Shirvanshah (Persian: شروان شاه) also spelled as Shīrwān Shāh [1] or Sharwān Shāh<ref name="EIB" />, was the title in mediaeval Islamic times of a Persianized dynasty[1] of Arabic origin[1]. The Shirvanshah established a native Azeri state[2] and were rulers of Shirvan, a historical region in present-day Azerbaijan.

Origin and History

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The title Shirvanshah dates back to pre-Islamic times. Ibn Khordadbeh mentions the Shirvanshah as the local ruler who received the title from Sassanid emperor Ardashir.[1] Al-Baladhuri also mentions that Shirvanshah, together with the adjacent potentate, Layzanshah were encountered by Arab invaders of the region and records that Shirwan submitted during the time of Caliph Uthman to the commander Salman b. Rab'ia Al-Bahili.[1]

From the end of the 2nd/8th century, Shirvan was under the rule of the members of the Arab family of Yazid b. Mazyad Shaybani (d. 185/801). [3] By origin, the Yazidids were Arabs of the Shaybani tribe and belonged to high ranking generals and governors of the Abbassid army<ref name="MINORSKYH" />. They held a firm grip also on the wider region of Azarbaijan, Arran, Armenia and eastern Caucasus regions. [1] After the death of the Caliph Al-Mutawakkil, the door for emancipation from the caliphate were slowly opened. The great-grandson of Yazid b. Mazyad Shaybani was Haytham b. Muhammad and he assumed 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<ref name="EIB" />.

One of the important books in the early history of this dynasty is the anonymous Taʾrikh Bab al-Abwab, preserved by the Ottoman historian Munejjim-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 [4] in 1958[5]. We know from this important 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<ref name="EIB" />.

By the time of the anonymous work Hodud al-Alam (circa 982 A.D.), the Shirvan Shahs, from their capital of Yazīdiyya (very probably the later Shamakha), had absorbed neighbouring kingdoms north of the Kur river and thus acquired the additional titles of Layzan Shah and Khursan Shah<ref name="EIB" />. We can also discern the progressive Persianisation of this originally Arab family[1]. 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 going back to Sassanid kings Bahrām Gūr or to Khusraw Anushirwan.<ref name="EIB" />. 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<ref name="MINORSKYH" />. He further states: The attraction of a Sassanian pedigree proved stronger than the recollection of Shaybani lineage.<ref name="MINORSKYH" />.

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 XII century, under sultans Manuchehr and Ahsitan who built the stronghold of Baku, and second in XV century under Derbendid dynasty. In XIII and XIV 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 resided over most successful period in a history of Shirvan. Architectural complex of "Shirvanshah palace" in Baku that was also a burial site of the dynasty and Halwatiyya Sufi khaneqa, was build during the reign of those two rulers in mid XV 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. By 1500, significantly weakened Shirvan suffered the onslaught of avenging Safavids.

Shah Ismail I sacked Baku in 1501, and, avenging his grandfather, exhumed bodies of Shirvanshahs, buried in the mausoleum and burned them. Most of Baku population was forcibly converted to Shi'ism thereafter.

The vassal Shirvan state managed to hang on until 1538, when, weakened by internal conflict and a Qalandari dervish uprising, it became an easy prey to Shah Ismail's son Tahmasp I. He gave Shirvan to his brother Alqas Mirza to rule as a province.

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 poetic 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 Noz-hat ul-Majalis written by Jamal Khalil Shirvani.


Palace of the Shirvanshahs (or Shirvanshahs' Palace, Azerbaijani: Şirvanşahlar sarayı) 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.

Shahs of Shirvan lineage

Mazyaddid/Kesranid dynasty (861-1382)

Enlarge picture
The Shirvanshah Palace
Heytham Ibn Khalid

Mohammed Ibn Haytham


Mohammed Bin Yazid

Ahmed and Mohammed Shah

Yezid Ibn Ahmed (1002-27)

Manuchehr I (1025-34)

Abu Mansur (1034- 43)
Enlarge picture
A view of the Palace of the Shirvanshahs
Qubad Ibn Yezid (1043-49)

Salar Ibn Yezid (1050-63)

Fariburz Ibn Salar (1063-94)

Manuchehr II (1094-1106)

Afridun I (1106-1120)

Manuchehr III (1120-60)

Afridun III (1160)

Akhsatan I ibn Manuchehr (1160-96)

Shahanshah I ibn Manuchehr (1196-1201)

Fariburz III (1201-04)
Enlarge picture
Mosque built by Ibrahim I
Farrukhzad I (1204)

Garrshasp I (1204- 25)

Fariburz III (1225- 44?)

Akhsatan II (124?- 60)

Farrukhzad II (1260-82)

Akhsatan (1282-94)

Kay Kabus I (1294-1317?)

Kay Kubad I (1317?-

Kabus (13??-1372)

Hushang (1372-82)

Derbendid dynasty (1382-1538)

Enlarge picture
The highly decorated gate of the Palace
Ibrahim I of Shirvan(1382-1417)

Khalilullah I (1417-65)

Farrukh Yassar (1465-1500)

Bahram Bey (1500)

Qazi Bey Ibn Farrukh Yassar (1501-02)

Sultan Mahmud (1502)

Ibrahim II Sheykshah (1502-1524)

Khalilullah II(1524-35)

Farrukh Yassar II (?)

Shahrukh (1535-38)


1. ^ 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
2. ^ 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."
3. ^ V. Minorsky, A History of Sharvan and Darband in the 10th-11th Centuries, Cambridge, 1958.
4. ^ Enyclopedia Iranica, "Minorsky, Vladimir Fedorovich", C. E. BOSWORTH, [1]
5. ^ V. Minorsky, A History of Sharvan and Darband in the 10th-11th Centuries, Cambridge, 1958.
6. ^ 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

See also


  • S. Ashurbeyli "History of Shirvanshahs", Baku, Elm, 1983 405 p
fɒːɾˈsiː in Perso-Arabic script (Nasta`liq style):  
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For the town in Iran see Shirvan

Shirvan (Persian: شروان ) Azerbaijani: Şirvan) or Shervan is a historic region in the Caucasus, historically a part of Persia, and today part of the Republic of Azerbaijan,
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Abu'l Qasim Ubaid'Allah ibn Khordadbeh (Persian: ابوالقاسم عبیدالله ابن خردادبه
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Ibrahim I of Shirvan (ruled 1382 - 1417) Shirvanshah, ruler of Shirvan from the Derbendid dynasty.

After the death Shirvanshah Hushang in 1382, Ibrahim I was selected to be the ruler by the local nobility. At the time, he, an impoverished noble, was living in Shaki.
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Khalilullah I (Halil) (1417-1465), ruler of Shirvan and son of Ibrahim I of Shirvan. He was succeeded by Shirvanshah Farrukh Yassar, his son.

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Farrukh Yassar Shirvanshah of Shirvan (1465-1500).

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