GHURIDS

There were at least three raids by the early Ghaznavids into Ḡūr, led by Sultan Maḥmūd and his son Masʿūd, in the first decades of the 11th century; these introduced Islam and brought Ḡūr into a state of loose vassalage to the sultans.

 

GHURIDS (or Āl-e Šansab), a medieval Islamic dynasty of the eastern Iranian lands. They began as local chiefs in Ḡūr (q.v.) in the heartland of what is now Afghanistan, but became a major power from the mid-12th century until the opening years of the 7th/13th century. Ḡūr was then the nucleus of a vast but transient military empire which at times stretched from Gorgān (q.v.) in the west to northern India in the east, only to be overwhelmed by the Ḵᵛārazmšāhs (q.v.; see also CHORASMIA ii) and to disappear, as far as the eastern Iranian lands were concerned, on the eve of the Mongol cataclysm.

The Ghurids came from the Šansabānī family. The name of the eponym Šansab/Šanasb probably derives from the Middle Persian name Wišnasp (Justi, Namenbuch, p. 282). After the Ghurids had achieved fame as military conquerors, obsequious courtiers and genealogists connected the family with the legendary Iranian past by tracing it back to Żaḥḥāk, whose descendants were supposed to have settled in Ḡūr after Ferēdūn had overthrown Żaḥḥāk’s thousand-year tyranny. The Šansab family was then brought into the framework of Islamic history by the story that its chiefs received Islam from the hands of Imam ʿAlī, subsequently aiding Abū Moslem Ḵorāsānī’s uprising against the Omayyads and having its power legitimized by being invested with Ḡūr by the caliph Hārūn al-Rašīd (Jūzjānī, Ṭabaqāt I, pp. 318-27, tr. Raverty, I, pp. 300-16, citing a versified genealogy of the Ghurids compiled for Sultan ʿAlāʾ-al-Dīn Ḥosayn Jahānsūz by Faḵr-al-Dīn Mobārakšāh b. Ḥosayn Marvrūdī, q.v.). It goes without saying that we have no concrete evidence for any of this. The chiefs of Ḡūr only achieve firm historical mention in the early 5th/11th century with the Ghaznavid raids into their land, when Ḡūr was still a pagan enclave. Nor do we know anything about the ethnic stock of the Ḡūrīs in general and the Šansabānīs in particular; we can only assume that they were eastern Iranian Tajiks.

Table 1. Geneological table of the Šansabāni family (the Ghurids).

There were at least three raids by the early Ghaznavids into Ḡūr, led by Sultan Maḥmūd and his son Masʿūd, in the first decades of the 5th/11th century; these introduced Islam and brought Ḡūr into a state of loose vassalage to the sultans (ʿOtbī, II, pp. 122-25; Bayhaqī, 113-21; Jūzjānī, I, p. 330, tr. I, p. 329; Nāẓim, pp. 70–72; Bosworth, 1961, pp. 122-23, 127–28). The Šansabānīs were only one amongst several chieftains at this time, and topographical gleanings from Bayhaqī (pp. 114-20), plus various details from Jūzjānī, show that they were petty rulers of the district of Mandēš on the upper Harīrūd near modern Āhangarān (see map in Ḥodūd al–ʿālam2, tr. Minorsky, Second Series of Addenda, p. xxix and the detailed discussion of the locations mentioned in Ḡūr at text, p. 110, comm. pp. 342-44). During the second half of the 5th/11th century, the Šansabānīs were squabbling amongst themselves but also trying to extend their power beyond Mandēš and to crush other chieftains; at one point, dissident Ḡūrī leaders appealed to the Ghaznavid Ebrāhīm b. Masʿūd (q.v.) to intervene against the oppressive Šansabānī ʿAbbās b. Šīṯ (Jūzjānī, I, p. 332, tr. I, pp. 331-32; Bosworth, Later Ghaznavids, p. 69), and Moḥammad b. ʿAbbās was set up as chief by the sultan. Moḥammad’s son, Ḥasan, was the first Šansabānī known to have an honorific title, namely Qotb-al-Dīn, but the history of the Ghurid dynasty, as it may now be fittingly styled, only becomes reasonably well known with the accession of ʿEzz-al–Dīn Ḥosayn b. Ḥasan (493-540/1100-46).

By now, Ghaznavid influence within the Ghurid lands was giving place to that of the Saljuqs, for Sanjar was able in 512/1118 to place his own nominee, Bahrāmšāh b. Masʿūd (q.v.), on the throne in Ḡazna. Already in 501/1107-8 Sanjar had raided Ḡūr from Khorasan (Jūzjānī, tr. Raverty, p. 336 n. 4), and ʿEzz-al-Dīn (493-540/1100-1145) now became his vassal, sending as part of the stipulated tribute mailed coats and the local breed of fierce dogs (Jūzjānī, I, p. 335, tr. I, pp. 336-37). Sayf-al-Dīn Sūrī b. ʿEzz-al-Dīn Ḥosayn succeed in 540/1146 in Ḡūr, but shared out his lands with his brothers on the basis of Ḡūrī tribal and patrimonial practice. He himself clashed with the Ghaznavids, and after an abortive attack on Ḡazna, was killed by Bahrāmšāh; this marked the beginning of a deep hatred between the two families. On his accession, his son ʿAlāʾ-al–Dīn Ḥosayn (544-56/1149-61) avenged the two of his brothers killed by Bahrāmšāh by declaring war on the Ghaznavids. In a great battle in Zamīndāvar and then another at Ḡazna itself, he defeated Bahrāmšāh and drove him into India. Ḡazna and Bost suffered frightful sackings by ʿAlāʾ-al-Dīn Ḥosayn, in which colleges and libraries were despoiled, and the buildings of previous sultans destroyed (Jūzjānī, pp. 343-45; Čahār maqāla, ed. Qazvīnī, p. 31), earning him the uneviable epithet of Jahānsūz (world incendiary). The Ghurids made no attempt to annex the Ghaznavid provinces of eastern Afghanistan, and soon afterwards Bahrāmšāh returned from the Punjab; but ʿAlaʾ-al-Dīn Ḥosayn does seem to have sought a higher status for himself. Not content with being a mere malek or amir, according to Ebn al-Aṯīr (Beirut, XI, p. 166), he now styled himself, after the Saljuqs and Ghaznavids, al-solṭān al–moʿaẓẓam and adopted the čatr (q.v.) or ceremonial parasol as one of the insignia of royalty (in fact, the designation al-solṭān al-aʿẓam already appears on the coins of his predecessor in Fīrūzkūh, Bahāʾ-al-Dīn Sām b. Ḥosayn, r. 544/1149; Sourdel, p. 114, nos. 1258–60). He also aspired to cast off his subordination to the Saljuqs, but was defeated by Sanjar in 547/1152, and spent his last years extending Ghurid power into northern Afghanistan and southwards to the Helmand valley (Jūzjānī, I, pp. 346-48, tr. pp. 347-62; Ebn al-Aṯīr, Beirut, XI, pp. 164-66).

ʿAlāʾ-al-Dīn Ḥosayn’s expansionist policies raised the Ghurids into a power of significance well beyond Ḡūr itself. Latterly, he was able to take advantage of a certain power-vacuum in the eastern Islamic world which had arisen through the decay of the Ghaznavids and the collapse of Saljuq power in Khorasan consequent on Sanjar’s defeat and capture by the Ḡozz (q.v.) in 548/1153. The expansion of the territories controlled by the family facilitated a division of the patrimony amongst its various branches, so that, henceforth, the senior branch ruled over the heartland, Ḡūr, from the capital Fīrūzkūh (q.v.) on or near the upper Harīrūd. Fīrūzkūh was originally founded by Qoṭb-al-Dīn Moḥammad as the seat of his appendage of Waršāda, continued as the capital of ʿAlāʾ-al-Dīn Ḥosayn, and then expanded by the building activity of Ḡīāṯ-al-Dīn Moḥammad b. Bahāʾ-al–Dīn Sām (Jūzjānī, I, pp. 335-36, 353, tr. I, pp. 339, 370), which included the famed minaret of Jām, which was constructed either at the fortress of Fīrūzkūh itself or nearby. After Ḡazna had been finally taken from the Turks who had occupied it after the last Ghaznavids (579/1183-84), another branch was established there under Moʿezz-al-Dīn or Šehāb-al–Dīn Moḥammad b. Bahāʾ-al-Dīn Sām, and this branch used Ḡazna as a launching-pad for expansion into northern India. Finally, Faḵr-al-Dīn Masʿūd b. ʿEzz-al-Dīn Ḥosayn was installed in newly conquered Bāmīān (q.v.), and his branch expanded into northern Afghanistan as far as the Oxus and beyond it into Čaḡānīān (q.v.) and Waḵš (Jūzjānī, I, p. 385, tr. pp. 423-24).

Under the two brothers Ḡīāṯ-al-Dīn and Moʿezz-al-Dīn in Fīrūzkūh and Ḡazna respectively (558-99 /1163-1203 and 569-99/1173-1203), the Ghurid empire reached its greatest territorial extent and apogee of power. Although the earlier history of the Šansabānī family had been full of feuds and disputes, the brothers maintained a partnership, with mutual amity and a division of spheres of activity and influence. Ḡīāṯ-al–Dīn was broadly concerned with expansion westwards into Khorasan and with checking the ambitions there of the Ḵwārazmšāhs, whilst Moʿezz-al-Dīn led raids into India.

In the west, Ḡīāṯ-al-Dīn, often in concert with his brother, extended his suzerainty over the maleks of Nīmrūz or Sīstān and even over the Kermān branch of the Saljuqs. Turkish amirs in Herāt and Balḵ were humbled, but the main thrust of Ḡīāṯ-al-Dīn’s efforts was in western Khorasan, where the Ghurid came to clash with the Ḵᵛārazmšāhs under Il-Arslan and Tekeš. The Ḵᵛārazmšāhs aimed at capturing Khorasan, backed at times by their suzerains the pagan Qara Khitay. The Ghurids adopted the role of defenders of Sunnism. They had cordial relations with the ʿAbbasids in Baghdad, frequently exchanging embassies (Jūzjānī’s father took part in one of the last, Jūzjānī, I, p. 361, tr. p. 383). Ḡīāṯ-al-Dīn was admitted to al-Nāṣer’s fotūwa order, and the caliph more than once urged the Ghurids to halt the advance into western Persia of the Ḵᵛārazmšāhs (Jūzjānī, I, 302, tr. I, p. 243). The actual fighting in Khorasan at this time was largely between the Ghurids and Tekeš’s brother Solṭānšāh, who had carved out for himself personally a principality in western Khorasan, until in 586/1190 Ḡīāṯ-al–Dīn and Moʿezz-al-Dīn defeated Solṭānšāh near Marv in 588/1192, captured him, and took over his territories (Jūzjānī, I, 303-4, tr. I, pp. 246-47). When Tekeš died in 596/1200 (Ebn al-Aṯīr, Beirut, XII, pp. 156-58), Ḡīāṯ-al-Dīn was able to take over most of the towns of Khorasan as far west as Besṭām in Qūmes. At the same time, the Bāmīān branch of the dynasty under Bahāʾ-al-Dīn Sām b. Šams-al-Dīn Moḥammad (588-602/1192-1206) secured Balḵ and Ṭoḵārestān after the death of its Turkish governor, a vassal of the Qara Khitay (Jūzjānī, I, p. 389, tr. p. 431).

Moʿezz-al-Dīn, installed at Ḡazna since 569/1173-74 with the title also of sultan, began raiding through the Gomal Pass into India, capturing Moltān and Uččh (570/1175) and compelling the Sumerās in Lower Sind to acknowledge his suzerainty (578/1182). He was repulsed from Gujarat, hence turned to northern India, finally extinguishing the Ghaznavids in Lahore (582/1186) and then advancing down the Ganges valley to defeat various Hindu princes and to occupy Delhi, Ajmer, and Gwalior. Moʿezz-al–Dīn himself returned to Khorasan to aid his brother against the Ḵᵛārazmšāhs, but his conquests in India were carried on by his Turkish commander Qoṭb-al-Dīn Aybak (q.v.) and, expanding as far east as Bengal, by Eḵtīār-al-Dīn Moḥammad Ḵaljī. It was Aybak who at Delhi built the Qowwat-al-Eslām mosque (588/1192) and at Ajmer converted into the Arhāʾī-Dīn-kā-jhompŕā mosque (comp. 596/1200) a former Hindu college as visible signs of Ghurid might in India (Burton-Page, “Dilhi,” p. 259 with the plan of Qowwat-al-Eslām mosque; idem, “Hind,” p. 442).

For three years until his own death in 602/1206, Moʿezz-al-Dīn was supreme ruler, but in fact followed earlier practice by allotting appanages to members of the family, including Fīrūzkūh to Żīāʾ-al-Dīn or ʿAlāʾ-al-Dīn Moḥammad b. Šojāʿ-al-Dīn ʿAlī, and southern and western Afghanistan to Ḡīāṯ-al–Dīn Maḥmūd b. Ḡīāṯ-al-Dīn Moḥammad; the latter, however, very soon took control of Fīrūzkūh once Moʿezz-al–Dīn had died. Moʿezz-al-Dīn’s last years had been characterized by failure in the west. Ghurid rule in Khorasan proved oppressive and unpopular; according to Jovaynī (II, pp. 51-52, tr. Boyle, II, p. 319), Moʿezz-al–Dīn required forced sales and confiscated for his army grain which had been stored in the shrine of the Imām ʿAlī al-Reżā at Mašhad-e Ṭūs. An attempted pursuit of the army of the new Ḵᵛārazmšāh ʿAlāʾ-al-Dīn Moḥammad ended disastrously for the Ghurids, who were halted by flooding of the Chorazmian countryside and then routed at Andḵūy (q.v.) on the Oxus by the Qara Khitay (601/1204; Jovaynī, ed. Qazvīnī, II, pp. 57, 89, tr. Boyle, I, pp. 321-24; Barthold, Turkestan2, pp. 349-51). Moʿezz-al–Dīn escaped personally, but all Khorasan except Herāt was lost, and a year or so later the sultan was assassinated in India.

After this, the Ghurid empire rapidly fell apart. Ḡīāṯò-al-Dīn and Moʿezz-al–Dīn had skillfully maintained the unity of the realm and had kept firm control over the various elements of which the multi-ethnic Ghurid army was composed. Dissension now broke out within the Šansabānī family, with military factions taking sides. Thus the Ḡūrī troops supported for succession to the sultanate the Bāmīān line of the family, whereas the Turks favored Ḡīāṯ-al–Dīn Maḥmūd, who in the end prevailed at Fīrūzkūh. In Ḡazna, power was seized by the Turkish commander Tāj-al-Dīn Yïldïz (Īldūz), legitimized by Ḡīāṯ-al-Dīn’s grant to him of its governorship (602-11/1206-15). The last Ghurids were puppets of the Ḵᵛārazmšāhs, until in 612/1215 ʿAlāʾ-al–Dīn Moḥammad deposed the last sultan in Fīrūzkūh; the Bāmīān line was likewise suppressed; and Yïldïz was driven out of Ḡazna. Thus all the Ghurid lands, except those in northern India, fell under Choarazmian control, although it was not long before Sultan Moḥammad himself was overwhelmed by the Mongols (Jovaynī, ed. Qazvīnī, II, 108-16, tr. Boyle, II, pp. 327-86; Jovaynī, II, p. 85, is wrong in making the conquest of Ḡazna after the death of Yïldïz).

The constituting of the Ghurid empire was a remarkable achievement for a family of petty chiefs from a backward region like Ḡūr, which henceforth was to play no significant role in Islamic history. The sultans’ military strength was based on both the indigenous Ḡūrī mountaineers and Ḵaljīs from eastern Afghanistan plus the recruitment of Turkish military slaves, but these resources were not in the end adequate to withstand the Ḵᵛārazmšāhs, who had the manpower resources of the Inner Asian steppes behind them. It was, of course, in India that the Ghurid legacy was to be the most lasting, for it was the Turkish and Ḵaljī commanders of Moʿezz-al-Dīn who laid the foundations of the Delhi Sultanate (q.v.), in many ways a successor-state to the Ghurids, and who permanently implanted Islam in northern India.

Although the Ghurid empire was not a durable one, it seems possible to speak of a distinct Ghurid ethos and culture. Continuing the attitudes of the Ghaznavids, the Ghurids were strong upholders of the orthodox Sunni form of Islam, once the Šansabānī family had emerged from its pagan past. Ismaili propagandists from northern Persia penetrated into Ḡūr during the later years of ʿAlāʾ-al–Dīn Ḥosayn, and received some encouragement from the sultan; but his son Sayf-al-Dīn Moḥammad took strong measures to extirpate it (Jūzjānī, I, pp. 349-51, tr. I, pp. 361, 365-66). Of more lasting significance for the religious complexion of Ḡūr was the wide sympathy there for the pietistic, ascetic Sunni sect of the Karrāmīya (q.v.), which had arisen in Nīšāpūr during the 4th/10th century and had been patronized by the early Ghaznavid sultans. It may be, though the sources are not explicit, that this group,which placed a strong emphasis on missionary work (see daʿwa), was active in the 5th/11th century in spreading Islam in Ḡūr. Certainly, in the following century, the majority of the inhabitants of Ḡūr are said to have been adherents of the Karrāmīya, and it was only Ḡīāṯò-al-Dīn Moḥammad and Moʿezz-al-Dīn Moḥammad who changed over to the mainstream Shafiʿite and Hanafite law schools respectively (Bosworth, 1961, pp. 128-33). As noted above, these two sultans were certainly aware of orthodox, caliphal approval for their authority and the advantages of close diplomatic contacts with the ʿAbbasids.

Literary and artistic activities under the Ghurids likewise followed on from those of the Ghaznavids. The sultans were generous patrons of the Persian literary traditions of Khorasan, and latterly fulfilled a valuable role as transmitters of this heritage to the newly conquered lands of northern India, laying the foundations for the essentially Persian culture which was to prevail in Muslim India until the 19th century. ʿAlāʾ-al–Dīn Ḥosayn Jahānsūz reportedly was also a fine poet; his poetry, of which only a few lines have been preserved, was widely appreciated in Afghanistan and northern India. Moḥammad ʿAwfī had seen a copy of his dīvān in Samarqand (Lobāb, ed. Browne, I, pp. 38-39, ed. Nafīsī, pp. 39-40; Jūzjānī, pp. 343-45; Ṣafā, Adabīyāt II, pp. 53-55). The contemporary Neẓāmī ʿArūżī mentions as eulogists of the Ghurids such poets as Abu’l-Qāsem Rāfeʿī, Abū Bakr Jawharī, ʿAlī Ṣūfī, and himself (Čahār maqāla, p. 28, tr. p. 30). But while we have surviving several fairly complete dīvāns of the Ghaznavid poets, none of those from the Ghurid period have survived. It is clear, however, that all this literature was in Persian, and claims which were made in Afghanistan some decades ago (e.g., Ḥabībī in his ed. of Moḥammad Hōtak) of the existence of poetry in Pashto from the Ghurid period remain unsubstantiated. Of Ghurid prose literature, including history and genealogy, mention should be made of Faḵr-al-Dīn Mobārakšāh Moḥammad b. Manṣūr, known as Faḵr-e Modabber, the author of a genealogical work, Baḥr al-ansāb, and a treatise on kingship and statecraft, the Ādāb al–ḥarb wa’l-šajāʿa (q.v.). The great historian of the Ghurids, without whose information our knowledge of the dynasty would be much sparser, was Menhāj-al–Dīn-e Serāj-al-Dīn Jūzjānī (q.v.; d. the second half of the 7th/13th century), who was a diplomatic envoy for the sultans and who composed his Ṭabaqāt-e nāṣerī, in form a general history but in a large measure a special history of the dynasty.

So far as can be discerned from the exiguous surviving examples of Ghurid art and architecture, there was a continuity here with the Ghaznavid age, since some of it cannot easily be separated stylistically from that of the preceding period. The city of Ḡazna rose again from the ashes of its destruction by ʿAlāʾ-al–Dīn Ḥosayn, and a unique type of glazed tile work has been ascribed by Umberto Scerrato to the Ghurids of the later 6th/12th century. The splendid minaret of Jām (q.v.) is the prime extant example of Ghurid architecture, but there are other remains in Herāt and ruins of a mosque and madrasa at Češt (q.v.) on the upper Harīrūd dating from the reign of Ḡīāṯ-al-Dīn Moḥammad (cf. Sourdel-Thomine). In the sphere of secular architecture, the extensive palace buildings at Laškarī Bāzār (q.v.) on the Helmand river near Bost seem to show a continuity from early Ghaznavid to Ghurid and Mongol times. Nevertheless, it does seem possible, according to Janine Sourdel–Thomine, to speak of the evolution of a distinctive Ghurid architectural style.

 

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Primary sources. The principal source is Jūzjānī (who drew on the lost Qeṣaṣ-e Nābī of Ebn Hayṣam Nābī), Ṭabaqāt I, pp. 318-414; tr. Raverty, I, pp. 300-507.

See also: Moḥammad ʿAwfī, Jawāmeʿ al-ḥekāyātwa lawāmeʿ al-rewāyāt, analysis in M. Nizámu’d-Dín, Introduction to the Jawámiʿu’l- ḥikáyát, GMS, London, 1929.

Čahār maqāla, ed. Qazvīnī; tr. E. G. Brown as The Chahár Maqála of Niẓámí ʿArúḍí Samarqandí, London, 1921.

Ebn al-Aṯīr, X-XI, who does not name his sources. Faḵr-al-Dīn Mobārakšāh, Ādāb al–molūk wa kefāyat al-mamlūk, ed.

A. Sohaylī Ḵᵛānsārī as Ādāb al-ḥarb wa’l-šajāʿa (incomp. ed.), Tehran, 1346 Š./1967.

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Šehāb-al-Dīn Moḥammad Nasavī, Sīrat-e Solṭān Jalāl-al-Dīn, ed. and tr. O. Houdas, Paris, 1891-95, pp. 22, 140-41, tr. pp. 38-39, 233-34; ed. M. Mīnovī, Tehran, 1965, index.

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Idem, “Ghūrids” in EI2 II, pp.1099-1104.

Idem, The New Islamic Dynasties, Edinburgh, 1996, no. 159 (chronology).

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A. Maricq and G. Wiet, Le minaret de Djam: La découverte de la capitale des sultans ghorides (XIIe-XIIIe siècles), MDAFA 16, Paris, 1959 (historical survey of the dynasty, pp. 31-54).

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M. Nāẓim, The Life and Times of Sultan Maḥmūd of Ghazna, Cambridge, 1931.

ʿA. Parvīz, “Ḡūrīān,” Barrasīhā-ye tārīḵī 6/1, 1350 Š./1971, pp. 143-76.

M. Rowšan-żamīr, “Pažūheš-ī dar tārīḵ-e sīāsī wa neẓāmī-e dūdmān-e Ḡūrīān,” Barrasīhā-ye tārīḵī, 11/3, 1355 Š./1976, pp. 257-300; 12/5, 1356 Š./1977, pp. 127-72.

Idem, “Āṯār-e Ḡūrīān,” Barrasīhā-ye tārīḵī, 13/4, 1357 Š./1978, pp. 13-40.

U. Scerrato, “Islamic Glazed Tiles with Moulded Decoration from Ghazni,” East and West, N.S., 13/4, 1962, pp. 263-87.

D. Sourdel, Inventaire des monnaies musulmanes anciennes du Musée de Caboul, Damascus, 1952.

J. Sourdel–Thomine, “L’art ġūride d’Afghanistan à propos d’un livre récent,” Arabica 7, 1960, pp. 273-80.

(C. Edmund Bosworth)

Originally Published: December 15, 2001

Last Updated: February 9, 2012

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