SEBÜKTEGIN, ABU MANṢUR NĀṢER-AL-DIN Wa’l-DAWLA, a slave commander of the Samanids (q.v.) and the founder of the Ghaznavid dynasty in eastern Afghanistan. The Turkish name Sebüktegin means “beloved prince,” but the second element (tegin “prince”) had declined in status from Orkhon Turkish times, becoming part of the onomastic of Turkish slave (ḡolām) commanders under the ʿAbbasids (Golden, pp. 52-53).
Sebüktegin was probably born in the 330s/940s. The sparse details of his early life are found in a Pand-nāma (testament of advice) attributed to him, ostensibly an epistle of the “Mirrors for Princes” genre, but only preserved by the 8th/14th-century historian Moḥammad Šabānkāraʾi (pp. 36-41) and also given by the 13th-century historian of the Ghurid and Delhi Sultanate, Juzjāni (pp. 225-28; tr. I, pp. 67-76), quoting from a lost portion of the volumes (mojalladāt) of the Ghaznavid historian Abu’l-Fażl Bayhaqi, the Tāriḵ-e nāṣeri, which dealt with Sebüktegin’s governorship in Ḡazna (Bosworth, Ghaznavids, pp. 5 ff., 16-20).
Sebüktegin apparently stemmed from Barsḵān district on the shores of the Issik-Kol Lake in what is now the northern part of Kyrgyzstan (the Kyrgyz Republic), perhaps from a clan of the Qarluq tribe of the Turks. In later Ghaznavid times, obsequious genealogists fabricated an exalted nasab for him from the supposed connection of a daughter of the last Sasanid emperor Yazdegerd III with a Turkish steppe chief (Juzjāni, p. 226; Bosworth, 1973, p. 61). He was brought as a slave to Naḵšab in Transoxania and eventually acquired by the Samanid commander Alptegin (q.v.), in whose service he rose rapidly. When Alptegin, after a failed coup d’état, had to withdraw from Bukhara in 350/961 into northern Afghanistan, Sebüktegin followed in his entourage, and after a series of short-reigning Turkish commanders in Ḡazna, was chosen in 366/977 by the Turkish troops there as their leader. He thus began a twenty years’ period of power in Ḡazna, nominally as governor for the Samanids but in practice as an independent ruler. The inscription on his tomb at Ḡazna styles him, however, al-Ḥājeb al-Ajall “Most Exalted Commander,” reflecting the designation al-Ḥājeb al-Kabir when he was in the service of the Samanids (Flury, pp. 62-65).
From his base at Ḡazna, Sebüktegin began early to expand his authority. In 367/977-78 he extended southeastwards down the Helmand valley to Roḵḵaj and Bost, subduing another group of Turkish ḡolāms established there earlier in the century by the Samanid general Qarategin Esfijābi, and subsequently into Qoṣdār in northern Baluchistan. In about 376/986-87, he marched down the Kabul River valley through Lāmḡān to Peshawar and twice defeated the Hendušāhi Rājā of Wayhind, Jaypāl, introducing the Islamic faith to these regions. In 384-85/994-95, at the invitation of the Samanid Amir Nuḥ (II) b. Manṣur (I), he and his son Maḥmud (q.v.) intervened militarily in the upper Oxus region and in Khorasan against the rebel generals Fāʾeq Ḵāṣṣa and Abu ʿAli Simjuri. He successfully combated this threat to the Samanids, but then sent Maḥmud with a force against Bukhara in order to intimidate Amir Nuḥ (ʿOtbi, pp. 102 ff., 136-37; cf. Barthold, pp. 261-64). However, on the way back to Ḡazna, Sebüktegin died at the village of Madr-e Muy to the north of the Hindu Kush in Šaʿbān 387/August-September 997. After a succession struggle with his younger brother Esmāʿil, Maḥmud succeeded his father at Ḡazna (ʿOtbi, pp. 153,-58; Nāzim, pp. 38-41).
We know very little about the internal structure of Sebüktegin’s dominion or any names of his viziers or chief executives, although a reorganization by him, or by his financial officials, of the system of land grants around Ḡazna supporting the Turkish soldiery is mentioned (Bosworth, Ghaznavids, pp. 41-42, 122-23). It seems that he was able to call upon the services of some local Persian secretaries and officials in Ḡazna, and one result of his campaign against Bost (see above) was his acquiring the services of the noted stylist and poet in Arabic, Abu’l-Fatḥ Bosti (d. 400 or 401/1010 or 1011), who then headed Sebüktegin’s chancery (Divān-e rasāʾel) until the amir’s death; his poetry was to be much cited by ʿOtbi (pp. 25-27, 113, 117, etc.). After his death, Sebüktegin acquired a reputation as the just amir (amir-e ʿādel), emphasized by anecdotes concerning his justice in Bayhaqi (see, e.g., pp. 581-83; tr., II, pp. 107-9), but there seems to be no hard evidence for such a character trait or indeed for any other aspects of his personality.
Sources. The only near-contemporary sources are:
Abu’l-Fażl Bayhaqi, Tāriḵ-e masʿudi, ed. ʿAli-Akbar Fayyāż, as Tāriḵ-e Bayhaqi, Mashad, 1971; tr. Clifford Edmond Bosworth and revised by Mohsen Ashtiany, as The History of Beyhaqi, 3 vols., Washington, D.C., 2011, III, p. 464.
Abu Saʿid ʿAbd-al-Ḥayy Gardizi, Zayn al-aḵbār, ed. Muhammad Nazim, Berlin, 1928, pp. 54-58; ed. Abd-al-Ḥayy Ḥabibi, Tehran, 1968, pp. 169-71; tr. Clifford Edmund Bosworth, as The Ornament of Histories: A History of the Eastern Islamic Lands AD 650-1041, London, 2011, pp. 74-77.
Abu Naṣr Moḥammad ʿOtbi, Ketāb al-yamini, ed. Eḥsān Ḏanun Ṯāmeri, as al-Yamini fi šarḥ aḵbār al-Sulṭān Yamin al-Dawla wa Amin al-Mella Maḥmud al-Ḡaznawi, Beirut, 2004, pp. 494-95; tr. Abu’l-Šaraf Nāṣeḥ Jorfādeqāni, as Tarjama-ye Tāriḵ-e yamini, ed. Jaʿfar Šeʿār, Tehran, 1966.
Of later works, see:
Ebn al-Aṯir (Beirut), XIII, p. 146.
Menhāj-e Serāj Juzjāni, Ṭabaqāt-e nāṣeri, ed. ʿAbd-al-Ḥayy Ḥabibi, 2 vols., Kabul. 1963-64, I, pp. 225-28, tr. Raverty, I, pp. 67-76.
Moḥammad Šabānkāraʾi, Majmaʿ al-ansāb, ed, Mir Hāšem Moḥaddeṯ, Tehran, 1984, pp. 34-44, esp. 36-41; tr. Muhammad Nazim, “The Pand-Nāmah of Subuktigīn,” JRAS, 1933, pp. 605-28.
For a general survey, see:
Clifford Edmund Bosworth, “Early Sources for the History of the First Four Ghaznavid Sultans (977-1040),” Islamic Quarterly 7, 1963, pp. 3-22.
Barthold, Turkestan³, pp. 261-64.
Bosworth, Ghaznavids, esp. pp. 35-44.
Idem, “Sebüktigin,” in EI² IX, 1997, p. 121.
Idem, “The Heritage of Rulership in Early Islamic Iran and the Search for Dynastic Connections with the Past,” Iran 11, 1973, pp. 51-62.
Idem, “The Early Ghaznavids,” in Camb. Hist. Iran IV, pp. 166-8.
S. Flury, “Le décor épigraphique des monuments de Ghazna,” Syria 6, 1925, pp. 63-90.
Peter B. Golden, “The Terminology of Slavery and Servitude in Medieval Turkic,” in Devin DeWeese, ed., Studies on Central Asian History in Honor of Yuri Bregel, Bloomington, Ind., 2001, pp. 27-56.
Muḥammad Nāẓim, The Life and Times of Sulṭān Maḥmūd of Ghazna, Cambridge, 1931, pp. 28-33.
(C. Edmund Bosworth)
Originally Published: January 1, 2000
Last Updated: December 21, 2012