The Legends

Avestan Textual Sources


Avestan textual sources refer to the two holy lands of the god Ahuramazda from east to west respectively (and in order of priority,) as Hverkana and Verna. They also state that the people of Verna were not originally Iranians nor did they adhere to any Iranian beliefs or religion. Scholars believe that Hverkana refers to the region in the southwest of today's Turkmenistan, and Verna to a mountainous region around Mount Demavend. (A town known as Verne is still located there near Rine).

Early history

The Amardians are believed to have been the earliest inhabitants of the region where modern day Mazanderan and Gilan are located. The establishment of the early great kingdom dates back to about the first millennium BCE when the Hyrcanian Kingdom was founded with Sadracarta (somewhere near modern Sari) as its capital. Its extent was so large that for centuries the Caspian Sea was called the Hyrcanian Ocean. The first known dynasty were the Faratatians, who ruled some centuries before Christ. During the rise of the Parthians, many of the Amerdians were forced into exile to the southern slopes of the Elburz mountains known today as Veramin and Garmsar, and the Tabaris (who were then living somewhere between today's Yaneh Sar to the north and Shahrud to the south) replaced them in the region. During the indigenous Gushnaspian dynasty many of the people adopted Christianity. In 418 CE the Tapurian calendar (similar to the Armenian and Galeshi) was designed and its use implemented. The Gashnaspians ruled the region until 528 CE, when, after a long period of fighting, the Sassanid King Kopad defeated the last Gashnaspian king.

Medieval Era

The Mazanderanis never compromised with Kopad and he soon left the region, but he placed Zarmehr on the throne in 537 CE. As a native of the region, he became popular. Zarmehr traced his genealogy to Kaveh, the legendary Smith. During the reign of the Zarmehrians many people gradually converted to Zoroastrianism, and the language of the Mazanderanis was somewhat altered. When the Sassanid empire fell, Yezdgerd III escaped to Tabaristan to make use of the Mazanderani's bravery and resistance to repel the Arabs. By his order, AdarVelash (the last Zarmehrian king) ceded the dominion to Ispahbod Gil Jamaspi in 645 CE, while western and Southern Gilan and other parts of Gil's domain merged under the name of Tabaristan. He then chose Amol as capital of United Tabaristan in 647 CE. The dynasty of Gil was known as Gavbareh in Gilan, and as the Dabuyans in eastern Tabaristan. Farrukhan the Great (the fourth king of the Dabuyans), who was crowned after Khorshid I, expanded Tabaristan to eastern parts of today's Turkmenistan and repulsed the Turks around 725 CE. While the Dabuyans were in the Plainy regions, the Sokhrayans governed the mountainous regions. Venday Hormuzd ruled the region for about 50 years until 1034 CE. After 1125 CE, (the year Maziar was assassinated by subterfuge) an increase in conversion to Islam was achieved, not by the Arab Caliphs, but by the Imam's ambassadors. Mazandaranis and Gilaks were one of the first groups of Iranians to convert directly to Shia Islam.

Modern era

In 1596, when Shah Abbas I, Mazanderani on his mother's side, incorporated Mazandaran into his Safavid empire, forcing many Armenians, Georgians, Kurds and Qajar Turks to settle in Mazandaran. Pietro Della Valle, who visited a town near Pirouzcow in Mazandaran. noted that Mazandarani women never wore the veil and didn't hesitate to talk to foreigners. He also noted that he had never encountered people with as much civility as the Mazandaranis. After the Safavid period, the Qajars rose to power in Mazandaran with Aqa Mohammed Khan incorporating Mazandaran into his empire in 1782.


DABUYIDS, the dynasty of espahbads ruling Ṭabarestān until its conquest by the Muslims in 144/761. It is named after its founder Dābūyā (Dābōē, Dādbūya; see Justi, Namenbuch, p. 75), who appears to have reigned at the time of the rise of Islam. The main source for the history of the dynasty is Ebn Esfandīār, whose account of the origins and early years is partly legendary and must be interpreted with caution. Ẓahīr-­al-Dīn Maṛʿašī’s account is of little value. Although it differs on some points from that of Ebn Esfandīār, it does not seem to be based on any independent sources. According to Elm Esfandīār, the dynasty claimed descent from the Sasanian Jāmāsb, brother of the great king Kavāḏ and ruler of Armenia. His grandson Fīrūz was said to have conquered Gīlān and to have secretly had a son called Gīlānšāh by a native princess. Gīlānšāh’s son Gīl, known as Gāvbāra, extended his rule from Gīlān over Deylamān and later Ṭabarestān and was said to have been granted by Yazdegerd III (632-51) the title Gīl-Gīlān Faršvādgaršāh, by which the later Dabuyid espahbads of Ṭabarestān were known. Faršvādgar (Pātašvārgar) was the old name of the mountains of Ṭabarestān. Gāvbāra’s son Dābūya continued to reside in Gīlān, but Dābūya’s son Farroḵān (Farḵān) moved to Ṭabarestān and fortified the country against Turkish invasions from the east and Deylamite raids from the west. He is reported to have founded the towns of Sārīa (Sārī) and Eṣfahbodān. The latter, apparently located between Sārīa and Āmol, 2 miles from the coast of the Caspian Sea (Ebn al-­Faqīh, pp. 303, 310), was the private residence of the espahbads, while Āmol remained the capital of the province. Farroḵān briefly expanded his rule to Khorasan as far as Nīšāpūr and seems to have been granted the title “espahbad of Khorasan” by Yazdegerd in the confused state of affairs during the Arab con­quest of Persia. In 31/651-52 he offered the defeated Yazdegerd his country, but the latter refused and fled farther east, where he died (Ṭabarī, I, p. 2875). Al­though Farroḵān and his successors retained nominal sovereignty over Gīlān and Deylamān, those prov­inces were virtually independent under local chiefs and kings. The mountains of Ṭabarestān were effec­tively ruled by two dynasties, the Bāvand (see āl-e bāvand) and the Qārenvand, who nominally recog­nized Dabuyid overlordship. Actual Dabuyid control was confined to Rūyān and the lowlands of Ṭabarestān as far as Tamīša (Ṭamīs). Gorgān was ruled by a marzbān.
In the account of Ebn Esfandīār the espahbad Farroḵān, called Du’l-Manāqeb Farroḵān-e Bozorg, is said to have ruled from the time of the early Arab invasion of Persia until after the invasion of Ṭabarestān by Yazīd b. Mohallab in 98/716-17. This is obviously impossible. Moreover, Ebn Esfandīār also reported that his rule had lasted seventeen years. That a Farroḵān ruled Ṭabarestān at the time of the initial Arab inva­sions seems to be confirmed by a letter of safety granted to him, according to Sayf b. ʿOmar, by Sowayd b. ʿAmr b. Moqarren (Ṭabarī, I, pp. 2659-60). The letter gives the impression of being authentic, al­though its date, the year 18 (639), seems too early and should probably be the year 22 (643). Josef Markwart’s suggestion that Sayf’s account in reality refers to Yazīd b. Mohallab’s attack (Ērānšahr, p. 132) is hardly tenable. In the letter Farroḵān is addressed as “espahbad of Khorasan over (ʿalā) Ṭabarestān” and as “Jīl-Jīlān.” As it is certain from numismatic evidence that an Espahbad Farroḵān was ruling Ṭabarestān until at least 110/728, it must be assumed that the reigns of two or more espahbads have been conflated in Ebn Esfandīār’s account. Modern scholars have mostly tried to resolve the problem by placing the reigns of Gāvbāra and Dābūya within Islamic times (see, e.g., Spuler). This is, however, in clear conflict with Ebn Esfandīār’s account, in which they are described as having reigned in the Sasanian age. Other Islamic sources are of no benefit in this respect, for they usually do not mention the names of the espahbads, even when they refer to them specifically.
Sowayd b. Moqarren did not invade Ṭabarestān and merely asked for a payment of tribute. The first Muslim raid in Ṭabarestān was led by Saʿīd b. ʿĀṣ, governor of Kūfa, in 30/650-51. A number of prominent Companions of the Prophet Moḥammad, includ­ing Ḥasan and Ḥosayn, ʿAbd-Allāh b. ʿAbbās, and ʿAbd-Allāh b. Zobayr, are said to have participated. The army reached Tamīša and Nāmīa but apparently did not meet the espahbad. The caliph Moʿāwīa (41­60/661-80), or his governor of Kūfa Żaḥḥāk b. Qays Fehrī, sent an army under Maṣqala b. Hobayra, probably in 54/674 (Ḵalīfa, p. 123). Maṣqala penetrated as far as Rūyān, where he was attacked by the men of the espahbad from the mountains. He and his army were annihilated. ʿObayd-Allāh b. Yazīd, as governor of Kūfa (60-64/679-84), appointed Moḥammad b. Ašʿaṯ Kendī governor of Ṭabarestān. Ebn Ašʿaṯ at first concluded a truce, but when there were delays in the payment of tribute he invaded Ṭabarestān. He was defeated, and his son Abū Bakr was killed. Ḥajjāj, as viceroy of Iraq, made various efforts to subdue Ṭabarestān. In 76/695 he ordered Sofyān b. Abi’l-ʿĀlīa with a troop of horsemen to invade Ṭabarestān but then directed him against the rebel Kharijite leader Šabīb Šaybānī. Then he sent a Kufan army under Esḥāq b. Moḥammad b. Ašʿaṯ. In 77/696 or 79/698, when the Kharijite leader Qaṭarī b. Fojāʾa and his men sought refuge in Ṭabarestān, Esḥāq, joined by Sofyān b. Abraṣ, attacked and killed him. According to Ebn Esfandīār’s account (p. 161), the espahbad Farroḵān made a pact with Sofyān b. Abraṣ to get rid of Qaṭarī, and it was the espahbad who killed him. Sofyān b. Abraṣ remained in Ṭabarestān until ca. 82/701 (Ṭabarī, II, p. 1021) but was evidently unable to subdue the country. In 83/702 the espahbad yielded to pressure from Ḥajjāj and surrendered the rebel ʿOmar b. Abi’l-Ṣalt, to whom he had earlier granted shelter in Ṭabarestān. In 98/716 Yazīd b. Mohallab, then gover­nor of Iraq and Khorasan, attempted to conquer Ṭabarestān with a massive army. After taking Dehestān and Gorgān he invaded Ṭabarestān and initially de­feated the espahbad. The latter, however, enlisted the help of the Deylamites and Gilites and inflicted a defeat on the Muslims in the mountains. Then he wrote the people of Gorgān, inciting them to revolt against the Muslim troops left there by Yazīd. The latter, apparently in a desperate situation, succeeded by a diplomatic ruse in extracting tribute from the espahbad in return for Muslim withdrawal from Ṭabarestān. In the following year Yazīd was dismissed and imprisoned by the caliph ʿOmar II (99-101/717-20).
The espahbad at that time was evidently Farroḵān-e Bozorg, as stated by Ebn Esfandīār. Coins minted in Ṭabarestān with Pahlavi inscriptions and pictorial representations are known from the year 60 Yazdegerdi (93/711). Coins from 60-70 Yazdegerdi (93-103/711-­21) bear the name Farroḵ, whereas those from 71-77 (103-10/721-28) bear the name Farroḵān. On this basis J. M. Unvala suggested that there were two different rulers. John Walker was probably right in assuming that these coins belonged to a single ruler, Farroḵān, who thus, in accordance with Ebn Esfandīār’s statement, ruled for seventeen years. There are no coins of the year 78 Yazdegerdi (111/729), presum­ably because Farroḵān had died in the previous year. A few coins of the year 79 (112/730) bear the name Farroḵān, whereas others name Dātborzmehr (Dāḏmehr), known from Ebn Esfandīār’s account as the successor of Farroḵān. Those in the name of Farroḵān are most likely posthumous issues. A stray coin of Omayyad type, inscribed with the mint of Ṭabarestān and the year 102 (920-21; Walker, p. 130), seems to reflect an Omayyad attempt to claim sover­eignty over the province.
According to Ebn Esfandīār (1, p. 170), Farroḵān’s eldest son, Dāḏmehr, reigned for twelve years. Coins in his name are known from 79 (112/730) to 88 (122/740) Yazdegerdi, with a gap from 80 (113/731) to 85 (119/737). At the time of his death (89 Y./123/741), his son Ḵᵛoršīd was only six years old. Dāḏmehr appointed his own brother Farroḵān-e Kūček, also known as Korbālī (Aṣamm “the deaf”), as temporary successor until Ḵᵛoršīd was of age. The coins of Ṭabarestān do not reflect the reign of Farroḵān-e Kūček but name Ḵᵛoršīd as the ruler from the year 89 Yazdegerdi (123/741). Erroneous readings of the date on some coins with the name of Ḵᵛoršīd have misled earlier scholars to assume that Farroḵān-e Bozorg’s reign was preceded by that of another Ḵᵛoršīd, whom they called Ḵᵛoršīd I and distinguished from the later Ḵᵛoršīd, son of Dāḏmehr. This assumption is no longer tenable. It was evidently during Farroḵān-e Kūček’s reign that Marwān II (127-32/744-50), the last Omayyad caliph, threatened Ṭabarestān and Gīlān (Ḵalīfa, p. 352). Probably shortly afterward Abū Moslem Ḵorāsānī (q.v.), the ʿAbbasid revolutionary leader, obtained the nominal allegiance of the espahbad.
When Ḵᵛoršīd reached the age of fourteen years his uncle proposed to turn power over to him. Farroḵān-­e Kūček’s sons conspired to kill Ḵᵛoršīd, however. The conspiracy was foiled, according to the legendary account of Ebn Esfandīār, by the slave girl Varmja Haravīya, who was in love with Ḵᵛoršīd and whom he later married. Ḵᵛoršīd defeated and imprisoned the sons of Farroḵān-e Kūček. He relied for support on three sons of Jošnas, son of Sārūya, son of Farroḵān-e Bozorg (Aʿẓamī, p. 176). Ebn Esfandīār’s statement (I, p. 171) that Jošnas was a maternal cousin of Ḵᵛoršīd is plainly mistaken. The two were paternal cousins. In Maṛʿašī’s parallel account (p. 47) it is rather the army commander Šahrḵᵛāstān b. Yazdāngerd who is de­scribed as Ḵᵛoršīd’s maternal cousin, appointing Vandarand marzbān of Āmol and Fahrān (Bahrām) marzbān of the highlands while keeping Farroḵān in his personal presence.
Having sided with Abū Moslem against the caliph al-­Manṣūr (136-58/754-75), Ḵᵛoršīd supported the Zoro­astrian Sonbāḏ, who rose in 137/754-55 to avenge the murder of Abū Moslem, and offered him refuge after his defeat by the caliph’s army. Sonbāḏ was killed, however, by Ḵᵛoršīd’s cousin Ṭūs, son of Sārūya (Ṭabarī, III, p. 120, gives a different name), to whom he failed to show respect. Al-Manṣūr then attempted to oust Ḵᵛoršīd by naming Vandād-Hormozd b. Farroḵān (Farroḵān-e Kūček?) espahbad and crown­ing him (Ṭabarī, III, p. 120). The maneuver failed, however. According to Ebn Esfandīār (I, p. 175), al-­Manṣūr later sent a crown to Ḵᵛoršīd in order to lure him to accept the caliph’s overlordship. In return the espahbad sent him such splendid presents that the caliph’s greed was aroused. In 141/758-59 al-Manṣūr gave orders to invade Ṭabarestān. Within two years the province had been conquered. Ḵᵛoršīd fled to a castle in Deylamān. In 144/761, after his wives and children had been captured by the Muslims, he poi­soned himself. Coins in his name continued to be minted until 149/766. Nothing is known about the fate of his sons Hormozd; the crown prince, Dāḏmehr; and Vandād-Hormozd. One of Ḵᵛoršīd’s daughters was given by al-Manṣūr to his brother ʿAbbās b. Moḥammad b. ʿAlī, and she bore him his son Ebrāhīm (Ebn Esfandīār, I, p. 177; Ṭabarī, III, p. 137). Another daughter was taken by al-Manṣūr for himself. Boḵtarīya, daughter of Farroḵān-e Kūček, became the mother of the ʿAbbasid Manṣūr b. al-Mahdī (Ṭabarī, III, p. 140). According to Ebn Esfandīār (I, p. 173), Yākand was a wife of her cousin Ḵᵛoršīd, while other sources imply that she was the wife of the maṣmoḡān of Donbāvand (Ṭabarī, III, p. 136; Yāqūt, Boldān I, p. 244). Reports that Šakla, the mother of ʿEbrat-afzā b. al-­Mahdī, was a daughter of Ḵᵛoršīd (Ebn al-Nadīm, ed. Flügel, p. 129) seem to be erroneous (see Ṭabarī, III, p. 140).
Bibliography : Č.-ʿA. Aʿẓamī Sangsarī, “Sekkahā-­ye Ṭabarestān,” Barrasīhā-ye tārīḵī 8, 1352 Š./1973, pp. 153-94. Idem, “Gīl, Faršvaḏgaršāh wa Gāvbāragān-e Dābūyahī (espahbadān-e bozorg-e Ṭabarestān),” Barrasīhā-ye tārīḵī 12, 2536 = 1356 Š./1977, pp. 40-90. Balāḏorī, Fotūḥ, pp. 334-39. Ebn al-Aṯīr, esp. V, pp. 386-89. Ebn Esfandīār, esp. I, pp. 156-77. Ebn al-Faqīh, esp. pp. 301-11. Ebn Ḵordāḏbeh, p. 119. Ḥamza, p. 239. Justi, Namenbuch, esp. pp. 75, 95, 180, 450. Ḵalīfa b. Ḵayyāṭ, Taʾrīḵ, ed. A. Ẓ. ʿOmarī, Beirut, 1397/1977, esp. pp. 165-66, 223, 315, 352. W. Madelung, “The Minor Dynasties of Northern Iran,” in Camb. Hist. Iran IV, pp. 198-­200. Ẓahīr-al-Dīn Maṛʿašī, Tārīḵ-e Ṭabarestān o Rūyān o Māzandarān, ed. B. Dorn, St. Petersburg, 1850, pp. 29-30, 37-50, 319; ed. M.-Ḥ. Tasbīḥī, Tehran, 1345 Š./1966; repr. 2535 = 1355 Š./1976, pp. 7ff. Markwart, Ērānšahr, pp. 130-34. H. Mehdi Malek, “History and Numismatics of the Dābūyid Ispahbads of Ṭabaristān,” American Journal of Nu­mismatics 5, 1993. B. Spuler, “Dābūya,” in EI2II, pp. 74-75. Ṭabarī, esp. I, pp. 2659-60, 2835-39; II, pp. 1317-35; III, pp. 120, 136-40. J. M. Unvala, Numismatique du Ṭabaristān, Paris, 1938. R. Vasmer, “Die Eroberung Ṭabaristāns durch die Araber zur Zeit des Chalifen al-Manṣūr,” Islamica 3, 1922, pp. 86-150. J. Walker, A Catalogue of Arab-Sasanian Coins, London, 1941, pp. lxix-lxxii, cxxx, 130-32, 202-03.

(Wilfred Madelung)

Bavand Dynasty

The Bavandi Dynasty (also spelled Bavend) was an Iranian dynasty that started in the early seventh century, as an independent group of rulers, reigning over Tabaristan in what is now northern Iran.
The Bavandi name apparently comes from Bav, son of Kawus, son of Kavadh I, the Sasanian Emperor. As the story goes, Kawus, who was the elder son of Kawad, was passed over in favour of his younger brother Khosrau IAusherwan, as the former was accused of Mazdakite sympathies. He was, however, reinstated in his position as the governor of Padishkhwargar, the name given to the northern satrapies of the Sasanian realm, consisting of Azerbaijan, Gilan, Tabaristan and Qumis, according to Mar'ashi.
Whatever their origin, it seems that in the chaos that followed the fall of the Sasanians to the Arab Muslims, the descendants of Bav managed to carve themselves a semi-independent kingdom in the regions to the south of the Caspian Sea. Probably because of their royal blood, they were successful in gaining the upper hand in the region and established their rule over other local clans and dynasties, including the Paduspanis and the House of Karen.
The early Bavandis were obviously Zoroastrian, but they later converted to Islam, as is attested to be the case for Karen son of Shahriar, the ninth ruler of the dynasty. They probably accepted the Zaidi branch of Shi'ism and became major supporters of the Zaidi and other Shi'ite movements. We know that Bavandis, along with other Tabari and Dailami dynasties, recognised the overlordship of Alavids such as Al-Utrush and assisted them in their struggles against the Caliphate. Another interpretation can be that the Bavandis used the influence of the Alavids among the common people in order to further their own agenda against the caliphal central rule.
The history of the Bavandis is detailed in the works of Ibn Isfandiar and Mar'ashi which belong to the genre of local histories that gained popularity in Iran after 1000 AD. We know that they were related to the Ziyarid dynasty, through the marriage of Mardanshah, the father of Ziyar, to the daughter of one of the Bavandi kings. The prominence of the Bavandi kings apparently continued throughout the Seljuk and Mongol period. One of their greatest kings, Shah Ghazi Rostam, is reported to have seriously defeated the Ismailis who were gaining prominence in Tabaristan and Dailam and to have made significant progress in consolidating power in the Caspian provinces.
After the Mongol conquest, the Bavandis continued to rule as local strongmen of Tabaristan and sometimes Dailam. Their power was finally brought down around 1350 when Afrasiab of the Jalaviyeh dynasty, themselves an off-shoot of the Bavandis, managed to kill Fakhroldoleh Hasan, the last of the mainline Bavandi kings.

Divisions of the Bavandis

The Bavandi rule, which lasted from ca. AD 665-1350, was commonly divided to three periods. The first is the "Ispahbed" period, lasting until 1028. This is the period in which the dynasty seems to have been rather autonomous and quite influential in Tabaristan and Dailam, although they often acknowledged the overlordship of the Samanids or occasionally, the Ziyarids. However, with the death of the last Ispahbed, the dynasty became temporarily defunct.
In 1062, a Bavandi prince re-found the dynasty, this time becoming known as "Kings of the Mountains" indicating the extent of the rule of the Bavandis in the highlands of Tabaristan. The greatest ruler of this stage was the aforementioned Shah Ghazi Rostam. The Kings of the Mountains became extinct in 1210, probably as a result of competition with the Ismailis and other local dynasties.
During the chaos caused by the Mongol conquest of Iran, another branch of the dynasty was founded ca. 1240 which continued until 1350 when the last king of it was killed by Afrasiab of the Jalaviyeh dynasty. This stage is called "Kindkhwariyeh" by the local historians.
However, the above divisions might be the result of the mixing of the history of the Bavandis with that of the Paduspanis, a neighbouring clan who ruled over the area of Royaan (or Alamdeh)and Kojur and were similarly descended from the Sasanians. It is quite possible that the last stage above, that of the Kindkhwariyeh, was actually a Paduspani takeover of the Bavandi lands. This is also quite possible as it will explain the efforts of Afrasiab of the Jalaviyeh dynasty in defeating the Kindkhwariyeh, as the Jalaviyeh were themselves a branch of the Bavandis.

Bavand rulers


Ka'usiyeh (Ispahbed)

Kings of the Mountains