The Samanid Empire at its greatest extent under Isma'il ibn Ahmad
|Religion||Sunni Islam (minority Shia Islam, Nestorianism, Zoroastrianism)|
|Ahmad ibn Asad|
|'Abd al-Malik II|
|Historical era||Middle Ages|
|928 est.||2,850,000 km2 (1,100,000 sq mi)|
The Samanid Empire (Persian: سامانیان, Sāmāniyān), also known as the Samanian Empire, Samanid dynasty, Samanid Emirate, or simply Samanids, was a Sunni Iranian empire from 819 to 999. The empire was centered in Khorasan and Transoxiana during its existence; at its greatest extent, the empire encompassed all of today's Afghanistan, large parts of Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and parts of Kazakhstan and Pakistan.
The Samanid state was founded by four brothers; Nuh, Ahmad, Yahya, and Ilyas—each of them ruled their own territory under Abbasid suzerainty. In 892, Isma'il ibn Ahmad (892–907) united the Samanid state under one ruler, thus effectively putting an end to the feudal system used by the Samanids. It was also under him that the Samanids became independent of Abbasid authority.
The Samanids promoted the arts, giving rise to the advancement of science and literature, and thus attracted scholars such as Rudaki, Ferdowsi, and Avicenna. While under Samanid control, Bukhara was a rival to Baghdad in its glory. Scholars note that the Samanids revived Persian language and culture more than the Buyids and the Saffarids, while continuing to patronize Arabic for sciences as well as the religious studies. They considered themselves to be descendants of the Sasanian Empire. In a famous edict, Samanid authorities declared that "here, in this region, the language is Persian, and the kings of this realm are Persian kings."
The eponymous ancestor of the Samanid dynasty was Saman Khuda, a Persian noble who belonged to a dehqan family, which was a class of land-owning magnates. The original home of the Samanids is unclear, for some Arabic and Persian texts claim that the name was derived from a village near Samarkand, while others assert it was a village near Balkh or Tirmidh. The latter is more probable since the earliest appearance of the Samanid family appears to be in Khorasan rather than Transoxiana. In some sources the Samanids claimed to be descended from the noble Mihran family of Bahram Chobin, whereas one author claimed that they belonged to the Turkish Oghuz tribe, although this is most unlikely. Originally a Zoroastrian, Saman Khuda converted to Islam during the governorship of Asad ibn Abdallah al-Qasri in Khorasan, and named his oldest son as Asad in the governor's honour. In 819, the governor of Khorasan, Ghassan ibn Abbad, rewarded the four sons of Asad for their aid against the rebel Rafi ibn al-Layth; Nuh received Samarkand; Ahmad received Farghana; Yahya received Shash; and Ilyas received Herat. This marked the beginning of the Samanid dynasty.
Ilyas died in 856, and was succeeded by his son Ibrahim ibn Ilyas—the Tahirid governor of Khorasan, Muhammad ibn Tahir, thereafter appointed him as the commander of his army, and sent him on an expedition against the Saffarid ruler Ya'qub ibn al-Layth al-Saffar in Sistan. He was defeated at a battle near Pushang in 857, and fled to Nishapur, where he was captured by Ya'qub al-Saffar and sent to Sistan as a hostage. The Tahirids thereafter assumed direct control over Herat.
In 839/40, Nuh seized Isfijab from the nomadic pagan Turks living in the steppe. He thereafter had a wall constructed around the city to protect it from their attacks. He died in 841/2—his two brothers Yahya and Ahmad, were then appointed as the joint rulers of the city by the Tahirid governor of Khorasan. After Yahya's death in 855, Ahmad took control over Châch, thus becoming the ruler of most of Transoxiana. He died in 864/5; his son Nasr I received Farghana and Samarkand, while his other son Ya'qub received Châch (areas around modern Tashkent/Chachkent). Meanwhile, the Tahirids authority had significantly weakened after suffering several defeats by the Saffarid ruler Ya'qub al-Saffar, thus losing their grip over the Samanids, who became more or less independent. Nasr I used this opportunity to strengthen his authority by sending his brother Isma'il to Bukhara, which was in an unstable condition after suffering from raids by the Afrighid dynasty of Khwarazm. When Isma'il reached the city, he was warmly received by its inhabitants, who saw him as one who could restore order. Although the Bukhar Khudahs continued to autonomously rule in Bukhara for a few more years.
After not so long, disagreement over where tax money should be distributed, started a conflict between the brothers. Isma'il was eventually victorious in the dynastic struggle, and took control of the Samanid state. However, Nasr had been the one who had been invested with Transoxiana, and the Abbasid caliphs continued to recognize him as the rightful ruler. Because of this, Isma'il continued to recognize his brother as well, but Nasr was completely powerless, a situation that would continue until his death in August 892.
A few months later, Ya'qub al-Saffar also died and was succeeded by his brother Amr ibn al-Layth, who saw himself as the heir of the Tahirids, thus claiming Transoxiana, Khorasan and other parts of Iran for himself. He thereafter forced the Abbasid caliph to recognize him as the ruler of those territories, which they did. In the spring of 900, he clashed with Isma'il near Balkh, but was defeated and taken to captivity. Isma'il thereafter sent him Baghdad, where he was executed. Isma'il was thereafter recognized as the ruler of all of Khorasan and Transoxiana by the caliph. Furthermore, he also received the investiture over Tabaristan, Ray and Isfahan. It was also during this period that the Afrighid dynasty was forced into submission.
Before his major victory against the Saffarids, he had made various expeditions in Transoxiana; in 892, he put an end to the Principality of Ushrusana by seizing all of its lands. During the same period, he put an end to the Bukhar Khudas in Bukhara. In 893, he invaded the territories of the Karluk Turks, taking Talas and converting the Nestorian church there into a mosque.
In 900, Isma'il sent an army under Muhammad ibn Harun al-Sarakhsi against Muhammad ibn Zayd, the Zaydi ruler of Tabaristan and Gorgan. The invasion was successful; Muhammad ibn Zayd was killed and Tabaristan was conquered by the Samanids. However, Muhammad ibn Harun shortly revolted, making Isma'il himself invade the region the following year. Muhammad ibn Harun thereafter fled to Daylam, while Isma'il reconquered Tabaristan and Gorgan. In 901, Amr Saffari was defeated at the battle of Balkh by the Samanids, which reduced the Saffarid dynasty to a minor tributary in Sistan. It was during this period that the Samanids were at their height of power, ruling as far as Qazvin in west and Peshawar in the east.
Isma'il is known in history as a competent general and a strong ruler; many stories about him are written in Arabic and Persian sources. Furthermore, because of his campaigns in the north, his empire was so safe from enemy incursions that the defences of Bukhara and Samarkand were unused. However, this later had consequences; at the end of the dynasty, the earlier strong, but now falling apart walls, were greatly missed by the Samanids, who were constantly under attack by the Karakhanids and other enemies.
Isma'il died in November 907, and was succeeded by his son Ahmad Samani (r. 907–914).
Not long after his accession, Ahmad invaded Sistan; by 911, Sistan was under complete Samanid control, and Ahmad's cousin Abu Salih Mansur was appointed as its governor. Meanwhile, an Alid named Hasan al-Utrush was slowly re-establishing Zaydi over Tabaristan. In 913, Ahmad sent an army under Muhammad ibn Sa'luk to deal with him. Although the Samanid army was much larger, Hasan managed to emerge victorious. Ahmad, before he could plan another expedition to Tabaristan, was the following year murdered by some of his slaves in a tent near Bukhara. During his reign, Ahmad is also said to have replaced the language of the court from Persian to Arabic, which made him unpopular among his subjects, and forced him to change it back to Persian. After Ahmad's death, his eight-year-old son Nasr II (r. 914–943) succeeded him.
Due to Nasr's youth, his prime minister Abu 'Abd-Allah al-Jaihani took care over most of the state affairs. Jaihani was not only an experienced administrator, but also a prominent geographer and greatly educated man. Almost right after Nasr II had ascended the throne, several revolts erupted, the most dangerous one being under the uncle of his father, Ishaq ibn Ahmad, who seized Samarkand and began minting coins there, while his son Abu Salih Mansur seized Nishapur and several cities in Khorasan. Ishaq was eventually defeated and captured, while Abu Salih Mansur died of natural causes in 915. Some time later Nasr II once again had to deal with rebels; in 919, the governor of Khorasan, Husayn ibn Ali Marvarrudhi, rebelled against Samanid authority. Nasr responded by sending an army under Ahmad ibn Sahl to suppress the rebellion, which the latter managed to accomplish. After a few weeks, however, Ahmad shortly rebelled himself at Nishapur, made incursions into Gorgan, and then fortified himself in Merv to avoid a Samanid counter-attack. Nevertheless, the Samanid general Hamuya ibn Ali managed to lure Ahmad out of Merv, and defeated him in a battle at Marw al-Rudh; he was captured and imprisoned in Bukhara, where he remained until his death in 920.
In the west, Nasr II clashed several times with Daylamite and Gilite rulers; In 921, the Zaydids under the Gilite ruler Lili ibn al-Nu'man invaded Khorasan, but were defeated by the Simjurid general Simjur al-Dawati. Later in 930, a Dailamite military leader, Makan ibn Kaki, seized Tabaristan and Gurgan, and even took possession of Nishapur in western Khorasan. He was, however, forced to withdraw back to Tabaristan one year later, due to the threat that Samanids posed. Makan then returned to Tabaristan, where he was defeated by the Ziyarid ruler Mardavij, who managed to conquer the region. In 935, Nasr II re-established Samanid control in Gurgan and made Mardavij's successor Vushmgir his vassal. However, in 939 he declared independence, but was defeated the following year at Iskhabad.
In 943 several Samanid army officers, angry at Nasr's support of Isma'ili missionaries, formed a conspiracy to murder him. Nasr's son Nuh I, however, learned of the conspiracy. He went to a banquet designed to organize the plot and had the head of their leader cut off. To appease the other officers, he promised to stop the Isma'ili missionaries from continuing their activities. He then convinced his father to abdicate, who died of tuberculosis after a few months.
Right when Nuh I ascended the throne, a revolt erupted in Khwarazm, which he managed to suppress. Later in 945, he had to deal with the Muhtajid ruler Abu 'Ali Chaghani, who refused to relinquish his post as governor of Khorasan to Ibrahim ibn Simjur. Abu 'Ali Chaghani then rebelled, and was joined by several prominent figures such as Abu Mansur Muhammad, whom he appointed as his commander-in-chief. In 947, he installed Nuh's uncle Ibrahim ibn Ahmad as amir in Bukhara. Abu 'Ali Chaghani then returned to his domains in Chaghaniyan. Ibrahim, however, was unpopular with the people of Bukhara, and Nuh soon retaliated by retaking the city and blinding Ibrahim and two brothers.
When the news of the re-capture of Bukhara arrived to Abu Ali Chaghani, he once again marched towards Bukhara, but was defeated by an army sent by Nuh and withdrew back to Chaghaniyan. After some time, he left the region and tried to obtain support from other Samanid vassals. Meanwhile, Nuh had Chaghaniyan ravaged and its capital sacked. Another battle shortly ensured between Abu 'Ali Chaghani and a Samanid army in Tukharistan, which resulted in a Samanid victory. Fortunately for Abu Ali Chaghani, he managed to secure the support of other Samanid vassals, such as the rulers of Khuttal, and the Kumiji mountain people, but in the end made peace with Nuh, who allowed him to keep Chaghaniyan in return for sending his son Abu'l Muzaffar Abdallah as hostage to Bukhara.
Alp Tigin, nominal vassal of the Samanids, conquered Ghazna in 962 from the Lawik dynasty. The fifth of these commanders was Sebüktigin, who governed Ḡazna for twenty years till 387/997 with the title (as it appears from his tomb inscription,) of al-ḥājeb al-ajall (most noble commander). He would later be the founder of an independent dynasty based in Ghazna, following the decline of the Samanid Empire in the 990s.
The power of the Samanids began to crumble in the latter half of the 10th century. In 962, one the ghulams, Alp Tigin, commander of the army in Khorasan, seized Ghazna and established himself there. His successors, however, including Sebük Tigin, continued to rule as Samanid "governors". With the weakened Samanids facing rising challenges from the Karakhanids for control of Transoxiana, Sebük later took control of all the provinces south of the Oxus and established the Ghaznavid Empire.
In 992, a Karakhanid, Harun Bughra Khan, grandson of the paramount tribal chief of the Karluk confederation Sultan Satuq Bughra Khan, captured Bukhara, the Samanid capital. Harun died shortly afterwards, however, and the Samanids returned to Bukhara. In 999, Nasr b. Ali, a nephew of Harun, returned and took possession of Bukhara, meeting little resistance. The Samanid domains were split up between the Ghaznavids, who gained Khorasan and Afghanistan, and the Karakhanids, who received Transoxiana; the Oxus River thus became the boundary between the two rival empires.
Isma'il Muntasir was the youngest son of Nuh II—he was imprisoned by the Karakhanids after their conquest of Bukhara in 999. Some time later, Isma'il managed to escape to Khwarazm, where he gained support. Driving the Karakhanids out of Bukhara, he then moved on to and captured Samarkand. The approach of the Karakhanid army, however, forced Isma'il to give up all of his possessions, following which he travelled to Khorasan, where he captured Nishapur. Mahmud's army, however, made its way to the region, and Isma'il decided it necessary to flee again.
In 1003 Isma'il came back to Transoxiana, where he requested for and received assistance from the Oghuz Turks of the Zarafshan valley. They defeated the Karakhanids in several battles, even when Nasr Khan was involved. For various reasons, however, Isma'il came to feel that he could not rely on the Oghuz to restore him, so he went back to Khorasan. He tried to gain Mahmud's support for a campaign to restore the Samanid state, but failed. Some time afterwards, he returned to the Zarafshan valley, where he gained the support of the Oghuz and others. A Karakhanid army was defeated in May 1004, but subsequently the Oghuz deserted Isma'il during another battle, and his army fell apart.
Fleeing to Khorasan yet again, Isma'il attempted to reenter Transoxiana in the end of 1004. The Karakhanids stopped this and Isma'il was nearly killed. Following this, he sought the hospitality of an Arab tribe near Merv. Their chief, however, killed Isma'il in 1005. His death marked the defeat of the last attempt to restore the Samanid state. Descendants of the Samanid family continued to live in Transoxiana where they were well regarded, but their power was relatively broken.
Along with several other states, the Samanid Empire was part of the Iranian Intermezzo, or "Persian renaissance". This period has been described as having a key importance in the formation of the Islamic civilization, both politically and culturally. In political terms, it saw an effective break up of the Abbasid power and the rise of several successor states such as the Samanids and Buyids while in cultural terms, it witnessed the rise of new Persian as an administrative and literary language.
The system of the Samanid state was modelled after the Abbasid system, which in turn was modelled after the Sasanian system. The ruler of the state was the amir, and the provinces were governed by appointed governors or local vassal rulers. The main responsibility of both governors and local rulers was to collect taxes and support the Samanid ruler with troops if needed. The most important province in the Samanid Empire was Khorasan, which was in the start given to a relative of the Samanid ruler or a local Iranian prince (such as the Muhtajids), while it was later given to one of his most trusted slaves. The governor of Khorasan was normally the sipah-salar (commander-in-chief).
Like in the Abbasid Caliphate, Turkic slaves could in the Samanid state rise to high offices, which would sometimes result the Turkic slaves usurp power, almost making the ruler their puppet.
The Samanids revived Persian culture by patronizing Rudaki, Bal'ami and Daqiqi. The Samanids determinedly propagated Sunni Islam, and repressed Ismaili Shiism but were more tolerant of Twelver Shiism. Islamic architecture and Islamo-Persian culture was spread deep into the heart of Central Asia by the Samanids. Following the first complete translation of the Qur'an into Persian, during the 9th century, populations under the Samanid empire began accepting Islam in significant numbers.
Through zealous missionary work as many as 30,000 tents of Turks came to profess Islam and later under the Ghaznavids more than 55,000 under the Hanafi school of thought. The mass conversion of the Turks to Islam eventually led to a growing influence of the Ghaznavids, who would later rule the region.
Agriculture and trading were the economic basis of Samanid State. The Samanids were heavily involved in trading – even with Europe, as thousands of Samanid coins that have been found in the Baltic and Scandinavian countries testify.
Another lasting contribution of the Samanids to the history of Islamic art is the pottery known as Samanid Epigraphic Ware: plates, bowls, and pitchers fired in a white slip and decorated only with calligraphy, often elegantly and rhythmically written. The Arabic phrases used in this calligraphy are generally more or less generic well wishes, or Islamic admonitions to good table manners.
In the 9th and 10th centuries, there was a large amount of growth in literature, mostly in poetry. It was during the Samanid period that Persian literature appeared in Transoxania and was formally recognized. The advancement of an Islamic New Persian literature thus started in Transoxiana and Khorasan instead of Fars, the homeland of the Persians. The best known poets of the Samanid period were Rudaki (d. 941), Daqiqi (d. 977) and Ferdowsi (d. 1020).
Although Persian was the most favorable language, Arabic continued to enjoy a high status and was still popular among the members of the Samanid family. For example, al-Tha'alibi wrote an Arabic anthology named Yatimat al-dahr ("The Unique Pearl"). The fourth section of the anthology included a detailed account of the poets that lived under the Samanids. It also states that the poets of Khwarazm mostly wrote in Arabic.
The acknowledged founder of Persian classical poetry, and a man of great perception, was Rudaki, who was born in the village of Panjrudak, which is today part of the Panjakent District in Tajikistan. Rudaki was already becoming popular during his early years, due to his poems, his voice, and his great skill in using the chang (an Iranian instrument similar to the harp). He was shortly invited to the Samanid court, where he stayed almost the rest of his life. Only less than 2,000 of his poetry lines have survived, but are enough to prove his great poetic skills—he perfected every basic verse forms of medieval Persian poetry; mathnawi, qasida, ghazal and ruba'i.
"Look at the cloud, how it cries like a grieving man
Another prominent poet was Shahid Balkhi, born in the village of Jakhudanak near Balkh. Not much is known about his life, but he is mentioned as being one of the best poets in the court of Nasr II, and one of the best scholars of the age. He was also a student of Rudaki, and had close relations with him. He died in 936, a few years before Rudaki's death. His death saddened Rudaki, who afterwards wrote an emotional elegy about him.
Daqiqi, who was a native of Tus, began his career at the court of the Muhtajid ruler Abu'l Muzaffar ibn Muhammad in Chaghaniyan, and was later invited to the Samanid court. Under the Samanids, ancient Iranian legends and heroic traditions were taken in special interest, thus inspiring Daqiqi to write the Shahnameh ("The Book of Kings"), a long epic poem based on the history of the Iranians. However, by his death in 977, he had only managed to complete a small part of it, which was about the conflict between Gushtasp and Arjasp.
However, the most prominent poet of that age, was Ferdowsi—he was born in Tus in 940 to a dehqan family. It was during his youth that there was a period of growth under the Samanids. The rapid growth of interest in ancient Iranian history made him continue the work of Daqiqi, completing the Shahnameh in 994, only a few years before the fall of the Samanid Empire. He later completed a second version of the Shahnameh in 1010, which he presented to the Ghaznavid Sultan Mahmud. However, his work was not as appreciated by the Ghaznavids as it was by the Samanids.
Under the Samanid Empire, the Zarafshan valley, Kashka Darya and Usrushana were populated by Sogdians; Tukharistan by the Bactrians; Khwarezm by the Khwarazmians; the Ferghana valley by the Ferghanans; southern Khorasan by Khorasanians; and the Pamir mountains and its surroundings by the Saka and other early Iranian peoples. All these groups were of Iranian ethnicity and spoke dialects of Middle Iranian and New Persian. In the words of Negmatov, "they were the basis for the emergence and gradual consolidation of what became an Eastern Persian-Tajik ethnic identity."
Ferghana, Samarkand, and Bukhara were starting to be linguistically Persianized in originally Khwarazmian and Sogdian areas during Samanid rule. The Persian language spread and led to the extinction of Eastern Iranian languages like Bactrian, Khwarezmian with only a tiny amount of Sogdian descended Yaghnobi speakers remaining among the now Persian-speaking Tajik population of Central Asia, due to the fact that the Arab-Islamic army which invaded Central Asia also included some Persians who later governed the region like the Samanids. Persian was rooted into Central Asia by the Samanids.
In the 9th and 10th centuries, intellectual life in Transoxania and Khorasan reached a high level. In the words of N.N. Negmatov, "It was inevitable that the local Samanid dynasty, seeking support among its literate classes, should cultivate and promote local cultural traditions, literacy and literature."
The main Samanid towns – Bukhara, Samarkand, Balkh, Merv, Nishapur, Khujand, Bunjikath, Hulbuk, Termez and others, became the major cultural centres under the state. Scholars, poets, artists and other men of education from many Muslim countries assembled in the Samanid capital of Bukhara, where a rich soil was created for the prosper of creative thought, thus making it one of the most distinguished cultural centres of the Eastern world. An outstanding library known as Siwān al-hikma ("Storehouse of Wisdom") was put together in Bukhara, known for its various types of books.
Due to extensive excavations at Nishapur, Iran in the mid-twentieth century, Samanid pottery is well-represented in Islamic art collections around the world. These ceramics are largely made from earthenware and feature either calligraphic inscriptions of Arabic proverbs, or colorful figural decorations. The Arabic proverbs often speak to the values of "Adab" culture—hospitality, generosity, and modesty.
The Bowl with the Arabic Inscription is from Iran during Samanid period in the 10th century. It has a white slip with black slip decoration under a transparent glaze. There is calligraphic decoration all around the bowl. It is elongated at some points and compressed in other areas of the letter to the point where it almost looks abstract. Right in the center of the bowl is a black dot. If the bowl is looked at closely there are cracks and marks that have occurred over time. What would’ve been a white bowl is now stained yellow in some areas. The calligraphy looks well thought out and planned. Each letter is well spaced and the whole saying fits perfectly around the bowl and that could be because they used to practice it before hand on paper. The saying translates to “Planning before work protects you from regret; prosperity and peace”
In commending the Samanids, the epic Persian poet Ferdowsi says of them:
کجا آن بزرگان ساسانیان
ز بهرامیان تا به سامانیان
A Bukharian historian writing in 943 stated that Ismail Samani:
"was extremely just, and his good qualities were many. He had pure faith in God (to Him be power and glory) and he was generous to the poor – to name only one of his notable virtues.
The Somoni currency of Tajikistan is named after the Samanids. A notable airline based in Dushanbe is also named Somon Air. Also, the highest mountain in Tajikistan and in the former Soviet Union is named after Ismail Samani. The mountain was formerly known as "Stalin Peak" and "Communism Peak" but in 1998 the name was officially changed to Ismoil Somoni Peak.
Persian: سامان خدا
(A Persian landowner from the village of Saman in Balkh province in northern Afghanistan, he arrived in Merv to the court of the Umayyad governor of Khorasan, Asad ibn Abdallah al-Qasri, under whose influence he became a Muslim and served the governor till his death. He was the founder of the Samanid dynasty)
|Asad ibn Saman|
Persian: اسد بن سامان
|Nuh ibn Asad
Persian: نوح بن اسد
|Ahmad ibn Asad
Persian: احمد بن اسد
|Yahya ibn Asad
Persian: یحییٰ بن اسد
|Ilyas ibn Asad|
Persian: الیاس بن اسد
|Ahmad ibn Asad
Persian: احمد بن اسد
|Ibrahim ibn Ilyas|
Persian: ابراهیم بن الیاس
|Abu Ibrahim Isma'il ibn Ahmad
Persian: ابو ابراهیم اسماعیل بن احمد
Persian: نصر بن احمد
|Ya'qub ibn Ahmad
Persian: یعقوب بن احمد
|Abu Ibrahim Isma'il ibn Ahmad
Persian: ابو ابراهیم اسماعیل بن احمد
|Ahmad ibn Isma'il
Persian: احمد بن اسماعیل
Persian: ابوالحسن نصر بن احمد
Persian: نوح بن نصر
|Ibrahim ibn Ahmad
Persian: ابراهیم بن احمد
|Abd al-Malik ibn Nuh I
Persian: عبدالملک بن نوح
|Abu Salih Mansur ibn Nuh I
Persian: ابو صالح منصور بن نوح
|Nuh ibn Mansur
Persian: نوح بن منصور
|Abu'l-Harith Mansur ibn Nuh II
Persian: ابو الحارث منصور بن نوح
|Abd al-Malik ibn Nuh II
Persian: عبدالمالک بن نوح
|Isma'il Muntasir ibn Nuh II
Persian: اسماعیل منتصر بن نوح
1000 – 1005
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