Local histories of Herāt belong to three distinct literary genres: the biographical dictionary, the dynastic history, and the guide for pilgrims.




Local histories of Herāt belong to three distinct literary genres: the biographical dictionary, the dynastic history, and the guide for pilgrims. Chronologically, the biographical dictionaries belong to the pre-Mongol period, the dynastic histories to the centuries when Herāt was the capital of a regional or imperial state (Kartid and Timurid periods); and the guides for pilgrims begin in the Timurid period and continue into the 20th century. The large compendium of Sufi biographies, Ṭabaqāt al-Ṣufiya, of the patron saint of the city, Ḵᵛāja ʿAbd-Allāh Anṣāri (q.v.), has been excluded here, since it is not local in outlook, although of course many local people are mentioned in it. All the books discussed here (but one) carry the name of the city in their title and thus are explicit in their local focus.

Biographical dictionaries. Ḥāji Ḵalifa (Kašf al-ẓonun, ed. Flügel, II, p. 157) names five biographical dictionaries for the city of Herāt, all of which were written in Arabic. None of these seems to be extant, not even in fragmentary form. Later authors, among them the local historiographers Sayfi Heravi and Esfezāri (q.v.), mention only two out of the five, but this is not to say that there never were more than that. The first author is Abu Esḥāq Aḥmad b. Yāsin Ḥaddād (d. 343/954), whose work is quoted in Esfezāri at the beginning of the part devoted to history “in a narrower sense” (ed. Emām, I, pp. 378-87), but it is not certain whether Esfezāri still had access to the work in question, since he quotes it from ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Fāmi, who in turn is said to quote from Abu ʿObayd Moʾaddeb, one of Abu Esḥāq’s disciples. Abu Esḥāq himself was a transmitter of Hadith, but perhaps not very highly esteemed among his colleagues and even his compatriots (Paul, pp. 100-101).

The second work is a city history of Herat written by Ṯeqat-al-Din ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān b. ʿAbd-al-Jabbār Fāmi (1079-1151), which is quoted by both Sayfi and Esfezāri and mentioned in some of the great biographical dictionaries compiled in Mamluk Syria and Egypt in the 14th century. Not much of the biographical material is available, however. The quotations in Sayfi and Esfezāri concern the foundation legends of Herāt, of which there are several, and a list of governors from the Samanid period in addition to a very brief list of “events” (Sayfi, pp. 25 ff.; Esfezāri, ed. Esḥāq, pp. 41 ff., ed. Emām, I, pp. 55 ff.). Taken together, it seems that Fāmi was the only pre-Mongol source still available to 14th and 15th-century writers, the authors of biographical compilations in the Arab world, and the regional dynastic historians of eastern Iran. Obviously it is highly probable that the works of Abu Esḥāq and Fāmi were both mainly biographical dictionaries, but they certainly must have also contained some sort of introduction (as is common with this literary genre) that provided information on the geography and history of the region, including its legendary past. Besides, they may also have included a list of “events” (ḥawādeṯ; for a more detailed study of the biographical dictionaries concerning Herāt, see the editors’ introduction to Sayfi; see also Paul).

Regional dynastic historiography. This category consists of lost and extant works written in Persian. The first of these, called the Kart-nāma, was composed by the 13th-century poet Ṣadr-al-Din Rabiʿi Bušanji at the order of Malek Faḵr-al-Din Kart. It was an epic in couplet form verse (maṯnawi) in emulation of Ferdowsi’s Šāh-nāma, elaborating on the accomplishments of the Ghurids and the Kartid rulers (moluk) of Herāt (Eqbāl, pp. 469-71; Nafisi, Naẓm o naṯr, I, pp. 296-98; Ṣafā, Adabi-yāt III, pp. 671-81). It seems to be lost, except for 250 couplets (bayt) quoted in Sayfi’s history (see the editor’s introd., pp. 7 ff.).

The first work to have come down to us, albeit in very few manuscripts, is Sayfi’s Tārik-nāma-ye Herāt. The author’s full name was Sayf b. Moḥammad b. Yaʿqub Heravi, about whom we know only what he tells us in his work. He was born in 681/1282; the date of his death is not known, but he must have died after 1321, when his history was completed (Ṣafā, Adabiyāt III, pp. 1240-42). The book is a detailed history of the Kartid rulers and their reign. Pre-Mongol history is dealt with only very briefly, but the work is a precious source for Herāt under the Mongols in the decades immediately following the Mongol conquest (e.g., the dealings of the local people and their militia groups, the ʿayyārs [q.v.], with the representatives of Mongol power). It also provides a wealth of information on the difficult and intricate situation of northeastern Iran for the period it covers. The main body of the book is divided into 138 chapters, each one devoted to an event or a group of events. It does not follow an annalistic arrangement, although dates are consistently provided. Poetry is quoted throughout, but the prose style is rather straightforward and fluent; descriptions of battle scenes and the like are, however, much embellished (e.g., pp. 210 ff., 669 ff.). The author uses the standard works of Mongol-Persian historiography (including Rašid-al-Din’s Jāmeʿ al-tawārikò) as his source, but he also relies on eyewitness reports and on what he could gather from family transmissions (for the remoter past). The book was used as source by the subsequent historians, in particular from the Timurid period. It was probably their need to assert themselves in the face of Mongol dominance that persuaded the Kartid rulers to commission works of regional dynastic historiography in verse as well as in prose.

The next work is the Rawżāt al-jannāt fi awṣāf madinat Harāt (Gardens of paradise on the descriptions of the city of Herāt), written in 1470 (Browne, IV, p. 430-31) by Moʿin-al-Din Moḥammad Zamči Esfezāri (q.v.). Almost nothing is known about the author. He is said to have been a lecturer (modarres) in one of the renowned colleges (madrasa) of Herāt, and the Rawżāt seems to be his only extant work, although a manual of official correspondences (tarassol) is credited to him by Ḵᵛāndamir (Ḥabib al-siar IV, p. 348). The year of his death is sometimes given as 915/1509-10 (Esmāʿil Pasha, apud editor’s introd. to Rawżāt, p. ḥā). The work was written apparently during the reign of the last eminent Timurid ruler of Herāt, Ḥosayn Bāyqarā (q.v.) and completed in 1470. The book is divided into twenty-six chapters called rawżas (gardens), which in turn are subdivided into sections called čamans (meadows) The first five chapters deal with geography, giving descriptions of the city of Herāt and of those parts of eastern Persia that were under the Timurids of Herāt. The following chapters are all on history. Ancient history is treated briefly, and the author begins a more detailed narrative only when he starts dealing with the Kart rulers; but the period after 1321, which Sayfi does not cover, again receives little attention. The focus of the work is on Timur and the Timurids. The division into chapters follows the dynastic outlook, which is typical for this book. For instance, Abu Saʿid’s reign in Khorasan (1459-69) is broken down into five chapters (18-22): Abu Saʿid comes to Herat; the Turkmens drive him out; his second enthronement (and the beginnings of Ḥosayn’s career); Abu Saʿid’s ill-fated campaign into western Persia and his defeat; and his end. The work differs from imperial Timurid historiography in that it retains a local (regional) perspective.

Both these works of regional dynastic historiography are important sources for regional geography and history, that is, the history of the Kartid rulers and the Timurids in particular. The information to be garnered from these two works for the toponymy of Herat has been collected by Terry Allen.

Guides for pilgrims. The third group of works incorporates what could be called guides for pilgrims or lists of shrines and other venerated sites in Herāt and its environs. Of these there are three that fall under the common title of Resāla-ye mazārāt-e Herāt (Treatise on Herāt’s pilgrimage places [i.e., graves]). The first treatise, Maq-ṣad al-eqbāl-e solṭāniya . . . by Aṣil-al-Din ʿAbd-Allāh Wāʿeẓ Heravi, lists 209 items in rough chronological order according to death dates, the last of which bears the date 864 (1460). A new section is devoted to the saintly persons who died after Timur. Quite a few entries concern persons that seem to be devoid of any historical basis (e.g., those with a day of the week in their name); they rather seem to be about local shrines that are so typical for city quarters (maḥalla), a custom not confined to Persia. The author mentions a certain Tārik-e Herāt (not further identified) and the Ṭabaqāt of ʿAbd-Allāh Anṣāri as his sources. Most of the material, however, seems to come from systematic research all over the city. Although the book possibly was written on the request of Abu Saʿid (and at any rate during his reign), it does not at all belong to court literature. There is no perceptible bias in favor of any of the great Sufi orders then present in Herat, and the percentage of the so-called fools of God (majnun, divāna) is rather high.

The second treatise was written by ʿObayd-Allāh b. Abu Saʿid Heravi, probably some time in the middle of the 17th century. It has ninety-four entries in all, but not so well ordered as in the first treatise. The first person listed is the great Persian poet and mystic of Herāt ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Jāmi, followed by a large number of venerated persons who died around the turn of the 16th century. Only a few dates deal with the 17th century, which might be later additions. In this part, there is no clear orientation toward Sufi chains of spiritual descent (selselas), either.

The last treatise, which does not have a title, concerns the later periods, starting toward the end of the 18th century (end of the 12th cent. H. ) and continuing well into the 19th century. It was written by one Mawlawi Moḥammad-Ṣādeq Heravi, who included thirty-five persons into his work. In this book, the affiliation of the persons on record is a prime issue, as well as their political influence and local importance.

In all, local historiography of Herāt offers a clear example of the general evolution of the genre: from a focus on scholars, particularly transmitters of Hadith (moḥaddeṯin), in the pre-Mongol period, when local histories were written in Arabic, to works of regional dynastic outlook in the 14th and 15th centuries (when Herat was a real political center; before and after, it was a provincial town with no outstanding political and military weight) to “guides for pilgrims,” focusing on venerated religious figures mostly from a Sufi background.



Terry Allen, Timurid Herat, Beihefte zum Tübinger Atlas des Vorderen Orients, Reihe B 56,Wiesbaden, 1983.

Brown, Lit. Hist. Persia III, pp. 150-52, 173-74, 430-31.

ʿAbbās Eqbāl, “Rabiʿi Pušangi,” Mehr 1, 1933, pp. 169-78; republ. in idem, Majmuʿa-ye maqālāt-e ʿAbbās EqbālĀštiāni, ed. Moḥammad Dabirsiāqi, Tehran, 1980, pp. 466-77.

Moʿin-al-Din Moḥammad Zamči Esfezāri, Rawżāt al-jannāt fi awṣāf madinat Harāt, ed.

Moḥammad Esḥāq, Calcutta, 1961; ed.

Sayyed Moḥammad-Kāẓem Emām, 2 vols, Tehran, 1959-60; abridged tr.

Charles Barbier de Meynard as “Extraits de la chronique persane de Herat,” JA, 5th Ser., 16, 1860, pp. 461-520; 17, 1861, pp. 438-57, 473-522; 20, 1862, pp. 268-319.

Esmāʿil Pasha Baḡdādi, Hadiat al-ʿārefin: asmāʾ al-moʾallefin wa āṯār al-moṣannefin, Bagdad, 1972.

Faṣiḥ Aḥmad b. Moḥammad Ḵᵛāfi, Mojmal-e faṣiḥi, ed.

Maḥmud Farroḵ, 3 vols., Mašhad, 1960-62, III, pp. 4 ff.

Ḵᵛāndamir, Ḥabib al-siar III, pp. 367, 376-78.

Jürgen Paul, “The Local Histories of Herāt,” Iranian Studies 33/1-2,2000, pp. 93-115.

ʿObayd-Allāh b. Abu Saʿid Heravi, (Ḏayl-e) MaqsÂad al-eqbāl yā resāla-ye dovvom-e mazārāt-e Herāt, publ. with Wāʿeẓ Ḥosayni, Maqṣad al-eqbāl, ed.

Māyel Heravi, pp. 99-141 (see below).Ṣafā, Adabiyāt IV, pp. 537-38.

Sayf (Sayfi) b. Moḥammad b. Yaʿqub Heravi, Tārik-nāma-ye Herāt,ed. Moḥammad Zobayr Ṣeddiqi, Calcutta, 1943.

Asiál-al-Din ʿAbd-Allāh Wāʿeẓ Ḥosayni, Resāla-ye mazārāt-e Herāt: Maqṣad al-eqbāl-e solṭāniya wa marṣad al-aʿmāl-e ḵāqāniya, ed.

Fekri Saljuqi, 3 parts, Kabul, 1967; ed.

Reżā Māyel Heravi, Tehran, 1972.

(Jürgen Paul)

Originally Published: December 15, 2003

Last Updated: March 22, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. XII, Fasc. 2, pp. 217-219