Afshin (Caliphate General)

Afshin (Caliphate General)

Khaydār b. Kāvūs Afshīn known by his hereditary title as Afshin ( _fa. افشین, Arabized Haydar b. Kavus) was a senior general at the court of Abbasid caliphs and a son of the vassal prince of Oshrūsana in Shahristancite web | |title=Afshin |accessmonthday= |accessyear= |author=C.E. Bosworth |date= |work=Encyclopedia Iranica |publisher= |quote=During the reign of the caliph Mahdi (158-69/775-85) the Afshin of Oshrusana is mentioned among several Iranian and Turkish rulers of Transoxania and the Central Asian steppes who submitted nominally to him (Yaqubi, II, p. 479) ] . The classical Arabic sources regard Afshin's rebellious acts as those of a protagonist of Iranian religious and imperial feeling, and as the expression of anti-Arab resentment for the loss of ancient Iranian political domination, feelings which were at this time finding a more harmless outlet on the literary level in the Shu'ubiyya movement.


Afshin is a hereditary title of Oshrūsana princes at the time of the Muslim conquest of Iran. The term is an Arabicized form of the Middle Persian Pishin and Avestan Pisinah, a proper name of uncerain etymology. Minorsky suggests that the title Afshin was of Sogdian origin. [V. Minorsky, "Studies in Caucasian history", Cambridge University Press, 1957, (footnote on page 111).] .


During the time when the first Arab invasion of the country of Ushrusana took place under Qutayba b. Muslim (94-5/712-14), Ushrusana was inhabited by an Iranian population, ruled by its own princes who bore the traditional title of afshin. [Kramers, J.H. "Usrūshana." Encyclopaedia of Islam. Edited by: P. Bearman , Th. Bianquis , C.E. Bosworth , E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. Brill, 2007] . The title al-Afshin is also Iranian and Afshin is shown in the Arab sources to have symphatized for ancient Iranian practices. However, there is some confusion in classical Arabic sources on the ethnic background of Khaydār b. Kāvūs Afshīn and some sources have stated him as Iranic(Sogdian or Persian) while others have mentioned Turk. The confusion can possibly stem from the fact that the name Turk was in general given to the former-slave troops of the Caliphs in Arabic sources despite the inclusion amongst them of elements of Iranian origin, from Ferghana, Ushrusana and Shah, places where soldiers and slaves for the Caliphs were collected [ʻUthmān Sayyid Aḥmad Ismāʻīl Bīlī, "Prelude to the Generals", Published by Garnet & Ithaca Press, 2001. [] ] . Although "two classical sources claim him a Turk, he came from Farghana, an Iranian cultural region and was not unusually considered Turkish" [ D. Pipes. Turks in Early Muslim Service — JTS, 1978, 2, 85—96. excerpt:] . Bernard Lewis also confirms this account [Lewis,Bernard. "The Political Language of Islam", Published by University of Chicago Press, 1991. excerpt from pg 482: "Babak's Iranianizing Rebellion in Azerbaijan gave occasion for sentiments at the capital to harden against men who were sympathetic to the more explicitly Iranian tradition. Victor (837) over Babak was al-Afshin, who was the herediatary Persian ruler of a district beyond the Oxus, but also a masterful general for the caliph.] , as well the Cambridge history of Iran [Mottahedeh, Roy, "The Abbassid Caliphate in Iran", Cambridge History of Iran, IV, ed. R.N. Frye, 57-89] . Edward Brown who also noted the trial of Afshin in Arabic sources also remarks: "It seems quite clear from all this that Afshin, though from Transoxiana, was not, as has been sometimes alleged, a Turk, but wholly Persian in feeling and sympathy." [Edward G. Brown, "A literary History of Persia: From the Earliest times until Firdawsi", New York, Scribner's, 1902. [,+a+Turk,+but+wholly+Persian+in+feeling&lr=&sig=ACfU3U0fpoo2N9cZQ5dHSDIv1d9YVEuuwg#PRA1-PA335,M1] ] .

Early years

According to Yaqubi, during the reign of the third Abbasid caliph Al-Mahdi (775-85), Afshin of Oshrusana was mentioned among several Iranian and Turkish rulers of Transoxania and the Central Asian steppes who submitted nominally to him. But it was not until Harun al-Rashid's reign in 794-95 that Fazl b. Yahya Barmati led an expedition into Transoxania and received the submission of the ruling Akin known as Kharākana [whose name, by inference from Tabari, III, p. 1066, was something like Kharākana; according to Gardīzī led. Habibi, p. 130] . This Karākana had never previously humbled himself before any other potentate. Further expeditions were nevertheless sent to Oshrusana by Al-Ma'mun when he was governor in Marv and after he had become caliph. Kavus, son of the Afshin Karākana who had submitted to Fazl b. Yahya, withdrew his allegiance from the Arabs; but shortly after Ma'mun arrived in Baghdad from the east (817-18 or 819-20), a power struggle and dissensions broke out among the reigning family of Oshrusana.

According to most of the sources, al-Ma'mun's heir, Al-Mu'tasim not only made Afshin governor of Azarbaijan and seconded high-ranking officers to serve under him, but also ordered exceptionally large salaries, expense allowances, and rations for himEncyclopedia Iranica, "Babak Khorrami" by G.H. Yusofi [] ] . In 831-833, he suppressed uprisings in Egypt from remote regions to Alexandria. On June 2, 832 the news was proclaimed of his great success in taking Bima in Egypt. It surrendered to Afshin's extension of al-Ma'mun's promise of safe conduct.

Afshin and Babak

Caliph al-Mu'tasim appointed Afshin governor of Jibal and sent him against his compatriot, the freedome fighter Babak Khorramdin, in June 835. Babak was a Persian leader of the anti-Islamic and neo-Mazdakite movement of the Korramiya. He was one of a series of such opponents to the Arab invaders of Iran. He in particular had been especially challenging for the occupiers' armies. That year Afshin met Babak in battle, defeated him and inflicted heavy losses. Babak escaped. The next year, Afshin avoided the traps Babak planned and instead surprised Babak, captured his camp and drove off his forces.

Afšhin brought up siege machinery and naphtha-throwers, and finally stormed Babak Castle in August 837. Ya'qubi (Tarikh II, 579) records Afshin freeing 7,600 Arab prisoners from this fortress, and he destroyed the castle. He wrote to the Armenian ruler advising him that Babak was heading his way. This was a highpoint of Afshin's career. and the caliph rewarded him richly, adding the governorship of Sind to his existing ones of Armenia and Azarbaijan province.

Anatolian campaign

Afshin fought alongside Mo`tasem during his Anatolia campaign of 838, which reached as far as Amorium, commanding the right wing in the onslaught against this fortress.

As the two prongs entered Byzantine territory separated by a hundred and fifty miles, Theophilos (emperor) decided to hit one of the portions of the Muslim army, before the entire invasion force joined together. It was Afshin the emperor attacked. Afshin steadied his troops. His men met the Byzantines' full force as commanded by their emperor. Afshin's men held. He counter-attacked. This battle, on July 21, 838, was a decisive Muslim victory. Afshin triumphed. The emperor and his surviving soldiers withdrew in disorder. They did not interfere as Afshin continued on to Ankyra meeting up there with al-Mu'tasim.

From Ankara, the full Muslim force advanced on the Byzantine stronghold of Amorium. A Muslim captive escaped from that city and disclosed the weakness of a section of its walls. The caliph concentrated his bombardment on this section. A breach was made. Amorium was captured.


Afshin's star began to decline, apparently as a result of jealousies which he had already shown against Abu Dolat- and `Abdallah b. Taher, governor of Khorasan and apparently regarded by Afshin as an upstart and a rival for power in Transoxania. He had begun intriguing with Maziar son of Qaren, an Iranian prince and Spahbed of Tabarestan in the Caspian region. Afšin allegedly encouraged Māzyār in secret, in the hope that `Abdallāh b. Tāher would be deprived of his governorship and he Afšīn, would fall heir to it. Maziar rebellion was quashed in 839 and Afshin's position now became increasingly difficult, which caused Afshin to fall from favour. His situation was made worse by the finding of alleged correspondence between him and Maziar. Further, the Khurasanian governor, Abdallah ibn Tahir, alleged that he had intercepted some of Babak's wealth Afshin had obtained in that campaign and was seeking to transfer secretly to Afshin's lands in Oshrusana. When Mazyar arrived in Samarra, Afshin was arrested.

Maziar participated in the interrogation of the former general, asserting that Afshin had conspired with him. Others present raised additional questions concerning the sincerity of Afshin's conversion to Islam from Zoroastrianism. Afshin had answers to all the allegations. He claimed that Zoroastrian artefacts and books in his possession were family heirlooms from before he had become Muslim. He explained that when he punished a pair of Muslim fanatics destroying idols in Ushrusanah he was exercising reasonable leadership aimed at maintaining the harmony of his religiously diverse territory. He told his detractors that the formulaic address his people used in writing to him in Persian as "Lord of lords", was simply a tradition and did not invalidate his personal belief in one God. [Tabari v. 33, p. 187f.]

All such replies were unsuccessful. Al-Mu'tasim had a special prison built for Afshin. It was known as "The Pearl" and was in the shape of a minaret. There he spent the final nine months of his life and there he died in May-June of 841.

References and notes


*C. E. Bosworth, [ "Afshin"] , "Encyclopedia Iranica"
*Tabari History v. 32 "The Reunification of the Abbasid Caliphate", SUNY, Albany, 1987; v. 33 "Storm and Stress along the Northern Frontiers of the Abbasid Caliphate", transl. C.E. Bosworth, SUNY, Albany, 1991
*John Bagot Glubb, "The Empire of the Arabs", Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1963
* E. de la Vaissière, "Samarcande et Samarra. Elites d'Asie centrale dans l'empire abbasside", Peeters, 2007 []

ee also

* Islamic conquest of Persia
* Islamization in Iran
* Babak Khorramdin
* Babak Castle
* Maziar

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