VI. IRANIANS, 2nd Wave

  • Saffarids: They were Islamic. They were an upstart non-noble dynasty whose founder, Yaqub, was a coppersmith! In 873 AD, he led his local band of warriors in a successful war of independence from the Islamic Abbasid Arabs. (The Abbasids retained complete control of their core area around Baghdad.) This emergent Saffarid state comprised a large region north of the Persian Gulf and east of the Caspian Sea. Yaqub was succeeded by his brother, Amr. Amr improved the legitimacy of the Saffarid state by accepting an appointment as the Abbasid’s viceroy over the area he controlled. The Saffarids were conquered by, and the northern part of their lands taken over by, the Samanids in 900 AD. The Abbasids reestablished their control over the southern part of what had been the Saffarid realm. The Samanids sent Amr to the Abbasid capital in Baghdad where he was executed two years later.
  • Samanids: They were Islamic. They were a well-developed settled culture with a strong military capability, not a true nomad culture. The Samanid family consisted of local notables who served as cooperative vassals of the Islamic Arab Abbasid Empire. They governed the region east of the Aral Sea in the name of the Abbasids. Isma’il Samanid was named governor of the region by the Abbasids in 893 AD. Under Isma’il, the Samanids acted with much greater independence than their official status implied. Led by Isma’il, they made a hugely successful booty and livestock raid on the still-pagan Karluk Turks of the Talas region starting in 893 AD. They conquered the Saffarids and took over the northern part of their lands in 900 AD. Isma’il was assassinated by treasonous palace guardsmen of Turkic ethnicity in 914 AD.

In accordance with what became established practice in the Islamic world, the soldiers of the Samanid army were mostly slaves; they were bought in the slave markets and then trained to be soldiers subservient to the ruler. These slave soldiers were called “ghulams” which means “boys.” Ghulam slave soldiers who performed well could achieve upward mobility in government service, even rising to governorships over provinces. It was a system that may seem peculiar to people of modern Western culture. It was a system which worked well as long as the state employing it was expanding through conquest and scooping up the booty it needed to buy the loyalty of its slave soldiers.

Today, the Samanids are mostly famous for the high level of refinement and sophistication of their art and culture. They had a large urban population among whom scientists, mathematicians, poets, and book authors thrived. They were a major mercantile economic power. They were chiefly responsible for the successful spread of Islam over central Asia.

The Sunni Moslem Samanids were weakened by a protracted and inconclusive war with the Shia Moslem Buyid Persians in the 940s and 950s AD. Ever-worsening internal disputes doomed the Samanids. In 992 AD, a rebellious Samanid noble asked for help from the Karakhanid Turks. A Karakhanid army granted the request and temporarily occupied the Samanid capital city of Bukhara. The king of the Samanids asked the Ghaznavid Turks for help in suppressing the rebellion. The Ghaznavids granted the request but claimed a peripheral slice of the Samanid realm as their reward. Inviting foreign intervention in their internal dispute was a fatal mistake for the Samanids. The fact that the Karakhanid and Ghaznavid Turks had by this time embraced Islam conferred upon the Turks a political legitimacy they had lacked when they were pagans. In 999 AD, the Samanid state vanished when the Karakhanid Turks seized the northern part and the Ghaznavid Turks led by Mahmud of Ghazni seized the southern part of their lands.