ABŪ NAṢR AḤMAD B. ESMĀʿĪL SĀMĀNĪ, called AMĪR-E ŠAHĪD (“the martyred amir”) because of his violent death, Samanid amir in Transoxania and Khorasan (295-301/907-14). Under his father, Esmāʿīl b. Aḥmad (the real founder of Samanid fortunes), he had been for a time governor of the recently conquered province of Gorgān (see below). Succeeding as amir, he became ruler of a considerable empire. This included not only the heartland of the original Samanid governorate in Soḡd, but also the rich province of Khorasan; the latter passed definitely to the Samanids after the defeat and capture of the Saffarid adventurer ʿAmr b. Layṯ near Balḵ in 288/901 and was to remain in their hands for virtually all of the 4th/10th century. Aḥmad’s first tasks were to ensure the stability of his rule in Transoxania and to secure the vital point of Ray in northern Persia. The ʿAbbasid caliphs Moktafī and then Moqtader confirmed him in his rule; and after securing Bokhara, he went on to Ray. He then had to return eastward to Samarqand and seize his uncle Esḥāq b. Manṣūr, who coveted the throne and was to lead a rising in Samarqand early in the next reign, when the young amir Naṣr b. Aḥmad was still insecure. In 296/908-09 Aḥmad was back at Ray (Gardīzī, ed. Nazim, p. 22; ed. Ḥabībī, p. 148; Ebn al-Aṯīr [Beirut], VIII, p. 7; G. C. Miles, The Numismatic History of Rayy, New York, 1938, pp. 133-35).
Having taken over Khorasan, the Samanids were now able to exert further pressure in Sīstān on the Saffarids, the successors of ʿAmr b. Layṯ. In 298/910, Moqtader invested Aḥmad formally with the governorship of Sīstān, instructing him to terminate the rule there of the Saffarid house. Taking advantage of dissensions between the Saffarid princes Moḥammad b. ʿAlī b. Layṯ and his brother Moʿaddal, Aḥmad sent his general Ḥosayn b. ʿAlī Marvarrūdī and then came personally, advancing with an army from Herat to Bost. He met little opposition and captured Moḥammad b. ʿAlī, then invaded Sīstān itself. The capital Zarang was taken; Moʿaddal was deported to Bokhara, where he was given a pension; and in 299/911 a Samanid governor, the amir’s cousin Manṣūr b. Esḥāq, was sent to Sīstān. Manṣūr’s financial exactions, plus discontent within the occupying Samanid army, soon led to an anti-Samanid rising in Zarang; and in 300/913 Manṣūr had to leave for Khorasan. A second Samanid occupation the took place. Manṣūr was replaced by a Samanid slave commander, Sīmǰūr Dawātī; but shortly after Aḥmad’s death, when affairs at the Samanid court were temporarily plunged into anarchy, the people of Sīstān threw off the Samanid yoke and eventually restored there the rule of the Saffarids (Ṭabarī, III, p. 2287; Gardīzī, ed. Nazim, pp. 23-24; ed. Ḥabībī, pp. 148-49; Tārīḵ-e Sīstān, pp. 290-302; Ebn al-Aṯīr, VII, pp. 60-61, 69-70; cf. Bosworth, “The Ṭāhirids and Ṣaffārids,” Camb. Hist. Iran IV, pp. 123-24, 130-31).
The strategic importance of Ray for the Samanids was that it gave them a bastion against the ʿAlid ruler in Gorgān and Ṭabarestān. Esmāʿīl b. Aḥmad, as a strong Sunnite, had in 287/900 sent an expedition against them, killing the local ruler Moḥammad b. Zayd. Toward the end of Aḥmad’s reign (in 302/914-15, according to Ebn Meskawayh), a revolt of the people of these Caspian regions took place under the ʿAlid Ḥasan b. ʿAlī Oṭrūš, called al-Nāṣer al-Kabīr. Aḥmad sent his governor at Ray, Moḥammad b. ʿAlī Ṣoʿlūk, with an army; but the latter was defeated. Before the amir could take further steps to reassert his authority in Gorgān and Ṭabarestān, he was murdered at Farabr in Jomādā I, 301/January, 914 after a reign of only six years and four months (Ṭabarī, III, pp. 2289, 2292; Naršaḵī [in bibliog.], ed., pp. 110-11, tr., p. 94; Ebn Meskawayh, Taǰāreb I, p. 36; ʿArīb, Ṣela taʾrīḵ al-Ṭabarī, Cairo, n.d., p. 25; Gardīzī, ed. Nazim, p. 24, ed. Ḥabībī, pp. 149-50; Ebn Esfandīār, abridged tr. E. G. Browne, Leiden and London, 1905, pp. 199-200; Ebn al-Aṯīr, VIII, pp. 77-78, 81-82). Aḥmad’s assassination was at the hands of a group of his Turkish palace guards. According to Gardīzī, one Abu’l-Ḥasan Naṣr the secretary was a prime mover in the plot; Mostawfī, however, says that these ḡolāms had become angry with Aḥmad’s frequenting of ʿolamāʾ; hence they killed him out of jealousy (Tārīḵ-e gozīda [Tehran], pp. 378-79). The same source states that he had reintroduced the use of Arabic as the language of the government dīvāns in place of Persian, although this probably proved only a temporary change. Apart from this love of learning and the company of scholars, plus his reputation for justice and equity and a passion for hunting (mentioned by Naršaḵī and Gardīzī), no very clear picture of the amir’s personality emerges. His historical role was clearly to consolidate his father’s conquests and achievements, so that the Samanid state survived intact the confusions and discords of the minority of his son and successor, Naṣr.
Naršaḵī, Tārīḵ-e Bokhara, ed. Modarres Rażawī, Tehran, 1319 Š./1940; tr. R. N. Frye, The History of Bukhara, Cambridge, Mass., 1954.
Barthold, Turkestan3, p. 240.
R. N. Frye, “The Samanids,” Camb. Hist. Iran IV, p. 141.
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(C. E. Bosworth)
Originally Published: December 15, 1983
Last Updated: July 21, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 4, pp. 349-350
C. E. Bosworth, “Abu Nasr Ahmad,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/4, pp. 349-350; an updated version is available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/abu-nasr-ahmad-b-1 (accessed on 30 January 2014).