History of Nishapur

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The history of Nishapur begins with the city's founding during the Sasanian dynasty (and given the title of New Shapur); the city is located in the eastern province of Khorasan and served as the seat of the governor and commander in chief of the province.

Nishapur retained its importance under the Seljuqs, after its occupation by the first sultan of the Turkic dynasty in 1037. It was sacked by the Oghuz in 1154,[1] and damaged in a series of earthquakes in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, yet it remained an active urban centre until its destruction by the Mongols in 1221.

During the Sasanian dynasty and medieval ages, the Nishapur quarter (Persian: ربع نیشابور) included Khorasan Province and Ahal Province.

Shapur I, founder of Nishapur[edit]

Archaeologists and historians disagree about the Sassanid Empire and Shapur I's role in developing Nishapur.

Abarshahr of Sassanid Empire[edit]

Abarshahr was a satrapy (province) of the Sassanid Empire. Cities in the region were Candac, Artacauan, Apameia, and Pushang (founded by Shapur I). Nishapur was the capital. Abarshar was the name used for Nishapur during the Sassanid Empire and Rashidun Caliphate. The capital was a vital center of administration and of communications between Bactria, India, and Sagistan. The region was involved in the Indian and Chinese trade. Its governor bore the title of kanarang.[2]

Muslim Conquest[edit]

Nishapur was conquered by the Muslims, without struggle, during the caliphate of Umar. The Caliph appointed Ahnaf Ibn Qais as the chief command of the Muslim army out of Isfahan. From Isfahan, two routes led to Khorasan: the main route via Rayy and the other via Nishapur. The people of Nishapur chose not to fight and surrendered on the condition of paying a tribute.

Having conquered the region around Nishapur, the Muslim force advanced to Nishapur itself. The city was divided into four sectors, with each sector under a Persian chief. These chiefs shut themselves in the city and closed the gates. The Muslims laid siege to the city for some days. In the meantime, the Persian chiefs quarreled among themselves. One of the chiefs entered into negotiations with the Muslims. He offered to open one of the gates for the Muslim army to enter, provided he was granted immunity. The Muslims accepted the offer. The Persians were taken by surprise, and the Muslims became the masters of Nishapur. After consolidating their position at Nishapur, the Muslims conquered other cities around Nishapur, including Pusht, Ashband, Rukh, Zar, Khaf, Osparain and Arghian.[3]

Nishapur capital of Abu Muslim[edit]

Abu Muslim was confirmed as governor of Khorasan, and made Nishapur the capital. He seems to have initiated a huge building programme which stimulated the growth of the city. Nishapur increased in importance, and two ‘Abbasids were governors here before becoming caliphs. It was the governor of Khurasan (‘Ali ibn Isa ibn Mahan) who presented the large gift of Chinese imperial porcelains to Harun al-Rashid (see Abbasid Ceramics Section), demonstrating the strategic importance of the province on trade routes[4]

Tahirid Dynasty in Nishapur[edit]

The Tahirid Dynasty was an Iranian Persian dynasty that ruled from 820 to 872 in Khorasan, northeastern Greater Iran, a region now split between Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The Tahirid capital was originally Merv but was moved to Nishapur. The Tahirid dynasty is considered to be the first dynasty independent of the Abbasid caliphate established in Khorasan.

Although nominally subject to the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad, the Tahirid rulers were effectively independent. The dynasty was founded by Tahir ibn Husayn, a leading general in the service of the Abbasid caliph al-Ma'mun. Tahir's military victories were rewarded with the gift of lands in the east of Persia, which were subsequently extended by his successors as far as the borders of India. Tahirid influence extended to Baghdad when the Abbasids granted them the military affairs in Mesopotamia.[5]


In 872, the Tahirids were replaced by the Saffarids who expanded their sphere of influence north into Khurasan, from Sistan in the south. They also made Nishapur their capital and rebuilt the Tahirid palace, only to be overrun early in the tenth century by their powerful eastern neighbours, the Samanids. This dynasty had been placed in power in Transoxiana by Caliph Al-Ma'mun, and ruled first from Samarqand and then moved to Bukhara. After defeating the Saffarids, their "empire", with nominal sanction from the Abbasids, extended from India to Iraq. Khurasan was thus an international entrepôt, with merchants coming not only from Iraq, India and Egypt, but also from Russia; additionally, Vikings came from Scandinavia to trade with the Bulghars and Khazars on the Caspian Sea.

Nishapur under the Mongols[edit]

In 1221, during the Mongol conquests, Nishapur was besieged and sacked, and a great number of its inhabitants killed and beheaded. Their skulls were reputedly piled in pyramids by the Mongols.[6] After the massacre a much smaller settlement was established just north of the ancient town, and the once bustling metropolis lay underground—until a team of excavators from the Metropolitan Museum of Art arrived in the mid-20th century. They worked at Nishapur between 1935 and 1940, returning for a final season in the winter of 1947–48.[7]

Thematic history[edit]

Names of Nishapur throughout history[edit]

In travel literature[edit]

Nasir Khusraw saw Nishapur and wrote about it in Safarnama.

Abraham Valentine Williams Jackson in "From Constantinople to the home of Omar Khayyam" explain ending of his Travel in Nishapur.

Art of Nishapur[edit]


Bowls including bold black inscriptions in the so-called kufic angular calligraphy were apparently produced in the important ceramic centers of Nishapur in eastern Iran, and Afrasiyab, or Old Samarqand, in present-day Uzbekistan. The text often contains a proverb in Arabic or, as in this case, a series of wishes: "Blessing, happiness, prosperity, good health, and success."


  1. ^ Ibn Al-Athir, The Chronicle of Ibn Al-Athir for the Crusading Period from Al-Kamil Fi'l-Tarikh, transl. D.S. Richards, (Ashgate Publishing, 2007), 59-60.
  2. ^ The Cambridge History of Iran, vol. 3(2): The Seleucid, Parthian, and Sasanian Periods, ed. Ehsan Yarshater (NY: Cambridge UP, 1983), 769.
  3. ^ The city in the Islamic world, Volume 1, ed. Salma Khadra Jayyusi, Renata Holod, Attilio Petruccioli, André Raymond
  4. ^ .Goldschmidt, Arthur (2002), A concise history of the Middle East, Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, pp. 76–77, ISBN 0-8133-3885-9
  5. ^ Hammuda, Abdul Hamid, H. The History of Independent Islamic States:Tarikh Adduwal Al-Islamiyyah Al-Mustaqillah, al-Dar al-Thaqafiyyah lil-Nashr, Cairo, 2010, p.30-40.
  6. ^ Clark, Josh (14 January 2008). "Did Genghis Khan really kill 1,748,000 people in one hour?". HowStuffWorks. 
  7. ^ http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/nish/hd_nish.htm
  8. ^ The Cambridge History of Iran, vol. 3(2): The Seleucid, Parthian, and Sasanian Periods, ed. Ehsan Yarshater (NY: Cambridge UP, 1983), 769.