ČOBĀN (Čūpān, Ar. Jūbān; ca. 660-727/1262-1327), eponymous founder of the Chobanid dynasty (q.v.) and the leading Mongol amir of the late Il-khanid period. He effectively ruled Persia from 716/1316 until his fall in 727/November 1327, when he was in his sixties (Šabānkāraʾī, p. 283; Ṣafadī, XI, p. 222).
Čobān was a member of the Sūldūs tribe. His grandfather, Todāvon (Tudāʾūn or Tudān) Bahādor, served Hūlāgū Khan on a campaign against the Golden Horde in 661/1262 and was made governor of Dīārbakr and Dīār Rabīʿa (Rašīd-al-Din, Jāmeʿ-al-tawārīḵ, Bākū, pp. 89, 91, ed. Quatremère, pp. 394, 402). He was later sent by Abaqa Khan (q.v.) to Khorasan (Tārīḵ-eWaṣṣāf, p. 73) and finally to Asia Minor, where he was killed at the battle of Albestān/Ālbestān (Elbistan) in 675/1277 (Āqsarāʾī, pp. 113-14). It is possible that Todāvon’s son Malek accompanied his father on this campaign (Banākatī, p. 427) and shared the same fate; otherwise, it is surprising that nothing is recorded of Čobān’s father except that he was with Hūlāgū’s forces on the march against Baghdad (Samarqandī, p. 56). Malek’s brother Aḵrūṇčī is mentioned in connection with a mission to Georgia in about 1318 (Brosset, p. 642).
Political career. On the death of Arḡūn (q.v.), Čobān was among those amirs who supported the accession of Geyḵātū rather than Bāydū (q.v.; Rašīd-al-Dīn, Tārīḵ-eḡāzānī, 1957, pp. 80, 82), and in 694/1295, thanks to the diplomacy of Amir Nowrūz, he abandoned Bāydū for Ḡāzān (Rašīd-al-Dīn, Tārīḵ-eḡāzānī, 1940, p. 89; Mostawfī, p. 602). His services were rewarded with high commands under Ḡāzān Khan (see below), and, when Öljeitü (Ūljāytū) succeeded his brother in 703/1304, he recognized Čobān’s importance by betrothing him to his daughter Dowlandī on 21 Šaʿbān 704/19 March 1305 (Qāšānī, p. 43). The death of the senior amir, Qotloḡšāh, on the Gīlān campaign in 706/1307 paved the way for Čobān’s promotion to amīr-e olūs (amīr al-omarāʾ; Šabānkāraʾī, pp. 270, 280; Ḥāfeẓ-e Abrū, p. 76), and on 1 Rabīʿ II 707/30 September 1307 his marriage to Dowlandī was consummated (Qāšānī, p. 73).
The following year Čobān carried out raids into Georgia (Qāšānī, p. 82; Brosset, p. 604) and thereafter spent the bulk of his time in Arrān and Mūḡān, where his winter quarters were located, though regularly returning to Öljeitü’s ordū in Solṭānīya (Qāšānī, pp. 89, 127, 136). During Öljeitü’s reign Čobān enjoyed considerable power, though resenting the influence that Persian civilians, such as the vizier Tāj-al-Dīn ʿAlīšāh, were able to exert on the sultan (Qāšānī, pp. 195-96). Perhaps the greatest threat to his authority came from the renegade Mamluk amir Qarasonqur (Qarāsonqūr), to whom, after 712/1312, Öljeitü is said to have entrusted full authority throughout his kingdoms, earning him Čobān’s hostility and rivalry (Ebn al-Dawādārī, IX, pp. 234, 252, 256, 269-71; see also Little, 1970, pp. 118-23), though there is no indication of this in Persian sources. During Čobān’s return from a campaign in Anatolia in 714/1314 his wife Dowlandī Ḵātūn died (Qāšānī, p. 179), but his connections with the ruling family were renewed in 717/1317, when he was betrothed to Sātī Beg, Öljeitü’s other surviving daughter, on the accession of her brother, Abū Saʿīd (q.v.; Tārīḵ-eWaṣṣāf, p. 619; see also Samarqandī, p. 54; Waṣṣāf, p. 610, implausibly suggested that Sātī Beg was already betrothed to Čobān when he set out for Anatolia, i.e., before the death of Dowlandī).
The new sultan, Abū Saʿīd, who was a minor, confirmed Čobān in his rank as amīr al-omarāʾ, as recommended by his father (Tārīḵ-eWaṣṣāf, p. 619; Ḥāfeẓ-e Abrū, p. 119). Following the death of his rival Sevīṇč (Sevenj) in Ḏu’l-qaʿda 717/January 1318, Čobān attained paramount power in the Il-khanate, holding the al-tamḡā, or great seal (q.v.; see Sayf Heravī, pp. 673, 694; Ḥāfeẓ-e Abrū, p. 137). Among the first events of this period was Čobān’s desertion of the vizier Rašīd-al-Dīn, a former friend and associate, whom Čobān had persuaded to reenter political life much against Rašīd-al-Dīn’s better judgment. Čobān’s change of heart was blamed on the intrigues of Tāj-al-Dīn ʿAlīšāh, but he hardly emerges from the episode with credit (Mostawfī, p. 613; Ebn al-Ṣoqāʿī, pp. 211-12; Ḥāfeẓ-e Abrū, pp. 126-29). The incident demonstrates a continuing ambiguity in Čobān’s relations with the Persian bureaucratic classes. His new power was resisted by several amirs, among them Īreṇčīn (Īrenjīn) and Qorūmšī (Qūromīšī), who were both members of the Mongol Kerait tribe and resented Čobān’s claims to authority over them (Mostawfī, p. 614; Ḥāfeẓ-e Abrū, p. 144). Qorūmšī had recently been disciplined by Čobān, and Īreṇčīn was hostile because, when his oppressive governorship in Anatolia had provoked a revolt in 714/1314, Čobān had been sent by Öljeitü to quell it (Qāšānī, pp. 166,168-71; Āqsarāʾī, pp. 304-12, suggested that this happened at the beginning of Abū Saʿīd’s reign). Īreṇčīn was then made governor of Dīārbakr but was later replaced by Sūtāy (Ḥāfeẓ-e Abrū, pp. 123, 146); he appears to have believed that he was acting against Čobān with the young sultan’s blessing (Naṭanzī, p. 143), which is the interpretation of the revolt of the amirs given by Mamluk historians (e.g., Nowayrī, cited by D’Ohsson, pp. 637-42; Ṣafadī, X, p. 22; Maqrīzī, II, p. 195; Ebn Taḡrīberdī, IX, pp. 272-73). However, Abū Saʿīd remained loyal to his regent, and his active role in the ensuing battle, which took place between Mīāna and Zanjān won the day (Šabānkaraʾī, pp. 274-77; Ḥāfeẓ-e Abrū, pp. 144-51). Tāj-al-Dīn ʿAlīšāh was also conspicuous in his support for Čobān, doubtless obliged to him for the removal of Rašīd-al-Dīn. This victory gave Čobān the opportunity to strengthen his position further by removing various enemies, and, following the battle, Čobān and his family enjoyed unrivaled power (Šabānkaraʾī, p. 278; see also ʿOmarī, p. 99). His marriage to Sātī Beg was consummated on 20 Rajab 719/6 September 1319 (Mostawfī, p. 615).
Although his earliest encounters with Egypt had been hostile, Čobān is credited with Öljeitü’s decision to withdraw from the siege of Raḥba in 712/1312 (see below). His inclinations toward the Mamluks were such that Qarasonqur was able to threaten to reveal letters allegedly written by Čobān to the Mamluk sultan al-Malek al-Nāṣer indicating his desire to defect (Ebn al-Dawādārī, IX, pp. 270-71). Čobān’s diplomacy intensified from the moment he assumed effective authority as Abū Saʿīd’s regent, and a stream of embassies culminated in a negotiated peace between the Mongols and the Mamluks in 723/1323 (Maqrīzī, II, pp. 163, 175, 208-11, 242), for which Čobān is awarded much of the credit (Ebn al-Dawādārī, IX, p. 313; Ṣafadī, XI, p. 220; see also Little, 1986, for the role of Aitamiš in these negotiations, and Čobān’s later request for one of his sons to marry a daughter of al-Malek al-Nāṣer).
Čobān’s custom was to spend most of his time in the frontier region around Darband, coming to court two or three times a year but spending most of his time with the army (Šabānkaraʾī, p. 280; Aharī, tr., p. 54, text, p. 153; see also ʿOmarī, p. 100). In the winter of 722/1322-23 Čobān was obliged to march into Anatolia to discipline his rebellious son Temürtāš (Tīmūrtāš), and to bring him before Abū Saʿīd, who pardoned him (Mostawfī, pp. 615-16). The first signs of a change in Abū Saʿīd’s attitude to the Chobanids came only in 725/1325, in connection with the sultan’s passion for Čobān’s daughter, Baḡdād Ḵātūn, who had been married two years earlier to Shaikh Ḥasan-e Bozorg Īlekānī. Coban’s efforts to distract the sultan, who was just entering manhood, proved fruitless (Ḥāfeẓ-e Abrū, pp. 163-65). Čobān’s lack of complaisance brought to a head grievances directed chiefly against another of Čobān’s sons, Demašq Ḵᵛāja (q.v.), who was overstepping his position at court while his father was away. Čobān’s interests were also poorly served by his former agent Rokn-al-Dīn Ṣāyen, who had been made vizier on the death of Tāj-al-Dīn ʿAlīšāh in Jomādā II 724/ June 1324. Čobān deemed it expedient to remove his ungrateful protégé from the center of intrigue, and he took him to Khorasan to engage the forces of the Chaghatayid prince Tarmašīrīn (Ḥāfeẓ-e Abrū, pp. 165-66; Mostawfī, pp. 617-18). At the outset of this expedition, the great khan, Yesün Temür, had made Čobān amīr al-omarāʾ of Īrān and Tūrān, and possibly China and the Dašt-e Qepčāq, as well, and he was therefore at the peak of his power (Ḥāfeẓ-e Abrū, p. 167; Aharī, tr., pp. 54-55, p. 153). In his absence the cocksure and overbearing Demašq Ḵᵛāja soon presented Abū Saʿīd with a pretext for moving against him, and his downfall was achieved with the aid of an ominous ruse, the head of a Kurdish bandit being passed off as the head of Čobān, allegedly executed in Khorasan on the sultan’s orders (Ḥāfeẓ-e Abrū, pp. 168-70).
Events then moved swiftly to the downfall of Čobān himself. Although initially there was no outward change in Abū Saʿīd’s favor, Čobān marched west, prepared to regain power by force if necessary (Šabānkaraʾī, p. 282; Mostawfī, p. 619; Ḥāfeẓ-e Abrū, p. 173). Following the failure of mediation by Shaikh ʿAlāʾ-al-Dīn Semnānī, Čobān confronted Abū Saʿīd near Ray, but before battle could be joined he was abandoned by several amirs and turned in flight across the desert. Against the advice of his remaining adherents, he turned to Herat, rejecting the idea of seeking Chaghatayid help as inconsistent with his good name and advancing years. He was executed on the orders of the amir of Herat, Ḡīāṯ-al-Dīn Kart, who had been promised the hand of Čobān’s wife Kordočīn (Kordūjīn) in return for his treachery; Čobān’s amputated finger arrived in Qarābāḡ in (late) Moḥarram 728/December 1327, where it was hung in the bāzār of the ordū amid great rejoicing (Šabānkaraʾī, pp. 282-84; Ḥāfeẓ-e Abrū, pp. 174-78; Maqrīzī, II, p. 303; see also Abu’l-Fedā, tr. Holt, p. 87). A Georgian chronicler, interestingly, dates the disintegration of the Il-khanate from Čobān ‘s death (Brosset, p. 646), though his account is very abbreviated.
Military campaigns. Apart from his majesty, power, and ability to rule, Čobān’s biographers consistently draw attention to his bravery (e.g., Qāšānī, p. 8). A lifetime of campaigning reveals Čobān as an experienced and valiant general, capable of dashing maneuvers and of winning the loyalty of his men, by whom he was deserted at the last only because of the resolution displayed by Abū Saʿīd. Čobān’s bravery was demonstrated in his first reported battle in Rabīʿ II 688/April-May 1289, when he was in his twenties, against an army sent by Amir Noqai (or Nūqāy) of the Golden Horde (Mostawfī, p. 598; ed. Browne, p. 588). He later undertook victorious campaigns against this traditional enemy in 708/1308, 719/1319, and 725/1325. Ebn al-Dawādārī (IX, p. 272-79) suggested that a further expedition against Toqtā Khan (1291-1312) was mounted in 713/1313 (sic), but this is not confirmed elsewhere (cf. Little, 1970, pp. 121-23). Čobān’s summer quarters were strategically placed in the sensitive border area of Qaṣr-e Ṭāq and Gokča Deŋīz (Kūkja Tenkīz; Ḥāfeẓ-e Abrū, p. 222).
On another front, in 698/1299 Čobān was sent to eastern Anatolia ahead of the army under Qotloḡšāh to deal with the revolt of Sulemīš (Sūlāmīš), whom he defeated in a surprise night attack without waiting for the bulk of the Mongol army to come up (Āqsarāʾī, pp. 245-46; Rašīd-al-Dīn, Tārīḵ-eḡāzānī, 1940, pp. 122-23); he conducted further campaigns in Anatolia in 714-15/1314-15 and 722/1322-3 (see above).
Čobān also participated in Ḡāzān’s three Syrian expeditions. In 699/1299 he was stationed in Ḡāzān’s center at the battle of Wādī Ḵazendār (east of Ḥamāh), in which he played an active part (Brosset, p. 631). When Ḡāzān later retired from Syria, Čobān was left behind with Qotloḡšāh to hold the conquered territories. He led the vanguard on the inconclusive Syrian campaign of 700/1300 (Rašīd-al-Dīn, Tārīḵ-eḡāzānī, 1940, pp. 126, 130, 132) and played a particularly notable role in the disastrous third campaign of 702/1303. Against Čobān’s advice, Qotloḡšāh sought to give battle with the Egyptians before securing Damascus, and there is evidence of fatal disagreement between the two generals at the ensuing battle of Marj Ṣoffar (Tārīḵ-eWaṣṣāf, pp. 409-12). On returning to Ḡāzān, Qotloḡšāh was severely reprimanded and given eighty-seven blows. Čobān, who stayed with the army throughout the long retreat and maintained the troops’ morale, was received with honor but still given three blows for the sake of appearances (Tārīḵ-eWaṣṣāf, p. 414; Rašīd-al-Dīn, Tārīḵ-eḡāzānī, 1940, p. 149; Aharī, tr. p. 48, text, pp. 145-46).
Čobān was similarly one of the few amirs to emerge with credit from Öljeitü’s ill-fated campaign in Gīlān in 706/1307 (Qāšānī, p. 69; Brosset, pp. 637-38). In 712/1312 Öljeitü launched an assault on Raḥba, evidently prompted by Qarasonqur, who had held out the prospect that Syria would fall easily to a Mongol invasion. When it came to the siege of Raḥba itself, Čobān’s hostility to the whole project and to Qarasonqur in particular seems to have led him to persuade Öljeitü to abandon the expedition, voicing his concern for the fate of the Muslim inhabitants of the town and at the impropriety of fighting fellow Muslims, particularly in Ramażān (Ṣafadī, XI, p. 221; Ebn Ḥajar, II, p. 79; cf. Ebn al-Dawādārī, IX, pp. 261-62).
Piety and good works. Unusually for a Mongol amir, Čobān’s services to Islam were applauded in the works of Mamluk historians. Apart from his behavior at Raḥba, this trait is revealed early in his period of dominion over Abū Saʿīd, for in 720/1320 measures were taken against wine drinking, brothels, and places of entertainment. Churches in the Tabrīz region were destroyed and mosques renovated, apparently in response to a series of natural disasters (Nowayrī, quoted by D’Ohsson, pp. 644-46; Maqrīzī, II, p. 211). The following year, more remarkably, Čobān asked to be granted an estate out of the dead lands of Egypt, so that he could bring it back into cultivation and bequeath it as a waqf (pious endowment) to the shrine at Mecca (Maqrīzī, II, p. 230). In 725/1325 Čobān sponsored the important project of restoring the water supply to Mecca, which was achieved in four months, early in 726/1326 (Maqrīzī, II, pp. 274-75). After his death his daughter Baḡdād Ḵātūn arranged for his body to be sent with the Iraqi pilgrimage caravan to Mecca, where it was taken through the rites of the ḥajj. Perhaps owing to some lingering resentment at Čobān’s charitable interventions in the holy cities, al-Malek al-Nāṣer would not allow him to be buried in the mausoleum that he had built for himself in Medina; he was finally buried in the Baqīʿ cemetery there (Ḥāfeẓ-e Abrū, p. 179; Ṣafadī, p. 221; Nozhat al-qolūb, ed. Le Strange, pp. 4, 13).
Persian sources also portray Čobān as a pious and sincere Muslim, conspicuous for his justice and good faith (e.g., Šabānkaraʾī, p. 285). Among his other good works Ḥāfeẓ-e Abrū (p. 179) mentioned a number of buildings constructed on the routes to Syria and Egypt. This image of the ideal Muslim ruler is tarnished by the episode in 724/1324 of the alleged inheritance of the estates of Nāz Ḵātūn in the Hamadān and Qazvīn region, where Čobān’s agents acted with great oppression; Čobān could be persuaded to renounce his claims only upon being compensated with a province in Anatolia (Samarqandī, pp. 56-57). The incident reveals a persistent fundamental clash in outlook with that of the civilian bureaucracy; the vizier Tāj-al-Dīn ʿAlīšāh, who had to buy off Čobān’s agents with his own money, died later the same year, apparently wearied by the tribulations of office (cf. Aharī, tr., pp. 53-54, text, p. 152). Čobān’s services to Islam may have been largely for foreign consumption, but his loyalty and staunchness in the cause of the Il-khanate were, as Ḥāfeẓ-e Abrū remarked (p. 179), too great to describe in detail.
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Originally Published: December 15, 1992
Last Updated: October 25, 2011
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