AMĪR-AL-OMARĀʾ, literally, “commander of commanders,” hence “supreme commander,” a military title found from the early 4th/10th century onwards, first in Iraq and then in the Iranian lands.
The appearance of the term dates from the period when the ʿAbbasid caliphs’ direct political and military power was becoming increasingly enfeebled and powerful military leaders were taking over de facto executive power in Iraq. According to the sources, the commander Hārūn b. Ḡarīb is reported to have become amīr-al-omarāʾ in 316/928 at a time when his great rival, the Turkish slave commander Moʾnes Moẓaffar (d. 321/933) was only amīr-al-ǰoyūš “commander of the forces”; this would be the first attestation of the title (see M. Canard, Histoire de la dynastie des H’amdanides de Jazira et de Syrie I, Algiers and Paris, 1951, p. 360 and n. 220). Moʾnes, a commanding figure in the caliphates of Moqtader and Qāher, then seems himself to have acquired the title, possibly through the agency of the vizier Ebn al-Forāt. His successor as commander-in-chief and also as head of the treasury, Ṭarīf Sobkarī, further held the title, according to Ebn al-Aṯīr. Then Moḥammad b. Rāʾeq, governor of Wāseṭ, was appointed amīr-al-omarāʾ by the caliph Rāżī in 324/936, followed by his lieutenant in the struggle against Abū ʿAbdallāh Barīdī, Bečkem, who replaced Ebn Rāʾeq at Baghdad in 326/938 (cf. D. Sourdel, Le vizirat ʿabbāside de 749 à 936 (132 à 324 de l’hégire), Damascus, 1959-60, II, pp. 430, 434, 476, 493; Ch. Defrémery, “Mémoire sur les émirs al-oméra,” Mémoires de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, Ser. I, 2, 1852). In these years it appears that the title was as much an honorific designation as the mark of a specific office, for its holders under the ʿAbbasids functioned not only as military commanders-in-chief, but to some extent also as viziers, with authority in the civil sphere. However, the stage was now set for the appropriation of the title by the incoming Daylamī Buyids, who from 334/945 onwards controlled the caliphs in Baghdad. In that year, Aḥmad b. Būya, subsequently Moʿezz-al-dawla, took over power in the capital, and was appointed amīr-al-omarāʾ by the caliph Mostakfī. The office was thereafter held, in the first place, by the Buyid amīr controlling Baghdad, but its appearance only occasionally on Buyid coins shows that it was still more an honorific title than a definite charge. Moʿezz-al-dawla nominated his son ʿEzz-al-dawla Baḵtīār as his heir in 344/955, and according to Ebn al-Jawzī, gave him the title amīr-al-omarāʾ. But the prestige of the title seems to have tempted other members of the Buyid family, with their amirates centered on Iran rather than on Iraq, to adopt it. It appears sporadically on coins of the amīr of Fārs, ʿEmād-al-dawla, minted at his capital Shiraz in 336/947-48 and 337/948-49. Meskawayh states that on the eve of Moʿezz-al-dawla’s death, the caliph Moṭīʿ hailed the second Buyid brother, Rokn-al-dawla of Ray and Jebāl, as amīr-al-omarāʾ in his brother’s place. The confusions of the historical texts show clearly that the title remained somewhat vague in its application and scope of duties. Later in the Buyid period, amīrs are found occasionally placing it on their coins, such as Maǰd-al-dawla Rostam of Ray (coin of 381/991). Bahāʾ-al-dawla’s son in Fārs, Abū Manṣūr (d. 398/1008; his eldest son?), used it in 392/1002 in an inscription carved at Persepolis (Répertoire chronologique d’inscriptions arabes VI, pp. 42-43, no. 2087); even the Mokramids, local governors in Oman for the Buyids, used it on a coin of 421/1030 (see H. Busse, Chalif und Grosskönig. Die Buyiden im Iraq (945-1055), Beirut and Wiesbaden, 1969, pp. 33-34, 91, 100, 174-75; M. Kabir, The Buwayhid Dynasty of Baghdad (334/946-447/1055), Calcutta, 1964, p. 41).
These usages of the title in Iraq and western Iran sprang from the position of the Buyids in Baghdad as heirs to the functions there of the earlier amīr-al-omarāʾs. When the title was subsequently used by other dynasties controlling various parts of the Iranian and then Turkish worlds, either in the Arabic form or in the Persian one of amīr-e amīrān, it was normally a designation implying high military command but not necessarily the commandership-in-chief. It does not appear to have been used much by the Samanids or Ghaznavids in the East, and these dynasties designated their supreme military commanders as ḥāǰeb-e bozorg, etc. But an interesting exception occurs in the period of Samanid disintegration, when the ambitious Turkish commander Abū ʿAlī Sīmǰūrī in 381/991 seized control of Khorasan, gathered the local taxes for himself, and assumed unilaterally (i.e., without seeking the usual grant of such titles from the caliph or ruler) the honorifics amīr-al-omarāʾ and al-moʾayyad men al-samāʾ; probably Abū ʿAlī wished to assert his now dominant position in the state vis-à-vis the Samanids, just as the amīr-al-omarāʾs in Iraq had done vis-à-vis the ʿAbbasids (see C. E. Bosworth, “The Titulature of the Early Ghaznavids,” Oriens 15, 1962, p. 215).
Amongst the Saljuqs and their successor dynasties, amīr-al-omarāʾ was normally one of several titles applied to high military commanders (i.e., together with sepahsālār, amīr-e sālār, moqaddam-al-ʿaskar, etc.; see İ. H. Uzunçaṛşĭḷĭ, Osmanḷĭ devleti teşkilâtına medhal, Istanbul, 1941, p. 60). Only in one or two instances was it employed as a high honorific title awarded to a prince of the Saljuq dynasty. In the sultanates of Alp Arslan and Malekšāh, we find their kinsman ʿOṯmān b. Čaḡrı Beg in 465/1073 appointed governor of Valvālīǰ and northern Afghanistan, with the title amīr-al-omarāʾ (Bosworth, Camb. Hist. Iran V, pp. 90, 93); and in 490/ 1097 Berk-yaruq (Barkīāroq) had to contend with a rebellion in Khorasan led by his uncle Moḥammad b. Solaymān b. Čaḡrı Beg, who held the title of amīr-e amīrān (M. F. Sanaullah, The Decline of the Saljūqid Empire, Calcutta, 1938, pp. 100-01).
See also Amīr.
Bibliography: Given in the text.
(C. E. Bosworth)
The term amīr-al-omarāʾ denoted the commander-in-chief of the qizilbāš tribal forces which formed the basis of Safavid military and political power; this person wielded considerable political authority and during the reign of Shah Esmāʿīl I (907-30/1501-24) was the most powerful official in the state. The qizilbāš Turkman chiefs considered it no less than their due that they should fill the principal offices of state, and the first amīr-al-omarāʾ after the establishment of the Safavid state in 907/1501 was the qizilbāš chief Ḥosayn Khan Šāmlū, who also held the important office of wakīl. By 913-14/1508 Shah Esmāʿīl had become sufficiently apprehensive of Šāmlu’s power to dismiss him from the wakālat, and the following year (915/1509-10) he also dismissed him from the post of amīr-al-omarāʾ. The shah then appointed an officer of lowly rank to the latter post, an act which had the desired effect of reducing the power and influence of the office. As a corollary, the influence of the qūṛčībāšī, or commander of the Turkman tribal cavalry, gradually increased, particularly after the first decade of the reign of Shah Ṭahmāsb (930-84/1524-76). At the beginning of his reign, Ṭahmāsb was dominated by a succession of qizilbāš amirs, who emphasized their preeminence by reverting to the practice of styling themselves amīr-al-omarāʾ as well as wakīl. When Ṭahmāsb succeeded in asserting his authority in 940/1533, the title amīr-al-omarāʾ fell into desuetude. Apart from a brief reference late in his reign, we hear no more of this office, which is not even listed among the appointments made by Shah ʿAbbās I on his accession in 996/1588. The decline of the office of amīr-al-omarāʾ, and its eventual supersession by that of qūṛčībāšī, was an indication of a radical shift in the balance of power within the Safavid state. Beginning during the second half of the reign of Ṭahmāsb, the influx of Caucasian elements and the formation of new regiments of ḡolāms of Georgian, Armenian, and Circassian origin meant that the old Turkman tribal cavalry no longer constituted the greater part of the Safavid armed forces.
During the later Safavid period, when official policy had converted most provinces of the Safavid empire from mamālek provinces (governed by qizilbāš chiefs) toḵāṣṣa status (administered by ḡolāms), if one of the strategically important provinces such as Khorasan or Azerbaijan was threatened by foreign armies, it was the practice to appoint a qizilbāš chief with the title of amīr-al-omarāʾ to deal with the crisis on an ad hoc basis.
R. M. Savory, “The Principal Offices of the Safawid State during the Reign of Ismāʿīl I (907-30/1501-24),” BSOAS 23, 1960, pp. 91-105.
Idem, “The Principal Offices of the Safawid State during the Reign of Ṭahmāsp I (930-84/1524-76),” ibid., 24, 1961, pp. 65-85.
Idem, “Some Notes on the Provincial Administration of the Early Safawid Empire,” ibid., 27, 1964, pp. 114-29.
K. M. Röhrborn, Provinzen und Zentralgewalt Persiens im 16. und 17. Jahrhundert, Berlin, 1966, index, p. 155.
(R. M. Savory)
(C. E. Bosworth, R. M. Savory)
Originally Published: December 15, 1989
Last Updated: August 3, 2011
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Vol. I, Fasc. 9, pp. 969-971