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B. AḤMAD (I) B. ESMĀʿIL, Amir-e Saʿid “The Fortunate Amir,” a title he was given after his death, ruler of the Samanid dynasty (q.v.) in Transoxiana and Khorasan between 301/914 and 331/943.

NAṢR (I) B. AḤMAD (I) B. ESMĀʿIL, Amir-e Saʿid “The Fortunate Amir,” a title he was given after his death, ruler of the Samanid dynasty (q.v.) in Transoxiana and Khorasan between 301/914 and 331/943. The reign of his father Aḥmad (295-301/907-14), called Amir-e Šahid “the Martyr Amir,” was brought to a quick and sudden end when he was murdered by his own ḡolāms; some sources say that these slave troops had been dissatisfied at the pious Aḥmad’s dependence on the ulema, and his changing the official language in the divāns from Persian to Arabic (Naršaḵi, pp. 110-11; tr. Frye, pp. 94-5; Barthold, Turkestan3, p. 240; Frye, “The Sāmānids,” p. 141).

Naṣr succeeded his father on 11 Jomādā II 301/12 January 914 when he was just eight years old. At the outset, governance was in the hands of highly competent individuals, namely the vizier Abu ʿAbd-Allāh Moḥammad b. Aḥmad Jayhāni, who was famed as a scholar and geographer as well as an administrator, and the commander-in-chief of the army, Ḥamuya b. ʿAli. Nevertheless, the succession of a child led inevitably to a series of revolts by discontented Samanid princes and ambitious military commanders. The new Amir’s great-uncle Esḥāq b. Esmāʿil emerged from his imprisonment under Amir Aḥmad to rebel immediately in Samarqand, asserting his own claim to the throne and minting coins in his own name (Naršaḵi, tr. p. 155, n. 325); together with his sons Elyās and Manṣur and attracted considerable support from the populace of Samarqand. According to Naršaḵi (pp. 111-12; tr. p. 95) and Ebn al-Aṯir (VIII, p. 80), Ḥamuya b. ʿAli had to lead two expeditions to Samarqand (according to Gardizi there was only one expedition, ed. Nazim, p. 26, ed. Ḥabibi, pp. 150-51) before Esḥāq was finally captured and taken to Bukhara. His son Manṣur, who had in the previous reign led a Samanid army into Sistān, also led a rebellion, this time in Khorasanian towns, most notably in Nišāpur. He died before Naṣr’s troops could dislodge him, but the revolt in Khorasan was continued by Manṣur’s commander Ḥosayn b. ʿAli Marvazi, and the outbreak was not suppressed until 305/918 (Naršaḵi, p. 112; tr. p. 95 and p. 155, n. 326; Ebn al-Aṯir, VIII, pp. 87-9). Esḥāq’s other son Elyās had fled to Farḡāna after the end of the Samarqand revolt, and eventually himself rebelled there in 310/922. This was easily suppressed by an army sent from Bukhara under Abu ʿAmr Moḥammad b. Asad. Elyās tried unsuccessfully to continue his resistance from Šāš with the aid of the governor for the Samanids there, Abu’l-Fażl b. Abi Yusof. He fled to Kāšḡar under the protection of the local dehqān (petty landowner) who had the Turkish name of Toḡan-tegin (an Uyghur magnate?), but eventually returned to Bukhara under a guarantee of amān, or immunity from punishment, from his cousin Naṣr (Ebn al-Aṯir, VIII, p. 96; Barthold, Turkestan3, p. 241).

By the time Naṣr was approaching manhood, the Samanid lands finally became peaceful, with the celebrated Abu’l-Fażl Moḥammad b. ʿObayd-Allāh Balʿami (q.v.) assuming the vizierate in around 310/922. According to Naršaḵi (p. 112; tr. p. 95), the Friday sermon (ḵoṭba) was given in Naṣr’s name not only in the Samanid heartlands but also in Fārs, Kermān, Ṭabarestān, Gorgān and ʿErāq [-e ʿAjam] (i.e. Ray and northern Persia; see below). This peace was interrupted in around 318/930 by a further rebellion, this time led by Amir Naṣr’s own brothers, three of whom, Yaḥyā, Ebrāhim and Manṣur, he had prudently imprisoned in the citadel of Bukhara. With the help of a baker and seditious elements, consisting, according to Ebn al-Aṯir, of Deylamites, ʿAlids and ʿayyārs, who were led by the aforementioned Ḥosayn b. ʿAli Marvazi, the three brothers escaped from captivity, seized the city and proclaimed Yaḥyā as Amir. The vizier Balʿami managed to sow dissension among the rebels, and with the support of loyal troops, Naṣr’s authority eventually prevailed (Gardizi, ed. Nazim, p. 26; ed. Ḥabibi, p. 150; Ebn al-Aṯir, VIII, pp. 208-11). The province of Khorasan was now entrusted to the local magnate of Čaḡāniyān, the Moḥtājid Abu Bakr Moḥammad, and after him, his son Abu ʿAli, thus beginning the ascendancy of the Čaḡānis in Khorasan for the subsequent decades (Gardizi, ed. Nazim, p. 31; ed. Ḥabibi, p. 153; Ebn al-Aṯir, VIII, p. 356; Barthold, Turkestan3, p. 242).

Naṣr emerges from the sources as someone who lacked an incisive personality, and an anecdote in Bayhaqi (ed. Fayyāż, pp. 126-28) shows him as irascible, but he was well served by his commanders, who came from both the indigenous Iranian dehqān classes of Khorasan and Transoxiana, like the Čaḡānis, and the ranks of the Turkish military slave institution in the Samanid army, like the Simjuris. Khorasan had been secured for the Samanids on the overthrow of ʿAmr b. Layṯ in 287/900 and was held under a caliphal grant, hence subsequent Samanid efforts were now directed westwards, with the aims of securing Ray as the gateway to Jebāl and of exerting overlordship in the Caspian provinces. Already by 298/910-11, the commander Moḥammad b. ʿAli Ṣoʿluk had been installed in Ray as a Samanid vassal, and Amir Aḥmad had made him governor of Ṭabarestān as well (Ebn Esfandiār, tr. Browne, p. 199; Miles, p. 135). Moḥammad b. ʿAli tried unsuccessfully to dislodge the ʿAlid Ḥasan b. ʿAli Oṭruš from Ṭabarestān in 302/914-15 (Ṭabari, III, p. 2292; tr. F. Rosenthal, pp. 204-5; Ebn al-Aṯir, VIII, p. 86). Although there are no genuine Samanid coins extant from the Ray/al-Moḥammadiya mint before 313-314/925-27, Moḥammad b. ʿAli had certainly held the city intermittently for at least the previous ten years. On his death in 316/928, Ray was coveted by various Deylamite adventurers who succeeded in holding the city at times, such as Asfār b. Širuya and Mākān b. Kāki, followed by Mardāvij b. Ziār and his brother Vošmgir, whose authority was however disputed by the growing power of the Buyid brothers. It was not until Abu ʿAli Čaḡāni arrived in 329/940 with a powerful army that the allied forces of Mākān and Vošmgir were defeated, and the former was killed (Ebn al-Aṯir, VIII, pp. 369-71; Miles, p. 151). Samanid coins re-appear from the Ray mint from 329/940-41 to Naṣr’s death two years later, although a new, more dangerous opponent of the Samanids was to emerge in northern Persia in the person of the Buyid Rokn-al-Dawla.

Samanid successes in the Caspian lands against the Zaydi Imams and various of the Jilite and Deylamite condottieri mentioned above were only intermittent. Amongst the latter, Asfār and Mākān functioned at times as governors for the Samanids in Ṭabarestān and Gorgān, in an endeavour to ward off Buyid pressure, and Mardāvij also at one point recognised Naṣr’s supremacy. The Zaydi ʿAlids fell into internecine disarray after Oṭruš’s death in 304/917 (Ebn al-Aṯir, VIII, p. 105). The Imam Abu Jaʿfar Nāṣer, grandson of Oṭruš, was eventually deported by Asfār to be imprisoned in Bukhara, but he escaped in the course of the 318/930 rebellion there. Eventually, Abu Jaʿfar retired under the Buyids of Ray, but Zaydi dominion in the Caspian provinces had ended. Gorgān and Ṭabarestān were secured for Naṣr by Abu ʿAli Čaḡāni in 328/939-40, and after the Amir’s death they were mostly controlled by the Ziyarids, descendants of Vošmgir, with the Buyids and Samanids disputing for overlordship there (Ebn Esfandiār, tr. Browne, pp. 218-19; Madelung, pp. 209-12).

The mention of ʿAlid participation in the revolt at Bukhara in around 318/930 (see above) suggests that there may have been a significant presence of Shiʿites in the city; one would expect them to have belonged to the Jaʿfari mainstream of Shiʿism, on the basis of the references to ʿAlid family groupings and centers of influence in historico-biographical works, such as those of Ḥākem Nišāburi and Ebn al-Bayyeʿ for Nišāpur, and Ebn Fondoq for Bayhaq. The later works of Ebn al-Nadim and Neẓām-al-Molk mention activity by Ismaʿili radical Shiʿites towards the end of Naṣr’s reign, culminating in conversions at the court of the Amir himself. However, historical sources such as the works of Naršaḵi and Gardizi and the sources used by Ebn al-Aṯir for Khorasanian history, make no mention of this at all. According to a lengthy story in the first of these two sources, Fatimid dāʿis, or propagandists, penetrated into Khorasan and Transoxiana and converted the commander Ḥosayn b. ʿAli Marvazi and Moḥammad b. Aḥmad Naḵšabi (or Nasafi) in Transoxiana. Naḵšabi converted high-level members of the court circle, culminating in his winning over the Amir himself to Ismaʿilism. This alarmed the orthodox Sunni ulema who made common cause with the Amir’s Turkish ḡolāms (military slaves) against the heretics. Naṣr’s son Nuḥ frustrated a plot by the commanders to assassinate his father, but the latter agreed to abdicate in Nuḥ’s favour and died shortly afterwards. A general massacre of the Ismaʿilis and their converts, including their leader Naḵšabi, soon followed, with the consequence that henceforth Ismaʿilism survived only underground in Khorasan and Transoxiana (Neẓām-al-Molk, pp. 267-75; tr. H. Darke, pp. 212-18). In the much briefer account given by Ebn al-Nadim, the new convert Amir Naṣr agrees at first to pay an indemnity to the Fatimid Caliph al-Qāʾem as reparation for the killing of Ḥosayn b. ʿAli Marvazi, but on his sickbed he repents of his conversion and orders the slaughter of the Ismaʿilis and their converts (p. 239; tr. Dodge, I, pp. 467-68; cf. Barthold, pp. 242-44; Stern, pp. 77-80). It is difficult to see the episode as the pure invention of anti-Fatimid Sunni sources, but the exact extent of the inroads made by an Ismaʿili daʿwa at this time remains unknown.

Naṣr died of tuberculosis on 27 Rajab 331/6 April 943 at the age of thirty-eight (in lunar years), having withdrawn from public life at the onset of his illness to spend the rest of his days in pious retreat. He was succeeded by his son Nuḥ (Ebn al-Aṯir, VIII, p. 401). Much of the political and military achievement of his reign must be attributed, as noted above, to his skilful commanders and competent viziers from the Balʿami and Jayhāni families, whose long periods in office provided invaluable continuity. Balʿami had handed the vizierate over to Abu ʿAli Moḥammad b. Moḥammad Jayhāni in 326/938, according to Ebn al-Aṯir (VIII, p. 378), but according to Gardizi (ed. Nazim, p. 32; ed. Ḥabibi, p. 154), this happened only on the death of the Amir.

Naṣr’s reign has been described by Frye as a golden age for the florescence of both Arabic and New Persian culture within his court circle, though the figures of his viziers were more prominent than the monarch himself (“The Sāmānids,” pp. 142-42; idem, 1997, pp. 56ff.). Nevertheless, as shown by Ṯaʿālebi’s sections on the writers of Khorasan and Transoxiana in his Yatimat al-dahr, there was a brilliant concourse of poets and literary men at the Bukharan court at this time. For a fuller consideration of the cultural history of the time, see SAMANIDS.


Sources. Ebn al-Aṯir (Beirut), VIII. Ebn Esfandiār, tr. Browne, pp. 199-220.

Ebn al-Nadim, Fehrest, ed. Tajaddod, p. 239; tr. Dodge, I, pp. 467-68.

Gardizi, ed. M. Nazim, Berlin, 1928, pp. 25-32; ed. Ḥabibi, pp. 150-54.

Naršaḵi, pp. 111-13; tr. Frye, pp. 95-6.

Neẓām-al-Molk, Siāsat-nāma, ed. H. Darke, Tehran, 1340 Š./1962, pp. 267-75; tr. idem, The Book of Government or Rules for Kings, London, 1978, pp. 212-18.

Ṭabari, III, p. 2292; tr. F. Rosenthal, The Return of the Caliphate to Baghdad, Albany, 1985, pp. 204-5.

Ṯaʿālebi, Yatimat al-dahr, ed. ʿAbd-al-Ḥamid, Cairo, 1956, IV, pp. 64-193, 345-53.

Studies. Barthold, Turkestan3, pp. 240-46.

C. Edmund Bosworth, “An Alleged Embassy from the Emperor of China to the Amir Naṣr b. Aḥmad: A Contribution to Sāmānid Military History,” in M. Minovi and I. Afshar, eds., Yād-nāma-ye Irāni-e Minorski, Tehran, 1348 Š./1969, pp. 1-13.

Idem, “Naṣr b. Aḥmad b. Ismāʿil,” EI VII, p. 1015. Idem, The New Islamic Dynasties, Edinburgh, 1996, pp. 170-71, no. 83. Richard N. Frye, “The Sāmānids,” in Camb. Hist. Iran IV, pp. 141-43.

Idem, Bukhara: The Medieval Achievement, Costa Mesa, 1997, pp. 50-67.

Wilferd Madelung, “The Minor Dynasties of Northern Iran,” in Camb. Hist. Iran IV, pp. 206-213.

George C. Miles, The Numismatic History of Rayy, New York, 1938. Samuel M. Stern, “The Early Ismāʿili Missionaries in North-West Persia and in Khurāsān and Transoxiana,” BSOAS 23, 1960, pp. 77-80, 82-7.

Cite this page
C. Edmund Bosworth, “NAṢR (I) B. AḤMAD (I) B. ESMĀʿIL”, in: Encyclopaedia Iranica Online, © Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York. Consulted online on 20 July 2024 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/2330-4804_EIRO_COM_143>
First published online: 2020
First print edition: 20020720

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