Coat of Arms of the Shirvanshahs[1]
Country  Azerbaijan
Titles Shah of Shirvan
Shah of Layzan
Emir of Derbent
Founded 799
Founder Yazid b. Mazyad al-Shaybani
Final ruler Abu Bakr Mirza
Dissolution 1607
Cadet branches Shervashidze
House of Black Monk

Shirvanshah (Persian: شروانشاه, Azerbaijani: Şirvanşah) also spelled as Shīrwān Shāh or Sharwān Shāh, was the title of the rulers of Shirvan, located in modern Azerbaijan Republic, from the mid-9th century to the early 16th century. The title remained in a single family, the Yazidids, an originally Arab but gradually 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 Republic).[4]

Origin and history

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

The title Shirvanshah dates back to pre-Islamic times. 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]

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 assume 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 Yazidis often ruling for various periods in the latter town.[2]

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.

in 1120 King David IV of Georgia, entered the neighbouring Shirvan and took the town of Qabala and In 1124, David finally conquered Shirvan. In 1167, George III of Georgia marched to defend his vassal Shah Akhsitan of Shirvan against the Khazar and Kipchak assaults and strengthened the Georgian dominance in the area. Early in the 1190s, the Georgian government began to interfere in the affairs of the Ildenizids and of the Shirvanshahs, aiding rivaling local princes and reducing Shirvan to a tributary state. The Ildenizid atabeg Abu Bakr attempted to stem the Georgian advance, but suffered a defeat at the hands of David Soslan at the Battle of Shamkor[7] and lost his capital to a Georgian protégé in 1195. Although Abu Bakr was able to resume his reign a year later, the Ildenizids were only barely able to contain further Georgian forays.[8][9]

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. However, Shirvan was greatly devastated by Mongol invasion in 1235, from which it was not able to fully recover for the next century.

The Shirvanshahs dynasty, existing as independent or a vassal state, from 861 until 1538; longer than any other dynasty in 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. 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.

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. 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.

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.[10]

Persian poetry

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 the Arab origined epic Lili o 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.


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.

House of Shirvanshah

Portrait or Coat of arms Name From Until Relationship with predecessor
Haytham I 861? appointed by Caliph Al-Mutawakkil as governor of Shirvan
Muhammad I ?? son of predecessor
Haytham II ?around 913 son of predecessor
Ali I 913? son of predecessor
Muhammad II
Also Shah of Layzan
?917 nephew of Haytham I
Abu Tahir Yazid
Also Shah of Layzan
917948 son of predecessor

Coin of Muhammad III
Muhammad III
Also Shah of Layzan and Shah of Tabarsaran in 917–948
948956 son of predecessor
Ahmad I
Also Shah of Layzan in 948–956
956981 son of predecessor
Muhammad IV
Also Shah of Layzan in 956–981
986991 son of predecessor
Yazid III9911027 brother of predecessor
Manuchehr I10271034 son of predecessor
Ali II10341043 brother of predecessor
Kubad10431049 brother of predecessor
Ali III Bukhtnassar10491050 nephew of predecessor
Salar10501063 uncle of predecessor
Fariburz I10631096 son of predecessor
Manuchehr II10961106 son of predecessor

Artwork of Afridun I
Afridun I the Martyr11061120 brother of predecessor
Manuchehr III11201160 son of predecessor
Afridun II11601160 son of predecessor
Akhsitan I11601197 brother of predecessor
Shahanshah11971200 brother of predecessor
Fariburz II12001204 nephew of predecessor
Farrukhzad12041204 uncle of predecessor
Gushtasb I12041225 son of predecessor
Fariburz III12251243 son of predecessor
Akhsitan II12431260 son of predecessor
Farrukhzad II12601282 son of predecessor
Akhsitan III12821294 son of predecessor
Keykavus I12941317 son of predecessor
Keykubad I13171348 uncle of predecessor
Kavus I13481372 son of predecessor
Hushang I13721382 son of predecessor
Ibrahim I13821417 cousin of predecessor
Khalilullah I14171465 son of predecessor

Coin of Farrukh Yassar I
Farrukh Yassar I14651500 son of predecessor
Bahram15011501 son of predecessor
Gazi Beg15011501 brother of predecessor
Sultan Mahmud15011502 son of predecessor
Ibrahim II Sheykhshah15021524 brother of predecessor
Khalilullah II15241535 son of predecessor
Farrukh Yassar II15351535 brother of predecessor
Shahrukh of Shirvan15351539 son of predecessor


  1. State historical architecture museum "The Shirvanshahs’ Palace""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. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 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. 1 2 3 4 5 Bosworth, C.E. (11 February 2011). "ŠERVĀNŠAHS". Encyclopaedia Iranica, Online Edition. Retrieved 21 March 2013.
  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. 1 2 3 4 5 V. Minorsky, A History of Sharvan and Darband in the 10th–11th Centuries, Cambridge, 1958.
  6. Encyclopedia Iranica, "Minorsky, Vladimir Fedorovich", C. E. BOSWORTH
  7. Suny 1994, p. 39.
  8. Luther, Kenneth Allin. "Atābākan-e Adārbāyĵān", in: Encyclopædia Iranica (Online edition). Retrieved on 2006-06-26.
  9. Lordkipanidze & Hewitt 1987, p. 148.
  10. Fisher et al. 1986, pp. 212, 245.

See also


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