely responsible for appointing governors in the east. The furthest frontier on the eastern border of the newly emerged Arab Empire was called Khorasan. This region comprised the former Sasanian province of Khorasan as well as Ṭoḵārestān and lands beyond the Oxus (see MA WARĀʾ AL-NAHR).

The Arabs quickly subdued Sasanian Khorasan and Sistān and raided as far east as Kabul and the Sind (See ʿARAB ii. ARAB CONQUEST OF IRAN). Treaties were negotiated with the individual rulers of the major towns and cities of Khorasan and annual tributes were agreed upon. The local rulers (moluk al-ṭawāʾef) were responsible for the collection and payment of tribute. The Arabs did not maintain a large physical presence there during this period (see ʿARAB iii. ARAB SETTLEMENTS IN IRAN; la Vaissière, 2007, 2017, 2018; and Agha, 1999, 2003). Initially, after campaigning, they typically returned to Basra. Due to this and internal Arab upheavals, such as the assassinations of the caliphs ‘Omar, ʿOṯmān, and ʿAli, the Khorasanis frequently used these periods of Arab unrest to rebel. The early raids and garrisons of the Rashidun period (21-40/641-60) were ephemeral. Treaties were concluded, but the Khorasanis rebelled and withheld tribute in locale after locale. The first fetna or civil war (36-40/656-60) marked a hiatus for further Muslim advances.

The appointees of the caliph ʿAli (35-40/656-61) experienced multiple problems from both the Khorasanis and the Arab Muslims. Jaʿda b. Hobayra Maḵzumi, sent to govern Abras̆ahr (Nishapur) in 37/657 was turned back at the gates. ʿAliʾs first appointee to Sistān was murdered by bandits, while the second appointee was killed by Ḥasaka b. ʿAttāb, the leader of a renegade Muslim beggar army that occupied Zaranj for two years (36-38/656-58; Balāḏori, Fotuḥ, pp. 394-95, tr., pp. 144-45; Ḵalifa b. Ḵayyaṭ, Taʾriḵ, pp. 120-21). Only during the reign of Moʿāwia (41-60/661-80) were attempts made to regain and centralize authority in Khorasan (Ṭabari, I, p. 2706, tr. XIV, p. 76; Balāḏori, Fotuḥ̣, p. 396, tr. p. 146-47).

The history of Khorasan in the early Islamic period can be divided into three distinct stages.

First stage. The first stage began with the initial raids under the first three caliphs and ended with the death of Ziād b. Abi Sofyān (d. 53/673), Moʿāwia’s governor of Iraq and the East. During the later portion of this stage (54-63/673-82) the Muslims established a presence in former Sasanian Khorasan, Sistān, and Ṭoḵārestān. The first raids and campaigns into Sogdia began during this phase, which ended with the so-called second fetna, namely Ebn Zobayr’s rebellion (64-74/683-92). During this period, ‘Abd-Allāh b. Ḵāzem ruled Khorasan and was aligned with the counter-caliph Ebn Zobayr (d. 73/692).

Second stage. Factionalism and expansion characterized the second stage (64-96/683-714). Serious Arab tribal conflicts and territorial clashes fostered Muslim disunity and partisanship. The strong neutral authority and intervention of Mohallab b. Abi Ṣofra (gov. 78-82/697-701) and his sons (Yazid, gov. 82-85/701-4; Mofażżal, gov. 85-86/704-5) helped restore Omayyad authority over Khorasan and extended raids into Sogdia. Territorial expansion began and ended with the governorship of Qotayba b. Moslem (gov. 86-96/705-15), who carried out the policies of Ḥajjāj b. Yusof (governor of Iraq and the East, d. 95/714) for activities on the Khorasani frontier. He reclaimed Sistān from the Ratbil (see above), conquered vast areas of Sogdia, and raided beyond the Jaxartes River.

Third stage. The third and final stage of development (97-128/715-45) experienced a period of mis-governance from outsider Syrians and Kufans, who had little understanding of Khorasan and its frontier. Asad b. ʿAbd-Allāh Qaṣri (gov. 106-9/725-27 and 117-20/734-37) initiated reforms and tried to reestablish even-handedness to reduce increasing Khorasani factionalism. Fiscal and administrative reforms implemented by Naṣr b. Sayyār (gov. 120-31/738-49) were followed by social and economic reforms that came too late and culminated with an internal Khorasani uprising led by Abu Moslem Ḵorāsāni (q.v.) that toppled the Omayyads and established the ‘Abbasid dynasty.

Conquest and Settlement (21-64/641-83)

After the imperial Persian army had been defeated in Iraq (see QĀDESIYA) and at Nehāvand (q.v.), the last Sasanian king, Yazdegerd III, fled eastwards to Khorasan and made his last stand at Marv before his betrayal by the local marzbān Māhōē and his murder in 31/652 (Ṭabari, I, pp. 2872-84, tr. XV, pp. 78-90; Balāḏori, Fotuḥ, pp. 315-16). According to traditional accounts, Arab troops, mainly those based on Basra, had, however, already been raiding toward Khorasan via the Ṭabasayn (Ṭabas al-Tamr and Ṭabas al-ʿOnnāb) in the Great Desert. The first expeditionary forces to Khorasan were reportedly composed of ten thousand men from Baṣra and ten thousand from Kufa. Aḥnaf b. Qays entered Khorasan in 22/642 via Ṭabasayn, the desert route, taking the city of Harāt (Ṭabari, I, p. 2682, tr. XIV, p. 53; Ebn Aṯir, III, p. 16). A brief note in Ṭabari states that in Quhestān a governor and a Muslim judge were appointed and that Quhestān was used as a base for staging attacks into Kermān (Ṭabari, I, p. 2705, tr. XIV, p. 74). The cities of Nis̆āpur, Ṭus, Marv, Abivard, Nasā, Saraḵs, and Balḵ all came under Muslim control. The chronology for these conquests varies but Ṭabari dates the above conquests to 31/651 (Ṭabari, I, pp. 2884-88, tr. XV, pp. 90-93).

Other reports indicate that when ʿAbd-Allāh b. ʿĀmer b. Korayẓ (29-35/649-55 and 41-44/661-64) was governor of Basra and the East, a two-fold attack was launched on Khorasan, with a Kufan army under Saʿid b. ʿĀṣi pushing on the northern route, along the southern rim of the Alborz via Ray, and a Basran army under ʿAbd-Allāh b. ʿĀmer and Aḥnaf b. Qays traveling by the southern route from Fārs through Kerman and the Ṭabasayn. As a result, in 31/651-52 Basran forces under Aḥnaf b. Qays captured Nishapur, and in the next year, the last great fortress of the region, Marw al-Rud, fell. All this took place against the background of resistance by the Sasanian army and by local magnates, such as the marzbān of Marw al-Rud, Bāḏām. Bāḏām submitted to the Arabs and received back his lands in exchange for tribute of 60,000 dirhams (Ṭabari, I, pp. 2884-88, 2897-906, tr., XV, pp. 90-93, 102-10; Balāḏori, Fotuḥ, p. 406; Markwart, pp. 67-68). Over the following years, however, turmoil in the central lands of the caliphate, with the murder of the caliph ʿOṯmān and the ensuing struggles for power, especially the civil war (35-40/656-61) between ʿAli b. Abi Ṭāleb and Moʿāwia, the tentative Arab control over Khorasan became relaxed. The Iranian landowners and magnates sought the aid of outside powers, such as the Hephthalites of northern Afghanistan, the Western Turks of Türgesh, and even from the Chinese, since the T’ang emperors claimed a distant sovereignty over Tibet and Central Asia to the west of the Tien-shan and Kunlun mountains. But the distances involved meant that practical Chinese aid to the Iranian princes was at best intermittent, and although the Sasanian prince Pērōz, son of Yazdegerd III, was recognized around 661 as vassal prince of Tsi-ling, he was speedily driven out by the Arabs and died in China in 672 (Markwart, p. 68). (For a more detailed account of the conquest period, see ʿARAB ii. ARAB CONQUEST OF IRAN).

The continual unrest in Khorasan during this period has muddled the facts and obscured the chronology and the historical records of events there. It appears the Khorasanis rebelled by withholding tribute and expelling Muslims in locale after locale. The small sizes of the Muslim armies and their inability to garrison all towns and cities precipitated a repeated pattern of “capture-rebellion-recapture” (Hill, pp. 135-37). Sistān had a more settled Muslim presence than Sasanian Khorasan and provided Iraq and Syria with 40,000 slaves (Balāḏori, tr., p. 143; Bosworth, 1968, p. 20.) The pacification of the Ratbil in Sistān and the enlargement of the Arab garrison in Marv shifted Muslim priorities to the edges of their new frontier in Ṭoḵārestān and into Sogdia in Transoxiana (Mā warāʾ al-nahr).

Moʿāwia (r. 41-60/661-80), the founder of the Omayyad dynasty, attempted to centralize authority in Khorasan. Under him, Omayyad Khorasan encompassed Sasanian Khorasan, Sistān, and Zābolestān (the lands of the Ratbil, stretching to Kabul). He re-subdued all of these regions, but much of western (lower) Ṭoḵārestān resisted Muslim authority (Ṭabari, I, p. 2706, tr., XIV, p. 76; Balāḏori, Fotuḥ, tr., p. 137).


During this phase, the Muslim armies negotiated treaties with the local elites. The conditions of these treaties varied depending on whether the town or city had been taken by force (ʿanwatan) or peacefully (solḥan). Those cities taken by force lost everything. In those taken peacefully, all moveable booty was collected and the town and outlying dependencies were put under tribute.

The local rulers (moluk al-ṭawāʾef) typically remained in power and collected the tribute for the Muslims, maintaining the existing tax structure. These treaties (ʿohud) varied in content but were adhered to by both the Muslims and the Khorasanis. (see Qāḍi, pp. 47-113.) Tribute was paid in cash and in kind. The local rulers during this early period submitted to the Muslims but kept their social hierarchies intact and maintained their privileges. The establishment of Muslim settlements in Khorasan injected a new dynamic that transformed the Muslim presence there from a military force that only extracted resources, to one that shared in its social and economic integration. The principal Muslim garrisons established throughout Khorasan included Abaršahr (Nishapur), Herat, Marv al-Ruḏ, and Marv.

Permanent Settlements (53-64/672-683). The caliph ʿOmar instructed his armies to settle in cities, as urban garrison towns (meṣr, pl. amṣār). This assured the development of an Islamic zone of control and structured leadership. The amṣār provided a safe environment for religious education, adherence to Islamic traditions and beliefs, and concentrated all tribes in a common space that forced them to interact with each other, allowing them to have a sense of community.

A Muslim force of 4,000 under Omayr b. Aḥmar Yaškori remained garrisoned in Marv, the main city in Khorasan, until 32/652 and represented the beginning of a permanent Muslim physical presence in Khorasan (Gardizi, pp. 229-30; Balāḏori, Fotuḥ, tr. p. 170). At Marv, the Muslim garrisons rotated in and out until 51/671 when, according to a report by Balāḏori (Fotuḥ, p. 410, tr. p. 171), 50,000 families settled around the Marv oasis (for interpretations of this report, see Agha, 1999; la Vassière, 2017). They established themselves in a network of villages along the lines of the five tribal divisions (aḵmās) present in Baṣra (Jabali, p. 121; see Figure 1). We know that in addition to Marv, there were garrisons in Nasā, Abivard, Saraḵs, Nishapur, Ṭus, Marv al-Ruḏ, Bušanj, Herat, Ṭālaqān, Fāryāb, and Jowzjān (Ṭabari, I, 2884-904, tr., XV, pp. 90-107). Baruqān, near Balḵ (Yaqut, Moʿjam, I, p. 405) and Ḵolm (Samʿani, V, p. 164) are mentioned as being garrisoned much later.

Figure 1. The Arab tribal divisions of Khorasan in the Omayyad Period, with the aḵmas marked by roman numerals.Figure 1. The Arab tribal divisions of Khorasan in the Omayyad Period, with the aḵmas marked by roman numerals.


Under ʿOṯmān, there were five districts (kowar) of Khorasan: Marv al-Šāhejān (with Marv al-Ruḏ as a dependency), Balḵ, Herat (with Bušanj and Bādḡis), Ṭus, and Nishapur (see ʿAṭwān, pp. 49-50, and ʿAli). This division mirrors divisions along early (pre-7th century) Sasanian lines. After restructuring, Marv (al-Šāhejān) was administered separately, while Marv al-Ruḏ, on the edge of the former Sasanian-Hephthalite frontier, became the main Muslim administrative center for western (lower) Ṭoḵārestān, which included Ṭālaqān and Fāryāb in Jowzjān to the east, but excluded Balḵ. The district of Herat continued to include both Bādḡis and Bušanj (Balāḏori, Fotuḥ, tr. p. 163). The administrative center of Ṭus district was switched to Nishapur, when Oṯ̣mān appointed Qays b. Hayṯām Solami over it and Khorasan (Ṭabari, I, p. 2831, tr., XV, 36; Balāḏori, Fotuḥ, p. 404, tr. p. 161).

Table 1 Governors of Khorasan during the Period of Raids and Settlements (641-83 CE)Table 1 Governors of Khorasan during the Period of Raids and Settlements (641-83 CE)

The caliph ʿOmar had established šaraf (nobility) on the basis of Islamic precedence, that is, honoring and granting special privileges to the earliest Muslims. As a consequence, ṣaḥābis (Companions of the Prophet) dominated in leadership positions (Ebn al-Aṯir, Osd al-ḡāba, I, pp. 68-69; Ḵalifa, al-Ṭabaqāt, pp. 95-96; Ebn Ḵallekān, I, pp. 425-28.) All of these Companions of the Prophet represented a segment of the Muslim elite (ašrāf al-Eslām), who obtained a high status in society because of their service to Islam and their relationship to the ruling Islamic authorities rather than tribal status or ethnic purity. ʿOṯmān continued this policy while at the same time favoring his relatives. The caliph Moʿāwia (r. 41-60/661–80) ordered Ziād b. Abi Sofyān (gov. of Iraq 42-53/662-73) to select Ḥakam b. ʿAmr Ḡefāri, a ṣaḥābi (first-generation Muslim) to be governor of Khorasan in 44/664-65 (Yaʿqubi, II, p. 222). Ḥakam died in office in Marv 50/670-71, and then, after a succession of deputies, Rabeʿ b. Ziād Ḥāriṯi (gov. 51-53/671-72), another ṣaḥābi, was appointed governor. Under Moʿāwia, a second generation of administrators emerged who were better equipped to deal with matters of state in Khorasan than the aging first generation ṣaḥāba (Companions of the Prophet). For a period of ten years, the east was almost exclusively ruled by Ziād’s sons (ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān, ʿObayd-Allāh, ʿAbbād). Yazid b. Moʿāwia (60-64/680-83) continued his father’s policy by appointing his “cousins,” (Salm b. Ziād [61-64/680-83] and Yazid b. Ziād [killed 61/680]). This Sofyānid corporate dynasty thus ruled, and the only exception was the two-year appointment of the third caliph ʿOṯmān’s son, Saʿid b. ʿOṯmān b. ʿAffān to the governorship of Khorasan (56-58/675-77). This near family monopoly on governing positions in Khorasan was accepted by the Muslims.


The second fetna (64-73/683-92), as the rebellion of ʿAbd-Allāh Ebn Zobayr has been called, marked the end of Sofyānid Omayyad political rule. It intensified major religious unrest in Iraq. The Kharijites grew stronger and repeatedly attacked Baṣra. Iraq became embroiled in political as well as sectarian wars. As a result, distant Khorasan became a place of political and religious refuge for many Muslims.

When the caliph Moʿāwia II b. Yazid died in 64/683, Omayyad authority throughout Khorasan broke down and individual tribes seized control of the different districts. Tribal warfare ensued with the Qays and Tamim against the Rabiʿa and the Azd. Inter-tribal feuds became common between the Tamim and the Bakr b. Wa’il. Omayyad authority in Khorasan was in tatters.

The Marwanid Omayyad restoration. Ḥajjāj b. Yusof became governor for Iraq in 75/694 and gained authority over Khorasan in 697. Ḥajjāj appointed Mohallab b. Abi Ṣofra over Khorasan. In 699, Mohallab crossed the Oxus and campaigned against Keš, which he made his base of operations for two years. His strategy was to pacify eastern (upper) Ṭoḵārestān (Keš, Ḵottal and Čaḡāniān) as well as western (lower) Ṭoḵārestān, which had never been completely subdued.

Qotayba b. Moslem and the conquest of Sogdia. Qotayba b. Moslem (d. 96/715) became governor over both Khorasan and Sistān in 86/705. Qotayba was forced to subdue rebellion in Sogdia and Ṭoḵārestān instigated by the Arab rebel Musa b. ‘Abd-Allah, who had established an enclave in Termeḏ (72-85/691-704). His father, ‘Abd-Allah b. Ḵāzem, was governor of Khorasan (64-72/683-91) and had the support of the non-Arab rulers of Sogdia.

With the help of the Hepthalite ruler, the Nēzak (see NĒZAK and HEPTHALITES) Qotayba succeeded in concluding agreements in Sogdia and pacifying Ṭoḵārestān. When the Nēzak rebelled and enlisted all of the rulers of Ṭoḵārestān from Bādḡis to Kabul to join him, Qotayba was hard pressed but eventually executed the Nēzak and many of the moluk al-tawāʾef of Ṭoḵārestān (Ḵalifa, Taʾriḵ, p. 190; Ebn al-Aṯir, IV, p. 114; Ṭabari, II, pp. 1207-8, 1221-23, tr. XXIII, pp. 154-55, 168-70). Qotayba subsequently pacified the Ratbil in Sistān, subdued Ḵᵛārazm, and captured Samarqand (on his campaigns, see Stark, 2018). He successfully employed a policy of making peace and then impressing local militias into service.

Table 2. Governors During the Period of Factionalization and Expansion (64-96/683-714)Table 2. Governors During the Period of Factionalization and Expansion (64-96/683-714)

The death of Hajjāj in 95/713, followed a year later by the death of the caliph al-Walid b. ʿAbd-al-Malek caused Qotayba to fear an end of his ten-year posting (Ṭabari, II, p. 1267, tr. XXIII, p. 216; Ebn Aʿṯam, VII, p. 249; Ebn al-Aṯir, IV, p. 132). In 96/714-15, Qotayba incited his army to rebel, but they refused and killed him (ca. August 715). The tribal leaders of Khorasan deferred to Moḍar pre-eminence, but Qotayba’s downfall was accomplished by consensus among the Moḍar, the Rabiʿa-Yaman, and the mawāli (clients; see ʿARAB iii; CONVERSION ii; IRAN ii[2]). The passing of these three men marked a turning point in Omayyad governance.


Under Qotayba’s leadership, the mawāli found status, power, and prestige. Men such as Ḥayyān Nabaṭi and his son Moqātel rose to prominence. Ḥayyān’s status as the commander of the mawāli forces gave him the same status as a chief in the qabāʾel-system; but within Muslim society, owing to his non-Arab origin, his advancement could only truly be achieved under the auspices and umbrella of the ašrāf al-Eslām. The presence and service of the mawāli as part of Muslim authority eclipsed the authority of the non-Muslim moluk al-ṭawāʾef and affected the eventual transfer of all local power to Muslim officials (see Ṭabari, II, pp. 1290-91, 1299, 1328-31, tr., XXIV, pp. 13-15, 23, 53-55; Balāḏori, Fotuḥ, p. 337, tr. p. 42).

During the caliphate of ʿOmar b. ʿAbd-al-ʿAziz (ʿOmar II; r. 99-101/717-20), there was a focus on reforms and recognizing equality among Muslims regardless of their ethnic origins. A delegation from Khorasan informed him that the mawāli participating in campaigns in Khorasan did not receive ʿaṭāʾ or rezq (salary and maintenance pay) and that converts to Islam still paid the jezya (q.v.). ʿOmar II abolished the jezya for new converts and triggered a wave of new converts (Ṭabari, II, p. 1354, tr., XXIV, p. 83; Ebn al-Aṯir, IV, p. 158). These mass conversions broke the pattern of controlled conversion, and many administrators believed that these new Muslims had only converted in order to escape the jezya. The reforms were short-lived and the jezya was re-imposed on many of the “new converts,” causing many of them to renounce Islam (see Ṭabari, II, p. 1510, tr., XXV, p. 48).

Samarqand, conversion, and the Murjiʾites. Throughout the Omayyad period governorship was a source of private enrichment. Both the Muslim tax collectors (ʿommāl) and the non-Muslim rulers in Sogdia were often corrupt. While lining their own pockets, they were pressured to maintain or increase tax revenues. Exemption from paying the jezya for converts to Islam reduced revenues, so these officials continually contended that new conversions were a contrived means to escape taxes. As a result, converts to Islam were forced to pay the jezya.

Mass conversions to Islam prompted Jarrāḥ b. ʿAbd-Allāh Ḥakami (gov. 99-100/717-18) to impose a circumcision test as proof of conversion. ʿOmar II stopped this (Ṭabari, II, p. 1354, tr. XIV, p. 83; Madelung, p. 16). Most probably, many converted for economic reasons. However, Ašras b. ʿAbd-Allāh Solami (gov. 109-11/727-30) sponsored a conversion campaign initiated by a mawlā, Abu’l-Ṣaydāʿ Ṣāleḥ b. Ṭarif, who converted many by promising them that they would pay no jezya, only ḵarāj (Ṭabari, II, 1507-10, tr. XXV, pp. 46-48; Ṭabari, II, 1507-10, tr. XXV, pp. 46-48). But, again, when revenues dropped drastically, circumcision tests were re-imposed, and converts were required to recite a sura from the Qurʾan (see Ṭabari, II, p. 1508, tr. XXV, p. 47).

Pressure to produce revenues no doubt triggered conversion tests in an effort to detect fraud, but additionally non-Muslim rulers did not wish to see their subjects convert, since that diminished their standing in the community. Another factor that is impossible to gauge is the brand of Islam that was being preached by Abu’l-Ṣaydāʾ. Was his message one approved by the authorities or was it a type of Murjiʾism, where all one needed was to have faith in one’s heart with no need for actions or outward displays of religious practice? This question is raised because of the large concentration of Murjiʾite believers in Balḵ and Sogdia. We know that the famous poet-warrior Ṯābit Qoṭnah was a Murjiʾite. He and Abu’l-Ṣaydāʾ actively supported some seven thousand new converts who refused to pay the jezya again when it was re-imposed on them. Abu’l-Ṣaydāʾ and Ṯābit withdrew with this group, but they were both imprisoned for a while and Persian elites were humiliated in the streets and forced to pay the ḵarāj, while common converts were forced to pay the jezya (Ṭabari, II, p. 1508, tr., XXV, p. 47).

Five years later, in 734, Ḥāreṯ b. Sorayj Tamimi rebelled against ʿĀṣem b. ʿAbd-Allāh Helāli (gov. 116-17/734-36). His men consisted of converts and both Yamanis and Tamimis. He advocated for the end of illegal taxes on Muslims, insisted on providing proper pensions for them and called for fairness and justice. He was charismatic and championed the mawāli and converts of Sogdia, along with his religious spokesman, Jahm b. Ṣafwān (q.v.; d. 128/746), who founded the Jahmiya. Ḥāreṯ found refuge with the Ḵāqān in Ṭoḵārestān, the Eḵšid of Sogdia, the Yabḡu, the Sabal of Ḵottal, the Eḵšid of Šāš, and the Türgesh. Ḥāreṯ’s Murjiʾite version of Islam, like that of the Kharijites, accepted all Muslims as equals. Independent of Omayyad authority, he spread his form of Islam in Khorasan (on Ḥāreṯ and the Murjiʾites, see Wellhausen, pp. 464-72, 485-88; Gibb, pp. 76-85; Madelung, 1982, 1988; Blankinship, pp. 176-84; Agha, 1997).

Table 3 The Era of Misgovernance—Syrians and Kufans (97-128/715-745)Table 3 The Era of Misgovernance—Syrians and Kufans (97-128/715-745)

The Muslim presence in Sogdia completely disrupted the economy and stripped the population of its wealth. Until the governorship of Naṣr b. Sayyār (gov. 120-131/738-48), Omayyad governance had only extracted wealth. It had been corrupted and inconsistent in its policies of tax collection and conversion. Only when peace and commerce were restored could Sogdia begin to accept a new order. Naṣr b. Sayyār, as mentioned before, implemented reforms and was able to win back Sogdian trust. During his governorship, he launched diplomatic missions to China, which successfully established cordial Omayyad-Chinese relations (Beckwith, pp. 124-25). His missions to China became so regular that, in 741, when Inäl Tudun Külüg, the viceroy of Šāš, requested Chinese assistance against the Muslims, the emperor refused it.

An anti-Omayyad movement had begun around 720. Its propaganda concentrated on the population of Khorasan, and finally, in 746, the Abbasid Revolution under the leadership of Abu Moslem Khorāsāni began there. It quickly gained success in Khorasan, toppled Omayyad authority there, and spread westward into Persia and Iraq. Continued victories propelled the movement into Syria and in 750, the Omayyads were defeated and the Abbasid dynasty was established. Abu Moslem Khorāsāni retained control of Khorasan and reestablished Muslim control over Transoxiana. However, in 755, he was assassinated, and the Abbasid caliph appointed his own governor of Khorasan.


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v. History in the ʿAbbasid Period

The revolution that overthrew Omayyad rule and led to the establishment of the ʿAbbasid caliphate was incubated in Khorasan, and it marked a major watershed in the history of that province, just as it would in the larger Islamic world. Under the Omayyads, the overriding historical dynamic of Khorasan had been that of a frontier contact zone (or “shatterzone” in the terminology of one recent work; Haug, p. 26), with the provincial administration and armies primarily engaged in defending against nomadic invasions from the north and subduing numerous non-Islamic local rulers, often backed by Chinese power, along the eastern marchlands. After the revolution, the historical narrative reflected a political dynamic between center and periphery, with an increasingly unified array of Islamized local elites resisting the voracious demands of a centralizing caliphal bureaucracy and achieving greater and greater degrees of political autonomy in what was becoming more of an Islamic commonwealth than an ʿAbbasid empire.


The conditions for the first stage of the ʿAbbasid revolution resulted from the “third civil war” (Wellhausen, pp. 370-96) that erupted following the death of the Omayyad caliph Hešām in 125/743 and the assassination of his successor Walid II in 126/744. As the struggle for power in Syria and Iraq raged, Khorasan was largely left to its own devices, and the Omayyad establishment there was fractured by internecine strife among the Arab elites.

Hešām had appointed Naṣr b. Sayyār Layṯi Kenāni as governor in 120/737-38 (Ṭabari, II, pp. 1660-62). Naṣr, then more than seventy-years old, had experience in the military and fiscal affairs of Khorasan going back to the time of Qotayba b. Moslem (d. 96/715). As governor, he resumed raids across the Oxus (Āmu Daryā, q.v.) and, in 121/738, introduced a series of fiscal reforms that ostensibly aimed at relieving tax burdens on Arabs and non-Arab converts under the protection of Arab tribes (the mawāli), but avoiding deficits by more rigorously imposing tribute, the land tax (ḵarāj), and the demeaning poll tax (jezya, q.v.) on the “polytheists” (mošrekin), who may well have included many nominal converts not affiliated like the mawāli with Arab tribes (see Ṭabari, II, pp. 1688-89; Dennett, pp. 110-13). He also unabashedly gave preference to his own tribal bloc, the Możar, and was said to have appointed over a four-year span only Możaris to office (Ṭabari, II, pp. 1664-65). The main intent of Naṣr’s reforms seems to have been to create an expanded and tightly controlled Arab administration in Khorasan, disentangling it from the administration of Iraq and reporting directly to the caliph.

Although Khorasan is said to have prospered under Naṣr’s governorship (Ṭabari, II, p. 1665), opposition to him grew despite, or more likely because of, the policies he had introduced. One source of opposition would naturally be from the partisans of the house of ʿAli b. Abi Ṭāleb (q.v.), who were not inclined to support Omayyad rule under any circumstances. They, as well as less dedicated sympathizers, were outraged by Naṣr’s treatment of Yaḥyā b. Zayd, ʿAli’s great-grandson. The young Yaḥyā had fled to Khorasan after the failure of the revolt in Kufa against Hešām led by his father, Zayd b. ʿAli b. Ḥosayn (d. 122/740). Yaḥyā went into hiding first in Saraḵs and then in Balḵ (q.v.), but Naṣr, under pressure from the governor of Iraq, Yusof b. ʿOmar, had his agents hunt Yaḥyā down and ordered him to return to Iraq and face certain death at the hands of Yusof b. ʿOmar. After Yaḥyā attempted to stay in Khorasan, Naṣr’s forces attacked and killed him and put his decapitated corpse on display in Jowzjān (q.v.) in 125/743 (on these events, see Ṭabari, II, 1667-88, 1698-1716, 1770-74; Balāḏori, II, pp. 520-46; Eṣfahāni, pp. 152-58).

After Hešām’s death, there were intrigues by other rivals to replace Naṣr as governor, but he evaded them until his governorship was affirmed by the caliph Yazid III in 126/744 (Ṭabari, II, p. 1855). Naṣr arrested the most likely of the candidates who had tried to replace him, Jodayʿ b. ʿAli Kermāni, a leader of the Azd tribes and protégé of the former governor and Naṣr’s nemesis, Asad b. ʿAbd-Allāh Qaṣri (d. 120/737-38). Kermani quickly escaped and raised an army of supporters who took up camp near Marv and prepared to fight Naṣr (Ṭabari, II, 1858-66). Naṣr then persuaded Yazid III to grant an amnesty to Ḥāreṯ b. Sorayj, a perennial religio-political rebel (who at one time had even allied with the Türgesh against the Omayyads), in the hope of winning him as an ally against Kermāni (Ṭabari, II, 1867-69). Instead, Ḥāreṯ returned from Samarqand and also took up a position near Marv; he rallied his own supporters; denounced tyranny, oppression, and corruption; preached for governance in accord with the Qurʾan and the Sunna; and, after refusing to recognize the accession of Marwān II (r. 127-32/744-50) as caliph, cooperated with Kermāni against Naṣr (Ṭabari, II, 1888-90). The latter retreated to Nishapur in 128/746. As Naṣr had perhaps anticipated, it was less than a month before Ḥāreṯ and Kermāni had a falling out; in their fight, Hāreṯ was killed in Rajab 128/April 746 and his decapitated corpse crucified at Marv (Ṭabari, II, 1932-33). Naṣr then resumed his efforts to dislodge Kermāni from Marv, returning to the city and encamping near Kermāni’s position in 129/747. Throughout all of this, Naṣr had warned his adversaries of the dangers that would result from the Arab establishment being divided against itself and appealed for unity. He was soon proven correct by the arrival on the scene of a new and quite unexpected contender in the person of Abu Moslem Ḵorāsāni (q.v.), who raised the black banners of revolt in a village outside Marv in Ramażān or Šawwāl 129/June 747.

Abu Moslem’s declaration of revolt marked the second stage of the ʿAbbasid revolution, but one that is shrouded, like Abu Moslem himself, in a cloud of mystery. In general, the traditional sources would have us believe that the revolution was the fruit of a conspiracy carefully cultivated over nearly thirty years by a tightly organized, covert, sectarian faction known as the Hāšhemiya. In what was for a while the official version of how the sect got its name, the Hāšemiya were propagandizing for rule by a member of the Prophet Moḥammad’s clan of Hāšem, specifically Moḥammad b. ʿAli, the grandson of the Prophet’s paternal uncle ʿAbbās, and were directed by him as leader of the ʿAbbasid family from their place of exile in Ḥomayma (a village south of the Dead Sea). An alternative explanation was that the Hāšemiya represented an extremist offshoot of the Kaysāniya (q.v.) propagandizing mostly in Kufa (q.v.) but with little effect, on behalf of Abu Hāšem ʿAbd-Allāh b. Moḥammad b. al-Ḥanafiya (a descendant of the third son of ʿAli b. Abi Ṭāleb by a woman of the Banu Ḥanifa). The childless Abu Hāšem, persecuted by the Omayyads, took refuge in Ḥomayma with Moḥammad b. ʿAli and, near death in 98/716-17, turned over his claim to the caliphate, his esoteric knowledge, and his organization to Moḥammad b. ʿAli (for details and sources, see Daniel, 1979, pp. 26-29; Sharon, 1983, pp. 121-40; Agha, 2003, pp. 4-6).

After a period of mostly ineffective organizing in Kufa, Moḥammad b. ʿAli was persuaded by one of the recruits, Bokayr b. Māhān (q.v.; d. 128/745-46), to shift the focus of the mission (daʿwa ‘call’; see DAʿĪ) to Khorasan. He sent Bokayr to begin organizing there in or around the year 100/718-19 (103/722 is a more credible date; Ṭabari, II, p. 1988, and it may have been even later). Bokayr established a network of clandestine revolutionary cells led by twelve naqibs ‘chiefs’ and seventy daʿis ‘missionaries’ (an unusually detailed account of these and other elements of the revolutionary apparatus may be found in Aḵbār, pp. 213-23). So far as can be told, the propaganda of the daʿis used a vague call for rule based on the Qurʾan, the Sunna, and veneration of the family of the Prophet Moḥammad (see AHL-E BAYT), with the objective of bringing about the reign of a Chosen One (al-reżā) from among his relatives (slogans expressing such sentiments appeared later on in the oath of allegiance used by Abu Moslem, in speeches to the troops, and on coinage; Ṭabari, ii, p. 1989; Aḵbār, pp. 323-24). As for the identity of the sect’s leader, the missioners were admonished not to reveal his name publicly. This was typical of many post-Kaysāniya movements, and perhaps a necessary precaution as Shiʿite revolts to that date had shown that those on behalf of a declared candidate were doomed to fail. However, the call for al-reżā, while not naming him, was also perhaps more than just a defensive tactic—it was likely rooted in the belief that the Chosen One would be manifested at the proper time through a process of consensus (šurā) rather than inheritance (waṣiya) and would reign more than rule (see Crone, 1989; Agha, 2003, pp. 101-6).

The initial efforts to recruit partisans in Khorasan was rather inept, as the governor Asad b. ʿAbd-Allāh identified and arrested a number of the propagandists in 107/725 (Ṭabari, II, pp. 1501-3). After that, the revolutionary cells were directed for three years by an illiterate Kufan, Kaṯir b. Saʿd. Among those attracted to the movement was one ʿAmmār (or ʿOmāra) b. Yazid (or Yazdād), better known by the name he gave himself (or was called), Ḵedāš. Reportedly a Christian convert from Kufa then living near Marv, Ḵedāš proved himself a skillful and charismatic preacher: Instead of simply being recruited, Ḵedāš ousted Kaṯir and not only commandeered the movement but transformed it, substituting the esoteric, perhaps neo-Mazdakite, teachings of the din al-Ḵorramiyya (Ṭabari, II, pp. 1503, 1588; Balāḏori, III, pp. 116-17; Ebn al-Aṯir, V, pp. 196-97; see ḴORRAMIS) for those of Moḥammad b. ʿAli and the Hāšemiya. The probability is that Ḵedāš dominated the daʿwa from the time Kaṯir returned to Kufa (ca. 111/729) until he was arrested, tortured, and killed on orders from Asad b. ʿAbd-Allāh in 118/736-37. Whatever Ḵedāš was preaching must have been effective, as that is also a period in which the movement reportedly gained many followers, and even Bokayr b. Māhān is said to have recognized Ḵedāš as chief daʿi (Ṭabari, II, p. 1588-89). Moḥammad b. ʿAli, however, denounced Ḵedāš and remained estranged from the Hāšemiya of Khorasan until 120/738, when Solaymān b. Kaṯir Ḵozāʿi restored relations and was recognized by Moḥammad b. ʿAli as the leader of the Khorasani daʿwa (Ṭabari, II, 1639-40).

Moḥammad b. ʿAli died in 125/743 and was succeeded as imam of the Hāšemiya by his son Ebrāhim. Bokayr b. Māhān visited Khorasan to convey this news to the leaders of the daʿwa, some of whom later met with Ebrāhim during the ḥajj and accepted his authority. On the return from Khorasan, Bokayr was arrested and briefly jailed in Kufa until ransomed by the head of the Kufan Hāšemiya, Abu Salama Ḵallāl. It was in the Kufan jail that Bokayr and Abu Salama supposedly met the young Abu Moslem, then the servant of another of the prisoners, brought him into the movement, and took him to Ebrāhim in Ḥomayma, where he became a mawlā of the family. Ebrahim and Bokayr began dispatching Abu Moslem on missions to Khorasan, and in 128/745-46 (apud Ṭabari, II, p. 1937) ordered him to take over the leadership of the daʿwa there. The astonished veteran missioners resisted and wanted to know “from what egg has this nameless upstart hatched or from what nest has he fallen?” (Aḵbār, p. 269). Nonetheless, they eventually accepted Ebrāhim’s instructions, and it was under the leadership of Abu Moslem that the overt revolt was prepared and launched.

Abu Moslem’s execution of the revolt can only be described as brilliant strategically and tactically, coupled with some strokes of luck. With the major Arab armies occupied with each other in Marv, Abu Moslem was free to send out envoys to rally partisans all over Khorasan (Ṭabari, II, p. 1962) and pick off the isolated garrisons one by one. It is fairly clear that Nasr’s supporters were either expelled or fled from Marv al-ruḏ, Herat, Āmol, Nasā, Abiward, Balḵ, and Ṭālaqān. Many of the uprisings in those places appear to have involved exceptional mass violence and massacres (see, e.g., Aḵbār, p. 284; Theophanes, pp. 654-55, tr. p. 114; Ḵalifa, p. 413; Dinawari, p., 361; Ebn ʿAbd Rabbeh, VI, pp. 477-79; Daniel, 1979, pp. 51-54; Agha, 2000, pp. 344-45; idem, 2003, pp. 75-86). The scattered pro-Omayyad forces—a motley coalition said to include members of all three of the tribal groups at odds with each other in Marv as well as mawāli and local Iranian rulers from the districts of Ṭoḵārestān—regrouped at Termeḏ, but they were decisively routed by Abu Moslem’s general, Abu Dāwud Ḵāled b. Ebrāhim Šaybāni. Crucially, the ʿAbbasid envoys and propagandists circulating throughout the countryside were free to direct new recruits, often described as “slaves,” to Abu Moslem’s encampment. Dinavari (p. 361) describes a flood of supporters coming on horses, donkeys, and on foot from all over greater Khorasan to join Abu Moslem, all dressed in black and armed with blackened staves called kāfer-kubāt ‘infidel bashers’ (on the significance of which, see Crone, 2000, pp. 180-83). Naṣr attempted to dislodge Abu Moslem in mid-Šawwāl 129/late-June 747, but underestimated his opponent’s strength and failed.

As Abu Moslem’s army grew, he moved to a new fortified camp near the village of Māḵwān in Ḏu’l-Qaʿda 129/July 747. The situation in Marv was relatively simple: No one side could prevail alone but had to find allies. The conflict thus became mostly one of propaganda in which Naṣr could appeal to Arab unity, but in which Abu Moslem held almost all the trump cards. First of all, he was able to capitalize on the pro-ʿAlid sentiments in Khorasan that had been inflamed by the killing of Yaḥyā b. Zayd. Yaḥyā was related on his mother’s side to Moḥammad b. al-Ḥanafiya, so Abu Moslem and the Hāšemiya were able to use vengeance for Yaḥyā as a rallying cry for their revolt. Second, as has often been noted, the Hāšemiya propaganda was remarkably similar to that of Ḥāreṯ b. Sorayj, from the use of the black banners to its religious appeal to its willingness to join with non-Arabs. After Ḥāreṯ’s death, some of his followers (including his son) appear to have joined Naṣr, but it is likely many more went over to Abu Moslem. Whatever effect Naṣr’s appeal for Arab unity was beginning to have, it abruptly ended when, in the course of truce negotiations, Naṣr stood by while Ḥāreṯ’s son attacked and killed Jodayʿ Kermāni and crucified his corpse next to a fish (an insulting symbol for his tribe). Astonishingly, Naṣr continued to believe Arabism would somehow win over the Kermāni faction, but his efforts to forge a truce quickly failed. Abu Moslem was able to bring Kermāni’s forces firmly into his alliance; he flattered Kermāni’s son by calling him “amir,” but when Abu Moslem asked for his orders ʿAli b. Jodayʿ prudently responded to just keep doing what he had been doing (Ṭabari, II, 1976). ʿAli b. Jodayʿ also helped persuade a Kharijite rebel, Šaybān b. Salama, who had turned up at Marv, to withdraw to Saraḵs, where he was eventually killed by Abu Moslem’s followers (Ṭabari, II, 1995-97; Aḵbār, pp. 309-10). In one last, desperate gambit, Naṣr tried to make a deal with Abu Moslem against ʿAli b. Jodayʿ, but this was bluntly rejected (Ṭabari, II, p. 1986).

By Rabiʿ I 130/November 747, Naṣr was holed up in Marv, with turmoil in the hinterland, his hope for an Arab coalition in tatters, no prospects of aid from Syria or Iraq, Abu Moslem’s forces steadily growing, ʿAli b. Jodayʿ’s faction occupying part of the inner city, and ʿAbbasid propagandists active there. Fighting between two parties—exactly which ones is not clear—broke out, probably in Rabiʿ II 130/December 747. Abu Moslem then ceremoniously entered the capital on 9 Jomāda 130/27 January 748 (according to Ṭabari, II, p. 1987), without resistance, posing as a peacemaker, taking up residence at the government palace, accepting the oath of allegiance from the people, and executing Naṣr’s most important officials.

Naṣr fled the next day to one of the suburbs and then, after having been warned of Abu Moslem’s intention to kill him, on with his Możari supporters to Nishapur. He was pursued by a revolutionary army under the command of Qaḥṭaba b. Šabib Ṭāʾi, assisted (or watched) by two of Abu Moslem’s trusted agents, Ḵāled b. Barmak (see BARMAKIDS) and Abu’l-Jahm b. ʿAṭiya. Qaḥṭaba encamped at Abivard for the winter, and then defeated a detachment of Naṣr’s troops at Ṭus, forcing Naṣr to retreat from Nishapur to Qumes in Šaʿbān 130/May 748. Many of his remaining followers then abandoned him and went to join the Omayyad governor of Jorjān, Nobāta b. Ḥanẓala, who had brought Syrian reinforcements there in such large numbers that the Khorasanis were intimidated when they encountered them (Ḏu’l-Qaʿda 130/July 748). The speech Qaḥṭaba gave to encourage the “men of Khorasan” (Ṭabari, II, pp. 2004-6) is of particular interest because, if genuine, it can only be understood as being addressed to an army made up predominately of non-Arab Muslims, who were being given an opportunity not only for vengeance on those who “had burned the House of God” but on the “lowliest nation” (aḏall omma), which had defeated their ancestors, seized their land and women, enslaved their children, and then ruled oppressively. This may explain the exceptional violence reported about this battle, in which Nobāta and ten thousand of his troops were killed and thousands more of the surviving garrison massacred after an attempted rebellion.

After that disaster, Naṣr left Qumes for Ḵowār near Ray to await the arrival of another Omayyad army, this one under the leadership of ʿĀmer b. Żobāra Morri. Qaḥṭaba got there first, and Naṣr then fled toward Hamadan, dying along the way at Sāwa (Rabiʿ II 131/December 748). Ebn Żobāra was gathering his “army of armies” near Isfahan and was attacked by Qaḥṭaba’s forces at Jābalq in Rajab 131/March 749. The Omayyads were defeated, Ebn Żobāra killed, and vast spoils were taken from his army’s camp. The Battle of Jābalq essentially completed and secured the ʿAbbasid victory in the East. Qaḥṭaba remained for a month in the area of Isfahan, where Abu Moslem sent reinforcements totaling 15,000, all said to have been recruited from the villages of Khorasan (Aḵbār, p. 351). Qaḥṭaba then advanced to Nehāvand (q.v.); after a siege, the Syrian troops were given safe passage to retreat, but those who had come from Khorasan with Naṣr were massacred (Ṭabari, III, pp. 6-9).

From Nehāvand, Qaḥṭaba moved on to Qermāsin, Ḥolwān, and Ḵāneqin. His objective was Kufa and linking up with the daʿwa organization there, but there were two more obstacles: The army of the governor of Iraq, Yazid b. ʿOmar b. Hobayra, and the army of the caliph, Marwān II. The latter delayed in the Jazira and never posed much of a threat, while Ebn Hobayra took up a defensive position near the famous old battlefield of Jalulāʾ (q.v.). After much maneuvering, Qaḥṭaba crossed the Euphrates and launched a successful surprise attack on Ebn Hobayra in Moḥarram 132/August 749, and Kufa was occupied by the ʿAbbasid forces two days later. Qaḥṭaba himself, however, had mysteriously—or suspiciously—disappeared during the fighting, and his body was found later; he had apparently drowned while crossing the Euphrates. He was succeeded as commander by his son Ḥasan. The victorious ʿAbbasid forces waited in Kufa for Abu Salama, Bokayr b. Māhān’s successor as the leader of the Kufan daʿwa and now styled the amir or wazirālMoḥammad, to reveal to them the as yet unknown identity of the Chosen One.

However, Qaḥṭaba was not alone in his untimely demise: The reputed Imam Ebrāhim b. Moḥammad b. ʿAli had been arrested by agents of Marwān II. He was held in confinement in Ḥarrān, where he died the very same month as Qaḥṭaba. Other members of the ʿAbbasid family had taken refuge in Kufa by Ṣafar 132/September 749, and sources claim that one of them, Abu’l-ʿAbbās (the future caliph al-Saffāḥ), had been designated as successor in Ebrāhim’s testament. Yet it was only in Rabiʿ I 132/late October 749, after news that the Imam was in Kufa was leaked to the Khorasanis, who had been clamoring to pay allegiance to the Chosen One and were on the verge of mutiny, that Abu Salama finally brought Abu’l-ʿAbbās out of hiding and had him proclaimed as caliph. (On Qaḥṭaba’s campaign and this last stage of the revolution, see Sharon, 1990, pp. 179-256; on the machinations in Kufa, see in particular Agha, 2003, pp. 120-35, who views Abu Moslem as the mastermind pulling the strings of what amounted to an ʿAbbasid coup.)

This much abbreviated account of the revolt in Khorasan necessarily glosses over many variations, inconsistencies, and other problems in the sources. There is likely some core of truth behind the narrative, given how embarrassing some of its elements, which must have been too well known to suppress, were for the ʿAbbasid caliphs, but there is also much that needs to be questioned. It has to be remembered that the information in the traditional sources has been filtered through two lenses: The shifting basis on which the ʿAbbasids tried to legitimize their rule, and the tendency in most sources to view events from the perspective of the center rather than the periphery. When that is taken into account, the story on the whole seems contrived to make the reign of the ʿAbbasids seem pre-ordained, their authority uncontested, and their probity untarnished, in particular by exaggerating the degree of ʿAbbasid control over the Hāšemi daʿwa, by diminishing and demeaning the role of other actors, and by obscuring the actual nature of the revolt. As a result, there is much that is open to interpretation or that strains credulity. To what extent did the ʿAbbasid family really control or direct the daʿwa? Did the ʿAbbasids revolutionize and liberate Khorasan, or did Khorasan lift the ʿAbbasids from obscurity to the caliphate? What exactly did Ḵedāš preach and to which audience? Is it plausible that an unknown and inexperienced young man was plucked from a dungeon in Kufa, plopped down in the political maelstrom of Khorasan, and then proceeded to outmaneuver all contenders and demolish the edifice of Omayyad power in Khorasan in barely six months?

Among modern historians, the notion of a decades long, centrally directed, carefully controlled ʿAbbasid revolutionary conspiracy in Khorasan has been steadily eroded (Shacklady, p. 108; Sharon, 1983, pp. 227-29; Agha, 2003). The presence of a daʿwa organization with loose ties to a Kufan offshoot of the Kaysāniya is possible or even probable, but did its inner circles have an actual commitment to a member of the ʿAbbasid family? The whole point of the idea of al-reżā was that a candidate from among the family of the Prophet would emerge and be selected by consensus (šurā) after the movement succeeded. It is quite possible that the missioners did not reveal the identity of their Chosen One, not to protect him, but because they had no idea or firm commitment about whom that might be. Moshe Sharon argues that the clandestine organization was small and pro-ʿAlid, and the Hāšhemiya did not become ʿAbbasid before 125/743 (Sharon, 1983, p. 229). Said Saleh Agha goes even further and suggests that it was not until Abu Moslem settled on Ebrāhim as imam and then only nominally, as Abu Moslem was using Ebrāhim for his own purposes rather than the other way around (Agha, 2003, pp. 4-5). Indeed, one could well say the movement was not definitively ʿAbbasid until Abu Salama produced the refugee al-Saffāḥ as imam.

If the movement was open as to leadership, then it is likely that it was equally malleable when it came to its ideology, which has been extensively sanitized in the sources. In that case, Ḵedāš appears not as a heretical outlier but as a core figure of the daʿwa and a precursor to the success of Abu Moslem himself. It is not entirely clear whether Ḵedāš was converted and brought into the daʿwa by Hāšemi circles in Kufa, or recruited into the organization after his move to Marv, or insinuated himself into it with a view of taking it over. However, there is little reason to doubt that he was the de facto leader of the movement for nearly a decade, that he breathed life into it by winning over large numbers of new supporters (and veteran members of the daʿwa organization as well), and that he did so by preaching something very different from the earlier, vague, quasi-Shiʿite propaganda. It is likely that this very success is what brought him to the attention of the authorities and led to his execution on the orders of the governor (Balāḏori’s unique claim, III, p. 117, that he was attacked and killed by ʿAbbasid loyalists is a transparent effort to bolster the notion of Moḥammad b. ʿAli’s orthodoxy and authority over the daʿwa).

The authorities apparently saw Ḵedāš as a Shiʿite because of what he had said about Abu Bakr and ʿOmar (Ṭabari, II, p. 1589; Sharon, 1983, p. 172 also views him as “a loyal follower of the House of ʿAlī”; this assessment is rejected by Crone, 2012, pp. 495-97). The laconic account in Ṭabari of Ḵedāš’s substituting the din al-Ḵorramiya, specifically the sharing of women, for the teachings of the ʿAbbasid imam is fleshed out by Ebn al-Aṯir (V, p. 196): There was no strict requirement for fasting, ritual prayer, or pilgrimage, all of which could be fulfilled through devotion to the imam. This was further justified on the principle of Qurʾan 5:96, “There is no shame on those who believe and do good deeds” (in that case, because of past dietary practices). As for the sharing of women, Patricia Crone (2012, p. 83) has made the important point that Ḵedāš was not promoting it so much as making an exception or dispensation for it (using the juristic term raḵḵaṣa, to grant a concession because of exigent circumstances), essentially reaching a pragmatic accommodation with a local, “nativist” religion (other tenets of which are elucidated in Crone, 2012, pp. 279-438). In all of this, Ḵedāš was setting a low threshold for what constituted conversion to Islam—a very different standard from the nearly contemporary demand by the governor Ašras b. ʿAbd-Allāh Solami in 110/728-29 that, to be counted as a Muslim and avoid the poll tax, it was necessary to be circumcised, perform the obligatory rituals, and recite a chapter of the Qurʾan (Ṭabari, II, p. 1508).

The Ḵedāš phenomenon is strikingly similar to the accusation in a letter of the Omayyad secretary ʿAbd-al-Ḥamid b. Yaḥyā, dated to 128/745-46, that an “evil one” in Khorasan had agitated an upstart rabble (nābeta) of people of obscure origin, the lower classes, and “slaves” (ariqqā’) who “laid claims to Islam while remaining ignorant of it”—not surprisingly, since they had just recently been worshipping fires and idols (Qadi, pp. 32-34). The letter does not name the “evil one,” who presumably was Abu Moslem, and it indeed seems that Abu Moslem was able to swell the ranks of his army rapidly by making a special effort to proselytize the masses and “slaves” (ʿabid), asking simply if they were Muslims before accepting them (Aḵbār, pp. 280-81). It is well known that he deliberately obscured his own background by identifying himself only in terms of religion, Islam, and place, Khorasan. He applied the same egalitarian standards to all those enrolled in the pay register of his army, recording only personal names and home villages. Other distinctions such as ethnicity were swept away by fusing the cause of vengeance on the ruling Omayyad Arabs for their persecution of the family of the Prophet with a much broader general resentment of Omayyad oppression and the promise of a vague Islamic utopia for all.

The extent to which the ʿAbbasid daʿwa in Khorasan should thus also be seen as a successful effort at mass conversion to Islam has important implications for the hotly debated question of the social basis for the revolution. If the ʿAbbasid movement was above all an Islamic one, and thus its followers were Muslims, then where did they come from? It has been suggested that significant conversion of the Khorasani population to Islam occurred only after the ʿAbbasid revolution, in which case most of the supporters of the daʿwa in Khorasan must have been primarily Arabs (Bulliet, 1979, p. 43). If “conversion” meant meeting the kind of tests imposed by Ašras, the proposition would likely be true, but certainly not in terms of “conversion” according to the standards used by Ḵedāš or Abu Moslem. That there was a large pool of aggrieved, non-Arab, people who considered themselves oppressed Muslims and were ripe for recruitment by the daʿwa is suggested by the report that in 121/738-39 Naṣr b. Sayyār’s tax collector re-imposed the poll tax on 80,000 “polytheists” who had been exempted from it (Ṭabari, II, p. 1689), presumably by claiming to be Muslims.

Naṣr b. Sayyār, along with at least some of his contemporaries, saw his opponents as neither Arab tribesmen nor their mawāli but as “Magians and louts” (Aḵbār, p. 324), whose religion was not that of the Prophet or the Qurʾan but simply “the destruction of the Arabs” (Balāḏori, III, p. 132). This was propaganda to be sure, but how much truth was behind it? Nineteenth-century Orientalists such as G. van Vloten, followed by more than a few Iranian nationalist historians, in much the same fashion as Naṣr, saw the revolution as an uprising of Iranians in the guise of Shiʿism to take revenge on the Arabs, a view moderated in the more rigorous study by Julius Wellhausen as one that “did not originate with the Iranian nation, but with a sect of a fairly circumscribed locality from which the Arabs were not excluded” (p. 535); in other words, that it was primarily a movement of the mawāli of Kufa and Marv, Iranians by nationality and shopkeepers and artisans by trade (p. 514), attempting to overthrow “not the Arabs per se, but the ruling Arabs” (p. 535), and that the majority of Abu Moslem’s followers “consisted of Iranian peasants and of the Mawali of the villages of Marw” (p. 532) along with some Arabs connected to them by religion. Since then, as noted by Étienne de la Vaissière (2018, p. 110) the pendulum of scholarly opinion “has moved toward the idea of a mainly Arab revolution, only to go back in the opposite direction in more recent works” (for the “Arab” case, see Shaban, 1970; Sharon, 1983, 1990; Elad, 2000, and for the “Iranian” or mass uprising case, Daniel, 1979, 1996; Zakeri, 1995; Agha, 2003). The variation in interpretations is hardly surprising given the tendentious nature of the sources, where so much is uncertain and almost any statement can be taken as fact by one historian and dismissed as fiction by another. However, some empirical data is being brought to bear on these debates. There is a veritable bonanza of prosopographical information to be found in the sources, especially the anonymous Aḵbār al-ʿAbbas, and this has been exhaustively studied by Saleh Abbas Agha (2003, pp. 223-379, esp. p. 316). As he notes, the rank and file of the movement remain anonymous, but of the known membership in Khorasan the upper echelons seem to be split more or less equally between Arabs and mawāli, while the lower ranks are composed overwhelmingly of new converts (62 percent) and mawāli. Using archaeological findings and other sources, de la Vaissière (2018) makes an important distinction between early phases of the movement, when significant Arab participation was possible and perhaps likely, and the overt revolutionary phase, which must have had the extensive support of Iranian converts or those “on the verge of converting” (p. 144).

Abu Moslem and Khorasan

When Qaḥṭaba b. Šabib reached Ray in the winter of 131/748, Abu Moslem moved his capital from Marv to Nishapur and was already minting coins that year calling himself the amirālMoḥammad (Guest, p. 555; Ṭabari, III, p. 60 uses the title amin rather than amir). Whatever the truth about Abu Moslem’s background and initial role in the daʿwa organization might be, there can be no doubt he took this title seriously and moved quickly, relentlessly, and effectively to consolidate authority over Khorasan in his hands. Indeed, as the situation in Khorasan stabilized, he was able to extend his rule to other areas including Yazd (Aḥmad Kāteb, pp. 59-60; Bafqi, pp. 37-38) , Fārs (where he executed Abu Salama’s appointees and ousted a governor sent by the ʿAbbasid caliph; Ṭabari, III, pp. 71-72), and Sistān (Tāriḵ-e Sistān, tr., pp. 106-9), and he concluded an alliance with the Eṣbahbaḏ of Ṭabarestān (Aḵbār, p. 333; Ebn al-Aṯir, V, p. 397). He was also able to initiate a number of campaigns that brought areas beyond the Oxus firmly under his control. There is also evidence of revitalization in the many construction projects carried out by him or at his direction in Nishapur, Marv, and Samarqand, including government buildings, mosques, and markets as well as the city wall of Samarqand (Ḥākem Nišāburi, pp. 217-18; Herzfeld, p. 172; Haug, p. 157; Karev, 2015, pp. 113-14), all indicating he was in control of the area’s finances and using the resources for its development.

Abu Moslem still had to deal with two other aspiring revolutionaries, both of whom had fled to Khorasan from Iraq after failed efforts there. One was the Kharijite Šaybān b. Salama, who had arrived at Marv about the same time as Abu Moslem had declared his revolt. For a while, Šaybān cooperated with Jodayʿ Kermāni against Naṣr b. Sayyār, but then he withdrew to Saraḵs to wait out the conflict. In Šaʿbān 130/April 748, after Šaybān arrested and killed negotiators sent by Abu Moslem, he was attacked and killed by one of Abu Moslem’s commanders (Ṭabari, II, 1996-97; Aḵbār, p. 321).

A serious problem for Abu Moslem was the arrival in Khorasan of ʿAbd-Allāh b. Moʿāwiya, the great-grandson of ʿAli b. Abi Ṭāleb’s brother Jaʿfar. After a failed revolt in Kufa in 127/744, he had moved to Fārs and established an ephemeral government there. Defeated by the Omayyad general Ebn Żobāra in 129/746-47, he then made his way to Khorasan. One might think ʿAbd-Allāh would have been well-received by Abu Moslem: He was another reputed legatee of Abu Hāšem, his ideology was virtually identical to that of the Hāšemiya, he used the same slogans, and, curiously enough, at least three senior members of the ʿAbbasid family had served in his administration in Fārs. When he turned up in Herat, he told Abu Moslem’s agent that he was there because he had heard the revolutionaries were calling for al-reżā minālMoḥammad. However, the agent reported him to Abu Moslem, who ordered his arrest and then, it seems, had him smothered, probably in 131/748-49 (Balāḏori, II, p. 66; Ebn al-Aṯir, V, pp. 372-73). While Abu Moslem had not hesitated to champion the cause of the martyred Yaḥyā b. Zayd, the appearance of a credible living candidate to be the Chosen One at a critical moment in the overt revolution was a threat that had to be handled quickly and discretely.

Toward the end of 131/June 749 or shortly thereafter, Abu Moslem turned on his erstwhile allies, ʿAli and ʿOṯmān, the sons of Jodayʿ Kermāni. ʿOṯmān was promised the governorship of Ḵottal (q.v.), but he was ambushed and killed on the way. Abu Moslem had feigned deference to ʿAli after the fall of Marv, and the latter accompanied him to Nishapur. Once there, ʿAli and his closest supporters were lured to a meeting on the pretext of receiving honors and government appointments, but instead they were all murdered (Ṭabari, II, pp. 1999-2000; Ebn al-Aṯir, V, p. 385; Balāḏori, III, p. 131).

There had been stiff resistance among the older generation of the daʿwa leadership to Abu Moslem, and a purge of them soon began. First to be executed was Lāhez b. Qorayẓ, accused of alerting Naṣr b. Sayyār to the plot to kill him (Ṭabari, II, p. 1995). In 132/749-50, Abu Moslem either plotted or acquiesced in a plan to murder the chief of the Kufan daʿwa, Abu Salama, and sent one of his agents to carry out the assassination. During the subsequent visit by a delegation sent to Khorasan by al-Saffāḥ, including his brother Abu Jaʿfar, Abu Moslem beheaded Solaymān b. Kaṯir for “plotting treachery to the Imam” (Ṭabari, III, pp. 60-61). We are not given any convincing explanation of what the nature of the conspiracy might have been, but it is telling that, after witnessing this, Abu Jaʿfar warned al-Saffāḥ that Abu Moslem “does what he pleases,” and the title of caliph would be meaningless as long as Abu Moslem was alive (Ṭabari, III, p. 61).

It was probably early in his tenure in Nishapur that Abu Moslem had to deal with two other very different types of religious opposition. One was a revolt by a breakaway neo-Ḵedāšite faction of the daʿwa known as the Ḵālediya after its leader Abu Ḵāled. The group claimed that after the death of the Imam Ebrāhim the office had reverted to the family of ʿAli b. Abi Ṭāleb. Abu Moslem attacked them and forced them to flee and go into hiding across the Oxus. The group continued to be active until 141/758-59, when Abu Ḵaled was captured and killed (Aḵbār, pp. 403-4).

The other problem for Abu Moslem in this period was the agitation surrounding a Zoroastrian “false prophet,” Behāfarid (q.v.). This event was hardly mentioned in the Arabic historical sources, but it figures in heresiographies and Persian sources (e.g., Ebn al-Nadim, p. 407, tr. Dodge, II, p. 822; Baḡdādi, pp. 354-55, tr. pp. 220-21; Šahrastāni, I, p. 283; Biruni, pp. 210-11, tr., pp. 193-94; Gardizi, pp. 119-20; Ḵᵛāfi, pp. 280-81). Behāfarid was a native of Zuzan in the district of Ḵᵛāf (Ebn al-Nadim says a village near Nishapur) who had spent seven years in China, presumably as a merchant. On his return, he supposedly staged a fake death and resurrection, wearing a green silk shirt he had acquired in China, to dupe peasants into thinking he had returned from heaven. He produced a holy book in Persian instructing his followers to have daily prayers facing the sun, not to drink wine or eat carrion, not to engage in close-kinship marriages or have large dowries, and to pay a seventh of their property and income for the upkeep of roads and bridges. It is not clear whether his movement constituted an actual revolt, but he must have tapped into enough local support to be seen as a threat to the social order. Zoroastrian priestly officials, the mubaḏs and herbaḏs, complained to Abu Moslem that Behāfarid was corrupting both Zoroastrianism and Islam. Abu Moslem, who seems to have been on good terms with the Zoroastrian elite in Nishapur, sent a force to attack Behāfarid and his followers. They fled to the mountains of Bādḡis, but Behāfarid was captured, brought to Nishapur, and executed. Behāfarid has been seen as the leader of a “Mithraic revolt” (Pourshariati, p. 451) or as a Zoroastrian reformer adapting to an Islamic environment (Crone, 2012, pp. 149-51). However, the influence of Islam on his teachings and practices, as well as his claim to be a monotheist, is obvious; indeed, there is a report that he had been converted to Islam by missioners of the ʿAbbasid daʿwa (Ebn al-Nadim, p. 407, tr., p. 822). After his execution, his body was displayed at the main mosque of Nishapur (recently constructed by Abu Moslem). The heresiographer Baḡdādi acknowledged that Behāfarid’s teachings were “superior” to those of the “original Magians” but still outside the pale of acceptability because they originated after the rise of Islam (tr., p. 221). In a sense, Behāfarid, much like Ḵedāš, could be viewed as attempting to accommodate local beliefs and practices with Islam and thus posed a rival threat Abu Moslem could not ignore.

The last major threat to Abu Moslem’s domination of Khorasan was in 132 or 133/750 with the outbreak of a revolt in Bukhara led by Šarik b. Šayḵ Mahri. Šarik was apparently one of many people who had joined the daʿwa to support the nebulous call for al-reżā but was now disenchanted by the installation of an ʿAbbasid, rather than an ʿAlid, caliph as well as the bloody purges that followed the revolution (Ṭabari, III, p. 74; Gardizi, p. 120; Naršaḵi, tr., pp. 62-65). He rallied a large number of followers from Ḵᵛārazm and Transoxiana, most likely drawn from the Arabs who had earlier been supporters of Kermāni and Ebn al-Kermāni. Abu Moslem gathered his forces at Āmol on the Oxus and sent a detachment under Ziād b. Ṣāleḥ to attack Šarik, but there was a stalemate until the local ruler, Qotayba b. Ṭoḡšāda the Boḵār-ḵodā, sided with Ziād and ordered the non-Arab population to put on ʿAbbasid black and besiege Šarik. Šarik was captured on a foraging mission and killed, and Bukhara was captured after a violent battle.

After the fall of Bukhara, Abu Moslem’s forces were able to subjugate or pacify other areas across the Oxus, including Ḵottal, Farḡāna, Šāš (Čāč), and Keš (qq.v). In these areas, many of the local rulers were hostile to Abu Moslem, and a coalition of them appealed to T’ang China for help. A large Chinese force was sent to assist the Eḵšid (q.v.), the Sogdian ruler of Farḡāna, against the king of Šāš, and Abu Moslem retaliated by sending Ziād, his governor in Samarqand, to attack the Chinese and their allies; the main battle took place at Aṭlaḵ (Ṭarāz or Talas) in July 751 and ended in the complete rout of the Chinese coalition. Rarely mentioned by the Muslim historians (an exception is Ebn al-Aṯir, V, p. 449), the battle was of decisive importance in breaking Chinese influence in the region and beginning the process of the integration of Transoxiana into Khorasan (see Barthold, pp. 195-96; Gibb, pp. 97-98; Karev, 2002, pp. 11-16; Haug, pp. 154-58). In its aftermath, a number of the local rulers were executed or they and their families deported; even Qotayba b. Ṭoḡšāda, who had rendered critical assistance in the war with Šarik b. Šayḵ, was executed on a charge of apostasy (Naršaḵi, tr. p. 10). The reasons for this are not clear, but it may be that Abu Moslem was signaling a new policy under which these areas were no longer regarded as autonomous frontier principalities but dependencies of Khorasan, and the local rulers could no longer be compromised by pro-Chinese or un-Islamic loyalties (see discussion in Karev, 2012, pp. 20-21).

Following up on these successes in Central Asia, according to a unique account (Maqdesi, VI, p. 74, tr. p. 75), Abu Moslem was planning to invade China itself, and his activities in Transoxiana were certainly compatible with preparations for such an enterprise. If so, his plans were upset by the tensions that had been building up with the ʿAbbasids in Iraq for some time: the Abu Salama affair; Abu Jaʿfar’s visit to Khorasan; the execution of Solaymān b. Kaṯir; disagreement over dealing with the surrender of the Omayyad governor Ebn Hobayra; disputes over the appointment of governors in western Persia and Sind. In 135/752-53, Ziād b. Ṣāleḥ declared a revolt against Abu Moslem, using the same slogan as had Šarik b. Šayḵ (Balāḏori, III, 168-69; Ṭabari, III, pp. 81-82). It is possible that he simply became overly ambitious following his victories in Central Asia, but there are numerous indications that he was inspired to revolt because of intrigues by the ʿAbbasid ruling family in Iraq, who were more than fearful of Abu Moslem. It seems the caliph al-Saffāḥ had secretly sent a letter to Ziād offering him the governorship of Khorasan and encouraging him to kill Abu Moslem if he found an opportunity (Ṭabari, III, 82). On advancing to Āmol, Abu Moslem was informed that the man who had carried the caliphal letter to Ziād, Sibāʾ b. Noʿmān (another former supporter of Jodayʿ Kermāni) was in his entourage; Sibāʾ was flogged and beheaded. Ziād’s commanders defected almost at once to Abu Moslem, and Ziād fled to the dehqān (q.v.) of a town near Samarqand, but the dehqān killed him and sent his head to Abu Moslem, which he, in turn, made an insolent point of sending on to al-Saffāḥ. Abu Moslem subsequently discovered correspondence by ʿIsā b. Māhān (a notorious ʿAbbasid agent) trying to stir up discord between two of Abu Moslem’s key commanders. ʿIsā was left to the mercy of the army, and several of the officers put him in a sack and clubbed him to death (Ṭabari, III, pp. 83-84).

In 136/753-54, Abu Moslem requested permission to visit the caliph Abu’l-ʿAbbās al-Saffāḥ at his court at Anbār in Iraq, ostensibly to obtain the caliph’s consent to perform the ḥajj. Whether his objective was simply to clear the atmosphere of distrust that had developed, or the arena of his ambitions was being expanded (perhaps aiming very high indeed; see Agha, 2003, p. 71) can only be a matter of speculation. His preparations were as usual meticulous: He entrusted the governorship of Khorasan to one of his most loyal commanders, Abu Dawud Ḵāled b. Ebrāhim; stationed troops along the road from Nishapur to Ray (where he also established his treasury); and marched to Anbār with as many men as the caliph would agree to let him bring. The subsequent events outside Khorasan need not be discussed in detail here. In brief, Abu Moslem hoped to add to his prestige by leading the ḥajj, but al-Saffāh claimed to have already promised that to his brother, and Abu Moslem’s fiercest enemy, Abu Jaʿfar al-Manṣur. Al-Saffāḥ died unexpectedly, at the age of thirty-three, while Abu Jaʿfar and Abu Moslem were on the pilgrimage. Abu Jaʿfar had already been plotting to kill Abu Moslem (Ṭabari, III, pp. 85-86) but now had to turn his attention to securing his own accession to the caliphate, as his claim was contested almost at once by his powerful uncle, ʿAbd-Allāh b. ʿAli, commander of the forces that had defeated the Omayyads in Syria. Abu Moslem is also said to have tried to advance another and presumably more pliable candidate, al-Manṣur’s cousin ʿIsā b. Musā, who declined (Ṭabari, III, p. 100). Al-Manṣur thus needed Abu Moslem to thwart ʿAbd-Allāh b. ʿAli, while Abu Moslem needed to try to appease al-Manṣur. The uneasy alliance lasted only until ʿAbd-Allāh was defeated and placed under house arrest in Jomādā II 137/November 754, as Abu Moslem and al-Manṣur immediately started quarreling over the division of the spoils. Abu Moslem’s close advisors urged him to return to Khorasan, where he would have a loyal army and could do as he pleased, while al-Manṣur sought to keep him away by offering the governorship of Syria and Egypt, by flattery, and finally by threats. At the same, the caliph made overtures to Ḵāled b. Ebrāhim, offering him the governorship of Khorasan for help in persuading (or preventing) Abu Moslem from returning to the province. In the end, whether out of over-confidence or by being trapped by the mythos of loyalty to the Chosen One that he himself had helped create, Abu Moslem ultimately decided to present himself for an audience with al-Manṣur and was promptly assassinated ca. 24 Šaʿban 137/12 February 755 (Ṭabari, III, p. 115).

An anticipated revolt of the Khorasanis in the ʿAbbasid army in response to Abu Moslem’s murder did not materialize, thanks to the combined effects of confusion, fear, isolation, and bribery; only some of the disgruntled soldiers eventually had to be expelled (Ṭabari, III, p. 117). There were, however, repercussions in Khorasan. The first of several rebellions to avenge Abu Moslem was led by Sonbāḏ, who either had been left in charge of Abu Moslem’s treasury in Ray or took this occasion to seize it. There are numerous conflicting accounts of exactly who Sonbāḏ was, where he came from, and how he initiated his revolt. He is often described as a native of the Nishapur area, perhaps even a high-ranking official (Yaʿqubi, Taʾriḵ, II, p. 441; Maqdesi, VI, p. 82; Balʿami, II, p. 1093; Neẓām-al-Molk, tr. p. 279); one late source claims his incitement there of violence against the Arab and Iranian elites won the approval of Abu Moslem, who persuaded him to convert and to join the daʿwa (Tāriḵ-e alfi, ff. 247b-248a). At the time of Abu Moslem’s murder, he was either stationed in Ḥolwān and rebelled after he had been detained on his way back to Khorasan (Balāḏori, III, p. 246), or he was still in Nishapur, where he was encouraged by refugees from Abu Moslem’s army to avenge his death (Yaʿqubi, II, p. 442). Most of his followers actually seem to have come from the Jebāl, and it was at Ray that Sonbāḏ apostasized, laid claim to the title Firuz Eṣbahbaḏ, and attacked the Muslim population (Ṭabari, III, p. 119). Al-Manṣur sent an army under Jahwar b. Marrār ʿEjli against him; Sonbāḏ was routed and fled to Ṭabarestān, where he was murdered (Daniel, 1979, pp. 126-30; Crone, 2012, pp. 32-40). After massacring the local Zoroastrian population, Jahwar refused to turn over Abu Moslem’s treasury or the spoils to the caliph and then rebelled, supported by a mostly Iranian army, but was eventually defeated, imprisoned, and killed (Ṭabari, III, p. 122).


As birthplace of the ʿAbbasid Revolution, Khorasan now came into even greater prominence within the Islamic ecumene. It was from the province’s association with the ʿAbbasids that hadiths or traditions came into circulation like the one attributed to the Prophet: “Khorasan is God’s quiver; when He becomes angry with a people, he launches at them the Khorasanis” (cited in Herzfeld, pp. 107, 120). As an indicator of feelings of stability and permanence among the Muslims there, one may note the mention of Islamic buildings being constructed in Khorasan, with Abu Moslem’s government headquarters (dār-al-emāra), mosque, and market at Marv, and his mosque with wooden columns at Nishapur (Herzfeld, p. 172; Ḥākem Nišāburi, pp. 217-18). This new prominence of the region also brought large numbers of Khorasanis, Arabs, and Persian mawāli westwards to the new center of the caliphate, Iraq, and its eventual seat there at Baghdad, and the province necessarily basked in ʿAbbasid favor at this time. In a sermon (ḵoṭba) delivered at Hāšemiya, the forerunner of al-Manṣur’s new capital Baghdad, this second caliph eulogized them as “O people of Khorasan, you are our party (šiʿa), our helpers (anṣār), and the supporters of our cause (daʿwa)” (Masʿudi, VI, p. 203). Among the Khorasanian families who came westwards at this time was the originally Buddhist family of the Barmakids (q.v.) of Balḵ. Ḵāled b. Barmak had joined the ʿAbbasid daʿwa and was rewarded by the first caliph of the new line, Abu’l-ʿAbbās Saffāḥ, with the control of military finances, thus inaugurating the family’s meteoric but short-lived rise to power and glory at the ʿAbbasid court (Sourdel, I, pp. 129-81; Mottahedeh, pp. 68-71). Many of the caliphs’ Khorasani guards and civilian officials, called the abnāʾ al-dawla (see ABNĀʾ), settled at Baghdad in the quarter of Ḥarbiya to the north of the city. The abnāʾ al-dawla continued to be the mainstay of the caliphate until al-Maʾmun (q.v.; r. 198-218/813-33) and then his brother and successor al-Moʿtaṣem (r. 218-27/833-42) started to recruit contingents of Iranian free troops from Central Asia, the Šākeriya (<Pers. čākar, q.v.), and Turkish slave troops (ḡelmān, mamālik) purchased in Transoxiana, alongside the older military units of the remnants of the original Arab moqātela and the Khorasani abnāʾ al-dawla (Crone, 1980, pp. 158 ff.).

In Khorasan itself, however, ʿAbbasid rule was hardly unperturbed. Various groups were disillusioned with the outcome of a revolution that inevitably fell far short of the apocalyptic, messianic, or millenarian expectations it had aroused; or frustrated by the installation of an ʿAbbasid caliphate rather than a Fāṭemid/Ṭālebid one; or alienated by the assassination of Abu Moslem (or at least using his death as an excuse to rebel). Beyond that, there were basic realities the revolution had not changed or that returned with al-Manṣur’s policies: Khorasan was again a province of the caliphate in the west, and it was usually in the hands of Arab governors designated by the caliph. Those governors not infrequently provoked revolts or became rebellious themselves. A system continued under which some cities and towns were governed by appointees of the central government, while others and remote districts were dominated by local magnates (either the indigeneous ones or replacements drawn from the daʿwa leadership, but now mostly Islamicized). Relations between the central government, backed the abnāʿ, and the local elites, the wojuh or moluk Ḵorāsān, were perennially uneasy.

When Abu Moslem went to Iraq, he had left Khorasan in the hands of Abu Dāwud Ḵāled b. Ebrāhim, who seems to have been an Abu Moslem loyalist, although it is possible that he switched his alliance to al-Manṣur. According to Ṭabari (III, p. 107), after Abu Dāwud had been offered the governorship of Khorasan by al-Manṣur, he admonished Abu Moslem not to oppose al-Manṣur and to return to Khorasan only with the caliph’s permission. However, Balāḏori (III, pp. 226-27) indicates that Abu Dāwud was outraged by Abu Moslem’s murder and reviled the caliph. This was reported to al-Manṣur, who intrigued with the chief of Abu Dāwud’s bodyguard, Abu ʿEṣām, to bring about his death. Other sources indicate that a disturbance of some kind against Abu Dāwud was stirred up in the army at Marv, and during the commotion Abu Dāwud died by falling accidentally, or perhaps not so accidentally, from a parapet (Ṭabari, III, p. 128; Balāḏori, III, p. 227; Maqdisi, tr., VI, p. 83). Gardizi, however, states (p. 123) that Abu Dāwud was killed in 140/757 by the sapid-jāmagān ‘wearers of white’ (a group known in other contexts as religious extremists seeking vengeance for Abu Moslem).

Shortly after Abu Dāwud’s death, al-Manṣur appointed ʿAbd-al-Jabbār b. ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Azdi (q.v.), an early member of the daʿwa organization and a prominent officer in the revolutionary army, as governor. The sources give a bewildering and contradictory array of accounts of ʿAbd-al-Jabbār’s policies in Khorasan (see Moscati, 1947; Daniel, 1979, pp. 159-62; Crone, pp. 108-10), but they generally involve purges of opponents under the guise of rooting out ʿAlid sympathizers (although he was himself accused of being a Shiʿite), the imposition of heavy taxes, tyrannical behavior, and perhaps some tribal vendettas. To begin with, ʿAbd-al-Jabbār may well have been following, albeit overzealously, the instructions of the caliph to impose centralized control over the province and eliminate ʿAlid partisans, but when a litany of complaints from the local elites (or slanders by his political opponents at the caliphal court) caused al-Manṣur to recall him, ʿAbd-al-Jabbār resisted and ultimately rebelled openly. According to the most detailed sources (Balāḏori, III, pp. 227-30; Gardizi, pp. 123-24), he allied with the “wearers of white” (Ar. mobayyeża or Pers. sapid-jāmagān) and seems to have promoted their sectarian leader, Barāz-banda, as a kind of counter-caliph who called himself “Ebrāhim al-Hāšemi.” Barāz was apparently a disciple of Esḥāq “the Turk” (see EṢḤĀQ TORK), who had been sent by Abu Moslem to proselytize among the Turks and who, after Abu Moslem’s assassination, taught that Abu Moslem was not dead but in concealment until he would return to re-establish the true religion. As suggested by Patricia Crone (2012, p. 110), ʿAbd-al-Jabbār may thus have been attempting to forge an anti-ʿAbbasid coalition of ʿAlid and Abu Moslem supporters in Khorasan. It that context, it is worth noting that a good many of those purged by ʿAbd-al-Jabbār came from one of the most pro-ʿAbbasid tribal groups in Khorasan, the Ḵozāʿa (who would supply a significant number of later governors of the province). The threat was serious enough for al-Manṣur to designate his son, Moḥammad al-Mahdi, as viceroy for the eastern provinces, based in Ray; al-Mahdi assembled an army to attack ʿAbd-al-Jabbār. Barāz/Ebrāhim was killed in the fighting, and ʿAbd-al-Jabbār was defeated and captured in Rabiʿ I 142/July 759 (Gardizi, p. 124). He was sent to al-Manṣur, who had him executed in a particularly brutal manner (Yaʿqubi, Taʾriḵ, II, p. 446; Ṭabari, III, p. 135).

Al-Mahdi remained at Ray as the overlord of Khorasan until 144/761-62, when he returned to Iraq (Ṭabari, III, p. 143). His tenure there and the struggle with ʿAbd-al-Jabbār was important in that it gave the future caliph an opportunity to cultivate ties with reliable members of the Khorasani army and to recruit his own retinue of Khorasani supporters, who would be settled in the Roṣafa quarter of Baghdad. After the experience with ʿAbd-al-Jabbār, al-Manṣur and al-Mahdi were also more cautious, or fortunate, in their selection of governors for Khorasan and faced no such insubordination from them. However, ʿAbbasid relations with the Khorasani elites continued to be vexed by issues such as the struggle against the Ḥasanid brothers, Moḥammad and Ebrāhim b. ʿAbd-Allāh, who clearly had many sympathizers in Khorasan (see, e.g., Ṭabari, III, p. 183), and the removal of al-Manṣur’s nephew, ʿIsā b. Musā, from a previously agreed upon line of succession, first by al-Manṣur in 147/764-65 in favor of al-Mahdi and again in 158/774-75 by al-Mahdi in favor of his son Musā al-Hādi. The Khorasani abnāʾ in Iraq disliked ʿIsā b. Musā and clamored for the change in succession (Yaʿqubi, Taʾriḵ, II, p. 457), but ʿIsa b. Musā had been closely associated with Abu Moslem and remained popular with the pro-Abu Moslem groups and other factions in Khorasan itself (Amabe, p. 90). At least three Khorasani notables had to be arrested and brought from Khorasan in chains in 153/770 because of their support for ʿIsā b. Musā (Ṭabari, III, p. 371).

The controversies surrounding the deposition of ʿIsā b. Musā and accession of al-Mahdi were at least a factor in two major revolts that broke out in Khorasan, although both revolts also reflected broader patterns of dissent going back to Sonbāḏ and Behāfarid. The first was the revolt of Ostāḏsis in the rural district of Bāḏḡis, north of Herat and near an important silver mine. People from the area had become at least nominal Muslims during the time al-Mahdi was in Khorasan (Gardizi, p. 125), and Ostāḏsis may have converted during the governorship of Abu ʿAwn ʿAbd-al-Malek b. Yazid (ca. 143-46/760-64), with whom he was on friendly terms. Yaʿqubi (Taʾriḵ, II, p. 457) indicates the revolt began after the deposition of ʿIsā b. Musā, when Ostāḏsis refused to pay allegiance to al-Mahdi. Gardizi (p. 125) says it began after a raid on Kabul in which men from Bāḏḡis had participated, apparently in a dispute over the division of the spoils. Ṭabari (III, pp. 354-58) dates the revolt to 150/767-68, but that probably reflects a later phase of the revolt rather than its beginnings. Again according to Ṭabari, the revolt reached huge proportions, drawing in other areas and dissidents and conquering “most of Khorasan,” as Ostāḏsis and his army of 300,000 followers defeated one ʿAbbasid commander after another. As in other cases, Ostāḏsis is said to have added a religious dimension to the revolt by claiming prophecy and promulgating the doctrines of the Behāfaridiyya; this despite the reports of conversion to Islam and the presence of a qāżi in his army. Ostāḏsis was defeated by Ḵāzem b. Ḵozayma in 150/767-68; he, his family, and remaining followers took refuge in a mountain fortress until persuaded by Abu ʿAwn to surrender. Most of the rebels were released; Ostāḏsis was put in chains and perhaps sent to Baghdad to be executed (Yaʿqubi, Taʾriḵ, II, pp. 457-58), though this is not certain (Gardizi, p. 125, says Abu ʿAwn honored the promise of protection and Ostāḏsis was not harmed).

Just as the revolt of Ostāḏsis had broken out not long after the first deposition of ʿIsā b. Musā, the revolt of Yusof b. Ebrāhim Barm began not long after the second deposition. Little is known about Yusof, but the revolt is explicitly described as a rejection of al-Mahdi and his policies (Ṭabari, III, p. 470) and a call for government based on the principle of commanding good (al-amr be’l-maʿruf, see AMR BE MAʿRUF; Yaʿqubi, Taʾriḵ, II, p. 478); in which case, Jahšiāri’s description of him (p. 278) as a kāfer ‘infidel’ is hard to accept. The revolt seems to have originated in the area of Jowzjān and spread to Bušanj (Fušanj, q.v.), Ṭālaqān, and Marv al-ruḏ. Yusof was defeated in 160/776-77 after many of his followers defected; he was sent to Roṣāfa, where he was executed in much the same manner as ʿAbd-al-Jabbār had been (for details, see Daniel, pp. 166-67; Amabe, p. 92; Crone, 2012, pp. 157-59).

By far the most important of the anti-Abbasid revolts to break out in Khorasan during this period was that of the “veiled prophet,” Hāšem b. Ḥakim (or Hāšem-e Ḥakim) Moqannaʿ (q.v.). The revolt followed a pattern similar to preceding ones of a recruit to the ʿAbbasid revolution later breaking with it and organizing a local resistance supposedly tinged with an esoteric religious ideology. Said, perhaps incorrectly, to be a native of Balḵ residing in a village near Marv (Maqdesi, VI, p. 97, tr. p. 96; Naršaḵi, p. 90, tr. p.66), he supported the daʿwa and became an officer (sarhang) in Abu Moslem’s army, secretary (dabir) to Abu Dāwud, and then the minister (wazir) for ʿAbd-al-Jabbār. After the fall of ʿAbd-al-Jabbār, he either went into hiding or was arrested and imprisoned for a while in Baghdad. When he appeared again in Marv, he began organizing a daʿwa of his own that proved particularly successful, thanks to the missionary activities of his father-in-law, ʿAbd-Allāh b. ʿAmr, in the districts of Sogdia. The governor Ḥomayd b. Qahṭaba ordered Hāšem’s arrest, but he managed to escape across the Oxus to strongholds in the area of Keš (q.v.), probably around 157/773-74. There, he was supported by numerous dehqāns, the sapid-jāmagān (probably anti-ʿAbbasid, pro-Abu Moslem villagers), Turks, and even the king of Bukhara, Bonyāt b. Ṭoḡšāda.

The sources record an array of fantastic religious teachings as well as tricks used by Hāšem to gather followers: He claimed to be a prophet and then a god; he taught a doctrine of metempsychosis (tanāsoḵ), i.e., the transmission of a divine spirit through ʿAli and Abu Moslem to himself; he created the illusion of a false moon rising at his command from a well in Naḵšab; he wore a veil or mask to shield his followers from the radiance of his face; etc. They depict him as both a lowly tradesman (a fuller) and a skilled engineer, magician, and necromancer; they claim he used his veil as a means of disguising his physical deformities; and they describe his fortress as a luxurious retreat where he could pass the time drinking wine and enjoying his large harem made up of the most beautiful daughters of the dehqāns. Such accusations may be evidence more of the hysteria caused by the perceived threat posed by Moqannaʿ and his movement, especially among major Arab landholders such as the sons of Naṣr b. Sayyār in Samarqand, than historical realities (although many scholars take them at face value, and Crone, 2012, pp. 132-33, finds aspects of Maitreya Buddhism in them). In fact, there is a coin minted in the name of “Hāšem, the waliy of Abu Moslem” (the meaning of waliy—successor, avenger, devotee?—is suggestive but ambiguous in this context) calling only for “faithfulness and justice” (amara Allāh be’l-wafāʾ wa’l-ʿadl), a moderate, and quite Islamic, slogan not very dissimilar to those used by Yusof Barm, ʿAbd-al-Jabbār, Šarik b. Šayḵ, Abu Moslem, Ḥāreṯ b. Sorayj, and others (on the coin, see Kochnev).

What is certain is that Moqannaʿ was able to direct a kind of guerilla warfare that kept the ʿAbbasid establishment in the greater part of Sogdia paralyzed and terrorized for years. The local resistance to Moqannaʿ having largely failed, the appeals of the populace to al-Mahdi finally persuaded him (ca. 159/775-76) to designate Jebraʾil b. Yaḥyā as governor of Samarqand, beginning the first of several campaigns against Moqannaʿ and the sapid-jāmagān. The latter were gradually driven back from Bukhara and Samarqand, and Moqannaʿ was besieged by Saʿid Ḥaraši in his last fortress at Sanām near Keš in 163/783-84 (or perhaps a little later). Large numbers of the defenders surrendered after being reduced to the point of starvation, and when the outer wall of the fortress fell, Moqannaʿ had his remaining family and followers drink poison and then committed suicide, supposedly throwing himself into an oven that had been heated sufficiently to incinerate his remains (on Moqannaʿ, with references to sources, see Daniel, 1979, pp. 137-47; Crone and Jafari Jazi; Crone, 2012, pp. 106-13, 128-35).

The revolt of Moqannaʿ can be seen as the last significant effort by the radical wing of the daʿwa movement in Khorasan to delegitimize the ʿAbbasid caliphate after the assassination of Abu Moslem and to resist the counter-revolution initiated by al-Manṣur. However, a struggle continued in Khorasan over the policies of taxation and centralization backed by the caliphs and the abnāʾ, but opposed by the new elites in Khorasan itself. There can be little doubt about the expanding burden of taxation and the efficiency of its extraction under the ʿAbbasids, as attested in contemporary Arabic documents that have been uncovered at Mt. Mugh (Khan, 2007b, pp. 203-9). Accounts of the administration during this period typically describe “bad” governors imposing burdensome taxes and acting oppressively until the complaints of the populace lead to the appointment a “good” governor who reduces the taxes and addresses local concerns. For example, Mosayyab b. Zohayr (ca. 163-66/780-82) taxed ruthlessly (probably to fund the war with Moqannaʿ) until a popular outcry forced his recall and the appointment of Fażl b. Solaymān Ṭusi, who abolished a number of the taxes and began public work projects. Ḡeṭrif b. ʿAṭāʾ, maternal uncle of Hārun al-Rašid (q.v.; r. 170-93/786-809), issued a new coinage for Bukhara that had to be used for paying taxes, effectively raising the tax rate by 600 percent (Naršaḵi, pp. 50-51, tr. pp. 36-37); interfered in the local politics in Farḡāna; and stirred up discontent in other areas of Khorasan. He was replaced by Fażl b. Yaḥyā Barmaki, a model of the “good” governor,” who returned to policies intended to appease the local population (for various listings of the governors of Khorasan, see Table 1).

The crisis came with Hārun al-Rašid’s appointment in 180/796 of ʿAli b. ʿIsā b. Māhān (q.v.), whose father had been executed by Abu Dāwud for opposing Abu Moslem and was himself a notorious champion of the abnāʾ, enemy of ʿIsā b. Musā, and opponent of the Barmakids. Even allowing for a degree of exaggeration in the sources, the avarice, corruption, and tyranny driving ʿAli b. ʿIsā’s exploitation of Khorasan were appalling. Not only did he extort huge sums in revenue and antagonize the most prominent of the local elites (Ṭabari, III, pp. 713-14), but he also proved rather ineffective in dealing with the unrest it caused, such as the incursion into Khorasan by the Sistāni Kharijite Ḥamza b. Āḏarak (q.v.) in 182/798 and numerous other rebellions. In 183/799, reports about ʿAli b. ʿIsā’s misgovernance caused Hārun al-Rašid to summon him to court for interrogation, but ʿAli secured his return to Khorasan by showering the caliph with lavish gifts and pointing out how much he had increased the revenue from Khorasan in comparison to his predecessors (Ṭabari, III, pp. 648-49; note, too, the extended account in Bayhaqi, pp. 533-42). By 189/804-5, ʿAli b. ʿIsā had again exasperated the Khorasani magnates and brought ruin to the province (Ṭabari, III, p. 703; Bayhaqi, p. 536).

A group of Khorasani notables pleaded for a new governor to be appointed, but it was not until some of them hinted that ʿAli b. ʿIsā might use his wealth to revolt that al-Rašid took action. He moved to Ray, where ʿAli b. ʿIsā came to shower the caliph and his family and officials with rare and valuable gifts. Reassured, al-Rašid confirmed ʿAli b. ʿIsā in his post and returned him to Khorasan. ʿAli b. ʿIsā’s subsequent attempt to punish a wayward officer in the Samarqand garrison, Rāfiʿ b. Layṯ (probably the grandson of Naṣr b. Sayyār), became the spark that ignited a new blaze of revolt. Rafiʿ escaped from jail and was hailed by the people of Samarqand as their leader. He repulsed an attack by ʿAli b. ʿIsā, and ʿAli b. ʿIsa’s son was killed by the people of Nasaf with the help of the local ruler of Šāš in 191/807 (Ṭabari, III, p. 712). Rafiʿ’s revolt rapidly spread throughout Transoxiana and beyond; according to Yaʿqubi (Taʿriḵ, II, p. 528), it prevailed not only in Samarqand but in Bukhara, Šāš, Farḡāna, Ḵojand, Ošrušāna, Ṣaḡāniān, Balḵ and Ṭoḵarestān, Ḵottal, and other districts, and it received support from Tibetans and Ḵarloḵ (Qarluq) and Oḡuz Turks (see also Beckwith, pp. 158-59).


As the rebellion threated the whole of Khorasan, Hārun al-Rašid’s chief of the post (i.e., spy), the eunuch Ḥammawayh, informed him that the movement was not aimed at the ʿAbbasid caliphate but purely at ʿAli b. ʿIsā’s malfeasance with the goal of bringing about his removal from office (Ṭabari, III, p. 718). Al-Rašid then decided to dismiss ʿAli b. ʿIsa and replace him with Harṯama b. Aʿyan; the purported texts of the letters he wrote ordering punishment for ʿAli b. ʿIsa and instructing Harṯama to appease the Khorasanis are preserved in Ṭabari’s history, as are Harṯama’s letters describing his actions and the caliph’s response (III, pp. 716-18, 724-30). Harṯama went to Khorasan under the pretext of helping ʿAli b. ʿIsā fight Rafiʿ; caught by surprise, ʿAli b. ʿIsā was then presented with the caliph’s letter of dismissal, arrested, publicly rebuked, sent to Baghdad to be imprisoned, and his fortune confiscated. Harṯama tried to persuade Rafiʿ’s allies in Sogdia and Ṭoḵarestān to withdraw their support, but without much success, and Rafiʿ himself rejected an offer of pardon (suggesting that the rebellion now involved more than just opposition to ʿAli b. ʿIsā).

Meanwhile, Hārun al-Rašid had set out for Khorasan in 192/808 to deal in person with the multiple problems there, reaching Jorjān in Ṣafar 193/November-December 808 and taking possession of the property confiscated from ʿAli b. ʿIsā. Hārun then moved to Ṭus and sent his son ʿAbd-Allāh al-Maʾmun and a number of army commanders on to Marv. About the same time, Harṯama launched a new military campaign that retook Bukhara; Rafiʿ’s brother, Bašir, was captured there and sent to Hārun in Ṭus; Hārun denied him clemency and had him hacked to pieces (Ṭabari, III, pp. 733-35). Hārun himself died shortly thereafter in a village near Ṭus, where he was buried.

Already in 186/802, Hārun had instituted an administrative reorganization and succession agreement often called the Meccan Protocols (because the relevant documents were posted in the Kaaba). Under its terms, Hārun would be succeeded as caliph by his son Moḥammad al-Amin. Al-Amin’s older half-brother, ʿAbd-Allāh al-Maʾmun (q.v.), would be next in line for the succession and was designated in the meanwhile as the autonomous viceroy over the eastern provinces, from Ray and Hamadan to the further reaches of Khorasan and its dependencies. The agreement was unworkable from the start, and al-Amin and al-Maʾmun, guided by their respective mentors, Fażl b. Rabiʿ and Fażl b. Sahl b. Zādānfarruḵ (q.v.), sought to undo it. It was no doubt to guarantee that al-Maʾmun assumed the position promised him that Fażl b. Sahl arranged for him to accompany Hārun to Ṭus and thence, along with the chief army officers, to Marv. For his part, al-Amin covertly sent instructions for the abnāʾ and Jaziran troops accompanying al-Maʾmun to fight Rafiʿ b. Layṯ to return to Baghdad if Hārun died, and most of them complied. He also returned ʿAli b. ʿIsā b. Māhān to office, made changes to the succession agreement in favor of his son Musā, demanded territorial and financial concessions, and finally, in 195/810, abrogated and burned the texts of the Meccan Protocols and demanded al-Maʾmun return to Baghdad. ʿAli b. ʿIsā was again appointed governor of Khorasan and set out with an army to dislodge al-Maʾmun by force.

The young al-Maʾmun felt threatened on all sides (Ṭabari, III, p. 815), but he was in a stronger position in Khorasan than it might appear: Hārun al-Rašid, on his deathbed, had summoned the wojuh of Khorasan and the army to pledge allegiance to al-Maʾmun and they readily agreed, calling him “our nephew and the [descendant] of the Prophet’s uncle” (Azdi, p. 318). Indeed, al-Maʾmun had personal connections to the province. Fażl b. Sahl reminded al-Maʾmun that he was “among [his] maternal uncles” (Ṭabari, III, p. 773)—apparent confirmation of the report that al-Maʾmun’s mother Marājel was the daughter of Ostāḏsis (see Madelung, 2002), as well as Gardizi’s identification (p. 133) of Ḡāleb b. Ostāḏsis, one of his officers, as his maternal uncle. Beyond that, al-Maʾmun followed policies designed to appeal to religious scholars as well as Shiʿite groups (calling himself Imam, dispensing justice, praising the Sunnah), Arab tribal leaders, “military commanders, kings, and descendants of kings” (Ṭabari, III, p. 774). There is no doubt that many of the Khorasani magnates, such as Ḥosayn b. Moṣʿab of Bušanj, who had been abused and threatened by ʿAli b. ʿIsā and forced to take refuge in Mecca with Hārun al-Rašid, regarded al-Maʾmun as one of their own and supported him wholeheartedly, especially after the jarring insult of ʿAli b. ʿIsā’s return to power. Others were won over by al-Maʾmun’s judicious policies and reduction of taxes. Apparently among them was Rafiʿ b. Layṯ, who heard reports about al-Maʾmun’s good behavior and accepted an amnesty arranged by Harṯama and Asad b. Sāmānḵodā (q.v.) (Ṭabari, III, p. 777; Naršaḵi, pp. 104-5, tr. p. 76). On the advice of his vizier Fażl b. Sahl, al-Maʾmun was also able to stabilize and pacify the frontier districts of Central Asia (Beckwith, pp. 158-59). Al-Maʾmun also had the advantage of being able to block the roads from Iraq to Khorasan while maintaining a network of informants at al-Amin’s court, among them the son of ʿIsā b. Musā.

As ʿAli b. Isā advanced toward Ray, al-Maʾmun sent a relatively small force led by Ṭāher b. Ḥosayn to oppose him. Ṭāher was the son of Ḥosayn b. Moṣʿab and was no doubt eager to fight ʿAli b. ʿIsā, as were other Khorasani notables with scores to settle, such as ʿAli b. Hešām b. Farr-Ḵosrow, son of another of ʿAli b ʿIsā’s victims. Beyond that, Ṭāher’s forces were made up of what appears to have been a personal retinue of Turks, Khwarazmians, and Bukharans he had probably recruited during the campaigns against Rafiʿ b. Layṯ. The crucial battle took place outside Ray in 195/811. ʿAli b. ʿIsā, who had seriously underestimated Ṭāher’s resolve, was defeated and killed. The announcement of the victory, along with ʿAli’s head, was sent to Khorasan, where the news was met with relief and jubilation, and al-Maʾmun was hailed as caliph (Ṭabari, III, p. 825). This marked the beginning of a fierce civil war leading to the siege of Baghdad and the death of Moḥammad al-Amin, while attempting to surrender to Harṯama, at the hands of Ṭāher’s troops in Moḥarram 198/September 813.

Al-Maʾmun remained at Marv, now effectively the capital of the ʿAbbasid caliphate, until 202/818. Fażl b. Sahl was given authority over the east, with the title of Ḏu’l-Reʾāsatayn (holder of the dual offices of military and administrative command). Fażl reversed policy for the frontier principalities, conducting campaigns against the Kābol-šāh, who surrendered and became a Muslim (the tribute he sent is described in Azraqi, pp. 225-26); Otrārbanda, ruler of Fārāb; the Ḵarloḵ Turks; and the Tibetans (Beckwith, p. 160). However, Fażl’s achievements were overshadowed by developments in Baghdad and the west, where Fażl’s far less competent brother Ḥasan faced increasing difficulties, including an ostensibly pro-ʿAlid revolt led by the renegade Abu’l-Sarāyā on behalf of Moḥammad b. Ebrāhim, known as Ebn Ṭabāṭabā (see Kennedy, pp. 207-11). Despite these problems, Ḥasan b. Sahl kept Ṭāher b. Ḥosayn isolated and marginalized by sending him off to fight rebels in Syria, but Harṯama b. Aʿyan slipped back to Marv in Ḏu’l-Qaʿda 200/June 816 to warn al-Maʾmun of the problems brewing in Iraq and to persuade him to return to Baghdad. Fażl b. Sahl was able to convince al-Maʾmun that Harṯama was stirring up discord for his own purposes; Harṯama was then imprisoned and murdered in jail (Ṭabari, III, pp. 996-98; Yaʿqubi, Taʾriḵ, II, p. 546).

The resurgence of the ʿAlids must have factored into one of the most controversial policies initiated by al-Maʾmun in Khorasan: the designation in 201/817 of ʿAli b. Musā al-Kāẓem as his successor, reaching back into the early ideology of the daʿwa to give him the title of al-Reżā (see Tor, 2001; Madelung, 1981; Buyukkara). The architect of this policy was assumed, perhaps unjustly, to be Fażl b. Sahl, who, along with his brother Ḥasan, was hated in Iraq as much as ʿAli b. ʿIsā had been in Khorasan. The news of this change led senior members of the ʿAbbasid family to proclaim Ebrāhim, son of al-Mahdi, as a counter-caliph in Baghdad. Fażl continued to keep al-Maʾmun in the dark about affairs in Iraq, but ʿAli al-Reżā managed to alert him to the seriousness of the situation (Ṭabari, III, p. 1025). In 202/817-18, al-Maʿmun decided to take matters into his own hands and travel back to Baghdad. At Saraḵs in Šaʿbān 202/February 818, Fażl b. Sahl was attacked and killed by some of al-Maʾmun’s followers; al-Maʾmun had them executed and their heads sent to Ḥasan b. Sahl, presumably as a preemptive measure to avoid alarming him. Then, ca. Ṣafar 203/September 818, while al-Maʾmun was visiting the grave of his father, Hārun al-Rašid, near Ṭus, ʿAli al-Reżā died unexpectedly and was buried next to Hārun, with al-Maʾmun himself presiding over the service (Ṭabari, III, 1030; Yaʿqubi, Taʾriḵ, II, pp. 550-51). Once again, the caliph’s involvement and objectives are a matter of dispute, but al-Reżā’s death was certainly used to try to pave the way for the caliph’s return to Baghdad. Al-Maʾmun finally reached the city in Ṣafar 204/August 819, where he was received by the ʿAbbasid family, army officers, and Ṭāher b. Ḥosayn.

According to Yaʿqubi (Taʾriḵ, II, p. 550), al-Maʾmun had left the administration of Khorasan in the hands of Rajāʾ b. Abi’l-Żaḥḥāk, a relative of Ḥasan b. Sahl, who proved to be a weak administrator. He was then replaced by Ḡassān b. ʿAbbād, a paternal cousin of Fażl b. Sahl (Ṭabari, III, p. 1043). Yaʿqubi praises his competence and says he won over the local princes (Taʾriḵ, II, p. 550); other sources suggest Ḡassān was not particularly effective either (Ṭabari, III, p. 1042-43), but this may have been part of an effort to discredit him. Ṭāher b. Ḥosayn, who had become extremely powerful and influential in Iraq, had designs on the office, and Aḥmad b. Abi Ḵāled, now al-Maʾmun’s chief advisor, recommended Ṭāher be sent to Khorasan to prevent a possible Turkish rebellion. The appointment of Ṭāher in 205/821 would usher in a significant new chapter of Khorasani history.



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Abu ʿAbd-Allāh Moḥammad b. Aḥmad Moqaddasi, Aḥsan al-taqāsim fi maʿrefat al-aqālim, ed. M. J. de Goeje, Leiden, 1877.

Abu Bakr Moḥammad Naršaḵi, Tāriḵ-e Boḵārā, tr. Abu Naṣr Aḥmad Qobāvi, ed. Moḥammad-Taqi Modarres Rażawi, Tehran, 1972; tr. R. N. Frye, as The History of Bukhara, Cambridge, Mass. 1954.

Neẓām-al-Molk, Siāsat-nāma, ed. H. Darke, 2nd ed., Tehran, 1985.

Moḥammad b. ʿAbd-al-Karim Šahrastāni, Ketāb al- melal wa’l-neḥal, 3 vols., Cairo, 1968.

Abu Manṣur ʿAbd-al-Malek Ṯaʿālebi, Laṭāʾef al-maʿāref, ed. Ebrāhim Ebyāri and Ḥasan Kāmel Ṣayrafi, Cairo, 1960; tr. C. E. Bosworth, as The Book of Curious and Entertaining Information, Edinburgh, 1968.

Idem, Yatimat al-dahr fi maḥāsen ahl al-ʿaṣr, ed. M. M. ʿAbd-al-Ḥamid, 4 vols., Cairo, 1956-58.

Moḥammad b. Jarir Ṭabari, Taʾriḵ al-rosol wa’l-moluk, ed. M. J. De Goeje et al., 3 vols. in 15, repr. Leiden, 1964; tr. by various scholars as The History of al-Ṭabari, 40 vols., Albany, N.Y., 1985-2007.

Tāriḵ-e alfi, MS British Library, London, Add. 16681.

Taʾriḵ al-ḵolafāʾ, facs. ed. P. A. Gryaznevich, as Istoriya khalifov anonimnogo avtora XI veka, Moscow, 1967.

Tāriḵ-e Sistān, ed. Moḥammad-Taqi Malek-al-Šoʿarāʾ Bahār, Tehran, 1935; tr. Milton Gold, as The Tārikh-e Sistān, Rome, 1976.

Theophanes the Confessor, Chronographia I, ed. Johannes Classen, Bonn, 1839, part. tr. Harry Turtledove, as The Chronicle of Theophanes, Philadelphia, 1982.

Aḥmad b. Abi Yaʿqub Yaʿqubi, Ketāb al-boldān, ed. M. J. De Goeje, Leiden, 1892; tr. Gaston Wiet, as Les pays, Cairo, 1937.

Idem, Taʾriḵ al-Yaʿqubi, ed. M. Th. Houtsma, as Historiae, 2 vols., Leiden, 1883.

Ẓahir-al-Din ʿAli Bayhaqi (Ebn Fondoq), Tāriḵ-e Bayhaq, ed. Aḥmad Bahmanyār, Tehran, 1938.


Saleh Said Agha, “A Viewpoint of the Murjiʾa in the Umayyad Period: Evolution through Application,” Journal of Islamic Studies, 1997, pp. 1-42.

Idem, “The Arab Population in Ḫurāsān during the Umayyad Period: Some Demographic Computations,” Arabica 46, 1999, pp. 211-229.

Idem, “Abu Muslim’s Conquest of Khurāsān: Preliminaries and Strategy in a Confusing Passage of the Akhbār al-dawla al-ʿAbbāsiyya,” JAOS 120, 2000, pp. 333-47.

Idem, “Did Qaḥṭabah b. Shabib al-Ṭāʾī Hail from Kūfah?,” Studia Islamica 92, 2001, pp. 187-93.

Idem, The Revolution which Toppled the Umayyads: Neither Arab norʿAbbāsid, Leiden, 2003.

Fukuzo Amabe, The Emergence of theʿAbbāsidAutocracy: TheʿAbbāsidArmy, Khurāsān and Adharbayjān, Kyoto, 1995.

Sean W. Antony, “Chiliastic Ideology and Nativist Rebellion in the Early ʿAbbāsid Period: Sunbādh and Jāmāsp-Nāmah,” JAOS 132, 2012, pp. 641-55.

V. Vladimirovich Barthold, Turkestan Down to the Mongol Invasion, London, 1968.

Christopher I. Beckwith, The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia, Princeton, 1987.

Clifford Edmund Bosworth, Sīstān under the Arabs: From the Islamic Conquest to the Rise of the Ṣaffārids (30-250/651-864), Rome, 1968.

Idem, “The Ṭāhirids and Arabic Culture,” Journal of Semitic Studies 14, 1969, pp. 45-79.

Idem, “The Ṭāhirids and Ṣaffārids,” in Richard N. Frye, ed., The Cambridge History of Iran IV: From the Arab Invasion to the Saljuqs, Cambridge, 1975, pp. 90-135.

Richard W. Bulliet, The Patricians of Nishapur: A Study in Medieval Islamic Social History, Cambridge, Mass., 1972.

Idem, Conversion to Islam in the Medieval Period: An Essay in Quantitative History, Cambridge, Mass. 1979.

M. Ali Buyukkara, “Al-Maʾmūn’s Choice of ʿAli al-Riḍā as His Heir,” Islamic Studies 41, 2002, pp. 445-46.

Patricia Crone, SlavesonHorses: The Evolution of the Islamic Polity, Cambridge, 1980.

Idem, “On the Meaning of the ʿAbbāsid Call to al-Riḍā,” in C. E. Bosworth et al., eds., The Islamic World: Essays in Honor of Bernard Lewis, Princeton, 1989, pp. 95-111.

Idem, “Were the Qays and Yemen of the Umayyad Period Political Parties?,” Der Islam 71, 1994, pp. 1-57.

Idem, “The ʿAbbāsid Abnāʾ and Sasanid Cavalrymen,” JRAS 8, 1998, pp. 1-19.

Idem, “The Significance of Wooden Weapons in al-Mukhtār’s Revolt and the ʿAbbāsid Revolution,” in I. R. Netton, ed., Studies in Honour of Clifford Edmund Bosworth I, Leiden, 2000, pp. 174-85.

Idem, “Abū Tammām on the Mubayyiḍa,” in Omar Ali-de-Unzaga, ed., Fortresses of the Intellect: Ismaili and other Islamic Studies in Honour of Farhad Daftary, London, 2011, pp. 167-88.

Idem, The Nativist Prophets of Early Islamic Iran: Rural Revolt and Local Zoroastrianism, Cambridge, 2012.

Patricia Crone and M. Jafari Jazi, “The Muqannaʿ Narrative in the Tārikhnāma,” BSOAS 73, 2010, pp. 157-77, 381-413.

Farhad Daftary, The Ismāʿīlīs: Their History and Doctrines, Cambridge, 1990.

Elton L. Daniel, The Political and Social History of Khurasan underʿAbbasidRule 747-820, Minneapolis and Chicago, 1979.

Idem, “The Anonymous ‘History of the ʿAbbasid Family’ and Its Place in Islamic Historiography,” IJMES 14, 1982, pp. 419-34.

Idem, “The ‘Ahl-al-Taqādum’ and the Problem of the Constituency of the ʿAbbasid Revolution in the Merv Oasis,” Journal of Islamic Studies 7, 1996, pp. 150-79.

Idem, “Arabs, Persians, and the Advent of the ʿAbbasids Reconsidered,” JAOS 117, 1997, pp. 54-48.

Daniel C. Dennett, Conversion and the Poll Tax in Early Islam, Cambridge, Mass., 1950.

D. Dunlop, “A New Source of Information on the Battle of Talas or Atlakh,” Ural-Altaische Jahrbücher 36, 1964, pp. 326-30.

Amikam Elad, “Aspects of the Transition from the Umayyad to the ʿAbbasid Caliphate,” Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 19, 1995, pp. 89-132.

Idem, “The Ethnic Composition of the ʿAbbāsid Revolution: A Reevaluation of some Recent Research,” Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 24, 2000, pp. 246-326.

Richard N. Frye, “The Role of Abū Muslim in the ʿAbbāsid Revolt,” Muslim World 37, 1947, pp. 28-38.

Idem, “Development of Persian Literature under the Samanids and Qarakhanids,” in Yádnáme-ye Jan Rypka: Collection of Articles on Persian and Tajik Literature, Prague, 1967, pp. 69-73.

Idem, “The Sāmānids,” in idem, ed., The Cambridge History of Iran IV: From the Arab Invasion to the Saljuqs, Cambridge, 1975, pp. 136-61.

H. A. R. Gibb, The Arab Conquests in Central Asia, London, 1923.

Rhuvon Guest, “A Coin of Abū Muslim,” JRAS 3, 1932, pp. 555-56.

Robert Haug, The Eastern Frontier: Limits of Empire in Late Antique and Early Medieval Central Asia, London and New York, 2019.

Minoru Inaba, “Between Zābulistān and Gūzgān: A Study on the Early Islamic History of Afghanistan,” Journal of Inner Asian Art and Archaeology 7, 2016, pp. 209-25.

Yury Karev, “La politique d’Abū Muslim dans le Māwarāʾannahr: Nouvelles données textuelles et archeeologiques,” Der Islam 79, 2002, pp. 1-46.

Idem, Samarqand et le Sughd à l’époqueʿabbāsside: Histoire politique et sociale, Paris, 2015.

Moḥammad ʿAli Kāẓembayki, ed., Aḵbār wolāt Ḵorāsān le’l-Sallāmi, Tehran, 2011 (useful collection of quotations in other works from this lost history of Khorasan).

Hugh Kennedy, The EarlyʿAbbasidCaliphate: A Political History, London, 1981.

Geoffrey Khan, Arabic Documents from Early Islamic Khurasan, London, 2007a. I

dem, “Newly Discovered Arabic Documents from Early ʿAbbasid Khurasan,” in Petra Sijpesteijn et. al, eds., From al-Andalus to Khurasan, Leiden, 2007b, pp. 201-15.

Boris Kochnev, “Les monnaies de Muqannaʿ,” Studia Iranica 30, 2001, pp. 143-50.

Étienne de la Vaissière, Sogdian Traders: A History, Leiden and Boston, 2005.

Idem, Samarcande et Samarra:Élites d’Asie centrale dans l’empire abbasside, Paris, 2007.

Idem, ed., Islamisation de l’Asie Centrale: Processus locaux d’acculturation du VIIe au XIe siècle, Paris, 2008.

Idem, “The ʿAbbāsid Revolution in Marw: New Data,” Der Islam 95, 2018, pp. 110-46. A. K. S. Lambton, Landlord and Peasant in Persia: A Study of Land Tenure and Land Revenue Administration, London 1953.

Jacob Lassner, The Shaping ofʿAbbāsidRule, Princeton, 1980.

Idem, “Abū Muslim al-Khurāsāni: The Emergence of a Secret Agent from Khurāsān, Irāq, or was it Iṣfahān?,” JAOS 104, 1984, pp. 165-75.

Idem, “Abū Muslim, Son of Salīṭ: A Skeleton in the ʿAbbasid Closet?,” in Moshe Sharon, ed., Studies in Islamic History and Civilization in Honour of Professor David Ayalon, Jerusalem and Leiden, 1986a, pp. 91-104.

Idem, Islamic Revolution and Historical Memory: An Inquiry into the Art ofʿAbbāsidApologetics, New Haven, 1986b.

Wilferd Madelung, “New Documents Concerning al-Maʾmūn, al-Faḍl b. Sahl and ʿAlī al-Riḍā,” in Wadad al-Qadi, ed., Studia Arabica et Islamica: Festschrift for IḥsānʿAbbās, Beirut, 1981, pp. 333-46.

Idem, “The Early Murjiʾa in Khurāsān and Transoxiana and the Spread of Hanafism,” Der Islam 59, 1982, pp. 32-39.

Idem, “Was the Caliph al-Maʾmun a Grandson of the Sectarian Leader Ustādhsis?,” in S. Leder et al., eds., Studies in Arabic and Islam, Leuven, 2002, pp. 485-90.

Josef Marquart/Markwart, Ērānšahrnach der Geographie des Ps. Moses Xorenacʿi, Abhandlungen der Königlichen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen, phil.-hist. Kl., N. F. 3/2, 1901.

Irène Mélikoff, Abū Muslim: Le “Porte-Hache” du Khorassan dans la traditionépiqueturco-iranienne, Paris, 1962.

George C. Miles, Numismatic History of Ray, New York, 1938.

Sabatino Moscati, “La Revolta di ʿAbd al-Ḡabbār contro il califfo al-Manṣūr,” Rendiconti Reale Accademia dei Lincei ser. 8/2, 1947, pp. 613-15. I

dem, “Studi su Abū Muslim,” Rendiconti Lincei ser. 8/4, 1949-50, pp. 323-35, 474-95, ser. 8/5, 1950-51, pp. 89-105.

Roy Mottahedeh, “The ʿAbbāsid Caliphate in Iran,” in Richard N. Frye, ed., The Cambridge History of Iran IV: From the Arab Invasion to the Saljuqs, Cambridge, 1975, pp. 57-89.

Tilman Nagel, Untersuchungen zur Entstehung desʿAbbasidischen Kalifates, Bonn, 1972.

A. C. S. Peacock, “Khurasani Historiography and Identity in the Light of the Fragments of the Akhbār Wulāt Khurāsān and the Tārīkh-i Harāt,” in A. C. S. Peacock and D. G. Tor, eds., Medieval Central Asia and the Persianate World: Iranian Tradition and Islamic Civilisation, London and New York, 2015, pp. 143-60.

Parvaneh Pourshariati, “Local Histories of Khurāsān and the Pattern of Arab Settlement,” Studia Iranica 27, 1998, pp. 41-82.

Idem, Decline and Fall of the Sasanian Empire: The Sasanian-Parthian Confederacy and the Arab Conquest of Iran, London and New York, 2008.

Wadad al-Qadi, “The Earliest ‘Nābita’ and the Paradigmatic ‘Nawābit’,” Studia Islamica 78, 1993, pp. 27-61.

Gholam Hossein Sadighi, Les mouvements religieux iraniens au IIe et au IIIe siècle de l’hégire, Paris, 1938.

M. A. Shaban, TheʿAbbāsid Revolution, Cambridge, 1970.

Idem, “Khurāsān at the Time of the Arab Conquest,” in Clifford Edmund Bosworth, ed., Iran and Islam: In Memory of the Late Vladimir Minorsky, Edinburgh, 1971, pp. 479-90.

H. Shacklady, “The ʿAbbasid Movement in Khurāsān,” Occasional Papers of the School ofʿAbbasidStudies 1, 1986, pp. 98-112.

Moshe Sharon, Black Banners from the East: The Establishment of theʿAbbāsidState, Jerusalem, 1983.

Idem, Revolt: The Social and Military Aspects of theʿAbbasidRevolution, Jerusalem, 1990.

Dominique Sourdel, Le vizirat ʿabbāside de 749 à 936 (132 à 324 de l’Hégire), 2 vols., Damascus, 1959-60.

Deborah Gerber Tor, “An Historiographical Re-examination of the Appointment and Death of ʿAlī al-Riḍā,” Der Islam 78, 2001, pp. 103-28.

Idem, Violent Order: Religious Warfare,Chivalry, and the ʿAyyar Phenomenon in the Medieval Islamic World, Würzburg, 2007.

Faruq Umar, TheʿAbbāsidCaliphate 132/750-170/786, Baghdad, 1969.

Julius Wellhausen, Das arabische Reich und sein Sturz, Berlin, 1902; tr. Margaret Graham Weir, as The Arab Kingdom and its Fall, Calcutta, 1927.

Ḡolām Ḥosayn Yusofi, Abu Moslem: sardār-e Ḵorāsān, Tehran, 1966.

ʿAbd al-Ḥusayn Zarrīnkūb, “The Arab Conquest of Iran and Its Aftermath,” in Richard N. Frye, ed., The Cambridge History of Iran IV: From the Arab Invasion to the Saljuqs, Cambridge, 1975, pp. 1-56.

vi. History in the Taherid and Samanid Periods

In the Taherid and Samanid periods, Khorasan became virtually synonymous with the Mašreq or “Islamic East,” stretching from Ray far into Central Asia. It enjoyed a bourgeoning economy built on agriculture and trade, and it participated in a brilliant efflorescence of Islamic scholarship while simultaneously constructing a distinct Perso-Islamic, and laying the foundations for a subsequent Turko-Persian, culture throughout the region. As the author of the 4th/10th-century geographical treatise Ḥodud al-ʿālam put it (tr., p. 102), Khorasan was “a vast country with much wealth and abundant amenities,” as well as a salubrious climate, healthy people, its own king (padšāy), and a frontier protected by march lords (moluk-e aṭrāf). The anonymous Persian author’s near contemporary, the Arab geographer Moḥammad b. Aḥmad Moqaddasi, who visited the region, likewise praised Khorasan in this period for its climate and its natural resources as well as the strength, piety, virtue, wisdom, and industry of its people (p. 294).


The Taherids, based initially in Pušang/Bušanj (see FUŠANJ), came to prominence during the period of the daʿwa in Khorasan and faithfully served the ʿAbbasid cause there for some fifty years, before founding their own autonomous and hereditary provincial dynasty. An ancestor of the family, likely of Iranian ethnicity, had reputedly accompanied one of the Arab armies invading Khorasan, converted to Islam, and become a client (mawlā) of the tribe of Ḵozāʿa (on the conflicting traditions about this, see Kaabi, 1983, I, pp. 62-64). Abu Manṣur Ṭalḥa b. Zorayq (or Rozayq) b. Asad is well-attested as a naqib ‘chief’ of the daʿwa organization; living at that time in a village near Marv, he later held an administrative or military office in Herat (sources given in Agha, pp. 372-73, no. 351). His brother, Moṣʿab, was a lower-ranking member of the organization and was later an official in nearby Bušanj, where he was succeeded by his son Ḥosayn b. Moṣʿab (a notable in the time of Hārun al-Rašid and enemy of ʿAli b. ʿIsā b. Māhān).

Ṭāher b. Ḥosayn, later known by the honorific title Ḏu’l-Yaminayn (“The Ambidextrous”) because of his military prowess, rose to prominence during the wars with Rafiʿ b. Layṯ and the civil wars between al-Amin and al-Maʾmun (q.v.), defeating ʿAli b. ʿIsā b. Māhān, participating in the siege of Baghdad, and engineering the death of the defeated al-Amin (on these events, see KHORASAN v.). He shrewdly bided his time during the administration of Ḥasan b. Sahl, building up a power base and a fortune in Iraq. When al-Maʿmun was returning to Baghdad in Ṣafar 204/August 819, he was accompanied by Ṭāher from Nahrawān to Roṣāfa, and Ṭāher was given authority over the Jazira, all of Baghdad, and the Sawād and made commander of the security force (ṣāḥeb al-šorṭa), a position members of the family would hold for almost a century, acquiring further fame and riches in the capital. By this time, Ṭāher had turned sharply against Ḥasan b. Sahl and his policies, and it was Ṭāher who was said to have persuaded al-Maʾmun to abandon the wearing of green garments and return to the traditional ʿAbbasid black (Ṭabari, III, pp. 1037-38).

Al-Maʾmun appointed Tāher governor of Khorasan, “from the City of Peace to the most distant districts of the East,” in late Ḏu’l-Qaʿda 205/May 821 (Ṭabari, III, p. 1043). Ṭāher had barely had time to make some administrative appointments (Ebn Abi Ṭāher Ṭayfur, pp. 58-60; Tāriḵ-e Sistān, p. 177) before he died unexpectedly in his sleep at the age of 48 in 208/822. There are wildly different explanations for why Ṭāher was made governor of Khorasan, as well as conspiracy theories about his untimely demise. In both cases, the issue hinges on whether Ṭāher and al-Maʾmun were still on good terms or whether there had been a rift between them. The official rationale for the appointment seems to have been that there were disturbances in Khorasan that the acting governor, Ḡassān b. ʿAbbād, could not handle; moreover, Ḡassān was a paternal cousin of Fażl b. Sahl and an appointee of Ḥasan b. Sahl, so his removal was needed as part of the post-Sahlid house-cleaning (Ṭabari, III, 1043). However, there are also claims that Ṭāher tricked al-Maʾmun into making the appointment with the help of his friend, the vizier Aḥmad b. Abi Ḵāled Aḥwal, since he had learned that the caliph resented him because of his involvement in killing al-Amin and was being encouraged by al-Amin’s mother to seek revenge (Ṭabari, III, p. 1042; Masʿudi, VI, pp. 485-87). It is also possible that al-Maʾmun was anxious to get an overly powerful general away from Baghdad, and Ṭāher was reluctant to go: He was certainly in no hurry to leave for Khorasan, taking about a year to prepare, but that may have been to make the arrangements for his son ʿAbd-Allāh b. Ṭāher (q.v.) to take over his interests in Baghdad and the Jazira. As for his death, his son and uncles indicated it was after a high fever, and Ṭāher had a premonition of it as his last words were dar marg niz mardi wāyaḏ ‘one must be manly even in the face of death’ (Ṭabari, III, p. 1063). However, it was also noted that he died shortly after failing or “forgetting” to mention the caliph’s name in his Friday sermon, which was an indication of independence from the caliphate in Baghdad. Aḥmad b. Abi Ḵāled had vouched to al-Maʾmun for Ṭāher’s behavior and had made arrangements to eliminate him should he act otherwise (Ṭabari, III, p. 1064; Ebn al-Aṯir, VI, pp. 381-83). It is also a fact that Ṭāher had begun to omit al-Maʾmun’s name from coins struck at his mints (Bosworth, 1975, p. 95).

Yet no such suspicions perturbed relations of the caliph with other members of the family either in Iraq or Khorasan. Both al-Maʾmun and Aḥmad b. Abi Ḵāled agreed that the obvious choice as Ṭāher’s successor should be his son Ṭalḥa, just as Ṭāher is said to have wanted (Gardizi, p. 135). This may have been in the expectation that Ṭalḥa’s older brother in Iraq, ʿAbd-Allāh, would keep him in line. It is equally likely that it was a considered decision that the goal of stability in Khorasan while al-Maʾmun dealt with manifold problems developing in the West would be in the interest of all and best met by keeping a Taherid as governor. Any threat the young Talḥa might have posed was further diminished by returning Aḥmad b. Abi Ḵāled to Khorasan to assist in another offensive into Ošrusana (Ṭabari, III, pp. 1065-66; Ebn al-Aṯir, VI, p. 382). Talḥa’s tenure was mostly occupied in dealing with the continuing threat from the Kharijites and Ḥamza b. Āḏarak (q.v.). Both Talḥa and Ḥamza died in 213/828.


The third Taherid governor, ʿAbd-Allāh b. Ṭāher, ruled for seventeen years (213-30/828-45). Marv ceased to be the administrative capital of Khorasan, and the Taherids established themselves at Nishapur, which experienced a period of prosperity and florescence under them and their successors, the Samanids (Barthold, 1984, pp. 96-98). ʿAbd-Allāh was himself highly cultured and a lover of literature and of music and singing, and he gathered around himself a distinguished circle of Arabic poets and litterateurs, with such visiting luminaries as the poet Abu Tammām and the genealogist and historian Zobayr b. Bakkār (see Bosworth, 1969, pp. 58-67). He assembled a team of experts who compiled a Ketāb al-qoni as an authoritative guide to the law and practice of irrigation and water rights; the Ghaznavid historian ʿAbd-al-Ḥayy Gardizi (q.v) states that this was still in use in Khorasan during his own time, that is, two centuries later (Gardizi, p. 137; cf. Barthold, p. 213). Whereas Khorasan had been a distant province of the caliphate in earlier times, its importance being primarily military and strategic (Herzfeld, pp. 119-20), its agricultural prosperity now increased. According to Yaʿqubi (Boldān, p. 308), the land-tax (ḵarāj) of Khorasan amounted to 40 million dirhams a year under the Taherids. It benefited from the commercial transit traffic bringing the products of Transoxiana and the Inner Asian steppes to the caliphal heartlands. Leather products, weapons, honey, furs, and various luxury items were imported, and a spécialitédu pays is mentioned for the Nishapur district, namely noql or edible earth, praised by the great physician Moḥammad b. Zakariyā Rāzi (d. ca. 313/925) and so prized that it was exported as far as Egypt and the Maghrib (Ṯaʿālebi, pp. 131-32). Above all, there was the transit trade across Khorasan in Turkish slaves from the steppes from the early 3rd/9th century, increasingly becoming a component of the caliphal and other armies in the central and eastern Islamic lands. Slaves normally formed a substantial part of the annual tribute forwarded to Samarra and Baghdad by the Taherids and then as presents by their successors the Samanids (see Barthold, pp. 235-38, on all this traffic in imports in Samanid times, this information being substantially valid for the preceding Taherid period; see also Bosworth, 1975; la Vaissière, 2005, pp. 291-302).

As governors in Khorasan, the Taherids were strong upholders of Sunni orthodoxy against various heterodox and sectarian movements and outbreaks of religio-social protest, which were racking Khorasan and Transoxiana at this time. They campaigned against the veteran Kharijite Ḥamza b. Āḏarak in Khorasan and against Māzyār b. Qāren in the Caspian provinces and the Zaydi Shiʿite Hasanids there. It is not therefore surprising that the sources regard with great favor the orthodox and obedient Taherids as servants of the caliphs when they were at the height of their power (Bosworth, 1975, pp. 105-6). They also preserved a certain independence of action but always regarded themselves as faithful servants of the caliphs, acknowledging the ʿAbbasids in the sermons and on coins. All in all, the ʿAbbasid-Taherid relationship was a symbiotic partnership and “the most successful solution the Abbasids ever found to the problem of governing the province” (Kennedy, p. 166).

Taherid power in Khorasan seems to have loosened with later governors of the line. There may have been a certain feeling in Sunni orthodox circles that the later Taherids were failing to cope with threats from the Kharijites and the ʿAlids of the Caspian provinces, a feeling that facilitated the overthrowing of the Taherids in Khorasan by the Saffarid Yaʿqub b. Layṯ (q.v.), who in 259/873 captured Nishapur from Moḥammad b. Ṭāher II (Tāriḵ-e Sistān, pp. 219-23; Ebn al-Aṯir, VII, pp. 261-64; Bosworth, 1994, pp. 109-21; Tor, pp. 118-22, 134-53). Yaʿqub then became embroiled in ventures in the Caspian provinces and then in western Persia and Iraq, and speedily lost control of Khorasan (Tāriḵ-e Sistān, pp. 223 ff.; Ebn al-Aṯir, VII, pp. 268-69, 276-77, 290-92; Bosworth, 1994, pp. 123-26). For some two decades, the province was a battleground for contending military leaders, some, such as Aḥmad Ḵojestāni (q.v.), claiming to represent the former Taherid interest there (Ebn al-Aṯir, VII, pp. 296-97); others merely seeking their own aggrandizement, until in 283/896 Yaʿqub’s brother and successor ʿAmr established his control over the province. This restored Saffarid power in Khorasan was, however, short-lived. In 287/900, the Samanid Amir Esmāʿil b. Aḥmad (q.v.) defeated ʿAmr in battle, so that the province then entered upon a century of Samanid domination, as an integral part of their empire centered on the Transoxianan cities of Bukhara and Samarqand (Tāriḵ-e Sistān, p. 234-35, 254-56; Naršaḵi, pp. 119-25; Ṭabari, III, pp. 2194-95; Ebn al-Aṯir, VII, pp. 500-503; Bosworth, 1994, pp. 217-35).


The eponym of the Samanids was Sāmān-ḵodā, usually understood as meaning the landlord (dehqān, q.v.) of the town of Sāmān. Sāmān has been claimed to have been located near Samarqand, Termeḏ, or Balḵ. Naršaḵi, for example, indicates that Sāmān-ḵoda hailed from Balḵ and built the village or estate of Sāmān there (Naršaḵi, tr., p. 59), but Menhāj-e Serāj Juzjāni (I, p. 201) identifies him as the chief (raʾis) of the district of Sāmān near Samarqand. The question is of some interest in terms of the ethnic origins of the Samanids. The later Samanids claimed, and probably believed, they were descended from Bahrām Čōbin (q.v.) and the Parthian Mihranid family (an idea accepted even by the usually sceptical Biruni, p. 39, tr., p. 48; see also Bosworth, 1973, pp. 58-59). Samarqand and the Zarafšān basin suggest a Sogdian background or even Turkish ancestry, while Balḵ and Ṭoḵarestān raise the possibility of Iranian, Hephthalite or other connections (Kamoliddin, pp. 79-114, has argued for a Buddhist-Manichean background and descent from the yabḡu Jabbā Khan; Togan, p. 283; see also Treadwell, 1991, pp. 64-71).

Another factor that speaks strongly in favor of a connection to Balḵ, is the widely reported account of Sāmān-ḵodā’s friendship with the Omayyad governor Asad b. ʿAbd-Allāh Qaṣri (d. 120/737-38). According to Naršaḵi (tr., p. 59), Sāmān-ḵodā fled, for unspecified reasons, from Balḵ to Marv, where Asad treated him honorably and returned him to Balḵ. Sāmān converted to Islam at the hands of Asad and named his son after him. Naršaḵi’s account is certainly plausible, since Asad is known to have held the governorship of Khorasan on two occasions (106-9/724-28 and 117-20/735-37), and, in both cases, he campaigned extensively in areas around Balḵ; Asad also died in Balḵ (Daniel, 2009).

The grandsons of Sāmān-ḵodā—Nuḥ, Aḥmad, Yaḥyā, and Elyās—joined the forces of Harṯama b. Aʿyan after he was sent by Hārun al-Rašid to put down the rebellion of Rafiʿ b. Layṯ. They were subsequently instrumental in arranging a negotiated end to the conflict. Their assistance had been specially requested by al-Maʾmun, and he was so pleased with the results that, as caliph, he instructed his governor in Khorasan, Ḡassān b. ʿAbbād, in 202/817 or 204/819, to reward them with districts to govern. Nuḥ was given Samarqand; Elyās, Herat; Yaḥyā, Šāš (Čāč); and Aḥmad, Farḡāna (Ebn al-Aṯir, VII, p. 279; Gardizi, p. 146; Juzjāni, I, p. 203; Mirḵᵛānd, pp. 1-2). Ṭāher b. Ḥosayn confirmed the appointments when he became governor of Khorasan, and sent a robe of honor to Nuḥ (Manini, I, p. 348) and the offices continued to be held during the governorships of Ṭalḥa and ʿAbd-Allāh b. Ṭāher. Ṭalḥa even visited Samarqand in 212/827-28 (Treadwell, p. 78).

The family of Abu’l-Fażl Elyās b. Asad appears to have acted more often as Taherid officers than as administrators of Herat. Ṭalḥa b. Ṭāher sent Elyās to Sistān in Ṣafar 208/July 823 to fight the Kharijites, but he was there only until Jomādā I 208/October 823. He is named, somewhat surprisingly, as a governor of Alexandria under ʿAbd-Allāh b. Ṭāher in 212/827 (Kendi, p. 184). During the governorship of ʿAbd-Allāh b. Ṭāher in Khorasan, Elyās and some cadet members of the Samanid family were again sent to Sistān, ca. 216/831 and then again between 222/837 and 225/840 (Tāriḵ-e Sistān, pp. 177-78, 182-83, 187-89). Elyās died in Herat in 241/855 (Samʿāni, VII, p. 26). His son Ebrāhim was the commander (sepahsālār) of the Taherid army fighting the Saffarid Yaʿqub b. Layṯ. He was defeated and pushed out of Herat and Bušanj in 253/867; he advised Moḥammad b. Ṭāher that Yaʿqub could not be defeated and recommended a policy of appeasement; and, after the fall of Nishapur in 259/873, he went with other army officers to seek clemency from the victorious Yaʿqub. He was given a robe of honor and sent to Sistān, so with that the Herat branch of the Samanids came to an end (Tāriḵ-e Sistān, pp. 208, 225).

It was in Transoxiana that the Samanids flourished greatly, helped latterly by the confused state of post-Taherid Khorasan under a succession of ambitious military leaders culminating in ʿAmr b. Layṯ (q.v.).

In 225/840, Nuḥ b. Asad assisted ʿAbd-Allāh in arresting the son of Afšin (q.v.; a former ruler of Ošrusana, q.v., in the service of the caliph al-Moʿtaṣem, then out of favor and on trial for treason; see Ṭabari, III, p. 1307). Nuḥ also sent an expedition against the town of Asfijāb (q.v.) in the middle Syr Darya valley and built defenses there against marauders from the Turkish steppes (Balāḏori, p. 422; Samʿāni, VII, p. 26; Ebn al-Aṯir, VI, p. 509). Asfijāb remained as a separate, dependent province of what became the Samanid empire, with its local Turkish ruler still enjoying a freedom, unique in the Samanid lands, from tax liabilities (Ebn Ḥawqal, II, p. 510; tr. Kramers, II, p. 488). After the death of Nuḥ b. Asad in 227/841-42, the governor of Khorasan ʿAbd-Allāh b. Ṭāher (q.v.) appointed the remaining two brothers in Transoxiana, Yaḥyā and Aḥmad, over Samarqand and Sogdiana; on the death of the former in 241/855, Šāš reverted to Aḥmad also. Aḥmad thus emerged as the commanding figure in the family, and all subsequent rulers of the dynasty descended from him. Yaḥyā had not apparently struck even a local copper coinage at Samarqand, whereas folus of Aḥmad begin there in 244/858-59. Aḥmad’s son Naṣr (I) (r. 250-79/864-92) extended his power from his capital Samarqand westwards to Bukhara, which was later, under Naṣr’s brother Esmāʿil b. Aḥmad (q.v.), to become the permanent capital of the Samanids. The ʿAbbasid caliph al-Moʿtamed (r. 256-79/870-92) formally invested Naṣr with the governorship of Transoxiana in 261/875 (Ṭabari, III, p. 1889), in opposition to the claims of the Saffarid Yaʿqub b. Layṯ who was at that point striking at the heartland of the caliphate in central Iraq. It was only around this time that direct caliphal interest in Transoxiana could no longer be sustained. The caliph al-Moʿtaṣem (r. 218-27/833-42) had, with some reluctance, contributed two million dirhams toward the digging of an irrigation canal in the province of Šāš (Ṭabari, III, p. 1326), and, up to the time of Naṣr b. Aḥmad, the ʿAbbasids still drew revenue from their crown demesnes in Transoxiana (see Barthold, pp. 95, 99, 212). Naṣr had begun to mint dirhams of a mixed ʿAbbasid-Samanid type from the 240s/860s onwards, and then at the formal accession of Esmāʿil b. Aḥmad (279/892), the regular minting of Samanid dirhams and dinars began, with acknowledgement of the ʿAbbasids as suzerains (Miles, p. 374).

Naṣr sent his brother Esmāʿil to take over Bukhara from a certain Ḥosayn b. Moḥammad Ḵawāreji (or Ḵᵛārazmi?), apparently an adherent of the Saffarids, and in summer 260/874 Esmāʿil entered the city and delivered the Friday sermon (ḵoṭba) for Naṣr instead of for Yaʿqub b. Layṯ. The brothers quarreled, however, leading to a military conflict that ended in the capture of Naṣr by Esmāʿil (autumn 275/888); Esmāʿil wisely retained his brother as the official ruler in Samarqand until Naṣr’s death in 279/892, while himself remaining at Bukhara and eventually making it his capital (Naršaḵi, pp. 94-101; tr. pp. 79-86; Barthold, pp. 222-23).

Naṣr had appointed Esmāʿil as his heir, so that the latter succeeded unchallenged as amir (q.v.) of Transoxiana and Farḡāna. Esmāʿil (I)’s reign (279-95/892-907) marks the formal constituting of the Samanid state as a powerful force in the Islamic east, especially as his victory over the Saffarid ʿAmr b. Layṯ in 287/900, though technically an act of rebellion against the caliph’s appointee over Khorasan and Transoxiana, in practice brought him recognition by al-Moʿtażed (r. 279-89/892-902) and what must have been approbation as governor of both those provinces (Ṭabari, III, p. 2195). This was essentially a confirmation of the fact that the ʿAbbasids, their direct authority now confined to Iraq and western Persia, could no longer exert any power over the east. Even so, right to the end, the Samanids usually paid due respect to the caliphs, placing their names in the koṭba and on the coinage (sekka), and claiming for themselves no higher title than that of amir; presents were sent to Baghdad, although there is no evidence that any taxation or tribute was ever forwarded. Hence, Amir Esmāʿil may be regarded as the real founder of the Samanid state and certainly as the ablest of his dynasty. The historical and literary sources praise him as such, and speak of his wisdom and just rule, awarding him the honorific titles of amir-e ʿādel ‘The Just Amir’ and amir-e māżi ‘The Late Amir’. He may also now consciously have endeavoured to raise himself, as amir now of a united principality, to a level above the families of nobles and landowners, from which class his own family had earlier risen. They probably still regarded the Samanids as socially not much more than primi inter pares. According to Naršaḵi (p. 96; tr. Frye, p. 82), when Esmāʿil was still the theoretical subordinate of his brother Naṣr, he had already taken steps to reduce the power of the Bukharan leaders (mehtarān) because they had not sufficiently shown him the respect (haybat) due to a ruler.

The amirate was at this time young and vigorous, and under Esmāʿil its borders expanded in all directions and the northern frontier defended against the pressure of the nomads. In 280/893, Esmāʿil led a major expedition that captured Talas (Ṭarāz) from the Qarluq Turks (possibly led by Oḡulčak Kadïr Khan, son of the Ilak-khan Bilge Kül Kadïr Khan; Golden, p. 352-57), capturing a great booty of slaves and beasts. He extended Samanid suzerainty over the Afšin, local rulers of Ošrusana, south of the middle Syr Darya; over the Khwarazmshahs (see CHORASMIA ii); and, as coins seem to indicate, over petty princes of the upper Oxus lands such as the Abu Dāwudids or Banijurids (on them, see Bosworth, 1996, p. 174) of Ḵottal and Toḵārestān, and the Farigunids of Guzgān (see ĀL-E FARIḠUN). Expansion westwards into the Caspian provinces and northern Persia was a special concern of Esmāʿil, who in 288/901 personally led armies into Gorgān (q.v.) and Ṭabarestān against the ʿAlid Moḥammad b. Zayd, restored the supremacy of the Sunna there, and compensated those who had suffered losses under the Zaydis (Madelung, 1975, p. 208). Samanid authority was likewise extended over Ray, with the caliph al-Moktafi (r. 289-95/902-8) at the beginning of 290/902 investing Esmāʿil as governor of Ray and Qazvin (Ṭabari, III, pp. 2220-21; Miles, 1938, pp. 132-33), the westernmost outposts of Samanid power, although these regions soon slipped away from Samanid hands. Esmāʿil died in 295/907 (see also ESMĀʿIL B. AḤMAD B. ASAD SĀMĀNI).

Esmāʿil was succeeded by his son Aḥmad (II) (r. 295-301/907-14). Despite the brevity of his reign, he nevertheless managed to bring Sistān temporarily under Samanid rule. After the defeat of ʿAmr, various short-reigned Saffarid princes held power in Sistān and southern Persia, but Aḥmad then intervened there, dispatching two expeditions in 298/911 and 300/912-13 under the amir’s cousin, Abu Ṣāleḥ Manṣur b. Esḥāq b. Aḥmad (q.v.), who functioned ineffectively as governor in Sistān for a while (see SAFFARIDS). More pressing for Ahmad were measures to retrieve the position in the west. In Ray, a Samanid governor, Moḥammad b. ʿAli Ṣoʿluk, was probably in place by 298/910-11, and he remained there into the succeeding reign of Naṣr b. Aḥmad (Miles, 1938, pp. 135-36). In the Caspian provinces, however, the Zaydi Ḥasan b. ʿAli Oṭruš made firm his authority in Deylam (see Deylamites) and Gilān (q.v.) and then extended eastwards into Ṭabarestān, which was under his control by Amir Aḥmad’s death (Madelung, 1975, pp. 208-9); measures against him could only be undertaken in the next reign. Aḥmad’s reign was cut short when his military slaves (ḡolāms) assassinated him at Farabr near Bukhara in 301/914, allegedly because he was showing excessive favor to the ulema and other religious dignitaries and because he attempted to restore Arabic as the language of the divans; obviously, Persian had by then established itself as the working language of these government departments (see Naršaḵi, pp. 110-11; tr. pp. 94-95; Gardizi, pp. 148-50; Barthold, p. 240). Aḥmad’s murder earned him the posthumous title of amir-ešahid ‘The Martyred Amir.’ As noted above, his father had already become known as “The Just, or, the Late Amir,” and this practice of giving honorifics (laqabs) after death was to become general amongst the Samanids, though some of the amirs also acquired regnal titles in their own lifetimes and used them on coinage, such as Nuḥ (I) b. Naṣr’s one of al-malek al-moʾayyad ‘The [Divinely] Supported King’, and Nuḥ (II) b. Manṣur (I)’s one of al-malek al-manṣur ‘The Victorious King’ (see Bosworth, 1962, pp. 214-15).

The long reign which followed, that of Naṣr (II) b. Aḥmad (II), called amir-e saʿid ‘The Fortunate Amir’ (301-31/914-43), in many ways marks the zenith of Samanid power and glory, although the amir himself was no charismatic war leader or outstanding administrator. But he was fortunate to be served by highly competent officials, often from families with long traditions of service in the bureaucracy, who were appointed at least in part because of the medieval Islamic belief that such competence was a hereditary trait of such families. Hence, Naṣr was fortunate in having capable viziers such as Abu ʿAbd-Allāh Jayhāni and his son Abu ʿAli Moḥammad, and Abu’l-Fażl Balʿami (q.v.), all famed as much for their own scholarship and patronage of learned and literary men as for their administrative skills. Thus, the first Jayhāni was vizier ca. 302-10/914-22 but was also the author of a geography, a Ketāb al-masālek wa’l-mamālek, which Moqaddasi (pp. 3-4) praises for its topographical and astronomical information, amongst much else; he saw a manuscript of it, in seven volumes, in the library of the Buyid Amir ʿAżod-al-Dawla (q.v., r. 338-72/949-83), but it is now known only from citations. Jayhāni apparently incorporated information personally gathered on his travels plus that gained from merchants and travelers to the land of the Turks and to India (Barthold, pp. 12-13).

Figure 1. The Samanid Realm: Core territories (blue border); areas under local rulers, contested, or tributary (yellow border). After R. N. Frye, ed., Cambridge History of Iran IV, Cambridge, 1975, p. 139. (Map background data from US National Park Service World Physical Map.)Figure 1. The Samanid Realm: Core territories (blue border); areas under local rulers, contested, or tributary (yellow border). After R. N. Frye, ed., Cambridge History of Iran IV, Cambridge, 1975, p. 139. (Map background data from US National Park Service World Physical Map.)

The young amir faced a series of revolts on his accession, which only the skills of his vizier Jayhāni and military commanders such as Ḥamuya b. ʿAli enabled him to survive. These revolts were raised by discontented members of the Samanid family who felt that their adulthood gave them a greater claim to the throne than that of the eight-year-old boy. Thus, Naṣr’s great-uncle Esḥāq b. Aḥmad came out immediately at Samarqand, aided by his two sons Elyās and Manṣur. The latter, the ex-governor of Sistān, raised his standard at Nishapur, and after his death there, the revolt was carried on by one of his military commanders; Elyās fled to Farḡāna after the suppression of the Samarqand outbreak and thence to Šāš and the Turks. Several years passed during which Naṣr’s authority was unchallenged, but ca. 317/929 there was a further serious rebellion, this time in the capital Bukhara, involving three of Naṣr’s own brothers (Gardizi, pp. 152-53); the suppression of this marks the opening of the ascendancy in Khorasan during the middle decades of the 4th/10th century of the Moḥtāj or Čaḡāni family, to whose head, Abu ʿAli Aḥmad, the amir entrusted the governorship of western Khorasan (see ĀL-E MOḤTAJ).

Through all these vicissitudes, a vigorous external Samanid policy was carried on. This involved, amongst other things, attempting to extend Samanid power into the rich and strategically important region of northern Persia with its main city, Ray. Moḥammad b. ʿAli Ṣoʿluk held Ray as a Samanid vassal intermittently till his death in 316/928, but thereafter the Samanid hold was increasingly challenged by various Deylami and Jili soldiers of fortune such as Asfār b. Širuya, Mākān b. Kāki and the Ziarid brothers Mardāvij and Vošmgir, all of whom at times held the city of Ray until 329/940, when Abu ʿAli Čāḡāni was sent with a strong force that defeated the allied forces of Mākān and Vošmgir. Samanid coins were then once again issued from the Ray/Moḥammadiya mint, but not for long. The strongest and most lasting of the Deylami adventurers, the three Buyid brothers, were now consolidating their power in western and central Persia (see BUYIDS). Rokn-al-Dawla Ḥasan b. Buya (r. 335-66/947-77) had definitively taken over Ray, making it the center of what became the northern Buyid amirate of Ray and Jebāl. Only sporadically thereafter did the Samanids control Ray.

Thus, the rise of the Buyids meant that the Samanids were in the long run unable to retain Ray and northern Persia. Their successes in the Caspian provinces were also intermittent, for the region became a battleground for various Deylami contenders, including the Buyids, the Zaydi Shiʿite Imams, and the Samanids themselves. Abu ʿAli Čāḡāni secured those provinces for Amir Naṣr, forcing Vošmgir to become the Samanids’ vassal. The latter in fact gave military aid to Vošmgir against the Buyids, and control over the region oscillated between the various parties involved, punctuated by a general peace in 344/955 between Rokn-al-Dawla and the Samanid ʿAbd-al-Malek (I) b. Nuḥ (I), which did not however last. Vošmgir was once more driven out by the Buyids, and, after his death in 356/967, there was a division in the Ziarid family between his sons, with the Samanids at the outset favoring Qābus and the Buyids favouring Abu Manṣur Bisotun b. Vošmgir (q.v.; r. 356-67/967-78), who married ʿAżod-al-Dawla’s daughter. Qābus eventually succeeded as ruler in the Caspian provinces on his brother’s death, but offended the powerful ʿAżod-al-Dawla two years later, in 369/980, and fled to a seventeen-year exile in Samanid Khorasan. Samanid forces under the generals Tāš and Fā’eq (q.v.) were sent with the aim of restoring Qābus to his domains but were defeated. The Samanid amirate was by now in increasing internal difficulties, and henceforth the amirs could not exert any influence beyond western Khorasan (Madelung, pp. 211-15; Busse, p. 290).

The closing years of the reign of Naṣr b. Aḥmad saw efforts by Ismaʿili agents (who apparently worked independently of the Fatimid movement in the lands further west) to spread their daʿwa (see DĀʿI). Evidence for this radical Shiʿite movement rests on sources that are non-historical (Ebn al-Nadim’s Fehrest [q.v.], Ṯaʿālebi’s Ādāb al-moluk, and Neẓām-al-Molk’s Siyāsat-nāma), but everything points to the historicity of Ismaʿilism as a significant current of thought, philosophical rather than messianic in nature, in Samanid Khorasan and Transoxiana. The Ismaʿili dāʿis or propagandists made converts at the highest levels of Samanid court society, culminating in their securing the adhesion of the amir himself, and recruited adherents amongst others of the elite such as army commanders, dehqāns, divan secretaries, and urban headmen. This provoked a reaction among the Sunni ulema and their allies, the Turkish commanders of the army. The details are confused, but there was certainly a general massacre of the Ismailis and their adherents in Khorasan and Transoxiana. If the amir was not forced to abdicate in favour of his son Nuḥ (I), he did apparently live out the rest of his life as a secluded ascetic and invalid, dying in 331/943, possibly still as an Ismaʿili sympathizer. It is clear that much of the achievement of his reign can be laid at the door of Naṣr’s viziers and military commanders rather than at that of the amir himself (Naršaḵi, pp. 111-12; tr. 95-96; Gardizi, pp. 150-54; Barthold, pp. 240-44; Stern, pp. 77-80; Frye, 1975, pp. 141-42; 1997, pp. 52-56; Daftary, pp. 120-23; Crone and Treadwell, pp. 37-48, 52-56, 61-67; see also for more details, NAṢR [I] B. AHMAD [I] B. ESMĀʿIL).

Naṣr’s reign in many ways marks the apogee of Samanid power and splendor. As already noted, Naṣr and other Samanid rulers enjoyed over a long period the services of notable viziers, several of them from families with traditions of vizieral service such as the Jayhānis, Balʿamis and ʿOtbis; many of these made their mark as much in the academic and literary world as in the realm of administration and military leadership. Under their direction, what must have been a corps of skilled secretaries (Ar. kottāb, Per. dabirān; see Dabir ii.) and officials raised the bureaucracy in Bukhara to a high level of specialized functioning and complex administrative techniques. Naršaḵi, the historian of Bukhara, enumerates ten divans (see DIVĀN ii.) of the Samanid central administration housed in what he calls the sarāy-e ʿommāl, “officials’ building,” near the portal of the ruler’s palace and the government headquarters complex built by the Amir in the Rigestān of Bukhara. All this could not have evolved ex nihilo but must have been based on the ʿAbbasid divans in Baghdad, mediated through the example of the Taherid ones in Nishapur. The Samanid official Abu ʿAbd-Allāh Ḵᵛārazmi has a chapter on ketāba, or chancery practice, in his encyclopaedia of the sciences, Mafātiḥ al-ʿolum (ca. 977), that deals with administrative and financial techniques, documents, registers, methods of correspondence, etc., that clearly stemmed largely from ʿAbbasid models, but it also includes specific references to practices specific to the eastern Iranian lands, such as that of the divān al-māʾ, or office concerned with the maintenance of the irrigation systems and the division of waters in the Marv oasis in Khorasan and the valley of the Zarafšān river in Sogd (see IRRIGATION); and the section on weights and measures used by government surveyors and taxation assessors refers in part to practice in the Samanid provinces of Khorasan and Toḵārestān on the upper Oxus and to the adjacent province, theoretically subject to the Samanids, of Khwarazm (see Bosworth 1969a, pp. 115, 147-54).

It was this bureaucracy, and its subordinate organs in the provinces, that collected taxes from the rich agricultural oases of Sogdiana, Farḡāna, and Khorasan, together with customs duties and transit duties (mokus) levied on trade entering the Islamic lands from Inner Asia and beyond, a trade that had been in existence since pre-Islamic times and in which the Sogdians of Transoxiana had played a leading role. These last comprised luxury goods, such as furs, Chinese silks, and even Chinese porcelain, but above all, Turkish slaves, Transoxiana being one of the principal entry points for this traffic. The geographers describe how dues were levied on slave imports at the Oxus crossings. Authors such as Ebn Ḥawqal (q.v.) and Moqaddasi, who travelled within the Samanid lands in the third quarter of the 10th century CE, lavish praise on the amirs as just and enlightened rulers, in whose lands taxation was light, with provisions and everything for ease of life plentiful and at hand (see Barthold, pp. 234-40; Bosworth, 1963, pp. 27-33; Negmatov, pp. 84-85). This direct taxation was supplemented by the tribute and presents that the amirs, in their heyday, were able to require as overlords from local rulers in such regions as the upper Oxus lands and northern parts of modern Afghanistan such as the princes of Čāḡāniān, Ḵottal, Gowzgān (Jowzjān, q.v.), and Garčestān (q.v.); the regions such as the middle Syr Darya basin, including from the dehqāns of Ošrusana (q.v.) and Ilāq; and the ancient kingdom of Khwarazm (see Chorasmia). In all these cases, the Samanid amirs preferred to leave these local structures of power in place rather than to incorporate them within what would have become an extended, and hence unwieldy, empire.

The power and authority of the amirs rested, of course, on the armed forces at their disposal, needed both to maintain the ruler in power against other members of the Samanid family who coveted the throne and to guard the northern frontiers against pressure from the Turks in the outer steppe and to carry out the amirs’ “forward policy” in the Caspian coastlands region and northern Persia. The first troops of the Samanids stemmed from the free Iranian population of Transoxiana, the dehqān (q.v.) class. At the time when the Samanids, themselves probably dehqāns, were first emerging as governors in Transoxiana and the upper Oxus region, this class of landowners was also providing high-level commanders for the ʿAbbasid armies in the central lands of the caliphate, seen in the careers of the Afšin (q.v.) Ḵayḏar from the ruling family in Ošrusana and of various members of the Sajid family from this same period. The dehqāns of the Samanid lands functioned as commanders for the amirs’ armies and brought with them levies of their local tenantry and peasantry to swell the rank-and-file.

There was an ever-present need to maintain forces along the lengthy frontiers of the amirate against the Turks, not only from the obvious motive of state security but also because waging war (jehād or ḡazā) against non-Muslims was a religious duty for Muslims in such regions. Hence, there was a stimulus for the formation of bands of ghazis or volunteer fighters for the faith who manned the rebāṭs or frontier posts in provinces such as Asfijāb and other districts along the Syr Darya valley. The rebāṭs of Asfijāb, numbered, according to Moqaddasi (p. 273), 1,700; they were manned substantially by volunteers from Naḵšab, Bukhara, and Samarqand (Barthold, pp. 175-76; Bosworth, 1963, pp. 31-32). The degree of state control of such enthusiasts probably varied; contingents of volunteers from Bukhara, under their own commander and with their own banners, are mentioned as parading alongside regular troops (Bosworth, 1969b, pp. 20-21). Such warriors must have been usually self-financed and have borne their own weapons and equipment unless helped by funds from such pious endowments as the rebāṭs; and a similar lack of central control must have been the case with the bands of ʿayyārs (q.v.) mentioned as elements in the urban societies of Bukhara and Samarqand (Bosworth, 1969b, p. 21; Paul, pp. 14-20).

Neither of these two elements, the troops raised and led by local landowners, the dehqāns, and the religiously-motivated volunteers, owed any direct, unbreakable loyalty to the Samanid state as such, and the latter were in any case only of use against pagans outside the Abode of Islam, and their usefulness and their activities seem to have decreased as the Turks of the steppes gradually accepted Islam (Paul, pp. 23-24). Troops from these sources were, however, supplemented by Turkish slave soldiers (ḡelmān, mamālek) from an early date, certainly from the time of Esmāʿil b. Aḥmad onwards, since the Turk Simjur Davāti, founder of a line destined to play a leading role in later Samanid military and public affairs (see SIMJURIDS), is described as his mawlā (here in the sense of slave; see Tāriḵ-e Sistān, p. 293; tr. Gold, p. 237). These could be purchased from slave markets on the fringes of the outer steppes or captured in raids, such as that of Esmāʿil to Talas (see above). We know that Sebüktegin, subsequently the founder of the Ghaznavid dynasty, purchased in the first place by the Samanid general Alptigin (q.v.) for his personal following, came from Barsḵān on the shores of the Issiq Köl, in the region of Semirečye, now within the Kyrgyz Republic. Over the course of time, the amirs came to depend increasingly on these Turkish troops. From the higher ranks of these were recruited important offices of state and court such as the amir-e ḥaras, commander of the police and internal security guard (see Barthold, pp. 227-28 [who, however, attached too much importance to the romanticized and embroidered account of the training of Turkish ḡolāms in Neẓām-al-Molk’s Siyāsat-nāma]; Bosworth, 1969b, pp. 9-11; Frye, 1975, pp. 149-51; BARDA AND BARDA-DĀRI iii.).

However, at the side of those soldiers who were undoubtedly of servile origin, the amirs were from an early date served also by personal retainers who are variously called in the sources mawāli or čākarān (see ČĀKAR) and who were apparently free vassals. The exact significance of the terminology here is uncertain, but it may be that the status of čākar had its roots in pre-Islamic Iranian and Turkish Central Asia (as maintained by Beckwith, pp. 32-40). Esmāʿil b. Aḥmad seems to have been especially concerned to build up around himself a body of reliable guards and retainers, as part of the policy of elevating himself above the landowning classes of Transoxiana from which his family had sprung and of reducing dependence on the provincial magnates (see Paul, pp. 27-30; la Vaissère, 2005b).

It was the leading army commanders who filled some of the most important offices in the Samanid state after that of the amir himself and his vizier, such as the command-in-chief (sepahsālāri) of the army and the governorship of the rich province of Khorasan. In the halcyon years of the amirate, the army of Khorasan was used for expansion westward into northern Persia and southward into Sistān. In the later decades of the 10th century CE, holders of this governorship, whether from native Iranian local potentates and landowners like the Čāḡānis and Abu Manṣur b. ʿAbd-al-Razzāq (q.v.), or from the Turkish slave soldiery such as the Simjuris, Tāš, Alptigin, and Fāʾeq, increasingly used their power and resources to further their own ambitions, to interfere in the workings of the central administration, and to make and unmake amirs. A precedent for this last had been set as early as 301/914 when Aḥmad (II) b. Esmāʿil had been murdered by his own ḡolāms; by the later part of the 10th century CE, a governor of Khorasan such as Abu ʿAli Moḥammad Simjuri arrogated to himself the style, titulature, and powers of an independent sovereign.

Whereas volunteers tended to live off the land and were lured on by the prospects of plunder, and locally raised Iranian troops could disperse after a campaign back to their estates and villages, the cost of maintaining a standing, professional army, whether of free retainers or of Turkish ḡolāms, was formidable. These last had to be paid with cash allowances every quarter (bistgāni, q.v.), and were liable to become mutinous or to refuse to go out on campaign if these payments fell into arrears. The commitment of paying the army had to be a first charge on the revenues collected from the Samanid lands, but in the course of the 4th/10th century, the state became increasingly unable to find enough money for this. External conquests no longer brought in fresh revenue so that the amirs resorted to the expedients of levying new and unusual taxes (Barthold, pp. 339, 246-47), whilst the leading army commanders quarreled over the allocation of provincial governorships, from which they could raise taxation to pay their troops; the result was almost continuous crisis in the Samanid state from the mid-10th century onwards (Paul, pp. 30-32).

Barthold noted that, with the reign of Nuḥ (I) b. Naṣr (II), posthumously called amir-e ḥamid ‘The Praiseworthy Amir’ (r. 331-43/943-54), there were distinct signs of the weakening of the dynasty. With the anti-Ismaʿili reaction and exaltation of the orthodox Sunni ulema, the vizierate passed to a religious scholar (faqih), Abu’l-Fażl Moḥammad Solami, more noted for his piety than his administrative talents. The army had to be used to quell a revolt against Samanid overlordship in Khwarazm and against the Turks on the northern borders, but when the people of Nishapur complained of the governor Abu ʿAli Čāḡāni’s oppression in Khorasan, and Nuḥ tried to replace him with the Turkish general Ebrāhim b. Simjur, there was a financial crisis when the army refused to move until it received its pay arrears, compelling the administration to increase taxation. Even so, the army would not march, and Abu ʿAli was able temporarily to place on the throne in Bukhara a Samanid prince and uncle of Amir Nuḥ, Ebrāhim b. Aḥmad (II). Although Nuḥ retrieved his position, Abu ʿAli was still powerful and had the backing of the local princes of his native upper Oxus region, so that peace had to be made, with Abu ʿAli recovering his governorship, only to lose it when the amir felt strong enough to revoke his appointment (Naršaḵi, pp. 113-15; tr. pp. 97-98; Gardizi, pp. 154-59; Barthold, pp. 246-49; Frye, 1975, p. 151).

On Nuḥ’s death, his eldest son ʿAbd-al-Malek (I), called amir-e rašid “The Rightly-Guided Amir” (r. 343-50/954-61), succeeded. He confirmed the deposition of Abu ʿAli and appointed Moḥammad b. ʿOzayr as his vizier. Despite securing help from the Buyids, Abu ʿAli was unable to maintain himself in Khorasan, and died of plague in 344/955. A succession of governors in Khorasan ensued, until the commander Alptigin achieved this post in 350/961, placing his own nominee, Abu ʿAli Moḥammad b. Moḥammad Balʿami (see AMIRAK BALʿAMI), in the vizierate. The great military leaders were clearly now getting the upper hand in the state, and this was to be the pattern for the remaining four decades or so of Samanid rule (Naršaḵi, p. 115; tr. p. 98; Gardizi, pp. 159-60; Barthold, pp. 249-50). It also seems that, on the evidence of Neẓām-al-Molk, toward the end of ʿAbd-al-Malek’s reign, there was a recrudescence of Ismaʿili activity, or possibly Ḵorrami (q.v.) disturbances, in such provincial regions of the Samanid empire as the upper Oxus lands and Farḡāna (Crone and Treadwell, pp. 48-50).

The country fell into chaos when ʿAbd-al-Malek died in 961 in an accident. Naršaḵi (p. 115, tr. p. 98) says that “the army became turbulent and rebelled; everyone coveted the kingdom, and civil strife appeared.” Alptigin and Balʿami tried to place ʿAbd-al-Malek’s young son Naṣr on the throne, doubtless seeing in him a willing tool for their own interests, but their putsch failed, and the late amir’s next brother was placed on the throne as Manṣur (I) b. Nuḥ (I) (r. 350-65/961-76), called amir-e sadid ‘The Upright Amir.’ Alptigin was in disgrace and forced to withdraw to Ghazna, but his son and successor, Abu Esḥāq Ebrāhim, could only retain his position there against the returning, dispossessed, former local ruler by seeking help from Bukhara in 354/965, after which the line of Turkish commanders in Ghazna continued to acknowledge the Samanid amirs as their suzerain and to place their names on the coinage almost till the final demise of the Samanid dynasty. From his base in Khorasan, the Samanid governor Moḥammad b. Ebrāhim b. Simjur was able to support the Ziarid ruler Vošmgir against threats from Rokn-al-Dawla in 356/967, and when Vošmgir died, his son Bisotun was compelled to pay tribute to Bukhara. The effective policies of the Samanid governors in Nishapur led to a peace agreement with the Buyids in 361/971-72 by the terms of which, Rokn-al-Dawla agreed to pay an annual tribute to the Samanid amirs, but four years later, Manṣur died, and it is unclear how long the Buyids had continued to pay these substantial sums (Naršaḵi, pp. 115-16; tr. pp. 98-99; Gardizi, pp. 161-64; Barthold, pp. 250-52; see for a more detailed consideration of this reign, MANSUR [I] B. NUḤ [I]).

The reign of Nuḥ (II) b. Manṣur (I), who was called amir-e rażi ‘The Well-Pleasing Amir’, was the last substantial one for a Samanid amir (365-87/976-97). It witnessed the disintegration of the amirate under the double pressure of the Samanids’ own ambitious commanders internally, and the advent of the Turkish Qara-khanids (see ILAK-KHANIDS) from outside the empire. With, yet again, only a youth on the throne, executive power was at the outset in the hands of a vizier, Abu’l-Ḥosayn ʿAbd-Allāh ʿOtbi (see ʿOTBI), whose authority was, however, contested by the amir’s Turkish military commanders. ʿOtbi was successful in removing Moḥammad b. Ebrāhim Simjuri from the governorship of Khorasan in favor of his own nominee, Tāš. The peace treaty with Rokn-al-Dawla lapsed at some unspecified point, hence war was resumed against the Buyids, now headed by the formidable ʿAżod-al-Dawla; but it went badly for the Samanids, with ʿOtbi being murdered shortly afterwards with the connivance of Moḥammad b. Ebrāhim b. Simjuri and Fāʾeq Ḵāṣṣa (q.v.). The ensuing years witnessed a power struggle between the Simjuris, Fāʾeq, Begtuzun (q.v.) and other ambitious generals. The territory controlled by Nuḥ shrank, and, inevitably, the tax basis with which he hoped to pay his troops.

Thus, at least in the territories across the Oxus, there was a growing power vacuum, and within this there appeared in 382/992 a new factor, that of the Qara-khanids, a Turkish steppe confederation nomadizing beyond the Syr Darya whose nucleus was probably made up of the Qarluq tribe. Abu ʿAli Moḥammad b. Moḥammad Simjuri intrigued with Buḡrā Khan Hārun to partition the Samanid dominions, the Khan to have Transoxiana and Abu ʿAli to have Khorasan. Nuḥ was driven from his capital Bukhara by the Turks, but given a respite by the khan’s illness and death. Now faced with a coalition of Abu ʿAli and Fāʾeq, Nuḥ could only call upon Sebüktegin and his son Maḥmud, who defeated the rebel commanders. When a fresh Qara-khanid incursion took place in 386/996, the amir’s impotence was such that Sebüktegin and Maḥmud ended by making an agreement with the new Qara-khanid leader, Arslan Ilig Naṣr, that would have left Nuḥ with the Zarafšān valley only, with all the Syr Darya basin ceded to the Qara-khanids; shortly after this, in 387/997, Nuḥ died (Naršaḵi, p. 117, tr. pp. 99-100; Manini, I, pp. 163-255; Gardizi, pp. 167-69; Barthold, pp. 252-54, 257-64; Frye, 1975, pp. 156-58; see also NUḤ (II) B. MANṢUR (I)).

The remaining, short-reigned amirs could only struggle hopelessly against the approaching demise of their dynasty. Nuḥ’s son Manṣur (II) (r. 387-89/997-99) followed his father. Much of the power in his shrunken realm was exercised by Fāʾeq, and it was Fāʾeq and Begtuzun who deposed Manṣur after two years, raising to the throne his younger brother ʿAbd-al-Malek (II) (r. 389-90/999-1000). Maḥmud b. Sebüktegin was now ruling Khorasan as its independent ruler, and when Fāʾeq died, the Arslan Ilig Naṣr occupied Bukhara unopposed, carried off ʿAbd-al-Malek and other Samanid princes, and thus ended the Samanid dynasty. The later amirs had failed to retain the support of their subjects, and an appeal to the state-salaried ḵaṭibs or preachers in Bukhara to rouse the populace for resistance, when the Qara-khanids appeared for a second time, fell on deaf ears (see Bosworth, 1963, p. 34). The former amir’s brother Esmāʿil, called al-montaṣer ‘The Victorious’, succeeded in escaping from Qara-khanid captivity and over the five years 390-95/1000-1005 attempted a revanche and the restoration of his house, procuring the help of the Oghuz Turks, achieving some victories and even reoccupying Bukhara at one point; but in the end he was overwhelmed by Arslan Ilig Naṣr’s superior forces, and amid what seems to have been a general apathy of the subject population, the rule of the Samanids came to its definitive end (Gardizi, pp. 171-73; Manini, I, pp. 268-347; Barthold, pp. 264-70; Nazim, pp. 42-47; Frye, 1975, pp. 157-60; see also MANṢUR (II) B. NUḤ (II)).

Throughout the Samanid period, Khorasan enjoyed a great cultural and intellectual efflorescence, building on foundations laid in the Taherid period. It continued to be a great center for orthodox Sunni legal and Quranic studies; four of the six compilers of the canonical collections of Hadith, either stemmed from or had connections with the eastern Islamic lands (Mottahedeh, pp. 66-70). The theological pietistic Sunni movement, the Karrāmiya (q.v.) was initiated in Khorasan with its intellectual center at Nishapur; several towns, such as Nishapur and Bayhaq, had within them Shiʿite communities, with important families of Sayyeds; and Khorasanian ascetics and mystics (e.g., Abu Saʿid Abi’l-Ḵayr, Bāyazid Besṭāmi, qq.v.) played significant roles in the development of Sufism (Madelung, 1988, pp. 39-46; Chabbi). The desire to perpetuate the fame and learning of notable scholars and theologians was a strong factor in the genre of local histories, which flourished in Khorasan from this time onwards, seen in those known to have been composed in centers such as Nishapur, Bayhaq, Herat, and Balḵ, several of which are extant or whose material is contained in later works (Barthold, pp. 13 ff.; Browne, I, pp. 416 ff; Ṣafā, passim; Pourshariati; and the special issue of Iranian Studies, 32/1-2, 2000, devoted to local historiography of the mediaeval period). Virtually all this scholarship was written in Arabic; several local histories were later translated into Persian. There is a large representation of Khorasanian poets and stylists writing in Arabic from the Samanid and early Ghaznavid periods in Yatimat al-dahr, the literary-biographical anthology by the Nishapuri author Abu Manṣur Ṯaʿālebi (d. 426/1038), and in its continuations by ʿAli b. Ḥasan Bāḵarzi (q.v.; likewise from the Nishapur region, d. 467/1074) and ʿEmād-al-Din Moḥammad Kāteb Eṣfahāni (q.v.; d. 597/1201).

Samanid Khorasan also played a significant role in the rise of New Persian language and literature, a reflection of the Samanids’ patronage of the pioneer poets in New Persian, Daqiqi (q.v.) and Rudaki, at their court and that court’s part in the commissioning of epitomized translations of Ṭabari’s Taʾriḵ and Tafsir (Lazard; Daniel, 2008; Peacock). Above all, the origins of Ferdowsi’s version of the national epic, the Šāh-nāma, lie in Khorasan, where in 346/947 the local governor of Ṭus, the dehqān Abu Manṣur Moḥammad b. ʿAbd-al-Razzāq (q.v.; d. 350/961), commissioned translations of the Pahlavi text of the royal epic, Xwadāy-nāmag, into New Persian (Browne, I, pp. 445 ff.; Minorsky, pp. 159-79; Rypka, pp. 133 ff.; Ṣafā, I, pp. 206-7, 163-76, 610-20).

Descendants of the Samanid house continued to reside in the Zarafšān basin and to enjoy respect for their ancient name, but a decisive break in the history of Central Asia had been made. Henceforth, regions north of the Oxus which had for millennia been bastions of Indo-Iranian population and language, and ruled by monarchs from this ethnic and linguistic background, were to pass under the control of an alien power from the steppes, that of the Inner Asian Turks. The process of Turkification may have begun on the fringes of Transoxiana and of Khwarazm with the influx during Samanid times of Turkish auxiliaries along the frontiers, but it then speeded up so that (whilst New Persian has remained a language of culture in Central Asia almost up to the present day, and in the cities at least is still used by many speakers as a second or third language after Turkish and Russian) only reduced areas of monoglot Iranian speakers now survive, most notably in the modern Republic of Tajikistan and in pockets of the upper Zarafšān valley in Uzbekistan.




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Idem, “The Titulature of the Early Ghaznavids,” Oriens 15, 1962, pp. 21-33.

Idem, The Ghaznavids: Their Empire in Afghanistan and Eastern Iran 994-1040, Edinburgh, 1963.

Idem, “Abū ʿAbdallāh al-Khwārazmī on the Technical Terms of the Secretary’s Art: A Contribution to the Administrative History of Mediaeval Islam,” JESHO 12, 1969a, pp. 113-64.

Idem, “An Alleged Embassy from the Emperor of China to the Amir Nasr b. Ahmad: A Contribution to Samanid Military History,” in Yād-nāma-ye irāni-ye Minorsky, ed. M. Minovi and I. Afšār, Tehran, 1969b, pp. 1-13.

Idem, “An Early Arabic Mirror for Princes: Ṭāhir Dhū l-Yamīnain’s Epistle to his Son ʿAbdallāh,” JNES 29, 1970, pp. 25-41.

Idem, “The Heritage of Rulership in Early Islamic Iran and the Search for Dynastic Connections with the Past,” Iran, 11, 1973, pp. 58-59.

Idem, “The Ṭāhirids and Ṣaffārids,” in R. N. Frye, ed., The Cambridge History of Iran IV: From the Arab Invasion to the Saljuqs, Cambridge, 1975, pp. 90-135.

Idem, The History of the Saffarids of Sistan and the Maliks of Nimruz, Columbia Lectures on Iranian Studies 8, Costa Mesa, Calif. and New York, 1994.

Idem, The New Islamic Dynasties, Edinburgh, 1996, pp. 170-71.

E. G. Browne, A Literary History of Persia, 4 vols., London, 1902-24.

H. Busse, “Iran under the Būyids,” in R. N. Frye, ed., The Cambridge History of Iran IV, Cambridge, 1975, pp. 250-304.

Jacqueline Chabbi, “Remarques sur le dévoloppement historique des mouvements ascétiques et mystiques au Khurasan: IIIe/IXe siècle-IVe/Xe siècle,” Studia Islamica 46, 1977, pp. 5-72.

Patricia Crone and Luke Treadwell, “A New Text on Ismailism at the Samanid Court,” in Chase F. Robinson, ed., Texts, Documents and Artefacts: Islamic Studies in Honour of D. S. Richards, Leiden and Boston, 2002, pp. 37-67.

Farhad Daftary, The Ismāʿīlīs: Their History and Doctrines, Cambridge, 1990, pp. 120-23.

Elton L. Daniel, “The Sāmānid ‘Translations’ of al-Ṭabari,” in Hugh Kennedy, ed., Al-Ṭabarī: A Medieval Muslim Historian and His Work, Princeton, 2008, pp. 263-98.

Idem, “Asad b. ʿAbdallāh,” in Kate Fleet, et al., eds., Encyclopaedia of Islam Three, Leiden, 2009, s.v.

R. N. Frye, “The Sāmānids,” in R. N. Frye, ed., The Cambridge History of Iran IV: From the Arab Invasion to the Saljuqs, Cambridge, 1975, pp. 136-61.

Idem, Bukhara, the Medieval Achievement, repr. Costa Mesa, Calif., 1997.

P. B. Golden, “The Karakhanids and Early Islam,” in Denis Sinor, ed., The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia, Cambridge, 1990, pp. 343-70.

Idem, An Introduction to the History of the Turkic Peoples, Wiesbaden, 1992.

Ernst Herzfeld, “Khorasan: Denkmalsgeographische Studien zur Kulturgeschichte des Islam in Iran,” Der Islam 11, 1921, pp. 107-74.

Robert Hillenbrand, “Content versus Context in Samanid Epigraphic Pottery,” in A. C. S. Peacock and D. G. Tor, eds., Medieval Central Asia and the Persianate World: Iranian Tradition and Islamic Civilisation, London, 2015, pp. 56-107.

Mongi Kaabi, “Les origins ṭāhirides dans le daʿwa ʿabbāside,” Arabica 19, 1972, pp. 145-64.

Idem, Les Ṭāhirides, 2 vols., Paris, 1983.

Shamsiddin Kamoliddin, The Samanids: The First Islamic Local Dynasty in Central Asia, Saarbrücken, 2011.

Moḥammad b. Yusof Kendi, Wolāt Meṣr, ed. Rhuvon Guest as, The Governors and Judges of Egypt, Gibb Memorial Series 19, Leiden and London, 1912.

Hugh Kennedy, The Early ʿAbbasid Caliphate: A Political History, London, 1981.

Étienne de la Vaissière, Sogdian Traders: A History, Leiden, 2005a.

Idem, “Châkars d’Asie centrale,” Stud. Ir. 34, 2005b, pp. 139-49.

Gilbert Lazard, La langue des plus anciens monuments de la prose persane, Paris, 1963.

T. Levicki, “Le commerce des sâmânides avec l’Europe orientale et centrale à la lumière des trésors de monnaies coufigues,” in D. K. Kouymjan, ed., Near Eastern Numismatics, Iconography, Epigraphy and History: Studies in Honor of George C. Miles, Beirut, 1974, pp. 219-33.

Wilferd Madelung, “Minor Dynasties of Northern Iran,” in R. N. Frye, ed., The Cambridge History of Iran IV, Cambridge, 1975, pp. 198-249.

Idem, “Sufism and the Karramiyya,” in idem, Religious Trends in Early Islamic Iran, New York, 1988, pp. 39-53.

G. C. Miles, Numismatic History of Rayy, New York, 1938, pp. 135-54.

Idem, “Numismatics,” in R. N. Frye, ed., The Cambridge History of Iran IV, Cambridge, 1975, pp. 364-77.

V. Minorsky, “The Older Preface to the Shāh-nāmeh,” in Studi Orientalistici in Onore de Giorgio Levi Della Vida II, Rome 1956, pp. 159-79.

Roy Mottahedeh, “The Transmission of Learning: The Role of the Islamic Northeast,” in Nicole Grandin and Marc Gaborieau, eds., Madrasa: La transmission du savoir dans le monde musulman, Paris, 1997, pp. 63-72.

Saʿid Nafisi, Tāriḵ-e ḵāndān-e ṭāheri, Tehran, 1335 Š./1956.

M. Nazim, The Life and Times of Sultan Maḥmud of Ghazna, Cambridge, 1931, pp. 28-32, 42-47, 180-83.

N. N. Negmatov, “The Samanid State,” in M. S. Asimov and C. E. Bosworth, eds., History of Civilizations of Central Asia. IV. The Age of Achievement: A.D. 750 to the End of the Fifteenth Century. Part 1:The Historical, Social and Economic Setting, Paris, 1998, pp. 77-94.

E. E. Oliver, “The Decline of the Sámánís and the Rise of the Ghaznavís in Máwará-un-Nahr and Part of Khurasan (With Some Unpublished Coins),” J(R)ASB 55, 1886, pp. 91-106, 120.

Jürgen Paul, The State and the Military: The Samanid Case, Papers on Inner Asia 26, Bloomington, Ind., 1994.

A. C. S. Peacock, Mediaeval Islamic Historiography and Political Legitimacy: Balʿamī’s Tārīkhnāma, New York, 2007.

Parvaneh Pourshariati, “Local Histories of Khurāsān and the Pattern of Arab Settlement,” Studia Iranica 27, 1998, pp. 41-82.

Jan Rypka et al., History of Iranian Literature, ed. Karl Jahn, Dordrecht, 1968.

Ḏabiḥ-Allāh Ṣafā (Zabihollah Safa), Tāriḵ-e adabiyāt dar Irān I, rev. ed., Tehran, 1956.

Dominique Sourdel, “Les circonstances de la mort de Ṭāher Ier au Ḫurāsān en 207/822,” Arabica 5, 1958, pp. 66-69.

S. M. Stern, “The Early Ismāʿīlī Missionaries in North-West Persia and in Khurāsān and Transoxania,” BSOAS 23, 1960, pp. 77-81, 82-83.

Z. V. Togan, “The Topography of Balkh down to the Middle of the Seventeenth Century,” Central Asiatic Journal 14, 1970, pp. 277-88.

W. L. Treadwell, “The Political History of the Sāmānid State,” Ph.D. diss., Oxford University, 1991.

Idem, “A Unique Portrait Medallion from Bukhara Dated 969 AD,” The Ashmolean 36, 1999, p. 9-10.

Idem, “Ibn Zafir al-Azdi’s Account of the Murder of Ahmad ibn Ismaʿil al-Samani and the Succession of his Son Nasr,” in Carole Hillenbrand, ed., Studies in Honour of Clifford Edmund Bosworth II: The Sultan’s Turret, Leiden, 2000, pp. 397-419.

Idem, “Shāhānshāh and al-Malik al-Muʾayyad: The Legitimation of Power in Sāmāni and Būyid Iran,” in F. Daftary and J. W. Meri, eds., Culture and Memory in Medieval Islam: Essays in Honor of Wilferd Madelung, London, 2003, pp. 318-37.

Idem, “The Account of the Samanid Dynasty in Ibn Zāfir al-Azdi’s Akhbār al-duwal al-munqaṭiʿa,” Iran 43, 2005, pp. 135-73.

vii. History from the Ghaznavids to the Mongol Conquest

The era extending from the late 3rd/10th century to the second decade of the 7th/13th witnessed both the zenith of Khorasan’s blossoming as the center of Sunni Muslim culture and power and its subsequent eclipse. Khorasan had already assumed a growing prominence in the unitary caliphate from the time of the ʿAbbāsid Revolution beginning in 130/late 747, which had been based militarily upon a Khorasanian army. This importance had also been expressed politically in the dominance of Khorasanian figures such as the Barmakid and Taherid (qq.v) families of administrators, culminating in the brief functioning of Marv as the capital of the caliphate itself during al-Maʾmun’s early reign; and, culturally and religiously, in the prominence of figures of Khorasanian origin, especially in both the proto-Sunni and the ascetic (zohd) movements, ranging from Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal (d. 241/855; see HANBALITE MAḎHAB) to ʿAbd-Allāh b. al-Mobārak (118-81/736-97; q.v.) and Bešr Ḥāfi (d. 841).

Once the caliphate began fragmenting politically around 235/850, Greater Khorasan (which comprised not only Khorasan proper, but also the Transoxianan lands of Central Asia that had traditionally been assigned to its governorship) had become, under the Saffarid (q.v.) and Samanid dynasties, in most respects the center of Islamic civilization: it was the seat of the most powerful polities in the central Islamic lands east of the Mediterranean, and also the cultural, religious, and intellectual center of the Sunni Muslim world, producing many of the major works of classical Islamic civilization. This primacy continued under the Ghaznavids (q.v.), under whom the political center shifted once more into cis-Oxanian Khorasan proper, and reached its apogee under the Saljuqs, under whom Khorasan’s flourishing continued until the province was physically laid waste in the late 540s-early 550s/1150s by rampaging Oghuz Turkmen nomads during the Saljuq downfall; thereafter, from the 1150s until the Mongol invasions under Čengiz (Chenggis) Khan (q.v.) in 1220, Khorasan reverted to a more peripheral role, functioning largely as the devastated bone of contention between the rival powers that lay on opposite edges of the province: the Central-Asian based Khwarazmshahs (q.v.) to the northwest and the India-centered Ghurid (q.v.) dynasty in the southeast.


The Ghaznavids were notable in that this was the first major dynasty in the central and eastern Islamic lands to have been founded by a Turkic slave soldier (ḡolām; see BARDA AND BARDA-DĀRI) who formally assumed rulership. In 350/961 one of the most prominent Samanid ḡolām army commanders, Alptigin (q.v.), staged a failed palace coup. As a result, he fled into exile in Ghazna (see ḠAZNI), in the south-easternmost marcher area on the Samanid borders, where he established an emirate after having wrested the town from the brother-in-law of the Hendušāhi Kābolšāh, the ruler of the culturally Indian realm that constituted at the time the main power standing in the way of Islamic expansion into the Indian world. He also in 351/962 defeated a Samanid army sent against him, although the Ghaznavids technically recognized Samanid overlordship, and ruled as their amirs (q.v.).

Following Alptigin’s death, which occurred by 352/963, he was succeeded first by his son and, after the latter’s death without heirs in 355/966, by a succession of two of his slave commanders (ḡolāmān). Finally, in 366/977, the ḡolām army magnates chose from amongst themselves the commander Sebüktegin (d. 387/997; q.v.), Alptigin’s son-in-law, as amir; he and his progeny would continue to rule over Khorasan until the Seljuqs wrested the province from them in 431/1040; and, after that date, from Ghazna eastwards into India, as Seljuq vassals until the Ghurids finally conquered Ghazna in 545/1150-51, first driving the dynasty out of Khorasan entirely; and subsequently, in 582/1186, conquering Lahore and ending Ghaznavid rule completely.

Throughout Sebüktegin’s reign, until 389/999, when his son Maḥmud was well established as the ruler in Ghazna, the Ghaznavids acknowledged Samanid overlordship and technically governed as their representatives. Sebüktegin, however, laid the moral foundations for autonomous dynastic legitimacy by following an outstandingly āzi policy, continued by his successors, in which the resources and manpower of Khorasan were directed toward jihad (see ISLAM IN IRAN xi. JIHAD IN ISLAM). Under the three Ghaznavid amirs who ruled Khorasan—Sebüktegin, Maḥmud (r. 388-421/998-1030; q.v.), and Masʿud (r. 421-32/1030-41)—the region became the center of a āzi polity, dedicated to expanding the borders of the Dār al-Eslām (see DĀR AL-ḤARB), especially toward the east and south. This was a notable accomplishment, since the frontier of Islam in India had essentially remained static since the time of the original Muslim conquest establishing the provincial foothold of Sind; the Ghaznavids, harnessing the resources of Khorasan, were to break this barrier and extend the borders of Islam well into the Gangetic plain.

During the early decades of Ghaznavid rule under Sebüktegin and throughout at least the early years of Maḥmud’s rule, Khorasan benefitted from this expansionist āzi focus, due to its territorial enlargement and the enormous wealth—including vast numbers of slaves and copious amounts of precious metals—that flowed into it from the conquests: among the lands added to Khorasan by Sebüktegin and placed under Muslim rule, were Zābolestān and the Kabul (q.v.) valley in eastern Afghanistan, and Qoṣdār (Khuzdar) in northern Baluchistan. It was this holy warrior prestige that Sebüktegin and his sons acquired that allowed Maḥmud b. Sebüktegin, in precisely the same manner as the holy war founder of autonomous Samanid power, Eṣmāʿil b. Aḥmad (r. 260-79/874-92; q.v.), had originally established that dynasty’s legitimacy, officially to put an end to the pretense of acknowledging Samanid overlordship in 389/999, when the Samanid lands were divided between the Ghaznavids in Cis-Oxiana and the Qara-khanids (see ILAK-KHANIDS) in Transoxiana.

Maḥmud of Ghazna is known as one of the outstanding āzis of history; he not only continued his father’s campaigns to the east and south, on a much larger scale, but his reign was one of unremitting expansionist warfare against non-Muslim polities in India, the remaining non-Islamized areas of Afghanistan, and the western Himalayan regions. One of his conquests, hitherto un-Islamized Ḡur (q.v.), Maḥmud subjected to a systematic campaign of Islamization after its conquest, building mosques and sending Muslim clerics there to instruct the populace in the new religion, thus laying the foundation for the eventual domination of Khorasan, and the entire Muslim East, by the Šansabāni (Ghurid) dynasty in the latter part of the 12th century.

Increasingly, however, as Maḥmud focused on his unremitting war effort and directed all his polity’s resources toward that end, Khorasan was not just neglected, but exploited and mulcted. This trend was only exacerbated under the rule of Maḥmud’s son and successor, Masʿud, whose “heart was occupied with India [Hendustān]” (Rāvandi, p. 95), and therefore spent almost all his time in the Indian part of his realm, neglecting Khorasan and its affairs. This neglect in turn enabled Turkmens, under the leadership of the Saljuq dynasty, who had been permitted to cross the Oxus from Central Asia, first to begin plundering and then to establish their rule in Khorasan throughout the 420s/1030s; by the time Masʿud bestirred himself to address the crisis in Khorasan in person, in 431/1040, it was too late; he and his army were soundly defeated, ejected from all of Khorasan apart from Ghazna and its immediate surroundings, and Khorasan became a component land of the newly constituted Great Saljuq empire.


During the Saljuq period, Khorasan, once the conquests were over, throve in every respect, apart from a brief period during the early part of the civil strife that followed upon the sudden death of Malekšāh (q.v.) in 485/1092. During the early decades of Saljuq rule, when the capital of the empire was located in the ʿErāqayn (the “two Iraqs” of ʿErāq-e ʿAjam[i], q.v., and ʿErāq-e ʿArab; viz., much of today’s western Iran and the province of Iraq proper), the Saljuq polity was run largely by Khorasani viziers (Bowen), culminating with the decades-long dominance of the realm by the greatest of all Islamic viziers, Neẓām-al-Molk (q.v.); although Saljuq rule allowed a large measure of Khorasani local autonomy and self-government (Klausner, pp. 9-22).

With the death of Malekšāh and Neẓām-al-Molk in 485/1092, Khorasan was troubled both by the outbreak of civil war among Malekšāh’s minor sons and the deceased sultan’s brothers, who were jockeying for power; and also by the great Nezāri Ismaʿili uprising (see ISMAʿILISM iii. ISMAʿILI HISTORY). For the first four years of this chaotic interlude, from 485/1092 until 490/1097, the dominant Saljuq figure in Khorasan was Malekšāh’s brother, Arslān Arḡun, who headed the Turkmen element whose influence in Khorasan was constantly growing, in a process that has been described as the “re-nomadisation” (Paul, 2011, p. 111) of the country. Although this steady rise of the Turkmen component received a check with Arslān Arḡun’s murder by one of his mistreated ḡolāmān (Bondāri, p. 258), this Turkmen setback was to prove only temporary.

The zenith of Khorasan’s political, economic, and cultural flourishing transpired during the long reign of Sultan Sanjar (q.v.), who ruled Khorasan and the entire East from 490/1097 until his downfall in 548/1153; first as “King of the East,” then, from 511/1118, as Supreme Sultan, at which time he moved the capital of the empire to Marv, thereby making Khorasan the heart of the Saljuq empire. According to Ẓahir-al-Din Nišāpuri (d. ca. 580/1184), “the Khorasan region in his [Sanjar’s] era became the [coveted] destination of all the people of the world, and the native soil of the sciences, the fountain of literary attainments, and the mine of knowledge” (p. 56); Sanjar himself is described as “the mightiest monarch whom [God] ever made king” (Ḥosayni, p. 92) whose wealth and power provided decades of peace and prosperity for the empire as a whole, but above all for Khorasan. Partly, this was due to Khorasan’s domination of adjacent lands; not only did Sanjar’s overlordship extend westward over the lands that had formerly constituted the center of the empire, but also over the Qara-khanid lands in Transoxiana until 536/1141 and over the Ghaznavid lands in India.

Culturally, the flowering of classical Persian literature that had begun under the Samanids reached its apogee during the Ghaznavid and Saljuq eras (see SALJUQS v. SALJUQID LITERATURE). This period includes the magnificent literary productions of poets such as Ferdowsi (q.v.), Manučehri Dāmḡāni, Faḵr-al-Din Gorgāni (q.v.), and Awḥad-al-Din Anwari (q.v.); the belletristic and historical writings of Abu Naṣr ʿOtbi (q.v.), ʿAbd-al-Ḥayy Gardizi (q.v.), and the consummate historian Abu’l-Fażl Bayhaqi (q.v.); political writings on rulership by Neẓām al-Molk, Kaykāvus b. Eskandar (q.v.), and Emām-al-Ḥaramayn Jovayni (q.v.); and the great religious and Sufi texts, in both Persian and Arabic, of luminaries such as Abu ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Solami, Abu Noʿaym al-Eṣfāhāni (q.v.; who studied in Nishapur), ʿAbd-Allāh Anṣāri (q.v.), Abu’l-Ḥasan ʿAli Ḥojviri (q.v.), and Abu Ḥāmed Moḥammad Ḡazāli (q.v.).

This Khorasani golden age was brought to an end by nomadic power. The very fact of Sanjar’s succession to the Great Sultanate after his brother provides an important indication that the power of the Turkmen element in both Khorasan and the Saljuq polity was steadily increasing throughout Saljuq rule, especially from the late 11th century onwards. For prior to 511/1118, in the succession struggles that invariably ensued upon the death of a Great Sultan between a camp espousing Perso-Islamic succession norms of father to son and a Turkmen camp espousing the traditional nomadic seniorate succession to an older male, usually a brother or uncle of the previous ruler, the Perso-Islamic camp had always won the struggle. In 511/1118, however, the Turkmen camp was finally powerful enough to emerge triumphant: Sanjar, the brother rather than the son of the previous Great Sultan, acceded, and his removal of the imperial capital, not merely to Khorasan, but to Marv rather than Nishapur, on the very edge of the steppes, is yet another indication of growing Turkmen presence and influence.

The first nomadic threat from the Turkic steppe to Khorasan’s flourishing came in 536/1141, when the non-Muslim Qarā Ḵeṭāy (q.v.) invaders from China, probably allied with disaffected nomads in Transoxiana, met and defeated Sanjar’s Khorasani army at the battle of Qaṭvān, wresting the province of Transoxiana not just from Khorasani rule, but from Islamic rule entirely. This stinging defeat, which undermined Sanjar’s aura of invincibility, led to a brief two-year period of instability in Khorasan, in which various actors, mainly nomad-supported, attempted to wrest control of several regions of the province. By 538/1143, however, this turbulence had ended, and Sanjar had re-established rule in Khorasan after several military campaigns. Thereafter, Cis-Oxanian Khorasan proper remained the flourishing, dominant power of the Islamic world east of the Mediterranean up until 548/1153; and the armies of Khorasan, over the course of the succeeding decade, conducted successful campaigns against the only other powers of the eastern Islamic world, both of whom were rebellious Saljuq vassals: the ḵᵛārazmšāh, the ambitious hereditary governor of Ḵᵛārazm (see ĀL-E AFRIḠ; CHORASMIA ii. IN ISLAMIC TIMES), who was a grandson of the olām first appointed to the position by the Saljuqs in the 11th century; and the Ghurid dynasty of the Šansabāni family, against whom Sanjar conducted a highly successful military campaign in 547/1152.

The extinguishing of Khorasan’s prosperity and preeminence came abruptly in 548/1153, when Sanjar, having lost control over his magnates due to the increasing infirmity accompanying senescence (Bondāri, p. 276; Ḥosayni, p. 123), was defeated and taken prisoner near Balḵ (q.v.) by an army composed of Oghuz (see ḠOZZ) Turkmens newly arrived from the steppes (Ebn al-Aṯir, XI, p. 176), in which durance he was held until his escape in 551/1156, dying in the spring of 552/1157. After Sanjar was taken captive by the Oghuz, Khorasan splintered politically. Although some of the Oghuz leaders did take over rule in several of the towns that they left standing—for instance, Ghazna, which they ruled for over a decade—the Oghuz tribesmen on the whole seem to have spent the bulk of their time over the succeeding years on what the sources describe as a systematic campaign of pillage and destruction.

The Oghuz Turkmens in fact ravaged the province on a vast and unprecedented scale; not only did they virtually destroy entire cities, such as Marv and Nishapur, killing tens of thousands of people, but they also targeted the religious clerics, the Khorasani intelligentsia, who were perceived as part and parcel of the Saljuq governing apparatus (Tor, 2016, p. 401). Anwari’s famous elegiac poem, the so-called “Tears of Khorasan,” was written in reaction, as a desperate plea to solicit outside help (Anwari, pp. 201-5). At the same time, Sanjar’s disloyal magnates were quick to carve out fiefdoms for themselves, the strongest of these being Sanjar’s ḡolām Moʾayyed Ay-Aba (q.v.; d. 569/1174). The general anarchy and confusion in the province during Sanjar’s captivity also provided an opportunity for the Ismaʿilis to take the offensive; in 549/1154 Khorasan was attacked by a force of 7,000 bāṭeniya (q.v.) from Kuhestān; they were repelled by several erstwhile Saljuq amirs but in 551/1156 succeeded in sacking Ṭabas and capturing a number of Saljuq officials. This political turmoil was to persist in Khorasan for several decades, compounding the effects of the original Oghuz devastation of the province.


After the death of Sanjar in 552/1157, there was no longer any unified governing authority in Khorasan for several decades, and the province lost not only its central political and cultural standing, but its political agency and unity. Khorasan was riven by various contending forces, both inside and outside, including the continuing activities of the Oghuz tribesmen; and, from having been an imperial center, it became a zone of contention to be fought over, mainly by the two neighboring powers of the Khwarazmian and Ghurid dynasties. During the last quarter of the 6th/12th century, with the capture of Herat in 571/1175-76, the Ghurids gained the upper hand in the struggle, and succeeded by the end of the 6th/12th century in imposing their rule over much of Khorasan, which once again, albeit briefly, and never fully unified, became the center of a powerful polity, located in present-day Ḡōr province in Afghanistan. This success was, however, not only partial, but also short-lived—Ghurid control over the Balḵ area, for instance, lasted only a mere eight years (Bosworth, 2015, p. 216); by 601/1204 the Khwarazmshahs had definitively defeated the Ghurid sultan in battle, and taken over Khorasan, making it an appendage to their growing steppe-based empire. The Ghurid Empire itself fell apart shortly thereafter; only its Indian dominions were to emerge reconstituted, under the Ghurids’ former ḡolāms, as the Delhi sultanate (q.v.). Khorasan was by the early 7th/13th century, at the close of this period, in a ruinous state, after many decades of both pillaging and all-out warfare, not only on the regional level, but also among numerous rival local forces and strongmen. The country remained a subordinate province under the Khwarazmshahs for only a decade and a half, until the empire of the Khwarazmshahs was in turn swept away in the cataclysmic Mongol invasions under Čengiz Khan, beginning in 616/1219.


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ʿAbd-al-Ḥayy b. Żaḥḥāq Gardizi, Tāriḵ-e Gardizi, ed. ʿAbd-al-Ḥayy Ḥabibi, Tehran, 1944.

Peter Golden, Central Asia in World History, Oxford, 2011.

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viii. History from the Mongol Conquest to the Timurids

See Supplement.

ix. History in the Timurid Period

See Supplement.

x. History in the Safavid and Afsharid Periods

Khorasan changed hands several times between the Safavids and the Uzbeks during the 16th century. Eventually, it was under Shah ʿAbbās I (q.v.) that the province was fully integrated into the Safavid system of the “guarded domains” (mamālek-e maḥrusa). Under the Safavids, major urban centers in Khorasan, including Herat and Mashhad, suffered ravages of war and administrative discontinuity, which in turn brought about successive bouts of famine and plague. The long years of civil war in Iran during the years leading up to Shah ʿAbbās’ ascent to the throne gave the Uzbeks opportunity to expand the range of their attacks outside Khorasan, destabilizing Kerman, Yazd, Sistān, Nimruz, and even Kandahar. Forced and coordinated mass migration from eastern Anatolia, the Caucasus, and Azerbaijan in the 16th and 17th centuries had a lasting impact on demographic characteristics of Khorasan as waves of Turkic and Kurdish nomadic and semi-nomadic clans and tribes entered the provinces, where they had been granted pastures and agricultural lands in the valleys and foothills of the Hezār-Masjed and Binālud ranges, forming a bulwark against the incursions of the Uzbeks. Early in the 18th century, when the Safavid dynasty entered its terminal phase, the Uzbeks from the north and the Abdāli (q.v.) Afghans from the east invaded Khorasan, bringing the political order established there by the Safavids to the brink of disintegration.

Upon the death of the last Timurid ruler of Khorasan, Solṭān-Ḥosayn Bāyqarā (q.v.; r. 875-911/1470-1506), on 11 Ḏu’l-ḥejja 911/5 May 1506, two of his sons, Badiʿ al-Zamān and Moẓaffar-Ḥosayn, suspended their fight over the Timurid throne to form a joint front against the Uzbeks. The last decade of Bāyqarā’s reign was witness to the consolidation of the power base of the Yadgarids and the Abu’l-Khayrids (q.v.) as paramount clans of the Uzbek tribal confederations of Dašt-e Qepčāq and Transoxiana (Dickson, 1963, pp. 209-10). Led by Abu’l-Fotuḥ Moḥammad Khan Šïbāni (Šaybāni), the Abu’l-Khayrid Uzbeks posed an immediate threat to Khorasan. At the close of the 15th century, they descended on Balḵ, Šaborḡān, and the Morḡāb valley shortly after their capture of Samarqand and Bukhara from the Timurid and Toḡloq/Timurid princes of Central Asia. The pillage and destruction wrought by the Uzbeks in Balḵ, the easternmost fortress town in Khorasan, which had been made the appanage of Badiʿ-al-Zamān Mirzā toward the end of the reign of Solṭān-Ḥosayn Bāyqarā, are reported to have been notably gruesome, raising alarm for inner cities of the province to abandon the path of resistance and surrender (Rāqem Samarqandi, p. 83). The scarcity of foodstuff and fodder in the winter of 1507 on the one hand, and the resurfacing of internal feuds among Solṭān-Ḥosayn Bāyqarā’s sons on the other, led to a major breakup in the Timurid army camped outside Herat (Ḵvāndamir, IV, pp. 372-73; Mir Moḥammad Maʿṣum, p. 101). It was under these circumstances that Herat fell to the Uzbeks on 8 Moḥarram 913/20 May 1507, just over a year after Solṭān-Ḥosayn Bāyqarā’s death; a week later, on 15 Moḥarram/27 May, the Friday prayer sermon was officially preached at the congregational mosque in Herat in Šïbāni’s name. Shortly thereafter, the Uzbeks easily quelled a series of pro-Timurid uprisings in Mashhad, Abivard, Nishapur, and Sabzavār (Ḵᵛāndamir, IV, pp. 367-81; Bābor, I, pp. 127-47; Doḡlāt, pp. 121-23, tr., pp. 97-98; Qaṭaḡān, pp. 124-25; Mir Moḥammad Maʿṣum, pp. 99-102; Roemer, pp. 124-25; Mukminova, pp. 34-35; Hajianpur, pp. 157-58).

Šïbāni Khan is argued to have had a strong support base in Herat (Szuppe, 1992, p. 161). Yet the fact is that, soon after his victories in Khorasan, the Uzbek ruler introduced draconian fiscal policies that in the short run incited widespread disaffection with the Uzbeks in Khorasan (Semenov, p. 65; Tumanovich, p. 98). What is more, Šïbāni Khan’s distrust of the dominantly pro-Timurid urban elites in Herat led him, in less than three years after his annexation of Khorasan, to plan for moving the center of his khanate out of the city. The new capital, to be called Yādgār-e Ḵāni, had been planned to be built on the ruins of Ṭus, a bastion of Sunni Islam in eastern Iran under the Saljuqids, located some 20 miles northwest of Mashhad. During a visit to Mashhad in Ṣafar 915/June 1509, Šïbāni stopped over in Ṭus to pay tributes to Sunni worthies buried there, including the prominent jurist Abu Ḥāmed Ḡazāli (q.v.; Ḵonji Eṣfahāni, 1976, pp. 348-51). It was there that he appointed a local Sunni bureaucrat as chief judge of Yādgār-e Ḵāni with powers to adjudicate all over Transoxiana and Khorasan. The appointment letter (nešān) issued and sealed by Šïbāni contains references to his plans to relocate several hundred households from among the Turkish, Persian, and Arab nomads of Khorasan and Transoxiana to Yādgār-e Ḵāni upon the completion of the city’s walls and ramparts in 1511 (Šarifi Nasafi, fols. 134a-136b; Ghereghlou, 2016; Elias, p. 777).

Underlying Šïbāni Khan’s westward territorial expansionism was his quest for the revival of Sunnism in Iran and Central Asia. The mistreatment of Sunni Muslims in Safavid Iran made him even more eager to pursue a policy of all-out war with the Safavids, drawing on his mentor Fażl-Allāh Ḵonji Eṣfahāni’s (d. 1521) radical interpretations of the doctrine of jihad. A notable Sunni jurist and Hadith (q.v.) expert who had barely escaped after Shah Esmāʿil’s (q.v.; r. 1501-24) annexation of ʿErāq-e ʿAjam (q.v.) in the late fall of 1503, Ḵonji considered the Safavids and their supporters in Iran as no more than “apostates and idolaters” whose extermination was mandatory upon any devoted Muslim ruler (Ḵonji Eṣfahāni, 1983, p. 398; Ḵonji Eṣfahāni, fol. 226b). To the Uzbeks, the Safavids were occupiers of the land of Islam, blocking the access of Central Asian Muslims to the holy cities of Hejaz. In one of his diplomatic dispatches to Shah Esmāʿil, the Uzbek Šïbāni Khan vows to secure the free passage of Sunni pilgrims to the Hejaz via Khorasan and ʿErāq-e ʿAjam, a plan that entailed the undoing of Safavid rule in Iran (Majmuʿa makātib, fols. 250a-251b). The same issue resurfaces in the correspondence of later generations of Uzbek rulers, including ʿObayd-Allāh Khan’s (d. 1540) who, in one of his letters to Shah Ṭahmāsp (q.v.; r. 1524-76) accused the Safavids of blocking the road to Mecca and Medina for Central Asian Muslims (Ivoḡli, fols. 108a-109b). Late in the 16th century, in a letter to the Ottoman Sultan Morād II (r. 1574-95), the Uzbek khan ʿAbd-al-Moʾmen (d. 1598) deemed it his duty to “uproot the thorn bushes hindering the access of Sunni Muslims to Mecca” (Ḵuzāni Eṣfahāni, III, pp. 64-65; McChesney, 2003, pp. 145-46). The early Safavids, in their turn, denied such charges, accusing the Uzbeks of “spreading false statements and outrageous lies” regarding the conditions of Sunni Muslims in Safavid Iran (Navāʾi, 1989, pp. 81-88; Doḡlāt, pp. 198-99, tr., pp. 155–56; Ḵᵛāndamir, IV, p. 504; Budāq Monši, p. 87; Rāqem Samarqandi, p. 92; Dickson, 1958, pp. 42-46). The Safavids’ claims were more of territorial nature reflecting the core values of the eastern policy of the Aq Quyunlu (q.v.) Uzun Ḥasan, who took advantage of the power struggles that rocked the Timurid sultanate in the latter part of the 15th century to meddle in the internal affairs of Khorasan and the neighboring province of Astarābād. During the closing decade of his reign, the Aq Quyunlu ruler backed the Šāhroḵid prince Yādgār Moḥammad Mirzā (d. 1470) during the civil war that broke out following the death of Abu Saʿid Mirzā (d. 1469), with the objective of installing him as his vassal in eastern Iran (Ṭehrāni Eṣfahāni, pp. 513-14; Navāʾi, 1962, pp. 320-23; Moʾayyad Ṯābeti, pp. 384-87; Woods, 1990, p. 46; idem, 1999, pp. 112-13).

Shah Esmāʿil began meddling in the internal affairs of Khorasan and Astarābād even before Bāyqarā’s death. Already in Ḏu’l-ḥejja 909/May-June 1504, he had charged one of his military deputies with installing the Timurid prince Moẓaffar-Ḥosayn Mirzā as head of a vassal appanage in Astarābād, a move that excited Bāyqarā’s ire, for he had just appointed his other son Moḥammad-Ḥosayn Mirzā as governor of Astarābād (Ḥayāti Tabrizi, pp. 312-15). Bāyqarā then sent a terse letter of protest to the Safavid ruler, reprimanding him for his uninvited meddling in the internal affairs of the Timurid sultanate (Marvārid, fol. 30b, tr., p. 121). It was in reaction to this letter that Shah Esmāʿil attacked Ṭabas in Ramażān 910/February 1505, shortly after his conquest of Yazd with assistance from the Arab nomads of Ḵur (q.v.). It is reported that the Safavids sacked villages outside Ṭabas and put to the sword several hundred farmers and pastoralists (Ḵᵛāndamir, IV, p. 480; Amini Heravi, pp. 242-43; Ḥayāti Tabrizi, pp. 327-29). When the Uzbeks took Herat, the provinces of Kerman and Sistān became the targets of their occasional raids. In Kerman, they pillaged Govāšir, Ḵabiṣ (present-day Šahdād), Rāvar, and Zangiābād in 1506-7 (Amini Heravi, p. 325; Waziri Kermāni, pp. 264-65; Aubin, 1988, p. 27). In spring 1506, a close relative of Šïbāni Khan led a raid against Uq (present-day Qalʿa-ye Kāh), a rural town outside Farāh, forcing Malek Maḥmud, the ruler of Sistān, to escape along with his clan to Bam and Narmāšir (Sistāni, p. 139). In winter 1508, the Uzbeks invaded Astarābād and Dāmḡān, driving the Timurid prince Badiʿ-al-Zamān Mirzā from the province. He ultimately escaped to ʿErāq-e ʿAjam, where he put himself under the protection of Shah Esmāʿil (Qaṭaḡān, pp. 102-3).

The Battle of Maḥmudi, which was fought on 28-30 Šaʿbān 916/30 November-2 December 1510 outside Ṭāherābād, a small village some 20 miles south of Marv, sealed the fate of Moḥammad Khan Šïbāni, who was cornered by the Safavid troops and suffocated in a cavalry melee. The Safavid invasion of Khorasan, taking place out of season late in fall, was a complete surprise for the Uzbeks. It is reported that, upon Shah Esmāʿil’s arrival in Ray (q.v.), the Uzbek governor of Dāmḡān Aḥmad-Solṭān, who had married Šïbāni Khan’s daughter or sister, and Ḵᵛāja Aḥmad Qonqrāt, who led the Uzbek forces in Astarābād, vacated their posts and fled to Transoxiana, leaving Khorasan undefended to Safavid penetration (Ḵᵛāndamir, IV, pp. 509-14; Amini Heravi, pp. 339-45; Rumlu, pp. 1050-54; Doḡlāt, pp. 199-200, tr., pp. 156-57; Qaṭaḡān, pp. 104-12; Ḵāki Širāzi, fol. 593a; Sarwar, pp. 61-62; Tumanovich, p. 100; Savory, pp. 78-80). Subsequently, Shah Esmāʿil entered Herat and within a few weeks of his victory assigned all cities and major rural towns in Khorasan to his military deputies, who ran their land assignments as toyul or military fief and within the temporal scope of one fiscal year produced more than 150 tümens for the Safavid central treasury. The amount generated by toyul-holders posted to Khorasan made up more than 20 percent of the tax yield of all toyul land enfeoffments in the provinces Azerbaijan, ʿErāq-e ʿAjam, Diyarbakir, Iraq, Kurdistan, Fārs, and Kerman between fiscal years 913-19/1508-13 (Ghereghlou, 2015, pp. 94, 98). Early in spring 917/1511, Shah Esmāʿil mounted a punitive campaign against the Uzbek forces in Maymana and Fāryāb. During the peace negotiations that ensued following this military campaign, the Uzbeks agreed to recognize the Oxus as the natural border separating the Safavid domain in Khorasan from Transoxiana. Shortly afterwards, the Safavid ruler appointed Bayrām Beg Qarāmānlu, a tribal military commander from Ṭāleš, as governor of Balḵ, Andḵoy, Šaborḡān, Čičaktow, Maymana, Fāryāb, Morḡāb, and Ḡarčestān (Ḵᵛāndamir, IV, p. 519; Ebn Ḵᵛāndamir, p. 73).

On 15 Rajab 917/8 October 1511, Shah Esmāʿil made the Timurid prince Ẓahir-al-Din Moḥammad Bābor (q.v.) governor-general of Khorasan. At that time, major urban centers in the province were faced with depopulation and food shortage. Dated circa 1511, two missives from Safavid bureaucrats in Khorasan point to the difficulties Shah Esmāʿil’s deputies were experiencing in collecting annual taxes from their military fiefs in Khorasan on the eve of Bābor’s rise to power as governor-general of the province (Evrâk 12212; Evrâk 8316; Fekete, p. 270; Aubin, 1988, p. 31). These reports are borne out by two 16th-century Persian chroniclers, who discuss in some detail the unfolding turmoil in Khorasan during the opening years of the 1510s (Ḡaffāri Qazvini, p. 278; Novidi Širāzi, pp. 55-56). During his tenure, which lasted only eight months until Rabiʿ I 918/May-June 1512, Bābor managed to score a series of military victories against the Uzbeks in Ḵatlān (Ḵottalā), Baqlān, and Qondoz, thanks mainly to the active support of the Timurid prince Mirzā Solṭān-Ovays (Ḵᵛāndamir, IV, pp. 523-24). Late in the spring of 918/1512, however, the Uzbeks recaptured Samarqand, forcing him to escape to the south, first to Qondoz and then to Kabul (Doḡlāt, pp. 208, 217, tr., pp. 163, 170; Dale, pp. 188-200; Budāq Monši, pp. 91-92). Bābor’s downfall coincided with the Yādgārid/Aminaki Ṣufiān Khan’s (r. ca. 1511-35) rise to power and his subsequent capture of Khiva (Urganj), the city he later made the administrative capital of the Khanate of Ḵᵛārazm, which encompassed vast swathes of land located between Su-boyu, the strip of agricultural lands along the western bank of the Oxus, and Täğ-boyu, southern foothills of the Küren-Däğ and Köpet-Däğ ranges in northeastern Khorasan (Bartol’d, 1963-77, II/1, pp. 596-97; idem, 1956-62, III, pp. 135-36). Under Shah Esmāʿil, the ruler of Kandahar, Šojāʿ Beg, who later had to escape to Sind valley, where he founded the Arghunid dynasty, was one of the few claimants to power in eastern Iran who defied Safavid superiority. In summer 1513, he fled from Eḵtiār-al-Din Castle in Herat, where he had been detained by the Safavids, and managed to take refuge for a while in Kandahar. The Safavid forces, led by Šāhroḵ Beg Afšār, then attacked Šojāʿ Beg, but it came to naught (Ḵᵛāndamir, IV, p. 541; Ḵuzāni Eṣfahāni, I, fols. 217a–b; Ḵāki Širāzi, fol. 597a; Aubin, 1984, p. 21).

Under Shah Esmāʿil, the Sunni population of Khorasan were subjected to various forms of maltreatment, from indiscriminate violence to forced migration. On the eve of the Safavid ruler’s arrival in Herat, the prayer sermons (ḵoṭba) were delivered in the name of the Shiʿite imams at the city’s congregational mosque. There followed a violent crackdown on the Sunni population of Herat as soon as a few Sunni notables dared to protest the elimination of the names of the Sunni caliphs from the ḵoṭba. The Safavid royal guards (qurčis) then massacred several dozen Sunni protesters and set aflame the main entrance to ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Jāmi’s mausoleum, the city’s main Sunni shrine (Vāṣefi Heravi, II, pp. 247-51; Moin). In Marv, the Safavid ruler is reported to have ordered the mass execution of Sunni denizens of the city following the Battle of Maḥmudi (Amini Heravi, pp. 347, 349; Doḡlāt, p. 200, tr. p. 156). Shortly thereafter, Shah Esmāʿil sent three embassies to Khiva, Urganj, and Hazār-Asb in Ḵᵛārazm in an attempt to form an alliance with the Uzbek Ilbārs Khan (r. 910-30/1503-24). When the shah’s request was rejected firmly by Ilbārs, in 1505, one of the Safavid envoys to Ḵᵛārazm declared a Yesevi Sufi sayyed called Ḥosām al-Dīn ruler of Ḵᵛārazm. In the battle that ensued following this incident, Ilbārs defeated the pro-Safavid Ḥosām al-Dīn and for the rest of his reign kept the province safe from the Safavid invasion (Munes and Āgahi, pp. 105-107). During his stay in Herat, Shah Esmāʿil personally executed the Naqšbandi mystic and Ḥanafi religious dignitary (šayḵ-al-eslām) of Khorasan Sayf-al-Din Aḥmad Taftāzāni (Doḡlāt, pp. 200-201, tr., p. 157; Rumlu, p. 1057). Shortly thereafter, the first Safavid governor of Herat and Shah Esmāʿil’s brother-in-law, Eḵtiār-al-Molk Ḥosayn Beg Šāmlu, had recourse to a carrot-and-stick policy in his dealings with the Sunni population of the city, providing a handful of Sunni notables with employment opportunity in local bureaucracy while forcing groups of their coreligionists to leave Khorasan for Transoxiana (Vaşefi Heravi, I, pp. 17-18). Under Ḥosayn Beg Šāmlu, all public lands confiscated by the state (ḵāleṣa) sector during the centralizing reforms of the 1490s were liberalized, empowering the Safavid authorities in Herat to incentivize these lands for winning over the support of local notables across Khorasan (Amini Heravi, p. 358).

The Uzbek recapture of Samarqand in the spring of 918/1512 and Bābor’s withdrawal from Khorasan shortly thereafter prompted Shah Esmāʿil to assign his grand vizier Najm-al-Din Yār-Aḥmad Ḵuzāni with leading the Safavid forces during a major military campaign against Samarqand in close collaboration with the military governor of Astarābād Dēv-ʿAli Beg Rumlu. The Safavid army crossed the Oxus at Termeḏ late in Rajab 918/early October 1512 and descended on Qarši (Nasaf) and Bukhara. The decisive battle was fought in Ḡojdovān (q.v.), a village some 25 miles northeast of Bukhara, during which Yār-Aḥmad Ḵuzāni was arrested alive and beheaded in the battlefield. The Uzbeks then descended on Khorasan advancing westward as far as Esfarāyen (q.v.). They laid a successful siege to Herat and captured the city by the end of Moḥarram 919/March 1513. Contingents of the Uzbek forces, led by Moḥammad Timur-Solṭān and ʿObayd-Allāh Khan, engaged in offensive operations against Mashhad and captured the city shortly after the fall of Herat, at the end of a harsh winter that had already ushered in a season of famine and pestilence in Khorasan and Transoxiana. In Herat, groups of pro-Safavid elements were rounded up and put to the sword (Ḵᵛāndamir, IV, pp. 530-34; Amini Heravi, pp. 379-99; Vāṣefi Heravi, I, pp. 62-72; Qaṭaḡān, pp. 128-32; Rumlu, pp. 1065-068; Ebn Ḵᵛāndamir, pp. 81–84; Sayfi Qazvini, p. 284). The emergence of Abu’l-Qāsem Baḵši, an ex-Timurid army clerk, as leader of an anti-Safavid movement in Pušang (Bušang, Fušang; present-day Zendajān), a rural town outside Herat, contextualized Moḥammad Timur-Solṭān’s merciless suppression of local backers of the Safavids in Herat. Later in 1512, when the Safavids recaptured Herat, Piri Beg Qājār went after Abu’l-Qāsem and his supporters in rural suburbs of Herat and executed many of them. Shortly afterwards, Zaynal Khan Šāmlu was made governor-general of Khorasan (Ḵᵛāndamir, IV, pp. 536-38; Qaṭaḡān, pp. 136-38; Szuppe, 1992, pp. 149-50).

Three years later, in early 1516, Shah Esmāʿil made Khorasan an appanage for his eldest son, Ṭahmāsp Mirzā, charging Amir Khan Mawṣellu, the former governor of Qāʾen and a close relative of Ṭahmāsp Mirzā’s mother Tājlu Ḵānom Mawṣellu (d. 1539), with supervising him as guardian (lala) and governor-general of Khorasan (Ḵᵛāndamir, IV, p. 553; Ebn Ḵᵛāndamir, p. 89; Sayfi Qazvini, p. 287; Ḡaffāri Qazvini, p. 278; Ḥosayni ʿErāqi, pp. 64, 71; Ḵāki Širāzi, fol. 598a). In Rabiʿ I 922/April 1516, Majd-al-Din Moḥammad Kermāni was made vizier of Khorasan and Mir Ḡiāṯ-al-Din Moḥammad Heravi took over as ṣadr, or minister for religious affairs and endowments. Less than two years later, early in 1518, Kermāni was replaced by Ḵᵛāja Moẓaffar Bitikči, an influential scribe and landed notable from Astarābād. Shortly thereafter, Amir Khan Mawṣellu made his own brother, Ebrāhim Beg, his deputy (wakil) in Khorasan. During the early years of Amir Khan’s tenure, factional feuds among the Safavid administrators in Herat had become so violent and destabilizing that Shah Esmāʿīl decided to intervene and to reinstate, on Rabiʿ I 924/March-April 1518, the beleaguered ṣadr Mir Ḡiāṯ-al-Din Moḥammad b. Yusof Heravi. Yet Heravi’s enemies in Herat, led by Amir Khan Mawṣellu, stepped up their opposition and he was ultimately assassinated on 7 Rajab 927/13 June 1521 at the hands of one of Amir Khan’s adjutants for his rumored pro-Timurid leanings (Ḵᵛāndamir, IV, pp. 554, 575-76, 583-84; Sayfi Qazvini, p. 288; Ḡaffāri Qazvini, pp. 279-80; Ebn Ḵᵛāndamir, pp. 107-10; Ḥosayni ʿErāqi, pp. 75-76). Heravi’s murder took place on the eve of the Uzbek invasion of Khorasan. Shortly before this incident, Amir Khan had the tongue of a prominent Herat-based Kobrawi (see kobrawiyya) mystic and poet called Āgahi cut (Ḵāki Širāzi, fol. 599a). Late in the spring of 1521, famine broke out in Herat, forcing the Uzbek ʿObayd-Allāh Khan and his armies to cut short their presence in Khorasan and withdraw to Transoxiana by the end of Jomādā II 927/June 1521 (Ḵᵛāndamir, IV, pp. 579-81; Ḥosayni ʿErāqi, pp. 70-71; Novidi Širāzi, p. 58). This incident marked the end of Amir Khan Mawṣellu’s tenure as governor-general of Khorasan.

On 25 Ḏu’l-Qaʿda 927/6 November 1521, Shah Esmāʿil appointed Durmeš Khan Šāmlu (q.v.; d. 1525), his nephew and the military governor of Astarābād, as guardian (lala) of his second son Sām Mirza (d. 1568) and governor-general of Khorasan (Ḵᵛāndamir, IV, p. 588; Ebn Ḵᵛāndamir, pp. 112-13; Sayfi Qazvini, p. 288; Ḥosayni ʿErāqi, pp. 75-76; Ḵāki Širāzi, fol. 599a). In an unpublished letter, which is dated Ḏu’l-Ḥejja 927/November-December 1521 and is addressed to his military deputies in Khorasan, Shah Esmāʿil instructed them to collaborate closely with Durmeš Khan in his efforts to restore peace and prosperity in Khorasan (Ḥosayni Širāzi, f. 318a). Upon his arrival in Herat, Durmeš Khan appointed Aḥmad Beg Ṣufi-Oḡlu Ālplu Afšār military governor of Farāh, the administrative capital of Sistān. Furthermore, he made Zaynal Khan Šāmlu, one of his close relatives, governor of Astarābād. He also ordered his military underlings in Khorasan to recognize Bābor’s annexation of Kabul and Kandahar, which at that time had been given to Bābor’s son, Moḥammad Kāmrān Mirzā. Gubernatorial posts in Mashhad, Nishapur, Sabzavār, and Esfarāyen were filled by a trio of Durmeš Khan’s close allies. On 3 Ramażān 928/6 August 1522, the underage prince Sām Mirzā arrived in Herat and was put under the tutelage of Durmeš Khan (Ḵᵛāndamir, IV, pp. 590-92; Ebn Ḵᵛāndamir, pp. 111-14, 116; Novidi Širāzi, p. 58). Durmeš Khan’s free hand in posting his relatives and cronies to Astarābād and Sistān can be taken to imply the administrative integration of these two provinces into Khorasan. Under Durmeš Khan and his vizier, Ḵᵛāja Ḥabib-Allāh Sāvaji (d. 932/1526), Khorasan became administratively centralized, excessive taxing practices introduced under Amir Khan Mawṣellu were discontinued; abandoned agricultural lands were irrigated and re-cultivated; dilapidated educational and Sufi institutions were repaired and revived; religious endowments to be used for feeding the poor were reestablished; and pro-Safavid notables of the province were offered tax exemptions (Ebn Ḵᵛāndamir, pp. 116-18; Szuppe, 1992, pp. 93-96).

The political instability that engulfed Safavid Iran during the opening years of the reign of Shah Ṭahmāsp enabled the Uzbeks to attack Herat and plunder its neighboring rural towns (Ebn Ḵᵛāndamir, pp. 128-33; Rumlu, pp. 1138-40). They eventually annexed vast swathes of land in eastern Khorasan forcing the Safavids out of Termeḏ, Šaborḡān, Balḵ, and Farāh (Bacqué-Grammont, p. 430). Shortly thereafter, they recaptured Mashhad, Nišāpur, Sabzavār, Esfarāyen, Dāmḡān, and Semnān, bringing all Khorasan under their control. In due course, Astarābād also fell to the Uzbeks (Ḥosayni ʿErāqi, pp. 84-89, 91-92, 94; Ṣafawi, pp. 582-83; Monši, p. 93; Novidi Širāzi, p. 62; Dickson, 1958, pp. 88-92). Durmeš Khan passed away following the Uzbek invasion of Herat in 1526. He was replaced by his younger brother Ḥosayn Khan Šāmlu as governor-general of Khorasan. Within a few weeks of Ḥosayn Khan’s rise to power in Herat, his underlings assassinated Ḥabib-Allāh Sāvaji and promoted Aḥmad Beg Nur-e Kamāl Eṣfahāni, a bureaucrat in service of Ḥosayn Khan, to vizier of Khorasan (Ebn Ḵᵛāndamir, pp. 135-37; Ṣafawi, p. 578; Ḡaffāri Qazvini, p. 283; Novidi Širāzi, p. 62; Ḵuzāni Eṣfahāni, II, ff. 23a-24a). Shortly after Shah Ṭahmāsp’s ascent to the throne, the Timurid ruler of Kabul and Kandahar, Bābor achieved a series of major conquests in India, a feat that prepared the way for him to build an empire outside Khorasan, leading the Timurids to quit the struggle for supremacy in eastern Iran (Bābor, pp. 324ff, Engl. tr., I, 445ff; Ebn Ḵᵛāndamir, pp. 137-39; Dale, pp. 320-54; Dickson, 1958, pp. 47-50). Following his territorial gains in inner Khorasan and Astarābād, ʿObayd-Allāh Khan, who at the time held office as governor of Bokhara and ranked among the most influential military commanders of the Abu’l-Khayrid ruler of Transoxiana, Güçgünci Khan (r. 1512-30), attacked Herat, triggering a bout of famine that was soon to spread to other parts of the province. The Uzbeks then laid a successful siege on Mashhad and by the end of 933/1527 managed to bring Astarābād and Dāmḡān under their control (Ebn Ḵᵛāndamir, p. 144; Qaṭaḡān, pp. 140-41; Ḥosayni Qomi, pp. 171-72; Ḥosayni ʿErāqi, p. 96; Ḵuzāni Eṣfahāni, II, ff. 24b-25a; Dickson, 1958, pp. 54-63).

The Safavids were intent on regaining supremacy in eastern Iran in the short run, but the campaign to repel the Uzbeks from Khorasan was delayed as the result of infighting between various factions of Shah Ṭahmāsp’s army in Azerbaijan and ʿErāq-e ʿAjam. In the spring of 1528, the Safavid vanguard forces proceeded to Sāvoj-bolāḡ, some 50 miles to the west of Ray, and it was on 21 Šaʿbān 934/21 May 1528 outside the mountainous fortress town of Firuzkuh that Zaynal Khan Šāmlu, the former governor of Astarābād, engaged the Uzbek forces, an encounter that cost Zaynal Khan and a handful of high-ranking Safavid military commanders their lives (Ebn Ḵᵛāndamir, pp. 142-43; Ḥosayni ʿErāqi, p. 98; Ḥosayni Qomi, p. 173; Ḡaffāri Qazvini, p. 284; Novidi Širāzi, p. 64; Ḵuzāni Eṣfahāni, II, ff. 32a-b; Ḵāki Širāzi, f. 601b; Dickson, 1958, pp. 93-108). Late in the summer of 1528, Shah Ṭahmāsp led his army into Khorasan forcing the Uzbeks to end their siege of Herat, which lasted for seven months and caused the outbreak of famine in Khorasan. ʿObayd-Allāh Khan and his military deputies in the province then regrouped for the decisive battle, which was fought on 11 Moḥarram 935/5 October 1528 in Sāruqameš (present-day Zurābād/Ṣāleḥābād), a cluster of rural settlements some 50 miles north of Jām. The Battle of Sāruqameš ended with Ṭahmāsp’s hurried withdrawal to ʿErāq-e ʿAjam. In the peace negotiations that ensued following the battle, Ḥusayn Khan Šāmlu, the Safavid governor of Herat, and the Uzbek governor of Bokhara, ʿObayd-Allāh Khan agreed to halt hostilities during the winter (Ebn Ḵᵛāndamir, pp. 146-52; Rumlu, pp. 1172-179; Ḥosayni Qomi, pp. 176-78, 179-89; Ḥosayni ʿErāqi, pp. 101-2; Novidi Širāzi, p. 65; Ḵuzāni Eṣfahāni, II, ff. 30b-32a, 42b-45a; Qaṭaḡān, p. 124).

Between 1528 and 1539, the year in which ʿObayd-Allāh Khan died and his Central Asian khanate plunged into several decades of civil war and administrative instability, the Safavids and the Uzbeks fought five major battles over Khorasan. During the same period, the province was also made an appanage to four Safavid princes—Shah Ṭahmāsp’s two brothers, one of his nephews, and his oldest son, Moḥammad Mirzā, who later was crowned as Moḥammad Ḵodābanda. Within a few months of Shah Ṭahmāsp’s withdrawal from Khorasan, which took place on 16 Rabiʿ I 937/17 November 1530, however, ʿObayd-Allāh Khan and his military deputies attacked Herat and Mashhad. In Mashhad, where the Uzbeks led by ʿObayd-Allāh Khan defeated overnight an army of about 4,000 Safavid troops, several hundred pro-Safavid civilians were arrested and massacred. At that time, the Safavid garrison in Mashhad was under the command of Aḥmad Beg Afšār, whose hurried escape to Farāh, his permanent military fief in Sistān, which took place on the night of ʿObayd-Allāh Khan’s arrival before the wall of Mashhad, enabled the Uzbeks to enter Mashhad with no resistance. Shortly before the fall of Mashhad, ʿObayd-Allāh Khan had negotiated a ceasefire with Ḥusayn Khan Šāmlu, the governor-general of a famine-stricken Herat, agreeing to provide him, the Safavid prince Sām Mirzā, and their entourage safe passage to Sistān. Before making their way to Fārs, the retreating forces from Herat mounted a series of raids against Kij and Makorān (Makrān) (Rumlu, pp. 1180-82; Ḡaffāri Qazvini, p. 285; Ḥosayni Qomi, pp. 190-93; Eskandar Beg, pp. 57-58, tr., pp. 93-95). While Safavid chroniclers have chronicled in detail the fall of Herat to the Uzbeks and subsequent suppression of the pro-Safavid notables of the city, during which “many Shiite Muslims” were either tortured or beheaded in the hands of ʿObayd-Allāh Khān’s armies, there is evidence from an eyewitness account that Herat did not fall to the Uzbeks at this time. The Herat-based chronicler Ebn Ḵᵛāndamir tells us that immediately after the Battle of Sāruqameš Shah Ṭahmāsp bestowed Khorasan as an appanage to his younger brother, Bahrām Mirzā (d. 1549), posting him to Herat immediately, where the Safavid prince was to live under the tutelage of Ḡāzi Beg b. Čerkes Ḥasan Tekkelu, who had just been appointed as governor-general of Khorasan. Bahrām Mirzā and Ḡāzi Beg, as Ebn Ḵᵛāndamir points out, heroically resisted and survived the Uzbek siege of Herat, which lasted for about 20 months from the spring of 1530 up until the latter part of October 1532. At the close of this long siege, when the Uzbeks decided to withdraw to Transoxiana, Shah Ṭahmāsp made Khorasan once again an appanage for Sām Mirzā and appointed Āḡzivār Khan Šāmlu as his guardian and governor-general of Herat. On 7 Ṣafar 939/18 September 1532, Shah Ṭahmāsp left Khorasan for ʿErāq-e ʿAjam (Ebn Ḵᵛāndamir, pp. 156, 158-61).

Soon after his rise to power, the Safavid governor of Herat, Āḡzivār Khan Šāmlu, and his close relatives were implicated in an attempt on the life of Shah Ṭahmāsp. It is reported that between the fall of 1532 and the early spring of 1535, the Šāmlu of Herat and their allies led by Āḡzivār Khan were involved in systematic ransacking of public funds and maltreatment of non-collaborating bureaucrats and landed notables. Consequently, within a few months of Shah Ṭahmāsp’s departure, local bureaucracy broke down and the city started to suffer from depopulation and ruin. Eventually, on 15 Šaʿbān 941/1 March 1535, Āḡzivār Khan and Sām Mirzā fled to Kandahar, preparing the way for the Uzbeks to re-enter Khorasan and restore their rule on Herat. On 19 Ḏu’l-qaʿda 941/1 June 1535, the Uzbeks imposed a crushing defeat on Safavid forces in Herat, massacred almost all remaining pro-Safavid elements in the city, including the renowned chronicler and bureaucrat Ṣadr-al-din Ebrāhim Amini Heravi, and then left to plunder Ḡarjestān. Ṣufiān Ḵalifa Rumlu, the Safavid governor of Mashhad, then recaptured Herat, but before long introduced draconian taxes exacerbating the preexisting political chaos and administrative discontinuity. This resulted in the outbreak of a riot by the urban poor, during which the Safavid vizier of Herat, Nur-al-Din Aḥmad Eṣfahāni, was killed. Closely scrutinizing these developments, the Uzbeks laid a siege to Mashhad, forcing Ṣufiān Ḵalifa and his military deputies out of Herat. In the battle that broke out on 20 Rajab 942/24 January 1536 in ʿAbdolābād, a small village outside Nišāpur, Ṣufiān Ḵalifa was captured alive and beheaded on the battlefield. In Herat, the local population sided with the Uzbeks. It is reported that Amir Abu-Ṭāher b. Ṣadr-al-din Ebrāhim Amini Heravi, who had been assigned with the task of defending Herat against the Uzbeks, gave his backing to ʿObayd-Allāh Khan and agreed to raze the city’s walls to the ground, which was done on 27 Ṣafar 943/25 August 1536. It was under these circumstances that the Uzbeks brought Herat under their control (Ebn Ḵᵛāndamir, pp. 162-81; Rumlu, pp. 1236-244; Budāq Monši, pp. 78-80; Ḥosayni ʿErāqi, pp. 134-35, 137-38).

Six months later, late in Šaʿbān 943/Feburary 1537, ʿObayd-Allāh Khan retreated to Bukhara on the eve of Shah Ṭahmāsp’s invasion of Khorasan. The Safavid ruler then made Herat an appanage for his oldest son, Moḥammad Mirzā, who entered Herat in early Šawwāl 943/late March 1537 along with his guardian, Moḥammad Khan Šaraf-al-din Oḡli Tekkelu (d. 1557). Less than a week later, Shah Ṭahmāsp arrived in the city and remained there for almost two months. By the end of the spring of 1537, the Safavid forces invaded Kandahar and brought the city under their control. Shah Ṭahmāsp left Khorasan on 9 Rabiʿ I 944/26 August 1537 (Ebn Ḵᵛāndamir, pp. 187-97). Under the new administration, major steps were taken to revive trade and agriculture in Herat and the rural settlements clustered around it. Moḥammad Khan Tekkelu introduced regulations to curb the rising food prices. Several unruly powerbrokers and Sunni malefactors in Herat and Ḵᵛāf were arrested and executed, and from 1538 onwards Moḥammad Khan arranged for Shiite clerics to occupy top-ranking posts in local administration (Ebn Ḵᵛāndamir, pp. 198-202). Under Moḥammad Khan’s leadership, the Safavid forces in Khorasan played a decisive role in restoring stability and order in Astarābād, where a group of landed notables from Fenderesk led by Moḥammad Ṣāleḥ Bitikči, a close relative of Ḵᵛāja Moẓaffar Bitikči, had risen in revolt against Shah Ṭahmāsp (Ebn Ḵᵛāndamir, pp. 203-6; Rumlu, pp. 1257-60; Ḥosayni Qomi, pp. 284-85; Reid; Abisaab). The Safavids kept Khorasan under their firm control for the rest of the long reign of Shah Ṭahmāsp.

In the fall of 1548, a contingent of the Uzbek army invaded Saraḵs, exciting a fast and furious response from the Safavid governor of Herat. The Safavid forces defeated the Uzbek invaders in Pol-e Ḵātun, a small village outside Saraḵs (Ebn Ḵᵛāndamir, pp. 229-30). On the night of Wednesday 15 Moḥarram 956/23 February 1549, a huge earthquake struck southern Khorasan. Bajestān, a rural town some 280 miles west of Herat, was the epicenter of the earthquake, but the disaster claimed several thousand lives to the south as far as Ḵusf and Birjand (Ebn Ḵᵛāndamir, p. 231; Rumlu, p. 1332; Eskandar Beg, p. 117, tr., p. 194). In 1550, the year in which ʿObayd-Allāh Khan’s son and successor, ʿAbd-al-ʿaziz Khan died, the Uzbeks, led by Borāq Khan, the new governor of Bukhara, and his military deputies in Samarqand and Tashkent, descended on Herat, laid an unsuccessful siege to the city, and then mounted a series of raids against Farāh, the administrative capital of Sistān. Until 1559-60, the Uzbeks led by ʿAbd-Allāh Khan, the governor of Balḵ, and his military deputies, including ʿAbd-al-Laṭif Khan of Samarqand and Borāq Khan of Tashkent, attacked Khorasan several times, fighting Safavid forces outside Mashhad, Torbat-e Ḥaydari, Saraḵs, Jām, and Farāh. Consequently, rural life in the war-torn areas of the province came to a halt and thousands of agriculturalists and pastoralists across Khorasan were displaced (Ebn Ḵᵛāndamir, pp. 233-36; Rumlu, pp. 1334-36; Ḥosayni Qomi, pp. 344-45; Eskandar Beg, pp. 93-94, tr., pp. 155-56). In 1555, Shah Ṭahmāsp appointed his son Esmāʿil Mirzā to governor of Herat. Esmāʿil Mirzā departed for Herat on 6 Rabiʿ II 962/10 March 1555, with orders to put himself under the guardianship of Moḥammad Khan Šaraf-al-Din Oḡli Tekelu (Ḥosayni-Qomi, pp. 379-81; Rumlu, p. 1395; Novidi Širāzi, p. 110). He arrived in Herat on 23 Jomādā I 963/14 April 1556 (Ḥosayni Qomi, p. 384; Jonābadi, pp. 543-44). During the year intervening between his departure from Qazvin and arrival in Herat, he had toured various cities of Khorasan, including Sabzavār, Toršiz, Zāva, Maḥwalāt, Ḵᵛāf, Bāḵarz, and Ḡuriān, deliberately avoiding a visit to the holy shrine of Imam ʿAli b. Musā al-Reżā in Mashhad, the city that had recently been assigned to his paternal cousin, Ebrāhim Mirzā b. Bahrām Mirzā (Ḥosayni-Qomi, p. 385). It is reported that during Esmāʿil Mirzā’s short tenure as governor of Herat, many Sunni learned and landed notables, who had fled Khorasan early in the reign of Shah Ṭahmāsp, were exonerated and allowed resettlement in the city. The Safavid prince’s pro-Sunni policies in Herat were soon to be exploited by his enemies in Qazvin who used the occasion to persuade Shah Ṭahmāsp to recall him from Khorasan (Kāmi Qazvini, f. 144a). According to Šaraf Khan Bedlisi (II, p. 208), it was the outbreak of a bitter feud between Moḥammad Khan Tekelu and his elder son, Zayn-al-Din ʿAli-Solṭān, a close friend and maternal cousin of Esmāʿil Mirzā, that prompted Ṭahmāsp to recall his son from Khorasan in less than two years. During Esmāʿil Mirzā’s stay in Khorasan, Zayn-al-Din ʿAli-Solṭān Tekelu was arrested and tortured to death in Qazvin for complicity in the Safavid prince’s disgraceful flings with consenting boys (Ḥosayni Qomi, p. 386; Novidi Širāzi, p. 110; Hinz, p. 35).

In 1558, shortly after the Mughal emperor Homāyun’s escape to Iran (see homāyun pādešāh), Safavid forces in Khorasan mounted a military campaign against Kandahar and, amid the chaos that erupted in Mughal India following the Afghan Šir Khan’s rebellion, easily annexed the province. Shah Ṭahmāsp’s nephew, Solṭān-Ḥosayn Mirzā b. Bahrām Mirzā was then posted to serve as governor-general of Kandahar. Before his departure, Shah Ṭahmāsp married off his eldest daughter, Pariḵān Ḵānom (q.v.), to Solṭān-Ḥosayn Mirzā’s younger brother, Badiʿ-al-Zamān Mirzā and appointed him as governor-general of Sistān and assigned his guardianship to Moḥammad Jān Beg Ḏu’l-Qadr, a military commander from Shiraz (Rumlu, p. 1406; Ḥosayni Qomi, pp. 396-97; Eskandar Beg, pp. 90-92, tr., pp. 151-54). A year later, in 1559, a contingent of the Uzbek forces from Ḵᵛārazm led by ʿAli-Solṭān descended on Nišāpur and Esfarāyen, plundering major rural settlements clustered around both fortress towns. The same Uzbeks attacked Mashhad four years later in 1563. It is reported that ʿAli-Solṭān, who had turned Nasā/Nesā into his base, had allied with Šahriār, a powerful landed notable in Ḵabušān who claimed descent from the Sarbedārs (q.v.). Subsequently, in 1564, the Safavid forces attacked Ḵabušān and massacred Šahriār and his clan. Shah Ṭahmāsp then appointed Āyḡut Beg Čāvošlu as governor of Kalidar, a major rural settlement outside Ḵabušān (Ḥosayni Qomi, pp. 435, 442, 447). In the same year, Qazāq Khan Tekkelu, who had inherited the governorship of Herat from his father Moḥammad Khan Tekkelu and reportedly planned an armed rebellion against the Safavids, was arrested on his deathbed by a group of Safavid military commanders in Khorasan led by Shah Ṭahmāsp’s nephew and son-in-law, Ebrāhim Mirzā (Ḥosayni Qomi, pp. 448-49; Rumlu, pp. 1436-39). The Uzbeks of Bukhara entered Khorasan in the winter of 1567 and laid a siege to Herat. Yet the Safavid forces in the city endured the siege and eventually repelled the Uzbeks from Khorasan before the end of winter (Ḥosayni Qomi, pp. 457-58).

Under Shah Ṭahmāsp and his immediate successors various Turkic and Kurdish tribes and clans were forced and/or coordinated to settle in Khorasan. Prominent among the Turkic clans that were sent to Khorasan are those affiliated with the Afšārs, which had been granted permanent toyul land assignments in Farāh and Abivard, a fortress town some 180 miles north of Mashhad. The Afšār clans posted to Abivard and its rural suburbs on the foothills of the Hazār Masjed mountain range bore the Turkish moniker qereqlu (from Turkish qırıq/kırık meaning broken off, cut off, detached), that is, clans dismembered from the mother tribe, and were composed mainly of the Eyerlu (also Ajarlu and Abarlu) and Šarvānlu (also Sarvarlu). According to the 16th-century Ottoman land surveys, we know that the Eyerlu Afšārs were originally from eastern Anatolia and a major community of them is reported to have lived, as early as 1530, a nomadic life in the defunct Ḏu’l-Qadr (q.v.) emirate in the areas stretching from Aleppo to Kayseri (998 NumaralıMuhâsebe, II, col. 624; Refik, pp. 96-100; Mirniā, II, pp. 25, 29; Mostawfi, p. 412). The earliest known group of the Qereqlu, led by a certain Ḵosrow-Solṭān, is reported to have moved to Khorasan under Ṭahmāsp (Eskandar Beg, p. 140, tr. pp. 222-24). Under Shah ʿAbbās they were joined by another group of the Qereqlu Afšārs from central Anatolia, whose leader, a certain Ebrāhim-Solṭān, is reported to have held office as governor of Saraḵs (Eskandar Beg, p. 1085, tr., p. 1310). A branch of the Ostājlu/Afšār Kurds and Turkmens, headed by a certain Biktāš Khan, had been granted military fiefs in Marv, Nasā, and Abivard under Shah ʿAbbās (Eskandar Beg, p. 1085). In the opening part of the 17th century, groups of Eyerlu and Qereqlu Afšārs lived in Abivard, where they were responsible for thwarting the Uzbeks’ threat against major urban centers in inner Khorasan (Eskandar Beg, Ḏayl, p. 22; Vāleh Eṣfahāni, p. 26). According to a mid-18th-century chronicler, after his recapture of Azerbaijan in the opening years of the 17th century, Shah ʿAbbās sent 4,500 households of the Afšārs, together with 30,000 households of Kurds from rural and nomadic settlements clustered around Lake Urmia, to Khorasan, where the Afšārs had already been granted land in Abivard and Darragaz, a rural settlement some 30 miles southeast of Abivard. A group of Qājārs from Tabriz were also sent to settle in Marv shortly thereafter (Marvi, I, pp. 4-5; Qoddusi, p. 20; Astarābādi, pp. 26-27, 49). Various clans associated with the Çemişgezek (present-day Dersim) Kurdish nomads of eastern Anatolia, including the Zaʿfarānlu, Qochkānlu, Šādlu (also Saʿdlu), Kāvānlu (also Kayvānlu), and Dudānlu, were also granted lands and pastures in northern Khorasan, mainly in Rādkān, Kalāt, the rural suburbs of Ḵabušān and Abivard, and Esfarāyen (Mirniā, I, pp. 13-14; Eskandar Beg, p. 141, tr., pp. 226-27; Mostawfi, pp. 410-11). Groups of Siāh-Manṣur (or Siāh-Monḏur) Kurds, who were originally from Dersim, had been posted as well to Khorasan under the Safavids, where one of them by the name of Emāmqoli Khan held office as governor of Esfarāyen during the reign of Shah ʿAbbās (Eskandar Beg, p. 1086, tr., p. 1313). In the closing years of the 16th century, small groups of the Šāhseven tribal confederacy of Azerbaijan and Qarābāḡ ended up in Khorasan (Oberling, p. 38). Under the early Safavids, several clans of the Šāmlu and the Tekkelu clans settled in Herat, Jām, and Mashhad (Eskandar Beg, p. 140, tr., p. 225). Under Shah ʿAbbās, the Chagatai (also Jaḡatāʾi) Mongols and the Bayāt Turkmens of Khwarazm, including the Jalāyer, Qarabayāt, and Garāyeli (also Qarāʾi) clans, held high-ranking military posts in Kalāt, Nišāpur, Sabzavār, Buzanjerd (present-day Bojnurd, q.v.), and Jargalān (Eskandar Beg, p. 1087, tr., p. 1314; Mostawfi, pp. 412). Later in the reign of Shah ʿAbbās II (r. 1052-77/1642-66), the leader of the Pāzuki tribe, Mortażāqoli Khan Saʿdlu, was instructed by the Safavid ruler to move all Georgian converts in service of the Safavid bureaucracy to Khorasan, where they were to be placed in charge of local Muslim communities (Waḥid Qazvini, p. 757). Under the later Safavids, all nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes and clans of Khorasan were considered part of the Qara-Olus, or the country’s taxpayer nomads, paying taxes to the vizier of Qarā Olus, an official in charge of keeping record of the livestock, movements, and tax proceeds of nomads across Safavid Iran (Anṣāri Eṣfahāni, p. 592).

Shortly after Esmāʿil II’s (q.v.) ascent to the throne, which occurred in the summer of 984/1576, and following the bloody purges that claimed the lives of almost all male members of the Safavid dynasty, Jalāl Khan, the Uzbek governor of Urganj, invaded Khorasan, where his troops plundered Nasā, Abivard, Jām, and Saraḵs. The decisive battle was fought outside ʿEšqābād, a small village some 25 miles south of Nišāpur, during which the Safavid forces, led by Mortażāqoli Khan Pornāk, the governor (beglarbeg) of Mashhad, arrested Jalāl Khan alive and beheaded him on the battlefield. This victory intensified rivalries between Mortażāqoli Beg and the Safavid governor of Herat, ʿAliqoli Beg Šāmlu, preparing the way for the outbreak of civil war in Khorasan (Eskandar Beg, pp. 229-30, tr., pp. 342-44). In 1577, Shah Esmāʿil II removed his elder brother, Moḥammad Mirzā, as nominal governor of Herat and imprisoned him in Fārs. Still, the Šāmlu notables of Herat kept Solṭān-Moḥammad Mirzā’s newborn son, ʿAbbās Mirzā, in Heart and, by Shah Esmāʿil II’s order, the governor-general of Khorasan, ʿAliqoli Khan Šāmlu, who had recently married Shah Ṭahmāsp’s daughter, Zaynab Begum (q.v.), acted as his guardian (Ḥosayni Qomi, pp. 650-51; Eskandar Beg, pp. 243-45, tr., pp. 362-64).

Backed by the Afšārs, Kurds, and his Torkmān (Rumlu and Pornāk) relatives in Mashhad, Jām, Ḵabušān, Esfarāyen, and Nišāpur, the governor of Mashhad, Mortażāqoli Khan Pornāk soon entered a war with the Šāmlu clan and their Ostājlu allies in Herat. In 1580, the Šāmlu forces laid a siege to Mashhad, which lasted for four months, during which a group of local notables, including the chief superintendent of Imam ʿAli al-Reżā’s shrine, Mir ʿAbd-al-Karim, were killed and a large part of the city’s fortifications was leveled to the ground. It is reported that toward the end of the siege of Mashhad Mortażāqoli Khan Pornāk ordered the confiscation of all gold and silver reserves of the Shiʿite shrine of the city, a move that enabled him to mint new coins to buy the loyalty of his troops. Nišāpur and Sabzavār were also attacked and plundered by the Šāmlu (Eskandar Beg Torkmān, pp. 254-56, Engl. tr., pp. 375-80; Ḥosayni Qomi, pp. 711-13; Jonābadi, pp. 609-17).

Following their victories in Khorasan, late in the summer of 1581, the Šāmlu of Herat and their Ostājlu allies led by Moršedqoli Khan Čāvošlu swore allegiance to ʿAbbās Mirzā in Zāva, a rural settlement some 120 miles south of Nišāpur, as Shah ʿAbbās. The turn of events in Khorasan excited a vigorous response from Azerbaijan. In the spring of 1583, the grand vizier Mirzā Salmān Jāberi, who had planned to enthrone Ḥamza Mirzā , his son-in-law and ʿAbbās Mirzā’s older brother, as shah, led the Safavid army from Azerbaijan to Khorasan. During the battle that took place in Ḡuriān, a rural town outside Herat, the Šāmlu and Ostājlu military commanders defeated Mirzā Salmān and beheaded him on the battlefield (Eskandar Beg, pp. 276-78, tr., pp. 375-80, 406-8; Ḥosayni Qomi, pp. 736-47; Jonābadi, pp. 618-21; Afuštaʾi Naṭanzi, pp. 131-35; Savory, 1964).

In the years leading to Shah ʿAbbās’ rise to power as ruler of all Iran, Khorasan suffered greatly from political strife and military conflicts between various factions of the Qezelbāš. In the spring of 1589, the Uzbeks led by ʿAbd-Allāh Khan captured Herat after a short siege and massacred several hundred pro-Safavid elements in the city. They then invaded Mashhad and laid a long siege to the city. One year later, in the spring of 1590, while Shah ʿAbbās was busy eliminating his opponents from among the Qezelbāš military commanders, the Uzbek ʿAbd-al-Moʾmen Khan b. ʿAbd-Allāh Khan captured Mashhad and beheaded almost all renowned supporters of the Safavid dynasty there. This new round of territorial conquests eventually brought Khorasan under the firm control of the Uzbeks (Eskandar Beg, pp. 386-89, 411-14, tr. pp. 557-65, 588-91). In 1592, the Safavid forces led by Farhād Beg Qarāmānlu invaded Khorasan and managed to recapture Esfarāyen, an important fortress town some 65 miles north of Sabzavār (Eskandar Beg, pp. 443-45, tr. pp. 617-19). One year later, pro-Safavid forces in Mazinān killed their Uzbek governor and helped the Safavid forces in Esfarāyen bring this major rural settlement, sitting astride the route from Sabzavār to Dāmḡān, under their control (Eskandar Beg, pp. 451-53, tr. pp. 625-28). In 1593, the Uzbeks fought a major battle against the Safavid forces in Tun, a rural town some 85 miles west of Qāʾen, where the invaders were surprised by Safavid auxiliary forces sent to Khorasan from Kerman and had to withdraw to Herat and Mashhad (Eskandar Beg, pp. 455-56, tr. pp. 628-30). In 1593-94, the Uzbeks descended on Toršiz, where they defeated the Safavid forces and annexed Tun and Ṭabas. This victory emboldened the Uzbeks to attack Yazd a year later, where they plundered the dominantly Zoroastrian-populated neighborhoods of the city (Eskandar Beg, pp. 489-90, 525-26, tr. pp. 663-66, 701-2; Ghereghlou, 2017, p. 61). In the spring of 1596, Farhād Khan Qarāmānlu, the incumbent generalissimo (amir-al-omarāʾ), led the Safavid army into Khorasan, where they invaded Jājarm and Esfarāyen, forcing ʿAbd-al-Moʾmen Khan to withdraw to Mashhad. Yet the Uzbek forces made a quick comeback and captured Sabzavār, where ʿAbd-al-Moʾmen Khan ordered the massacre of all pro-Safavid elements together with their families (Eskandar Beg, pp. 509-12, tr. pp. 681-89).

Eventually it was in 1598 that Shah ʿAbbās personally mounted his major military campaign against the Uzbeks in Khorasan. The Safavid army captured the province with no significant resistance on the part of ʿAbd-al-Moʾmen Khan and his underlings, who following the death of ʿAbd-Allāh Khan and subsequent outbreak of civil war in Samarqand and Bukhara in the same year, had to withdraw to Balḵ. In Balḵ, ʿAbd-al-Moʾmen Khan was assassinated by his opponents and Din-Moḥammad, a nephew of ʿAbdallāh Khan, ascended to the throne as khan (Eskandar Beg, pp. 556-63, tr. pp. 738-48). The decisive battle was fought in Pol-e Sālār, a small village outside Herat, during which the Uzbeks were defeated and all major urban centers in Khorasan, including Herat, Mashhad, Nišāpur, Sabzavār, Toršiz, Tun, and Ṭabas, were brought under the undisputed control of the Safavid forces (Eskandar Beg, pp. 570-76, tr. pp. 755-63). Shah ʿAbbās returned to Khorasan in 1599 to conduct a series of punitive campaigns in the provinces, including a raid against Abivard, Nasā, and Marv in 1600, where his forces drove out the remaining Uzbeks (Eskandar Beg, pp. 595-605, tr. pp. 783-96). More than two years later, in 1602-3, Shah ʿAbbās attacked Balḵ. The Safavid forces descended on major rural towns, including Bādḡis and Andḵoy, on their way from Herat to Balḵ. The military campaign against Balḵ ended without a significant victory. Yet it was a pre-emptive engagement aimed at destroying the Uzbek support network and thwarting them in their quest for making a quick comeback after Shah ʿAbbās’ departure from Herat (Eskandar Beg, pp. 619-30, tr. pp. 809-22).

In 1612, during his visit to Khorasan, Shah ʿAbbās ordered a major expansion project in the Shiʿite shrine of Mashhad. The central courtyard of the shrine was subsequently broadened. A new veranda was also added. Additionally, a boulevard was constructed extending from the shrine’s main entrance to the city’s western gate (darvāza-ye Ḵabušān). All houses and local businesses located along Mashhad’s Upper Street (bālā ḵiābān), to the south of the shrine, were connected to a newly expanded qanāt network, allowing local authorities to build new hostels and bathhouses there. In the same year, Shah ʿAbbās ordered the construction of two local shrines in Khorasan, one in a cemetery called Ḵᵛāja Rabiʿ outside Mashhad and the other outside Nishapur on the site of a popular sanctuary called Qadam-gāh (Bāfqi, pp. 228-29; Afżal-al-Molk Kermāni, p. 252). Shah ʿAbbās then ordered the settlement of several hundred Arab immigrants from Bahrain in Qadam-gāh, charging them with supervising the newly founded shrine (Afżal-al-Molk Kermāni, p. 93). On 27 Moḥarram 1012/7 July 1603, an orphanage and boarding school for the sayyeds was established in Mashhad by royal fiat. This institution remained in operation until the end of the reign of Shah ʿAbbās II (1052-77/1642-66) (Jahānpur, pp. 69-78). Funded by the Georgian governor of Shiraz Allāh-Verdi Khan (q.v.; d. 1613), the construction of a new dome together with a decorated veranda and portal was completed in 1612 (Afżal-al-Molk Kermāni, pp. 253-54). In 1613, construction work on a major irrigation canal called nahr-ešāhi, designed to bring water to Mashhad from the Gel-Asb springs (češma-ye gel-asb, also češma-ye gilās) located some 35 miles west of Mashhad in the foothills of the Hazār Masjed range, was finished. In Jomādā I 1023/June-July 1614, Shah ʿAbbās officially endowed to the Shiʿite shrine in Mashhad all the revenues to be collected from the villages, farmlands, and businesses located along this irrigation canal (Rawšani Zaʿfarānlu, pp. 324-25).

Shortly after Shah Ṣafi’s ascent to the throne in the winter of 1629, the Uzbeks of Urganj led by Esfandiār Khan invaded Khorasan. Major infightings are reported to have been taken place in the summer of the same year in Abivard, where the Eyerlu and Qereqlu Afšārs, led by the Ostājlu governor of Marv, Bekiš Khan; the Georgian governor of Abivard, Jamšid-Solṭān; and the Circassian governor of Mashhad, Manučehr Khan, killed many Uzbeks in a series of ambushes, forcing Esfandiār Khan out of Khorasan (Vāleh Eṣfahāni, pp. 24-30; Moḥammad Maʿṣum Eṣfahāni, pp. 57-59; Eskandar Beg, Ḏayl, pp. 21-22; Vaḥid Qazvini, pp. 225-26). A year later, Shah Ṣafi sent several divisions of his harquebusiers (tofangčis) to Khorasan, where Manučehr Khan posted them to Abivard, Nasā, and Marv (Moḥammad Maʿṣum Eṣfahāni, pp. 61-62). In the winter of 1630, Shah Ṣafi was presented with a petition from Ḥasan Khan Šāmlu, the governor of Herat, and his underlings in Khorasan, in which they had complained about a remarkable increase in the number and frequency of Uzbek raids against rural and pastoral settlements in northern Khorasan. Accordingly, the Safavid ruler issued a new order, instructing his military deputies in Khorasan “to kill or die” in their border confrontations with the Uzbek invaders (Moḥammad Maʿṣum Eṣfahāni, pp. 122-23). In the spring of 1632, new auxiliary forces from among the Afšār, Pāzuki, and Silsupur tribes of Kerman and Semnan were posted to Marv and fortress towns of Abivard and Nasā immediately after the news of a new Uzbek invasion of Khorasan reached Isfahan (Eṣfahāni, pp. 132-34). Border clashes with the Uzbeks continued during the remaining years of the reign of Shah Ṣafi (1038-52/1629-42). There is evidence that in most cases Safavid forces in the province were successful in their efforts to ward off the Uzbek advances beyond Marv, Abivard, and northern suburbs of Herat (Moḥammad Maʿṣum Eṣfahāni, 171, 175, 190-92, 259).

In 1674, a devastating earthquake hit Mashhad, causing considerable damages to the Shiite shrine in the city. Two years later, Shah Solaymān I (q.v.) ordered major repairs on the shrine’s main dome (Tāriḵ-e Mašhad, fol. 1a; Basṭāmi, p. 50; Afżal-al-Molk Kermāni, p. 254). Šāh-Verdi Khan, a high-ranking official at the court of Shah Solaymān, is also reported to have financed the construction of a caravanserai, a public bath, and a bazaar in Mashhad (Basṭāmi, p. 50). In 1708-9, the Safavid governor of Tun and Ṭabas, Malek Maḥmud b. Fatḥ-ʿAli Sistāni, whose brother Malek Ḥosayn held office as governor of Kerman, brought much of Khorasan under his control and eventually, in 1723, made Mashhad his capital. His supporters were mainly from among the Arab tribes of southern Khorasan, including the Zanguʾi, Naḵaʿi, Lālāʾi (also Loʾloʾi), and Bābāʾi (Vāred Ṭehrāni, pp. 118-31; Tāriḵ-e Mašhad, f. 1a). In 1717, the Uzbek ruler of Urgenj Šir Khan descended on northern Khorasan, plundering Marv, Abivard, Nishapur, Ḵabušān, and Sabzevār (Marʿaši, pp. 22-23).

The inaction and negligence on the part of the late Safavid authorities in Isfahan soon excited public outrage in Khorasan. In Sabzavār, a local cleric called Shaikh Bahāʾ-al-Din Estiri, rebelled against the Safavids and, upon the Uzbek Šir Khan’s arrival in Khorasan in 1717, led an army of his local supporters to the battlefield. When the Uzbeks withdrew from Khorasan, he traveled to the court of Shah Solṭān-Ḥosayn (q.v.; r. 1105-35/1694-1722) to discuss the seriousness of the situation in Khorasan with the Safavid rulers’ bureaucratic underlings, but Shiite clerics in Isfahan accused him of apostasy and armed rebellion against the just ruler (Astarābādi, pp. 6-7). In the meantime, the Abdāli Afghans descended on Mashhad, where they fought a brief battle with the Safavid forces and laid an unsuccessful thirty-five-day siege to the city (Tāriḵ-e Mašhad, f. 1a). Estiri was ultimately nabbed by the Safavid governor of Khorasan, Ṣafiqoli Khan Torkestānoḡli, also known as divāna (lunatic), and put to the sword for his anti-Safavid leanings (Marʿaši, pp. 24-26). Likewise, in Abivard, the local governor of the fortress town, Bābā-ʿAli Beg Köse-Aḥmadlu Afšār and his son-in-law Nāderqoli Qereqlu Afšār organized local centers of resistance against the Uzbeks to repel them from the northern and northwestern suburbs of Mashhad. On the eve of Sistāni’s rise to power, two Kurdish military commanders from the Ganjlu Kalāvand clan staged a military coup against the Safavid governor of the city, Esmāʿil Khan Šāmlu, and seized Mashhad, an incident that in the short run brought about political chaos and administrative instability in the province (Mostawfi, Zubdat, pp. 175-76). Under Ṣafiqoli Khan Torkestān-oḡli, the Safavid military commanders in Mashhad had to confiscate all gold and silver reserves of the Shiite shrine in the city to mobilize their forces against the Abdāli rebels of Herat. Internal feuds among Ṣafiqoli Khan’s Kurdish and Qājār supporters resurfaced shortly before the decisive battle, which was fought in Kāfer-Qalʿa outside Herat, leading to Ṣafiqoli Khan’s defeat and death on the battlefield (Marʿaši, pp. 27-28; Astarābādi, p. 8). The plunder of the Shiite shrine in Mashhad was repeated under Malek Maḥmud Sistāni, who spent the remainder of its gold and silver reserves to mint new coins in his own name (Mostawfi, Zobdat, p. 180).

In 1721, the Ḡalzāʾi (Ḡalzi, q.v.) Afghans descended on Mashhad but failed to capture the city (Tāriḵ-e Mašhad, f. 1a). After the fall of Isfahan in the fall of 1722, Nāderqoli Beg Qereqlu Afšār emerged victorious from his clashes with Malek Maḥmud Sistāni. Ṭahmāsp II (r. 1135-45/1722-32) entered Mashhad together with Nāderqoli Beg on 27 Moḥarram 1138/5 October 1725 after a ten-month siege, during which Malek Maḥmud Sistāni vehemently resisted the Safavid ruler and his armies (Tāriḵ-e Mašhad, f. 1b). Shortly thereafter, Nāderqoli Beg eliminated Fatḥ-ʿAli Khan Qājār, and on 16 Rabiʿ I 1138/22 November 1725 was promoted to head of the royal guards (qurči-bāši). He then plotted against his old rival, Malek Maḥmud Sistāni, who had now taken refuge inside the shrine. Ultimately, one of Nāder’s allies by the name of Qelič Khan Ganjlu Kalāvand, who held office as the prefect of Mashhad, arrested and executed Malek Maḥmud together with a group of his relatives on 4 Rajab 1139/25 February 1727 (Mostawfi, Zobdat, pp. 183-84; Tāriḵ-e Mašhad, ff. 1a-b).

Under Nāder Shah (r. 1148-60/1736-47) and his immediate successors, Khorasan was no longer threatened by the Uzbeks. Nāder Shah invested huge amounts of money on expanding Imam ʿAli al-Reżā’s shrine and its endowments in Khorasan (Basṭāmi, pp. 53-54). A large group of Jews were transplanted from Qazvin and Daylamān to Mashhad early in the reign of Nāder Shah, where he took them under his protection and settled them in a newly built neighborhood outside the city walls (Levi, III, p. 473). During his short reign, Nāder Shah’s nephew and successor, ʿAliqoli Khan Qereqlu Afšār, also known as ʿAdel Shah (q.v.), who ascended to the throne on 27 Jomāda II 1160/6 July 1747, also invested in the expansion of the endowments of Imam ʿAli al-Reżā’s shrine in Mashhad. ʿĀdel Shah built a sanatorium (dār al-šefā) in Mashhad and endowed to the shrine several villages outside the city (Naqdi Kadkani, pp. 87-88). Internal strife under ʿAdel Shah led to his downfall and execution two years later at the hands of Nāder Shah’s grandson, Šāhroḵ, who shortly after his victory over ʿĀdel Shah, allied himself with the Qom-based Sayyed Moḥammad Marʿaši Ṣafawi, who claimed descent from Shah Solaymān and at the time had been put in charge of the treasures confiscated by ʿĀdel Shah’s younger brother Ebrāhim during his short reign in Azerbaijan and ʿErāq-e ʿAjam, including the Kuh-e Nur (see koh-i-noor) and Daryā-ye Nur (q.v.) diamonds. Šāhroḵ invited Sayyed Moḥammad to Mashhad, but less than a year after his arrival in Mashhad, he fell into disfavor and even the Afsharid ruler of Khorasan tried to assassinate him. Upon the failure of the assassination plot, all the erstwhile supporters of Šāhroḵ sided with Sayyed Moḥammad and declared him shah. Sayyed Moḥammad took Mashhad under his control by the end of 1749 and on 5 Ṣafar 1163/14 January 1750, was crowned as the Safavid Shah Solaymān II (Marʿaši Ṣafawi, 90-115; Marʿaši, pp. 97-110; Perry, pp. 4-5). Less than three months later, the sightless Šāhroḵ was reinstated and Sayyed Moḥammad, now blinded by his opponents, was removed from office. Toward the end of the reign of Šāhroḵ, Aḥmad Shah Dorrāni invaded Mashhad and, in the early summer of 1754, laid a siege to the city, which lasted for nine months, but failed to capture it (Marʿaši Ṣafawi, 90-115; Marʿaši, pp. 112-21). Šāhroḵ remained in power as governor of Mashhad until 1795, the year in which Āqā Moḥammad Khan Qājār entered the city and put an end to the reign of the Afsharids (Sāravi, pp. 285-88).



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Idem, “The Central Asian Hajj-Pilgrimage in the Time of the Early Modern Empires,” in Michel M. Mazzaoui, ed., Safavid Iran and Her Neighbors, Salt Lake City, 2003, pp. 129-56.

Sayyed ʿAli Mirniā, Ilāt va ṭavāyef-e Daragaz dar ḵedmat-e mihan, 2 vols., Mashhad, 1982-83.

Azfar Moin, “Shah Ismail Comes to Herat: An Anecdote from Vasefi’s ‘Amazing Events’ (Badayiʿ al-Vaqayiʿ),” in Behdad Aghaei and Mohammad Mehdi Khorrami, eds., Persian Mosaic: Essays on Persian Language, Literature and Film in Honor of M. R. Ghanoonparvar, Bethesda, Md., 2015, pp. 86-101.

Roziâ G. Mukminova, “The Shaybanids,” in C. Adle and I. Habib, eds., History of Civilizations of Central Asia V: Development in Contrast: From the Sixteenth to the Mid-Nineteenth Century, Paris, 2003, pp. 33-44.

Reżā Naqdi Kadkani, “Mawqufāt-e Nāder Šāh wa ʿAli Šāh Afšār dar Mašhad-e moqaddas,” Waqf mirāṯ-e jāvdān 77, 2004, pp. 84-93.

Pierre Oberling, The Turkic Peoples of Iranian Azerbaijan, Washington, D.C., 1961.

John R. Perry, Karim Khan Zand: A History of Iran, 1747-1779, Chicago, 1979.

Moḥammad-Ḥosayn Qoddusi, Nāder-nāma, Mashhad, 1960. Ahmet Refik [Altinay], Anadolu’da Türkaşiretleri (966-1200), Istanbul, 1930.

James J. Reid, “Rebellion and Social Change in Astarabad, 1537-1744,” IJMES 13/1, 1981, pp. 35-53.

Hans R. Roemer, “The Successors of Tīmūr,” in Peter Jackson and Laurence Lockhart, eds., The Cambridge History of Iran VI: The Timurid and Safavid Periods, Cambridge, 1986, pp. 98-146.

G. Sarwar, History of ShāhIsmāʿīl Safawī, Aligarh, 1939.

Roger M. Savory, “The Significance of the Political Murder of Mīrzā Salmān,” Islamic Studies 3, 1964, pp. 181-90.

Idem, “The Consolidation of Ṣafawid Power in Persia,” Der Islam 41/1, 1965, pp. 71-94.

Aleksander A. Semenov, “Shejbani Khan i zavoevanie im imperii Timuridov” [“Šibāni Khan’s conquest of the Timurid Empire”], Materialy po istorii tadjikov i uzbekov Srednej Azii, Leningrad, 1954, pp. 39-83.

Maria Szuppe, Entre Timourides, Uzbeks et Safavides: Questions d’histoire politique et sociale de Hérat dans la première moitié du XVIe siècle, Paris, 1992.

Nataliya N. Tumanovich, Gerat v XVI-XVII vekakh, Moscow, 1989.

Thomas Welsford, Four Types of Loyalty in Early Modern Central Asia: The Tūqāy-Tīmūrid Takeover of Greater Mā Warā al-Nahr, 1598-1605, Leiden, 2013.

John E. Woods, The Timurid Dynasty, Indiana University Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies Papers on Inner Asia no. 14, Bloomington, Ind., 1990.

Idem, The Aqquyunlu: Clan, Confederation, Empire, Salt Lake City, 1999.

xi. History in the Qajar and Pahlavi Periods

This article surveys two centuries of the history of Khorasan, an important province of eastern Iran, from the accession of the first Qajar shah, Āḡā Moḥammad Khan (q.v.), in Ramażān 1210/March 1796 to the fall of the last Pahlavi shah, Moḥammad Reżā, in January 1979. At the beginning of this period, the province of Khorasan comprised a much larger area than it did in the Pahlavi era, as it included, at least nominally, parts of what are now western Afghanistan and southern Turkmenistan and cities such as Herat and Marv (Hedāyat, ed. Kiānfar, XII, pp. 7389-92; see also KHORASAN i. CONCEPT OF KHORASAN).

During the Qajar period, although Khorasan was considered one province geographically and the document of investiture as governor-general was issued in the name of one person, in practice the administration of large parts of it was in the hands of local tribal khans (q.v.). Among the most prominent of these khans, one may mention the Arab Ḵozayma (ʿAlam) family in Birjand, the Qāʾenāt, and southern Khorasan (see ʿALAM KHAN and ʿALAM, MOḤAMMAD); the Zanguʾi in Ṭabas; the Qaraʾi (see KARĀʾI) khans in Torbat Ḥaydariya and parts of eastern Khorasan; the Bayāt (q.v.) in Nishapur and in northern Khorasan; the Zaʿfarānlu in Čenārān and Qučān (formerly Ḵabušān); and the Šādlu khans in Esfarāyen and Bojnurd (for more information, see Ḵāvari Širazi, I, pp. 400-495; Noelle-Karimi, pp. 211-15 and genealogical tables).

During the 130-year rule of the Qajar dynasty, a total of about fifty individuals, many of them Qajar kinsmen, served as governor-generals of the province. Some of these governors were responsible for administering the province during several different tenures (see Fāżeli Birjandi, pp. 42-364). Among the most prominent governors of Khorasan during the Qajar period were ʿAbbās Mirzā Nāyeb-al-Saltanah (q.v.; d. 1833), Moḥammad Mirzā (later Moḥammad Shah, q.v.; r. 1834-48), Allāh-Yār Khan Āṣaf-al-Dawla (on whom, see Noelle-Karimi, pp. 225-30), Solṭān Morād Mirzā Ḥoṣām-al-Salṭana (d. 1883; see Noelle-Karimi, pp. 230-34), Mirzā Ḥosayn Khan Sepahsālār (d. 1881), Kāmrān Mirzā Nāyeb-al-Salṭana (q.v.; d. 1929), Aḥmad Qawām-al-Salṭana (d. 1955; see Šawkat, pp. 75-109), and Jaʿfarqoli Khan Sardār Asʿad Baḵtiāri (d. 1934; see BAḴTIĀRI, s.v. “Jaʿfarqoli Khan”). All of these were eminent Iranian statesmen and politicians of their time, and some went on to take up positions as monarch, vicegerent, prime minister, or cabinet minister.

The province of Khorasan underwent various changes during the Qajar period. Qajar officials faced two major problems in protecting the borders of Khorasan. The first included rebellions by local rulers in areas such as Herat and military attacks by the Khiva and Bukhara khanates on important places such as Marv, as well as occasional Turkmen raids in the north and east of Khorasan. The second problem was the presence, influence, and rivalry of the British and Russian governments in areas adjacent to Khorasan and their persistent meddling in the affairs of Iran within its borders, including Khorasan.


Figure 1. Northern Khorasan and environs in the Qajar to Pahlavi era. (Map prepared with QGIS 3.10 and data from US National Park Service World Physical Map.)Figure 1. Northern Khorasan and environs in the Qajar to Pahlavi era. (Map prepared with QGIS 3.10 and data from US National Park Service World Physical Map.)

According to Reżāqoli Khan Hedāyat (q.v.; 1800-1871), the first Qajar official in Khorasan was Reżā Khan Qājār Qoyunlu, who was appointed by Āḡā Moḥammad Khan in 1200/1785 (Hedāyat, XIII, p. 7299). ʿAbd-al-Razzāq Beg Donboli (q.v.; 1762-1828) also mentions the name of an early official appointed by Āḡā Moḥammad Khan in Khorasan, Ḥosayn Khan Qullar Āḡāsi (Donboli, p. 80). However, until 1210/1795, when Āḡā Moḥammad Khan entered Mashhad and was greeted by Šāhroḵ Afšār (grandson of Nāder Shah, q.v.) and a group of the province’s ulema and khans (Sepehr, I, p. 80), Khorasan could not truly be considered part of the Qajar domain. In that year, Āḡā Moḥammad Khan, after severely torturing Šāhroḵ, appropriated the crown jewels that had been bequeathed to him by Nāder Shah (Qazvini, p. 157) and appointed Moḥammad Wali Khan Qājār as the governor-general for Khorasan (Šamim, pp. 27-28). Āḡā Moḥammad Khan, who intended to seize Herat, Balḵ, Marv, and Bukhara from their Afghan and Uzbek rulers, had to abandon his expedition in 1796 to deal with a Russian invasion of the eastern Caucasus (Motavalli Ḥaqiqi, 2004, p. 152). Upon the death of the first Qajar shah, Nāder Mirzā, son of Šāhroḵ, supported by the Afghan rulers from Herat, returned to Mashhad and called himself the sovereign of Khorasan (Anonymous MS, f. 166).

Fatḥ-ʿAli Shah Qājār (q.v.) ascended the throne of Iran in 1212/1797, but, in the early years of his reign, Khorasan was outside the area of his authority. He made unsuccessful attempts to seize Mashhad and Khorasan in 1213/1799 and 1215/1801 (Hedāyat, IX, p. 3353), until finally, in 1218/1803, he was able to enter Mashhad after besieging it for several months.

To protect the eastern and northern borders of Khorasan, Qajar officials undertook a number of measures, including several military campaigns. Ḥosayn Khan Qājār’s expedition to Herat in 1222/1807, leading to the surrender of Fēruz-al-Din Mirzā, the governor of that city, was one of these measures (Sepehr, I, p. 164; Ḵāvari Širāzi, pp. 265-66; Nuri, pp. 308 ff.; HERAT vi). Dispersed but continuous attacks by the Turkmens of the Ḵāvarān plain and occasional raids by Uzbek khans on the territory of Khorasan, which sometimes led to the capture of innocent people and looting of their property, as well as revolts by some local Khorasani khans such as Esḥāq Khan Qarāʾi and Reżāqoli Khan Zaʿfarānlu, were among the problems for the people of Khorasan in this historical period. The city of Marv had slipped from Qajar control in 1200/1785, when the Uzbek Manghits (q.v.) killed the governor Bāyrām ʿAli Khan ʿEzz-al-Dinlu Qājār, occupied the city, and destroyed its irrigation system (Skrine and Ross, pp. 206-7), yet it could still be considered an Iranian city. However, in 1223/1808, with the failure of the governor-general of Khorasan, Moḥammad Vali Khan, in his assault on the city, and the subsequent deportation of a thousand families from Marv to Mashhad, the last roots of Iran in the ancient and historic land of Marv were severed (Sayyedi, pp. 282-89). The deteriorating situation in Khorasan forced Fatḥ-ʿAli Shah to send the crown prince, ʿAbbās Mirzā, to the province in 1831 to bring things under control (Hedāyat, ed. Kiānfar, XV, p. 8544). After arriving in Khorasan, ʿAbbās Mirzā was able to suppress all the revolts and to kill, imprison, or subjugate their leaders (Mir Niā, I, pp. 84-87; Noelle-Karimi, pp. 224-25). He then sent his son Moḥammad Mirzā to conquer Herat. The death of ʿAbbās Mirzā in 1833 brought the siege of Herat to an end, and a settlement was reached with Kāmrān Mirzā Sadōzi (Motavalli Ḥaqiqi, 2004, pp. 203-5). The Herat question itself, however, remained unresolved (see HERAT vi).


Moḥammad Mirzā became shah in 1250/1834 and appointed his uncle Allāh-Yār Khan Āṣaf-al-Dawla to govern Khorasan. He besieged Herat in 1253/1837, but the British support for Kāmrān Mirzā Sadōzi, along with the British occupation of Kharg (q.v.) island and the subsequent destabilization of Fārs, caused the siege to be lifted the next year (Šamim, pp. 145-46; Noelle-Karimi, pp. 225-30; Martin, pp. 110-15).

Not long after the setback at Herat, there were disturbances in Mashhad that led in Moḥarram 1255/March 1839 to the conversion, at least outwardly and under duress, of the Jewish community of Mashhad to Islam, an event referred to as Allāhdād ‘God’s Judgment’ (Hedāyat, X, p. 284; Wolff, p. 147; Pirnazar, pp. 115-36; Basch Moreen, p. 242; Nissimi).

In the last years of Moḥammad Shah’s reign, Moḥammad-Ḥasan Khan Sālār (d. 1850), the son of Allāh-Yār Āṣaf-al-Dawla, started a revolt in Khorasan, along with a group of khans in the region, against the central government (Bāmdād, I, p. 158; Noelle-Karimi, pp. 228-30) that continued until the early years of the reign of Nāṣer-al-Din Shah (r. 1848-96). The activities of a prominent follower of ʿAli Moḥammad Bāb (q.v.), Mollā Moḥammad-Ḥosayn Bošruʾi (q.v., 1814-49), also led to local disturbances until he was forced to leave Mashhad in 1848 (Sepehr, III, pp. 1010-14; see also KHORASAN xv. THE BABI-BAHAI COMMUNITY IN KHORASAN).

With the accession of Nāṣer-al-Din Shah in 1264/1848, his prime minister, Mirzā Taqi Khan Amir Kabir (q.v.), faced two immediate problems in Khorasan: the revolt of Ḥasan Khan Sālār and the disobedience of the governors of Herat (Noelle-Karimi, pp. 228-30). He first sent Solṭān Morād Mirzā Ḥosām-al-Salṭana to suppress the revolt of Sālār, who surrendered and was executed in 1850, and then he addressed the problem of regaining control of Herat with a plan of his own (Motavalli Ḥaqiqi, 2004, pp. 235-44; Noelle-Karimi, pp. 231-32). A terrible earthquake in 1267/1851 caused death and destruction among the people and various regions of Khorasan such as Mashhad, Qučān, and Torbat Ḥaydariya (Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana, Montaẓam III, p. 1717). The rebellion of Mirzā Rafiʿ Khan, based at Furg, a citadel in the Qāʾenāt (described in Forbes and Rawlinson, pp. 22-25), also ended with his defeat and flight to Herat (Ḵurmuji, pp. 118-19).

With the death of Amir Kabir, the officials in Herat became disobedient again. Although Ḥosām-al-Salṭana, the governor-general of Khorasan, conquered Herat in October 1856 (see Noelle-Karimi, pp. 232-34), the British intervention and occupation of southern Iran led to the Persian withdrawal from Herat, the signing of the Treaty of Paris between Iran and Britain, and the separation of Herat from Iran. (Motavalli Ḥaqiqi, 2004, pp. 257-64; Champagne, p. 377; see also ANGLO-PERSIAN WAR [1856-57]).

Occasional attacks by Turkmens of the Ḵāvarān plain was another problem for the people of Khorasan during the Nāṣeri era. Ḥamza Mirzā Hešmat-al-Dawla (d. 1880), the governor-general of Khorasan, tried to suppress the Turkmen in campaigns beginning 1275/1859, but he suffered a severe defeat outside Marv in 1277/1860 (see Rowšani Zaʿfarānlu, pp. 75-144; Noelle-Karimi, p. 234). This defeat was, in fact, the beginning of the end of Iran’s claims to dominion over the Ḵāvarān plain. The Akhal (Āḵāl) boundary convention, signed in 1299/1881 between Iran and Russia, effectively ended Iran’s historical claims to lands beyond the Tejen river and to cities such as Meyhana, Abivard, Nesā, and Marv (Sayyedi, pp. 378-79; text in Krausse, pp. 360-62).

During his reign, Nāṣer-al-Din Shah traveled to Khorasan twice. The first time was in 1284/1867, and the second time was in 1300/1882. The travel accounts of these two journeys are recognized as among the most important sources for the history of Khorasan in the Nāṣeri era (Qahramān, passim). One of the worst developments for Khorasan during the last three decades of Nāṣer-al-Din Shah’s reign was the Great Famine that began 1285/1869 and lasted until 1288/1873. It was so severe that people were reduced to eating grass, animals, and religiously forbidden meats, or even digging up corpses for food (Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana, Matlaʿ, II, p. 377; Majd, 2018, pp. 53-68). The Tehran to Mashhad telegraph line was established under the direction of Albert Houtum-Schindler (q.v.; d. 1916) in 1293/1876 (Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana, Montaẓam, III, p. 1964). A house-by-house census of Mashhad was conducted by Zayn-al-ʿĀbedin Mirzā Qājār (Qājār, passim) in 1878, and British and Russian consulates were opened in the spring of 1306/1889 (Curzon, I, pp. 170-74, tr., I, pp. 237-40). The cholera epidemic of 1309/1891 spread along the road from Afghanistan to Khorasan and caused the death of an estimated 20,000 people in Khorasan (Riāżi Heravi, pp. 105-6). One might also note the migration of large groups of Shiʿites, Sādāts, and Hazāras (q.v.) from Afghanistan to Khorasan due to the anti-Shiʿite and anti-Hazāra policies of the Afghan pādšāh (amir) ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Khan (r. 1297-1319/1880-1901; Motavalli Ḥaqiqi, 2004, pp. 308-10; see AFGHANISTAN x; HAZĀRA ii). The “Tobacco Rebellion,” which began in 1308/1891 against the transfer of the exclusive right to buy and sell tobacco to the Régie, a monopoly owned by a British subject (see Keddie; CONCESSIONS ii), spread to Mashhad, and the people of Khorasan and Mashhad, led by Sheikh Moḥammad-Taqi Bojnurdi, began their protests. Nāṣer-al-Din Shah and the British were forced to yield after a five-day uprising by the people of Mashhad and several other cities in Khorasan, exempting Khorasan from this concession (Motavalli Ḥaqiqi, 2013, I, p. 364; cf. Nouraie, pp. 221-31); the concession itself was cancelled in January 1892.

In the last decade of Nāṣer-al-Din Shah’s reign, the situation in Khorasan province became very unstable because of perceptions of tyranny and oppression under governors of Khorasan such as ʿAbd-al-Wahhāb Khan Āṣaf-al-Dawla Širāzi, Moḥammad-Taqi Mirzā Rokn-al-Dawla, and Abu’l-Fatḥ Mirzā Moʾayyed-al-Dawla (q.v.; d. 1330/1912). People in the city of Mashhad often revolted to protest the high prices for bread, meat, and other supplies (Motavalli Ḥaqiqi, 2013, I, pp. 22-26, 45-50). Nāṣer-al-Din Shah Qājār was assassinated in 1313/1896, after reigning for almost 50 years. It was against this background of turmoil and hardship that people in Khorasan, and in other regions of Iran, began to challenge the status quo and the actions of the Qajar government.


In the early years of the reign of Moẓaffar-al-Din Shah (r. 1896-1907), Khorasan continued to face various social crises and uprisings. In those years, the governors of Khorasan seemed to be motivated only by personal greed. Āṣaf-al-Dawla Šāhsavan was one of the governors who was notorious for having his agents beat up their subjects in Khorasan until they were almost dead in order to extort taxes from them. The most infamous episode of his administration occurred in 1905 in Qučān, where the authorities forcibly separated about 300 girls from their families and sold them to the Turkmen for a petty price in lieu of taxes (Nāẓem-al-Eslām Kermāni, pp. 305-6; Browne, pp. 174-79; Najmabadi). The publication of this news became an incentive for intellectuals and constitutionalists to resist the despotic government (Šarif Kāšāni, IV, p. 851).

Simultaneously with the beginning of public dissatisfaction with the Qajar rule in the last years of the reign of Nāṣer-al-Din Shah Qājār and the first years of Moẓaffar-al-Din Shah’s reign, modernization and interest in the achievements of Western civilization began in Khorasan. The creation of new schools, the publication of newspapers, the formation of cultural associations, the organization of various reformist groups among the ulema and merchants, and the emergence of a fledgling group of journalists were the most significant aspects of modernization in Khorasan and Mashhad. Mirzā Ḥasan Rošdiya took the initiative in creating new schools in Mashhad, and others, such as Moḥammad ʿAli Modir, Moḥammad Ḥasan Khan Ṣabā, and Ḥāj Asad-Allāh Fatḥ-Allāh Yusof Ḵāmenaʾi, continued to do so (Motavalli Ḥaqiqi, 2005, p. 129). The establishment of new schools in other cities in Khorasan dates to the post-constitutional years. Birjand, Qučān, Bojnurd, Nishapur, and Torbat-e Ḥaydariya were among the cities that witnessed the launch of new schools a few years after the victory of the Constitutional Revolution (q.v.; Motavalli Ḥaqiqi, 2005, passim). The first newspaper printed in Khorasan, called Adab (q.v.), was founded in Tabriz but published in Mashhad from Ramażān 1318/December 1900 to Rajab 1321/October 1903 under the editorship of Adib-al-Mamālek Farāhāni (q.v.; d. 1917). Adab was the first Iranian newspaper to employ cartoons to express its views (Ṣadr Hāšemi, I, pp. 82-87). Although Khorasan had initially lagged behind other parts of Iran in press publication due to pressures from Tsarist Russia, after the victory of the constitution, dozens of newspapers were published in Mashhad and other cities of Khorasan, which turned this province into a major hub of journalism in Iran (see Elāhi, passim; KHORASAN xxviii. NEWSPAPERS OF KHORASAN). Simultaneously with the establishment of new schools and the publication of newspapers, the province of Khorasan was also home to important writers and political activists such as Ḥaydar Khan ʿAmu-Oḡli (q.v.; d. 1921), Adib-al-Mamālek Farāhāni, Moḥammad-Taqi Mālek-al-Šoʿarāʾ Bahār (q.v.; d. 1951), Sheikh Aḥmad Bahār, and Sheikh Aḥmad Ruḥ-al-Qodos Torbati, better known as Solṭān-al-ʿOlamāʾ Ḵorāsāni. They were among the first notables to participate in the beginning of the Constitutional Revolution in Mashhad (Motavalli Ḥaqiqi, 2013, I, pp. 82-83). The profound dissatisfaction of the citizenry with the government, along with the efforts and struggles of the activist groups, caused some of the people of Khorasan, albeit a little later on, to join the ranks of the constitutionalists.

At the urging of Khorasan’s representatives in the first Majles, the ground was prepared for the dismissal of Āṣaf-al-Dawla Šāhsavan and also the dismissal and trial of ʿAziz-Allāh Khan Šādlu (Sardār Moʿazzaz Bojnurdi), the governor of Bojnurd, on charges of collaborating with the Turkmen in capturing the girls from the Bāškānlu tribe of Qučān (Aʿẓām Qodsi, pp. 175-92). In Mashhad, the Khorasan Provincial Association (Anjoman-e Eyālati-e Ḵorāsān) took over the administration of the city’s affairs. In addition to this association, the Saʿādat Charity Association (Anjoman-e ḵayriya-ye saʿādat) was established with the goal of spreading public culture and establishing new schools in Mashhad (M.-T. Bahār, I, p. yak). With the death of Moẓaffar-al-Din Shah and the succession of his son Moḥammad-ʿAli Shah, who had no interest in compromise with the constitution and the constitutionalists, the situation in Iran, including Khorasan, underwent various transformations.

The general situation in Khorasan was almost calm between the victory of the constitutionalists and the attack on the Majles in June 1908, but with the shelling of the Majles and the beginning of the “Lesser Despotism” (estebdād-e ṣaḡir) in Tehran, the ground was also prepared in Khorasan for the opponents of the constitution. The anti-constitutionalist ulema in Khorasan were led by those such as Sayyed ʿAli Sistāni and Sheikh Mahdi Wāʿez Ḵorāsāni (Motavalli Ḥaqiqi, 2013, I, pp. 88-89). Other prominent opponents of the constitution in Mashhad included figures such as Yusof Khan Herāti, Moḥammad Qušābādi, and Moḥammad Ṭāleb-al-Ḥaqq Yazdi (Kāviāniān, pp. 87-88). Rabble-rousers and brigands, backed by the financial and military support of the Russians, these people were able to create chaos in Mashhad and other parts of Khorasan, trying to pave the way for the return of the deposed Moḥammad-ʿAli Shah to Iran. They made the courtyards of the Rażawi shrine (see ĀSTĀN-E QODS-E RAŻAWI) and the Gowhar-šād mosque (q.v.) the center of their activities. However, the Russians, once it was clear that the effort to restore Moḥammad-ʿAli Shah had failed, took matters into their own hands and withdrew their support for Yusof Khan and his forces and decided to remove them from the Gowhar-šād mosque and the Rażawi shrine. On 29 March 1912, the Russians directed a volley of hundreds of artillery shells and bullets at the Rażawi shrine (Adib Heravi, pp. 211-12; Sykes, II, p. 426; Matthee; Figure 2). In addition to damaging the dome of the Rażawi shrine, and despite Yusof Khan Herāti and his confederates having left the shrine and its surrounding structures, the Russians brutally occupied the courtyard with their cavalry and infantry, killing many innocent pilgrims. Estimates of the number of people who died in this incident vary greatly, from 40 to 800 (Motavalli Ḥaqiqi, 2013, I, pp. 145-47).

The situation in Khorasan on the eve of World War I was tumultuous due to internal mismanagement and foreign interference. Local miscreants in areas such as Zašk and Čenārān also took advantage of these conditions for their own purposes and banditry (Modarres Rażavi, pp. 233-34). With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, despite the declaration of neutrality by Iran, the country, including the province of Khorasan, became an arena for foreign competition and interference. The Russians, who considered Khorasan to be in their sphere of influence, sent additional troops to occupy most of the territory of the province (Motavalli Ḥaqiqi, 2013, I, p. 156).

Foreign intervention and the irresponsibility of the governors of Khorasan in the last years of the First World War caused famine, exorbitant prices for food and goods, and made life difficult for the Khorasani masses. In addition to inflation and famine, the spread of diseases such as cholera and tuberculosis affected the population in such a way that numerous poor people died of starvation and disease every day (Motavalli Ḥaqiqi, 2013, I, p. 158). Although there is no accurate report on casualties among the people of Khorasan during the period of World War I, it was, according to some estimates, one of the deadliest eras in Iran and in the history of Khorasan in the modern period (Majd, 2008, pp. 59-67, tr. pp. 85-91). The outbreak of the Bolshevik Revolution caused the Russians to withdraw from the territory of Khorasan temporarily, in contrast to the very visible presence the British had amassed in Khorasan (Maḥbub Farimāni and Neʿmati, pp. 346-47).

Figure 2. Illustration of the Russian bombardment of the Imam Reżā Shrine in Mashhad, 1912, prepared by a local artist at the request of the British consul in Mashhad, Percy Sykes. The marginal verses read “O Lord of the Time [the Mahdi], Regard Ṭus / The harshness and the oppression of the son of Hārun-al-Rašid is increased. / Release us from the tyranny and oppression of the Russians. | O King [Imam Reżā], the honor of thy ancestor is gone to the wind. / From the crooked ebony revolution of the heavens, / This dome became the target of Russian guns. | O Lord of the Time! Regard this race of tyrants. / They entered the Shrine of the Saint, / they laid guns on the tomb of the Imam Reżā / This tyranny was enough that they all wore long boots [instead of removing them in the shrine]. | The building of Islam cracked in 1330 [1912]. | The place was the refuge of the weak / On that night it became the battle-place of the black-hearted. | Round the grating of the sacred tomb / There were many killed, lying in blood / like fish in a pool / How can I complain of this to Thee, / O Secret of God. / Thou knowest the action of the doers of the bad deeds.” Image and translation of text after India Office Records and Private Papers, British Library, File 52/1912 IOR/L/PS/10/209, 343r-344r; available at www.qdl.qa/en/archive/81055/vdc_100029742540.0x00005d. Copyright status unknown.Figure 2. Illustration of the Russian bombardment of the Imam Reżā Shrine in Mashhad, 1912, prepared by a local artist at the request of the British consul in Mashhad, Percy Sykes. The marginal verses read “O Lord of the Time [the Mahdi], Regard Ṭus / The harshness and the oppression of the son of Hārun-al-Rašid is increased. / Release us from the tyranny and oppression of the Russians. | O King [Imam Reżā], the honor of thy ancestor is gone to the wind. / From the crooked ebony revolution of the heavens, / This dome became the target of Russian guns. | O Lord of the Time! Regard this race of tyrants. / They entered the Shrine of the Saint, / they laid guns on the tomb of the Imam Reżā / This tyranny was enough that they all wore long boots [instead of removing them in the shrine]. | The building of Islam cracked in 1330 [1912]. | The place was the refuge of the weak / On that night it became the battle-place of the black-hearted. | Round the grating of the sacred tomb / There were many killed, lying in blood / like fish in a pool / How can I complain of this to Thee, / O Secret of God. / Thou knowest the action of the doers of the bad deeds.” Image and translation of text after India Office Records and Private Papers, British Library, File 52/1912 IOR/L/PS/10/209, 343r-344r; available at www.qdl.qa/en/archive/81055/vdc_100029742540.0x00005d. Copyright status unknown.

One of the most important events in the history of Khorasan in the last years of Qajar rule was the uprising of Colonel Moḥammad-Taqi Khan Pesyān (q.v.; 1892-1921; see Cronin, 1997b, p. 693). In September 1920, Pesyān left for Mashhad to assume command of the Khorasan Gendarmerie (q.v.), and, with the cooperation of Qawām-al-Salṭana, the governor-general of Khorasan, he succeeded in suppressing Khorasani rebels such as Ḵodāverdi Sardār Širvāni, Morsal Khan, and Zabar-dast Khan Darragazi (Mir Niā, I, pp. 296-301). Following the Coup d’Etat of 1299/1921 (q.v.), Sayyed Żiāʾ-al-Din Ṭabāṭabāʾi became prime minister, and Pesyān, acting on the orders of the prime minister, arrested Qawām-al-Salṭana, sent him to Tehran, and took control of Khorasan himself (Motavalli Ḥaqiqi, 2001, pp. 47-56). When Sayyed Żiā’s cabinet fell and Qawām-al-Salṭana replaced him as prime minister, Pesyān refused to cooperate with the new government. Finally, after some military conflicts and despite some peace negotations, the Kurdish khans of northern Khorasan, on instructions from Qawām-al-Salṭana and under the direction of Sardar Moʿazzaz of Bojnurd, defeated the Gendarmeries of Širvān, Fāruj, and Qučān and killed Pesyān in the environs of Qučān on 30 Moḥarram 1340/3 October 1921 (Motavalli Ḥaqiqi, 2001, pp. 96-108; see also Šawkat, pp. 75-110 for a reassessment of these events).

Shortly after attaining the position of prime minister of Iran, Reżā Khan Mir Panj, the former minister of war in Sayyed Żiāʾ’s “Black Cabinet,” sought to hold a referendum on establishing a republic. In Mashhad, groups of people led by Sayyed Ḥasan Meškān Ṭabasi, Sheikh Aḥmad Bahār (see the preface to his Divān), and Aḥmad Dehqān supported the declaration of a republic, but smaller groups also expressed their opposition (Motavalli Ḥaqiqi, 2013, I, pp. 194-95). In Khorasan, after the defeat of the plan for establishing a republic and abolishing the monarchy, Jān Moḥammad Khan (q.v.), the military commander of Khorasan; Moḥammad Arjomand, the head of the post; and Morteżā Khan Makri, the military commander of Mashhad, established a committee called Nahżat-e Šarq (Movement of the East) and sent telegrams to Tehran expressing the dissatisfaction of the people of Khorasan with the Qajars and demanding their deposition as rulers of Iran (Arjomand, pp. 67-69). The news of the abolition of the Qajar dynasty and subsequently the rule of Reżā Shah was met with joy by groups of people and ulema of Khorasan, who sent messages of congratulations to Reżā Shah and expressed their support for the changes (Mirzā Ṣāleḥ, p. 569).


During the 54-year reign of the Pahlavi dynasty, about 30 people were appointed as governors of Khorasan. Seven of them were appointed during the reign of Reżā Shah (1924-41; see Šaybāni, pp. 6-9), and 23 were appointed during the 38-year reign of Moḥammad Reżā Shah (1941-79; see Fāżeli Birjandi, pp. 13-16).

In the new provincial administrative division of the country created by Reżā Shah in 1937, Khorasan was recognized as the “Ninth Province” (Ostān-e Nohom), with Mashhad as its provincial capital and the seven sub-provinces (šahrestāns) of Sabzavār, Gonābād, Bojnurd, Qučān, Birjand, Torbat Ḥaydariya, and Mashhad. In 1950, the sub-provinces of Darragaz, Nishapur, Ferdows, and Kāšmar were formed, so the number of sub-provinces was expanded to eleven. In 1956, Darragaz was annexed to Qučān and the two sub-provinces of Torbat-e Jām and Ṭabas were created. In 1960, Darragaz became a sub-province again, and the sub-provinces of Širvān and Esfarāyen were also created. In 1975, the Bāḵarz district (baḵš) became the center of Torbat-e Jām and Tāybād was changed from a district to a sub-province (details from Sāzmān-e modiriyat, s.v. “Moʿarrefi-e ostān”).

Although the governors of Khorasan during the Pahlavi period, unlike those of the Qajar period, were not kinsmen of the royal family, many of them were considered to be among the most eminent political and military figures of Iran in their time. They included such notables as Maḥmud Jam (q.v.), Sayyed Ḥasan Taqizāda (q.v.), Major-General Fatḥ-Allāh Pākravān, Rajab-ʿAli Manṣur, Ṣadr al-Ašrāf, Sayyed Jalāl-al-Din Ṭehrāni, General Nāder Bātmānqalič, General Ṣādeq Amir ʿAzizi, and ʿAbd-al-ʿAẓim Valiān. Many of them, before or after being governor of Khorasan, held the rank of prime minister or ministers in various cabinets of Iran. There was an added dimension to their role and prestige as governors of a major province: Many of them, in addition to the duties of their post, would also be entrusted with the administration of the extensive religious-economic resources supporting the shrine around the tomb of Imam Reżā (q.v.), the eighth Imam of the Shiʿites, and held the title of deputy-trustee (nāyebal-tawliya; on this office, see Nouraie, p. 89) of the Āstān-e Qods-e Rażawi.

The revolt of Lahāk Khan Bāvand broke out during the early years of Reżā Shah’s reign. Lahāk Khan, at the head of a group of soldiers from the Marāva Tappa garrison, initiated a mutiny in July 1926 (Cronin, 2014, pp. 55-56). He had communist sympathies and, after taking over the Inča Borun guardpost, went on to capture the city of Bojnurd (Motavalli Ḥaqiqi, 2008, p. 180). He then took Širvān and Qučān, but he was defeated by government forces at Qučān and fled to the Soviet Union (Bayāt, pp. 440-41).

In Farvardin 1307/April 1928, Reżā Shah appointed Maḥmud Jam to be governor-general of Khorasan. During his two terms of office (April 1928-January 1929 and August 1929-September 1933), Jam introduced numerous reforms. In May 1929, during the governorship of Ḥasan Taqizāda, the powerful Bāḡān earthquake shook the northern cities of Khorasan, such as Qučān, Širvān, and Bojnurd, causing great loss of life and property (Motavalli Ḥaqiqi, 2013, I, p. 237; Berberian, p. 247). The arrest and execution of two troublemakers, the brothers Ḏu’l-Feqār and Ḡanbar-ʿAli (also known as Zolfo and Qamo), who were robbing travelers on the roads of Khorasan, was another of Taqizāda’s achievements in Khorasan (Šākeri, p. 114). In the 1930s, when many Jews from around the world were immigrating to Palestine, numerous Jews from Mashhad also moved there (Yazdāni, pp. 21-27).

In 1934, during the governorship of Faraj-Allāh Bahrāmi (q.v.), the millenary celebration of Ferdowsi (jašn-e hazāra) was held, with the goal of promoting Iranian nationalism (see FERDOWSI iv). That same year, Reżā Shah made his fourth trip to Khorasan and dedicated the new monumental tomb (ārāmgāh) of Ferdowsi in a ceremony attended by many prominent orientalists (see FERDOWSI iii).

One of the most important events in the modern history of Khorasan, the Gowhar-šād uprising, also regarded as the most significant anti-government movement in the early Pahlavi era, occurred during the governorship of Fatḥ-Allāh Pākravān (1934-41). In the absence of Ayatollah Sayyed Ḥosayn Ṭabāṭabāʾi Qomi, who had traveled to Tehran to protest the shah’s new policy requiring men to use the chapeau (western-style hats, see CLOTHING xi; KOLĀH-E PAHLAVI) as headgear and was confined there, groups of Mashhad residents and other Khorasanis assembled at the Gowhar-šād Mosque under the influence of speeches by a firebrand religious student, Moḥammad-Taqi Gonābādi, known as Bohlul, and denounced Reżā Shah’s secularizing policies. Government forces attacked, killed, and wounded a number of the protesters at the Gowhar-šād Mosque over two days, on the mornings of 20 and 21 Tir 1314/12 and 13 July 1935 (Motavalli Haqiqi, 2013, I, pp. 277-302).

In the first months of his reign, Reżā Shah had appointed Moḥammad-Wali Khan Asadi as the deputy-trustee of the Āstān-e Qods. With a flurry of activity, Asadi had been able to change the face of Mashhad from that of a middling city to that of a relatively large and semi-modern metropolis. His impovements included the construction of the capacious and modern Šāhreżā Hospital and the digging of several qanāts (see KĀRIZ) to supply drinking water to Mashhad, as well as the introduction of administrative reforms for the Āstān-e Qods organization (Moʾtaman, pp. 31, 107, 275) and the development of new schools (Motavalli Ḥaqiqi, 2005, p. 162). The construction of a traffic circle around the shrine, connecting the two main avenues in Mashhad, was another of Asadi’s reforms (Šuštari, pp. 226-27). He remained one of the most influential figures in the history of Khorasan until the time of the Gowhar-šād incident. Asadi’s disagreement and rivalry with Pākravān, the governor-general of Khorasan, then led Pākravān to take advantage of Asadi’s opposition to the chapeau policy as a means of discrediting him in the eyes of the shah and putting the blame on him for the uprising at the Gowhar-šād Mosque. This resulted in Asadi’s dismissal, trial, and execution in 1935 (Motavalli Ḥaqiqi, 2013, I, p. 276).

After Asadi’s execution, Pākravān, in addition to being the governor-general, also became the deputy-trustee of the shrine. During his seven years in Khorasan, he carried out many of the government’s directives vigorously and thoroughly on issues such as removing head-coverings from women and developing new schools (Mir Niā, II, p. 142).

With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, although Iran had declared neutrality, Soviet troops moved into Khorasan from the Saraḵs, Darragaz, and Bājgirān fronts on 3 Šahrivar 1320/1941. After brief clashes with Iranian forces and following the declaration of surrender by the Iranian government, the Soviets occupied all of Khorasan, based primarily in cities such as Mashhad and Bojnurd. Soviet forces were present in Khorasan from then until the winter of 1943. The presence of Soviet forces and the conditions of the war caused severe shortages, and famine and high prices in Khorasan made the lives of the people very difficult (Motavalli Ḥaqiqi, 2013, II, p. 39).

The khans of Khorasan, who had been severely repressed during the reign of Reżā Shah, began to revolt after his downfall (Mir Niā, II, p. 192). The rebellions of the khans of the Milānlu tribe in Esfarāyen (Tavaḥḥodi, p. 191) and of Faraj-Allāh Beyg of ʿId-Moḥammad Zuri in Torbat-e Jām were among these revolts (Rāmin-nežād, p. 318). But the biggest revolt during this period was the revolt of Moḥammad Yusof Khan Hazāra, known as Ṣawlat-al-Salṭana. Yusof Khan, who had been the first representative of the people of Mashhad in the Fifth Majles, was exiled from Khorasan during the reign of Reżā Shah and imprisoned for some time on charges of collaborating with Soviet agents (as confirmed by Agabekov, tr., p. 91, Pers. tr., p. 12). After the fall of Reżā Shah, he moved to occupy the eastern regions of Khorasan and rebel against the central government. However, he was eventually killed by agents sent by Rajab-ʿAli Manṣur, the governor-general of Khorasan (Bayāt, passim, and also Mir Niā, II, p. 202).

Another incident that occurred during the Soviet occupation of Khorasan was the uprising of Tuda (communist) officers from the Mashhad garrison in the summer of 1945, led by Major ʿAli-Akbar Eskandāni. He and twenty-five other officers and soldiers of the Tuda armed forces of Khorasan, using several vehicles and military equipment, reached Marāva Tappa and then Gonbad on 25 Mordād 1324/16 August 1945, but they were defeated by gendarmerie forces in Gonbad on 29 Mordād/20 August. Eskandāni was killed, and his remaining supporters fled (Rāmin-nežād, p. 364).

An attack on the Jewish or “New Muslim” inhabitants of Mashhad in the ʿIdgāh neighborhood took place in March 1946. Some Jews were injured and their property looted (Nazarzāda, p. 477). In October 1948, during the governorship of ʿAbbāsqoli Golšāʾiān (q.v.; d. 1990), a severe earthquake centered near Ashgabat in Turkmenistan shook the cities of Mashhad, Darragaz, Qučān, Bojnurd, Širvān, and Bājgirān, causing great damage to the cities and villages of Khorasan, killing or injuring more than a thousand people (Fāżeli Birjandi, p. 449).

The British and also the Americans had various activities in Khorasan in the 1940s and 1950s. The formation of the United Kingdom Commercial Corporation (UKCC) transportation company (Skrine, pp. 150, 197, 200), the publication of a newspaper, and the establishment of a branch of the British-Iranian Cultural Relations Association in Mashhad were among these activities (Elāhi, pp. 173-170). The Americans established their consulate in Mashhad in Ḵordād 1328/July 1949 (Motavalli Ḥaqiqi, 2013, II, p. 97) and also opened offices in Khorasan for Truman’s Point Four program. In the 1950s, at the same time people across Iran were calling for the nationalization of the oil industry, so did newspapers, political parties, and many groups of people in Khorasan. The leaders of the nationalization movement in Khorasan were Moḥammad-Taqi Šariʿati, representing educators and intellectuals; Ḥāji ʿAli-Aṣḡar ʿĀbedzādeh, representing the bazaar merchants and craftsmen; and Sheikh Maḥmud Ḏākerzāda Tulāyi, known as Ḥalabi, representing a group of religious clerics (Jalāli, 118-21). With Moḥammad Moṣaddeq’s rise to power in 1951, the political parties, press, ulema, and people were divided into two groups. Khorasani notables such as Ayatollah Kalbāsi, took the side of Moṣaddeq’s government, while religious scholars such as Mirzā Aḥmad Kafāʾi Ḵorāsāni opposed Moṣaddeq and supported the royalists (Motavalli Ḥaqiqi, 2013, II, pp. 130, 169). After the Coup d’Etat of 1332 Š./1953 (q.v.) and the fall of the Moṣaddeq government, the suppression of members of the Tuda party of Khorasan began (see Baqiʿi, passim; COMMUNISM iii).

In the decades of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, the Soviet government had little influence in Khorasan. As Russian influence declined, American and British influence in Khorasan increased in various ways (Motavalli Ḥaqiqi, 2013, II, p. 179). During the Coup d’Etat of 1332 Š./1953, many Khorasani newspapers and political parties that opposed the coup were shut down or dissolved. In the period between the Coup d’Etat of 1332 Š.1953 and Bahman 1357/ 1979, a total of fourteen people were named as governor-generals of Khorasan (Motavalli Ḥaqiqi, 2013, p. 210). The Tehran-Mashhad railway, the construction of which had begun in March 1937 but was halted due to the Allied invasion and occupation of Iran in 1941, was completed, and the first train arrived in Mashhad in January 1957 (Saʿidi, p. 90). This railway played a great role in the development of Mashhad, the increase in the number of visitors, and the prosperity of business. The severe Dašt-e Bayāż earthquake in Khorasan struck on 31 August 1968 during the governorship of Bāqer Pirniā. The earthquake was so devastating that it levelled cities such as Ferdows, Gonābād, and Kāḵk, with many deaths and extensive destruction (Fāżeli Birjandi, p. 542; Ambraseys and Tchalenko).

In the 1960s and 1970s, Khorasan also witnessed the opposition of a group of ulema and people against the government. Religious scholars such as Ḥasan Qomi and Moḥammad-Hādi Milāni and clerics such as ʿAbd-al-Karim Hāšemi-nežād, ʿAli Ḵāmenaʾi, ʿAbbās Wāʿeẓ Ṭabasi, and Sheikh ʿAli Ṭehrāni were among the most prominent of these dissidents. Among Khorasan intellectuals, those such as Moḥammad-Taqi Šariʿati and ʿAli Šariʿati were outspoken in their opposition to the government. Among the most prominent governors of Khorasan during this period, Bāqer Pirniā (governor from October 1967 to September 1970) and ʿAbd-al-ʿAẓim Valiān (May 1974 to August 1978) implemented modernization and secularization policies that fueled this discontent in the province; the designation of Valiān as nāyeb al-tawliya was especially unpopular (see Motavalli Ḥaqiqi, 2013, II, pp. 383-433; Bill, pp. 187-88).


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xii. History in the Islamic Republic Period

See Supplement.

xiii. Khorasan in Modern Islamist Thought

Khorasan in modern Islamist ideology is a byproduct of the influx of Muslim fighters (mojāhedin) into Afghanistan after the Soviet Union invaded the country in 1979 during the Cold War. For the varied groups contesting Soviet presence, the revival of the pre-modern concept of Khorasan held specific, and at times contradictory, meaning. Leveraged by the Islamist militant network Al-Qaeda (al-Qāʿeda) in the mid-1990s and adopted by a unit of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the militant group that came to prominence in Iraq and Syria in 2013 and gained followers in its proclaimed caliphal province (welāya) of Khorasan including parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan and adjacent areas, the term saw a resurgence in its political currency, which had been dormant since the early 20th century.

The concept of Khorasan as a geographical space and its political, cultural, and historical references have continually changed since the former Sasanian region became part of the Omayyad Muslim empire in the 1st/7th century (see KHORASAN i.-iv.). The history of the region between the Muslim conquest and the 6th/13th centuries “is the history of a marginal region becoming a center and then again a margin” (Durand-Guédy, p. 2). In the 13th/20th century, the region once again gained prominence, this time in Afghanistan’s historical narrative, beginning with an article in 1932 by Mir Ḡolam Mohammad Ḡobār that positioned the country as part of Āryānā, “Land of the Aryans,” in pre-Islamic times (see ARYANS, ERĀN WĒZ; i.e., present-day Afghanistan and parts of Iran and Pakistan) and as Khorasan, “The Place where the Sun Rises,” after the Islamic conquests (Ḡobār, 1932, pp. 7-40). In this narrative, Abu Moslem Ḵorāsāni (q.v.), the prominent 2nd/8th-century leader of the ʿAbbasid Revolution (see KHORASAN v.), is revered as an Afghan resistance leader who donned black clothing and raised a black banner against foreign (Omayyad) oppression. The symbolisms associated with Abu Moslem’s movement have resonated in Afghan historical consciousness, a notable example being the color of the national flag that, until 1928, was all black with a white seal in the middle (see FLAGS ii.). To situate Abu Moslem further within modern Afghanistan’s geographical boundaries, Afghan narratives designate the village of Sapid Dāž near the modern city of Sar-e Pol as his place of birth rather than the more conventional location near Marv or Isfahan (Dawlatābādi, pp. 198-99; Ḡobār, 1956, pp. 1-113; Kohzad).

From the initial phases of the Afghan mojāhedin political campaigns against the Soviets (1979-89) to the internal conflict with the Taliban (Ṭālebān) (1994-2001), Khorasan became a term of reference used by some of the local, mainly non-Pashtun, groups to propagate the idea that their armed struggle went beyond freeing the country from the foreign yoke and communism or the Taliban. For them, it was a call to return the country to its pre-1747 political makeup, the time before modern-day Afghanistan emerged as a political unit ruled by Dorrāni (q.v.) Pashtuns (Afḡān proper; see AFGHANISTAN x.). In this construct, the concept of Khorasan serves as a counterbalance to the Pashtun domination of the country, providing a more inclusive or Tajik-centric national construct than the exclusivity of Afghanistan as the “Land of the Afghans/Pashtuns” (Tarzi, 2018, pp. 124-26).

The focus of the Arab jihadists in Afghanistan in the early part of the 1980s was principally on fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan (see also ISLAM IN IRAN xi. JIHAD IN ISLAM). After the formation of Al-Qaeda in the late 1980s and the departure of the Soviets from Afghanistan, this focus began to change to global jihadist agendas, culminating in the return of the former mojāhed Osama Bin Ladin (Osāma b. Lāden; d. 2011) to Afghanistan as the head of Al-Qaeda’s remodeled organization in 1996. At this juncture, Afghanistan served only as a base of operations for the larger, more elusive goals of establishing an Islamic caliphate, ousting the United States from Saudi Arabia, and destroying Israel. This led to theological, mythical, and geographic symbolisms associated with the historical Khorasan being incorporated into Al-Qaeda’s overall strategic propaganda.

The theological part of Al-Qaeda’s connection to Khorasan is based on a few hadiths (q.v.) linking the geographical location to future events (see Bahari and Hassan, pp. 18-19). The most referenced hadith, of which there are various renditions, conveys the message that there would emerge from Khorasan an army carrying black banners that no one would repel until it raised its banners in Ilia (the name used in early Muslim sources for Jerusalem). In one of these hadiths, the Prophet Moḥammad is alleged to have stated that his followers must join that army even if they have to crawl over ice (Haqqani). The hadith served to amplify symbolism denoting Khorasan’s prophetic role in the ultimate apocalyptic battle between Islam and its enemies. Bin Laden, aware of this connection, wrote in his 1996 declaration of war on the United States that “by the Grace of God” he had found “a safe base in Khorasan” (Bin Laden). This became a primary text for the jihadist movement. Al-Qaeda also created an online magazine, ṬalāʿiḴorāsān (Vanguard of Khorasan), leveraging the name. In its undated (most probably 2005) inaugural issue, Al-Qaeda identified two additional hadiths that detailed the “virtues of Khorasan” and used them as the justification behind the magazine’s title. One claimed that the Prophet said “When you see black banners coming from Khorasan, follow them, as ‘the Caliph of Allah, the Mahdi’ will be among them.” The second hadith, roughly recounting the ‘Abbasid revolt, narrates the Prophet saying that the deliverance of his own family from suffering will come from the East (another term associated with Khorasan). In most of the current online inquiries about the authenticity of the Khorasan hadiths (e.g., https://abuaminaelias.com/hadith-black-flags-al-mahdi or https://islamqa.info/en/answers/171131; both accessed 1 June 2020), the chains of transmissions for these sayings are contested by responding scholars, and they are categorized as żaʾif (weak). Paradoxically, Ṭalāʿi Ḵorāsān mentions that Moḥammad b. ʿIsā Termeḏi (d. 279/892), who compiled the hadith about Jerusalem, had categorized the hadith as ḡarib (strange).

The geographical understanding of Khorasan, which has always fluctuated, according to the archeologist Rocco Rante, “could often be associated with a territorial entity more than an administrative one.” Even though under Samanids in the 4th/10th century (see KHORASAN vi.), Khorasan’s unification with Transoxiana (see MĀ WARĀ’ AL-NAHR) became “official,” in no instance had this region or Greater Khorasan included territories south of the Hindu Kush mountains in Central Afghanistan (Rante, pp. 10, 14). However, in Al-Qaeda’s understanding, Khorasan included Pakistan and parts of northern and northeastern India. The base of operations for Al-Qaeda was the seamless border regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan that they crisscrossed without any regard to the international administrative divisions. This transnational geographical delineation supported not only its physical territorial claims but also its political agenda: Its disregard for international borders emphasized that the Islamic world was a community of believers rather than states with distinct boundaries. This latter construct aligned with most of Al-Qaeda’s local Pakistani jihadist groups, which were purposed to oppose Afghanistan’s territorial claims over Pakistan’s northwestern regions and its notion that these divided geographical spaces were one contiguous Pashtun land. Since the establishment of Pakistan as a separate state in 1947, Afghanistan has regarded its southeastern neighbor as a usurper of Afghan territory. Pakistan on the other hand has tried to defuse the irredentist claims of its neighbor with a series of policies designed to keep Afghanistan weak while replacing “Afghan nationalism with a more Pakistani-controlled pan-Islamism, thus rendering Afghan nationalistic territorial claims irrelevant” (Tarzi, 2012). In 2013, a new online magazine emerged promoting “Khorasan” as the staging grounds for the establishment of a pan-Islamic caliphate. Published by the “Taliban in Khorasan,” Āzān promoted radicalization, global jihad, and the fomenting of anti-Shiʿite sentiments. The magazine most probably belonged to Tahrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and not the Afghan Taliban, who did not have an internationalist orientation and did not pay much attention to the Khorasan construct, preferring an Afghan nationalist agenda. Further indication of TTP authorship is that Āzān is published by the “Taliban in Khorasan”; the Afghan Taliban refers to itself as the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” or simply as mojāhedin (Ingram).

The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 prompted jihadist organizations, including many in the ranks of Al-Qaeda, to shift their focus westward from Afghanistan and to align with splinter local groups and more independent groups in Iraq and elsewhere in the Arab countries. In Iraq, Abu Moṣʿab Zarqawi (d. 2006) established Al-Qaeda in Iraq based on a vision of the revival of a Sunni caliphate and the elimination of Shīʿism. In a letter to Bin Ladin and his deputy, Ayman Zawāhiri, Zarqawi urged them join him in his modus operandi by prioritizing the targeting of Shī’as before all other enemies. Zarqawi reminded the two Al-Qaeda leaders that “the greatest benefit” of his activities in Mesopotamia “is that this is jihad in the Arab heartland, a stone’s throw” from Mecca, Medina, and al-Aqṣā Mosque (Kepel and Milelli, pp. 251-67). In 2014, for the Sunnis in Iraq who were becoming increasingly marginalized and threatened by the Shiʿa administration in Baghdad, Zarqawi’s message resonated, and his vision gave birth to the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The breakdown of the Syrian state that began in 2011 allowed ISIS to expand westward, gaining territorial strategic depth and significant economic strength (Gerges, pp. 15-18). With its capital in Raqqa, ISIS transformed itself into a state.

The reestablishment of a Sunni caliphate and territoriality changed the notion of Khorasan for ISIS. Being based in Syria and Iraq, and referring to itself since 2014 as Islamic State (IS), ISIS no longer looked to the East for an army to fulfill its destiny because the army had already arrived. Most of the founders of IS, including Zarqawi, had begun their jihadist careers in “Khorasan.” They were the army with black banners, and they had already moved toward their target, the West, which symbolized Rome. IS preserved the black banner as its reference to the hadith about the army with black flags originating in Khorasan. Naming one of its online magazines Dabiq and its news agency Amaq, IS banked on another eschatological hadith, that the last hour would come when an army from Rome (Constantinople) would come to Amaq (present-day Turkey) or Dabiq (a city in northwestern Syria) and would be opposed with an army from Medina. After the Medinan army conquered Rome, they would become voracious and cavalier, leading to the appearance of Dajjāl (q.v.), “the great deceiver.” The Medinan forces would regroup in Syria to fight Dajjāl and be led in prayer by Jesus, son of Mary, who would defeat Dajjāl. Zarqawi wrote in his letter that “[w]e know from God’s religion that the true, decisive battle between unbelief and Islam is in Syria and its surrounding” (Kepel and Milelli, p. 251). Ironically, there are different hadiths concerning where Dajjāl will appear. Some state Dajjāl will appear in Khorasan, Sistan, and, more commonly, Yahudiya, the Jewish quarter of Isfahan in Iran. As IS gained in prominence over Al-Qaeda, the role of Khorasan in organizational narratives waned, as the Greater Syria traditions were more fitting to its geographical positioning and political agenda.

In 2014, usage of Khorasan resurfaced both in Syria and in and around the historical region. The U.S. Department of Defense in September issued a statement announcing the expected expansion of air campaigns beyond Iraq to include attacking “Khorasan Group targets west of Aleppo” (Lund). In this case, the usage of Khorasan most likely was due to the presence of veteran Al-Qaeda fighters in Syria who sought to identify themselves as those originally from the core Al-Qaeda areas and as members of the army with black banners. This group disappeared very quickly, or perhaps it never existed as an organized group, as it may have been more of a media invention resulting from a lack of understanding of some nameless group of Sunni fighters with alleged jihadist credentials from Afghanistan.

As an example of the contradictory understandings of “Khorasan” in modern Islamist ideology, one may note another group that surfaced in September 2013 in Iraq. The Khorasani Brigades (Sarāyā al-Ḵorāsāni), led by ʿAli Yasiri, was a well-armed and effective fighting Shiʿite group that opposed the Islamic State and had direct support from Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC; Sepāh-e pāsdarān-e enqelāb-e eslāmi). It was considered one of most closely linked groups to the IRGC and also had ties to Iraq’s Islamic Vanguard Party (Ḥezb al-ṭaliʿa al-eslāmiya) and became part of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (al-Hašd al-šaʿbi) (Heras, pp. 5, 10). The Khorasani Brigades displayed its affiliation with the IRGC very openly on its symbols (Figure 1) and, according to some sources, was named after either Abu Moslem Ḵorāsāni or “al-Sayyed al-Ḵorāsāni,” a reference to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (Puxton; Qaidaari).

Figure 1. Khorasani Brigades (Sarāyā al-Ḵorāsāni) logo.Figure 1. Khorasani Brigades (Sarāyā al-Ḵorāsāni) logo.

In 2015, closer to geographic Khorasan (or more accurately “Greater Khorasan”), another group, an IS affiliate, employing one of the many symbolisms attached to “Khorasan,” appeared in the fluid border lands between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Individuals and small groups of disgruntled jihadists in Afghanistan and Pakistan pledged their allegiance to the IS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdādi (d. 2019), and created the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP). The geographical limits of the Islamic State Khorasan Province, true to the region’s history, remained fluid and corresponded to the locations where the group’s forces were operational, countries it targeted for enlisting more recruits, and, finally, the regions that were of utmost importance to its central leadership. In most reports, ISKP’s territorial claims encompassed Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, the Central Asian republics, northwestern (or all of) India, and part of Russia (Giustozzi, p. 2). The majority of the ISKP leadership came from Pakistani jihadist groups such as TTP, Laškar-e Ṭāʾeba, or Ḥarakat al-Mojāhedin. Early in ISKP’s formative period, it was joined by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and also attracted a number of dissatisfied Afghan Ṭaliban members. While Afghanistan and Pakistan continued to be understood as Khorasan for Islamists of all stripes, the group expanded it to include Central Asia due to the large number of Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Uighurs among its ranks who aspired to extend the movement to their home regions. Additionally, the Pakistani jihadist outfits involved wanted Kashmir in particular and India in general included, as they sought to gain control over these lands. Both the Afghan government and the United States took military action against ISKP, but its most ardent opponent was the Taliban. By 2018, ISKP had lost most of its territorial holdings. The Taliban meanwhile gained greater acceptancy in international circles, including in Iran and Russia, for its opposition to ISKP and its internationalist agendas (Tarzi, 2018).

The idea of “Khorasan” or “Greater Khorasan” has held different and at times conflicting meanings to different groups that emerged as part of the local and international resistance to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. For the local non-Pashtun groups in Afghanistan, “Khorasan” rekindled the region’s pre-Pashtun-dominated identity and the glories associated with Abu Moslem. The idea entered modern Islamist mythology and information operations with the establishment of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan and through the convenience of a series of eschatological hadiths. For Pakistan and its proxy militant Islamist groups, “Khorasan” countered Afghanistan’s nationalism and its irredentist claims on Pakistani territory and brought India into an Islamist construct. In Iraq and Syria, the symbolisms associated with “Khorasan” are used by the Shiʿite Islamists to resist Sunni domination and to link to the Islamic Republic of Iran. For the Islamic State, “Greater Khorasan” became a province in a geopolitical scheme to redraw state boundaries. For Al-Qaeda ideologues, “Khorasan” represented the mythical region from which pan-Islamism would begin and a useful tool to counter Shiʿite Iran’s influence in Central Asia. With the emergence of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and the subsequent geographic shift of the operational base to Syria, the hadiths associated with “Khorasan” as a locus of Islamist militancy lost their political currency. For the Islamist ideologies in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, as had happened in the past, Khorasan literally and figuratively loomed first on the margins of the Islamic world, later became central to it, and then returned again to the margins.


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Matteo Puxton, “Bataille de Mossoul: Saraya al-Khorasani, la milice chiite soutenue et armée par l’Iran“ France Soir, 6 March 2017 (www.francesoir.fr/politique-monde/saraya-al-khorasani-milice-chiite-irakienne-soutien-syrie-iran-bataille-de-mossoul-combats-alep-guerre-etat-islamique-ei-daech-al-yasiri).

Abbas Qaidaari, “Iran’s New Group in Iraq: Saraya al-Khorasani,” Al-Monitor, 11 January 2015 (www.al-monitor.com/pulse/fr/contents/articles/originals/2015/01/iran-iraq-saraya-al-khorasani.html).

Rocco Rante, “‘Khorasan Proper’ and ‘Greater Khorasan’ within a Politico-Cultural Framework” in R. Rante, ed., Greater Khorasan, Berlin, 2015, pp. 9-25.

M. A. Shaban, The ‘Abbāsid Revolution, Cambridge, U.K., 1970.

Amin Tarzi, “Political Struggles over the Afghanistan-Pakistan Borderlands” in S. Bashir and R. D. Crews, eds., Under the Drones, Cambridge, Mass., 2012, pp. 17-29.

Idem, “Islamic State—Khurasan Province” in F. al-Istrabadi and S. Ganguly, eds., The Future of ISIS: Regional and International Implications, Washington, D.C., 2018, pp. 119-147.

Joby Warrick, Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS, New York, 2015.

xiv. Ethnology of Qajar and Pahlavi Khorasan

Ethnically speaking, the population of modern Khorasan (i.e., northeastern Iran in the 19th and early 20 Century) is extremely varied. It consists principally of Persians, Arabs, Turks, Kurds, Mongols, Baluch, and smaller groups of Jews, Gypsies, and Lors.

Persians. The Persians appear to have been the first ethnic group to populate the province, but, in time, they mixed with an increasing number of foreign invaders and, as a result, their proportionate number was reduced. According to W. Ivanov (q.v.), by the 1920s few Persians remained in the province. Some “comparatively old Persian populations” dwelt in villages on the northern slopes of the Jaḡatāy mountain range in the district of Jovayn, as well as in the hills and the vicinity of cities in the districts of Sabzavār, Nishapur, Toršiz (Kāšmar) and Torbat-e Ḥaydari, on the other side of the Jaḡatāy range, and in the Mashhad region. There were also Persians who had emigrated from various provinces of the realm to Khorasan “after the Turkmen raids were stopped by the Russian occupation of Transcaspia.” These had settled down in the districts of Esfarāyen and Jājarm, and along the Russian frontier. Finally, there was “a very thin Persian population” on the arid hills and in the desert oases of the districts of Arišk and Bošruya (southwest of Ferdows, earlier Ṭus), the district of Bejestān (north of Ferdows), the district of Kāḵk (northeast of Ferdows), the districts of Bāḵarz and Jām (east of Torbat-e Ḥaydari), and the districts of Ḵᵛāf and Tayebād (southeast of Torbat-e Ḥaydari) (pp. 146-47). According to the Military Report on Persia, in 1929 Persians predominated only in the villages of the Mashhad plain and in the districts of Nishapur and Qāʾen (p. 48).

Arabs. The Arab influx into Khorasan started with the garrisoning of Arab troops in Nishapur and Marv (and probably also in Herat and Balḵ) following the campaign of ʿAbdallāh b. ʿĀmer in 651, and continued throughout the Omayyad and ʿAbbasid Caliphates. This process has been described ad extensio in ARAB SETTLEMENTS IN IRAN and ARAB TRIBES OF IRAN.

Turks. The Turkic influx into the province started with the Saljuq invasions of the 11th century. The principal Turkic tribes in the province are the Afšār, the Karāʾi, the Gerāyli, the Qarā Bayāt, the Jalāyer, the Qarāqoyunlu, and the Boḡāyri.

The Afšār dwell mostly in the Darragaz (q.v.), Abivard (q.v.) and Kalāt-e Nāderi regions; the Karāʾi in the Torbat-e Ḥaydari region; the Gerāyli (q.v.) in Širvān, as well as in the Jājarm, Jovayn (Jaḡatāy), and Sabzavār regions.

The Qarā Bayāt dwell in the Nišāpur area. When Shah Esmāʿil I (r. 1501-24) conquered Khorasan in 1510-11, they acknowledged Safavid sovereignty (see BAYĀT). During the reign of Moḥammad Ḵodābanda (1578-88), the Qarā Bayāt resisted the Uzbek incursions with such vigor that the whole tribe was absolved from payment of divān dues and tribal warriors were enrolled as regular soldiers in the Safavid army (Eskandar Beg, p. 1035). In 1582, their amir, Moḥammad Beg, became embroiled in an intrigue to seize control of Kandahar, in Afghanistan, in the course of which he lost his life (Yate, p. 74).

During the reign of Shah ʿAbbās I (1588-1629), the Qarā Bayāt amir, Moḥammad Sulṭān Bayāt (d. 1610), was successively governor of Esfarāyen, Sabzavār, and Nishapur (Eskandar Beg, p. 1035). Thereafter, Qarā Bayāt amirs continued to rule Nishapur until the fall of the Qajar dynasty.

When Malek Maḥmud, the ruler of Sistān, captured Nishapur in 1722, during the reign of Shah Ṭahmāsp II (1722-32), the Qarā Bayāt amir, Fatḥ ʿAli Khan Bayāt, submitted to him. He later rebelled against the Sistāni ruler and was beheaded (Yate, pp. 84-86).

Upon the death of Nāder Shah in 1747, the Qarā Bayāt amir, ʿAbbāsqoli Khan, backed by some 10,000 families of his tribe, established a semi-independent state in the Nishapur region. In 1751, Nishapur was sacked by Aḥmad Shah Dorrāni (r. 1747-72), who took ʿAbbāsqoli Khan to Kabul as his prisoner. ʿAbbāsqoli Khan succeeded in ingratiating himself with his captor to such an extent that a marriage was arranged between Aḥmad Shah and his sister, as well as between the daughter of the Afghan ruler and ʿAbbās Qoli Khan’s eldest son. ʿAbbāsqoli Khan was then allowed to return to Nishapur, and he devoted the remainder of his life to improving that town and the districts dependent upon it (Malcolm, II, pp. 149-41).

In 1793, the Qarā Bayāt submitted to Āqā Moḥammad Khan Qajar (Bellew, p. 374). Nevertheless, their amir, Jaʿfar Khan, who had succeeded his father, ʿAbbāsqoli Khan, remained intractable. In spring 1799, the forces of Fatḥ ʿAli Shah Qajar (r. 1797-1834) besieged Nishapur. Even though Jaʿfar Khan’s second son, who had been held as a hostage in the shah’s camp, was put to death and the city was bombarded by artillery, the Qarā Bayāt leader fought on for forty days. When Jaʿfar Khan finally surrendered, the shah forgave him, bestowed on him a robe of honor, and reinstated him as governor of Nishapur. He assigned his own troops, however, to man the fort (Brydges, pp. 79-82; Ḥasan Fasāʾi I, p. 247) and, later, he forced Jaʿfar Khan to reside at his court in Tehran (Malcolm II, p. 331).

The Jalāyer (or Jalaʾer) dwell in Kalāt-e Nāderi. According to Faruk Sümer, they are of Chaghatay origin (Oǧuzlar, p. 360). ʿAli Mirniā includes them in his list of Afšār tiras, or clans (II, p. 20). Two Jalāyer leaders are included on Eskandar Beg’s list of the great amirs of the time of Shah ʿAbbās I: Šāhvali Sultan Jalāyer (who was governor of Pasākuh, a district in the vicinity of Kalāt) and Oḡurlu Sultan Jalāyer (p. 1314). The Jalāyer were also faithful allies of Nāder Shah (r. 1736-47), and their leader, Ṭahmāsp Khan Wakil-al-Dawla, was one of that ruler’s most important generals (Marvi, pp. 356-60, 582-99, 605-9, 1009-11; Mirniā I, pp. 70-75).

For many years, the Jalāyer ruling family held sway over Kalāt and its fort. During the reign of Moḥammad Shah Qajar (1835-48), the tribe’s chief, Yalāntuš Khan, rebelled against the central government, as a result of which he was stripped of all his titles and possessions. Under his son and successor, who remained chief of the tribe until his death in 1883, the Jalāyer again flourished. This leader’s son and successor, however, another Yalāntuš Khan, “was a man of no ability, and was deprived of the chiefship two years later,” putting a permanent end to Jalāyer rule in Kalāt (Yate, p. 157). Lady Sheil, in 1856, estimated the number of Jalāyer at 1,500 houses (p. 400); Yate, in 1900, at 400 families (p. 157).

The Qarāqoyunlu dwell in the Darragaz region. They were probably moved there from Azerbaijan during Safavid times to help protect the northeastern frontier of Persia against Uzbek and Turkmen incursions. Today, most of them are to be found in Moḥammadābād, Nowḵandān and three villages southeast of Nowḵandān: Kāhu (also known as Kāhuhā), Saʿadābād and Qarāqoyunlu, and the summer pastures of those who are still sedentary are in the Hezār Masjed Mountains (Mirniā II, pp. 21-22).

The Boḡāyri dwell in a region southwest of Qučān. During the reign of Nāder Shah, two of their leaders participated in tribal rebellions, Manṣur Khan Beg and Moḥammad Taqi Khan (Marvi, pp. 1094-95, 1175-79). In the 1890s, one group of them, numbering some 800 families, was located in Bām, and another group, called Saraḵsi and numbering some 500 families, was located in Ṣafiābād (Yate, p. 370).

According to the Military Report, “The northern frontier [of Khorasan], especially the district of Kalat-i-Nadiri, is inhabited by Turks, who are found scattered all over the northern part of the province. Their centre may be said to be the Jam valley” (p. 48). The Turks of Khorasan are, for the most part, Shiʿite and speak a wide variety of Turkic dialects.

Kurds. Ivanov tells us that there may have been Kurds in Khorasan before the 16th century, for one encounters the surname of Kurt in the historical data of previous centuries, and there was a dynasty by that name south of Herat (1245-1389). If there were Kurds in the province at that time, however, they left no trace (p. 150). Most of the Kurds in Khorasan claim descent from tribes that were transferred to the province from western Persia by the Safavids for the purpose of protecting the northeastern frontier of the country from inroads by Uzbek and Turkmen tribes. According to Ivanov, some of these tribes were moved as early as the middle of the 16th century (p. 150). But by far the largest transfer was carried out by Shah ʿAbbās I at the very beginning of the 17th century (Ivanov, p. 150; Papoli-Yazdi, pp. 24-25). The principal Kurdish tribes of Khorasan are the Zaʿfarānlu, the Šādlu, the Keyvānlu, and the ʿAmārlu.

The Zaʿfarānlu dwell in northern Khorasan, having been transplanted there from western Persia around 1600. According to Yate, they were first settled in an area to the north of the Atrak river, but during the reign of Shah Ḥosayn I (1694-1722) they moved into a mountainous region south of the Atrak that was less exposed to attack from tribes beyond the Persian border (p. 181). In their new habitat they occupied a swath of territory that stretched from Reżāābād, 15 kilometers northwest of Širvān, to Čenārān, 60 kilometers northwest of Mashhad, and included the towns of Širvān and Qučān, and they displaced the Gerāyli who had been living there (Yate, p. 181; also Napier, pp. 83-87, 97, 101-2; MacGregor II, pp. 86, 143).

From the time of Shah ʿAbbās I to the beginning of the reign of Reżā Shah Pahlavi, the Zaʿfarānlu leaders were hereditary governors of Qučān and headed a principality that stretched about 90 miles from east to west and about forty miles from north to south (MacGregor II, p. 87; for a list of the Zaʿfarānlu chiefs, who, after 1735-36, bore the title of ilḵāni, see Afšār-Sistāni, pp. 985-87). According to the Military Report, in 1929 around 50,000 Zaʿfarānlu lived in the Qučān district and some 12,000 of them lived in the Širvān district, roughly 13,000 of them being still nomadic (p. 52). According to British Naval Intelligence, in 1945 some 10,000 families of them lived in the Qučān district and around 2,400 families lived in the Širvān district, 2,600 families of them being still nomadic (Persia, p. 388).

The Šādlu (or Šādilu) also dwell in northern Khorasan. Like the Zaʿfarānlu, they were transplanted from western Persia by Shah ʿAbbās I around 1600 and were first settled in an area to the north of the present border of Persia. When raids by Turkmen and other marauding tribes forced them to move into the Persian hinterland, they settled in and around Bojnurd. There, until the beginning of the reign of Reżā Shah, they formed a principality that extended about 90 miles from east to west, and about 50 miles from north to south. This included the districts of Samalqān and Māna on the Atrak River in the north, and the towns of Jājarm and Esfarāyen in the south (MacGregor II, p. 142). Until 1832-33 the Zaʿfarānlu and Šādlu formed a unified tribal confederacy under the Zaʿfarānlu ilḵāni, but when during that year Reżā Qoli Khan, the confederacy’s ilḵāni, rebelled and the Šādlu leader, Najaf Qoli Khan, did not come to his aid when requested to do so, the two tribes split. After that, the Šādlu had their own ilḵāni (Afšār-Sistāni, p. 1003). According to the Military Report, in 1929 the Šādlu of Bojnurd alone numbered some 75,000 individuals, all of whom were sedentary (p. 51). According to Masʿud Kayhān, in 1932-33 they numbered some 18,000 households (II, p. 105). According to British Naval Intelligence, in 1945 they numbered around 15,000 families, all of which were sedentary (Persia, p. 388; for additional information, see Mirniā, II, p. 38).

Like the Zaʿfarānlu and Šādlu, the Keyvānlu dwell in northern Khorasan and were sent to the province by Shah ʿAbbās I in around 1600. Yate, who lived in the province from 1893 to 1898, wrote that at that time three sections of the tribe controlled the Rādkān district as far south as Čašma Gilās and spent the summers on the Hezār Masjed Mountains. Five other sections lived in the hills on the border of the Darra-gaz valley, and 300 or 400 more families were in the Jovayn district (p. 364). Rādkān is their chief center. Although the Keyvānlu were once led by an ilḵāni, by the 1890s they no longer had a ruling chief (Yate, p. 364). According to Henry Field, they numbered around 8,000 individuals in 1929 (p. 252; for additional information, see Mirniā, II, pp. 32-33).

The ʿAmārlu dwell northwest of Nishapur, in and around the village of Mārusk, having been moved to Khorasan by Nāder Shah (Ivanov, p. 150). According to the Military Report, they numbered some 500 families in 1924 (p. 51).

Other important Kurdish tribes in Khorasan are: Bāčevānlu, Bādalānlu, Bičarānlu, Pahlavānlu, Tupkānlu, Jalāli, Ḥamzakānlu, Rešvānlu, Ravatkānlu, Zeydānlu, Sil Saparānlu, Sivkānlu, Šaʿrānlu, Amirānlu, Šeyḵkānlu, Ṣufiānlu, Qāčakānlu, Qarā Čorlu, Qaramānlu, Kaviānlu, Guliānlu, Maždagānlu, Milānlu, Verānlu, Hizulānlu, and Heyvadānlu (Afšār-Sistāni, pp. 988-1001).

Most of the Kurds of Khorasan are Shiʿite. According to Ivanov, the language of the Khorasani Kurds belongs to the “northern” or “real Kurdish” family, and resembles that of the Mokri, but the vocabulary “is either replete with Persian terms in the south, or with Turkish in the north” (p. 152).

Mongols. The Mongols of Khorasan are divided into two major groups: the Hazāra (q.v.) and the Timuri. Most of the Hazāra (or “Berberi” as they are called by their Persian neighbors) dwell in northeastern Khorasan. According to the Military Report, they emigrated from the Hazārajāt region in central Afghanistan when Amir ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān seized their grazing lands in 1891. We know, however, that there were already Hazāra in Khorasan several decades earlier. Colonel MacGregor, who visited the province in 1875, noted that at that time the population of Esfarāyen in northern Khorasan and Čahār Deh in eastern Khorasan were Hazāra who allegedly had been transplanted from the Herat mountains in 1857 after the occupation of that city by Persian forces during the war with Great Britain (II, pp. 142, 146). Whatever the case, during the relatively few years since their arrival in Persia, they have spread over a wide area, settling down in the Borujerd, Širvān, Darra-gaz, and Saraḵs regions and in the valleys of the Kašaf and Jām rivers (p. 53). According to Ivanov, they “gradually ousted Persians and Turks from the eastern extremity of the Hezar Masjed range” and “the districts of Meshed and Quchan have many villages with a Barbari population, especially in the lands belonging to the Shrine of Imam Riza at Meshed” (p. 155).

Also according to Ivanov, the most important Hazāra tribes in northeastern Khorasan are: Uruzgāni (near Čahār Deh and in the Hezār Masjed range), Jāguri (in the Hezār Masjed range and in Sar-e Jām), Bisud, Daizāngi, and Daikundi (east of Sar-e Jām), Laljāngi (east of Sar-e Jām and in Saraḵs). Ivanov claims that all of the Hazāra are “fanatical Shi’ites” and reports that their language is “a jargon of Persian” (p. 155; for the origin and early history of the Hazāra, see Jarring, pp. 79-81).

The Timuri dwell in eastern Khorasan. According to Yate, Moḥammad Shah Qājār (r. 1834-48) moved some 8,000 families of them to the province from the Herat region in 1838, following the siege of that city by Persian forces. They settled in the districts of Torbat-e Jām, Bāḵarz, Ḵᵛāf, and Zurābād and their chief, Qilič Khan, was made governor of Torbat-e Jām, Bāḵarz, and Ḵᵛāf, bearing the title amir (p. 38). In 1867, Nāṣer-al-Din Shah gave their leader, Mir ʿAli Mardān Shah Noṣrat-al-Molk, the rank of amir-e tumān (division commander) for his zeal in combating the Turkmen. Subsequently, he was appointed deputy to the governor-general and commander-in-chief of Persian forces in Khorasan, but, in 1895, he was abruptly dismissed and exiled to Tehran (Yate, pp. 45-47). Mir Asad-Allāh Khan Šawkat-al-Dawla, who was the leader of a group of 300 families of Timuri who had moved into Persia from the Herat region in 1858, had been given the rank of amir-e tuman in 1893, and then made governor of Torbat-e Jām and Zurābād (Yate, p. 46). In 1900, Yate estimated the Timuri population at 6,000 families (p. 38; for a list of the 70 Timuri tribes in Khorasan, see Adamec, pp. 329-31). Most of the Timuri are Sunni; they speak Persian and intermarry only with the Baluch (Ivanov, p. 153; for the connection between the Timuri and Timur Leng, see Yate, p. 38).

Baluch. The Baluch dwell mostly in northeastern Khorasan. An analysis of Ḥosayn ʿAli Razmārā’s Farhang-e joḡrāfia-ye Irān IX shows that the vast majority of Baluch villages are located in the districts of Fadiša (near Nishapur), Saraḵs (on the Russian border), and Jannatābād (on the Afghan border). According to the Military Report, the principal Baluch tribes in northeastern Khorasan are: Sālār Ḵāni, Ebrāhim Ḵāni, Zardād Ḵāni, Jān Begi, and Morād Ḵāni (pp. 55-56). There are also Baluch, namely the Bahluli, who live in the Birjand region in southern Khorasan (Razmārā, pp. 363, 370, 371, 419). In 1936, their number was estimated at some 5,400 families (Afšār-Sistāni, p. 1016). In the 1920s, the Baluch of northeastern Khorasan had already lost their original language. Only those in the south still used their traditional Makrāni dialect (Ivanov, p. 152). The Baluch are Sunni and intermarry only with the Timuri (Ivanov, p. 153).

Jews. There are very few Jews in Khorasan, and, according to Ivanov, nothing remains of the large Jewish communities that once inhabited the cities in the province (p. 156). The few Jews remaining in the 1920s dwelt in Mashhad and some of them were “Jadids,” i.e., descendents of Jews who were forced to convert to Islam in 1839 but continued, in secret, to observe their traditional rituals (Ivanov, p. 156).

Gypsies. The Gypsies of Khorasan are mostly itinerant craftsmen, employed by peasants as blacksmiths, carpenters, sieve-weavers, etc. According to Ivanov, in the 1920s there were also Gypsy quarters in Nishapur and Sabzavār in the north of the province. In the south of the province, Gypsies tended to congregate in the large village of Sarbiša, south of Birjand, during the winter months (p. 157). Ivanov published several studies of the Gypsies of Khorasan and their language (see Ivanov, p. 157n). For more information, see GYPSIES OF PERSIA and GYPSY DIALECTS.

Lors. According to British Naval Intelligence, Reżā Shah Pahlavi (r. 1925-41) moved a large number of Lors to Khorasan (Persia, pp. 370, 387). These were nomads belonging to the Bālā Gariva group of tribes in the Piš-e Kuh region of Lorestān, who had revolted against the central government in the late 1920s. Most of them probably returned to western Persia after World War II, for there is no trace of them in Khorasan today.


Ludwig W. Adamec, ed., Historical Gazetteer of Iran II, Graz, 1981.

Iraj Afšār-Sistāni, Ilhā, čādornešinān va ṭawāyef-e ʿašāyeri-e Irān, Tehran, 1987.

H. W. Bellew, From the Indus to the Tigris, London, 1874. British Intelligence and Policy on Persia 1900-1949, Military Report on Persia I: Khurasan and Seistan, Calcutta, 1930.

British Naval Intelligence Division, Persia, 1945, n.p.

Harford Jones Brydges, The Dynasty of the Kajars, London, 1833.

Eskandar Beg Torkamān Monši, Tāriḵ-e ʿālamārā-ye ʿabbasi, tr. R. Savory, as History of Shah ʿAbbas the Great, tr. R. Savory, 2 vols., Boulder, Colo., 1978.

Ḥasan Fasāʾi, Fārsnāma-ye nāṣeri, lith., Tehran, 1895-96.

W. Ivanov (also Ivanow), “Notes on the Ethnology of Khurasan,” The Geographical Journal 67, 1926, pp. 143-58.

Gunnar Jarring, On the Distribution of Turk Tribes in Afghanistan, Leipzig, 1939.

Masʿud Kayhān, Joḡrāfiyā-ye mofaṣṣal-e Irān II, Tehran, 1931.

C. M. MacGregor, Narrative of a Journey through the Province of Khorassan and of the N.W. Frontier of Afghanistan in 1875, 2 vols., London, 1879.

John Malcolm, The History of Persia, 2 vols., London, 1829.

Moḥammad-Kāẓem Marvi, ʿĀlamārā-ye nāderi, ed. M.-A. Riāhi, 3 vols., Tehran, 1985.

Vladimir Minorsky, Tadhkirat al-Mulūk: A Manual of Safavid Administration, Cambridge, 1943.

ʿAli Mirniā, Ilāt va ṭawāyef-e Darragaz, 2 vols., Mashhad, 1982-83.

G. C. Napier, “Extracts from a Diary of a Tour in Khorassan, and Notes on the Eastern Tract,” JRGS 46, 1976, pp. 62-145.

Moḥammad-Ḥosayn Papoli Yazdi, Le nomadisme dans le nord du Khorassan, Paris, 1991.

Ḥosayn-ʿAli Razmārā, Farhang-e joḡrāfiā-ye Irān IX, Tehran, 1951.

Lady M. L. Sheil, Glimpses of Life and Manners in Persia, London, 1856.

Faruk Sümer, “Bayatlar,” Istanbul Üniversitesi Edebiyat Fakültesi: Türk Dili ve Edebiyat Dergisi, 1950, pp. 374-98.

Idem, Oǧuzlar, second edition, Istanbul, 1992.

Charles Edward Yate, Khurasan and Sistan, London, 1900.

xv. The Babi-Baha’i Community in Khorasan

Khorasan, the largest province in the northeast of Iran, is of special significance in the history of the Babi-Bahai religions. The first convert to Babism (q.v.) and the provincial Babi leader in Khorasan was Mollā Moḥammad-Ḥosayn Bošruʾi (q.v., 1814-49), a Shaikhi (see SHAIKHISM) from Bošruya (in southern Khorasan). His influence on clergy, fellow Shaikhis, acquaintances, and relatives was considerable, which led Khorasan to have one of the largest and most active Babi communities in Iran during 1844-48 (A. Amanat, pp. 273, 369).

On Mollā Moḥammad-Ḥosayn Bošruʾi’s first visit to Mashhad in 1844, he created, in collaboration with Mollā Mirzā Moḥammad Bāqer Qāʾeni, the first center for the Babi activities, known as the Bābiya. A small house belonging to Qāʾeni in the neighborhood of Bālā Ḵiābān, it became a base for Mollā Moḥammad-Ḥosayn’s teachings and a frequent gathering place of the Babi disciples in Khorasan. The main concentration of the Babis of Khorasan was in three areas. Central Khorasan in the area known as Qohestān, on the edge of the highlands that surround the Khorasan desert, and the triangle between Torbat-e Ḥaydariya, Bošruya, and Qāʾen contained the largest concentrations of Babis in Iran. Second, on the northwestern side of the borderlands of Māzandarān, particularly on the northern route to Khorasan in Besṭām (q.v.), Mayāmay, and Biārjomand, there were also sizable Babi communities. And, third, there were a number of converts in cities such as Mashhad, Sabzavār, and Nishapur (A. Amanat, pp. 273-74).

Notable in the early period was the conversion of a number of leading jurists (mojtaheds): Mollā Ṣādeq Moqaddas Ḵorāsāni (q.v.), Mirzā Sayyed Aḥmad Azḡandi, Mollā Mirzā Moḥammad Bāqer Qāʾeni, Shaikh Aḥmad Moʿallem from Nāmeq, Ḥāji ʿAbd-al-Majid from Nishapur, Mirzā Moḥammad Foruḡi, and other senior shaikhis, such as Mollā Ḵāleq Yazdi. These individuals preached the Babi faith openly and occasionally from mosques (A. Amanat, pp. 277-84; Foʾādi Bošruʾi, p. 72). The influence of Babi teachings spread to high-ranking officials, military personnel, and Qajar princes in Khorasan.

One of the possible reasons for the success of the Babi movement (see BABISM i.) in Khorasan was its heterodox background with notable Ismaʿili (see ISMAʿILISM), Shaikhi and Sunni converts, and places where the influence of theologians (ʿolamāʾ) and oṣuli jurists (mojtaheds) was reduced, and anti-Babi incitement often ignored. Non-Bahai sources report a wider heterodoxy. In 1844, the Jewish Christian missionary, Joseph Wolff (1795-1862), on his way to Bukhara, noticed that many people in Mashhad requested copies of the Bible, and he was invited to an open discussion with a local cleric (A. Amanat, pp. 275-76). Travelogues of Khorasan in the mid-1870s describe non-adherence to strict Islamic laws and non-observance of the traditional fasting rules in Ṭabas and Bošruya (Eʿteṣām-al-Molk, p. 266).

Women played a significant role in the early Babi communities. Mollā Moḥammad-Ḥosayn Bošruʾi’s sister, Bibi Kučak, held meetings for both sexes in Mashhad, which led to conversions (Arbāb, p. 49). His mother and sisters, and Qāʾeni’s wife and female relatives, were reportedly knowledgeable in Islamic studies (Foʾādi Bošruʾi, pp. 346-48).

 During the early period of Babism, six of the first eighteen individuals who accepted the Bāb’s claim and were given the honorific title of Ḥoruf-al-Ḥayy (“Letters of the Living”) were from Khorasan. In addition, a group of Babis in 1848 began a march to Māzandarān from Khorasan, carrying the Black Standard foretold in Islamic traditions (Ḏabiḥi-Moqaddam, pp. 39-41). In Ḥeṣār and Nāmeq, after hearing Mollā Ḥosayn’s address in the mosque, all the students of Mojtahed Mollā Aḥmad joined the movement, and in Bošruya about forty people did so. Overall, around a third of those on the march and those killed in the subsequent battle at the shrine of Shaikh Abu ʿAli Fażl Ṭabarsi were from Khorasan. Some Babis escaped death, including Mirzā Moḥammad Foruḡi and Mollā Ṣādeq Moqaddas, whose accounts of the battle at the shrine of Shaikh Ṭabarsi were included in Nabil‑e Aʿẓam Zarandi’s (q.v.) early chronicle of Babi history. In Mashhad, in particular, and in Bošruya, Babis were persecuted (Barāqi, pp. 192-93). Persecutions intensified following the Bāb’s execution in 1850 and an unsuccessful attempt on Nāṣer-al-Din Shah’s life in 1852 by a very small Babi group.

After the execution of the Bāb, the Babis continued their propagation activities when restrictions were lifted. In 1858, Āqā Moḥammad Qāʾeni Nabil-e Akbar (q.v.) arrived in Khorasan and succeeded in converting some 150 people in Qāʾenāt, some of whom proselytized further (Āyati, pp. 281-82). In Tun (present-day Ferdows, q.v.), a city located south of Mashhad, the descendants of the Sufi master Šāh Neʿmat-Allāh Wali converted, and the town subsequently became a center for Bahai activities (Foʾādi Bošruʾi, pp. 302-6; Momen, 2015, pp. 206-7). Šojā-al-Dawla, governor of Qučān, and some Sabzavār cavalries and theologians in Nishapur and Sabzavār, also converted to Babism. Mirzā Moḥammad-Reẓā Moʿtamen-al-Salṭana also converted and rose in local government to became minister of finance and vizier of Khorasan during Nāṣer-al-Din Shah’s reign (Foʾādi Bošruʾi, p. 95; Balyuzi, pp. 52-54). This widespread network of support led to a relative tolerance toward Babis in this period (Foʾādi Bošruʾi, pp. 93-94).

In 1866-67, Mollā Moḥammad Nabil-e Aʿẓam Zarandi informed the Babi community of the claim of Bahāʾ-Allāh (q.v.), and the vast majority converted to Bahaism (q.v.). The foundations were laid by prominent Babis such as Moqaddas and Nabil-e Akbar and by Babis visiting Bahāʾ-Allāh in Baghdad. No records of Azali Babism (q.v.) communities in Khorasan exist.

During this period, persecution from regional governors started, including from Ḥešmat-al-Molk Amir ʿAlam Ḵān ʿAlam of Qāʾenāt, who extorted large amounts of money and land from Bahais (Foʾādi Bošruʾi, p. 372-82). The first Bahai martyr in Khorasan was Ḥāji ʿAbd-al-Majid Nišāburi (Abā Badiʿ) in 1877. His death sentence was instigated by Shaikh Bāqer Mojtahed from Isfahan, despite resistance from the governor of Mashhad, Rokn-al-Dawla, the brother of the king, and other officials (Foʾādi Bošruʾi, p. 156; Ešrāq Ḵāvari, pp. 687-99).

The Bahai community of Khorasan expanded during Bahāʾ-Allāh’s lifetime. Prince Ḥāji Šayḵ-al-Raʾis, grandson of Fatḥ-ʿAli Shah Qajar (q.v., r. 1797-1834), and a prominent figure in the reform movement of Iran, whose mother was a convert, promoted the Bahai movement openly (Foʾādi Bošruʾi, p. 145; Momen, 2015, pp. 128-31).

A notable female Bahai was Ruḥāniya Bošruʾi, whose apologetic essays (Resāla) impressed some theologians (Foʾādi Bošruʾi, pp. 350-52). Mirzā Ḵānlar Ḵān Eʿteṣām-al-Molk (first secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) records that, in his journey to Khorasan, he travelled to Bošruya to meet with her and noted her erudition around 1876-78 (pp. 252-56). From 1880, in Mashhad and Torbat‑e Ḥaydariya, Iranian Jews converted to the Bahai Faith and, by the 1890s, there were sixty such converts in Mashhad (M. Amanat, p. 12).

Under the leadership of ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ (q.v.), there was some dissension in the community of Ḵusf, in southern Khorasan, due to the influence of his brother Mirzā Moḥammad-ʿAli, which was unsuccessful (Foʾādi Bošruʾi, pp. 79-80). Bursts of heavy persecution ensued, especially after the assassination of Nāṣer-al-Din Shah in 1896, as people suspected Bahais (based on the previous Babi attempt). In Torbat-e Ḥaydariya, five innocent Bahais were imprisoned and killed by a mob on their release. This shocked foreign officials, who were concerned that steps were not taken to identify and punish the perpetrators (Momen, 1981, pp. 405-17). In Nāmeq and Ḥeṣār, Bahais were attacked, imprisoned, and some killed, including women, children, and the elderly. Local clergy mostly instigated this and continued to do so until the end of the Qajar period (Foʾādi Bošruʾi, pp. 261-62).

The response to this persecution changed from quiet acceptance to lobbying for protection after the murder of Ḥāji Moḥammad Tork (also known as Tabrizi) in 1898. He was dragged from his house, tortured, and burned to death on the main street of Mashhad. The British minister in Tehran at the time, Charles Hardinge (q.v.), wrote to the prime minister Mirzā ʿAli Khan Amin-al-Dawla (q.v.), questioning him about this public act and the lenient punishment of the murderers (Momen, 1981, pp. 406-17). In Bošruya, Bahais were heavily persecuted, and the house of Mollā Moḥammad-Ḥosayn Bošruʾi was destroyed. In 1915, when Shaikh ʿAli-Akbar Qučāni was killed and the nineteen-year-old Mašiyat-Allāh tortured to death, local Bahais sent a formal protest to Aḥmad Shah Qajar (q.v., r. 1909-25), the Majles, government ministers, and the local governors (Foʾādi Bošruʾi, pp. 159-65). The continued persecution led to an exodus to Ashkabad and surrounding Russian-held territories from 1900 to the 1920s (Foʾādi Bošruʾi, p. 355).

After realizing that the government was reluctant to persecute Bahais, the clergy used indirect methods. They instigated a campaign of labeling Bahais as enemies of Islam, and accused them of political crimes and espionage, particularly during the Constitutional Revolution (q.v.). Later confiscation of properties and assets of Babis on spurious grounds was common (Foʾādi Bošruʾi, pp. 137-38).

Bahāʾ-Allāh allowed Bahai institutions to be established in Khorasan before other provinces in Iran. The first administrative body, Maḥfel-e Ruḥāni (q.v.), “Spiritual Assembly” of Khorasan was elected in Mashhad in 1905. It met five nights a week and regularly communicated with local Bahais. These meetings were first held in Bābiya until a permanent Bahai center was purchased in Sar Āb. In 1907, Percy Sykes (q.v.) reported that there were 200 Bahais in Mashhad (Momen, 1981, p. 418). By 1927, there were 30 local assemblies and 65 localities registered.

The Bahais of Khorasan made some notable contributions to the wider society. Many schools were established. In Mashhad, Moḥammad-ʿAli Toršizi, known as “Modir,” set up the first modern-style educational institution with 100 students in 1913. However, it was forced to close in 1914 when students were attacked by members of a neighboring theological college. Toršizi opened another school the following year called Hemmat, with student numbers reaching 400. It led to other schools opening in Torbat‑e Ḥaydariya, Toršiz, Darragaz (q.v.), Qučān and Marv. Despite having Bahai teachers, some of these were not formally Bahai schools but rather were based on a modern curriculum (Foʾādi Bošruʾi, pp. 140-41). Toward the end of Moẓaffar-al-Din Shah’s reign, Toršizi and two others purchased a printing press and from 1906-9 published two newspapers, Bešārāt (q.v.) and Ṭus in Mashhad (Foʾādi Bošruʾi, p. 141). In 1925, one of the leading Bahais of Mashhad, Mirzā ʿAli Khan Golkani brought out a Sāl-nāma-ye Bahāʾiān dar Ḵorāsān (“Yearbook of the Bahais of Khorasan”). It continued for three years and later changed into a magazine call Badiʿ (Foʾādi Bošruʾi, p. 218; Momen, 2015, pp. 144-45). Našriya Erż-e Ḵā was another magazine published locally until the 1970s.

During 1922-24, anti-Bahai activities increased, which coincided with the formation of the Ḥojjatiya (q.v.) in Mashhad, after Sayyed ʿAbbās ʿAlawi, a colleague of its founder, had converted to Bahaism. There was a range of persecutions, including insulting an effigy of ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ in Mashhad, widespread attacks on individuals, and a plan for a pogrom. Bahai petitions were refused by the postal office in Mashhad (Foʾādi Bošruʾi, pp. 189-90, 207).

During the reign of Reżā Shah Pahlavi (r. 1925-41), Bahai communities were treated in a similar way to other religious minorities (Vahman, p. 44). However, in 1934, branches of Tarbiat and other Bahai-run schools were closed by order of the government. During the reign of Moḥammad-Reżā Shah Pahlavi (r. 1941-79), Bahais enjoyed many religious freedoms but lacked some civil rights and the right to marry according to Bahai law. There was a brief period of persecution in 1955, following radio broadcasts by Ḥojjat-al Eslām Falsafi (Vahman, pp. 136-37).

Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, conditions for Bahais in Khorasan, as in other parts of Iran, have worsened. Bahais’ civil rights have been restricted; their institutions disbanded; some Bahais dismissed from their employment; Bahai properties confiscated, looted, or burned; pensions for Bahais stopped; admission of Bahais to universities denied; and some Bahais have emigrated to other countries. There remains a Bahai community in most towns and cities of Khorasan, but the overall size and distribution is not known.


Abbas Amanat, Resurrection and Renewal: The Making of the Babi Movement in Iran, 1844-1850, Ithaca and London, 1989.

Mehrdad Amanat, “Messianic Expectation and Evolving Identities: The Conversion of Iranian Jews to the Baha’i Faith,” in Dominic P. Brookshaw and Seena B. Fazel, eds., The Baha’is of Iran: Socio-Historical Studies, London and New York, 2008, pp. 6-29.

Foruḡ Arbāb, Aḵtarān-e tābān, New Delhi, 1999.

Shaikh Moḥammad-Ḥosayn Āyati, Bahārestan, Tehran, 1948.

Hasan Balyuzi, Eminent Bahā’īs in the Time of Bahā’u’llāh: With Some Historical Background, Oxford, 1985.

Firuz Barāqi, Bošruya, n.p. [Spain], 2001.

ʿAbd-al-Ḥamid Ešrāq Ḵāvari, Moḥāżerāt II, Tehran, 1964; Hofheim-Langenhain, 1987.

Ḵānlar Ḵān Eʿteṣām-al-Molk, Safar-nāma, ed. Manučehr Maḥmudi, as Safar-nāmā-ye Mirzā Ḵānlar Ḵān Eʿteṣām-al-Molk, Tehran, 1972.

Ḥasan Foʾādi Bošruʾi, Tāriḵ-e diānat-e Bahāʾi dar Ḵorāsān, eds. Minu D. Foʾādi and Fereydun Vahman, Darmstadt, 2007.

Moojan Momen, ed., The Bábí and Bahá’í Religions, 1844-1944: Some Contemporary Western Accounts, Oxford, 1981.

Idem, The Baha’i Communities of Iran, 1851-1921 I: The North of Iran, Oxford, 2015. Fereydun Vahman, 175 Years of Persecution: A History of the Babis and Baha’is of Iran, London, 2019.

Siāmak Ḏabiḥi-Moqaddam, Wāqaʿa-ye Qalʿa-ye Šayḵ Ṭabarsi, Darmstadt, 2002.

Mollā Moḥammad Nabil Zarandi, Maṭāleʿ al-anwār: Tāriḵ-e Nabil Zarandi, ed. and tr. Shoghi Effendi, as The Dawn-Breakers: Nabíl’s Narrative of the Early Days of the Bahái Revelation, New York, 1932; repr. London, 1953.

xvi. The Jewish Community of Khorasan


xvii. The Kurdish Communities of Khorasan


The pre-Safavid period. There are only a few indications of a Kurdish presence in Khorasan in early Islamic times. The geographer Abu Esḥāq Ebrāhim Eṣtaḵri (q.v.; d. 951 or 957), in the section devoted to Khorasan in his Ketāb al-masālek wa’l-mamālek, refers to Kurds (al-Akrād) in three localities, noting that they were herdsmen. In the section on Quhestān, following a preliminary introduction, he writes, “The other towns in Quhestān that we mentioned are in the cold zone [see GARMSIR AND SARDSIR]. The towns and villages in this province are far removed from each other with desolate plains [Ar. mafāwez, see DESERT] in between. Unlike other regions in Khorasan, their inhabited areas are not clustered together. In the intervening plains between the towns live Kurds and herdsmen with their camels and sheep” (Eṣṭaḵri, p. 274). Also, in describing the region of Jowzjān (q.v.), he writes, “Anḵoḏ [Andḵuy; q.v.] is a small town situated in the desert with seven villages housing Kurds who keep sheep and camels” (Eṣṭaḵri, p. 271). And in a passage on roads and travelling stages in Khorasan, he writes, “from Nišābur to the outer borders of Khorasan in the direction of Qumes and the village of the Kurds situated near Asadābād, there are seven stages and from the village of the Kurds to Dāmḡān [q.v.] five stages…” (Eṣṭaḵri, p. 282). The geographer and traveler Ebn Ḥawqal (q.v.; 4th/10th century) merely repeats the same information in his Ṣurat al-arż. It should be borne in mind that in the medieval period many authors and travelers referred to many non-Arab migratory people as Kurds; and in some primary sources, the term kord was employed to refer to a tent-dweller or a migrating tribe (Amān-Allāhi Bahārvand, p. 1). Thus, it is possible that the references in Eṣtaḵri and Ebn Ḥawqal might have been intended to apply to tent-dwellers in general rather than specifically to Kurds.

The mention of Kurdish troops in military campaigns in eastern regions also suggests the presence of Kurds in Khorasan, at least temporarily. For example, Abul’l-Fażl Bayhaqi (q.v.) in his Tāriḵ refers to a number of Kurds in Sultan Mas‘ud’s army, including a reference to them as part of his troops in Pušang, near Herat (Bayhaqi, p. 802, tr. II, p. 293).

Ruy González de Clavijo (q.v.; d. 1412), envoy of King Henry III of Castile and Leon to the court of Timur, noted in his travelogue for 26 July 1404, “About a league before coming into Nishapúr the road crossed a district where there were many orchards well irrigated by numerous streams of water, and in this plain we saw a great camp of some four hundred tents. These we found were not of the common sort, but long and low and made of black felt. In the occupation of the same were folk known as the Alavari [who are nomadic Kurds]; they own no other habitations than their tents, for they never take up their abode in any city or village, but live in the open country-side, both summer and winter, pasturing their flocks” (Clavijo, tr. Le Strange, p. 96). The translator’s gloss of “Alavari” (Alabares in the original text) as “Kurds” is questionable, given the fact that alvar is the plural of lor and that, moreover, in the region of present-day Nishapur there are villages whose inhabitants have ancestral roots in Lorestān. This raises the possibility that perhaps what Clavijo described were Lors rather than Kurds (of course, at certain periods the two were not distinguished from each other). In any case, even if there were small communities of Kurds in northern Khorasan before the advent of the Safavids, it was only after the establishment of the Safavid dynasty that there was certainly a large and active presence of Kurds in Khorasan.

The Kurdish presence in Khorasan in the early Safavid era. The continuing and significant series of invasions of regions in Khorasan by tribes from Central Asia, particularly the Uzbeks, coupled with disturbances in the west on the Ottoman frontier with Iran, induced the Safavid shahs to pursue a policy of transplanting tribes from west to east, a policy that continued for well over a century. These transplantations brought in their wake radical changes in the demographic, political, economic, and social fabric of the province of Khorasan. They led to changes in the environment, with towns and villages destroyed or rebuilt and new ones created. Given the Kurdish nomadic presence and its increasing impact, rural and urban life retreated in the face of tribal migrations. In the course of over a century and a half, the irrigation system was to some extent abandoned, and more intricate forms of agriculture for silk or rice cultivation gave way to the production of pastoral products. The increasing power of the Kurdish tribal leaders (il-ḵāns) engendered resistance and rebellion against the central government. Security was at times imperiled, and the ways and norms of taxation, maintaining order, and securing justice began to differ in essential ways from how they had been conducted in earlier times.

The Kurdish intrusion and the expansion of their territory in the region took place in different stages. The first migration of the Kurds from the west of the country to northern Khorasan was initiated by Shah Esmā‘il I (q.v.; 1487-1524), who sent four thousand households of Kurds to a region between Kalāt-e Nāderi (q.v.) and Darragaz (q.v.). These Kurds were called Ṣufiānlu in recognition of the strong support given by their leaders to Shah Esmāʿil, whom they revered as the great Sufi (Afšār Sistāni, II, p. 995, no. 19). Even in the 20th century, there were Ṣufiānlu Kurds, who traced their origin back to the displaced Kurds of the era of Shah Esmāʿil, residing in the villages of Moḥammad-Taqi Beyk and Dust-Moḥammad Beyk of the districts of Nowḵandān of Darragaz and Kalāt-e Nāderi and particularly in the villages of Yekka-baḡ, Karimābād, Lāyen-now, Lāyen-kohna, Kohlāb, and Robāṭ (Mirniā, p. 134, no. 147). Their elders in the region, such as Ḥāji Allāhverdi Arjmand, Ḥosayn Ganj-baḵš, Ḥāji Maḥmud Qāʾemi, and Ḥāj ʿAsgar Dānā were still fully conversant with the history and process of the transference of their forefathers to Khorasan by Shah Esmāʿil. Local people refer to their tribe as se ṣad māl Ṣufi (or si ṣad mala Ṣufi). They believe that Shah Esmāʿil moved three hundred malas to this border region. The term māl is used as a synonym for the tribal mala, and if we define māl as a conglomeration of several tents sharing a flock, we can estimate that three hundred māls would constitute four thousand households, since even now each māl has on average 13 to 14 households. The Ṣufiānlu confederation comprised the tribes of Šādlu (or Šādellu/Šādillu), Zaydānlu, Šayḵvānlu, Šayḵkānlu, Bājkānlu, Gāvšānlu, and Kāvānlu (or Keyvānlu); these tribes are still present today, either sedentarized or partly sedentarized (Ritter, pp. 392-400; Kermāni, p. 204; Papoli Yazdi, 1991, pp. 27-28). 

Historical sources record an active presence by the Kurds in northern Khorasan in the early years of the Safavid dynasty. Some sources, according to Kalim-Allāh Tavaḥḥodi (Awḡāzi), mention the support of the Zaʿfarānlu Kurds for Shah Esmāʿil and the audience given to the Kurdish chiefs of Ḵabušān (later called Qučān) by the Safavid shah. They also refer to the migration of the Kurds of Kamešgazak (Čamešgazak or Čāmešgazak) to Kabkān of Darragaz ordered by Shah Esmāʿil (Tavaḥḥodi, I, p. 56). Čamešgazak was thus not the name of a tribe but that of a Kurdish area in northern Turkey in the Ḵārput (Harput) region (Asadifar, p. 97; Madih, p. 15). During the reign of Shah Ṭahmasp I (q.v.; d. 1576), the Kurds enjoyed particular influence in northern Khorasan, and Shah Moḥammad Ḵodābanda (r. 1578-87) appointed the Kurdish tribal ruler Budāq Khan Čegani (see ČEGINI) as governor of Ḵabušān (Eskandar Beg Monši, I, pp. 139-41; tr. I, p. 339).

The Reign of Shah ‘Abbās I (1588-1629). The reign of Shah ʿAbbās (q.v.) was the main era of tribal displacement. Many tribes in Iran were moved from place to place, including several thousand Kurdish households from Kurdistan to northern Khorasan. Scholars disagree on the exact number. What is significant is that at the end of the reign of Shah ʿAbbās, the Kurdish population in northern Khorasan was of sufficient size to bring about a fundamental demographic upheaval, with the Kurds becoming the major power in the region, thanks to their tribal structure, military force, and superiority in numbers. So momentous was the impact of Shah ʿAbbās’ displacement policy that many people were led to believe that before his reign there had been no Kurds in Khorasan. For example, in his travelogue Henry-René d’Allemagne wrote that the presence of Kurds in northern Khorasan was a relatively recent phenomenon. He went on to point out that toward the end of the 16th century, Shah ʿAbbās transplanted forty thousand Kurdish households from the western frontiers to this region. By his action, this mighty monarch killed two birds with one stone: First, he quelled some Kurdish revolts in western Iran; and second, he strengthened his own position vis-à-vis “les Tartares” (d’Allemagne, III, p. 55; tr. Farahvaši, p. 585). The scholar Qodrat-Allāh Rowšani, himself from the Zaʿfarānlu tribe, explains further, “The tribes that now dwell in Khorasan under the name of Zaʿfarānlu, Šādlu, and Keyvānlu were ordered by Shah ʿAbbās to migrate to Khorasan to counter the raids by the Uzbeks into Khorasan. To this end, Shah ʿAbbās gathered together forty thousand Kurdish households from different tribes who resided in western regions of Iran and were known as the Čamešgazak (or Čāmešgazak) and assembled them all in Varāmin; and after a year, he dispatched them to different regions of Khorasan tasked with preventing the Uzbek raids” (Rowšani, commentary within the index, pp. 244-45).

The precise number of the transplanted households remains controversial. Some writers are of the opinion that despite his considerable might and authority, the Safavid did not have the ability to transplant such a large number of households from Varāmin to Khorasan, and that, altogether, the number of those whom he had managed to dispatch could not have exceeded 15,000. This accords with the observations by James Baillie Fraser (q.v.; 1783-1856) that “With a view to check these [i.e. Uzbek] depredations … the king determined to transplant from the Turkish frontier 40,000 families of Koords, and to settle them upon this northern frontier of Khorasān: 15,000 of these were actually removed, but some of the chiefs becoming aware of the intention of Abbas to weaken their power, resisted, and that monarch either could not, or did not choose to compel their obedience” (Fraser, Appendix B, p. 42). Some other sources, in contrast, have given even higher figures than 40,000 for the number of transplanted Kurds. For example, in the entry under “Pāzuki” in Dā’erat al-maʿāref-e bozorg-e eslāmi (XIII, p. 510), the figure cited is 45,000, which seems somewhat unlikely. Others agree with Fraser’s view that the monarch was not able to or did not wish to transfer more than 15,000 households to northern Khorasan (Minorsky, p. 457b; Youssefizadeh, p. 69). 

Moreover, the location of Kurds in more recent times, including 1,200 households in Varāmin in 1935 according to the statistics given by Masʿud Keyhān (II, p. 111) as well as those found dispersed in other regions such as Qom (Sercey, p. 216) and Baluchistan, confirm the hypothesis that some of the Kurds stayed in the area around today’s Tehran or were sent to other regions of Iran, unless of course it can be proven that the Kurds in these regions belong to a different phase of transplantation. According to one researcher, Sirus Sahāmi (1975), some of the Kurds in Varāmin were moved to the Lādiz valley in the Ḵāš district of Baluchistan in the foothills of mount Taftān. These Kurds gradually forgot their Kurdish but still believe in their Kurdish origins and regard themselves as belonging to the Čašemgazak tribe. By contrast, according to Shirin Akiner, “In Turkmenia,” north of the borders of Khorasan, “ the Kurds are rapidly being assimilated by the Turkmen, to the extent that some now identify themselves as Turkmen” (Akiner, p. 209).

Over all, it can be concluded that not all the Kurds who had been transplanted to Varāmin were later moved to Khorasan. Nevertheless, by the sheer number that arrived in Khorasan in the reign of Shah ʿAbbās, they strengthened their hold on power in this region. For three centuries, from approximately 1600 to 1900, Kurdish tribal leaders dominated the region. This meant that for long periods, from the last years of the Safavid dynasty to the Nāderi, Zand, and Qajar eras, and particularly from the time of Fatḥ-‘Ali Shah (q.v.; r. 1797-1834) to the advent of the Constitutional Revolution of 1905-11 (q.v.), many writers referred to the northern regions of present-day Khorasan (Qučān, Širvān, Darragaz, and Bojnurd) as Kurdistan or as northeastern Kurdistan (Taheri, p. 149).

The reign of Nāder Shah (1736-47). From the early days of Nāder Shah’s rule, the northern territories in Khorasan were referred to as Kurdistan. For example, in his account of the marriage of Nāder to the sister of Moḥammad-Ḥosayn Khan Zaʿfarānlu and the events leading up to it, the contemporaneous chronicler Moḥammad Kāẓem Marvi refers to the Kurdish tribal leaders as ḵavānin-e Kordestān ‘the tribal chiefs of Kurdistan’ (Marvi, p. 77). During Nāder’s reign, some Kurds were moved into Khorasan while others were transplanted from northern Khorasan to different areas. The Polish scholar, poet, and diplomat Aleksander Chodźko (q.v.; 1804-91) refers to these movements in his article on Gilān: “Les Kurdes du Ghilan datent du temps de Nadir-chah, et ils appartiennent tous à la famille kurde de Richvend [Rišvand], dont le khan héréditaire, décoré du titre d’Ilkhani, réside à Koutchan [Qučān], dans les montagnes du Khoraçân” (Chodzko, 1850, p. 207). According to other sources, Nāder Shah transplanted two thousand households from the ʿAmmārlu (q.v.) tribe to Gilān (Keyhān, II, pp. 112, 273; Bāmdād, V, p. 20). The ʿAmmārlu, initially from Qučān, settled mostly in the Rudbār subprovince in Gilān, as indicated by the name ʿAmmārlu for the name of this district of the subprovince. Nāder Shah also sent a number of Kurds from Qučān to Kalāt-e Nāderi (Khanykov, p. 7; Sahāmi, 1975, pp. 46, 73). The Kurdish villages in the Kalāt valley have their origins in these transportations.

The Zand era (1751-94). In order to counter Moḥammad-Ḥasan Khan Qajar’s bid for independence (Perry, 1979, pp. 62-78), Karim Khan Zand (q.v.) dispatched an army to Māzandarān and Gorgān under Šayḵ-ʿAli Khan Zand. In response, Moḥammad-Ḥasan Khan sought help from the tribes in Bojnurd, and subsequently Tavalli Khan Šādlu and Najaf Khan came to his aid with ten thousand of their tribesmen, and they jointly managed at first to defeat the Zand troops in the vicinity of Ašraf (today’s Behšahr, q.v.). However, relations between the Kurdish and Qajar leaders soured over the distribution of booty and matters of military strategy, and the Kurds began withdrawing back to their own region and generally refrained from taking part in further warfare. Moḥammad-Ḥasan Khan was defeated in a subsequent engagement in the same area and died at the hands of one of the renegade Kurds after his horse had stumbled in marshy grounds while he was attempting to retreat toward Gorgān (Perry, 1979, p. 77). There were few attempts in the period of Karim Khan to relocate the Kurdish tribes in Khorasan. This may have been due to the fact that Karim Khan had left Nāder Shah’s progeny in charge of the province and did not directly engage with affairs there.

The Qajar era (1789-1925). After the death of Tavalli Khan II, his son Ebrāhim Khan succeeded him as the chief of the Šādlu tribe and governed Esfarāyen (q.v.) and Bojnurd. His rule there coincided with the emergence of Āḡā Moḥammad Khan Qajar (q.v.; r. 1789-97) on the political arena. Having defeated Loṭf-‘Ali Khan Zand, Āḡā Moḥammad Khan turned his attention to the conquest of Khorasan and the capture of the treasures amassed by Nāder Shah. On his journey to Mashhad in the year 1210/1795-96, he entered Esfarāyen and was ceremoniously greeted by Ebrāhim Khan, who pledged his obedience. However, as he was about to enter Mashhad, Āḡā Moḥammad Khan was informed that, whether by design or not, Ebrāhim Khan had failed to provide adequate fodder and other necessities for the royal troops. Ebrāhim Khan, his family, and his entourage were therefore exiled to Tehran. After the assassination of Āḡā Moḥammad Khan, Ebrāhim Khan Šādlu returned to Bojnurd and resumed his rule there and over Esfarāyen (Tavaḥḥodi, 1996, p. 130; Bāmdād, I, pp. 15-16). The Kurdish khans of the Šādlu in Bojnurd, with Ebrāhim Khan as their chief, did not participate in the disturbances that took place in Khorasan after the murder of Āḡā Moḥammad Khan. In 1217/1802, when his successor Fatḥ-ʿAli Shah personally led an army to Khorasan, Ebrāhim Khan attended an audience in the plains of Rādkān and expressed his fealty. After his death, Fatḥ-ʿAli Shah bestowed the title of ilḵāni on his son, Najaf-ʿAli Khan, as his successor (Noelle-Karimi, p. 212).

Beginning in the reign of Fatḥ-ʿAli Shah, the rivalry between Britain and Russia in northern Khorasan and Central Asia intensified. A great number of Russian and British travelers, diplomats, and officers visited and often wrote descriptions of the region (e.g., Yate; Napier, 1876; Moser; Curzon; Kinnier; Lessar, 1884; MacGregor; O’Donovan), and almost all of them refer to northern Khorasan as the Kurdistan of the northeast. For example, Captain Pierre Daussy Truilhier, a sapper who had been a member of the Gardane Mission (q.v.; 1807-9), writes in his diary of travels in eastern parts of Iran, “Two or three roads lead from Sébzévâr [Sabzavār] to different regions of Kurdistan. Kurdistan itself is made up of several valleys which lie more or less to the north of Sébzévâr and stretch eastwards to near Hérat. Their length is equivalent to ten to twelve days journey, with a width of roughly two to three days journey. This region is inhabited mainly by Kurdish nomads … Kurdistan is abundant in livestock” (Truilhier, p. 47). Fraser also described “the valley of Mushed” as containing “a considerable portion of the district known by the appellation of Koordistan, because it is inhabited by Koordish colonies” (pp. 249-50).

It is also possible that some Kurds had decided on their own accord to come into the region. In this context, it seems that some Kurds from Syria who are currently referred to under the names of Šāmi, Šāmlu, and Šāmāli and form part of the Bičarānlu tribe had come to Khorasan during the time of Moḥammad Shah Qajar (q.v.; r. 1834-48), accompanied by their chief tribal leader (Mirniā, p. 132, no. 139).

Throughout the Qajar era, the Kurds of northern Khorasan and in particular the Zaʿfarānlu Kurds in Qučān maintained their tribal structure and ilḵāni leadership (Šākeri, pp. 51-53). On several occasions, they came to the aid of the central government to quell local revolts, a notable example being the critical support given by Sām Khan, the son of Reżāqoli Khan Zaʿfarānlu, to the central government to quell the revolt of Moḥammad-Ḥasan Khan Sālār, the son of Allāh-Yār Khan Āṣaf-al-Dawla Davvalu, that had begun in 1260/1844 (Ādamiyyat, p. 229; Rowšani, pp. 227-28; Noelle-Karimi, p. 229). The Zaʿfarānlu Kurds also took an active part in support of the troops sent by Nāṣer-al-Din Shah (r. 1848-96) to Herat (see HERAT vi), where again Sām Khan made a conspicuous contribution (Rowšani, p. 228; Noelle-Karimi, pp. 231-34). Another case of support for the central government is mentioned in Henri Moser’s travelogue. He noted that the khan of Bojnurd, Yār Moḥammad Khan Sahām-al-Dawla, was away from the town, engaged in putting down a Turkmen rebellion (Moser, p. 374). 

There were, however, also times when some Kurds rebelled against the central government. Alexander Burnes (q.v.) mentions the victory celebrations in Mashhad in 1832 for the defeat inflicted by the crown prince ʿAbbās Mirzā (q.v.; 1789-1833) on Reżāqoli Khan Zaʿfarānlu in Qučān. “For no monarch since the days of Nadir Shah,” he writes, “had ever subdued the chiefs of Khorasan” (Burnes, III, p. 72); the fortress at Qučān was razed and Reżāqoli Khan Zaʿfarānlu sent into exile (Yate, p. 182; Noelle-Karimi, p. 224). The resistance put up by the Kurds when they faced at least 13,000 men supported by powerful artillery provided by British officers is indicative of the extent of power wielded by the Kurdish khans. In this particular battle in Qučān, 8,000 men fought under the leadership of Reżāqoli Khan Zaʿfarānlu against the crown prince’s army. The historian Reżāqoli Khan Hedāyat (q.v.; 1800-71) gives 19,000 for the number of ʿAbbās Mirzā’s army and 13,000 for the opposing Kurdish troops (Rowżat al-ṣafā-ye nāṣeri, X, pp. 14-15).

In his account of travel to Khorasan in 1862, the British diplomat Edward Backhouse Eastwick (q.v.; 1814-83) said that “the normal state of Khórásán is war” (Eastwick, II, p. 216) and noted among his examples the case of a potential confrontation with the Kurds that was narrowly avoided: “On the 10th [October 1862] there was a very serious disturbance in Meshed between a body of Kurds under Amir Husain Khán and the soldiers of the Khalaj regiment. The Kurds attacked the guard-house and wounded several soldiers, when the police of the city attacked them in turn and drove them off, taking several prisoners, who were bastinadoed and had their ears cut off. On this, the Kurdish chief assembled his men to plunder the city, and the garrison were kept under arms and on the alert, until the Prince-Governor [Ḥosām-al-Salṭana, 1818-83] prevailed on the Kurd to come to his camp” (Eastwick, II, p. 218). During the reign of Moḥammad Shah and the early years of Nāṣer-al-Din Shah, there was a revolt against the central government by Moḥammad-Ḥasan Khan Sālār, which lasted over five years with several attacks on the city of Mashhad itself (Ādamiyyat, pp. 227-43). Some Kurdish tribal leaders, including Jaʿfar-ʿAli Khan Šādlu, cooperated with Sālār (but, as noted above, he was opposed by Sām Khan Zaʿfarānlu). 

The late Qajar to Pahlavi period. A radical change in the territorial distribution of the Kurds came in the last quarter of the 19th century with the Russian domination of Central Asia and the establishment of a fixed boundary between Russia and Iran.

The northern regions of the Hazār Masjed, i.e., beyond the borders of Iran, was unruly and unstable until the Russians managed to subdue the Turkmens in the 19th century. The mountains of Hazār Masjed and the villages therein were primary targets for Turkmen raids; thus, one of the main aims of the Persian shahs in transplanting the Kurds there was to prevent these raids. Later, in the last years of the 19th century, the Russians managed to subdue the Turkmens, but their subjugation also entailed Russian expansionist ambitions and their advance into Central Asia. This was followed by the signing of a border agreement between Russia and Iran in Tehran on 21 December 1881 (see BOUNDARIES ii. WITH RUSSIA; von Stein; “New Russo-Persian Frontier”; Bahār, pp. 220-25). The transfer in 1893 of the region of Firuza (situated to the west of Ashgabat [ʿEšqābād] in Turkmenistan) north of Širvān, completed these boundary treaties. As a result, all the winter pastures in the foothills of Hazār Masjed, including the region of Russian Saraḵs, Ashgabat, Qalʿa Bāqer, Firuza, and Darra Čandir were annexed from Iran (Tavaḥḥodi I, pp. 475-79). 

Almost all Kurds were unwilling to live under Russian jurisdiction, and once the borders were fixed, most of those on the Russian side migrated to inside Iran (Chaliand, pp. 321-35). Thus, Percy Molesworth Sykes (q.v.), during his travels in the winter of 1893-94, arrived at Samalqān and present-day Āšḵāna via Bandar-e Gaz (q.v.) and Torkaman-Ṣaḥrā, following a trajectory that corresponded exactly with some of the winter quarters of the Kurds and regions harboring Kurdish villages. Nevertheless, it appears that he did not encounter any Kurds there and even pointed out that the region as far as Samalqān was a Turkmen region and belonged to them: “The next morning we reached a cultivated district and the main Astrabád-Bujnurd road at Semalgán—probably the Samangán of the Sháh Náma—one of the many villages belonging to the Kurds, and needless to say, I was delighted to have seen the last of the Turkoman…” (Sykes, p. 19). 

At the beginning of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, and even at the time of the 1921 Iran-Soviet treaty, the Soviets initiated movements among the Kurds of northern Khorasan in an attempt to create a communist revolution there. For example, a person named Ḵodu Sardār (Ḵodāverdi Sardār), supported by Grigory Yevseyevich Zinoviev, launched an uprising in Širvān centered around Goliān during the governorship of Qawām-al-Salṭana. Ḵodu Sardār fled to Ashgabat due to an attack by government forces and the exhaustion of his ammunition supply; from there, he went to Moscow. The governor of Ashgabat explicitly asked Ḵodu Sardār: “Were you supposed to be working for us or to start a revolution? We have found out through our spies, who are more numerous in Khorasan than your people [your supporters], that you were claiming to be launching a revolution yourself.” He informed Ḵodu Sardār that Zinoviev was in Moscow, and if he wanted to see him, he had better go to Moscow too, so Ḵodu Sardār left for Moscow with six of his comrades. At that time, the authorities in Moscow did not help him. He returned to Iran, where he was arrested by Sardār Moʿazzaz Bojnurdi in Bojnurd and handed over to Colonel Moḥammad-Taqi Khan Pesyān (q.v.), commander of the gendarmerie in Mashhad. Ḵodu Sardār was executed by a firing squad on 28 June 1921 at the Kuhsangi park in Mashhad (on this movement, see Farhādi, 2013, pp. 158-67). By 1921, most of the khans, the most important of them being ʿAziz-Allah Khan Šādlu, nicknamed Sardār Moʿazzaz Bojnurdi, had joined the gendarmerie forces under the command of Pesyān.

After the Constitutional Revolution (q.v.), proponents and opponents of the constitution were very active in Khorasan. Pesyān was also the leader of a pro-constitutional force. Qawām-al-Salṭana, the governor of Khorasan and later the prime minister, opposed Pesyān and the constitutionalists (see KHORASAN xi. HISTORY IN THE QAJAR AND PAHLAVI PERIODS). Sardar Moʿazzaz Bojnurdi had no interest in constitutionalist ideals, and Qawām-al-Salṭana sent telegrams to pro-government forces in Khorasan, including Sardār Moʿazzaz Bojnurdi, inciting them against Pesyān. This led to a Kurdish revolt against the colonel (Cronin, pp. 736-37). On 18 Šaʿbān 1340/26 April 1921, a number of Kurds from Širvān, led by Faraj-Allāh Khan Bičarānlu, looted the Širvān gendarmerie and moved to Qučān with the knowledge of Sardār Moʿazzaz. Apparently, Sayyed Ḥasan Khan Mirfaḵrāʾi, commander of the Qučān gendarmerie did not confront the insurgent Kurds, and, as a result, 600 of the 1,000 Qučān gendarmerie were disarmed, thereby strengthening the power of the Kurdish insurgents. Several clashes took place between the insurgents and the gendarmerie forces, and finally, on 30 Moḥarram 1340/3 October 1921, the Kurds killed Pesyān in the vicinity of Jaʿfarābād near Qučān and then decapitated his corpse in Qučān. The Kurds also executed a number of gendarmerie forces, with between 12 and 100 people killed. After Pesyān was assassinated, the gendarmes were disarmed in all the Kurdish areas by Kurdish forces. This was the last widespread Kurdish uprising in Khorasan (Motavalli Ḥaqiqi, 2001, pp. 105-6, 127). 

In the spring of 1925, the conflict between the Turkmens and the Kurds of Bojnurd intensified. Although a number of Kurds collaborated with the Turkmens against the central government, the Kurds of Bojnurd were apparently under the control of the central government. They were willing to carry out the orders of the prime minister and the commander of the Eastern Division, but they were unable to free the city of Bojnurd from the Turkmen siege. Therefore, for the first time, on the orders of Prime Minister Reżā Khan, several warplanes (of the Yonkers type, owned by Germany and leased by the Iranian government) were used to bombard Bojnurd on 18 May 1925. This was the first time that people in Bojnurd and the entire region had seen airplanes. The bombing of Bojnurd was very effective, shook the morale of the insurgents, and improved the morale of the army (Tavaḥḥodi, 1981-2006, VI, p. 381). 

After the bombing of Bojnurd, the Kurds did not attempt to resist the central government but cooperated with it to calm the region until after the fall and exile of Reżā Shah in 1941. Other factors contributing to the lack of resistance included: (1) the greater authority of the central government; (2) the increasing power of the army’s Eastern Division, based at Mashhad in the center of Khorasan; (3) the end of the ilḵāni system and the suppression of the tribal chieftains; (4) the expansion of government institutions and organizations (post and telegraph, health, police, bureaucracy); (5) the reduction of influence and intervention by the Soviet Union and Britain in the region; (6) expanded education, newspapers, magazines; (7) an improved network of roads and increased trade; (8) better economic conditions, prosperity, and liberation from the yoke of the khans; (9) the establishment of public security and reduction of conflicts between ethnic groups (Kurds and Turkmens) and tribal groups (the khans of Qučān versus those of Bojnurd, etc.); and (10) transformation of personal identity from ethnic-tribal to geographical-national (see below), and the subordination of individuals to the central government or their tribes. 

The last political efforts and struggle for power of the Kurds of Khorasan are related to the period after the deposition of Reżā Shah in September 1941. On 16 February 1942, Faraj-Allāh Khan Bičarānlu, who had returned from exile, captured Širvān with 400 men and then took control of the cities of Esfarāyen, Darragaz, Māna, Samalqān, Jājarm, Fāruj, and Qučān. Faraj-Allāh Khan planned to move on Tehran together with Moḥammad-Yusof Khan Ṣawlat-al-Salṭana Hezāra, a powerful local magnate in southern Khorasan, but they were defeated by the army. Faraj-Allāh Khan Bičarānlu was the last Kurdish ilḵān and served five years in prison and five years in exile. He died of a heart attack in 1952 (on Faraj-Allāh Khan, see Farhādi, 2014).

During and after World War II, the Tudeh party was very active in the Kurdish region of Khorasan, especially in the border areas. With the Coup d’État of 1332 Š./1953 (q.v.) and the arrest of Tudeh party members, Soviet and Tudeh party influence in the region diminished. The closure of the Iranian-Soviet border in the region and the cessation of trade and commerce also played an effective role in reducing Soviet influence in the region. Nonetheless, many people in northern Khorasan listened to Radio Moscow or watched Turkmenistan or Moscow television until the collapse of the Soviet Union. As late as 1977, the author of this article witnessed Kurds in the area of Lāyen-now, using electricity generated by tractors, watching broadcasts from Ashgabat and Moscow television. Even those who did not know Russian could at least see the pictures.

After the Islamic Revolution, with the culmination of the efforts of the Fedāʾiān-e Ḵalq guerrillas in Torkaman-Ṣaḥrā from 12 February 1979 to 8 February 1980, some Turkmens prevented Kurdish tribes from entering Torkaman-Ṣaḥrā. This was the last confrontation between the Kurds and the Turkmens in that area. With the intervention of elders on both sides, and the defeat of the Fedāʾiān-e Ḵalq in Torkaman-Ṣaḥrā, nomadic Kurds again entered the area for the winter of 1980. From 1980 to 2020, there were apparently no clashes between Turkmen and Kurds and government forces, and the central government was in charge of the situation there (Khomeini, p. 8, see Ḵᵛājanežad, 2020).

Thus, from about 1925 onwards, the Kurds have gradually come more and more under the authority of the central government, and it appears that tribal and ilḵāni power have collapsed. The Kurdish issue in the region is now primarily a cultural one. In the years after 1978, and especially after 1990, the Kurds of Khorasan have expressed their political will through the elections of members of parliament and town and village councils.


As pointed out above, Shah Esmā‘il transplanted a number of Ṣufiānlu Kurds to the area between Kalāt and Darragaz. According to extant land deeds in the possession of local landholders, Shah Esmāʿil bestowed land in this area as fiefs to the Kurds who had migrated and settled there. Shah ʿAbbās also installed Kurdish tribes in the region of Āḵāl and in the northern foothills of the Hazār Masjed range (now in Turkmenistan).

Moḥammad-Ḥasan Khan Ṣaniʿ-al-Dawla Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana (q.v.; 1843-96) gave a detailed account of the Kurdish territories in his book, Maṭlaʿ al-šams: “The initial patriarch of the Zaʿfarānlu ilkhani who governed and are governing in Qučān was Šāhqoli-Solṭān. Having first extricated Herat, Marv, Mehna, Čačaha, Bāvard, Nesā, and other localities within the Āḵāl region from the clutches of the Uzbeks, Shah ʿAbbās bestowed the title of amir-al-omarā on Šāhqoli-Solṭān and assigned him the region of Āḵāl to act as a bulwark against the Uzbeks; and he transplanted 40,000 of the Čamešgazak Kurdish households who had been stationed for two or three years at Varāmin to the aforesaid region. In the reign of Shah Solṭān-Ḥosayn [r. 1694-1722] and the ensuing administrative anarchy, the Kurds of the Āḵāl turned from raids on Bokhara and Urgench [Gorgānj] to mountains and arduous terrains. At the time, the regions of Qučān, Širvān, Bojnurd, and Samalqān were inhabited by the Gerāyli [q.v.] Turkic tribes. The Kurds, in order to secure for themselves the right to pitch their yurts (tents and dwellings) there, picked a quarrel with the Gerāyli tribe and managed to drive them out shortly afterwards. Qarā Khan, the son of Mehrāb Beyk (the son of Šāhqoli-Solṭān) who was the head of the Čamešgazak Kurds and the ilḵāni of this tribe managed to gain control of all these regions and set up his yurt at Širvān. He settled the entire 40,000 Kurdish Čamešgazak households, which consisted of the Zaʿfarānlu, Šādlu, Kāvānlu (Keyvānlu), ʿAmmārlu, and Qarāčulu, in encampments in Qučān, Širvān, Bojnurd, and their environs. The Šādlu were settled from the upper Čenārān to the lower Čenārān as far as Samalqān. The Kāvānlu were assigned in the direction of Mashhad, meaning that the area from the village of Čulāy-ḵāna, which lies to the north of Mashhad, to the Yusof-Khan citadel, located four parsangs (farsaḵs) to the north of Qučān, would be assigned to for the yurts of the Jāni Qorbāni tribe. The mountain to the north of Čašma Gol-e asb (also known as Čašma-ye Gilās), which is named Kuh-e ʿEmārat, flanked on one side by Kalāt and Darragaz and on the other side the road from Qučān to Mashhad [i.e., the approach to the Kašaf river and the Atrak basin], became the home of the Kāvānlu” (Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana, I, pp. 157-58; Rowšani Zaʿfarānlu, p. 244). 

Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana’s account does not refer to any sources, and several scholars, some of whom are themselves Kurds from Khorasan, regard it as incomplete and deficient. It should not be inferred that the Kurds actually moved to Qučān for the first time in the reign of Shah Solṭān-Ḥosayn. As mentioned earlier, the governor of Ḵabušān during the reign of Shah Moḥammad Ḵodābanda Ṣafavi was a Kurd; and, during the reign of Shah ʿAbbas, Yusof-Solṭān, the chief of the Čamešgazak tribe, was the governor of Ḵabušān (Eskandar Beg, Vol.1; Noelle-Karimi, p. 56). Moreover, we know that at the time of Nāder’s emergence on the scene, the Kurds were already firmly ensconced in Qučān and its surroundings, as Moḥammad-Kāẓem Marvi referred to the entire region of Qučān at that time as Kurdistan. The Kurds must have therefore arrived and settled in Qučān and today’s northern Khorasan well before the reign of Shah Solṭān-Ḥosayn, given the relatively short span of time between his reign and the beginnings of the Nāderi era, and the unlikelihood of such a vast area changing its name and becoming known as Kurdistan. It is, however, clear that during the reign of Shah Solṭān-Ḥosayn, owing to the weakness of the central government, a number of Kurds left Aḵāl for Qučān, and the Kurdish khans managed to overwhelm the Gerāyli Turks completely and put an end to their authority in the regions mentioned in Maṭlaʿ al-šams. But then they too were forced in turn to yield some of the territories that had recently changed hands to the Turkic Jāni Qorbānis. In other words, Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana’s account relates to the complete possession of the territories by the Kurds in the first instance, followed once again by a division and dispensation of it. 

Figure 1. Territories in Khorasan occupied by Kurdish tribes and nomads (Papoli Yazdi, 1991, p. 31).​Figure 1. Territories in Khorasan occupied by Kurdish tribes and nomads (Papoli Yazdi, 1991, p. 31).​

In general, the territorial confines of the Kurds in Khorasan can be divided into two parts (Figure 1): One part (a) consists of those enclaves where more than half the population are Kurds; where prior to to the registration of property deeds and particularly before the 1979 Revolution, a substantial portion of agricultural, urban, and village lands belonged to Kurdish families; and the absolute majority of grazing pastures (apart from the pastures in village preserves) in the region prior to the nationalization of pastures belonged to the Kurds. After nationalization, too, the Kurds had the largest number of permits for their use. These territories were under the management of Kurdish tribal leaders (ilḵānān) from the time of the Safavids to the first years of Reżā Shah’s reign. These Kurdish territories can be conceived of in two parts: a central nucleus and a surrounding enclosure. The central nucleus can be defined as the region that was ruled by the Kurds and in practice included the subprovinces of Čenārān and Darragaz and as far as the subprovinces of Māna and Samalqān with Āšḵāna as its center, and the subprovince of Esfarāyen (in northern Khorasan). However, it should be noted that from time to time Čenārān and Darragaz were under the direct rule of the governor of Khorasan.

Part (b) includes the regions on the periphery or where the Kurds still enjoyed some rights and privileges, but not a semi-independent rule. These peripheral regions include Saraḵs, Torkaman-Ṣaḥrā (Dašt-e Sabzavār and Nišābur), and parts of today’s province of Semnān (Šāh-Ḥosayni, pp. 37-64). In these regions, the Kurds enjoy certain privileges. For example, although the Turkmen are in the majority in Torkaman-Ṣaḥrā and Saraḵs, the Kurds used to, and still do, take their flocks to these regions for winter grazing, i.e., roughly from November to late March; and the Turkmen in these regions acknowledge the Kurds’ grazing rights.

The Kurds have several settlements in the region of Nišābur, Sabzavār, and eastern parts of Semnān province. In Torkaman-Ṣaḥrā and the plains of Saraḵs, only a small number of Kurds live in the villages. In these two regions, there are no villages in which the residents are exclusively Kurds; but in winter, the plains of Saraḵs and Torkaman-Ṣaḥrā, and parts of the plains of Nišābur and Sabzavār, are taken over by the Kurds. This means that through their seasonal migration, these Kurds widen the sphere of the Kurdish influence and extend it further than those villages and towns that for three centuries have been under their rule. Thus there is a central geographical nucleus of Kurdish settlements and a peripheral zone of influence. The peripheral zone include the common law rights of grazing pastures and dry farming. These rights are acknowledged by local people, such as those of Saraḵs in the east and those of Torkaman-Ṣaḥrā in the west and those of Nišābur and Sabzavār in the south, as well by the authorities from the central government. The Kurds are not, however, granted permits to build and create villages of their own in Saraḵs and Torkaman-Ṣaḥrā. 

The Āstān-e Qods-e Raẓawi (q.v.) maintains that the entire region of Saraḵs, including pastures, woodlands, and the majority of agricultural, urban, and village lands, is its property. The Kurds therefore face a serious barrier to ownership in establishing villages, and the Āstān-e Qods only allows the Kurds use of the pastures. In Torkaman-Ṣaḥrā, too, as mentioned earlier and according to settled arrangements, the Kurds can only make use of the pastures in the winter season, and therefore have not embarked on establishing any settlements. In other regions (Nishapur, Sabzavār, and Semnān), however, the Kurds have set up villages or inhabit already existing ones and engage in agriculture and keeping livestock. As well as the above regions, in spring and summer the Kurds have control of the uplands of Khorasan (Šāh-Jahān, Binālud, and the valleys of the Kopet-dāḡ, Allāho Akbar, and Hazār Masjed ranges). In actual fact, the Kurds had and still have a presence in all regions of northern Khorasan, be it town or village, plains, or uplands.

Since the year 2000, Kurdish presence in Torkaman-Ṣaḥrā and the plain of Saraḵs has been on the wane. This is not, however, related to any political factors but has to do with changes in modes of living and the decrease in the number of seasonal migrations. 

During the year 2020, the migrating Kurds in the region of Marāva Tappa engaged in seasonal migrations in order to make use of the pastures. However, according to data from the population census and local authorities in Marāva and on site observation, there are no Kurdish settlements in the region of Torkaman-Ṣaḥrā, and only very rarely do Kurdish households settle in Turkmen villages. Within the region of Saraḵs, too, there are no villages where the Kurds form the entirety or the majority of the inhabitants.


Clavijo was perhaps the first to indicate the number of Kurds in Khorasan in noting that he had encountered a group of 400 Kurdish tents. As mentioned earlier, numerous sources claim that Shah ʿAbbās moved 40,000 Kurdish families from Čamešgazak to northern Khorasan. In more recent sources and books of the 19th century, the number of Kurds in Khorasan is also said to have been 40,000 families. Indeed, this same number of 40,000 families as in the Shah ʿAbbās period is found in many sources for the Safavid period and later. Of course, there are doubts about the transfer of these 40,000 families to Khorasan since it is unlikely that Khorasan during the period of Shah ʿAbbās had the capacity to absorb 40,000 families (about 200,000 to 250,000 people). 

For the late Safavid to early Qajar period, some statistical information comes from a manuscript discovered by Moḥammad-Taqi Dānešpažuh in the library of the University of California at Los Angeles (MS 322). It was copied in 1215/1800, i.e., at the beginning of the reign of Fatḥ-ʿAli Shah Qajar, but based on a Toḥfa šāhi by Mirzā Moḥammad-Ḥosayn Mostawfi, written in Isfahan in 1128/1716, during the reign of Shah Solṭān-Ḥosayn. It recorded the number of Kurdish mounted troops (savār) from Khorasan in the service of Shah Solṭān-Ḥosayn as 12,000 (Dānešpažuh, p. 398). It also listed the four Kurdish tribal divisions there, their homelands, their commanders (in the early Qajar period), and an estimate of their total population ostensibly in late Safavid times (Table 1; Dānešpažuh, pp. 410-11; Ṣafinežād). However, the numbers are not particulary credible and are probably garbled.

Toward the end of the 19th century, European sources estimated the Kurdish population of Khorasan as 250,000 out of a total of 1,160,000 (Nouveau dictionnaire, III, p. 115; the same figures are given in Curzon, I, p. 179, although he judged the actual number was half that after the great famine of 1872). Other sources indicated that Kurds made up the majority of the population in Bojnurd, Širvān, Qučān, and Esfarāyen and numbered about 300,000 in all of Khorasan (Elahi, p. 31). 

The first census conducted after the Constitutional Revolution of 1906 included an enumeration of the Kurdish tribal families of Khorasan (Table 2).

For many reasons, these statistics cannot be trusted. First, it is true that the word census has been used in historical sources, but it was not truly a “census.” The numbers were nothing more than an estimate, which was based primarily on the register of taxes from the khans and the number of soldiers. 

In the official censuses from 1976 to 2016, there was no attempt to distinguish different ethnic groups in Khorasan, and as a result there is no way of knowing what percentage of the people of Khorasan were Kurds or Turks or Persians. Even numbers for the nomadic population cannot be trusted: According to the 1976 census, there were only 247,000 nomads in the whole of Iran. On this matter, Xavier de Planhol wrote (1968, p. 198), “If the true nomads in Turkey are no more than a few tens of thousands, in Iran there is no doubt they would number more than a million ...” The roster of the High Tribal Council (Šurā-ye ʿāli-e ʿašāyir), established in 1946 and affiliated with the Ministry of Court, did not mention the names of the tribal and nomadic groups of Khorasan. Neither were the names of any of the tribes of Khorasan to be found in the list of tribes and nomads of Iran included in ʿAli-Aṣḡar Ḥekmat’s Irānšahr (q.v.), although some of them were indicated in a map appended to the book. Thus, neither in the Pahlavi period nor after the 1979 Revolution of were there reliable statistics on ethnicity or nomadism in Khorasan, whether Kurdish or non-Kurdish. In 2016, however, the Management and Planning Organization (Sāzmān-e modiriyat va barnāma-rizi) for the North Khorasan province published for the first time official statistics on the ethnic distribution of the population in the province (Table 3). An estimate of the Kurdish population in Razavi Khorasan is given in Table 4.

Based on these statistics and estimates, the Kurdish population in North Khorasan province is 319,000; the Kurdish population in Razavi Khorasan is 341,125; and the total Kurdish population for the two provinces is 660,125. Mashhad, with more than 143,000 Kurds, is the most important city in Khorasan that has a Kurdish population. But since Kurds represent only 4.25 percent of the population of Mashhad, it cannot be considered a Kurdish city. (Of course, some Kurdish writers would probably not accept these statistics.)


Power relationships in Khorasan underwent radical changes with the coming of the Kurdish tribes. These changes in the balance of power were completed toward the end of the reign of Shah Solṭān-Ḥosayn, when the Kurds had managed to bring northern Khorasan completely under their control. The power distribution was in three main geographical areas: (1) the Šādlu (Šāmlu) assumed power in Bojnurd and Esfarāyen; (2) the Za‘farānlu in Qučān; and (3) the regions of Čenārān, Darragaz, and Kalāt were at times under the control of Qučān and at others under the authority of the governor of Khorasan in Mashhad.

These three centers of power, i.e., Mashhad with the governor as the representative of the central government, Qučān, and Bojnurd (sanctioned by the central government), were in a state of rivalry with each other for nearly a hundred years. The khans of Qučān and Bojnurd were, on some occasions, in alliance but at other times their rivalry would lead to conflict. The ilḵāns of Qučān would at times contemplate attacks against Mashhad and at other times would fight against rebels alongside the troops from the central government. In the long period after the Russian domination of Central Asia, from the fixing of the border between Russia and Iran to the October Revolution of 1917, through World War I, the establishment of a strong central government during the reign of Reżā Shah, the events of World War II, the Coup d’État of 1953, and, finally, the Revolution of 1978-79, the Kurds in Khorasan witnessed several radical developments. On the one hand, in their original settlement area, i.e. from Čenārān to Āšḵāna of Bojnurd, they became increasingly settled in towns and villages and adopted a modern living style. On the other hand, in peripheral areas where other groups were in the majority, they established their legal rights in the use of pastures and validated their existence as an acknowledged minority.

As Jean Aubin (q.v.; 1927-98) has pointed out, the Māzandarān plain (i.e., Torkaman-Ṣaḥrā) had served in the 14th and 15th centuries as a vast winter pasture for all the nomadic tribes of north Khorasan (Aubin, p. 117). Although some Kurds lived in the area in the Safavid period, the Kurds of Khorasan did not have regular access to the region between the Atrak and Gorgān rivers. According to Eskandar Beg, during the reign of Shah Ṭahmāsb, “[the Yaqqa Turkmens] lived between the Jorjān and Atrak rivers, where they molested the local inhabitants.” (Eskandar Beg Monši, I, p. 175, tr., I, p. 766-67). Throughout most of the Qajar era, the Kurds had no access to the region. Although after 1881, there were no more Turkmen raids from the new territories under Russian rule, the conflict between the Turkmens in Iran and the Kurds over the use of pastures in Torkaman-Ṣaḥrā continued until Reżā Shah consolidated the control of the central government throughout the country. In interviews carried out by the author in 1975 and later in 1979 and 1983 with 32 Kurdish khans and leaders in Kurdish regions, they expressed the opinion that for at least a century and half prior to 1929, the Kurds did not venture into Torkaman-Ṣaḥrā (Papoli Yazdi, 1991). After 1929, the Kurds and the Turkmen of Torkaman-Ṣaḥrā cooperated well with each other in their pastoral activities and mode of life until the time of the Revolution of 1979-80 (see above; Papoli Yazdi, 1991, pp. 158-59). But geographical conditions and ownership stipulations prevented the Kurds from establishing settlements in Turkmen-inhabited places such as Tanga-ye Torkman, the villages of Darra Čendir, and the valleys of Sumbār, Qāzān-qāya, etc. In those regions, the Turkmen owned the land, and the Kurds had only the right of access and grazing. In Turkmen regions, Kurdish villages were few and far between. The last surviving large Kurdish villages in the Atrak valley were Piš-qalʿa and ʿEšqābād.

Legislation in 1932 and 1934 gave official sanction to Reżā Shah’s policy of forced settlement of the tribes. But even before this, the process of subduing and settling the tribes of Torkaman-Ṣaḥrā and northern Khorasan had begun. The relocation of the tribes that began in these regions in 1929 brought a new wave of Kurdish permanent settlements. At the same time, while the Kurds were benefitting from the security and tranquility of Reżā Shah’s reign, they were expanding their winter quarters in Torkaman-Ṣaḥrā. Perhaps the only location in Iran during his reign where tribal migration and setting up tents was tolerated was at Torkaman-Ṣaḥrā by the Kurds. In 2016, according to the Iranian Center for Statistics, there were 22 villages in the provinces of Māzandarān and Golestān that still had the word Kurd in their toponym, such as Kord-kuh, Kord-maḥalla, Kord-āsiāb, etc. (Markaz-e āmār, 2016).

After the fixing of the border with Russia, the Russians acknowledged the Kurds’ grazing rights, and every year up to the October Revolution of 1917, a great number of Kurds would enter the territory of present-day Turkmenistan legally with permits. In exchange for the grazing of their flocks, for every ten sheep they would hand over one to the Russians before returning from Russian Turkmenistan. This went on in a random manner up to 1953. From that date on, all entry permits for Kurds to enter Soviet Turkmenistan were revoked, and the Kurds were left to make do with the foothills and valleys of the Hazār Masjed. 

The fixing of the border enabled the Kurds to create a great number of settlements in the area near or at some distance from the frontier and expand their influence in northern Khorasan by erecting new villages over the following decades. Kurds began to settle in the plains and foothills around Sabzavār, Esfarāyen, and Nishapur. By comparing the taxation data for the settlements in the 1881 decade (i.e., after borders were fixed) with the inventory of the settlements in the Gazetteer of the British army in India (1910), it can be seen that within about three decades there was an increase of at least 87 settlements in the number of the border settlements in the Kurdish region of Khorasan. For the period 1881-1976, nearly 273 large or small settlements (ābādi; q.v.) populated mostly by the Kurds appeared in the Kurdish regions of Khorasan, and the percentage of Kurds compared to other groups also increased in the cities. From 1910 to 2016 (the date of the last population and housing census in Iran), 294 new settlements had been added (for a comprehensive list of Kurdish villages in Khorasan, see Madih, pp. 21-29). The majority of the population of these settlements, some of which have grown into towns, were Kurds. At the same time, in already existing villages, the percentage of Kurds compared to other groups also increased (for a detailed discussion of the process of sedentarization, see Papoli Yazdi, 1991, pp. 347-71). This trend toward sedentarization, movement from village to village, and from villages to towns continues to the present date (2020).


Traditional identity. Until the time of Reżā Shah and centralized government, the Kurds living in the northern region of Khorasan defined their identity in hierarchical layers. 

The first layer was clan identity. That is, people went by the name of their clan, such as Bičarānlu or Kāviānlu. 

The second layer was tribal identity, such as Zaʿfarānlu or Šādlu. Along with tribe, geographical location was also indicated: Two hundred years of rivalry between the ilḵāns of Qučān and Bojnurd had gradually become part of individual identity by being associated with the ilḵān of Qučān or Bojnourd or the khans of Darragaz, Kalāt, etc. 

The third layer was ethnicity (especially in terms Kurdish vs. Turkmen). The Kurds considered themselves superior to other ethnic groups. The Persians, Tāts, and Gerāyli Turks, though native to the region, were in a minority. Their position in power relations was lower than that of the Kurds. In the course of two hundred years from the Safavid period, Turks or Persians were appointed as governors of Qučān with the support of the central government for only a few short periods of time. The main rivals of the Kurds during those two centuries were the Turkmens. The Turkmens were different from the Kurds in terms of the geographical area inhabited, ethnicity, race, language, religion, and type of livelihood. Thus, every Kurd recognized as part of his or her identity the struggles their tribe had waged against the Turkmens. Stories about courage, or disaster, or the purchase and enslavement of girls, were told in mothers’ lullabies to their children. Participation in war and conflict, and tales of the struggles and the bravery of the Kurds against the Turkmens had become an essential part of Kurdish identity.

A fourth layer was religion. Kurds are Shiites. One of the reasons for moving the Kurds to northern Khorasan was that they were Shiʿites, and, as Shiʿites, they were in Khorasan to resist the Sunni invasions of the Uzbeks and Turkmens. The confrontation with the Uzbeks and the Turkmens was not only a confrontation with a people of a different ethnicity, but also a confrontation with the Sunnis.

Identity as Iranians represented a fifth layer of identity. It has always been important for Kurds to be Iranian. But the Kurds did not regard their identity as Iranians as implying subservience to the central government in Tehran. They considered themselves Iranians, but they were obedient to their khans. Thus, if a Kurdish khan had a good relationship with Russia, his followers would also increase their own relationship with Russia; and if the khan had a relationship with Britain, their relationship with the British would expand.

A sixth layer of identity was based on geography. Inhabiting a place such as the regions of Qučān, Bojnurd, Darragaz, or Esfarāyen did not create an independent identity by itself. But because the ilḵāns of these regions were different, there was also a geographical element in identity. To be a Qučāni meant being a subordinate of Amir Ḥosayn Khan Shojāʿ-al-Dawla, or to be a Bojnurdi meant being a subordinate of Sardār Moʿazzaz Bojnurdi. Geographical identity outside of tribal identity made little sense. Defending the land was practically the same as defending the tribe, the clan, and the ilḵān. It was the same with the taxation system.

The failed return of the khans to the tribes. After the Revolution of 1979, a number of khans across Iran sought to reassert authority over their tribes but failed (for example, Ḵosrow Khan of the Qašqāʾi, executed in 1982; or Ṣamad Khan Rasulḵāni of the Baluč, executed in 1981). Tribal people, as well as the revolutionary forces, were by no means ready to accept the leadership of the khans. At the same time, extensive Persian-language education, increasing urbanization, migration and travel, greater governmental power and enhanced security, the absence of inter-tribal conflict, and the sense of a shared national solidarity in the war with Iraq all tended to reduce ethnic chauvinism and prejudices. Technological developments with regard to radio, television, mobile communications, and the internet accelerated this process. In 1970, according to the Management and Planning Organization, 34.5 percent of people in the north Khorasan region did not understand Persian. In 2018, the number was less than one percent. As a result of these trends, tribal and nomadic peoples, including the Kurds, have tended to reassert their self-identity through culture, not through the restoration of tribalism and the authority of the ilḵāns.

Music as a means of ethnic revival. Traditional maqāmi music has always been important to the Kurds of Khorasan (see KHORASAN xxvi. MUSIC OF KHORASAN). But after 1978, significant efforts have been made to revive Khorasan maqāmi music as an element of Kurdish identity. Great teachers of music such as Ḥāj Qorbān Solaymāni (1920-2008) have emerged. Studies have been made about the dastgāhs, radifs, and musical instruments of the Kurds of Khorasan. The songs and lyrics used in the music have been refined and edited. The variations in the music of different regions, including the differences between the music of the plains and mountains (Hazār Masjed, Lāyen, etc.) have been studied and classified. 

Plate I. Kurdish wedding procession in village of Lāyen-e Now, Razavi Khorasan (near Kalāt-e Nāderi), 2019. Photograph by ʿAli Ganjbaḵš, courtesy of M.-H. Papoli Yazdi. Plate I. Kurdish wedding procession in village of Lāyen-e Now, Razavi Khorasan (near Kalāt-e Nāderi), 2019. Photograph by ʿAli Ganjbaḵš, courtesy of M.-H. Papoli Yazdi. 

For centuries, the Kurds participated in personal and communal dancing but did not play musical instruments. Playing musical instruments was reserved to groups known as baḵši and ʿāšeq. For others, playing an instrument, or even holding an instrument, was frowned on by the general public. Music education took place only in the homes of the baḵšis and ʿāšeqs from generation to generation. But after 1987, the stigma associated with studying music, including Kurdish music, gradually decreased throughout Iran. Teaching and learning music was no longer monopolized by a few families; music classes and music education became widespread. According to a statement by the General Directorate of Guidance for Razavi Khorasan and North Khorasan Provinces, at least 38 formal and informal music schools were operating in the Kurdish regions of Khorasan in 2020. In Mashhad, 16 schools also taught Kurdish music. In 1971, there was not a single specialized book or article on Kurdish musical culture in Khorasan. By 2020, 120 books and dozens of articles about Kurdish music and the culture of music and poetry of Kurmanji Khorasan had been published.

Plate II. Kurdish folk dance at a wedding celebration, Lāyen-e Now, Razavi Khorasan, 2019. Photograph by ʿAli Ganjbaḵš, courtesy of M.-H. Papoli Yazdi.Plate II. Kurdish folk dance at a wedding celebration, Lāyen-e Now, Razavi Khorasan, 2019. Photograph by ʿAli Ganjbaḵš, courtesy of M.-H. Papoli Yazdi.

The Kurmanji program of Radio Khorasan. Radio Khorasan has been broadcasting from Mashhad since 1949 (1328), and it has played an important role in reconstructing the identity of the Kurds of Khorasan. The archive of programs from this radio station compiled over a period of 65 years is the most complete collection of its kind, especially in regards to culture, about the Kurds of Khorasan.

In the summer of 1956, a Kurdish song called “Ḵaja Lora” performed by Esmāʿil Sattārzāda was broadcast on the Radio Mashhad channel. Then, at the suggestion of some Kurds, followed up by Ḵānlar Qarāčurlu, Bojnurd’s representative in the Majles, Radio Mashhad agreed to have a program in the Kurmanji language. Hāšem Ṣādeqi, the announcer and producer of this program since 1964, writes: “In accordance with an interest I had, the programs were enriched in terms of content, and I got help from the experts of the Department of Agriculture, Horticulture and Animal Husbandry… .” (Ṣādeqi Bājgirān, p. 607) That is, in the beginning, the Kurmanji program of Radio Mashhad had a rural and nomadic approach, focusing more on works about development and prosperity. Recordings of music and cultural programming were rare. But as demands of the Kurdish audience increased, the programming diversified. Gradually, the Kurmanji musical archive for Radio Mashhad was improved, and Kurdish music and other aspects of Kurdish culture increased in the programming.

In 1969, Faraḥnāz Moḥammadi, the first female announcer, started working for the Radio Kormānji program. Kurmanji researchers and scholars on Radio Mashhad were the first group to try to collect and record the Kurdish musical culture of Khorasan and to organize it methodically. For example, the song “Qarsa” was special to the tribes of Qučān, and artists from Qučān worked on it and produced it in an authentic way. The song “Qālda qālda” was entrusted to people from Širvān, and the songs “Čapa rāsta” and “Samā-ye tā beškan beškan” were performed by Bojnurdi artists. Ḥosayn Yegāna Qučāni became the producer for mystical music composed by Jaʿfarqoli Zangali, a Kurdish poet from Khorasan. Thanks to the existence of numerous ethnic groups in the region, including Kurds, Turks, Tat, Turkmen, Baluchis, and Persians, and the influence of their music on each other, the maqāmi music of northern Khorasan became some of the richest music in Iran.

After 1978, the approach of the Kurmanji program of Radio Mashhad, in addition to rural and nomadic issues, turned to urban, national, and even international issues. As of 2020, the Kurmanji program was broadcast on Radio Razavi Khorasan from Saturday to Wednesday for one hour starting at 15:30, and it has had a relatively large audience. Radio North Khorasan, which has its station in Bojnurd, broadcasts for half an hour a day in Kurmanji. In general, the Kurmanji channel of Radio Mashhad became the main center for collecting and editing cultural works about the Kurds of Khorasan, but research and field work to collect and record Kurmanji music was also carried out by other experts.

Thus, music became one of the main elements of identity and unity for the Kurds of Khorasan, particularly as many of the young people, both boys and girls, turned to Kurdish music. In the first decades of the 21st century, music, much more than tribal chants, has become an identity marker for the Kurdish youth of Khorasan. Recreating ethnic identity through music has been far more effective for them in that regard than myth-making and exaggeration about historical figures.

Literature and the arts. Before 1978, very few books were written about the history, literature, art, etc. of the Kurds of Khorasan. In the 1980s, the publication of written works about the Kurds of Khorasan became popular. Initially, Kurdish writers relied on idealized and romanticized examples of heroism, bravado, and stout-heartedness as exemplified in their representation of the stories of the Kurdish khans, such as Amir Ḥosayn Khan Shojāʿ-al-Dawla, Sardār Moʿazzaz Bojnurdi, Farhād Khan Bičarānlu, and various insurgents and rebels in Khorasan such as Rašid Khan, Joju Khan, Ḵodāverdi, etc. They exaggerated the struggles with the central government and with the governors of Khorasan or the Turkmen. They portrayed their fighters and insurgents as epic heroes; others attempted to create a national heroic identity by depicting all the dynasties of Iran, even rulers such as Nāder Shah or Reżā Shah, as Kurds. They tried to connect the Kurds of Khorasan to those of western Iran and the Kurds of Iraqi Kurdistan. At the same time, a commendable effort was made to collect many truly historical documents, and Kalim-Allāh Tavaḥḥodi’s six-volume history of the migration of Kurds to Khorasan (Ḥarakat-e tāriḵi-e Kord ba Ḵorāsān dar defāʿ az esteqlāl-e Irān, n.p., 1981-2000) was a significant accomplishment. But the interpretations in these works were guided by ideology, i.e., the desire to create an epic narrative about Kurdish tribal leaders and their struggles. In that sense, they had an impact, but they have not been particularly successful in academic terms.

Since the mid-1990s, Kurdish intellectuals and the younger generation have increasingly turned to an artistic, literary, and scholarly approach to regaining their identity. Numerous books have been published on Kurdish music, poetry, handicrafts, architecture, and rural and urban issues. Books and articles about modern Kurdish scholars and scientists have been published and are being published. Some books and poems by Kurds in the west of the country and even Iraqi Kurds have been translated and republished.

Prior to the revolution, the Kurds of Khorasan had almost no contact with the Kurds of western Iran. Since the 1980s, the relationship between the Kurds of Khorasan,  the Kurds of western Iran, and the Kurds of Iraqi Kurdistan has been increasing, both in the form of cultural works and in person and virtually. In the 1990s, very few books on the Kurds of western Iran and the Kurds of Iraq were found in the Kurdish region of Khorasan. On 28 November 2020, in just one bookstore in Širvān, there were more than 32 books in Kurdish and 285 books about the Kurds in general (communication from Mahdi Ḥātemi, Markaz-e baḵš-e ketābhā-ye Kordi). In the bookstores of Širvān, Qučān, Bojnurd, Esfarāyen, etc., dozens of books can be found in Kurmanji or in the Sorani Kurdish of Iraqi Kurdistan (see KURDISH LANGUAGE) or in translation (for example, the poems of Şêrko Bêkes or of books about the Kurds in foreign languages, such as those by Jordi Tejel or Martin van Bruinessen). 

Kurdish books, literature, and poetry collections are thus becoming increasingly common, including historical and geographical books that are thoroughly researched and scholarly as well as books that aim to construct identity, written by Kurds in the region as well as by Kurds in the west of the country and Iraqi Kurdistan. 

Since the first decade of the 21st century, there has thus been a fundamental change in the way the Kurds of Khorasan understand their identity. The new generation of intellectuals and young people are no longer looking for the adventurous history of tribal leaders, commanders, and heroes to regain their identity. According to interviews conducted by the author, 79 percent of young people between the ages of 17 and 35 do not want to recognize their identity by exaggeration, boasting, and the glorification of Kurdish khans, heroes, and insurgents. The new generation does not want to regain its identity by introducing Kurdish nationalism and portraying all dynasties of Iran as Kurds. The new generation wants to establish its identity through art, especially music and literature, and the enrichment of language and culture. The new generation of Khorasani Kurds does not want to raise the issue of recovering identity through armed and belligerent actions. This generation tends toward peace and peaceful co-existence through the spread of music, art, and poetry.

As Kurdish youth have put it, it is time to drop the gun and pick up the pen and the musical instrument. In a poll conducted by sampling with Cochran’s formula (384 samples) in Qučān, 86 percent of people between 18 and 45 years old were more proud of Ḥāj Qorbān Solaymāni (1920-2008) than of Amir Ḥosayn Šojāʿ-al-Dawla Ilḵāni. The same poll showed that 64 percent of Kurds between the ages of 18 and 40 in Širvān knew nothing about Farhād Khan Bičarānlu, the last khan of the region, and had not even heard his name. According to studies conducted in 1968, only 13.5 per cent of Kurdish people were married to non-Kurds. This percentage has reached 43 percent in 2018 (see Manṣuriān, 2021). 

Conclusion. In sum, it can be said that Kurds are located in northern Khorasan in an area about 350 km long and with an average width of 100 km. They have a rich culture and history and a clear identity. The administration of the region was once under the control of their khans. In the contemporary era, they try to send their representatives to the Islamic Consultative Assembly and town and village councils by voting, and they are more proud of their musicians, writers, artists, scientists, and athletes than of their khans and the insurgents of previous decades and centuries. The younger generation of Khorasani Kurds looks more to the future than to the past.


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xviii. Physical Geography of Khorasan

Any attempt to define Khorasan in a historical sense or to define it in terms of physical geography is a difficult endeavor (see KHORASAN i. CONCEPT OF KHORASAN). The geographical term “Khorasan” covers a wide range of connotations due to its long and varying political and territorial history, its historically undefined borders, its adherence to so many different realms, empires, and states – and also due to the fact that it has hardly any clearly defined geographical or natural boundaries. 

In its broadest sense, Khorasan stretches from southern Turkmenistan via the northwestern edge of Afghanistan to its central area, i.e., the northeastern part of Iran. The focus of this article, however, is on the three administrative provinces that make up Iranian Khorasan (Ḵorāsān-e Šemāli ‘North Khorasan’; Ḵorāsān-e Janubi ‘South Khorasan’: and Ḵorāsān-e Rażawi ‘Razavi Khorasan’).

Centuries ago, under the rule of Central Asian conquerors, when political borders did not exist and boundaries were not permanent, even parts of today’s Uzbekistan and Tajikistan were considered to be part of a territory called Khorasan. Within these often undefined areas, Khorasan covers a great variety of landforms and climates as well as a broad spectrum of different vegetation zones. The mighty mountain chains of what has been called the “Turkmenian and Chorasanian mountain ranges” (Scharlau, p. 23) may be interpreted as the geological and geomorphological backbone of Khorasan. Its physical geography is chiefly dominated by arid to semi-arid deserts and semi-deserts. The northern foothills of the Turkmenian mountain ranges, covered with the erosional deposits of their hinterlands, mark the transition to the steppe and desert plateaus of Central Asia, geologically called the Turan Plate. The southern fringe of the Khorasan mountain system shows structures similar to those of its northern counterparts: extended hill areas of mostly Tertiary origin intermingle with extensive highlands, intra-montane flats and basins covered by deserts, swamps, and salt-flats (dašt-e kavir; see DESERT). Figure 1 summarizes the general geomorphological setting of central Khorasan and its predominating physical landscape features and differentiations. Toward the west, geological structures and landforms are marked by the lowlands of the Caspian Sea (q.v.) and the Caspian basin. Toward the east, the highlands and mountains of Iranian Khorasan continue into Afghanistan, separated only by the valley of the Hari Rud/Tejen rivers (formerly AKES, q.v.). Again, deserts and steppe landscapes prevail, contributing to an overall extremely arid environment.

Figure 1. Khorasan: mountain structure and strike directions (adapted from Scharlau, 1963). Map courtesy of the author.Figure 1. Khorasan: mountain structure and strike directions (adapted from Scharlau, 1963). Map courtesy of the author.

In contrast to these general introductory remarks, a closer analysis of the physical geography of Iranian Khorasan shows the complexity of its geological development and its impacts on land and people. Topography, terrain, climate, and vegetation are all affected by Khorasan’s landscape history. The area, with its total size of more than 315,000 km2, is geologically and tectonically a highly complicated region. Its seemingly clear differentiation into two strings of mountain chains, separated by a deeply incised valley region, conceals a complex landscape history, which still has not come to an end. The alignment of the mountain ranges and the separating valley structures in a general northwest-southeast direction suggest conformity of their orogenesis. Yet the existence of numerous cross-folds and of topographical gaps in predominantly southwestern-northeastern strikes indicate geological disturbances, connected with faults and corresponding seismic activities. As a matter of fact, the process of mountain building is ongoing. Earthquakes, faulting and folding of the lithosphere, landslides, and/or mountain-creeps are permanent threats to people, their habitats, and their economy. The fact that the two mountain systems and their geological development (identical with the aforementioned “Turkmenian and Chorasanian mountain ranges”) adhere to two different geological periods adds to the complexity of the geology and physical geography of the region under review. The southern chains are mainly Jurassic in age, with significant outcrops of much older bedrock, while the Kopet Dagh (q.v.) and its chains are predominantly of Cretaceous lithology. And both systems, upfolded in connection with the alpine orogenesis of the Tertiary, are still drifting against each other (see below) and join finally in the Hindu Kush (q.v., formerly Paropamisus) of Afghanistan.

The northern Turkmenian chain has its origin in the Kopet Dagh/Golul Dagh ranges in Turkmenistan and continues toward the southeast via the Allāho Akbar Mountains (see ALLĀHO AKBAR, KŪH-E) and the ridges of the Hazār Masjed located north of Khorasan’s capital Mashhad. They are characterized by more or less uniform strata of Mesozoic Tertiary age. The almost perfect alignment of their folded ranges is a continuation of the Caucasian mountain system, west of the great Caspian depression. The southern sequence, the Khorasan chain, shows a more complicated oro- and morphogenesis. Emanating from the Alborz (q.v.) and its southwest-northeast and west-east striking ridges, their continuation bends into directions parallel to their northern counterparts: Ālā Dāḡ (q.v.) – Kuh-e Binālud (at over 3,200 m the highest point of the Khorasanian ranges; see BĪNĀLŪD, KŪH-E) – Pošt-e Kuh. Unlike the northern mountain system, however, these chains are interrupted and disturbed by geological flexures and cross-folds (Kuh-e Šāh Jahān and Kotal-e Suḵāni) with again southwest-northeast directions. These strike directions, by the way, are also detectable underneath the valley floor of Khorasan’s third major landscape unit: the central valley separating the Turkmenian and Khorasan ranges. This longitudinal valley, stretching over a distance of approximately 450 km with a width of 40 to 50 km, can be termed a geological trough or a kind of rift valley. It has all the characteristics of a lineament, i.e., a zone of tectonic and seismic weakness (see Figure 1). The valley bottom is filled with erosional deposits from the bordering mountain ranges. It is dissected by two major rivers: the Atrak (q.v.) and the Kašaf Rud. The Atrak, rising in the hill country near Qučān, flows toward the northwest and discharges into the Caspian Sea. The Kašaf Rud, originating in the Kuh-e Binālud, flows in a southeasterly direction. It joins the Hari Rud, the north-flowing river bordering Afghanistan. Both catchment areas are probably separated by one of those geological upfolds in the basement of the rift valley.

Figure 2. Seismotectonic epicenters of northeast Iran and the Kopet Dagh region (adapted from Berberian, 1976). Map courtesy of the author.Figure 2. Seismotectonic epicenters of northeast Iran and the Kopet Dagh region (adapted from Berberian, 1976). Map courtesy of the author.

As indicated, the seemingly clear geological structures of Khorasan’s historical, cultural, and economic core area are causes of severe environmental constraints and handicaps. Plate tectonics play an important role. Mountain chains and the Atrak – Kašaf lineament are squeezed in between the northward drift of the Arabian Plate and its central Iranian outpost, the so-called Median Mass, on the one hand, and its northern counterpart, the southward drifting Turan Plate (Figure 2). The movement of these plates and their geologically young formation and uplift, which is still active, make the whole region highly vulnerable. Seismotectonics and devastating earthquakes make Khorasan one of the most affected regions of Iran and the Middle East (Berberian, 1976; Harrison, p. 147; Stöcklin, p. 1245; Tchalenko et al.; see also EARTHQUAKES iii. IN PERSIA). Tectonic instability of the earth crust is especially pronounced where the main strike directions are disturbed. Hotspots are the areas of cross-folds (Kuh-e Šāh Jahān, Kotal-e Suḵāni), the basin of Mashhad and the Khorasan rift valley, but also minor fault lines. Not only Bojnurd (q.v.), Qučān, or Mashhad in Iran (Figure 1), but also Ashgabat (Ashkhabad, q.v.) in Turkmenistan have been destroyed again and again, not to mention the countless smaller urban centers and rural areas and the hundred thousands of human lives (comprehensive surveys are given by Tchalenko et al.; Berberian, 1976; 1977). 

Thus, geology and geomorphology and their impacts on the topography of the Khorasan region must be considered as the decisive determinants of most other elements of northeastern Iran’s physical geography: climate, hydrology, vegetation and related biotic factors. 

Climatic conditions of Khorasan. In regard to climate, northeastern Iran is characterized by a combination of high-pressure air masses of Central Asian/Siberian origin all year round, in winter months occasionally interrupted by moister air of Mediterranean or Caspian origin, which, however, is mostly affecting the mountainous north of the region. In view of the fact that southern Iran and the Persian Gulf (q.v.) region are low pressure areas, winds blow normally from east and/or north, causing comparatively cool winters. Temperatures in the summer months are also somewhat lower than in many other parts of the country. However, the southern part of Khorasan, i.e., the barren deserts and semi-deserts, are characterized by the typical desert climate of Iran: aridity and temperature extremes. Especially those parts of the region located south of the Khorasan chains, developing their own local high pressure cells, suffer from extremely high temperatures. Hot spots—in the literal sense of the word—are the Dašt-e Kavir and the highlands and basins of northeastern Iran with their all-year-round arid climatic conditions (see also Figure 3). A special feature of Khorasan’s climatic situation is the occurrence of local and regional wind regimes. Besides almost ubiquitous mountain-valley winds in the north of the region, there is the special phenomenon of the “wind of 120 days” (bād-e sad-o-bist ruza; see BĀD [1]), a wind blowing steadily from a northern/northwestern direction between May and September, triggered by extremely low pressure cells over the Indus valley in western Pakistan.

Figure 3. Vegetation profile of Khorasan (adapted from Bobek, 1951). Courtesy of the author.Figure 3. Vegetation profile of Khorasan (adapted from Bobek, 1951). Courtesy of the author.

Topography, the configuration and direction of mountain systems and valleys, as well as the altitude of the terrain are of major importance for the precipitation distribution over the region. As indicated, aridity and extremely low and rare rainfall are characteristic of almost all parts of Khorasan. The long-term annual precipitation is generally less than 120 to 150 mm, often even less than 100 mm. Even the basins and valleys in the north do not receive enough rainfall to sustain a balanced water management. Mashhad, for example, receives less than 250 mm in the long run (Ganji, Table 5, p. 248), while Tabas in the south has less than 100 mm. Only the high-rising ranges of the Turkmenian and Khorasanian mountains receive more moisture, partly in the form of winter snowfall. 

Favored by topography and wind directions, occasional humid air masses of Mediterranean and/or Caspian origin may reach Khorasan. More important, however, are northerly winds that hit the Kopet Dagh and the Kuh-e Binālud and neighboring ranges where the winterly moisture load is released in the form of rain or snow, especially at elevations over 2,000 m above medium sea level.

Hydrology of Khorasan. In view of these climatological and meteorological conditions (for further details see Ganji), the hydrology of Khorasan is simple to characterize: scarcity, sparseness, or complete lack of water is its main feature. Having no access to the world oceans, Khorasan is a land-locked region without any exoreic (i.e., outward flowing) streams. On the contrary, the largest part of the region consists of so-called endoreic, i.e., interior, basins, isolated and disconnected. If ever occasional winterly runoffs cover the surface of these flat basins, evaporation transforms these periodic water bodies into swampy, gravel-covered depressions of salt flats. Even the catchment areas and drainage basins of Khorasan’s two biggest rivers, the Atrak and Kašaf Rud, end up in endoreic basins, since neither the Caspian Sea nor the vast desert regions of Turkmenistan have any connections with the world oceans. Wherever surplus water is available, however, it is diverted for agricultural irrigation purposes within Khorasan’s great interior valley and specifically for the hinterlands of its urban centers and in the basin of Mashhad.

A very specific aspect of the hydrological situation of Khorasan is the numerous springs and small rivulets supplied by seepage, by melting snow, or rare rain showers. Together with sometimes remarkable groundwater resources, they are concentrated along the slopes of the mountain ranges and/or hidden underneath the desiccated surfaces of the foothills and their extensive gravel flats (dašt, q.v.), alluvial fans, and pediments. Winterly precipitation, snowfall, and occasional convectional rainfalls in spring allow more or less intensive irrigated agriculture in the forelands on both sides of the Turkmenian and Khorasan mountain ranges. Where surface water is not available and both terrain and soils are good, the specific technique of qanāt (see KĀRIZ) irrigation is being practiced (Semsar Yazdi and Labbaf Khaneiki, 2017; 2019). Intensive agriculture in the midst of barren and arid deserts and semi-deserts is a common phenomenon in many parts of Khorasan.

Lithology and its weathering products in combination with topography, climate and vegetation cover are preconditions of soil development. M. L. Dewan (1968, p. 251) points to the fact that soil associations are “geographically related within the landscape” and that they “correspond to broad climatic and physiographic units, and they also have a common pattern of land use”. The soils of Khorasan and northeastern Iran in general are perfect reflections of these interrelationships (Dewan and Famouri, 1964). Lithosols, i.e., stony soils, developed over bedrock and with hardly or no significant horizon development, prevail. Lack of soil profiles in combination with water deficits characterize wide parts of southern Khorasan, interrupted by even poorer “soils” in endorheic basins. Summarized as “desert soils,” the surfaces of these areas are very low in organic material, have calcareous or saline subsoils, and are ecologically more or less sterile. In extreme cases, the landscapes are covered by so-called “desert pavements,” surfaces of stones and pebbles, where finer materials such as sand or clay have been blown out. Altogether, the soils of southern Khorasan are useless for any form of human cultivation or animal husbandry. Exceptions to this rule are rare patches of alluvial soils and arable lands with oases agriculture. The northern part of the region shows a somewhat different picture. Terrain and climate, but also its phytogeographic structure, allow the development of brownish soils in the plateau areas along the Turkmenistan border and calcareous lithosols (brown soils and chestnut soils) in the region’s dissected hills and their forelands. Especially parts of the Turkmenian chains’ foreland north of Mashhad and the Mashhad basin itself, as well as the southern counterparts around Nishapur (q.v.; Figure 1), are ecologically ideal regions. The same holds true for the valley troughs of the Atrak and Kašaf Rud. Intensive agriculture, fruit growing, and gardening have also enabled the development of rich urban cultures in these ecologically favored parts of the region in the past and present.

The natural vegetation cover of Khorasan is a more or less perfect indicator of the region’s physiogeographic diversity. Outstanding characteristic is again the distinction between a comparatively favored northern part of the region and its extremely arid southern part in the shadow of the mountains. This basic differentiation of Khorasan’s landscape structure becomes apparent in a vegetation profile (Bobek, 1951) stretching from the Turan plateau in the north to the Dašt-e Kavir in the south.

According to Michael Zohary (p. 34) Khorasan as a whole is part of what he calls the Irano-Turanian vegetation territory, subdivided into five subunits, of which the steppe district, the sand and marsh enclaves, and the alpine and subalpine zones are of relevance for this region. The latter ones are characteristic for elevations of the Kopet Dagh and Kuh-e Binālud massifs with heights over 2,200 to 2,500 m. Here, we find the last remnants of the formerly denser vegetation cover: The alpine and subalpine parts of the mountain ranges (sardsir; see GARMSĪR AND SARDSĪR) are covered by the remnants of perennial grasses amidst dominant weeds, spiny shrubs, and herbs. The somewhat moister slopes of the mountains and hills, characterized also by better soils, are part of what botanists call the “Irano-Turanian vegetation element.” It is characterized by relatively dry juniper, pistachio, and almond forests. Both ecosystems are, however, heavily disturbed, degraded, and/or devastated by overgrazing, firewood collection, and charcoal production, as well as by expansion of agricultural lands wherever possible. The lower parts of the mountains, their somewhat more humid forelands, slopes, and valleys carry a denser vegetation cover with Turanian elements, but are mostly used agriculturally. As Zohary puts it: “Within the boundaries of Iran, the Turanian element is confined mainly to two habitats, salines and dunes, which are diffused or form smaller or larger enclaves throughout the Middle Eastern deserts. Turanian elements are especially abundant in Khurasan and in central Iran” (pp. 51-52). This statement is amply supported by comprehensive lists of plant associations and their environmental characteristics. 


Jean Aubin, “Réseau pastoral et réseau caravanier: les grand’routes du Khurassan à l’époque mongole,” Le Monde Iranien et l’Islam: Sociétés et Cultures I, Geneva and Paris, 1971, pp. 105-30.

Manuel Berberian, Contribution to the Seismotectonics of Iran (Part II), Geological Survey of Iran, Tectonic and Seismotectonic Section, Report No. 39, Tehran, 1976.

Idem, Contribution to the Seismotectonics of Iran (Part III), Geological and Mining Survey of Iran, Tectonic and Seismotectonic Research Section, Report No. 40, Tehran, 1977.

Hans Bobek, Die natürlichen Wälder und Gehölzfluren Iräns, Bonn, 1951.

Idem, “Vegetation,” in W. B. Fisher, ed., The Cambridge History of Iran I: The Land of Iran, Cambridge, 1968, pp. 280-93.

Emile-G. Bonnard, “Contribution à la connaissance géologique de nord-est de l’Iran (Environs de Méched),” Ecologae Geologicae Helveticae 37, 1944, pp. 331-54.

Frederick G. Clapp, “Geology of Eastern Iran,” Bulletin of the Geographical Society of America 51, 1940, pp. 1-102.

M. L. Dewan and J. Famouri, The Soils of Iran, Rome, 1964.

M. L. Dewan, J. Famouri, and R. H. S. Robertson, “Soils,” in W. B. Fisher, ed., The Cambridge History of Iran I: The Land of Iran, Cambridge, 1968, pp. 250-63.

Eckart Ehlers, Iran: Grundzüge einer geographischen Landeskunde, Darmstadt, 1980.

W. B. Fisher, “Physical Geography,” in W. B. Fisher, ed., The Cambridge History of Iran I: The Land of Iran, Cambridge, 1968, pp. 3-110.

Frederick Forbes, “Route from Turbat Ḥaïderí, in Khorásán, to the River Herí Rúd, on the Borders of Sístán,” The Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London 14, 1844, pp. 145-92.

James Baillie Fraser, Narrative of a Journey into Khorasān in the Years 1821 and 1822, Including Some Account of the Countries to the North-East of Persia, London, 1825.

M. H. Ganji, “Climate,” in W. B. Fisher, ed., The Cambridge History of Iran I: The Land of Iran, Cambridge, 1968, pp. 212-49.

J. V. Harrison, “Geology,” in W. B. Fisher, ed., The Cambridge History of Iran I: The Land of Iran, Cambridge, 1968, pp. 111-85.

Charles Metcalfe MacGregor, Narratives of a Journey Through the Province of Khorassan and on the N.W. Frontier of Afghanistan in 1875, 2 vols., London, 1879.

G. C. Napier, “Extracts from a Diary of a Tour in Khorassan, and Notes on the Eastern Alburz Tract,” The Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London 46, 1876, pp. 62-171.

T. M. Oberlander, “Hydrography,” in W. B. Fisher, ed., The Cambridge History of Iran I: The Land of Iran, Cambridge, 1968, pp. 264-79.

Kurt Scharlau, “Das Nordost-iranische Gebirgsland und das Becken von Mesched,” Zeitschrift für Geomorphologie: Annals of Geomorphology NS 7, 1963, pp. 23-35.

Ali Asghar Semsar Yazdi and Majid Labbaf Khaneiki, Qanat Knowledge: Construction and Maintenance, Dordrecht, 2017.

Idem, Veins of the Desert: A Review on Qanat/Falaj/Karez, Gistrup, 2019.

Jovan Stöcklin, “Structural History and Tectonics of Iran: A Review,” The American Association of Petroleum Geologists Bulletin, 52/7, 1968, pp. 1229-58.

J. S. Tchalenko et al., Materials for the Study of Seismotectonics of Iran: North-Central Iran, Geological Survey of Iran, Report No. 29, Tehran, 1974.

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

Michael Zohary, “On the Geobotanical Structure of Iran,” Bulletin of the Research Council of Israel, Section D, Botany, vol. 11D, Supplement, March 1963, pp. 1-113.

xix. Linguistic Features of Khorasani Persian

This article examines the linguistic features of Khorasani Persian as spoken and written in the vast region stretching from Qumes to Marv, which in the inscription of Darius (q.v.; see also BISOTUN iii) was called Parθava, or “Parthia.” 

The adjectival forms of Pahlaw in Middle Iranian languages are Pahlawānīg and Pahlawīg. The more recent forms of the word Pahlaw in Persian and Arabic are Pahla and Fahla, and their adjectival forms Pahlavi and Fahlavi (see FAHLAVĪYĀT). Though Persian Pahlav and Arabic Fahla are the formal continuations of Old Persian Parθava and Middle Persian Pahlaw, they no longer refer to the historical region of Parthia. According to Ebn al-Moqaffaʿ (q.v.; d. 139/757) as quoted in the Fehrest (q.v.; Ebn al-Nadim, ed. Tajaddod, p. 15, tr. Dodge, I, p. 24), Fahla consisted of the regions of Isfahan, Ray, Hamadān, Māh Nehāvand, and Azerbaijan, that is a region comprising Media (q.v.). 

The word Pahlawānīg is attested in a Manichean Middle Persian text (Andreas and Henning, pp. 302-3): When the Messenger of Light (= Māni [q.v.]) was in Holwān, he called Mar Ammō, one of his companions who knew the Pahlawānīg language (= Parthian), and sent him to Abaršahr (q.v.), i.e, the Nishapur province in western Khorasan. The Sogdian version of the same text also mentions the Pahlawānīg language (Sogd. pγlʾwʾnʾk), a valuable testimony on the linguistic situation of Iran in the third century CE (Henning, 1958, p. 94; Lazard, 1971, p. 364). 

Manichean Middle Persian embodies Middle Persian in its original, provincial purity; the Middle Persian of the books, as the common language of the Sasanian Empire and the language of education of its priests and court singers, was exposed over time to the influence of the older Parthian vernacular language. It eventually became a dialect that lost the peculiarities of its southwestern Iranian origin (Sundermann, 1989, p. 139). 

During the Sasanian period (224-650 CE), Pārsīg (usually called Middle Persian or, erroneously, Pahlavi), that is, the language attributed to the region of Pārs, was the official language of Iran. Both Pahlawīg and Pārsīg are connected to the western branch of the Iranian languages (Pahlawīg to the northern branch and Pārsīg to the southern) and are two dialects of the same language. During most of the Arsacid period (250 BCE-226 CE), Pahlawīg, along with Greek, was the official language. Here, we will use Parthian instead of Pahlawīg, and Middle Persian for Pārsīg. 

The Manicheans wrote their propagandistic pamphlets intended for Pahla in Parthian. However, when Middle Persian spread and obtained official status, the use of Parthian gradually diminished, so that, apparently by the 6th century, nothing seems to have been written in Parthian as a living language. A few short private inscriptions in Parthian language and script were found on rock-faces in southern Khorasan, that is, within the territory of Parthia proper; but it is thought that none is later than fourth century CE. Antoine Ghilain (q.v.) believed that the disappearance of Parthian as a living language took place in the 5th century (p. 28). Moḥammad b. Aḥmad Ḵᵛārazmi (d. ca. 380/990), however, writes (p. 117) that the Sasanian kings conversed in this language in their gatherings (majāles). If this is true, then apparently, because of its prestige, Parthian was still used in court circles as an esteemed language for some time after having lost popular currency (see Lazard, 1971, pp. 378-80).

In the Islamic period, we see in Khorasan the use of a developed form of Pārsīg, or Pārsi, which would later be called Fārsi, or Pārsi/Fārsi-e Dari, and in Arabic al-fāresiya al-dariya (see DARI). Ebn al-Moqaffaʿ, an Iranian who wrote in Arabic, said that Pārsi-e dari was the language in Sasanian times of the capital city Madāʾen/Ctesiphon (q.v.); it was also one of the languages of the people of Khorasan and the east, and was based on the language of Balḵ (q.v; apud Ebn al-Nadim, ed. Tajaddod, p. 15, tr. Dodge, I, p. 24). Wāʿeẓ Balḵi (fl. 1214) also stated, quoting Nażr b. Šomayl (122-204/740-820), that Dari is the language of the people of Balḵ (pp. 29-30). Ebn al-Moqaffaʿ’s considering Dari to have been dominated by the language of Balḵ apparently means that the standard form of Dari was the one current in Balḵ. Abu ʿAbd-Allāh Maqdesi’s statement (p. 334) that the language of Balḵ is “the best” seems to support this view. Ebn al-Moqaffaʿ’s description of the languages of Iran—Pahlavi, Pārsi, Dari, Soryāni, and Khuzi (Ebn al-Nadim, ed. Tajaddod, p.15, tr. Dodge, I, p. 24) indicates the variety of languages existing in Iran at the end of the Sasanian period.

Ebn al-Moqaffaʿ’s reference to Balḵ—and, later, that by Nażr b. Šomayl—shows that at the end of the Sasanian period Dari had spread from Ctesiphon (q.v.), the Sasanian capital, to Khorasan. Joseph Markwart (q.v.) states that, around the end of this period, Middle Persian had probably reached Ṭoḵarestān (the region of Balḵ; see BACTRIA), and that later, apparently at the beginning of the Arab domination, appeared as the language of general exchange and everyday interactions (p. 89). Arthur Christensen (q.v.; I, p. 5) regarded the transfer of troops to the east and the establishment of military bases there for the purpose of resisting invaders from Central Asia as the predominant factor leading to the general use of Dari in Khorasan.

We know that attacks on Khorasan by the Chionites (q.v.) began in the 4th century. The first entrance of Dari into Khorasan probably took place in the same century or, as is more likely, beginning in the 5th century. In Khorasan, Dari was profoundly influenced by Parthian. In addition to a great number of words, it was also influenced by Parthian with respect to phonetics and phonology as well as grammar. Wolfgang Lenz (q.v.) listed many Parthian words used in Ferdowsi’s Šāh-nāma (pp. 251-316). Of course, a number of Parthian forms and roots are also notable in Middle Persian—or, in the terminology of some scholars, “Zoroastrian Pahlavi” (=Middle Persian) or “book Pahlavi” (Pahlavi-ye ketābi). These elements probably entered the official language from the very beginning of Sasanian rule, when Pārsīg became the official language of the court. For example, the word čiš, meaning čiz ‘thing’, entered Middle Persian from Parthian; the original southern form, tis, also appears in some Judeo-Persian texts, and it is its more ancient form, *tsis, which is today pronounced tses in Davān, a village to the northeast of Kāzerun (q.v.). The word čiz is probably itself also an altered form of Parthian čiš. The aorist root of the verb dādan ‘to give’ is day in Manichean Middle Persian, but dah in Parthian. The Persian word ranj ‘trouble, suffering’ is also ranj in Parthian, and ranǰ in Middle Persian, taken from Parthian; the Manichean Middle Persian form is ranz. The word panj ‘five’ is panj in both Parthian and Persian, but panz in Manichean Middle Persian. The forms dah, ranj, and panj did not therefore enter New Persian directly from Parthian, but through Middle Persian. 

We do not have much information about Dari in the late Sasanian period. The oldest examples of Dari Persian are phrases attributed to Sasanian rulers, or others, found in Arabic sources (see Ṣādeqi, 1978). Apart from these phrases, we also have two letters in Judeo-Persian, in Hebrew script. One of these letters is deficient, as four sides of it have perished; therefore many sentences are incomplete. This letter was found by Sir Aurel Stein (q.v.) in the late 19th century in the ruins of Dandān Öilïq (q.v.), and it is thus known as the “Dandān Öilïq Letter.” A number of scholars have studied this letter, including Bo Utas, to whose transcription and translation of the text Gilbert Lazard (1988) has provided some emendations. The language of this letter is Dari Persian, but very ancient, perhaps from the mid-8th century. The ergative constructions (q.v.) of transitive verbs in the past are absent from this letter. The past and past perfect tenses correspond to their forms in classical Dari Persian: foruḵta bud ‘he had sold’; foruḵta buda ast ‘he had had sold’. But instead of ke at the beginning of a relative clause, as in Middle Persian, ī is used: kār-ī farmudi-aš saḵt konom tā karda bovad ‘I will insist till the work you ordered is done’. This construction is also seen sometimes in texts from the 11th and 12th centuries (see below). There is only one ancient word in this letter that is not seen in classical texts: bendom ‘I find’, bendādom ‘I found’ (MPers. windādan). W. B. Henning (q.v.) thought that the 8th century was too early for the writing of this letter (Henning, 1958, pp. 79-80); however, the extreme scarcity of Arabic words in it may support the suggestion of the 8th century as the date of its composition. The word rikēbayn, a mispronunciation (emāla: pronouncing ā as ē) of rekābayn ‘stirrups’ is apparently the only Arabic word. On the other hand, there are two Sogdian words, cmkwy ‘harp’ and ʾndryk ‘eunuch,’ in it, which may indicate the letter’s connection with some decades later than the beginning of the 8th century.

Several years ago, the first page of another commercial letter in Judeo-Persian was found, which is nearly complete and intact. Two Chinese scholars, Shi Guang and Zhang Zhan, published this letter in 2008 and added detailed comments on it in Chinese (see also Yoshida). In Lazard’s 2014 article, based on the reading of “an unknown individual” (Lazard’s words), brief information was given on the letter’s linguistic characteristics, which are summarized here: They include early pronunciations, such as abā ‘with’, andar ‘in’, and ayāftan ‘to find’; the conditional mode in Middle Persian forms such as agar…rasād ‘should he/it…arrive’, and nāmada bād ‘let it not happen’; passive adjectives are used in the present perfect without the suffix -a: nebešt budi ‘it was written’; the sign for the enclitic eżāfa (q.v.) is -ǐ instead of ke at the beginning of a relative clause, such as: ān-e nebešt budi ‘that which was written’ (Lazard, 2014, p. 90). Kasra instead of ke is also seen in some Persian texts (see Ṣādeqi, 2016, pp. 3-7). Given the fact that a closed community, such as the Jewish community in a predominantly Muslim society, would tend to be more conservative with respect to language, one cannot date such documents with any degree of precision. What is certain is that this letter has an early date, and it was probably written around the 8th century.

Another early text, preserved with the Manichaen fragments from Turfan in Berlin, is in a non-Persian script. It consists of two pages of a translation of the Psalms into Persian in Syriac script. In 1915, Friedrich Müller published the upper section of these two pages (pp. 215 ff.). Much later, Werner Sundermann discovered another part of these two leaves, and published all the existing segments with a re-examination of the text published by Müller (1974, pp. 441-52). In 2011, Nicholas Sims-Williams undertook a new transcription, translation, and publication of this text. It, too, has early characteristics, such as the use of the gerund without the suffix -a, as in payrāst budand ‘they were prepared’; the use of preposition p=pe or pa instead of be, which is seen in some other Persian texts such as the Tafsir-e Qorʾān-e pāk and the Judeo-Persian text published by David Neil MacKenzie (q.v.; 1968); the use of the present stem of the verb dādan with t instead of d, which is still used in Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and eastern Iranian Khorasan: thyḏ ‘give’, thḏ ‘gives’, etc.; the use of some words that apparently are not used in Dari Persian, such as pāḏyāvand ‘strong’, which occurs also in MacKenzie’s text: ram meaning mardom ‘people’; gorāḡ for kalāḡ ‘crow’ (seen also in Baluchi); mānešn for ḵāna ‘house’ (evidently a historical spelling for mānešt); jud-ābitar for ḵošktar ‘drier’; kāmaḏ, from the verb kāmestan meaning ḵᵛāstan ‘to want’; ē-rā-ke for zirāke ‘because’. Only two Arabic words are found in this text: ḥadd ‘border’ and jomla in jomlagi ‘summation’. This translation is probably from the 9th century; but in it some dialect words may also be seen.

A number of texts from the 10th and 11th centuries also contain early and dialectal characteristics, some of which will be dealt with at the end of this article. But many Khorasani texts of this period are written in standard classical Persian; and with the exception of early words, which later fell completely out of currency, there are no dialect words in these texts. Various classical, standard, 10th and 11th-century texts substantiate this claim: Moḥammad Ḡazāli (q.v.; 450-505/1058-1111) wrote two books, Kimiā-ye saʿādat (q.v.) and Naṣiḥat al-moluk, in standard classical Persian, in which almost no dialectal characteristics can be seen, or else such words are very few. For instance, such words in the Kimiā, which became virtually obsolete after the 12th century, include: āzmāneš, for āzmāyeš ‘trial, test’; asta for hasta ‘fruit stone, pit’; bestāḵ along with gostāḵ ‘overly familiar (persons)’, ‘bold, rude’; bonješk for gonješk ‘sparrow’ (Naṣiḥat al-moluk, p. 184); neḡuša, meaning “secretly listening to someone, eavesdropping,” for niōša; bāzidan for bāḵtan ‘playing; gambling’ (in the context of chess, gambling and pigeon-flying), from Middle Persian wāzidan; and some infinitives and analogical past tense verbs such as sarāyidan for sorudan ‘to sing, recite’ and jahidan for jastan ‘to jump’. The Middle Persian consonant w changes to g or b in New Persian; and the forms bestāḵ and bonješk cannot be considered dialectal.

In the Naṣiḥat al-moluk as well there are only a few early and dialectal forms, such as kuhan=kwhn for kohan ‘old, ancient’ (p. 67); kahriz for kāriz (q.v.) ‘subterranean canal’ (pp. 189, 242); āḡāz for āvāz ‘voice, sound’ (p. 297); šugin for šuḵgen ‘dirty’; dig-ruz for diruz ‘yesterday’; zafān/zufān for zabān ‘tongue, language’ (p. 169).

The situation is the same for the language of Neẓām-al-Molk Ṭusi’s (408-85/1018-92) Siar al-moluk (qq.v.). It has only a few early or dialect words, such as: rawišn for raveš ‘conduct’; bērān for virān ‘ruined’; ādēn for āyin ‘custom’; tābān for tāvān ‘compensation’; barzidan for varzidan ‘work, practice’; avām for w/vām ‘loan, debt’, from Middle Persian abām; and F/Vistā for Avesta (pp. 258, 265).

It is also notable that Ferdowsi’s Šāh-nāma, composed earlier than Siar al-moluk, was also written in standard classical Persian. Some particular forms, such as miža for moža ‘eyelash/es’; goyāzanda for godāzanda ‘boiling; burning’; bad-Irān for ba-Irān ‘to Iran’; bad-Afrāsiāb for ba-Afrāsiāb ‘to Afrāsiāb’, appear in the Florence manuscript dated 1217-18 and have entered Djalal Khaleghi-Motlagh’s edition. Except for bad instead of ba/e, these are dialectal. The same is true of the works of the poets of the Ghaznavid (q.v.) period, such as Farroḵi Sistāni, ʿOnṣori (qq.v.), and others, which have almost no dialectal elements. Maqdesi states that the language of Ṭus and Nesā (Nisa, q.v.) is close to the language of Nishapur (p. 334). Therefore, the view of Parviz Khanlari (q.v.), who maintained that Persian appeared in its classical form in the 6th century (Ḵānlari, I, pp. 269-75), seems to be incorrect. This language was separated from the languages of various regions of Khorasan, which had their own dialectal forms or possibly early forms no longer current in classical Persian, and was not the language of any particular region—just as official Middle Persian was also not the language of any particular region, and had, several centuries earlier, become separated from the Middle Persian current in Fārs, which later acquired the status of a dialect.

One can reasonably suppose that the Khorasani writers who wrote in classical Persian spoke a local form of Persian in their own towns or villages. Here, we will not be concerned with describing classical Persian, which has, with some changes, survived to the present time, but will only study the characteristics of texts whose authors were influenced by their own local form of Persian. From among the huge number of such texts, we will only discuss those written in two major cities/regions of Khorasan: Nishapur and Herat (qq.v.). Then we will consider various types of Persian current in several Khorasan regions at the present time. However, it should be noted that Asadi Ṭusi (q.v., d. 465/1072-73) collected in his Loḡat-e fors early and dialectal words and forms found in the poetry of the Samanid and Ghaznavid periods. Some of these words were borrowed from Sogdian, such as naḡz ‘elegant, precious’; faḡ ‘idol’; tart-o mart ‘ruined, useless’; and others, which were pointed out by Henning (1939, p. 94). Some others, with the consonant l, came from Balḵ, such as linj ‘to draw out’; alfaγdan for anduḵtan ‘to accumulate’; and mol ‘wine’ (see Lurje and Yakubovich, 2017, pp. 319-41). Some others were taken from other eastern Iranian languages, such as espaγōl or aspγōl, meaning esparza and bazrqaṭunā ‘fleawort’, which the dictionaries define as “horse’s ears,” and which was taken from one of the eastern languages, such as Sangliči or Eškāšemi (q.v.), because guš ‘ear’ is pronounced γo in Sangliči and γol in Eškāšemi (Morgenstierne II, p. 394).

Characteristics of Nishapuri Persian. The first person to point out the characteristics of Nishapuri Persian was Maqdesi (p. 334). He states that the language of Nishapur is “eloquent and easily understandable,” except that at the beginning of words, that is, in the imperative form, they put a kasra and add y (=ē) as in bē-gō ‘say’ and bē-šaw ‘go’ and add a useless s to present perfect verb forms, as in beḵᵛard-ast-i for ḵᵛarda-i ‘you have eaten’; be-goft-ast-i for gofta-i ‘you have said’; and be-ḵoft-ast-i for ḵofta-i ‘you have slept’.

Apparently, the only text that is specified as composed in the Nishapuri language is a do-bayti (q.v.), which, because the words are not pointed, is incomprehensible, but apparently it rhymes in the word bu, meaning bāšad ‘may be’. This do-bayti is from an anthology kept in the Marʿaši Library in Qom dated 1252 (see Afšār, p. 6). In the Asrār al-tawḥid, the word nāvona ‘a used bed-sheet has been recognized as clearly Nishapuri (Mayhani, p. 80). In Moḥammad b. Abi’l-Barakāt Jawhari Nišāpuri’s Jawāher-nāma (q.v.; dated 1196), several Nishapuri words have also been noted (see Neẓāmi, pp. 67, 167, etc.). From the fact that the above-mentioned do-bayti has been clearly recognized as Nishapuri, we may conclude that the language current among the inhabitants of Nishapur at the time when this poem was recited—probably in the 12th or 13th century—was different from classical Persian. On the basis of some expressions related from Abu Saʿid b. Abi’l-Ḵayr (q.v.) in the Asrār al-tawḥid (if these are indeed attributable to Nishapur and not to Abu Saʿid’s birthplace, Mayhana), there were also grammatical differences in the language of the Nishapuris. Someone asked Abu Saʿid: Ma-rā ba-paḏir ‘Accept me’. The shaikh said: Ne-t wā, meaning na-bāyad-at ‘It is not appropriate for you’; ma-t bēnamā, enšāʾ Allāh mabinamat ‘God willing, I won’t see you’ (see Mayhani, introd., p. 109, text, p. 116).

In order to acquire some knowledge of the characteristics of Nishapuri Persian, we shall look at some texts that were definitely written in Nishapur. Then we shall add to these the characteristics of other texts written in some towns and villages around Nishapur and share some linguistic features with the Nishapuri texts. These texts consist of the Tafsir by ʿAtiq Nišāpuri Surābāni (erroneously: Surābādi; d. 494/1100), published on the basis of the Torbat-e Jām manuscript as Tarjama wa qeṣṣaha-ye Qorʾān; Maydāni Nišāpuri’s (d. 518/1124) al-Sāmi fi’l-asāmi; Abu Jaʿfar Bayhaqi’s (d. 544/1150) Tāj al-maṣāder; Abu ʿAbd-Allāh Zawzani’s (d. 486/1093) Ketāb al-maṣāder; the Tafsir‑e Šonqoši; and an early partial translation of the Qorʾan published as Tarjama-i āhangin az do jozʾ-e Qorʾān. The characteristics of Surābāni’s Tafsir were briefly studied by Lazard (1963).

The suffix denoting continuous action of the verb in the past and the “unreal/irrealis mood” conditional in Surābāni is -ēḏ instead of classical Persian (see Lazard, 1963, sec. 450). The same pronunciation existed in Herat (see below).

The indicating the indefinite article in Surābāni is usually shortened to -e: asb-e for asb-i ‘a horse’; waqt-e for waqt-i ‘a time’; gomān-e for gomān-i ‘a belief, assumption’.

In Surābāni, the Tarjama-i āhangin, Bayhaqi, Zawzani and Maydāni, the preverb farāz is changed to fā(z) or used along with it (i.e., farāz; see Sādeqi, 2012, p. 357).

In the Tarjama-i āhangin and Maydāni the words mehin and behin are found as mēhēn and bēhēn ‘greatest’, ‘best’. The form bēhēn is also found in Zawzani (Sādeqi, 2012, p. 357).

In Surābāni, the final consonants of words following a vowel or a vowel plus consonant are usually dropped; for example, hanu for hanuz ‘still’; hazā for hazār ‘a thousand’; darnāk for dardnāk ‘painful’; sa for sar ‘head’; ba-dānas for ba-dānest ‘he/she knew’.

Initial g or v/w of Middle Persian changes to b in some words: beraviḏan for geraviḏan ‘to admire; follow; ally with’ (Surābāni; Tarjama-i āhangin; Šonqoši); binjiḏan for gonjidan ‘to be contained (in)’ (Tarjama-i āhangin); bezand for gazand ‘wound’ (Šonqoši); barzidan for varzidan ‘to work, practice’ (Bayhaqi; Zawzani).

The consonant indicating the second person plural of verbs is dropped in Surābāni: kardi for kardiḏ ‘you did’; bāši for bāšiḏ ‘you might be, you are, etc.

In Surābāni the nasal n after the long vowel ā is sometimes dropped: išā for išān ‘they’; āšyā for āšyān ‘nest’; nā-nevisandegā for nā-nevisandegān ‘not writers’). 

In Surābāni verb endings in many cases take the following forms:

     Singular                                                  Plural
1st -ym =-ēm                              -m = -em 
2nd -y = i                                     -nd = -end or -and; -d = -eḏ
3rd -d = aḏ; yḏ = ēḏ                  -yḏ = -ēḏ

In cases where in classical Persian the direct object takes -rā, in Surābāni in many instances this particle is not used.

After the verb goftan ‘to say’, where in classical and modern Persian the connective/relative ke is used, in this text, as in Middle Persian, is used.

Heravi Persian. ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Jāmi (q.v.) states in the introductory pages to his Nafaḥāt al-ons that ʿAbd-Allāh Anṣāri (q.v.) wrote his Ṭabaqāt al-ṣufiya in the Heravi (Herati) language. In the authentic writings of Anṣāri, there are linguistic characteristics that do not appear in other contemporary texts. We have three Persian books of his: the Ṭabaqāt al-ṣufiya; part of a Qorʾān commentary (tafsir) attributed to him; and another text of his sayings and (private) prayers (monājāt, q.v.), collected under the title Kalamāt-e Šayḵ-al-Eslām (ed. Šafiʿi Kadkani).

The Ṭabaqāt al-ṣufiya was first studied in 1923 by Vladimir Ivanow (q.v.), who noted most of its linguistic characteristics. Ivanow’s edition was based on the only manuscript known at the time, which is now held by the Asiatic Society of Bengal and is dated to 1606. Gilbert Lazard’s description (1963) is also based on Ivanow’s edition. The data for the present discussion are taken from the edition by Moḥammad Sarvar Mawlāʾi (1983), which he based on five manuscripts. In his introduction, Sarvar Mawlāʾi discussed the book’s linguistic characteristics in detail (see Anṣāri, 1983, introd., pp. 119-76). We have also taken note of Ivanow’s comments.

Characteristics of the Ṭabaqāt. The third person singular of the present tense of the verb budan ‘to be’ is -id instead of ast. The conditional present forms of this verb are also as follows: bm (=bovam), by (= bovi, bāši), nby (=nabāši), byd (= bovid, bāšid), bnd (=bovand, bāšand). In one instance, instead of id, hᵛn is used (in two manuscripts), or hᵛnᵛ (in one other manuscript; p. 157). Hᵛn is also used several times in Maybodi’s Kašf al-asrār, which is based on Anṣāri’s Tafsir (introd., p. 145), and also in Baḵš-i az Tafsir (Anṣāri, 1996, pp. 213, 229).

The forms for the simple present tense of the verb šodan ‘to become’ are: šm, for šavam; šy, for šavi; šyd, for šavid; and šnd for šavand.

The personal pronoun ‘we’ takes the form amā

-ēḏ is used for , the indicator for an unachieved conditional in classical Persian.

The ergative construction is used in several instances: ō-t ba če bešnāḵt, for u-rā ba-če bešnāḵti ‘by what [features, signs] did you recognize him (Anṣāri, 1983, p. 636); giram ke-m to be ʿelm yāft, for classical giram ke man to-rā ba-ʿelm yāftam ‘let [us] presume that I found [i.e., recognized] you by [my] knowledge’ (Anṣāri, 1983, p. 167); az donyā biāmadi wa-at marā našnāḵt, for az donyā biyāmadi va ma-rā na-šenāḵti, ‘you came from the world and did not recognize me’ (Anṣāri, 1983, p. 644). This construction had gone unnoticed by any earlier scholars of Anṣāri’s works.

Use of the verb kāmestan/kāmidan ‘to desire, to want’ before another verb denotes “to be about to” do something indicated by the verb.

The verbs davidan ‘to run’ and tāftan ‘to shine (sun), to be warm’ are used in the forms davestan and (var, dar) tā(w)/bestan (compare the use of vāhistan for vāstan in Baḵš-i az Tafsir; Anṣāri, 1996, pp. 131, 137).

The of the indefinite article is shortened to -e: nur-e (=nur-i) tāwid ‘a light shone’; qawm-e (=qawm-i) ‘a people, group’ (Anṣāri, 1983, pp. 213, 541).

Between two vowels, or after a vowel, b is changed to v/w.

It uses ī, ē instead of in, u from Middle Persian ēd ‘this’.

It uses instead of the connective ke (Anṣāri, 1983, p. 515).

It uses ke in the sense of waqt-i ke, ‘when…’ (Anṣāri, 1983, p. 631).

It uses a in the sense of āngāh ‘then’, along with a suffix pronoun, exactly as the form is used in Middle Persian, but pronounced ā: ar-aš dust yāft, aš nur yāft, var dar ṭalab be-mirad, aš šafiʿ yāft ‘If he found him as a friend, then he found a light (Anṣāri, 1983, p. 136). 

It uses anō ‘there’ from Middle Persian ānōh ‘there’.

The vocabulary of this and other Heravi (Herati) texts has been studied in detail by ʿAli Rawāqi (2016). 

Characteristics of “Baḵš-i az Tafsir”. The third person singular in the present potential tense is constructed with , in the form used in Parthian: tā dar yād dārā zirakān va-ḵodāvandān-e ḵerad ‘So that the clever and the wise remember’ (Anṣāri, 1996, p. 237). In Parthian, this suffix is -ā(h). The third person singular in this tense occurs in this form in some other texts as well, among them the poetry of Mawlawi (Rumi; see Abu’l-Qāsemi, p. 63). This construction is also seen in the Asrār al-tawḥid: ʿayš ḵoš bā ‘may the feast be enjoyed’ (Mayhani, p. 224). But in this book, this suffix has also spread to the first and second persons singular: Mat binamā ba morād rasida-i ‘I hope to see you not having obtained your wish (Mayhani, p. 295); Hič kār-rā mašāʾiā ‘I hope you were suited for no work (Mayhani, p. 302); Nābinā gardiā ‘May you turn blind’ (Mayhani, p. 247). This construction is also seen in the Persian Psalms, as Sims-Williams has noted (p. 368). In Moḥammad Rāzi’s al-Moʿjam, the alef (ā) at the end of these forms is considered the alef-e doʿā ‘the alef of prayer, wish’ (Rāzi, p. 155).

The indicator of the third person singular present tense takes the form -ēd: ḵᵛāhid for ḵᵛāhad ‘he wants’ and namāʾid for namāyad ‘it shows’ (Anṣāri, 1996, pp. 234, 254).

The negative particle na- is used before the auxiliary verb, as in dānesta naʾid for nadānastaʾid ‘you didn’t know’ (ibid., p. 209).

It uses ‘so that, until’ in the sense of ‘or’, from Old Persian yatā.

It uses yām for , from Middle Persian ayāb ‘or’, changing the final b to m. Yām is also used in several other texts, as in Qomi’s Tarjama-ye Tāriḵ-e Qom (p. 11), Ḵᵛābgozāri (p. 52) and, repeatedly, in Ṭusi’s ʿAjāʾeb al-maḵluqāt

Došvār ‘difficult’ is pronounced dežvār, which is the Parthian pronunciation.

Viža is used in the form oviža ‘special’ (Anṣāri, 1996, pp. 140, 185, 290).

Man ‘I’ is vowelled men.

Characteristics of “Kalamāt-e Šayḵ-al-Eslām.” This text shows virtually the same features as the other two texts attributed to Anṣāri, such as the ergative construction (Anṣāri, 2015, p. 249); -i is used instead of relative ke (pp. 256, 258, etc.); -i instead of the kasra of the eżāfa (ibid., pp. 232, 233); ke instead of har ke ‘whoever’ (pp. 198, 213, 283); shortening of of the indefinite particle to -e (pp. 211, 217, etc.); kāmestan used in the sense of nazdik budan ‘being near, about to’ (p. 252); the use of early forms, such as joḏ for joz ‘except’ (pp. 226, 228, etc.); amā for ‘we’ (p. 256); i (=ē) meaning in ‘this’ (p. 243); dežvāri for došvāri ‘difficulty’ (p. 253); ezdudan for zedudan ‘to rub off’ (pp. 235, 236, 267). Dialectal forms also occur: šenāḡ, šenā ‘swimming’, in place of šināw (=senāḡ) (p. 219); bēhāna for behāna ‘figurative’ or ‘invalid’ (as opposed to ḥaqq ‘truth’); زﭬﺎن = zavān or zafān ‘language, tongue’ (p. 182), but in other instances in the forms zavān or zafān; bandaʾi for bandagi ‘servitude’; amāl for hamāl ‘equal’ (pp. 220, 250, 255); ayna (ʾynh) for āyena ‘mirror’ (pp. 259, 264).

Ḵaryā (ḵryʾ) is used for ḵaridār ‘buyer’ (p. 281; also in the Ṭabaqāt, Anṣāri, 1983, p. 412); āguš for āḡuš ‘bosom’ (p. 284); aniz, repeatedly for niz ‘also’; f-, in place of b-, (pp. 210, 211, 257); far for bar ‘upon’ (p. 215); fā, pā, along with farā; (=) ‘with’ (p. 231); -em, for -ēm, the indicator of the first person plural: agar az dustānem ḵašyat az miān bardār va agar az mehmānānem nikumān dār ‘If we are friends, put fear aside, and if we are guests, treat us with respect’. In many words, b between two vowels is changed to v or w.

The characteristics of modern Heravi/Herati Persian are discussed by Moḥammad Āṣef Fekrat. On the basis of his research, two historical vowels, ō and ē, are still used in Herat. The endings of verbs in the simple past are: -om, -i, , -ēm, -ēm, and -am. The future tense is formed by the addition of the unconjugated verb ḵā to the beginning of the simple past forms (e.g., … ḵā-raftom, etc.). At the end of the third person singular of the simple past, just as in some other Iranian Khorasani languages, the suffix -ak is added (e.g., goftak, for goft ‘he said’). The progressive aspect is formed by adding the particle hay or hay hay in an unchangeable form before the simple present and the past progressive tenses: hay menwesēm (=dārim minevisim) ‘we are writing’; hay hay mēzad ‘he kept on striking’.

Today, dialects and local forms of Persian are used in different regions of Khorasan; some of these have distinctive grammatical constructions not taken from classical Persian. Here will be discussed the language of three towns for which relatively good descriptions are available.

Persian current in Nishapur. We have no description of Nishapuri Persian; but we have more information about Sabzavār, which neighbors Nishapur. We have good descriptions of the village of Boruḡan, from the rural district of Kāh in Bāštin section from the Dāvarzan subprovince, which is not that far from Sabzavār. Apparently the language of this village differs little from that of the regions around Sabzavār. In Boruḡan, the two vowels /ō/ and /ē/ still exist, and create some contrast (see Boruḡani). The compound consonant /ḵᵛ/ also still exists in some words. The group of diphthongs creates contrast: /aw/ with /ow/ and /ay/ with /ey/. In some words, the guttural consonant occurs in words of Arabic origin such as haykal and also in Persian words such as handaq ‘moat, trench’ (Ar. ḵandaq): thus, ḥaykal, ḥandaq.

At the beginning of verb forms in the simple past, the present perfect, and the progressive pluperfect, the preverbs be/-bo are added: beraftom for raftam ‘I went’; boḵordēyom for ḵorda-am ‘I have eaten’; beḵereye-biyom for ḵarida budam ‘I had bought’. With the addition of the negative indicator na- to these forms, the preverb/prefix be/bo is dropped; but in the village of Češām (former Češom), the negative indicator follows be/bo: benaref for naraft ‘he didn’t go’. In the imperative or the conditional in the sense of the imperative, na- follows o /be: benaškeni for naškani ‘don’t break (it)’. In the third person singular of the simple past, as in Herati/Heravi Persian as well as some other varieties of Khorasani Persian, including Qučān, the suffix -ek (-ak in Qučān) is added: goftek for goft ‘said’.

In the future tense also, as in Herati, the word ḵa, from the verb ḵᵛāstan, is placed before the conjugated forms of the verb in question: ḵa-reftom for vāham raft, ḵa refti for vāhi raft, etc. This construction also occurs in Sabzavar and other villages, but is becoming less frequent. In the case of the negative, the negative indicator na- comes before ḵa: na-ḵa reftom for na-ḵᵛāham raft ‘I will not go’.

Preverbs are widely used: as in vāndōḵtan, for andāḵtan va pahn kardan ‘to spread out, for example a tablecloth or bedding’; ver, as in verkešeyan for kašidan ‘to pull’; de/di as in debistan for bastan ‘tie, bind’; digziyan for gozidan ‘to choose’; foru, as in foru-kuftan ‘to fight with someone and injure him’; de, as in de-kuftan ‘to press one’s foot on, turn around, twist’. 

The first part of the word howsā ‘there’ is probably borrowed from Parthian .

A detailed lexicon of the dialect of the town of Sabzavār has been compiled by Ḥasan Moḥtašam (1996). The book’s introduction contains a brief, sixteen-page discussion of the differences between Sabzavāri and “official” Persian. Some of these differences, which also differ from what has been written above, are as follows: In Sabzavāri Persian, there is an initial consonant cluster produced by dropping the vowel between two consonants, e.g., psar for pesar ‘son, boy’; bča for bačča ‘child’; plašt for palašt ‘impure’.

The vowel ē changes to e, as in meḵ, for mēḵ ‘nail’; sev for sēv ‘apple’; bed for bēd ‘willow’; zer for zēr ‘beneath’. But ō has changed to u (modern): rud for classical rōd ‘river’; pust for classical pōst ‘skin, hide’.

The vowel ū has changed to ī (modern i): ʿaris, tābit, ami, for ʿarus ‘bride’; tābut ‘a bier, coffin’; and amu ‘a paternal uncle; churn’.

Ḵᵛa is changed to ḵā, as in noḵād for noḵod ‘bean’; ḵārden for ḵordan ‘to eat’. Apparently the intermediary stage in this development was ḵō, because the words rowšan ‘bright’ and rowqan ‘oil’ are pronounced rāšan and rāqan. Rōbāh ‘fox’ becomes rāvā; kahwan becomes kōhan, then kāhan ‘old’.

Ān and ām have changed to on and om: meydon for meydān ‘square’; non for nān ‘bread’; bādom for bādām ‘almond’. In some words, the n has been dropped and the ā changed to -u: āvizu for āvizān ‘hanging’; resmu for rismān ‘rope’; miyu for miān ‘middle’.

The vowel ā in the initial syllable of a word usually becomes e, and sometimes a: evešu for āvišan ‘oregano’; zeni for zānu ‘knee’; beleš for bāleš ‘pillow’; jerow for jāru ‘broom’. The change of ā in the initial syllable to a usually appears in forms in which the vowel in the second syllable is already a: ama for āmad ‘he came’; ataš for ātaš ‘fire’; ḵana for ḵāna ‘house’; ahan for āhan ‘iron’.

Instead of the (attributive) suffix -i, -u is used: ḵemiru for ḵamiri ‘doughy’; česbu for časbi ‘sticky’; noḵādu for noḵodi, ‘related to peas’.

The simple past, present perfect, past perfect and past conditional are used with the preverb be-: beḵārdom for ḵordam, beḵārdem for ḵordim, beḵārde for ḵordid. The future is formed by adding ḵa, from the verb vāstan, at the beginning of the conjugated forms of the verb: ḵa-ḵārdom for ḵᵛāham ḵord, ḵa-ḵārdem for ḵᵛāhim ḵord, ḵa-ḵārde for ḵᵛāhid ḵord

Persian current in Qāʾen. There is a detailed linguistic description for Qāʾen, a city in southern Khorasan, by Reżā Zomorrodiān (1989). Qāʾeni consonants are like Persian, except that ž does not exist. The historical vowels ō and ē still exist in Qāʾeni. There is one other vowel which does not exist in standard Persian, that is, open ԑ, as opposed to /e/, /ԑ̄/, and /a/. There are also the diphthongs /au/ and /ai/, in contrast to /ou/ and /ei/.

In Qāʾeni, the preverbs b-/be/bo /bi are also added at the beginning of the simple past, present perfect, past perfect and imperative forms: bo-ḵārdom for ḵordam ‘I ate’; be-baftԑyom for bāfta-am ‘I have woven’; b-umԑdԑyem for āmada budim ‘we had come’; bi-y-āyei for be-yāʾid ‘Come! [pl.]’. 

The future tense is constructed in the three persons singular by adding be/bo to the conjugated forms of the verb ḵᵛāstan and attaching the non-changeable form of the main verb: bo-ḵom-bāf for ḵᵛāham bāft, be-ḵei-bāf for ḵᵛāhi bāft, be-ḵԑ bāf for ḵᵛāhad bāft ‘he/she will weave, etc.’. But in all three persons plural the verb ḵᵛāstan does not change, while the main verb in question is conjugated: be-ḵԑ-bāftem for ḵᵛāhim bāft, be-ḵԑ-bāftei for ḵᵛāhid bāft, be-ḵԑ-bāftan for ḵᵛāhand bāft.

Preverbs are also in use, as in va/vā: va-dada for dādan; va-jԑsta for jastan, jahidan ‘to jump’. In the case of the conditional and imperative modes and future tense this preverb takes the form ; in the remaining tenses and modes it is pronounced va.

The preverbs vԑr and dԑ are also used: Vԑr: vԑr-ḵԑsta for barḵāstan ‘to rise’; vԑr-gofta for goftan ‘to say’; dԑ: dԑ-bԑsta for bastan ‘to close’; dԑ-ḵԑzida for dar ḵazidan ‘to hide; creep into a corner’.

The preposition hԑ corresponds to in Māzandarāni and central dialects; it is itself derived from frā, the shortened form of Middle Persian frāz ‘forth, forward’, corresponding to classical Persian farā(z). This preposition has two meanings: (1) it indicates direction, as in hԑy bāy dada, for ba-bād dādan, farā bād dādan ‘to cast to the winds; to waste’; (2) it denotes being in a certain place, as in hԑ tu ḵunԑ, for dar ḵāna ‘in the house, at home’.

There is also one postposition in Qāʾeni that does not exist in Persian: -egԑ, which conveys the large size of the basic word: sibegԑ ‘large apple’; sagegԑ ‘large dog’. Zomorrodiān has also published a lexicon of Qāʾeni (2006).

Injā ‘here’ and ānjā ‘there’ are expressed heiǰā and houǰā. Evidently the first word is constructed from ē+and the second from ho+jā; ē has been taken from Middle Persian ēd, “this”, hou from Parthian ‘that’.

Persian current in Birjand. Birjand (q.v.) is south of Qāʾen and is in fact the southernmost town of Khorasan. There is an old, brief description of Birjandi Persian by Vladimir Ivanow (1928, pp. 246-55), but this description is no longer relevant. Jamāl Reżāʾi published a complete and precise description of Birjandi Persian in 1998. According to Reżāʾi, Birjandi consonants are the same as Persian, but without ž. There are three long vowels, ō, ā, and ē, in Birjandi, and one other vowel, /ə/. This last vowel is used as the final vowel of a phrase or a single word, and is an allophone of /a/ or /e/; for example, ḵordə for ḵordan ‘to eat’; pardə for parda ‘curtain’. The vowel /ē/ is a continuation of the older usage of /ē/; but this is not the case for /ō/, which is taken either from early /ā/ preceding /n/ and /m/, as in jōm for jām ‘cup, goblet’ and nō(n) for nān ‘bread’, or following oh, as in zōr for ẓohr ‘noon’.

Verbs, whether intransitive or transitive, are conjugated in two ways. The first construction follows the ergative construction of Middle Persian, either by using the attached pronominal suffix after the vowels o or e, or by bringing the separate pronouns before the verb, which in both cases is constructed with the unconjugated form of the verb, as in: om gof(t) (=goftam ‘I said’), et gof(t) (=gofti), eš gof(t) (=goft), mā gof(t) (=goftim), tu gof(t) (=goftid), šu gof(t) (=goftand); and om honšast (=nešastam ‘I sat’), etc. 

In the case of such forms as mo gof(t), to gof(t), u gof(t), mā gof(t), šemā gof(t), unō gof(t), mo honšas(t), in all these conjugations the prefix be/bo usually precedes the verb stem, as in: om beraf(t), mo beraf(t), unless the verb is preceded by a preverb, in which case be/bo is not used.

The second construction is exactly the same as in Persian, except that the prefix be/bo is added to all of the conjugated forms, as in berafton, bebordom.

In the present perfect, the prefix be/bo is added to all forms in all conjugations.

The past continuous is formed by adding the continuous preverb ma/me to all forms.

The future tense has two conjugations: (1) The verb ḵᵛāstan, with the prefix o-/be, is conjugated, while the main verb is unchanged, as in beḵom raf(t) for ḵᵛāham raft; (2) the auxiliary verb remains unchanged, while the main verb is conjugated, as in beḵā raftom for ḵᵛāham raft, beḵā rafti for ḵᵛāhi raft, and so on.

The negative sign ne/a comes after the prefix be: be-ne-yārdom for nayāvardam ‘I did not bring’; da-na-basti for nabasti ‘you [sg.] did not close’.

In the case of numerals, an interesting point is that in counting from twenty upwards the smaller number comes before the larger: yakbist for twenty-one, nōsi for thirty-nine, and so on.

In the case of pronouns, worth mentioning is the use of -de in place of the attached pronoun for the third person singular when it is an object: ma-barem-de for mi-barim-aš ‘we carry him/her/it’. The adverb inje for injā ‘here’ is also used in place of the third person singular pronominal suffix when it is a possessive pronoun: dar-inje for dar-aš ‘its door’; šāḵ-inje for šāḵ-aš ‘its branch; its horn’.

As for suffixes, there is only one not used in Persian: -eyə, indicating honor, esteem, nobility, wonder, and occasionally belittling: xar-eyə, for ḵar-e bozorg ‘large donkey’; deraḵt-eyə for deraḵt-e bozorg ‘large tree’. This is comparable to the suffix –egε in Qāʾeni.

In attaching the -i of the gerund to words ending in ə, the intervening consonant g is not used, and the vowels ə and -i are changed to -ey: tošney for tešnagi ‘thirst’; zendey for zendagi ‘life’; and so on.

Jamāl Reżāʾi has also published a detailed lexicon of Birjandi (1994).

There are also descriptions of the Persian current in other cities in Khorasan, including Esfarāyen (q.v.) and Ṭabas; and a good number of lexicons have been published for various cities.


Moḥsen Abu’l-Qāsemi, “Feʿl-e doʿāʾi dar zabān-e fārsi,” in ʿAli-Ašraf Ṣādeqi, ed., Yād-nāma-ye Doktor Aḥmad Tafażżoli, Tehran, 2000, pp. 61-66.

Iraj Afšār, “Čand soruda-ye ṭabari, nisāburi, va bahlavi,” Guyeš-šenāsi 2, 2004, pp. 4-6.

Friedrich C. Andreas and W. B. Henning, “Mitteliranische Manichaica aus Chinesisch-Turkestan: II,” Sitzungsberichte der Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. Philosophisch-historische Klasse, 1933, pp. 294-363.

ʿAli b. Aḥmad Asadi Ṭusi, Loḡat-e fors, ed. F. Mojtabāʾi and ʿA-A. Ṣādeqi, Tehran, 1986.

ʿAbd-Allāh Anṣāri, Ṭabaqāt al-ṣufiya, ed. Moḥammad Sarvar Mawlāʾi, Tehran, 1983.

Idem, Baḵš-i az tafsir-i kohan be-Pārsi, ed. Mortażā Āyat-Allāhzāda Širāzi, Tehran, 1996.

Idem, “Kalamāt-e Šayḵ al-Eslām,” ed. Moḥammad-Reżā Šafiʿi Kadkani, Hargez va hamiša-ye ensān, Tehran, 2015.

Abu’l-Fażl Boruḡani, Barrasi-e zabān-šenāsāna-ye guyeš-e Sabzavār, Sabzavar, 2002.

Arthur Christensen, Contributions à la dialectologie iranienne, 2 vols., Copenhagen, 1930-35.

Ebn al-Nadim, Ketāb al-fehrest, ed. Reżā Tajaddod, Tehran, 1971; tr. Bayard Dodge, as The Fihrist of al-Nadim, 2 vols., New York, 1970.

Moḥammad Āṣef Fekrat, Fārsi-e Heravi, Mashhad, 1997.

Moḥammad Ḡazāli, Kimiā-ye saʿādat, ed. Ḥosayn Ḵadivjam, Tehran, 1982.

Idem, Naṣiḥat al-moluk, ed. Jalāl Homāʾi, Tehran, 1972.

Antoine Ghilain, Essai sur la langue parthe: son système verbal d’après les textes manichéens du Turkestan Oriental, Leuven, 1939; repr. 1966.

W. B. Henning, “Mitteliranisch,” in B. Spuler, ed., Handbuch der Orientalistik, Erste Abteilung, IV/1, Leiden, 1958, pp. 20-129.

Idem, “Sogdian Loan-words in New Persian,” BSOS 10, 1939, pp. 93-106; repr. in Selected Papers I, Acta Iranica 14, 1977, pp. 639-52.

Yuliĭ A. Ioannesyan, Geratskiĭ dialekt yazyka dari sovremennogo Afganistana (Herat dialect of the Dari language of modern Afghanistan), Moscow, 1999.

Idem, “Situating the Khorasani Dialects within the Persian-Dari-Tajiki Linguistic Continuum,” in Franklin Lewis and Sunil Sharma, eds., The Necklace of the Pleiades: Studies in Persian Literature Presented to H. Moayyad on His 80th Birthday, Leiden, 2010, pp. 267-78.

Vladimir Ivanow, “Tabaqát of Ansári in the Old Language of Herat,” JRAS 1, 1923, pp. 1-34, 337-82.

Idem, “Persian as Spoken in Birjand,” JRASB, N.S., 14, 1928, pp. 235-351.

ʿAbd-al-Raḥman Jāmi, Nafaḥat al-ons men ḥażarāt al-qods, ed. Maḥmud ʿĀbedi, Tehran, 1991.

Ḵᵛābgozāri, ed. Iraj Afšār, Tehran, 1967.

Parviz Nātel Ḵānlari, Tāriḵ-e zabān-e farsi, 4 vols. in 5, repr. Tehran, 1986.

Abu ʿAbd-Allāh Moḥammad Ḵᵛārazmi, Mafātiḥ al-ʿolum, Leiden, 1895.

Gilbert Lazard, La langue des plus anciens monuments de la prose persane, Paris, 1963.

Idem, “Pahlavi, Pârsi, Dari: les langues de l’Iran d’après Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ,” in C. E. Bosworth, ed., Iran and Islam in Memory of the Late Vladimir Minorsky, Edinburgh, 1971, pp. 361-91.

Idem, “Remarques sur le Fragment Judéo-Persane de Dandān Uiliq,” A Green Leaf: Papers in Honour of Jes P. Asmussen, Acta Iranica 28, Leiden, 1988, pp. 205-9.

Idem, “La dialectologie du persan préclassique à la lumière des nouvelles données,” Studia Iranica 43, 2014, pp. 83-97.

Wolfgang Lenz, “Die nordiranischen Elemente in der Neupersischen Literatursprache bei Firdosi,” Zeitschrift für Iranistik und Indologie 4, 1926, pp. 251-316.

vel Lurje and Ilya Yakubovich, “The Myth of Sogdian Lambdacism,” in Zur lichten Heimat: Studien zu Manichäismus, Iranistik und Zentralasienkunde im Gedenken an Werner Sundermann, Iranica 25, Wiesbaden, 2017, pp. 319-41.

David Neil MacKenzie, “An Early Jewish-Persian Argument,” BSOAS 31/2, 1968, pp. 249-69.

Abu ʿAbd-Allāh Moḥammad Maqdesi (or Moqaddesi), Ketāb aḥsan al-taqāsim fi maʿrifat al-aqālim, ed. M. J. de Goeje, Leiden, 1906.

Josef Marquart (Markwart), Erānšahr nach der Geographie des Ps. Moses Xorenacʿi, Abhandlungen der Königlichen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen, phil.-hist. KL. N.F. 3/2, Berlin, 1901.

Moḥammad b. Monawwar Mayhani, Asrār al-tawḥid fi maqāmāt al-Šayḵ Abi Saʿid, ed. Moḥammad-Reżā Šafiʿi Kadkani, 2 vols., Tehran, 1987.

Ḥasan Moḥtašam, Farhang-nāma-ye bumi-ye Sabzavār, Sabzavar, 1996.

Davoud Monchi-Zadeh, Wörter aus Xurāsān und ihre Herkunft, Leiden, 1990.

Georg Morgenstierne, Indo-Iranian Frontier Languages II, Oslo, 1938.

Friedrich Müller, “Ein syrisch-neupersisches Psalmenbruchstück aus Chinesisch-Turkistan,” in Gotthold Weil, ed., Festschrift Eduard Sachau, zum siebzigsten Geburtstage gewidmet von Freunden und Schülern, Berlin, 1915, pp. 215-22. 

Neẓām-al-Molk, Siar al-moluk, ed. Herbert Darke, Tehran, 1968.

Moḥammad b. Abi’l-Barakāt Jawhari Nišāburi, Jawāher-nāma-ye Neẓāmi, ed. Iraj Afšār and Moḥammad Rasul Daryāgašt, Tehran, 2004.

Ludwig Paul, A Grammar of Early Judaeo-Persian, Wiesbaden, 2013.

Ḥasan b. Moḥammad Qomi, Tāriḵ-e Qom, ed. Jalāl-al-Din Ṭehrāni, Tehran, 1934. ʿAli Rawāqi, Guna-šenāsi-ye matnhā-ye fārsi-e: Guna-ye fārsi-ye heravi, Tehran, 2016.

Šams-al-Din Moḥammad b. Qays Rāzi, al-Moʿjam fi maʿāyir ašʿār al-ʿajam, ed. Moḥammad Qazvini and M.-T. Modarres Rażawi, Tehran, 1935.

Jamāl Reżāʾi, Vāža-nāma-ye guyeš-e Birjand, Tehran, 1994.

Idem, Barrasi-e guyeš-e Birjand, Tehran, 1998.

ʿAli Ašraf Ṣādeqi, Takwin-e zabān-e fārsi, Tehran, 1978.

Idem, “Baḥṯ-i dar bāb-e ketāb-e Pol-i miān-e šeʿr-e hejāʾi wa-ʿarużi…,” in Ḵerad bar sar-e jān, ed. Moḥammad Jaʿfar Yāḥaqqi et al., Tehran, 2012, pp. 349-88.

Idem, “Kasra-ye eżāfa ba-jā-ye ke-ye mawṣul,” Farhang-nevisi 11, 2016, pp. 3-7.

Nicholas Sims-Williams, “Early New Persian in Syriac Script,” BSOAS 74, 2011, pp. 333-74.

Werner Sundermann, “Einige Bemerkungen zum syrisch-Neupersischen Psalmenbruchstuck aus Chinesisch-Turkestan,” in Ph. Gignoux and A. Tafazzoli, eds., Mémorial Jean de Menasce, Louvain, 1974, pp. 441-452.

Idem, “Mittelpersich,” in Rüdiger Schmitt, ed., Compendium Linguarum Iranicarum, Wiesbaden, 1989, pp. 138-64.

Abu Bakr ʿAtiq Nišāburi Surābāni, Tarjama wa qeṣṣahā-ye Qorʾān, ed. Yaḥyā Mahdawi and Mahdi Bayāni, Tehran, 1959.

Tafsir-e šonqoši, ed. Moḥammad-Jaʿfar Yāḥaqqi, Tehran, 1976.

Tarjama-i-e āhangin az do jozʾ-e Qorʾān-e majid, ed. Aḥmad ʿAli Rajāʾi, as Pol-i miān-e šeʿr-e hejāʾi va ʿarużi-e fārsi dar qorun-e avval-e hejri, Tehran, 1974.

Moḥammad b. Maḥmud b. Aḥmad Ṭusi, ʿAjāʾeb al-maḵluqāt wa ḡarāʾeb al-mawjudāt, ed. M. Sotūda, Tehran, 1966.

Bo Utas, “The Jewish-Persian Fragment from Dandān-Uiliq,” Orientalia Suecana 27, 1968, pp. 123-36.

Ṣafi-al-Din Wāʿeẓ Balḵi, Fażāʾel-e Balḵ, tr. ʿAbd-Allāh Moḥammad-Ḥosayni Balḵi, ed. ʿAbd-al-Hayy Ḥabibi, Tehran, 1971.

Reżā Zomorrodiān, Barrasi-ye guyeš-e Qāʾen, Mashhad, 1989.

Idem, Vāža-nāma-ye guyeš-e Qāʾen, Tehran, 2006.

Yutaka Yoshida, “Some New Interpretations of the Two Judeo-Persian Letters from Khotan,” in Almut Hintze, Desmond Durkin-Meisterernst, and Claudius Naumann eds., A Thousand Judgements: Festschrift for Maria Macuch, Wiesbaden, 2019, pp. 384-94.

Zhang Zhan 張湛 and Shi Guang 時光, “Yijian xin faxian Youtai Bosiyu xinzha de duandai yu shidu 一件新發現猶太波斯語信箚的斷代與釋讀” (Dating and interpretation of a newly discovered Judaeo-Persian letter), in Dunhuang Tulufan yanjiu 敦煌吐魯番研究 (Journal of Dunhuang and Turfan Studies) 11, 2008, pp. 71-99, 1 color plate.

xx. Khorasani Style of Poetry


xxi. Jewish Dialects of Khorasan

See Supplement.

xxii. Arabic Dialects of Khorasan


xxiii. Turkic Dialects of Khorasan

Most of the Turks in Iran are descendants of the Oghuz (see ḠOZZ). The Oghuz migrated to the south under the Saljuqs (q.v.) in the 10th century CE, and, in the 11th century, they established an empire that expanded from the middle course of the Syr Daryā. From there, they moved first into Khorasan; subsequently, one group moved on to Anatolia, while another group remained in Khorasan. Meanwhile, the Oghuz who had stayed in the old Turkmen region to the east of the Caspian Sea later conquered the eastern part of what is today Turkmenistan. Thus, the modern Turkmens, speaking an East Oghuz language, are the descendants of those Oghuz who did not participate in the westward Saljuq migration. The groups speaking Azeri Turkish (see AZERBAIJAN viii. AZERI TURKISH) are the descendants of the Oghuz who had moved further west and either established themselves in Azerbaijan or returned to Iran from Anatolia; of those, some, called the “Southern Oghuz” by Gerhard Doerfer, migrated to western Iran and others to the east (e.g., to Galugāh, southeast of the Caspian, or Darragaz, northern Khorasan). The Khorasani Turks are descended from the Oghuz who had participated in the conquest of Khorasan under the Saljuqs, joined later by immigrants from other regions. 

The concept of a distinct Khorasani Turkic identity and language has been slow to develop. Aleksander Chodźko (q.v.; 1804-91) had included folk songs from Khorasan Turkic in 1842 in his Specimens of the Popular Poetry of Persia (pp. 379-414), but unfortunately he only gave translations of them and called them “Turkman songs” (Doerfer and Hesche, 2002, p. 328). Vladimir Ivanow (q.v.; 1886-1970) grasped the nature of Khorasan Turkic as early as 1926 in his article “Notes on the Ethnology of Khorasan.” Ivanow discussed the Khorasani Turks and their language and cultural features (Ivanow, p. 154), pointing out that the Turks living in Khorasan are not Turkmens, but, unfortunately, he did not give an example of their language in his article. The information he provided did not receive the attention it deserved for some time. His article was important in two ways. First, it demonstrated the importance of the Turkic element across Iran. Second, he noticed before anyone else the existence of a distinct Khorasan Turkic, which appeared to be a missing link between the Azeri and Turkmen languages.

Beginning in 1927, A. P. Potseluevskiĭ (1894-1948) organized a series of research trips to Turkmenistan to study the dialects of the Turkmens in the Soviet Union. In his Dialekty Turkmenskogo yazyka, Potseluevskiĭ divided the Turkmen dialects into two major groups without going into much detail: Turkmen as we know it today, and the dialects as found in Iran and Uzbekistan. This latter should have been called “Khorasan Turkic” (Doerfer and Hesche 1993; Doerfer and Hesche, 2002, pp. 327-28), but Potseluevskiĭ had no knowledge of the existence of Khorasan Turkic dialects. His rather simplistic classification of Turkmen paved the way for the discovery of the characteristics of Khorasan Turkic, but at the same time it delayed investigation of the subject. Consequently, the view emerged that the northeast of Iran, i.e., the whole area north of the 36th latitude to the borders of Turkmenistan, was dominated by Turkmens, even though Khorasani Turks can readily be distinguished from Turkmens by their culture and traditions. This incorrect opinion was even reflected in the Philologiae Turcicae Fundamenta (Deny et al.; see Doerfer and Hesche, 1993, pp. 13-15). 

The research of Gerhard Doerfer and his colleagues and students, beginning with an expedition to Khorasan in 1973, led to the recognition of the Khorasani Turks as a distinct subgroup of the Oghuz Turks, speaking a branch of Oghuz Turkic different from the Anatolian, Azeri, and Turkmen branches (Tulu, 2009, pp. 7-8, citing Doerfer, 2002). In actuality, there are four varieties of Oghuz languages spoken in the northeast of Iran: (1) Turkmen, in the west, e.g., around Gonbad-e Qābus (q.v.); (2) Azeri Turkic, in the north central area and in Darragaz (q.v.) and Loṭfābād; (3) Marvi, a dialect similar to Uzbek-Oghuz, in Langar, southeastern Khorasan; and (4) Khorasani Turkic, also called Eastern Oghuz, one of the five dialects of the Oghuz language. The latter dialect was actually identified by some with the dialects of Turkmenistan, which Potseluevskiĭ called “Turkmeni near the border of Iran.” However, Khorasani Turks call their language not torkmāni (türkmençe), but torki (türkçe), and they are culturally distinct from the Turkmens (Fázsy, p. 10; Tulu, 2009, pp. 7-8). The focus of this article is on the language of this particular ethnic group (for other Turkic languages and dialects, see IRAN vii. NON-IRANIAN LANGUAGES [7] TURKIC LANGUAGES; TURKIC LANGUAGES OF PERSIA: AN OVERVIEW).


Due to historical circumstances, Khorasan Turkic developed in the area of interaction between Oghuz (Turkmen) and Eastern Turkic (Karakhanid, Khᵛārazm Turkic, Chagatay, and Uzbek) since the 11th century (Figure 1). While Western Oghuz developed its own linguistic features independently and as a relatively homogeneous entity, Khorasan Turkic (like Turkmen) remained isolated from the other Oghuz languages and was influenced by Eastern Turkic. Thus, Khorasan Turkic has features specific to Eastern Turkic as well as archaic features. These features increase even more as the geographical position of the speakers shifts towards the east. Indeed, Khorasan Turkic can be described as a mixed language consisting of Oghuz and Eastern Turkic elements; Doerfer compares its situation to that of English, which is a mixture of Germanic and Romance languages. On the other hand, Oghuz-Uzbek (correctly North Khorasani, according to Doerfer) is essentially an Oghuz dialect, but with characteristics of Eastern Turkic such as the dative case, -GA ‘to’.

Figure 1. Diachronic development of Khorasan Turkic (after Doerfer, 1977, p. 193).Figure 1. Diachronic development of Khorasan Turkic (after Doerfer, 1977, p. 193).

Khorasan Turkic is very different from all other Oghuz dialects in terms of literary development, i.e, with Western Oghuz as the language of the Ottoman state, Middle Oghuz (in a close connection with Western Oghuz) as a language of the Safavid state, and Turkmen as the language of a group that developed its own literature in the 17th century, though isolated and limited to a narrow area on the east coast of the Caspian Sea. In contrast, Khorasan Turkic developed in a scattered, fragmented, and unique way, without becoming a literary language. Under the overwhelming pressure and domination of the surrounding environment, it was almost completely submerged. Only recently has Khorasan Turkic begun to develop in terms of a literary language. Khorasan Turkic still does not have an official written language; for this reason, it often employs the orthography developed by the journal Vārliq for Azeri Turkic.

Despite the lack of a written literary heritage, there are traces of the language that might be detected in earlier historical periods. Doerfer pointed to the case, among others, of Jalāl-al-Din Rumi (1207-73), who moved to Anatolia from the city of Balkh, where Khorasan Turkic was spoken at that time, for examples of Old (mixed) Khorasan Turkic. According to Doerfer, although Rumi wrote predominantly in Persian, under the strong influence of Persian literature at that time, there are vestiges of Turkic language in some of his poems that fit perfectly with the eastern dialects of Khorasan Turkic (Doerfer, 1977, pp. 130-35; see also Mansuroğlu on Rumi’s “Turkish verses”). These do not contain true Eastern Turkic elements. In addition to Common Oghuz Turkic words such as dağ, dağ.dan ‘from the mountain’ (with ablative) or oda ‘room’, oda.ya ‘to the room’ (with dative suffix), there are also forms such as män yarġu.ya barurmän ‘I will go to judgment’. This is neither Eastern Turkic nor Western Oghuz, but it completely fits the Eastern dialects of Khorasan Turkic: Here, the dative suffix after the vowel is -ya, as seen in many Oghuz dialects, but the first person (particularly as a prefix) begins with m- (although the archaic form of b is preserved in words such as bindän and binüm), and it still displays archaic forms of the personal pronouns and certain suffixes; bol:ġay ‘will be’ or b- ~ v (as with barur instead of varur) are also seen in modern Khorasan Turkic, even in northeast dialects. Khorasan Turkic may also have an important role in solving the mystery of the “olga-bolga language” (so-called for the mixing of Western Oğuz ol- with Common Turkic bol- ‘to be’), which is reflected in some Anatolian Turkish texts from the 13th and 14th centuries. According to Doerfer, these texts actually represent the northern and northeastern variants of the Eastern Oghuz language, that is, Khorasan Turkic (for a summary of Doerfer’s interpretation and contrary views, see Erdal, pp. 139-40; for other criticism of Doerfer’s categorization of “historical Khorasan Turkic,” see Anetshofer).

At the present time, there are over one and a half million speakers of Khorasan Turkic in northeastern Iran and the border regions adjacent to Turkmenistan and also a little further east of the Āmu Daryā (q.v.), with Sarık and Ersarı Turkmens between both areas. The areas surveyed by Doerfer where local dialects of Khorasan Turkic may be found are indicated in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Turkic-speaking areas (surveyed in Doerfer, 1977, pp. 203-4). Map background © Stamen Design, under CC BY 3.0.Figure 2. Turkic-speaking areas (surveyed in Doerfer, 1977, pp. 203-4). Map background © Stamen Design, under CC BY 3.0.

Khorasan Turkic differs significantly in the northern and southern regions of Khorasan. Features of Uzbek and Turkmen can be seen in the dialects of both regions. Sometimes, people speaking different languages live in the same area; in many cases, people in the region are bilingual, with Khorasan Turkic as the mother tongue and Persian as the second language. Because of this, Khorasan Turkic has been under the influence of Iranian languages in many ways. This is reflected in the phonology, morphology, and even the syntax of the language.

The influence of Khorasan Turkic is still seen in certain Turkmen dialects of the Republic of Turkmenistan. Although these generally follow the common Turkmen model (for example, in the 1st and 2nd person singular verb conjugation), they differ from standard Turkmen forms at many points and tend to reflect the Khorasan Turkic language (for example, the preservation of h- in Čovdur, Olam, Saqar, Emreli, Ärsarı, Arabačı, Sarıq, Garadašlı) and the influence of Uzbek (the use of -gA, -GA in Uzbek-Oghuz, Ersarı, Yomut, and Čovdur as well as Čaram-Sarjam, a dialect of Khorasan Turkic). Such similarities may have misled Potseluevski into not clearly distinguishing Khorasan Turkic from true Turkmen dialects (such as Teke and Göklen).


The classification of dialects spoken in Khorasan is difficult for four reasons: (1) variations from one speaker to another, (2) the slight differences between dialects, (3) the phenomenon of using dual language (forms occuring in spontaneous speech often differ from those in questionnaires, word lists, and short grammars) and (4) problems encountered in the analysis of the morphology (Doerfer and Hesche, 1998, p. 32). Khorasan Turkic reflects on the one hand intense pressure from a foreign language (Persian) and, on the other hand, a strong archaism and autonomy. Changes and differences are peculiar to dialects that have not yet been standardized, that could not form an independent written language, and that are affected by the dominant language.

Doerfer (1998c, p. 275, Table 16.2) distinguished six dialects of Khorasan Turkic, based on the present, predicate, and imperative forms used:

A. Present tense suffixes: (a) –IyA, (b) –Ir, (c) –A

B. Personal suffixes: (a) -(A)m, -(A)ŋ as in Qašqāʾi; (b) like category (a), but first and second person plural suffixes -IK, -IGIs; (c) –mAn, -sAn, as in Oghuz Uzbek (1st person plural suffix -mIz); (d) –mAn, -sAn, but 1st person plural –bIz. (These are quite different from Turkmen personal suffixes: -In, -sIŋ, -Is, -IK, - (s)IŋIz.)

C. First person voluntative forms: (a) –Im, -Ak (as Az.T.); (b) –Am, -Ak (with the same vowel in singular and plural); (c) –Im, -IK (with the same vowel in singularity and plurality), (d) –Im, -Äyli or similar special forms.

According to this schema, the dialects, the areas where they are spoken, and the distribution of the variants are as follows (for locations of the local dialects, see Figure 2):

1) Northwest = Šayḵ Teymur, Bojnurd, Asadli, Kalāt (Aa, Bb, Cc). 

2) North = Ziārat, Širvān, Zavārom, Qučān, Šūrak, Lotfābād, Darragaz, Dowḡā’ī (Ac, Bc, Ca). 

3) Northeast = Mārešk, Jong, Gujkī (Ac, Bc, Ca). 

4) South = Joḡatay, Ḥokmābād, Solṭānābād, Qarabāḡ, Pir-Komāč, Safiābād (Ab, Ba, Cb). 

5) Southeast = Ḵarv-e ʿOlyā, Ruḥābād, Čaram-Sarjam (Ab, Bb, Cc). 

6) Langar (Ac, Bd, Ca).

The vowel system, consonants and consonantal change, morphology (nouns, pronouns, verb forms), and lexicology of the various Khorasan Turkic dialects have been described at length by Doerfer (1977, pp. 135-83) and need not be discussed here. Of particular interest, however, is the way characteristic features of Khorasan Turkic have been affected by the strong influence of Iranian languages. According to the scheme proposed by Doerfer (1977, pp. 135-37), for example, the vowel system of Khorasan Turkic consists of a mixture of two systems, Turkic and Iranian: Turkic had originally used four front (ä, i, ü, ö) and four back (a, ï, u, o) vowels. Old Oghuz added shortened forms of the vowels (designated here by :), resulting in a, ä, a:, e:, ï, i, ï:, i:, u, ü, u:, ü:, o, ö, o:, ö:. The vowel system of the Khorasan Iranian dialect that affected Khorasan Turkic dialects was as follows: å (labialized a), ȧ (between a and ä), ị (close vowel), ə (between an open i and a close é); ụ (close vowel); and ǒ (between open u and close o). The resulting transition from Old Oghuz to Khorasan Turkic, with some of its own peculiarities, was summarized by Doerfer (1977, p. 137) as in Table 1.

Similarly, Khorasan Turkic dialects have been under the strong influence of Persian or “Khorasan-Iranian” in terms of vocabulary and other elements (Doerfer, 1977, pp. 179-83). For example, in some local dialects čöräk ‘bread’ may be nān (Persian) or na:n (“Khorasan-Iranian”), dämir ‘iron’ may be åhän or ähän (< Pers. āhan); most dialects use dizi ‘bowl’ (< Pers. dizi), käfš or kövüš ‘shoe’ (< Pers. kafš), bärk ‘sheet of paper’ (< Pers. barg), rutxana ‘river’ (< Pers. rudḵāna), etc. In word lists (Doerfer and Hesche, 1993, p. 23), it can be seen that the source speaker frequently adds a Turkic (-di, -dir, -dey, etc.) or Persian suffix (-ä, -äs, -ya, -ye, -y) to the word asked. However, the Persian -ä suffix is not only used as an affix (< ast), but also as a diminutive suffix (< ak), indicative case suffix (< ) and determinative (Doerfer and Hesche, 1998, p. 23)


In Doerfer’s view (1999, pp. 307-8), Turkic languages such as Azeri, Qašqaʾi, and Turkmen were likely to persist in Iran, but Khorasan Turkic, like Ḵalaj (q.v.), without an accompanying literature, was “doomed to disappear”; only Turkic languages with a strong unifying power (ʿaṣabiya) could “survive against the ideology of the Persian state.” Doerfer noted that in Khorasan Turkic, unlike Azeri and Turkmen, Persian words were already beginning to replace common Turkic words, such as abru for kaş ‘eyebrow’, and even numbers such as Persian haštād ‘eighty’ and navad ‘ninety’ instead of the Turkic equivalents (Doerfer, 1999, p. 309). Persian, as the only official language of Iran, brings Persianization as the result of increasing education and communication. Economic pressure also causes people to migrate from rural areas to big cities and thus to be assimilated culturally and linguistically. As a result of mixed marriages, childhood speakers tend to disappear over time. The fact that Persian is a “prestige language” has also put Khorasan Turkic, which is an “ethnic language” or “local language,” under pressure; so too has the influence of other ethnic communities narrowed the use of Khorasan Turkic. In Stephen Wurm’s classification for the level of danger, Khorasan Turkic would be at the first level, i.e., among the “potentially endangered languages.” In the 2010 UNESCO atlas of endangered languages, Khorasan Turkic is classified as “vulnerable,” a stage where languages are socially and economically disadvantaged and experience heavy pressure from a dominant language and begin to lose their child speakers, as they no longer speak their parental language as a first language or restrict it to specific environments such as at home (Moseley, pp. 11-12, 18, Map 12). 

Nonetheless, as Doerfer anticipated, there has been something of a counter-movement since the 1980s with the potential to produce a Khorasan Turkic literary language and avoid the predicted linguistic “apocalypse.” Doerfer pointed in particular to the journal Qalam Uju, edited and largely written by Moḥammad Tawḥidi in 1981, using his local dialect, which he claimed could be understood by all Khorasani Turks and could provide the basis for a common written Khorasan Turkic language (Doerfer, 1999, p. 308). Radio broadcasts from Mashhad also began to be made in Khorasan Turkic. This dynamism and ethnic awareness continues to be active and visible on the internet, where there are many blogs and webpages created by Khorasan Turks (see Table 2). In these, it is possible to find examples of Khorasan Turkic as well as information on the history and folklore of Turkic Khorasan.

Table 2
Websites Related to Khorasan Turkic Language and Culture















Date Accessed: 09/07/2014.


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xxiv. Monuments of Khorasan

Prehistoric period. The earliest evidence of human presence in Khorasan, dating back to approximately 800,000 years ago, has been found in the Kašaf river basin, especially in the vicinity of the villages Ābravān, Čāhak, and Baḡbaḡu, located some 35 km to the southeast of Mashhad (Ariai and Thibault; Thibault). The 1949 intensive investigations of Carleton Coon (q.v.; 1904-81), who was searching for Paleolithic (q.v.) sites in eastern Iran, identified a rock shelter in southern Khorasan, known as Pāygodār. The stone tools of Pāygodār were attributed to the middle Paleolithic era. Coon also carried out an excavation at the cave of Ḵunik that brought to light some man-made stone tools dating to the same period. The investigations of Coon showed that hunter-gatherer people lived in Khorasan since at least 40,000 years ago (Coon). Moreover, some Paleolithic tools have recently appeared in the southern Khorasan and Kašaf river basin testifying to the human presence in Khorasan during the early and middle Pleistocene epoch (Biglari).

The populations of Khorasan began to settle down in the Neolithic (q.v.) period (late 7th millennium BCE). The most important villages of Neolithic Khorasan are the two sites of Anaw (q.v.) and Jeitun located in southern Turkmenistan. The rectangular houses of these settlements were constructed with mud bricks (Pumpelly, p. 15), and the ceilings in Jeitun were erected with stone slabs (Masson and Sarianidi, p. 40). 

A few of the Neolithic settlements inside modern Khorasan have been recently investigated by Iranian archaeologists. The excavations at Qalʿa Khan in the middle of the Samalqān plain unearthed architectural remains of mud-brick walls enclosing rectangular and circular rooms (Gārāžiān, 2006). The Chalcolithic (q.v.) phase of Qalʿa Khan, spanning from 5,000 to 3,000 BCE, includes houses that were plastered with a thick ochre paste. The same kind of plaster has been found in Chalcolithic remains of Tepe Borj in the east of Nishapur (q.v.). The late Chalcolithic material culture has been chiefly found at the Tepe Dāmḡāni in the Sabzavār plain and Yusofābād in the west of the Nishapur plain (Gārāžiān, 2015, pp. 35-37).

The early cities of Greater Khorasan emerged about 3,000 BCE in the northern piedmonts of the Kopet-Dag, located in southern Turkmenistan. The most striking monuments of the Bronze Age (q.v.) appeared in the vast sites of Namazga, Altin Tepe (q.v.), Oluḡ Tepe, and Ḵapuz Tepe. The Bronze Age settlements of Khorasan, surrounded by massive fortifications, are frequently characterized by monumental public architecture. A mud-brick ziggurat-like monument has been identified in Altin Tepe and attributed to ritual activities. The remains of the most important Bronze Age cities of the Kopet-Dag piedmont that flourished in the late 3rd millennium BCE have been unearthed in the archaeological sites of Gonur, Toḡloq, Namazga, Altin, and Anaw; all were equipped with defensive fortifications. The vast settlements of the Bronze Age disappeared in the 2nd millennium BCE and were replaced by small, rural sites. They were surrounded with single, massive forts and placed on mud-brick platforms. This settlement pattern was dominant in the Yaz cultural sphere, expanding over the northern piedmonts of the Kopet-Dag, the ancient delta of the Morḡāb (q.v.) River, northern Afghanistan, southern Uzbekistan to the eastern Atrak (q.v.) valley, and the Bojnurd (q.v.) plain in the southern Kopet-Dag piedmonts (Vaḥdati).

Achaemenid period (550-331 BCE). In contrast to the central and western parts of the Iranian plateau, the eastern territory of the Achaemenids (q.v.) is shrouded in ambiguity. According to classical sources, the northern desert of Khorasan was visited by the steppe nomads, including Scythians and Massagetae (qq.v.), who left nothing of monumental architecture in this region. Nevertheless, due to the archaeological investigations in the southern piedmonts of the Kopet-Dag along the Atrak valley, six archaeological sites have been identified as Achaemenid settlements (Venco Ricciardi). Recent excavations at the site of Rivi in the Samalqān plain have shed new lights on eastern Achaemenid architecture (Thomalsky; Jaʿfari). The last two seasons of excavations at Rivi revealed a portion of a columned hall, which resembled the details of the palaces of Pasargadae (q.v.). Archaeological investigations in the western portion of Greater Khorasan revealed also some vestiges of Achaemenid architecture in the Gorgān (q.v.) plain. The Achaemenid phase of Tureng Tepe includes the remains of a colossal mud-brick building abutted by storage rooms (Deshayes, p. 491). Some Achaemenid materials have been also reported from Narges Tepe (Abbāsi) and Yarim Tepe (Crawford), both located in the Gorgān plain.

Hellenistic and Parthian periods (331 BCE-224 CE). The Hellenistic monuments of Greater Khorasan are concentrated in the eastern borders of the region, located in present-day northern Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Āy Ḵānom (q.v.), the most important Hellenistic archaeological site located in the middle of the Oxus (Āmu Daryā, q.v.) valley, contains the monumental buildings of a Hellenistic city including a gymnasium, a theater, a fountain, and funerary monuments (Veuve), encompassed within a girt of powerful mud-brick ramparts (Leriche). The main building of the city was a palace composed of several courtyards, two of which possessed columned porticoes; residential quarters; administrative sections with offices and reception rooms; and also a treasury, in which a large number of storage jars was found, several of them bearing economic inscriptions in Greek (Rapin and Grenet).

The Hellenistic elements of architecture continued into the Parthian period. The first capital of the Arsacid dynasty in Nisa (qq.v.) includes monuments that were constructed and decorated in Hellenistic styles. The excavations at this city brought to light a monumental funerary building of the Parthian era with a flat, crenelated roof, a façade characterized by an outer portico of slender columns, and wall decoration with terracotta plates nailed to the wall, reproducing Ionic capitals in relief (Pugachenkova, pp. 60-69). The most important monument of Nisa was a large building, the so-called Square House, in the center of which was a large courtyard that originally functioned as a place of assembly and banqueting (Invernizzi, 2000; 2001), but, perhaps from the 1st century CE, it became a treasury for the storing of objects that were no longer used and of precious goods (Invernizzi, 2010).

The Arsacid dynasty gradually moved into western Iran and established its political capital in Ctesiphon (q.v.). At that time, Khorasan was governed by local dynasties. The dispersed Parthian forts in Khorasan testify to the local governors ruling over small territories. The limited excavations at Šahr Tepe in the Darragaz (q.v.) plain revealed some Parthian materials, but no monumental architecture. There is, however, a mound at the center of the site that contains the remains of a monumental building (Nāmi et al.). 

Qalʿa Khan in the Samalqān plain in northern Khorasan contains another Parthian monument, and it is surmounted by a massive mud-brick building and was occupied until the Sasanian period (Gārāžiān et al., 2010). The unexcavated mound of Nehbandān castle (Arg-e Nehbandān) also contains what is probably a Parthian compound that was occupied until the late Islamic period (Zāreʿi et al.).

Sasanian period (224-651 CE). According to the Middle Persian text of Šahrestānīhā ī Ērānšahr (q.v.), Khorasan was one of the four military divisions of Sasanian Iran (Daryaee, tr., pp. 17-18). In the Res Gestae Divi Saporis, Šāpur I (q.v.) listed some of the Khorasanian cities on the eastern Sasanian borders including Marv (Merv, Mary, present-day southern Turkmenistan), Herat, Abaršahr (qq.v.), Čāčastān, and Sogdia (Sprengling, p. 14). The earliest Sasanian monument of Khorasan is probably the rock drawings of Kāl-e Jangāl near Birjand (q.v.) that are partially inscribed with Parthian inscriptions. The rock drawings of Kāl-e Jangāl present a man dressed in Parthian costume wrestling a lion. Regarding the toponym gry’rtḥštr (Gar-Ardaxšīr), observed in this inscription, Walter Bruno Henning (q.v.) proposed that perhaps this place-name was given by Ardašir I (q.v.), the founder of the Sasanian Empire, or given in his honor (Henning, p. 134).

A definitely early Sasanian monument of Khorasan is the rock relief preserved partially in the Baḡlān (q.v.) province of northern Afghanistan. This relief shows Šāpur I, mounted on a galloping horse and hunting a rhinoceros. Three figures stand around the king; one of them in front of the horse is clothed in Kushanid garments (see KUSHAN DYNASTY). This relief symbolically narrates the conquests of Šāpur I in the southern Hindu Kush range (q.v.; Grenet; Grenet et al.).

According to the Zoroastrian tradition, one of the three sacred fires of Sasanians, Ādur Burzēn-Mihr (q.v.), was located in Khorasan on Mt. Rēvand (Bundahišn, TD1, fol. 32r [9.21]; Anklesaria, tr., p. 97; Bahār, tr., p. 72). The exact location of this fire temple (see ĀTAŠKADA) is a matter of debate, and a čahārṭāq (q.v.) in the northwest of Sabzevār has been tentatively attributed to the Ādur Burzēn-Mihr (Hāšemi Zarjābād et al., p. 80). This building, known locally as the Khone-ye Div (Ḵāna-ye Div, ‘House of the Demon’), is located over a high mound in the mountains of Rēvand County about 40 km northwest of the city of Sabzevār. The ground plan of the building is a simple rectangle extended to a cruciform plan by four arched recesses, making the building a typical čahārṭāq. On the northeastern side of the čahārṭāq, there is a very narrow (0.80 m) passageway, probably for access to the main room and to the area south of the čahārṭāq (Kaim and Hashemi).

Plate I. The Bāzeh Ḥur čahārṭāq. Photograph courtesy of the author.Plate I. The Bāzeh Ḥur čahārṭāq. Photograph courtesy of the author.

Another monument resembling Khone-ye Div in plan and structure is the Bāzeh Ḥur čahārṭāq (PLATE I). The recent excavations, carried out for the first time around this building, revealed that the dome chamber was embraced by two narrow rooms on the northern and southern sides, and the western and eastern niches were once blocked (M. Labbaf-Khaniki, 2017). The excavations brought to light the remains of a columned hall with at least sixteen columns in two rows abutting the eastern wall of the čahārṭāq (M. Labbaf-Khaniki, 2018, p. 415). Some 400 m south of the Bāzeh Ḥur čahārṭāq, excavations in 2018-19 revealed the remains of a Sasanian edifice that has been mentioned in a Qajar travel book as Qaṣr-e Doḵtar (Afżal-al-Molk, p. 130) and is now called Qalʿa-ye Doḵtar. The excavated area of this compound includes remains of a hypostyle room abutting a massive brick čahārṭāq. The čahārṭāq was surrounded by an ambulatory with a fire altar at the center that was once erected beside a platform. The excellent masonry and magnificent decorations of stucco and wall painting, as well as the location of this fire temple in the ancient region of Bust, lead us to suppose that it was probably the Zoroastrian sacred fire of Ādur Burzēn-Mihr.

Plate II. The stone building of Aspāḵu. Photograph courtesy of the author.Plate II. The stone building of Aspāḵu. Photograph courtesy of the author.

The stone building of Aspāḵu (PLATE II), another preserved Sasanian building located in northern Khorasan, has been identified as the church and fire temple near the Robāṭ-e Qara Bil caravanserai (Chassagnoux; Towḥidi). This monument consisted of a deep porch leading to a dome chamber. The doorway arches and dome of Aspāḵu were constructed in the Sasanian style, resembling the techniques applied in the Bāzeh Ḥur čahārṭāq and other Sasanian monuments of the Iranian plateau (see ARCHITECTURE iii. SASANIAN PERIOD).

The invasions of the Central Asian nomads to the northeastern frontiers of Iran intensified in the Sasanian period. To guard against the northern invaders, the Sasanian settlements of Khorasan were equipped with fortifications, and some military garrisons were established. According to Šahrestānīhā ī Ērānšahr (Daryaee, tr., p. 18) and archaeological findings (R. and M. Labbaf-Khaniki, 2012; Rante and Collinet, p. 12), Nishapur was founded during the reign of Yazdegerd I (q.v.; r. 399-420 CE) as a military base against the northern enemies (M. Labbaf-Khaniki, 2014b, pp. 90-92). This fort developed in the late Sasanian period and became the metropolis of Khorasan in the medieval ages.

Marv was another Sasanian urban center in Khorasan, populated by Zoroastrians, Christians, and Buddhists. The Sasanian remains of Marv have been discovered in the principal areas of the early city, Erk-Kala and Gyaur-Kala, including a mid-Sasanian quarter, a late Sasanian residence in the citadel, and some portions of the Sasanian fortifications in the southwest corner of the city (Simpson). 

Plate III. The fire altar (ātašdān) of Bandiān. Photograph courtesy of the author.Plate III. The fire altar (ātašdān) of Bandiān. Photograph courtesy of the author.

The permanent incursions of northern nomads, especially the Hephthalites (q.v.), into northeastern Iran had obliged the Sasanian kings to recognize some local powers and grant them a piece of land called dastgerd (q.v.), and in return they would protect the frontiers of the Sasanian empire. One of the seignorial estates has been identified at Bandiān in Dargaz. The Sasanian compound of Bandiān includes the remains of a fire temple, a residential quarter including a columned hall, and a cylindrical clay structure that probably served as the tower of silence (daḵma, see CORPSE). The fire temple of Bandiān contains an in situ fire altar that is still preserved in a good condition (PLATE III). The walls of the columned ayvān (q.v.) of the fire temple are decorated with stucco panels showing various scenes, including hunting a deer; fighting, perhaps against the Hephthalites; praying beside a fire altar; as well as vertical lines of Middle Persian inscriptions (Rahbar, 1998; 1999; 2004). 

The remains of another fire temple, the so-called Mele Hairam, have been identified in the Serakhs (Saraḵs) oasis in southwest Turkmenistan. The temple was accessed through the entrance passage leading to a small courtyard with two niches at northern and southern sides and a deep porch at the western side leading to the main room of the temple. The mud-brick benches alongside the western porch were decorated with stucco panels. The lower portion of a fire altar, resembling roughly an hourglass in shape, was unearthed in the middle of the main room (Kaim, 2001; 2004, pp. 325-26).

A collection of Sasanian engravings has been found in the village of Kuč, 29 km southeast of Birjand. These engravings, including geometric, floral, and figurative motifs, as well as Middle Persian inscriptions, were created on the surface of a chlorite rock in the gorge called Lāḵ-Mazār (q.v.; R. Labbaf-Khaniki and Baššāš; Livshits).

The Sasanian traditions in art and architecture continued into the Islamic period, and many monuments on the eastern borders of Greater Khorasan were created according to the Sasanian style. Although the Sogdian murals of Afrāsiāb and Panjikant (qq.v.) were drawn in the 7th-8th centuries (Azarpay), they show clearly the influences of Sasanian art. Moreover, the wall paintings of Doḵtar-e Nošervān (q.v.; Mode) and Ḡulbiān (Lee and Grenet) in modern Afghanistan were produced under the cultural hegemony of the Sasanians.

Islamic period (651 CE-present). Archaeological investigations have clearly shown that the Sasanian settlements of Khorasan were occupied by the Muslims, who constructed some Islamic monuments, including congregational mosques (masjed-e jāmeʿ) in the middle of ancient cities. The excavations at Nishapur revealed that the Sasanian buildings had been used by the early Islamic occupants, and, perhaps after an earthquake, the ruins of the ancient structure served as the foundation for the later medieval buildings. Nishapur reached the height of its prosperity under the Samanids and Saljuqs in the 10th to early 13th century CE. The Metropolitan Museum of Art excavations in the 1930s revealed the ruins of monuments including a madrasa (see EDUCATION), bazaar, palace, etc., decorated with panels of stucco and murals (Wilkinson). Iranian excavations at Šādyāḵ, the royal quarter of Nishapur, exposed a manor house dating back to the Saljuq period, including a throne hall embraced by four rooms, for a royal family (R. Labbaf-Khaniki, 2004; M. Labbaf-Khaniki, 2006). Nishapur and Šādyāḵ were entirely destroyed due to the Mongol invasion in 618/1221, and then Timurid Nishapur was founded at the location of the modern city of Nishapur, some 5 km to the north of the old city (R. and M. Labbaf-Khaniki, 2007, pp. 141-42). 

Ṭus was another important city of Khorasan, established in the pre-Islamic period, and its governor was the marzbān of Khorasan, the kanārang (eastern border margrave), in the Sasanian period (Ṯaʿālebi, p. 743; Pers. tr., p. 359). Ṭus was surrounded by a massive mud-brick wall 6 km long and was pierced with nine gateways, four of which have survived. Arg-e Ṭus appears today in the form of a high, earthen mound situated about 300 m west of the tomb of Ferdowsi (q.v.; R. Labbaf-Khaniki, 1999a, pp. 64-65).

The only preserved monument of old Ṭus is a brick building called the Hārunia, serving as a mausoleum or ḵānaqāh (q.v.), established in the vicinity of another religious construction in the 13th-14th century CE (R. Labbaf-Khaniki, 1999a, p. 65). Due to the archaeological excavations, the remains of an old mosque appeared some 150 m southwest of Hārunia. The remains belonged to one of the earliest mosques of Khorasan, constructed in the columned šabestān style. Some remains of a bazaar and a madrasa serving until circa 15th century CE were also found in the vicinity of the mosque (Toḡrāʾi).

Archaeological excavations in a suburb of Ṭus at an old cemetery revealed the remains of an octagonal platform that was once surrounded by a brick enclosure. Beneath the platform, an underground cruciform chamber was unearthed. It has been identified as the mausoleum of Abu Ḥāmed Moḥammad Ḡazāli (q.v.). According to the archaeological investigations, the underground chamber (sardāb) was constructed in the earlier phase (ca. late 11th-early 12th century CE) and the tomb-tower was erected in the 13th-14th century CE (R. Labbaf-Khaniki, 2008). Regarding the remains of Ḡazāli’s tomb, it is supposed that the building resembled the well-preserved Il-Khanid (q.v.) towers of Mil-e Aḵangān (22 km north of Mashhad), Mil-e Rādkān (26 km northwest of Čenārān), and Borj-e ʿAliābād (12 km northeast of Bardaskan), with a conical dome and the engaged columns embedded in the façade.

Due to archaeological excavations at Šāhzāda Ḥosayn mound in Qāʾen, the remains of a great mosque were discovered, the plan of which resembled the hypostyle plan of early Islamic mosques. The piers of the mosque were constructed with pisé and mud-brick buried under another mosque that was built in the 10th century CE (R. Labbaf-Khaniki, 2012, pp. 104-7). The new Masjed-e Jāmeʿ of Qāʾen is located some 250 m northwest of the old mosque. It was constructed in the Timurid period above the ruins of perhaps an earlier mosque (Nāderi).

Plate IV. The tomb of Arsalān Jāḏeb in Sangbast. Photograph courtesy of the author.Plate IV. The tomb of Arsalān Jāḏeb in Sangbast. Photograph courtesy of the author.

The archaeological site of Sangbast, some 40 km south of Mashhad, contains some of the most important monuments of Islamic Khorasan. The oldest monument of this site is a buried caravanserai, which reportedly was constructed by Arsalān Jāḏeb, the governor of Ṭus under Sultan Maḥmud (r. 998-1030). The entrance portal of the caravanserai was flanked by two brick minarets; one has survived. According to historical documents, Arsalān Jāḏeb was buried at the caravanserai and a mausoleum was erected above his grave. The tomb of Arsalān Jāḏeb in the vicinity of the caravanserai is a brick construction with a rectangular plan and a low-rise dome established on an octagonal drum (PLATE IV; R. Labbaf-Khaniki, 1999a, pp. 43-46; Musātabār and Ṣāleḥi Kāḵki; see ĀSTĀN-E QODS-E RAŻAWI).

Plate V. Robāṭ Šaraf. Photograph courtesy of the author.​Plate V. Robāṭ Šaraf. Photograph courtesy of the author.​

Khorasan, as the gate to the Iranian plateau, served as a connecting bridge between the east and west of the Old World. Accordingly, one of the most important caravanserais along the Silk Road was established in the heart of Khorasan. Robāṭ Šaraf (PLATE V) located between Nishapur and Marv was constructed in the 12th century CE, probably on the ruins of an older caravanserai called Abkina by Ebn Ḵordāḏbeh (q.v.; p. 24). Robāṭ Šaraf includes two courts, each overlooked by four ayvāns facing each other. The façades of the ayvāns are decorated with ornamental brickwork and sanctuaries (meḥrābs) and the interior façades of the ayvāns are covered with stuccoes including Arabic inscriptions in Kufic and ṯolṯ scripts (Dānešdust; M. Labbaf-Khaniki, 2006; see CALLIGRAPHY).

In the middle of the ancient city of Zuzan, the remains of a great medieval monument called Malek Zuzan mosque-madrasa have survived. The preserved portions of two ayvāns standing within 45 m of each other are decorated with a combination of tile and brickwork, including an inscription in nasḵ script that bears the date of construction of the building in 616/1219 (Blair; Adle; R. Labbaf-Khaniki, 1999b). The archaeological excavations at this mosque revealed the remains of an older mosque that includes a magnificent meḥrāb dating to the Saljuq period (R. Labbaf-Khaniki, 1999b).

The Masjed-e Jāmeʿ of Gonābād (q.v.) is the first mosque of Khorasan that was planned in a two-ayvān style. This mosque was built in 609/1212 in the vicinity of an older mosque and was expanded in the Il-Khanid period. The façade of the main ayvān is covered with brickwork including Kufic inscriptions and geometric motifs (Zamāni). The Masjed-e Jāmeʿ of Ferdows (q.v.), another mosque of Khorasan, was constructed in the early 13th century CE with two ayvāns. This mosque is also decorated with brickwork that was occasionally combined with tile work (R. Labbaf-Khaniki and Ṣāber Moqaddam, 2006, pp. 26-27). The Masjed-e Jāmeʿ of Sangān was built contemporaneously with the mosques of Zuzan, Gonābād, and Ferdows, with two ayvāns, one of which is preserved. The mosque of Sangān was also decorated with carved and molded bricks mixed with tile work (R. Labbaf-Khaniki and Ṣāber Moqad­dam, pp. 28-29).

About 40 km northeast of Zuzan, there is the ruined city of Ḵargerd. The only surviving monument of the city is the Ḡiāṯiya Madrasa. The plan of this monument is in the form of a rectangle of dimensions 56 m × 44 m, and the entrance ayvān is located at the middle of the northeastern side. It has two main rooms serving as mosque and madrasa. A decorated meḥrāb adorned with colorful tilework is installed on the qebla wall of the mosque. The central court has a four-ayvān plan, and the end wall of each ayvān was decorated with moqarnas and painted panels. According to an inscription, the madrasa was established by the well-known architect of the Timurid period, Qewām-al-Din Širāzi and his brother Ḡiāṯ-al-Din Širāzi (q.v.) in 848/1444 (O’Kane, 1976). Qewām-al-Din carried out some other architectural masterpieces of Greater Khorasan including the ḵānaqāh and madrasa for Šāhroḵ (r. 1405-1447) at Herat (812/1410); the so-called moṣallā (an open plain), madrasa, and mosque for Gowhar-šād Āḡā (q.v.) at Herat (819-40/1417-37); the shrine of ʿAbd-Allāh Anṣāri (q.v) at Gāzorgāh (q.v.), near Herat, for Šāhroḵ (828/1425 and 831/1428); and the Gowhar-šād Mosque (q.v.) at Mashhad (820/1418; Wilber, p. 32). The latter is one of the largest four-ayvān mosques in Iran that was built in the reign of Šāhroḵ. The main ayvān is flanked by two minarets that are approximately 40 m in height. The decorations of this mosque have been repeatedly changed and replaced throughout history and the only intact element is the moqarnas installed on the ending wall of a maqṣura (annex) ayvān (Pope, pp. 1016, 1124-26, 1133, 1791; Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana, Maṭlaʿ, pp. 137-52).

Another Timurid monument of Mashhad is the Masjed‑e Šāh; it contains an ayvān, two minarets decorated with tile works, the domed čahārṭāq in the center, and some lateral rooms. The Masjed-e Šāh served as both a mosque and a mausoleum and was originally built as the tomb of Amir Ḡiāṯ-al-Din Malekšāh in the 15th century CE, the Timurid governor of Mashhad (R. Labbaf-Khaniki and Ṣāber Moqaddam, pp. 74-75).

The most important monument of Khorasan is the mausoleum of Imam Reżā (see ʿALI AL-REŻĀ), the eighth Imam of the Emāmi Shiʿites, located in the center of Mashhad (see ĀSTĀN-E QODS-E RAŻAWI). Imam Reżā was buried after his death in the mausoleum, which was constructed originally as the tomb of Hārun al-Rašid (q.v.), the fifth ʿAbbasid caliph. According to historical accounts and archaeological investigations, the earliest structure of Imam Reżā’s tomb was similar to the Sasanian čahārṭāqs and resembled the tombs of Amir Esmāʿil Sāmāni in Bukhara (q.v.) and Amir Arsalān Jāḏeb in Sangbast (Sayyedi, pp. 20-21). The Imam Reżā mausoleum was expanded in the Samanid and Ghaznavid (q.v.) periods, and the dome chamber of the tomb was decorated with precious luster tilework in the Ḵᵛārazmšāhid period (see CHORASMIA ii; KHWARAZMSHAHS). In the Il-Khanid period, the mausoleum was developed, and some ayvāns and minarets were added to the tomb. According to Ebn Baṭṭuṭa (q.v.; 703-770/1304-69), the mausoleum of Imam Reżā was situated in the vicinity of a madrasa and a mosque. Šāhroḵ and his wife Gowhar-šād ordered the construction of two large halls, called Dār al-Ḥoffāẓ and Dār al-Siāda, to the south and west of the mausoleum. The madrasa of Bālāsar was also built in the vicinity of Dār al-Siāda. The shrine-complex flourished in the Safavid (q.v.) period, and two powerful Safavid sultans, Shah Esmāʿil I (r. 1501-24) and Shah Ṭahmāsp I (q.v.; r. 1524-76), endeavored to promote the compound. At Shah Ṭahmāsp’s command, the exterior façade of the dome was gilded, and Shah ʿAbbās I (q.v.; r. 1588-1629) developed the main court and established two ayvāns on the eastern and western sides of the court. He commanded also the construction of a large ayvān on the northern side, which is known nowadays as Ayvān-e ʿAbbāsi. In the 19th and 20th centuries, some courts and minarets were restored or constructed under Qajar and Pahlavi governors, and the development operations are still continuing (R. Labbaf-Khaniki, 1999a, pp. 34-42; Moʾtaman).

Another important architectural compound of Khorasan is the complex of Shaikh Aḥmad-e Jām (q.v.) located in the eastern area of the modern city of Torbat-e Jām. The compound includes some ten buildings situated around a vast open court. The highest structure is an ayvān rising to 30 m situated on the southern side of the court (O’Kane, 1979, p. 97). The ayvān is flanked by two buildings on the left and right, called Masjed-e Kermāni and Gonbad-e Safid, respectively. The Masjed-e Kermāni was founded on a rectangular plan and roofed with a lighted cupola. A sumptuously carved stucco meḥrāb is situated in the central aisle following the Il-Khanid style. Much smaller than the Masjed-e Kermāni, the Gonbad-e Safid is a square with deep recesses on the north and south and shallow ones on the east and west (Golombek, pp. 36-37). The central, high ayvān leads to a dome chamber that was once erected as a single building. According to the archaeological investigations, the dome chamber was established in 633/1235 and then restored twice in 763/1361 and 771/1369 (R. Labbaf-Khaniki, 1999a, p. 58). Another important building of the compound of Aḥmad-e Jām is Gonbad-e Firuzšāhi, located to the northwest of the complex, erected on a cruciform plan mounted by a turquoise dome. This dome chamber is the surviving portion of the Firuzšāhi Madrasa that had been destroyed but was reconstructed recently (O’Kane, 1979, pp. 99-101). 

There is another architectural compound in Tāybād, some 60 km southeast of Torbat-e Jām that was established around the mausoleum of Shaikh Zayn-al-Din Abu Bakr Tāybādi. The mosque next to the tomb has a high-entrance ayvān leading to a dome chamber, flanked with two porticos (ravāq). The dome chamber has a cruciform plan, and the interior walls are covered with moqarnas, murals, and inscriptions (O’Kane, 1979, pp. 87-96). 

Plate VI. ʿEmārat-e Ḵoršid in Kalāt-e Nāderi. Photograph courtesy of the author.​Plate VI. ʿEmārat-e Ḵoršid in Kalāt-e Nāderi. Photograph courtesy of the author.​

The most important Afsharid (q.v.) monument of Khorasan is an unfinished edifice, the ʿEmārat-e Ḵoršid (PLATE VI), located in Kalāt-e Nāderi (q.v.). Although popularly known as Qaṣr-e Ḵoršid (Palace of Ḵoršid), it was, in fact, established as the tomb of Nāder Shah (q.v.; r. 1736-47). The ʿEmārat-e Ḵoršid, a brick building with an octagonal plan in two stories, has been covered with carved alabaster (R. Labbaf-Khaniki, 1998). A strange cylindered structure has been raised up from the ceiling, probably the drum portion of a dome that was never finished. 

Approximately 300 m east of ʿEmārat-e Ḵoršid, there is a mosque that was originally built above an Il-Khanid tomb. This mosque, called Kabud Gonbad, has four asymmetrical ayvāns and two šabestāns, upon one of which the dome is placed, decorated with colorful tilework dominated by blue tiles (R. Labbaf-Khaniki and Ṣāber Moqaddam, pp. 50-51).

Kalāt-e Nāderi, the main stronghold of Nāder Shah Afšār, is located in a strategic valley embraced by natural steep cliffs and equipped with linear walls and a sequence of towers and keeps. These defensive installations are a portion of a system of defense that provided Khorasan with a northern barrier against raiders from the Central Asian steppes (M. Labbaf-Khaniki, 2013).

As the main invaders of Khorasan, Turkmen continued to plunder the settlements until the late Qajar period. To provide a defense against the Turkmen invasions, some barriers were established along the border of Khorasan. The remains of linear walls and keep towers on the Kopet-Dag ranges in Mazdurān and Āq-Darband reflect the challenge of security in this region (M. Labbaf-Khaniki, 2014a, pp. 438-39). Moreover, the strategic city of Saraḵs in the northeastern corner of Iran was enclosed by a massive wall equipped with bastions, providing a garrison for the Persian military force against Turkmen threats (Riāżi Heravi, p. 73; Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana, 1988, pp. 1815-16).

The main contemporary monuments of Khorasan were created with the contribution of the Anjoman-e Āṯār-e Melli (q.v.; The National Monuments Council of Iran) during Moḥammad Reżā Pahlavi’s reign (1941-79). Regarding the prominent historical figures of Khorasan and their works and professions, Anjoman-e Āṯār-e Melli created the magnificent monuments for Ferdowsi in Ṭus, Nāder Shah in Mashhad, Mollā Hosayn Wāʿeẓ Kāšefi (q.v.) in Sabzavār, Ebn Yamin (q.v.) in Faryumad (q.v.), Farid-al-Din Aṭṭār, Omar Khayyam, and Kamāl-al-Molk (qq.v.) in Nishapur; all are considered as contemporary architectural masterpieces of Khorasan (Baḥr-al-ʿOlumi).


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xxv. Clothing of Khorasan


xxvi. Music of Khorasan

In the context of the cultural policy of the Islamic Republic, the music of Khorasan, like the music of other regions of Iran, is designated by the term nawāḥi (regional) or maqāmi (music using melody-types) in contrast with the term musiqi-e sonnati (traditional music, classical music) or dastgāhi (see DASTGĀH). Compared to other regions of Iran, Khorasan is where the most fieldwork has been carried out. 

The music of Khorasan is the result of a long process of interaction, for more than a millennium, between speakers of Iranian and Turkic languages, and between settled and nomadic peoples living in Greater Khorasan, which included part of Central Asia and Afghanistan. The musical traditions of Khorasan are diverse, and each area has its distinct musical styles and genres that have many parallels with the music of its geographic neighbors; for example, the music of northern Khorasan with the music of southern Turkmenistan, and the music of eastern Khorasan with that of western Afghanistan. The administrative boundaries, defined in 2004, divide Khorasan into three provinces: Ḵorāsān-e Šemāli (Northern Khorasan), Ḵorāsān-e Rażawi, and Ḵorāsān-e Janubi (Southern Khorasan). These boundaries do not align exactly with the musical traditions practiced in these areas, which are distinguished mostly by languages. For example, the regions of Qučān and Daragaz in the north, where the main languages of the repertoire are Khorasani Turkish, Kurmanji Kurdish, and Turkmen, are now part of Rażawi Khorasan, where Persian is the dominant language. In this article, the terms “eastern musical area” and “northern musical area” refer to zones of musical practices which cross over administrative boundaries. 

Categories of musicians. Professional, semi-professional, or amateur, Khorasani musicians are specialized in various musical genres. The main categories of performers are those who perform or accompany sung poetry and those who are entertainers, mainly instrumentalists accompanying dance. 

Sung poetry. Sung poetry, both narrative and lyric genres, is central to Khorasani culture. The repertoires of the various types of singers are closely related to the languages of the area. The main form of sung poetry in Khorasan is the quatrain, čahār-bayti or do-bayti (q.v.) in Persian. Other terms such as ḡaribi (from ḡarib, a stranger or outsider) and faryād (cry) are also used. The main instrument accompanying sung poetry is the long-necked lute, dotār (q.v.); other instruments are the spike fiddle, kamānča (q.v.) or qijāk (among Turkmen), and the ney (end-blown flute). There are several types of Khorasani dotār, each corresponding to a regional or ethnic tradition (see Darviši, 2001, pp. 119-211). 

Sung poetry in the northern musical area. Various genres of sung poetry have been cultivated in Khorasan, mainly by three types of professional and semi-professional musicians: baḵši (bard), naqqāl (reciter and singer of the epic Šāh-nāma), and darviš (reciter and singer of religious poetry; see Blum, 1978). Most naqqāls and darviš in Khorasan have been affiliated with either the Ḵāksār (q.v.) or the Šāh Neʿmat-Allāhi order of dervishes. Religious poetry has an important place in their repertoire (Blum, 1978, pp. 19-20). 

Today the most prominent musical figures in northern Khorasan are the Khorasani baḵši (q.v.) and the Turkmen bagşy, bards or singers of tales similar to the aşıq in Azerbaijan and Turkey. According to baḵšis, baḵši means recipient of a gift (baḵšeš) given by God to enable a man to sing in several languages, to play the dotār, to narrate tales, to compose songs, and to be able to make his instrument (Youssefzadeh, 2002b, p. 58; idem, 2010, p. 63). A Khorasani baḵši is a soloist, whereas it is common for a Turkmen bagşy to be accompanied by a second dotār player and/or a player of the spike fiddle qijāk. A Khor­asani baḵši sings a number of poetic genres in Khorasani Turkish, Kurmanji Kurdish, and Persian, while the Turkmen bagşy sings only in his own language. 

The core of the baḵši’s repertoire is the Turkish dāstān (story or tale) or ḥekāyat, a performance genre cultivated throughout Central Asia, Azerbaijan, eastern Anatolia, and among the Turks living in the Balkan countries (e.g., Başgöz, Reichl, Żerańska-Kominek). It has a prosimetric form, in which sections of spoken prose alternate with sung poetry accompanied by the dotār. The majority of verse passages are exchanges of sung quatrains between the protagonists themselves, or addressed to God (see Blum, 1996; idem, 2009a, pp. 222-24; Youssefzadeh, 2018a). The prose parts are more descriptive. In performance, the sung quatrains of a dāstān are generally in Khorasani Turkish and the prose recitation is in Persian, Khorasani Turkish, or Kurmanji Kurdish, depending on the audience. The subjects of the dāstān fall into three main categories: romances (e.g., Karam and Aṣli Ḵān, Ṭāher and Zohra), religious and mystical tales (Ebrāhim Adham, Bābā Rowšan), and heroic tales (Köroğlu, q.v.), some of which are known in a large area from Anatolia to Xinxiang in Chinese Turkistan (see Youssefzadeh and Blum, 2022, for a critical edition of the dāstān-e Šāh Esmāʿil va Golzār Ḵānum). 

Narratives in Kurmanji Kurdish and Persian are mostly all in verse. Those composed in the late 19th or early 20th century range in subject from lamenting or praising the deeds of regional rebels such as Jāju Khan and Sardār ʿEważ to praising outlaws such as Rašid Khan (Blum, 2008). Verses on Jāju Khan and Sardār ʿEważ were collected by Wladimir Ivanov in 1918-20 in Khorasan (see Ivanov, pp. 171-72, 185-86; Tawaḥḥodi, 1988 [first ed.], III, pp. 235-38, 416-17). Later narratives praise the heroes of the 1979 Revolution and the martyrs of the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88; Youssefzadeh, 2008). Important narratives with religious and didactic themes are attributed to regional poets. The most famous is the late-19th-century Kurmanji Kurdish poet Jaʿfarqoli Zangeli. His poems have a prominent place in the repertoire of musicians (see Tawaḥḥodi, 1990 for a critical edition of Jaʿfarqoli’s poetry). Jaʿfarqoli is often compared to the great 18th-century Turkmen poet Magtymguly (Maḵtumqoli Farāḡi; 1733-82), whose poems are also sung in northern Khorasan (see Maḵtumqoli Farāḡi; Diahji). Many baḵšis perform several types of religious poetry in Persian such as taʿzia or šabih (passion play), nawḥa-ḵᵛāni (singing laments), and čāvoši-ḵᵛāni (singing pilgrims songs).

Sung poetry in the eastern musical area. In eastern Khorasan, in the areas of Torbat-e Jām, Tāybād, Ḵvāf, and Kāšmar, unlike in northern Khorasan, the singer (ḵᵛānanda) and the dotār player (navāzanda) are often not the same person. It is also common for two dotār players to accompany one or more singers. Eastern Khorasan has a large population of Sunni Muslims, forming the only Persian-speaking Sunni minority in Iran. It is related both historically and culturally to the Herat region of Afghanistan, which was formerly part of eastern Iran and an important cultural center in the 15th and 16th centuries. Many musicians of the Torbat-e Jām or Taybād regions trace their lineage to musicians in Herat. Some of the musicians of eastern Khorasan still travel to Herat to perform on special occasions such as the New Year.

Khorasan as a whole has been an important center of Sufism for centuries, and various orders are still to be found there. Many contemporary musicians of eastern Khorasan belong to the Mojaddedi branch of the Naqšbandi order, established in the region in the early 19th century. Music plays an important role in its rituals, which are conducted in private homes, rather than in a ḵānaqāh (q.v.; Darviši, 1997, pp. 17-18; Blum and Khalilian). Other rituals may be performed in the shrine of a saint. 

In eastern Khorasan, the singer (ḵᵛānanda), like the baḵši of northern Khorasan, memorizes a great many verses from numerous sources. The renowned singer Nur-Mohammad Dorpur (d. 2015) from the Torbat-e Jām area claimed to know more than one thousand verses (Youssefzadeh, 2015). The influence of Persian literature, cultivated in Khorasan from the 10th century onward, is central to the sung poetry of Khorasan. Poems attributed to great figures of Sufism such as ʿAbd-Allāh Anṣāri, Rumi (d. 1273), Farid-al-Din ʿAṭṭār, ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Jāmi, and Aḥmad-e Jām (d. 1141 qq.v.) among others, to more contemporary authors such as Ḵalifa Ḥāji Jalāl-al-Din Feqhi Saljuqi (d. 1973) or Ḵalifa Abd-al-Raʿuf Majidi (penname: Šāyeq), both important figures of the Naqšbandi order, have a prominent place in singers’ repertoires. The poems use several poetic forms, such as čāhār-bayti, ḡazal (q.v.), and maṯnawi (rhyming couplet). The most common is the čahār-bayti with the rhyme scheme aaba.

Some narratives in Persian (with the mixture of prose and poetry) such as Moḡol doḵtar or Najma are found in various regions of Iran and western Afghanistan (see Kuhi Kermāni; Massé, pp. 441-42; CD, Afghanistan: le rubâb de Hérat, 1993, track 11). 

Popular entertainers. Various types of entertainers remain active in Khorasan such as ʿāšeq, kāseb or jat, while others such as luṭi (q.v.) have been extinct since the 1979 Revolution. The luṭi used to sing verses praising or mocking authorities and dance accompanying himself on a dāyera (frame drum; see DAF[F] AND DAYERA).

In northern Khorasan ʿāšeqs (‘lover,’ not to be confused with the ʿaşıq of Azerbaijan, who is similar to the baḵši) are popular entertainers who supply music for weddings and circumcisions and other social activities such as košti (wrestling). Professional musicians are Kurds with a nomadic background. They perform in ensembles. An ʿāšeq ensemble usually consists of two men, one playing a double-headed drum, dohol (see DRUMS), and the other sornā (shawm), qošma (double clarinet), kamānča (q.v.), or violin (on the concept of ʿāšeq in Khorasan, see Blum, 1972, tr., 2002). Dancers and acrobats sometimes become part of the performance. Since the 1980s, electronic keyboards are also used to play popular dance tunes. ʿĀšeq traditions and skills are passed on in an extended family. Each musician usually plays more than one instrument and some also sing. They accompany traditional dances called bāzi (i.e., play), such as Anāraki, Yek Qarṣe, Do Qarṣe, Se Qarṣe, Šeš Qarṣe, each with a distinctive rhythm (Raqṣhā-ye šemāl-e Ḵorāsān; Raqṣhā-ye šarq-e Ḵorāsān; for an account of a wedding in Khorasan, see Nowruzi). In certain villages and neighborhoods in northern Khorasan, ʿāšeq predominate, such as Ḵānloq, north of Širvān, or Ẓolmābād, a suburb of Sabzavār. The repertoire of the ʿāšeq also includes some of the same tunes and verses performed by the baḵši, such as Allāh Mazār, Jāju Ḵan, and Köroǧlu (usually performed for a košti). It also includes many verses dealing with their nomadic background. 

In eastern Khorasan, the role of popular entertainers is fulfilled by a group called kāseb (“tradesman”) or jat (q.v.). They are mostly craftsmen (e.g., carpenters, ironworkers). Unlike the singers and dotār players of eastern Khorasan, who are mostly Sunni, the kāsebs are mainly Shiite. They play instruments such as the sornā and the dohol. Jat is also the name commonly used for gypsies (q.v.) and the Baloch; other names are ḡorbati and qerešmāl, who were also itinerant professionals with dual occupations such as ironworking and music making (Blum, 1974, pp. 99-104; Sykes; Sakata, p. 8). Kāsebs, like the ʿāšeqs, have their own neighborhood and meeting place (pātoq). Čub-bāzi (q.v.; dance with sticks) is very popular in Khorasan, especially in the east and south. Mostly danced by men, it is performed solo or in groups accompanied by dohol and sornā. Considered heroic (ḥamāsi), it is often featured in festivals of regional music. Dohol and sornā also accompany Asb-e čubi (wooden horse), a dance by one man standing within a wooden horse. A pair of musicians, one playing dotār and the other singing and/or playing dotār accompany āhu-bara (baby deer), popular in the Nišāpur region. A cord attaches the dotār to a wooden deer and when the musician plays he makes the deer dance. 

In the shrine of Imam Reżā at Mashhad (see ĀSTĀN-E QODS‑E RAŻAWĪ), for centuries the naqqāra-ḵāna (lit. “kettledrum house”; see DRUMS) ensembles with karnās (q.v.), sornās, and kettledrums have performed on special occasions and immediately before and after sunrise and sunset.

Social contexts and performers. Many musicians of Khorasan trace their art back for seven to nine generations. In the past, musicians were attached to the household of a local khan or sardār (commander), for whom they performed almost exclusively. It was the custom for the local rulers to employ a musician in their service. For example, baḵši Sohrāb Moḥammadi’s grandfather was in the service of Yār-Moḥammad Sardār (d. 1903; see Blum’s notes to Musiqi-e šemal-e Ḵorāsān, 2015). Whether professional or semi-professional, the Khorasani musician nowadays is not able to make a living from his music alone. He may also be a farmer, a shepherd, a laborer, or a barber. In fact, many semi-professional musicians of Khorasan have worked as barbers, also extracting teeth and performing traditional medicine (cupping, bleeding), such as Ḥāj Qorbān Solaymāni (d. 2008) and Ḥāj Ḥosayn Yegāna (d. 1992), from northern Khorasan; and Naẓar-Moḥammad Solaymāni (d. 1978) and Ḡolām-Ḥosayn Samandari (d. 2012), from eastern Khorasan. A barbershop is also a meeting place for musicians to get together and to exchange their knowledge. In Afghanistan, marginalized categories of barber-musicians are associated with instruments other than the dotār, such as the dohol and the sornā (Sakata, pp. 78-81; Slobin, p. 32). 

As elsewhere in Iran and some parts of the Middle East, musicians who accompany sung poetry, such as baḵši and navāzanda, have a higher social status than the musicians who play for dancing, such as ʿāšeq or kāseb. The former usually perform indoors, and their music is mainly for listening or for accompanying rituals; the latter perform outdoors, and their music is primarily for dancing. 

In contrast to Turkmenistan, where women have been active as baḵšis since about the second half of the 20th century (Turkmenistan: Chants des femmes bakhshi), in Khorasan and the Turkmen plain, it is exclusively a world of men. In Khorasan, we know of only one woman, Golnabāt ʿAṭāʾi (1959-2019), from Bojnurd, who claimed to be a baḵši since she played dotār and learned portions of the repertoire from her ex-husband, Barāt-ʿAli Moqimi (1957-2021) (Iran-Bardes du Khorassan, tracks 4 and 5). Although, since the 1979 Revolution, female solo singing has been restricted to all-female audiences (Youssef­zadeh, 2018b, p. 665), in village celebrations, the gender separation is not as strict as in urban areas. For example, Golnabāt, like many other musicians in Khorasan, traveled widely where her services were needed and where she sometimes performed for a mixed audience.

Plate I. A group of ʿāšeqs: Qeli Ḵošnavāz, dohol, and Pir ‘Ali Šākeri, qošma, at a wedding ceremony in Almājoq, July 2010. Photograph by and courtesy of the author.Plate I. A group of ʿāšeqs: Qeli Ḵošnavāz, dohol, and Pir ‘Ali Šākeri, qošma, at a wedding ceremony in Almājoq, July 2010. Photograph by and courtesy of the author.

Life-cycle celebrations such as circumcisions and weddings, and small gatherings in private homes, have long been an ideal venue for music performance. Wedding celebrations that in the past would sometimes stretch over several days are now reduced to a one-day or two-day event (see PLATE I). The people of the modern era do not have the time, leisure, or perhaps the interest to listen, for example, to a multi-evening dāstān; now dāstāns are usually performed and transmitted under the reduced form of individual songs. In Khorasan, teahouses were once one of the major venues for performances of baḵši, naqqāl, and darviš (Blum, 1972, pp. 29-40). This tradition did not survive the sociopolitical changes of the latter part of the 20th century. After the 1979 Revolution, most of the teahouses were closed (Youssefzadeh, 2002b, pp. 63-64). 

Plate II. Sohrāb Moḥammadi from Āšḵāna, Northern Khorasan, at the festival of regional music in Sanandaj, May 2016. Photograph by and courtesy of the author.​Plate II. Sohrāb Moḥammadi from Āšḵāna, Northern Khorasan, at the festival of regional music in Sanandaj, May 2016. Photograph by and courtesy of the author.​

Since the late 1960s, another major venue for Khorasani musicians has been festivals. They were featured for the first time in the Shiraz Arts Festival (1967-77, q.v.) and the Ṭus Festival (1973-77), both sponsored by National Iranian Radio and Television (NIRT). Since the 1990s, festivals of regional music have become the most prominent venue for the performances of Khorasani musicians. The musicians are considered to be custodians of Iran’s cultural heritage and are featured in many festivals and concerts of regional music organized in Tehran and elsewhere. These festivals, often thematic (celebrating political or religious events) and sometimes competitive (prizes are given to the best musicians) are organized mostly by two government units, the Music Division of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance (Wezārat-e farhang wa eršād-e eslāmi) and the Arts Division of the Organization for the Propagation of Islam (Ḥawza-ye honari-e sāzmān-e tabliḡāt-e eslāmi; on festivals, see Youssefzadeh, 2000, pp. 49-54). Sometimes publications related to the festivals are issued (e.g., Darviši, 1997; 2004). In the festivals of regional music, the musicians have to dress in their traditional costumes and must limit their performance to music of their region; in the past it was common to include items from the repertoires of other regions (see PLATES II and III). In November 2010, UNESCO honored the music of Khorasani baḵšis by adding it to its “List of the Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” (https://ich.unesco.org/en/RL/music-of-the-bakhshis-of-khorasan-00381).

Plate III. Sarvar Aḥmadi and Ḥabib Ḥabibifar from Torbat-e Jām, Tehran, January 2006. Photograph by and courtesy of the author.Plate III. Sarvar Aḥmadi and Ḥabib Ḥabibifar from Torbat-e Jām, Tehran, January 2006. Photograph by and courtesy of the author.

Since the late 1960s, radio and television have become important performance venues for Khorasani musicians. They include regional stations and, in Tehran, the very popular Radio Āvā and Radio Payām, among others, as well as regional television stations and the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB; Ṣedā va simā-ye Jomhuri-e eslāmi-e Irān) international television station Jām-e Jam, aimed at Iranians living abroad. Moreover, since the late 1990s, Khorasani musicians have been invited to Europe and the United States for various world festivals.

Written and oral transmission. In both northern and eastern Khorasan, the musicians who specialize in sung poetry usually rely on printed books, manuscripts, and notebooks (ketābča) to learn the repertoire of narratives and poems. Musicians’ notebooks, in which they copy verses and stories, are highly valued by most of the musicians. 

The published sources of the Turkish dāstāns are chapbooks, available cheaply in the market, some of which have been reissued in Gonbad-e Qābus and Tabriz, in Turkmen and Azeri Turkish, respectively (e.g., Dordi Qāżi, Sāʿi). Lithographed versions of dāstāns printed in Central Asia and Afghanistan have circulated among the baḵšis since the early 20th century. The divāns of poets from eastern Khorasan, many of whom were prominent figures of the Naqšbandi order, have been published (e.g., Feqhi Saljuqi; Majidi; see also Moḥammadzāda). The melody types and rhythmic patterns are taught orally. Since the 1990s, in addition to being taught privately, the dotār has been taught in many classes established with the authorization of the Ministry of Islamic Guidance in each region. The students are both male and female. 

Two outstanding sources of sound recordings from Khorasan are the “Stephen Blum Collection of Music from Iranian Khorāsān” (original ethnographic sound recordings from 1968 to 2006) at Harvard University Loeb Music Library, and recordings made by Fawzia Majd in the 1970s under the sponsorship of the former NIRT, many of which have been published in recent decades in Tehran (e.g., Musiqi-e šemāl-e Ḵorāsān, 2003a, 2003b, 2004, 2005a, 2005b). Apart from these recordings and many others that have been issued with a permit (mojawwez) from the music office (daftar-e musiqi) of the Ministry of Islamic Guidance (see Youssefzadeh, 2000, pp. 44-49), there are many field recordings of Khorasani musicians (from private gatherings, festivals, etc.) recorded often by amateurs that have been circulating in the form of cassettes among musicians and music lovers. Some of them can be found in today’s local audio disc (CD) shops, where they are often digitized and are labeled after a master musician (e.g., Musiqi-e Torbat-e Jam, 2002, by Sarvar Aḥmadi; Musiqi‑e šemāl-e Ḵorāsān, 2015, by Sohrāb Moḥammadi) or merely labeled as regional (maḥalli). Cassette recordings and more recently CDs are other tools for learning. Ḥamid Ḵeżri (b. 1969), a native of Qučān, has learned melodies mostly from the tapes that he made himself while visiting bards or culled from radio archives (see Iran: Le dotār du Khorassan; Youssefzadeh, 2009).

Musical characteristics. Khorasani music consists of melody types, usually called āhang (tune) or maqām (Rāḥati, 2012a; Masʿudiya, 1992b). The Turkmen, in addition to the term maqām, use the term sāz (instrument) for instrumental repertoire (Masʿudiya, 2000, p. 23). Some maqāms or āhangs are named after prominent figures, such as Navāʾi (the 15th-century statesman and poet Mir ʿAlišir Navāʾi), popular throughout Khorasan (with distinct characteristics in each region), and Šāh Ḵatāʾi (the pen name of Shah Esmāʿil I Ṣafawi, q.v.). Other maqām’s names often refer to the name of an item in the repertoire. 

Musical characteristics are also related to instrumental technique. On all dotārs, the high-pitched string (zir) provides the melody; the lower-pitched string (bam) has different functions. On the dotār of northern Khorasan and the Turkmen, the bam, when stopped by the thumb, produces a sort of polyphony with the zir. In the east, the lower string mostly provides a continuous drone. On the dotār of northern Khorasan, the bam is tuned a fourth or a fifth lower than the zir. On the dotār of eastern Khorasan, the bam is tuned in one of six different ways depending on the melody-type used (Darviši, 2001, pp. 126-27). Most dotārs in northern Khorasan have between eleven and thirteen adjustable frets and have a chromatic scale; in the east, they have between nine to eighteen and three-quarter-tone intervals are used. The musical system is built around two conjunct tetrachords or pentachords. The range of pitches remains within a minor tenth. Certain pitches have a more prominent function, similar to those of the dastgāh of Persian classical music (see IRAN xi. MUSIC). Varieties of asymmetric meters such as 5/8 and 7/8, called aksak in Turkish or lang in Persian, are common in both areas (Majd, 2002; see also Youssefzadeh and Blum, 2016; Blum, 2019). The melody types used in both areas permit the repetitions of lines and the use of vocables (syllables that do not belong to the poem). Some of these do not carry lexical meaning but are essential in expressing the singer’s feeling and emotion. They can occur at the beginning, middle, or end of a verse and are indispensable to sung poetry (see Blum, 2018). 

Characteristics of the northern musical area. In the Turkish dāstān, most of the poems are sequences of sung quatrains, from two to ten, separated by instrumental interludes. The poems use both the syllabic versification of Turkic popular poetry with lines of eight syllables (divided as 4+4, 5+3, or 3+5) or eleven syllables (divided as 6+5 or 4+4+3), and one of the quantitative meters (ʿaruż; q.v.) of classical Persian poetry: fifteen syllables in the ramal meter, which is associated with specific melody-types (see Blum, 1978, pp. 49-84; idem, 2006; idem, 2009b; Youssef­zadeh, 2002b, pp. 197-260; Rāḥati, 2012b). The musician’s concern is “to know the verses that best fit particular tunes as well as the tunes that are most appropriate to a given story or poem” (Blum, 2009a, pp. 208-9). The baḵši ʿAli Ḡolāmreżāʾi (1932-2021) claims that “according to his audience’s mood and the poem selected, he can choose happy (šād), moving (suznāk), martial (razmi), or melancholy (ḥoznāvar) airs” (Youssefzadeh, 2002a, p. 840). 

Some melody types accommodate verses in more than one language. For example, Šāh Ḵatāʾi and Navāʾi can be adapted for verses in Khorasani Turkish, Kurmanji Kurdish, and Persian. Navāʾi is often performed to introduce a Turkish narrative. The verses lamenting the death of Sardār ʿEważ use lines of eleven syllables (divided as 6+5), which are rare in Kurdish poetry but prominent in Turkish poetry. The baḵši Sohrāb Moḥammadi, during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), adapted this melody type and poetic schema to compose a song for his son Ḥosayn while he was on the front (Youssefzadeh, 2008, p. 287).

Jaʿfarqoli’s verses are lines of fourteen syllables (divided as 7+7), which are sung to a few tunes named after him. The most common format of Khorasani Kurdish poetry is tristichs—groupings of three lines of eight syllables each (often divided into two groups of four syllables), with a series of refrain lines and a common rhyme. (For anthologies of Khorasani tristichs, see Tawaḥḥodi, 1995; Rostami, 2007.) Lo is a Kurmanji Kurdish vocal genre performed by both baḵšis and ʿāšeqs. Ferdowsi’s Šāh-nāma is in motāqareb meter with eleven syllables in each half-line. A naqqāl would also sing verse narratives of Imam ʿAli’s heroic deeds (ḡazawāt) in the same meter and to the same melodies as Šāh-nāma (examples in the audio disc Naqqāli dar šemāl-e Ḵorāsān).

Characteristics of the eastern musical area. While in northern Khorasan the repertoire is mostly vocal, in the east there is also a substantial repertoire of purely instrumental music (Majd, 2002; Masʿudiya, 1980). The main form used in sung poetry is čahār-bayti, which can be performed as a vocal or an instrumental piece. The metric organization of a čahār-bayti is distinct; each line is composed of two hemistiches of eleven syllables, each organized in short and long syllables in the hazaj meter with the rhyme scheme aaba. Each line of two hemistiches of the čahār-bayti is often separated by a dotār interlude. 

Several melody types are associated with the čahār-bayti, such as Sarḥaddi, Hazāragi, Jamšidi, and Kuča-bāḡi. Sarḥaddi is the most popular and is found in northern Khorasan as well as in the south, in the regions of Ferdows, Gonābād, Qāʾenāt, Birjand (q.v.), and Nehāvand (Majd, 2002, p. 61). Some maqāms are considered principally instrumental, such as Jal, Šāh Ṣanam, Mašq Peltān, Oštor Ḵajuy, and Allāh, although some are also sung, such as the maqām Allāh, which is often performed (both played and sung) in the Naqšbandi’s ḏekr (q.v.) sessions during which some participants may enter a state of ecstasy (Majd, 2002, p. 57). The two most popular maqāms of the Torbat-e Jām region are Allāh-madad (‘Help, O Allah’) and Navāʾi. The former is addressed to Shaikh Aḥmad-e Jām (q.v.; d. 1140) whose mausoleum is situated in the city of Torbat-e Jām. Navāʾi, on the other hand, is a maqām popular throughout Khorasan, however with distinct regional characteristics (Blum, 2006). Some of the maqāms performed by musicians of the Torbat-e Jām region are also performed in the Herat region of Afghanistan (Traditional Music of Herat, tracks 3 and 10).

Quatrains performed in the south have become well-known through the performances of Simā Binā (b. 1944), a famous Iranian female singer. A native of Southern Khorasan (Birjand), she has reinterpreted some of the same melodies in her compositions (Musiqi-e janub-e Ḵorāsān). 

Interaction with other peoples and music continues to shape the music of Khorasan. Some of the new generation of Khorasani musicians have moved to Tehran or abroad, while others have remained in Khorasan. Both groups continue the tradition and explore other new modes of expression, often called musiqi-e talfiqi (from talfiq “putting together”) as in the case of Ḥamid Ḵeżri, a dotār player who now lives in France and is part of a trio (KNS) which combines electronic music and dotār. Classical musicians also collaborate with Khorasani musicians, such as the late Moḥammad-Reżā Šajariān (1940-2020) and Kayhān Kalhor with Ḥāj Qorbān Solaymāni on the album Night Silence Desert (2000) or Ẕu’l-faqār ʿAskariān and Ḡolām-Ḥosayn Ḡaffāri performing at the Tālār-e Waḥdad in Tehran with the famous classical singer Sālār ʿAqili and Kayvān Sāket’s orchestra in 2013.

Examples of music from Khorasan are available in the following audio clips:


Dāstān-e Šāh Esmāʿil o Golzār Ḵānom

Monājāt-e Ḵᵛāja ʿAbd-Allāh Anṣāri

Bārelāha, karima

“Song in Praise of Opium”


John Baily, “Recent Changes in the Dutār of Herat,” Asian Music 8/1, 1976, pp. 29-64.

Ilhan Başgöz, Hikāye: Turkish Folk Romance as Performance Art, Bloomington, Indiana, 2008.

Stephen Blum, “The Concept of the Āsheq in Northern Khorasan,” Asian Music 4/1, 1972, pp. 27-47; tr. Humān Asʿadi, as “Mafhum-e ʿāšeq dar farhang-e musiqāʾi-e šemāl-e Ḵorāsān,” Faṣl-nāma-ye Māhur 17, 2002, pp. 9-29.

Idem, “Persian Folksong in Meshhed (Iran), 1969,” Yearbook of the International Folk Music Council 6, 1974, pp. 86-114; tr. Nātāli Čubina, as “Tarāna-ye mardomi dar Mašhad,” Faṣl-nāma-ye Māhur 39, 2008, pp. 7-38.

Idem, “Changing Roles of Performers in Meshhed and Bojnurd, Iran,” in Bruno Nettl, ed., Eight Urban Musical Cultures: Tradition and Change, Urbana, 1978, pp. 19-89.

Idem, “Rural and Urban Interchange in the Music of Northeastern Iran,” in Daniel Heartz and Bonnie C. Wade, eds., Report of the Twelfth Congress, Berkeley 1977, International Musicological Society, Kassel, 1981, pp. 608-11.

Idem, “Musical Questions and Answers in Iranian Xorasan,” Annuario degli Archivi di Etnomusicologia dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia 4, 1996, pp. 145-63.

Idem, “Navā’i: A Musical Genre of Northeastern Iran,” in Michael Tenzer, ed., Analytical Studies in World Music, New York, 2006, pp. 41-57.

Idem, “Remembering Warriors in Song,” in T. Marković and V. Mikić, eds., Musical Culture and Memory, Belgrade, 2008, pp. 273-89.

Idem, “Modes of Theorizing in Iranian Khorasan,” in Richard K. Wolf, ed., Theorizing the Local: Music, Practice, and Experience in South Asia and Beyond, New York, 2009a, pp. 207-24.

Idem, “Şah Xəta’i as Name and Genre,” in Proceedings of International Musicological Symposium ‘Space of Muğam’, Baku, 2009b, pp. 92-97.

Idem, “The Terminology of Vocal Performance in Iranian Khorasan,” in Rachel Harris and Martin Stokes, eds., Theory and Practice in the Music of the Islamic World: Essays in Honour of Owen Wright, London, 2018, pp. 237-70.

Idem, “Meter and Rhythm in the Sung Poetry of Iranian Khorasan,” in Richard K. Wolf, Stephen Blum, and Christopher F. Hasty, eds., Thought and Play in Musical Rhythm, Oxford, 2019.

S. Blum and M. A. Khalilian, Musical Ontology of the Naqshbandi Order in Eastern Iran (paper presented at the annual meeting of the Society of Ethnomusicology), Columbus, Ohio, 2007, unpublished (available at www.academia.edu/7892211/Musical_Ontology_of_the_Naqshbandi_Order_SEM_2007_).

Bahman Bustān and Moḥammad-Reżā Darviši, Haft awrang: Morur-i bar musiqi-e sonnati o maḥalli-e Irān, Tehran, 1991. 

Alexander Chodźko, Specimens of the Popular Poetry of Persia, London, 1842.

Mollā Dād-ʿAli, Divān-e bāḡ-e gol-e Dād-ʿAli, ed. Faḵr-al-Din Zendadel, Torbat-e Jām, 2005.

Moḥammad-Reżā Darviši, Āʾina va āvāz: Majmuʿa-maqālāt dar-bāra-ye musiqi-e nawāḥi-e Irān, Tehran, 1997.

Idem, Dāʾerat al-maʿāref-e sāzhā-ye Irān I/Encyclopaedia of the Musical Instruments of Iran I: Chordophones in Regional Music, Tehran, 2001; Dāʾerat al-maʿāref-e sāzhā-ye Irān II/Encyclopaedia of the Musical Instruments of Iran II: Membranophones, Idiophones in Regional Music, Tehran, 2005.

Idem, ed., Musiqi-i ḥamāsi-e Irān, Tehran, 2004.

ʿAbd-al Raḥman Diahji, Zendagi-nāma va bargozida-ye ašʿār-e Maḵtumqoli Farāḡi, Tehran, 1994.

Gerhard Doerfer, “The Influence of Persian Language and Literature among the Turks,” in Richard G. Hovannisian and Georges Sabagh, eds., The Persian Presence in the Islamic World, Cambridge, 1991, pp. 237-49.

Gerhard Doerfer and Wolfram Hesche, Türkische Folklore-Texte aus Chorasan, Wiesbaden, 1998.

Ḥājj Morād Dordi Qāżi, ed., Dāstān-e Ṣāyād Hamrā, n.p., 2001.

Idem, Zohra va Ṭāher, Gonbad-e Qābus, 2005.

Idem, Dāstān-e Šāh Ṣanam-e ḡarib, Gonbad-e Qābus, 2006.

Jalāl-al-Din Feqhi Saljuqi, Manẓuma-ye jalāli, ed. Ḥabiballāh Šāhini, Torbat-e Jām, 1992.

Wladimir Ivanov, “Notes on Khorasani Kurdish,” Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, n.s. 23, 1927, pp. 167-235.

Hušang Jāvid, Musiqi-ye šemāl-e Ḵorāsān, Tehran, 2015.

Ḥosayn Kuhi Kermāni, Čahārdah afsāna az afsānahā-ye rustāʾi-e Irān, Tehran, 1935.

Fawzia Majd, “Maqāmhā-ye sāzi-e Torbat-e Jām, be rewāyat-e Nazar-Moḥammad Solaymāni” Faṣl-nāma-ye Māhur 16, 2002, pp. 51-66.

Idem, Nafir-nāma, 2nd ed., Tehran, 2011.

ʿAbd-al-Raʾuf Majidi, ed., Divān-e Šāyeq, Torbat-e Jām, 2007.

Henri Massé, Croyances et coutumes persanes, suivies de contes et chansons populaires, 2 vols., Paris, 1938.

Moḥammad-Taqi Masʿudiya, Musiqi-e Torbat-e Jām, Tehran, 1980.

Idem, “Die Begriffe Maqām und Dastgāh in der turkmenischen Musik des Iran,” in Jürgen Elsner and Gisa Jänichenm, eds., Regional Maqām-Traditionen in Geschichte und Gegenwart, Berlin, 1992a, pp. 377-97.

Idem, “Der Begriff des Maqām in der persischen Volksmusik,“ in Rüdiger Schumacher, ed., Von der Vielfalt musikalischer Kultur: Festschrift Josef Kuckertz zum 60, Geburtstag, Salzburg, 1992b, pp. 311-34.

Idem, Musiqi-e Torkamani: Āvā-nevisi va tajzia va taḥlil, Tehran, 2000.

Maḵtumqoli Farāḡi, Divān-e Maḵtumqoli Farāḡi, Gonbad-e Qābus, 1990.

Ḡafur Moḥammadzāda, Farhang-nāma musiqi-e Torbat-e Jām, Tehran, 2015.

Jahāngir Naṣri Ašrafi, Gusān-e pārsi: Barrasi-e naql o naqqāli dar nawāḥi-e Irān, Tehran, 2006.

Elnāz Nowruzi, “Mošāhedāt-i az yek marāsem-e ʿarusi dar Ḵorāsān,” Faṣl-nāma-ye Māhur 33, 2006, pp. 191-98.

Bābak Rāḥati, “Goftogu bā Karbalāʾi baḵši ʿAbbāsqoli Ranj­bar,” Faṣl-nāma-ye Māhur 49, 2010, pp. 159-66.

Idem, “Mafhum-e maqām dar musiqi-e baḵšihā-ye Ḵorāsān,” Faṣl-nāma-ye Māhur 56, 2012a, pp. 43-59.

Idem, “Tajzia va taḥlil-e maqāmhā-ye haftgāna-ye musiqi-e baḵšihā-ye šemāl-e Ḵorāsān,” Faṣl-nāma-ye Māhur 57, 2012b, pp. 35-64.

Karl Reichl, Turkic Oral Epic Poetry: Traditions, Forms, Poetic Structure, New York, 1992.

ʿAzim Rostami, Majmuʿa-ye yek-ṣad o se ḵešti-e kormānji, Mashhad, 2007.

Ḥosayn Sāʿi, Divān-e Šāh Esmāʿil va Golʿeẕār-e dāstāni, Tabriz, 2001. Hiromi Lorraine Sakata, Music in the Mind: The Concepts of Music and Musician in Afghanistan, Kent, Ohio, 1983.

Mark Slobin, Music in the Culture of Northern Afghanistan, Tucson, Ariz., 1976.

Bertold Spuler, “Bakhshi,” in EI2 I, Leiden, 1986, p. 953.

Percy Molesworth Sykes, “Notes on Musical Instruments in Khorasan, with Special Reference to the Gypsies,” Man 9, no. 94, 1909, pp. 161-64.

Kalim-Allāh Tawaḥḥodi, ed., Divān-e ʿerfāni-e Jaʿfarqoli Zangeli, Mashhad, 1990; 2nd ed., 2002.

Idem, Ḥarakat-e tāriḵi-e Kord ba Ḵorāsān dar defāʿ az esteqlāl-e Irān, 6 vols., Mashhad, 1982 [revised 1992]-2007.

Idem, ed., Tarānahā-ye Kormānji-e Ḵorāsān, Mashhad, 1995.

Saʿid Ṭehrānizāda, Dastur-e dotār I, Tehran, 2008.

I. I. Tsukermann, Khorasankii Kurmandzhi: Issledovanie i teksty, Moscow, 1986.

Farrokh Vahabzadeh-Mortazavi, “Le dotar et sa musique dans le Khorasan et en Asie Central (une étude d’ethnomusicologie comparative),” Ph.D. diss., École des Hautes Études en Science Sociales de Paris, 2010.

Ameneh Youssefzadeh, “The Situation of Music in Iran Since the Revolution: The Role of Official Organizations,” British Journal of Ethnomusicology 9/2, 2000, pp. 35-61.

Idem, “ʿAlī Āqā Ālmājoqī: The Life of a Khorasani Bakhshi,” in Virginia Danielson, Scott Marcus, and Dwight Reynolds, eds., Garland Encyclopedia of World Music VI, New York, 2002a, pp. 839-41.

Idem, Les bardes du Khorassan iranien: Le bakhshi et son repertoire, Leuven and Paris, 2002b; revised Pers. tr. ʿAlireżā Manāfzada, as Rāmešgarān-e šemāl-e Ḵorāsān: Baḵši va repertuar‑e u, Tehran, 2010.

Idem, “Singing the Martyrs: Revolutionary and Patriotic Songs in the Repertoire of the Khorasani Bards,” in Tatjana Markovic and Vladimir Mikic, eds., Musical Culture and Memory, Belgrade, 2008, pp. 281-89.

Idem, “Iran: Le dotār du Khorassan, featuring Hamid Khezri. Recorded and Edited by Wolfgang Obrecht,” Asian Music 40/2, 2009, pp. 156-60 (review article).

Idem, “Ba yād-e Nur-Moḥammad Dorpur,” Faṣl-nāma-ye Māhur 68, 2015, pp. 135-36.

Idem, “Whispering to God: Monājāt, a Sung Prayer in Iranian Khorasan,” in Rachel Harris and Martin Stokes, eds., Theory and Practice in the Music of the Islamic World: Essays in Honour of Owen Wright, London, 2018a, pp. 252-63.

Idem, “Veiled Voices: Music and Censorship in Post-Revolutionary Iran,” in Patricia Hall, ed., The Oxford Handbook on Music Censorship, Oxford, 2018b, pp. 657-74.

Ameneh Youssefzadeh and Stephen Blum, “Kontrol-e ritm dar do ejrā-ye dāstān-e Šāh Esmāʿil dar Ḵorāsān,” Faṣl-nāma-ye Māhur 71, 2016, pp. 41-57.

Idem, Shāh Esmāʿil and His Three Wives: A Persian-Turkish Tale as Performed by the Bards of Khorasan, Studies on Performing Arts and Literature of the Islamicate World 12, Leiden, 2022.

Slawomira Żerańska-Kominek, “Music of Turkmenistan,” in Virginia Danielson, Scott Marcus, and Dwight Reynolds, eds., Garland Encyclopedia of World Music VI: The Middle East, New York, 2002, pp. 965-77.

Discography (listed alphabetically by title).

A collection of music from Khorasan with free public access and no restrictions on use may be found at “The Stephen Blum Collection of Music from Iranian Khorāsān,” Harvard University Loeb Music Library, online at https://library.harvard.edu/collections/stephen-blum-collection-music-iranian-khorasan).

Afghanistan: le rubâb de Hérat/The Rubâb of Herat, played by Mohammad Rahim Khushnawaz, recording and notes by John Baily, Archives Internationales de Musique Populaire 25, Geneva, 1993 (VDE CD-699).

Āvā-ye ṣaḥrā/Sounds from the Plain, performed by Simā Binā et al., Canoga Park, Calif., 1997 (Caltex Records).

Iran: Bardes du Khorassan, recorded and notes by Ameneh Youssefzadeh, Paris, 1998 (Ocora Harmonia Mundi C-560136).

Iran-Khorassan: L’Histoire de Tāher et Zohre, performed by Rowšan Golafruz, annotated and produced by Ameneh Youssefzadeh, Paris, 2004 (Inédit/Maison des Cultures du Monde W 260116).

Iran: Le dotār du Khorassan, Hamid Khezri, recorded and ed. by Wolfgang Obrecht, notes by Cloé Drieu, Archives internationals de musique populaire 76, Geneva, 2005 (review by Ameneh Youssefzadeh, Asian Music 40/2, 2009, pp. 156-60).

Maqāmha-ye sāzi Torbat-e Jām/The Instrumental Maghâms of Torbat-e Jâm, performed by Naẓar-Moḥammad Solaymāni, program notes by Fawzia Majd, Tehran, 2003 (Mahur CD-137).

Music of the Bards from Iran: Northern Khorasan, performed by Ḥāj Qorbān Solaymāni, notes by Ameneh Youssefzadeh, Los Angeles, 1995 (Kereshmeh CD-106).

Musiqi-e ḥamāsi-e Irān 5: musiqi-e šemāl-e Khorāsān/Epic Music of Iran 5: Music from North Khorasan; Musiqi-e ḥamāsi-e Irān 6: musiqi-e šemāl-e Khorāsān/Epic Music of Iran 6: Music North Khorasan; Musiqi-e ḥamāsi-ye Irān 8: musiqi-ye Khorāsān, Torbat-e Jām/Epic Music of Iran 8: Music of Khorasan, Torbat-e Jām; Musiqi-e ḥamāsi-e Irān 9: musiqi-e Khorāsān, Sabzevar/Epic Music of Iran 9: Music of Khorasan, Sabzevar), comp. by Moḥammad-Reżā Darviši, Tehran, 2004 (Markaz-e musiqi-e ḥawza honari).

Musiqi-e janub-e Ḵorāsān/Musique du sud du Khorasan/Music of South Khorassan, performed by Simā Binā, n.p., 1999 (Buda Records, Musique du Monde 92583-2). 

Musiqi-e Ḵorāsān: Torbat-e Jām, Quchān, Daregaz/ Music of Khorâsân, comp and notes by Farida Rāhnemā (Musiqi-e nawāḥi-e Irān 74, Mahur CD-556).

Musiqi-e nawāḥi-e Irān (Regional Music of Iran), 16 albums, Tehran, 1998.

Musiqi-e šemāl-e Ḵorāsān/Music from Northern Khorâsân, performed by Baḵši Awliāqoli Yegāna, comp. and notes by Fawzia Majd, Tehran, 2003 (Musiqi-e nawāḥi-e Irān 33, Mahur CD-136).

Musiqi-e šemāl-e Ḵorāsān/Music from Northern Khorâsân, performed by Rowšan Golafruz, comp. by Ameneh Youssefzadeh, Tehran, 2005a (Musiqi-e nawāḥi-e Irān 10, Mahur CD-184).

Musiqi-e šemāli-e Ḵorāsān/Music of Northern Khorâsân, performed by Moḵtār Zanbilbāf Moqaddam, program notes by Fawzia Majd, Tehran, 2005b (Musiqi‑e nawāḥi-e Irān 6, Mahur CD-177).

Musiqi-e šemāl-e Ḵorāsān/The Music of Northern Khorâsân, performed by Sohrāb Moḥammadi, notes by Stephen Blum, Tehran, 2015 (Musiqi-e nawāḥi-e Irān 50, Mahur CD-418).

Musiqi-e šemāl-e Ḵorāsān: Dāstān-e Zohra va Ṭāher/Music from Northern Khorâsân: The Story of Zohré and Ṭāher, performed by Moḥammad Ḥosayn Yegāna, program notes by Fawzia Majd, Tehran, 2003 (Musiqi-e nawāḥi-e Irān 40, Mahur CD-154).

Musiqi‑e šemāl-e Ḵorāsān: Dāstān-e Ebrāhim Adham/Music from Northern Khorâsân: The Tale of Ebrâhim Ad-ham, performed by Moḥammad Ḥosayn Yegāna, program notes by Fawzia Majd, Tehran, 2004 (Musiqi-e nawāḥi-e Irān 39, Mahur CD-172).

Musiqi-e šemāl-e Ḵorāsān: Dāstān-e Šāhzāda-ye Zarrin ʿEḏar/Music of Northern Khorasan: The Romance of Prince Goldface, performed by Golafruz Baḵši Ḥamrā, program notes by Fawzia Majd, Tehran, 2005b (Musiqi-e nawāḥi-e Irān 12, Mahur CD-418).

Musiqi-e šemāl-e Ḵorāsān, Širvān/The Music of Northern Khorasan, Širvān, ʿAli-Rezā Eslāmi, dotār and vocal, comp. and notes by Saied Tehrānizādeh, Tehran, 2018 (Musiqi-e nawāḥi-e Irān 71, Mahur CD-535).

Musiqi-e šemāl-e Ḵorāsān: Sornā-navāzi/Music of Northern Khorasan: Sorna Playing, performed by ʿAli-Akbar Bahāri and Moḥsen Bahāri, Tehran, 2016 (Musiqi-e nawāḥi-e Irān 62, Mahur CD-457).

Musiqi‑e Torbat-e Jām/Music of Torbat-e Jâm, performed by Nur-Moḥammad Dorpur and Ḏolfaqār ʿAskaripur, Tehran, 1999 (Mahur CD-42).

Musiqi-e Torbat-e Jām/Music of Torbat-e Jâm, performed by ʿAbd-Allāh Sarvar Aḥmadi, Tehran, 2002 (Mahur CD-91).

Musiqi-e Torbat‑e Jām/Music of Torbat-e Jâm, performed by Ḡolām-ʿAli Purʿaṭāi et al., Tehran, 2016 (Musiqi-e nawāḥi-e Irān 66, Mahur CD-487).

Musiqi-e Torkaman Ṣaḥrā/The Music of Turkaman-Sahrâ, performed by Naẓarli Maḥjubi et al., Tehran, 2003 (Mahur, CD-123).

Naqqāli dar šemāl-e Ḵorasan/Naqqâli in Northern Khorâsân, recorded and notes by Stephen Blum, Tehran, 2007 (Musiqi-e nawāḥi-e Irān 19, Mahur CD-227).

Raqṣhā-ye šarq-e Ḵorāsān: Torbat-e Jām/Torbat-e Jâm Dances, East Khorâsân, performed by Ḡolām-ʿAli Neynavāz et al., comp. by Manṣura Ṯābetzādah, Tehran, 2003 (Mahur CD-150).

Raqṣhā-ye šemāl-e Ḵorāsān: Kormānji/Kormânji Dances, Northern Khorâsân, performed by Ḥešmat Saʿādati et al, comp. by Manṣura Ṯābetzādah, Tehran, 2003 (Regional Dances of Iran 2, Mahur CD-143).

The Traditional Music of Herat/La Musique traditionnelle d’Hérat, recording and notes by John Baily and Veronica Doubleday, Paris, 1996 (UNESCO Collection of Traditional Music of the World, Auvidis CD D-8266).

Turkmenistan: Chants des femmes bakhshi, performed by Akhmurad Chariev, Shemshat Hodjaeva, Djamala Saparova, and Leila Shadurdieva, Paris, 1995 (Maison des cultures du monde audio disc W 260064).

xxvii. Folklore of Khorasan

Introduction. The overview entries on folklore in the Encylopaedia Iranica under FOLKLORE STUDIES i. OF PERSIA and ii. OF AFGHANISTAN, survey in broad outlines folklore in different Iranian provinces, including Khorasan, as well as outside Iran’s borders. More specifically, they present a wide range of topics common to all regions, though with important local variants (Marzolph, 1998, pp. 326-67). The sources range from observations dispersed in foreign and Iranian travelogues, local histories, and religious manuals, to more recent scholarly monographs that study the oral culture of a region, including significant calendrical dates, and religious commemorative reenactments, popular stories, and public recitals of poems in local dialects. 

In the specific case of Khorasan, there are also closer neighborly ties to consider. Although this entry focuses solely on the folklore of urban and rural Khorasan, administratively divided into three separate provinces since 2004, there are close affinities with customs in regions well outside the current borders of the Iranian province to the north and to the east. Moreover, the momentous historical changes affecting the wider historical Khorasan, usually referred to as “Greater Khorasan” (see KHORASAN i. CONCEPT OF KHORASAN), particularly in recent centuries, and the rapid pace of modernization, have had a direct bearing on local customs. The need to historicize the context of the data and, as far as possible, delineate customs witnessed in the past from current ones, have become all the more urgent in order to avoid the pitfalls of anecdotal timelessness that often shroud the description of urban or rural communities and their activities. To avoid the illusions of a time warp, recent eyewitness reports must be clearly distinguished from much earlier descriptions culled from travelogues, chronicles, or manuals of conduct. The prescriptions offered in earlier discourses, such as ‘Aqāyed al-nesā’ (Kolṯum-nana) of Āqā Jamāl Ḵvānsāri (d. 1713) are still at times quoted without allowing for their implicit irony and sly humor. While the similarity in the accounts from different regions and decades or even centuries can be regarded as a testament to the tenacity and longevity of many widely shared beliefs and customs, there is always the possibility of a narrator embellishing his or her account by incorporating details no longer in evidence or seldom or ever practiced.

Two studies on folklore in Iran, both first published in 1938, can be regarded as significant early reference works for the country in general and Khorasan in particular. Bess Allen Donaldson (q.v.; 1879-1974), a Presbyterian missionary and a longtime resident of Mashhad, published her detailed account of local customs in The Wild Rue: A Study of Muhammadan Magic and Folklore in Iran. In her forthright and proselytizing preface, she expresses her admiration for the modernizing achievements of the Pahlavi state. “This book,” she declares at the outset, “represents the old life, with its fears and superstitions, which, happily, are now beginning to pass away” (p. vii). As in the case of many other cultural observers, her overriding conceptual perception of a two-tier system, making a sharp distinction between low and high culture, and old discredited superstitions closely related to popular religious beliefs from modern, enlightened, and secular views, underpins her observations. Though later questioned by many historians of popular belief and religion in different eras and disciplines for its inherently ahistorical binary reductivism when employed indiscriminately (Brown, pp. 17-19), the same dichotomy is often tacitly implied by later writers of otherwise markedly different persuasions (Šokurzāda, pp. 12-13; Rahnema, passim).

Croyances et coutumes persanes (q.v.) by Henri Massé (1886-1969) is less moralistic and subjective in tone. It offers an overview of Persian folklore and draws on comments from several eminent Iranian scholars. Its format follows the organizing principles of the classic study by ethnographer Arnold van Gennep’s Les rites de passage (Paris, 1909), a “from cradle to grave” narrative. This approach is also followed, more or less closely, though with added critical insights and corrections, by later major contributions in folklore studies in Persian, including Maḥmud Katirāʾi’s Az ḵešt tā ḵešt (1969), with particular focus on Tehran, and, more significantly for this entry, by Ebrāhim Šokurzāda’s ʿAqāyed va rosum-e ʿāmma-ye mardom-e Ḵorāsān, a landmark study that has undergone several editions and is one of the most frequently cited sources for folklore in Iran since its first publication in 1967 (all page references in this article are to its 2014 posthumous edition). 

In the period stretching from the mid-20th century to the first decades of the 21st, the expansion of literacy and the consciousness of rapid changes, reshaping the fabrics of the society as a whole, have encouraged the production of local histories of towns and villages in an endeavor to record traditions and modes of life before their imminent disappearance. These monographs add further detail to the pioneering and comprehensive works of Massé and Šokurzāda in relation to their specific towns and villages. In particular, one of the most valuable contributions of many of these local researchers is their recording and preservation of the oral literature: songs, formulaic repartees, short verses including do-baytis (q.v.) in local dialects that are part and parcel of most communal ceremonies, differing from place to place and dialect to dialect. 

As with other works of scholarship in social sciences and cultural history published in Iran, the revolution of 1978-79, and its ideological reverberations and aftermath, have had a radical impact on the ongoing debates on religion, modernity, and divergent perceptions of national identity. The wide range of authorial approaches to social sciences, informed by current critiques of orientalism and postcolonialism, has already given birth to a self-reflective secondary literature, with a number of studies examining the ideological underpinning affecting the anthropologist’s or folklorist’s view of the material (Nadjmabadi, Vejdani, Fazeli, passim).

This entry first follows the order and arrangement employed by Massé, Šokurzāda, and Katirāʾi in a shortened format. It should also be borne in mind that references to available data in different localities do not imply an implicit exclusivity. Many localities may share the same customs with interesting variations but lack accessible documentation to substantiate the claim. An essential component of the folklore of Khorasan, that of its tribes, Kurdish and Turkmen, as well as religious minorities, is studied elsewhere in the Encyclopaedia.

Birth. The customs described in the literature on Khorasan have much in common with those recorded in other parts of Iran and featured elsewhere in the Encyclopaedia (see, for example, CHILDREN ii. IN MODERN PERSIAN FOLKLORE). On Khorasan, both Šokurzāda (pp. 96-115) and Donaldson (pp. 24-34) contain a wealth of descriptions, only some of which are cited here. 

Several women usually assist at childbirth. A nail is hammered into the door of the room, thereby figuratively nailing down the pain in the mother’s belly and hastening the birth. Other women in the room peel onions and garlic and throw them into the fire to ameliorate birth pains. Wild rue (esfand; q.v.) is also burnt in a charcoal brazier for the same purpose.  If delivery is further delayed, sprigs of dried cyclamen (panja-ye Maryam) are placed in water. This alludes to the story of the Virgin Mary giving birth to Jesus under a palm tree in a secluded spot (Qurʾan, 19:22-23) and, according to legend, squeezing a cyclamen in her fist at the moment of delivery (Donaldson, p. 27). Another custom associated with difficult births or frequent miscarriages is that of preparing a special dish of ḥalwā (q.v.) as a votive offering, blessed with the name of the twelve Shiʿite Imams (Šokurzāda, p. 98, 187), and distributing portions following delivery and later on amongst the poor in the community.  

Plate I. Burning wild rue (esfand) at a wedding reception at a Kurmānji village in North Khorasan province. Photograph by Ḥāmed Jaʿfarnejād, Tasnim News. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International.Plate I. Burning wild rue (esfand) at a wedding reception at a Kurmānji village in North Khorasan province. Photograph by Ḥāmed Jaʿfarnejād, Tasnim News. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International.

After delivery, the midwife separates the placenta and pricks it with a needle in order to prevent the transmission of misfortune to the mother. The placenta is then buried in the ground, sometimes along with a lump of charcoal for luck (Donaldson, p. 27). 

Several measures are then adopted to protect the mother and the baby from evil spirits. The newborn is washed and a strip of white cotton cloth, usually sixty centimeters long and thirty centimeters wide, is cut and tailored into a loose sleeveless shirt to cover the body, with a slit at the center to allow for the head. This must be worn for seven days in the case of infant girls and ten in the case of boys. It is called pirāhan-e qiāmat (the Resurrection Day robe), alluding to the garment that will protect the skin against the scorching rays of the sun as it descends down from heaven on the day of resurrection and hovers in close proximity to human beings (Šokurzāda, p. 100; Katirāʾi, p. 28).

The midwife then lays the infant by the mother’s side and draws a line, called ḥesār-e Maryam (“the fortress of Mary”) around the bed. “Often while doing this the person will say, ‘I am making a fortress and Mary and the child of Mary will keep it’ or ‘I am making a fortress for whom? For Mary and her child, may it be blessed’” (Donaldson, p. 29; see also Šokurzāda, p. 101).  

She also places a metal tray and a few onions on her bed to protect the baby and the mother from Āl (q.v.), a notorious female ogre often depicted as an emaciated hag, a snatcher of human organs (Katirāʾi, p. 273), and a deadly menace to mothers and their newborn babes. While exercising identical destructive powers, Āl is known by different names in many regions in the Middle East, from Iraq to Afghanistan, and from the Caucasus, to southern parts of Russia and Central Asia (Jamāl Ḵᵛānsāri, pp. 19-20; Drower, pp. 213-14; Mills, 2003, pp. 11-12; Astarian, p. 149). 

Āl and other evil spirits are also thought to be on the prowl at the end of the fifth day and during the following night, called the night of the sixth, šab-e šiš, or šow šiš in Birjand (Reżāʾi, p. 352). As with other and more celebrated nocturnal celebrations such as that of the longest night (šab-e yaldā), the precautions against the forces of darkness and the communal attempt at their banishment provide the pretext and the occasion for convivial feasting and lively conversation all night long, accompanied by playing of the flat drum (see DAF[F] AND DĀYERA), with the newborn, as the center of attention, being passed around dotingly from person to person accompanied by the recitation of appropriate verses (Šokurzāda, pp. 105-6; Donaldson, pp. 29-30). The night is also significant as it is the occasion when an elder of the family or a local religious figure enounces the name of a prophet or one of the Imams in the baby’s ear (Šokurzāda, p. 105), though the baby’s personal name is usually chosen earlier (Reżāʾi, p. 352).

The first visit after the day of delivery by the mother and baby to rural or town bathhouses (q.v.) is another occasion for celebration as well as an opportune time to ward off malign spirits (Šokurzāda, pp. 106-10). The timing of the first visit corresponds to the length of the period during which the baby had worn the pirāhan-e qiāmat. For women who have given birth to daughters, it is fixed for the seventh day after delivery, and in the case of boys, the tenth. Previous rituals are followed up. According to Donaldson, “the mother must perform certain rites, the onion which she had under her pillow during confinement, to keep Āl away, she now takes with her and steps upon it when she puts it on the second or third step as she descends to the bath, the knife or scissors which cut the cord must also be there” (p. 31).

Once the mother has undergone her own elaborate stages of cleansing while attended to by other women, it is the baby’s turn to be washed with water and powdered cedar. He or she is then held over the mother’s head and clean water is poured over the baby and on the mother’s head from a bowl known as jām-e čehel kelid (“the cup of forty keys”; PLATE II). This is a well-known talismanic bowl used to ward off Āl and other evil spirits. It is made of brass or copper and has forty pieces of metal attached to it. The design of the pieces vary, some resembling ordinary keys and some more rectangular in shape. The surface of the bowl and the metal pieces are inscribed with Qur’anic verses or magical phrases (Mašāyeḵi, pp. 184-91; Šari‘atzāda, p. 517). 

A 19th/early 20th century jām-e čehel kelid (bowl or cup of forty keys). 12.5 x 4 cm. Harvard University, Middle Eastern Division. Widener Library. Harvard College Library, 14124A13_0001. Provided by Harvard University.A 19th/early 20th century jām-e čehel kelid (bowl or cup of forty keys). 12.5 x 4 cm. Harvard University, Middle Eastern Division. Widener Library. Harvard College Library, 14124A13_0001. Provided by Harvard University.

Marriage. As with the topic of birth, aspects of social customs and well-established ceremonies of marriage are discussed under several headings in this Encyclopaedia, including ʿAQD; ʿAQD-NĀMA, ʿARUSI, ḤEJLA, DIVORCE, MOTʿA, and GENDER RELATIONS, as well as under topics such as HENNA that contain material related to its elaborate use at weddings (ḥanā-bandān) in Khorasan. 

Wedding ceremonies follow several stages, and vary considerably from place to place. Other factors, such as the religious outlook of the family, social standing, and attitudes vis-à-vis modernity, all affect, as Šokurzāda points out, the options available at each stage. The bride’s hairstyle, for example, can either be set in the traditional manner (see COSMETICS) or copied from illustrations in Western fashion journals (p. 20). The same choices apply to the bride’s trousseau and the bridegroom’s outfit (p. 33). The content of the songs that usually accompany the different rituals also vary depending on how strictly religious the celebrating families are or if the bridegroom happens to be a sayyed (p. 28). Among the more religiously inclined, one of the most widespread features of rural and urban weddings, singing and communal dancing accompanied by music, is discarded in favor of reciting verses imbued with religiosity, recalling the wedding of holy figures, without any accompanying music (p. 35). Fleets of cars, motor cycles, and minibuses have replaced horses and carriages in cities when it comes to a still very popular countrywide feature of weddings: ʿarus-kašān or ʿarus-bari, the boisterous journey to the bride’s future home in which the bridegroom’s party escort the bride from her parents’ home with a great deal of fanfare (PLATE III). 

Plate III. A modern ʿarus-kašān procession in the area of Ḡolāmān, North Khorasan province. Photograph by Ḥāmed Jaʿfarnejād, Tasnim News. Licensed under CC by 4.0 International.Plate III. A modern ʿarus-kašān procession in the area of Ḡolāmān, North Khorasan province. Photograph by Ḥāmed Jaʿfarnejād, Tasnim News. Licensed under CC by 4.0 International.

The initial search and the betrothal offer (ḵāst[a]gāri) are negotiated by women but here again much depends on the specific circumstances and how closely the bride and the bridegroom are known to each other and related. A wide variety of verses in different dialects in towns and villages are declaimed in the formal process of seeking a bride as a prelude to the actual visit to the bride’s home (Šokurzāda, p. 18, for examples from Qāyen and Kāšmar).

The marriage ceremony itself usually takes place at the home of the bride in the afternoon in a ground floor room with no basement underneath. A basement would be an ill omen foretelling the breakup of the marriage (Šokurzāda, pp. 21, 23).

Other symbolic rituals take place during the wedding ceremony. A copper tub is placed upside down on the ground with a few eggs tucked inside, a reference to the future children. Some mercury may be poured on a saucer, its perpetual tremor an allusion to the panting hearts of the love-struck couple. 

In the evening, a group of the groom’s family transport the bride (ʿarus-kašān) to the groom’s home as noted above. The groom greets the arriving party, throwing a few pomegranate seeds or other peeled fruit and a few lumps of sugar over the bride’s head. In some localities, the groom’s parents present gifts to the bride before she crosses the threshold. A bowl of water is also sometimes placed there for the bride to stumble over and spill the contents, a good omen (for water as a symbol of light and good fortune, see ĀB ii. WATER IN MUSLIM IRANIAN CULTURE). An egg too may be smashed against the wall at the same time to ward off the Evil Eye (čašm-zaḵm, q.v.). As pointed out before, each of these stages (ḵastagāri, ʿaqd, ḥanābandān, ʿarus-kašān, šab-e ʿarusi, etc.) are accompanied by appropriate songs, which vary from place to place (Šokurzāda, pp.  17-46; Barābādi, 2005, pp. 376-86; Mašāyeḵi, pp. 169-82).

Death. Burial and mourning ceremonies in Khorasan, as elsewhere in Iran, follow well-established religious rules. There are, however, some customs that fall outside the defined religious prescriptions (see CEMETERIES). 

Those present at the bedside of a recently deceased person would each place some money in the deceased’s pocket or inside his or her shawl. This is intended as a tip for the person in the mortuary responsible for the ritual washing of the corpse (Šokurzāda, p. 47; Katirā’i, pp. 248-49).  

If a person dies at night, a brick is placed above his or her head to support a candle or light, and a bowl of sherbet is placed at its side, a harbinger of the blessed pool in paradise. If the death occurs on a Saturday, the neighbors on the right side should make an infusion of borage (gāv-zabān, q.v.) with sugar candy (nabāt) for the family of the deceased  (Šokurzāda, p. 47).

In Mashhad, before burial of the body, the coffin is taken to the shrine of Imam Reżā (see ASTĀN-E QODS-E RAŻAWI) for a ritual circumambulation thrice round the shrine (Šokurzāda, p. 49). As well as reciting appropriate prayers in Arabic during the procession, at one stage at the entrance, the procession halts for a few moments to allow one of the mourners to chant a lament based on a ḡazal by Hafez (qq.v), though trimmed to fit the occasion (Ḥāfeẓ, ed. Ḵānlari, no. 359, p. 734; Šokurzāda, p. 49).

The memorial gatherings for the deceased appear similar to those in the rest of the country with the seventh and the fortieth day marked as particularly significant commemorative occasions (Šariʿatzāda II, pp. 276-79). 

In Tāybād, Bāḵarz, and Māḵunik, the news of a death is dispatched by messengers to relatives in other villages in a “black letter” (siāh-nāma) with the top of the letter torn as a sign of mourning (Mašayeḵi, p. 194; Barābādi, 2005, 398-99). 

Calendrical customs and festivals. The timing of these celebratory or mourning events vary, depending on whether they follow the solar calendar or, in the case of events of religious significance, the lunar calendar. This duality can on occasions lead to a clash of loyalties and sentiments when a day of religious mourning, observed according to the lunar year, happens to coincide with a day of festive celebrations, based on the solar year. 

1. Events according to the solar calendar. These celebrations, directly related to the cycle of the four seasons, and the agricultural year, share pre-Islamic origins and a long and well-documented history of being observed both inside and outside the current borders of Iran among people of different religions, languages, and ethnicites. Many of the significant dates and ceremonies are described in a series of entries in this Encyclopædia (see FESTIVALS), as well as in specific entries such as the long list of celebrations around the spring equinox, Nowruz (q.v.). Here the references are limited to customs specific to various towns and villages in Khorasan.

Čahāršanba-suri (q.v.): The last Wednesday of the Iranian solar year is associated with many customs and celebrations and can be divided into the all-inclusive ones, with the most well-known and specific feature being that of jumping over bonfires, and those restricted to women in relation to their quest for suitable spouses (baḵt-gošāʾi; Šokurzāda, pp. 66-71). The quest for good fortune is a significant feature in folk literature throughout Iran and appears in one way or another in other days of celebrations as well, such as that of the thirteenth day after the New Year, as noted below. 

The explanation for choosing the Wednesday before the New Year for lighting bonfires and the fact that the celebrations take place in public spaces accompanied with communal singing and dancing exemplify the inherent complexities of some folkloric traditions when confronted with differing ideologies and current political developments. On the one hand, according to Šokurzāda (p. 63), most people in Khorasan regard the choice of the date historically, in the context of a decision by Moḵtār b. Abi ʿObayd Ṯaqafi (d. 687) at the outset of his uprising (see KAYSĀNIYA) on the night of Wednesday, 14 Rabi‘ I 66/18 October 685 to avenge the martyrs of Karbala (q.v.; Ṭabari, tr. XX, p. 197, n. 646). As narrated in the Moḵtār-nāma, a richly romanticized popular biography, Moḵtār had ordered his Shiʿite supporters to light fires on their roof tops to distinguish themselves from their adversaries (Moḵtār-nāma, n.d., p. 100; Moḵtār-nāma, 1988, pp. 175-76). In spite of this grafting of a Shiʿite narrative onto already existing traditions from pre-Islamic eras, the day has provided a frequent occasion for confrontation between the religious authorities and groups of both sexes celebrating the evening in public spaces by dancing and singing.

Another ceremony associated with the Wednesday before the new year is fālguši (augury by hearsay; see DIVINATION and FĀL-NĀMA). This entails the young covering their faces and going out incognito. Whatever they hear first from a passerby serves as an augury for the coming year (Mirniā, 1983, p. 142). As is to be expected, the advent of the new year is also the occasion for many other forms of augury and divination, particularly in relation to the matrimonial prospects of the young. In particular, the preparation of the traditional dish of samanu (Šokurzāda, pp. 207-8; see HAFT SIN) involves elaborate procedures for predicting the future of the young girls and women involved in its preparation, accompanied by recitation of verses in different dialects (Taklifi-Čapašlu, pp. 245-48 on Darragaz).

The days before the New Year also provide an opportunity for street performers in villages and towns going from door to door and being rewarded for their songs and musical performances. These include the figure of Ḥāji Firuz (q.v.), who is usually called Jigi Jigi Nana Ḵānom  in Khorasan, a reference to a well-known song (Šokurzāda, pp. 120-21) and its famous performer. He sings and plays the tambourine at the new year as well as during circumcision (q.v.) celebrations (Bahālgardi, pp. 24-26; Šokurzāda, p. 75).

New Year’s Day: The schedule for the new year day itself, including the precise moment of the beginning of the spring equinox (taḥwil-e sāl) when the traditional new year  prayer is recited in Arabic (Reżā’i, pp. 453-44) round the ceremonial cloth (sofra; q.v.) displaying seven traditional items (haft sin; q.v.), follows similar patterns throughout the country with some local variations. Other items are also placed on the New Year ceremonial spread. Five candles are placed on the sofra in Darragaz (q.v.), as an allusion to the Āl-e ʿĀbā (q.v.; the revered figures of the Prophet, his daughter Fāṭema, his son-in-law ʿAli b. Abi Ṭāleb (q.v.), and their sons, Ḥasan and Ḥosayn). In Ferdows (q.v.), yogurt, cheese, a sugar cone and a bottle of water are placed on the four corners of the spread, while in Nishapur milk is also included on the spread (Māku’i, pp. 60-61; Reżā’i, p. 453 for details for Birjand).

Sizdah bedar: The thirteenth day of the first solar month, Farvardin, marks the end of the new year celebrations and, as in other parts of Iran, it is a day that should be spent outside the home in the open country to ward off evil and enjoy alfresco meals and entertainments. In Birjand, the first Saturday and Wednesday after the new year also fall in the same category and are spent outdoors (Reżā’i, p. 455;  Šokurzāda, pp. 81-82). 

Two other solar calendric dates, šab-e yaldā and sada, should also be noted. Both have a long history in different parts of Iran and more particularly in Khorasan and are described in detail in the entries SADA FESTIVAL and ČELLA.

Šab-e čella (šab-e yaldā): In Khorasan, the night of the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, is called šab-e čella (Šokurzāda, pp. 59-60) and, as in other parts of Iran, celebrated in family gatherings in which a variety of fruits and nuts are consumed through the night, with each item being deemed beneficial in warding off various ailments and maladies in the months ahead (Omidsalar, pp. 123-25). There are also local traditions involving more elaborate ceremonies. In the picturesque village of Aḵlumad to the north of Mashhad, the men of village used to indulge in pyrotechnics by whirling slings with fireballs at their end and reciting traditional verses for the occasion (Šokurzāda, p. 60).

Sada: In most villages in Khorasan, the festival of sada is celebrated for three nights on the tenth day of the month of Bahman, around 30 January (Šokurzāda, pp. 84-88). It involves villagers collecting shrubs to serve as firewood to be lit and burnt on rooftops during the festivities accompanied by dancing and reciting poems, including verses specifically composed for the occasion, marking its date in the agricultural year, fifty days before the New Year and a hundred before harvesting the wheat (Šokurzāda, p. 87). References to both šab-e yaldā and sada abound in Persian literature, particularly in panegyrics addressed to the Ghaznavids (q.v.) and their notables as well as in historical works, including a detailed description of a particularly elaborate sada celebration in the presence of the Ghaznavid ruler Masʿud in the year 426/1034-35 as described by the historian Abu’l-Fażl Bayhaqi (q.v.) in his History (Bayhaqi, tr., II, p. 99; III, n. 29, p. 255 for further references to sada in Persian literature).

2. Events according to the lunar calendar. The lunar year abounds in significant dates of mourning as well as the celebration of important religious festivals. These are observed throughout the country but often contain significant variations from village to village and region to region. Several entries in the Encyclopaedia, including ʿALAM VA ʿALĀMAT, ʿARBAʿIN, ʿĀŠURĀʾ, ʿAZĀDĀRI, CANDLE, DASTA, FASTING, FESTIVALS, NAḴL, and TAʿZIA, describe the specific ceremonies associated with each date, and the performances and the props associated with different religious processions. 

For specific towns in Khorasan, most monographs on individual localities highlight local traditions in their evolving historical context. In some cases, the active presence and patronage of various religious processions and events by the local magnates are particularly noteworthy, particularly before the Revolution of 1979. In the case of Birjand, for example, the regional overlord, Amir Šawkat-al-Molk (Moḥammad Ebrāhim ʿAlam, q.v.; 1881-1944) played a significant role in financing and fostering the local religious traditions (Barābādi, passim; Reżā’i, pp. 462-96). In most villages, the community at large takes an active part. Several villages scattered throughout the province have been noted throughout the decades for their spectacular reenactment of the religious processions and passion plays of the month of Moḥarram. In this context visual evidence from photographs, films, and videos demonstrate the impact of recent innovations. The taʿziya  at Fadiša southwest of Nishapur now attracts an audience in the thousands and in design and performance owes much to elaborate stage management and modern theatrical and cinematographic techniques, while those in other parts of Khorasan adhere to the traditions of past decades (for Dizaj, Moḡān, and Ruyān in the Šāhrud region, see Šariʿatzāda, II, pp. 296-309).

There are also other lunar Islamic dates with a long history and possible pre-Islamic connections. For example, šab-e barāt (or šab-e čak) is commemorated in Khorasan and elsewhere during three nights in the middle of the month of Šaʿbān (the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth) with evening visits to cemeteries. Carpets are laid out there and ḥalwā (q.v.), dates, and fruit are brought along as well as a special bread, roḡan juši, baked for the occasion. Professional Qur’an reciters are also often employed to recite by the graveside (Ravāqi, pp. 214-15). As in the case of the solar festivities of sada and šab-e yaldā, there are frequent references to šab-e čak from early Persian poetry to the more recent, including a reference to the many illuminations that brightened the night in a verse by Rudaki (858-941; Ravāqi, p. 206). There are clearly similarities with other cultures, which also devote a night to the commemoration of the spirits of the dead, and more specifically the Zoroastrian festival of Frawardigān (q.v.).

Ramadan (Ramażān) rituals: Along with common religious practices, there are some noteworthy local customs such as Allāh Ramażāni. In several cities, including Birjand, and Kāšmar, the youth gather together after the end of the day’s fasting (q.v.) in their neighborhood from the first to the fifteenth day of Ramadan. They choose a leader as well as another person as a kind of keeper in charge of the gifts that they anticipate collecting. They then set off and proceed from door to door, reciting a long poem describing and praising the month of Ramadan (Reżā’i, pp. 487-92; text and transliteration in Šokurzāda, pp. 340-42). In exchange they are given gifts of all sorts, such as money, walnuts, raisins, almonds, etc. These are all collected and placed in a bag by the keeper, which he had brought along. Having received the gifts, the youth offer prayers for the donors in exchange. The residents of homes who had refused to reward them would be scolded by the group before leaving. On the other hand, if the group had been too persistent or excessive in their demands, the homeowners might retaliate by throwing bowls of water at the youth from the rooftop to drench them and drive them away (Šokurzāda, p. 340).

Another day of particular significance in the month of Ramadan is the 27th, the death date of ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān b. Moljam, the Kharijite (see KHARIJITES IN PERSIA) who had assassinated ‘Ali b. Abi Ṭāleb. To celebrate his demise, some urban roughnecks would even give up fasting for the day. It is also an occasion for girls seeking husbands, or women with special wishes of their own, to visit homes in the area and, with their faces covered, bang spoons against pots or pans (qāšoq-zani) to raise some money, a practice which is even more widespread on another already mentioned festive day, cahāršanba-suri (q.v.; Enjavi, I, p. 126). The money is earmarked for the purchase of cloth for making a shirt or čādor (q.v.), which is then sewn and tailored the same evening in the mosque as a favorable portent for achieving the intended goal in the near future (Reżā’i, pp. 494-45; Vakiliān, p. 125). In some cities, including Jājarm, at the end of the month of fasting, the bridegroom’s family would send his prospective bride presents on the ʿId-e Feṭr (Vakiliān, p. 170).

Folk literature. The oral literature of Khorasan and its many recorded popular stories and legends (referred to as owsana in Khorasan) were the subject of many studies in the 20th century, both in Iran and elsewhere (Radharapetian, pp. 49-132). The thematic analysis by Adrienne Boulvin along with the translations of several folktales by E. Chocourzadeh (Ebrāhim Šokurzāda) in the two-volume Contes populaires persans du Khorassan (Paris, 1975) is particularly noteworthy. Since then, there has been a steady publication of monographs devoted exclusively to popular stories from different towns by a number of scholars including Ḥamid-Reżā Ḵazā’i and Moḥsen Mihandust, as well as the inclusion of local tales in more comprehensive monographs, such as those by Šokurzāda, ʿAli-Aṣḡar Šariʿatzāda, and Sayyed ʿAli Mirniā.


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N. Sālḵorda, “Naḏr dar rustā-ye sada-ye Birjand,” Najvā-ye farhang nos. 8-9, Summer-Fall, 2008, pp. 95-100.

S. ʿA.-A. Šariʿatzāda, Farhang-e mardom-e Šāhrud, Šāhrud, 1992.

M. Sayyedi, Čerāḡ-e barāt-e Ḵorāsān, Mashhad, 1996.

S. Shahshahani, “History of Anthropology in Iran,” Iranian Studies 19/1, 1986, pp. 65-86.

E. Šokurzāda [Šakurzāda; Ibrahim Shokurzade, E. Chocourzadeh; see also under Boulvin, 1975], ‘Aqāyed o rosum-e ‘āmma-ye mardom‑e Ḵorāsān, Tehran, 1967; 2nd. ed., Tehran, 1984; 3rd.ed., Tehran, 2012; posthumous new edition, 2014.

Idem, “Souvenirs de l’Iran ancien dans le folk-lore du Xorasan,” in Commémoration Cyrus: Hommage Universel, Acta Iranica 3, Première Série, 3 vols., Tehran and Liège, 1974, III, pp. 361-78.

E. C. Sykes, “Persian Folklore,” Folklore 12/3, 1901, pp. 261-80.

S. Ḥ. Tābanda Gonābādi (Reżā ‘Ališāh), Tāriḵ va joḡrāfiyā-ye Gonābād, 2nd ed., Tehran, 2000.

Moḥammad b. Jarir Ṭabari, The History of al-Ṭabarī, vol. XX, tr. G. R. Hawting, Albany, 1989.

A. Taklifi Čapešlu, Adabiāt-e ʿāmma-ye šahrestān-e Darragaz, Mashhad, 2000.

P. Tanavoli, Ṭelesm: gerāfik-e sonnati-ye Irān, Tehran, 2006.  

K. Tavaḥḥodi, Esfarāyen: diruz, emruz, Mashhad, 1995. A. Vakiliān, Ramażān dar farhang-e mardom, Tehran, 1987.

A. Van Gennep, Les rites de passage, Paris, 1909.

Idem, “Notes d’ethnographie persane,” Revue d’ethnographie et de sociologie 4, 1913, pp. 73-89.

Idem, Manuel de folklore français contemporain: du berceau à la tombe, 2 vols., Paris, 1943-46.

F. Vejdani, “Appropriating the Masses: Folklore Studies, Ethnography, and Interwar Iranian Nationalism,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 44, 2012, pp. 507-26.

Ḥ. Zanguʾi, Amṯāl va ḥekam-e mardom-e Ḵorāsān-e janubi, Tehran, 2005.

xxviii. Newspapers of Khorasan.

The first newspaper in Iran, which appeared without a title but was later referred to as Aḵbār wa waqāye‘ or Kāḡaz-e aḵbār, dates from 1837. It was published by Mirzā Moḥammad Ṣāleḥ Širāzi (text and tr. in Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 5, 1839, pp. 355-71) during the reign of Moḥammad Shah Qajar (q.v.; r. 1834-48). It took another 63 years before the first local newspaper was printed in Khorasan. This was the weekly newspaper Adab (q.v.; Browne, no. 39), previously published in Tabriz, with its first Mashhad issue appearing on 4 Ramażān 1318/26 December 1900, during the reign of Moẓaffar-al-Din Shah (1896-1907). The last issue from Mashhad appeared on 28 Šawwāl 1320/28 January 1903. 

Numerous factors contributed to this long hiatus in Khorasan. It was partly related to the political situation in the province, affected by the stifling hegemonic interference from Tsarist Russia (Kohan, II, pp. 608-13), as well as to local technical factors. Printing facilities for newspapers came late: Several of the early newspapers in Khorasan (Bešārat [q.v.], Ḵoršid, Ḵorāsān, Ṭus, and Now Bahār) were published by Dār al-Ṭabāʿa-ye Ṭus, a newly founded printing press, established by Mir Mortażā Musawi, who had previously lived in Turkistan and the Caucasus and had acquired printing skills in Russia. It used metal type (čāp-e sorbi) rather than lithography (čāp-e sangi). The family enterprise continued for many years in Mashhad as Maṭbaʿ-ye Ṭus (Ṭus printing press) and oversaw the publication of many journals and books there (Moḥiṭ Ṭabāṭabāʾi, p. 132; Ārāsta, passim). From the outset copies of newspapers were sold either by street vendors in single issues or through regular subscription (Sayyid Qoṭbi, passim).

From the wider perspective of the history of the press in Iran, major political landmarks leading to alternating phases of strict state censorship and brief spells of relatively free public expression, directly affected the production and content of newspapers throughout the country. These vicissitudes are reflected in the checkered history of the provincial press. The same titles resurface after periods of closure under new management, often with radical changes in their editorial approach and with shifting political allegiances. This is exemplified by the longest-running newspaper in the province, Ḵorāsān (see below), which has survived to this day under various editors with markedly different political outlooks. 

The chronological divisions followed in this entry reflect major political milestones, and hence the degree of control from the central government affecting the scope and freedom of the press:

From the early days of journalism to the era of the Constitutional Movement. After its move from Tabriz in 1900, the weekly paper Adab was published in Mashhad for three years before relocating again, this time to Tehran. Its general manager and director was a well-known poet and journalist, Moḥammad Ṣādeq Amiri Adib-al-Mamālek Farāhāni (q.v.; 1860-1917). He was one of the initial members of the first Freemason lodge Réveil de l’Iran (Lož-e bidāri-e Irāniān) established in Tehran in November 1906 (Algar, p. 211). Adab covered domestic and foreign news. Moreover, in the third and final year of its publication in Mashhad, it included a cartoon sketch in its fifth issue (14 January 1903) by a local artist, Ḥosayn al-Musawi, chief painter to the Āstān-e Qods-e Rażawi (q.v.; Ṣadr Hāšemi, I, p. 87; illustration in Šahvāzi Baḵtiāri, 2004b, p. 190). His sketch depicted on one side figures representing European countries giving each other a helping hand to climb up the ladder of progress, while in contrast on the other side Asian countries obstructed each other on the ladder of decline (Nouraei, p. 241; Figure 1). This, and subsequent cartoons in the paper, were the very first specimens of topical press cartoons (kārikāturs) with political undertones published in Iran. Hitherto, journals had mostly devoted their illustrations to realistically executed portraits of notables and princes, often by famous painters. Later, when the newspaper moved to Tehran, its cartoons became more sophisticated and accomplished in their design (Moḥiṭ Ṭabāṭabāʾi, p. 217). 

Figure 1. Newspaper cartoon in Adab, 14 Šawwāl 1320/14 January 1903. After S. Šahvāzi Baḵtiari, Nāmhā va nāmahā, Mashhad, 2004, p. 190.Figure 1. Newspaper cartoon in Adab, 14 Šawwāl 1320/14 January 1903. After S. Šahvāzi Baḵtiari, Nāmhā va nāmahā, Mashhad, 2004, p. 190.

Bešārat was the second newspaper to be published in Khorasan (Browne, no. 83; Ṣadr Hāšemi, II, p. 16), carrying the label Toḥfat al-rażawiya (Gift from the city of Imam Reżā) on its masthead. It began publication on 14 Šawwāl 1320/14 January 1903, founded by a noted local educator, Shaikh Moḥammad ʿAli. He was generally addressed as Modir, since he was also the headmaster of the Moẓaffari school in Mashhad as well as the founder of the city’s first modern teacher training institution, the Hemmat school. Mirzā ʿAziz-Allāh Faṣiḥ-al-Mamālek served as its first editor (“Nouveaux journaux persans,” p. 248).

From the Constitutional Revolution to the Coup d’État of 1299/1921 (q.v.) and the ascent of Reżā Shah. The onset of the Constitutional Revolution brought along radical changes to the contents of Bešārat: The words ettefāq (concord), ʿadālat (justice), and taraqqi (progress) were displayed on the front as headline banners. The paper was a staunch advocate of freedom of expression and democracy. In the so-called estebdād-e ṣaḡir (the lesser autocracy) in 1908-9, the brief period when autocratic rule and strict censorship were reinstated by Moḥammad-ʿAli Shah (1907-9), it was closed down and its printing press placed under strict surveillance.

After this short phase of repression, the era of the Constitutional Movement and the concomitant expansion of civil liberties led to an increase in the number of newspapers, and signaled a radical departure in their approach and selection of topics. There was a new willingness to serve the public interest and defend civil rights in outspoken terms. At the same time, it should be noted that these liberating tendencies were not always immune from manipulation by various internal or foreign influences eager to promote their own interests. Moreover, an overall lack of cultural discernment and political maturity often resulted in unprofessional and distorted reporting. 

The following are some of the more significant newspapers published in Khorasan in this period:

Figure 2. Masthead of the initial issue of Ḵorāsān newspaper, 25 Ṣafar 1327/18 March 1909. After S. Šahvāzi Baḵtiari, Nāmhā va nāmahā, Mashhad, 2004, p. 193.Figure 2. Masthead of the initial issue of Ḵorāsān newspaper, 25 Ṣafar 1327/18 March 1909. After S. Šahvāzi Baḵtiari, Nāmhā va nāmahā, Mashhad, 2004, p. 193.

Ḵorāsān was first published on 25 Ṣafar 1327/18 March 1909 (Browne no. 155, also p. 260, no. 36; Ṣadr Hāšemi, II, pp. 243-45), under the directorship of Sayyed Ḥosayn Ardabili (d. 1917; Ṣadr Hāšemi, II, p. 245), and was supported by the charitable foundation Anjoman-e Saʿādat, which had close ties with its more celebrated namesake, Anjoman-e Saʿādat (q.v.) of Istanbul. Sayyed Ḥosayn Ardabili was a popular and influential figure in the province and an ardent advocate of democracy. He served as the head of the Raḥimiya school, and as a member of parliament in the second Majles. The first issue had the title of the newspaper framed by the words barādari (brotherhood), āzādi (freedom), barābari (equality), and ābādi (prosperity), with the pseudonym Raʾis-al-Ṭollāb as the name of its chief manager (Bahār, preface, p. ; Golbon, p. 590; Figure 2). The other major figure directly involved with the paper was the celebrated literary scholar, poet, and statesman, Moḥammad-Taqi Bahār (q.v.), a commanding figure in the early history of the Iranian press and journalism, first in Khorasan and subsequently in Tehran. His many contributions to the paper included a long and celebrated ballad-like political poem published in the May-June 1909 issue of the paper, decrying the despotic measures taken by Moḥammad-ʿAli Shah (Bahār, pp. bā-jim; Browne, pp. 260-61). The revolutionary activist Ḥaydar Khan ʿAmu-Oḡlu (q.v.; 1880-1921) was also involved with the paper (Golbon, p. 588). Its last issue (no. 24) under their leadership was published on 25 Rajab 1327/12 August 1909 (Browne, no. 155; Ṣadr Hāšemi, no. 502, II, p. 243). As mentioned above and discussed later, the paper survives to the present, and from January 1999, it has been published as a morning paper simultaneously in Tehran and Mashhad. The declaration on its title page, ruznāma-ye ṣobḥ-e Irān, stresses its current status as both a national and provincial paper (http://khorasannews.com/Page/AboutUs)