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Robert Hillenbrand


Islamic dynasty that ruled from several capitals in Iraq between ad 749 and 1258. The Abbasids traced their descent from al-‛Abbas, the uncle of the Prophet Muhammad, and were thus able to claim a legitimacy that their predecessors had lacked (see Umayyad, §1). The Abbasids rose to power in north-east Iran by channelling disaffection with Umayyad rule, but they soon established their capitals in a more central location, founding Baghdad in 762. Although they initially encouraged the support of Shi‛ites, the Abbasids quickly distanced themselves from their erstwhile allies to become champions of orthodoxy. Upon accession, each caliph adopted an honorific title, somewhat like a regnal name, by which he was later known. For the first two centuries, the Abbasids’ power was pre-eminent, and their names were invoked from the Atlantic to western Central Asia. From the middle of the 10th century, however, real power was transferred to a succession of Persian and Turkish dynasts (...


Lucien Golvin

Islamic dynasty that governed Tunisia, Algeria and Sicily from ad 800 to 909. The province of Ifriqiya, roughly corresponding to modern Tunisia, had been administered from Kairouan since the Islamic conquest in the 7th century by governors named by the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs. The caliph authorized one of these governors, Ibrahim ibn al-Aghlab (reg 800–12), to appoint his own successor, thereby engendering a dynasty that maintained its position by paying the caliph an annual tribute. Ibrahim immediately built a satellite city, which he named al-‛Abbasiyya, with a palace, known as the Qasr al-Abyad, and a congregational mosque. His sons ‛Abdallah I (reg 812–17) and Ziyadat Allah I (reg 817–38) continued to put down insurrections, and Tunis was temporarily outside the authority of the Aghlabid amir in Kairouan. The conquest of Sicily (827) was conducted like a holy war against the Byzantines, and the troops, encouraged by indoctrination in fortified convents (Arab. ...


Judith McKenzie, Gordon Campbell, R. R. R. Smith, Wiktor A. Daszewski, A. H. Enklaar, Dominic Montserrat, C. Walters, Wladyslaw B. Kubiak, Sheila S. Blair and Jonathan M. Bloom

Egyptian city situated on the Mediterranean coast west of the delta of the River Nile, capital of Egypt from c. 320 bc to ad 642, seaport and centre of ancient Greek culture.

Judith McKenzie

Alexandria was founded in 331 bc by Alexander, on the site of the small Egyptian settlement of Rhakotis. Its location, with access by canal to the River Nile, enabled it to become an important and highly prosperous trading centre, and by c. 320 bc Alexandria was the capital of Ptolemaic Egypt. During Ptolemaic times (304–30 bc) it became a major centre of learning, with famous scholars of literature, mathematics, astronomy, medicine and geography, and it played a major role in the transmission of Greek culture to the East.

With the defeat of the last Ptolemaic monarch, Cleopatra VII (51–30 bc), by Octavian (later called Augustus) at the Battle of Actium in 30...



Hafez K. Chehab

[Andjar, ‛Anjar, ‛Ayn al-Jarr]

Late Antique and early Islamic settlement in the Beqa‛a Valley of Lebanon, 56 km east of Beirut. Excavations since 1953 have revealed a cardinally orientated rectangular enclosure (370×310 m) with dressed stone walls. Each side has regularly spaced half-round towers and a central gate. Two colonnaded avenues intersecting at right angles under a tetrapylon link the gates, a plan recalling that of Roman foundations in the Levant and in North Africa. Within the enclosure are the remains of two palaces and the foundations of three others in stone and hard mortar, as well as a mosque, two baths (one paved with mosaics) and a well. The western area has streets intersecting at right angles and housing units with private courts, and the eastern area has open fields beyond the palaces and mosque. The construction of the greater palace in alternating courses of stone and brick is a technique well known in Byzantine architecture. Reused architectural elements from the Roman and early Christian periods, some bearing Greek inscriptions, are found all over the site. A large quantity of archivolts and mouldings, carved with vegetal, geometrical and figural motifs, was found among the ruined palaces. Texts suggest that Anjar was founded in the time of the Umayyad caliph al-Walid (...


Abbas Daneshvari

[Ardistāni; Ardestān]

Iranian town in the province of Isfahan, just east of the road from Natanz to Na’in. It occupies an ancient site and preserves the ruins of a Sasanian fire-temple, but the most important monuments date from the medieval period, when Ardistan was a flourishing agricultural centre, renowned for its silk. By the 10th century the town was fortified and had five gates. Its congregational mosque, which now has a four-iwan plan, was first built during this period; a tunnel-vaulted arcade in the south-west corner with a fragmentary kufic inscription and polylobed piers can be attributed to the 10th century, when similar work was done on the Friday Mosque at Isfahan (see Islamic art, §ii, 5(i)(a)). In 1158–60 the mosque was remodelled on the orders of Abu Tahir Husayn ibn Ghali ibn Ahmad by the master Mahmud ibn al-Isfahani known as al-Ghazi (see Islamic art, §ii, 5(i)(b)). The domed bay in front of the mihrab and the adjacent qibla iwan date from this rebuilding and are notable for their original decoration, which includes three stucco mihrabs, brickwork highlighted in red and white and plaster decoration in purple, yellow, white and blue. In ...


Sophie Page

Astrology is the art of predicting events on earth as well as human character and disposition from the movements of the planets and fixed stars. Medieval astrology encompassed both general concepts of celestial influence, and the technical art of making predictions with horoscopes, symbolic maps of the heavens at particular moments and places constructed from astronomical information. The scientific foundations of the art were developed in ancient Greece, largely lost in early medieval Europe and recovered by the Latin West from Arabic sources in the 12th and 13th centuries. Late medieval astrological images were successfully Christianized and were adapted to particular contexts, acquired local meanings and changed over time.

Astrology developed into a scientific branch of learning in ancient Greece, but because of the opposition of the Church Fathers it was transmitted to early medieval Europe in only fragmentary form in technically unsophisticated textbooks and popular divinatory genres. Literary and scientific texts provided more general ideas about the nature and attributes of the planets which were influential on later iconography. The first significant astrological images appear in 11th-century illustrated astronomical texts (e.g. London, BL, Cotton MS. Tiberius BV), which were acquired and produced by monasteries to aid with time-keeping and the construction of the Christian calendar....



Abbas Daneshvari

Town in the province of Kirman, southern Iran, on an important route skirting the southern fringes of the Dasht-i Lut Desert. The old walled city was founded in the Sasanian period (ad 224–632) and flourished until the 18th century; its ruins stand 0.5 km east of the present town of Bam, founded in 1860. On 26 December 2003, a 6.7 magnitude earthquake struck the city, claiming more than 40,000 lives and destroying over 70% of the buildings. Most of the mud-brick remains of the old city date from the 16th century and later, but they give the best impression available of a medieval Iranian provincial town (see fig.; see also Islamic art, §II, 10(ii)). The site is roughly rectangular (300×425 m) with a citadel in the north-west corner. A vaulted bazaar runs from the main south gate to the foot of the citadel, where there is a large open square flanked by stables; to the west of the square is a caravanserai, a two-storey building with a central court. Within the citadel are the remains of the governor’s residence, his reception room and an open rectangle, which was used in the 19th century for the storage of artillery. A congregational mosque of the standard Iranian type, with four iwans facing a central courtyard, is towards the south-east corner of the site, and to its north are a dozen large mansions built for rich merchants. Their public and private quarters, arranged in two storeys around a central court, are decorated with recesses and mouldings; the service areas with stables and kitchens are plainer. In the north-west section of the site, behind the citadel, are smaller houses, perhaps built for peasants, with individual rooms on one or two sides of a courtyard....


Term used to describe the distinctive relief decoration commonly used on stucco, wood and other arts of the early Islamic period. Characterized by a slanted cut (Ger. Schrägeschnitt), the decoration usually consists of rhythmic and symmetrical repetitions of curved lines with spiral terminals. The style is first documented in the mid-9th century ad at the Abbasid capital of Samarraا in Iraq, where the walls of enormous mud-brick palaces were rendered with plaster, moulded or carved in three styles of relief decoration. Although two styles (A and B) preserve recognizable vegetal forms ultimately derived from Late Antique ornament, the third (C) or Bevelled style is far more abstract, and the traditional distinction between subject and ground has dissolved. The same style of decoration was also used at Samarraا for wooden furnishings, such as panels and doors and for other sculpted media, such as rock crystal.

The Bevelled style quickly became popular throughout the Abbasid realm: it is found, for example, at the ...


N. N. Negmatov


Site near the town of Shakhristan (Shahristan) in northern Tajikistan. Capital of the medieval state of Ustrushana, which occupied the region between the Syr River and the Hisar Range from Samarkand to Khodzhent, Bundzhikat was described in 10th to 12th-century sources as a large and densely populated town in a beautiful location with plenty of water and gardens. The city proper was surrounded by a special wall with two gates, while the nearby citadel had its own fortifications and the suburb its own wall with four gates. All three parts of the city, as well as the country palaces, houses, gardens and vineyards, were surrounded by an enceinte. Among the largest buildings were the central mosque in the city, the prison in the citadel and the king’s palace in the suburb. The town got its water from the small Sarin River and six canals leading from it, along which there were over ten mills....



V. D. Goryacheva

[formerly Balasaghun; Balasagun; Kuz-Balyk; Kuz-Ordu

Medieval site 12 km south of Tokmak and 6 km from Ak-Beshim in the eastern part of the Chu Valley in northern Kyrgyzstan. Identified with Balasaghun, the capital of the Qarakhanid dynasty (reg 940–1211), Burana takes its name from the surviving minaret (10th–11th century) called Manār-i burāna by the 16th-century historian Mirza Muhammad-Haydar Dughlat. Archaeological investigation of the site, which was destroyed by earthquakes in the 14th and 15th centuries, has been conducted since 1927. The central group of ruins, identified by Masson as the city proper, covers an area 600×560–80 m and includes a palace complex, the minaret and various buildings dating from the 10th to the 14th century. This was the administrative and religious centre of medieval Balasaghun. The minaret (h. 24 m; rest. 1974) has a square base, octagonal socle and tapering cylindrical shaft articulated by bands of decoration. A door 5 m above ground level (indicating the height of the roof of the now-destroyed mosque) leads to an internal spiral stair. nearby were the tombs of the Qarakhanids (destr.), of which three have been excavated. One was an octagonal prism with a dome or conical cap; the two others were cylinders with monumental portals and either a dome or conical cap. They were decorated with bricks laid in patterns, terracotta and carved plaster. A ...



Robert Hillenbrand


Islamic dynasty that ruled in Iran and Iraq from ad 932 to 1062. Civil wars, the erosion of caliphal power by a Turkish military caste, corrupt administration and racial tensions during the 9th century terminally damaged the Abbasid state, and gradually the extremities of the empire in North Africa, Spain, Central Asia and Afghanistan established a de facto independence. In Iran, burgeoning national sentiment found expression in the Shu‛ubiyya (the controversy over the respective merits of the Arab and Persian literary traditions), in heterodox religious movements and in a revival of pre-Islamic Persian culture, notably among the breakaway Tahirid (reg ad 821–73), Saffarid (reg ad 867–c. 1495) and Samanid dynasties. These tendencies crystallized after 932 with the gradual rise to power of Abu Shuja’ Buya and his clan of condottieri from the mountainous area south of the Caspian Sea. He and his three formidable sons masterminded the liberation of western Iran and Iraq from caliphal control. The youngest son, Mu‛izz al-Dawla (...



Yu. F. Buryakov

[Sogdian-Pers. Chach, Chachstan; Arab. Shāsh; Chin. Shi, Chzheshi]

Ancient state centred on the Tashkent Oasis on the north bank of the Syr River in Uzbekistan. From medieval times its chief city has been known increasingly as Tashkent. Although the small domain of Chach was assimilated by a semi-nomadic state in the first centuries bc, the name Chach is first attested in the Sasanian inscription at Naqsh-i Rustam (ad 262) near Persepolis and subsequently found at Dunhuang (4th century), Afrasiab (Old Samarkand; 7th century) and in Chinese and Arabic sources. From the 3rd to the 7th century Chach was a small but powerful kingdom of farmers and herders linked to the nomads of the steppe. Agriculture was made possible by an advanced irrigation system comprising more than 50 canals. Gold, silver, copper and turquoise were mined in the mountain and steppe regions, and 13 mountain communities dating from antiquity have been discovered as well as 30 from the medieval period. In the northern regions the economy developed along the great Silk Route....


A. G. Gertsen

Medieval site 3 km south-east of Bakhchisaray in the Crimea, Ukraine. The site was probably founded in the 6th century ad. The Alan burial ground (6th–9th century) is located in the Mar’yam-dere gorge outside the site. The settlement was first mentioned at the end of the 13th century under the name Kirk-yer (‘Forty fortifications’). Set on the top of a sheer promontory, the site covers 38 ha, of which 16 ha were once occupied. It is divided into three parts: Burunchak, the western part of the plateau that remains unbuilt; the Old Town, which grew up in the second half of the 14th century beside the medieval Middle Wall that cut across the plateau at its narrowest point; and the New Town, which sprang up in front of the Middle Wall in the 15th century and was protected by another wall with three towers and a deep ditch in front. In ...



Jonathan M. Bloom

Islamic dynasty that ruled in Ifriqiya (now Tunisia) from ad 909 to 972 and in Egypt from ad 969 to 1171. The Fatimids were Isma‛ili Shi‛ites who traced their ancestry back to Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad, via Isma‛il, the seventh Shi‛ite Imam. They believed that their rightful position as leaders of the Muslim community had been usurped by the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs. The first Fatimid success was the toppling of the Aghlabid rulers of Ifriqiya in 909. The Fatimid leader ‛Ubayd Allah assumed the title of caliph and the regnal name al-Mahdi (reg 909–34). He soon moved his capital from the hostile religious environment of Kairouan to Mahdia on the Mediterranean coast, a base more appropriate for the expected Fatimid conquest of the rest of the Islamic world. The port soon became a centre for Mediterranean commerce, whose revival was one of the cornerstones of Fatimid prosperity. The indigenous Berber population of North Africa rose in repeated rebellions, often fomented by the Fatimids’ Umayyad rivals in Spain. In 947 the caliph ...


N. G. Gorbunova

[Farghana; Fergana; Pers. Farghānā.]

Valley (300×70 km) of the middle Syr River in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. The fertile region has been inhabited by farmers and pastoralists for millennia, and numerous archaeological sites from the Bronze Age onwards have been found there. The nearly inaccessible site of Saimaly Tash, at an altitude of 3000 m in the Ferghana Mountains north of Uzgend, has produced over 100,000 petroglyphs dating from the Bronze Age to the 1st millennium ad. The 25 ha Bronze Age settlement at Dalverzin included a citadel, residential buildings and an enclosure for livestock, and yielded many clay vessels and stone, bone and bronze objects. Eylatan (7th-3rd century bc) contained small pisé structures surrounded by two rows of walls with towers. At Aktam the dead were buried in shallow earth tombs on small stone mounds; finds included modelled, painted and thrown vessels, everyday objects of iron, stone and bone, jewellery and weapons....


Robert Hillenbrand

Islamic dynasty that ruled in Afghanistan, Transoxiana, eastern Iran and northern India from ad 977 to 1186. The founder was Sebüktigin (d 997), a Turkish slave employed by the Samanid dynasty, who eventually defied their authority and set up his own principality with its capital at Ghazna, now in Afghanistan. His son Mahmud (reg 998–1030) transformed this principality into a highly militarized empire. At first this expansion was achieved at the expense of the Samanid, Buyid and Qarakhanid dynasties, but Mahmud’s streamlined military machine also had a more ambitious target: 17 near-annual raids were launched between 1001 and 1024 against northern India, an ongoing holy war that made Mahmud’s name a byword for religious orthodoxy. It also brought vast booty and briefly made Ghazna a famous metropolis, with a fabulous mosque prinked out in gold, alabaster and marble, a university, madrasas, libraries, aqueducts and other public works. These campaigns also tilted Ghaznavid policies away from Iran, a weakness successfully exploited by the Saljuq dynasty at the battle of Dandanqan (...



Seton Lloyd

[anc. Carrhae]

Ancient city on the Anatolian plateau in Turkey, c. 30 km south of Urfa, where a trade route from the Euphrates crosses the modern Turco-Syrian frontier. The site was visited and described from the mid-19th century by such travellers as R. C. Chesney, C. Preusser, Gertrude Bell, K. A. C. Creswell and T. E. Lawrence. From 1950 onwards it was surveyed and excavated by S. Lloyd, W. Brice and D. S. Rice. The main mound, in the centre of the site, rises 20 m above the level of the plain, undoubtedly covering the ruins of an Assyrian temple to the moon-god Sin.

Harran was probably already a centre for the cult of the moon-god in the 2nd millennium bc. After the fall of Nineveh (c. 612 bc) the last Assyrian king, Assur-uballit II (reg 612–609 bc), transferred the remains of his court briefly to Harran. Three stelae bearing cuneiform inscriptions of the Babylonian king ...



Ye. V. Zeymal’

[Rus. Khul’buk; Kurbanshaid]

Capital of the medieval province of Khuttal, on the Kyzyl (Akhsu) River, 7 km from the village of Vose in the Khatlon region of southern Tajikistan. The town, mentioned in medieval sources of the 10th–12th centuries, corresponds to the modern settlement of Kurbanshaid. In the 9th–10th century the town was the residence of the provincial governor under the local Banijurid dynasty, who minted coins in Khuttal and has links to the Samanids of Transoxiana. At the end of the 10th century or early 11th, Khuttal lost its independence and came under the control of the Ghaznavids, whose governor-general was based at Hulbuk.

Extensive excavations under the direction of Erkinoy Gulyamova were carried out in the 1960s to 1980s in the south-western part of the 10 ha settlement at the citadel (50×150 m). Rising 10–15 m above the surrounding area, it was the location of the governor’s palace (late 9th century ...



Marianne Barrucand

[Arab. Idrīsī]

Islamic dynasty that ruled in Morocco between ad 789 and 985. It was the first Islamic dynasty to establish an independent state in Morocco and played an important role in the Islamicization of the country. The founder, Idris I (reg 789–91), was a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad and was thus regarded by Shi‛ites as a rightful successor. Having taken part in a Shi‛ite revolt against the Abbasid caliph in 786, Idris fled from Arabia to north-east Morocco, settling in the region of Volubilis, near Meknès, where the local Berber population accepted him as the imam, the temporal and spiritual leader of the Islamic community. His son, Idris II (reg 791–828), moved the capital to Fez, a city founded by his father but subsequently neglected. During Idris II’s reign Fez became a flourishing trading, religious and intellectual centre, attracting settlers from the two great metropolises of the western Islamic world, Kairouan and Córdoba. Physical remains from the period are scarce. The Idrisids were responsible for the layout of the old centre of Fez and the division of the city into two distinct quarters (those of the Kairouanis and the Andalusians) separated by the River Fas. In the former was built what is now the ...


Alastair Northedge

[Khirbet el Mefjer].

Early Islamic palace in the Wadi’l-Nuway‛ima north of Jerico, Jordan. Excavated by R. W. Hamilton between 1934 and 1948, the complex consists of a square residential building, bath complex, mosque, enclosed forecourt with fountain and rear service building, all finely built of sandstone ashlar masonry and contained in an enclosure of about 60 ha. Construction of the complex was unfinished when much apparently collapsed in the great earthquake of 747, although occupation continued into the 9th century. The residence took the form of a two-storey fort (67 m square) with half-round buttresses on the exterior and a projecting gateblock. The central colonnaded courtyard was surrounded with rooms, and it contains the entrance to an underground suite (Arab. sirdāb) paved with mosaics. Carved stucco dados survive from the portal, which was surmounted by an audience hall. The bath complex lies to the north of the residence. It had a projecting rectangular portal, decorated with a stucco statue of a prince in Persian dress. The entrance was surmounted by a dome on pendentives, decorated with figures of dancers. The main room, a grand audience hall, had 11 apses and 16 piers that supported a vaulted roof with a central cupola; the plan derives from the quincunx basilica. The floor is covered with 39 adjoining panels of geometric mosaics, the largest single floor mosaic to survive from the ancient world. In the apse opposite the entrance is a cryptic mosaic depiction of an ethrog (fruit of the citron) and a knife. Attached to the hall on the north is a 33-seat latrine, a small 4-room hypocaust bath (the cold bath was situated in the main hall) and a private audience room (Arab. ...