SARBEDĀRS (lit. “Head givers”), a religious movement in northern Khorāsān and eastern Māzandarān that led to the establishment of a dynasty of local rulers based in Sabzevār in the district of Bayhaq, northeastern Iran.  “Sarbedār” is the name given to the leaders and adherents of the small independent state. It subsisted during the half century between the death of the Il-Khanid Abu Saʿid in 1326 and Tamerlane’s conquest of Iran in the 1380s.


There is not enough evidence to bring into sharp focus every aspect of the political and social history of the Sarbedār state. The major narrative sources all date from at least half a century after the events they describe, and as such they report late and varied traditions (Smith, pp. 25-49). Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru (“Majmuʿa,” pp. 15-29) gives two different versions of the history of the Sarbedārs, which do not agree with the shorter one found in his Zobdat al-tawāriḵ (pp. 16-18). Moreover, Dawlatšāh (pp. 277-88) transmits a third version, which varies from those given by Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru. In his Reḥla, Ebn Baṭṭuṭa (tr. Gibb, III, pp. 574-77) includes a brief section on the Sarbedārs as part of his account of events in Khorāsān in the wake of Abu Saʿid’s demise. The Tāriḵ-e Ruyān by Āmoli, which was completed in 1362, was reused a century later by Ẓahir-al-Din Marʿaši in his Tāriḵ-e Ṭabarestān o Ruyān o Māzandarān (Melville, p. 64). The sequel or ḏeyl to Moḥammad Šabānkāraʾi’s Majmaʿ al-ansāb, which was compiled in 1381 by Ḡiāṯ-al-Din Faryumadi, a secretary at the court of the local ruler of Māzandarān, also covers the advent of the Sarbedārs.

When dealing with the Sarbedārs, Mir-Ḵvānd (V, pp. 600-625) relied on Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru as well as on a lost history titled the Tāriḵ-e Sarbedārān, in which the rise to power of the Sarbedārs is narrated from a distinctly Shiʿite viewpoint. The history of the Sarbedārs as recounted by Ḵvāndmir (III, pp. 356-66) draws in large part from the work of his maternal grandfather Mir-Ḵvānd. References to Sarbedārs in poetical works of Amir Faḵr-al-Din Maḥmud Faryumadi, also known as  Ebn Yamin, as well as numismatic evidence (Smith, passim; Arroyo, pp. 302-4; and Morton, pp. 255-58) supplement these chronicles.


Born out of a popular rebellion in which no one family had a hereditary monopoly on power, this state has been called a “republic of brigands” (Büchner; Grousset, p. 466). Based on the Mahdist tendencies of the movement, some scholars have labeled it a “Shiʿite republic” (Mazzaoui, p. 66; Roemer, p. 17), while others have emphasized the Shiite aspect of the movement (Ḥaqiqat; Šahrestāni). Following the Islamic Revolution of 1978-79, in 1983 an Iranian television series brought the rebellion to public attention (Soroush Media, 12 DVDs).

Two historians have argued against the reductionist views of V. F. Büchner and R. Grousset. A. M. Belenitskiĭ (p. 115) proposed that the middle-class landowners had played a leading role in the early days of the movement, and I. P. Petrushevskiĭ (1956, pp. 124-24; idem, 1960, pp. 409-71) suggested that the Sarbedār movement was part of the class struggle of the peasantry and the urban lower classes against the rural and urban aristocracy. A more widely accepted understanding is that the Sarbedār movement was a move toward political and administrative autonomy at the time the Il-Khanid regime was faced with disintegration (Smith; Aubin, 1976, 1974; Mahendrarajah).


Almost all narrative sources agree that it was widespread resentment at fiscal abuses of the Il-Khānid authorities in Khorāsān that triggered the Faryumadi Sarbedār uprising. In Bāštin, a small village to the southwest of Bayhaq, a group of dissenters attempted to kill the local tax collector ʿAlāʾ-al-Din Moḥammad Faryumadi and then put up a an armed resistance against the troops sent to suppress the uprising (Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru, Cinq opuscules, Persian text, p. 17; Dawlatšāh, p. 278; Faṣiḥ-e Ḵvāfi, pp. 50-51; Mir-Ḵvānd, V, p. 357; Ḵvāndmir, III, p. 357). According to Faryumadi (p. 347), this incident took place on 13 March 1337/9 Šaʿbān 737, while Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru (Cinq opuscules, Persian text, p. 11) gives 16 March/12 Šaʿbān as the date of the uprising. Yet another historian points out that 16 March/12 Šaʿbān marked the day on which a group of local youth led by the pahlavān (wrestler; see below) Jamāl-al-Din ʿAbd-al-Razzāq Bāštini declared him as leader of the uprising. Their slogan was “We will struggle against the inequalities imposed by the tyrants with the help of God, or else give up our heads to the gallows (sar-be-dār)” (Esfezāri, II, p. 8).

The date of the uprising shows that it did not erupt immediately upon the death of Abu Saʿid, but sixteen months later, under different circumstances, at a time the anarchy had engulfed the Il-Khanid empire. In a sense, the uprising can be taken to imply that certain social classes, who so far had somehow managed to keep up with socio-economic pressures under the Il-Khanids, now felt threatened. As the crisis of authority in the empire became increasingly obvious, they dared to defend themselves against the forces of oppression. The Bāštin uprising was only one of the consequences of the crippling fiscal pressures imposed by bureaucrats such as ʿAlāʾ-al-Din Moḥammad Faryumadi with the objective of financing military campaigns of Toḡāy-Timur, a local claimant to the Il-Khanid throne. Āmoli (p. 181) confirms that during this period local authorities like Faryumadi had become all-powerful with no accountability for their actions, to the effect that no one could escape from their fiscal abuses.

ʿAbd-al-Razzāq, the first leader of the Sarbedārs, came from a wealthy family of pahlavān worthies. His military prowess brought his companions immense booty. This in turn helped the early Sarbedārs recruit more supporters (Ebn Baṭṭuṭa, III, p. 575; Mir-Ḵvānd, V, p. 602). ʿAbd-al-Razzāq, who had been joined by his brother Wajih-al-Din Masʿud, then seized Sabzevār on 9 September 1337/12 Ṣafar 738, killing several members of Faryumadi’s relatives during the infighting (Faryumadi, p. 326). Shortly thereafter, the Sarbedārs mounted raids to the north of Sabzevār, plundering the livestock belonging to Faryumadi in the vicinity of Solṭān Maydān (Mir-Ḵvānd, V, p. 604;Ḵvāndmir, III, pp. 357-58). ʿAbd-al-Razzāq, an adventurer of little significance, was good at inciting riots but proved incapable of setting up a political program that could lead the Sarbedār movement to new triumphs. A scandal regarding immoral conduct of his provided a pretext for his brother, Wajih-al-Din Masʿud, to assassinate him in June 1338/Ḏu’l-qaʿda 738. This killing can be seen as an episode in the growing troubles of Sarbedār movement.


Masʿud, who succeeded his brother, is believed to have been the political head of the movement. He represented the ambitions of the landowners who wanted to get rid of the Mongol regime. In order to strengthen his fragile grassroots authority, he decided to broaden his popular support by means of the prestige of Šayḵ Ḥasan Juri, a disciple of Šayḵ Ḵalifa, a Shiʿite dervish from Māzandarān (Aubin, pp. 213-14). Šayk Ḥasan Juri encouraged the people to follow his master’s footsteps. In the dependent villages of Nishapur, he found many disciples (Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru, Cinq opuscules, Persian text, p. 16), whose names he recorded. He told them that now it was the time for concealment, but when he gave them the signal, they would have to wage war (Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru, Cinq opuscules, Persian text, p. 16; Mir-Ḵvānd, V, p. 605-606; Ḵvāndmir, III, p. 359; Smith, p. 55-56). The majority of Šayḵ Ḥasan Juri’s disciples came from the working classes, whose moral confusion and material degradation took some comfort from belief in the return of a Mahdi who would reestablish justice on earth. Denounced by the ʿolamāʾ, Šayḵ Ḥasan Juri ended up imprisoned in the fortress of Yāzor. It is hard to determine whether he had been the leader of a radical underground movement. In the letter he sent to Ṭoḡāy-Timur and Arḡun-Šāh, the emir of the Jawni-Qorbāni, Šayḵ Ḥasan Juri depicted himself as overtaken by events, distrustful of social movements, and rather inclined to worm his way into the favor of the Mongol emirs (text of the letter in Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru, Cinq opuscules, Persian text, pp. 20-23; Mir-Ḵvānd, V, pp. 609-13). At the very moment when the Sarbedār movement broke out, in 1337/737, he had been on a trip to Iraq.

Masʿud came to set Šayḵ Ḥasan Juri free and return him to Sabzevār. Šayḵ Ḥasan exhibited no eagerness to follow him, but, after hesitating to join the movement, he recognized that his followers could be better served if he shared in the demands announced by Masʿud and his partisans (Mir-Ḵvānd, V, p. 614). The largely Shiʿite population of Sabzevār, like those of the surrounding districts, proved to be a receptive focus for his exhortation. The difficult alliance between the Šayḵis and the Sarbedārs lent the government a distinctive character.

Masʿud and Šayḵ Ḥasan launched an attack against the Jawni-Qorbāni, loyal supporters of Ṭoḡāy-Timur, who at the time was in Iraq. The strategic errors of the latter group gave the victory to the Sarbedārs, who seized Nishapur (Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru, Cinq opuscules, Persian text, p. 19).

Ṭoḡāy-Timur, whose name continued to be used on coinage even in Sabzevār (Smith, p. 109), could not continue to ignore the Sarbedārs. In 1342, Arḡun-Šāh and ʿAlāʾ-al-Din Faryumadi, allied with Ṭoḡāy-Timur, failed at retaking the town. Ṭoḡāy-Timur’s army was routed, and ʿAlāʾ-al-Din Faryumadi was killed on 23 Ša‘bān 742/1 February 1342 (Ebn Yamin, p. 569). The Sarbedārs then struck coins in the name of Solaymān Khan, the rival of Ṭoḡāy-Timur (Smith, p. 116). They then tried to extend their territory at the expense of the Kart of Herat.

The Sarbedārs marched on Herat, encountering Malek Ḥosayn on 18 July 1342/13 Ṣafar 743 near Zāveh, in a battle in which Šayḵ Ḥasan was killed by a Sarbedār soldier. He was probably assassinated at the order of Masʿud, who was uneasy about the increasing influence of the dervish (Faryumadi, p. 348; Dawlatšāh, p. 281, and Mir-Ḵvānd, V, p. 614, both implicate Masʿud directly; Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru says that the assassin was quickly liquidated, Cinq opuscules, Persian text, p. 25). However, this assassination cost Masʿud the support of the Šayḵis. He then attempted the conquest of Māzandarān, but this ended in disaster. Masʿud lost a great number of men, and he himself was taken prisoner and executed in April 1343/Ḏu’l-qaʿda 743 (Faryumadi, p. 348; Āmoli, pp. 183-89). Nishapur, Sabzevār, and Jovayn remained under the control of the Sarbedārs, but they had to pay tribute to Ṭoḡāy-Timur.

The alliance between the Sarbedārs and the Šayḵis proved short-lived. Masʿud had, for a time, had the advantage of recovering not only the power to mobilize that had been found in the exhortations of Šayḵ Ḥasan Juri on religious motives, but also the real military power of the organization of dervishes, which was disciplined by the charisma of their head. However, the two men’s objectives were quite different, and the Shiite extremism of Šayḵ Ḥasan Juri was harmful to Masʿud, given that the majority of the population of the region of Nishapur was Sunni.


Masʿud’s military commander, Moḥammad Āy-Timur, took over the leadership of the Sarbedār state. He had been Masʿud’s deputy at Sabzevār while he was on campaign in Herat and then in Māzandarān. Masʿud’s supporters included his family, a group of local notables, and the population of Bāštin. Conversely, the Sabzevāris included the town aristocracy, the artisans’ guilds, and the Šayḵis. These two groups were divided because of the murder of Šayḵ Ḥasan Juri, but also because of Sabzevāri fear of seeing Masʿud’s supporters exercise their dominion over the government.

Āy-Timur followed Masʿud’s policies, but he criticized his humble origin and his attitude toward the Šayḵis (Mir-Ḵvānd, V, p. 614-616; Ḵvāndmir, III, pp. 362-63). He was assassinated in April 1346/Moḥarram 747 (Faryumadi, p. 348) at the instigation of the Šayḵis, who with this murder avenged the assassination of Šayḵ Ḥasan Juri. There followed a period of instability, because the Sarbedārs, loyal to Masʿud’s family, strove for power against the Šayḵis, whose principal spokesman was Ḵvāja Tāj-al-Din ʿAli b. Šams-al-Din Češomi, a member of the Sabzevār aristocracy.

One Kolu Esfandyār was brought to power by Ḵvāja ʿAli Češomi in 1347-51/748-52 (Dawlatšāh, p. 381; Mir-Ḵvānd, V, p. 616; Ḵvāndmir, III, p. 363; Smith, pp. 123-29; Morton, p. 256). His choice was probably the result of a compromise between the Šayḵis and the Sarbedārs. However, he very quickly alienated both camps. This man with no background was criticized for his arrogance, his arbitrary decisions, and for having favored over the dervishes and the Sarbedārs “the crooks and criminals” (Mir-Ḵvānd, V, p. 616). Those may perhaps have been some members of the army. They were thus the same complaints as had been made against his predecessor. He was killed in 1347/748.

We could understand the development of the situation better if we knew who had eliminated Kolu Esfandyār. Unfortunately, the sources do not agree on the names of those who struck the mortal blow. According to Faṣiḥ-e Ḵvāfi (p. 75), it was a pahlavān named ʿAli Ḥitābādi and a dervish by the name of Faḵr-al-Din ʿAṣṣār-e Mašhadi. Dawlatšāh (p. 381) writes that he was killed by members of the Sarbedār army upon the instigation of Ḵvāja ʿAli Češomi. Faryumadi (p. 348) also attributes the strike to ʿAli Češomi. But Mir-Ḵvānd (p. 616), whose version makes ʿAli Češomi the star, relates that he was not informed until after the murder was committed, and he reprimanded the murderers. The assassination of Kolu Esfandyār, like that of his predecessor, was undoubtedly provoked by his policy of recruitment into the army. The conflict resulting from this murder was limited to the rival factions that disputed for supremacy in the Sarbedār army.

It is hard to know how deeply ʿAli Češomi, who reprimanded the murderers, was implicated in the assassination of Kolu Esfandyār. On the other hand, he opposed the appointment of the son of Wajiḥ-al-Din Masʿud Bāštini, Loṭf-Allāh, whose name seems to have united the dervishes and the Sarbedārs (Dawlatšāh, p. 381). ʿAli Češomi pointed out that he was too young and lacked authority. The choice fell instead on a brother of Masʿud Bāštini, Šams-al-din (Mir-Ḵvānd, V, p. 617), who according to Dawlatšāh (p. 282) was to wield power until Loṭf-Allāh was of age to take over.

The choice of Šams-al-Din attests to the element of cohesion represented by the Bāštini family. Though they affected the mien of the peasantry, they had a comfortable lifestyle (Dawlatšāh, p. 282; Mir-Ḵvānd, V, p. 617). Incapable of leading an army and, moreover, not being exactly valiant, Šams-al-Din delegated command to Ḵvāja ʿAli Češomi, upon the news of an invasion by Ṭoḡāy-Timur (Mir-Ḵvānd, V, p. 617; Ḵvāndmir, III, p. 363). Ultimately, ʿAli Češomi forced him to abdicate and took charge of the government on 21 November 1347/16 Šaʿbān 748, which thus passed from the Sabzevāri faction (Faryumadi, p. 348).

vāja ʿAli Češomi’s first task was to better the condition of the army in order to meet the threat of invasion by Ṭoḡāy-Timur. He reformed taxes: everything that was collected in the region was incorporated into the Sarbedārs’ budget (Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru, Cinq opuscules, commentary, p. 17). In this way he revitalized the Sarbedār forces and obligated Ṭoḡāy-Timur to abandon his designs on Khorāsān. According to Dawlatšāh (p. 282), Ṭoḡāy-Timur agreed that the Sarbedārs would retain the regions they had acquired under Masʿud Bāštini, and their independence was recognized from Nishapur to east of Dāmḡān. He put into circulation the first independent Sarbedārid coinage (1348/748), of the Sunni type. It was no longer struck in the name of Ṭoḡāy-Timur, but in the names of the first four caliphs (Smith, pp. 196, 202, nos. 63-65). However, in 1351/752, when the principality of Herat was incorporated into the Čaḡatay sphere of influence, Ḵvāja ʿAli Češomi once again struck coins in the name of Ṭoḡāy-Timur. This concession to circumstance did nothing to enhance his position in the eyes of the Sarbedār military faction, which refused to be subject to the Mongols (Aubin, “Khanat de Čaḡatai,” pp. 34-38).

vāja ʿAli Češomi’s administrative reforms led the region to prosperity (Smith, pp. 130-32). He made sure that wages were paid in a timely fashion; he lent his support to the artisans’ guilds and to the militias who provided the basis of his power. Mir-Ḵvānd (p. 618) says that he fought corruption and that under him 500 prostitutes were hanged. Češomi’s policies reflected, not a dervish ethic, but a rigorous view of Islam founded on the injunction of “ordering the good and forbidding the evil” or al-amr be’l-maʿruf wa nahi ʿan’el-monkar (Mahendrarajah, p. 385). With these reforms he alienated his original supporters and fell victim to his wish to strengthen morality. On 18 December 1351/28 Šawwāl 752, Češomi was assassinated by a disgruntled court bureaucrat named pahlavān Ḥaydar Qaṣṣāb. The incident took place after Češomi threatened to force Qaṣṣāb’s wife to work in a brothel (ḵarābāt) so that he could compensate for fiscal deficits in the state budget (Mir-Ḵvānd, V, p. 619; Ebn Yamin, p. 571). The assassination was abetted by Ḵvāja Neẓām-al-Din Yaḥyā Karāvi, a landowner in the district of Bayhaq. The murder appears to have been born of Pahlavān Ḥaydar Qaṣṣāb’s despair and Yaḥyā Karāvi’s secret ambition, but it was also one of the results of the Čaḡatay invasion of Herat. So, it could be considered a coup orchestrated by the pahlavān-military faction that sought a more aggressive policy against the Mongols.

It was the instigator of the plot, Ḵvāja Yaḥyā Karāvi, who took power. Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru describes Yaḥyā Karāvi as a man of war (sepāhi) who was attentive to the needs of his fighters (Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru, Cinq opuscules, text, p. 25; comm., p. 17). He resumed military hostilities against Ṭoḡāy-Timur, whose ordu had been weakened by plague, and most of his emirs were dead. At an uncertain date there were peace talks between Yaḥyā Karāvi and Ṭoḡāy-Timur. To negotiate at Sabzevār, Ṭoḡāy-Timur sent his amir al-omarāʾ or noyān Šayḵ ʿAli Hindu. Yaḥyā Karāvi pretended to undertake an act of allegiance to Ṭoḡāy-Timur, but he had him assassinated in his camp at Pol-e Ḥājjī Ḵātun, near Solṭān Dovin, on 13 December 1353/16 Ḏu’l-qaʿda 754 (Dawlatšāh, pp. 237-38). The sources conflict as to who actually struck the mortal blow (Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru, Cinq Opuscules, comm., p. 7; Faṣiḥ-e Ḵvāfi, p. 85). The Sarbedārs killed “the great and the humble, Turks and Iranians,” and their herds were taken (Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru, Cinq Opuscules, comm., p. 8; Faṣiḥ-e Ḵvāfi, p. 85).

vāja Yaḥyā Karāvi had the support of the Sunni notables, who were unhappy with ʿAli Češomi’s reforms. According to Mir-Ḵvānd, he left fiscal administration to the “ʿolamāʾ of the true religion,” a move that met with universal approval. He was a “pahlavān in appearance and nature” (pahlavān-e surat u maʿnā) and combined bravery with solid judgment. The same chronicler (Mir-Ḵvānd, V, p. 620) noted that “thanks to his equity and his justice, his velāyat reached the acme of growth and prosperity.” His murder, on 23 December 1357/10 Moḥarram 759 (Ebn Yamin, p. 568), was the only political assassination in the history of Sarbedār state that followed by the punishment of the murderers and not by their rise to power.

Another period of instability followed ensuing Karāvi’s death, marked by a series of coups and political assassinations whose chronology remains obscure. The sources do not mention the reasons for Karāvi’s assassination, but it appears that Masʿud Bāštini’s supporters benefited from his elimination to attempt a return. They wished to recover the dynastic principle by preparing the way for the enthronement of Bāštin’s son Loṭf-Allāh, a move that was aimed to lead to the downfall of the Sabzevāri faction. The conspirators did not achieve their goal, because Pahlavān Ḥaydar Qaṣṣāb brought to power a nephew of Karāvi named Ẓahir-al-Din (Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru, Cinq opuscules, Persian text, p. 18; Dawlatšāh, p. 283-84; Faryumadi, p. 349; Mir-Ḵvānd, V, pp. 620-21; Ḵvāndmir, III, pp. 364-65). However, forty days later, in October 1356/Šawwāl 757, Ẓahir-al-Din was deposed by Pahlavān Ḥaydar Qaṣṣāb himself (Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru, Cinq opuscules, Persian text, p. 18). Qaṣṣāb was in turn assassinated in 757/1356, after ruling for four months, on the order of Pahlavān Ḥasan Dāmḡāni, a supporter of the Bāštini faction (Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru, Cinq oppuscules, Persian text, p. 18; Dawlatšāh, p. 284; Faryumadi, p. 349; Mir-Ḵvānd, V, p. 621; Ḵvāndmir, III, p. 365). Loṭf-Allāh finally acceded to power, an event that marked the return to the dynastic principle, but he too was deposed and killed in 759/1357-58, on the order of Pahlavān Ḥasan Dāmḡāni, which ended the possibility of establishing a dynastic lineage in the family of Masʿud Bāštini (Ḥāfez-e Abru, Cinq opuscules, Persian text, p. 18; Dawlatšāh, p. 284; Faryumadi, p. 349; Mir-Ḵvānd, V, pp. 621-22; Ḵvāndmir, III, p. 365).

Pahlavān Ḥasan Dāmḡāni took power, but his close involvement in the murder of Pahlavān Ḥaydar Qaṣṣāb, as well as his support for the landed aristocracy of Bāštin and for Masʿud’s supporters, had alienated a portion of the Sarbedārs. His authority was threatened from several sides. An adherent of Šayḵ Ḥasan Juri, Darviš ʿAziz, was installed in Mašhad, where his piety and mystical devotion attracted many disciples. With their backing, he took the citadel of Ṭus (Mir-Ḵvānd, V, p. 622). Some sources say that he installed a theocracy in the name of the Shiʿite Hidden Imam “Solṭān Moḥammad al-Mahdi,” but there is no tangible numismatic proof to support the claim that he tried to set up a Mahdist state. Smith attributes to Darviš ʿAziz a “Mahdist” coin, dated 1358/759, but it belongs to a series of coins struck at Sāri and Āmol in (at the latest) 1358-65/759-64, irrelevant to Darviš ʿAziz, whose revolt at Ṭus was much later (Morton, p. 257). Darviš ʿAziz was expelled from Ṭus, but Ḵvāja ʿAli b. Moʾayyad, son of a prominent Sabzevāri notable, triggered a revolt in Dāmḡān. He enjoyed the support of Darviš ʿAziz and together they seized Sabzevār. Pahlavān Ḥasan Dāmḡāni was assassinated in 763/1362 (Dawlatšāh, p. 286; Mir-Ḵvānd, V, p. 623; Ḵvāndmir, III, p. 365).


ʿAli b. Moʾayyad thereupon became the head of the state in collaboration with Darviš ʿAziz. Coins were struck, between 763/1362 and 772/1371, with the Shiʿite profession of faith and the names of the Twelve Imams (Smith, pp. 77-78). The ritual of bringing out a horse twice a day to await the arrival of the Mahdi was also instituted (Esfezāri, II, p. 30; Mir-Ḵvānd, V, p. 624). These initial measures probably reveal the influence of Darviš ʿAziz and the Šayḵis, who hoped for a new order.

However, the same feud that shaped power relations between Masʿud Bāštini and Šayḵ Ḥasan Juri soon came to predominate ʿAli b. Moʾayyad’s relations with Darviš ʿAziz. The ideology of Darviš ʿAziz was extremist though its details are not known (Mahendrarajah, p. 394). ʿAli b. Moʾayyad thus resolved upon getting rid himself of him his network of dervish devotees. Some nine months after the establishment of their joint rule, Darviš ʿAziz managed to get ʿAli b. Moʾayyad’s military support for his plans to launch an attack against Malek Ḥusayn Kart, the ruler of Herat. But in the heat of the campaign ʿAli b. Moʾayyad ordered the heads of the army to abandon Darviš ʿAziz and return to Sabzevār (Mir-Ḵvānd, V, p. 624; Ḵvāndmir, III, p. 366). Darviš ‘Aziz fled for ʿErāq with four hundred of his disciples. He was caught and killed on 5 January 1363/18 Rabiʿ I 764 by ʿAli b. Moʾayyad’s men who had been sent after him (Faṣiḥ-e Ḵvāfi, pp. 95-96; Mir-Ḵvānd, V, p. 624).

Following the elimination of the dervish faction, ʿAli b. Moʾayyad had the tombs of Šayḵ Ḵalifa and Šayḵ Ḥasan Juri destroyed and transformed to garbage dumps to be used by the bāzār merchants (mazbala-e ahl-e bāzār)  (Mir-Ḵvānd, V, p. 624). The Šayḵis were severely persecuted. ʿAli b. Moʾayyad tried to extirpate the extremist Shiʿism that had been the cause of a succession of political coups, cliquish conflicts, and social unrest in Sabzevār. However, the extremist Shiʿism of the dervishes remained a threat (Mahendrarajah, p. 395). The Šayḵis were always ready to destabilize the Sarbedār state, as is shown by the takeover of Sabzevār by the successor of Darviš ʿAziz, Darviš Rokn-al-Din.

During ʿAli b. Moʾayyad’s clampdown on the Šayḵis, Darviš Rokn-al-Din managed to escape to Fārs, where he was well received together with a group of three hundred devotees at the court of Šāh-Šojāʿ in Shiraz. Darviš Rokn-al-Din’s arrival in Fārs provided Šāh-Šojāʿ with a pretext for military intervention in Khorāsān. Darviš Rokn-al-Din and his supporters, outfitted by the Moẓaffarid treasury and backed up by a detachment of troops from Fārs, set out to conquer Khorāsān (Esfezāri, II, pp. 32-33). Sabzevār was taken in 1376/778 to be followed by the seizure of the castles of Baḥrābād, Jovayn, and Jājarm. ʿAli b. Moʾayyad was forced to seek refuge in Astarābād with Amir Wali, who helped him retake the town (Ḥāfez-e Abru, Cinq opuscules, Persian text, pp. 55-57). ʿAli b. Moʾayyad’s territory reduced considerably over the course of the following decades. At the end of his reign, he only controlled Bayhaq, Nishapur, and the districts located to the north of Jovayn.

ʿAli b. Moʾayyad’s anti-Šayḵi policies did not have tangible results, since the pro-Šayḵi tendencies had always existed in Sabzevār. After the suppression of the revolt of Darviš Rokn-al-Din, which took place around 780/1379, ʿAli b. Moʾayyad sent a letter to the Damascus-based Twelver Shiʿite jurist Moḥammad b. Makki al-ʿĀmeli (Mahendrarajah, p. 396). In this letter, he expressed his wish to protect the Shiʿites of Khorāsān, who had no religious authority to guide them: “We fear the wrath of [God] will befall this land due to the [lack] of a guide and the absence of guidance” (Mahendrarajah, p. 395). Moḥammad b. Makki was not in a position to accept the invitation, but he compiled a book on Twelver Shiʿite jurisprudence, so that ʿAli b. Moʾayyad and his Shiʿite subjects in Khorāsān could use it as a practical guideline (Mazzaoui, pp. 66-67; Melville, 1997, p. 49).

At the beginning of 1381/783, when Timur entered Khorāsān, ʿAli b. Moʾayyad had prepared his welcome by prior arrangement (Aubin, 1974, pp. 104-12). He came to pay homage in Nishapur in April 1381/Moḥarram 783 (Ḥāfez-e Abru, Cinq opuscules, commentary, p. 40). ʿAli b. Moʾayyad’s fidelity to Timur assured the security of the Sarbedār principality: it became a vassal of the Timurid regime. ʿAli b. Moʾayyad retained control of local administration and, theoretically, management of the tax revenues of Bayhaq and Jovayn. There was neither a Timurid garrison nor a tax collector in Sabzevār. The Sarbedār leaders ended up as mercenaries: “the army of Sabzevār” participated in the major Timurid campaign. ʿAli b. Moʾayyad was killed in a battle at Ḥowayza in 1386/788. He was buried in Sabzevār in secret out of fear of profanation of his tomb by the Šayḵis. Sarbedārid territory was divided between several governors, who also served Timur. In 1405/808, the claims of a relative of ʿAli b. Moʾayyad to “hereditary rights” over the old Sarbedārid territories came to an end with his execution and the sacking of Sabzevār (Aubin, 1974, p. 116).


The bedrock of the Sarbedār movement consisted of the property-owning middle class. Several of the leaders of the Sarbedār state, such as ʿAli Češomi, Yaḥyā Karāvi, or ʿAli b. Moʾayyad, came from the same well-to-do milieu of the Ḵvājas, or local and regional merchants and landed notables, who occupied the foremost rank in their township. Pahlavān Ḥaydar Qaṣṣāb was also a wealthy notable, probably a major butcher who combined this profession with that of tax collector. Among the personalities known in the literary milieu of Khorāsān in the 15th century, we find sons of Sarbedār dignitaries: Šaraf-al-Din Reżā, whose ancestors were viziers “of the time of the Sarbedārs”; the Amir-Šāhis, members of a family of Sarbedār grandees (bozorgān) (Dawlatšāh, p. 426); and Šayḵ Āḏari, whose father was all-powerful in Esfarāʾyen at the time of the Sarbedārs (Dawlatšāh, pp. 398-99). These people lived off the income from their lands, like the Bāštini.

Another common feature of the Sarbedārs of Sabzevār was their membership in those secret societies that were so widespread in medieval Iran, especially in Khorāsān. Most Sarbedār military commanders bore the title pahlavān. The pahlavān practices wrestling and archery. He is surrounded by a band of pupils and supporters. Strong is the personal link that binds the soldier to his leader. When the pahlavān ʿAbd-al-Razzāq Bāštini, the top Sarbedār leader, rebelled, his entire band of admirers did so as well. In the Moẓaffarid army, consisting in part of recruits from Khorāsān, the pahlavān who held high commands were numerous (Aigle, pp. 190-92). Pahlavāns are also found at the origin of social unrest in Iran in the 14th century. The uprising of Isfahan against Tamerlane, in 1387/789-90, was led by a pahlavān named ʿAli Kačapā (Navāʾi, p. 114, n. 1).

Thus from the beginning the Sarbedār movement acquired the fighting force it needed to assert itself by recruiting a specific category of country folk: wrestlers and archers. The creation of a professional army affected the subsequent development of the movement. Paying their wages was the big problem that the successors of Wajiḥ-al-Din Masʿud had to deal with. This debt could only be paid if the state possessed the necessary resources. Under Wajiḥ-al-Din Masʿud, as long as the Sarbedār state never stopped expanding, booty provided some of the expenses occasioned by the wages and by the maintenance of combat readiness. Things went differently after the disaster of 1343/743 against the Kart of Herat, who decimated the Sarbedār army, its leaders, and its fighting men. They recovered only slowly. Wajiḥ-al-Din Masʿud’s successor, Moḥammad Āy-Timur, managed only to maintain the integrity of the conquered territory. For over about ten years, the Sarbedārs did not go back to war. We have seen that the texts appear to indicate that the demises of Moḥammad Āy-Timur and Kolu Esfandyār were directly caused by a problem relating to the army. If this was indeed so, we can understand why support for “the crooks and criminals” incited the coalition of interest groups against them. Moḥammad Āy-Timur and Kolu Esfandyār, having undertaken to remake the army by recruiting diverse elements, displeased the troops that had been recruited locally. By surrounding themselves with professional soldiers, they worried the persons of influence as well as the dervishes. We know, moreover, that Kolu Esfandyār stopped paying their wages. Some of these cash-flow problems that caused his downfall Šams-al-Din Bāštini had clearly inherited.

The army was totally disorganized when Ṭoḡāy-Timur threatened to invade Sarbedār territory. That was when ʿAli Češomi deposed Šams-al-Din and seized power. As a capable administrator, he appears to have undertaken the task that the initial successors of Wajiḥ-al-Din Masʿud had not known how to handle: to redevelop the economy on a solid footing. We may imagine that ʿAli Češomi’s army consisted of local troops, recruited in the villages and from the artisans of the towns. According to Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru, he dedicated the country’s entire revenue to the cost of the Sarbedārs, which must mean primarily in the military sense (Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru, Cinq opuscules, commentary, p. 17).

It is difficult to shed light on the many social movements included within the term Sarbedārism: the sources are often unclear. At first, the movement seems to have been the result of a self-defense reflex of the rural landowners of Bayhaq. It does not seem to have been, as has previously been stated, a reaction of the Iranians (tājik) against the Mongol emirs. Resistance to the Mongols should be analyzed as a struggle for power in Khorāsān between Sarbedārs and Il-Khanid authorities. There was no real religious connotation to the movement. The exhortations of Šayḵ Ḥasan Juri were used by Wajiḥ-al-Din Masʿud only as a simple rabble-rousing tool for consolidating his power. However, we might detect during the joint exercise of power by ʿAli b. Moʾayyad and Darviš ʿAziz the hesitant emergence of Shiʿism as an expression of local idiosyncrasies. Nothing in the chronicles allows us to identify conflicts between social groups. It appears that the internecine struggles that ripped apart the Sarbedār state to some extent reflected the deterioration of the demographic and agricultural situation in Khorāsān during the second half of the 14th century.




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(Denise Aigle)

Originally Published: October 14, 2015

Last Updated: October 14, 2015

Cite this entry:

Denise Aigle, “SARBEDĀRS,” Encyclopædia Iranicaonline edition, 2015, available at (accessed on 14 October 2015).