ĀL-E MAʾMŪN (or Maʾmunids), a short-lived dynasty of independent Iranian rulers in Ḵᵛārazm, 385-408/995-1017; they replaced the ancient line of Afrighid Ḵᵛārazmšāhs, but were in turn displaced by the expansionist policies of Maḥmūd of Ḡazna. The genealogical tree of the family (see Table 1) is as follows:
1. Abū ʿAlī Maʾmūn I b. Moḥammad 385/995
2. Abu’l-Ḥasan ʿAlī 387/997 • 3. Abu’l-ʿAbbās Maʾmūn ca. 399/1008-09 • Folāna
4. Abu’l-Ḥāreṯ Moḥammad 407-08/1017
The rise of the Maʾmunids is connected with the growth of the commercial center of Gorgānǰ in northwest Ḵᵛārazm and its rivalry with the capital of the Afrighids, Kāt or Kāṯ, on the right bank of the Oxus. Gorgānǰ flourished especially because of its position as the terminus for caravan trade across the Ust Urt desert (then known as the Oghuz steppes) to the Emba, the lower Volga, and south Russia; it was, for instance, from Gorgānǰ that the caliphal envoy Aḥmad b. Fażlān in 309/921 began his journey to Bolḡār on the middle Volga. There seems to have been some ancient rivalry between Gorgānǰ and Kāt; for Gardīzī (ed. Nazim, p. 57; ed. Ḥabībī, p. 171) speaks of “old-established hostility” (taʿaṣṣob-ī . . . qadīm) between their respective populations. Bīrūnī has some rather enigmatic information about a division of authority within Ḵᵛārazm between the Afrighids of Kāt, who retained the royal authority (šāhīya), while another line exercised governorship (welāya) in Gorgānǰ at times (al-Āṯār al-bāqīa, ed. Sachau, p. 36; Chronology, p. 42). But it is not clear that these “governors” in Gorgānǰ were necessarily the Maʾmunids nor that there was, in fact, a definite dual system rule in Ḵᵛārazm after the Arab invasions of the early 2nd/8th century (see Āl-e Afrīq). If the Maʾmunids were already dominant in Gorgānǰ in the early part of the 4th/10th century, it is curious that an acute observer like Aḥmad b. Fażlān says nothing about them; he visited the Afrighid ruler in Kāt, Moḥammad b. ʿErāq, and then spent three months in Gorgānǰ waiting for the worst of the winter cold to end before setting off across the steppes (A. Z. V. Togan, Ibn Faḍlāns Reisebericht, AKM 24/3, Leipzig, 1939, par. 7-14).
Yet 70 years later, the Maʾmunids had somehow managed to rise to dominance in Gorgānǰ; and finally they took over the whole kingdom of Ḵᵛārazm. The anonymous author of the Ḥodūd al-ʿālam (written in 372/982; sec. 26.25, tr. Minorsky, p. 122) states that Gorgānǰ was formerly under the control of the (Afrighid) Ḵᵛārazmšāhs but was now ruled by a separate amīr. In 385/995 Maʾmūn b. Moḥammad b. Aḥmad overthrew and killed the last Afrighid, Abū ʿAbdallāh Moḥammad b. Aḥmad, whom Bīrūnī (who seems to have had some special sympathies for the ancient dynasty) accordingly calls al-Šahīd (“the Martyr”). The nominal overlords of Ḵᵛārazm, the Samanids, were by now in no position to intervene and help the Afrighids, for the Samanid amīrs were themselves fighting for their existence in the face of rebellious military commanders in Khorasan and pressure from the Turkish Qarakhanids on the northern frontiers of Transoxania. In 382-83/992-93 the Samanid Nūḥ b. Manṣūr had had to flee to Āmol-e Šaṭṭ and secure help against the Qarakhanid invaders from both the Afrighids of Kāt and the Maʾmunids of Gorgānǰ. Two years after this, Maʾmūn b. Moḥammad was to be found as the ally of the rebellious commander Abū ʿAlī Sīmǰūrī, whom the Ḵᵛārazmšāh Abū ʿAbdallāh Moḥammad, as the partisan of the Samanid amīr, opposed. In the course of this confused fighting Maʾmūn defeated and captured the shah, extinguishing his dynasty (see Barthold, Turkestan3, pp. 233-34, 259, 262-63; and Sachau, “Zur Geschichte und Chronologie von Khwârizm,” Sb. Ak. Wiss. Wien 74, 1873, pp. 287-91). With the decline and disappearance of the Samanids and the subsequent embroilment of the Qarakhanids with the Ghaznavids, Ḵᵛārazm was able for a brief while once more to control its own destiny.
Of the internal history of Ḵᵛārazm under the Maʾmunids, little is known. According to ʿOtbī (al-Taʾrīḵ al-Yamīnī, with commentary of Shaikh Manīnī, Cairo, 1286/1869, I, pp. 254-55), Maʾmūn was assassinated by his own guards in 387/997 and succeeded by his son Abu’l-Ḥasan ʿAlī. During ʿAlī’s reign, probably in 390/1000, the last Samanid amīr, Esmāʿīl b. Nūḥ Montaṣer, came to Ḵᵛārazm and collected an army—probably with the assistance of the Ḵᵛārazmšāh—and temporarily drove out the Qarakhanids from his capital Bukhara (ʿOtbī, loc. cit.; Barthold, Turkestan3, p. 269). Later, however, when the Samanid dynasty had finally disappeared, Abu’l-Ḥasan ʿAlī seems to have felt the influence of the Qarakhanid Ilig Naṣr; but with the repulse of the Qarakhanid invasion of Khorasan in 398/1008, he moved towards a policy of friendship with the victorious Maḥmūd of Ḡazna and married the sultan’s sister (ʿOtbī, II, pp. 80, 251; Bayhaqī, p. 668; Barthold, Turkestan3, pp. 272, 275). The date of ʿAlī’s death and the accession of his brother Abu’l-ʿAbbās Maʾmūn II is not definitely known, but must have been ca. 399/1008-09 (see discussion in M. Nazim, The life and times of Sulṭān Maḥmūd of Ghazna, Cambridge, 1931, pp. 184-85). It seems that this new shah was a considerable builder and adorner of his capital; an inscription on a minaret surviving in the ruins of what was Gorgānǰ, now Konya Orgeṇč in Soviet Turkmenistan, describes how Maʾmūn II ordered its construction in 401/1010-11 and supervised the laying of its foundations (see Barthold, Turkestan3, p. 147, n. 4).
Because of the survival of an important extract from Bīrūnī’s history of his native land, the Ketāb al-mosāmara fī aḵbār Ḵᵛārazm, as the final part of Bayhaqī’s history (pp. 665-706), we are well-informed about the events surrounding the end of the Maʾmunids and the annexation of Ḵᵛārazm to the Ghaznavid empire, an act of sheer aggrandizement on Maḥmūd’s part. Maʾmūn II was, as his brother had been, linked to the Ghaznavids by marriage, having taken over his brother’s widow, Sultan Maḥmūd’s sister Kah-Kālǰī, in 406/1015-16 (Gardīzī, ed. Nazim, p. 73; ed. Ḥabībī, p. 182). In 405/1014 the ʿAbbasid caliph Qāder had sent the shah a robe of honor, a banner, an investiture diploma, and the honorifics ʿAyn-al-dawla wa Zayn-al-mella. Maʾmūn feared to receive these awards directly in his capital Gorgānǰ and sent the scholar Bīrūnī (who had been at the shah’s court since 400/1009-10) to meet the envoy in the steppes and accept the awards there. He hoped thus to placate Maḥmūd of Ḡazna, who had by now become the most powerful sovereign in the eastern Islamic world. The latter, however, insisted that Maʾmūn should agree to placing Maḥmūd’s name in the ḵoṭba or Friday sermon in Ḵᵛārazm, i.e., that he should recognize the Ghaznavid as his suzerain. The shah’s hopes of getting military assistance failed, but the nobles and army leaders of Ḵᵛārazm refused to truckle to Maḥmūd’s oppressive demands. The shah was accordingly in a difficult position, caught between two opposing forces; he had nevertheless to agree to the terms of an ultimatum from Maḥmūd: to introduce the ḵoṭba for him, to pay a heavy indemnity, and to send a deputation of prominent Khwarazmian scholars and notables to Balḵ. The shah’s submission provoked a patriotic reaction in Ḵᵛārazm, led by the commander-in-chief of the army, Alptigin; Maʾmūn was killed in Šawwāl, 407/March, 1017; and the rebels raised to the throne Maʾmūn’s young nephew Abu’l-Ḥāreṯ Moḥammad b. ʿAlī. The murder of his brother-in-law gave Maḥmūd an excellent casus belli, and he prepared in northern Khorasan ships and troops in order to invade Ḵᵛārazm. The Khwarazmian army was pushed back, and the Ghaznavid forces entered Kāt in Ṣafar 408/July, 1017. Shah Moḥammad was deposed and imprisoned; draconian vengeance was taken on Maʾmūn’s murderers; the sultan’s faithful commander Altūntāš Ḥāǰeb was appointed governor, with the title of Ḵᵛārazmšāh; and a Ghaznavid army was left in occupation of the country until it was pacified (Bayhaqī, pp. 668ff.; Gardīzī, ed. Nazim, pp. 73-74, ed. Ḥabībī, p. 182; Sachau, op. cit., pp. 297-300; Barthold, Turkestan3, pp. 275-78; Nazim, Maḥmūd of Ghazna, pp. 56-60). The last ethnically Iranian line of Ḵᵛārazmšāhs thus disappeared; subsequent holders of this tradition royal title were all to be Turks.
Culturally, the Maʾmunids had a significance disproportionate to the short duration of their power. Their court at Gorgānǰ became a Mecca for scholars and litterateurs from all over the eastern Islamic world. Maʾmūn II and his vizier, Abu’l-Ḥosayn Aḥmad Sohaylī, gathered round themselves a circle of luminaries which included the polymath Bīrūnī, the philosophers Ebn Sīnā and Abū Sahl Masīḥī, the mathematician Abū Naṣr ʿArrāq, and the physician Abu’l-Ḵayr b. al-Ḵammār. The Arabic philologist Abū Manṣūr ʿAbd-al-Malek Ṯaʿālebī moved to the Maʾmunid court, perhaps impelled to transfer thither by unsettled conditions in his native Khorasan, and became a protégé and nadīm of the shah. He wrote poetry for him, together with various adab and philological works, and seems to have been placed in charge of the royal library. Among these works is a Ketāb ādāb al-molūk al-Ḵᵛārazmšāhī, a theoretical manual of statecraft in the “Mirrors for Princes” tradition, dedicated, according to the unique Istanbul ms. of the work, to Maʾmūn II (see for Ṯaʿālebī’s stay in Ḵᵛārazm, Bosworth, The Book of Curious and Entertaining Information, the Laṭāʾif al-Maʿārif of Thaʿālibī, Edinburgh, 1968, intro., pp. 4-5; and, for this last work, T. R. Topuzoğlu, Kitāb Ādāb al-mulūk al-Khwārazmshāhī, a Critical Edition, with Introduction and Translation, Manchester Ph.D. Thesis, 1974, unpublished). In Neẓāmī ʿArūżī Samarqandī’s Čahār maqāla (ed. Browne, London, 1910, pp. 76ff., revised tr., London, 1924, pp. 85ff.; cf. Lit. Hist. Persia II, pp. 95-98, and Bosworth, Ghaznavids, p. 132) there occurs a celebrated anecdote. Maḥmūd of Ḡazna, jealous of the cultural splendor of Maʾmūn’s court, demanded that all the outstanding scholars there be sent forthwith to his own circle in Ḡazna; Bīrūnī obeyed the summons, but Ebn Sīnā and Abū Sahl Masīḥī preferred to flee westwards across the Qara Qum desert to Persia. This story may perhaps have arisen from a confusion with the episode of the political ultimatum of 407/1017 which preceded the Ghaznavid annexation of Ḵᵛārazm.
See also Markov, Inventarnyĭ katalog . . ., St. Petersburg, 1896, III, p. 976 (Maʾmunid coins from Gorgānǰ of 395/1004-05 and 396/1005-06).
E. Sachau, “Ein Verzeichnis Muhammedanische Dynastien,” Abh. preuss. Ak. Wiss., Phil-Hist. Kl., Berlin, 1923, No. 1, p. 12.
Zambaur, Manuel, p. 208.
Bosworth, The Islamic Dynasties, Edinburgh, 1967, pp. 107-08.
(C. E. Bosworth)
Originally Published: December 15, 1984
Last Updated: July 29, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 7, pp. 762-764
C. E. Bosworth, “Al-E Mamun,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/7, pp. 762-764; an updated version is available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/l-e-mamun-a-short-lived-dynasty-of-iranian-rulers-in-karazm-385-408-995-1017 (accessed on 14 May 2014).