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The Rise of the Turks

Iranian History - The Rise of the Turks

The Turks

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The Arab occupation of the ancient region of Sogdiana (now Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) brought them into direct contact with Turkic peoples for the first time.

The Turks were already diverse in their religious beliefs and many, though not all, embraced Islam. Large numbers were subsequently brought into the Arab world as slaves and soldiers of the Abbasids.

Though they lived a largely settled lifestyle in Iran, their nomadic origins endowed them with a ready mobility, a combative spirit, leadership qualities and great endurance as well as the elegant equestrian skill and dexterity as horseback archers that were to make them such a formidable military force.

Thus, in time, slave rose to peasant and mercenary to warlord. By the beginning of the 9th century, certain groups of Turks were threatening the authority of both the Caliphs in the west and the Samanids in the east.



Such was the rise in power of the Turks that, in 997, the Samanids, who were by this time weakened due to trade problems and internally fragmented, were forced to accept the rule of the Turkish general of the slave army Seb√ľktigin (r. 975-997) who had risen up and captured Ghazna and Kandahar as well as Khorasan and Balkh.

Seb√ľktigin was succeeded by his son Mahmud (r. 997-1030) who overthrew the Samanids in 998 and campaigned in all directions almost continuously throughout his reign. Quite apart from leading no less than seventeen lucrative expeditions into Northern India and Gujarat, Mahmud also initiated a Sunnite campaign against the Buyids, capturing Rey in 1029.

By the end of his reign, Mahmud presided over an empire stretching from Punjab in the southeast to Samarkand in the northeast and as far west as the Caspian Sea and Kurdistan.

Apart form being a formidable warrior, Mahmud will also be remembered as a learned man who brought many scholars and artists to his court including the father of the Persian language, the poet Ferdowsi.

Miniature painting from the Shahnameh by Ferdowsi.

A miniature painting from the Shahnameh by Ferdowsi showing the Parthian King Artaban facing the Sassanid King Ardashir I.



Ferdowsi reads the Shahnameh to king Mahmud of Ghazni.

Ferdowsi reads his epic poem the Shahnameh to King Mahmud of Ghazni.

But the death of Mahmud signalled the end of the best days of the Ghaznavid Empire and subsequent years saw a decline in power culminating in their defeat by the Seljuks in 1040.

Will Yong and Kazem Vafadari

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