The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
By: C. E. Bosworth
princely title of the rulers of Ošrūsana at the time of the Muslim conquest,
the most famous of whom was Kheydār (arabicized Haydar) b. Kāvūs, d. Ša`bān,
226/May-June, 841 CE.
term is an arabicized form of middle Persian Pišīn, Avestan Pisinah-,
a proper name of uncertain etymology (AirWb., col. 907). In pre-Islamic Iranian
tradition, it is the name of a grandson of Kayanid king Kavad (Yt. 13.132,
19.71). In the Islamic period, it is found as a proper name attested by
Armenian historians in the form bsin (from Awšin; see Justi, Namenbuch, pp.
252-53). Our early knowledge of the ruling family of Ošrūsana is derived from
the accounts by the Islamic historians (Tabari, Baladori, Ya'qubi) of the final
subjugation of that region by the 'Abbasid caliphs and the submission of its
rulers to Islam. Ošrūsan lay to the south of the great, southernmost bend of
the Syr Darya and extended roughly from Samarqand to Khojand. During the reign
of the caliph Mahdi (158-69/775-85) the Afšin of Ošrūsan is mentioned among
several Iranian and Turkish rulers of Transoxania and the Central Asian steppes
who submitted nominally to him (Ya`qubi, II, p.479). But it was not until
Harun al-Rašid's reign in 178/794-95 that Fail b. Yahya Barmalti led an
expedition into Transoxania and received the submission of the ruling Akin
(whose name, by inference from Tabari, III, p. 1066, was something like Kharākana);
according to Gardīzī led. Habibi, p. 130), this Kharākana had never
previously humbled himself before any other potentate. Further expeditions were
nevertheless sent to Ošrūsana by Ma'mūn when he was governor in Marv and
after he had become caliph. Kavus, son of the Af-sin Karakana who had submitted
to Fazl b. Yahya, withdrew his allegiance from the Arabs; but shortly after
Ma'mun arrived in Baghdad from the east (202/817-18 or 204/819-20), a power
struggle and dissensions broke out among the reigning family of Ošrūsana.
After killing an opponent, Kāvūs's son Haydar had to flee to Khorasan and then to the caliphal court in Baghdad, thus inaugurating the period of royal favor in which he was to bask for some two decades. In 207/822 an expedition under Ahmad b. Abi Khāled was guided into Ošrūsana by Haydar, using a shorter, lesser known route. Kāvūs himself now submitted, and the rival contender for the succession, Haydar's brother Fazl, fled temporarily to the steppes. Kūvūs traveled to Baghdad and finally embraced Islam, being mentioned as tributary ruler of his province (Tabari, III, pp. 1065-66). At some unknown date, Kāvūs died and was succeeded as Afšīn or prince of Ošrūsan by Haydar. During the years in which he served the `Abbasids, Haydar or Ahšīn was a top commander in the guard of Ma'mūn's brother Abū Eshāq Mohammed, the future caliph Mo`tasem, governor of Egypt. After his arrival in Egypt in Dhu'l-qa'da, 215/December, 830-January, 831, Afšīn was first sent as governor of Barqa, then recalled to suppress rebellions of the Copts and of the unruly Beduins of the Banu Modlej in the regions of Alexandria and the Delta (216/831; see Tabari, III, p. 1105, and Kendt, Ketdā wolāt Mesr, ed. R. Guest, Leiden and Londor_, 1912, pp. 189-92). To him is also attributed the formation of Mo`tasem's guard of Maghāreba, Arabs of the Nile Delta and the adjacent deserts of Lower Egypt.
Afšin's rise in caliphal favor culminated in his nomination as supreme commander in the struggle against Babak (q.v.), a Persian leader of the anti-Islamic and neo-Mazdakite movement of the Korramiya (q.v.), which had set afire northwestern Persia including Arran and Azarbaijan and whose epicentre was the fortress of Bade. This outbreak had apparently been going on since ca. 201/816-17. According to the detailed account in Tabari (III, pp. 1170ff.), Mo`tasem appointed fin governor of Jebāl and commander in the war against Babak in Jomādā II, 220/June, 835. Afšin arrived in Azarbaijan and rebuilt the fortresses between Barjand and Ardabil destroyed by Babak. He then gave battle to Babak at Aršaq, defeated him, and drove him into Mūghān and then back into his fortress of Badd, although one of Babak's commanders, Tarkan or Ādhīn, managed to defeat at Haštādsar a force under the caliphal general Boghā al-Kabir (221/836) which included Afšīn's brother Fazl b. Kāvūs (who had clearly also entered the caliphal service). In this same year Akin received reinforcements
from the caliph under Ja`far b. al-Khayyāt and a contingent of volunteers under the Arab magnate Abu Dolaf `Ejīlī (q.v.). Afšīn now established a camp at Rud-al-rud over against and six miles away from Badd, and used this as a base for assaults by his mountain troops. After an abortive attack by Abu Dolaf's volunteers, Afšīn brought up siege machinery and naphtha-throwers (naffātūn), and finally stormed Bald in Ramazān, 222/August, 837.
was the peak of Afšin's career, and the caliph rewarded him richly, adding the
governorship of Sind to his existing ones of Armenia and Azarbaijan. He fought
alongside Mo`tasem during his Anatolia campaign of 223/838, which reached as far
as Amorium, commanding the right wing in the onslaught against this fortress.
Thereafter, however, his star began to decline, apparently as a result of
jealousies which he had already shown against Abu Dolat- and `Abdallah b. Taher
(q.v.), governor of Khorasan and apparently regarded by Afšīn as an upstart
and a rival for power in Transoxania. During the revolt in Tabarestān of Māzyār
b. Qāren (224/839), the Espahbad of that region-a revolt which had been
stimulated by Māzyāar's jealousy of Taherid attempts to interfere directly in
the Caspian provinces-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. But Māzyār's rebellion was quashed, and Afšin's
position now became increasingly difficult.
He was accused by his enemies of hostility towards Islam and of sympathy for ancient Iranian practices and beliefs, of having an imam and a muezzin in Ošrūsan flogged for turning a local shrine into a mosque, contrary to the longstanding arrangement with the ruler of Sogd whereby the local people were to be left in the peaceful practice of their faith; of possessing richly ornamented, heretical or anti-Islamic books; and of remaining uncircumcised. After a-protracted trial, with the chief ghāzī Ahmad b. Abī Do'ād and the vizier Ebn al-Zayyāt as chief prosecutors, he was imprisoned at Samarra and starved to death (Ša`bān, 226/May-June, 841). In support of the charges against Afsin, it was stated that bejewelled idols and sacred books of the Magians were found in his house after he had been arrested.
The contemporary Arabic sources thus regard Afšin'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 Šo`ūbīya movement. That this view subsequently became the stereotype is seen clearly from the anecdote about Afšin in Abu'I-Fail Bayhaqī's Tārīkh-a Mas`ūdī written over two centuries later (pp. 173-78), in which anti-Arab sentiments are specifically placed in his mouth. The truth is difficult to disentangle, but it is clear that personal jealousies of Afšīn's power and prestige after the victory over Bābak must have played some part in bringing about his ruin. The report of idols found in Afšīn's house, if true, suggests an adherence to Buddhism, and that of richly ornamented books a connection with Manichaeism, rather than with Zoroastrianism, especially as it seems dubious whether Zoroastrianism had ever extended as far north as the Syr Darya valley.
"Afšin" as a title, see: Karazmi Mafātīh al-`olūm ed. G.
Van Vloten, Leiden, 1895, p. 119; tr. and comm., J. M. Unvala, "The
Translation of an Extract from Mafātīh al-`Ulūm of al-Khwarazmi,"
Journal of the K. R. Canna Oriental Institute 11, 1928, p. 94; and C. E.
Bosworth and Sir Gerard Clauson, "Al-Xwarazmi on the Peoples of Central
Asia," JRAS 1965, pp. 7-8. Tabarī's account of Afšīn's warfare
against Bābak and of his arrest and trial is translated by E. Marin as The
Reign of al- Mu'tasim (833-842), New Haven, 1951. For the secondary sources,
see Browne, Lit. Htst. Persia I, pp.330-36. Barthold, Turkestan,
pp. 202, 210-11. G. H. Sadighi, Les nnourennennts relikieux iraniens au lle et
IIIe siecles de lhegire, Paris, 1938, pp.287-305. Spuler.
Iran, pp.62-63, 65-67, 140. Cannb. Hist. Iran IV, pp. 75-76, 96-98, 100,
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