chapter  I
8 Pages

Introduction

I The Akhbār al-dawla al-saljūqiyya is a chronicle of the Seljuq dynasty, and more particularly, of the Great Seljuq sultanate as it emerged within the Iranian lands in the mid-fi fth/eleventh century. Under the leadership of two steppe chieftains, the brothers Ṭoghrïl Beg and Chaghrï Beg, the Seljuqs had humbled the mighty empire of the Ghaznavids built up by the Sultan Maḥmūd and had deprived it of its territories in Khurasan. The Seljuq empire was now in the later decades of the century to reach its apogee under Sultans Alp Arslān and his son Malik Shāh. The sultans directed a great empire stretching from Syria in the west to the Oxus river (and, at times, beyond it) and Afghanistan in the east: the heartland being under direct rule but with vassal states and principalities, some ruled by local petty dynasts and others ruled by members of the Seljuq family or their Turkish commanders. This zenith was, however, succeeded in 485/1092 by a ‘time of troubles’, at the outset involving a succession struggle between Malik Shāh’s sons Berk-yārūq and Muḥammad Ṭapar which was in the end resolved by the former’s death, leaving Muḥammad to be the last sultan exercising undisputed control over western Persia and Iraq. Since he left several sons who competed for authority in various parts of the realm, the years after 511/1118 saw the Great Seljuq sultanate reduced to being essentially a power within what are the borders of modern Iran and, more falteringly, of modern Iraq, with other branches of the Seljuq family, like those ruling over Kirman and over Anatolia or Rūm, existing as substantially independent of the Great Seljuq sultans in Hamadan and Merv. Moreover, in the middle years of the sixth/twelfth century, the capture of Sultan Sanjar by Oghuz bands roaming through Khurasan and his death soon afterwards in 552/1157, meant the loss of Khurasan to the Great Seljuqs, leaving them in the last four decades or so of their existence a power in northwestern Persia only, the Jibāl or ʿIrāq-i ʿAjam of the Muslim geographers. Kirman passed from Seljuq hands into those of further Oghuz bands; Fars and Khuzistan were controlled by local Turkish Atabeg lines; Azerbaijan and Arrān were likewise dominated by the Ildegizid Atabegs. Then, pour comble de malheur, the residual authority of the Seljuqs in Iraq proper, ʿIrāq-i ʿArab, was challenged by a renaissance in the secular and military power of the ʿAbbasid caliphs, a trend which was only

short-lived, being slowed down by pressure from the Khwarazm Shahs and then halted by the onslaught of the Mongols at the beginning of the next century, but which was signifi cant enough to contribute to the ending of Seljuq infl uence in Iraq. The last three-and-a-half decades of the Great Seljuq sultans were in any case years in which they had to share a diminishing power with the over-mighty Ildegizids, what Kenneth A. Luther called a dyarchy: the Seljuqs retained an aura of moral authority amongst their Turkish troops and followers but actual military power and initiatives were substantially in the hands of the Atabegs.1 The Akhbār becomes particularly detailed for this last period, nearer to the author’s own time and for which he may have had fi rst-hand information from contemporaries (see below, p. 6). When there came about a rapprochement between the Ildegizids and the increasingly aggressive and expansionist Khwarazm Shahs of Anūshtegin Gharchaʾī’s line, allowing these last to invade Khurasan and penetrate as far westwards as Ray in northern Persia, the end came for the last Great Seljuq, Ṭoghrïl b. Arslān Shāh, who was killed in battle with the Shah Tekish in 590/1194.2 The pattern of the Arabic Akhbār al-dawla al-saljūqiyya thus follows roughly that of the Persian histories of the Seljuqs like Ẓahīr al-Dīn Nīshāpūrī’s Saljūq-nāma (previously known to us only from adaptations or works drawing upon it from Il-Khanid times but now to a considerable extent known through the work of Mr A.H. Morton on a unique manuscript now in the library of the Royal Asiatic Society, London, he having supplemented and elucidated this text by an examination of parallel and supplementary source information3) and Rāwandī’s Rāḥat al-ṣudūr. Events are treated chronologically, with sections on the reign of each sultan and special ones devoted to outstanding events like Alp Arslān’s campaigns into Byzantium and the death of Niẓām al-Mulk, and the character and achievements of the sultans and their servants, sc. viziers and secretaries, are noted.4 Especially valuable, with unique details, is the author’s account of Alp Arslān’s campaigns into Anatolia against the Byzantines, culminating in the battle of Mantzikert/Malāzgird in 463/1071, and information from various times on relations with the Transcaucasian Christian power of Georgia, which under its Bagratid monarchs in the later sixth/twelfth century enjoyed a resurgence of military strength which bore hard on the Muslim populations of Arrān and northern Azerbaijan. The story unfolds in a comparatively dispassionate way. Admiration is expressed for the Seljuq sultans and their achievements, their just rule and their defence of the Dār al-Islām against outside pressures like those of the Georgians and internal threats like those of the Bāṭiniyya or Ismāʿīlīs; but the Aʿbbasid caliphs are mentioned with expressions of esteem for their charisma and moral and spiritual authority, with terms like al-ʿAtaba al-sharīfa, al-Dār al-ʿazīza, al-Dīwān al-ʿazīz, etc., used in regard to them. There thus emerges from what has been said above that the Akhbār’s narrative is purely concerned with dynastic, political and military history. First, the efforts of the Great Seljuqs to maintain the integrity of their lands against centrifugal forces, the ambitions of provincial governor and Atabegs, a struggle which they

eventually lost. Second, their efforts to maintain the Islamic frontiers in northwestern Iran and Armenia, which in the fi fth/eleventh century had some success against the Christians, although the victory at Mantzikert/Malāzgird was not immediately followed up, at least by the Great Seljuqs themselves; and in northeastern Iran and the Oxus lands, where Seljuq efforts to extend a measure of control over the Qarakhanids of Transoxania were negated by Sanjar’s defeat at the hands of the infi del Qara Khitay and his consequent loss of prestige. Virtually absent from the Akhbār is anything which contributes to our wider knowledge of the economic and social history of the Iranian lands at this time, although momentous changes were afoot in such spheres as land utilisation and demography, brought about by incoming Turkmen followers of the fi rst Seljuqs and further waves subsequently, certainly for the northern tier of the Iranian lands. Work was begun over sixty years ago by Claude Cahen and has been continued to our own time by e.g. Richard Bulliet, Jürgen Paul, David Durand-Guédy and Deborah Tor, on urban structures, the role of local notables and the phenomenon, mainly but not exclusively urban, of the ʿayyārs and fi tyān; neither of these last two groups is at all mentioned in the Akhbār. We know both from theological and philosophical texts and from other historical ones that there was at this time much religious strife between Sunnis and Shiʿites, with political Shiʿism fi ghting a losing battle in the central Islamic lands against a resurgent and confi dent Sunni orthodoxy, but with many disputes and tensions also within the bosom of this last. There is e.g. some reference in the Akhbār to religious strife in Nishapur between Ḥanafīs and Shāfi ʿīs (see below, p. 83), and the radical Shiʿite Ismaʿilis are inevitably mentioned with obloquy, but not a great deal can be inferred from its pages about the religious movements and intellectual life of the Seljuq period in Iran and Iraq; fortunately, we have rich information here from several other sources. However, although negative information can at times have signifi cance, it is in the end futile to lament what this source does not tell us; the value of the Akhbār in reconstructing the political and military events of these lively and signifi cant two centuries, when combined with the material from parallel sources, is surely evident.