The Buyid Dynasty

The Buyids (sometimes erroneously called the Bawayhids due to the ambiguities of the Perso-Arabic script) were the most successful o f the Daylamite dynasties who originated from beyond the imposing Alborz mountain range and dominated the Iranian politics for over 100 years. The three founders of the dynasty – brothers Ali, Hassan, and Ahmad – were from a very humble origin, successfully climbing the steps of progress in the armies of other Daylamite warlords and dynasties.
Reputedly sons of a humble fisherman from Deylaman (the mountainous region on the direct north of the Iranian Plateau), Ali and his brothers entered the politics of northern Iran via the internal disputes among the various Deylamite warlords. Initially soldiers of Makan ibn Kaki, the powerful Deylamite commander of the Samanids in Khorasan, the brothers got involved in the competition between Makan and his cousin, the other powerful commander, Hassan Firuzan. Raising suspicions of Makan, they then defected to Makan’s other enemy, Mardavij ibn Ziyar (the founder of the Ziyarid dynasty) who himself had rebelled against his own former master, the famous rebel Asfar ibn Shiruyeh (ca. 930).

Feeling their own potential as warlords, Ali, Hassan, and Ahmad soon defected from Mardavij and his empire, carving parts of north and northwest for themselves, gaining the control of the strategic city of Qavin and defeating Yaqut, the Abbasid general sent to suppress the Deylamites in 934. With the death of Mardavij in 935, the Buyids came to the control of Rey, the main Ziyarid city (to the south of modern Tehran) and established themselves as the lords of the northern regions, to the detriment of Voshmgir, Mardavij’s brother and successor.

With Ali as their nominal ruler and strong central authority, the Buyids started conquering the rest of the Iranian Plateau. By mid 940’s, most of the central part of the plateau, including Fars, as well as Kerman and the regions over the Zagros, were in the Buyid hands. Ahmad, the youngest of the three brothers, was the successful conqueror of Kerman, while Hassan had managed to establish Rey as his own capital, both paying homage to the eldest brother Ali who controlled the whole operation from his capital in Shiraz.

The year 945 saw the most important campaign of the Buyids, when a dispute with the caliphal court in Baghdad gave Ahmad enough reasons to direct his troops towards Baghdad. The initial campaign was launched from Khuzistan, where Ahmad had managed to force the local Baridi dynasty out of power and establish direct Buyid rule. The strength of the Buyids, by this time, had alarmed Tuzun, the Turkish commander of the Abbasid armies and the kingmaker of Baghdad, who met the Buyids in Wasit and managed to temporarily stop them. However, by December of 945, Ahmad had entered Baghdad and taken control of the Caliph, Al-Mustakfi, replacing the authority of both the Turkish commanders and the powerful Hamdanids of Mosul who held much of the real power in Baghdad.

The initial reward of Ahmad’s successful campaign, besides his supremacy in Baghdad, was the granting of honorific titles by the caliph to the three brothers. From here on, Ali came to be known as Emad ol-Dowlah, Hassan became Rokn ol-Dowlah, and Ahmad was Mo’ezz ol-Dowlah, titles with which they are well known in Arabic and Persian historiography. Besides that, Ahmad, coming from a Shi’ite family in Deylaman and conquering Baghdad a mere two years after the start of the “Great Absence” of al-Mahdi, the 12th Imam of the Shi’ites, was able to further steer the local Shi’ite feelings by holding the first full-fledged Ashura ceremony in Baghdad in 946. This can be then dated as the beginning of the conversion, or de facto adherence, of the Buyids to the 12er, in place of the Zaydite, branch of Shi’ism.

Being at the height of their power, the Buyid brothers slowly started to set roots in their respective emirates. Ali, as the main ruler, of course held the highest position, while Hassan was most powerful in northern Iran, including the Buyid homeland of Deylaman, and Ahmad held the control of the two geographically separate principalities in Iraq and in Kerman. Although the Balkanised nature of the Buyid state was obvious from its initial power structure, relying on the individual charisma and personal influence of three brothers, the internal power struggle among the various rulers of the dynasty became even more obvious after the death of Ali Emad ol-Dowleh in 949.

Ascending to the position of the elder of the clan, Hassan Rokn ol-Dowleh nonetheless did not leave his capital in Rey to move to Shiraz, which during the rule of his elder brother had become the de facto capital of the Buyid state. Instead, he sent his eldest son, Fana-Khosrow, to rule the southern territories from Shiraz. The position, along with Fana-Khosrow’s obvious ambitions to gain power, alarmed his uncle, Ahmad Mo’ezz ol-Dowleh, who was enjoying his own powerful status as the Commander in Chief of the Abbasids in Baghdad. In order to guarantee the power of his own clan, Ahmad then asked the Caliph to recognize his son, Bakhtiar, as his successor to both the position of the Commander in Chief, and the prince of the Buyid territories in Iraq, Khuzistan, and Kerman. This was done shortly before Ahmad’s own death in 967, when Bakhtiar was granted the title of Ezz ol-Dowleh.

By now, Fana-Khosrow was in a powerful position, having also been granted the title of Ezad ol-Dowleh by the caliph and gaining much local power in Shiraz. Hassan Rokn ol-Dowleh, still occupying the position of power in the Buyid state, then ordered Fana-Khosrow to join Bakhtiar in a struggle against the Turkish commanders in Baghdad. What followed caused the first conflicts between Fana-Khosrow and Bakhtiar. Even when Hassan called his son back to Shiraz, the competition and threat did not cease, and in 977, following Hassan’s death a year earlier, Fana-Khosrow entered Baghdad at the head of a powerful army and removed his cousin Bakhtiar Ezz ol-Dowleh from the position of power, taking over the title of the Commander in Chief (Amir ul-Umara) for himself.

By this time, Fana-Khosrow Ezad ol-Dowleh had become powerful enough to call himself with the ancient Iranian, and particularly Sasanian, title of Shahanshah (king of kings), a title previously used, although without any real power, by the Deylamite rebel Asfar ibn Shiruyeh. The use of this title on Ezad ol-Dowleh’s coins is particularly significant, since this might be considered the first use of a Persian phrase on any Islamic coin in Iran. It was, however, only until his death in 983 that the Buyid state could still hold on to the semblance of a unified empire. The rule of his sons and successors, Shirzil, Marzuban, and Firuz, saw the disintegration of the Buyid territories into three distinguishable states, each ruled by a descendent of Hassan Rokn ol-Dowleh.

The central power, and the largest principality, was that of Fars, administered from Shiraz and including Khuzistan and Iraq. Here, Fana-Khosrow and his immediate successors established a court which undertook many public works and patronized many artists and scholars. It was during the period of the rule of Ezad ol-Dowleh that the so-called Buyid Renaissance came to being, with a keen royal support to scholars and historians, including the famous Ibn Miskawayh. The use of Iranian imagery, titles, and court procedures also established the court of Ezad ol-Dowleh as the center of the Iranian Revival which is associated with the Buyid court.

In Rey, Ezad ol-Dowleh’s younger brother, Ali Fakhr ol-Dowleh, had been established, already during the life time of their father Hassan, as the prince. Initially ruling over Hamadan, as a balancing force to Ezad ol-Dowleh’s ambitions, Fakhr ol-Dowleh had moved his court to Rey, and by marrying Seyyedeh Malakeh Khatoon, the daughter of a powerful local ruler of Deylaman (Marzban II of the Bavandi dynasty), established his power in the northern regions of the plateau.

In Kerman and eastern Iran, the principality originally belonging to Ahmad and his son Bakhtiar eventually passed on to the line of Ezad ol Dowleh. This was the region which was most threatened by the eastern rivals of the Buyids, including the remainders of the Saffarids in Sistan and the nascent power of the Ghaznavids in Zawulistan.

After Ezad ol-Dowleh’s death in 983, his sons, and the descendants of his brother Fakhr ol-Dowleh, launched a great struggle to control more of the Buyid territories. The power in Fars and Iraq (including the title of the Commander in Chief) continued through the line of Baha’ ol-Dowleh, a youngest son of Ezad ol-Dowleh. In Rey and Hamadan, the sons of Fakhr ol-Dowleh ran their own competition, while most of the power was held by their mother Seyyedeh and her powerful Vizier, and literary figure, Saheb ibn Ibad.

The Buyid control of the Baghdad Caliphal court, however, was threatened by the growing tension between the Deylamite and Turkish troops. The Amirs, including Baha ol-Dowleh and his son Sultan ol-Dowleh, tried to decrease their own dependence on the Deylamite troops by giving more prominence to the Turkish ones. However, they soon had to promote the Deylamites to the positions of command in order to keep them from rebellion, causing a revolt of the Turkish troops which caused the election of Sharaf ol-Dowleh, a brother of Sultan ol-Dowleh, to kingship. Sultan ol-Dowleh had to recognize his brother’s rule in Iraq and move to Fars, dying in Shiraz in 1024. Although the emirate of Baghdad was restored to the line of Sultan ol-Dowleh in the person of his son Abu Kalijar, the latter’s own sons, Fulad Sotun and Khosrow Firuz were engaged in a similar struggle, eventually leading to the abolishment of the Buyid rule in both Fars and Iraq by the new power in the region, Toghril Beg, the Seljuk king (1062 AD).

Meanwhile, the rule of the weak Amir of Rey, Majd ol-Dowleh, had ended in 1029 through the conquests of Mahmud of Ghazni, after Majd ol-Dowleh had finally managed to control Hamedan following the death of his nephew Sama’ ol-Dowleh. The last Buyid ruler, Fulad Sotun was also removed by a double pressure from Toghril Beg, as well as the Kurdish dynasty of the Amirs of Shabankareh who came to dominate Shiraz under the suzerainty of the Seljuks. The powerful Buyids, and their Iranian revival, had lasted a little over a hundred years.

Aside from their reconfiguration of the landscape of the mediaeval Iranian politics, the Buyids were significant for their role in promoting the culture and language of Iran, as well as running many public works and infrastructural foundations that survive until today (including Band-e Amir dam in Fars). They promoted literature, astronomy, medicine, philosophy, and many other branches of knowledge. Their court attracted well-known scholars such as Ibn Sina (Avicenna) who died in Hamadan at the court of Majd ol-Dowleh’s brother, Shams ol-Dowleh, and who wrote his only major Persian work, the encyclopaedic Daneshnameh Alai’yee, in honor of the Deylamite ruler, and maternal uncle of Majd ol-Dowleh, Ala’ ol-Dowleh Kakuyeh. Despite their short rule, the Buyids, through their patronage of arts and science, ensured their continued importance in the Iranian culture.

Buyids and their neighbours, AD 1000

Buyids and their neighbours, AD 1000

Further Reading

Bosworth, C. E. The New Islamic Dynasties: A Chronological and Genealogical Manual, Columbia University, 1996.

Busse, Heribert. “Iran under the Buyids.” The Cambridge History of Iran 4 (1975): 250-304.

Donohue, John J. The Buwayhid Dynasty in Iraq 334 H./945 to 403 H./1012: Shaping Institutions for the Future. Vol. 44. Brill Academic Pub, 2003.

Kabir, Mafizullah. The Buwayhid Dynasty of Baghdad, 334/946-447/1055. Iran Society, 1964.

Kraemer, Joel L. Humanism in the Renaissance of Islam: the cultural revival during the Buyid age. Vol. 7. Brill, 1992.

Nagel, T. “Buyids,” Encyclopaedia Iranica, 1990.

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