KĀR KIĀ, or Kiā, a Zaydi family from the eastern flank (Bia-piš) of Gilān, as well as the local dynasty founded by this family.  The dynasty came to power in the 770s/1370s, a time when the worship of sayyeds and saints was becoming increasingly popular, and was dominant over East Gilān and Deylamestān until Shah ʿAbbās I (r. 1588-1629) annexed the province in 1000/1592.

The genealogy of the first head of the family, Amir Kiā, is unknown.  He studied at a madrasa in Malāṭ, nursed an ambition to assume secular power, and began competing with the native Sunnite rulers of Bia-piš. As a result of these power struggles, Amir Kiā and his family were forced to go into exile to Ruyān.  Amir Kiā died during the family’s first exile. Afterwards, in 773/1371-72, his son ʿAli Kiā, accompanied by the family and their followers, went further east to Māzandarān, where they were accepted by Sayyed Qawām-al-Din Marʿaši, the founder of another sayyed dynasty in Māzandarān, the Marʿašis (Marʿaši, ed. Sotuda, p. 16; idem, ed. Tasbiḥi, p. 196).

The family stayed in Māzandarān for a year and a half and eventually returned to Gilān (Marʿaši, ed. Sotuda, pp. 16, 18-19; idem, ed. Tasbiḥi, pp. 196-97).  Hearing of their return, the ruling amirs of Bia-piš soon forced the sayyeds into another exile in Māzandarān.  It was not until the Marʿašis offered military support that the Kiās were finally able to return to Bia-piš and seize power there in the first half of the 770s/1370s (Marʿaši, ed. Sotuda, pp. 28-29).  The sympathy and the close relationship between these two sayyed families formed an essential base for the establishment of the Kiā dynasty (Marʿaši, ed. Sotuda, p. 18; idem, Tasbiḥi, pp. 196-97).  Also at play were the political division and struggles among the amirs in Gilān, which gave the Kiās an opportunity to defeat them and establish their own dynasty.  The inhabitants’ faith in the sayyed family was another important factor.  In provinces on the southern Caspian coast, the inhabitants mainly belonged to Shiʿite sects: Twelver Shiʿism in Māzandarān, Zaydis in Bia-piš, and Ismaʿilis in Deylamestān. Like the Marʿašis, who were both Twelver Shiʿite sayyeds and founders of a mystical order, the Kiās could expect backing from the inhabitants.  When the Kiās marched to Rānekuh and then to Lāhijān, the Zaydi inhabitants willingly swore loyalty to the family and recognized ʿAlī Kiā as imam of their community (Marʿaši, ed. Sotuda, pp. 38, 41) and started taking part in military activities. ʿAli Kiā took up residence in Lāhijān and entrusted Rānekuh to his brother Mahdi Kiā. When the inhabitants of Lašt-e Nešā, a Zaydi city in Sunnite West Gilān (Bia-pas), requested the Kiās to release their city from its tyrannical Sunnite amir, Amir Masʿud Esmāʿilrud, the sayyeds marched in the other flank of the Safidrud (Marʿaši, ed. Sotuda, pp. 45-46). After the Kiās conquered both Bia-piš and part of Bia-pas, they advanced into the highland, Deylamestān, on the pretext of subjugating the heretical Ismaʿili inhabitants there. They reached as far as Qazvin, which was under their control for seven years (during 78-88/1379-86; Marʿaši, ed. Sotuda, pp. 76-78; Šāmi, II, p. 57).

Timur marched to the southern Caspian provinces on his way to a five-year campaign in West Asia, initially intending to punish the Marʿašis for vague reasons and temporarily relocate them to Central Asia (between 794/1392 and 807/1405), but he preferred to dominate Gilān indirectly and let the Kiās and the amirs of Bia-pas keep their positions and pay tribute (804/1404; Mirḵvānd, pp. 460-61; Yazdi, II, pp. 397-98).  For nomadic rulers, this was a traditional and effective way to control the southern Caspian provinces, which were isolated from the Iranian Plateau by mountains, but rich in valuable agrarian resources such as silk (Goto, pp. 117-20. Timur’s visit was dangerous not only for the Marʿašis, but also for the Kiā dynasty.  The Kiās had to surrender Qazvin to Timur, and the amirs of Bia-pas saw this retreat as a chance to drive them out.  As a result of the battles, ʿAli Kiā, his two brothers Mahdi Kiā and Ḥasan Kiā, and some other family members were martyred (791/1389; Marʿaši, ed. Sotuda, pp. 81-86).  Another brother, Hādi Kiā, the first ruler of Tonekābon, survived the “martyrdom,” settled in Lāhijān, and took over as head of the family.  However, from this point on, the dynasty’s territory was limited to Bia-piš.

When a son of ʿAli Kiā, Ḥosayn, and a son of Mahdi Kiā, Amir Sayyed Moḥammad, grew up, they ousted Hādi Kiā from Lāhijān and inherited their fathers’ territory (Marʿaši, ed. Sotūda, pp. 101-05).  As the second generation assumed power, the dynasty again entered into a time of development.  At first, Amir Sayyed Moḥammad (r. 797-833/1394-1430) in Rānekuh shared the sovereignty of Bia-piš with Ḥosayn in Lāhijān, but he ended ʿAli Kiā’s lineage with the suppression of Ḥosayn’s resistance, which was allied with the inhabitants of Deylamestān (Marʿaši, ed. Sotuda, pp. 169-76).  This move meant that Amir Sayyed Moḥammad could bring Deylamestān under his control.  With the integration of Deylamestān and Bia-piš, the conversion of the inhabitants from the Ismaʿili to the Zaydi sect seemed to be completed.  A new military system, based on two main provincial divisions, was founded, of which mountaineer troops formed the main fighting force and contributed to the dynasty’s military successes.  Each Gil and Deylam division was further divided into smaller contingents, which were stationed at each important region and city.  To rule over the two provinces equally, the Kiās practiced moving seasonally between Gilān and Deylamestān (Goto, pp. 98-103).  In winter, they would stay in Rānekuh or Lāhijān, and in summer, they would move between various sites in Deylamestān.

The reign of Nāṣer (r. 833-51/1430-48) was threatened with power struggles among his relatives.  Nāṣer cooperated with his younger brother Aḥmad to deprive his father of the throne, later entrusting Deylamestān to him so as to share the political rule.  After this, Aḥmad attempted to win over the still-revolting inhabitants of Deylamestān, leading to conflict between the two brothers.  Other branch members of the family were wary of Nāṣer’s concentrated power as well.  Instigated by Amir ʿAlā-al-Din Esḥāqvand of Fuman, a prominent ruler of Bia-pas, they rose in rebellion against Nāṣer.  With support from another prominent amir of Bia-pas, Amir Moḥammad Tajāspi of Rasht, Nāṣer was able to expel his brother and shore up his sovereignty (845/1442-42; Marʿaši, ed. Sotuda, pp. 242-46).

In the last half of the 15th century, during the reign of Nāṣer’s son, Solṭān-Moḥammad Mirzā (r. 851-83/1448-78), the Kiās were finally free from domestic struggles.  They began to intervene in the affairs of the adjacent provinces (Goto, pp. 105-8).  In Bia-pas, Solṭān-Moḥammad Mirzā supported the amir of Fuman, another Amir ʿAlāʾ-al-Din, in his annexation of Rasht (between 865/1461 and 867/1462-63; Marʿaši, ed. Sotuda, pp. 287-93).  In alliance with Amir ʿAlāʾ-al-Din, Solṭān-Moḥammad Mirzā marched against Amir Rostam of Kuhdom, an upriver province of Safidrud, and occupied the eastern half of the province.  Amir ʿAlāʾ-al-Din obtained the western half.  Amir Rostam went into exile in the court of Āq Qoyunlu Uzun Ḥasan (r. 857-82/1453-78) to seek a chance of return.  Through this conflict and other interferences in affairs of the rulers (moluk) of Rostamdār and the Marʿašis in Māzandarān, the Kiās became the paramount power of the southern Caspian provinces.  At that time, the Āq Qoyunlu began to exercise interference in the internal affairs of the provinces, hoping to gain more tribute.  In 881/1476, after the death of Amir ʿAlāʾ-al-Din of Fuman, Amir Rostam suggested that Uzun Ḥasan enthrone a member of the former amir family of Rasht; he promised an annual tribute of 50 ḵarvār silk (Marʿaši, ed. Sotuda, pp. 365-66). When Solṭān-Moḥammad Mirzā consulted Amir ʿAlāʾ-al-Din’s sons about this proposal, Amir Rostam slandered Solṭān-Moḥammad Mirzā, saying that he had failed to pay tribute.  Uzun Ḥasan then issued a decree entrusting the rule of Bia-pas to Amir Rostam.  After Solṭān-Moḥammad Mirzā suppressed revolts initiated by Amir Rostam and accepted the increased tribute (which was eventually raised to 40 ḵarvār), Uzun Ḥasan delegated control of both parts of Gilān to him (Marʿaši, ed. Sotuda, pp. 375-76).  His son, Yaʿqub Āq Qoyunlu (r. 882-96/1478-90), followed his father’s policy, but power struggles after his death caused a new phase in the history of the southern Caspian provinces.  

The dynasty reached its zenith during the reign of Solṭān-Moḥammad Mirzā’s son, Solṭān-ʿAlī Mirzā (r. 883-910/1478-1505), to the extent that Solṭān-ʿAli Mīrzā competed with the Āq Qoyunlu for Qazvin.  It was during this time that Esmāʿil Ṣafawi, later Shah Esmāʿil (r. 907-30/1501-24), sought refuge in Bia-piš.  Esmāʿil is said to have stayed in Lāhijān for five years (900-905/1494-99), during which time he received an appropriate education (Lāhiji, p. 103).  After Shah Esmāʿil’s military successes against the Āq Qoyunlu, Solṭān-ʿAlī Mirzā showed his obedience and let his brother Solṭān-Ḥasan visit the shah during a castle siege in Firuzkuh (Lāhiji,pp. 156-61; Qāżi Aḥmad Qomi, p. 84; Qāżi Aḥmad Ḡaffāri, p. 268; Rumlu, p. 110).  Shortly afterward, Solṭān-ʿAli Mirzā was dethroned by his brother, due to a series of unsuccessful and exhausting operations in Bia-pas.  Solṭān-Ḥasan (r. 910-11/1504-6) ruled for only a year; his brother attempted a counter-coup and both were murdered.  Solṭān-Ḥasan’s son, Solṭān-Aḥmad, who had been staying at Shah Esmāʿil’s court, returned to Bia-piš and ascended the throne.

In the early Safavid period, the Kiās enjoyed a privileged treatment as a semi-independent state, which was based in part on the close connection between Solṭān-ʿAli Mirzā and Shah Esmāʿil.  Further, the Safavid policy of conversion to Twelver Shiʿism and restraining the power of the Qezelbāš amirs led them strengthen ties with local nobles and dynastic families through marriage (Szuppe, 1994, pp. 226-35).  A geographic feature of Gilān was also a significant factor: Gilān, situated at the frontier between the Safavids and the Ottomans, functioned as a buffer state. The Safavids, granted a khan title, took control of the native rulers of marginal provinces (Röhrborn, pp. 73-75, 83-84) and periodically attempted to annex the South Caspian provinces.  Solṭān-Aḥmad Khan (r. 911-40/1506-34) had to cope at an early stage in his reign both with oppression by the Safavid vizier, Shaikh Najm-al-Din, and power struggles with rivals both inside and outside of his domain.  It was not until Shaikh Najm-al-Din’s death in 916/1510 and Solṭān-Aḥmad Khan’s fourth visit to the Safavid court that his rule over Gilān was stabilized and recognized by the Safavids (Lāhiji, p. 366).  The reign of both of Solṭān-Aḥmad Khan’s two sons, Solṭān-Kiā ʿAli (940-41/1533-34) and Solṭān-Ḥasan (941-44/1534-38) was short.

The next, and last, ruler, Khan Aḥmad Khan (r. ca. 941-1000/1537-92) was enthroned after his father’s sudden death.  He was only a year old and held no real political power (Ḵoršāh, p. 218). Shah Ṭahmāsb sent his brother, Bahrām Mīrzā, to Gilān with the intension of conquering the province, but withdrew his claim when he faced with the inhabitants’ aversions (Qāżi Aḥmad Qomi, I,p. 262; Qāżi Aḥmad Ḡaffari,p. 292; Rumlu,pp. 361-62; ʿAbdī Beg,p. 86; Budāq,pp. 185-89).  In 940/1534, when the Ottoman Sultan Solaymān II campaigned in Azerbaijan, Moẓaffar-Solṭān of Bia-pas attempted to join him, but did not succeed (Fumani, pp. 17-18; Ḵoršāh, pp. 130-33, 233; Qāżi Aḥmad Qomi, I,pp. 254-55; Rumlu,pp. 355-56; ʿAbdi Beg, pp. 84-85).  After Moẓaffar-Solṭān’s arrest and execution, Shah Ṭahmāsb sent troops to conquer Bia-pas, only to meet with strong resistance.  The political vacuum in Bia-pas brought about intense struggles among the amirs as well as the distress of the province, and Khan Aḥmad Khan took advantage of this power game.  In 965/1558, Shah Ṭahmāsb decided to install Moẓaffar-Solṭān’s son, Solṭān-Maḥmud, on the throne.  He appointed Khan Aḥmad Khan as his regent.  Later, Khan Aḥmad Khan promised Shah Ṭahmāsb that he would pay a certain tribute of Bia-pas, let Solṭān-Maḥmud be dethroned, and obtained the province as a fief (eqṭāʿ; Fumani, pp. 33-35).  But his interventions in neighboring provinces went too far; Khan Aḥmad Khan was arrested and imprisoned for 10 years (976-86/1568-78; Fumani, pp. 45-47; Qāżī Aḥmad Qomi, I, pp. 469-77; Rumlu, pp. 558-66; ʿAbdi Beg,pp. 128-29; Budāq, pp. 226-30).  He was set free by the new shah, Sultan Moḥammad Ḵodābanda (985/1578; Fumani, pp. 64-65; Eskandar Beg, I, pp. 227-28, tr. Savory, I, pp. 219, 339; Mollā Jalāl, p. 43; Naṭanzi, 464-66), who married him to Ṭahmāsb’s daughter, Maryam Begom.  The couple eventually had a daughter, Yaḵān Begom.

In 986/1578-79, Solṭān-Maḥmud’s son, Jamšid Khan, was killed by one of his vassals. Internal conflicts over succession in Bia-pas ensued and, in spite of warnings by the Safavids, Khan Aḥmad Khan again interfered.  He enthroned Moḥammad-Amin Khan in Rasht, while his brother Ebrāhim Khan sat on the throne in Fuman (Fumani, pp. 125-26).  The split of Bia-pas offered Shah ʿAbbās I (r. 996-1038/1588-1629) the opportunity to annex both parts of Gilān.  Khan Aḥmad Khan’s ex-vizier, Ḵvāja Masiḥ, who had been dismissed by him and had gone to the Safavid court, incited the shah to conquer Gilān.  Shah ʿAbbās demanded that Khan Aḥmad Khan send his sole living daughter to court in order to marry Ṣafi Mirzā, his son (Fumani, pp. 129-31; Mollā Jalāl, p. 217; Ḵuzāni, I, p. 95).  Khan Aḥmad Khan’s rejection is said to have been the cause of the great expedition lead by Farhād Khan Qarāmānlu in 1000/1592, in which most of the local dynasties of the southern Caspian provinces were overthrown. According to the Safavid chronicles, the expedition was undertaken due to Khan Aḥmad Khan’s protection of political refugees and his intention to make contact with the Ottomans (Eskandar Beg, I, p. 499, tr. Savory, II, pp. 672-73; Ḵuzāni, I, p. 109; Don Juan, p. 214).  Political reasons aside, there must have been an economic reason for seizing the southern Caspian coast.  This was the province’s center of silk production, the most important exported product in the Safavid period (Matthee, pp. 74-76).  Accompanied by Moḥammad-Amin Khan, Khan Aḥmad Khan fled to Širvān by ship (Fumani, pp. 132-34; Eskandar Beg, I, pp. 449-51; Ḵuzāni, I, p. 112; Don Juan, p. 215) and left for Istanbul in order to ask the Ottomans for support.  Moḥammad-Amin Khan died on the way and Khan Aḥmad Khan stayed at the Ottoman court until his death (Eskandar Beg, I, p. 529; Qāżi Aḥmad Ḡaffāri, p. 138).  The last family member, Yaḵān Begom, was sent to the Safavid court and married to Shah ʿAbbās in 1011/1602 (Falsafi, II, 171-72; Szuppe, 1995, p. 118).  

Few vestiges remain of the Kiā dynasty.  In Lāhijān, there is a complex consisting of the mausoleums called Čahār Pādšāh (PLATE XII) for ʿAli Kiā and some other martyred sayyeds.  Despite little physical evidence remaining, the richly illustrated manuscript of the so-called “Big Head Šāh-nāma” in the Sackler Gallery and its book cover in the Türk ve Islam Eserleri Müzesi at Istanbul (No. 1978), produced in 899/1493-34, prove the high cultural level of Solṭān-ʿAli Mirzā’s reign.


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(Yukako Goto)

Originally Published: April 12, 2017

Last Updated: April 12, 2017

Cite this entry:

Yukako Goto, “KĀR KIĀ,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2017, available at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/kar-kia (accessed on 12 April 2017).