ABĪVARD, a town in medieval Iran situated in northern Khorasan, in the northern foothills of the Hazār Masǰed range where these mountains slope down in the Qara Qum desert. It is important historically as part of the protective chain of frontier defense posts established by the ancient Iranian kings against the irruption of barbarians from the steppes of Inner Asia. Its site (now called Kohna Abīvard) lies within the Turkmenistan SSR; its extensive ruins, marked by various kurgans or settlement mounds, is some 8 km west of Kahka station on the Ashkhabad-Merv section of the Trans-Caspian railway. The whole of this district, including Nesā and Saraḵs, is known by the Turkish name of Ätäk, “the foothills.”
Only a few of the medieval Islamic geographers mention Abīvard. Moqaddasī (pp. 321, 333-34), placing it at two days’ journey from Nesā, comments favorably that its provisions were cheaper and its market brisker than at Nesā. The Ḥodūd al-ʿālam (tr. Minorsky, p. 103) remarks on its extensive cultivation and salubrious climate, and also on the warlike character of its inhabitants, understandable in a frontier town. Yāqūt, however, adverts to the bad water supply and the unhealthiness of the place (Beirut, I, pp. 86-87). Abīvard came within the administrative district of Ḵābarān/Ḵāvarān (“the western land,” as opposed to Khorasan, “the eastern land”?), whose chef-lieu was Mahana or Mayhana, home in the 5th/11th century of the famous Sufi shaikh Abū Saʿīd b. Abu’l-Ḵayr Mayhanī (q.v.). The whole of this foothills region facing the desert was sprinkled with defensive rebāṭs in early Islamic times. Six farsaḵs from Abīvard was the rebāṭ of Kūfan, built in the 3rd/9th century by the governor of Khorasan, ʿAbdallāh b. Ṭāher; this had four gates and its own mosque within the walls.
A legend recounted by Yāqūt says that the town was named after Kay Kāvus’s feudatory, Bāvard b. Gūdarz, to whom the place was granted. Its history certainly goes back to Parthian times, and it seems to be identifiable with the town of Apauarktikē mentioned by Isidore of Charax at the beginning of the Christian era. In Sasanian times there was a significant Christian community in the town, for present at the Nestorian Church’s synod under Catholicos Joseph in 553 was a bishop for Abīvard and the nearby fortress town of Šahr-e Fīrūz built by the king Pērōz against the Turks of the Qara Qum steppes (see Markwart, Ērānšahr, pp. 61, 73).
At the time of the Arab conquests, we hear of a marzbān or kanārī of Nīšāpūr, Ṭūs, Nesā, and Abīvard. The Arab leader ʿAbdallāh b. ʿĀmer b. Korayz appeared at Abīvard in 31/651-52, and its chief (ʿaẓīm) promised to pay a tribute of 400,000 dirhams (Balāḏorī, Fotūḥ, pp. 404-05; Ṭabarī, I, pp. 2884, 2887). The town and district no doubt continued under the general administration of the local magnate or dehqān, although there was an Arab garrison within Abīvard; Qotayba b. Moslem had to assemble troops at Marv from Abīvard and other places for his expedition in the winter of 90/708-09 against the Hephthalite ruler Tarḵān Nīzak in Ṭoḵārestān. In ʿAbbasid times, Abīvard continued to fall within the governorship of Khorasan and the East; during Hārūn al-Rašīd’s caliphate, for instance, we hear of a revolt there of one Abu’l-Ḵaṣīb against the governor ʿAlī b. ʿĪsā b. Māhān (Yaʿqūbī, Boldān, p. 278; tr. Wiet, p. 83). After the fall of the Taherids and the expulsion from Khorasan of the early Saffarids, Abīvard passed to the Samanid rulers of Transoxania and Khorasan. One of the last Samanid amirs, Nūḥ II b. Manṣūr, granted the town to the Afrighid Ḵᵛārazmšāh of Kaṯ in return for aid given against the Turkish Qarakhanid occupiers of Bokhara in 382/992; but Abū ʿAlī Sīmǰūrī, governor of Khorasan, refused to relinquish it. In 394/1004 Nūḥ’s son Ebrāhīm al-Montaṣer, the last of the dynasty, endeavored to make a stand at Abīvard with help from the Oḡuz Turks, but was defeated by a Khwarazmian force (Barthold, Turkestan3, p. 270). With the fall of the Samanids, the defenses of northeastern Iran against pressure from the steppe nomads began to crumble. In the reign of Maḥmūd of Ḡazna, shortly after 416/1025, the sultan was compelled to admit 4,000 Turkmen families to pasture grounds in the Saraḵs, Abīvard, and Farāva districts; but already by 418/1027 the people of Nesā and Abīvard were complaining to the sultan of the Turkmens’ violence (M. Nazim, The Life and Times of Sultān Maḥmūd of Ghazna, Cambridge, 1931, pp. 63-64). In this way there began the process of turkicization, both ethnic and linguistic, of these desert fringes.
In the period when the Il-khanid state of the Mongols in Iran began to break up, Abīvard passed under the control of the Mongol Čun Ḡurbānī chiefs under Arḡūn Shah and his successors, who built up a confederation based on Ṭūs, Marv, and the other oasis towns of these steppe fringes (see Barthold, “A History of the Turkman People”, in Four Studies on the History of Central Asia ..., Leiden, 1962, p. 130). In Safavid times, the Ätäk district was under Uzbek control; but in the 18th century it became the starting point for the meteoric rise of Nāder Shah Afšar, who was a native of the region. In 1732 Nāder exiled the leaders and a considerable number of families of the northern Zagros tribe of Zand to Abīvard and Darra-gaz. Here they remained for the next fifteen years, together with others of Nāder’s tribal exiles, to repulse or absorb Turkmen raids on the Ätäk (Nāmī, Tārīḵ-e Gītīgošā, ed. Saʿīd Nafīsī, Tehran, 1317 Š./1938, pp. 4-5). Economically, Abīvard and the whole of Ätäk suffered considerably from the Perso-Turkmen warfare and raiding. Not until after 1885, when the Perso-Russian frontier was delimited and Ätäk incorporated into Russian Central Asia, did a measure of agricultural prosperity belatedly return to the district.
In medieval times, Abīvard produced a certain number of scholars and literary men; Samʿānī lists various foqahāʾ and traditionists (Hyderabad, I, pp. 107-08; II, pp. 68-70; s.vv. al-Abīvardī and al-Bāvardī). Especially notable in the literary sphere were the blind poet of the Samanid period, Abū ʿAbdallāh al-Żarīr (Ṯaʿālebī, Yatīma [Cairo] IV, pp. 90-91), and the poet in Arabic of the Saljuq period, Abu’l-Moẓaffar Moḥammad b. Aḥmad Moʿāwī Kūfanī Abīvardī (q.v.; d. 507/1113). The latter was also author of a history of Abīvard, now lost (see Brockelmann, GAL I2, pp. 293-94; S. I, p. 447). Another figure of interest, but of whom unfortunately nothing is known, is Abū Hāšem Bāvardī, mentioned as one of the greatest masters of archery in the technical literature on this topic; see J. D. Latham and W. F. Paterson, Saracen Archery, an English Version and Exposition of a Mamluke Work on Archery (ca. A.D. 1368), London, 1970, p. 39 and passim.
See also: Le Strange, Lands, pp. 394-95.
On the antiquities of Abīvard, see A. A. Semenov et al., “Drevnosti Abiverdskogo raĭona,” Acta Universitatis Asiae Mediae, Ser. II. Orientalia, fasc. 3, Tashkent, 1931.
(C. E. Bosworth)
Originally Published: December 15, 1982
Last Updated: July 15, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 2, pp. 218-219
C. E. Bosworth, “ABĪVARD,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/2, pp. 218-219; an updated version is available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/abivard-a-town-in-medieval-northern-khorasan (accessed on 25 January 2014).