KISH ISLAND (Ar. Qeys), small island in the lower Persian Gulf (lat 26°37’ N, long 54°00’ E), almost 16 x 8 kms and 19.2 kms from the coast. Generally flat, Kish has always been noted for its palm gardens (so described by Ebn Ḵordāḏbeh, Ebn al-Mojāwer, and Yāqut, see Schwarz, p. 88), which are particularly dense on the island’s north side (Handbuch des Persischen Golfs, p. 177). Kish is mentioned in itineraries, for example on the route from Shiraz to India and as a further destination appended to the Baghdad to Basra route, as related by Ḥamd-Allāh Mostawfi (Le Strange, p. 750, 762) and on the route from Obolla to India or China, given by Ebn Ḵordāḏbeh and Edrisi (Sprenger, p. 79; cf. Aubin, 1969).
Although a Nestorian bishop, David of Kish, is mentioned in 544 CE (Chabot, 1902, p. 680) this almost certainly refers to the Kiš/Kish (Šahr-e Sabz) in Transoxania (Bosworth, 1986, p. 181) and not to the Persian Gulf island of the same name (contra Sachau, 1916, p. 972; Streck, 1927, p. 649).
Reckoned to be part of Ardašir-ḵorra (Streck, p. 649), Kish rose to prominence around the middle of the 11th century, when a line of rulers (amirs, maleks, or khans) of Kish was established there. The origins of these rulers, or indeed that of the population in general, are not entirely clear. According to traditions recounted by Waṣṣaf (Šehāb-al-Din Širāzi; d. 1323) and Ebn al-Mojāwer, Kish may have first begun to be populated by settlers from Sirāf who left the trading center after its collapse (Aubin, 1959, p. 297). The new population presumably included some of the Jewish population which, by the time of Benjamin of Tudela’s visit at about 1170, numbered about 500 (Benjamin of Tudela, pp. 62-63; Fischel, 1950, p. 207-208; Aubin, 1959, p. 297). Yāqut says Kish was also known as Jazirat al-Qeys b. ʿOmāra or Banu ʿOmāra (Streck, p. 649). Based on this information, both Maximilian Streck and S. D. Goitein suggested the founder of the dynasty may have been South Arabian, a view at first glance supported by the testimony of Edrisi who says the island had been seized by “a certain governor of Yemen” who “fortified it, peopled it and fitted it with a fleet by the aid of which he made himself the master of the Yemen littoral” (Wilson, p. 98). According to Esṭaḵri however, the coastal area opposite Kish was known as Sif ʿOmāra, or “coast of the Julanda,” and he attributed their stronghold, Qalāt-e ebn ʿOmāra, to the Julanda (Schwarz, p. 77). Originally a title used for the vassal rulers of Oman under Sasanian overlordship, Julanda became a family name in Oman (Wilkinson, 1975), where Qeys b. ʿOmāra is identified in local genealogies with the Julanda b. Karkar family of the Banu Salima (Wilkinson, 1977, pp. 135, 174-75). This tradition undoubtedly explains why Yāqut referred to the capital of Kish as the residence of the “prince of Oman” (Wüstenfeld, p. 419). In publishing a Hebrew letter from the Cairo Geniza mentioning an attack by the king of Kish on Aden in 1135 (Cambridge University Library MS. 20.137; see Goitein, 1954, p. 256), Goitein emphasized that the leader, called “son of al-ʿAmid,” had an Arabic name, but as Jean Aubin has stressed, al-ʿAmid is well attested amongst the Buyids and Seljuks of Persia (Aubin, 1959, p. 298). Furthermore, one of the rulers (malek) of Kish, with the good Persian name of Jamšid, is known to have built a palace there, called Qaṣr-e ayvān, modeled on that of the Buyid ruler ʿAżod-al-Dawla at Naband, near Sirāf. Additionally, Yāqut says that the ruler of Kish dressed in the Daylamite (i.e. Buyid) style (Aubin, 1959, p. 298).
The power of Kish, which Mostawfi called a great emporium (dawlat-ḵāna; Le Strange, 1902, p. 527) has been attributed to its control over commercial maritime traffic between India, Yemen, Persia, and Iraq. Edrisi suggested that with his fleet, the ruler of Kish preyed upon shipping (Wilson, p. 98), while Aubin referred to its rulers as “les pirates de l’île de Qays” (Aubin, 1959, p. 297). Indeed Ebn al-Mojāwer claimed that, “The prince of Qais has neither cavalry nor infantry; but all the people of the island are mariners” (Wilson, p. 100). According to Benjamin of Tudela, “ The islanders act as middlemen [i.e. between foreign merchants], and earn their livelihood thereby” (Benjamin of Tudela, p. 63; Wilson, p. 99). Though unsuccessful, the attack on Aden in 1135 by the king of Kish (Goitein, p. 256) nevertheless reveals the remarkable extent of Kish’s power in the Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf during the 12th century. In 1229, however, Kish was itself conquered by the ruler of Hormuz (Piacentini, 1975, p. 76). It enjoyed a sort of renaissance (Whitehouse, 1983, p. 330), however, under the Ilkhanid governor of Fārs, Jamāl-al-Din Ebrāhim al-Ṭibi, known as the “first king of Kish” by the 14th century author Šabānkāraʾi (Whitehouse, 1976, p. 146), and his lieutenant Ayāz (d. 1311?). At this time Kish became the center of a commercial empire with revenue of 400,000-700,000 dinars and was the site of an Ilkhanid mint (Lowick, p. 332). Abu’l-Fedā visited Kish at this time and noted its flourishing pearl industry (Whitehouse, 1976, p. 146).
The antiquities of Kish were first described in detail by Stiffe (Stiffe, pp. 644-49) who particularly noted the main historic settlement on the north side of the island, Ḥarira, where mounds were strewn with Chinese porcelain, examples of which he sent to the British Museum. Stiffe also pointed to the presence of large water cisterns and an underground irrigation system (qanāt). Ḥarira was investigated briefly in 1974 by W. E. Hamilton and David B. Whitehouse, who identified the remains of numerous buildings, including a mosque, loading bays for boats, cisterns, kilns, shell middens, and quantities of imported ceramics, including East Asian exports such as Martaban stonewares, celadon, porcelain and Ting ware (Whitehouse, 1976, pp. 146-147).
During the Qajar era ownership of Kish changed hands several times and in 1972 the Kish Development Organization was founded with a view to turning the island into a major tourist resort. In 1989 ministerial approval was given for the creation of a special industrial trade zone on Kish and in 1992 the Kish Free Trade Organization was established. Significant infrastructure investment has now taken place, making Kish an important tourist destination as well.
J. Aubin, “La ruine de Sîrâf et les routes du Golfe Persique aux XIe et XIIe siècles,” Cahiers de civilisation médiévale 3, 1959, pp. 295-301.
Idem, “La survie de Shilau et la route du Khunj-o-Fal,” Iran 7, 1969, pp. 21-37.
Benjamin of Tudela, The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela, ed. and tr. Marcus Nathan Adler, London, 1907.
C. E. Bosworth, “Kish,” EI2 5, 1986, pp. 181-82.
J. B. Chabot, “Synodicon orientale ou recueil de synodes Nestoriens,” Notices et extraits des manuscrits de la Bibliothèque Nationale 37, 1902, pp.1-685.
W. J. Fischel, “The region of the Persian Gulf and its Jewish settlements in Islamic times,” in Alexander Marx Jubilee Volume on the Occasion of his Seventieth Birthday, ed. S. Lieberman, New York, 1950, pp. 203-30.
S. D. Goitein, “Two eyewitness reports on an expedition of the king of Kish (Qais) against Aden,” BSOAS 16, 1954, pp. 247-57.
Handbuch des Persischen Golfs, 5th ed., Hamburg, Deutsches Hydrographisches Institut, 1976.
A. Sprenger, Die Post- und Reiserouten des Orients, Leipzig, 1864.
G. Le Strange, “Description of Persia and Mesopotamia in the year 1340 A.D. from the Nuzhat-al-Kulub of Hamd-Allah Mustawfi, with a summary of the contents of that work,” JRAS, 1902, pp. 49-74, 237-66, 509-36 and 733-84.
N. M. Lowick, “Trade patterns on the Persian Gulf in the light of recent coin evidence,” Near Eastern numismatics, iconography, epigraphy and history, ed., D.K. Kouymjian, Beirut, 1974, pp. 319-33.
N. M. Lowick, “Further unpublished Islamic coins of the Persian Gulf,” Stud. Ir. 11, 1982, pp. 247-61.
V. F. Piacentini, L’emporio ed il regno di Hormoz (VII - fine XV sec. d.Cr.), Milan, Memorie dell’Istituto Lombardo-Accademie di Scienze e Lettere, Vol. 35/1, 1975.
E. Sachau, “Vom Christentum in der Persis,” Sitzungsberichte der Königlichen Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, phil.-hist. Kl. 39, 1916, pp. 958-80.
P. Schwarz, Iran im Mittelalter nach den arabischen Geographen, vol. II, Leipzig, 1910.
A.W. Stiffe, “Ancient trading centres of the Persian Gulf II. Kais, or Al-Kais,” The Geographical Journal 7, 1895, pp. 644-49.
M. Streck, “Kais,” EI1 2, 1927, pp. 649-51.
D. Whitehouse, “Kish,” Iran 14, 1976, pp. 146-47.
Idem, “Maritime trade in the Gulf: The 11th and 12th centuries,” World Archaeology 14, 1983, pp. 328-34.
J. C. Wilkinson, “The Julanda of Oman,” Journal of Oman Studies 1, 1975, pp. 97-108.
Ibid, Water and Tribal Settlement in South-east Arabia, Oxford, 1977.
A.T. Wilson, The Persian Gulf, Oxford, 1928.
F. Wüstenfeld, “Jâcût’s Reisen, aus seinem geographischen Wörterbuch beschrieben,” ZDMG 18, 1864, pp. 397-493.
(D. T. POTTS)
February 24, 2004
(D. T. Potts)
Originally Published: July 20, 2004
Last Updated: July 20, 2004