The death of Harun al Rashid, fifth calif of the house of Abbas, was accelerated by a journey undertaken in consequence of an obstinate revolt of Transoxiana807, which was quelled by his son, Mamun; and the long residence of that prince in Khorasan maintained for a time the connection of that province with the empire. But it was by means of a revolt of Khorasan that Mamun had himself been enabled to wrest the califate from his brother Amin; and he had not long removed his court to Bagdad, before Tahir, who had been the principal instrument of his elevation, began to establish his own authority in Khorasan, and soon became virtually independent808.
Khorasan and Transoxiana were never again united to the califate; and the Commanders of the Faithful being not long afterwards reduced to pageants in the hands of the Turkish guards, the dissolution of the Arab empire may from that time be regarded as complete809.
The family of Tahir ruled quietly and obscurely
for upwards of fifty years, when they were deposed by the Sofarides, a more conspicuous dynasty, though of even shorter duration810. Yacub, the son of Leith, the founder, was a brazier of Sistan, who first raised a revolt in his native province, and afterwards overran all Persia to the Oxus, and died while on his advance against the calif in Bagdad. His brother, Omar, was defeated and made prisoner by the Samanis; which put an end to the greatness of the family, though a younger member maintained himself in Sistan for a few years after the loss of their other possessions811.
Their whole reign did not last above forty years; but their memory must have survived in Sistan, for at the end of half a century we find that country again asserting its independence under one AD 964, of their descendants812, who was finally subdued by AD 1006, Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni, more than 100 years AH 396. after the downfal of the original dynasty813.
The house of Samani subsisted for more than 120 years814; and though not themselves invaders of India, they had more connection than their predecessors with the history of that country.
They derive their name either from one of their ancestors, or from a town in Bokhara, or in Balkh, from which they drew their origin815. The first of the family mentioned in history was already a person
of consideration, when he attracted the notice of the Calif Mamun, then residing in Khorasan. By the directions of that prince, three of the Samani’s sons were appointed to governments beyond the Oxus, and one to that of Herat.
They were continued under the Taherites, and retained Transoxiana after the fall of that dynasty, till the death of Yacub Leith; when they passed the Oxus at the head of a large army of cavalry, probably composed of their Turki subjects, made Omar Leith prisoner, as has been related, and took possession of all the territory he had conquered.
They governed it in the name, though perfectly independent of the calif, until they were deprived of a large portion of it by the family of Biwa, called also the Deilemites, from the district in Mazenderan in which their founder was a fisherman on the Caspian Sea.
Cut off by a high range of mountains from the rest of Persia, and protected by the difficulty of access, the extensive forests, and the unwholesome climate, Mazenderan had never been perfectly converted, and probably never entirely subdued: it was the seat of constant insurrections, was often in the hands of worshippers of fire, and presented a disturbed scene, in which the Deilemites rose to consequence, and at length acquired sufficient force to wrest the western provinces of Persia from the Samanis, to seize on Bagdad and the person of the calif,
and to rule over an extensive territory in his name for a period exceeding 100 years.
After their losses by the Deilemite conquests, the Samanis remained masters of Khorasan and Transoxiana, and gave rise to the dynasty of Ghazni, who were the founders of the Mussulman empire of India.
It was in the reign of Abdulmelek, the fifth prince of the house of Samani, that Alptegin, the founder of this new dynasty, rose into importance. He was a Turki slave, and his original duty is said to have been to amuse his master by tumbling and tricks of legerdemain816.
It was the fashion of the time to confer offices of trust on slaves; and Alptegin, being a man of good sense and courage, as well as integrity, rose in time to be governor of Khorasan. On the death of his patron817, he was consulted about the best person of the family for a successor; and happening, unluckily, to give his suffrage against Mansur, on whom the choice of the other chiefs had fallen, he incurred the of his sovereign, was deprived of his government, and if he had not displayed great military skill in extricating himself from among his enemies, he would have lost his liberty, if not his life. He had, however, a body of trusty adherents, under whose protection he
made good his retreat, until he found himself in safety at Ghazni, in the heart of the mountains of Soliman. The plain country, including Balkh, Herat, and Sistan, received the new governor, and remained in obedience to the Samanis; but the strong tract between that and the Indus bade defiance to all their attacks; and though not all subject to Alptegin, all contributed to secure his independence. One historian states that he was accompanied on his retreat by a body of 3000 disciplined slaves or Mamluks, who would, of course, be Turks of his own original condition818: he would doubtless also be accompanied and followed, from time to time, by soldiers who had served under him when governor; but it is probable that the main body of his army was drawn from the country where he was now established819.
The inhabitants of the cultivated country were not unwarlike; and the Afghans of the hills, even when their tribe did not acknowledge his authority, would be allured by his wages to enter his ranks.
He seems to have made no attempt to extend his territory; and he died within fourteen years after he became independent821.
Alptegin had a slave named Sebektegin, whom he had purchased from a merchant who brought
him from Turkestan, and whom, by degrees, he had raised to so much power and trust, that at his death he was the effective head of his government, and in the end became his successor.
Most authorities assert that Alptegin gave Sebektegin his daughter in marriage, and himself appointed him his heir822; and others confirm the immediate succession, though not the previous marriage823.
But Ferishta’s account824 is, that Alptegin, dying in AD 975, AH 365, left a son named Isakh, whom Sebektegin accompanied to Bokhara. Isakh was then appointed by Mansur Samani to be governor of Ghazni, and Sebektegin his deputy. Isakh died in AD 977, AH 367, when Sebektegin was acknowledged as his successor, and married Alptegin’s daughter825.
He had scarcely time to take possession of his
new kingdom before he was called on to exert himself in its defence826.
The establishment of a Mahometan government so near to their frontier as that of Ghazni must naturally have disquieted the Hindus on the Indus, and appears to have led to their being harassed by frequent incursions.
At length Jeipal, raja of Lahor, whose dominions were contiguous to those of Ghazni, determined to become assailant in his turn. He led a large army into Laghman, at the mouth of the valley which extends from Peshawer to Cabul, and was there met by Sebektegin. While the armies were watching a favourable opportunity for engaging, they were assailed by a furious tempest of wind, rain, and thunder, which was ascribed to supernatural causes, and so disheartened the Indians, naturally more sensible to cold and wet than their antagonists, that Jeipal was induced to make proposals of an accommodation.
Sebektegin was not at first disposed to hearken to him; but, being made aware of the consequence of driving Hindus to despair, he at length consented to treat; and Jeipal surrendered fifty elephants, and engaged to pay a large sum of money.
When he found himself again in safety, he refused to fulfil this part of his agreement, and even threw the messengers sent to demand the execution of it into prison.
Sebektegin was not likely to submit to such an insult and breach of faith: he again assembled his troops, and recommenced his march towards the Indus, while Jeipal called in the assistance of the rajas of Delhi, Ajmir, Calinjar, and Canouj, and advanced to Laghman with an army of 100,000 horse, and a prodigious number of foot soldiers. Sebektegin ascended a height to view the enemy, and beheld the whole plain covered with their innumerable host; but he was nowise dismayed at the prospect; and, relying on the courage and discipline of his own troops, he commenced the attack with an assurance of victory. He first pressed one point of the Indian army with a constant succession of charges by fresh bodies of cavalry; and when he found them begin to waver, he ordered a general assault along the whole line: the Indians at once gave way, and were pursued, with a dreadful slaughter, to the Indus.
Sebektegin found a rich plunder in their camp, and levied heavy contributions on the surrounding districts. He also took possession of the country up to the Indus, and left an officer, with ten thousand horse, as his governor of Peshawer.
The Afghans and Khiljis827 of Laghman immediately
tendered their allegiance, and furnished useful recruits to his army828.
After these expeditions, he employed himself in settling his own dominions (which now extended on the west to beyond Candahar); when an opportunity presented itself of promoting his own aggrandisement by a timely interposition in favour of his nominal sovereign.
Noh or Noah (the seventh of the Samani kings) had been driven from Bokhara, and forced to fly across the Oxus, by an invasion of Bogra Khan, king of the Hoeike Tartars, who at that time possessed almost all Tartary beyond the Imaus, as far east as China829. The fortunate sickness, retreat, and death of Bogra Khan, AD 993, AH 383, restored Noh to his throne. An attempt he soon after made to punish the disaffection shown by his governor of Khorasan, during his misfortunes, drove that chief into an alliance with Faik, another noble of Bokhara, whose turbulence makes a conspicuous figure for a long period in the latter days of the Samanis;
and the confederates, more anxious about their own interests than the safety of the state, called in the aid of the Deilemite prince who ruled in the adjoining provinces of Persia, and was well disposed to extend his dominions by promoting dissensions among his neighbours. To resist this powerful combination, Nob had recourse to Sebektegin, and that leader marched towards Bokhara at the head of his army, more on the footing of an ally than a subject. He had stipulated, on the pretext of his infirmities, that he should not dismount at the meeting; but he no sooner came in sight of his sovereign, than he threw himself from his horse, and would have kissed the royal stirrup if he had not been prevented by Noll, who hastened to receive him in his arms.
Their united force might not have been sufficient to oppose their enemies if it had not been for the treachery of the Deilemite general, who, in the critical moment of the action, threw his shield over his back as a sign of peace, and went over with his troops to Sebektegin. The rebels now evacuated their usurpations, and Noh rewarded the services of Sebektegin, by confirming him in his own government, and conferring that of Khorasan on his son Mahmud. But the rebels, though disconcerted at the moment, were able once more to collect their forces, and next year they returned so unexpectedly, that they surprised and defeated Mahmud at Nishapur. It was with some exertion that Sebektegin was enabled again to encounter
them. The contest ended in their being totally defeated in the neighbourhood of Tus (now Meshhed)830.
Their force was completely broken; and Faik, abandoning the scene of his former importance, fled to Elik Khan, the successor of Bogra, by whose powerful interposition he was soon after reconciled to Noh, and appointed to the government of Samarcand.
Immediately after this arrangement Noh died; and Elik Khan, profiting by the occasion of a new succession, advanced on Bokhara, supported by his ally from Samarcand, and ultimately compelled the new prince, Mansur II., to place all the power of his government in the hands of Faik.
During these transactions Sebektegin died on his way back to Ghazni831.
807. Price, vol. ii. p. 79. His authority is, generally, the “ Tarikhi Tabari.”
808. Ibid. p. 225.
809. Ibid. p. 155.
810. Price, vol. ii. p. 229.
811. Ibid. p. 234.
812. Ibid. p. 243.
813. Ibid. p. 282.
814. From 892, AH 279, to 1004, AH 395.
815. Ouseley’s Ebn Haukal, p. 301.
816. D’Herbelot, article “Alpteghin.”
817. Price, vol. ii. p. 243.; De Guignes, vol. ii. p. 155. Ferishta (vol. i. p. 12.) makes his revolt 962, AH 351. D’Herbelot makes this date 917, AH 305; but it is evidently a slip, either of the author or the printer, for in the date of Alptegin’s death he comes within a moderate distance of the other authorities.
818. Price, from the “Kholasat al Akhbar,” vol. ii. p. 243.
819. D’Herbelot, article “Alpteghin.”
820. D’Herbelot makes it 964, AH 353.
821. Price, vol. ii. p. 244.; Ferishta, vol. i. p. 13.; De Guignes, vol. ii. p. 156.
822. De Guignes (who quotes Abufeda), vol. ii. p. 156.; D’Herbelot (who quotes Khondemir).
823. Price, vol. ii. p. 277.
824. Briggs’s Ferishta, vol. i. p. 13.
825. A story is told of Sebektegin, while yet a private horseman, which proves the humanity of the historian, if not of the hero. One day, in hunting, he succeeded in riding down a fawn; but when he was carrying off his prize in triumph, he observed the dam following his horse, and showing such evident marks of distress, that he was touched with compassion, and at last released his captive, pleasing himself with the gratitude of the mother, which often turned back to gaze at him as she went off to the forest with her fawn. That night the Prophet appeared to him in a dream, told him that God had given him a kingdom as a reward for his humanity, and enjoined him not to forget his feelings of mercy when he came to the exercise of power.
826. From this time forward my principal dependence will be on Ferishta, a Persian historian, who long resided in India, and wrote, in the end of the sixteenth century, a history of all the Mahometan dynasties in that country down to his own time. I think myself fortunate in having the guidance of an author so much superior to most of his class in Asia. Where the nature of my narrative admitted of it, I have often used the very expressions of Ferishta, which, in Colonel Briggs’s translation, it would be difficult to improve.
827. The Khiljis, or Khaljis, are a Tartar tribe, part of which, in the tenth century, was still near the source of the Jaxartes but of which a portion had even then been long settled between Sistan and India (i. e. in the Afghan country). In the tenth century they still spoke Turki. They seem very early to have been closely connected with the Afghans, with whom their ` name is almost invariably associated. (For their original stock and residence in Tartary, see De Guignes, vol. iii. p. 9. note; D’Herbelot, article “Khaladj;” Ebn Haukal, p. 209.; and for their abode in the Afghan country, Ibid. p. 207. This last author wrote between 902 and 968.)
828. Briggs’s Ferishta, vol. i. pp. 15–19.
829. De Guignes, vol. ii. p. 157.; Price, vol. ii. p. 247.
830. De Guignes, vol. ii. p. 158.; Price, vol. ii. p. 218.; Ferishta, vol. i. p. 22.
831. He died within a month of Noh, 997, AH 387. (Ferishta. De Guignes. Price. D’Herbelot.)
This collection transcribed by Chris Gage