Introduction. The history of Isfahan prior to the city’s efflorescence in the 17th century often traced alternating cycles of urbanization and de-urbanization. Periods of urbanization brought about the extension of city limits, as well as a rapid rise in construction and settlement within its confines, increased the volume of mercantile trade and monetized economy, and encouraged various forms of literary activity. De-urbanization entailed depopulation of the city and surrounding countryside, dilapidation of constructions, shift toward a pastoral economy, and marked cultural decline. Major political transformations punctuated such cyclical transitions between urbanization and de-urbanization in Isfahan’s history.

Arab conquest. Wars of conquest led by Arab armies in the 1st/7th century coincided with and exacerbated a phase of intense de-urbanization in the Sasanid province of Isfahan. Before their invasion, from among the seven towns of the province—Kahṯa, Jār, Mehrbon, Darrām, Jay, Qeh (or Qeh-Jāvarsān), and Sārūya—the first four already had fallen into ruins and the invading armies wiped out the last two (Abu Noʿaym, I, p. 14). Great numbers of people were killed or captured and enslaved during the conquests (Abu Noʿaym, I, p. 28), and the settlement pattern of the region changed.

The timeline of Arab conquests (fotuḥāt) as preserved in primary sources is generally erratic (Donner), and particularly problematic in the case of Isfahan (Noth). The summary presented here, based on a comparative reading of various sources, aims to reconstruct a consistent narrative from a number of conflicting accounts (for various accounts of the conquest of Isfahan, see Abu’l-Šayḵ, I, pp. 178-90; Ṭabari, I, pp. 2637-641, tr. pp. 7 ff.; Abu Noʿaym, I, pp. 19-30; Balʿami, I, pp. 519-20; Balāḏori, pp. 312-15). It is commonly accepted that Arab armies conquered the province of Isfahan in the wake of their grand victory (fatḥ al-fotuḥ) in Nehāvand (ca. 19/640). Shortly after the battle of Nehāvand, most likely during the early months of the year 21/winter 642, Caliph ʿOmar b. Ḵaṭṭāb, acting on the advice of his Persian client Hormozān (d. 23/644, q.v.), ordered troops from Kufa and Baṣra to proceed toward the town of Jay in the province of Isfahan. Primary sources often conflate the name of ʿOmar’s dispatched commander, but generally agree that several men named ʿAbd-Allāh (ʿabādela) had played important roles in the conquest of Isfahan (Abu Noʿaym, I, p. 27). Some sources emphasize the role of ʿAbd-Allāh b. ʿAbd-Allāh b. ʿEtbān, a Companion of the Prophet, while others mention the young ʿAbd-Allāh b. Bodayl b. Warqāʾ Tamimi, who took his orders from the Companion Abū Mūsā Ašʿari.

The last Sasanid king, Yazdegerd III (d. 31/651), persistently sought to mobilize his provincial governors (marzbāns) against the invading armies, but his efforts proved unsuccessful as he reluctantly ran off from one province to the next, until he was finally killed in Marv. Caliph ʿOmar sought to chase Yazdegerd out of Sasanid territories and thereby uproot the sporadic military agitations that the latter stirred. It was probably the pursuit of Yazdegerd on his way to Khorasan that brought Arab armies to Isfahan.

The first place to be conquered in the province of Isfahan was an unspecified village called Rostāq al-Šayḵ, which lay between Nehāvand and Jay. There Arab armies confronted the native people under the regional ruler (ostandār). The commander of Persian armies, a senior veteran named Šahrbarāz Jāḏuya was killed in the battle, and a great number of the natives were slaughtered (Ṭabari, I, p. 2638; tr., XIV, pp. 6-7; Balʿami, I, p. 519; Abu Noʿaym, I, p. 25). Eventually, the Fāḏusfān (q.v.) of Isfahan, who held the rank of a local king (malek; Abu Noʿaym, I, p. 25; Ṭabari, I, pp. 2638-39) surrendered the entire province.

The round fortress-town of Jay comprised the principal city of the province of Isfahan. Before the Arab conquest, Jay had no non-military settlers. Local peasants who worked on the surrounding countryside resided in the town of Qeh, and the doors of Jay only opened to them in times of serious threat. Arab conquerors demolished the town of Qeh, evicted its surviving population, and forcibly settled them inside Jay. Thus, the fortress-town of Jay was settled by a permanent, non-military population for the first time during the Arab conquest of the region (Abu Noʿaym, I, pp. 15-16). Earlier, the sixth-century Sasanid general, Maṭyār (Mahyār?), who has been erroneously credited by Abu Noʿaym with having conquered Constantinople for King Ḵosrow II Parvēz (r. 590-628), had built the first place of residence (dār) inside Jay (Abu Noʿaym, I, p. 16).

By the year 23/644, after a few failed revolts, Isfahan had capitulated, and treaties were in place with conquerors for the payment of taxes and tribute in exchange for military protection. A per-capita tribute ( jezya) for the indigenous able-bodied, adult male population was conceded, and it was agreed in principle that lands should remain in the hands of the native population. Those who did not accept the terms of the new treaty were driven out into Kermān, and their lands were repossessed (for contents of the treaty, see Abū Noʿaym, I, p. 26). Treasuries of the province were depleted, and invaders garnered an enormous amount of booty in the first year of conquest. According to Māfarruḵi (p. 12; tr., p. 49) they collected forty millon derhams. The local Jewish community of Isfahan seem to have welcomed the Arab invaders with jubilation (Abu Noʿaym, I, p. 287; Abu’l-Šayḵ, 1, p. 321) and divulged to them the location of treasures hidden in the small but strongly fortified village of Fābezān near the major fire-temple in Dārak. It was not far from there that six thousand heavily-armed men put up a fight, and after their defeat a massacre of the local population took place in the hands of the invading army (Abu Noʿaym. I, p. 28).

At first, Sāʾeb b. Aqraʿ (d. ca. 35/655), whose name is recorded among the Companions of the Prophet and who was related to the Arab general ʿOṯmān b. Abi’l-ʿĀṣ, took local charge of Arab affairs in the province of Isfahan. His descendants remained influential in Isfahan for centuries (Abu Noʿaym, I, pp. 75, 342). Shortly after the conquest, the province of Isfahan came under direct supervision by the governor of ʿErāq. Initially, revenues levied from the province went to Basra, but in the the early Omayyad period (ca. 41/662) they were diverted to Kufa (Abu Noʿaym, I, p. 49; Houtum-Schindler, p. 4), probably because by that time troops that had participated in the conquest of Isfahan, including the Sasanid elite cavalrymen (asāwera, q.v., Mid. Pers. aswār “horseman”) who played an instrumental role in the conquests (Balād¨ori, pp. 372-74; Zakeri, p. 126; Morony, p. 198), had mostly settled in Kufa. A group of those Sasanid cavalrymen, from among the Ḥamrāʾ (lit. “the Red”) who had affiliated themselves with the Arab tribe of Banu Tamim, took land entitlements in the village of Sāmān near the border of Isfahan (Ṭabari, I, pp. 2463-464, II, p. 992; tr., XIII, p. 43, XXII, p. 139; Balāḏori, p. 280; Morony, p. 197; Zakeri, p. 120).

During the first century after its conquest, lands of the province of Isfahan remained a rich source of revenue for the caliphate, especially as Omayyad agents forcibly extracted revenue from the “most docile population” of the prosperous land of Isfahan, where as a contemporary phrased it, “saffron and roses abound; mountains contain mines of silver and bismuth; walnut and almond trees as well as the best of vines grow there. Honeybees fly around, fresh water flows, and finest mares roam about. The food is healthy, water pure, soil fecund, and air clean: meat remains edible there longer than it does anywhere else” (see letter by Ḥajjāj b. Yusof to his tax agent Vehzād b. Yazdād Anbāri, in Abu’l-Šayḵ, I, pp. 152-53; Abu Noʿaym I, p. 37; tr., pp. 80-81). A relatively steady annual yield of about twelve million derhams is reported from the province (Māfarruḵi, I, p. 12; Qomi, p. 31).

In a few instances, Omayyad opponents, such as the Kufa-based rebel Moḵtār b. Abi ʿObayda Ṯaqafi (66-67/685-87) and the Qoraši counter-caliph ʿAbd-Allāh b. Zobayr (d. 72/691), temporarily seized control of the province and deprived the caliphate of its revenues. Azraqi Kharejites, led by Qaṭari b. Fojāʿa Tamimi (d. 78 or 79) and his allies, who roved around Isfahan and mixed with the indigenous peasantry, posed a more pugnacious peril to Omayyad agents in the region. After the year 68/678, when ʿAttāb b. Warqā’ Tamimi (d. ca. 80/699; see Abu Noʿaym, II, pp. 148-49) decisively pushed the Kharejite threat away from the province, the Arab presence in Isfahan increased, and it seems that Islam began to acquire a firmer footing in Isfahan as of this time.

Early on, Arab settlers had taken up residence outside the walls of Jay and did not mix with the native population, but they gradually moved inside the fortress-town. Some Arab tribal groups, from among the BanuTamim, Banu Qays, Banu ʿAnaza, and Qaḥṭāni Arabs, collectively appropriated pastures and agricultural lands in various parts of the province of Isfahan. In particular, Taymi Arabs settled the village of Ṭehrān not far from Jay (Qomi, pp. 264-65; Abu Noʿaym, I, p. 17).

A few brick and clay buildings with unadorned exteriors served as mosques in the 1st/7th-century Isfahan. Archeological excavations, interpreted in the light of textual sources, corroborate the building of a mosque over an earlier Zoroastrian or Christian site at one of the gates of Jay (Mir-Fattāḥ dates the unearthed edifice to later centuries, but the results of this excavation are consistent with a report by Abu Noʿaym, II, p. 345 concerning the foundation of an early mosque at a local monastery [dayr] outside Jay, during the conquest of the province). This mosque was also associated with the tomb of a fallen Companion of the Prophet, Ḥomama b. Abi Ḥomama Dawsi, who was killed (ca. 21/642) and buried nearby (Abu Noʿaym, I, p. 71), and the site remained a venerated cemetery in following centuries. A large mosque was built in the village of Ḵošinān during the caliphate of ʿAli b. Abi Ṭāleb (r. 35-40/656-61) by a certain Abu Ḵonās, mawlā of ʿOmar b. Ḵaṭṭāb, and another one was constructed early on in Bāḏāna (or Vāḏāna) quarter by the Arab commander Walid b. Ṯomāma (Abu Noʿaym, I, p. 17). Literary sources further mention an early mosque that was located inside Jay and carried the name of a certain Joljela b. Bodayl Tamimi. The early Hadith transmitter and Qurʾan reciter Saʿid b. Jobayr (d. 94/713), who stayed a few years in hiding from Omayyad persecution with the family of Qāsem b. Bahrām Eṣfahāni near Jay, regularly prayed at that mosque (Abu’l-Šayḵ, I, p. 315; Abu Noʿaym, I, pp. 324-25). It seems plausible to assume that the edifice referred to as the Jorjir or Jurjir mosque (alternatively pronounced as Juji, Juja, and Joʾjoʾ by the natives: Jāberi-e Anṣāri, p. 223; Honarfar, pp. 40-43) in Jay is indeed the same mosque dating to the 1st/7th century that was named after Joljela b. Bodayl. (For alternative dating to the 4th/10th, without considering this significant early evidence, see Goddard, who only relies on the later testimony of Māfarruḵi and and its translation, p. 63.)

Early mosques played an instrumental role in the spread of Islam in Isfahan. By the end of the 1st/7th century, at least one copy of the Qurʾan had reached Jay (Abu’l-Šayḵ, I, p. 415; Abu Noʿaym, II, p. 159). Some descendants of those who had been captured during the conquest of the province a couple of generations earlier had become Muslims and returned to their ancestral land. Ḥabib b. Zobayr b. Moškān Helāli Eṣfahāni, member of an indigenous pre-Islamic princely family, whose father had been captured and sold into slavery a few decades earlier, returned to Isfahan toward the end of the 1st/7th century and assumed a leadership role among local Muslims. His descendants, referred to as the Zobayris, played important roles in the future life of Isfahan (Abu’l-Šayḵ, I, pp. 372-77; Abu Noʿaym, I, pp. 294-95, II/334; Kamaly, index of names, s.v.). The province of Isfahan even came to have its first Muslim judge, namely ʿAbd-Allāh b. Abi Maryam Omawi (d. ca. 100; see Abu Noʿaym, II, p. 45; Abu’l-Šayḵ, I, pp. 439-41; not mentioned by Tsafrir), from whom a distinguished family of men of religious learning later descended in Isfahan.

The anti-Omayyad uprising of the Ṭālebi rebel, ʿAbd-Allāh b. Moʿāwia (q.v.) b. ʿAbd-Allāh b. Jaʿfar b. Abi Ṭāleb (d. 131/749; for this date, see Abu Noʿaym, II, pp. 42-43), which defined a decisive moment in the course of the ʿAbbasid Revolution, was centered at the province of Isfahan. By 128/745, ʿAbd-Allāh b. Moʿāwia had come to lead large numbers of troops recruited from among a diverse base, including Zaydis, Yamanis, other Arab dissenters, militant elements from among doctrinal extremists (ḡolāt, q.v.), Kharejites (Madelung, pp. 56-58), local peasants, and even members of the ʿAbbasid family, most notably the later ʿAbbasid caliph al-Manṣūr. Significant numbers of Ṭālebi Arabs and their affiliates migrated to Iranian lands, including Isfahan, at this time (see Ebn Ṭabāṭabā for places were they settled). Isfahan was the main stronghold from which ʿAbd-Allāh b. Moʿāwia ruled for more than two years over vast territories in the Jebāl, Ahvāz, Fārs, Kermān, and Khorasan. Coins struck in his name in Isfahan provide the earliest numismatic evidence of the spreading uprising that eventually toppled the Omayyads (Broome).

Important battles took place in and around Isfahan during this time. Abu Moslem Ḵorāsāni (k. 137/755, q.v.), the architect of the ʿAbbasid victory, who is said to have been born in Faridan near Isfahan (Abu Noʿaym, II, p. 109; Māfarruḵi, p. 24, tr. 70), and his lieutenant Qaḥṭaba b. Šabib Ṭāʾi crushed the huge armies of both the Ṭālebi rebel ʿAbd-Allāh b. Moʿāwia and the Omayyad general ʿĀmer b. Żobāra Morri in the province of Isfahan.

At this time, Isfahan was a breeding ground for messianic movements (Bertels, tr., p. 76, n. 2; Qāẓi Noʿmān, part 13). A group of ʿAbd-Allāh b. Moʿāwia’s followers, referred to as the Janāḥiya, refused to accept that he had died and maintained instead that he continued to live in hiding in the mountains around the province (Tucker). The revolt of Abu ʿIsā Eṣfahāni (q.v.), an important Jewish messianic figure whose followers became known as the ʿIsāwiya or the Eṣfahāniya, advocated comparable claims, probably in Isfahan shortly after the accession of al-Manṣur to the ʿAbbasid throne.

Isfahan under the ʿAbbasids. The ʿAbbasid Revolution opened a new chapter in the history of Isfahan. Until then, the province of Isfahan was composed of several “dispersed villages, torn apart towns and decrepit ruins” (Māfarruḵi, p. 9, tr. p. 20). The ʿAbbasid Revolution marked the advent of a new era of rapid urban growth, conversion to Islam, and increased cultural activity, primarily in the form of Hadith transmission, throughout the province.

In 151/770, during the reign of the second ʿAbbasid caliph al-Manṣur (r. 138-58/754-75), his appointed delegate-governor, Ayyūb b. Ziād, set out to build a new fortress and a full-fledged congregational (jāmeʿ) mosque with a pulpit (menbar) and prayer-niche (maqṣura), in the village of Ḵošinān on the banks of a tributary of Zāyandarūd known as the Foresān canal. The mosque may have been constructed around the older mosque in Ḵošinān dating to the reign of ʿAli b. Abi Ṭāleb. The construction effort must have been extensive, because, according to a later report, the new edifice covered an area larger than ten thousand square meters, had twenty-seven entrances, fifty-nine arches, and eighty-six round columns (Abu’l-Šayḵ, I, p. 178). Ayyub b. Ziād extended the limits of Ḵošinān toward what was known as the Jews’ district (kō jahudān, Ar. sekkat al-yahud) outside Jay, and thereby expanded, walled in, and transformed that old neighborhood into a new cantonment-town (meṣr) called Yahudiya (Abu Noʿaym, I, p. 17).

In pre-Islamic times, Yahudiya comprised a small neighborhood of seven hundred jaribs, located about two kilometers outside of Jay, toward the desert of Dardašt. The ʿAbbasid lieutenant Ayyub b. Ziād incorporated the villages of Bāṭerqān, Foresān, Yavān, Ḵorjān, Felfelān, Sonbolān, Forāʾān, Kamāʾān, Juzdān, Lonbān, Aškahān, Jarvāʾān, Barvaskān, and Fābejān (or Fābezān) into the new town of Yahudiya that he had built (Abu Noʿaym, I, p. 17; Abu’l-Šayḵ, I, p. 176; see also, Ebn Ḵordādbeh, pp. 20-21; Ebn al-Faqih, p. 263), and thereafter Yahudiya became the seat of ʿAbbasid rule in the province of Isfahan. It is said that at some point the ʿAbbasid caliph al-Manṣur expressed interest in relocating his capital from Baghdad to that location (Māfarruḵi, pp. 8-9, tr., p. 20. The ancient town of Jay, with its magnificent four gates (Bāb Ḵor, Māhbar, Tirbar, and Gušbar, later Bāb Yāhudiya) and one hundred towers, was initially three times larger than sekkat al-yahud (see figures in Abu’l-Šayḵ, I, p. 176; Abū Noʿaym, I, pp. 15-16), but gradually it was dwarfed in size, population and importance by the ʿAbbasid city of Yahudiya.

Also in the aftermath of the ʿAbbasid Revolution, a permanent marketplace (suq) was established outside Yahudiya, and the foundation of this permanent marketplace marked a milestone in the economic evolution of the emerging city of Isfahan. Seasonal marketplaces in towns and villages had a long history all across the Iranian plateau (see BĀZĀR), but there is no evidence to indicate that permanent marketplaces existed in Isfahan prior to the second half of the 2nd/8th century (for a stronger claim, see Gaube, p. 21). Local histories credit the ʿAbbasid delegate-governor Ayyub b. Ziād with the foundation of the marketplace, where shops and stores were built for traders, merchants, and artisans. Increased volume of coin output from local mints (Noonan) corroborates a general trend of increasing monetization of the economy on the eve of the ʿAbbasid Revolution.

The proper designation of the city of Isfahan, as a geographically delineated part of the province known by the same name, also seems to post-date the ʿAbbasid Revolution (for numismatic corroboration of this statement, cf. Walker, pp. LX f.; Lane-Poole, I, pp. 227-47; Jenāb, pp. 12-13; Kamaly, p. 30). It was only from that time on that the city of Isfahan became known as comprised of the twin towns of Yahudiya and Šahrestān, where the latter name referred to Jay and its immediate environs. It should therefore be stressed that statements to the effect that “Isfahan,” rather than Jay, was already an administrative capital as far back as the time of the Arsacids, or that Yahudiya constituted one of the twin cities that defined the city of Isfahan under the Sasanids, though widely circulating in modern literature on Iranian cities, are inaccurate and anachronistic. (See, for example, Lockhart, pp. 19-20; Gaube, p. 67; Golombek, p. 20; Rawson, p. 143, n. 529; Le Strange, p. 203; Honarfar, p. 69.)

Between the death of the second ʿAbbasid caliph al-Manṣur (158/775) and the year 184/800, fourteen years into the reign of Hārun al-Rašid (r. 170-193/786-809), direct caliphal interference with local affairs in Isfahan remained minimal. Even the full collection of taxes was not strictly enforced at all times and places. Notably, the district (kura) of Qom, at the time part of the province of Isfahan, often fell behind in payments. In 184/800, Hārun al-Rashid set out on a vigorous campaign to collect overdue revenues from several tax districts, including Isfahan and associated territories. Local sources refer to this year as the “year of residuals” (Ar. plur. mawānīḏ from Pers. sing. mānḏa; the word mistakenly appears as mawāyand in Qomi, p. 29). In 189/805, al-Rašid severed tax obligations of Qom from Isfahan, by redefining the boundaries between the two districts: four rural districts (rostāq) from Isfahan were appended to Qom, while a few districts formerly of Hamadān and Nehāvand were added to Isfahan proper. This brought the total number of rostāqs of Isfahan to twenty-three. Without Qom, the annual tax obligation of Isfahan, which is mentioned by Qodāma b. Jaʿfar (pp. 242, 250) as 10,500,000 derhams, sometimes exceeded 12,000,000 derhams (Qomi, p. 31; Yaʿqubi, p. 51; Ebn Rosta, 1998, p. 136).

ʿAbbāsid functionaries found it difficult to extract taxes at such high levels consistently. Partly for this reason, periodic reassessments of taxable properties and delimitations of tax districts were put into effect. Finally, the caliph al-Moʿtaṣem (r. 218-27/833-42) reduced Isfahan proper to a single tax district (kura), comprised of nineteen rural areas (rostāq) and two thousand five hundred villages, and he further severed Karaj as a separate kura (Abu Noʿaym, I, p. 14; for later ʿAbbasid reassessments, see Qomi 184-85).

The ʿAbbasid caliphate utilized various mechanisms in order to ensure the efficient and uninterrupted collection of revenues. For seven years, the caliph al-Manṣūr (r. 136-58/754-75) assigned Isfahan as a temporary tax farm (ṭoʿma) to Aḥmad b. Aḥjam Ḵozāʿi (ca. 160/777; on him, see Abu Noʿaym, I, pp. 77-78), an ʿAbbasid general who finally settled in Marv. During and after the ʿAbbasid civil war between the two brothers al-Amin and al-Maʾmun, the vizier Ḥasan b. Sahl b. Zādān Farroḵ (d. 236/850-51) oversaw the collection of taxes in Isfahan. With the outbreak of the revolt of Bābak Ḵorrami (d. 223/838, q.v.), which stirred instability in the region, the Arab general Abu Dolaf Qāsem b. ʿIsā ʿEjli (d. 225/839-40, q.v.) was commissioned to quash insurgencies, and to administer the collection of local revenues for the caliph. Based in sumptuous fortifications erected in Karaj (at the time still part of Isfahan: later called Karaj-e Abu Dolaf), and relying on the force of his Arab tribal kinsmen who had settled in the region, this pro-Shiʿa Arab general and his descendants ruled, with brief interruptions, over Isfahan and its countryside for several decades (Yaʿqubi, p. 51; Abu Noʿaym, II, p. 160).

Under local dynasties. The ʿAbbasid caliphate, to counter the contingency of its appointed agents reneging on their obligations, folowed the policy of instigating rivalry among potential candidates for lucrative positions. By selectively granting official recognition to one military commander at a time, and depriving others of the privilege, the caliphate tried to maintain a steady flow of revenue into its treasury in Baghdad. For example, in 253/867, Caliph al-Moʿtazz (r. 252-55/866-69) dispatched the Turkic slave-general Musā b. Boḡā to rule over the region of Jebāl, and the latter fought off and defeated the previously appointed ʿAbd-al-ʿAziz b. Abi Dolaf (Ebn al-Aṯir, VII, p. 178). Later, Yaʿqub b. Layṯ Ṣaffār (d. 265/879, q.v.) took control of Isfahan away from ʿAbd-al-ʿAziz b. Abi Dolaf (on Yaʿqub’s unwelcome rule in Isfahan, see Māfarruḵi, p. 38). For a few years, the clan of Abu Dolaf served as functionaries of the Saffarids in Isfahan, until Aḥmad b. ʿAbd-al-ʿAziz b. Abi Dolaf ousted ʿAmr b. Layṯ from Isfahan in 271/884 (Ebn al-Aṯir, VII, p. 416). In 276/889, Caliph al-Moʿtamed’s brother and heir apparent, Abu Aḥmad al-Mowaffaq, visited Isfahan partly in order to reaffirm ʿAbbasid suzerainty over the region (Fields, p. 159; Abu Noʿaym, I, p. 358, II, pp. 159, 227). Later, in 283/896, Amir Abu’l-Najm Badr al-Ostādh al-Kabir Ḥammāmi (d. after 300/913), a client of Caliph al-Moʿtażed, unseated ʿOmar b. ʿAbd-al-ʿAziz b. Abi Dolaf, and as governor of the area from 295/908 to 300/913, he brought about a brief period of peace and stability in Isfahan (Abu Noʿaym, I, p. 239; Ebn al-Aṯir, VII, pp. 479 f., VIII, p. 12).

Military rule over Isfahan continued to change hands rapidly. In 301/913, the Samanids of Khorasan briefly extended their control over Isfahan (Lambton). From the beginnings of the 4th/10th century, the unbridled penetration of Deylami warlords into ʿAbbasid territory made a tremendous impact on Isfahan. For about two decades, various warlords fought each other over the control of Isfahan and the surrounding hinterland. Enormous numbers of tribally organized Deylami, Kurdish, and Turkish troops led by a series of Deylami warlords threatened the very fabric of urban and rural life in Isfahan as well as in other lands of the caliphate. For over a generation, ʿAli b. Vahsudān (d. 306/919), Aḥmad Saʿluk (d. 311/923), Mar-dāvij b. Ziār (d. 323/919), Vošmgir b. Ziār (d. 357/967), Laškari, and eventually, Rokn-al-Dawla Ḥasan b. Buya (d. 365/976), in turn maintained military control over Isfahan (Lambton, passim).

Powerful local landowning families played a more enduring and more significant role in local affairs than military agents and tax collectors (see Kamaly as an inquiry into the role of patrician families). This privileged group of urban notables, often with roots extending to pre-Islamic times, had emerged to prominence especially in the aftermath of the ʿAbbasid Revolution. Laxity in the collection of taxes on the part of the caliphate, as well as the local growth of mercantile trade in the city and between Isfahan and other regions, had provided local landowners and emerging merchants with independent means of sustenance. As early as the 3rd/9th century, the patrician Ḥosayn b. Ḥafṣ Hamaḏāni (d. 212/827; see Abu Noʿaym, I, pp. 274-76), a wealthy landowner from whom a prominent family of judges and judicial attendants descended in Isfahan, reportedly enjoyed a non-taxable annual income of one hundred thousand derhams. Another example is provided by Abu Jaʿfar Aḥmad b. Mahdi b. Rostam (d. 272/886; Abu Noʿaym, I, pp. 85-86), a man of substantial means who could afford to spend three hundred thousand derhams on his personal library.

As major landowners, merchants, and local leaders, these patricians exercised decisive control over local resources and effectively negotiated a variety of concessions from the caliph and his appointed agents. At times, the caliphs officially acknowledged members of the patriciate as sovereign rulers of the city (moḵtār al-balad: see especially Abu Noʿaym, II, pp. 53-54, 345-46). Meanwhile, the ʿAbbasid caliphate sought to curb the influence of indigenous authorities through a variety of means, such as periodic reassessment of taxation levels, direct appointment of judges, and conferral of authority upon military agents in the region. Powerful local families repeatedly stood their ground in facing caliphal challenges. In particular, when the ʿAbbasid caliphate launched a vigorous campaign, commonly referred to as the meḥna (218-32/833-47), with the aim of unseating locally favored judges and judicial functionaries, its attempt foundered in the face of opposition from local patricians (Kamaly, pp. 109 ff.).

Buyid Isfahan. Both city and countryside continued to suffer from long-lasting political instability until the consolidation of power under the Buyids finally put an end to violence and ushered in an almost century-long era of calm and prosperity in the Jebāl region. Isfahan particularly prospered under the Buyids. The name of Isfahan appears consistently on Buyid coinage from 323/934-35 for almost a century thereafter until the year 421/1029 (see Treadwell). They fortified the city and built an enormous wall, twenty-one thousand steps in circumference (Honar-far, p. 34). During eighteen years in office, the capable Buyid vizier Abu’l-Qāsem Esmāʿil, known as Ṣāheb b. ʿAbbād (d. 385), who keenly expressed earnest emotions in favor of Isfahan, turned the local court of Abu Manṣur Moʿayyed-al-Dawla (r. 366-73/976-84) and Abu’l-Ḥasan Faḵr al-Dawla (r. 373-87/984-97) into a magnet for attracting talent. Men of letters, especially masters of Arabic poetry and literature (see list of poets in Ebn ʿAbbād’s circle in Ṯaʿālebi, III, passim) as well as transmitters of Hadith (for the names of more than four hundred and fifty who lived in the Buyid period, see Abū Noʿaym, passim) flocked to Isfahan from distant lands, as far west as Palestine and Egypt, and as far east as Balḵ and Termeḏ.

In spite of the fact that Buyid rulers were Shiʿite, and their powerful vizier Ṣāḥeb b. ʿAbbād was considered a Moʿtazelite Shiʿite (Abu Noʿaym, I, p. 214; Cahen and Pellat, pp. 672), the predominantly Sunnite and pro-Hanbalite population of Isfahan (as reported explicitly by Moqaddasi /Maqdesi, pp. 384, 399) maintained agreeable relations with them, and no major disturbances are reported. The court and the rest of the literary elite of Isfahan shared an incontrovertible devotion to supporting Islamic institutions, and in particular exhibited a strong predilection for Arabic as the sole literary language. Even Ḥamza b. Ḥasan Eṣfahāni, whose works reveal his avid interest in matters Iranian and the pre-Islamic history of Persia and whom a later source describes as a strong šoʿubi (Ebn al-Qefṭi, I, p. 335), wrote in Arabic.

The geographer Moqaddasi/Maqdesi, who visited Isfahan in the year 367/977, praised Yahudiya as a large emporium, well-built and populous with excellent climate, where agricultural crops are produced and commerce thrives. Wealthy merchants and skilled artisans abound. They export textiles to faraway places, and the people are Sunnites Muslims and quite astute (Moqaddasi, pp. 388-89; Eṣṭaḵri, pp. 198-99; Ebn Ḥawqal, pp. 362-63). Isfahan was renowned for its silk brocades and artifacts such as padlocks (aqfāl) and astrolabes. Abu Maḥmud Ḥāmed b. Ḵeżr Ḵojandi (d. 390), described as the leading instrument maker of his time, dedicated some of his works, including astrolabes, to the Buyid Faḵr-al-Dawla, and probably lived in or visited Isfahan during the latter’s reign. The city contained splendid buildings, gardens, stables, bathhouses, and bountiful marketplaces (Māfarruḵi, pp. 83 ff.). Moʾayyed-al-Dawla is said to have been so concerned about the welfare of his subjects that every night from his castle he would listen to the sounds coming from the city; and if he did not hear joyful singing and merriment, he would fail to sleep (Māfarruḵi, pp. 96-97). Daily public prayers were conducted in as many as fifty mosques just in the Jarvāʾān neighborhood, and no fewer than fifty men attended each session (Māfarruḵi, p. 89; tr., p. 74). In the eyes of its contemporary townsfolk, Buyid Isfahan stood second in prominence only to Baghdad, center of the ʿAbbasid caliphate, and Ray, the Buyid capital (Azdī, 17).

By the opening years of the 5th/11th century, Buyid rule in the region had already begun to deteriorate. With the death of Faḵr-al-Dawla and the accession to the throne of his four-year-old son, Majd-al-Dawla Rostam (r. 387-420/997-1029), Buyid suzerainty over Isfahan was already in its last phase. Sources tend to blame this loss of control on Rostam’s mother, Sayyeda Ḵātun, and her interventions in the affairs of the government. From 398/1007, ʿAlāʾ-al-Dawla Moḥammad b. Došmanziār (q.v.), often referred to as Ebn Kākuya (or Pesar-e Kāku, e.g., Bayaqi, p. 19) maternal uncle of Sayyeda Ḵātun, took over as governor of Isfahan, nominally serving on behalf of Majd-al-Dawla. Perhaps, the most significant aspect of his rule was that he provided a safe haven for Avicenna (370-428/980-1037, q.v.), who spent fourteen of his most productive years as vizier in Isfahan (Kamaly).

ʿAlāʾ-al-Dawla’s rule over Isfahan was interrupted a few times and ended with his death in 433/1042. He faced incessant opposition from rival Deylami warlords, such as Ebn Fulād (407-11/1016-20), ʿAli b. ʿEmrān Espahbad and Manučehr b. Qābus in 418/1027-28, and Anuširavān b. Qābus in 421/1030.

Under the Ghaznavids. In 420/1029, the Ghaznavids took advantage of the faltering authority of the Buyids, invaded Isfahan, massacred its inhabitants, and seized control of the city and its hinterland (Ebn al-Aṯir, IX, p. 372). This pushed Isfahan into another phase of depopulation and dilapidation that lasted more than two decades (Bertels, tr., pp. 45-46).

Under the Saljuqs. In the spring of 442/1051, after several attempts going back to 434/1042, the Saljuq army of Ṭoḡrel Beg conquered Isfahan after a prolonged and devastating siege (Ebn al-Aṯir, IX, pp. 562-63; Māfarruḵi, p. 101). The city, however, rapidly recovered its prosperity under the Saljuqs, as Ṭoḡrel Beg appointed the capable Abu’l-Fatḥ b. Moẓaffar Nišāburi as governor over the region, spent about 500,000 dinars on the improvement and maintenance of buildings, and ordered that no taxes to be levied on people for three years. A period of rapid urban revival ensued as the people who had scattered around due to war and famine returned, and Ṭoḡrel, who especially favored Isfahan, transferred the seat of Saljuq rule from Ray to that city (Māfarruḵi, p. 101; Nāṣer-e Ḵosrow, 1971, pp. 127-28; Honarfar, p. 55).

Nāṣer-e Ḵosrow who visited Isfahan in Ṣafar 444/June 1052, just a year after the Saljuq takeover of the city, praised it as the finest, most commodious, and best flourishing of all Persian-speaking towns he had visited. An often quoted passage in his travelogue marvels at Isfahan’s fine aqueducts, tall buildings, fine Friday Mosque, well-built quarters, bustling bazaars, and clean caravansaries. It reports that two hundred moneychangers (ṣarrāf) had stalls in a bazaar of their own, and on a certain lane, known as Ku-ye-Ṭarāz, there stood fifty caravansaries filled with merchants and shopkeepers (Nāṣer-e Ḵosrow, 1971, pp. 127-28; 2001, pp. 125-26).

Isfahan’s urban renewal went hand in hand with the city’s imminent rise as the political and cultural center of the eastern Saljuq empire. Alp Arslān (q.v.) continued Ṭoḡrel Beg’s favorable policies in Isfahan (Māfarruḵi, pp. 101-2), and his son and successor, Malekšāh, was born and raised in Isfahan, where, in 464/1071, he received Caliph Moqtadi’s recognition as heir to the Saljuq throne (Ebn al-Aṯir, X, p. 71; Mostawfi, p. 439).

Under Malekshāh (r. 465-85/1072-92) and his capable vizier Ḵᵛāja Neẓām-al-Molk (d. 485/1092), Isfahan reached an unprecedented zenith that was matched and further surpassed only several centuries later under the Safavid Shah ʿAbbās I the Great (q.v.).

An enclosing wall with a circumference of three and a half leagues (slightly over twenty km) delimited the city and its immediate countryside from the surrounding hinterland, and inside the wall every bazaar, quarter, and lane had separating doors and gates, which were guarded under lock and chain at nighttime (Nāṣer-e Ḵosrow, 1971, pp. 127-28, 2001, pp. 125-26). The population of Isfahan quickly rose to between one hundred thousand to two hundred thousand people (estimate based on Māfarruḵi, pp. 86-87; cf. Lambton; Watson, p. 133; Bulliet, p. 73; Rāvandi, p. 161). Arabic writing and poetry continued to flourish in Isfahan (Eṣfahāni, passim); Persian literature enjoyed court patronage in an unprecedented way (Māfarruḵi, pp. 33-35; tr. p. 125) and eventually became increasingly more dominant in Isfahan.

Malekšāh had large buildings and fortifications constructed inside and outside the city. The town’s old fort underwent restoration, and a new fortress, named Dežkūh or Šāh-dež (also called Dezkuh or Šāh-dez; Rāvandi, p. 156; see also Willey, pp. 206-11; Mehryār), where Malekšāh kept his treasury and later played an important role in Isfahan’s history, was built about 30 km southwest of the city.

Mosques prospered, and the city’s old Congregational Mosque was renovated and vastly expanded (Lambton, p. 101). Large gardens known as Bāḡ-e Kārān, Bāḡ-e Aḥmad-Siāh, Bayt-al-Māʾ, Bāḡ-e Falāsān, and Bāḡ-e Dašt-e Gur, as well as magnificent palaces such as Qaṣr-e Farqad, Qaṣr-e Hārun, Qaṣr-e Kuhān, and others also date from Malekšāh’s reign (Rāvandi, p. 132; Māfarruḵi, pp. 53-56; tr., pp. 26-34).

Exemption of city-dwellers from various levies increased settlement and encouraged construction within the city and boosted commerce. The city grew in size as it incorporated more of the surrounding hinterland. City limits were extended to include a new neighborhood called Jubāra. Not far from the new neighborhood, Neẓām-al-Molk built a madrasa, with substantial endowment from surrounding agricultural lands (Māfarruḵi, pp. 104-5; tr., p. 142).

It appears that the Saljuqs, once they had consolidated their power, supplanted old local patrician families, whom they considered potential adversaries, and replaced them by new clans whose pro-Saljuq loyalty was guaranteed. Old, powerful families, most notably the Manda, Ḥafṣ, and Moškān families, lost their central significance under the Saljuqs and eventually disappeared from the scene. New families, most notably the Ḵojandis and the Ṣāʿedis, who migrated to Isfahan from Greater Khorasan under direct sponsorship by Neẓām-al-Molk, became entrenched as leaders of local communities of Shafeʿites and Hanafites respectively. The Ḵojandi clan claimed descent from the 1st/7th-century Arab general, Mohallab b. Abi Ṣofra. Neẓām-al-Molk brought a leading member of this family, namely Abū Bakr Moḥammad b. Tābet b. Ḥasan b. ʿAli Ḵojandi (d. 483), to Isfahan from Marv and appointed him in charge of the Neẓāmiya madrasa in Isfahan (on the Khojandi family, see Homāʾi, pp. 133-40; Kasāʾi, pp. 219-28).

The installation of new, privileged families triggered decisive changes with long-lasting consequences in the local power structure as well as in patterns of factionalism in Isfahan. While the majority of the population with its Hanbalite or other Sunnite leanings found the overarching Saljuq policy of “Sunnite revival” congenial, other groups that subscribed to less mainstream doctrines became alienated and bent onto radicalism. After the closely spaced deaths of Neẓām-al-Molk and Malekšāh, Isfahan’s fortunes took a turn for the worse, and the city declined rapidly, as it came to suffer gravely from conflicts between contenders for the Saljuq throne, on the one hand, and the so-called “heretics” on the other. In the intense struggle between Barkiāroq (d. 498/1105, q.v.), and the Isfahan-based Torkān Ḵātūn (d. 487/1094, fighting in the name of her prepubescent son Maḥmūd), and later Moḥammad, over succession to the Saljuq throne, various military factions became involved and wreaked havoc on the city of Isfahan and its environs.

Meanwhile, a former canvas-dealer named Aḥmad b. ʿAṭṭāš (q.v.) penetrated the Šāh-dež fortress in the role of a teacher. The fortress, guarded by Deylami soldiers, was home to young women and children of the Saljuq household, and at certain times housed the treasury and the armory as well. Ebn al-ʿAṭṭāš eventually won over the fortress, and thousands of troops rallied around him there (Rāvandi, pp. 155-161; 30,000, according to Mostawfi, pp. 444-45; Daftary, pp. 354-55). As of 488/1095, Ebn al-ʿAttāš and his agents effectively ruled over the hinterland of Isfahan from his base at Šāh-dež and other fortresses in the region. Their control over the city remained tenuous at best, but the weight of their power instilled fear among its population (as illustrated by the macabre account of a blind beggar known as ʿAlawi Madani, who lured people to their deaths in a house at the end of a dark, dead-end alley; see Mostawfi, pp. 445-6; Rāvandi, pp. 157-58). Eventually, in the year 500/1107 Sultan Moḥammad b. Malekšāh (r. 498-511 /1105-18) captured Šāh-dež and slaughtered Ebn al-ʿAṭṭāš and those close to him in the most atrocious way (Ebn al-Aṯir, X, pp. 430-34; Rāvandi, pp. 157-61).

Continuous clashes between the Baṭenis (see BĀṬENIYA) and the Saljuqs wreaked enormous devastation and caused tremendous hardship in Isfahan (Ebn al-Aṯir, X, pp. 527-29). During the unstable reign of Barkiāroq in Isfahan, Abu’l-Qāsem Masʿūd b. Moḥammad Ḵojandi, chief of the local Shafeʿite community, vehemently persecuted the Bāṭenis and burned them alive, which made the Bāṭenis refer to him as Lucifer (mālek-e duzaḵ; Homāʾi, p. 135). In 515, the Bāṭenis set fire to the city’s Friday Mosque at night. In 523, the Ismailis of Isfahan rebelled and killed ʿAbd-al-Laṭif Ḵojandi, the leader of the Shafeʿites (Ebn al-Aṯir, X, p. 595, 659-60).

Eventually, Sultan Sanjar b. Malekšāh (r. 511-52/1118-157) abandoned Isfahan as Saljuq capital and transferred the seat of his power to Khorasan. This did not, however, put an end to the city’s chaos and misfortune. Recurrent famines led “people to eat each other” (mardom mardom miḵordand), and by 570/1165, even the previously well-off and elite families had to struggle with abject impoverishment (Rāvandi, pp. 229, 239). Factional wars, between the Shafeʿites and the Hanafites, and between Sunnites and Shiʿites, continued.

After the Saljuqs. In Rabiʿ I 590/March 1194, Sultan Abu’l-Moẓaffar Takeš Ḵᵛārazmšāh (r. 567-96/1172-1200) killed Ṭoḡrel b. Arsalān (r. 571-90/1176-194), the last of the Saljuq rulers of eastern and central Persian lands, in a battle at Ray, and from there proceeded to take over Isfahan and other parts of the Jebāl region. The contemporary ʿAbbasid caliph in Baghdad, Abu’l-ʿAbbās al-Nāṣer le-Din-Allāh (r. 575-622/1180-225), had instigated this conflict in order to reap the benefits from clashes among warlords. However, the hold of Takeš and succeeding Ḵᵛārazmšāhs on the region of Jebāl, including Isfahan, remained precarious; this was because of fierce competition over control of the region posed especially by militant Ismailis as well as by rival Turkic warlords such as Nūr-al-Din Kukja (k. ca. 600/1203), Šams-al-Din Āytoḡmeš (k. 608/1211-12), Nāṣer-al-Din Mingli (k. ca. 612/1215), and Sayf-al-Din Iḡlameš Atābaki (k. 614/1217; see Ebn al-At¨ir, XII, pp. 195, 238, 296, 300-301; Rāvandi, pp. 391-402; Jovayni, III, Qazvini’s commentary, pp. 407-11, 414-18, with references to primary sources).

As observed by Moḥammad Qazvini (Jovayni, III, commentary, pp. 410-11), between the fall of the Saljuqs of central Persia and the Mongol conquest of the Iranian plateau, a “dynasty” of Turkic slave-kings (mamālik), who were affiliated with the Eldigüz/Ildegoz Atābaks of Azerbaijan (see ATĀBAKĀN-E ĀḎARBĀYJĀN) and occasionally with the Ḵᵛārazmšāhs, ruled more or less independently over Isfahan for some three decades. No independent, detailed study of this dynasty has been published so far. Sporadic evidence, such as the praise expressed for the slave-king Āytoḡmeš in the introduction to Abu’l-Šaraf Jorfādaqāni’s translation of Abu Naṣr ʿOtbi’s Taʾriḵ al-yamini (p. 5; Jovayni, III, commentary, p. 409), and a passing reference, in Saʿdi’s Golestān (p. 63), to the palace of the aforementioned Iḡlameš suggest that cultural activity in some cities of the Jebāl region, especially in Hamadān and to a lesser extent in Ray and Isfahan, continued during this period.

Mongol invasion. The onslaught of the Mongols curtailed whatever cultural life that may have existed in the region and at least temporarily disrupted other urban activities on a large scale. The Mongol army first advanced toward Isfahan in 623/1226 and inflicted vast carnage in and around the city. In 625/1128 Jalāl-al-Din Ḵᵛārazmšāh (d. 628/1231) stationed his troops inside the city and managed to ward off the Mongols temporarily, but he was defeated, and Isfahan became the last major town in the Jebāl region that the Mongols conquered (Ḵorandezi, pp. 167-70; Jovayni, II, pp. 168-69; tr., pp. 436-38). In his account of the Mongol conquest of Isfahan, Rašid-al-Din Fażl-Allāh reports “a massacre like none before” (Rašid-al-Din, p. 349). In spite of the purge of its inhabitants, the remaining population of Isfahan remained insubordinate to the Mongols for decades. Eventually, Bahāʾ-al-Din b. Šams-al-Din Moḥammad Jovayni, appointed as governor of the region by the Mongol Abāqā Khan (r. 663-80/1265-82, q.v.), quashed all local resistance with ruthless vengeance (Boyle, p. 330).

By the early 8th/14th century, the wave of land and tax reforms initiated by Maḥmud Ḡāzān Khan (r. 694-703/1295-304), and pursued by Ḡiyāṯ-al-Din Moḥammad Khodābanda Öljeitü/Uljāytu (r. 703-16/1304-316) brought intensified reconstructive activity to the region. A generation-long period of urban revival dawned, limits of the city were extended, and as many as forty-four neighborhoods, each with delimiting gates, thrived within the city of Isfahan. The proliferation of local charitable endowments in this period attests to the accumulation of wealth and points to political stability under the later Il-khans (see IL-KHANIDS). Numerous religious schools (madrasa), Sufi hospices (ḵānaqāh) and other charitable edifices (abwāb al-ḵayr) stood in the city, and Isfahan remained a notable center of craftsmanship. Guilds of craftsmen, led by local headmen (kalu), exerted noticeable influence in the affairs of the city of Isfahan at this time. Sustained annual taxation at the level of fifty tomāns (Mostowfī, Nozhat, p. 51) further affirms the presence of local wealth and the ability of Il-khan rulers to extract revenue from the population.

Encouraged by the prominent Shiʿite scholar Ḥasan b. Yusof Ḥelli (d. 726/1325, q.v.), Solṭān Moḥammad Ḵodābanda set out to declare Twelver Shiʿism as official religion in some parts of his kingdom, including Isfahan. This attempt failed, as violent local riots erupted, especially in Isfahan, which had been a long-time stronghold of Sunnite Islam, and Ḵodābanda withdrew his edict. Anecdotal evidence from primary sources, including the attempt by Ḵodābanda to recognize Shiʿism officially, as well as other evidence such as the establishment of a dār-al-siāda in the traditionally Sunnite city of Isfahan and the increasing visibility of sayyeds in urban life indicate that, well before the appearance of the Safavids in the 10th/16th century, Shiʿism had already secured a noticeable foothold in central Persia (Ibn Battuta).

The post-Il-khanid period. Recurrent local riots, partly roused by Ḵodābanda’s short-lived religious fervor, coupled with the weakening authority of the Mongol Il-khans, ushered in a long period of urban decline in Isfahan and once again reduced the region to an agricultural tax-farm controlled by nomadic warlords of Turkic origin. In 742/1341-42, Amir Pir Ḥosayn Čupāni (see CHOBANIDS), who had gained suzerainty over Fārs and Isfahan, appointed Shaikh Abu Esḥāq Inju (q.v.) as governor of Isfahan. Ḵᵛāja Šams-al-Din Moḥammad Ḥāfeẓ (d. ca. 791/1398, q.v.), the renowned Persian poet from Shiraz, lavishly praised Abu Esḥāq, and his decision to travel to Isfahan may have coincided with Abu Esḥāq’s tenure as governor in that city. However, Inju’s fortune in Fars and Isfahan waned quickly, as Amir Mobārez-al-Din Mo-ḥammad Moẓaffari supplanted him in 757/1356. Isfahan and Shirāz particularly suffered from ensuing political instability (Kotobi, pp. 41-43, 47, 60-61).

The disintegration of urban life in Isfahan reached a critical breakpoint in 789/1387, when Timur reportedly slaughtered 70,000 souls in Isfahan in retaliation to the killing of his tax collectors by the mob (Šāmi, I, p. 105; Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru, II, pp. 666-67; Manz, p. 71). This left the city of Isfahan and its countryside largely depopulated, and in ensuing decades nomadic warlords repeatedly took advantage of the region’s vulnerability. The massacre and looting of 857/1453 perpetrated by Jahānšāh Qara Qoyunlu is poignantly recorded in sources (Abu Bakr Ṭehrāni, II, pp. 328-30).

After 874/1470, under the suzerainty of Uzun Ḥasan Āq Qoyunlu (d. 882/1478), urban life in Isfahan began to rejuvenate (Woods, 1976, p. 112). Contemporary reports by Venetian visitors describe Isfahan as a spacious, walled-city of some 50,000 inhabitants with a circumference of about four miles (ten miles including the countryside; Contarini, pp 80-81, 140). It took, however, more than a century for Isfahan to reach its apogee as one of the most splendid cities of the world of its time under Shah ʿAbbās I (q.v.).



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(Hossein Kamaly)

Originally Published: December 15, 2006

Last Updated: March 30, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. XIII, Fasc. 6, pp. 641-650