Saffarid dynasty
Saffarid dynasty at its greatest extent under Ya'qub ibn al-Layth al-Saffar
Saffarid dynasty at its greatest extent under Ya'qub ibn al-Layth al-Saffar
Common languagesPersian (administration, mother tongue)[1][2][3]
GovernmentHereditary monarchy
Amir (Emir) 
• 861–879
Ya'qub bin Laith as-Saffar
• 963–1002
Khalaf I
Historical eraMedieval
• Established
• Disestablished
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Tahirid dynasty
Abbasid Caliphate
Samanid dynasty

The Saffarid dynasty (Persian: صفاریان, romanizedsafaryan) was a Persianate dynasty of eastern Iranian origin that ruled over parts of Persia, Greater Khorasan, and eastern Makran from 861 to 1002. One of the first indigenous Persian dynasties to emerge after the Islamic conquest, the Saffarid dynasty was part of the Iranian Intermezzo. The dynasty's founder was Ya'qub bin Laith as-Saffar, who was born in 840 in a small town called Karnin (Qarnin), which was located east of Zaranj and west of Bost, in what is now Afghanistan. A native of Sistan and a local ayyār, Ya'qub worked as a coppersmith (ṣaffār) before becoming a warlord. He seized control of the Sistan region and began conquering most of Iran and Afghanistan, as well as parts of Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

The Saffarids used their capital Zaranj as a base for an aggressive expansion eastward and westward. They first invaded the areas south of the Hindu Kush, and then overthrew the Tahirid dynasty, annexing Khorasan in 873. By the time of Ya'qub's death, he had conquered the Kabul Valley, Sindh, Tocharistan, Makran (Balochistan), Kerman, Fars, Khorasan, and nearly reached Baghdad but then suffered a defeat by the Abbasids.[4]

The Saffarid dynasty did not last long after Ya'qub's death. His brother and successor, Amr bin Laith, was defeated at the Battle of Balkh against Ismail Samani in 900. Amr bin Laith was forced to surrender most of his territories to the new rulers. The Saffarids were confined to their heartland of Sistan, and with time, their role was reduced to that of vassals of the Samanids and their successors.


The dynasty began with Ya'qub ibn al-Layth al-Saffar (Ya'qub, son of Layth, the Coppersmith), a coppersmith of eastern Iranian origins,[a][12] who moved to the city of Zaranj. He left work to become an Ayyar and eventually got the power to act as an independent ruler.[4] From his capital Zaranj he moved east into al-Rukhkhadj (Arachosia), Zamindawar and ultimately Kabul, vanquishing the Zunbils and the Hindu Shahis by 865. He then invaded Bamyan, Balkh, Badghis, and Ghor. In the name of Islam, he conquered these territories which were predominantly ruled by Buddhist tribal chiefs. He took vast amounts of plunder and slaves from this campaign.[13][14]

Saffarid coinage in Kabul, with Arabic
Coinage of the Saffarid Governor of Kabul after the capture of the city, issued around 870 CE in Kabul on the Hindu Shahi model. Abbasid dirham weight standard. Obverse: Recumbent bull with Nagari legend (Śrī Khūdarayakah, "The fortunate small Raja"), trisula mark on the hump of the bull. Reverse: horseman with (ma) in Nagari to left, عدل (’adl, "Justice") in Arabic to right.[15]


The Tahirid city of Herat was captured in 870,[14] and Ya'qub's campaign in the Badghis region led to the capture of Kharidjites which later formed the Djash al-Shurat contingent in his army. Ya'qub then turned his focus to the west and began attacks on Khorasan, Khuzestan, Kerman (Southeastern Iran) and Fars (southwestern Iran).[14] The Saffarids then seized Khuzestan (southwestern Iran) and parts of southern Iraq, and in 876 came close to overthrowing the Abbasids, whose army was able to turn them back only within a few days' march from Baghdad. From silver mines in the Panjshir Valley, the Saffarids were able to mint silver coins.[16]

These incursions, however, forced the Abbasid caliphate to recognize Ya'qub as governor of Sistan, Fars and Kerman, and Saffarids were even offered key posts in Baghdad.[17] Despite Ya'qub's military successes, he was not an empire builder since he had no concept of a centralized government.[18]


Atigh Jameh Mosque of Shiraz, established in 894.
Coinage of Abu Ja'far Ahmad ibn Muhammad.

In 901, Amr Saffari was defeated at the battle of Balkh by the Samanids, and they lost Khorasan to them. The Saffarids were reduced to the provinces of Fars, Kerman and Sistan. Under Tahir ibn Muhammad ibn Amr (901–908), the dynasty fought the Abbasids for the possession of Fars to maintain its control over the province. However, in 908, a civil war erupted between Tahir and the pretender al-Laith b. 'Ali in Sistan. In the next years, the governor of Fars, Sebük-eri defected to the Abbasids. In 912, the Samanids finally expelled the Saffarids from Sistan. Sistan passed briefly to Abbasid control, but became independent again under the Saffarid Abu Ja'far Ahmad ibn Muhammad; but now the dynasty was a minor power isolated in Sistan.[13]

In 1002, Mahmud of Ghazni invaded Sistan, dethroned Khalaf I and finally ended the Saffarid dynasty.[19]


The Saffarids patronized the Persian language in the form of court poetry and established Persianate culture.[20] Under their rule, the eastern Islamic world witnessed the emergence of prominent Persian poets such as Fayrouz Mashriqi, Abu Salik al-Jirjani, and Muhammad ibn Wasif, who was a court poet.[21]

In the later 9th century, the Saffarids gave impetus to a renaissance of New Persian literature and culture. Following Ya'qub's conquest of Herat, some poets chose to celebrate his victory in Arabic, whereupon Ya'qub requested his secretary, Muhammad bin Wasif al-Sistani, to compose those verses in Persian.[22]


The religion of the Saffarid's founder, Ya'qub, has been a topic of debate.[23] Most of the primary sources were written during or after the fall of the Samanid dynasty and view the Saffarids through Samanid eyes.[b] These primary sources depict Ya'qub either as a religious rascal or a volunteer Sunni warrior - a mutatawwi.[24] The Seljuk vizier Nizam al-Mulk, obsessed with the integrity of the Seljuk Empire, depicts Ya'qub as an Ismaili convert.[25]

According to C.E. Bosworth, early Saffarid emirs did not appear to have significant religious beliefs.[18] Since Kharijism prospered in Sistan longer than anywhere else in eastern Iran, it was believed the Saffarids held Kharijite sympathies.[26] Archeologist Barry Cunliffe, states the Saffarids were Shia Muslim.[27]

Rulers of the Saffarid dynasty

Titular Name Personal Name Reign
Independence from the Abbasid Caliphate.
Ya'qub ibn Layth
یعقوب بن اللیث
861–879 CE
Amr ibn al-Layth
عمرو بن اللیث
879–901 CE
أبو الحسن
Tahir ibn Muhammad ibn Amr
طاھر بن محمد بن عمرو
co-ruler Ya'qub ibn Muhammad ibn Amr
901–908 CE
al-Layth ibn 'Ali
اللیث بن علي
908–910 CE
Muhammad ibn 'Ali
محمد بن علي
910–911 CE
Al-Mu'addal ibn 'Ali
المعضل ابن علي
911 CE
Abu Hafs
ابو حفص
Amr ibn Ya'qub ibn Muhammad ibn Amr
عمرو بن یعقوب بن محمد بن عمرو
912–913 CE
Samanid occupation 913–922 CE.
Abu Ja'far
ابو جعفر
Ahmed ibn Muhammad ibn Khalaf ibn Layth ibn 'Ali 922–963 CE
ولي الدولة
Khalaf ibn Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Khalaf ibn al-Layth ibn 'Ali 963–1002 CE
Conquered by Mahmud ibn Sebuktigin of the Ghaznavid Empire in 1002 CE.


See also


  1. ^ Numerous sources call the dynasty Persian.[5][6][7][8][9][10][11]
  2. ^ According to D.G. Tor, the Samanids vilified the Saffarids in order to increase their own legitimacy since they were competing against them for territory.[24]


  1. ^ "Persian Prose Literature". World Eras. HighBeam Research. 2002. Archived from the original on May 2, 2013. Retrieved September 3, 2012. Princes, although they were often tutored in Arabic and religious subjects, frequently did not feel as comfortable with the Arabic language and preferred literature in Persian, which was either their mother tongue—as in the case of dynasties such as the Saffarids (861–1003), Samanids (873–1005), and Buyids (945–1055)...
  2. ^ Robinson, Chase F. (2009). The new Cambridge history of Islam. Vol 1, Sixth to eleventh centuries (1. publ. ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press. p. 345. ISBN 978-0-521-83823-8. The Tahirids had made scant use of Persian, though the Saffarids used it considerably more. But under the Samanids Persian emerged as a full "edged language of literature and (to a lesser extent) administration. Court patronage was extended to Persian poets, including the great Rudaki (d. c. 940). Meanwhile, Arabic continued to be used abundantly, for administration and for scientific, theological and philosophical discourse.
  3. ^ Meisami 1999, p. 15.
  4. ^ a b Bosworth, Clifford Edmund. "Saffarids". Encyclopædia Iranica.
  5. ^ "Saffarid dynasty". The Oxford Dictionary of the Middle Ages. Oxford University Press. 2010. doi:10.1093/acref/9780198662624.001.0001. ISBN 9780198662624. One of the first indigenous Persian dynasties to emerge after the Arab Islamic invasions.
  6. ^ Savory, Roger M. (1996). "The History of the Saffarids of Sistan and the Maliks of Nimruz (247/861 to 949/1542–3)". Journal of the American Oriental Society. doi:10.2307/605756. JSTOR 605756. First, the Saffarid amirs and maliks were rulers of Persian stock who for centuries championed the cause of the underdog against the might of the Abbasid caliphs.
  7. ^ al Saffar, Ya'kub b. al-Layth; Bosworth, C. E. The Encyclopaedia of Islam. Vol. XI. p. 255. The provincial Persian Ya'kub, on the other hand, rejoiced in his plebeian origins, denounced the Abbasids as usurpers, and regarded both the caliphs and such governors from aristocratic Arab families as the Tahirids with contempt
  8. ^ Meisami, Julie Scott; Starkey, Paul (eds.). Encyclopedia of Arabic Literature. Vol. 2. p. 674. Saffarids: A Persian dynasty.....
  9. ^ Aldosari, Ali. Middle East, Western Asia, and Northern Africa. p. 472. There were many local Persian dynasties, including the Tahirids, the Saffarids....
  10. ^ Cannon, Garland Hampton. The Arabic Contributions to the English Language: An Historical Dictionary. p. 288. Saffarid, the Coppersmith, the epithet of the founder of this Persian dynasty...
  11. ^ Daftary, Farhad. Historical Dictionary of the Ismailis. p. 51. The Saffarids, the first Persian dynasty, to challenge the Abbasids...
  12. ^ Baumer 2016, p. 24.
  13. ^ a b Bosworth, C. E. (1968). "The Development of Persian Culture under the Early Ghaznavids". Iran. 6: 34. doi:10.2307/4299599. JSTOR 4299599.
  14. ^ a b c Bosworth 1995, p. 795.
  15. ^ Flood, Finbarr B. (20 March 2018). Objects of Translation: Material Culture and Medieval "Hindu-Muslim" Encounter. Princeton University Press. pp. 25–26. ISBN 978-0-691-18074-8.
  16. ^ Bosworth et al. 1995, p. 258.
  17. ^ Esposito, John L. (1999). The Oxford History of Islam. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 38.
  18. ^ a b Meisami 1999, p. 120.
  19. ^ Bosworth, C. E. (1963). The Ghaznavids 994–1040. Edinburgh University Press. p. 89.
  20. ^ Dabashi 2019, p. 41.
  21. ^ Bosworth 1969, p. 104.
  22. ^ Bosworth, C. E. (1999). "The Tahirids and the Saffarids". In Frye, R. N. (ed.). The Cambridge History of Iran: The period from the Arab Invasion to the Saljuqs. Vol. IV. Cambridge University Press. p. 129.
  23. ^ Tor 2007, p. 85-87.
  24. ^ a b Tor 2007, p. 90.
  25. ^ Bosworth 1975, p. 108.
  26. ^ Bosworth 1975, p. 107.
  27. ^ Cunliffe 2015, p. 388-389.