GORGĀN vi. History From The Rise Of Islam To The Beginning Of The Safavid Period



vi. History From The Rise Of Islam To The Beginning Of The Safavid Period

Gorgān, OP Varkāna-, classical Hyrcania, Arabized form Jorjān (see Markwart, Erānšahr, p. 72), formed in Sasanian and pre-modern Islamic times a transitional zone, a corridor, between the subtropical habitat and climate of Māzandarān to its west, and the arid steppes of Dehestān (q.v.) and, beyond them, the Qara Qum Desert to its northwest. Watered by the Gorgān and the Atrak rivers (q.v.), Gorgān was, on the evidence of the Islamic geographers, a fertile agricultural region in early Islamic times. Moqaddasi (p. 357) describes its rich crops of fruits of all kinds. Raw silk was a major product throughout medieval Islamic times; the same author (p. 367) says that the silken veils of Gorgān were exported as far as Yemen, while the Ḥodud al-ʿālam (tr. Minorsky, p. 133) attributes to it black silk textiles and brocades. This manufacture continued up to and beyond the Mongol invasions (Serjeant, pp. 80-81). According to Ebn Ḥawqal, the port of Abaskun (q.v.), the most important one on the Caspian shores, formed the outlet for Gorgān’s exports and also for communications with Transcaucasia and the Khazar lands along the Volga (Ebn Ḥawqal, ed. Kramers, pp. 383, 397, tr. Kramers and Wiet, II, pp. 373, 388).

The two main cities at this time were (Šahr-e) Gorgān itself, the administrative capital of the province, founded by the Omayyad general Yazid b. Mohallab b. Abi Ṣofra in the late 1st/early 8th century, and Astarābād (q.v.), in the western part adjoining Māzandarān. (Šahr-e) Gorgān was a fl;ourishing urban center, despite the fact that it lay in a region of fi;erce heat and humidity and was liable to fl;ooding when the snows of the Alborz melted and swelled the river of Gorgān. It lay on both sides of the river, with the town proper, comprising the šahrastān with the dār al-emāra or government headquarters, on the right bank, and the industrial suburb of Bakrābād, where silk manufacturing was concentrated, on the left; the two halves were linked by a bridge of boats. The dominant building material was sun-dried clay bricks (see Ebn Ḥawqal, ed. Kramers, p. 382, tr. Kramers and Wiet, pp. 372-73).

Arab invaders appeared in Gorgān under Saʿid b. ʿĀṣ as early as 30/650-51, when the malek of Gorgān (the Sasanian marzbān?) agreed to pay a tribute of 200,000 dirhams (Balāḏori, Fotuḥ, pp. 334-35), but Arab rule was not made reasonably fi;rm till the time of Yazid b. Mohallab (see above). Following the Sasanians, who had constructed defences in this region against nomadic pressure from inner Asia, the Arabs regarded Gorgān and Dehestān as ṯoḡur, frontier regions against the Turks, and above all the Ḡozz (q.v.), of the Transcaspian steppes. Zaydi Shiʿite missionary activity affected Gor-gān, as it did Gilān (q.v.) and Ṭabarestān further to the west, and the ʿAlid Moḥammad b. Zayd was combatted in Gorgān by the Saffarids in the later 3rd/9th century (see Bosworth, 1994, pp. 211, 217-18). In the next century, Gorgān became the center of the Ziyarid principality carved out by the Daylamite adventurer Mardāvij b. Ziār (murdered 323/935) and held by his descendants until the end of the 5th/11th century.

The Ziyarids’ hold on their territories was not, however, uncontested. Under Vošmgir ibn Ziār (323-57/935-67) and his successor Bisotun (357-66/967-77), they acknowledged the suzereinty now of the Samanids, now of the latters’ rivals the Buyids; but in the reign of Qābus ibn Vošmgir (366-403/977-1012) they lost Ṭabarestān and Gorgān to the Buyids, who remained in control of the region until 388/998. The Ziyarids’ situation under the Ghaznavids was also precarious (not least because of internal struggles); the low point of this period was perhaps Masʿud I’s invasion of Gorgān and Ṭabarestān in 426/1035 and his sack of Āmol (q.v.), described in detail by Bayhaqi (ed. Fayyāż, pp. 587-608; see in general Madelung; Bosworth 1965).

The last Ziyarid ruler, Gilānšāh, was put to fl;ight in 483/1090, in the reign of the Saljuq sultan Malekšāh, by the Ismaʿilis of Alamut (Bosworth, 1965, p. 33). From Saljuq times onwards, there may have been a trend towards pastoralization in Gorgān, for there existed extensive grazing grounds there for the still-nomadic Turkmens of the Saljuq empire, and we know of a šeḥna or military administrator appointed over them by the sultan (Lambton, p. 282). In the latter half of the 6th/12th century, Astarābād passed to the control of the local Bāvandid ruler, Šāh-Ḡāzi Rostam (534-58/1140-63; see Āl-e Bāvand).

The Mongols devastated the province, ending the prosperity described by Yāqut (Boldān, ed. Beirut, II, pp. 119-23) at the beginning of the 7th/13th century and massacring the population. It was on one of the islands of Abaskun that the Ḵᵛārazmšāh ʿAlā-al-Din Moḥammad, fl;eeing from the Mongols, took refuge, and died shortly after (Jovayni, tr. Boyle, II, pp. 385-86). A century later, Mostawfi described the city of Gorgān as being still ruinous and sparsely populated (Nozhat al-qolub, p. 159, tr., p. 156); and it suffered further from Timur’s ravages. Astarābād developed as the main urban center of the province. Various Turkmen tribes established themselves in Gorgān during the Safavid period as vassals of the Shahs (Röhrborn, p. 18); in the late 17th and the 18th century it became the power base for the Qajar Turkmen. The region remained vulnerable to Turkmen incursions from the steppes until the later 19th century.


A certain Tāriḵ-e Jorjān was written by the native scholar Ḥamza b. Yusof Sahmi (d. 427/1038; ed. Hyderabad, 1369/1950), but this is mainly a rejāl-book, i.e., it is concerned with the scholars and traditionists of the province. W. Barthold, An Historical Geography of Iran, Princeton, 1984, pp. 115-17.

C. Edmund Bosworth, “On the Chronology of the Ziyārids in Gurgān and Ṭabaristān,” Der Islam 40, 1965, pp. 25-34.

Idem, The History of the Saffarids of Sistan and the Maliks of Nimruz, Costa Mesa and New York, 1994.

Ann K. S. Lambton, “The Administration of Sanjar’s Empire as Illustrated in the ʿAtabat al-kataba,” BSO(A)S 20, 1957, pp. 367-88.

Le Strange, Lands, pp. 376-79.

Wilferd Madelung, “Minor Dynasties of Northern Iran,” in Camb. Hist. Iran, IV, pp. 212-16.

Hyacinth L. Rabino, Mazandaran and Astarabad, London, 1928.

Klaus M. Röhrborn, Provinzen und Zentralgewalt Persiens im 16. und 17. Jahrhundert, Berlin, 1966.

Robert B. Serjeant, Islamic Textiles: Material for a History up to the Mongol Conquest, Beirut, 1972, pp. 80-81.

(C. Edmund Bosworth)

Originally Published: December 15, 2002

Last Updated: February 17, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. XI, Fasc. 2, pp. 153-154

Cite this entry:

C. Edmund Bosworth, “GORGĀN vi. History From The Rise Of Islam To The Beginning Of The Safavid Period,” Encyclopaedia Iranica, XI/2, pp. 153-154, available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/gorgan-vi (accessed on 30 December 2012).