ABU’L-KHAYRIDS, the name used for the dynasty that ruled the khanate of Bukhara in 906-1007/1500-99. Until recently, this dynasty was incorrectly called in Western literature “Shaybanids” (or “Shibanids”). Its forefather was, in fact, Šïban, who was the fourth son of Joči, the eldest son of Čengiz Khan (d. 624/1227). However, the sixth generation of his descendants split into two branches: those of ʿArabšāh b. Fulād and Ebrāhim-Oḡlān b. Fulād. In the first quarter of the 15th century these two branches competed for the supreme authority over the nomads of the Central Asian Steppe (Dašt-e Qepčāq), who had become known under the name of Özbek. In 1429 a grandson of Ebrāhim-Oḡlān named Abu’l-Ḵayr was elected in Siberia as the supreme ruler of the Özbek ulus, and he united under his authority the majority of the Özbeks. Yet, Abu’l-Ḵayr’s ulus disintegrated after his death in 1468, and it was his grandson, Moḥammad Šāh-Baḵt (r. 906-16/1500-10), who became famous as Šïbāni Khan from the pen-name Šïbāni, which he used in his poetry; very often erroneously transcribed as Šaybāni), who reunited a part of the Özbeks and led them to the conquest of the Timurid territories.

The name “Šaybānids,” often used in scholarly literature for the dynasty founded by Šïbāni Khan—besides the wrong transcription of it—can be misleading for several reasons. It cannot refer to the family of Šïbāni Khan himself, because he left no posterity, and the authority in the Özbek state that he founded passed to other branches of this family. Besides, the name “Šïbānids” should be applied to all the descendants of Šïban (son of Joči), in which case they should include both the branch of Ebrāhim-Oḡlān (and later Abu’l-Ḵayr) and the branch of ʿArabšāh. To distinguish between these two branches, which formed two separate dynasties in Central Asia in the 16th century, the branch of Abu’l-Ḵayr is to be called Abu’l-Khayrids and that of ʿArabšāh is to be referred to as Arabshahids.

The Abu’l-Khayrid empire emerged as a result of the Özbek conquests of the Timurid territories in Central Asia. After Šïbāni Khan’s conquest of Herat in 913/1507, he had his name read in the Friday sermon (ḵoṭba) with the title Emām-al-zamān wa ḵalifat-al-raḥmān (the Leader of the Age and the Vicegerent of the Merciful), which was a claim to both spiritual and temporal supreme authority in the Muslim world (Boldyrev, p. 363; Semenov, 1954, p. 70; Subtelny, p. 133). This was a direct challenge to the Shiʿite dynasty of the Safavids, whose first shah, Esmāʿil I (r. 907-930/1501-24), started at the same time his own conquests of the Timurid territories from the west. Since then the political and military conflicts between the Özbek dynasties in Central Asia and the Safavids and their successors in Persia always had a religious coloration.

By the time of Šïbāni Khan’s death in the battle with the Persians at Merv in 916/1510, the territories that he had conquered included Transoxania, Farḡāna, Khwarazm, and a part of Khorasan. After the death of Šïbāni Khan the sultans (members of the Abu’l-Khayrid clan), convened an assembly (qoreltāy), at which a new khan was elected. In accordance with the old Inner Asian nomadic tradition, the new khan was the eldest surviving member of the family, which was Kučkonji Moḥammad (an uncle of Šïbāni Khan, r. 916-18/1510-12), also known as Kučum Khan. The territory remaining in the hands of the Özbeks was divided between the appanages of princes (sultans), members of the four branches of the Abu’l-Khayrid clan, the descendants of the four sons of Abu’l-Ḵayr Khan: Šāh Budāq (led by ʿObayd-Allāh Solṭān), who received Bukhara; Ḵᵛāja Moḥammad (led by Jāni-beg), who received Miānkāl (the region between Bukhara and Samarqand), to which they later added Balkh, captured from the Timurids in 932/1526; Kučkonji Moḥammad, who received Samarqand (at first jointly with the son of Šïbāni Khan, Moḥammad Timur, who died in 920/1514); and Soyunjuk (or Sevinj Moḥammad), who received Tashkent (see the genealogical chart in McChesney, p. 179).

This system was unstable: it depended on the degree of the cohesion of the dynasty and the ability of its members to ensure the support of Özbek tribal chieftains (amirs), whose tribal militia was the main source of the military power. There was no permanent capital: the sultan who would be elected as a khan would remain in the capital of his appanage which was his powerbase. The sultans remained independent rulers of their appanages, but until 957/1550 they maintained some cooperation with one another, especially in the wars with the Safavid Persia, their common enemy. The military leader of the Abu’l-Khayrids, after the qoreltāy of 916/1511, was not Kučkonji, but Šïbāni Khan’s nephew ʿObayd-Allāh Solṭān. Under his command the Özbeks defeated the ally of Esmāʿil I, Timurid ruler and the future founder of the Mughal dynasty Ẓahir-al-Din Bābor (r. 1526-30), in a battle near Bukhara in 918/1512, and later in the same year they routed the Qezelbāš army at Gejdovān. ʿObayd-Allāh Solṭān retained his military leadership (and therefore was usually styled “khan”) also later, and in 940/1533 he was elected the supreme khan on the basis of seniority and reigned until 946/1539. He invaded Khorasan five times in the 930s-40s/1520s-30s and sometimes occupied the entire province up to Astarābād and Semnān in the west, but the only decisive battle, near Jām in 934/1528, was won by the Safavids under Shah Ṭahmāsb I (r. 1524-76). After that the Özbeks had to retreat from Khorasan every time Ṭahmāsb I was coming with his army to liberate the province.

In 957/1550 a conflict erupted among the rulers of the appanages, and the wars between them continued, with some interruptions, until 989/1581 (see details in McChesney, pp. 181-82). By that time, the grandson of Ḵᵛāja Moḥammad b. Abu’l-Ḵayr, ʿAbd-Allāh Solṭān, acting in the name of his father Eskandar b. Jāni-beg (r. 968-91/1561-83), who was the nominal ruler of the appanage of Bukhara and, since 968/1561, the supreme khan of the Özbeks, had eliminated in these wars all his rival appanage rulers, who were all killed or executed one by one, often with their entire families. After the death of his father in 991/1583, ʿAbd-Allāh became khan (r. 991-1006/1583-98), and from that time on Bukhara became the capital of the newly emerging empire, which can rightly be called the Khanate of Bukhara. The appanages still remained, but now they were given to the members of ʿAbd-Allāh’s own family. During the decade and a half that followed, ʿAbd-Allāh Khan expanded his empire in various directions, first to Badaḵšān, which he conquered in 992/1584 and annexed to the Balkh appanage held by his son ʿAbd-al-Moʾmen.

After that ʿAbd-Allāh Khan began the conquest of Khorasan, taking advantage of the difficulties experienced at that time by the Safavids, both internally and in the war with the Ottomans. The Khorasan campaign began with the conquest of Herat in 996/1588. The chief role in this and all subsequent conquests in Khorasan belonged to ʿAbd-Allāh’s son and heir apparent ʿAbd-al-Moʾmen, while ʿAbd-Allāh Khan himself undertook the conquest of Khwarazm in 1002/1593 and 1004/1595-96 and briefly invaded Kāšḡar and Yārkand in 1003/1594-95. The last years of ʿAbd-Allāh’s reign were marred by his conflict with his son, who claimed for much greater role in the affairs of the empire. Only the interference of the ulema prevented an open war between the father and the son, but the Qazaqs used the opportunity of this feud and invaded Transoxania in 1006/1598. ʿAbd-Allāh Khan died in 1006/1598 at the very beginning of his campaign against the Qazaqs, and soon after this ʿAbd-al-Moʾmen was assassinated by a group of his father’s amirs. The Abu’l-Khayrid dynasty in Bukhara was extinguished and replaced by a new dynasty of the Ashtarkhanids, or Janids, in 1007/1599.

The economy of Transoxania after the Özbek conquest, having improved originally after an important monetary reform under Šïbāni Khan, later suffered from the conflicts and wars between the rulers of appanages, and the next reform (or series of reforms), gradually introduced under Kučkonji Khan by the end of the first quarter of the 16th century, had only a partial success (Davidovich, 1954; Idem, 1972). Great improvement in the economy took place, when the appanages were replaced by the empire of ʿAbd-Allāh Khan, who took various measures that created more favorable conditions for both internal and international trade of the Abu’l-Khayrid khanate: improvement of roads and building of caravanserais, rebāṭs, and water cisterns. It was also under ʿAbd-Allāh Khan that an English merchant, Anthony Jenkinson (1529-1610/11), acting as an agent of the Muscovy Company (founded in England for the trade with China) and, at the same time, as an ambassador of the Russian Tsar Ivan IV (r. 1530-84, known as Ivan the Terrible), traveled to Bukhara in 1558-59 and was received by the khan (Burton, pp. 12-14, 416-19).

The conquests of Šïbāni Khan and the establishment of the Abu’l-Khayrid dynasty (as well as its Arabshahid rivals in Khwarazm) brought about important ethnic, political, and cultural changes in the life of Central Asia. They were accompanied by the migration of a substantial number of Turkic tribesmen to the southern regions of Central Asia and to Khorasan, thus boosting the nomadic Turkic-speaking population of these areas. The replacement of the Timurids with the Chingizid dynasty caused the revival, or re-invigoration, of the Turko-Mongol steppe political traditions, which was reflected not only in the above mentioned custom of the dynastic succession, but also in other matters of administration and court protocol. But in such spheres of the ‘high culture’ as literature and painting, the Timurid traditions of the refined style and court patronage of poets and artists, with the literary gatherings (majles), more or less continued at the courts of various members of the Abu’l-Khayrid dynasty (Wāṣefi; Boldyrev; Schimmel; Subtelny; Semenov, 1956). The cultural continuity (at least a partial one) between the Timurids and the Abu’l-Khayrids especially owed to the emigration from Khorasan to Transoxania (but not to Khwarazm, which was not affected by this emigration) of many intellectuals—scholars, poets, writers, and artists, who refused to convert to the Shiʿism and fled religious persecutions by the Safavids. A prominent Persian poet from the Timurid Herat and later Samarqand, Kamāl-al-Din Banāʾi Haravi (857-918/1453-1512), was among the first who switched sides and offered his service to Šïbāni Khan (upon the latter’s conquest of Samarqand in 906/1501), and he was the first who wrote, in Persian, the history of Šïbāni Khan. This work was entitled Šaybāni-nāma in the first redaction, and Fotuḥāt-e ḵāni in the second, enlarged redaction (Storey-Bregel, II, pp. 1116-19). Another Persian poet from the Timurid Herat, Zayn-al-Din Wāṣefi, who fled, as a Sunnite, to Transoxania in 918/1512, was active at the courts of several Abu’l-Khayrids in Bukhara, Tashkent, and Samarqand, where he wrote his famous memoirs entitled Badāʾeʿ al-waqāʾeʿ (Storey-Bregel, II, pp. 1123-27).

Not only poets and writers, but also some outstanding miniature painters and calligraphers migrated to Transoxania, or were deported from Herat by the Abu’l-Khayrid conquerors in 941/1535. Among them was Maḥmud Moḏahheb, who became the leading miniaturist of the “Bukhara school,” which was founded under ʿObayd-Allāh Khan and continued the tradition of the Timurid school of Herat (Subtelny, p. 147). Of all the early Persian émigrés to Central Asia during the rule of the Abu’l-Khayrids the most influential one was, probably, Fażl-Allāh b. Ruzbehān Ḵonji Eṣfahāni—a prominent Sunnite scholar and polemicist, and a former student of Jalāl-al-Din Davāni (Storey-Bregel, II, pp. 847-49; Haarmann, p. 342), who fled from Shah Esmaʿil I first to Kāšān, then to Mašhad, then to Herat, and finally to Transoxania, where he found a warm welcome at the court of Šïbāni Khan. He accompanied Šïbāni Khan in his third campaign against the Qazaqs in winter 1509, during which, whenever the troops would stop for rest, Fażl-Allāh would discuss with the khan and his retainers various problems of Islamic law and theology (including some that were of immediate political concern for Šïbāni Khan). This campaign and all the discussions in the khan’s camp are described in Fażl-Allāh’s Mehmān-nāma-ye Boḵārā (Storey-Bregel, II, pp. 1121-22). Five years later, Fażl-Allāh b. Ruzbehān wrote for ʿObayd-Allāh Khan a treatise on state administration in accordance with the religious law (šariʿa).

Under the Abu’l-Khayrids, Persian continued to be the preferred language of literature, both prose and poetry (Bečka, pp. 494-504), as well as of historiography (Bregel, 2004, pp. 397-8), while Turkic began to be cultivated as literary language under the Arabshahids in Khwarazm. Even the first and the only history of Abu’l-Ḵayr Khan, the nomadic founder of the dynasty, was written in Persian for one of his grandsons. Altogether, the Abu’l-Khayrids, having retained much of their Turko-Mongol political traditions, successfully assimilated the Perso-Islamic culture of the countries that they conquered and ruled since the early 16th century, and Persia played a very important role in this process.

In modern scholarship, the history of the Abu’l-Khayrids received most attention in Soviet Russian literature, being mainly incorporated as special sections in the general survey volumes of the history of Uzbekistan or Tajikistan, but no monographic studies of the Abu’l-Khayrids were produced either in Soviet or post-Soviet time (for the primary written sources for the study of the Abu’l-Khayrid period see Storey-Bregel, II, pp. 1115-34; Akhmedov; Bregel, 1995, pp. 1003-9). The most important contributions to the study of the Abu’l-Khayrids were made by the numismatist-historian Elena Davidovich, whose publications related to this period cover a wide range of subjects of the political and economic history of the Abu’l-Khayrids (see Bregel, 1995, pp. 1654-55). In Western literature, the first monographic study of one important aspect of the Abu’l-Khayrid history—the “duel for Khorasan” (as it is called in the title) between Shah Ṭahmāsb I and ʿObayd-Allāh Khan in 1524-40—was done in Martin Dickson’s unpublished dissertation whose content is much broader than its title (Dickson, 1958). The political history of the Abu’l-Khayrids, in particular of the politics of the appanages, is discussed in great detail in the article by Robert McChesney in Encyclopaedia Iranica (see CENTRAL ASIA vi. IN THE 10TH-12TH/16TH-18TH CENTURIES). The political history of the Khanate of Bukhara under ʿAbd-Allāh Khan II b. Eskandar (r. 1583-98) is surveyed in detail by Audrey Burton (pp. 8-98). Detailed historical maps of Central Asia during the time of the Abu’l-Khayrids are found in Bregel, 2003 (maps 26-28 and the accompanying texts).


Bibliography (See also bibliography in the article by R. D. McChesney mentioned below):

B. A. Akhmedov, Istoriko-geograficheskaya literatura Sredneĭ Azii XVI-XVIII vv. (Pis’mennye pamyatniki) (Historical-geographical literature of Central Asia in the 16th-18th centuries: written sources), Tashkent, 1985.

J. Bečka, “Tajik literature from the 16th century to the present,” in History of Iranian Literature, ed. J. Rypka, Dordrecht, 1968, pp. 483-545.

A. N. Boldyrev, “Memuary Zaĭn ad-dina Vosifi kak istochnik dlya izucheniya kul’turnoĭ zhizni Sredneĭ Azii i Khorasana na rubezhe XV-XVI vekov” (Memoirs of Zayn-al-Din Wāṣefi as a source for studying the cultural life of Central Asia and Khorasan at the edge of the 15th-16th centuries), Gosudarstvennyĭ Èrmitazh: Trudy Otdela Vostoka, vol. 2, Leningrad, 1940, pp. 203-74.

Yu. Bregel, Bibliography of Islamic Central Asia, 3 pts., Bloomington, Ind., 1995.

Idem, An Historical Atlas of Central Asia, Leiden, 2003.

Idem, “Historiography xii. Central Asia,” EIr XII/4, 2004, pp. 395-402.

A. Burton, The Bukharans: a Dynastic, Diplomatic and Commercial History, 1550-1702, New York, 1997.

E. A. Davidovich, “Denezhnaya reforma Shaĭbani-khana (Iz istorii sredneaziatskoĭ èkonomiki v XVI v.) (Monetary reform of Shaybani Khan: from the history of Central Asian economy in the 16th century),” Materialy po istorii tadzhikov i uzbekov Sredneĭ Azii 1, Stalinabad, 1954, pp. 84-108.

Idem, “Denezhnaya reforma Kuchkunchi-khana (XVI v.) (Monetary reform of Kuchkunchi Khan, 16th century),” Numizmatika i èpigrafika 10, 1972, pp. 174-204.

Idem, Korpus zolotykh i serebryanykh monet Sheĭbanidov: XVI vek (Gold and silver coins of the Shaybanids, 16th century), Moscow, 1992.

M. B. Dickson, “Sháh Ṭahmásb and the úzbeks (The Duel for Khurásán with ʿUbayd Khán: 930-946/1524-1540),” Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 1958.

U. Haarmann, “Staat und Religion in Transoxanien im frühen 16. Jahrhundert,” ZDMG 124, 1974, pp. 332-69.

R. D. McChesney, “Central Asia vi. In the 10th-12th/16th-18th centuries,” EIr V/2, 1990, pp. 176-93.

A. Schimmel, “Some Notes on the Cultural Activity of the First Uzbek Rulers,” Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society 8, 1960, pp. 149-66.

A. A. Semenov, “Sheĭbani-khan i zavoevanie im imperii Timuridov” (Shaybani Khan and his conquest of the Timurid empire), Materialy po istorii tadzhikov i uzbekov Sredneĭ Azii 1, Stalinabad, 1954, pp. 39-83.

Idem, “Kul’turnyĭ uroven’ pervykh Sheĭbanidov” (Cultural level of the first Shaybanids), Sovetskoe vostokovedenie, 1956, No. 3, pp. 51-59.

Storey-Bregel—Ch. A. Stori. Persidskaya literatura: bio-bibliograficheskiĭ obzor (Ch. A. Storey, Persian literature: bio-bibliographical survey), tr., rev., and enl. Yu. E`. Bregel’, 3 pts., Moscow, 1972.

M. E. Subtelny, “Art and Politics in Early 16th Century Central Asia,” Central Asiatic Journal 27, 1983, pp. 121-48.

Zayn-al-Din Wāṣefi, Badāʾeʿ al-waqāʾeʿ, ed. A. N. Boldyrev, 2 vols., Moscow, 1961; 2nd ed. Tehran, 1970-72.


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(Yuri Bregel)

Originally Published: February 20, 2009

Last Updated: July 21, 2011