ATSÏZ ḠARČAʾĪ, ʿALĀʾ-AL-DĪN WA’L-DAWLA ABU’L-MOẒAFFAR B. MOḤAMMAD B. ANŪŠTIGIN, ruler of Ḵᵛārazm with the traditional title Ḵᵛārazmšāh, 521 or 522/1127 or 1128 to 551/1156. His family was of Turkish ḡolām origin; his grandfather was appointed governor of Ḵᵛārazm by the Saljuq Sultan Malekšāh; and his father Qoṭb-al-dīn Moḥammad succeeded in the office. In effect, the governorship thus became hereditary in Anūštigin’s line; but Atsïz was able, in the course of his reign, to pursue a policy of greater independence from his Saljuq suzerain Sultan Sanjar. He may accordingly be regarded as the founder of a henceforth independent dynasty of Ḵᵛārazmšāhs, who at the opening of the 7th/13th century were briefly able to constitute themselves the greatest power in the eastern Islamic world before the Mongol cataclysm.
A task of all rulers in Ḵᵛārazm was to preserve the lengthy and exposed frontiers of the province against pressure from the nomads of the surrounding steppes—in Atsïz’s time largely Qḡūz and Qïpčaq (Qepčāq) who were still pagan in considerable proportion. Already during his father’s lifetime, he began a policy of securing the steppes between the Aral and Caspian Seas, occupying the Manqešlāq peninsula, an important concentration-point for the nomads. He also seized the strategically important town of Jand near the mouth of the Syr Darya, from where he made incursions against the infidel Turks over the ensuing years, earning for himself the designation of ḡāzī (fighter for the faith). During the next decades, Atsïz pursued a skillful military and diplomatic policy vis-à-vis Sanjar, and after 536/1141, against the invading Qara Ḵiṭay (Qarā-Ḵeṭāy) in Central Asia. He originally showed himself perfectly loyal to the Saljuq sultan, accompanying Sanjar on campaigns in Transoxania in 524/1130 and to Ḡazna against the rebellious Ghaznavid sultan Bahrām Shah in 529/1135. Relations then began to deteriorate, as Atsïz felt his way towards a more independent policy. In 533/1138 he rebelled openly but was driven out of Ḵᵛārazm to Gorgān by a Saljuq punitive expedition; he returned in the next year to Ḵᵛārazm, but eventually deemed it expedient to submit to Sanjar.
In 536/1141 the Qara Ḵiṭay inflicted a sharp defeat on Sanjar in Transoxania at the battle of the Qaṭvān steppe, with a resultant blow to Sanjar’s prestige and authority in Central Asia. The reverse came so conveniently for Atsïz that several sources accuse him of deliberately inciting the Qara Ḵiṭay against Sanjar; this seems dubious, especially as Ḵᵛārazm itself also suffered from the ravages of a Qara Ḵiṭay invasion at this point. Atsïz ambitions now led him to covet the Saljuq possessions in northern Khorasan, including Saraḵs, Marv, Nīšāpūr, and Bayhaq, which his troops briefly occupied in 536/1141-42. Yet Sanjar re-established his authority over the next few years, twice invading Ḵᵛārazm again and bringing Atsïz to a reluctant submission. Atsïz accordingly returned to his original direction of expansion, into the northern steppes, and in 547/1152 recaptured Jand, which had fallen into the hands of the Qarakhanid prince Kamāl-al-dīn b. Arslān Khan Maḥmūd. Sanjar’s capture and imprisonment by the rebellious Oḡūz of Khorasan in 548/1153 was obviously opportune for the furtherance of Atsïz’s ambitions, but he in fact acted with restraint. A Khwarazmian army invaded as far as Bayhaq in 548-49/1154; and Atsïz himself came to Khorasan in 551/1156 to quell the Oḡūz at the invitation of Sanjar’s nephew, the Qarakhanid Maḥmūd Khan. However Sanjar escaped from captivity and resumed power; and shortly afterwards, in the same year, Atsïz died at the age of 59 (26 Rabīʿ I 552/9 May 1157). The power of the Ḵᵛārazmšāhs was at that point still largely confined to Ḵᵛārazm, and Atsïz was paying tribute to the Qara Ḵiṭay; yet he had laid the firm foundations for the subsequent imperialist expansion by his successors.
Jovaynī and ʿAwfī praise Atsïz for his literacy and his personal skill as a poet in Persian, and the literary circle at his court seems to have been quite distinguished. Saljuq poets like Adīb Ṣāber addressed odes to him, but especially connected with Atsïz is the poet and prose stylist Rašīd-al-dīn Vaṭvāṭ (q.v.), who functioned as court poet and propagandist. He engaged for instance, in poetic contests with Sanjar’s panegyrist Anwarī. The Khwarazmian grammarian and lexicographer Jārallāh Maḥmūd Zamaḵšarī dedicated his dictionary the Moqaddemat al-adab to Atsïz, and the physician Zayn-al-dīn Jorjānī composed for one of Atsïz viziers his Aḡrāż al-ṭebb, a revision of his celebrated Ḏaḵīra-ye Ḵᵛārazmšāhī written earlier for Atsïz’s father Quṭb-al-dīn Moḥammad.
Primary sources: The principal ones are Jovaynī’s Tārīḵ-e jahāngošāy, section on the origins of the Ḵᵛārazmšāhs, II, pp. 3-14; tr. Boyle, I, pp. 277-87 (who states that he drew upon the Mašāreb al-tojāreb of the local historian of Khorasan, Ebn Fondoq), followed by, e.g., Mīrḵᵛānd, Rawżat al-ṣafā.
Sources for Saljuq history, which describe the course of Saljuq-Khwarazmian relations, include Ṣadr-al-dīn Ḥosaynī, Bondārī, Rāvandī, Ẓahīr-al-dīn Nīšāpūrī, Ebn al-Aṯīr, and a local history like Ebn Fondoq’s Tārīḵ-e Bayhaq.
For Atsïz as patron of learning, see ʿAwfī, Lobāb, pp. 36-38.
Secondary sources: E. Sachau, “Zur Geschichte und Chronologie von Khwârazm,” Sb. Akad. Wiss. 74, Vienna, 1873, pp. 316ff.
Barthold, Turkestan3, pp. 324-31, and the documents (including important ones from enšāʾ collections) in the text volume of the original Russian ed. (Turkestan v èpokhu mongol’skago nashestviya, St. Petersburg, 1900).
Idem, Histoire des Turcs d’Asie Centrale, Paris, 1945, pp. 109ff.
S. P. Tolstov, Auf den Spuren der altchoresmischen Kultur, Berlin, 1953, pp. 295-96.
M. A. Köymen, Büyük Selçuklu imparatorluğu tarihi. II: İkinci imparatorluğu tarihi, Ankara, 1954, pp. 311-53, 445ff.
I. Kafesoğlu, Harezmşahlar devleti tarihi (485-617/1092-1229), Ankara, 1956, pp. 44-72.
H. Horst, Die Staatsverwaltung der Grosselğūqen und Ḫōrazmšāhs (1038-1231): Eine Untersuchung nach Urkundenformularen der Zeit, Wiesbaden, 1964, index (s.v. Atsïz Ḫōrazmšāh).
C. E. Bosworth, in Camb. Hist. Iran V, pp. 143ff. For the literary aspect, see Browne, Lit. Hist. Persia II, pp. 307-10, 330-33; and Rypka, Hist. Iran. Lit., pp. 200, 432.
For chronology see Zambaur, pp. 208-09, and Bosworth, The Islamic dynasties, Edinburgh, 1967, pp. 107-10.
(C. E. Bosworth)
Originally Published: December 15, 1987
Last Updated: August 17, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. III, Fasc.1, pp. 18-19