History of Iran

Samanid Dynasty
By: Cyrus Shahmiri


The Mausoleum of Ismail the Samanid in Bukhara
The Samanid Empire was the first native dynasty to arise in Iran after the Muslim Arab conquest. It was renowned for the impulse that it gave to Iranian national sentiment and learning. For the first time after the Arab Invasion, Persian becomes the official langue of the court and replaces Arabic.

The four grandsons of the dynasty's founder, Saman-Khoda, had been rewarded with provinces for their faithful service to the Abbasid caliph al-Mamun: Nuh obtained Samarkand; Ahmad, Fergana; Yahya, Shash; and Elyas, Herat. Ahmad's son Nasr became governor of Transoxania in 875 CE, but it was his brother and successor, Ismail I (892-907 CE), who overthrew the Saffarids in Khorasan (900 CE) and the Zaydites of Tabaristan, thus establishing a semiautonomous rule over Transoxania and Khorasan, with Bukhara as his capital.

Ismail conquered many places, and a territory of his kingdom was wide spread all over today's Central Asia, Afghanistan, and eastern Iran, however in the time of his successors we can observe the autonomy of the regions. The image of Ismail came in the history of Central Asia not only as a strong and capable politician, but also as an equitable ruler, who changed the heavy tax weights, and confiscated the possessions of some landowners. Due to the strong political regime of Ismail, Transoxiana, and his capital Bukhara was so safe, from the nomadic Turks that the walls around of some cities were neglected, although later on these walls were necessary.

The successors of Ismail could not continue his policy, and they left under the influence of their Turkish guard, who became dominant in the court (Alp-Takin and later established by him Ghaznavid dynasty), and alongside with the Qarakhanids ended the rule of the Samanids in 999 CE. However, in some aspects the time of Ismail's successors was more important that his own. For instance the time of Nasr ibn Ahmad (914 - 943 CE) is described by many authors as the golden age of the Samanid rule, because of flowering of literature and culture. The main role in this process was played by the Samanid vazirs, the primer ministers, who themselves were the scholars of their time. Here we should mention the names of two important primer ministers Abu Abdellah Jayhani, and Abul Fazl Mohammad Balami. They gathered many intelligent people in their court and made Bukhara the cultural centre of Iranian civilisation. According to R. Frye the well-known process of Iranian renaissance began in Central Asia rather then in Iran, and he sees the reason for that in the difference of the social groups in these two parts of Muslim world. The mercantile, trade society of Central Asia was much more suitable for the development of an egalitarian Islamic society than a hierarchical caste society of Iran. Therefore the Samanids, who were the real rulers of Transoxian could be seen as a pioneers of Iranian renaissance. Indeed the changes, which took place under that process, occupied every sphere of life: cultural, linguistic, social, art, economy, politics, and scientific.

The changes, which came with the emerge of the Samanids in the agriculture, commerce, architecture, city building, coinage, textiles, and metalwork, were due in many respects to the stability and safety political situation of the country. The merchants had good opportunities to enter into commercial relations not only with their nearest neighbours, but also with the far countries as well, like the Khazars of Volga, through whom an active traffic developed, with the Vikings of Scandinavia. Due to them the textiles and metalwork of Samanids were exchanged for the furs and amber of the Baltic lands.

The Samanid amirs had control over the most important silver producing veins of Central Asia in Badakhshan and Farghana, which made possible the development of the coinage system. The Samanids coinage, due to its vast quantity, was popular not only in the Islamic world, but also outside it in Russia, Scandinavia, the Baltic lands, and even in British Isles.

The Samanids contribution to Islamic architecture indeed is very significant. Examples of this could be observed in the growth of the cities in ninth and tenth centuries. Here we can code the to capital of the Samanids, Bukhara, which became the cultural, political, and economic centre of Central Asia for the centuries, until the Bolshevik revolution when in 1920 the Soviets ended the rule of the Bukhara Emirate. The Registan of Bukhara - a large square, where the ten divans (ministries) were located, is still the most beautiful part of the city, and a tourist attraction. There are also some other historico-architectural memorials remaining from that time, like the mausoleum of the Samanids in Bukhara, the mausoleum of Arabato in Tim, the mosque Nuh Gunbad in Balkh, and so on. Along with Bukhara many other cities in the Samanid Empire began to develop such as Samarqand, Balkh, Usturusha, Panjacant, Shash, Marv, Nishapour, Herat. The cities in many respects were the signs of new Persian civilisation represented by the name of Islam, because mostly the development of literature, language, art, architecture, trade, took place in the cities.