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Richard N. Frye
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An Iranian dynasty, the Sāmānids ruled Central Asia and later Khurasan from 819 to 999. Their rule began when the four grandsons of Saman Khuda, a noble in a village near Balkh, converted to Islam and received four appanages for service to the ʿAbbāsid caliph al-Maʿmūn. Later Ahmad, the ruler of Ferghana, made his son Nasr the combined ruler of Transoxiana from Samarkand in 875, but it was his brother and successor Ismāʿīl who was the architect of the new kingdom from his capital at Bukhara. From local militias he established an army, primarily of Turkish retainers, and also a state bureaucracy, which became a pattern for later dynasties. In all of this, he and his successors maintained allegiance to the caliph in Baghdad, sending yearly tribute.

Ismāʿīl conquered ʿAmr the Saffarid in 900 and raided the Turks in the north, making converts to Islam. His son Ahmad completed the conquest of Sistan and Tabaristan, but control of these provinces remained elusive. Under the Sāmānids, Bukhara rivaled Baghdad in its number of savants and religious leaders, while the urbanization of both was unmatched elsewhere in the eastern Islamic realm. Unfortunately, because of later invasions, little has remained of the building activities of the Sāmānids.

Ahmad was killed by his Turkish guard in 914 and was succeeded by his young son Nasr. Fortunately the youth had the counsel of two enlightened vezirs, Jayhānī and Balʿamī, who created a milieu of erudition and learning throughout the kingdom. Nasr, as well as many of his followers, flirted with Ismāʿīlism, which had spread to the Bukharan region. As a result he was deposed by his Turkish guards, together with the Sunnī religious leaders, who followed the Ḥanafī school of thought. Although high culture continued not only in Bukhara, but also in other Sāmānid towns, the Sāmānid rulers lost authority to Turkish warlords. The Ghaznavid kingdom, which eventually displaced Sāmānid rule south of the Oxus River, was the result. Finally the Muslim Turkish Ilek Khans, known as the Karakhanids, were able to wrest power from the Sāmānids, beginning in 990 and ending with the capture of Bukhara in 992. An attempt by the last Sāmānid, Muntasir, to rally the people of Bukhara met with indifference from the populace, as well as from religious leaders.

The galaxy of intellectuals in Transoxiana and Khura-san in this period is overwhelming, with such luminaries as the mathematician Khwarazmi, the medical thinker Ibn Sina (Avicenna), and many others. It is no exaggeration that the bases of Muslim learning in all fields were laid in the era of the Sāmānids. One of their achievements was the launching of New Persian literature, especially with poets such as Rūdakī, Daqiqi, and others. Arabic literature was not neglected by the Sāmānids, and both poetry and prose flourished under their rule.

In addition, the arts and crafts reached lofty limits, with textiles, pottery, and glass and metal vessels being traded throughout the Islamic world and as far as China and eastern Europe. Paper was also an important export, as were Turkish slaves. Since the Sāmānids offered protection against nomadic raiders, agriculture not only flourished but expanded with canals and wells being built by the rulers. Mining too saw an increase, as various metals were extracted in domains ruled by the Sāmānids. In short, the age of the Sāmānids was one of great prosperity, such that it became the pattern for future governments, who looked back to the rule of the Sāmānids as a “golden age” of Islam.

The Sāmānids, more than any other monarchy, are responsible for several important changes in the world of Islam. First, they fostered the use of Persian as a written language as well as Arabic, while spoken Persian replaced local languages. This in turn broke the identification of Islam with Arab and made the religion a universal faith.

The Sāmānid Rulers (Amirs)

Nasr ibn Aḥmad (1864–892)
Ismāʿīl ibn Aḥmad (892–907)
Aḥmad ibn Ismāʿīl (907–914)
Nasr ibn Aḥmad (914–943)
Nuh ibn Nasr (943–954)
Abd-uʿl Mālik ibn Nuh (954–961)
Manṣūr ibn Nuh (961–976)
Nuh II ibn Manṣūr (976–997)
Manṣūr II ibn Nuh II (997–999)
ʿAbd al-Mālik II ibn Manṣūr II (999)
Muntasir (1055)


  • Frye, R. N.“The Samanids,” In Cambridge History of Iran, vol. 4, edited by R. N. Frye, pp. 136–61. Cambridge, 1975. This is primarily a political history of the dynasty, with cultural matters such as the beginning of Persian literature added.
  • Negmatov, N. N.“The Samanid State.” In History of Civilizations of Central Asia, vol. 4, by M. S. Asimov, pp. 77–95. Paris: UNESCO publishing, 1998. The author presents a survey of various activities of the Sāmānids, such as trade, agriculture, and mining, with special emphasis on the heritage of the modern Tajiks.
  • Paul, J., Herrscher-Gemeinwesen-Vermittler: Ostiran and Transoxanien in vormongolisher Zeit. Stuttgart, 1996. A discusion of the bureaucracy, army, and relations with Baghdad. Fiefs granted to soldiers are also discussed.
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