History of Iran – Part 4

Arab Conquest to Kharazm-Shahs (The Beginning of Dark Period in Iran’s History)

History of Iran Part 4

History of Iran – Part 4

Arab Conquest to Kharazm-Shahs (The Beginning of Dark Period in Iran's History)

Alexander the Great overthrew the Achaemenid Empire in the course of his ambitious, expansionist world conquering campaign. Unlike Alexander, Arabs who put an end to the Sasanian rule, were in large part impelled by their missionary zeal for the spreading of a new religion, Islam, rather than by a desire for mere conquest. Conversion to Islam was fairly rapid among the urban population, but the majority of Iranians did not become Muslim until the 9th century. The Arabs melted down Sasanid works of silver and gold to cast the metals into coins. They defaced Sasanid sculptures and battered Sasanid palaces into rubble. The magnificent Baharestan Carpet, with its border of emeralds representing green meadows, and its watercourses of pearls, was cut up into small pieces and divided among the soldiers. The Persians, temperamentally different from the Arabs, were significantly better educated than their new masters. In consequence, they became followers of a form of Islam somewhat different from that practiced by the Arabs – “Shiism”.

But to me, there is no difference between any religions, as long as they promote kindness and love, they are good, otherwise they are non-sense. Anyway, the uprising in Khorasan put an end to Umayyad Caliphate, and brought the power to new Abbasid Caliphs. The Abbasid dynasty was not Persian, but gradually assumed a purely Persian character. The new capital was established in Baghdad, not far from the Sasanid capital of Ctisphone. A caliph sat on the throne, but it was a Persian grand vizier who actually ruled. By the end of their supremacy, the Abbasid caliphs has become religious figureheads, while the real power was concentrated in the hands of their vassals. Anyway, numerous rebellions took the form of peasant revolts, coalesced by the popular religious appeal of men who were accorded mysterious powers. Abu Moslem became one such messianic figure. Another was al-Moqana, “the veiled prophet of Khorasan”. The Khorramdinan, led by Babak, were another vigorous military power which was suppressed only by great effort. These uprisings, though ultimately unsuccessful, threatened the Muslim Empire by the emergence of an Iranian spirit of independence, and prepared the way for the indigenous Iranian dynasties. The Iranian ruling house of Taherian was established in Khorasan, where it governed successfully for more than fifty years. The Saffarid dynasty which emerged in Sistan and Yaqub Leis Saffarid was the first fully independent Iranian-Islamic dynasty. Eventually the Saffarids established their rule over a vast area stretching from Fars and Khuzestan to Sind and Afghanistan. Yaghub even marched on Baghdad, but was halted by the Caliph’s troops and died soon after. He minted his own coins, developed a new style of army and required that verses in his praise be put into his own language. This language was Persian, and not Arabic, which had been the official language of the Muslim Empire. Yaghub’s brother and successor, Amru, attempted to conquer Transoxiana, but was defeated by a new Iranian power, the Samanids. Although Amru was put to death in Baghdad, his family survived as Samanid vassals in Sistan until at least the 16th century.

The Samanids claimed descent from Bahram Chubin, the famous Sasanid general. Under their regime, the Iranian renaissance came at last to fruition. Rudaki the first poet to compose verses in the modern Persian language, was greeted at the Samanid court, as was Ferdowsi who started his great epic Shahnameh under Samanid patronage (we discussed about Early History of Iranian Myths according to the Ferdowsi’s book, Shahnameh in Blog and Aryana Podcast).
The Ziarids ruled in the Caspian provinces of Gorgan and Mazandaran and soon expanded their domain as far south as Hamedan and Esfahan. Kabus ibn Voshmgir attracted many scientists and artists to his court, and built a tomb-tower which is one of the finest surviving monuments.
The Buyids were the most brilliant early Islamic dynasty. They belonged to a collateral branch of the Sasanid family, and their ancestors reigned in a region between the Alborz Mountains and the Caspian Sea. Because this region was called Deilam, they are also known as the Deilamites. Three brother who actually established the Buyid dynasty served in the army of Mardavij ibn Ziar. After his death, they successfully contended for the throne, and soon greatly expanded their territories. Buyid power reached its Zenith during the reign of Azod al-Dowleh. Taking Fars as his base of operation, he expanded his empire from Khorasan to Iraq. He was one of the greatest rulers in in Iran and after his death, Buyid power started to diminish and soon yielded to Turkish Ghaznavid and Seljuk dynasties.
Within two centuries after the advent of Islam in Iran, Iranian civilization had completely revived, and managed to produce new patterns of art and thought. At the end, the Muslims nurtured and spread the memory of Ancient Persia. Wherever, Muslims penetrated other cultures from the Iberian peninsula to southern Asia, they carried the genius of Persia to a wider world scene.

The Ghaznavid dynasty was founded by Saboktekin, a governor of Ghazna under the Samanids. His son Mahmud continued the expansionist policy, and during his reign, Ghaznavid power reached its peak. Mahmud created an empire that stretched from the Oxus River to the Indian Ocean. Although the Ghaznavids were proud of their Turkic descent, Mahmud encouraged the use of Persians and many great Persians found in his generous patron. Among these were the noted Islamic geographer and scientist Abu-Reihan Biruni and the historian Aboulfazl Beihaghi, author of the Beihaghi History, the first major prose work in modern Persia. Mahmud’s son, Masoud was unable to preserve the power of Ghaznavid Empire. Challenged by the Saljuk Turks, he lost all his territories in Iran and Central Asia. The Seljuks were a clan of the nomad Turks. United under Toghrol Beik, the Saljuks rapidly expanded their realm. They eventually founded an empire that included Mesopotamia, Syria, Palestine and most of Iran. In 1055, the caliph in Baghdad granted Toghrol Beik the King of the East. Under his successor, Alp Arsalan, the Seljuk army defeated the Byzantines and opened Asia Minor to the entry of the Turk tribes. The next ruler, Malek Shah is considered the most remarkable of the Seljuk monarchs. During his rule, Iran enjoyed a cultural and scientific renaissance, owing in large part to his brilliant Iranian Vizier, Nezam al-Molk. The Seljuks were great architectural patrons, and constructed numerous buildings, notable for their decorative masonry, elaborately ornamented portals, and the use of Kufic scripts as an architectural decorative device. Because they had no strong literary heritage of their own, they adopted the cultural language of their Persian instructors. An observatory was established for Omar Khayyam, who succeeded in defining the new Jalali Calendar. Abu Hamed Ghazali, one of the greatest of the Islamic theologians, together other eminent scholars was encouraged at the Seljuk court.

Byzantine VS Seljuk

The Seljuks were Sunnites, and displayed much zeal in their efforts to restore Muslim Unity under the Sunnite Caliphate. Their efforts were impeded by the growing power of the Ismailites, who ultimately murdered Malek and Nezam al-Molk. (In the future, we’ll talk more about the Ismailites and their leader, Hassan Sabbah, the king of Alamut). The last Saljuk king, Toghtol III, died in a battle with the new dynasty of Kharazm-Shahs and by 1200, Seljuk power was at everywhere except in Anatolia.
The Kharazm-Shahs traced their origin from Anushtekin, a Turk who had been keeper of Malek Shah’s kitchen utensils, and had been rewarded with governorship of Kharazm on the Oxus River. Most Iranian petty rulers were obliged to pay heavy tributes to the new rulers. These tributes, however protected their realms from outright invasion, which at its heyday stretched from the borders of India to Anatolia, the Kharazm-Shah Empire was very unstable. Inside the state, its rulers, could quell neither the unceasing civil wars nor the strife for power between provincial leaders, while their enemies in Central Asia threatened them from the outside. The last king of the dynasty, Jalal al-Din, tried to unite the country in the face of Mongol invasion, but failed to enlist the support of the Iranian regions. The Kharazm-Shah Empire fell prey to the Mongol hordes.

Aryana Podcast – History of Iran – Part 3

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