Gonbad Kavoos the Tomb of Kavoos
ZIYARIDS (Āl-e Ziār), a minor Islamic dynasty of the Caspian coastlands (931-ca. 1090). They ruled first in northern Iran, and then in Ṭabarestān and Gorgān.
The Ziyarids belonged to hitherto submerged mountain peoples, notably the Deylamites, Gilites, and Kurds, whose rise to power constitutes the “Daylami intermezzo” of Iranian history (Minorsky). After the decline of direct caliphal authority in northwestern Iran and the demise of local powers like the Sājid governors of Azerbaijan , many mountain chiefs became soldiers of fortune and contenders for authority in this power vacuum; the most successful of all these were the three Deylamite Buyids.
The founder of the Ziyarid dynasty Mardāvij b. Ziār (r. 931-35) claimed to stem from the pre-Islamic royal family of Gilān. He first served the Ḥasanids of Ṭabarestān and then the Gilite commander Asfār b. Širuya. In 931, Asfār’s excesses in northern Iran enabled Mardāvij to defeat and kill him. Mardāvij obtained control of an extensive dominion comprising Ray and Qazvin and extending to Hamadan, Dinavar, and Isfahan, and by 934 his troops even penetrated into Ahvāz. The Buyid brothers began their careers as condottieri in Mardāvij’s service. Mardāvij seems to have had grandiose dreams of marching on Baghdad, overthrowing the ʿAbbasids (q.v.) and reconstituting the ancient Persian empire and faith, but these ambitions were cut short by his death at the hands of his Turkish military slaves in 935 .
His brother Ẓahir al-Dowla Vošmgir was hailed as his successor at Ray, and his skill and circumspection allowed for a long reign despite constant conflicts. At first he was able to hold on to Mardāvij’s conquests in northern and western Iran, but about 940 the vigorously expanding Buyids challenged his rule. Vošmgir allied with Mākān b. Kāki (d. 940), another Deylamite contender for power. Mākān had renounced his allegiance to the Samanids of Transoxania, the other great power which was hoping to extend westwards into northern Iran under their commander (amir) Naṣr b. Aḥmad. In 940, in a battle near Dāmḡān, the Samanid commander Abu ʿAli Aḥmad Moḥtāji defeated the troops of Mākān and Vošmgir. Mākān was killed and Vošmgir abandoned Ray to retire to Āmol in Ṭabarestān After this defeat the Ziyarids’ political and military power was limited to the Caspian coastlands, and Vošmgir became effectively a vassal of the Samanids. He was involved in complex struggles to retain his power against such enemies as Ḥasan b. Firuzān , the Deylamite governor of Sāri, and the Buyid Rokn al-Dowla Ḥasan (r. 947-77), while anxiously securing Ṭabarestān and Gorgān, with the backing of the Samanids, as a buffer between themselves and the Buyids.
Yet these two provinces changed hands several times until in 955 Rokn al-Dowla and the Samanid ʿAbd al-Malek b. Nuḥ (r. 954-61) reached a general peace agreement, according to which Vošmgir’s control of Ṭ˘abarestān was no longer challenged by the Buyid. In 958 Vošmgir briefly occupied Ray, the Rokn al-Dowla’s capital, and in the last years of his life, he participated in various Samanid attempts to retake Ray. But the city remained the capital of the northern Buyid emirate until the conquest of the Ghaznavid sultan Maḥmud in 1029. Rokn al-Dowla in turn occupied Ṭabarestān and Gorgān during the next two or three years, after 958, on one, possibly two, occasions. At the end of 967, Vošmgir was killed by a wild boar, when he was about to command a joint attack with a Samanid army under Moḥammad b. Ebrāhim Simjuri on Rokn al-Dowla.
After Vošmgir’s death, his eldest son Bisotun (r. 967-78), who had been governor of Ṭabarestān, successfully claimed the throne, though his brother Qābus (r. 978-81 and 997-1012), who enjoyed the support of the Samanids, challenged his succession. But Bisotun was backed by the Buyids and established himself in Ṭabarestān and Gorgān. This alliance was sealed by his marriage to a daughter of ʿAżod al-Dowla Fanā-Ḵosrow b. Rokn al-Dowla (r. 949-83; q.v.), and in 971 the ʿAbbasid caliph al-Moṭiʿ (r. 946-74) granted Bisotun the honorific (laqab) of Ẓahir al-Dowla. With this Buyid support Bisotun retained his power until his death in 978.
Qābus gained the throne by elbowing aside Bisotun’s young son, the candidate of the Gilite Dobāj b. Bāni, Bisotun’s father-in-law. This seems to have been a temporal reversal of alliances, since Qābus had gained the support of ʿAżod al-Dowla, whom he in fact acknowledged on his first coins .
Between 978 and 979, the ʿAbbasid caliph al-Ṭāʾeʿ (r. 974-991) granted Qābus the honorific title of Šams al-Maʿāli. But Qābus gave refuge to Faḵr al-Dowla ʿAli (r. 983-97), the brother of the Buyid emir as well as Qābus’ brother-in-law. The Buyid ruler in Jebāl was at odds with his brother, and Qābus’ relations with ʿAżod al-Dowla very soon deteriorated. In 980 and 981 Qābus lost first Ṭabarestān to ʿAżod al-Dowla and then Gorgān to ʿAzod al-Dowla’s brother Moʾayyed al-Dowla (d. 984). After their defeat at Astarābād, Qābus and Faḵr al-Dowla took refuge with Ḥosām al-Dowla Tāš, the Samanid governor in Nishapur, and the two exiles had no hope of returning to their ancestral lands as long as ʿAżod al-Dowla and Mo’ayyed al-Dowla were alive. In 984 Ṣāḥeb Ebn ʿAbbād (d. 995), the great Buyid vizier, supported that Faḵr al-Dowla resumed power in Ray and Jebāl, but he did not permit Qābus to return to the Caspian provinces. Only in 997, when Faḵr al-Dowla’s son Majd al-Dowla Rostam (d. 1029) claimed the throne under the tutelage of his mother Sayyeda, could Qābus return home, after seventeen years of absence, at the invitation of the people of Gorgān.
The events of the second part of Qābus’s reign are less well documented in the sources. During these years he had correct rather than amicable relations with Maḥmud. In 999 the Ghaznavid sultan Maḥmud had wrested the control of Khorasan from the Samanids and promised Qābus help in regaining his principality, yet the terms were unacceptable to the Ziyarid ruler.
Nevertheless Qābus held on to his power without acknowledging any outside suzerain. The historians relate that Qābus’s cruelty and bloodthirsty rule, in connection with a particular animosity towards those who did not share his strongly held Sunni tenets, aroused much resentment amongst his subjects. His arbitrary government culminated in the execution of the governor of Astarābād for his alleged Moʿtazelite beliefs. A revolt of his troops cost him the control of his capital Gorgān City, and the rebels raised to the throne his son Manučehr (r. 1012-29), while Qābus was pursued to Besṭām on the Ray-Khorasan road. Although Qābus had abdicated his power, the insurgents still feared him and in 1012 contrived to kill him by exposure to the freezing winter conditions in .
Qābus is the most famous of Ziyarid rulers because of his cultural and literary significance (Bosworth, 1978). His military achievements were mediocre, while his rule proved in fact tyrannical. But Qābus was a fine scholar in both Arabic and Persian, a skilful poet in both languages, and famed for his command of the epistolary style; a collection of his Arabic writings (rasāʾel) is extant .He also had a reputation as an expert calligrapher and as an authority on astrology. His prolonged exile amongst the Samanids brought him into contact with some of the brightest luminaries of Bukhara and Nishapur, and the Samanid connection surely established Qābus’ fame. Ṯaʿālebi (d. 1037-8) praises him as an outstanding littérateur and scholar, as well as a Maecenas. Biruni (973-after 1050) visited the Ziyarid court soon after Qābus’ restoration to the throne in 998, and composed around1000 the Al-Āṯār al-bāqiya which he dedicated to his patron.
When in 1013 Ebn Sinā (980-1037) left his native Khwarazm for Gorgān, he was seeking the Ziyarid’s patronage, yet Qābus had just died. Outside Gorgān City stands his mausoleum, the Gonbad-e Qābus. Qābus himself supervised its construction between 1006 and 1007, and the tall cylindrical brick tower is one of the most renowned monuments of Iranian architecture.
Qābus’s successor Manučehr received from the ʿAbbasid caliph Qāder (r. 991-1031) the honorific of Falak al-Maʿāli. But Ghaznavids controlled Khorasan, and their power extended now into the Caspian region. Sultan Maḥmud espoused the cause of Manučehr’s brother Dārā b. Qābus (r. 1035-49) who had been a fugitive at the court of Ḡazni during their father’s lifetime. Maḥmud threatened to support Dārā’s claim to the throne with sending him an army. Manučehr bought himself off by promising the Ghaznavids an annual tribute of 50,000 dinar, and sealed the arrangement with marrying one of Maḥmud’s daughters. Thereafter, the Ziyarid ruler was no longer an independent ruler. Manučehr had, in fact, become a Ghaznavid governor (wali), and occasionally sent troop contingents for Maḥmud’s military campaigns. But in 1029, shortly before the death of both Manučehr and Maḥmud, the Ziyarid felt again threatened when the Ghaznavids conquered Ray from the Buyid Majd al-Dowla, and he paid the sultan a heavy indemnity to prevent a possible Ghaznavid invasion (Nāẓim, pp. 78-79). It is unknown whether Manučehr shared his father’s cultural interests and continued with the patronage of scholarship and the arts. There is, however, no supporting evidence for the assertion that the Ghaznavid poet Manučehri (fl. 1031-1041) derived his penname (taḵallos) from a stay at the Ziyarid court .
Manučehr’s young son Anušervān (r. 1029-35) had been in 1029 confirmed by Maḥmud as his father’s successor, with the stipulation of continued tribute to the Ghaznavids. But from 1032 until 1040 this youth was excluded from power by a maternal relative, Abu Kālijār b. Vayhān . When in 1035 Abu Kālijār fell behind with his tribute payments, Masʿud b. Maḥmud (r. 1031-1040) mounted a large-scale invasion of Gorgān and Ṭabarestān and savagely sacked Āmol. Abu Kālijār agreed to resume the tribute payments . while Anušervān seems to have recovered his princely power, though the end of Ghaznavid suzerainty was near. Between 1041 and 1042 the Saljuq sultan Ṭoghril Beg (r. 1043-63) first wrested Khorasan from Masʿud and then invaded the Caspian lands, so that the Ziyarids became tributaries of the Great Saljuqs .
The last decades of the Ziyarid rule are very obscure, and apparently Manučehr was the last Ziyarid to issue his own coinage. Both Anušervān and Abu Kālijār seem to have died between 1049 and 1050 . The last firmly attested Ziyarid is ʿOnṣor al-Maʿāli Kaykāvus b. Eskandar b. Qābus (d. ca. 1087; see KAYKĀVUS), the celebrated author of the Qābus-nāma which was named after his well-known grandfather. Statements in the Qābus-nāma suggest that Kaykāvus spent much of his early life away from the Caspian region, first in Ḡazni in the service of the Ghaznavid Mawdud b. Masʿud (r. 1041-48) and then in Arrān in that of the Shaddadid Abu‘l-Aswār Šāvor b. Fażl (r. 1049-67). Kaykāvus is said to have been succeeded by his son Gilānšāh (r. ca.1087-ca. 1090). But he is a completely shadowy figure, and may have been overthrown by the Ismaʿilis of the Alborz region who brought the Ziyarid dynasty to its end in ca. 1090.