Shirvan gerb.png
Coat of arms of the Shirvanshahs[1]
Country Azerbaijan
FounderYazid b. Mazyad al-Shaybani
Final rulerAbu Bakr Mirza
TitlesShah of Shirvan
Shah of Layzan
Emir of Derbent
Cadet branchesShervashidze
House of Black Monk

Shirvanshah (Persian: شروانشاه), also spelled as Shīrwān Shāh or Sharwān Shāh, was the title of the rulers of Shirvan from the mid-9th century to the early 16th century. The title remained in a single family, the Yazidids, an originally Arab but speedily Persianized dynasty, although the later Shirvanshahs are also known as the Kasranids or Kaqanids.[2][3] The Shirvanshah established a native state in Shirvan (located in modern Azerbaijan).[4]

The Shirvanshahs dynasty, existing as independent or a vassal state, from 861 until 1538; one of longest existing dynasties in the Islamic world, are known for their support of culture. There were two periods of an independent and strong Shirvan state: first in the 12th century, under kings Manuchehr and his son, Akhsitan I who built the stronghold of Baku, and second in the 15th century under Derbendid dynasty.


See also: Shirvan § Medieval history and etymology

The title 'Shirvanshah' appears to date back to the period before Islam's emergence in the Arabian peninsula. Ibn Khordadbeh mentions the Shirvanshah as one of the local rulers who received their title from the first Sassanid emperor, Ardashir I.[2][3] Al-Baladhuri also mentions that a Shirvanshah, together with the neighbouring Layzanshah, were encountered by the Arabs during their conquest of Persia, and submitted to the Arab commander Salman ibn Rab'ia al-Bahili.[2][3]


Rise of the Shirvanshahs

From the late 8th century, Shirvan was under the rule of the members of the Arab family of Yazid ibn Mazyad al-Shaybani (d. 801), who was named governor of the region by the Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid.[3][5] His descendants, the Yazidids, would rule Shirvan as independent princes until the 14th century.[3] By origin, the Yazidids were Arabs of the Shayban tribe and belonged to high ranking generals and governors of the Abbasid army.[5] In the chaos that engulfed the Abbasid Caliphate after the death of the Caliph al-Mutawakkil in 861, the great-grandson of Yazid b. Mazyad Shaybani, Haytham ibn Khalid, declared himself independent and assumed the ancient title of Shirvanshah. The dynasty continuously ruled the area of Shirvan either as an independent state or a vassal state until the Safavid times.[2]

One of the important books in the early history of this dynasty is the anonymous Taʾrikh Bab al-Abwab ("History of Darband"), preserved by the Ottoman historian Münejjim Bashi (Chief Astronomer), the last date of which concerning the dynasty is 468/1075. A translation of this important work into English language was published by the orientalist Vladimir Minorsky in 1958.[5][6] We know from this book that the history of the Shirvan Shahs was closely tied with that of the Arab Hashimid family in Darband (Bab al-Abwab) and intermarriage between the two Arab families was common with Yazidids often ruling for various periods in the latter town.[2]

V.F Minorsky in his book titled "A History of Sharvan and Darband in the 10th–11th Centuries" distinguishes four dynasties of Shirvanshahs; l. The Shirvanshahs, (the Sassanids designated them for the protection of northern frontier; 2. Mazyadids, 3. Kasranids; 4. House of Derbent or Derbent dynasty.[7][8]

By the time of the anonymous work Hodud al-Alam (c. 982 AD), the Shirvan Shahs, from their capital of Yazīdiyya (the later Shamakhi), had absorbed neighbouring kingdoms north of the Kur river and thus acquired the additional titles of Layzan Shah and Khursan Shah.[2] We can also discern the progressive Persianisation of this originally Arab family.[2] According to Encyclopedia of Islam: After the Shah Yazid b. Ahmad (381-418/991-1028), Arab names give way to Persian ones like Manūčihr, Ḳubādh, Farīdūn, etc., very likely as a reflection of marriage links with local families, and possibly with that of the ancient rulers in Shābarān, the former capital, and the Yazidids now began to claim a nasab (lineage) going back to Sassanid kings Bahrām Gūr or to Khusraw Anushirwan.[2] According to Vladimir Minorsky, the most likely explanation of the Iranicisation of this Arab family could be marriage link with the family of the ancient rulers of Shabaran.[5] He further states: The attraction of a Sassanian pedigree proved stronger than the recollection of Shaybani lineage.[5] The coat of arms with two lions could be a reminder of the story of Bahrām Gur in Shahnama where Bahrām had to claim the crown from between two lions to be recognized as the king.

According to al-Masudi, in 917, Russian merchants attacked the Caspian provinces and Shirvan from the Don River with 500 ships. However, due to the lack of a fleet of Shirvan ruler Ali ibn Haysam, Russian merchants looted the area, as a result, the ruler of Shirvan was dethroned.[9][10]

During the reign of Ahmad ibn Muhammad, the Shirvanshah state was dependent on the Sallarid dynasty for some time and became independent again after the collapse of the Sallarids.

After Ahmad's death, his son Muhammad ruled for ten years (981-991). In the first years, Mohammad was able to include the city of Gabala in his state. In 983, he rebuilt the castle walls of Shabran, then captured Barda, and appointed Musa as its governor. Khurasan, Tabasaran, Sheki and were also annexed to Shirvanshahs.[9]

At the end of the 10th – beginning of the 11th century they began wars with Derbent (this rivalry lasted for centuries), and in the 1030s they had to repel the raids of the Rus, and Alans.[11]

The last ruler of the Mazyadid was Yazid ibn Ahmad, and from 1027 to 1382, the Kasranids dynasty began to rule the Shirvanshahs. In 1032 and 1033, the alans attacked the territory of Shamakhi, but were defeated by the troops of the Shirvanshahs.[12][13][5]

Seljuqid rule

In the mid-11th century, Seljuk Turks ended Abbasid control by invading Shirvan from Central Asia and asserting political dominance. The Kasranid dynasty ruled the state independently until 1066 when the Seljuk tribes came to the territory of Arran, Shirvanshah I Fariburz accepted dependence on them, preserving internal independence.[13][12][5] The Seljuks brought with them the Turkish language and Turkish customs. The Seljuqs became the main rulers of a vast empire that included most of the Near East until the end of the 12th century. During the Seljuq period, the influential vizier of the Seljuq sultans, Nizam ul-Mulk is noted for having helped introduce numerous educational and bureaucratic reforms. His death in 1092 marked the beginning of the decline of the once well-organized Seljuq state that further deteriorated following the death of Sultan Ahmad Sanjar in 1153.

At the end of 11th and at the beginning of 12th centuries, the Seljuqid state entered to the period of collapse at the result of interior fought for throne among the representatives of Seljuqid dynasty. Utilizing from this circumstance, several governors, who were under the subordination of seljukid state, refused to accept the authority of Sultans.

In the 1080s Fariburz, taking advantage of the weakening of his neighbors, who were also subjected to the Seljuk invasion, extended his power to Arran and appointed a governor in Ganja.[11]

Georgian rule

See also: Georgian Shirvan

Expansion of Kingdom of Georgia under David IV's reign.
Expansion of Kingdom of Georgia under David IV's reign.

In the beginning of the 12th century Shirvan attracted the attention of its expanding Georgian neighbours who on several occasions raided its territory. Shirvanshahs were in position of power shifting between Georgia and Seljuqid states. In 1112 David IV of Georgia gave his daughter Tamar in marriage to son of Shirvanshah Afridun I, Manuchihr III. Afridun lost many castles, including Qabala to David IV of Georgia in 1117 and 1120. After the death of Afridun I, who was murdered in the battle for Derbent, the throne in Shirvan passed to his son, Manuchir III (1120-1160). Manuchir III was under the influence of his wife, Georgian princess Tamar and maintained pro-Georgian orientation. After decisive victory of Battle of Didgori Manuchir rejected to pay tribute to Eldiguzids. Depriving from the tributes in the amount of 40 thousand dinars, the Seljuqid Sultan Mahmud directed to Shirvan at the beginning of 1123, captured Shamakhi and took Shah as hostage contrary to Manuchehr's betrayal.

In June, 1123 David IV attacked and defeated Sultan again and captured the cities and fortresses of Shamakhi, Bughurd, Gulustan, Shabran. Manuchehr restored his own power upon David's death in 1125 and started friendly relations with his brother-in-law Demetrius. After her husband's death, Tamar found herself involved in a power struggle among her sons, favoring the younger, who joined her in an attempt to unite Shirvan with Georgia with the help of Kipchak mercenaries. Manuchehr's older son Akhsitan I was able to secure support from the Eldiguzids of Azerbaijan, winning the contest for the throne and forcing Tamar and his younger brother into flight to Georgia.

Ahsitan conducted independent policy, created close relations with Georgians, as well as with the Eldiguzids in the presence of Shams al-Din Ildeniz and Jahan Pahlavan. In 1173 Akhsitan I came to the aid of his father-in-law, George III by putting down the revolt of Prince Demna. Akhsitan reign saw raids of Rus' with 73 ships in 1174 which sailed from Volga and threatening shores of river Kura and a Kipchak hordes who sacked Derbent and captured Shabran in the same year. Akhsitan called his ally Georgia, which proved to be successful in siege of Derbent. George III subjugated city and turned it over to shah and strengthened the Georgian dominance in the area. They also defeated and burned Rus' navy.

Akhsitan attempted to intervene the interior affairs of the Eldiguzids and opposed Qizil Arslans aspiration to the throne, but he was defeated. In the response to this, Qizil Arslan invaded Shirvan in 1191, reached to Derbent and subordinated the whole Shirvan to his authority. A year later, in 1192, Shamakhi was destroyed by a terrible earthquake, and Akhsitan I moved the Shirvan capital to the city of Baku. Early in the 1190s, the Georgian government under the Tamar the Great began to interfere in the affairs of the Eldiguzids and of the Shirvanshahs, aiding rivaling local princes and reducing Shirvan to a tributary state. The Eldiguzid atabeg Abu Bakr attempted to stem the Georgian advance, but suffered a defeat at the hands of David Soslan at the Battle of Shamkor[14] and lost his capital to a Georgian protégé in 1195. Although Abu Bakr was able to resume his reign a year later, the Eldiguzids were only barely able to contain further Georgian forays.[15][16]

Mongol rule

Shirvan was greatly devastated by Mongol invasion in 1235, from which it was not able to fully recover for the next century. In the 13th and 14th centuries Shirvan was a vassal of stronger Mongol and Timurid empires. Shirvanshah Ibrahim I revived the country's fortunes, and through his cunning politics managed to resist Timurid conquest, letting the state go with paying a tribute.[citation needed]

Safavid rule

The battle between Shah Farrukh Yassar of Shirvan and Shah Ismail of Persia
The battle between Shah Farrukh Yassar of Shirvan and Shah Ismail of Persia

The Shirvanshah rulers were more or less Sunni. In 1462 Sheykh Junayd, the leader of Safavids, was killed in a battle against Shirvanishans near the town of Khachmaz – an event that Safavids never forgot. In 1500–1, with the intention to avenge his murdered ancestors, the first Safavid king Ismail I invaded Shirvan, and, despite heavily outnumbered, defeated then incumbent Shirvanshah Farrukh Yassar in a pitched battle, in which the latter and his entire army were killed. He then proceeded towards Baku which was sacked, and the mausoleum of the Shirvanshahs exhumed and burned. Most of Baku population was forcibly converted to Shi'ism thereafter.[citation needed]

The vassal Shirvan state managed to hang on for a few more years, until 1538, when Ismail's son and successor Tahmasp I (r. 1524-1576) appointed its first Safavid governor, and made it a fully functioning Safavid province.[17]

Persian poetry

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The Shirvanshah dynasty are known for their patronage of Persian poetry. Amongst famous poets who either appeared at their court or dedicated poetry to them are Khaghani and Nizami. Nizami composed in Persian poetry epic Leylea and Majnoon for Abul-Muzaffar Jalal ad-din Shirvanshah Akhsatan. He also sent his son to be educated with the son of Shirvanshah. Khaghani himself in his youth used the poetic title Haqiqi. After dedicating himself to the court of Fakhr ad-din Manuchehr Fereydoon Shirvanshah (also known as the Khaghan Akbar), he chose the pen name Khaghani and also served as a court poet for Akhsatan, the son of Fakhr ad-din Manuchehr Fereydoon. Other poets and writers who appeared during the rule of the Shirvanshahs include Falaki Shirvani, Aziz Shirvani, Jamal Khalil Shirvani, Bakhtiyar Shirvani and multitude of others mentioned in the book Nozhat al-Majales, an anthology compiled by Jamal Khalil Shirvani.


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Main article: Palace of the Shirvanshahs

The Palace of the Shirvanshahs (or Shirvanshahs' Palace) is the biggest monument of the Shirvan-Absheron branch of architecture, situated in the Inner City of Baku. The complex contains the main building of the palace, Divanhane, the burial-vaults, the shah's mosque with a minaret, Seyid Yahya Bakuvi's mausoleum, a portal in the east – Murad's gate, a reservoir and the remnants of the bath-house. Shirvanshahs built many defensive castles across all of Shirvan to resist many foreign invasions. From the walled city of Baku with its Maiden Tower (XII) and many medieval castles in Absheron to impregnable strongholds all over mountains of Shirvan and Shaki, there are many great examples of medieval military architecture. Shirvanshahs Khalilullah I and Farrukh Yassar presided over most successful period in a history of Shirvan. Architectural complex of the Palace of the Shirvanshahs in Baku that was also a burial site of the dynasty and Halwatiyya Sufi khaneqa, was built during the reign of those two rulers in mid 15th centuries.

House of Shirvanshah

Portrait or Coat of arms Name From Until Relationship with predecessor
Shirvan gerb.png
Haytham I 861 ? appointed by Caliph Al-Mutawakkil as governor of Shirvan
Shirvan gerb.png
Muhammad I ? ? son of predecessor
Shirvan gerb.png
Haytham II ? around 913 son of predecessor
Shirvan gerb.png
Ali I 913 ? son of predecessor
Shirvan gerb.png
Muhammad II
Also Shah of Layzan
? 917 nephew of Haytham I
Shirvan gerb.png
Abu Tahir Yazid
Also Shah of Layzan
917 948 son of predecessor
Sirvansax mazyadi 1398.jpg

Coin of Muhammad III
Muhammad III
Also Shah of Layzan and Shah of Tabarsaran in 917–948
948 956 son of predecessor
Shirvan gerb.png
Ahmad I
Also Shah of Layzan in 948–956
956 981 son of predecessor
Shirvan gerb.png
Muhammad IV
Also Shah of Layzan in 956–981
986 991 son of predecessor
Shirvan gerb.png
Yazid III 991 1027 brother of predecessor
Shirvan gerb.png
Manuchehr I 1027 1034 son of predecessor
Shirvan gerb.png
Ali II 1034 1043 brother of predecessor
Shirvan gerb.png
Kubad 1043 1049 brother of predecessor
Shirvan gerb.png
Ali III Bukhtnassar 1049 1050 nephew of predecessor
Shirvan gerb.png
Salar 1050 1063 uncle of predecessor
Shirvan gerb.png
Fariburz I 1063 1096 son of predecessor
Shirvan gerb.png
Manuchehr II 1096 1106 son of predecessor
Shirvan gerb.png

Artwork of Afridun I
Afridun I the Martyr 1106 1120 brother of predecessor
Shirvan gerb.png
Manuchehr III 1120 1160 son of predecessor
Shirvan gerb.png
Afridun II 1160 1160 son of predecessor
Shirvan gerb.png
Akhsitan I 1160 1197 brother of predecessor
Shirvan gerb.png
Shahanshah 1197 1200 brother of predecessor
Shirvan gerb.png
Fariburz II 1200 1204 nephew of predecessor
Shirvan gerb.png
Farrukhzad 1204 1204 uncle of predecessor
Shirvan gerb.png
Gushtasb I 1204 1225 son of predecessor
Shirvan gerb.png
Fariburz III 1225 1243 son of predecessor
Shirvan gerb.png
Akhsitan II 1243 1260 son of predecessor
Shirvan gerb.png
Farrukhzad II 1260 1282 son of predecessor
Shirvan gerb.png
Akhsitan III 1282 1294 son of predecessor
Shirvan gerb.png
Keykavus I 1294 1317 son of predecessor
Shirvan gerb.png
Keykubad I 1317 1348 uncle of predecessor
Shirvan gerb.png
Kavus I 1348 1372 son of predecessor
Shirvan gerb.png
Hushang I 1372 1382 son of predecessor
Shirvan gerb.png
Ibrahim I 1382 1417 cousin of predecessor
Shirvan gerb.png
Khalilullah I 1417 1465 son of predecessor
Фаррух Ясар.jpg

Coin of Farrukh Yassar I
Farrukh Yassar I 1465 1500 son of predecessor
Shirvan gerb.png
Bahram 1501 1501 son of predecessor
Shirvan gerb.png
Gazi Beg 1501 1501 brother of predecessor
Shirvan gerb.png
Sultan Mahmud 1501 1502 son of predecessor
Shirvan gerb.png
Ibrahim II Sheykhshah 1502 1524 brother of predecessor
Shirvan gerb.png
Khalilullah II 1524 1535 son of predecessor
Shirvan gerb.png
Farrukh Yassar II 1535 1535 brother of predecessor
Shirvan gerb.png
Shahrukh of Shirvan 1535 1539 son of predecessor

See also


  1. ^ State historical architecture museum "The Shirvanshahs’ Palace" Archived 4 April 2015 at the Wayback Machine"Two lions and the head of the bull between them was the symbol of the Shirvanshahs. Lions symbolized the power and strength of the Shirvanshahs, the head of the bull symbolized abundance."
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Barthold, W., C.E. Bosworth "Shirwan Shah, Sharwan Shah. "Encyclopaedia of Islam. Edited by: P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. Brill, 2nd edition
  3. ^ a b c d e Bosworth, C.E. (11 February 2011). "ŠERVĀNŠAHS". Archived copy. Encyclopaedia Iranica, Online Edition. Archived from the original on 10 March 2013. Retrieved 21 March 2013.((cite encyclopedia)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ Tadeusz Swietochowski. Russia and Azerbaijan: A Borderland in Transition, Columbia University, 1995, p. 2, ISBN 0231070683: "In the fifteenth century a native Azeri state of Shirvanshahs flourished north of the Araxes."
  5. ^ a b c d e f g V. Minorsky, A History of Sharvan and Darband in the 10th–11th Centuries, Cambridge, 1958.
  6. ^ Encyclopedia Iranica, "Minorsky, Vladimir Fedorovich", C. E. BOSWORTH Archived 16 November 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ Жузе, П.К (1937). Мутагаллибы в Закавказьи в IX-X вв. (К истории феодализма в Закавказьи). p. 179.
  8. ^ Vladimir Minorsky. A History of Sharvan and Darband in the 10th-11th Centuries.
  10. ^ Abū al-Ḥasan, Masudi (2015). MEADOWS OF GOLD. TAYLOR & FRANCIS.
  11. ^ a b Ryzhov, K.V (2004). All the monarchs of the world. The Muslim East. VII-XV centuries. Veche.
  12. ^ a b "ŠERVĀN – Encyclopaedia Iranica". Retrieved 8 January 2021.
  13. ^ a b Barthold, W.; Bosworth, C. E. (24 April 2012). "S̲h̲īrwān S̲h̲āh". Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition.
  14. ^ Suny 1994, p. 39.
  15. ^ Luther, Kenneth Allin. "Atābākan-e Adārbāyĵān Archived 17 November 2016 at the Wayback Machine", in: Encyclopædia Iranica (Online edition). Retrieved 2006-06-26.
  16. ^ Lordkipanidze & Hewitt 1987, p. 148.
  17. ^ Fisher et al. 1986, pp. 212, 245.