JEBĀL, in Arabic, the plural of jabal “mountain,” a geographical term used in early Islamic times for the western part of Persia, roughly corresponding to ancient Media (Ar. māh, see below).

It received its name from its mountain and upland plateau topography, embracing as it did the central part of the Zāgros mountain chain, including the regions of Kurdistan and Lorestān, between the Safidrud River and the Alborz chain in the north and the lowland region of Ḵuzestān in the south, whilst its western limits were the region where the Zāgros chain meets the Mesopotamian plain and its eastern ones the fringes of the central Great Desert (Dašt-e Kavir; see DESERT). In the administrative geography of the early Islamic period, its borders were somewhat ill-defined and fluctuating, but it was often linked with the city of Ray at its northeastern extremity, marking a point roughly half-way along the great Iraq-Khorasan highway which entered Jebāl at Ḥolvān (q.v.) at its western end. At this time, Jebāl contained six important urban centres, Dinavar; Qarmisin, Qarmāsin (the later Kermānšāh); Hamadān; Qazvin; Isfahan; and Ray (qq.v.).

The Arabs pushed into Jebāl soon after they had overrun Iraq, so that the conquest of the region fell essentially in the latter part of the caliphate of ʿOmar b. al-Ḵaṭṭāb and the early years of ʿOṯmān’s caliphate: Dinavar in 642; Qarmisin, after the capture of Ḥolvān in 640; Hamadān in 639 or 641, then definitively in 644-45; Isfahan, in 642 or 644; Qazvin, in 644-45; and Ray, at a date variously given as between 639 and 645 (Balāḏori, pp. 301-2, 309, 312, 319, 321-25; Ṭabari, I, pp. 2637-50, 2653-55, tr. pp. 6-13, 20-21, 24-26).

The towns of Dinavar and Nehāvand, both occupied by the Arabs soon after their victory at Nehāvand in 642, had a particular importance in this expansionary period of the Arab conquest of western Persia. They eventually became known as Māh al-Kufa and Māh al-Baṣra respectively, with the their revenues assigned to the upkeep of the Arab warriors (moqātela) for campaigning northwards towards the Caucasus and across the Persian plateau to Khorasan (see Morony, on the complexities of this process; the term ‘Māh’ probably stems from a toponym Māda, i.e., Media). The conquered towns acquired Arab garrisons, so that Arabs became a permanent population element there, and Arab chiefs acquired rural estates; thus the family of the 9th century Arab poet and paladin, Abu Dolaf Qāsem b. ʿIsā ʿEjli (d. between 840 and 843), possessed large states at Karaj to the east of Nehāvand, so that the place became known as Karaj Abi Dolaf (Le Strange, pp. 197-98).

By the early 11th century, the age of the Ghaznavids and Saljuqs, the older term ‘Jebāl’ was being replaced by that of ʿErāq-e ʿAjam (q.v.) “Iraq of the Persians” in distinction from ʿErāq-e ʿArab “Iraq of the Arabs,” that is, Mesopotamia; the Ghaznavid historian Abu’l-Fażl Bayhaqi (q.v.) always uses ʿErāq [-e ʿAjam] for western Persia (see, e.g., index, p. 1015). Šehāb-al-Din Yāqut Ḥamawi has a brief entry “Jebāl” (II, p. 99), but after the Mongol invasions, Jebāl dropped out of use; thus the geographer Ḥamd Allāh Mostawfi (mid-14th century) nowhere uses it (Le Strange, pp. 185-86). The term ʿErāq-e ʿAjam is now completely obsolete in modern Persia, but the alternative name for the town of Solṭānābād, the present-day Arāk, stems from the medieval ʿErāq (-e ʿAjam) (see ARĀK i; Bosworth, p. 859).



Aḥmad b. Yaḥyā Balāḏori, Ketāb fotuḥ al-boldān, ed. Michaël Jan de Goeje, Leiden, 1866; repr., Leiden, 1968.

W. Barthold, An Historical Geography of Iran, tr. Svat Soucek, Princeton, 1984, pp. 121-32, 169-79, 180-83.

Abu’l-Fażl Moḥammad Bayhaqi, Tāriḵ-e Bayhaqi, ed. ʿAli-Akbar Fayyāż, Tehran, 1971. Clifford E. Bosworth, “Sulṭānābād i,” EI2 IX, p. 859.

Ebn al-Faqih, Moḵtaṣar Ketāb al-boldān, ed. Michaël Jan de Goeje, Leiden, 1967, pp. 209 ff.

Ebn Ḥawqal, Ketāb ṣurat al-arż, ed. Johannes Hendrik Kramers, Leiden, 1938; repr., 1967, pp. 357-73; tr. Johannes Hendrik Kramers and Gaston Wiet as Configuration de la terre, 2 vols., Beirut, 1964-65, pp. 348-64.

Abu Esḥāq Ebrāhim Eṣṭaḵri, Ketāb masālek al-mamālek, ed. Michaël Jan de Goeje, Leiden, 1967, pp. 195-203; tr. Moḥammad b. Asʿad Tostari as Masālek wa mamālek, ed. Iraj Afšār, Tehran, 1974, pp. 201-12.

Guy Le Strange, The Lands of the Eastern Caliphate London 1905, repr., 1966.

L. Lockhart, “Djibāl” in EI2, II, p. 534.

Abu ʿAbd-Allāh Moḥammad Moqaddasi, Aḥsan al-taqāsim fi maʿrefat al-aqālim, ed. Michaël Jan De Goeje, Leiden, 1906, repr., 1967, pp. 384-402.

M. G. Morony, “Māh al-Baṣra” in EI2, V, pp. 1212-13.

Paul Schwarz, Iran im Mittelalter nach den arabischen Geographen, Leipzig, 1896-35; repr., 9 vols. in 4, Frankfurt on the Main, 1993, IV, pp. 445 ff.

Moḥammad b. Jarir Ṭabari, Taʾriḵ al-rosol wa’l-moluk, tr. by various scholars as The History of al-Ṭabari XIV: The Conquest of Iran, Albany, tr. G. Rex Smith, 1994, pp. 20-21.

Šehāb-al-Din Abu ʿAbd-Allāh Yāqut Ḥamawi, Moʿjam al-boldān, 5 vols., Beirut, 1955-57.

(C. Edmund Bosworth)

Originally Published: December 15, 2008

Last Updated: April 13, 2012

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Vol. XIV, Fas.c 6, pp. 617-618