ASĀWERA, Arabic broken plural form (the variant asāwīrāt also occurs in Yaʿqūbī, p. 202) of a singular oswār(ī), eswār(ī), early recognized by Arab philologists as a loanword from Persian meaning “cavalryman,” equivalent to Ar. fāres (cf. Jawālīqī, al-Moʿarrab, ed. Aḥmad Moḥammad Šāker, repr. Tehran, 1966, pp. 20-21). The Iranian background of the word is ancient: Old Pers. asabāra-, Parthian asbār (in an ostracon from Nisa/Nesā dated 72-71 B.C., cf. V. A. Livshits, Vestnik Drevneĭ Istorii, 1979, pt. 4, pp. 99ff.), Pahlavi aswār, NPers. sovār, savār.
The term was apparently used in Sasanian times for the cavalrymen of the army, the mailed swordsmen and archers who formed the backbone of the forces (Yaʿqūbī, loc. cit., Christensen, Iran Sass2, p. 265). In the accounts of the Muslim conquest of Iran, this term is used specifically for the force of about 1,000 men sent by Yazdegerd III to defend Ḵūzestān. They came from Isfahan and the region between it and Ḵūzestān (Balāḏorī, Fotūḥ, pp. 359, 365-66, 372-74). They were cavalrymen of Iranian origin, who, together with non-Iranian ethnic groups of mercenaries like the Sayābeǰa and Zoṭṭ (qq.v.), allegedly went over to the Arab general Abū Mūsā Ašʿarī’s side and became Muslims, receiving allocations from the dīvān or stipends list (Balāḏorī, Fotūḥ, pp. 373-74; Ṭabarī, I, pp. 2562ff.). These groups became established as allies of the Arab tribe of Tamīm in lower Iraq and the ports at the head of the Gulf such as Baṣra and Obolla. They were exempt from taxes at first (Løkkegaard, Islamic Taxation, repr. Philadelphia, 1978, p. 171), and those at Baṣra participated in the conquest of Fārs, Kermān, and Khorasan under ʿAbdallāh b. ʿĀmer and his lieutenants (Balāḏorī, op. cit., p. 374). Though probably not numerous, their communities in the amṣār of Baṣra and Kūfa persisted as distinct identities throughout early Islamic times. In 42/662 Moʿāwīa resettled some of them at Antioch in Syria (Balāḏorī, op. cit., p. 117), and, according to Ebn al-Faqīh (p. 191, tr. Massé, Abrégé du livre des pays, p. 231), the governor Zīād b. Abīhi (d. 53/673) constructed at Baṣra a special mosque for them. During the second fetna the asāwera participated with Tamīm in killing the Azdī governor of Baṣra, Masʿūd b. ʿAmr (65/684), and then sided with Moṣʿab b. Zobayr. ʿAbdallāh b. Eṣfahānī, who had 400 mamlūks of his own, commanded the right wing of Moṣʿab’s army that defeated Moḵtār in 687. Later they joined the rebellious ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān b. Ašʿaṯ (Balāḏorī, Ansāb IVb, pp. 107-08; idem, Fotūḥ, pp. 366, 374; Ṭabarī, II, p. 454). As a result, Ḥaǰǰāǰ b. Yūsof disbanded them as a military unit, destroyed their homes, reduced their stipends, and deported some of them (Balāḏorī, Fotūḥ, pp. 117, 374). Afterwards they were forced to pay zakāt (Yaʿqūbī, II, p. 276). A canal (nahr) was dug by the asāwera, and in later times, al-oswārī is occasionally found as the nesba of scholars, doubtless descendants of this group, including Mūsā b. Sayyār Oswārī (fl. 3rd/9th) who explained the Koran in both Arabic and Persian (Jāḥeẓ, al-Bayān wa’l-tabyīn, ed. Hārūn, Cairo, 1367/1948, I, p. 368) and a Muʿtazilite theologian and adherent of Naẓẓām who gave his name to a sub-sect, the Oswārīya (Samʿānī [Hyderabad], I, pp. 247-51; there is a confusion here with a homonymous nesba from a village near Isfahan).
See also Aswār.
See also M. J. de Goeje, Mémoire sur les migrations des Tsiganes à travers l’Asie, Leiden, 1903, pp. 18, 80.
Ch. Pellat, Le milieu baṣrien et la formation de Ğāḥiẓ, Paris, 1953, pp. 22, 35, 40.
(C. E. Bosworth)
Originally Published: December 15, 1987
Last Updated: August 16, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. II, Fasc. 7, pp. 706-707
C. E. Bosworth, “ASĀWERA,” Encyclopædia Iranica, II/7, pp. 706-707, available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/asawera-arabic-broken-plural-form-the-variant-asawirat-also-occurs-in-yaqubi-p (accessed on 30 December 2012).