SIMJURIDS, a family of Turkish mamluks who over four generations, from the late 9th century to the Qarakhanid conquest (389/999), played a leading role in the Samanid state. The source of their power lay in their early acquisition of a permanent appanage (eqṭāʿ) in Quhestān, as well as their powerful position at the Samanid court where they were among the first Turkish slaves to be promoted to high office by Esmāʿil b. Aḥmad (d. 295/907), the founder of the Samanid state. After half a century of loyal service as generals, administrators, and provincial governors, the Simjurids were appointed military governors (sepahsālārs) of Khorasan, the largest and wealthiest of the Samanid provinces. They ruled there for much of the next fifty years, becoming increasingly independent of control from Bukhara. The last significant Simjurid amir was among those local notables who appealed to the Qarakhanid ruler Abu Musā Boḡrā Khan for military assistance, thus opening the way to the Qarakhanid occupation of Bukhara in 382/992, the first step in the destruction of the Samanid house at the hands of the steppe Turks.

Their eponym, Abu ʿEmrān Simjur al-Dawāti was given the nesba al-Ḵʷārazmi by Ebn Ẓāfer (Treadwell, 2000, p. 408, n. 57). He was a royal ḡolām butunlike most Turkish slaves he achieved early prominence in both civilian and military posts, serving as financial supervisor in Herat in 287/900 and twice as governor of Sistan after the conquest of the province from the Saffarids by Aḥmad b. Esmāʿil (d. 301/914). Simjur apparently took part in an unsuccessful mamluk conspiracy to replace the unpopular Aḥmad with his uncle, Esḥāq b. Aḥmad (see Ebn Ẓāfer in Treadwell, 2000), but nevertheless managed to gain the confidence of the next Samanid ruler, Naṣr b. Aḥmad (d. 331/943), during whose reign several mamluks were promoted to high office over the heads of local Iranian amirs. He took part in the successful defense of Khorasan against a Zaydi invasion from the Caspian region (309/ 921–2) and held important provincial governorships, including that of the city of Rayy in 314/926–7. He died in the second half of Naṣr’s reign. His son Abu Esḥāq Ebrāhim (d. 336/948) began his career as the deputy of Abu ʿAli b. Moḥtāj, the Āl-e Moḥtāj governor of Khorasan, but later profited from his fall from favor at the time of his attempted coup against the Samanid Amir Nuḥ b. Naṣr (d. 343/954) and was himself appointed governor of Nishapur in 333/944–5.

Ebrāhim’s son, Abu’l-Ḥasan Moḥammad (d. 378/989) served as governor of the province for nearly thirty years (from 345/956-7 to 349/960-1; and 350/961-2 to 371/981-2; and again from 376/986-7 to 378/988-9). He gradually established de facto independent rule. Abu Saʿd ʿAbd-al-Karim Samʿāni ascribes his popularity in Nishapur to his piety, justice, and the patronage of the Shafiʾite communityto which he belonged, which included the construction of a house and madrasa for the Ashʿarite Ebn Furak (Bulliet, p. 250). The chronicles by contrast focus on his involvement in the turbulent politics of the Caspian region, where he met with mixed success against the Buyids, the Samanids’ regional rivals. He failed to restore his Ziyarid ally Voshmgir to power in Ṭabarestān and Gorgān, backed the wrong candidate as Voshmgir’s successor, but succeeded in concluding an advantageous peace treaty between the Samanids and the Buyids in 361/971–2. As a sign of the Samanids’ increasingly desperate need to retain his loyalty, he was granted extraordinary privileges on the accession of the child ruler Nuḥ b. Manṣur (365/976–387/997), including tax concessions, new territories and the prestigious laqab Nāser-al-Dawla (Bringer of Victory to the State). But Abu’l-Ḥasan and his son and successor Abu ʿAli al-Moẓaffar (d. 387/997) were more concerned to protect their authority in Khorasan against the rising power of the Ghaznavids and the machinations of their enemies in Bukhara than to fulfill their obligations towards their nominal sovereigns. They soon threw off the pretence of client status and initiated a series of hostile actions against the Samanids: refusing orders to intervene in Sistan to suppress a long-running civil war (369/979–80), conniving in the murder of the vizier Abu’l-Ḥosayn ʿOtbi (d. 372/982–3), and finally stopping the payment of tribute to Bukhara and the provision of military aid. Abu ʿAli made his intentions clear when he unilaterally awarded himself pretentious titles, among them, amir-e jahān (Lord of the World), while addressing Nuḥ as wāli-e Bokhārā (Governor of Bukhara; Treadwell, 2005, p. 148, 160), thus inverting the traditional relationship between the two houses. Under pressure from Sebüktegin the Ghaznavid who attacked him on the orders of the Samanids, he entered a complex series of alliances with the local powerbrokers who dominated the final chaotic years of Samanid rule, including most notably Abu’l-Ḥasan Fāʾeq Ḵaṣṣa, the power behind the Samanid throne from the middle of the century. He was eventually captured and handed over to the Ghaznavid Maḥmud, who executed him and succeeded him as ruler of Khorasan.



Primary sources: Most of the information on the family comes from the major chronicles of the Samanid period, including the works of Ebn al-Aṯir, Gardizi, ʿOtbi and Ebn Ẓāfer and consists of little more than a chronological listing of their appointments, military adventures, and political intrigues, which is comprehensively summarized in four articles by E. Merçil, Sîmcûrîler, I–IV, Istanbul n.d. (circa 1986).

The recently published chapter on the Samanids from Ebn Ẓāfer’shistory contains some useful new information (see below under Luke Treadwell). This can be supplemented by a brief family biography found in Samʿāni’s Ketāb al-ansāb,VII, ed. M. Sadiqi, Hyderabad, 1976, pp. 351–55).

Secondary sources: Clifford Edmund Bosworth, The History of the Saffarids of Sistan and the Maliks of Nimruz, Costa Mesa and New York 1994, esp. pp. 271–73.

Richard W. Bulliet, The Patricians of Nishapur: a Study in Medieval Islamic Social History, Cambridge, Mass., 1972.

Luke Treadwell, “Ibn Ẓāfir al-Azdī’s Account of the Murder of Aḥmad b. Ismāʿīl al-Sāmānī and the Succession of His Son Naṣr,” in Carole Hillenbrand ed., Studies in Honour of Clifford Edmund Bosworth, II, The Sultan’s Turret, Leiden, 2000, pp. 397–419.

Idem, "The Account of the Samanid Dynasty in Ibn Ẓāfir’s Akhbār al-duwal al-munqaṭiʿa, Iran 43, 2005, pp. 135-71.

May 16, 2006

(Luke Treadwell)

Originally Published: August 15, 2006

Last Updated: August 15, 2006