Figure 1. Map of the Strait of Hormuz, adapted from Map of Islamic Republic of Iran, scale 1: 1,6000,000. Courtesy of the Gitashenasi Geographical and Cartographic Institute, Tehran, 2002.

Hormuz fell to the Arabs in 650-51. In the 10th century, the town of Hormuz was the chief port for Kermān and Sistān, although the main Persian Gulf port was Jannāba (see GANĀVA). It was known for its cultivation of a variety of millet (ḏorra), indigo, cumin, and sugarcane, while it allegedly supplied all of Persia with dates. Irrigation was by subterranean channels (qanāt). Hormuz was situated at the head of a bay called Jayz (Ḵabr in Ebn Ḥawqal). It had great warehouses, many of them in outlying villages. Hormuz is mentioned by Šarif (ca. 1150) as Hormuz al-Sāḥeliya “Hormuz of the shore” (to distinguish it from the inland cities of the same name then existing), as a large and well-built city, the chief mart of Kermān (Balāḏori, Fotuhá, pp. 391-92; Ḥodud al-ʿālam, p. 127, tr. Minorsky, p. 124; Eṣṭaḵri, pp. 163, 166, 167; Ebn Ḥawqal, pp. 309, 311, 312; tr. Kramers and Wiet, pp. 304, 305, 307; Edrisi, ed. Bombaci, pp. 435, 436, tr., p. 424; Le Strange, p. 318; Spuler, Iran, pp. 17, 388-89, 403).

From about 1100, Hormuz was the seat of a petty dynasty of princes, who probably originated from Oman. To control both sides of the Persian Gulf, the Hormuz principality also occupied and developed Qalhāt and Jolfār on the coast of Oman; the former was damaged by an earthquake in the mid-14th century. The Hormuz princes were vassals of the Atābaks of Fārs (see ATĀBAKĀN-E FĀRS) or of the rulers of Kermān, depending on the political situation. In 1228, the Hormuz ruler conquered Qays (the present-day Kiš) Island for the Atābaks, to whom it was transferred in 1230. After 1278, Hormuz was weakened due to dynastic infighting and assassinations; different pretenders were either supported by the rulers of Fārs or Kermān. Despite the dynastic troubles, Marco Polo, who visited the town twice (1272, 1293), remarked on the flourishing trade and its bad climate. Amir Bahāʾ-al-Din Ayāz, a slave and confidant of Noṣrat, one of the murdered rulers of Hormuz, took over the government of Hormuz in 1296 with help from Fārs. Because of continued Chaghatay incursions against Southeast Persia, Ayāz decided to move the entire population and its possessions to the small island of Jarun (Organa of Nearchus), which he bought from the Fārs rulers (Spuler, Mongolen, pp. 118, 122-27; Marco Polo, I, p. 107; Wilson, pp. 102-4). The remnants of what once was the port of Old Hormuz can still be seen at 10 km southwest of Mināb and 15 km from the coast, on a creek which communicates with the Mināb River, but is partially silted up and is not now accessible to vessels. There remain traces of a long wharf and extensive ruins (Waṣṣāf, pp. 181-86; Šabānkāraʾi, pp. 215 ff.; Eqtedāri, pp. 726-37; Barthold, p. 144, n. 62).

The island. The island is about 60 km west of Old Hormuz and 6 km from the nearest point on the mainland. As the location for the center of the kingdom, it was not a very promising one. It had no fresh water, no vegetation, and was extremely hot in summer. All its supplies had to be imported from the Oman and Persian mainlands and Qešm Island. However, it had a strategic location that made it safe from tribal incursions, as well as from Timur’s attack at the end of the 14th century. The new town, as well as a harbor built at the northern, sheltered side of the island, was called New Hormuz. The new town occupied a triangular plain in the northern part of the island, the southern wall, as its remains still show, being about 3 km in extent from east to west. Over time the epithet “new” was dropped, and the town and the island became known as Hormuz; the name Jarun was transferred to the fishing village of Soru, the present-day Bandar ʿAbbās (q.v), on the mainland (Le Strange, p. 318; Eqtedāri, pp. 726-37). New Hormuz thus became the point of transshipment of goods to and from smaller ports in the Persian Gulf that were connected by caravan tracks to markets in the interior. Hormuz obtained dominance by providing security in the market, in the land and maritime trading routes as well as through the elimination of alternative ports of transshipments. The latter required constant attention, since others regularly tried to develop their own attraction. Ayāz ruled till 1311-12, when a member of the Hormuz princely family replaced him. In 1320, Mir Qoṭb-al-Din Tahamtan captured the island of Qays, which until then had been a flourishing commercial center for the Atābaks of Fārs. He also took Bahrain (q.v.). Having done away with the main competitors, Hormuz became the main center for imports and export from the countries bordering on the Persian Gulf. Despite some continued family strife, Hormuz became a flourishing town that brought its inhabitants wealth for the next 300 years (Spuler, Mongolen, pp. 118, 122-27; Aubin, 1953).

Friar Odoric of Pordorone provides the earliest notice (ca. 1320) we have of the new city. He called it Ormes, a city strongly fortified and abounding in costly wares, having no trees and no fresh water, unhealthy and incredibly hot (Yule, 1866, p. 112). The town was visited some years later more than once by Ebn Baṭuṭṭa, according to whom, “Hormuz is a town on the coast, called also Mughistan, and in the sea facing it and nine miles from shore is New Hormuz, which is an island. The town on it is called Jarawn. It is a large and fine city, with busy markets” (Ebn Baṭuṭṭa, tr. Gibb, II, p. 400, tr. Mowaḥḥed, I, pp. 299-301; Wilson, p. 105). ʿAbd-al-Razzāq Samarqandi (R. H. Major, ed., India in the Fifteenth Century, London, 1857, Part 1, pp. 5-7), who was in Hormuz in 1442, found it a major emporium, frequented by the merchants from Egypt, Syria, Anatolia, all Persian provinces, Turkestan, southern Russia, China, Java, Bengal, Tenasserim, Shahr-e nao (i.e., Thailand), Socotra, Bijapur, the Maldives, Malabar, Abyssinia, Zanzibar, Vijayanagar, Golbarga, Gujarat, Cambay, Arabia, Aden, Jedda, and Yemen. Afanasy Nikitine, the Russian traveler (ca. 1472) referred to it as “a vast emporium where there were peoples and goods of every description from all parts of the world,” although with high customs duties (Major; Nikitine, p. 21, apud Lockhart, p. 585). “The Venetian J. Barbaro, who also visited Hormuz some years later, likewise praised it as a commercial center” (Stanley, ed., p. 79, apud Lockhart, p. 585).

At the end of September 1507, a Portuguese fleet under Alfonso de Albuquerque (q.v.) attacked Hormuz, defeated the local fleet, and killed many people. He made the town of Jarun a Portuguese tributary and imposed on its people an annual payment of 15,000 ašrafis (q.v.). He also started the building of a fort, but trouble with four captains in his fleet forced him to leave the island in February 1508 before the fort was completed. He returned in March 1515 and established Portuguese rule, which lasted for over a hundred years. The Safavid Shah Esmāʿil I protested against the incursion, but he was too preoccupied with Uzbegs and Ottomans to do anything about it; and, besides, Persia did not have a fleet. Hormuz continued for some time the age-old policy of paying an annual fixed tribute (moqarrariya) to the mainland rulers to ensure safe passage of commercial traffic to and from the island (Smith, pp. 9-11, 79-81; Wilson, pp. 118 ff.; Aubin, 1953, p. 123; idem, 1973). The Portuguese, however, put a stop to this payment. Jolfār (present-day Raʾs al-Ḵayma) was tributary to Hormuz. Its trade brought “in a great revenue to the king of Ormuz.” (Barbosa, I., p. 73) The Portuguese, therefore, also quickly took Jolfār and other ports of the Persian Gulf. The Hormuz princes remained nominally in power, but they owed allegience to the Portuguese king and lost control over many of their own vassals. Hormuz continued to prosper under Portuguese rule, despite a local revolt in 1521-22 and naval attacks by the Ottomans in 1552 and in 1581 (Barbosa, I, pp. 90-105; Qāʾemmaqāmi, pp. 133-36; Salih Özarban, “The Otoman Turks and the Portuguese in the Persian Gulf, 1534-1581,” Journal of Asian History 6/1, 1972, pp. 45-87; Wilson, pp. 106-9, 123, 125-26; Aubin, 1973).

In 1540, Michele Membré described Hormuz as “small; it seemed to me to have 2,000 hearths in number, and the fort is very small. It is adjacent to the city, with one part next to the city and one part in the sea, and it has much artillery and the houses are around it. Inside it has a large water citadel. All the people of the city are Moors and a few Portuguese. In the said city they make a very great traffic of merchandise, for merchants of all the world are found there, and sometimes there is scarcity of provisions, and sometimes great abundance. Ships come to the said city of Hormuz from everywhere, that is, from Basra, from India and from the Straits of Mecca. For great business is done in divers merchandise” (Membré, p. 54; see also Matuz; Van Linschoten, pp. 47, 51; Balbi, p. 118; Fitch). In 1617 de Silva y Figueroa estimated the number of households at 2,500-3,000, of which 200 were Portuguese. Hormuz was not only important from an economic and military point of view in Portuguese strategy, but also became the launching pad for Portuguese missionary activities in Persia and the Middle East until 1622. Francis Xavier personally selected the Jesuit Gaspar Barzeus to initiate such activities from Hormuz. From 1585 there also was an Augustinian convent on the island that served as a missionary bulwark and as an intermediary for political missions to the Safavid court (Trigault; Alonso, 1979).

The strong-willed Shah ʿAbbās I (q.v.) could not tolerate the Portuguese holdings in what he considered to be Persian territory. In 1602, his general Allāhverdi Khan took Bahrain, which had been in Portuguese hands since 922/1516-17, and in 1614 Gamru (Gombron), the last foothold of the Portuguese on the Persian mainland. With naval help from the English East India Company, Allāhverdi’s son, Emāmqoli Khan, was able to take Qešm and Hormuz in 1622 after a fierce battle. After the destruction of the fort in Hormuz, its ruins served to build houses in Bandar ʿAbbās, as Gamru was called henceforth, while they also served as ballast for the seagoing ships (Eskandar Beg, pp. 614-16, 979-82; tr. Savory, pp. 804 ff., 1202-4; Falsafi, IV, pp. 214-19; Dunlop, p. 30; Boxer, 1982; for a drawing see Foster, p. 161; Wilson, pp. 143-48).

Shah ʿAbbās I and his successors did not want Hormuz to be used as a commercial base and therefore did nothing to develop the island. This did not mean that Hormuz remained totally desolate and abandoned. Some of the officers (yuz-bāšis) of the Persian troops who had conquered the island were charged with the island’s administration and given land around Mināb for their upkeep. Their main function was to make sure that nobody else would use the island against Persia and its commercial interests. Hormuz remained an importer of all its needs; most of its population spent the summer ashore in Mināb in date plantations. Its economic role remained limited as a producer of rock salt and iron oxide (mostly as ballast), in addition to fishing. Its strategic position became a matter of some interest to the Dutch in 1684 during the second Dutch-Iranian commercial conflict as well as in 1627-29, when the Dutch wanted to be free of Afghan oppression and considered moving their factory to the island. The Imam of Masqat besieged the island in 1717, but was unable to take it. The Bani Maʿin, who had replaced the Safavid yuz-bāšis as administrators of the island in the 1730s, supplied crews to Nāder Shah’s fleet and were among the mutineers in 1741 that took part of the fleet (Floor, 1987; idem, 1988a, pp. 51-56, 189-88 and index; idem, 1998, pp. 339-72). The Shaikh of Hormuz tried in vain to induce the Dutch to settle on the island in 1760 (Floor, 1989, pp. 71-72). The Bani Maʿin joined Masqat forces in attacking Bandar Lenga and Bandar ʿAbbās in 1773, although they fell out later. In 1795, the Imam settled a group called the Sowaydis on Hormuz, who started to attack shipping that did not have a Masqat customs pass. When they attacked British ships in 1803, which had tax exemption, the British forced the Imam to evict the Sowaydis from Hormuz. The Bani Maʿin immediately retook possession of Hormuz as well as of the neighboring islands and Bandar ʿAbbās. From 1798 till 1854, Hormuz was part of the Masqat administration as a result of the lease agreement with Persia. It became an unimportant island, where rock salt and iron oxide deposits continued to be worked. In the summer, most inhabitants migrated to the mainland, especially to Mināb. The only permanent inhabitants were fishermen (Risso, pp. 172, 175, 177, 181, 197; Sadid-al-Salṭana, 1984, pp. 89-91, 203-10, 343-52, 697; Whitelock; Kempthorne; Pelly; Wilson, p. 188). In the 20th century the main occupation of the Hormuz population (3,000 in 1977) was fishing (Māzandarāni and Kāzeruni), while, as of the 1990s, smuggling also has become an important source of income. The island regained its strategic importance, not only because 80 percent of the world’s oil exports pass through the straits of Hormuz, but also due to the hostile U.S.-Persian relationship after the Revolution of 1979.



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(Willem Floor)

Originally Published: December 15, 2004

Last Updated: March 23, 2012

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