Azerbaijan in the 3rd – in the beginning of the 7th centuries



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AZERBAIJAN in the 3rd – in the beginning of the 7th centuries

Emergence of feudalism in Azerbaijan. Beginning from 3rd century AD Azerbaijan was included into the sphere of influence of the Sasanian empire. The feudal relations in Azerbaijan began to form in this period. On the whole territory of Sasanian empire, including Atropatena and Albania feudal relations developed in similar way. The lands were initially in the possession of the shah, religious institutions and slaveholders. Part of the lands was in the ownership of rural (village) communities. But communal lands gradually were appropriated (grabbed) by the feudal lords. It led to the accelerating of the feudalism system. This process especially strengthened in 6th century when the sassanian shah Khosrou I Anushirvan appropriated all the lands which didn’t have owners and then he granted these lands to the feudal lords instead of military service.

Feudal land ownership existed in 2 basic forms:



  1. hereditary land ownership form called “dastakert”. Dastakert belonged to the grand feudal lords – “patriks”;

  2. conditional land ownership form called “khostak”. It belonged to the “dehgans” in Atropatena and to the “azads” in Albania.

It should be noted that feudal system in Azerbaijan differed from the one in Europe by the next features:

1) feudal lords in Azerbaijan had almost no own farms because it was unprofitable and very expensive in the conditions of the economy which based on an artificial irrigation;

2) there wasn’t total serfdom system in Azerbaijan. The exception were the manors of the Albanian Christian feudal lords in the upper Garabagh region;

3) feudalism in Azerbaijan arose earlier than in Europe (in Azerbaijan in 3rd century while in Europe in 5th century) but lasted longer up to the 19th century while in Europe it was already decayed in 17th century.



Including of Azerbaijan into the sphere of influence of the Sassanian empire.

Ardeshir Babakan from dynasty of Sasan defeated the last Arsacid king of Parthia Artabanus in the battle at Susiana in 224. Two years later in 226 Ardashir founded the Sasanid Empire with the capital in Ctesiphon. In 227 year Atropatena was subdued by the Sasanids and ruled by the marzban. Ardebil and Tabriz were summer and winter residences of the governors of Atropatena. The major Zoroastrian temples were in Atropatena. The Zoroastrian temple in Gazaka was the main ideological and educational center of Zoroastrism as it was before. To resist to spreading of Christianity and to strengthen his power shakhinshah Shapur I (241-272) ordered to spread Zoroastrism forcibly.

The Sasanian rulers conducted the resettlement policy which aimed:


  1. to create an ethnic base on the territory of subduing countries

  2. to provide landless Iranian peasants with lands.

These immigrants known as “tat” settled Absheron peninsula, district of Shamakhy, Guba, Ismailly (Lahich).

Albania was subdued by the Sasanian shah Shapur I (241-272) in 262 though Albanian governor Vache I (255-262) preferred the union with Rome. But in the battle at Edessa in 260 the Roman emperor Valerian was defeat and taken prisoner by Shapour. The rock relief at Nagsh-e Rustam has the inscription which informed about submission Albania to Sassanian empire. Although after death of Shapur I in 272 year Albania began to spend independent policy and approached with the Roman emperor Avrelian.

During the reign of Shapur II (309-379) the governor of Paitakaran province Sanaturk (290-338) pursued a policy of preservation of independence of Albania. He put strong resistance to aggressive aspirations of Armenia and Rome and prevented spreading Christianity. In 337 year Sanaturk attacked Armenia and captured its capital Valarshapata. But in 338 year Sanaturk was defeated in the battle with the Armenian commander Vache Mamikonian. According to the agreement with Sanaturk the northern tribes of Huns, Basils within 4 years protected Albania from the Armenian invasion.

Sassanian-Rome wars and Albania. In the military campaign organized by Shapur II against Rome the Albanian king Urnayr fought on the side of the Sasanids. In the battle at Amid in 359 the Sasanids defeat on Rome and in result the Albanian provinces of Artsah (Garabagh), the country of the Mars (Nakhchyvan) were won back. But in the battle at Dzirav in 371 the Sasanids were defeated. Urnayr was wounded; Albania lost the areas of Uti, Sakasena, Girdiman valley and Colt. These areas were returned to Albania in 387 according to the treaty between the Sasanian Empire and Rome.

Anti-sasanian revolts in Albania. The sasanian shahs spread Zoroastrian religion by force. Yezdegird II forced the Albanian king Vache II to convert Zoroastrizm. Christians of South Caucasus made rising against Sassanids. In 450 in Khalkhal battle the rebels defeated by sassanids army.

But in 451 sassanid force with support of hun tribies was victorious over the rebels. After Yezdegird’s II death Vache renounced Zoroastrizm and accepted Christianity again. Together with the 11 Caucasian governors he opposed the new Sasanian shah Firuz. Shah Firuz called the Haylandur (Onogur) Huns for invading Albania in 462. In this situation Vache II had to give up the power and the king authority in Albania was disposed for the 30 years. Musa Kalangatly noted that after Vache II Albania remained without the governor within 30 years. In the period of 463-493 Albania was governed by the Sasanian marzbans.

The revolt against the Sasanids occurred in Southern Caucasus including Albania in 481-484. Nvarsak treaty was signed in 485 by shah Balash which provided a number of privileges to the South Caucasian people. In 493 the albanian dynasty of Arsacids was restored on the Albanian throne. Vachagan III the Blissful (493-510) came to the power. He encouraged spreading Christianity in Albania and organized Aguen church council in 498 with participation of 10 Christian religious figures. Aguen council adopted the cannons which concerned Christianity and set up taxes size. Nevertheless, Christianity couldn't become stronger in Albania. The reign of the Albanian Arsacid dynasty was ceased by the Sassanids in 510. Albania began to be ruled again by the Sassanian marzbans up to the establishment of Mihranid dynasty (510-629).

Albania under Mihranid dynasty. In the beginning of the 7th cent. the Mihranids dynasty came to power in Albania. The dynasty was founded by Mihran who was a distant relative of the Sasanid shah Khosrau II. Mihran was accused of being involvement in murder of shah’s father. He escaped from Iran and settled in the Albanian province Uti. Later he moved to Girdiman. Shah Khosrau being afraid that Mihran could conclude union with the Khazars forgave him. Although Mihran was considered to be originated from the Turkish tribe of Sabirs settled the Girdiman province since the 70-s of the 6th cent. Having killed 12 persons from the local nobility Mihran became ruler of this province. His successors managed to strengthen more their power. Varaz Grigor was the first of the Mihranids who assumed the title of king over all of Albania. Thus, ruling of the Mihranid dynasty (629-705) in Albania began.

The most prominent ruler of Mihranid dynasty was Javanshir - Varaz Grigor’s son. In 633 the Arabian armies started war against the Sasanian Empire and Varaz Grigor sent the Albanian troops led by Javanshir to fight against the Arabs on the side of the Sasanids. Albanian historian Musa Qalankatli noted that Javanshir and his group of soldiers fought for seven years against the Arabs. During this time, Javanshir proved to be a brave soldier and a talented warlord. The Sasanian Shah Iezdigerd III especially recognized Javanshir’s merits and awarded him with gold belt, decorated in pearls, and a sword with a gold handle for courage in the battle at Qadisiyyah in 636. Javanshir at the head of his troops numbering 3000 warriors also participated in the battle for the capital of the Sassanids Ctesiphon in 638. After the Sassanian army suffered defeat Javanshir returned to Albania in 640. Javanshir became the governor of Albania in 642 at the age of 21 years.

First of all Javanshir defeated and drove out of Albania the Iranian feudal lords who had invaded and plundered the country. Khazars and Byzantium also threatened Albania. Javanshir concluded an alliance with Byzantium. He met with the Byzantine emperor Constantine II two times and was recognized by him as the governor of Albania which covered the territory from the borders of Iberia up to Araz river and «Hunnic gate» (Derbent). The emperor sent a precious gift and named Javanshir the king of Albania.

In 662 Albania was faced with the invasion of Khazars. The Khazars reached the river Kura, where Albanian troops defeated them and forced them to retreat from Albania. A few years later (665), the Khazars invaded again and reached the river Araz. Javanshir was compelled to enter into negotiations with Khazars. He met with the Khazars’ khagan at the bank of Kura and concluded peace agreement with him. Albania was obliged to pay annual tribute and Khazars returned all captives and herds (cattles). Besides, Javanshir was married to Khazar Khakan’s daughter.

With the expansion of the Arab conquests the alliance with Byzantium was no longer significant for Albania. Byzantium was much weaker than the Arab Caliphate while Albania needed a strong ally for protection against the attacks of Khazars. In this situation Javanshir had to recognize the Caliph’s suzerainty. He visited Damascus the capital of Caliphate two times (667, 670) and was met by the caliph Muawiyah with solemnity. Caliph officially recognized Javanshir as king of Albania. Thanks to the diplomatic talents as well as his personal qualities Javanshir set up friendly relations with the Caliph. According to the agreement with Caliphate Albania could save its internal independence and cut down the sum of annual tribute to one third (1/3). Besides, the Syunik province was handed over to rule of Javanshir. Caliph presented Javanshir by an elephant and 52 light-footed horses. Javanshir was assassinated by the rival nobles in 680. Musa Kalangatli wrote that Javanshir built many palaces and temples in Barda at the capital of Albania and in other cities.
The problems of Azerbaijan history during Caliphate period

Islamic conquest of Azerbaijan

THE INCLUSION OF AZERBAIJAN INTO THE CALIPHATE

Annex of Azerbaijan by Arabians. The administrative system in the period of Caliphate.

After the Arabs defeated the Sassanids in the battles of Nihavend and Hamadan in 642, they entered Azerbaijan. In the battle near Ardabil marzban of Azerbaijan Isfendiyar was defeated and taken prisoner. Thereafter Isfendiyar’s brother Bahram continued fight against the Arabs but he also was defeated by the Arab commander Ukba Ibn Farkada. Isfendiyar was compelled to conclude treaty with the Arab commander Bukeyr under the following conditions:

1. population of Azerbaijan (with the exception of women, children, poor) was obliged to pay taxes also capitation tax jizya;

2. the Arabs pledged not to interfere with religion, traditions and customs of the local population;

3. those persons who had not subdued to the Arabs, were allowed to leave the country;

4. persons who voluntarily served in the Arab Army, were exempted from taxes.

Thereafter, Bukeyr having taken Mugan and the West coast of the Caspian sea reached Derbent. In Shirvan Bukeyr also signed a treaty with the ruler of Shirvan Shahriyar. After the departure of the Arabs from Ardabil, a rebellion broke out here but was put down by the new Arab Army. In 646 the Arabs renewed the treaty under the tougher terms.

In 643 the Arabs led by Abdurrahman reached Balanjar north to Derbent where the battle with the Khazars took place. The Khazars won a victory and killed Abdurrahman. The new Arab army under the command of Salman Ibn Rabia was sent. The Arabs invaded Nakhchivan and Gerus, captured Beylagan and Barda and concluded the treaty with the local population having obliged them to pay kharaj. Having subdued Shamkir, Sheki, Shirvan, Shabran and Derbent the Arabs in Balanjar once again encountered the Khazars in 653. This time as well the Arab army was defeated and Salman fell in the battle.

The Arab-Khazar war which began in the 8th centure lasted approximately a hundred years. In 730 the Khazars invaded Azerbaijan as far as Ardabil. In a fierce battle near Savalan mount the Khazaras won a brilliant victory. Then they moved to the town of Hilat in Asia Minor. Near the Lake Van the Arabs managed to crush the Khazars and drive them out of Azerbaijan. Thereafter, part of the Khazar concluded peace with the Arabs and accepted Islam. During the reign of Harun Al-Rashid (786-809) in the 790’s Azerbaijan was again invaded by the Khazars.

In the middle of 7th century Azerbaijan was conquered by the Arabian Caliphate. Because Arabs didn’t have sufficient experience in state governance system they inherited political traditions and methods of governance from the Sasanian Empire. The territory of the Caliphate was divided into the emirates like marzbans in Sasanian empire. Initially there were 5 emirates in Caliphate. Later the number of emirates increased to 14. Azerbaijan firstly entered into the 4th emirate, later into the 3rd. The territory of Azerbaijan in this period stretched from Derbent in the north to Hamadan in the south.



Islamization of Azerbaijan. The Arabs attracted the population to Islam by the such methods as fair treatment, rendering privileges, concluding peace treaties, etc. Besides, the amounts of taxes imposed by the early Caliphate were lower in comparison to the Sassanids. Acceptance of a single religion of Islam had progressive role in the destiny of Azerbaijani people. Islam contributed to the political stability and national unity in Azerbaijan. The new religion was more humane and fair. The poor accepted Islam voluntarily because it was profitable for them. Islam spread In Southern and Northern Azerbaijan in the short time, except for the Mountainous Garabagh. The population of the mountainous and highland areas populated by Christians, resisted the new religion. Islam also gave an impetus to the cultural development and promoted the formation of a single Azerbaijani nation.

Resettlement policy. Like the Sassanian empire the Arabian Caliphate conducted resettlement policy which aimed to create a reliable etnic basis and assimilate the local population into Arabs. Tens thousand families from Basra, Kufa, Syria and Arabian Peninsula moved in Azerbaijan. They were granted by the privileges and lands.

Local administration. Emirates were ruled by the emirs appointed by the Caliph. He possessed of whole civil and military authority in emirate. Amil dealt with the civil cases and tax collection (taxation). Qazi was the head of judicial department. Qazi also managed the vakuf lands. The postal system “baril” was developed in Caliphate for maintenance of a regular line of communication between the center and the remote districts of the empire.

Military forces were deployed (took place) in the strategically important cities or border regions for repelling aggression (reflection attacks) from Khazars or Byzantium. They were also used for suppression of revolts. The military forces were in the 3 forms:

  • the army formed from Arabs;

  • the troops formed from the local population converted into Islam religion. These troops called “movla”;

  • the Christian volunteers who served in the Arabian army. They were called “zimmi”.

Tax policy. Arabs adopted the Sassanian tax system as well. Although unlike the Sassanids Arabs levied taxes not from individuals but from the country. Initially there were 2 main forms of tax in the Caliphate: “kharaj” – tax for land and “jizye” – capitation. Jizye was paid by non-muslim population. The Christian church was allowed not pay taxes because Caliphate expected to use church in keeping the Christians under control.

Caliph Ali (656-661) who was known as “Islam support” carried out the fair tax reform. This reform aimed to the rational cultivation of land rather than to the collection of kharaj. According to this reform non-arable lands were not exposed to the taxation.

During the reign of the Omeyyad dynasty in 725 the population census was taken. The cattle and lands in Azerbaijan also were inventoried and additional taxes were input. It led to impoverishment not only poor men, but also small and average feudal lords. During the reign of the Abbasid dynasty tax policy became tougher, because as cultivated lands as non-arable lands were exposed to the taxation. Caliph al-Mansur for his cupidity was nicknamed as «the father of money». Under Harun ar-Rahid everybody having reached at the age of 15 was obliged to pay taxes. Besides of kharaj and jizya there were such taxes as “khums”, “zakat”

There were 5 forms of land ownership in Azerbaijan in Caliphate period:

1. the dominant form was state lands, they also called as “divan” or “caliph” lands;

2. “igta” was the conditional form or land ownership which granted for military service. There were 2 form of igta – presented igta and rented igta;

3. “mulk” was hereditary form or land ownership. Mulks were in possession of the local feudal lords “maliks”;

4. “vakuf” lands which were in possession of religious institutions. Vakuf lands couldn’t be sold or transformed into a private property;

5. “ijma” lands which were in possession of rural communities.



The freedom movement against Abbasid Caliphate. Babek.

Taxes policy and arbitrariness of bureaucrats in Caliphate increased dissatisfaction among people. Removal of local feudal from administration and depriving of privileges resulted in feudal joined to people and ruled the uprisings . Uprisings against Omayyad dynasty were intensified both in the centre of country and in dependent countries in the middle of 8th centuries. The main members of uprisings in the centre were people who served religious sect called khariji. It was difficult to cope with them because rebellions occurred at the same time. Uprising against Caliphate in Azerbaijan were enlarged in 748-752 years. Rebellion in 748 in Beylagan that ruled by butcher Musafir was enlarged to Barda and Ardebil. Rebels took Arab emir as prisoner. The new emir that sent by Caliph suppressed the uprising. There were 15 uprisings during the reign of caliph Harun ar-Rashid in Azerbaijan.

The first uprisings of Hurramites took place in 778 and in 808. The Hurramites were fighting against the Arabs and their policy of Islamisation long before the appearance of Babek. The Hurramites' religion was based on the Mazdakism doctrines. It preached the existence of a constant conflict between good and evil, and between light and darkness. All his life Babek fought against the Caliphate and tried to restore the ancient Zoroastrian and Mazdakism beliefs. His real name was Hasan but later he accept the name Babek. His farther who was named Abdulla lived in Azerbaijan and made his living by selling oil. Abdulla was murdered by robbers. In order to make a living for his mother and little brother Hasan had to work as a shepherd already at the age of 10.

There was a Hurramit organization in his home town Bilalabad led by a wealthy man Javidan ibn Sukhrak who lived in the Baaz fortress. Javidan was engaged in a conflict with his neighbour feudal Abu Imran. When Javidan was killed in fight against Abu Imran in 816, his wife declared that Javidan’s spirit transferred from his body to Babek's. After Babek succeeded Javidan, he became the leader of the Hurramits community in Baaz and accepted his non-Muslim name Babek. After becoming the Hurramites leader, Babek started to take some serious actions: his goals were to banish the Arabs, abolish Islam and restore ancient beliefs. He gradually transformed his poorly equipped troops into a well-organized and trained army. A rebellion against the Arabs took place throughout all of Azerbaijan and then moved further into the North (Arran) and into the South (Khorasan). Babek always destroyed all fortifications and killed Arab soldiers and civilians. The Khorramdin rebellion of Babak lasted more than 20 years.

The first battle took place in 819. Babek won this battle against Abu Khamed ruler of Azerbaijan and Armenia. Caliph Mamun having realized that the situation was getting worse he appointed Muhammad at-Tusi as chief of the army. Tusi was talented warrior, but in battle at Hashtadsar in 829 Babak won a decisive victory over him. Muhammad at-Tusi lost his life. Many of his soldiers were killed. In 830 at the battle near Hamadan Hurramites von. Afterwards Hurramites crossed out of bound of Azerbaijan.

Having been involved in a war with Byzantine Caliphate had to postpone the war against Babek. In 833 Caliph al-Mamun died, his brother Al-Mutasim succeeded him as the new Caliph. The first thing that Mutasim did after becoming Caliph was to reorganize the Arab army. He hired a lot of Turks who were known as brave and skillful soldiers.

The battle against Babek took place near Khamadan in 833. Arabic troops led by Iskhak ibn Ibrahim won this battle. Babek returned to Baaz. Afterwards, Mutasim formed a new army and appointed his outstanding general Heydar ibn Kaus al-Afshin, who was Turkic by birth as chief commander. Afshin was also appointed as ruler of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Arran, Mugan and Jabal. Afshin rebuilt fortresses. Afshin was acting slowly in his war against Babek. In the spring of 836 Afshin reached Baaz and surrounded the fortress. In one of the battle the prominent Arabian general Buga al-Kabir was defeated and could hardly escape. At the end of the winter Mutasim sent another 9,000 Turkish soldiers. Al-Mu'tasim sent a safety guarantee for Babak to Afshin. This was taken to Babak who was very displeased. He said: "Better to live for just a single day in a freedom than to live for forty years as an abject slave". Babek hoped to receive aid from Byzantium against the Caliphate. He escaped from Baaz in 837. Babek reached the Shakhi where his close friend Sahl ibn Sumbat lived. Sumbat invited him to stay at his castle but he betrayed him. Having received a letter from Afshin promising million dirham award for the capture of Babek Sahl ibn Sumbat handed him over to Afshin. Babek and his brother were taken to the capital in rich clothes riding an elephant and a camel. Babek was executed on 14th March 838 in Samarra.

The reasons which led to defeat of the Khorramdin rebellion were the following: 1. betrayal of the big nobles; 2. attraction of the Turkic military leaders and fighters to the war against the Khurramites; 3. the ability of the Arabian army despite the huge losses being restored.



The Khorramdin movement was the freedom struggle of the Azerbaijani people for independence. Although this struggle was suppressed but it undermined Caliphate and eventually led to its disintegration.
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