Samanid Empire

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The Samanid Empire at its greatest extent under Isma'il ibn Ahmad
Capital Samarkand,
Languages Persian (religious decree/mother tongue),[1][2]
Arabic (art/science)[3]
Religion Sunni Islam
Government Emirate
 -  819–855 Yahya ibn Asad
 -  999 'Abd al-Malik II
Historical era Medieval
 -  Established 819
 -  Disestablished 999
 -  928 est. 2,850,000 km² (1,100,391 sq mi)
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Saffarid dynasty
Abbasid Caliphate
Alid dynasties of northern Iran
Bukhar Khudahs
Principality of Ushrusana
Principality of Farghana
Ghaznavid dynasty
Banu Ilyas
Today part of

The Samanid dynasty (Persian: سامانیان‎‎, Sāmāniyān), also known as the Samanid Empire, Samanid Amirate, or simply Samanids (819–999),[4] was a Sunni[5] Persian Empire[6][7][8][9][10] in Khorasan and Transoxiana. The Samanids ruled as Amirs of Khorasan, nominally appointed by the Abbasid Caliph in Baghdad. They claimed descent from the House of Mihran,[11] high nobility of the Sassanian and Parthian empires conquered by the Arabs, and were characteristic of the shift of the Abbasid administration towards reliance on a class of Persian mawali and Turkish mamluks rather than the Umayyad Arab aristocracy held together by familial ties. Samanid rule is part of the so-called Iranian Intermezzo, which saw the creation of a Persianate Muslim culture and identity that brought Iranian speech and traditions into the fold of the Islamic world. This would lead to the formation of the Turko-Persian high culture that would characterise Greater Iran for a thousand years.[12]


The Samanids were of Persian dehqan origin with roots stemming from Balkh in present-day northern Afghanistan.[13][14][15] They reigned for 180 years, encompassing a territory which included Greater Khorasan (including Kabul, Kandahar, and Herat),[16] Ray, Transoxiana, Tabaristan, Kerman, Gorgan, and west of these provinces up to Isfahan. At the peak of their power, the Samanids controlled territory extending as far as Quetta in the south[17] and Qazvin in the west.[18] The Samanids were descendants of Bahrām Chobin,[14][19][20][21] and thus descended from the House of Mihran, one of the Seven Great Houses of Iran. In governing their territory, the Samanids modeled their state organization after the Abbasids, mirroring the caliph's court and organization.[22] They were rewarded for supporting the Abbasids in Transoxiana and Khorasan, and with their established capitals located in Bukhara, Balkh, Samarkand, and Herat, they carved their kingdom after defeating the Saffarids.[20]

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.[23] Scholars note that the Samanids revived Persian more than the Buyids and the Saffarids, while continuing to patronize Arabic to a significant degree.[23] Nevertheless, 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."[23]


The Samanid Empire was the first native Persian dynasty to arise after the Muslim Arab conquest. The four grandsons of the dynasty's founder, Saman Khuda, had been rewarded with provinces for their faithful service to the Abbasid caliph al-Ma'mun: Nuh obtained Samarkand; Ahmad, Fergana; Yahya, Shash; and Elyas, Herat. Ahmad's son Nasr became governor of Transoxiana in 875, but it was his brother and successor, Ismail Samani who overthrew the Saffarids and the Zaydites of Tabaristan, thus establishing a semiautonomous rule over Transoxania and Khorasan, with Bukhara as his capital. In 893, Ismail invaded and defeated the Karluk Turks, taking Talas and converting the Nestorian church there into a mosque.[24][25] Ismail's son, Ahmad, sent two military excursions (911 & 912–913) into Sistan to re-establish Samanid control over the Caspian provinces.[26]

The Samanids defeat the Saffarids and Zaydids[edit]

Samanid rule in Bukhara was not formally recognized by the caliph until the early 900s when the Saffarid ruler 'Amr-i Laith had asked the caliph for the investiture of Transoxiana. The caliph, Al-Mu'tadid however sent the Samanid amir, Ismail Samani, a letter urging him to fight Amr-i Laith and the Saffarids whom the caliph considered usurpers. According to the letter, the caliph stated that he prayed for Ismail who the caliph considered as the rightful ruler of Khorasan.[27] The letter had a profound effect on Ismail, as he was determined to oppose the Saffarids.

The two sides fought in Balkh, (now modern-day Afghanistan), during the spring of 900. During the battle, Ismail was significantly outnumbered as he came out with 20,000 horsemen against Amr's 70,000 strong cavalry.[28] Ismail's horsemen were ill-equipped with most having wooden stirrups while some had no shields or lances. Amr-i Laith's cavalry on the other hand, were fully equipped with weapons and armor. Despite fierce fighting, Amr was captured as some of his troops switched sides and joined Ismail.[29] D. G. Tor suggests that the defections to the Samanid side were because of Ismail's raids into Central Asia had given him the reputation of being a successful holy warrior.[30]

Isma'il thereafter sent an army to Tabaristan in accordance with the caliph's directive.[31] The area at that time was then controlled by the Zaydids. The Samanid army defeated the Zaydid ruler Muhammad ibn Zayd and the Samanids gained control of the region.

Governor vassals of Ghazna[edit]

Alp Tigin, nominal vassal of the Samanids, conquered Ghazna in 962 from the Lawik dynasty.[32][33] 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,[34]) 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.[35]

Decline and fall[edit]

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 Khurasan, seized Ghazna and established himself there.[36] 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.[37] 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. The Samanid Isma'il II al-Muntasir escaped from Karakhanid captivity and attempted to restore the Samanid dynasty, but he was killed by an Arab bedouin chieftain in 1005.[36]

Cultural and religious efforts[edit]

Monument of Amir Ismail Samani in Tajikistan

The Samanids revived Persian culture by patronizing Rudaki,[38] Bal'ami and Daqiqi.[39] They Samanids determinedly propagated Sunni Islam, and repressed Ismaili Shiism[40] but were more tolerant of Twelver Shiism.[23] 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.[41]

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.[42]

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 commending the Samanids, the epic Persian poet Ferdowsi says of them:

کجا آن بزرگان ساسانیان
ز بهرامیان تا به سامانیان

"Where have all the great Sassanids gone?
From the Bahrāmids to the Samanids what has come upon?"

A Bukharian historian writing in 943 stated that Ismail Samani:

"was indeed worthy and right for padishahship. He was an intelligent, just, compassionate person, one possessing reason and prescience...he conducted affairs with justice and good ethics. Whoever tyrannized people he would punish...In affairs of state he was always impartial."[43]

The celebrated scholar Nizam al-Mulk, in his famous work Siyasatnama, 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.[44]

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.

Samanid Amirs[edit]

Bukhara Samarkand Ferghana Shash Herat
Saman Khuda
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
Nasr I
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
Nasr II
Persian: ابوالحسن نصر بن احمد‎‎
Nuh I
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
Abd al-Aziz
Persian: عبدالعزیز‎‎
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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Persian Prose Literature." World Eras. 2002. HighBeam Research. (September 3, 2012);"Princes, although they were often tutored in Arabic and religious subjects, frequently did not feel as comfortable with the Arabic language and preferred literature in Persian, which was either their mother tongue—as in the case of dynasties such as the Saffarids (861–1003), Samanids (873–1005), and Buyids (945–1055)...". [1]
  2. ^ Elton L. Daniel, History of Iran, (Greenwood Press, 2001), 74.
  3. ^ The Samanids, The David Collection. Islamic dynasties
  4. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica, Online Edition, 2007, Samani Dynasty, LINK
  5. ^ Rene Grousset, The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia, transl. Naomi Walford, (Rutgers University Press, 2002), 143.
  6. ^ The Encyclopaedia of Islam (article by Clifford Edmund Bosworth) writes: SAMANIDS, a Persian dynasty which ruled in Transoxania and then in Khurasan also, at first as subordinate governors of the Tahirids [q. v. ] and then later autonomous, virtually independent rulers (204-395/819-1005)
  7. ^ A historical atlas of Uzbekistan, by Aisha Khan, published by The Rosen Publishing Group, 2003, ISBN 0-8239-3868-9, ISBN 978-0-8239-3868-1, pg. 23
  8. ^ The Cambridge History of Iran, by Richard Nelson Frye, William Bayne Fisher, John Andrew Boyle, published by Cambridge University Press, 1975, ISBN 0-521-20093-8, ISBN 978-0-521-20093-6, pg. 164
  9. ^ The New Encyclopædia Britannica, by Encyclopædia Britannica Publishers, Inc. Staff, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc, published by Encyclopædia Britannica, 1987, ISBN 0-85229-443-3, ISBN 978-0-85229-443-7, pg. 891
  10. ^ The monumental inscriptions from early Islamic Iran and Transoxiana, by Sheila Blair, Published by BRILL, 1992, ISBN 90-04-09367-2, ISBN 978-90-04-09367-6, pg. 27.
  11. ^ Pourshariati, Parvaneh (2008). Decline & Fall of the Sassanian Empire. I.B. Tauris. p. 463. 
  12. ^ Canfield L.,, Robert (2002). Turko-Persia in Historical Perspective. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521522915. 
  13. ^ Bosworth, C. Edmund (15 December 1987). "ASAD B. SĀMĀNḴODĀ, ancestor of the Samanid dynasty". Encyclopædia Iranica. Retrieved 24 January 2015. 
  14. ^ a b Britannica, "The Samanids", Their eponym was Sāmān-Khodā, a landlord in the district of Balkh and, according to the dynasty’s claims, a descendant of Bahrām Chūbīn, the Sāsānian general.[2] or [3]
  15. ^ Elton Daniel, The History of Iran, 75.
  16. ^ Tabaḳāt-i-nāsiri: a general history of the Muhammadan dynastics of Asia, pg.31, By Minhāj Sirāj Jūzjānī
  17. ^ The historical, social and economic setting by M. S. Asimov, pg.79
  18. ^ Bosworth, C. Edmund (15 December 1998). "ESMĀʿĪL, b. Aḥmad b. Asad SĀMĀNĪ, ABŪ EBRĀHĪM". Encyclopædia Iranica. Retrieved 24 January 2015. 
  19. ^ Kamoliddin, Shamsiddin S. "To the Question of the Origin of the Samanids", Transoxiana: Journal Libre de Estudios Orientales, ]
  20. ^ a b Iran and America: Re-Kind[l]ing a Love Lost By Badi Badiozamani, Ghazal Badiozamani, pg. 123
  21. ^ History of Bukhara by Narshakhi, Chapter XXIV, Pg 79
  22. ^ The Monumental Inscriptions from Early Islamic Iran and Transoxiana By Sheila S. Blair, pg. 27
  23. ^ a b c d The History of Iran by Elton L. Daniel, pg. 74
  24. ^ Renee Grousset, The Empire of the Steppes:A History of Central Asia, Transl. Naomi Walford, (Rutgers University Press, 1991), 142.
  25. ^ "Samanids", C. E. Bosworth, The Encyclopedia of Islam, Vol. VIII, Ed. C. E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs and G. Lecomte, (E.J. Brill, 1995), 1026.
  26. ^ "Samanids", C. E. Bosworth, 1027.
  27. ^ The Book of Government, or, Rules for Kings: The Siyar al-Muluk, or, Siyasat-nama of Nizam al-Mulk, Niẓām al-Mulk, Hubert Darke, pg. 18–19
  28. ^ History of Islam (Vol 3) by Akbar Shah Najeebabadi, pg. 330
  29. ^ Ibn Khallikan's Biographical Dictionary by Ibn Khallikān, pg. 329
  30. ^ D. G. Tor, "The Islamization of Central Asia in the Sāmānid era and the reshaping of the Muslim world", Bulletin of SOAS, 72, 2 (2009), pg 283. School of Oriental and African Studies, United Kingdom
  31. ^ Tabaḳāt-i-nāsiri: A General History of the Muhammadan Dynastics of Asia, pg. 32, by Minhāj Sirāj Jūzjānī
  32. ^ He dispossessed an indigenous family who had ruled in Ḡazna, the Lawīks (?), and following him a series of slave commanders, ruled there as nominal vassals of the Samanids; they struck coins but placed the names of the Samanids on them
  33. ^ Gardīzī, ed. Ḥabībī, pp. 161-62; Jūzjānī, Ṭabaqāt, I, pp. 226-27; Neẓām-al-Molk, pp. 142-58; Šabānkāraʾī, pp. 29-34; Bosworth, 1965, pp. 16-21
  34. ^ Flury, pp. 62-63
  35. ^ "GHAZNAVIDS" Encyclopædia Iranica. Retrieved 17 August 2014
  36. ^ a b Sinor, Denis, ed. (1990), The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0 521 24304 1 
  37. ^ Davidovich, E. A. (1998), "Chapter 6 The Karakhanids", in Asimov, M.S.; Bosworth, C.E., History of Civilisations of Central Asia, 4 part I, UNESCO Publishing, pp. 119–144, ISBN 92-3-103467-7 
  38. ^ "Mihragan", J. Calmard, The Encyclopedia of Islam, Vol.VII, Ed. C. E.Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W. P. Heinrichs and C. Pellat, (Brill, 1993), 18.
  39. ^ C.E. Bosworth, The Ghaznavids: 994-1040, (Edinburgh University Press, 1963), 131.
  40. ^ An Ismaili Heresiography: The "Bab Al-Shaytan" from Abu Tammam's Kitab Al ... By Wilferd Madelung, Paul Ernest Walker, pg. 5
  41. ^ Michael Dillon, Xinjiang: China's Muslim far Northwest, (RoutledgeCurzon, 2004), 11.
  42. ^ History of Bukhara, By Narshakhi trans. Richard N. Frye, pg. 143
  43. ^ The modern Uzbeks: from the fourteenth century to the present : a cultural history, by Edward Allworth, pg. 19
  44. ^ The book of government, or, Rules for kings: the Siyar al-Muluk, or, Siyasat-nama of Nizam al-Mulk, Niẓām al-Mulk, Hubert Darke, pg. 14