OTRĀR, a medieval town of Transoxania, in a rural district (rostāq) of the middle Jaxartes River (Syr Darya), apparently known in early Islamic times as Fārāb/Pārāb/Bārāb. The latter two forms are found in the 10th-century geographers (e.g., Moqaddasi [Maqdesi], pp. 263, 273; Ebn Ḥawqal, pp. 510-11, tr. Kramers and Wiet, II, p. 488; Ḥodud al-ʿālam, ed. Sotuda, pp. 117-18, tr. Minorsky, pp. 118-19.) It was notable as the place of origin of the famous philosopher Abu Naṣr Moḥammad Fārābi (d. 950, q.v.). At the outset, the principal town of the district was Kadar/Kader, but by the 10th century this had given place to Fārāb, now described by Moqaddasi as a fortified town with a citadel, a Friday mosque, and busy markets, doubtless frequented by nomads bringing products of the steppes; his figure of 70,000 for the population (read rather 7,000?) must, however, be exaggerated. The district, together with Asfijāb (q.v.), did not become Muslim till the Samanid period and the conquests on the steppe fringes of Nuḥ b. Asad and Esmāʿil b. Aḥmad. For long it lay on the frontier zone of Islam facing the pagan Oḡuz (see ḠOZZ), later Qipchaq, steppes. The actual name Otrār seems to be known at an early date; for in Ṭabari (III, pp. 815-16) we have mention of a local ruler of Transoxiana called Otrār-banda, who had refused to pay tribute to al-Maʾmun (Barthold, Turekstan3, pp. 176-77; the reading Otrār-banda is, however, doubtful; see Ṭabari, tr., XXXI, p. 71, n. 292). But the name Otrār did not predominate over Fārāb until later, and the place is best known for its role in the opening stages of the Mongol invasions in the early 13th century. In the opening years of the 13th century, Otrār was ruled, according to Nasavi, by a Qarakhanid prince, Tāj-al-Din Bilge (Belgā) Khan, a vassal of the Qara Khitay, whom the Ḵᵛārazmšāh ʿAlāʾ-al-Din Moḥammad killed at Nasā shortly before the Mongols appeared (Nasavi, pp. 33-35, tr. pp. 38-41). In 615/1218 occurred the massacre at Otrār of 450 Muslim merchants sent by Čengiz Khan (q.v.) from his ordu to open up commercial relations with the Khwarazmian dominions, one of its leaders being in fact called Ḵᵛāja ʿOmar Otrāri. The governor of the town Inālčïq (Ināljuq/Ināljeq) Ḡāyer/Qāyer Khan, who was a kinsman of the Ḵᵛārazmšāh, apparently with the agreement of the king himself, arrested the merchants, confiscated the goods in their caravan, and slaughtered them (Joveyni, I, pp. 58-62, tr. pp. 77-80). ʿAlāʾ-al-Din Moḥammad’s subsequent rejection of an embassy from Čengiz seeing reparations made a Mongol invasion of his territories inevitable, and in 616/1219 the Khan appeared on the Jaxartes with an army, besieged Otrār, and, after a lengthy investiture, captured it. He razed its walls and its citadel, deported much of its population, and executed Ḡāyer Khan (Joveyni, I, pp. 62 ff., tr. pp. 82 ff.). The town nevertheless revived somewhat and was in existence two centuries later, for Timur died there in 807/1405 after meeting Toqtamïš (Šaraf-al-Din ʿAli Yazdi, p. 646); but thereafter, it fell into ruins.
Šaraf-al-Din ʿAli Yazdi, ZÂafar-nāma, ed. Mawlawi Moḥammad Ilahdād, 2 vols., Calcutta, 1885-88.
W. W. Barthold, Histoire des Turcs d’Asie Centrale, Paris, 1945, pp. 123-24.
Idem, Turkestandown to the Mongol Invasion, 3rd ed. London, 1969, pp. 356, 364, 397-98, 406-7.
ʿAbbās Eqbāl, Tāriḵ-e Mofaṣṣal-e Irān: az ḥamla-ye Čejgiz tā taškil-e dawlat-e timuri, Tehran, 1962, pp. 22-23, 30-33.
Alāʾ-al-Din ʿAṭā Malek Joveyni, Tāriḵ-e jahāngošā, ed. Moḥammad Qazvini, 3 vols., Leiden and London, 1906-37; tr. A. J. Boyle as The History of The World Conquerer, 2vols., Manchester, 1958, I, pp. 79-80, 82-86, 347-48.
Menhāj-e Serāj Juzjāni, Ṭabaqāt-e nāṣeri, ed. ʿAbd-al-Ḥayy Ḥabibi, 2 vols., Kabul, 1963-64, II, p. 104 ff.; tr. Henry George Raverty as Tabakat-i-Nasiri: A History of the Muhammadan Dynasties of Asia, 2 vols., London, 1881, II, pp. 968 ff.
Šehāb-al-Din Moḥammad Ḵarandazi Nasavi, Sirat-e Jalāl-al-Din Minkoberni, ed. Mojtabā Minovi, Tehran, 1965; tr. Octave Victor Houdas as Histoire du sultan Djelal ed-Din Monkobirti, prince du Kharezm, 2 vols., Paris, 1891-95.
Le Strange, The Lands of the Eastern Caliphate, Cambridge, 1966, pp. 484-85.
Francis Henry Skrine and Edward Denison Ross, The Heart of Asia: A History of Russian Turkistan and Central Asian Khanates from The Earliest Times, London, 1899, pp. 157-59.
Bertold Spuler, Die Mongolen in Iran, Berlin, 1966, pp. 24 ff.
(C. E. Bosworth)
Originally Published: July 20, 2002
Last Updated: July 20, 2002