JALAYERIDS (sometimes called the Ilakāni by Persian historians), a dynasty of Mongol origin which ruled over Iraq, and for several decades also over north-western Persia, from the collapse of the Il-khanate in the late 1330s until the early 9th/15th century (Table 1). Its history can be divided into four phases: (1) the early years, in which the dynasty was in practice autonomous but theoretically acknowledged the authority of a series of feeble Il-khans; (2) the apogee of the Jalayerids, coinciding with the reign of Šayḵ Ovays (1356-74); (3) an era of incipient decline following his death, marked by internecine conflict; and (4) a final phase, beginning in 1385, in which the Jalayerid territories were subjected to external attack by the Central Asian conqueror Timur (Temür/Tamerlane) and by the rising power of the Qarā Qoyunlu (‘Black Sheep’) Türkmen, at whose hands the dynasty met its end. The principal sources are the history produced (c. 1359) for Šayḵ Ovays by his court chronicler, Ahari, and the continuation (down to 1391) which Zayn-al-Din appended to the Ḏayl-e Ẓafar-nāma of his father Ḥamd-Allāh Mostawfi Qazvini and which in turn was utilized by Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru for his Ḏayl-e Jāmeʿ al-tawāriḵ (see Melville, 1998, pp. 1-4). Additional material can be gleaned from the late 9th/15th-century Iraqi author al-Ḡiāṯ, although his chronology is sometimes at variance with that of the Persian accounts. The numismatic evidence for the history of the period has more recently been collected by Stephen Album, while accounts of the Jalayerid monuments and artists are found in the dated but still useful study by ʿAbbās ʿAzzāwi.

Origins and early history. The amir (or noyan) Ilge (Ilkā), known as Köke (Kukā, ‘Blue’) Ilge, from whom the Jalayerids were descended, belonged to the Jalair (Jalāyer) tribe, which had occupied pasturelands along the River Onon in Mongolia prior to Genghiz (Čengiz) Khan’s time and produced several important military commanders during the Mongol era (Rašid-al-Din, Jāmeʿ al-tawāriḵ (Moscow), pp. 130-49, tr. Thackston, I, pp. 37-41; Tāriḵ-e Waṣṣāf, p. 423). Accompanying Hülegü (Hulāgu, q.v.) on his great expedition to Western Asia in the 1250s, Ilkā was among the generals who reduced the Assassin strongholds in Qohestān in 1256 (Jovayni, ed. Qazvini, III, p. 102, tr. Boyle, II, pp. 615-16; Rašid-al-Din, Jāmeʿ al-tawāriḵ (Baku), p. 29, tr. Thackston, II, p. 482); subsequently he participated in the campaign against Baghdad and after the city’s fall in 1258 he was ordered to supervise its reconstruction (Rašid-al-Din, Jāmeʿ al-tawāriḵ, Baku, pp. 52, 55, 62, tr. Thackston, II, pp. 493, 496, 499). He was in joint command of the forces operating against Mayyāfāreqin, and was sent into Syria late in 1260 to avenge the defeat at ʿAyn Jālut, but withdrew into Anatolia on the approach of the Mamluk Sultan Baybars (ibid., pp. 76, 77, 79, tr. Thackston, II, pp. 506, 507). Ilkā was in charge of the ordos (“royal encampment”) when Abaqa (q.v.) ascended the throne in 1265 and is described as a veteran amir (ibid., p. 100, tr. Thackston, III, p. 517). He must have died soon afterwards.

A number of his sons were in the service of Abaqa’s successors. One of them, Aqbuqa (Āqbuqā), whom the Il-khan Gayḵātu (q.v.) promoted to the rank of mir-e mirān or chief amir (Tāriḵ-e Waṣṣāf, pp. 264-5), was executed by the supporters of Bāydu (q.v.) in 1295 (Rašid-al-Din, Jāmeʿ al-tawāriḵ (Baku), p. 291, tr. Thackston, III, p. 615; Tāriḵ-e Waṣṣāf, p. 282; Ahari, p. 146). He had married a daughter of the Il-khan Arḡun (q.v.) named Öljetei (Uljatāi) who bore him a son, Ḥosayn (Rašid-al-Din, Jāmeʿ al-tawāriḵ (Baku), p. 197, tr. Thackston, III, p. 562). Ḥo-sayn was in attendance on his maternal uncle Öljeitü (Uljāitu, q.v.), prior to his accession as Il-khan, and during his reign stood high in his favor (Ahari, pp. 148-49), receiving the governorship of Arrān in 1313 (Tāriḵ-e Waṣṣāf, p. 610). He subsequently served Öljeitü’s son and successor, Abu Saʿid (q.v.), as governor of Khorasan until his death in 1322 (Ahari, p. 151). His son Ḥasan was the real founder of the Jalayerid dynasty. Having been promoted to the dignitary of amir-e olus (or olus-beg ‘chief amir’) under Abu Saʿid, he was accused in 1331 of conspiring against the Il-khan with his former wife, a granddaughter of Čoban (Čobān, q.v.) named Baḡdād ḵātun, whom Abu Saʿid had misappropriated. Dismissed from office, he was imprisoned in the fortress of Kemāḵ, but was released the following year and sent to Anatolia as governor (Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru, pp. 186-87; Ahari, p. 156). After Abu Saʿid’s death in 1335, he married that monarch’s widow, Delšād Ḵātun, and the new Il-khan, Arpa (q.v), restored him to the position of senior amir-e olus (Ahari, p. 159).

In the chaos that followed the death of Abu Saʿid, the great amirs and provincial governors vied with one another for power. Ḥasan took part in this conflict, at first in opposition to the late Il-khan’s maternal uncle, ʿAli Pādšāh, and subsequently against Čoban’s progeny, the Chobanids (q.v.). Known as Ḥasan-e Uljatāi, or more often as Ḥasan-e Bozorg to distinguish him from his Cho-banid rival Ḥasan-e Kučak, he first entered the struggle after Arpa’s downfall in 1336 when, at the instigation of the Oirad (Uyrāt) amir Ḥājji Taḡai (Ṭaḡāy), governor of Diār Bakr, he enthroned Moḥammad in opposition to the puppet Il-khan Musā set up by ʿAli Pādšāh. After Mo-ḥammad’s death in battle with the Chobanids (1338), Ḥasan-e Bozorg recognized Taḡai Timur (Ṭaḡā Temür), a descendant of one of Čengiz Khan’s brothers and a more powerful prince, who sough to conquer western Iran from his base in Khorasan. A few months later Ḥasan switched his support to Jahān Timur (1339-40), a grandson of the Il-khan Geykhatu (Gayḵātu). Thereafter his allegiance is unclear, though he struck coins in the name of his last known Il-khanid protégé, Solaymān, in 745-46/1344-46 (Album 1984, pp. 83, 100). In order to strengthen his position against Ḥasan-e Kučak, he may have acknowledged the sovereignty of the Mamluk Sultan al-Nāṣer Moḥammad just prior to that ruler’s death in 1341, striking coins and making the ḵoṭba in his name at Baghdad (al-Šojāʿi, pp. 68, 98-101, 115, tr. pp. 95, 128-31, 147-48). Whatever the case, at no time during his own autonomous rule in Baghdad did Ḥasan-e Bozorg claim sovereign status; rather, he contented himself with the title olus-beg right until his death in Rajab 757/July 1356. For a brief interval in 1337-38 his authority had been recognized in every part of the Il-khanid Empire except Khorasan (Album 1984, pp. 70-71), but during his later years he held power only in Iraq, having been forced to evacuate Azerbaijan in the winter of 1338-39 by Ḥasan-e Kučak and his brother Malek Ašraf (see CHOBANIDS).

The dynasty’s apogee. Ḥasan’s son by Delšād ḵātun, Šayḵ Ovays (1356-74), was the first of the dynasty to take the title of Sultan. Any internal challenge to the new ruler’s position was removed with the early death (in 1359) of his brother Ḥosayn. Soon after his accession, however, Jānibeg, khan of the Mongols of the Golden Horde (q.v.) in the Pontic steppe, which had long coveted Azerbaijan and other territories south of the Caucasus, defeated and killed the Chobanid Malek Ašraf, occupying Tabriz and forcing Ovays to recognize his overlordship. The khan died shortly after returning to the north, and his son Berdibeg, whom he had left in command in Azerbaijan, hurried off to secure the succession, though he reigned only briefly. One of Ašraf’s former officers named Aḵičoq (Aḵičuq) now usurped control in Tabriz (1357). For a time Tabriz was contested between Aḵičuq, the Mozaffarid (q.v.) Mobārez-al-Din Moḥammad of central and southern Persia, and Ovays himself, but it was the Jalayerid who achieved the definitive conquest of Azerbaijan in 1359. Aḵičuq, who had at first been treated generously, was soon executed for conspiracy (Zayn-al-Din, pp. 66-70). A bid by Malek Ašraf’s son Temürtaš (Timurtāš) to recover his father’s territories with the aid of the new khan of the Golden Horde, Ḵeżr, was frustrated in 1360 when the latter handed him over to Ovays (ibid., p. 71; Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru, pp. 238-39). Several campaigns were required before Ovays enforced the submission of the Šarvānšāh Kāvus (1366-67), but thereafter the whole of Šarvān as far north as Darband remained obedient to him until his death, and he was able to install Kāvus’ compliant brother as ruler in 1372-73 (Zayn-al-Din, pp. 81-2, 90; Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru, p. 242).

Šayḵ Ovays intervened in the disputes among the Mozaffarid princes, who had deposed their father Mobārez-al-Din Moḥammad. At the request of Šāh Maḥmud, who ruled in Isfahan, he dispatched an army in 1368-69 to expel Šāh Šojā from Shiraz (Zayn-al-Din, p. 85; Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru, p. 243), but the brothers’ reconciliation prevented him in the longer term from establishing his own influence in central Persia. Greater success attended the campaign Ovays headed in person against Amir Vali, who had supplanted the heirs of the Il-khan Ṭaḡā Timur in Gorgān, Astarābād and western Khorasan and from whom he took Ray in 1370-71 (Zayn-al-Din, pp. 87-88; Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru, p. 244). If we can believe al Ḡiāṯ (p. 88), the ḵoṭba was made in Ovays’s name at Mecca. But his reign was not devoid of problems. In 1363 his governor in Baghdad, Ḵᵛāja Marjān, profited from the absence of Ovays in Šarvān and rebelled in collusion with the Šarvānšāh. Šayḵ Ovays suppressed the rising only with some difficulty in the following year (Zayn-al-Din, pp. 74-78; Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru, pp. 240-41); Marjān, spared at the intercession of the religious class in Baghdad, was later reinstated as governor in 1367-68 (Zayn-al-Din, pp. 78, 83; Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru, p. 243). In the far west Šayḵ Ovays’s reign witnessed the first clashes with the rising power of the Qarā Qoyunlu Turkmens of the Diār Bakr region, from whose leader, Bayram ḵᵛāja, he wrested Mosul (al-Mawṣel) in 1365 or 1366 (ibid., p. 79; Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru, pp. 241-42; Cahen, pp. 80-81).

Decline. When Šayḵ Ovays died in Tabriz on 2 Jomādā I 776/9 October 1374 at the age of thirty, the amirs killed his eldest son and heir, Ḥasan, and enthroned another son, Ḥosayn I (1374-82). The new reign began auspiciously with a successful campaign in 1375 to secure the submission of the Qarā Qoyunlu amir Qarā Moḥammad (Zayn-al-Din, p. 94). But under Ḥosayn, whose government was dominated by the chief amir, ʿĀdel Āqā, decline swiftly set in. Amir Vali recovered Ray (ibid., p. 104), which he retained in the ensuing peace settlement of 1377-78 (ibid., pp. 97-98; Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru, p. 252), and in 1376-77 the Qarā Qoyunlu retook Mosul (al-Ḡiāṯ, p. 99). In the latter year Šāh Šojā invaded Jalayerid territory. Owing to the antipathy between ʿĀdel Āqā and the other amirs, no concerted resistance was offered and in September-October 1376 the Mozaffarid ruler occupied Tabriz itself for four months before retiring on the news of Ḥosayn’s advance (Zayn-al-Din, pp. 95-96; Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru, pp. 247-50).

Ḥosayn was also confronted by disaffection on the part of his brothers, one of whom, Šayḵ ʿAli was at the center of an uprising in 1378-79 and temporarily gained control of Baghdad in 1380 (Zayn-al-Din, pp. 99-102); the Khora-sani chronicler Faryumadi (p. 313) says that he was older than Ḥosayn and that his father had intended him to rule the city. Early in 1382 another brother, Solṭān Aḥmad, suddenly withdrew to his appanage of Ardabil and mustered an army in Muḡān and Arrān, with which he marched on Tabriz. Most of Ḥosayn’s troops were absent at Solṭāniya with ʿĀdel Āqā, and Solṭān Aḥmad encountered no resistance. He was proclaimed sultan, and Ḥosayn was put to death (Zayn-al-Din, pp. 106-7). This alarmed a number of amirs, who fled to Baghdad to join Šayḵ ʿAli (al-Ḡiāṯ, p. 102).

Although the latter was overthrown thanks to the aid of the Qarā Qoyunlu, Solṭān Aḥmad was unable at first to establish himself in Tabriz in the face of strong opposition from Ḥosayn’s former lieutenant, ʿĀdel Āqā, who now championed another brother named Solṭān Bāyazid. In an attempt to mediate, it was proposed that Solṭān Aḥ-mad hold Azerbaijan, Muḡān and Arrān; ʿErāq-e ʿAjam should fall to Bāyazid, while the revenues of ʿErāq-e ʿArab should be divided between them. The plan fell through, however, and Solṭān Aḥmad occupied Baghdad (Zayn-al-Din, pp. 107-10). In 1383 he was able to enter the town of Solṭāniya and invest the citadel. Later that year Šāh Šojā, who had advanced to Hamadān and had been joined by ʿĀdel Āqā and Solṭān Bāyazid, brought about a peace whereby Bāyazid secured ʿErāq-e ʿAjam and ʿĀdel Āqā accompanied the Mozaffarid ruler to Shiraz; but in the spring of 1384 Solṭān Bāyazid, deprived of his protector, finally surrendered Solṭāniya to Solṭān Aḥmad (ibid., pp. 111-13).

The attacks by Timur and by the Qarā Qoyunlu. By this juncture western Iran lay under the shadow of the Central Asian conqueror Timur, who had welded together the forces of the Chaghatayid (q.v.) khanate in Transoxania and aspired to recreate Čengiz Khan’s empire; and like the other dynasties which had supplanted the Il-khans, the Jalayerids met his attack in a state of utter disunity and debilitation. In 1384-85 Solṭān Aḥmad’s lieutenants at Solṭāniya abandoned the town on the approach of Timur’s forces, an act for which their furious master publicly humiliated them in Tabriz. Timur conferred the governorship of Solṭāniya on ʿĀdel Āqā, who had left Shiraz and had submitted to him at Ray (Zayn-al-Din, pp. 113-14; al-Ḡiāṯ, pp. 104-5). When Solṭān Aḥmad sent an army to recover Solṭāniya, ʿĀdel Āqā vigorously defended the citadel on Timur’s behalf (Zayn-al-Din, pp. 114-15).

The installation in Azerbaijan of a client of Timur brought down on the province a savage attack by Toqtamiš, khan of the Golden Horde, who in 1384 sacked Tabriz and Marāḡa and devastated the regions of Marand and Nakhchivan (Naḵjavān) before withdrawing with allegedly 200,000 captives (ibid., pp. 115-18). This was shortly followed by Timur’s own first major assault on the Jalayerids. In the spring of 1386 his forces entered Tabriz and installed ʿĀdel Āqā there; Solṭān Aḥmad’s army was put to flight. On Timur’s own approach, Sol-ṭān Aḥmad, who had briefly entered Tabriz, fled back to Baghdad. Tabriz had to pay the conqueror a heavy ransom (māl-e amān), which ʿĀdel Āqā had dutifully collected, though this did not prevent his execution by Timur on suspicion of embezzlement (Zayn-al-Din, pp. 120-22). The dynasty now suffered the almost permanent loss of Azerbaijan, since when Timur withdrew to Khorasan in 1387, he left his son Mirānšāh as viceroy of the province.

In 1393 Timur renewed the struggle with the Jalayerids, occupying Baghdad without a fight when Solṭān Aḥmad fled to Mamluk Syria. The city was plundered and a heavy ransom was extorted; on his departure, the conqueror took with him not only Solṭān Aḥmad’s son, ʿAlāʾ-al-Dawla (Salmāni, Šams al-ḥosn, tr. p. 96), but Baghdad’s artists and scholars, to embellish his capital at Samarqand. On Solṭān Aḥmad’s return the following year, however, the Timurid garrison withdrew; nor was Mirānšāh successful in his attempt to take the city in 1398. In 1399 the thirteen- (or fifteen-)year siege of Alenjaq by Mirānšāh’s troops was raised by the Georgian King Giorgi VII (Sanjian, p. 118), and its commander, Solṭān Aḥmad’s son Ṭāher, made his way to Baghdad, though this brought no amelioration in the Jalayerids’ position, since he then rebelled against his father and was drowned in the Tigris (ibid., p. 155). In 1400, during Timur’s operations in Syria and before the conqueror moved on Baghdad, Solṭān Aḥmad again abandoned his capital, this time to find shelter with the Ottoman Sultan Bāyezīd Yïldïrïm. Timur, already angry that the Jalayerid ruler had escaped him, was further infuriated by the spirited resistance of the city during a forty-day siege. Taken by storm on 27 Ḏuʾl-qaʿda 803/9 July 1401, Baghdad was ruthlessly sacked and its fortifications and most of the public buildings were destroyed. The entire population was massacred, with the exception of sayyids, ulama and dervishes, and pyramids were formed of their skulls as a grisly memento.

Unlike the other successor dynasties, the Jalayerids survived Timur’s onslaught, but only to fall victim to the Qarā Qoyunlu. For a time Solṭān Aḥmad collaborated against Timur with the Qarā Qoyunlu leader, Qarā Yusof, who, like the Jalayerids themselves, had suffered a series of attacks by the conqueror. They were both for a time guests of the Ottoman Sultan, and returned to Baghdad together after the Timurid sack in 1401. But their rivalry continued to resurface. Having spelled Solṭān Aḥmad from Baghdad, Qarā Yusof was himself ousted by Mirān-šāh’s son Abu Bakr, and fled to Syria, where he found Solṭān Aḥmad. The two men were imprisoned together and made an agreement whereby the Jalayerids would retain Iraq while Azerbaijan was to form the Qarā Qoyunlu sphere of influence. After they returned from captivity in 1404, however, they again clashed because Solṭān Aḥmad could not be satisfied merely with Iraq. In an attempt to wrest Tabriz from Qarā Yusof in 1410, he was captured and executed; his son ʿAlaʾ-al-Dawla, who had rejoined him after being released by the Timurid ruler of Samarqand, shared his fate (al-Ḡiāṯ, p. 136). The Qarā Qoyunlu’s seizure of Baghdad in 1412 from Solṭān Aḥmad’s nephew and successor, Šāh Valad b. Šayḵ ʿAli, marked the effective end of the dynasty.

The Jalayerids were not completely eliminated, however, since minor scions of the family maintained themselves in Ḵuzestān and southern Iraq, where their history is documented by al-Ḡiāṯ (pp. 137-44). On the fall of Bagh-dad, Šāh Valad’s son Solṭān Maḥmud fled to Šuštar, where he ruled for two years and was succeeded by his brother Solṭān Ovays. The latter made two attempts to recover Baghdad from the Qarā Qoyunlu in 1421, in the second of which he was killed in battle with their ruler Jahānšāh. Yet another of Šāh Valad’s sons, Solṭān Mo-ḥammad, was dislodged from Šuštar in 1423 by Ebrāhim Solṭān, the Timurid ruler of Fārs, and fled first to Wāseṭ and later to al-Ḥella. From here he made the dynasty’s final bid to regain Baghdad, but after an abortive siege of the city, he died in July 1424. The licentious behavior of the last Jalayerid ruler, Ḥosayn II b. ʿAlāʾ-al-Dawla, alienated his amirs, who invited in the Qarā Qoyunlu prince Aspān; al-Ḥella was taken in October 1431, and Ḥosayn was hunted down and killed on 3 Rabiʿ I/9 November.

Cultural aspects. Although certain scholars have imputed Shiʿite sympathies to the Jalayerids, the strongest grounds for this view lie in the dynasty’s preference for names such as ʿAli, Ḥasan and Ḥosayn and in the expressed desire of Ḥasan-e Bozorg to be buried in Najaf. It is true that Ḥasan-e Bozorg was also on excellent terms with Shaikh Ṣafi-al-Din, the ancestor of the later Safavid dynasty, at Ardabil, and that friendly relations with Ṣafi-al-Din’s successors persisted under Šayḵ Ovays. Yet at this early stage it is doubtful whether the Ardabil order itself can be described as Shiʿite in any real sense. The evidence of Jalayerid coins, on the other hand, suggest a more Sunni stance: the overwhelming majority carry the names of the Orthodox Caliphs, and only rarely does a coin, like that struck by Ḥasan-e Bozorg at Āmol in 741/1340, bear the names of the Twelve Imams.

The Jalayerids gained a reputation as patrons of literary activity and the arts, and under their rule both Baghdad and Tabriz were centers of flourishing schools of miniature painting. Baghdad in the time of Šayḵ Ovays was the home of the miniaturist Šams-al-Din, and later of ʿAbd al-Ḥayy, whom Timur carried off to his capital, Samarqand. Šayḵ Ovays was a skilled calligrapher and painter who also wrote verse and patronized the poet Salmān-e Sāvaji, the dynasty’s principal panegyrist. Sol-ṭan Aḥmad was a musician and painter, but his efforts to lure into his service the poet Ḥāfeẓ from Shiraz were unsuccessful. Regrettably, as a result of Timur’s activity little trace remains of the buildings raised by the Jalayerids and listed by al-Ḡiāṯ (pp. 91-96), who alleges that Šayḵ Ovays’s reign was especially notable in this regard. The Jāmeʿ-e Marjān, the madrasa erected in Baghdad by the Jalayerid governor Marjān (d. 1373-74), whom the literary sources describe as an active builder (Zayn-al-Din, p. 83; al-Ḡiāṯ, pp. 91-93), survives; not so the Dawlat-ḵāna or palace which Šayḵ Ovays constructed outside Tabriz and which greatly impressed the Castilian envoy Clavijo in 1404 (Clavijo, p. 107; tr. Le Strange, p. 153).

The efforts of Šayḵ Ovays to promote economic recovery following the upheavals of the late Il-khanid and Chobanid periods, did not always materialize. He wrote twice to the Venetians at Trebizond with the aim of inducing them to return to Tabriz and assume the role they had enjoyed in the days of the Il-khan Abu Saʿid, but they were wary; attacks upon caravans demonstrated that the roads were still unsafe for merchants (Heyd, II, pp. 130-31). The plague struck Azerbaijan in 1360 and took an especially heavy toll of the population of Tabriz in 1369-70 (Zayn-al-Din, pp. 72, 86); in Baghdad thousands of people perished during severe floods in 1374-75 (ibid., p. 92). Yet posterity looked benignly upon Šayḵ Ovays’s reign. The historian al-Ḡiāṯ heard that both he and Ḥasan-e Bozorg had been commendably just rulers (pp. 87, 88), while Zayn-al-Din (pp. 82, 94, 105) pays tribute to the happiness and prosperity that characterized the eras of Šayḵ Ovays and Ḥosayn I. Even if this were largely conventional hyperbole, this earlier period stands in sharp contrast to the upheavals of Solṭān Aḥmad’s reign, when Tabriz changed hands repeatedly, when Toq-tamiš’s attack desolated much of Azerbaijan, and when Timur’s campaign harried both Azerbaijan and Iraq and severely damaged the economy of both provinces. According to al-Ḡiāṯ (p. 128), Baghdad had still not recovered in his own day (late 15th century) from its sack at the hands of Timur’s army.



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(Peter Jackson)

Originally Published: December 15, 2008

Last Updated: April 10, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. XIV, Fasc. 4, pp. 415-419