Index of all articles, click here
The Hephthalite Khanate (also spelled Ephthalites) was a Central Asian nomadic confederation of the AD 5th–6th centuries whose precise origins and composition remain obscure. According to Chinese chronicles, they were originally a tribe living to the north of the Great Wall and were known as Hoa or Hoa-tun. Elsewhere they were called White Huns, known to the Greeks as Hephthalite and the Indians as the Sveta Huns/Turushkas. It is likely that they spoke an East Iranian language.
Although the Hephtalite empire was known in China as Yanda (??), Chinese chroniclers recognized this designated the leaders of the empire. The same sources document that the main tribe called themselves Uar (?). The modern Chinese variation Yanda has been given various Latinised renderings such as "Yeda", although the more archaic Korean pronunciation "Yeoptal" ?? is more compatible with the Greek Hephthal and is certainly a more archaic form.
According to B.A. Litvinsky, the names of the Hephtalite rulers used in the Shahnameh are Iranian. According to Xavier Tremblay, one of the Hephthalite rulers was named Khingila, which has the same root as the Sogdian word xn?r and the Wakhi word xi?g?r, meaning "sword". The name Mihirakula is thought to be derived from Mithra-kula which is Iranian for "Relier upon Mithra", and Toram?na is also considered to have an Iranian origin. Accordingly, in Sanskrit, "Mihirakula" would mean from the "Kul (family or race) of Mihir (Mithra or Sun)". Janos Harmatta gives the translation "Mithra's Begotten" and also supports the Iranian theory.
There are several theories regarding the origins of the White Huns, with the "Turkic" and "Indo-European Iranic" theories being the most prominent.
For many years, scholars suggested that they were of Turkic stock, and it seems likely that at least some groups amongst the Hephthalites were Turkic-speakers. In 1959, Kazuo Enoki proposed that they were probably East Indo-Iranians as some sources indicated that they were originally from Tokharestan, which is known to have been inhabited by Indo-Iranian people in antiquity. Richard Frye is cautiously accepting of Enoki's hypothesis, while at the same time stressing that the Hephthalites "were probably a mixed horde". More recently Xavier Tremblay's detailed examination of surviving Hephthalite personal names has indicated that Enoki's hypothesis that they were East Iranian may well be correct, but the matter remains unresolved in academic circles.
According to the Encyclopaedia Iranica and Encyclopaedia of Islam, the Hephthalites possibly originated in northeastern Iran and northwestern India. They apparently had no direct connection with the European Huns, but may have been causally related with their movement. It is noteworthy that the tribes in question deliberately called themselves Huns in order to frighten their enemies.
Some White Huns may have been a prominent tribe or clan of the Chionites. According to Richard Nelson Frye:
Just as later nomadic empires were confederations of many peoples, we may tentatively propose that the ruling groups of these invaders were, or at least included, Turkic-speaking tribesmen from the east and north. Although most probably the bulk of the people in the confederation of Chionites and then Hephtalites spoke an Iranian language... this was the last time in the history of Central Asia that Iranian-speaking nomads played any role; hereafter all nomads would speak Turkic languages.
The 6th-century Byzantine historian Procopius of Caesarea (Book I. ch. 3), related them to the Huns in Europe:
The Ephthalitae Huns, who are called White Huns [...] The Ephthalitae are of the stock of the Huns in fact as well as in name, however they do not mingle with any of the Huns known to us, for they occupy a land neither adjoining nor even very near to them; but their territory lies immediately to the north of Persia [...] They are not nomads like the other Hunnic peoples, but for a long period have been established in a goodly land.
Scholars believe that the name Hun is used to denote very different nomadic confederations. Ancient Chinese chroniclers, as well as Procopius, wrote various theories about the origins of the people:
They were first mentioned by the Chinese, who described them as living in Dzungaria around AD 125. Chinese chronicles state that they were originally a tribe of the Yuezhi, living to the north of the Great Wall, and subject to the Rouran (Jwen-Jwen), as were some Turkic peoples at the time. Their original name was Hoa or Hoa-tun; subsequently they named themselves Ye-tha-i-li-to (?????, or more briefly Ye-tha ??), after their royal family, which descended from one of the five Yuezhi families which also included the Kushan.
They displaced the Scythians and conquered Sogdiana and Khorasan before AD 425. After that, they crossed the Syr Darya (Jaxartes) River and invaded Persia. In Persia, they were initially held off by Bahram Gur but around AD 483–85, they succeeded in making Persia a tributary state by defeating the Sassanid forces at the Battle of Herat where they killed the Sassanid king, Peroz I. After a series of wars in the period AD 503–513, they were driven out of Persia and completely defeated in AD 557 by Khosrau I. Their polity thereafter came under the Göktürks.
The Hephtalites also invaded the regions of present-day Afghanistan and Pakistan, continuing deep into Northern India and succeeded in extending their domain to include the Western India. They were driven out of India in 528 AD by a Hindu coalition consisting of Gupta emperor Narasimhagupta and the king Yashodharman from Malwa.
Procopius claims that the White Huns lived in a prosperous territory, and that they were the only Huns with fair complexions. According to him, they did not live as nomads, did acknowledge a single king, observed a well-regulated constitution, and behaved justly towards neighboring states. He also describes the burial of their nobles in tumuli, accompanied by their closest associates. This practice contrasts with evidence of cremation among the Chionites in Ammianus and with remains found by excavators of the European Huns and remains in some deposits ascribed to the Chionites in Central Asia. Scholars believe that the Hephthalites constituted a second "Hunnish" wave who entered Bactria early in the fifth century AD, and who seem to have driven the Kidarites into Gandhara.
Newly-discovered ancient writings found in Afghanistan reveal that the Middle Iranian Bactrian language written in Greek script was not brought there by the Hephthalites, but was already present from Kushan times as the traditional language of administration in this region. There is also evidence of the use of a Turkic language under the White Huns. The Bactrian documents also attest several Turkic royal titles (such as Khagan), indicating an important influence of Turkic people on White Huns, although these could also be explained by later Turkic infiltration south of the Oxus.
According to Simokattes, they were Chionites who united under the Hephthalites as the "(Wusun) vultures descended on the people" around AD 460.
The main religion in the Hephthalite empire was Buddhism. Balkh had some 100 Buddhist monasteries and 3,000 monks. "Outside the town was a large Buddhist monastery, later known as Naubahar" Termez had 10 sangharamas (monasteries) and perhaps 1,000 monks.
According to Xuanzang the capital of Chaghaniyan had five Buddhist monasteries
Mihirakula, one of the last Hephthalite rulers, embraced Hinduism and was a worshipper of Shiva.
White Huns in South Asia
In the northwest of the Indian subcontinent, the Hephtalites were not distinguished from their immediate Chionite predecessors and are known by the same name as Huna (Sanskrit: Sveta-H?na, White Huns). The Huna had already established themselves in Afghanistan and the modern North-West Frontier Province of present day Pakistan by the first half of the fifth century, and the Gupta emperor Skandagupta had repelled a H?na invasion in 455 before the Hephthalite clan came along.
The Hephthalites with their capital at Bamiyan continued the pressure on ancient India's northwest frontier and broke east by the end of the fifth century, hastening the disintegration of the Gupta Empire. They made their capital at the city of Sakala, modern Sialkot in Pakistan, under their Emperor Mihirakula. They were driven out of India in AD 528 by a Hindu coalition consisting of Gupta emperor Narasimhagupta and the king Yashodharman from Malwa.
After the sixth century, little is recorded in ancient India about the Hephthalites, and what happened to them is unclear.
The last Hephthalite King, Yudhishthira, ruled until about 670, when he was replaced by the Turk Shahi dynasty.
Hephthalites are among the ancestors of modern-day Pashtuns and in particular of the Abdali Pashtun tribe. According to the academic Yu. V. Gankovsky,
The Pashtuns began as a union of largely East-Iranian tribes which became the initial ethnic stratum of the Pashtun ethnogenesis, dates from the middle of the first millennium CE and is connected with the dissolution of the Epthalite (White Huns) confederacy. [...] Of the contribution of the Epthalites (White Huns) to the ethnogenesis of the Pashtuns we find evidence in the ethnonym of the largest of the Pashtun tribe unions, the Abdali (Durrani after 1747) associated with the ethnic name of the Epthalites — Abdal. The Siah-posh, the Kafirs (Nuristanis) of the Hindu Kush, called all Pashtuns by a general name of Abdal still at the beginning of the 19th century.
Umberto Eco's novel Baudolino makes reference to the "White Huns", portrayed as a fearsome warrior race.
Eric Flint's Belisarius series makes frequent reference to Ye Tai warriors.
The Timurids (Persian: ?????????), self-designated Gurk?n?  (Persian: ????????), were a Persianate, Central Asian Sunni Muslim dynasty of Turco-Mongol lineage whose Timurid Empire included the whole of Iran, modern Afghanistan, and modern Central Asia, as well as large parts of contemporary Pakistan, Mesopotamia, Anatolia and the Caucasus. It was founded by the militant conqueror Timur (Tamerlane) in the 14th century.
The Timurids lost control of most of Persia to the Safavid dynasty in 1501, but members of the dynasty continued to rule parts of Central Asia, sometimes known as the Timurid Emirates. In the 16th century, the Timurid prince Babur, ruler of Ferghana, invaded present-day Pakistan and North India and founded the Mughal Empire. This came to rule most of North India until its decline after Aurangzeb in the early 18th century, and was formally dissolved by the British Raj after the Indian rebellion of 1857. Later princes of the dynasty predominantly used the title Mirza to show descent from the Amir.
The origin of the Timurid dynasty goes back to the Mongol tribe known as Barlas, who were remnants of the original Mongol army of Genghis Khan. After the Mongol conquest of Central Asia, the Barlas settled in what is today southern Kazakhstan, from Shymkent to Taraz and Almaty, which then came to be known for a time as Moghulistan - "Land of Mongols" in Persian - and intermingled to a considerable degree with the local Turkic and Turkic-speaking population, so that at the time of Timur's reign the Barlas had become thoroughly Turkicized in terms of language and habits.
Additionally, by adopting Islam, the Central Asian Turks and Mongols adopted the Persian literary and high culture which had dominated Central Asia since the early days of Islamic influence. Persian literature was instrumental in the assimilation of the Timurid elite to the Perso-Islamic courtly culture.
Rise and fall
Timur conquered large parts of Transoxiana (in modern day Central Asia) and Khorasan (parts of modern day Afghanistan, Iran, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan) from 1363 onwards with various alliances (Samarkand in 1366, and Balkh in 1369), and was recognized as ruler over them in 1370. Acting officially in the name of the Mongol Chagatai ulus, he subjugated Transoxania and Khwarazm in the years that followed and began a campaign westwards in 1380. By 1389, he had removed the Kartids from Herat and advanced into mainland Persia. Timur had many successes in Persia: the capture of Isfahan in 1387, the removal of the Muzaffarids from Shiraz in 1393, and the expulsion of the Jalayirids from Baghdad. In 1394/95, he triumphed over the Golden Horde and enforced his sovereignty in the Caucasus. He subjugated Multan and Dipalpur in modern day Pakistan in 1398, and in modern day India left Delhi in such ruin that it is said for two months "not a bird moved wing in the city". In 1400/01 he conquered Aleppo, Damascus and eastern Anatolia; in 1401 he destroyed Baghdad and in 1402 triumphed over the Ottomans at Ankara. In addition, he transformed Samarkand into a major capital. An estimated 17 million people may have died from his conquests.
Timur appointed his sons and grandsons to the main governorships of the different parts of his empire, and outsiders to some others. After his death, the family quickly fell into disputes and civil wars, and many of the governorships became effectively independent. However, Timurid rulers continued to dominate Persia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and much of Central Asia, though the Anatolian and Caucasian territories were lost by the 1430s. Timur gave the north Indian territories to a non-family member—a governor who founded the Sayyid dynasty of the Sultanate of Dehli—who remained vassals for a period but became essentially independent. Due to the fact that the Persian cities were desolated by wars, the seat of Persian culture was now in Samarkand and Herat. These cities became the center of the Timurid renaissance.
After the end of the Timurid Empire in 1506, the Mughal Empire was later established in Afghanistan and India by Babur in 1526, who was a descendant of Timur through his father and possibly a descendant of Genghis Khan through his mother. The dynasty he established is commonly known as the Mughal Dynasty. By the 17th century, the Mughal Empire ruled most of India, but later declined during the 18th century. The Timurid Dynasty came to an end in 1857, after the Mughal Empire was dissolved by the British Empire and Bahadur Shah II was exiled to Burma.
Although the Timurids hailed from the Barlas tribe which was of Turkicized Mongol origin, they had embraced Persian culture, converted to Islam and resided in Turkestan and Khorasan. Thus, the Timurid era had a dual character, which reflected both the Turco-Mongol origins and the Persian literary, artistic, and courtly high culture of the dynasty.
During the Timurid era, Central Asian society was bifurcated and had divided the responsibilities of government and rule into military and civilian along ethnic lines. At least in the early stages, the military was almost exclusively Turko-Mongolian, and the civilian and administrative element was almost exclusively Persian. The spoken language shared by all the Turko-Mongolians throughout the area was Chaghatay. The political organization hearkened back to the steppe-nomadic system of patronage introduced by Genghis Khan. The major language of the period, however, was Persian, the native language of the T?j?k (Persian) component of society and the language of learning acquired by all literate and/or urban people. Already Timur was steeped in Persian culture and in most of the territories which he incorporated, Persian was the primary language of administration and literary culture. Thus the language of the settled "diwan" was Persian, and its scribes had to be thoroughly adept in Persian culture, whatever their ethnic origin. Persian became the official state language of the Timurid Empire and served as the language of administration, history, belles lettres, and poetry. The Chaghatay language was the native and "home language" of the Timurid family while Arabic served as the language par excellence of science, philosophy, theology and the religious sciences.
Persian: Persian literature, especially Persian poetry occupied a central place in the process of assimilation of the Timurid elite to the Perso-Islamic courtly culture. The Timurid sultans, especially Š?hrukh M?rz? and his son Mohammad Taragai Olo? Beg, patronized Persian culture. Among the most important literary works of the Timurid era is the Persian biography of Timur, known as "Zafarn?meh" (Persian: ????????), written by Sharaf ud-D?n Al? Yazd?, which itself is based on an older "Zafarn?meh" by Niz?m al-D?n Sh?m?, the official biographer of Timur during his lifetime. The most famous poet of the Timurid era was N?r ud-D?n J?m?, the last great medieval Sufi mystic of Persia and one of the greatest in Persian poetry. In addition, some of the astronomical works of the Timurid sultan Ulugh Beg were written in Persian, although the bulk of it was published in Arabic. The Timurid ruler Baysun?ur also commissioned a new edition of the Persian national epic Sh?hn?meh, known as Sh?hn?meh of Baysun?ur, and wrote an introduction to it. According to T. Lenz:
“It can be viewed as a specific reaction in the wake of Timur's death in 807/1405 to the new cultural demands facing Shahhrokh and his sons, a Turkic military elite no longer deriving their power and influence solely from a charismatic steppe leader with a carefully cultivated linkage to Mongol aristocracy. Now centered in Khorasan, the ruling house regarded the increased assimilation and patronage of Persian culture as an integral component of efforts to secure the legitimacy and authority of the dynasty within the context of the Islamic Iranian monarchical tradition, and the Baysanghur Shahnameh, as much a precious object as it is a manuscript to be read, powerfully symbolizes the Timurid conception of their own place in that tradition. A valuable documentary source for Timurid decorative arts that have all but disappeared for the period, the manuscript still awaits a comprehensive monographic study."
Chagatay: The Timurids also played a very important role in the history of Turkic literature. Based on the established Persian literary tradition, a national Turkic literature was developed in the Chagatay language. Chagatay poets such as M?r Al? Sher Naw?'?, Sultan Husayn B?yqar?, and Z?her ud-D?n B?bur encouraged other Turkic-speaking poets to write in their own vernacular in addition to Arabic and Persian. The B?burn?ma, the autobiography of B?bur (although being highly Persianized in its sentence structure, morphology, and vocabulary), as well as M?r Al? Sher Naw?'?'s Chagatay poetry are among the best-known Turkic literary works and have influenced many others.
During the reign of the Timurids, the golden age of Persian painting was ushered. During this period — and analogous to the developments in Safavid Persia — Chinese art and artists had a significant influence on Persian art. Timurid artists refined the Persian art of the book, which combines paper, calligraphy, illumination, illustration and binding in a brilliant and colourful whole. It was the Mongol ethnicity of the Chaghatayid and Timurid Khans that is the source of the stylistic depiction Persian art during the Middle Ages. These same Mongols intermarried with the Persians and Turks of Central Asia, even adopting their religion and languages. Yet their simple control of the world at that time, particularly in the 13–15th centuries, reflected itself in the idealised appearance of Persians as Mongols. Though the ethnic make-up gradually blended into the Iranian and Mesopotamian local populations, the Mongol stylism continued well after, and crossed into Asia Minor and even North Africa.
In the realm of architecture, the Timurids drew on and developed many Seljuq traditions. Turquoise and blue tiles forming intricate linear and geometric patterns decorated the facades of buildings. Sometimes the interior was decorated similarly, with painting and stucco relief further enriching the effect. Timurid architecture is the pinnacle of Islamic art in Central Asia. Spectacular and stately edifices erected by Timur and his successors in Samarkand and Herat helped to disseminate the influence of the Ilkhanid school of art in India, thus giving rise to the celebrated Mughal (or Mongol) school of architecture. Timurid architecture started with the sanctuary of Ahmed Yasawi in present-day Kazakhstan and culminated in Timur's mausoleum Gur-e Amir in Samarkand. Timur's Gur-I Mir, the 14th-century mausoleum of the conqueror is covered with ‘’turquoise Persian tiles’’ Nearby, in the center of the ancient town, a Persian style Madrassa (religious school) and a Persian style Mosque by Ulugh Beg is observed. The mausoleum of Timurid princes, with their turquoise and blue-tiled domes remain among the most refined and exquisite Persian architecture. Axial symmetry is a characteristic of all major Timurid structures, notably the Sh?h-e Zenda in Samarkand, the Musallah complex in Herat, and the mosque of Gowhar Sh?d in Mashhad. Double domes of various shapes abound, and the outsides are perfused with brilliant colors. Timur's dominance of the region strengthened the influence of his capital and Persian architecture upon India.
The Tahirid dynasty (Persian: ????? ????????) was a Persian dynasty that governed the Abbasid province of Khorasan from 821 to 873, and the city of Baghdad from 820 until 891. The dynasty was founded by Tahir ibn Husayn, a leading general in the service of the Abbasid caliph al-Ma'mun. Their capital in Khorasan was initially located at Merv, but later moved to Nishapur. The Tahirids enjoyed a high degree of autonomy in their governance of Khorasan, although they remained subject to the Abbasid caliphate and were not independent rulers.
Governors of Khorasan
The founder of the Tahirid dynasty was Tahir ibn Husayn, a general who had played a major role in the civil war between the rival caliphs al-Amin and al-Ma'mun. He and his ancestors had previously been awarded minor governorships in eastern Khorasan for their service to the Abbasids. In 821, Tahir was made governor of Khorasan, but he died soon afterwards. The caliph then appointed Tahir's son, Talha, whose governorship lasted from 822–828. Tahir's other son, Abdullah, was instated as the wali of Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula, and when Talha died in 828 he was given the governorship of Khorasan. Abdullah is considered one of the greatest of the Tahirid rulers for the dynasty witnessed in his reign flourishing agriculture in his native land of Khorasan, popularity among the populations of the eastern lands of the Abbasid caliphate and extending influence due to his experience with the western parts of caliphate.
Abdullah died in 845 and was succeeded by his son Tahir (II). Not much is known of Tahir's rule, but the administrative dependency of Sistan was lost to rebels during his governorship. Tahirid rule began to seriously deteriorate after Tahir's son Muhammad ibn Tahir became governor, due to his carelessness with the affairs of the state and lack of experience with politics. Oppressive policies in Tabaristan, another dependency of Khorasan, resulted in the people of that province revolting and declaring their allegiance to the independent Zaydi ruler Hasan ibn Zayd in 864. In Khorasan itself, Muhammad's rule continued to grow increasingly weak, and in 873 he was finally overthrown by the Saffarid dynasty, who annexed Khorasan to their own empire in eastern Persia.
Governors of Baghdad
Besides their hold over Khorasan, the Tahirids also served as the military governors (ashab al-shurta) of Baghdad, beginning with Tahir's appointment to that position in 820. After he left for Khorasan, the governorship of Baghdad was given to a member of a collateral branch of the family, Ishaq ibn Ibrahim, who controlled the city for over twenty-five years. During Ishaq's term as governor, he was responsible for implementing the Mihna (inquisition) in Baghdad. His administration also witnessed the departure of the caliphs from Baghdad, as they made the recently-constructed city of Samarra their new capital. When Ishaq died in 849 he was succeeded first by two of his sons, and then in 851 by Tahir's grandson Muhammad ibn Abdullah.
Abdullah played a major role in the events of the caliphate in the 860s, giving refuge to the caliph al-Musta'in and commanding the defense of Baghdad when it was besieged by the forces of the rival caliph al-Mu'tazz in 865. The following year, he forced al-Musta'in to abdicate and recognized al-Mu'tazz as caliph, and in exchange was allowed to retain his control over Baghdad. Violent riots plagued Baghdad during the last years of Abdullah's life, and conditions in the city remained tumultuous after he died and was succeeded by his brothers, first Ubaydullah and then Sulayman. Eventually order was restored in Baghdad, and the Tahirids continued to serve as governors of the city for another two decades. In 891, however, Badr al-Mu'tadidi was put in charge of the security of Baghdad in place of the Tahirids, and the family soon lost their prominence within the caliphate after that.
This article uses material from the Wikipedia article "Hephthalite", "Timurid dynasty" and "Tahirid dynasty", which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.